Two reporters and one patrolman snickered.
Curtis reached for a glass of water. "I'm not fi nished yet, Mr. Rowley. If you please, sir, this is not a criminal court. This is an internal trial of the Boston Police Department, and if you are going to argue the legality of Rule Thirty-five, you'll have to bring a case before the Suffolk Superior Court. The only question to be answered here today is whether these men violated Rule Thirty-five, not the soundness of the rule itself, sir." Curtis looked out at the room. "Patrolman Denton, stand at attention."
Mark Denton stood in his dress blues and tucked his domed hat under his arm.
"Patrolman Denton, are you affiliated with Boston Police Union Number Sixteen Thousand Eight Hundred and Seven of the American Federation of Labor?"
"I am, sir."
"Are you not, in fact, the president of said union?"
"I am, sir. Proudly."
"Your pride is of no relevance to this board."
"Board?" Mark Denton said, looking to the left and right of Curtis.
Curtis took a sip of water. "And did you not distribute sign-up sheets within your station house for affiliation with the aforementioned American Federation of Labor?"
"With the same aforementioned pride, sir," Denton said.
"You may sit back down, Patrolman," Curtis said. "Patrolman Kevin McRae, stand at attention . . ."
It went on for over two hours, Curtis asking the same monotonous questions in the same monotonous tone and each cop answering with varying degrees of petulance, contempt, or fatalism.
When it was time for defense counsel to take the floor, James Vahey did the talking. Long the general counsel for the Street and Electric Railway Employees of America, he'd been famous since before Danny was born, and it was Mark Denton's coup to bring him into this fight just two weeks ago at the urging of Samuel Gompers. He moved with an athlete's fluidity as he strode from the back and flashed a slim, confident smile at the nineteen men before turning to face Curtis.
"While I agree that we are not here today to argue the legality of Rule Thirty-five, I find it telling that the commissioner himself, the author of said rule, admits its nebulous status. If the commissioner himself does not believe firmly in the soundness of his own rule, what are we to make of it? Why, we are to make of it what it is--quite simply the greatest invasion of a man's personal liberty--"
Curtis banged his gavel several times.
"--and the most far-reaching attempt to restrict his freedom of action I have ever known."
Curtis raised the gavel again, but Vahey pointed directly at his face.
"You, sir, have denied these men their most basic human rights as workers. You have consistently refused to raise their pay to a level above the poverty line, provide them with safe and hygienic quarters in which to work and sleep, and have demanded they work hours of such duration that not only is their safety jeopardized but that of the public as well. And now you sit before us, as sole judge, and attempt to obfuscate the sworn responsibility you had toward these men. It is a low action, sir. A low action. Nothing you have said today has called into question these men's commitment to the populace of this great city. These men have not abandoned their posts, have not failed to answer the call of duty, have never, not a sole time, failed to uphold the law and protect and serve the people of Boston. Had you evidence to the contrary, I trust you would have produced it by now. Instead, the only failure--and, for the record, I use that term ironically--that these men are guilty of is that they have failed to capitulate to your desire that they not affiliate themselves with a national labor union. That is all. And given that a simple calendar will show that your insertion of Rule Thirty-five to be of rather dubious urgency, I am quite confi dent any judge in the land will deem that rule the naked gambit to restrict these men's rights that we all see it as here today." He turned to the men and the reporters beyond, resplendent in his suit and his grace and his white-white hair. "I am not going to defend these men because there is nothing to defend. It is not they who should have their patriotism or Americanism questioned in this room today," Vahey thundered. "It is you, sir!"
Curtis banged his gavel repeatedly as Parker shouted for order and the men hooted and applauded and rose to their feet.
Danny was reminded of what Ralph Raphelson had said about emotional rhetoric, and he wondered--even as he was as swept up in and stirred by Vahey's speech as the rest of the men--if it had accomplished anything other than a fanning of the flames.
When Vahey returned to his seat, the men sat. Now it was Danny's turn. He took the floor in front of a red-faced Curtis.
"I'm going to keep it simple. The issue before us, it seems to me, is whether affi liation with the American Federation of Labor will lessen the efficiency of the police force. Commissioner Curtis, I say with full confidence that it hasn't thus far. A simple study of arrest rec ords, citations given, and overall crime rate in the eighteen districts will bear this out. And I further state, with utter confidence, that it will remain so. We are policemen, first and foremost, and sworn to uphold the law and uphold the peace. That, I assure you, will never change. Not on our watch."
The men clapped as Danny took his seat. Curtis rose from his desk. He looked shaky, impossibly pale, his tie loosened at the throat, strands of hair pointing askew.
"I will take all remarks and testimony under consideration," he said, his hands gripping the edge of his desk. "Good day, gentlemen." And with that, he and Herbert Parker walked out of the room.
ABLE-BODIED MEN NEEDED
Boston Police Department seeking recruits for Volunteer Police Force to be headed by former Police Supt. William Pierce. White males only. War experience and/ or proven athletic ability preferred. Interested applicants apply at the Commonwealth Armory between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p. m., M-F.
Luther placed the newspaper on the bench where he'd found it. A volunteer police force. Sounded like arming a bunch of white men either too dumb to hold on to a regular job or so desperate to prove their manhood they'd leave the good jobs they had. Either way, a bad combination. He imagined the same ad soliciting black men to fi ll those jobs and laughed out loud, a sound that surprised him. He wasn't the only one--a white man one bench over stiffened, stood, and walked away.
Luther had spent a rare day off wandering the city because he was about to come out of his skin. A child he'd never seen waited for him in Tulsa. His child. Lila, softening toward him by the day (he hoped), waited there, too. He'd once believed the world was a sprawling party just waiting for him to join it and that party would be filled with interesting men and beautiful women and they'd all fi ll the empty parts of him somehow, each in their own way, until there was nothing left to fill and Luther would feel whole for the first time since his father had left the family. But now he realized that wasn't the case. He'd met Danny and Nora and felt for them a fondness so piercing it continued to surprise him. And, Lord knows, he loved the Giddreauxs, had found in them a pair of grandparents he'd often dreamed were out there. Yet ultimately it didn't make no difference because his hopes and his heart and his loves lay in Greenwood. That party? Never going to happen. Because even if it did, Luther'd just as soon be home. With his woman. With his son.