Conspiracy Buffs

LYLE and Deborah haven't been to New York before. The convention of the East Coast Assassination Investigation Workshops has finally brought them to the city, at Lyle's insistence. Deborah has found, even coming in from the airport, that New York is as she has heard--the rudeness and all. She looks out of the hotel van and sees a grungy man in another car staring at her, unabashed. She looks away.

"How safe do you think we'll be?" Deborah says.

"Like I said before, we'll be fine," Lyle says. "As long as we stay in the hotel or close by, we'll be fine. We'll be among friends."

Lyle and Deborah are both forty-eight. They live in Denver now, where Lyle services photocopiers and Deborah is in insurance. They have no children, and for this reason they have the luxury of spending a week here. Lyle wanted to go "all out" for this, and Deborah doesn't mind. At the regional conventions they've been to, in Dallas three times, and also in Portland and Kansas City, she has always found plenty to do while Lyle attends his seminars. Last year, in Kansas City, while he sat through "The Warren Commission: Footnotes and Falsehoods," she shopped and went sightseeing and had long, contemplative lunches by herself. When they returned home, Lyle holed up in his basement file room every night after dinner, sure he was on to something. Lyle feels he has made a breakthrough, and this is why they have come to the Big One, in New York. Their dogs, matching lhasa apsos named Zapruder and Mannlicher, are being boarded at the veterinarian's.

Checking in at the hotel, Lyle is recognized. When he says, "Reservation for Lyle Asay," a man off to the rear of them says, "Umbrella Man." In this age of specialization the Umbrella Man happens to be Lyle's specialty.

"That man's talking to you, honey," Deborah says.


"Him. He said, 'Umbrella Man.'"

Lyle turns, and with a grin introduces himself. The man's name is Otto Litwak. He is an eightyish man with the bearing of a professor. He, too, will be attending tomorrow's 10:30 A.M. conference, "The Umbrella Man: Grassy Knoll, Sunny Day--Signals and Codes?"

"I am something of an expert myself," Litwak says, "although not of your caliber. Word has come from the American interior about your work."

"I don't recall hearing your name," Lyle says.

"I stay in Trenton," Litwak says. "I don't travel much."

All the way up in the elevator Lyle is ecstatic. Deborah asks him if it wasn't rude to have said he'd never heard of the man. Lyle says, "But I never have."

Although he is not a panel member at the conference, Lyle has planned to seize the floor and present his findings, which he believes will prove that the Umbrella Man was the linchpin of the conspirators' plan. Seizing the floor is a part of the culture, and he has already circulated word that he'll be doing it. He was worried that he might not be known in New York as he is in Kansas City and Portland, but now that fear is laid aside.

"People are expecting me!" Lyle says. He's got his tan suit on, with the big cowboy hat, as if he were a Texas Ranger, or maybe a cattleman.

"This is the big moment!" he says. "This is where they bite the bullet!" Then he says what he always says when he's excited: "Jack, you son of a bitch!"

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Lyle has been saving up and doing his research for two years, waiting to be here, and his excitement has been further churned by rumors that Oliver Stone will show up to speak. Lyle and his friends believe that Stone will be making a sequel to JFK, and word is that he will hire three technical advisers for hundreds of thousands of dollars each.

Deborah knows very little about Lyle's theories. She prefers to ignore them. She believes in a single shooter. Had he known this before they married, she knows, it would have been a sign of incompatibility he couldn't stomach. So she has distanced herself. "Kennedy's dead and we can't change that," she says to Lyle when he asks her opinion on things. There is an unreflective doggedness in these words that Lyle clearly finds disturbing, and therefore avoids. He hasn't asked for years. For the most part their marriage is good.

All the way from the house in Denver, Lyle has carried his heavy briefcase with him, and now he is unwilling to trust it to the bellhop. Deborah has decided that his next Christmas gift should be a new briefcase, and that she will find a way to have a handcuff attached. She knows Lyle well enough to know that he'll love it: it will be a semi-serious gift, like the pink pillbox hat he got her a few years ago. He has a flair for showmanship, and for paranoia. In the airport coffee shop in Chicago, waiting to switch planes, he held the briefcase between his ankles while they ate.

In their room, when the rest of the luggage has arrived, he snaps open the briefcase and stacks his piles of manila folders on the table. Deborah hangs up their clothes, takes a shower, and gets dressed. At six o'clock she says, "Lyle? Dinner?"

He looks up from his papers as if she has just burst in unexpectedly. "Gee, Deb," he says, "I don't know if I can, with my conference first thing in the morning." He is nervous, she can tell. She shrugs. "I'll go down alone," she says. "I need to get out of this room for a while."

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