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Kevin Baker

The Big Crowd

Kevin Baker The Big Crowd
 
 




Excerpt from book:

1

New York, 1939
Big man.
   He saw him for the first time looking up from the ship’s hold. His brother. Filling up almost the entire hatchway of the Saint George, a tall man in a good gray coat and matching fedora. Broad-shouldered and big-chested, standing wide-legged against the Manhattan skyline, smiling and confident as he bellowed out his name.
   “Tom O’Kane! Seaman Thomas O’Kane!”
   His eyes blinked and watered in the darkness. Blurred now after his five days in the hold, the fourteen before that zigzagging their way all over the North Atlantic, trying to give the slip to the U-boats. It was a month after the Athenia went down, just sixty miles past Rockall, and they were crazy with worry for the submarines. Any available hands scanning the rough gray waves of the Atlantic all day long, trying to spot the telltale periscope.
   A madman’s task—and what would they have done if they did see one? A single freighter, ten thousand tons, out on the ocean alone in those days before the convoys. Say a Hail Mary, and kiss your ass goodbye. Keeping radio silence, trying to run outside the usual sea lanes, maneuvering this way and that like a staggered pig, trying to fool the torpedoes. Running with their lights off at night, the men sweating in their hammocks. Listening to the engines rumble, each silently asking himself did they have to make so goddamned much noise.
   He loved every minute of it. His first big adventure, not five months out of Trinity. Setting forth from Lismirrane with the spalpeens, off to reap and bind the oats, and take in the harvest for the Cotswolds farmers. The lot of them walking thirty miles to Kilfree, just to catch the train for the coast. The poorest men in all Bohola: wiry and earth-hardened, bent in obeisance to the ground, from so many years of pushing some other man’s dirt about. Their traveling clothes already half in tatters, patched coats and threadbare shirts, boot soles flapping on the road. Carrying all the belongings they would need wrapped in a neckerchief or a flour sack. Lowly even compared to the sailor’s duffel he had made so sure to buy used from the gombeen-man in Dublin, knowing he would be traveling with them.
   All his life he had seen them come and go. Men too poor to own any noticeable land of their own, and too proud to work the fields of their neighbors. Gone for the harvest at the end of each summer, to work the fields of Somerset and Devon, Gloucestershire and Hereford. Back with the first frost, thinner and browner than ever, to lie with the wife and sow another mouth they couldn’t feed with, then off again in spring for the planting.
   He’d always wondered what it was like, where they went and how they lived. Thinking of them years later when he heard something that a remorseless killer his brother sent to the chair liked to say, a man called Dasher Abbandando, who journeyed to cities all over America to murder other men for the money.
   “Hey, Dasher, where you been?”
   “On adventures.”
   “Hey, Dasher, where’d you get all the cash?”
   “More adventures.”
   They had no cash, these men of his village, had spent their whole lives laboring for the smell of a pound. They walked half the distance to Kilfree that first night, then made camp on the side of the road. He feared at first they did it for his sake. It had been many years since he’d walked fifteen miles in a day and never in shoes, wobbling openly from the blisters by the time they stopped. But no, he was relieved to see, they laid their A dramatic novel of two Irish brothers—one a fallen political star accused of corruption and the other a young DA desperately trying to clear his name—set against the sweeping backdrop of midcentury New York’s halls of power and the gangland of the docks.


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