A split second later, he was able to put his finger on the panic button that had just been pushed inside his head.
He’d said "Murder". No one ever says Kennedy was murdered, people always say he was assassinated. Everyone except the guy in the back seat of his cab. Jason didn't like the sound of that. Not one little bit. This guy was getting creepier every time he opened that old mouth of his.
Instinct took over. Jason pulled the car toward the curb, slammed on the brakes without even thinking about it. The car lurched the to a sudden halt, and he spun around to get a better look at whoever the hell was sitting back there giving him history lessons.
His passenger didn't seem to be bothered by the sudden stop. In fact, he was smiling, and Jason could have sworn he’d almost expected him to stop the car like that. That made his nerves jangle just a little, and he got that sinking feeling you get in your stomach when something just ain’t right. He had the impression nothing much would phase the old man he was staring at right now. Nothing much at all.
The old man was taller than he expected, and you could tell that when he was younger that he'd been a strong guy - there was still some hint of that in him now. The gaunt, bearded face, topped with the fedora, was attached to a neat three piece suit, held together with an equally neat tie. This guy looked like he was going out for a night on the town, instead of just going out forever. He looked utterly harmless, but something inside Jason hinted that wasn’t quite as accurate as he might have hoped.
A long, pale hand extended toward him in the darkness of the cab.
"Jason, my name is Bill Heller. I'm dying. I deserve to die. I think I'd like to clear my conscience before that happens, and I don't think I have more than a few days at best to do that.”
Jason shook the old man's handed briefly and firmly, somehow feeling he'd suddenly damned his own soul by doing that.
"Mr. Heller...I mean, Bill...what the hell? I'm just a taxi driver! If you need to clear your conscience, why not go talk to a priest? Boston is full of them."
Heller replied, “I'm damned. There's no real salvation for people like me. You can’t baptize the devil and get him forgiven for the stuff he’s done. You or a priest, it makes no difference really. It's all the going to be same to me in the end.”
“Actually, telling some random taxi driver what really happened makes more sense. No one would believe you even if you told them what I'm about to tell you. In fact, they'd probably just call me a crazy old man, and they'd put you in a rubber room wearing a 'hug me' jacket for the next few years. Jason, I have nothing to lose here, and you might learn a lot about how this world really works. Does that sound like a deal?”
This was one of those moments in life when you absolutely know you have to ask a certain question, but you'd rather remove your own face with an angle grinder instead of asking that question. Jason felt his throat get very tight and very dry at the same time.
"Bill, just who the hell are you?" he croaked. His throat was way drier than he wanted it to be. Instead of sounding self-assured and a bit brave, he just sounded hoarse and scared instead. He sounded like a frightened kid asking a pretty girl out on their first date.
Jason knew that he sounded afraid. And he was.
The silence that filled the cab seemed to last forever, but, in reality, it was just a handful of seconds. Time has an annoying habit of slowing up or speeding down depending on how you’re feeling at any given point in time, and, right now, time was dragging its sorry ass.
The rain was still pouring down outside while the inside of the cab was lit with the sickly orange glow from street lights. The noise of other cars driving and honking their way by in the night faded to almost a whisper. Something or someone had to break the cloud of anticipation that was gathering inside the confined space these two strangers were sharing.
Jason knew that what he really wanted to hear was that this was just some tired old man sitting in the back of his car, spinning a yarn. A crazy old loon who was happily getting his last few kicks scaring the living shit out of some dumbass. But that wasn't going to be what he would hear. In fact, he had a pretty strong feeling it would be the exact opposite of that.
The old man paused, straightened himself up, and said, "A lot of people want to know who killed Kennedy, or even think they know who might have been responsible. They all have their theories. You're looking straight at him right now though, the same way I was looking straight at Kennedy when he crossed Dealey Plaza that day in '63.”
Heller continued, "A famous man once said that people sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf. I'm a 'rough man', Jason, and I have done terrible things to keep people safe. In a world filled with terrible dark secrets, I have been responsible for some of the darkest and most horrible. What we did that day is just a sample of it all...just an entrée in a 4-course meal of chaos.”
"Okay. So you're telling me that you're the guy who killed Kennedy, right?" Jason said.
Heller sat staring at Jason, nodding slowly and sadly. There was a lot of sincerity in that gesture.
Jason blurted out, “So you pulled the trigger on Kennedy! What about that guy, Oswald, then? Everyone said he did it and they had proof, too!" He was surprised at how emotional he’d become on the subject. Kennedy had been a national icon and a symbol of changing times. He didn’t like people dirtying that memory with their own brand of BS.
His passenger sat there and said nothing for a few moments, obviously going over in his head what he wanted to say next. He could see that Jason didn't believe a single word of what he was saying.
"I was one of the shooters, but not the only one. You see, we had to be certain that we silenced him that day. There could be no chances taken. None. Everything was planned to make sure that we couldn’t fail.”
The old man paused again for a few moments, staring straight ahead, but also 50 years into his past. He had that 'far away' look people get when they're remembering something especially nice, or something really horrible. Like the 'Thousand Yard' stare 'Nam vets apparently have. It's that 'the-lights-are-on-but-nobody's-home' look.
"Oswald was there that day, you're right about that. But for us, Oswald was a tool, just a pawn in a bigger game. We needed a believable scapegoat, someone the American people could be made to hate and be baying for their blood. But they wouldn't have to hate him for very long, we made sure of that, because that was all part of the bigger plan, you see.”
Jason sat there, not saying a word. In fact, he was pretty sure his head was also empty of anything like a normal thought at this point. Even if this guy was just batshit crazy, this was too good to interrupt. Heck, if nothing else, he had a hell of a story to tell his buddies some night over a few beers. "Yeah, guys...I drove the guy who shot Kennedy to a cancer hospice, but before he got there, he told me about the whole thing. All of it. No, really, he did - no shit."
It was at that point he realized that Heller was right about this whole last confession business. The entire story sounded like the ravings of a mad man. Clever old man. This whole thing was deniable, even if anyone ever bothered to check any of the details he was being given.