Paul Gatting watched the slow rise and fall of his superior’s chest. The laboured breathing and incessant hissing of the oxygen tube, accentuated the silence in the clinically white room.
He sat upright and stretched his back, raising his arms above his head and grunting with the effort.
‘Never had you down as the sentimental type.’ Jack opened his eyes slowly.
Paul, somewhat surprised, ignored the jibe, and stood up and looked down at the emaciated face of his section chief.
‘They told me you would be out of it for at least four hours; that’s if you came round at all.’
‘That’d suit them just fine, it would have been ;‘ he searched for the right word , ‘convenient, yeah convenient, if I just slipped away quietly.’
Paul walked to the window and clicking open the slats of the window blind he squinted outside.
‘You never were a convenient man Jack.’
‘You want to tell me what you’re doing here?’
Paul let go of the slats, which again clicked irritatingly, before turning and staring at his boss.
‘I guess they just wanted to be sure you didn’t say anything if, I mean when, you came out of the anaesthetic.’
Jack smiled grimly, ‘they’ve worried about that for the last forty eight years.’
Paul sat down again and rubbed his hands together, his brow furrowed in thought.
‘There’s something I’ve always wondered about that day Jack, what were you thinking…… when you got the green light, you know lying there on that grassy knoll?’
Jack turned his head and stared at the white wall of his private room.
‘I was just following orders…..it wasn’t up to me to think.’ His voice was weak and he gasped for breath with the effort of talking.
‘Yeesh Jack, over three hundred million Americans and half of the world would give their right arms to know what you know, or what you were thinking on that day.’
Jack thought for a while before replying, his words interspersed by his laboured breathing.
‘I was a grunt….. just like you are now….. they pointed me in the direction ……and told me where to go; and I went….. just like you would today;’ still staring at the blank wall he continued, ‘Doesn’t mean I liked it….. or never regretted it….. but an order is an order. If it hadn’t been me ……some other sucker would have had to do it…… so I figured, why not.’
‘How’d you feel afterwards, you know, when you watched the funeral and heard all the bullshit they were spouting?’
‘Didn’t watch it…. they had me outta there in minutes…..on a transport within the hour…… and eight hours later…….tucked up in Havana…… kept me there for three months.’
He turned his head and looked at Paul for long seconds before adding,
‘Havana for fucks sake….. they were worried even then ……and I wasn’t under any anaesthetic then.’ Irritated, he pulled the oxygen tube away from his nostrils and struggled to sit up in the bed.
’ Guess they figured…..if I said anything….I was in the right place….they could pass the buck…blame the Cubans.’
He struggled for breath, his chest straining with the effort to fill what was left of his lungs before continuing.
‘Listen, those Sons a Bitches…. would have disappeared me…. quicker than shizzle off a greasy spade…..if they even thought I would say anything,….. for Chrissake’s……it’s been forty odd years……most of those original Senators are dead already…..and still their people are paranoid…… about the truth coming out….they had Ruby take out that sap Oswald….and he didn’t know squat, Christ…..he thought he was one of the clean up crew…always thinking ahead…those sons a bitches.’
‘It’s the nature of the business Jack, you should know that.’
Jack head flopped back on back the pillow, exhausted by the effort, he gasped for breath deeply and noisily.
‘They say this cancers…. gonna do the job for them…. This operation ain’t gonna cure me….just give me a few more months.’ He stared at Paul expecting no sympathy and receiving none. He closed his eyes and began to drift into unconsciousness again.
Paul stood up again a reached for the saline drip. From his inside pocket he withdrew a small syringe and injected it into the saline.
‘I guess those Sons a Bitches are still thinking Jack.’
Paul opened the door , and without a backward glance, stepped out into the corridor.