Enjoy a free sample of the upcoming novel Detroit Heroic by Dr. Olaf Kroneman. Release date to be announced.
Detroit Heroic - Chapter 1
Matt’s muscles contracted in concert with the grinding telephone bell. Its pitch ushered in memories of “round one” and the beginning of a boxing match. His heart pounded from sleep to trouble. Keep your guard up, you must protect yourself at all time. Now shake hands and come out fighting. Make it a clean fight, gentlemen.
In college, Matt was a stand-up clean boxer. No cheap- shots, no rabbit punches.
He shook off the disorientation of a deep sleep to realize he was in bed and not in a boxing ring.
Big Ben glowed 5 a.m.
“Dr. Drummond, you’re needed at the hospital,” she said.
Her voice was cigarettes and coffee and booze after work. She coughed.
“What? I can’t give blood for another couple of months.”
“We don’t need your famous blood type this time, we need you.”
Matt shook his head, rubbed his Mickey Mantle athlete’s brush cut and yawned.
“My internship hasn’t started. I’m just a medical student. I don’t know anything. I could hurt the patients.”
“Not these guys.”
“They’re dead as mackerels.”
“Westside, Twelfth and Clairmont. The real doctors have been operating all night. It shows no sign of stopping. Are you sure you can’t donate blood? We need it.”
“Positive,” Matt said. “It would be too soon. My blood type is O negative, I’m not that special.”
“You are a universal donor,” she said. “New interns are to report to the morgue and help the coroner.”
“Prepare the bodies.”
“Forensic autopsies, it’s all on TV, just like Vietnam. See what’s happening. Detroit looks like Da Nang. It’s dangerous.”
She laughed then coughed.
“Shootings, you’ll need a pass for the police roadblocks.”
“Where are the passes?”
She coughed a few more times and replied, “Here, at the hospital.”
“If I’m stopped before I get one?”
“Be polite. They’ll never shoot a white kid.”
“If I were black?”
“Risky,” she said.
“No, just a black woman from Detroit,” she said. “Come down and get your pass. We need bodies for the bodies just don’t become one.”
Matt set the receiver down.
“Shit,” he said.
Matt turned on the television and returned to the kitchen. He placed a pan on the stove to boil water for instant coffee.
He heard: CBS News Special Report: “We interrupt our broadcast to bring you this news bulletin.”
He walked into the living room, turned up the volume and adjusted the aluminum foil on the Sylvania’s rabbit ear antenna. He smacked the television with an open hand and brought Walter Cronkite of CBS News into black and white focus. Four years earlier he did the same when JFK was assassinated.
You only saw Cronkite at night unless something bad happened. Here he was on the CBS morning show.
It was date line Detroit, not Dallas. Cronkite described the chaos. What Matt saw made him want to smack the TV again and return the images to snow. He resisted the urge, moved closer, and turned up the volume. This can’t be happening he thought.
Cronkite said “the death toll is now thirty and expected to go much higher. President Johnson is sending the Eighty-Second Airborne to patrol the streets of Detroit.” He looked into the camera with the same teary, avuncular eyes he had on November 22, 1963, signing off with, “And that's the way it is, Monday morning, July 24, 1967.”
Matt put a spoonful of Maxwell House “flavor buds” into a cup and added the boiling water. Stirring the instant coffee, he reflected on the new bulletin. He thought it can’t be that bad.
When he went downtown to get his critical worker’s pass, he would see what was happening first hand. But what if the police stopped him without the pass?
The phone rang.
“Dr. Drummond, this is medical administration. You should have been here by now.”
“I’m coming. If my car doesn’t break down.”
His car did not have air conditioning, burned oil and overheated, but the radio worked, AM only. It was stuck on one channel, WJR, which was okay because he could listen to JP McCarthy, “the Great Voice of the Great Lakes” and the Tiger games. Last night he fell asleep
listening to the soothing southern drawl of Ernie Harwell broadcasting the game against the Yankees. “Good morning world, have a pleasant Monday.” JP described the carnage of Detroit. JP couldn’t make anything pleasant of this.
Matt kept two pints of oil and three gallons of water in the trunk. The water was placed in gasoline cans. He checked the trunk to make sure the water and oil were there. It was a compulsive habit. He knew the water and oil were there, but he was compelled and calmed by ritual. He liked to be prepared, just in case.
The car started releasing a cloud of grey-black leaded exhaust.
He took the Lodge freeway to Detroit and because of the heat, kept the windows open. The wind blew in his face and smelled of burning rubber. At first, he thought it was his car, but soon realized the smell came from the city.
The smell became stronger. It was smoke, tire fires and tear gas. The police, ambulance and fire truck sirens became louder.
He coughed and choked. His eyes burned.
The temperature gauge nudged toward hot. He could go about thirty miles before the gauge would hit the red zone and he would have to stop and put water in the radiator and wait for the wreck to cool down.
The General Motor’s billboard with the numbers rolling calculating the year’s production was in a dead stop. It was the first time Matt saw the production numbers in abeyance. The riot would prevent GM from building eight million cars in 1967. That meant his father wouldn’t get any overtime this year. He’d have more time to spend drinking and tormenting the family. He exited the freeway to get on the backroads. Matt was distracted. The sirens became very loud and made it difficult to think. The piercing noise would not let up. Something bad was happening somewhere.
Matt saw buildings reduced to piles of crumbled brick. Scaled, burned, skeletal, wooden frames jutted out of the rubble. The wooden frames resembled the ribs of a dead animal. Signs of businesses: Standard Oil, Check Cashing, and The Algiers Motel gave evidence of a thriving community that was. He saw white and black business owners painting “Soul Brother” on their establishments hoping to be spared. “Soul brother” didn’t seem to spare any “Soul Brothers,” black or white. It was an equal opportunity uprising. Bullet holes pocked the ruins and looked like the vacant eyes of skeletons watching his every move. A large shadow moved across the road. He figured it was an army helicopter or passing cloud blocking the sun. He saw other shadows and realized the shadows were rats, blackened by smoke, ash and tar. There were thousands running like lemmings, except, the rats were stampeding not to jump off a cliff, but to save themselves from the inferno.
He saw a crowd. He was driving toward them, and they were running at him. Hundreds of people jammed the street. Police stood on the sidewalk wearing white helmets and did nothing to stop the chaos. Black and white people were looting. The news reports said it was only blacks that were involved but evidently that was not the case. Men ran into liquor stores
and came out with a fifth in each hand, drinking from the bottle. The sound of breaking glass interrupted the sirens. When glass broke the crowd roared as if a home run was hit. People carried televisions sets with the price tag hanging. It was very hot, but he saw a woman wearing a full -length mink coat running in his direction. It was part celebration, like pictures he saw of the Mardi Gras. Then rocks and bottles were thrown. Some of the bottles hit the pavement, broke and exploded into fire. It was French Revolution.
He saw two men running into the crowd wearing Detroit Tiger baseball uniforms. They were shouting on bull horns, “Stop, please go home this is not right.”
They turned pleading to the crowd. Matt saw the numbers “23”and “26.” Willie Horton and Gates Brown. Behind them he saw the young black congressman John Conyers. Conyers was shouting through a bull horn with his left hand raised impotently ordering the rioters to stop.
The crowd moved like a current of water and passed around the baseball players and congressman like they were rocks in a stream. The human stream recollected and kept coming toward Matt. He had to get out of the way. He yanked the steering wheel left, almost sliding into the front window of a Cunningham’s Drug Store.
The car kept moving he looked over his right shoulder to see the crowd heading down the street not bothering to chase him. His heart was beating very fast.
His attention returned to the road in time to see large white stars painted on the fender of an olive- green army jeep. Four jeeps were in formation to block him. He noticed machine guns mounted on the rear, pointed at him. He held has breath and braced himself for the inevitable crash
Matt pushed his foot down on the brake pedal hard, then harder. They sometimes held. He prayed they held this time. If only he had that pass. His bald tires screamed, complained, and slid. He stopped threateningly close to the lead jeep. About an inch separated them.
The soldiers screamed at him. They exploded off the back of the jeep.
“Get out of the car.”
“Bastard almost hit us.”
“I think the bastard hit us.”
No, I did not he thought.
“He tried to ram us.”
“It’s not my fault. Bad brakes.”
Bayonets pointed at him. Matt was certain somebody was going to shoot or stab him. He had the absurd thought that he’d rather be shot than stabbed, get the job done quick. He knew he could not receive blood. With his rare blood- type he could give, but not receive.
As if to grant him his wish the machine gun swiveled and pointed at him. One pull of the trigger by accident or intent and he would be cut in two.
The soldier manning the machine gun had trouble keeping his oversized helmet from covering his eyes. He took is hand off the trigger and pushed his helmet up, but the helmet kept falling down. He would repeat the procedure several times. There was too much back and forth movement over the trigger.
Matt remained in his car, held his hands up like it was a television cowboy show, Gunsmoke.
Matt thought the National Guard looked like kids dressed up as Halloween soldiers. He knew well- connected white kids who were in the National Guard to escape the draft and a government paid death march to Vietnam hell. Their helmets were ill fitting and too large and looked like inverted salad bowls. They looked frightened and crazy excited which augmented Matt’s fear. The guy with the machine gun was breathing deep and fast. Matt saw a tank. He saw several rifles pointed at him. The bright morning sun reflected off their bayonets.
A soldier approached. “Who are you and what are you doing here?”
Matt tried to remain calm, but his insides tightened. A tank and a machine gun should be able to finish him off.
“I’m Dr. Matt Drummond. I’m a first- year intern. I’m going to the morgue to help.”
He handed him his driver’s license. His hand shook.
“Get out of the car.”
Matt slowly opened the door. The hinges creaked.
The machine gun swiveled, following him. It too creaked.
“I don’t need your license I need your papers that identify you as a critical worker. Let’s see your papers.”
“I don’t have them. I’m to pick them up at the hospital.”
“Spread your arms, your legs and put your hands on the car.”
Now get down and put your hands behind your head.”
“This is ridiculous. Do you want me to stand or get down on the ground?”
“I said get down.”
Two national guardsmen and a Detroit cop knocked him to the ground. He was clubbed on his back and fell to his knees. The wind knocked out of him. He couldn’t catch his breath.
“Let’s see your papers.”
Matt replied in spastic, painful, speech.
“I don’t have them.”
“Stay down. What’s in the trunk?”
A soldier opened his trunk.
Matt realized they would see the oil and the gas cans.
“He’s got oil and gasoline in the trunk. He’s an arsonist.”