Excerpt from Dark Spirits
If I'd read the Pasadena Star News that morning at the breakfast table, as was my habit, Sam Rotondo wouldn't have known how disturbed I was by the news it carried that day. As it was, he was right there in the living room when I finally got a chance to pick up the newspaper.
"What's wrong?" he said, frowning at me. Sam frowned at me a lot. He'd been my late husband's best friend. Until recently, I'd considered him my worst enemy, but now I wasn't sure what I thought of him.
I shook the newspaper at him. "What's this about some of your cohorts in the police department being suspended for insubordination because they belong to the Ku Klux Klan? Why would anyone with half a brain join that vicious group?"
Sam's frown deepened, which didn't surprise me any. Sam was a detective with the Pasadena Police Department, and I guess he didn't like my description of some of his officers. "They aren't my cohorts. And at least the City of Pasadena has an ordinance against any of its employees belonging to the KKK."
My father, with whom Sam had been playing a peaceful game of gin rummy, as the two men did several evenings every week, stared at his cards. Guess he didn't want to get involved in the discussion.
I huffed, still upset and indignant. "But really, Sam. How can officers sworn to uphold the law belong to an organization that's dedicated to eliminating people who aren't precisely like they are? And violently, too! Why, I read the other day that the governor of Oklahoma actually had to declare martial law because of violent attacks by members of the Klan. And I don't blame him. The Klan burned down an entire Negro section of Tulsa a couple of years ago!"
"The Klan isn't Governor Walton's only problem," grumbled Sam, trying to squirm out of a conversation he didn't want to have.
"I don't care what his problems are. What I want to know is why people here in Pasadena, California, and police officers at that, join such associations as the Ku Klux Klan. Do you know that Jackson's brother and his family actually had to move to Pasadena from Oklahoma to escape the Klan?"
Sam's nose wrinkled. "Who's Jackson?"
I slapped the newspaper onto my lap and glared at Sam who, naturally, was still frowning. "Who's Jackson? How long have you known Mrs. Pinkerton anyhow, Sam Rotondo?"
My mother said, "Daisy," in the voice she uses at me when she thinks I'm being rude. However, being rude to Sam Rotondo was sort of like being rude to a granite statue, so I didn't back away from this conversation. I did modify my voice slightly.
"What does Mrs. Pinkerton have to do with anything?" asked Sam, looking genuinely puzzled for a second before he resumed scowling.
Although it was generally Sam who rolled his eyes at me, I turned the tables on him and rolled mine at him. Which brings up another issue I'll go in to later, actually.
"Jackson, Sam, is Mrs. Pinkerton's gatekeeper and has been for as long as I've been working for the stupid woman."
My mother said, "Daisy" again, drat her.
I heaved a sigh. "I'm sorry, Ma, but she really is kind of dim."
"That's true, Mrs. Gumm," said Sam in defense of my opinion of Mrs. Pinkerton if not his brothers at the police department. "But that doesn't have anything to do with anything. I've never been formally introduced to Jackson, and I'm sorry about his family's troubles, but they don't have anything to do with me, and neither do the policemen who joined the Klan. And who have been suspended, don't forget. I don't like the KKK either, if that's any comfort to you."
Now he was being sarcastic. Fine. "Have there been any lynchings in Pasadena?" I wanted to know.
"Daisy!" My mother again. Even my father looked up from his hand of cards.
"No! No, there haven't been any lynchings in Pasadena. And there aren't going to be. The officers who joined the Klan were suspended, and if they don't quit the Klan, their jobs are history."
I sniffed. "Well, I'm glad to know that. But Jackson's brother has had a good deal of trouble since he moved here from Tulsa. Jackson thinks the Klan's after him. He thinks Klan members followed him all the way from Oklahoma. I thought he must be exaggerating, but after reading this article"—I waved the newspaper at him again—"I'm not so sure. Especially after what happened the other day."
Sam's frown, which had been aimed specifically at me, now took on a more universal aspect. "What do you mean, he's been having trouble? What kind of trouble? What happened the other day?"
"People following him and his children. Someone tried to run him down last week—Jackson's brother, not Jackson. They burned a cross on Jackson's lawn the other night. That sounds like the Klan to me, and it worries me that some of the people who are supposed to protect Pasadena's citizens might be doing the dirty work themselves."
"They burned a cross?" My father had evidently lost interest in the gin rummy game. He laid his cards, face-down, on the table and stared at me with dismay. Made sense to me.
"Goodness gracious!" said my mother. It was about the most forceful thing she ever said.
"Yes. They burned a cross. And if that's not the most evil, blasphemous thing to do, I don't know what is, unless they actually lynched someone. Which they've done in other parts of the country."
Sam's eyebrows dipped so steeply they reminded me of fuzzy caterpillars. "I never heard about any cross-burnings. When did this happen? Where? Didn't Jackson or his family report it?"