Death At The Howard

Chapter 1

March 27, 1958

 Sam Katz dialed Operator and gave her the number.

“That’ll be twenty-five cents for the first three minutes.”

He dug into his pocket and muttered “Ganefs,” the Yiddish term for thieves.

“Excuse me?,” she said.

“I said ‘I got it’,” he said, and pushed five nickels into the slot.  He heard the beeps as she dialed up Fanny.  She’d let it ring three times, then he’d hang up.  If she didn’t hear a fourth ring, she knew to make dinner for just her and Jake and they’d save the quarter.  So he wasn’t happy to hear a pickup on the first ring.

“Hello?”

A quarter shot to hell, but for his son, it was worth it.

“Jakie?  It’s pop.”

“Hi, pop.  Where are you?”

“I’m in Trenton and I still got some work to do.  I won’t be home for dinner.”

“Oh” was all Jake said but it was enough for Sam to hear the disappointment.  Twelve, but still his daddy’s boy.

“Are you studying your haftorah?”  The bar-mitzvah was more than two months away but Sam knew who he was dealing with.  If he and Fanny didn’t stay on him day and night, he’d never get it down.

“I did it with the rabbi at Hebrew school.”

“That’s good.  How did you do?”

“I don’t know.  Okay, I guess.”

“You’ll study more tonight, okay?”

No answer.

“Jake?”

“What?”

Sam pictured him, a shorter version of his own short self, sitting on the sofa, mesmerized by the television.  Same crew cut sandy brown hair, full nose, and big chin, but his mother’s sparkling blue eyes.  The ladies would go for that.

“Okay,  tateleh,” he said, “let me speak to your mother.”

“Mom!,” he heard him call, seeing him holding the phone out to his mother, then her, barely taller than Jake, fluttering in from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron.

“So, nu?,” she said.

“So nu I’m not going to be home for dinner.  I got one more visit to make, then I’ll be back, maybe by eight?”

“Have you eaten?”

“I’ll get a slice of pizza somewhere.  I’ll be fine.”

“All right.  You take care of yourself.  I’ll see you then.”

“See you then.”

He knew exactly where he was going for the pizza, right around the corner to De Lorenzo’s on Hudson, the best pizza in Trenton.  He pushed the door open and waved at the pretty lady behind the counter.

“Sophie, you doll, how’ve you been?”

“Great, Sam.  Been a while.  How’re you?”

“Busy, busy, same as always.  How’s Chick?”

“Good.  He’s in the kitchen.  What can we make you?”

“White clam, small.”

She winked at him and wrote it up.  Fanny kept a kosher house so his only chance to eat a little traif was when he was out and about on his own.  He knew she knew but neither one of them ever said a word about it.  Just another reason why he loved her so.

He slipped out of his overcoat and laid it on the thin red cushion at one side of the nearest booth, then slid in the other side to face the street.  He pushed the table away to make some more room and stretched his legs.  They barely reached the other side.  He was what the Jews called a bulvan – a big-shouldered, thick-waisted anvil of a guy.  More importantly, he wasn’t afraid to mix it up.  All that served him well when he knocked on doors to collect.  He got into it back at Northeast High in Philly, whenever his uncle the kosher butcher needed some muscle to get paid.  The word spread quick about this hard-assed, low-overhead Jew who could deliver the goods and business grew enough that they could move out to Levittown where they could afford for Fanny to stay home and raise their boy.

He pulled a lined sheet of notebook paper from his suit jacket pocket and unfolded it.  The next call was on Emory so he could keep the car where it was.  Gino Formaroli at 27.  The guy owed Dunham’s $10.35 for some lady’s jewelry he bought on credit.  Shouldn’t take long, he thought.

He tucked the paper back in his pocket and watched two Negro kids about Jake’s age ride their bikes down the sidewalk across the street, one a little brown butterball, the other one long and lean.  He never saw a schwarze in the Burg before.  It made him think of last summer when the Myers family moved into the Dogwood section on the other side of Levittown, maybe three miles from where he lived.  They were a lot like his own family, a father with a job and a mother who stayed home to raise their kids.  The only difference was they were colored.

The hue and cry that went up made him sick to his stomach.  People marching day and night outside the house, screaming at them to get out, police guarding them, on the national news yet.  And these weren’t just goyim on the streets, but Jews too.  A true shondah, a disgrace to his people.  Jews, who should know something about being the outsiders, the hunted, the victims, Jews marching and writing to the newspapers to keep the colored out.  Even his own so-called friends, people who went to Beth El or Temple Shalom to worship God every shabbos, called him schwarze-lover.  He marched too, but with the group who wanted the Myers to know that not all their neighbors were filled with hate and fear.

The pizza brought him back to De Lorenzo’s.

“Here you go,” Sophie said.  “You ought to try the red one of these days.  Even better.”

Sam waved a finger up and down his gray plaid suit jacket.

“Can’t afford to stain it.  You know what dry cleaners charge?”

“I know.  You want something to drink with that?”

“Coca-Cola’d be good.”

She patted him on the shoulder.  “Mangia!”

He glanced at his watch.  Twenty to seven.  He needed to hustle it up if he wanted to catch Formaroli home for dinner.  He caught Sophie’s eye and drew a check in the air.  She brought it over with the bottle.

“You’re in a hurry!” she said.

“Still got some business to take care of,” he got out between bites.  He jammed it all down, but left half the Coke.  There was no bathroom at DeLorenzo’s and it’d be an hour before he made it back home.  He ran a napkin over his mouth and left two bucks on the table.  Sophie could keep the change.  By ten of, he was out the door.

He let out a good stiff belch that cleared his mind.  Sam knew most people had a low opinion of what he did for a living but he liked it.  It was a tough business and he could be a tough guy but his usual shtick was to turn on the charm, ask for just a little to make the store happy, then set up a schedule so the guy could catch up.

He crossed Swan and made a left at the next block till he saw 27 by the door of a little two-story white clapboard across the street.  He walked past, then crossed the street a few doors up the block.  It was dark out now so the lights were on.  When he got back to 27, he took a peek between the shade and the edge of the window closest to him.

A good-looking guinea about thirty or so sat profile to him at the dinner table, eating something out of a bowl he held in his hand, talking to someone out of sight in what must be the kitchen.  The guy’s sleeveless undershirt let Katz see his biceps and the anchor tattoo decorating his shoulder.  Could be trouble, he thought, but he’d decked bigger guys.  He jogged up the two steps of the little open stoop and rapped his knuckles on the door, rat-a-tat-tat.

He pictured Formaroli pushing back the chair and striding across the little living room.  He didn’t think Gino was the kind of guy who’d peek through the window to see who it was and he was right.  Formaroli threw the door open and looked down at him with what Sam took to be a little hostility.

“Yeah?”

“Are you Mr. Gino Formaroli?”

“Who are you?”

“I’m Sam Katz.  Dunham’s asked me to come see you.”

“Oh yeah?  The fuck they want?”

“You owe them ten dollars and thirty-five cents for an item you charged.”

“Gino, who is it?” a voice blared from the back.

“No one.  Stay there,” he called back, then asked Katz “What kind of item?”

“Lady’s jewelry.  That’s all I know.”

A plump but pretty woman, thick black hair matted to her forehead, came into Sam’s view, leaning out from the kitchen.  Gino caught Sam’s look over his shoulder and turned around to face her.

“Loretta!  Get back in there.  I got it, okay?”

Loretta lingered just a second, then disappeared back around the corner.

“Let’s go outside,” Gino said.

Sam backed down to the sidewalk to let him out the door, then watched Gino close it and point up the block towards Roebling.  They walked side by side without saying a word till they got to the corner.  Gino pulled an open pack of L&M’s from his pants pocket, slid one out, and fired it up with a lighter.  He took a deep drag, looked down each street, then tilted his head back to shoot a stream of smoke into the sky.  Sam waited for him.

“I know what it is,” Gino finally said.  “It’s a necklace.”

“Okay,” Sam said.  “I hope your wife’s enjoying it.”

“My wife don’t know I bought it.”

This was not a new story to Sam.

“Makes no difference to me, Mr. Formaroli,” he said.  “I’m just here for the money.”

Gino sucked down another long drag and swallowed it.

“It was, what d’you call it, a spur of the moment thing.  Thought it would buy me a little something.  Capisce?”

Sam capisced.  This is how they live, he thought, but said nothing.

“How much I owe?” Gino asked.

“Ten dollars and thirty-five cents.  No interest if you pay it all today.”

“Shit, man, I ain’t got ten dollars and thirty-five cents on me.  Tomorrow’s payday.  Come back then, I’ll have it all for you, no sweat.”

“I’m here now, Mr. Formaroli.  I need something to show Dunham’s.”

Gino looked him up and down, threw his cigarette down, and ground it into the sidewalk with the toe of his black loafer.

“And what if I ain’t got it?”

Sam stepped closer to him, where he could get a sharp shot in but Gino couldn’t.

“Mr. Formaroli, I only want you to give me a little something to take back to Dunham’s.  You do that, you can just make up a nice little story to tell your wife.  You want to tell her why that guy beat the shit out of you?  That’s your choice.”

He was close enough to Gino to see the sweat shine off his forehead.   Gino kept his eyes on Sam’s, then backed up a step and reached into his back pocket for his wallet.  He looked into the billfold.

“I only got three bucks on me.”

“I don’t want to wipe you out,” Sam said.  “I’ll take two.”

Gino started to protest but decided not to push it.  He pulled two wrinkled one-dollar bills out and handed them to Sam.  Sam folded them up and tucked them into his right suit pocket.  He pulled the notebook paper from his left pocket, unfolded it, unclipped a pen from the same pocket, and took his time writing “$2.00 March 27” next to Gino’s name.

“This is just between you and me, right?” Gino asked.

“I’ll be back for the rest tomorrow.  Then you’ll never see me again,” Sam said.

I pray to Christ, Gino thought, but he said “You miserable fucking kike shylock bastard.”

Sam had heard that before too.  He pushed his index finger hard into Gino’s chest and let it stay there till he saw the sweat pop out again, then said “See you tomorrow.”

He turned to the right down Roebling, ears pricked to hear Gino rush him from behind.  But he heard nothing and let his mind wander to Fanny and Jake and home.

He turned down the alley where he left the car, a ’54 plum-colored Ford, down near the Hudson end.  He couldn’t see it in the dark but figured it had to be down there somewhere behind the car with the big fins and in front of one of those new Mercury Montereys, all black and sleek.  He promised himself that would be his next car, still a Ford but with a little more pizzazz.  He took it in as he got closer until he heard feet pounding up the pavement his way and looked up to see the tall colored kid he saw before running towards him with an even taller white kid, a teenager in a black jacket, close behind and gaining.  Sam heard him yell, “You better run, nigger boy!  Run, boy!”

Behind them, Sam saw another white kid pinning the other colored kid against the car in front of his.  The glint of a street light let him make out two bikes laying cockeyed on the sidewalk at Hudson.  The boy on the run shot past him, the bigger kid maybe ten yards behind.

Sam stepped into his path and held up a hand.

“Stop it!  Let him go!”

The kid ran wide to get around him.  Sam took a step to his right and lowered a shoulder into his rib cage, lifting him off his feet and bouncing him off a chain link fence at the side of the alley.  Sam turned around to see the colored boy looking back at him, frozen in his tracks.

“Go!  Go!” Sam yelled at him and waved him away, but the boy didn’t move.

“My bike!” he said, pointing back down the alley.

The guy who bounced off the fence rolled to his knees and glared up at Sam.

“The fuck was that, man?”

“Let them go,” Sam said.  “Let them get their bikes and go.”

“Ray, what’s going on down there?”  the other white kid yelled.

“Nothin’, Frankie.  Just some asshole lookin’ for a beatin’.”  He pushed himself up off the ground and sprang at Sam all in one motion.  Sam clipped him on the left cheek with a short right and put him back down.  He didn’t hurry to his feet this time.

Sam looked back at the kid behind him and motioned him to come back down.  The kid kept his eyes on Ray the whole way back until Sam threw an arm around his shoulders and guided him back up the alley.

Frankie saw them coming but he didn’t see Ray.

“Ray, man, what’s going on?” he called out.

“Turn little fat Sambo loose!,” he heard.

When they got to his car, Sam let go of the tall kid and motioned him to stay there.  Frankie held the other kid by his arms, pushed against the driver’s side of the car with the fins.  When Sam moved towards them, he saw it was a De Soto with New York plates, two-tone, red over white.   He stopped at the rear bumper.

“Listen to your friend,” he said. “Let him go.”

“Who are you, man, the Lone Fucking Ranger?” Frankie said, but he let him go, holding his hands up high.  Sam turned back to the tall boy and motioned him towards the bikes.  The kid ran past Frankie, and his friend ran after him.  They picked up their bikes and took off up Hudson to the right.

Sam turned back to his car, but he never made it all the way around.   He took Ray’s uppercut full on the chin and staggered back towards the De Soto.  When he lost consciousness, he fell to the ground, his fall broken only by the driver’s side fin piercing his temple.  Blood gushed out over his suit, splashing onto the alley.  He slid down the side of the car, leaving a thick red smear all the way down the wheel well before pitching face down to the ground.

Frankie looked down at Sam, then at Ray hovering over him, then back at the still body, waiting to see if it moved.  It didn’t.

“Jesus, man!  Is he dead?” Frankie said.

“The fuck’s it look like, man?”  Ray said.

He threw open the back door, then rolled Sam on to his back.

“Get his legs, quick!”

“That’s gonna fuck up the upholstery, man!” Frankie said, “My father’ll fuckin’ kill me!”

“Fuck your upholstery!  Get his legs, now!”

“Hold on!  Hold on!”

Frankie fumbled in his pocket for the keys.  He rattled the trunk key into the hole and popped it open.  Ray got his arms under Sam’s and lifted.  Frankie picked up him by the ankles and wheeled him around to his left so Ray could get between the cars and roll Sam in head first.  They stuffed the rest of him in the trunk and Frankie slammed it shut.  Ray ran around to the passenger side and Frankie scrambled to the driver’s side, jumping over the puddle of blood still widening on the concrete.

“Go, go, go!” Ray said but Frankie didn’t need to be told.  He lurched it forward the ten yards to Hudson, then slammed on the brakes.  He saw the colored kids wheeling away from him up the sidewalk.

“Which way, man?”

Ray waved to the left.

“It’s one-way, that way!  Go, go, go!”

Frankie patched out to the left.

“Now where?” he asked.

“Shut the fuck up a second!” Ray said.  “Let me think!”

There was way too much to think about but getting rid of the dead bastard in the trunk was first and foremost.  His brother Dom would know how but he wasn’t going to take the time to call him.  Plus, the less people that knew about this, the better.

“There’s a light up there,” he heard Frankie say.  “Where should I go?”

And on top of everything, he had to do it all himself.  His harebrained cousin from the Bronx didn’t even know where the hell he was.  He thought.  That was South Clinton.  Right would take them downtown, left to spook town.  Straight went to the brewery, and the Delaware.

“Straight, man, straight!” Ray yelled.  Frankie floored it through just as the light turned red.

“Now where, now where?”

Ray was going to fucking kill him.

“Stop asking!” he yelled.  “I’m gonna tell you, just shut up!  Keep going through the next light!  And slow down!  We don’t need cops pulling us over.”

Frankie took his foot off the gas for a second but put it right back down hard to make sure he made the light at South Broad.

“All right,” Ray said “you’re gonna make a right on Cass, then a left on Canal.”

Frankie got the green at Cass.  He was dying to ask how far it was to Canal but he kept his mouth shut till he got right up on the next light and it turned yellow.  He didn’t see a sign for Canal so he floored it.

“Left, you dumb bastard, left!” Ray screamed.

Frankie banked the DeSoto wide into the turn and pumped the brakes hard to keep it on the road.

“It said 129!” he yelled over the squealing.

“129, Canal, same difference.  Just keep going till I tell you to turn!  One more right and we’re there.”

“There where?” Frankie asked.  “Where we goin’?”

“The brewery,” Ray said.

“The brewery where you work?”

“No, some other fuckin’ brewery.”

“What if someone’s there?  What if they recognize you?”

“No one’s there, man, trust me.  Just drive.”

At the stop sign at Lamberton, Ray pointed to a gravel parking lot across the street next to a brick building with “Home of Champale” painted on the wall in big flowing white letters.  Two long trailers sat at the loading dock to the right.

“Go across,” Ray said.

Frankie crossed Lamberton and crunched slowly across the gravel.  He looked past the lot and saw a field of grass running down to a bunch of tall trees hiding whatever was behind them.

“Pull over here,” Ray said.  Frankie saw him jerk his thumb to an open space between the trailers, then eased into the space until he was right against the wall under the dock.  He pried his hands off the steering wheel and turned the ignition off.

“Wait here,” Ray said and jumped out of the passenger’s side.

Frankie looked in the mirror to see him run past the back of the car, then disappear.  He heard Ray’s feet run across the gravel then he didn’t hear anything.  That was when he realized his Goddamn cousin just left him alone here with a dead body in his trunk.  He smacked the steering wheel with both hands.  Tears leaped to his eyes and he made a noise he never remembered making before, a short sharp whine like he had a cat trapped in his throat.  That damn Ray left him sitting here to take the rap, just like that!  Probably planned it the whole time.  He didn’t even know his way out of this shithole of a city.  Just his luck, a cop would pull him over and his ass would be grass.

In the trunk, Sam felt his hand sticking to the side of his head.  It took some effort to open his eyes but it was just as dark as when they were closed.  He closed them again.

Ray threw his head back and pounded his fists on his forehead.  God damn but he was tired of this bullshit!  If he got out of Jersey, he was going back to the Bronx, packing his bags, and heading to Florida, where he knew no one and no one knew him.  Get a job at one of the race tracks, lay out in the sun, start all over.  This was a sign, sure as hell.  He almost shit his pants when Ray rapped his knuckles on the window.

“Let’s go!” he said.  “Let’s get him out of here.”

Frankie followed Ray to the back of the car and unlocked the trunk again.  Sam had moved a little from where they left him.  Ray rolled him on to his back, slid his arms under his armpits, and lifted his shoulders onto the edge of the trunk.

“Grab his feet,” Ray said.  Frankie pulled Sam’s legs towards him and slid his hands down to his ankles.  “Now lift him,” Ray said.  They lifted him up and out of the trunk.

“He’s heavy,” Frankie said.

“No shit,” Ray said and tilted his head towards the trees.  “This way.”

Frankie let his cousin take the lead, backing his way to wherever they were going.  When they got to the edge of the trees, he said “Ray, I gotta stop a second.  He’s killing me.”  Before Ray could say anything, he dropped Sam’s feet and wiped the sweat from his face.  Ray muttered something and let the rest of Sam fall to the ground.  He stared at Frankie but said nothing.

“Ray, gimme a break.  How much further we gotta carry him?”

“We’d a been there already if you hadn’t stopped.  You ready now?”

Frankie took a deep breath.  He looked over Ray’s shoulder and between the trees.

“What’s back there, man?”

“A river.  And a boat.  You ready?”

He lifted and Frankie lifted and they waddled their way through the trees and off to the left through thick grass, then down a hill to the foot of a short dock at the edge of the water.  A rowboat bobbed on the edge of the water just in front of them.  Its metal hull smacked against a pillar, then drifted back onto the mud.

The chill air dried the sweat on Frankie’s brow and made him shudder.  He saw Ray squint into the woods.

“We need something heavy,” Ray said.  “You got anything in the car?”

“I got a spare battery in the trunk.”

“That’ll do,” Ray said.  “Go get it.”

Frankie scrambled up the hill and thought:  This is my chance.  Start the car, back out, and go before Ray even knows it.  Screw the Bronx,  I’ll go straight to Florida, with the flamingos and all that sun.  But by the time he got to the trunk, he knew Ray would rat him out, pin the whole thing on him, that Goddamned weasel, so he popped the trunk.

He reached back for the Mopar battery that set him back eight forty-five.  Eight and a half  bucks, for what?  An anchor?  He lugged it back to the dock, cursing Ray every step.

“Perfect,” Ray said when he dropped it at his feet.  “Let’s get him down there.”  They knew their positions by now and carried Sam around the far side of the rowboat.

“On three,” Ray said and swung Sam’s hefty body away from the boat.  Frankie caught his rhythm.

“One, two, three,” Ray said and on the last beat they pitched Sam into the boat.  His left shoulder caught the edge and he fell back towards them until Ray shoved him back in.  Sam’s head struck a seat and stayed there.  Ray reached back for an oar on the ground and handed it to Frankie.

“Put it in the other side,” he said.

“Where?” Frankie said.

“What do you mean where?  There’s like a peg that goes into a hole over there.  Look,” he said, putting the other oar’s peg into the hole on his side, “like this.”

“Since when do you know anything about boats?” Frankie asked as he made his way around.

“Since I started borrowing this one at lunch and knocking down a few cold ones where the foreman can’t see me.”

Frankie found the hole on his side.  By the time he got the thing into it, Ray was back in the boat with the battery.  He put it in the back, then turned to see Frankie climbing in the boat.

“No, no, man, get back out.  You got to push us off here.”

Frankie got out and around to the back.  He leaned into it and got the boat off the shore, then jumped back in and scrambled onto the rear seat, his feet squishing in his shoes.

Ray pulled on the rope hooked to the front to draw them towards the dock.  He dug a little switchblade out of his pocket, sliced the rope from the boat, then rammed an oar into the side of the dock and pushed them away, out into the river.  He kicked Sam’s head off the seat to make some room, sat down, and started rowing.  Frankie turned to see the land move away from them.

“Frankie, Frankie, the battery!  Tie it to his Goddamn ankles.  C’m’on, man, go!”

Frankie pushed Sam’s legs together and wrapped the rope around his ankles three times.  He tucked one end between his ankles and pulled the rope out and around the wrap he made another three times.  He had about ten feet left, so he pulled it around the battery three times one way, then three times the other before making some kind of knot he thought would hold it all together.  It’s only gotta last a couple seconds, he told himself.

Ray rowed hard, sending sprays of water all over Sam and Frankie.

Sam’s eyes popped open.  He stared at the floor of the boat but saw nothing.  He felt wet but didn’t know why or where he was.  He heard yelling but didn’t understand a word.

Once they cleared the trees, Frankie looked down the river.  He saw a bridge maybe a mile or so away.  Big capital letters on its side spelled out “Trenton Makes, The World Takes.”  The river pulled them that way, faster than it looked from the shore.  He picked a bad time to remember he didn’t swim so good.

“How far we going?” he shouted to Ray.

That’s a good question, Ray thought.  Before he got in the boat, he was going to go out to the middle and dump the fucker where no one would ever find  him.  But he was busting his hump and they’d only gone maybe fifty yards.  There was no way he was going to make it to the middle.  He tucked one of the oars inside the boat then dipped the other one blade first into the water.  He pushed it down till the whole thing was under and wiggled it around as best he could.  He didn’t feel bottom.  Far enough.  He pulled the oar up and threw it on the other one.

“Right here.  Let’s go!”

Go where?  Go how?  Frankie asked himself.  The boat was swaying and rocking like crazy.  How were they going to get this lump over the edge without going in themselves?

“How we supposed to do this, man?”

“Put the battery over here,” Ray yelled, pointing to the space between the guy’s body and the other side of the river.  Frankie pushed it as far over there as he could without getting off the seat.  The boat tipped from the extra weight and Frankie grabbed the edge of the boat again.  He heard Ray yell, “No, no, over there!”

Frankie looked up to see him pointing to the other side of the boat.  He shimmied over and grabbed that side of the boat with both hands, then moved one knee at a time until he was all the way over.  He looked back over his shoulder at Ray who had slid down his seat the other way.

“All right,” Ray said.  “Now turn your ass around.”

Frankie grabbed the edge of his seat, spun himself on his knees, crawled back as far as he could, then turned his knees one at a time to face down the river, the guy practically under him, Ray just past the guy.  The boat looked like it was sitting on the river like a bathtub but every little lurch sent him grabbing for something, anything to hold on to.

“Look at me, Frankie, look at me!” Ray said.

Frankie looked at him.

“This is the way we’re going to do it.  I’m going to drop the battery over first, okay?  You’re going to lean your ass back against that side there as far as you can, okay?  Because the boat’s going to tip the other way, you got it?”

Frankie nodded.

“Soon as that thing goes over, I’m going to pull his head and shoulders up over the edge

— you stay where you are, right?  Keep us balanced, okay?  Then we’re both going to get our legs under him and kick him up and over, flip him over the edge.  You got it?”

Frankie wasn’t sure he got it but nodded anyway.  Just get it over with, man, his only thought.

Ray leaned forward, grabbed the battery with two hands, and pulled it to his chest.

“Fucker’s heavy,” he said.  No shit, Frankie thought.

Ray swung the battery to his left, then let it sail out to the right.  It cleared the edge and pulled Sam’s legs that way too.  That made Ray reconsider.

“Okay, I’ll get his legs over, then we’ll push him from the top.  Be easier.”

He leaned over Sam’s body and yanked and yanked until he finally got his ankles up and over the side of the boat.  The pull of the rope arched his feet down and pushed his hips up, like he was humping someone, Frankie thought.

“Now, push, push, push!”  They leaned into and under Sam’s shoulders till they got the small of his back up on the edge.

“Get back to the other side!” Ray said and pushed hard on Sam’s shoulders to send him over.

Sam felt himself fall.  His arms stabbed out to grab onto something.  His right hand found it but it didn’t stop him from going over, under, and down, dragging Ray with him.

Ray clawed at the hand wrapped around his wrist but it was locked on tight.  With the weight of a dead man and the Mopar pulling him down, his last thought was “Fucking niggers!”.

Frankie pitched into the river.  He flipped onto his back to keep his head out of the water and watched the inside of the boat slam down around him like a coffin lid.  He grabbed Ray’s seat with both hands, his frantic breathing echoing off the inside of the hull.  When he got himself under control, he looked down into the water, searching for any sign of Ray but all he saw was dark.

He moved his hands one at a time till they both clutched the edge of the seat nearest one side.  He took a deep breath and bobbed under.  He pulled his hands off the seat one at a time and came up outside clinging to the boat, one hand on an oarlock, one hand on the edge.  He drank in the air till he couldn’t take in any more.

He looked over his shoulder.  The bridge with the sign was coming closer to him, but there was another bridge even closer.  The boat headed for a cut of land stabbing out from the Jersey side just in front of it.  He knew he needed to get back to the car and get the hell out of here but he wondered, if he kicked the boat way out into the middle, how long it would take the river to pull him to Florida.