Return Engagements (Book One) PART 24… in which I become Gabriel Ruis

The next day I moved all my photos out of Mike’s apartment and put them back in a safe deposit box. I also told young Mike that I’d be out of town for a few weeks. I had to be prepared for the FBI to crosscheck the likely arrival dates of Dorothy’s material to flights in and out of New York.

 Picking up from Part 23, in which I seeded the rebellion.

The next day I moved all my photos out of Mike’s apartment and put them back in a safe deposit box. I also told young Mike that I’d be out of town for a few weeks.

I had to be prepared for the FBI to crosscheck the likely arrival dates of Dorothy’s material to flights in and out of New York. That would put “Michael Burroughs” on their list. The only ID I had was the driver’s license Mike got me in Vegas, and that was the name I used for travel. And that meant a visit to Mike Jr.’s house and my present apartment were serious possibilities.

And so were the safe deposit boxes I was using. Everything was “Michael Burroughs,” and while they probably wouldn’t get to the boxes right away, there had to be supreme pressure on this. I couldn’t leave my best evidence where it could be grabbed.

And so I went to the immigrants.

In particular, I drove my car to 26th Street, to the old Mexican neighborhood called La Villita. (“Little Village” in English.) My Spanish was almost good enough to blend in, and I changed into workman’s clothes from an Army-Navy surplus store along the way.

By day’s end I had a furnished one-bedroom apartment under the name of Gabriel Ruis. I went to the local stores, loaded up on food, and spent the night there.

The next morning I headed out at the same time as the other men, playing the role of a maintenance man in the Z Frank coveralls the lady had given me my first day in 1963. It was a Saturday, but most of them were working anyway.

I walked around the neighborhood, trying to get myself into the role of an aging maintenance man. I picked up some wrenches, a tool bag and a few other things. Then I stopped at a restaurant next to my apartment building and started making friends. I did the same Sunday, blending in but stopping short of going to church.

On Monday I left with the other workmen. After we had all gone our separate directions I went to my car, found a place to change clothes and went downtown to clean out my safe deposit boxes. Then I went to the Alter Cocker Roundtable.

I agonized over what I would tell them. While it was true that their virtual world was going to blip out of existence in a year, these were real people with real feelings… and if I hurt them, that might carry over into my 2016 world.

And so I decided to tell them the truth about the news stories and my role in them.

* * * * *

“Guys,” I said, “I won’t be able to have breakfast with you anymore.”

Blank faces stared back at me.

“It’s the Kennedy assassination stuff.”

“What did you do?” Shelly asked me.

And so I told then. I said I had been informed where and when the assassination would happen, that I couldn’t tell them by whom, and that I was part of a small team that shot all the photos.

“They’re gonna kill you,” Sam said very seriously.

“That’s a possibility, Sam, and if it happens, it happens. But for now I’m a couple of steps ahead of them and I’ll try to keep it that way. But that means staying away from here… from all my usual places, I’m sorry to say.”

I gave them a full set of photos, to share as they saw fit, and to use as they saw fit. But I also advised them to be careful, that the FBI would be going crazy.

We said our final goodbyes… tearful goodbyes… and I went back to the car and drove to Mike Jr.’s office.

My conversation with him was very similar, and I apologized to him for vacating the apartment early, and especially for the possibility that the FBI would be checking him out. I offered him a set of photos, but he declined, not wanting to have anything the FBI could use against him. I also advised him to protect himself and his family if he got “the visit.”

“I’ll expect you to tell them everything you know,” I added.

Mike wished me well and thanked me for telling the world the truth, which was a touching coda to our goodbye. I liked Mike a lot.

* * * * *

The next day I “took the day off” and scouted the neighborhood for a garage space to rent. I found one a few blocks away and left my car there. It could be traced to Mike, after all. From here on I’d use the busses and trains. I was Gabriel Ruis.

And it turned out that I liked being Gabriel Ruis. I started thinking about getting a real maintenance job. I liked most of my neighbors, they came to like me, and I loved the neighborhood. More than that, I liked the immigrant mentality a lot better than the “good citizen” mentality.

* * * * *

Just after that the bombs began exploding again.

Dorothy, after what must have been intense battles with editors, ran both of the photos I gave her, front page, in the Journal-American. The San Francisco Chronicle, I found out the next day, had run both the photos I sent them. And at the same time, the journalist from Washington started a series of articles on Mac Wallace.

I could only imagine what was going on between Lyndon Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover. They were just about finished and they knew it. My concern was that they’d go scorched-earth before they admitted anything. These men were sociopathic thugs.

The next day Malcolm Wallace turned up dead. Hoover and Johnson were immediately blamed, as were members of the Warren Commission. “Both Men from the 6th Floor Eliminated” read a huge banner in the Chicago Tribune the next morning.

That weekend several thousand college students, carrying “Justice for JFK” signs, protested in front of the White House. Monday morning the FBI raided half a dozen newsrooms across the country, seizing thousands of documents. That was probably the death knell for Johnson and Hoover – more or less every newspaper in the country objected vehemently – but things looked to get very ugly before they ended.

“I’m still the goddamn president of the United States,” Johnson was caught saying, “and I will crush this shit.”

Things were running off the tracks for my mission. Yes, people were seeing the mendacity of their rulers, but they were also running headlong into violence and hate. And those things would pollute 2016. I had to do something.

* * * * *

And so I went to my last-ditch plan. On January 12 (I know it was a Tuesday because the ubiquitous Chicago air raid siren went off at 10:00) I took five copies of the 16mm film and sent them to what seemed the safest hands: people who had incentives to distribute and show the film publicly. On my list were Newspapers in Toronto, Paris and Frankfurt. Also on the list were Bobby Kennedy and Barry Goldwater.

Then I took a bus to the Loop and sat in a diner, a pad of paper and pen in front of me with which to finalize my plans.

* * * * *

It’s a strange and oddly disturbing thing to seriously contemplate your death. Old people are forced into it of course, and they cope with it well enough, but for a young and/or healthy and/or optimistic person, it’s hard.

And death really was what I was facing. Even if Johnson and Hoover were booted from power, they still had lots of friends in high places, and they’d be plenty unhappy about losing their primary assets. And if the two terrors weren’t removed, I’d be their primary target.

And so I sat, sipping some tea and running one scenario after another through my mind, while simultaneously trying to imagine my feelings as a hundred-years-old and facing an inescapable death.

* * * * *

In an hour or two I had my plan. It was risky, to be sure, but it would go a long way toward turning things away from the dark places they were threatening to go. I was a bit less settled on the possibility of dying, but I was feeling well enough to function.

I sent out four identical telegrams (the text messaging of the day), to Dorothy and my journalists in San Francisco, Washington and Austin. I asked them to set up a news conference on noon Thursday, at the north entrance of the central library in Chicago. I further advised them that I’d make a public statement and that I had a powerful film.

All four would now have excellent reasons to set up the news conference.

The FBI, CIA and others were also bound to be there, but I chose the spot carefully. And once the telegrams were sent (fastest possible personal delivery), I went to the library and spent two hours verifying every possible option.

* * * * *

On Wednesday Gabriel Ruis stayed home. He… I… bought a TV and a radio and watched for news. At about noon I started hearing reports of an upcoming news conference of some importance, then in increasing detail as the day wore on. This was going to happen.

* * * * *

I slept poorly, but I did in fact sleep and called it a first victory.

I was up and showered by six. I shaved my moustache to alter my look. I stretched a bit too, expecting that running might be necessary. Then I loaded my things into a rucksack and headed out into the world dressed as Gabriel Ruis. I took the bus and the train downtown, then changed clothes. I emerged in my best suit.

At about eight o’clock I walked past the library and found it being set up. They had placed the lectern differently than I had expected, but not enough to make a serious difference. Technicians were setting up and several cops were standing around waiting for something to do. I walked to a diner a few blocks away and had a small breakfast but no coffee; I was nervous enough. I read a newspaper, learning only that “out of towners” were expected.

At 10:00 I figured the time was close enough, and so I walked in a circuit, stopping at all the major newsrooms: ABC, CBS, NBC and WGN (or at least their office at the Tribune Tower). In each case I dropped off one roll of film and asked that they get it to their news director. If at least one of them ran it before the conference, it would put confusion into the minds of whoever might be there to grab or shoot me. That would be helpful.

Then I walked into the library and up to the books on the second floor. I found a book of old sermons. They weren’t terribly good, but they led my mind into healthy areas and healthy feelings. As noon approached I was feeling faith and love; I was ready. If they shot me, so be it, but I’d act in faith regardless.

* * * * *

(Available now on Kindle)