Monday, October 14, 1912
The man in the gray suit slipped behind a marble pillar and appeared again on the other side. His face was shaded by the brim of his fedora, but his eyes seemed to linger on the policemen. Unlike the two thousand other people who filled the convention hall at Wayne Gardens, he didn't even glance at Elizabeth, who stood at the lectern onstage. Behind her, a dozen women sat in front of a burgundy velvet curtain, beneath a large canvas banner that read: MICHIGAN EQUAL SUFFRAGE ASSOCIATION ELECTION RALLY: SPONSORED BY THE DETROIT SUFFRAGE CLUB. Elizabeth held her arms out to her sides, gesturing for the crowd to quiet.
I watched the man from across the hall. I knew he wasn't a policeman. Detective Riordan had set up the security for this event. All the cops were in uniform. The only thing extraordinary about the man was his manner, furtive and nervous. I shook my head. He didn't belong here. The men around me generally fell into one of three classes: portly husbands of rich women, men young enough to still believe they could make a difference, or stereotypical Socialistsemaciated, extravagantly bearded, a crazed cast to their eyes.
Still, I tried to dismiss him. He couldn't be a serious danger. The police had searched everyone coming into the hall this afternoon after the Detroit Suffrage Club had received unspecified threats from some anarchist group.
I turned my attention to Elizabeth, bathed in the spotlight. Most women would have been made harsh by the glare, but Elizabeth's beauty shone so true it put the light to shame. She wore a tight gray skirt and white shirtwaist, an outfit that she would have thought utilitarian and therefore perfect for this audience, but I'm sure she dazzled the rest as she did me.
I felt the weight of the little box in my coat pocket with the diamond ring seated in a silk bed. I was hoping for an opportunity to take her out after the donor party tonight, though she hadn't been encouraging. I'd barely had five minutes with her since I'd gotten out of the hospital, but she had at least invited me to the party. That was a start, though I'd have to share her with a score of other people. We'd planned to go to the flickers the last two weeks, but she'd canceled both times. She said she'd make it this week for sure. I hoped she was right.
Elizabeth leaned down to the microphone and shouted, "It is time for us!"
The crowd roared back their agreement. The noise set my head to ringing, and the pain behind my eyes, which hadn't abated in nearly two months, ratcheted up a notch.
I was just tall enough to be able to look over the sea of hats before me. A black derby or homburg poked up in spots, but most of the chapeaux were in muted colorspale blues, greens, yellows, lavenders. Though the fashion had gone to narrow-brimmed hats, wealthy women still tended to favor brims that extended as much as a yard wide, and they were standing so close together that their hats touched those of their neighbors, which created the extraordinary effect of a field of massive flowers laid out before me, an effect magnified by the heavy flowery perfume favored by this set that permeated the hall.
Eyes shining, Elizabeth leaned down to the microphone. "We have waited for our time for one hundred and thirty-six years. We have waited, and watched men drive this country to near ruin. Allowed them to make our decisions for us. To brutalize us. To use us and cast us aside as if we were chattel." She paused and glared fiercely at her audience. Her voice raw with emotion, she shouted, "Will we continue to allow men that power?"
"No!" the crowd bellowed back to her.
"The tide of time is with us now!"
Again, the crowd roared. I looked for the man in the gray suit. It took me a moment to find him, as he had moved closer to the stage. I could see none of his features. Now I saw his hand snake up inside his coat and rest there for a moment, as if he were reassuring himself that his gun was still in his shoulder holster.
Copyright © 2013 by D. E. Johnson
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No Man's Land
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