If she had known she would be dead in another five minutes, maybe she
wouldn't have swatted her son so hard. That's just my guess. His balloon
had been drifting into my face, that was the problem. It wasn't bugging
me, but it was bugging his mother. He was a towheaded kid with a round
pink face. The balloon was larger than his head. I couldn't say one way
or the other if the kid was having fun, but Mom clearly wasn't.
"Ezra, if I have to tell you one more time."
She seemed to be wound awfully tight for nine-thirty in the morning. But I've never been a parent, so I'm hardly the person to judge. Maybe the kid was an absolute handful and his actions drained his mother daily of her reservoir of patience. Maybe the reservoir wasn't terribly deep to begin with. Or maybe the two were running late that morning and Mom hadn't gotten her caffeine jangle for the day.
Maybe this, maybe that. Maybes all over the place. Cheaper than a dime donut, as my father used to growl.
It was a Thursday. Thanksgiving is always a Thursday, so that part is easy. Fall was playing out nice and slow. The trees in Central Park were more yellow and red than I'd seen them in years. A high, bright sun was sending down just about zero warmth through the bracingly crisp air. What they used to call apple-cider weather.
I was standing at the corner of Seventy-second and Central Park West. I wasn't supposed to be standing there. I was supposed to be making my way up five flights of stairs in a turn-of-the-century brownstone halfway down Seventy-first, swinging my bag of bagels and whistling a happy tune. I had fetched the bagels (three poppy, three sesame) from a place on Columbus that makes them on the premises, but instead of trotting directly back to Margo's like a good dog, I had drifted up the street, lured by the sound of crashing cymbals, and was standing on the corner dodging a white balloon and watching Mother Goose roll by. Big pointy hat. Oversize smile.
Mother Goose, that is. Not me. I was hatless. And I wasn't smiling. When I see a gun being drawn in a crowd and it's not attached to a cop or to someone I know and trust, generally speaking, I don't smile.
Central Park West runs northsouth. The parade runs south. Been that way since the late twenties. Back then they used to release the big balloon figures at the end of the parade. There were only a few of them, so it wasn't as if the skies of Manhattan suddenly darkened with a flotilla of giant balloons. You couldn't do it today. You'd have scrambled F-16 fighter jets intercepting the balloons faster than you could blink.
I was standing on the west side of the street, directly in front of the Dakota, when I saw the gun being drawn. If you've seen the movie Rosemary's Baby, you've seen the Dakota, although they called it something different in the movie. In the book, too. Richard Nixon tried to get his suitcase in the door of the Dakota not long after he was bounced from the White House, but the residents there would have none of it. It's that kind of place. When I think of that story, it's actually Nixon's wife I imagine. Poor beleaguered Pat. I imagine her standing on the sidewalk with her skinny arms crossed over her skinny chest, one of her dull practical pumps tapping irritably against the pavement. Well, Mr. I-am-not-a-crook . . . what next?
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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