Authors: Sol Yurick
Copyright Â© 1965 by Sol Yurick
Afterword copyright Â© 2003 by Sol Yurick
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First published in 1965 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston
Printed in the United States of America
Published simultaneously in Canada
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Yurick, Sol, 1925-
The warriors / Sol Yurick.
eBook ISBN-13: 978-1-5558-4889-7
1. GangsâFiction. 2. ViolenceâFiction. 3. Teenage boysâFiction. 4. Fourth of JulyâFiction. 5. New York (N.Y.)âFiction. I. Title.
Book design by Marshall Lee
an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
New York, NY 10003
Distributed by Publishers Group West
To my fatherâ
another Ismael in another time
Six warriors crouched in the shadow of a tomb. They were panting after their long run. The moon was shining above them; all the spaces between the gravestones and the tombs were bright but the shadows were hard and deep. Embracing cherubs, smiled down on them from the eaves of the tomb, fat-faced and benevolent. Far off, starting from the south and running to the northwest, a solid bank of moonlit cloud looked like a range of mountains. The cemetery was on a hill. Below them were clusters of tombstones, an iron spike fence, a highway, a narrow river gleaming, a long stretch of lawn sloping upward, a line of apartment houses a half mile away, and, between the houses, elevated tracks on which a string of brightly lit trains rattled festively.
They listened. They heard nothing but the rumble of the train across the valley. They heard their own gasping breaths mixed with the sounds of rustling leaves.
“All here?” one of the warriors whispered.
The others hissed, “Shh, shh.”
They looked at one another suspiciously and shifted a little, all except Hinton who had found a spot in the darkest doorway shadow of the tomb. He sat there, his feet up against one side, his bent back supported by the other.
“What do we do now?”
They cooled it for a while; looked around, recovered from their run. They listened for any strange sound and tried to guess what it meant. Were there other warriors here? Were the police around? They wondered how they could get across the valley to the train.
“Cool it, cool it.” There might be a watchman.
Hinton curled further into the shadow. It wasn't so bad here, he thought. He felt almost sleepy, protected because the others were between him and the outside. He was tired. The run had knocked everything out of him. He hadn't slept well for two daysâthe tension. Now if he could only sleep for awhile. Why couldn't they stay here? It was restful. There was a cool breeze and the grass smelled nice.
From behind the bank of apartment houses a line of fire climbed slowly into the sky and burst into a shimmering American flag. The smiling stone cherubs changed into something malevolent in the spangled light. The whole dragging place spooked them. Illuminated, they shifted positions, milling, bumping, pressing back against the tomb, pushing into the deeper shadows. The flag hovered for a second, was caught by the wind, and began to drift lazily south until it dissolved in a shower of three-colored sparks. In this final burst they saw that Papa Arnold was missing. Someone groaned. They began to count off.
“Where's Hinton? They get Hinton too?”
“I'm here.” His knees drew up to almost touch his chin; his lips were on his knuckles.
“Look at that Hinton; he almost asleep. Man, cool,” The Junior said.
That Hinton, he could sleep anywhere. Lunkface tried to look sleepy because it would show how cool
was. He reached to shift his hat down over his eyes, but the hat was gone. Lunkface cursed and started to move out into the moonlight to look for it. He was hissed back into place. A series of little explosions sounded off in the distanceâfirecrackers like the rattle of machine guns. Where was the sound coming from? Hinton closed his eyes tighter; his chin pressed on his knees; his thumb was going to his mouth, but he scratched his nose with his thumbnail instead. Something rustled in the grass. They froze it. Nothing happened. An animal, a rat maybe. Rats eat corpses. That made them feel better; they all knew and understood rats.
Hector said, “Man, we have to cool it here for a while. Maybe Papa Arnold will make it here . . .”
“How's he going to know we're here?” Bimbo asked.
“If he don't come, we move out to where that train is and go home.”
The Junior shifted his position and stuck his hand out into the moonlight and looked down at his wrist; he was the only one who owned a watch. “This brother doesn't think it's a good idea. It's going to be midnight soon.”
“So man, you can't stay in a graveyard after midnight,” The Junior said and his voice was hysterical.
They all knew about what might happen in a graveyard after midnight. Some of them believed it; some didn't. But it disturbed them all; all except Hinton who buried his face tighter into his thighs which were drawing up. It would be good to just stay here, he thought. It was cool, probably the only cool spot in the whole city now. Just too much trouble to get up and go climbing fences and walk all that open distance to that train across the valley. A few dull explosions sounded.
“We got to get out of here. They come and get you,” The Junior said.
That was silly, Hinton thought.
“Man, I got to find my hat,” Lunkface said. “That cost.”
“We got to get out. They come out of their graves. Everyone know that.”
“We stay here a while,” Hector said.
“No one elected you Father.” The Junior was shrill now.
“You want to tangle about it?” Hector asked. No answer. “Someone has got to be the Father till we get back home. You listen to me. We'll move out before twelve. We have plenty of time.”
They waited. They listened. They looked out for the cops, the other gangs, the watchman, while Hector made the plan for getting all the way home.
It began that afternoon.
Six Delancey Thrones were intent on playing a card game in their clubroom. They were in summer uniformâtight ice-cream pants and red T-shirts. It was very hot. It looked like any other summer day, except that it was the Fourth of July. When they were like thisâreduced to boredom, cardplayingâthe police were jumpy and the Youth Board Workers were talky, because things broke out of place and rumbled. Outside, in the street, the punks and tots were beginning to blast away with firecrackers. The men looked as if they had always been in that position, nor could they ever move again, except to put down a card, ask for a little luck, curse, or mutter “Man!” as they did again and again. Standing behind them, their bellies pressed against their boy friends' hard shoulders, a few girls watched the play; they
rubbed up slowly so that no one should see, or know. Everyone was hard up because Ismael, the Presidente, had forbidden sex for a week. He always barred sex before a rumble; he wanted everyone mean. A transistor radio blasted out rock'n'roll, wailed of lost love, broken dates, betrayal, heartbreak. They welcomed the disk jockey's hopped-up voice biting off the wail-edge of each record because it moved the time along.
The clubhouse had once been a ballroom. A chandelier hung overhead, the revolving kind that used to throw romantic, spangled lights on dancing couples. Toward the back of the room, a three-seat shoeshine stand was mounted on a plywood pedestal. Sitting in the right-hand chair, next to the wall-sized window, his sunglasses looking down over the whole hot and noisy street, was Ismael Rivera. Ismael had the impassive face of a Spanish grandee, the purple-black color of an uncontaminated African, and the dreams of an Alexander, a Cyrus, a Napoleon. He permitted himself no thoughtâonly a vacant, motionless waiting, watching the chill reflection of his own eyes in the blue lenses.
Someone played a card; a chair creaked; the card slapped to the table. One of the girls cursed and was elbowed in her thigh by her boy friend; she had given away the weakness of his hand. Seated on the pedestal at Ismael's right foot, War-Counselor fidgeted. He twitched before any action, but no one in the city was cooler once it started. Secretary, Ismael's man, kept looking at his black-faced Swiss watch again and again, muttering, jittering up and down in beat-time. There was a noise outside; they stopped and looked at the door. A runner came in and walked down the long room to War-Counselor, who leaned forward. The others turned back to their cards again, making it a point to look cool. Squatting, the runner reported. The sound was drowned in the wailing pulsations of the radio. War-Counselor nodded and looked up at Ismael, who might or might not have looked back. The runner left.
The electric wall-clock's second hand swept around slowly, urged on through the heat by the radio rhythms. No one looked at it; it was a point of honor not to look. They knew it was still hours and hours from The Time. More of Ismael's men came in and sat around the edge of the clubroom. Someone picked up a set of bongos and began to flutter rhythms out with his fingers, not loud enough to drawn the radio but faster, to help time along, bouncy enough to make everyone feel a little easier. More girls came in and sat near their boy friends. No one said anything. They were hot, trying to look bored, like on any ordinary afternoon. Now there were about thirty Thrones in the big room and it became hotter. Slowly, the day turned into late afternoon. More heat poured down while the tempo of the explosions outside increased.
There was a knock. It was their Youth Board Worker, Mannie Bernstein. No one wanted him here but they knew he would come; they had planned against it. Mannie's round face looked around the edge of the door. He waited there because even though he had gotten them the clubhouse through the local Merchant's Association, even though he had done so much for them, protocol was still touchy. He had to wait till he was invited in. It was not only a matter of friendliness, he was sure he had won thatâbut the boys must call the play. Infringement led to resentment: their manhood was delicate and easily wounded. Mannie waited the long secondsâa half minute. They did that to him sometimes; it maintained their identity. Mannie smiled; let them ventilate their hostility. They didn't know what to do and waited for Ismael to give them a sign. Mannie's smile stiffened. As Mannie was about to turn away someone said, “Well, man, come in.” The Worker didn't know how Ismael gave the sign. He had been watching Ismael all the while and saw nothing, yet the word had gone out from the right-hand shoeshine chair on the plywood pedestal, flowed down through
the whole chain of command till it reached the door. Sweat sogged his shirt. He came in, trying to grin.
The chain of command had to be reversed in greeting the boys. Mannie walked through the room, helloing all the boys and their girls till he came to the throne. But when he reached the Presidente, he saw something was wrong. A tiny gold earring glinted pleasantly against his smooth, black skin and made him exotic, dangerous in spite of the expensive Ivy League summer wear.