YOU'RE FAMOUS NOW

Late in the summer of 1964 I wrote a letter to Slim Brooks, informing him
of my plans to visit New Orleans briefly, in about two weeks.

I traveled by bus from Virginia to Gainesville, Georgia, where one of my old French Quarter friends, Grace Caplinger -- now Grace MacEachron -- was living with her new husband, John MacEachron, a teacher at a military academy there. We drove together in their car, with their baby daughter, Marion, to New Orleans.

Venturing forth alone in the French Quarter, I soon began to catch up on the latest news. Somebody told me that a number of my friends had been arrested as Communists by the New Orleans police in a raid on a new coffee house on Esplanade, the Quorum. Seventy-three people, as I recall, were busted in the fiasco. Everyone was up in arms about it, circulating petitions.

Someone with whom I was distantly acquainted offered to show me where the Quorum was, saying it had replaced the Ryder as the gathering place for all the hard-core Beatniks. We took out from the Bourbon House in the direction of Esplanade, walking up Royal Street.

As we neared the Saint Louis Cathedral, he said casually, "Did you happen to know Ola Holcomb, who lived in that apartment across the street?"

"I didn't know she lived there but, yeah, I've known Ola for years."

"She blew her brains out all over the kitchen floor in there with a .38 pistol a week or so ago."

"Jesus! She and I were very close at one time."

"I'm sorry. I didn't realize that. I guess I could have broke the news some other way."

"Why would Ola, of all people, commit suicide7"

"They say she was all bent out of shape about some guy she was in love with who rejected her. Her mother came home and found the body."

"Yeah, last I heard she was living with her mother. She seemed very fond of that old gal. And Ola was such a strong woman. It doesn't figure."

"They say she was really stuck on the guy."

"You know something?" I said as we continued our way up the street. "A11 afternoon I've been looking at the pretty old buildings and all the hip people and wondering why the hell I ever left the French Quarter. Now I remember. What a depressing place! People are always doing themselves in here."

When we arrived at the Quorum my companion introduced me to the owner, a man named Marcus, who was a friend of Jack Frazier, proprietor of the Ryder. Glancing at the Goldwater button on my shirt, Marcus said, "Come on now, you're not serious?"

"Not only am I seriously supporting Goldwater," I replied, "but if you'll let me, I'll deliver a speech here some evening explaining why."

"No," he said, laughing, "I don't think so."

"Yeah, that's the way you liberals are," I retorted. "Always talking about freedom and the right to dissent -- except when the speaker is of the right instead of the left."

After thinking a minute, he said, "Now, I wouldn't want anyone to accuse us of being narrow-minded. We usually have a discussion group here," naming such-and-such night, Friday or Saturday, probably. "What do you want to call your rap?"

"'The Intellectually Respectable Right,'" I said. "I want to point out to them that all Goldwater's supporters are not anti-intellectual."

"All right. You're on."

John Kamus was present at the Quorum, so I then wandered over to his side of the room and asked how things were going.

"I'm soliciting donations for an Ola Holcomb Memorial Collection at the New Orleans Public Library," he said, after we had exchanged our condolences about the tragedy of her death. "Ola so loved books, we thought that would be an especially fitting way to honor her."

"Yes, I remember. She once told me what she liked best about the way her apartment was furnished was that anywhere you sat, even on the toilet, you saw books." I chipped in a few bucks.

Next I learned that Slim Brooks was now living in a small room right next door to the Quorum. I went to visit him.

Slim had found a way to tap an extension line into the pay phone located on the sidewalk out front. After showing me how it permitted him to make use of free phone service, he suggested we "go stick nose in the Bourbon House."

Later that night, as we were preparing to go our separate ways from the Bourbon House, he said, "Incidentally, there is a man who wants to see you before you leave town again."

"Oh, yeah? Who?"

"He lives out on the Jefferson Highway and his name begins with K."

"Oh, him. Your brother-in-law."

"Uh-huh. He made a point of it. Says he definitely wants to see you."

I mentioned my appointment to lecture about Goldwater at the Quorum and we decided Slim should tell Brother-in-law to meet me there.

"You know," Slim added, "he's still cultivating powerful men, in keeping with his theory about the secret of Hitler's power. And you know what else? Heh-heh. He went and joined himself up in the Anti-Defamation League. Kirstein sounds like a Jewish name, so he decided he might as well get on their mailing list."

"Yeah, that's your brother-in-law. It figures," I said, anxious to be on my way.

"And one other thing. You know, Barbara Reid is still going around telling everyone she saw you sitting with Oswald in the Bourbon House a couple of months before the assassination."

"Over a bottle of Old Crow, probably," I scoffed. "She told me about that herself once. I even believed it. I couldn't remember who the hell I was sitting with that day. Then Clint Bolton and everybody else who knows her said Barbara ties herself into everything that happens. I ain't worried about what Barbara Reid says."

"But, but, but, but, but -- there are people who believe her."

"Slim, there are people who believe in God. Barbara herself believes in witchcraft. Anybody who believes in Barbara Reid I am certainly not worried about."

"Yeah, well. I'll see you next trip, as we say in the merchant marines."

Clint Bolton, a retired newsman who enjoyed giving me pep talks about my writing, was a close friend of Barbara Reid, whom he called Mother Witch.

During the days immediately after the assassination, when I was still working at Arno's, I used to find him at Barbara's watching television, late at night when I got off work.

With him usually was a Sicilian-American gentleman named Sam, for whose wholesale cigar business Clint was working during the day. Sam shared my admiration for Garibaldi.

Clint, aside from a passing complaint about my poor taste, was one of the few who had not come down hard on me for my post-assassination antics -- so I'd gotten into seeking them out, instead of sitting in the Bourbon House looking for action.

Barbara was something else. I didn't know what to make of her. In her living room was an imposing voodoo altar, cluttered with statuettes and herbs. She wore a beret and smoked her cigarettes in a holder, like a 1930's Greenwich Village artist.

One night Sam and Clint left early and Barbara Reid invited me to remain there, offering another beer. We talked late into the morning hours, calmly, about our differences concerning John Kennedy and the assassination. She claimed to be a personal friend of Robert Kennedy, something I didn't find extraordinary, since I knew Barbara was involved in Civil Rights work.

That was when she told me, dramatically, that she had seen Oswald and me together -- one afternoon in September - in the Bourbon House.

"That isn't possible," I replied, convinced I was in California and Mexico when Lee was in New Orleans.

She produced newspaper clippings to prove we had in fact been in town at the same time, for a week or two, earlier that year, previous to Oswald's departure for Mexico City.

"Remember that day you were sitting at the corner table with someone and I called to you from the bar, asking if you had ever worked in radio?"

As a matter of fact I did. She went on to tell me I had a beautiful voice and that I should think about going into radio. Slightly embarrassed, I waved off the compliment and returned to my conversation with the man at my table. "But if that had been Lee Oswald, I would have recognized him."

"Not if someone had hypnotized you to forget."

I laughed. "That's too paranoid."

"Could it be that you just didn't recognize him out of uniform -- that the face was familiar, but..."

I thought about that.

"Kerry, I'm certain it was him. When Oswald's picture came up on the television screen after the assassination I screamed, 'That's him. That's the man who was sitting with Kerry in the Bourbon House that day.'"

"I guess I might have seen him and just thought he was some French Quarter person whose name escaped me. It's possible -- except I was sitting there working on notes for my book based on Oswald at the time."

"Kerry, he was talking about how he planned to go back to Texas soon. I remember."

It did seem that whoever I was sitting with had mentioned Texas.

"I used to work as a casting director and, believe me, I never forget a face. That man was Lee Harvey Oswald. I'm certain of it."

I went home that night somewhat intrigued with the notion that maybe Oswald had walked into the Bourbon House that afternoon and nodded in my direction, and that I had gestured for him to join me at my table, just as Barbara remembered it. More than once I have vaguely recognized someone whose name I didn't recall and spoken to them, ashamed to admit I didn't remember where we had met previously.

Over oyster stew in the Bourbon House the next morning I mentioned to Clint and Sam that Barbara was certain she had seen me with Oswald last September, and that I was inclined to believe it myself.

"Barbara is certain, my young friend, that she has seen every famous or notorious person who ever lived somewhere in the French Quarter at one time or another," Clint droned.

Sam concurred heartily, going into a number of examples.

As the day wore on, I mentioned Barbara's claim to others with the same response. Yet there was the nagging fact that I could not recall who I was sitting with that day.

Note 50

A year after the incident, I was still trying to figure out who the mystery man was, although I was sure by this time it wasn't Oswald. What disturbed me more, though, was the way Slim had taken such pains to try to alarm me about Barbara Reid 's gossiping. Slim Brooks made no pretense of believing Barbara's story. Why, then, did he seem to enjoy needling me about it?

When the night of my lecture at the Quorum arrived, I noted with slight feelings of relief that Brother-in-law was not in the audience. Since he and Ola Holcomb used to be lovers, he would probably be depressed and, in any case, he was an individual I found depressing in the brightest of circumstances. I delivered my speech, fielded a few very intelligent questions afterwards in what I felt was a satisfactory manner and then noticed Slim standing off to one side.

Upon joining him I learned that Brother-in-law had not forgotten our appointment. "He didn't want to listen to your speech. He thinks your politics are bullshit -- too light-weight for him. He's in the patio -- out back."

Sure enough, there the sonofabitch was -- sitting in a chair, his bald head gleaming in the dim light, looking as cheerfully nefarious as ever. I didn't mention Ola and he didn't bring the subject up either. In fact, it seemed as if there was nothing to talk about. That didn't seem to make him the least bit ill at ease. Grinning smugly, he just kept chewing on the stem of his pipe and looking at me.

"I hear you're becoming famous," he said at last, for the Warren Report, in which my testimony was quoted, had just been published.

"Yeah, I guess so," I said, standing there uncertainly.

"Hey, come over here," Slim called to a passer-by. "This is Kerry Thornley. He knew Oswald."

"Yeah," I said upon being introduced, "I master-minded the Kennedy assassination."

Brother-in-law chuckled. He liked that one.

The passing stranger, with whom I was now shaking hands, asked me what I thought of the conclusions of the Warren Commission and I defended them.

Slim repeated the same introduction with someone else afterwards and I again quipped that I had master-minded the assassination, and so on, with maybe half a dozen different individuals.

Brother-in-law sat there all the while, puffing his pipe and gloating. Everyone Slim introduced asked me something about the assassination and possibilities that Oswald was innocent or others were involved. In each instance, I defended the lone-assassin theory.

Brother-in-law and Slim then indicated that they had to go somewhere. I was puzzled. Why had he gone out of his way to meet with me if he wasn't going to say anything?

As Slim went up to the cash register to pay their check, Brother-in-law and I waited at a little table just inside the back door.

I looked at him and asked, "Well, how are things going with you these days?"

"Wonderful," he said. "Just great. You know, I really like living in that little house way out in the country, because there are no neighbors around -- to hear the screams in the middle of the night!" A villainous leer accompanied his words.

Certainly the remark startled me. I must have knitted my brow and given him a questioning look.

Obviously, he expected some other kind of response because, for the first time since I had met him more than three years before, Brother-in-law lost his composure.

Fumbling with his pipe, he hemmed and hawed and then said, "Yeah, one of these nights I'm going to go out and catch me a nigger woman, and then take her home and torture her to death."

Slim came to the rescue and together they departed into the night.

I stood in the doorway of the Quorum watching them disappear down the street. An awful thought struck me. If that weird man really meant what he just said to me, there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

I could just imagine myself walking into a New Orleans police station and saying, "Listen, I know a Nazi who says he is going to kidnap and murder a black woman some night."

"Sure, buddy. If he ever goes through with it, don't forget to call us."

Not then and not for years afterwards did I think of this unusual meeting in connection with what Brother-in-law had said one day at his house during one of those tedious conversations: "I'm going to talk to everyone in the country who wants Kennedy dead about assassinating him. Then I'm going to do it. Then I'm going to pay a visit to each and every one of them. I'm not going to say anything. I'm just going to look at them and smile, so they'll get the idea. After that, I'll feel free to call on them for favors."

NEXT

CONFESSION TO CONSPIRACY TO ASSASSINATE JFK

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