The Tower

[The Tower]

[Garrett County Press]

Excerpt from
The Tower
by Richard Martin Stern

From One: 9am-9:33am

The police barricades had been stacked in the Tower Plaza since dawn that Friday morning. Now city employees were setting them out in neat straight lines. As yet no crowd had gathered.

The sky was clear, blue, limitless. A gentle harbor breeze swept the plaza, salt-smelling, fresh. The plaza flags rippled. Two on-duty patrolmen -- more would be arriving during the next hour -- stood by the arcade.

"At least," Patrolman Shannon was saying, "we've nothing political to cope with today, thank God for that. A political rally -- " He shook his head. "The way some people in this country get stirred up over politics is a sin and a shame and a waste." He glanced upward at the towering, gleaming building. "It reaches almost to Heaven," he said. "Way above men's little squabbles."

Patrolman Barnes said, "Dig the uninvolved man." Patrolman Barnes was black. "To hear him tell it, all Irishmen are peaceable, loving, patient, unexcitable, kind, considerate, and totally nonviolent." Barnes had his master's degree in sociology, was already marked down for promotion to sergeant, and had his sights set on a captaincy at least. He grinned at Shannon. "Those love-ins they stage over in Londonderry, friend, are not what you might call church socials."

"Only when provoked," Shannon said. He allowed himself a faint answering smile. "But I'm not saying that sometimes the provocation doesn't have to be looked for. Sometimes it hides, like a mouse in a hole." The smile disappeared as a man approached. "And where do you think you're going?"

It was established later that the man's name was John Connors. He carried a toolbox. In testimony Barnes and Shannon agreed that he had worn work clothes and a shiny aluminum hard hat and the kind of arrogance a skilled workman is tempted to show toward those who ask silly questions.

"Where does it look like I'm going? Inside." Connors paused. His smile pitied them. "Unless you're going to try to keep me out?" There was challenge in the question.

"There's no work today," Barnes said.

"I know it."

"Then?"

Connors sighed. "Where I ought to be is home. In bed. A day off for everybody while they make speeches here and go upstairs to drink champagne. Instead, here I am because the boss called me and told me to haul my ass down to the job."

"To do what?" This was still Barnes.

"I'm an electrician," Connors said. "Would you understand what I'm supposed to do if I told you?"

Probably not, Barnes thought. But that was not the governing factor. The trouble was orders, or lack of them.

"You and Shannon," the duty sergeant had said, "get on down there and keep an eye on things. They'll be setting up the lines and we don't expect any trouble, but -- " The sergeant had shrugged with a you-know-how-it-is expression.

And they did know how it was these days: every gathering seemed to generate its own unrest. All right, they would keep an eye on things, but that scarcely included keeping a workman away from his work.

"Do you carry a union card, friend?" Barnes said gently.

"So what are you?" Connors said. "An NLRB inspector? Yes, I carry a union card. I'm no scab." He pulled out his wallet and waved it. If it contained a card, it could not be seen. "Satisfied?" Connors put the wallet away again.

Shannon's temper was rising fast. "Let him go."

Still Barnes hesitated. As he testified later, he had had no reason for the hesitation, merely a feeling, and actions based on feelings are always suspect.

"Well?" Connors said. "Make up your goddam mind. Just standing here, I'm already costing the boss -- "

Shannon said, "Beat it." There was a vein throbbing in the side of his neck. He looked at his partner. "We don't have any orders to keep people out, Frank. Let the son of a bitch go. Maybe he'll electrocute himself."

That was the way they remembered it, and told it later.

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