The ruckus at Ferguson transplanted me back to 1968 where, as a new reporter for LIFE Magazine, I was summoned to cover the street demonstrations with my partner, Howard Bingham, Mohammed Ali’s personal photographer.
I spent years working on a novel based on what I and the other team members saw and experienced. The book also contains a very passionate love story. The book is called, “Virtue’s Fool.”
In August of 1968, when the Democrats held their convention in Chicago, Life Magazine had assigned five teams to cover the streets. The team leader was Peter Fielding, who had spent five months living with a notorious 4500 member gang, called The Blackstone Rangers. He was accompanied by his photographer Howard Bingham. Another team was led by Barnaby Hart, a bespectacled man, 6 feet two, who could bench press 345 pounds in his street clothes. His body was broad and massive, not across the shoulders, so much as from back to chest. He was one of those people who are always finding something to admire and feel excited about. His photographer was a tough Pole named Gomel, an excellent photographer, who boasted that he never scared, asserting that he had no fear in his nature, he said. There was Roger Snider, the magazine intellectual, and Jarrod Macklin, was promiscuous but charming man, who dressed in excellent clothes, proving that while pretending to be unfashionable you could still be fashionable as long as your shirt, jeans and loafers were expensive. An intellectual lightweight. Snider described him a man of ideals but no principles.
The text follows below. It describes Wednesday afternoon, the third day of vicious rioting. This scene begins in the afternoon and moves to the evening.
Wed. Aug. 24. 1968
The park entrance lay just ahead. To the north, rose the famous skyscrapers, the east was bounded by the great lake, and to the west there rose big, gray museum buildings. To the south spread Grant Park.
It was a hot, late summer afternoon. Groups of idlers strolled or sauntered up and down the pavement past the long trains of police cars which had their lights turned out, uniformed police standing or leaning by their doors, calm and careless. Barnaby and Gomel went past them and went in the entrance. Before them opened a fresh, wide green field flat as a table that stretched away into the distance. At one end of the spacious meadow were thick woods, and at the other, an old band stand that had been painted a faded, pale pink, and back of it rose clumps of green trees. The wide park swarmed with people of every size, age, type and condition. Some sat on the wood benches before the band stand, some lay like short logs on the grass, dozing in the sun. Others stood and talked. Others were ambling peacefully in the park which more and more looked like a mass of brightly colored speckles either sitting or on the move across the grass plain. Above, an airliner was opening a tight, white scar in the immense blue, radiant sky which was perfectly clear except for two massed banks of rain clouds that rested on the lake far to the east. Up at the bandstand, had appeared an antlike group of speakers.
All around them, Barnaby and Gomel could hear a joyous, lively buzzing hum that rose from the people. Barnaby could not make out the features of the people in the distance; he could only see their position.
The two colleagues passed a little girl with bangs who taken off her belt and was whipping a low shrub.
As he and Gomel came across the field, the hot sun fell into their faces at full strength. The scorching rays of the sun beat down vertically. Excitement was in the air, expectation sat in every face. Barnaby realized that made the scene so cheerful was its lively and incessant activity, the vast number of tiny forked figures to be seen everywhere, and he thought, “What space! What freedom!”
The two kept talking. Feeling the oppressive heat on his head, Barnaby again looked up at the sky, hoping for rain. The banks of rain clouds were drifting off east. The airliner was long gone. Its track lay curled loosely like a wooly white worm high up in the vast, empty blue sky.
As they were walking along, Gomel let his gaze explore the body of a young girl in a red halter top. For a minute, his eyes never left off studying her face and exploring her body.
“Who’s coming to this?” Barnaby said. He didn’t like the way Gomel had looked at the girl. Barnaby had a chivalrous, courteous streak that had a horror of offending women in any way, and looking woman over like that was very distasteful to him because it was as if some guy was enjoying them in advance.
The rubbish bins along the paths were choked with soft drink continuers, discarded food boxes, glinting bottle of blue and green glass.
Barnaby asked Gomel who had set up this event.
“It’s the MOB people,” said Gomel in a casual, dry voice, his face looking tough and evil in his black shades. He was carrying his cameras. “Mobilization? You know Rene Davis?” When Barnaby was silent, “Gomel gazed at him and said, “Knock, knock.”
“I’m surprised Mayor Daley agreed to it,” Barnaby said, not liking to be ridiculed. He had heard Gomel. He knew who Davis was, but Davis was hardly a household name.
“Oh, Daley and Davis agreed all right,” said Gomel, “except there is to be no march afterwards – that’s the catch. I think Davis was trying to lure his lively hordes down to the amphitheatre, but Daley outlawed the march. Daley is a strategist; I give him that.”
The scene was amazingly placid. Barnaby had awakened with gloomy forebodings, but clearly they were no longer needed. In the distance, isolated groups and tiny figures sat or strolled about. What a comforting, relieving difference from last night’s maulings and beatings. Last night had been a long night of involuntary intimidation and fear. At one point, the furious demonstrators had boxed in a police car and then they had stoned it merciless with bricks, rocks and pieces of cement, each making a different sound as it hit, until the police charged them, beating anyone they could reach, and then the two staffers had been caught in the hordes of people coughing or lurching from a blow, or walking crying with an eye swollen shut, one completely distraught, while the kids in the street had been smothered in soft, choking, burning fog of gas that scoured and blinded the eyes, scourged the throat. He had feared that the afternoon would be a repeat of last night and was delighted to be wrong. Everyone they saw, seemed uplifted, happy and relieved.
They stood and listening to Rene Davis. Barnaby and Gomel kept talking they went past couples lying on blankets, relaxing, and they were suddenly startled as a huge roar came out of the people congregated in front of the stage where a speaker standing before the spindly mikes. The atmosphere was safe, affable, and good humored.
“Who the hell is he when he’s at home?” Gomel said after the speaker finished.
“Beats me. Seems awfully self important,” Barnaby said.
“You ever see a political guy who wasn’t? They are all cocksure and self satisfied,” Gomel said.
The sun beat down hotly and both of the staffers who began to sweat and feel tired out. Barnaby’s face quickly turned red and perspiring.
The people camped out in the field didn’t seem concerned about anything. Nothing was further from their minds than ideas of fame, glory, influence admiration. They talked as if the two staffers were not there. Most paid not a bit of attention to their presence. They were used to the press and were bored by them. Some ignored the speeches at the band stand in order to nap or read newspapers. Shirtless men lay back and drank beer from coolers. Announcements were made that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were available down at the front of the stage. “Peace now! buttons were on sale. Ice cream vendors moved through the crowd, doing a brisk business, and occasionally members of the audience, who had transistors radios, would shout out reports about the debate on the Vietnam peace plank taking place in down at the amphitheatre. As the two staffers walked along, they heard someone issuing a plea for information about the whereabouts of a 15-year-old girl missing since Monday, asking that anyone who had information about the teenager, to notify one of the marshals.
At one point, the pig candidate for U.S. President, Pigasus, (the hippies had found a replacement pig after the police had seized the first one) was held to the microphone, where he emitted a single, stirring “oink,” that made some people laugh uproariously.
Gomel turned to eye the crowd. “How many do you think?” he asked Barnaby. “Ten, twelve thousand?”
“I don’t know,” said Barnaby, talking above the hum of the happy, animated crowd. “It’s too many, that’s for sure.”
They watched sine students huddling to talk among themselves or chanting, “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh.” Some led small, ill-dressed parades while others waved the many black, red and Vietnam flags in the audience.
And all the time, Gomel and Barnaby watched the police gathering strength in its units that were posted just outside the park. By now, all the roadways were lined by blue police vans and squad cars. Overhead, two helicopters chugged and crisscrossed paths above the crowd. At the end of the park stood squat, gray museum buildings, like gray elephants, and National Guard troops were clearly visible on their rooftops.
Some demonstrators cupped their hands to their mouths, shouting, “Jump! Jump!”
“I don’t think the Guard guys are smiling,” Gomel said. He certainly wasn’t.
The afternoon wore away, featureless and uninspired. Barnaby and Gomel had gone up to the band shell to get a glimpse of the famous. Norman Mailer had begun his speech by coming up to the mike, extremely drunk, saying, “You’re beautiful, baby,” while the crowd went berserk with approval. Barnaby had frowned – he thought Mailer a fatuous windbag, but they stopped as Gomel began taking photos of him. Mailer never got any better, and even the remarks of Genet and Burroughs, (“You’re doing something workable about an unworkable system,” made no sense. Most of the remarks of the famous seemed forced, obvious, and mechanical.
It seemed to Barnaby that Mailer made a profession of displaying his self-indulgent discontent with America, which, of course, was made only made possible by the safety and stability of the society he pretended to despise. In other words, his attitude was a romantic pose meant to ingratiate. The poet Apollinaire, wrote of a man in Montparnasse who used to go into bars and say, “I shit on all the municipal counselors, I shit on the world,” and Apollinaire had then observed, “He had shit so much on the world that he hade a living by it, for when he entered bars, the barmen proffered him money rather than have to endure his presence.”
Barnaby had the story from his fellow staffer, Roger Snider, but it explained Mailer to a ‘t.’
“Mailer is covering this for somebody, isn’t he?” Barnaby asked.
“Harpers is pretty good,” Barnaby said with envy.
“They are better than pretty good. They are giving Mailer $25,000.”
Barnaby was dumbfounded. “You are kidding me.”
“Nope. Twenty five big ones. Can you imagine? That’s more than a dollar per word.” Gomel was one of those who estimated artistic merit by its expensiveness.
“Jesus. Twenty five thousand. That must mean he’s very good,” Barnaby said.
“He’s better than good. Have you read his stuff?”
“I read The Naked and the Dead,” Barnaby faltered out.
“Oh shit. I don’t mean that. I mean the really good stuff like Advertisements for Myself and Armies of the Night. Shit, you know the other night, Mailer was giving some interview, I don’t know….public TV or something…and he was talking about Chicago…and he says, ‘the neighborhoods drip with the sauce of local legend.’ Hah. ” Gomel clearly thought it delicious, but Barnaby was frowning more severely as he squinted in the sun.
Gomel, however, was not to be stopped. “What else? Yeah, and he said that the people here were happy because, quote, “They had sex in their pockets, muscles on their backs, and hot eats around the corner,” and Gomel let out a good-natured laugh, smiling broadly in expectation of an endorsing response. When it didn’t come, he felt foolish and grew sour.
Both of the men were startled by a huge roar coming from the band stand. They turned, but saw nothing.
“You don’t think that’s good?” he said to Barnaby a bit aggressive. It is always embarrassing when someone else’s personal treasure falls thundering flat, Barnaby thought.
“It’s okay,” Barnaby said.
“Okay. So apparently he doesn’t impress you. Fine!” his tone was very sour.
“It’s all right. I like it.” Plainly, he was lying.
“Well, if you want to increase the excellence of Harper’s literary standards, I’m sure they’d be delighted to hear from you,” a reference to Barnaby’s clumsy style.
“Come on, Gomel.”
“Well, I’m sure they would,” said Gomel.
“I didn’t say I didn’t like it,” Barnaby said, keeping on course. “It just doesn’t describe anything real. Sex in their pockets?”
“Yeah -- well let me know when someone wanted to pay $25,000 for your opinions.”
“Oh, he’s very well known,” Barnaby said, and Gomel fell silent, a bit annoyed at his colleague’s lack of taste.
A few minutes later, Gomel stopped to talk to another reporter, who warned them that there were police ringing the park. This was not good news. With a determined faces, he and Barnaby set off towards the back of the broad, spreading park. With a new sense of purpose, they headed for a thick screen of leafy trees at the back edge of the park. The ground grew uneven. Barnaby stumbled and panted, trying to keep up with Gomel’s long strides. A breeze was moving in the trees, most of who were beautiful, wide-crowned oaks. As the breeze blew it seemed to Barnaby that the trees all seemed to be talking: one tree would bend in the breeze, its leaves would rustle and toss, and the tree seemed to pass this contagion to a neighboring tree, just as a rumor or a joke is shared, and the other trees would react, becoming lively and full of agitation, until all of them were bent and waving, absolutely wild with amusement.
Barnaby was entranced.
“Shit!” hissed Gomel. His voice was tense, cutting and flat. Barnaby gave a start, and looking alertly, he followed Gomel’s gaze. With a sickening shock, he saw.
A large number of police were drawn up in a formation back in under the trees, their forms all the same, very straight, like a forest of blue-shirted stakes. They were hard to see except for the peeping glints of their helmets because they stood so far in deep shade.
Gomel and Barnaby kept on, then stopped abut twenty yards from them.
They cops had spotted them by then. A sarcastic cry reached their ears:
“Neat,” Gomel said to him. “Just waiting for someone to make a mistake. Or maybe they are planning to attack the group at the band stand.”
“What are they saying?” Barnaby asked, nervously pushing his specs high on his nose.
More cries came.” Mommy, mommy. I’m lost I want to go home,” said one, a remark which was followed by loud, snide, scoffing laughter.
Gomel carefully came a bit closer, when to Barnaby’s relief, he stopped.
“Really nice,” Gomel said with hatred. “I’ll mommy then all right.”
As the cops kept casting taunts, Barnaby colored crimson and he felt vulnerable and conspicuous, ashamed of how frightened he felt. It never occurred to him that Gomel felt exactly the same fear.
It dawned on them that they were the only reporters who had ventured down this far, and both began to feel increasing uneasiness. Clearly, the police had planned an ambush but when? Both of them had been caught between two lines of charging police the night before last and they had no desire to have that happen again.
“They make me uncomfortable,” Barnaby said his eyes studying them.
“Well, they scare the hell out of me,” Gomel said.
Returning from the woods and again crossing the broad field, they passed a corpulent couple on their sides, lying on a bath towel spread on the grass, peacefully asleep in the sun. A small radio on the towel softly played a song.
Then there came to two middle-aged women, talking, both wearing odd purplish slacks of different hues. “The color of their slacks looked like lung tissue,” Barnaby said after they had passed.
“Thank God, I hadn’t thought of that,” Gomel said.
Reaching the entrance again, they stopped to wait. Gomel said the entrance was a good place to be in case the police attacked and the huge crowd came pouring out.
They stood idly and waited, relaxing in the sun, listening to Davis who was speaking again. The crowd back inside had no idea of the ranks of police, Barnaby thought, but even as they stood there, more cops were arriving, the sun glancing off heir blue helmets, their Plexiglas visors. Then many left, marching off, leaving behind them an assortment of vehicles, squad cars and paddy wagons. Where they were going? Barnaby had no idea.
But by four o’clock, Barnaby was convinced that his earlier anxieties were mistaken and foolish, and that nothing bad was going to happen. He felt relieved, stretched, yawned cavernously, when all of a sudden, coming out of nowhere, he saw a kid whose greasy hair was bound with a ribbon like an Apache’s who came suddenly out of the crowd and walked towards a flag pole near the entrance. The kid’s shirt had worked its way up out of his pants and how hung down like a little blue flag over his rump. He went straight to the flag pole and, to Barnaby’s consternation, began to lower the American flag, which until then, had been flapping briskly overhead.
The volatile crowd, suddenly curious, quickly thickened to watch, and as the flag came down, they sent up a roar of passionate approval. “Oh no, oh NO!” Barnaby thought. Inside the big park, people were rising in waves from their seats to watch, sending up a tumultuous din. Almost drowned out in it came a new voice that blared weakly, that the flag was being lowered “out of grief for our injured demonstrators.” The massed people loudly shouted their support, pleasure and delight.
However, any loud noise frightens, even a gladdening one. It gives to birth to uneasiness and fear where there was no fear or uneasiness before. Now, tension was rising steeply in people like an incoming tide. And then Barnaby saw it: he caught sight of the kid at the flag pole where three police, a white-shirted officer accompanied by two blue shirts at his heels, had moved in, ruthlessly pushing startled bystanders aside. People turned pale. A hollow was created in the crowd as badly, frightened people gave way, and instantly, all was alarm and commotion.
The white-shirted cop violently clamped his burly arms around the kid, and one of the two blue-shirts, his face hideous with menace, used his club to beat the kid on his upper arms, his collarbones, the backs of his legs while the other blue shirt joined in. The kid ducked, grimaced, screamed, trying to free his arms and shield his shins from the fearful shower of blows, but the white shirted policemen held him fast.
By now sections of the crowd were on their feet. At one point, the kid had almost succeeded in pulling free, but the white shirt policeman had forced his head forward and down, making the kid’s hair falling in his face, the other cops beating the back of his legs, his shins and jabbing his ribs without rest. It was cold and inhumanly callous, and the crowd, already edgy and alarmed, flew into a towering rage.
An anxiety that bordered on terror seized Barnaby. The enormous roar of rage coming from thousands of throats froze him in place. He blinked confusedly behind his spectacles, when suddenly he saw the first object plump down heavily to dot the grass, followed by chunks of concrete, brown sticks, flowers, balloons, colored soda cans, bags of red paint. Then, there came a thickening hail of campaign placard sticks, floor tiles, a shoe. The three holding the kid, aggressive cops suddenly hesitated, cringing, and cowed and looking around.
The vast din of angry shouting grew louder.
“Stop throwing things!” commanded a baritone voice from the band shell’s megaphone, “You’re only hitting our own people! Stop! Stop!”
Barnaby, reasoning stupidly, didn’t know what the voice meant until, ten feet from him, he saw a bare-chested, pale, skinny kid make a face and hurled a piece of concrete like a shot-put. It hardly flew three feet, before it hit a kid directly in front of him who crumpled up like a paper scrap in a fist. People shrieked in horror, and a kid medic went over and knelt by him.
Barnaby felt sickened; he felt his spirit losing strength, his wits turning to wool. Suddenly a quick-passing shadow passed over his head, and he ducked wildly, throwing up his hands in panic.
Nothing happened, and feeling utterly foolish, he was angry at having taken fright for no reason, and he glanced around accusingly to see if anyone had seen him yield to fear. No one had.
But there was no time to brood. Gomel was already on the move, heading closer to the violence. Numbly, Barnaby, full of dread, followed him mechanically, his notebook in his hand. He had not written a word so far. Because each of our souls is so isolated from each other, and because competition is rooted in our nature, Barnaby had no means of knowing that Gomel was locked fast in his own seizure of fear, saying over and over and over to himself, “You’ve got to keep on the move. That why they pay you. You have to stay o the move,” fearing that any pause would turn him to stone. Under his trousers his legs were trembling more and more, and it was harder to load his camera.
Then ahead, in the crowd, they could see an animated movement. Bodies parted to reveal six burly men, who went up to the flag pole, took down the kid’s raggedy flag, and put in its place a piece of red cloth, possibly a woman’s slip. This the men jerked in spurts up to the top of the pole and tied it down. Barnaby, squinting fearfully through his specs, thought this quite senseless and he would only learn much later, that the six men were plainclothes cops posing as demonstrators.
But the gesture worked its purpose. At the sight of the red flag going up, (perhaps it was a signal,) the self-command of the assembled police collapsed all at once like a rickety structure going down with a crash. Some, fearing the missiles, stayed in place, dodging, ducking, and flinching, but suddenly fifteen blue helmets from another unit sliced into the crowd at the base of the pole, hitting and failing with savage abruptness that rage imparts to any movement. The crowd sucked back in terror. A hoarse tumult deafened Barnaby’s ears. But the infuriated mass of civilians recovered his nerve and had begun to close in on the blue-shirted, helmeted forms, screaming, “Fuck the police” or “Dirty pigs!” in voices full of exasperated fury.
Barnaby stiffened, instinctively crouching after he heard the blows fall, feeling full of vivid, unreasoning fear. What had happened, who had been hit? Anxious and afraid, he tried to see, but then turned to see a confused melee of blue shirted men clashing with long-haired demonstrators, while the ordinary citizens were milling, shuffling, running, shoving when suddenly a section of the crowd gave way, fleeing heavily in panic.
An immense, deafening din rose. The hot, leaden air was full of howls, wails, pleadings, yells, sharp screams, chatterings, sobs, curses. The sounds, the screams, the heavy blows made Barnaby’s head swim for a minute. “What should do? What should I do?” Barnaby shouted excitedly, half of his head.
He had no idea where Gomel had gone.
He gazed at the melee taking place in front of him, the swirling mass panicked, fleeing, shouting people trying to dodge and evade the cops who were landing blows on everything in sight.
Barnaby, ignoring the rigid terror mounting in his mind, suddenly saw Gomel who was taking pictures like a demented person. Barnaby looked around in fear in case any policeman stalking the photographer, but none was. That was a relief in that at least.
Suddenly about twenty feet away, a big man with a club made a brief charge on a girl of sixteen or so, but Barnaby saw the charge coming and he seized the man’s blouse and shoved him back with such force that the man almost fell, and Barnaby had a clear view of the cop -- his puffy sallow clean shaven face. For a moment, the two stood eying each other, but before the cop could resume the assault, Barnaby was towering over him, like a huge animal standing straight and showing its gums, ready to mangle him, and it was only then that the cop became aware of the enormous size and the strong build of this reporter, and, fearful, he hurled curses at him and retreated.
Barnaby was shaking all over like a thin leaf, short of breath, his big legs trembling. He remained furious; he wanted to spit on the man, to bite him.
“What should we do? What should we do now?” Barnaby shouted excitedly, but Gomel was already moving through the crowd, working his camera at top speed.
Casting looks about, trying to follow Gomel, Barnaby, realizing that the cops had revealed themselves as coarse, brutal, scornful, aggressive, and predatory men who had ceased to obey any moral promptings in their nature, and the worst part was that Barnaby knew that he and Gomel, like the members of the crowd, were totally in the power of those men.
Barnaby and Gomel somehow got separated, and Barnaby kept going on through the crowd, looking out for Gomel, when he saw a young girl, in her twenties, in a pretty floral dress, who was running quickly, trying to escape, as a hard-face cop who showered blows on the backs of her legs as she ran. Her calves were slender and tan. Suddenly, she gave a grimace of pain, and turned, and her assailant had been joined by two colleagues one of whom manhandled her while one of the two others, hit her in the skull. Her hands, like fluttering birds, crisscrossed wildly as she let out a bloodcurdling scream that sent a chill down Barnaby’s spine. Suddenly, her head was jerked violently sideways by a blow. At this, the girl became suddenly lethargic and listless, apparently not feeling the additional hits on her head. Her eyes still oddly empty, she abruptly sank to the ground. To ward off further blows, she weakly waved one hand about, as if trying to smear the air, when a group of the crowd, blocked out the view of her.
Barnaby by now was overwhelmed by perplexity and terror. He saw the cops charging into the crowd seated on the wood benches, leaving in their wake, a man in his twenties who was standing dazed, his face a deathly white, and on the front of his white shirt, there had sprouted ghastly red splotches from the blood trickling down from his scalp.
As the police charged forward, the mob melted, and the cops stopped, almost as if they were winded and had exhausted their strength, and they milled tensely about, their eyes on the shouting crowd. Barnaby was off to one side, gazing on. Then he saw something odd. Helmeted figures began to duck, flinch, squat, dodge, and Barnaby realized that the crowd was pelting the police with a deadly blizzard of bricks, stones, firecrackers, rags that someone had set alight, which trickled pale trails of smoke as they arched down. The incessant, earsplitting roar of the crowd got worse, and the police commanders with rage contorting their faces, stood in their white shirts were shouting loudly at their men, and suddenly regaining their nerve, the cops waded in, clubbing and flailing as frightful, pitiful shrieks and shouts broke out everywhere.
Barnaby’s face was locked in a scared grimace, and he was clenching and unclenching his hands, saying “Jesus…Jesus…Jesus.” He was short of breath and his heart was pounding away like a hammer.
Suddenly out of the moiling confusion, four blue-shirted men emerged holding two raggedy kids who were struggling to get free, their arms pinioned at their sides, their faces white with outrage. The incensed crowd made a surge to try and free them from the cops: long haired boys and hippie girls yanked at their arms until menacing flourishes from the police drove them back.
But the massed people had not given up. A huge and common fury had seized them, and were in the grip of the conviction that they were involved in an event where right stood face with wrong, and they were unshakably resolved to resist what they saw as evil with every means within their reach, no matter how savage. The volley of thrown objects kept on, and one policeman, his teeth bared, grabbed at his leg and fell bumpily. The missiles continued to rain down, dotting and littering the bright, green grass. A cheer went up.
Faced with this huge swarm of hostile, cursing, jeering people, the cops once again, faltered, looking about uneasily. Finally, a few closest to the crowd, tried to retreat, making ferocious faces and gestures, not taking their eyes from the angry, shouting mob being held at bay.
Two girls in jeans and tank tops suddenly hurtled out of nowhere, tacking a cop who was putting one of the kids into the back of a squad car. Barnaby saw the cop’s head snap back as he knees buckled forward and he fell, and as the girls sprawled under him. But other cops were quick to close in, savagely beating the girls until other onlookers flocked in front of him, blocking Barnaby’s view.
With a sick, white face, a policeman close to Barnaby turned and shouted angrily “Why don’t you take a picture of those bitches, huh? Show the public what they’re doing to us, huh?” He gestured in rage towards the sleeting of stones and bottles, his wild eyes darting from side to side, “Show the people, you goddam bastards.”
Barnaby was going to reply that he had no camera when he spotted Gomel. Gomel’s fear and anxiety had forged into some frantic, unthinking, energy. He knelt, sighted, squatted, trotted here and there, sighted, always working his cameras as he went. Barnaby would say later that he had never seen someone so brave.
As he awkwardly tried to keep up with his partner, his own big, horsey thighs trembling as he went, he suddenly heard a little girl, no more than six years old. The voice was pure clear and innocent, not unmusical, crooning, “Daddy, daddy, look – the man fall down.” Barnaby then saw the father, thin-faced, in a sports shirt, clean shaven, his face, looking pale and sick from fear, tugging his little girl along, a darling little figure dressed in a becoming blue frock until a rush of bodies blocked out Barnaby’s view of her.
Barnaby grew angry. “Why didn’t the father carry her the hell out of this?” he asked bitterly aloud. Barnaby began to shoulder past some people, and a middle-aged man got angry, asking, “What’s up with you, pal?” But he never caught sight of the girl again.
The fury of the crowd had reached its peak, and Barnaby, helpless, simply stood and watched, his eviscerating fear rooting him to the spot. It was all happening too quickly. Shoes, sticks, fire crackers, big clods of earth, bottles, flaming rags, plastic bags full of blue paint – all continued to sleet down on the hapless police, who cowed, angry, spiteful, turning vicious by being forced to stay in place, itching to wade in again, but not sure of the odds anymore.
Barnaby turned to see a gnarled, old black woman, her hair white, her face grizzled by age, who stood beating on the hood of a police car with her cane. Barnaby would remember that image all his life.
The crowd had locked arms, facing the cops who were reassembling fifty feet away. Reinforcements had arrived, and fresh police had formed in ranks, pulled down their visors, and took practice swings with their clubs, and were instantly met with a chorus of taunts, insults and jeers. When the police started forward, Barnaby felt a knife of fear, a cowardly powerlessness stealing over his mind and soul like a fog. For a moment, everything seemed orderly, the police went forward in unison, jabbing their nightsticks upwards, disciplined, holding their rage and fear in check when all of a sudden, they broke apart in all directions, trying to hit anything their clubs could reach.
Shrill screams and fearful shrieks pierced the air as people scattered in all direction in a panic-driven stampede. All you could hear was thuds, curses, moans, pleas, sobs. Running bodies running were knocked down as other rushing bodies trampled on the fallen. Some on the ground covered their heads. The police by the force of their charge overturned rows of plank benches, making a horrible confused tangle – the ground was a litter of dazed, supine hulks. Forming circles, the police stooped to beat those who were down. A scrawny kid in a white coat, who had unkempt, matted hair, screamed, “I’m a medic,” after a cop had whacked him viciously. “I’m a medic!” the kid screamed. The cop, half mad, said, “Oh, excuse me!” and hit him again.
Barnaby listened to the shrill screams, tearful shrieks as the people scattered in all directions. Barnaby was a numb as a wasp in autumn. The air was full of thuds, curses, moans, pleas, sobs. Forming circles, the police stopped to beat those who were down. The ground was a litter of supine hulks. With a somber face, full of concentration, he entered the ugly swath of overturned benches, alive with fallen and injured people like rats that fume in a heap of rubble. Then, as he wandered, something tore at his heart. It was someone, a pretty woman, was lying across a bench, struggling to get up. It was her eyes that made him stare – they were glassy and blank.
He was flooded by a pity so acute it hurt and stifled his heart. What was she? Twenty five, thirty? But the sight of her pain awakened his own. Her face was as pale as paper and just as blank. But it was the shocking red of the blood creeping out through her brunette locks of hair, as if someone had tipped a bucket of paint and let it run down her face.
She shook her head, as if trying to clear her brain, and he went and helped her as she shook her head again, dazed. Barnaby immediately knelt and held her shoulders gently in his two huge hands, hugging her loosely, awkwardly patting her back and gazing hurriedly around for a medic. She was tightly holding his hand, but suddenly she pushed free of him and turned to vomit on the grass.
Bystanders turned their faces away, but Barnaby used the corner of his safari jacket to mop her mouth. She stared at him all the time. He gently tried to have her lie on her back in the grass. Finally she did. But then her face began to buckle like metal. She had started to cry. “Oh, no! Oh, please don’t do that. Please don’t cry,” Barnaby pleaded.
And she calmed a bit, holding to his hand as if it were her last link to life.
And suddenly the young medic came, earnest with a kind, pitted face. The woman kept her eyes on Barnaby’s face. During that whole time, her eyes never left his eyes, and he watched as she was put on stretcher and taken away. Barnaby didn’t know her name, he never would, but he knew that he loved her, loved her with all the power and force of his heart.
“You okay?” Gomel said. His voice ended Barnaby’s reverie. Gomel was a bluff man, but he could sense something was preoccupying his partner. “You all right?”
The field has cleared. The two of them were walking along, heading west.
“I wished I had killed them,” Barnaby said.
Gomel eyed him with sympathy. “No, you don’t.”
Barnaby said nothing, as the two men walked out of the park.
“You’re a good guy, Barnaby Hart,” said Gomel lightly punching his arm.
Grateful like a dog, Barnaby gazed at him. “You were very brave,” Barnaby said to Gomel. He said it with some bitterness because he felt he had flunked his destiny. “You were all over the place.”
“Yeah, well it’s harder to hit a moving target,” Gomel said. After a while, he added gently, Every time looked around, you were right there.”
Barnaby went on, his heart heavy with the knowledge that violence and cruelty had surprised and undermined his strength, as they walked in the twilight, heading for the tall, twinkling hotels. The sun sank. The gold tints of the clouds slowly changed to bronze, to carmine, to a dull, glowering red. On they plodded in the quiet calm, past the hedges, the flowering shrubs, all frozen still, past the cars parked like turtles at the curb. Nothing moved. All was at peace except for the noise of the kids flocking ahead of them, heading towards the Hilton.
That had been the afternoon. Worse was to come.