A black Suburban headed west on Route 2 at the top of Lake Michigan. The late afternoon traffic was light and no state troopers cruised the two-laner traversing the Upper Peninsula. The driver was cruising at 85, then stamped on his brakes upon spotting a white van parked in the Wonderland Diner parking lot. The SUV lumbered to the side of the road and the tall man behind the wheel reached over for his binoculars. He focused on the back of the van.
The plates matched those of the fugitive.
“Now I have you, you bastard.”
Only this morning the Assistant Field Director in Petrowsky called off the hunt for their quarry.
“The fat man has slipped through our net, but someone that size will surface sooner or later.”
The driver of the black car hadn’t imagined ‘later’ would arrive so soon and he punched a number on his cell phone. The direct line to the agency was busy. He tried the State Police without success and then 911 with the same result. Someone jamming the transmissions.
SOP recommended back-up and the agent waited for the phone service to come back on line.
The diner’s sign blinked HOME COOKING every 15 seconds. The neon enticement played to an empty house. Thirty minutes went by without a single car or truck passing the Wonderland Diner.
The sun dropped beneath the pines. The thickening darkness was all the cover that the fat man needed to escape into the Upper Peninsula’s trackless woods. The agent pressed the number for the FBI.
He pulled out his 9mm. It was loaded with 15 rounds.
“Fuck SOP.” The agent shifted the SUV out of park and drove right behind the van. He flicked off the safety of his automatic and exited from the Suburban. Blessing himself with the left hand he walked to the entrance.
The door opened with a creak.
Neither the cook nor the young man at the counter broke from their fixation on the food fest at table #5, where a fat man in overalls shoveled down the remains of grits and eggs.
“Where them pasties?”
The fat man pushed his stubby fingers through lank hair.
Michigan had no law against eating yourself to death and the cook flipped the half-dozen meat-stuffed pasties onto a plate, then turned to the tall man at the door.
His suit was rumpled and his right hand was behind his back. His build was a little too athletic for a man in his forties, but the cook had seen all types during his ten years running the Wonderland.
“You comin’ or goin’? Cuz either way you gotta shut that door.”
“Business so good you can insult customers."
The newcomer shut the door.
“Sorry, mister, I don’t heat the great outdoors. Not this time of year.”
The tall man sat at the counter.
The fat man wiped his mouth with the back on his hand.
“Chicken pot pie was damn good. Pork Chops too. Ya should try that.”
“I’m not that hungry.”
The tall man eyed the young man at the counter. The dirt on his hands had not come from any honest labor and the leaves in his long hair indicated a night under a bridge. He was no one and the tall man whipped out his 9mm.
“Don’t shoot me.” The cook dropped the plate of pasties.
“No one’s shooting anyone.” The fat man poked a fork into the flapjacks.
“Not if I don’t have to.” The tall man produced a badge with his left hand. “I’m a duly authorized federal agent and that man is a fugitive from justice. You two stay out of the way and nobody will be hurt. Big man, keep your hands in front of you and stand away from the table very slowly.”
“I….” the hippie stammered and the agent snapped,” This doesn’t concern you.”
“Stay out of it,” the fat man mumbled through his pancakes.
“Drop that fork.”
The agent approached the booth.
“Ya goin’ to shoot me for eatin’?”
“I’m not kidding.” The agent wasn’t in a laughing mood.
“Damn, who ya’ll? The fat people police?” The big man rose with extraordinary grace for a man his size. His hands were in the air. “Yer wanna arrest me, Ah ain’t gonna fight.”
The fat man was wanted Dead or Alive and his lack of resistance surprised the agent.
“You’ve been through the drill; turn around, face the wall, and spread them wide.”
“Tell me, if Ah’m gonna be safe with ya’ll.”
The fat man stretched his elephantine arms and legs against the Formica wall.
“Ah mean, the only reason Ah ain’t surrendered before was that Ah weren’t sure that yer cud keep me someplace safe.”
“Oh, we have safe places for you.” The agent dangled handcuffs to the cook. “Slap these on the man. If he moves, I’ll shoot him.”
“Shootin' a man that big like trying' to hit a bear in a vital spot.” The cook took the cuff. “No offense, big man.”
“None taken.” The fat man’s head swiveled to show a toothy smile. “Yer a good cook and Ah gots to dig yer fer that.”
“Keep your eyes straight ahead.”
“Ain’t that a laugh? Here ya'll trying’ to earn a decent livin' and this bloodhound starts mess in’ with yer customers and ordering’ ya around.”
The fat man pressed his face to the wall.
“Bet that makes ya feel real safe.”
“You wanna know why they after me? Cus Ah’m privy to the truth about lies. Cookie, why don’t ya ask Bossman why he’s arresting’ me? I bet $100 he doesn’t have a clue.”
“They’re too small.” The cook fumbled with the cuffs.
“You have to open them up.” The tall man glanced at the silent longhair. His hands were over his head. The agent snatched the handcuffs from the cook and stepped closer to the fat man. “Get real tight with that wall and put your hands behind you.”
“Yeah, yer just doin’ your job, only Ah ain’t done no wrong to no one in a long time. That didn’t keep ‘em from comin’ after me.”
“I’m gonna obey your every command, bossman.”
“Cook, you have tape?” The cuffs were too small.
“Ain’t ya supposed to use government-issue tape?”
“I told you to shut your hole and I meant it. Where’s that tape?”
“Right here.” The cook offered masking tape.
“Wrap his wrists tight.”
“Hey, ya don’t wanna be cuttin’ off the blood. Ah mean Ah gotta eat with these hands.”
“Don’t worry, you’ll be stuffing your yap soon enough.”
The agent waved the cook out of his line of fire.
“I hate GI Joe grub.” The fat man spun on his heels and pushed the cook.
The agent had been expecting this move and pulled the trigger, only the shot went wide and three hundred plus pounds of sweat, fat, and bones squashed the agent into the wall like a Samoan lineman sacking a quarterback. When the fat man stepped away, the unconscious agent fell to the floor.
“You killed him,” the cook declared with horror.
“Ain’t dead, only knocked out and people will come in droves, cus ya had somethin’ happen here. And they'll all wanna to hear about what happened and not much happens this time of year or any other, right? If fact ya should be thanking’ me for savin’ yer winter.”
The fat man de-ammoed the 9mm.
“Cookie, give the man his piece after I’m gone.”
“What you gonna do?” The cook looked at the payphone.
“Ah’m gonna go down the highway and yer can tell the fellas that come for this one that too.”
The fat man picked up the pasties from the floor.
“Sure, take what you want.”
“This ain’t no stick-up.” The fat man handed him several twenties and told the long hair, “You can drop yer hands.”
“I’m no trouble.” The long hair stared at the man on the floor.
“And ya ain’t gonna have none neither. I wany ya ta drive fer me.”
“Drive for you?” The hippie lowered his arms.
“They have an all-points on my van, so Ah’m takin’ the bossman’s car.”
The longhair retreated toward the bathroom.
“Maybe ya didn’t hear me right. You’re drivin’. Ah can’t fit behind the wheel and ya’ll can. Afterwards ya can say that Ah forced ya’ll, which is exactly what Ah’m doin’, ifn’t I hear the word ‘no’ agin.”
“You’re not leaving me any choices,” the longhair protested to the fat man.
“Yer exactly right.” The fat man searched the fallen agent’s pockets, finding the car keys, and then jerked the pay phone from the wall. “Sorry, Ah can’t take chances. Thanks for the lunch. It was delicious. Let’s go.”
The hippie exited first from the diner.
The fat man pointed to the SUV.
“I like big cars. They make me look thin.”
“There’s not many places to run on the Upper Peninsula.”
“That’s okay, cuz where Ah’m goin’ ain’t no one can follow me.”
“You expecting an alien abduction?”
“They already land on Earth. Sum of ‘em tubes. Funny, maybe that’s why people in the fashion businesses are so skinny and Ah’m so fat. They don’t abduct no fat men, cuz they can’t achieve orbit. Now git in the car, we have to go.” The fat man shoved the long hair behind the wheel and then sat in the rear with the SUV teetering to the right.
The hippie studied the rear-view mirror with a little too much interest.
“Who’s been chasing you?” The hippie backed out of the parking lot.
“The FBI, the CIA, the NSA and even NASA had a shot.”
“Was that guy one of them?”
“He mighta been after the million-dollar bounty on my head.”
“Why you worth a million?” The hippie glanced in the rearview mirror.
“Yer seen me enough at the diner.”
“I ain’t seen anyone human eat that much.”
“Yer can’t get a better disguise than a fat person.”
“So you didn’t tell me why they hunting you.”
“Ah didn’t, otherwise they’d hunt yer to the ground.”
“Heck, I’m already wanted for credit card theft, so I’m off to Canada, then I’ll head to the Eskimo nation to hunt seals or whales or carve tusks. I’m good with my hands and there’s not much call for that in the old USA, right?”
“Yer wanna hear why they’re after me?” The fat man leaned forward to whisper in the driver’s ear.
“Hell, I’d tell you I’d keep it a secret, but after two beers or a joint I’d surrender the family secrets to entertain the crowd, so if you don’t want it spread around the Eskimo nation, keep it to yourself.”
The driver’s gray eyes gleamed with a hustler’s sincerity.
“I guess I can trust you.” The fat man settled into the seat. “Ah was once young and full of life. One day Ah heard a story, which altered my life. A secret Ah wuzn’t supposed to hear and didn’t believe. Anyway this man told me the truth of this world. Oh, Ah heard why we were in Vietnam to stop communism. More like to control the heroin trade. Why we gave China to the Reds? To control one billion people under one leader. The government waved the flag and blacklisted commies in America, which was smoke fer the real drama. None of those truths got me in trouble. No, the one that endangered me is the greatest mystery in the American Century. Yer have any idea which one that might be?”
“Is Elvis alive?”
“Elvis is dead. Ah saw the body.”
“You saw the body?” the longhair demanded in disbelief.
“Ah saw plenty in my old job and heard more. Elvis’s death ain’t the greatest secret in America, unless yer an Elvis impersonator. C’mon, try a little harder.”
He squinted, as the setting sun’s golden glow filled the long corridor of pines bordering the highway.
“Biggest secret. Oh, I have it. Who killed Kennedy? You’re talking about that, right?”
The driver stepped on the gas.
“Ah’ll tell yer and it’ll take about seven minutes after which Ah’m gonna step out of the car and you drive away. Yer got that?”
“Ah was alive, when Kennedy was killed. Hell, Ah can tell you what Ah was wearin’, cuz Ah went to a Catholic school. White shirt, blue tie, black pants, black shoes. Anyway Ah believed that Oswald was the killer.”
“Same as the rest of the America.”
“Ah believed that, until Ah met the assassin and he wuzn’t no CIA agent either.”
“Who was he?”
“His identity is unimportant, cuz he wuz part of the machine that killed the president.”
“Cause of the Bay of Pigs?”
“Not even warm. This story doesn’t begin with the Kennedys. Yer heard of Marilyn Monroe?”
“Yeah, the movie actress JFK was banging.”
“That proves yer an ignorant fuck buyin’ what the TV sells you.”
“Okay, okay, tell me your story then.”
The driver flicked on the headlights.
“What yer do that fer?”
“Cause it’ll be dark soon, that’s why.”
“Yeah, right, so as Ah said, the story starts with Marilyn Monroe. Not many people were aware of that she was the illegitimate daughter of a Mafia gangster. Anyway Marilyn becomes a movie star and every citizens in America believes she’s havin’ an affair with JFK, only JFK is usin’ her as a ‘beard’ to hide his womanizin’.”
“With Judith Exner Campbell.”
“Glad you watch The Learning Channel.”
The fat man dropped the southern accent.
The story went faster without the drawl.
“Anyway Marilyn becomes a real pain in the ass and JFK tells his brother, Bobby, to tell her it’s over. Bobby goes to Marilyn after the birthday bash in Madison Square Garden. Normally the sight of a crying woman had no effect on the hard-hearted bastard. Only he’s a man and she’s a beautiful woman and he comforts her broken heart.”
“So JFK never…..”
“Never is a long time, anyway Bobby falls in love with Marilyn and starts telling her his business and JFK’s too. Starts talkin’ about leavin’ his wife and the Kennedys had a hard enough time electin’ Catholic in 1960 without having a divorce in the family for the re-election in 1964. JFK orders his brother to dump Marilyn. Bobby says he’s marrying Marilyn. JFK vows to stop this union. He can’t turn to the Mafia, since he’s stiffed them on Cuba. Instead he goes to that old drag queen, Hoover, who’s pleased as punch to get more dirt on the President. The little fruitcake tells him not to worry and flies out to Los Angeles with his boyfriend and they kill Marilyn. Bobby walks in on them and beats the shit out of them. J. Edgar confesses that his brother ordered her murder.”
“Shit. A car’s following us. In fact they’re catching up.”
“Could be anyone.”
The fat man glimpsed over his shoulder.
“No, not just ‘anyone’ has flashing lights. So keep the story coming.”
“Thanks, kid, it’s comforting to have a friend in your corner. Now where was I? Oh, yeah, Bobby wants revenge. Nothing comes to him, until the brightest and the best of the White House are discussing the drop in JFK’s polls. The president asked, if anyone has an idea to boost his popularity. Bobby suggested that they stage a fake assassination attempt. The rest of the brain trust calls him crazy, except Old Man Kennedy understood street politics and mumbles nothin’ boosts a president’s re-election more than a failed assassination. JFK accepted his father’s edict and gave the CIA the go-ahead. Those university minds plotted the fake assassination in Dallas. A CIA team on the grassy knoll shoots blanks. JFK becomes a hero, the election a landslide, and a mandate assures a new era of prosperity. None of them suspected Bobby was setting up his brother for the old Mafia boss.”
“Who was Marilyn’s real father?”
“Ten points. Bobby tells the old man how JFK had killed his daughter and they planned to place another shooter on the scene.”
“The Texas Book Depository,” the driver spat like he was rushing an answer to a game show.
“No, Oswald was a fall guy. The Mafia chief put his shooter in the building across the street. November 22, 1963. Everyone’s in place. The CIA team shootin’ blanks on the grassy knoll. The fall guy's in the Depository. The Mafia hit man waiting for his shot. Anyway the limo makes the turn and the Mafia hit man bangs away, hitting the president. The CIA team is confused by the change in the plans and pulls off a round. The hit man delivers the coup de grace and Bobby has his revenge. Fratricide.”
“It fits,” the driver murmured with the car gliding to a halt.
“I figured you for a cop.”
The fat man dipped his hand into the bag of pasties.
“Sorry, big man,” the driver apologized, adding, “I’m only doing my job.”
“No problem, I understand and thanks for not shooting me.
He bit into the pastie.
"They want you alive."
Blinking lights filled the interior of the car.
“Yeah, for now. You think about what they’ll do to you, once they’re rid of me?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Officer Tippitt, Lee Harvey Oswald, Dorothy Killgallen, Jack Ruby to name a few, but we don’t have time to tally the body count. I step out of this car and I’m a dead man. You’re dead too, because I told you too much.”
“That was some crazy bullshit.”
“Okay, you talk to your boys. If they ask, if I told you anything, you say no and come back to the car and drive faster than hell. A plane is waiting at a deserted airfield five miles from here and the pilot will wait another ten minutes. Tell them I have a gun and will only surrender to you.”
“You don’t have a gun.”
“Yes, I do.” The fat man withdrew a .22 Beretta from under a fold of fat. “Now if I’m wrong, step away, because I’m not goin’ to jail and I don’t wanna kill you.”
“Why not?” The driver rested his hand on the door handle.
“Because you’re my only out.” The fat man flicked off the Beretta’s safety.
"I'll be right back."
The longhair walked to the men behind the cars. They spoke for a few seconds and the hippie returned to sit behind the wheel. The fat man tapped him on the shoulder.
“You were right.”
“I wish I wasn’t.” The fat man had to trust the longhair. They were both dead men if he didn’t. “You ready?”
“Ready?” The driver stamped on the accelerator. The black car burned rubber to the crack of shots. Several shattered the rear window, missing the passenger and the driver. Sirens filled their ears and the cold air rushed inside the car. “That’s one way to quit your job.”
“No one in my job has ever retired, so it’s welcome to run for your life.”
“Yeah, head out of the highway, looking for adventure and whatever comes your way,” the fat man sang, imitating Steppenwolf.
“Fire your guns into space.” The driver showed they were on the same team and the fat man shifted to a chorus from Judas Priest, “Head out of the highway.” because the open road was the only world left for people like him, until the ranks of the resistance outnumbered the liars in power and that could take an eternity.
And eternity was closer than anyone knew.