"If I'm so confused," I shot at Riordan, "how did I manage to get backstage? You had a man guarding all the stage entrances, did you not?"
"We did," he said.
"Ladies," a man behind them said. "We need to get you somewhere safe." He stepped into the room. He wore a gray suit, no hat. He looked like a tough, bigsix feet, two hundred pounds.
I looked at Elizabeth. "Who's this?"
"Name's Warren Brennan," he said. "With the William J. Burns International Detective Agency."
Gray suit, I thought. I tried to piece him together with what I remembered of the man with the gun. I tried without success to picture his face. He had always been in the shadows. Brennan wore a bushy bottlebrush mustache, with small features in a no-nonsense blocky face. The man with the gun was smaller. Wasn't he? Still, it wouldn't hurt to ask. "Where were you when the gun was fired?"
He gave me a dismissive smile and turned back to Elizabeth. "Miss Hume?"
"Will, don't be silly. Mr. Brennan is protecting us."
"Where was he?"
"I was onstage," Brennan said, "with my eyes on the crowd. I didn't think it would be necessary to watch my client's friends." He shot a glance at Riordan. "I didn't think I had to keep a man everywhere you were supposed to have one, either."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Brennan," Elizabeth said. "All right. We should go, ladies." She turned back to Detective Riordan. "You're not going to arrest Will, are you?"
He took a little longer to answer than I was comfortable with. "No. It was an accident."
"An accident?" I said. "My God! Why don't you believe me?" The headache was rapidly becoming a drill bit cutting into my brain.
"Detective," Brennan said, "I have to get the ladies out of here. We obviously can't rely on the DPD's security."
Riordan shot him a warning glance but said nothing.
"Mr. Brennan," Elizabeth said, "I'm sure they did their best."
"Sorry, miss," he said, with no apology in his voice. "ButI'm sure the detective here will agree with me that the Detroit Police Department is one of the most corrupt in the country. You hired us for a reason. So, could we go now?"
Riordan glared at him. "Mr. Brennan, you are treading on thin ice."
Brennan shook his head. "What I'd like to know is what happened to your man, Detective. He was supposed to be guarding the stairway. If he had been there, this man would never have gotten onstage."
Riordan's ice blue eyes gave Brennan nothing. "I'm looking into that."
Brennan glared back at Riordan. "Are you on the take too, or is it just your man?"
A little smile snuck onto Detective Riordan's face. "I'll give you that one, Mr. Brennan. The next time you impugn my character you and I are going to spend a little time togetherand you're not going to like it."
I was hoping Brennan didn't take him up on it. Detective Riordan looked sick and weakhollowed cheeks, sunken eyes, pale complexion. He didn't look like he'd recovered from the injuries he suffered while he and Elizabeth were trying to find a murderer a few months back. Three of his ribs had been broken, and one of them punctured his spleen. I didn't think he'd be able to take a body punch.
"Fair enough," Brennan said. "We'll see what your bosses think." He threw open the door, strode out without closing it behind him, and began herding the women away.
Elizabeth stopped at the door. "Will, wait for me, will you? We're just going to talk for a few minutes."
I nodded. She left with Brennan and the ladies.
I looked back at Riordan. "Do you know Brennan?"
"Yeah. He headed up the Wabash-alderman case for Burns last summer."
William Burns, otherwise known as "America's Sherlock Holmes," had blown apart a bribery ring in Detroit's city government involving the confiscation of real estate for the expansion of the Wabash railroad terminal. One of Burns's men, posing as a representative of the railroad, had elicited the demands for tribute, which were transmitted from a sound collector to a machine called a Dictograph that recorded the conversations. The case terminated with the arrests of nine alderman. At the moment, Burns's name was solid gold in this city.
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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