Excerpt from: The Dogcatcher and The Fox – now available at Amazon.com and Ingram Books
Chapter 1, Part 1
Raven Griffith was holding on for dear life. Her horses had panicked and were pulling the wagon at a frightening pace down Forty-First Street. People jumped out of the way, giving her dirty looks when she passed them, as though she were some juvenile troublemaker out for a joy ride on a dogcart.
“Whoa!” she shouted as she stood up and tugged on the reins with all her might.
Raven’s problem had begun as soon as she turned off State Street. The horses had cocked their heads and raised their ears when they saw the angry mob milling around on a sidewalk with torches and clubs. She sensed the animals were about to go from nervous to all-out panic, and there was nothing she could do to stop it. The backfire of a truck engine had sounded like a gunshot. That was all it took.
She had been assigned to deliver the team of horses to Rondell Boyd’s Livery Stable by her boss at the Animal Welfare Association. The animals had killed their previous owner when, in a panic just like this one, they had rounded a corner too fast and overturned their wagon. Raven wondered if she was about to suffer the same fate.
“Whoa, damn it!” The words jarred her, even as she said them. It was not her habit to curse, but the horses were not the only ones in a panic.
Pulling back on the reins seemed to have no effect, but the horses did respond to a tug left or right. She passed her destination and was fast approaching the busy Michigan Avenue intersection, where motor cars, people on foot, and street cars crossed her path. She was desperate. Instinct took over as she sat down and pulled on the left rein, steering the horses to the left side of the road. She then began what she hoped would be a gradual turn to the right—into an alley. The horses calmed as they came off the pavement and onto the quiet, dirt surface of the alley. When the wagon wheels hit the dirt, and the pulling became more difficult, they slowed even more. Raven eased off the reins and uttered a quiet, “Whoa”. When they came to a full stop, she bent forward slightly and took a few deep breaths.
“That was a nice move.”
She didn’t need to look up to see who was moving up from behind the wagon. Rondell Boyd moved slowly and ran his hand along the left-side horse’s flank, patting and talking as he moved to stand between their heads. He took each animal by the halter. They shied away from his touch, but he held on.
“You okay?” he asked.
She was out of breath, so she simply bobbed her head and allowed Rondell to take control. The horses were sweating and sucking air in deep breaths, but they calmed under his soothing voice. He led them in a wide circle that took them back toward the street.
“What set them off?” Rondell asked.
“A mob of people back at State and Forty-First,” she said. She held the reins loosely and leaned back in her seat. “I thought the riots were over. Why are white people down here?”
“The troops stayed around for a couple of months,” Rondell said over his shoulder, “but as soon as they left, the Irish started picking at us again.”
He leaned into the horses, pushing them off the street and into the front yard of his stable. Raven dropped the reins and rose from her seat, but he stopped her. “Hold on.” He looked up toward State Street, then pulled the wagon through the barn and out the back. He directed Raven to get down and take control of the horses as he went to close the front door to the barn.
“You don’t think they’ll come down this far into the Black Belt, do you?” she asked when he returned.
“I don’t know what to think,” he replied. “I just know that with the troops gone and the police back to looking the other way, we need to be careful.”
Rondell Boyd and his wife Essie had moved north from Alabama a couple of years ago with two mules and a wagon. They had found work hauling manure out of the stockyard and sleeping under their wagon at night until they could scrape up enough to buy this barn from a Jew named Greenberg. Rondell had carefully restored the structure and, Raven knew from her experience during the riots that he would rather die than see it destroyed.
Raven had known Rondell back home in Thomasville before he abruptly left town and returned to his people in Alabama. When she learned he was in Chicago, she convinced her boss to work with him. The Association had placed numerous horses and mules into his care—some abandoned, some rescued from abusive owners—and all had thrived. He was a good man who looked after his animals, but she also knew him to be stubborn and opinionated.
“How did you get stuck with this delivery?” he asked as they each unhitched a horse and placed it in a stall.
“The Association is still looking for an officer to work with horses, so I volunteered for this,” she replied. She smiled and continued, “I thought it would be an easy ride.”
He laughed as he took the halter she handed him and hung it on a nail. She closed the gate and leaned on it to watch the horse nibble at the hay in the manger. Before he could say anything further, their attention was drawn to the loud thump of something heavy hitting the front door of the barn.
“Boyd!” a voice shouted from outside.
Raven and Rondell looked at each other. He picked up a pitchfork and made for the door.
“Wait,” she said grabbing his arm. “Let me go out there.”
“Hell no,” he replied. “I ain’t letting you fight my battles.”
She took off her cap and shook her head to let her hair fall around her shoulders. “If I go, there won’t be a battle to fight.”
He turned back to the door, ignoring her plea.
“What’s going on, here?” Rondell’s wife Essie had appeared in the barn.
“Essie,” Raven said. “There’s a mob out front and he won’t let me go out there to quiet things down. If they see him, there’ll be trouble.”
Essie looked from Raven to Rondell, weighing the options. A few minutes later, Raven stepped into the front yard of the stable to face the angry men. She deliberately closed the door and pressed her back against the barn, hoping she could keep Rondell inside.
The small crowd before her grew quiet. They were more like boys than men, not over seventeen or eighteen. They undoubtedly expected to see the Negro whose name was scrawled above the door. Instead they faced a white woman with wild black hair and slate-gray eyes—a woman in trousers holding a pitchfork.