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
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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