In this striking debut from the author of the National Book Award winner Paris Trout, Pete Dexter chronicles a murder and its consequences in the fictional blue-collar Philadelphia neighborhood of God’s Pocket.
Leon Hubbard makes other men nervous, talking to himself or anyone who will listen about the things he’s cut with his straight razor. So when he crosses the wrong guy on a South Philly construction site and winds up with his head caved in, everyone is content to bury the bad news with the body. Everyone, that is, except Leon’s mother—and a local newspaper columnist hoping the story will resurrect his career. Only a mother could love a man like Leon. But only an outsider could expect to change anything in God’s Pocket.
Praise for God’s Pocket
“Riveting . . . a first-class first novel . . . highlighted by superior writing, dialogue that rings true, and a highly believable background.”—Associated Press
“God’s Pocket sings, snarls, mugs, wisecracks, buys you a drink, steals your wallet, and takes you home to meet the folks.”—Richard Price
“My own favorite among Mr. Dexter’s work remains God’s Pocket, which I continue to admire for its rich, well-nigh Dickensian mixture of verisimilitude, real-life absurdity, horror and romance.”—Robert Stone, The New York Times Book Review
“Rollicking . . . a tough Philadelphia neighborhood comes to life in these pages.”—Playboy
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Leon Hubbard died ten minutes into lunch break on the first Monday in May, on the construction site of the new one-story trauma wing at Holy Redeemer Hospital in South Philadelphia. One way or the other, he was going to lose the job.
The foreman was a 270-pound ex-Georgia Baptist named Coleman Peets, who’d had to fight men twelve or fourteen times in twenty years of bossing crews, who’d had to kill a man once on a shopping-center job in Florida, but had never actually had to fire anybody before. Before, they’d always known when to leave.
Peets had a policy about bossing, and that was you never gave anything away that they could use against you.
The best man he had was an old shine who talked to himself named Lucien Edwards, Jr. Everybody called him Old Lucy, and as a rule he didn’t answer. He had the same work policy as Coleman Peets, and after eleven years together, on and off, either one of them would have been surprised to find out the other one was married. And that suited them both.
Old Lucy came to work on time. He shaved every day of his life and carried the same lunch box he’d had the first day Peets saw him. You could leave him alone a week, he’d do a week’s work. And now Peets had to watch this $17.40-an-hour bricklayer they’d sent over from the union office, who couldn’t lay a straight line of piss, going after Old Lucy too.
Leon Hubbard had worried most everybody on the crew at one time or another, he’d even touched something in Peets. It wasn’t the razor—Peets had taken razors away from people, that was as simple as understanding you were going to get cut—it was something in the kid you didn’t want to listen to. The truth was, he didn’t believe the kid’s stepfather was connected. That was more bullshit, the same way the razor was. He kept it in his back pocket and brought it out twenty, thirty times a day. He used it to cut lunch meat and tell stories and shape his fingernails. There was a neatness connected to it. Once they’d found a bat inside a cinder block and he’d used the razor to cut its head off. Then he’d wrung everything out of the body and said, “I seen that happen to a nun once.”
There was another boy Leon’s age on the crew. Gary Sample. Leon’s age or he could of been a couple years younger. He’d said, “I got a nun I’d like to do like that. Sister Mary Theresa at St. Anthony’s.” Only he’d said it slower than that, because he stuttered. “P … p…p … pull-ed my ears e … e…ev-ry day.” And that did not sit well with Coleman Peets. The others smiled, and they were worried.
The next time Leon Hubbard pulled his razor out Peets had said, “Boy, you ’bout to figure out a way to wipe your ass with that thing, ain’t you?” And they’d smiled at that too, and then Leon Hubbard had stepped in front of him, holding the razor behind his leg, and they’d looked at each other until Peets had given way.
He couldn’t of weighed 130 pounds, and he took the afternoon off to polish the blade.
Peets never told his wife about that, he never told her the kid was supposed to be connected either. “You ever climbed out on a roof,” he asked her that morning, “and looked down, and for just a breath somethin’ inside you said, ‘Jump’?”
She was in the bathroom, brushing her teeth for work. She opened the door to look at him, the toothbrush was still in her mouth. He said, “Leon Hubbard is what the voice looks like.”
She turned back to the sink and rinsed out her mouth. “You’re scared to fire him, Peets,” she said.
He said, “I do wisht he’d leave.” He looked at himself in the bedroom mirror, muscle and belly and scars—there were places he’d of forgot he’d been except for the scars—and wondered how much he’d have to say to get rid of him.
His wife came back out of the bathroom and he watched her dress in the mirror.
“Old Lucy, he won’t talk to the boy,” he said. “Got half the damn crew standin’ around now, watchin’ him, looks like we work for the fuckin’ city, and then he gets a bug up his ass for Old Lucy, ’cause he’s the only one wants to do his work.”
She said, “He got a bug up his ass for you too?” Peets shrugged. She stood next to him and pulled her white panty hose up, bunching the uniform around her waist. She was thirty-seven years old, supervising nurse in the emergency room at Hahnemann Hospital, where Saturday nights they brought in bodies like the moving company—“Where do you want this?”—and as far as Peets knew, the idea that he could be hurt too had never occurred to her. He thought she loved him for that, so he never messed with it.
“It’s simple,” she said. “You go up to him and stand there pissed off, pretend you found me asleep on your side of the bed, and pretty soon he’ll move.”
Peets said, “Leon’s immune. The more you don’t like him, the more he likes bein’ around. I never run into a case like it.”
She said, “I’ve seen potatoes move because you thought they were on the wrong side of the plate, Peets.” She pulled her skirt down, smoothed it in front and back. Watching her dress always worked on him the way watching her undress was supposed to. He reached out and helped smooth her behind, and they looked at each other in the mirror. She pushed back into his hand, just a shade.
“I used to believe you didn’t know what you was up to,” he said.
She ignored that and sat down on the bed to tie her shoes. “If standing there looking doesn’t do it,” she said, “then talk to him. Tell him, ‘You’re fired, and I’m not going to pay you anymore.’ ” Peets made a face. “It’ll work,” she said. “It’s a whole new generation out there that won’t come to work if you don’t pay them. It must of been the rock-’n’-roll.” Peets had been brought up strict. He’d gotten over being a Baptist—he had to, to end up with Sarah—but the idea you had to work went deeper. Firing somebody was more of a judgment than he felt comfortable to make on a human being.
“If he’d just leave the rest of them alone, I wouldn’t care,” he said. “But I see him over there jackin’ up Old Lucy, and it ain’t going to end. I know that much, it ain’t going to end by itself.”
His wife put on a raincoat and bent over to kiss him goodbye. She stuck her tongue square in his mouth, so it was showing how worried he was. “It’ll work itself out,” she said. “It always does.”
He watched her from the window until she got to the car, then sat back down on the bed to think. He couldn’t do that with her in the house. Five minutes later he stood up and went into the bathroom to shave, and he knew what it was bothering him. He and the old shine had an understanding. And it tortured Peets to think of Old Lucy having to ask him for help.