By Michael G. Glab
— Forty-four —
An air of triumph permeates the crowded conference room at the County Building. An all-star cast of luminaries stands a few feet behind the lectern decorated with the plaque of the Cook County State’s Attorney. They’re grinning and buzzing and giggling like frat boys who’ve just won this year’s Turkey Bowl. Barry Paulsen nudges Anthony Pontone and whispers, “I think they’re gonna break out in a fight song.”
Anthony snorts, mirthlessly.
At twelve minutes past noon, one of the assistant state’s attorneys nudges the guy next to him who, in turn nudges the guy next to him, all the way down the line until the police brass, the city attorneys, the FBI field agents, and all the rest of the two dozen law enforcers who wish to get in on the victory party pipe down and turn their eyes left to watch the grand and glorious entrance of the man in whose name the shooting was done early this morning. Striding purposefully, Galewood’s own Eddie Halloran mounts the stage, firmly grasps the lectern and looks out over the sea of reporters, pencils poised above their notebooks, and the battery of television cameras pointed at him. A picket fence of microphones separates him from this raggedy crew. He surveys the assembled reporters and cameramen, a Mona Lisa smirk on his face as if to say, See what men of power and will can do?
The packed conference room becomes hushed. Eddie Halloran puffs out his chest, swallowing enough air to praise himself and his men for setting civilization right. “This morning in an apartment on the West Side, officers of the Chicago Police Department were brutally attacked by violent and extremely vicious members of the Black Panthers revolutionary group,” he says. “The Black Panthers possessed a large arsenal of firearms including shotguns and semi-automatic machine guns. The officers announced their presence and informed the occupants of the apartment that they had a warrant to enter and search the premises. The Black Panthers responded by firing shots. The Chicago police officers defended themselves by returning fire. The officers showed remarkable restraint, bravery, and professional discipline for not firing upon and killing all the members of what was a dangerous guerrilla army of insurrection.”
The image of Sister Deb sitting in her housecoat and bedroom slippers, eight and a half months pregnant, flashes simultaneously into the heads of both Anthony and Barry.
Now Eddie Halloran directs an aide to unveil a couple of blowups of photos taken inside the apartment. Using a long wooden baton, Eddie points at what appear to be two holes in the jamb of the apartment’s front door. “These,” he explains, “are some of the bullet holes created by offensive fire from within the apartment and directed at sworn law officers carrying out their legitimate duties.”
Anthony and Barry crane their necks and peer through squinted eyes at the photos. Anthony whispers to Barry, “I can’t see anything. Can you?” Barry shrugs. Anthony happens to glance at the reporter standing next to him, scribbling furiously in his notebook. The reporter is sketching the doorway. He adds the bullet holes that Eddie Halloran is pointing at. Anthony finds it odd that the reporter appears to be drawing mortar shell holes. “Hey man,” Anthony says to him, “that ain’t cool.”
The reporter rotates his shoulders a few degrees to the right to shield his artwork from Anthony. “Fuck you,” the reporter says.
Barry places his hand on Anthony’s shoulder. “Let’s get out of here,” he whispers. “We’ll go to the apartment.”
The two drive to the West Monroe Street address that until ten minutes to five this morning was the residence of Fred Hampton. But, of course, Fred Hampton is no more. Barry parks the Plymouth a block away. Anthony asks him, “What do you think?”
Barry takes a deep breath. As the two near the apartment on foot, they can see the rays of the late fall sun slanting through the picture window. The front room is packed with young black men, grim looks on their faces. “I’ll tell you what I think,” Barry says finally as they turn up the walkway. “I think the Chicago Police are too smart to walk into an ambush.”
“Yeah. The Brothers are in there right now plotting out the bullet holes. That’s what I think. At least that’s what I’d do if I were them.”
Barry is right. The remaining members of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers — those who weren’t killed or busted this morning are poring over the apartment. They don’t have the high-tech equipment or forensic training of the police department’s evidence technicians but they don’t need them. The evidence is plain to see.
After exchanging soul shakes with the Panthers and expressing their condolences, Barry and Anthony are taken on a tour of the place. There, on the floor outside the bedroom, is the dried black oval of blood that had gushed out of the hole in Fred Hampton’s head. There’s the bloody mattress. There are the dozens upon dozens of gaping holes made by police fire in plaster walls, window sashes, and door frames. And, look, there’s the kitchen chair the Pigs made Sister Deb sit in while they executed the Chairman.
Their docent for the tour is a small, quiet man named Brother Ronald. “I was wondering,” Barry asks him, “Where’s Brother Otis.”
“That’s a good question,” Brother Ronald says. “Nobody’s seen him since he left a little after midnight. Maybe The Man got him.”
“Maybe,” says Barry.
“C’mon this way,” Brother Ronald says. “Let’s go look at the front room.” Brother Ronald stops at the the very door jamb pictured in Eddie Halloran’s blow-ups at the press conference. Brother Ronald points at two nail heads sticking out of the woodwork. “There’s your bullet holes,” he says.
A disturbance at the front door. A breathless young man has run in. He’s got news. Brother Otis has been found. Dead. In his apartment. A bullet hole in his head. A pistol in his hand. A note next to him.
The last communication Brother Otis made with the world before he squeezed the trigger of his pistol was a confession. He’d been working for Hoover’s men for months. Brother Fred hadn’t taken a piss without the FBI hearing about it since October 1st. And worst of all, Otis Bryant wrote, the single act that drove him to point his pistol at his temple: he’d slipped five caps of secobarbital into the Chairman’s Kool Aid at dinner. The cops hadn’t wanted Hampton awake when they arrived. Swear to the Almighty Lord in heaven, Otis Bryant wrote, I didn’t know it was an ice job.
Despite the fact that seventeen people are standing in the apartment, having listened to the all-too believable tale related by the breathless young man, there is silence. After a long, long moment, one of the young black men opens his mouth. He says, loudly, drawing the syllables out, “Mutha fucka!” He bolts from the apartment, runs down the front stairs, tumbles to the sidewalk, and shrieks madly, repeatedly bouncing his forehead on the concrete. The rest stare wordlessly at him through the open front door or the front room picture window.
“The world,” Anthony Pontone, the gonzo, underground journalist, says to Barry Paulsen, the earnest, activist lawyer, “has gone mad.”
A minute later, Anthony adds, “I dunno if I can hack it.”
To be continued
All fictional characters, descriptions, and situations are the property of the author.