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Many Rivers to Cross

Tom Zigal

Publication Year: 2013

Hurricane Katrina struck the Louisiana Gulf Coast in late August of 2005. In the aftermath of the category-three hurricane, the churning waters of Lake Pontchartrain tore through the levee system of New Orleans, causing unprecedented flooding and stranding those who had failed to evacuate in time. Images of desperate men and women clinging to rooftops and praying for rescue filled every news station. It is in this setting that Thomas Zigal’s new novel unfolds.

With water rapidly rising to alarming heights and contaminated by filth, the only way in or out of New Orleans is by boat. Hodges Grant, a veteran of Vietnam, must ply the fetid waters in a homemade craft in order to reach his stranded daughter and two grandchildren. Accompanied by his grandchildren’s good-for-nothing father Duval, Hodges enters into the treacherous wreckage left by the storm. The city appears to be deserted except for a few police out to commandeer civilian boats—by force, if necessary.

Deirdra, or Dee as she is known, was hardly daunted by the idea of a hurricane. There had been too many false alarms in the past from government officials. Still, for the sake of her two children, Dee had attempted to evacuate, only to turn back as gangs of armed highjackers pulled hapless drivers from their cars in gridlocked traffic. Now she and her children are stranded in their attic as the water laps at the hatch. They can only hope for Hodges’s swift arrival.

Hodges’s son PJ and eight thousand other inmates remain incarcerated in the Orleans Parish Jail as the waters begin to rise. Abandoned by the guards, the inmates must break through the bars of their cells or drown. They discover armed guards calmly waiting in boats outside; they pull a few inmates to safety and threaten to shoot those who rush for the fence.

As the waters advance through the city of New Orleans, so does Zigal’s story. Told through the eyes of each member of the Grant family, Zigal weaves a tale bound by terror, loss, perseverance, and survival.

Published by: TCU Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Frontispiece

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pp. 2-7

Monday, August 29, 2005

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1

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pp. 3-13

The two men expected to encounter state troopers on their way into the city. But once they'd passed through the blinding rain of Baton Rouge and climbed up onto the long elevated stretch of Interstate 10 over the bayous, they saw no traffic ahead, only an endless maze of limbs blown across the road...

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2

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pp. 14-22

Dee and her children lived in Gentilly Terrace, an older neighborhood of modest California-style bungalows and English cottages. What was once a shallow swamp during the plantation era had become a surprisingly organized grid of streets east of the oak forest of City Park. Gentilly was the middle-class...

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3

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pp. 23-28

Hodge heard the outboard motor roar to life and turned to find Duval signaling from the johnboat. Time to go, he was saying. He'd managed to start the damn thing.
With his hand on the grip of his holstered weapon, the deputy at the water's edge ordered Duval to steer the boat back to dry land. The young man turned up his palms in a defiant shrug. "What you...

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4

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pp. 29-32

She had almost reached Tante Belle's house when she saw the snake, a thick cottonmouth water moccasin zigzagging toward her across a slick of sudsy scum. She kicked harder, pumping her legs, trying to scare the snake away with her commotion, but it kept coming at her, a waggling ribbon of deadly venom...

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5

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pp. 33-38

The shotgun's report echoed in the heavy air. Smoke coiled from the barreL The man on the rooftop pumped another shell into the chamber and Hodge could hear the spent casing clatter down the shingles. "What the hell are y'all doing with that man?" the shooter said. "Leave him alone and get on away from here!"...

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6

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pp. 39-50

Eight thousand inmates were incarcerated in the tall gray monoliths of the Orleans Parish Prison, a county jail complex in the shadow of Interstate 10 near Mid-City. By noon on Monday, the flood had reached the rec yard, and by early afternoon there were two feet of brown lake water in the Templeman...

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7

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pp. 51-58

Hodge saw a motorboat approaching the bucking Honda from the far side of the flooded boulevard. A white man was standing at the wheel behind a Plexiglas windshield and he pointed at the car, circling his hand over his head in a lasso motion...

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8

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pp. 59-64

Tempo scratched at the door to Tame Belle's house, whimpering for her owner, but Dee yanked the leash, pulling the collie away from the steps and into deep water. Resigned to her fate, the dog swam alongside Dee as she thrashed across the flooded yard on the kickboard. "Stay close, girl,"...

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9

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pp. 65-70

He was dimly aware that he was upright, on his feet, being dragged along through waist-deep water by sturdy arms on both sides of him, his legs heavy and unsteady as he waded in what felt like setting cement. The pain in his chest was so intense he could concentrate on little else. He stared...

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10

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pp. 71-75

Hodge throttled the old Mercury outboard toward the row of houses on the east side of Pontchartrain Boulevard. The water appeared less turbulent there, between those stucco apartments and sturdy brick homes that looked like houseboats resting on a placid lake. "Damn good thing...

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11

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pp. 76-82

Tempo chased two of the nutria up a rafter, but the third one veered away and scrambled blindly toward Dee and the children. Ashley screeched, "Don't let 'em get us, Mommal" and Dee popped the nutria hard with the baseball bat and it rolled into the crumbled insulation and scurried after its...

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12

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pp. 83-92

He waded farther into the inland sea he knew to be a big play yard at the center of the Calliope projects, the beige brick buildings all the same, like military barracks with battered AC units sagging out of a thousand windows and rusted fire escapes zigzagging up their sides. The clotheslines had...

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13

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pp. 93-102

When the johnboat angled onto Harrison Avenue, a commercial strip on the park side of residential Lakeview, they saw their first looters. The alarm was ringing as two young men waded out of a pharmacy, dragging plastic trash barrels through the water like salvaged cargo from a...

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14

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pp. 103-110

She aimed the Smith & Wesson and pulled the trigger and the loud report echoed through the rafters. Ashley screamed and stared in horror at her mother. "What are you doing, Momma?" she cried...

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15

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pp. 111-116

U-Rite lowered the gun to his side and backed along the wall, halting at the edge of the window to peek through the open blinds. The Orleans Parish deputies were talking to one another in the boat below. "Muthafuckuhs," he said, raising his thick eyebrows. "I didn't figure they wanted us that bad."...

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16

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pp. 117-125

Once they had entered the flooded woodlands of City Park, the air turned thick and sluggish, the drooping oak limbs and soggy vegetation closing around them in the dark green lagoon. A million frogs were croaking, as if Katrina had spawned them overnight. For Hodge, motoring deeper into this...

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17

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pp. 126-129

He was pulling her along by the strap of her bathing suit and she lost her footing in the slick wet leaves, slipping down and scraping her knees against the rough shingles. On all fours, she raised her head and tried to meet his eye, hoping to reason with him. "Don't do this!" she said in an urgent whisper. "Not in front of my children!"...

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18

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pp. 130-138

The rundown shotgun houses were all dark and abandoned in this backstreet neighborhood, their stark shapes softening in the dying light. When he heard a boat motor approaching, PJ splashed across somebody's yard and hid beside a shadowy old garage, one of those doorless tilted shacks built...

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19

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pp. 139-144

Tempo's body was still warm when they covered her with a blanket and arranged broken limbs around her in a kind of primitive burial pyre. As LaMarcus held a flashlight, Ashley fashioned a cross out of two small branches, tying them together with a willowy switch and placing it near the little collie's head. Dee couldn't forgive herself. She'd promised Tame Belle she...

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20

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pp. 145-152

The car horns and house alarms beckoned them toward the pitch-black neighborhood of Gentilly. They emerged from the oak-shadowed park and crossed Bayou St. John where it narrowed, trailing down from the lake, and the landscape was so dark and befuddling that Duval couldn't get...

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21

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pp. 153-161

When the Coast Guard pilot brought the helicopter down on the wide plaza of the Superdome, he announced to his crew that central command was grounding all flights until further notice because of reports that choppers were being fired upon by snipers. "Who the hell is shooting...

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22

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pp. 162-171

Hodge woke to find himself floating through a dark wood. He wasn't certain he was still alive until he heard the feathery sound of his own shallow breathing. He realized he'd pissed himself and was slumped against the duffel bag in a slop of floodwater and urine, bringing back memory fears...

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23

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pp. 172-180

Dee took the dead baby to the group of National Guardsmen huddled on the plaza and told them what had happened. Their squad leader dispatched four men to go look for the young woman's body on the street below. He didn't know what to do with the small bundle and appeared reluctant to accept the baby or to touch it in any way...

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24

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pp. 181-187

Light burned through his eyelids and woke him. He raised a hand to block the piercing ray. At first he thought that Jasmine or Edgar had taken the flashlight. "Where you going?" he said. "Put that light out."...

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25

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pp. 188-198

When they reached the dark flooded streets of the hospital district, they saw emergency lights blinking in the lobby of one of the medical buildings ahead. Duval urged Hodge on, his own legs beginning to wobble and strain under the freight of a much larger man. As they waded closer...

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26

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pp. 199-203

In her mud-spattered robe, with wide-swinging hips, Sistah M led them down the long ramp to the dark streets below. Two hours ago, these streets had been bone dry, but now they were steeped in a foot of brown lake water. Their somber parade picked up fifteen or twenty others trying futilely to talk their way into...

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27

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pp. 204-210

The doctor looked concerned. He was a bespectacled middle-aged white man with graying hair and the early stubble of a beard. He read Nurse Shannon's chart by penlight and ordered her to take blood and administer nitroglycerine, heparin to prevent clotting, and a beta blocker to reduce...

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28

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pp. 211-216

Dee was still trembling when she grabbed LaMarcus's flashlight, rose from the carpet, and hurried over to the fallen woman. The cart had sideswiped Sistah M and she'd twisted a knee in the fall Her grandsons were stooped over her, trying to help the woman to sit up...

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29

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pp. 217-223

They'd beaten the hell out of him and might have beaten him to death if that old hospital security guard named Tucker hadn't appeared in the ER doorway with his service revolver. He fired a couple of rounds over their heads and chased them down the ambulance ramp to where they'd stashed their...

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30

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pp. 224-229

PJ woke to the sounds of a man drowning. In his struggle to untie the lamp cords, Maceo had tipped over sideways with a loud splash, still bound securely, and now thrashed about under three feet of water, choking and fighting to raise his head above the surface. PJ thought about letting him...

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31

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pp. 230-241

Charles Tran was sitting in a straight-backed lotus position, asleep, when she touched his shoulder and told him they were leaving. He roused himself, stood up, and tried to talk her out of it. "You're safer here with us," he said. "It's dangerous out there, Miss Dee. I worry for your children."...

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32

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pp. 242-248

There it was, the thut thut thut of chopper blades coming for him. He was dreaming he was in the jungle again. They'd docked their PBR in a mangrove swamp and waded neck deep onto marshy land, an anned patrol searching for the snipers who'd been shooting at them for days. Ernie Garza was...

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33

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pp. 249-258

Maceo held up his side of the raft in an obliging silence for block after block. They encountered few people moving on the water. An ancient stoop-backed preacher rescued from his flooded church by parishioners in a canoe. Grimfaced project teenagers sloshing along, hanging onto a buoyant...

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34

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pp. 259-265

A crowd had gathered around the dead man sprawled on the street in front of the convention center. Malik and several others were shouting at the armed policemen who were ordering them back to the curb. Robert Guyton took Dee's arm and said, "I know a place where you'll be safe."...

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35

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pp. 266-273

It was raining food from the military Chinook. Cases of bottled water, canned vegetables, boxes of uncooked ravioli and sacks of rice. The chopper was hovering forty feet above the hospital and many of the containers exploded on impact across the concrete rooftop...

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36

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pp. 274-282

Charlene lived on one side of a shotgun double on Annunciation Street, not far from the warehouses along the fiver. The Irish Channel's wooden row houses had held up against the battering rain and wind, but now the steamy streets were caked with mud and tree limbs were down and...

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37

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pp. 283-288

The only time LaMarcus had seen anything like this was when he'd gone to watch Spider-Man with his mother and sister. When the doors opened, a horde of teenagers waiting in the long line had rushed into the movie theater; running up and down the aisles, fighting over the best seats. And now a gang of teenagers was dashing past him the same way, laughing and...

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38

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pp. 289-296

Hodge knew that the chapel was down this corridor somewhere because he'd prayed for Rochelle many times in that quiet little space when her life was slipping away. The chapel had been a cool dark refuge where he could collect his thoughts and ask the Lord for mercy. Now it seemed like a good place to hide out until everything calmed down and he could...

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39

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pp. 297-304

He wandered through the deserted Irish Channel, street after street, looking for a car to hotwire. He'd picked the wrong neighoorhood. There were no cars, no people outside, only roaming packs of dogs and the occasional junker up on cinder blocks, its rims rusting in the weather. What was he going to do if he couldn't gank a car?...

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40

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pp. 305-309

Dee searched the store they'd camped in, her son's backpack slung across her shoulder and Ashley walking close by her side, pale and half asleep and worried into silence that her brother might be lost forever. They covered every department, the elaborate bathroom displays and floor-to-ceiling...

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41

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pp. 310-316

An Indian with grackle black hair flowing down his back offered to sew up his lip if they could find a needle and thread. "I was a medic in Iraq, the first year on the ground," he told Duval from the bar stool where he sat nursing a tall can of malt liquor in the flickering candlelight. "You wouldn't believe the shit I had to clean up, brah. But Iraq was no worse than...

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42

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pp. 317-326

When it turned dark, PJ stole through the forest of downed oak limbs covering the streetcar tracks on St. Charles Avenue and found a hiding place behind a thick green hedge that bordered the hotel's circle drive. The yellow school bus was parked in from, where he'd first seen it...

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43

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pp. 327-344

Alton Lee peeped above the sagging door chain with a flashlight in one hand and the Louisville Slugger in the other. When he recognized Pl, he unlatched the chain and stepped out onto the porch, staring at the yellow school bus humming in the dark street. ''I'll be damn," he said with a sleepy smile. "I didn't think you'd really do it, son."...

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44

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pp. 345-359

The weeping woke her. In the damp gray haze of first light, Dee could see that nice Yankee gentleman, Mr. Friedman, holding his wife near the safety rail, trying to console her. "We're going to get killed down here," she kept crying. "Look at them! We're going to get killed with all the rest."...

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45

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pp. 360-371

Heavy oak limbs, two hundred years old, were lying across the streetcar tracks on St. Charles Avenue. The ram had stopped and they forged deeper into a jungle of wet green branches entangling the sidewalks and the avenue itself. LaMarcus and Ashley had stripped away leaves to...

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46

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pp. 372-384

Floodwater had gushed through broken levees for three days, drowning neighborhoods and flowing down into the heart of the city. But the flood had stopped unexpectedly a few blocks above St. Charles Avenue, where it settled in shallow pools on streets and lawns. When the three men crossed...

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Epilogue

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pp. 385-390

Four weeks later, Dee was still working through the bureaucratic paperwork, waiting to claim her father's body from the FEMA morgue in St. Gabriel, a small town downriver from Baton Rouge where Katrina victims were being stored and identified in an industrial warehouse. Hodge had already...

Acknowledgments

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pp. 391-394


E-ISBN-13: 9780875655864
E-ISBN-10: 0875655866
Print-ISBN-13: 9780875655857

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2013

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