I burst out of the crowd at the stairway and ran up the steps two at a time. At the top, I whirled around, trying to get my bearings in the backstage gloom. A bright band of light glowed around the edge of the curtain, where half a dozen people stood in a pack, trying to see the stage. The man in the gray suit was not among them.
Mrs. Arthur's voice blared on, drilling a hole behind my eyes. I ran around the back of the stage, passing a few men, though none was the one for whom I was looking.
There. The opposite side of the stage. He stood alone, illuminated by a single narrow beam of light that angled across his chest. I ran toward him. Fifty feet away. Dark metal glinteda pistol. He raised it and aimed down the barrel, concentration so complete he didn't see me streaking at him from the side.
"No!" I shouted and dove at him, batting at the pistol with my hand just as he pulled the trigger. The report blasted my ears. I fell to the floor, pulling the hot gun barrel down with me. I wrenched it from his grip and rolled, then braced myself, reversed the gun, and aimed it at the man.
Except that all I saw before me was shadows. He had already disappeared into the darkness.
Now I heard pandemonium out in the hallpeople screaming, shouting, a stampede.
I climbed to my feet, with my bad hand against the side of my head, which felt like it would explode.
"Drop it!" a man shouted. "Now!"
I turned. A Detroit policeman stood ten feet away, his pistol aimed at my face.
* * *
When Detective Riordan scowled, the scar that ran from the left corner of his mouth nearly to his ear bulged into a fat burgundy earthworm. I tried to meet his eyes. "Are you out of your mind?" he demanded.
"I'm telling you, it was the other man! Why would I start a riot?"
By the time order had been restored, most of the attendees had fled. Elizabeth and Mrs. Arthur canceled the remainder of the rally. Fortunately the bullet hit no one, and the resulting rush for the doors caused only a few minor injuries, though a number of people had been taken away in ambulances.
Now, half an hour later, the ringing in my ears had decreased to a high-pitched hum. We were jammed in a little office tucked behind the stage. I sat on a wooden chair against the side wall, squeezed between a pair of old filing cabinets. I wore the tinted wire-rimmed glasses Dr. Miller had given me for light sensitivity, but the bright light in the room still found its way inside, burning into my brain. The room was stifling, and the space tight. Riordan stood across from me, staring down, fedora cocked over his brow. Behind him, the walls were covered in old playbills.
He held up the pistol I had stripped from the grasp of the gunman. "This is your gun."
"It's not. Do you know how many Colt .32s there are in Detroit?"
"Will?" Through the ringing in my ears, Elizabeth's voice called out to me. She cautiously advanced into the office. Mrs. Arthur and Miss Addams stood behind her. "Will, what did you do?"
"I saved someone's life is what I did. There was a man with a gun, and I ran after him. I grabbed the gun just as "
Elizabeth and Detective Riordan had locked eyes. He gave one short shake of his head.
My face got hot. "Why in the hell would you think I'd shoot a gun backstage? I'm no assassin. Anyway, I'm on your side. I believe in universal suffrage."
Elizabeth knelt down in front of me. "I know, Will. But you're also confused sometimes."
"It's nothing to do with that. I remember this clearly."
She squeezed my knee. "It could be from the radium."
Only a few months before, the administrator at Eloise Hospital, Wayne County's huge insane asylum, had tried to erase my memory with a massive bombardment of radium to my head. I still had nearly constant headaches, light sensitivity, and gaps in my memory, but right now, even though my head pounded, my mind was crystal clear.
Copyright © 2013 by D. E. Johnson
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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