The voters had handed him a city of peerless reputation. The Athens of America, the birthplace of the American Revolution and two presidents, seat to more higher education than any other city in the nation, the Hub of the universe.
And on his watch, it was disassembling itself brick by brick.
They crossed back over the Broadway Bridge, leaving behind the flames and screams of the South Boston slum. Andrew Peters told Horace Russell to take him to the nearest phone. They found one at the Castle Square Hotel in the South End, which was, for the moment, the only quiet neighborhood they'd passed through tonight.
With the bell staff and the manager conspicuously watching, Mayor Peters called the Commonwealth Armory. He informed the soldier who answered who he was and told him to get Major Dallup to the phone on the double "Dallup here."
"Major. Mayor Peters."
"Are you currently in command of the motor corps and the First Cavalry Troop?"
"I am, sir. Under the command of General Stevens and Colonel Dalton, sir."
"Who are where presently?"
"I believe with Governor Coolidge at the State House, sir."
"Then you are in active command, Major. Your men are to stay at the armory and stand at readiness. They are not to go home. Is that clear?" "Yes, sir."
"I will be by to review them and to give you your deployment assignments."
"You are going to put down some riots tonight, Major." "With pleasure, sir."
When Peters arrived at the armory fifteen minutes later, he saw a trooper exit the building and head up Commonwealth toward Brighton.
"Trooper!" He left the car and held up a hand. "Where are you going?"
The trooper looked at him. "Who the fuck are you?"
"I'm the mayor of Boston."
The trooper immediately straightened and then saluted. "My apologies, sir."
Peters returned the salute. "Where are you going, son?"
"Home, sir. I live right up the--"
"You were given orders to stand at the ready."
The trooper nodded. "But those orders were countermanded by General Stevens."
"Go back inside," Peters said.
As the trooper opened the door, several more troopers started to file out, but the original deserter pushed them back inside, saying, "The mayor, the mayor."
Peters strode inside and immediately spied a man with a major's oak leaf cluster by the staircase leading up to the orderly room.
"What is the meaning of this?" Peters's hand swept around the armory, at the men with their collars unbuttoned, weaponless, shifting in place.
"Sir, if I could explain."
"Please do!" Peters was surprised to hear the sound of his voice, raised, flinty.
Before Major Dallup could explain anything, however, a voice boomed from the top of the stairs.
"These men are going home!" Governor Coolidge stood at the landing above them all. "Mayor Peters, you have no business here. Go home as well, sir."
As Coolidge came down the stairs, flanked by General Stevens and Colonel Dalton, Peters rushed up. All four men met in the middle. "This city is rioting."
"It is doing no such thing."
"I have been out in it, Governor, and I tell you, I tell you, I tell you--" Peters hated this stammer he developed when upset but he wouldn't let it stop him now. "I tell you, sir, that it is not sporadic. It is tens of thousands of men and they are--"
"There is no riot," Coolidge said.
"Yes, there is! In South Boston, in the North End, in Scollay Square! Look for yourself, man, if you don't believe me."
"I have looked."
"From the State House."
"The State House?" Peters said, screaming now, his voice sounding to his own ears like that of a child. A female child. "The rioting isn't happening on Beacon Hill, Governor. It's happening--"
"Enough." Coolidge held up a hand.
"Enough?" Peters said.
"Go home, Mr. Mayor. Go home."
It was the tone that got to Andrew Peters, the tone a parent reserved for a bratty child having a pointless tantrum.
Mayor Andrew Peters then did something he was reasonably sure had never occurred in Boston politics--he punched the governor in the face.
He had to jump from a lower step to do it, and Coolidge was tall to begin with, so it wasn't much of a punch. But it did connect with the tissue around the governor's left eye.
Coolidge was so stunned, he didn't move. Peters was so pleased, he decided to do it again.
The general and the colo nel grabbed at his arms, and several troop--ers ran up the stairs, but in those few seconds, Peters managed to land a few more flailing shots.
The governor, oddly, never moved back or raised his hands to defend himself.
Several troopers carried Mayor Andrew Peters back down the stairs and deposited him on the floor.
He thought of rushing up them again.
Instead, he pointed a finger at Governor Coo lidge. "This is on your conscience."
"But your ledger, Mr. Mayor." Coolidge allowed himself a small smile. "Your ledger, sir." chapter thirty-seven Horace Russell drove Mayor Peters to City Hall Wednesday morning at half past seven. Absent fires and screams and darkness, the streets had lost their ghoulish flavor, but stark evidence of the mob lay everywhere. Nary a window was left intact along Washington or Tremont or any of the streets that intersected them. Husks where once stood businesses. The skeleton frames of charred automobiles. So much trash and debris in the streets Peters could only assume this was what cities looked like after protracted battles and sporadic bombing.
Along the Boston Common, men lay in drunken stupors or openly engaged in dice games. Across Tremont, a few souls raised plywood over their window frames. In front of some businesses, men paced with shotguns and rifles. Phone lines hung severed from their poles. All street signs had been removed, and most gas lamps were shattered.
Peters placed a hand over his eyes because he felt an overwhelming need to weep. A stream of words ran through his head, so constant it took him a minute to realize it also left his tongue in a low whisper:
This never had to happen, this never had to happen, this never had to happen. . . .
The impulse to weep turned to something colder as they reached City Hall. He strode up to his office and immediately placed a call to police headquarters.
Curtis answered the phone himself, his voice a tired shadow of itself. "Hello."