In “When Shots Rang Out” by Lynda M. Vanderhoff JFK was a well known ladies man, but his family has suffered under a curse that is nearly Shakespearian in scope. Could it be that Kennedy upset the wrong person with his philandering, putting in motion the death and bad fortune that would see his family destroyed?
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Free Extract from When Shots Rang Out by Lynda M. Vanderhoff
“From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official: ‘President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time.’” The black and white image flickered across the screen showing a tired man with a drawn, gaunt face. He glanced at the clock off camera. “2 o’clock Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.”
Laughter rang out in the retirement home. Everyone turned and looked at Betty, but she merely threw back her head and laughed louder.
A nurse poked her head into the day room. She was dressed in crisp whites with a rectangular hat. Her face was pinched with concern. “Is there any trouble in here?”
Betty wiped at her eyes with fingers crippled by arthritis. “Kennedy. He’s dead.” She let out a guffaw. “Someone shot him in Dallas.”
The nurse blinked at her. “That’s awful.”
“You have no idea, sister.” Betty laughed again, let the feeling shake her body, tried to maintain bladder control . . . and marginally failed. It didn’t matter. Kennedy was dead, that bastard.
As everyone around her cried, Betty wheeled her chair to the windows that overlooked a sunny forest scene. The skyscrapers of Boston loomed in the distance, but from this angle, you couldn’t see them.
It had started. After so many years of waiting, it had finally come true.
Tears did burn her eyes now, but they couldn’t erase the joy that filled her heart. “For Damarra,” she whispered at the window while the other patients sobbed in front of the television.
She could die now. She could be happy knowing that it finally came true, and that justice was served. It had taken 23 years, but she’d never given up hope. In time, the rest of it would come true, but she’d planned to be long dead by then.
Kennedy was killed, and she was responsible. She could only be happier if Damarra was with her now. Damarra, my dear girl, it’s finally over.
January 9, 1940
Betty knelt in the cold, hard packed earth. It was snowing now, the wind blowing in off of the river. Boston was a grey slate mirage behind her. She brushed the snow away from the gravestone, and the tears burned the corners of her eyes.
She had cried so much in the past week that she was surprised she had any tears left. Was there ever an end to them? When would her heart stop breaking?
The tombstone read: Damarra Young; April 4, 1917 – January 3, 1940.
Coldness and wet soaked into the knees of her voluminous skirts where the snow was three inches high. She didn’t care. This was where her daughter was, and it was the only place that she wanted to be. Her knees ached, and she let her hand glide over the fresh turned earth of her only child’s grave. Betty leaned forward and pressed her head against the unyielding soil. A cry rose up in her throat, and she moaned, hands fisting in the snow and the dirt.
In time, she sat back on her aching legs and looked at the tombstone. She imagined she could still see her Damarra lying motionless in her smooth white casket. The girl’s dark hair floated around her like tangled seaweed. In the Romani tradition, they had thrown coins on her coffin as it was lowered into the winter ground, to ease her ascent into heaven.
Betty wiped her tears away with a corner of her brightly colored shawl. The men were waiting nearby, likely thinking that she had lost her wits when she lost her daughter.
She had not lost her wits. No, she had more clarity now than she ever had before.
It all started so simply, but Betty didn’t like it from the start. When her daughter said that she was in love with some rich Harvard man, a twisting rope of anxiety tightened her heart.
“Oh, Mama, he’s so handsome,” she had said on that day long ago. “He’s tall and thin and tanned.”
“And rich,” Betty interjected.
“Yes, but I don’t care anything for that. I love him and he loves me.”
Betty had rolled her eyes at her daughter. Puppy love came early and often to this girl with her head in the clouds. “What love could a rich Harvard man have for the little Romani girl who sweeps out the classrooms?”
“He does have love for me. He sees to the soul of me.”
“And what is this paragon’s name, might I ask, daughter?”
Her beautiful face blossomed into a smile, her dark eyes watering. “Jack. Jack Kennedy.”
“There are those who would say the same of the Romani, mother.”
“And what do you intend to do with this boy? Tell me that, truly. Will he respect our customs? Will his father come and ask your father for the marriage agreement?”
Damarra shook her head. “Oh, Mama, you live too much in the past and the traditions. Jack and I, we are a modern couple. He’s told me his dreams, how wants to be a teacher, if his health holds up. His brother Joe may be destined for the limelight, but he will be satisfied with a quiet life of learning.”
Betty frowned at her daughter. “You’re making up a fantasy life with him already? When will you stop dreaming, daughter?”
The girl smiled, showing perfect white teeth in her dark skinned face. “I hope I never do, Mama.”
At the gravesite, Betty was cold remembering her daughter’s words. Did she stop dreaming when Kennedy led to her death? When she was dying, did she still whisper words of love for this man who didn’t even pay his respects at her funeral?
She hoped that Damarra had not lost her innocence, and that she went to heaven dreaming of a love that would last throughout time. She hoped her daughter would not know the true nature of the man she declared to love as ardently as her young heart could.
Betty rose from the gravesite. Her knees ached and creaked and popped as she stood. The arthritis and the cold were not her friends, but she braced herself against the top of the tombstone.
She spoke to her daughter, her voice hard and cold and utterly bereft of tears. “I will make him pay for what he did to you, my beautiful girl. I do not know the hour, and I do not know the day, but I will get to him and make him answer for his crimes.”
The still silence answered her, but that was as it should be. She would hunt down this Jack Kennedy, make him understand who she was, and utterly destroy him in this life and the next.
END OF FREE EXTRACT
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