I got to my feet. People were scrambling for cover, though here and there were pockets of onlookers who remained frozen, unable to process. The chunky policeman was on the ground, not moving. The Mother Goose float had halted, its Styrofoam wings still flapping mechanically. The shooter might as well have been standing at a carnival shooting gallery. He was pointing and shooting, pointing and shooting, pointing and shooting. To my left, a skinny guy in a Macy's T-shirt lifted off the ground with the force of the bullets slamming into his chest. Pop! Pop! Pop!
Hunched over, I scuttled across the pavement to the policeman. He was lying on his right side. I knelt down and shoved him onto his back. A piece of skull the size of a doorknob was gone from the right side of his head. Ignoring the gore, I unsnapped his holster and pulled out his service revolver, then ran to the near side of the float, putting it between me and the shooter. I ran along the float, flipping off the gun's safety, and came around the rear with the gun in both hands, aimed at the stone wall.
He was gone. A squirrel was perched on the wall almost exactly where the shooter had been. Tail high. Head high. Tense and alert. I suppressed a roaring urge to blow it to bits.
I took off running. Holding the pistol down next to my leg, I crossed the street and started up the paved path that leads into the park. Some hundred or so feet in from the street, the path opens to a small plaza. There's a decorative stone circle embedded in the walkway. The word imagine is inscribed in mosaic on the circle. The city did this after John Lennon was murdered in 1980 outside the Dakota, which was where he lived. Him they let in.
Compared to what had just transpired on the street, the plaza was eerily quiet. As usual, several kids were seated on the periphery of the imagine circle, strumming guitars and softly singing "All You Need Is Love." A girl in an oversize army coat was arranging flowers on the pavement.
The paved path continues past the memorial into the park. Benches and bushes line the path for another thirty feet, until it comes to a small clearing.
That was where the shooter came from.
He dashed from the clearing onto the path and raced farther into the park, in the direction of the Bethesda Fountain. I chased. He turned to look back and saw me charging after him. His arms pumped even harder, and he reached the small bridge overlooking the fountain plaza. He veered left and started down the stone steps. As I approached the bridge, two police cars sped past on the roadway, their sirens shrieking out of synch. I reached the bridge and started down the steps.
The shooter was already standing at the bottom of the steps. In a wide stance. Facing me. Aiming the Beretta. Behind him, the wings of the angel in the fountain stretched majestically against the blue sky. I dropped as the gun barked, getting off three shots myself before I hit the steps. One of them took the shooter in the right shoulder, near the collarbone. The Beretta fell to the bricks as the shooter staggered backward.
I lunged, knowing the instant I did that it was the wrong thing to do. I was half running, half falling down the steps. Somewhere in the tumbling, I lost my grip on the policeman's service revolver. Below me, the shooter was hugging his bad arm with his good, taking Frankenstein steps toward his gun. He'd reach it years before I could.
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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