Sunday Sampler: The Man on the Grassy Knoll by John Crawley
November 22, 2015
In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle has launched a new series featuring writing samples from some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Sunday’s Sampler is an excerpt from The Man on the Grassy Knoll, a thriller about the assassination of John F. Kennedy by John Crawley.
As one reviewer said: It happened. A President died on the downtown streets of Dallas. The legend persists that someone other than Lee Harvey Oswald pulled the trigger. Could it have happened this way? John Crawley’s The Man on the Grassy Knoll reads like fact. He says it’s fiction. I wonder.
For decades there has been a myth about the second shooter in Dallas on November 22, 1963. He has been known as the man on the grassy knoll.
Now this mysterious figure comes to life in the exciting novel by John Crawley, staged as an interview with Raul Salazar – the Man on the Grassy Knoll.
The walls are sweating from the humidity that has collected within the institutional green hallways for dozens of decades. The paint is falling victim to the suffocating, stale vapors, as it peels its history away from the decaying bricks beneath. A steady clicking of the guards heels on the polished concrete floors announces our every step, as we approach a door marked only Interregation’.
We are on a mission.
Inside the cramped office sits a desk hosting the large, black polished boots of another guard in drab green, who wears the obligatory sunglasses of an aviator, giving him the appearance of a man either in hiding or in charge – and in this Caribbean watering hole, both are probably good bets. He nods nonchalantly towards a door at the back of the office. We enter. A single, steel folding chair and a plain wooden table await me. The table wobbles on uneven legs. A window high on the wall oozes in late afternoon sunlight, filtered through a film of grime that has yellowed the chicken wired glass to a dull-brown amber.
“I will need another chair.” I say to the guard, who has escorted me from the palm-lined parking lot. “I will need a place for him to sit, tambien.” The guard doesn’t so much as acknowledge my request, but turns and leaves the room. I unpack my small leather case and place a tape recorder onto the table. I attach a remote microphone and get out two additional tape cassettes. I feel in the case and my fingers trace the edges of my extra batteries.
I wait. I am used to this. I have, after all, been tracking this shadowy, mythical figure for close to 30 years of my life. From graduate school in Austin to here in a military prison outside Port-au-Prince. I am, at last, going to get to lay my eyes on Raul Domingo Salazar: the man that millions have theorized about without knowing a name or having seen a face to place with that name.
After all, he is believed to be the man on the grassy knoll.
But was he? What did he know? Was he truly there that fateful day in November 1963 when the warm fall air of Texas was shattered with the sounds of gun fire and the young President lay dead in the back of a black limousine in the streets of Dallas? What of all of this did Raul know? That is why I am here, perspiring and waiting.
Prisons are designed for waiting. It is in their nature. Their architecture begets patience. There is a saying in Latin America, “Detrás de estas barras de tiempo se detiene.” Behind these bars, time stands still. No one gets in a hurry in a prison. Time passes on its own schedule within the thick walls. History is slow to evolve within the structure. So, I wait. Time slowly and silently eases past, and then moves on.
The guard returns with another folding chair. He sets it against the wall and closes the door. I am alone with my thoughts again. There have been hundreds – perhaps that is too small a number– thousands of conspiracy theories about the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
But by accident, I had stumbled upon a source that told me of a man in jail in Haiti. I was told that the man was being held for killing a drug dealer turned informant for six hundred dollars. That alone was not worthy of my time. But the source continued to tell me a story about a man named Raul Salazar. The man I wait on now.
I was told that that Salazar was being framed by the CIA and the Mob to keep him quiet about a certain role he played in the death of John Kennedy. I remember the source watching my eyes as his grin grew across his broad, crackled face. “Yes it is true. The man for whom you search, he is in Haiti and under arrest. He can be had for small change to the local authorities.” The grin widened. I asked how I could be sure. My source shrugged and inhaled deeply on a Pall Mall. He shook his head. “You can not. You can only go and hear for yourself Raul’s story.”
“What makes you think he will talk to me?” I asked my source.
“He is running out of time, senior. His body is being beaten down by the cancer. He has only a short time to live and the story is within him. He needs to get it out.”
“A confession of sorts, I suppose. But I think it has now more to do with pride. And history.”
“He wants to place his name in history as an important man?” Is that it? I was beginning to feel that I had been set up. It wasn’t the first time in this long and lonely quest. There had been a Russian, after the fall of the great bear and free trade was flourishing, who wanted to cash in on a story – too many holes and not enough facts. And a man from South America who knew the Oswalds, or so he said. He too, had his hand out for cash. But little facts flowed from his story that one could not have gained out of a library or from a good history book.
Then, in early 2008, I came across a man in New Orleans, named Carols “The Crock” Rodriquez, who was actually a subject in another story I was researching. The Crock was a hired killer who had deep connections with the Marcello crime family of the Gulf Coast. He had, from time-to-time, been sought after for the hit on a federal judge in East Texas who was hearing a drug smuggling and racketeering trial of a top Marcello lieutenant. While there was little to connect The Crock to the hit, he was living high off the hog on the small amount of notoriety it had ushered to his door. And with that fame came a thirsty, tired reporter with a list of questions and an inquisitive mind.
And The Crock gave me Raul Salazar. To be sure it wasn’t that easy or that clean. There was money that exchanged hands. A lot of money; but paid out carefully, only as the facts revealed themselves. And the money wasn’t sent to The Crock, but to a girl in Pennsylvania named Betty Howard, who in some long lost and almost forgotten way, belonged to The Crock. He was paying his bills before the big clock struck its final hour for him.
There was also a deal that I wouldn’t publish any of the story of Raul while The Crock was still living. And I was to tell no one prior to publishing of his involvement. Carlos Rodriquez was a small-time hood, but he had a list of significant hits to his credit that was quite stunning.
One day, as he bragged about his deadly achievements during an interview he said, “Ah, but the one hit I would love to have on my belt belongs to Raul Salazar. He– he is the one you need to spend your ink on. He is the one with the greatest pelt of all time.”
“Who?” I asked.
“Kennedy.” He waited. He watched. The smile spread across his ugly broad face as the idea sunk into my brain. I had swallowed the bait.
Buy a ticket to Port-au-Prince and wait.