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My father was a genetically altered superbeing programmed to assassinate the president Kennedy. That wasn’t his only idiosyncrasy. He also collected plates. Painted souvenir plates from the nowheres he fled through.
I don’t collect plates. Taste in ceramics skips a generation. Or perhaps you get it from your mother’s side. I couldn’t say. I’m not a biologist.
I don’t know a great deal about how my parents met except to say that there are darker forces than the CIA at work in the human genome. He would home in on a woman in a low cut top like a 6.5 calibre shot from the grassy knoll.
Perhaps I’m not the only child. Perhaps there are grandchildren. A dynasty spreading out like spilt blood from the Dealey plaza and across the United States. An army of people sat in cheap hotel rooms that enjoy a high view of the main road, or the theatre, or the town square. Rooms littered with newspapers now desiccated of information. Like me they will have neatly torn out the stories about charity galas, political rallies, hospital openings. Like me they’ll be keeping an insomniac vigil of the twenty four hour news, the radio, the gossip. Like me they’ll be waiting for their window. They’ll be waiting for president Kennedy.
Except the year is 2013. Kennedy is dead.
This is madness. I’ve gone bananas. Most people do I suppose.
I shift in my chair. I’m sat by an open window with the curtains parted just so. It’s hot. The TV and radio are chattering to one another. I’m not sure how long I’ve been sitting here. I look at myself in the mirror. I’ve got a newspaper clipping fused to the side of my head with sweat. In my left hand is a plimsoll which I’m holding like a gun and reflexively brandishing at each car that comes down the road. A mercifully rare occurrence.
I couldn’t kill Kennedy with a plimsoll left handed. Not from the third floor. I think I might need to drink. Or sober up. There are empty alcohol miniatures on the bed. I think I just need to move somewhere on the drunken spectrum be it up or down. Apart from the bottles the bed is neat. I never make the bed. Have I slept? Sometimes I sit for days, drunk on data, waiting, plotting, hunting, smoking.
The cupboards and drawers have all been turned out and emptied on the floor. I can’t relax in a bedroom until I’ve searched all the cupboards and drawers for president Kennedy.
I unstick myself from the chair. I’ll go to the hotel bar. I need to situate myself. I’m losing track. It’s not good being stuck in the same place for lord-knows how long. You have to keep mobile. Keep busy. You have to fight the crushing urge to track down and kill the 35th president. That’s the only way to get anywhere in this life.
The bar looks like a family restaurant fallen from grace. I instinctively count the patrons three times. There’s only four who could be Secret Service agents. This is a bad sign. You can gauge the quality of a joint by the number of people who might plausibly be protecting a head of state.
I take a seat at the bar. It gives me a direct view of three and the fourth I can see in the mirror.
I order a beer and a sandwich. I search my pockets for money. Some contain hundred dollar bills, others loose change. I always have money lying around. My father left me several bags full of the stuff and I knew where to get more. The Kennedy Money was so plentiful that I tended to be careless with it.
The barman puts my sandwich and drink down in front of me. That was disturbingly fast. The sandwich has been dead for some time. I’m going to have to embalm it in mustard.
‘You’re going to want mustard on that sandwich.’ It’s the fourth of the possible-agents, the one I can see behind me in the mirror. I ignore him.
‘You’ll regret eating it plain.’
I take a sip of beer.
The possible-agent approaches me. Puts a bottle of squeezy mustard by my elbow and takes the stool the next to mine.
‘Thanks,’ I say.
‘I know why you’re here,’ he says.
‘Pal, I’m only here for a sandwich,’ I tell him.
‘Nobody comes here for the sandwiches,’ he says.
I put mustard on my food and take a bite. He’s right, of course. Nobody is here for the sandwiches.
‘I know why you’ve been coming to this hotel. Why you always take the same room. I know what you are. And I’ve got a job for a man of your talents.’
‘This is my first time in this hotel,’ I say but as I say it I realise that I’ve no idea whether or not it’s true. The hotels have been blurring into one. The urge to find Kennedy has been getting more manic, less focused. I don’t know where I’ve been. Maybe I’m starting to malfunction. Like those washing machines that were built to break down after five years or so. Maybe my designer genes are finally undergoing their planned obsolescence. My blueprints have entropied beyond repair.
‘A job for a man of your talents,’ he repeats.
‘I don’t need work,’ I say.
He takes a slip of paper from his inside pocket. Slides it towards me. It’s a picture of Kennedy.
‘I need you to kill this man.’
Back in my room.
I’m throwing darts at the Kennedy picture. It’s night. Still hot.
On the back of the photo is an address and a time written in biro. This has to be a low point in my on-off relationship with reality. A guy in a bar wants me to kill a corpse. Says I’m the only man for the job. Says he knew my father and tracked me down. He hadn’t wasted time trying to convince me. He said he knew I’d get the job done.
And he’s right isn’t he? What else am I going to do?
Join the circus?
Open a tapas bar?
Go to grad school and train as a lawyer?
And then what? What was the point of those things? What was the point of anything if you couldn’t kill Kennedy?
I’d go. I’d go to the Episcopal Church at five forty PM. I’d do what I was made to do.
Five forty comes around. It tends to do so.
At the church gate is a statue of the crucified Jesus. Built to scale and painted in garish pinks and red. Presumably there as a warning to other gods: We kill and eat our deities here. Something can’t be right. I look up and down the street but I don’t see anyone that looks like a threat.
I approach the church door. I go in. It’s a church. Modern but built to look old. There’s a stack of prayer books on a table by the door. Behind the stack is a pistol. I’ve never held a real one before but it fits my hand. This must be how Cinderella felt when she put the slipper on. In the front pew of the church there is a man at prayer. A man I recognise on an existential level. In the front pew is Kennedy. John F. Kennedy. Sitting right there. Praying.
I power walk down the aisle and lift the pistol. He doesn’t rise from his prayers. Doesn’t seem to hear me. I put the pistol level with the back of his head.
Something isn’t right. Something isn’t right and I’ll tell you what it is.
Kennedy was a Catholic.
I spin and fire the pistol behind me. It clicks. Empty.
The man from the bar is standing by the door. He is grinning. He is holding a gun. His is loaded. I’m not a ballistic expert but it’s a hunch I have.
‘We had to be sure,’ he says, ‘that you were the genuine article. You unauthorised copies never could resist a real-life Kennedy.’
I start to shuffle closer to the pews. There are parts of my mind doing frantic calculations. He raises his gun.
‘It’s over for you,’ he says. ‘You were never meant to exist. Everything you do and are is absurd. It’s time for you to die.’
But I’m not ready to die. Not yet. I throw my empty gun at his head. He fires at me and misses. I dive into the pews. Crawl. He’s coming for me. I can hear him coming. But I was built to do battle with Secret Service agents. Built for it.
I grab a prayer stool and I launch out the other end of the pew. He’s waiting for me with his gun. I crack him in the head with the stool and he fires. I’m hit. But that’s fine. We both go down. He’s unconscious. A prayer stool to the head will do that to you.
I’m wounded but I can’t think of that now. Kennedy is trying to flee down the aisle. I’m on him in two seconds. One more second and he’s down. I take his throat in my hand.
‘You don’t have to do this,’ he says. ‘I’m just an actor,’ he says. ‘You can just walk away. You don’t need to kill me.’
And that’s when I realise something.
Because sometimes in life you’ll hear a little voice. A voice telling you that you can’t succeed. A voice telling you to give up. Go home. Telling you that your life is pointless. And when you hear that voice you have to stick your thumb into Kennedy’s windpipe and you have to beat that fucker to death with your left plimsoll. Because this is America goddammit and a man is as big as his dreams. You can be anything you want to be if you’re willing to work hard. You can even be president Kennedy.
I drop the corpse onto the church floor. This must be how a retriever feels when it catches a tennis ball. I walk outside. There are birds singing. Those birds have been singing, building nests, mating, laying eggs and singing for a thousand years. And that’s fine. Everything is doing what it’s supposed to do and it’s fine and not pointless at all.
I’m not lost anymore. I know where I am and what I have to do. I need to fly out of this city. I need to get first aid supplies and treat my wounds. Go to ground. Find some of my money stash. Find a hotel.
But mainly and most importantly of all. I need to track down and kill John Fitzgerald Kennedy.