Chapter 33

The story so far: Union organizers are arrested and jailed.

 

By the time the meeting started, the Finnish Socialist Hall was overflowing with workers. Katka and Adeline Sherek had positioned themselves right in front. Katka had her notebook. Men spilled into the street outside the main entrance like bubbles over the rim of a washbasin. Everyone was talking at once. Then Paul and Frank Little put their arms high up in the air. Andre Kristeva, the Bulgarian who had spied for the Wobs, rapped three times on the table with his fists and the hall was instantly quiet.

“We have organized this hall by language,” Andre said. “I will be speaking English. If you don’t speak English, go sit next to your translator.” The translators were holding large signs with the name of their language painted upon them. “Italiano, here!” a translator yelled. “Slovensko!” another yelled. “Norske!” “Deutsch!” Katka looked around. Most of the miners were already seated with the men who spoke their language, but the few who were not moved.

Andre waited until the movement had ceased. “The Finns have drawn up a list of demands. It has been once amended and approved by our strike council. Our task is to vote on this list, to come to an agreement. Then we will discuss our plans to get our demands met.” He paused momentarily for the translators.

He listed the demands. In a little more than two hours, the miners agreed to the wording and an appeal was sent to the local mine officials asking to meet and settle.

After the meeting, the miners filed out of the hall and walked to the city jail. They quickly surrounded the building and began chanting. Katka and Adeline joined them. “Free the Wobs! Free the Wobs!” Scarlett, Tresca, Gilday and Ettor could hear it from behind bars. Each took off a shoe and banged it against the bars of their cell, in time with the chant.

 

• • •

 

“Shut your pie holes!” Sheriff Turner yelled. He was alone now, in the jail with his prisoners and Milo. The sheriff’s deputy, Gene Baker, had gone to Vince Torelli’s to get some dinner.

“Sounds like a good lot of men outside,” Milo noted, quietly. “Want me to see how many there is, sheriff?”

The sheriff went to the window in the adjoining room. Milo followed.

“My guess is five hundred,” Milo said. “More or less. How many bullets you got, sheriff?”

Someone was pounding on the door. The sheriff did not answer it. The door opened. In walked Andre the Bulgarian, Paul Schmidt and Frank Little.

“Evening, sheriff. How much to spring these fellas?” Paul said.

“Ain’t no bail.”

“Why not?”

“Ain’t no bail for threatening the life of a lawman.”

“We got witnesses to say that did not happen.”

“You mean Harris Maki and his boys? They’re goddamn liars.”

“We ain’t talking about Harris.”

“Can’t use testimony from a little boy, if that be your argument.”

“Don’t intend to.” Paul gestured outside to the crowd that stood chanting on the other side of the open door. In walked four men in fine suits.

“Evening again, sheriff,” one of the men said.

“What you mean ‘again’?”

“Second time in a matter of hours that we could enjoy the pleasure of your company. You don’t remember?”

“Can’t say as I do.”

“We were on the train. Twelve of us, actually. Please tell Mr. Stone that we had a splendid dinner at that boarding house. Vince’s. It was right kind of Mr. Stone to foot the bill for us.”

“You — you’re the replacement workers?”

“We four are lawyers, actually. The others have different training. Reliable witnesses, though. Each one. So, how much is bail?”

Outside, the roar of the mob of miners swelled. Men pounded on the windows with their fists, still yelling, “Free the Wobs! Free the Wobs!” The sheriff took a pull of whiskey from his flask.

“Five hundred dollars,” the sheriff said. “For all four.”

The lawyer smiled and lifted his brow. He gazed out the window at the workers. “They seem to be getting impatient.” He let the cries of the workers fill the air like thunder approaching. “Should I tell them you have proposed that they pay five hundred dollars for the release of their leaders?”

“Four hundred,” the sheriff said.

The lawyer reached in his pocket and withdrew one hundred dollars. He laid it on the desk in front of Sheriff Turner. The sheriff looked at it for a minute. Then he quickly put it in his pocket, walked over and unlocked the cell door. The four organizers tipped their hats and walked out to the cheering crowd of workers. They marched slowly back to the Socialist Hall, where Sam Scarlett spoke, briefly, about plans for the next day.

Milo was one of the last out of the hall that night. He walked with the man who had convinced the sheriff to free the men on bail. “That was sure something,” Milo said. “I never met a lawyer before. We’re lucky to have you here.”

“Just between me and you,” the man said, “I ain’t no lawyer. I’m a textile worker from Lawrence, Massachusetts, and a proud member of the IWW.”

“Buy you a drink?” Milo said.

“Take me to the whiskey.”

 

Tomorrow: Chapter 34 begins.