Chapter 41 continues

The story so far: Anger builds among the grief-stricken strikers.

 

In the field bunker, Katka and the strike force — now consisting of six members, not seven — met to plan Milo’s funeral. A few of the Wobbly leaders from headquarters joined the local leaders and the space was physically cramped and hot. The overwhelming sadness took up even more space than the bodies, making the field bunker seem all the more claustrophobic. “Any luck?” Adeline asked Sam Scarlett.

“’Fraid not, ma’am. I sent men to every church from Ely to Grand Rapids. No priest is willing to risk offending the company by performing the mass.”

Katka wished Father Leo were here. He would have done it. “We can’t wait any longer,” Katka said. “With this heat … his body won’t do well.” And so they planned the funeral themselves. It would take place four days after the murder, on Monday, June 26, at the Socialist Opera Hall in Virginia.

By Saturday, the first throng of reporters arrived in Biwabik and the neighboring towns. It seemed to Katka that every newspaper in the country was now covering the story. Across the nation, thousands of ironworkers went on strike in a show of solidarity. Sentiments were changing worldwide in favor of the strikers. Sheriff Turner and Mr. Augustine Stone decided to change the image of his deputized thugs. He made all of his newly sworn-in deputies get a shave. He instructed them to be on their best behavior. “Arrest no one. If anyone asks, remember to tell them that Milo Blatnik was a socialist anarchist who fired on U.S. deputies.”

Katka expected a large crowd, but she never imagined that Milo’s funeral would draw as many as it did. When she arrived early with Lily, baby Gregor, Anton and the other boarders, the hall was already packed. They moved expediently to the front of the hall and slipped into the second row, which was reserved for immediate family. The Zalars were already there with their children. Paul was seated on the other side with Andre the Bulgarian, Carlo Tresca and a few other organizers. Katka caught his attention and gave him a wan smile. He put his hand on his heart. She wished she could sit next to him. She wished he could hold her hand through this, keep her strong. But Paul insisted they keep their distance now, more than ever. Nothing was safe anymore. Although the funeral was not set to begin for another forty-five minutes, Ana Zalar was crying. Leo had his arm around her. “There, there,” he said. “Milo’s in the good place now. He’s with the Virgin. Don’t let the children see you cry.”

An hour later, the funeral began. Not only was the opera hall packed, but the streets surrounding the hall were filled. Katka heard later that more than three thousand people from all across the Range and the state had assembled to pay respects to Milo.

Finally, Sam Scarlett rose to speak. The hall grew dead silent. Eventually, that silence seeped into the streets. The heat had finally broken and the sun was more forgiving to those who stood underneath her rays, unable to hear the funeral speeches. A breeze blew steadily through the crowd. Inside, Sam Scarlett’s words ebbed and flowed like the tide. “It was this simple, intelligent man,” Katka heard him say, “Milo Blatnik, who began this strike. This one man united us all. Never forget the efforts of one man with a yearning for justice can change the world. This one man, Milo Blatnik, had the courage to inspire thousands. He knew he deserved better, he knew you deserved better and he was willing to do anything it took to make that happen. He gave his all to ensure the right to a decent wage with safe working conditions. What did he get in return? Two bullets. One in his jaw, the other in his gut.”

 

Tomorrow: Chapter 41 continues.