Chapter 38

The story so far: The criminals arrive and make themselves at home at Vince Torelli’s.


Two days passed. In those forty-eight hours, the recruited company guards had made their presence known in town. They stayed up late into the night drinking whiskey and occasionally getting into fights with each other. They wandered the streets of town, popping in and out of taverns. A few of them walked up to Merritt Lake, past the Slovenski Dom, to swim. They could perform no legal duties until they were officially deputized, so their first few days were like a paid vacation.

The strikers walked the picket lines in shifts from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. Each mine had its own revolving circle of men holding protest signs. The women came to deliver lunches and refreshments. Sometimes the women with older children stayed and sang, or chanted slogans with their husbands. But the wives with young children had too many chores to finish and most only lingered long enough to exchange food and quick greetings. Because the company guards were still not authorized to work, the strikers outnumbered the guards by at least thirty to one at every mine. There had been no violence.

At night, the strikers met secretly to plan. The groups that could not speak English met at houses in the middle of the night. Other larger gatherings assembled in the forest.

The deputizing ceremony was slated to begin at 8 a.m. on June 21 in Biwabik. Katka was there on time, but she noted that only a handful of the new arrivals showed up. The rest meandered over to the courthouse closer to 10 a.m. Some obviously hadn’t slept yet. Many were still drunk from the night before. They laid about the grass of the courthouse lawn, some snoring loudly. None seemed in a hurry to start the job they’d been hired to do, especially since they knew so little about it.

Finally, at 10:30 a.m., Mr. Augustine Stone, owner of the Oliver, and Sheriff Turner came out onto the lawn. The sheriff handed each man a shiny, five-point badge. He looked at his new deputies with disdain. They were a mangy lot. How many of these men had he arrested previously?

The sheriff looked about at the crowd, as if taking inventory of which labor leaders and strikers had shown up. Andre the Bulgarian was not there. Milo was nowhere to be seen. Sam Scarlett was there, standing by himself, near the regal steps leading to the front door. Paul was there too, holding his Luger, standing protectively next to Katka, who was vigilantly taking notes. Adeline Sherek and Helen Cerkvenik stood across the street with a group of women outside the mercantile. A few businessmen were there with their wives and several children hung in the perimeter. Harris Maki was present, his buggy parked on Main Street. Andy, the soda pop distributor, had been there since early morning. It was the hottest summer anyone could remember and Andy was doing well. He had already sold more than five hundred bottles to the new deputies.

The sheriff motioned for the men to rise. Katka watched as the recruited men raised their right hands and swore to be stewards of justice. More than a few men laughed as they did so; the irony was lost on no one. When they had their badges and had taken their oath, the men came up, one by one, and were issued weapons. A few men fired shots into the air.

“Stop that!” the sheriff yelled. “None of that. We can send you back where you came from and don’t you forget it! Do not fire without cause. Do not discharge your weapons unless provoked. This is a town. There are children living here! Which one of you hoodlums wants to go back to jail?”

No one spoke.

“Do as I say. I assure you, you’ll have plenty of action if you’re patient. You can fire your weapon any time you see a striker committing a crime. As for crime …” The sheriff took a document out of his pocket. He read from it. “It is hereby declared a crime for union miners to gather in groups of four or more. Did you all hear that? It is against the law for union miners to gather in groups of four or more!” The deputies looked around at the miners and townspeople who had assembled. There were groups of women. But no men in groups greater than three, except in Harris Maki’s cart. But they were old men, not union miners.

“You were right about that,” Katka whispered to Paul.

“They make that rule during every major strike,” Paul said. “It’s good we were prepared. I’ve seen men gunned down within seconds of the declaration.” The deputies scanned the crowd again, some registering obvious disappointment at the lack of disregard for the new law.


Tomorrow: Chapter 38 continues.