Andrew Salzwedel was sitting behind the wheel of his van, parked on the pad outside Blow's office, when he got home.
“Brother-in-law had to work late, so our dinner out's been postponed. Cheryl made me some soup.” Salzwedel's explanation sounded real to Blow, but something was disturbing the teacher's composure. Or maybe, Blow considered, he was just watching his client more closely than before. Salzwedel turned down an offer of beer, after hesitating, but accepted water. They'd settled in the library, next to his office. Salzwedel had brought a laptop, which now sat on the table between them. It remained in its canvas case.
After minimal small talk, Salzwedel cut to the chase. “You said the word mystery, and something happened. It was like you flipped a switch. It was the perfect word to describe what I've been wrestling with for nearly a month now.”
Blow nodded, but said nothing. He had his yellow pad in front of him, but had yet to write anything down. A digital recorder was in his pocket, turned on, as a backup to his memory and any notes he might make.
Salzwedel continued. “I love mysteries. Real ones, not the kind in novels, the whodunnits, which are just elaborate contrived puzzles. Some are done quite skillfully, but once I get familiar with a certain author's work, his style, his character types, they lose their novelty. Not much challenge anymore. You know, how they misdirect you to thinking the killer is this guy, but it's really that guy, usually the least likely of a half dozen or so suspects? They're fun, but they're more like crossword puzzles to me. The formula gets old after a while.
“It's why I like history so much, I think. The mysteries. Like JFK's assassination, which is what really lit the fire under me. I read every book that came out on it, including the Warren Report—the whole thing. There have been so many theories, some meticulously documented and authoritative, both trying to prove or disprove this or that is what happened, this guy or that group or conspiracy was behind it. The thing is, Joe, we'll never know, for sure, beyond a reasonable doubt, as you say in court. The truth will never be known as a certainty. And yet, look how much we've learned about that period in our history we might never have looked at so closely without the passion to solve this mystery. The Cuban stuff, Kennedy's Mafia connections, that whole New Orleans business, and on and on.
“I'm not a conspiracy theorist. Not at all. But I see the conspiracy approach as a sort of working hypothesis, a vehicle to get you from A to B to wherever in an orderly progression, linking ideas and events you might never have seen as a pattern without the game incentive, the desire to solve whatever mystery you hope to unravel in the process.”
Salzwedel lifted the water glass to his mouth, tipped his head back and appeared to be pouring the water straight down his gullet without any apparent assistance from the muscles in his throat. Half the water was gone when returned the glass to the table. He ran his tongue across his lips, then breathed deeply. His composure seemed more settled, focused. His eyes, a dark hue just shy of black, either mahogany or a deep navy, shone now with an intensity Blow had not noticed earlier.
“I think historical mysteries are more engaging for me because the dynamic is no longer current,” he continued. “The main action and the results from it are over. I can't imagine what it must be like as a political analyst, trying to determine or at least make educated guesses at what's really going on. The secrecy, the misdirection, multiple motives, personalities, stakes—some obvious, others hidden-- all leading to consequences intended and unintended with repercussions no one could predict with any hope of accuracy, as to either what or when.
“I have enormous respect and admiration for those who work in that arena. The players and those who try to follow the game. None of them having a map or a compass or anything at all but their cunning and existential daring to guide them through a minefield designed by Satan, if you will. The nerves and the wits it must take boggle my mind. At least with history the retrospective is at a safer distance. We may not ever be able to know everything that happened in a certain time span, but at least the past stands still for us. It's not a moving target.
“Yet it's not necessarily altogether static either, Joe. There's always the chance of something pushing up through the crust of what all available evidence has given us to take for granted. Something that can put a whole new perspective on an old old story. And that might well be what we're dealing with here, right now.” He drank the rest of his water. Blow excused himself, went to the kitchen and returned with a plastic pitcher of water. Ice cubes rattled as he set it down next to Salzwedel's laptop, which he'd removed from its case but had not yet opened. Blow refilled both of their glasses from the pitcher and settled back in his wooden armchair. The rain they'd anticipated had begun, pelting the twin library windows with a wind-driven percussive insistence. Salzwedel, leaning forward and resting his forearms on the table, launched into his narrative.
“Somewhere about the middle of September, maybe earlier, Newt Gunther took me aside at one of our reenactment rehearsals...”