Sunday, August 12, 2012

"Such a Life," by Lee Martin, is...

...such a good book, and not necessarily for passages like the one below.

But this story about Henry Clay Frick Jr., the 19th century industrialist, is so good I just had to print it:

The anarchist Alexander Berkman, lover of Emma Goldman, bursts into Frick's downtown Pittsburgh office. Frick is sitting at his desk, his back to the door, conducting business with John G. A. Leishman, the vice president of Carnegie Steel.

Berkman raises a revolver. "Frick," he says, and Frick turns in his swivel chair.

A brilliant light streams through the window that Berkman faces. It's nearly two o'clock on a Saturday afternoon, July 23, 1892. Berkman fires, and there's a bright flash from the revolver. Frick cries out in pain as the bullet enters his neck at the base of the skull and lodges in the middle of his back. Leishman leaps to his feet and grabs Berkman.

Berkman fires again. This time the bullet pierces the right side of Frick's neck. Still, the wounds aren't fatal, and, as Berkman struggles to escape Leishman's grasp, he fires a third time. The bullet misses Frick completely and strikes the wall behind him.

By this time a carpenter working in the building has come into the office and is striking Berkman on the head with his hammer. Berkman drops his revolver but manages to take a dagger from his pocket and stab Frick in his back, his hip, his right side, and his left leg before deputy sheriffs arrive.

A summons goes out for Dr. J .J. Buchanan, whose office is nearby. When he arrives, Frick refuses anesthesia. He wants to be awake, he says, to better help Buchanan feel his way to the bullets.

Buchanan quickly locates the first, probing while Frick sits in his chair. The second takes him two hours to find. "There, that feels like it," Frick finally says.

Berkman has gashed Frick's leg so deeply that the tendons have almost been severed. Once Buchanan has dressed all the wounds, Frick insists on staying to finish the day's business. He signs letters, completes the details for a loan deal, and finally sends a telegram to his mother. "Was shot twice," he tells her, "but not dangerously."

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