The gun was a Beretta 92F. That's nine-millimeter. Eight and a half inches long, a fraction over two pounds. Magazine capacity of fifteen bullets. The Beretta is one of the most popular pistols these days with both police and military shooters. The guy holding this one was neither. And though it's a good-looking gun, I didn't suspect he was pulling it out simply so he could admire it in the morning sun.
I instinctively slapped at my left shoulder. My gun is a simple .38. Short-barreled snubbie. A simple workhorse. No fancy history. I use it in my line of work, which is private investigation. Margo calls it my associate, a little joke she picked up from her father, from when he was a private investigator and he used to call his gun his associate. This was before he took on a real associate. A junior partner. Which was me. Green, eager, fearless and, at the time, extremely pissed off.
Nothing came between my slap and my shoulder. My associate was back at Margo's, in its holster, up on the dresser. Safety on. Facing the wall.
The guy with the Beretta was up on the low stone wall that borders the park. It was a fluke that I had a clear view of him. There was a gap between the Mother Goose float and the marching band in front of it, a high-stepping troupe of teenagers from Berlin, Maryland, and I happened to be standing where I could see right through the gap. The man was about five-eight or so. He was wearing a green windbreaker, khaki pants, sunglasses and a baseball cap. I saw him unzip his windbreaker and pull the Beretta from his belt, then take a step backward and drop off the wall, out of sight.
The white balloon drifted into my face again. The mother slapped the boy on his small arm. Very hard.
"Ezra, for the last time."
I heard the boy begin to cry as I took off running.
As I hit the street, the shooter's head reappeared above the stone wall. He planted his elbows on the wall and took aim. His target was clear. The easiest of all. Mother Goose.
I threw my bag of bagels at the float. It hit the float just below the platform where Mother Goose was standing. I yelled again.
"Get down! Gun!"
I got her attention. The pointed hat dipped my way, a look of irritation replacing her waving-at-the-crowd smile. I saw the spark from the Beretta across the street and heard the shot a half-instant behind. Mother Goose dropped to her knees . . . and all hell broke loose.
I was still running. A chunky policeman who had been stationed on the corner not twenty feet from the shooter reacted simultaneously to the gunshot and to the sight of a loonymeracing from the curb into the parade route, yelling and shouting. He started for me. I cried out, "Gun! Gun! Gun!" and pointed toward the wall, but the cop wasn't hearing. He was going for his own gun. Behind him, the shooter rose calmly to his full height, swung the Beretta to the street level and fired again.
I swerved, crashing into a copper-skinned teenager holding a bass drum. More shots rang out as the drummer and I tumbled to the street. The shots continued. The drum head ripped as another of the marching band troupea tiny girl with a shiny alto saxplanted her foot on it. Blood was pumping onto the white bib of her uniform. Nothing had even registered yet on her face.
Excerpted from Speak of the Devil by Richard Hawke Copyright © 2006 by Richard Hawke. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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