A body went flying past me down the stone steps. It was a cop. Gun drawn and shouting. A second cop grabbed me from behind and stopped my tumbling descent. It was a good strong grip.
"Fucking move, you're fucking dead! Just freeze!"
I did. Below me, the other cop reached the wounded shooter. With a nifty sweep of a foot, he brought the shooter to the ground. Ignoring the wounded shoulder, the cop jerked the guy's hands behind him and cuffed him. I was cuffed, too. I offered no resistance and no explanations. My cop was a tall, fierce-looking black man. His heartbeat was probably nearing two hundred blows a minute. Mine sure as hell was. Way too many engines running way too high. I relaxed into custody. There would be time to talk.
The shooter was dragged back up the steps and shoved into the back of a patrol car. My cop was joined by another one, his partner. Squatty guy shaped like a gumdrop. The gumdrop patted me down for weapons, then shoved me into the back of a second patrol car. I was separated from the front seat by a cage. The black guy got behind the wheel. Gumdrop took shotgun.
They did the next part without sirens, which surprised me. It also surprised me that they didn't take the eastern exit out of the park, or the exit to the south. Either would have taken us away from the parade mess. Instead, the two cars rolled west to Central Park West, where at least a dozen more police cars and several ambulances were already crisscrossing the street, lights whirling. The screaming had ceased. Now it was time for the crying. The crying and the wailing. People hugging people. People staggering in a daze. Faces registering disbelief, horror, shock. Gumdrop muttered, "Jesus goddamn Christ," as we inched our way forward.
The parade was in tatters. Band instruments were strewn all over the place. I spotted the Pink Panther far to the south, near Columbus Circle, hovering precariously above the street. The wind had kicked up, and the huge figure looked like it was being uppity, bucking and shifting against its ropes.
As we crossed Central Park West at a walker's pace, I spotted a second balloon. This one was much smaller. A white balloon. The towheaded kid was still clutching the string. As the stretcher bearing the boy's mother was being slid into the back of an ambulance, one of the EMS workers gathered the boy up into her arms, and the balloon drifted lightly against her face.
Ezra, for the last time . . .
The little boy released the string.
We hit Broadway and went left. I figured I was being taken to the
Midtown North station on Fifty-fourth, a five-minute drive, tops, with
the cherry spinning and the siren clearing the way. But the accessories
remained undeployed, and as we drifted past Fifty-third, I leaned
forward in the seat. "Boys. You missed the turn."
The driver said nothing. Gumdrop half turned in his seat. "Shaddup."
The radio crackled, and a female voice spit out a series of numbers and letters. Gumdrop glanced curiously at his partner, who nodded tersely. Gumdrop fished a headset from the glove compartment and put it on, glancing at me briefly as he leaned forward to plug it into the radio, which suddenly went silent. I placed both the cops somewhere in their early thirties, which meant I was the senior man in the car. The driver looked up in his mirror and saw that I was still leaning forward.
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."
- PW Starred Review
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