Excerpt of North River by Pete Hamill
(Page 1 of 7)
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Delaney knew he'd been in the dream before, knew from
the hurting whiteness, the icy needles that closed his eyes, the silence,
the force of the river wind. But knowing it was a dream did not ease
his fear. As before, he waved his bare hands to push through the
whiteness, but as before the whiteness was porous and he knew it was
snow. As before, there was no horizon. As before, his feet floated
through frozen powder. There was no ground beneath him. There
was nothing to grip. No picket fence. No lamppost. And no people.
As before: just the driving force of the snow . . .
Then he was awake in the blue darkness. A sound. A bell. His
hand clumsy with sleep, he lifted the black telephone on the night
table. Still dead. Someone at the wrought iron gate below the stoop
was jerking the old bell rope, making an urgent ding- dinging sound.
A sound he had heard too many times. Shivering in cotton summer-
time pajamas, he threw off the covers. Ding-ding-DING. The window
shade was raised a foot, the window two inches, part of Delaney's desire
for fresh air on the coldest winter nights. Drifted snow covered
the oaken sill. He raised the shade and could see the snow moving
horizontally from the North River. The wind whined. A midnight
snowfall was now a dawn blizzard. Ripping in from the west along
Horatio Street. Goddamn you, Monique! Answer the goddamned bell! And
remembered that his nurse was gone for the long New Year's holiday,
off somewhere with her boyfriend. Delaney pulled a flannel robe over
his shoulders and parted the dark blue drapes, as if obeying the orders
of the downstairs bell. Ding- ding. Ding- ding- DING. He glanced at
the clock. Six-seventeen. The bell demanding attention. On a day of
morning sleep all over New York. He raised the window, its glass
rimed with the cold. Snow blew harder across the sill. He poked his
head into the driving snow and looked down. At the gate under the
stoop, a man was pulling the rope attached to the bell. Delaney knew
him. A man who looked like an icebox in an overcoat. Bootsie, they
called him. Bootsie Cirillo. Snow was piled on his pearl-gray fedora
and the shoulders of his dark blue overcoat. At the sound of the window
rising, he had stepped back and was now looking up.
"Doc? Eddie Corso sent me, Doc." His voice was raspy. "He needs
you. Right now."
"Give me five minutes," Delaney said.
"Make it t'ree."
Delaney sighed, closed the window, and dressed quickly in rough
clothes. Thinking: These goddamned hoods are worse since the movies
got sound. Make it t'ree. Christ, I'm too old for these guys. He
pulled a sweater over his denim shirt, added a scarf and a cloth cap
with a longshoreman's pin. A gift from Knocko Carmody of the dock
wallopers' union. Delaney pulled on bridgemen's shoes and took his
time lacing them. Then he pocketed keys, some dollar bills, picked
up his worn black leather bag, and went down the hall stairs to go out
through the gate under the stoop. The snow hit his face, again like
needles. Again he closed his eyes. The dream, the goddamned
dream . . . all the way from the last years of the nineteenth century.
"You took too much time, Doc," Bootsie said. "This is fucking bad."
He turned and shook the snow off his fedora and used it to brush
powder off his shoulders. Snow was gathering on the roof and hood
of the black Packard that was two feet from the curb. Bootsie jerked
open the door on the passenger side, gesturing with his head for Delaney
to get in, then moved around to take the wheel.
"We're late," he said.
"I did my best, Bootsie," Delaney said, sliding into the front seat
and closing the door. The fat man started the car and pulled out, the
snow rising loosely from the hood. Bootsie drove east on Horatio
Street, the wind whipping hard behind them. There was no traffic.
The car skidded on the turn at Hudson Street.
Copyright © 2007 by Pete Hamill