Sinjin Morann sat on the New Jersey bank of the Delaware River late into the evening and periodically pulled whiskey from his flask. Hundreds of dribbling creeks in the Catskills and upstate New York came together in Northwest New Jersey to form the moody piedmont that Sinjin loved to sit beside and contemplate. At the end of a good think the old man rose with a bit of noise. The seventy-year-old still considered himself virile, but every now and again he felt the years in his bones.
“It doesn’t look that far,” Sinjin said. He picked up a smooth river rock and threw it towards the Pennsylvania bank. He lost sight of it in the dark and the plunk of the thing was masked by the rushed water of Scudder’s falls.
Sinjin turned from the river and started his way back home. When the mood struck him, as it did this particular night, Sinjin would dress in a tri-quarter revolutionary hat, knee high riding boots, long johns, and belted sword. The locals, who lived side by side on the river road, hardly paid the sight any mind. It was common knowledge, in this area, that Sinjin Morann and George Washington were one and the same.
“St. John Morann, I’m about this far from putting you in a goddamn home.” Mary Morann, Sinjin’s wife, held her index finger and thumb a quarter of an inch apart. She was twenty-five years Sinjin’s junior and never let him forget it.
“Blow it out your ass Mare.” Sinjin hung his hat and dropped his sword in the umbrella can. “You’re stuck with me.”
“I must have done something horrible in a past life.”
“Phahh,” Sinjin dismissed her remark with a breath and a wave. “You don’t know how good you have it.” Mary turned to the fridge and opened the door. Before she could reach in Sinjin was behind her, arms around her waist, kissing at her neck. The phone rang causing the couple to groan in unison.
“You get it, I’ll be upstairs.” Mary gave Sinjin a mischievous wink then started to walk away. Sinjin couldn’t let her go without one more squeeze. He pulled her back into his arms and copped a feel. “Sinjin!”
“Sorry honey.” He gave her one last kiss before letting her go. Sinjin reached for the phone and caught sight of a note pinned on the cork board. He had to make an appearance at the Washington’s Crossing Reenactment Society next week, an annoying obligation he’d been trying to ignore. “Sherwood Forest, Robin speaking,” Sinjin said into the receiver.
“Daddy, I’m getting married!” The voice bubbled.
“Who is this?” Sinjin asked.
“Daddy, stop it, get mom.”
“Mare, it’s your daughter,” Sinjin yelled. “She’s gotten knocked up and has been forced to marry.” Mare got on the line, immediately demanding that he shush and hang up the phone. Sinjin bopped out the front door and started a jig on the front porch. He didn’t immediately recall what performance he learned the celebratory dance for, but he still had it down pat.
Even with the historical reenactment society meeting looming over his head, Sinjin held himself in good spirits. His daughter, Sarah, who moved to Colorado the year before, would be home tomorrow. Sinjin was equally excited to meet his future son-in-law and test the boy’s mettle.
“How do I look?” Sinjin spun around and gave Mary an eyeful of a well dressed man.
“I hate that suit.”
“You’re certifiable, Larry Hagman gave me this suit and it still fits.” Sinjin brushed a bit of lint from the sleeve and then glanced at himself in the mirror. What a sight, he thought, never had there been a smarter outfit. The suit was made of the finest Mohair, dyed with white, orange, black, and red checkered squares. “Not a lot of men can fit into a suit they owned thirty years before.”
“It’s just so,” Mary seemed to lose her train of thought while staring into the pattern of the suit. Her face went blank, then sour. She shook her head and pinched the bridge of her nose.
“It’s so what? Out with it Mare, I’m not going to live forever.”
“It’s just so busy,” she told him.
“Where’s my Cobra head cane?” Sinjin asked. Mary rolled her eyes in response. She picked her purse off the floor and pulled out a cigarette.
“Ah, there it is,” Sinjin spotted the ivory fanged head by the dresser. Mary fished through her purse for matches. Before finding her light Sinjin had the Cobra head by her cigarette and pushed a button on the shaft to trigger a small flame from the snake’s mouth.
* * * * *
“Take a seat please,” The meeting crawled to order in the basement of Our Lady of Good Council Church with the clack of Judge Randolph Rahl’s gavel. “We have a lot to get through and a short amount of time.” The judge, a short man, sturdily built; wore his dress robes at every meeting. Sinjin never much cared for Rahl’s obsession with standing on ceremony.
Judge Rahl had erected a bureaucracy within the Washington’s Crossing Society that frustrated many of the members. The rules were introduced as a way to give the society a longevity that would continue on after its charter members retired. Since the Judge was the only one interested in the tedious task of writing up a charter, he became the head officer of the society. At first Sinjin was pleased with the idea, he wasn’t going to do this forever. It was nice to know that the crossing would continue on and become part of his legacy.
“Let’s get this over with Randy,” Sinjin called out. Judge Rahl knocked his gavel and gave Sinjin a stern look. Sinjin replied to the judge by clacking the Cobra head cane against the basement floor and gave the judge his best set of bug eyes.
“I call the fourth official meeting of the Washington’s crossing historical reenactment society to order.” The judge paused for a spattering of applause. He knocked his gavel in quick succession after indulging them.
“Is there any old business?” The judge’s voice, authoritative, echoed through the chamber. “Good, then I’ll get right to it.” He stood up from his chair and opened a briefcase on the card table that served as his bench. “I have here the back bone of the Washington’s Crossing Historical Reenactment society.” Rahl took out a piece of parchment and held it up for all to view. “This is the document that maps the way for future members and will allow our vision to continue.”
“You mean my vision,” Sinjin added. The judge’s gavel came down in quick succession. Sinjin began to competitively bang his Cobra head in response. The two escalated their racket until Mary elbowed Sinjin in the shoulder and ended the clacking crescendo.
“Mr. Morann, we are all aware that you started the annual reenactment thirty years ago, but I believe the crossing is General Washington’s vision and no one else’s.”
“Randy, as usual you’ve gotten it wrong.” Sinjin stood up from his chair and raised his arms with the Cobra head in hand. Mary, having some idea of what was to come, sank down in her chair. “It was my goddamn idea to start these reenactments and I’ve been George Washington every goddamn year for the last thirty goddamn years. The only reason you are not sitting in this basement alone, banging your goddamn pud with that goddamn gavel, is because of me and my goddamn vision.” Sinjin’s tirade was punctuated with brief bit of applause that died out before the judge even had a chance to bang his gavel.
“Okay?” The Judge asked. “Anything else to add? Good. Before this meeting meanders any further I will come to the point. Section 4 of article 14 in the Washington’s Crossing Historical Reenactment Society Constitution states: ‘No man or women will be allowed to take a space on a boat if there is an inherent health risk.’”
“What are you up to Rahl?” Sinjin stamped his cane in defiance.
“I am sorry Sinjin,” the judge said. “But I believe that, at your age, there exists a very real possibility that you would be at risk during these crossings. And God forbid we ever tipped over. Even with the rescue boats on hand, he’d be in terrible danger. “
“I won’t stand for this and neither will the rest of the Society.” Sinjin was on his feet. The judge put his gavel down on the card table and took a seat for the first time. “Your rules are hokum and everyone knows it.”
“My rules are hokum?” The judge asked.
“I’m afraid the rules are perfectly legitimate,” The judge responded.
“Hooey,” Sinjin called out. He raised his hands in the air, like a conductor, attempting to galvanize the crowd, who sat half listening behind him.
“I’m sorry, Sinjin,” the judge added. “I know this isn’t easy to hear.”
“Baloney,” Sinjin sounded off.
“I’m afraid these safety ordinances are completely necessary,” the judge said. “If it wasn’t for the new regulations you would have floated away two years ago.” Sinjin shut his mouth and returned to his seat. He hated to think about the day the river beat him. There had been crossings that were canceled due to extreme weather. Sinjin felt no shame about them. But one year the river was very high, there had been a lot of snow up north, followed by an unusual warm spell. The snow melted and nearly caused the river to flood. The water was moving very fast, but it was so warm that Sinjin launched anyway. The boat was swept away with the current and had to be towed in by one of the Delaware River Rescue boats. It was a defeat that always gnawed at him.
“Rules are rules Sinjin, it’s time to step down.”
“That piece of cat skin doesn’t mean a goddamn.”
“I’m afraid it does Sinjin. It was notarized and is legally recognized as a binding contract with Mercer County’s Department of Park services.”
“So, if we are in breach of this document the Park Service will not issue us the proper permits needed to perform the reenactment. We will be barred from putting our boats in the water.”
“You son of a gun, you’ve been cooking this up all along.” Sinjin held the cobra head cane out and pointed the fanged mouth toward the judge. “I’m a goddamn bull. You can’t tell me I can’t cross that river come December. I am an ox. Mare, how long did I go the other night?”
“Sinjin!” Mary’s face went red.
“You tell ’em honey, you tell them how long I went.”
“Sinjin, sit down, now!”
“Forty-five minutes, Judge. When’s the last time you went forty five minutes?” The gavel came down again, louder and faster, with an anger to it. “Hell, when’s the last time you had enough salt to get your soldier in the boat? Where’s your wife? I’ll ask her myself.”
“I think that’s enough,” the judge added. “There’s nothing left to debate. This crossing will not take place this year with Sinjin playing the role of George Washington.”
“This is hooey, who do you think you will get to replace me?” Sinjin asked.
“Well according to the constitution, the next George Washington will be the member who holds the highest office within the Historical Reenactment Society.”
“Would that be you?”
“I believe it would be Sinjin.” The judge fought his smile, but in the end it couldn’t be masked. “If any of you have a problem with this and wish to resign I understand. But I want to make this explicitly clear. No boat will cross this Christmas carrying St. John Morann.”
Sinjin was fuming mad. He took his cobra headed cane and broke it across his knee. The pieces of his cane slid across the floor as he stormed out of the meeting.
* * * * *
Sinjin awoke in a sour mood. Everywhere his eyes landed sat reminders of his life as George Washington. His house, an old carriage barn built in 1765, had provided the first President with a place to sleep on one cold snowy war torn night. The first thing he saw every morning was the mural he had painted on the bedroom wall. It was his take on the famous Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze portrait of the crossing. It depicted Sinjin as George Washington and the boat was occupied with many of the actors and artist that had worked for him over the years.
Sinjin had always loved the crossing, he also loved the rich history of his home, but his love soured as the judge came to mind. The walls of his house held dozens of portraits commemorating different revolutionary war battles in the area. He passed the battle of Princeton on his way to the john and scoffed at it. General Mercer was lucky he thought, killed in battle, a hero’s death. Downstairs, the muskets that hung over the fireplace gave Sinjin another pain in his pride.
“We’re selling this craphole,” Sinjin announced to Mary. She poured pancake batter onto the griddle as he fixed a cup of coffee.
“If we’re selling I’m going to put you in a home and run off with the money.”
“Not in the mood Mare, “Sinjin said, taking a seat at the kitchen table. “My kingdom is in ruins.”
“It’s not the end of the world.”
“It’s the end of my world.” A car horn honked in quick succession, a sure sign of Sarah’s return.
“Don’t be so dramatic,” Mary said.
“I’m an actor,” Sinjin replied. He locked eyes with Mary and held her gaze. A pause lingered between them, his eyes glazed over with water. “Or at least I used to be.”
“You’ve still got it babe.” Mary walked over to Sinjin, squeezed his shoulder, and kissed his forehead.
“I’m on the back nine Mare,” Sinjin exhaled noisily through his nose. “I can admit that much, but I can’t take someone getting over on me. It needs to be on my terms, not Rahl’s.”
“You old bull.” Mary rubbed her hand up and down Sinjin’s back. “You’ve got nothing to prove. “
The front door flew open with a gust of cool air and the whirling calamity that was Sinjin’s daughter entered. She blew into the house with all the noise and commotion of a volcanic eruption.
“Daddy,” Sarah dropped herself in her father’s lap and gave him a kiss then moved on to her mother.
“Mommy,” she cooed before giving Mary a hug. “Everyone, this is Jack, isn’t he cute?” In the door way, stood a man obstructed by a wall of travel luggage and duty free shopping bags. “Well, say hello Jack, don’t be rude.”
“Hello all, sorry for being a bit standoffish, if I could just put these bags somewhere I’ll give everyone a proper hello.” Jack strained to keep everything from crashing to the ground.
“He’s a goddamn red coat,” Sinjin barked.
“I’m George Washington for Christ’s sake. I can’t have a red coat in the family.”
“Sorry to interrupt,” Jack stuttered a bit, suddenly a bit ashamed of his British accent. “But I’m either going to put this luggage down or its going to put me down.”
“I can’t understand a goddamn word this kid is saying.”
“Sinjin, help him with the bags,” Mary instructed. “I have the guest room all set up, you and Jack should have everything you need. And don’t mind your father he just lost his job as George Washington.”
“Mare, that’s none of the Limey’s business,” He scolded. Sinjin began taking bags and being as unpleasant about it as he could muster.
“Thanks ever so much.”
“What? Don’t you speak English?” Sinjin asked.
“He said thank you Daddy, me and mom understand him.” Jack smiled politely as Sinjin grumbled something that sounded vaguely obscene, on his way upstairs.
Christmas, as it tended to do, took its sweet time coming around; then darted to the finish line before anyone felt ready for it. The clack of the judge’s gavel beat in Sinjin’s head and fired his lust for vengeance. While Sinjin’s public face was gracious in defeat his private thoughts called for blood. He had been secretly meeting with former members of the Washington’s Crossing Reenactment Society and formulating a plan to bring the judge to his knees.
“Howdy partner,” Jack announced his presence from Sinjin’s bedroom door. “Could I have a word with ya’ll?” Sinjin forced Jack to watch a countless number of westerns in order mimic an accent that Sinjin claimed to understand. Although the impression was way off the mark and would often be abandoned in mid conversation, Sinjin now maintained he could understand the young man.
“Yes, come on in.” Sinjin had his Colonial army dress laid out on the bed, freshly dry cleaned and ready for the Christmas morning raid. “What’ve you got there?”
“It’s an early Christmas gift, sir.”
“Give it here,” Sinjin grabbed the long thin box greedily from Jack’s arms. “It’s about time you bought me something, Limey. You know, when you stay at someone’s house, it’s just good manners.”
“Yes, well, hope you like it.”
“Oh, my dear boy.” Sinjin looked into the box with pure reverence. “How and the hell did you pull this off?” He reached in and pulled the cobra head cane out, good as new.
“Mary told me what happened, so I went up to the church to see if maybe I could retrieve it from the lost and found.”
“Genius, boy, pure genius.” Sinjin inspected the piece closely. He put his finger on the lighter button then looked over to Jack with doe eyes.
“Go on, give it a try,” Jack instructed, “Cowboy up and all that.”
“Would you look at that?” Sinjin said with great glee as the fire emanated from the cobra’s brass fanged mouth, “Makes me want to take up smoking.”
“Glad you like it, I had them make the shaft from an Irish Shillelagh. You won’t be breaking this one over your knee.”
“Limey, this is a great gift.” Sinjin walked to Jack and gave him a firm hug. “I’d like you to be on the boat tomorrow. I could use your help in waging bloody war against the Judge.”
“It’d be an honor, sir.”
“What?” Sinjin barked. “I didn’t catch that.”
“YeeHa, sir.” Jack said plainly.
“Very good,” Sinjin nodded. “Now make yourself scarce.”
Early Christmas morning Sinjin met with his crew in the picnic area of Washington’s Crossing Park. The men stood huddled around a smoldering grill at nine in the morning, clad in matching tan trench coats. The gang consisted of Brian Thomas and Gary David, both long time members of Sinjin’s crew. Plus Peter Rice and Jimmy Watkins, who were part of the Delaware Water Rescue crew that saved Sinjin years earlier. Sinjin had forged a bond with the two heroes. Jack rounded out Sinjin’s revolutionary pack.
The renegade group had picked a spot a half mile upstream from the judge’s launch. From this point the current would carry them fast and they could cut off the judge’s boat before it hit the New Jersey bank. Since the judge’s gang had to launch and land from the same two points that the General charted back in 1776, Sinjin was given the tactical advantage.
“Alright boys, this is it, this is the day we have been training for. We all have different reasons for being here and not all of them are very good. But that doesn’t mean we can’t put our hearts into this. That worm of a judge pulled the rug out from under us and it’s time he got what was coming to him. Now I’m not going to lie to you, this is dangerous, the crowd may turn on us, and the water is almost freezing today. But I don’t want you to think about that, I want you to stare death in the face and laugh. These are the times that try men’s soul… ”
“Sinjin, we know this part, we hear it every year.”
“I was creating a mood, Brian.” Sinjin unbuttoned his overcoat to reveal his smartly cleaned George Washington dress costume. “But, you know, let’s just put the goddamn boat in the water.”
“Everybody has a costume,” Jack said. “I feel kind of out of place.”
“Don’t worry, don’t worry.” Sinjin walked over to his car and pulled a garment bag from the back seat. “I didn’t forget about you.”
“Thank you, sir.” Jack cocked wrinkled his brow and frowned once Sinjin revealed the costume. It was not authentic Colonial garb. It was a pirate costume and a pretty cheap one at that. “Is this a joke?”
“Of course not.” Sinjin put his arm around Jack. “We’re working with what we’ve got.”
“I can’t wear this,” Jack protested.
“Put it on,” Sinjin insisted.
“No, I won’t, I can’t”
“Rent’s due, put it on.” Sinjin held the costume in Jack’s face until he reluctantly accepted the outfit. Once on, the costume was far from dazzling: a big black hat with a skull and cross bones, knee high red and white striped socks, black pants tied off at the knee, a ruffled white shirt and an eye patch.
“You look great,” Sinjin said. “I won’t make you wear the parrot, but the paint on mustache is non-negotiable.”
“I look like a fool.”
“Listen kid, when I started this thing thirty years ago all I had was a canoe, some friends in funny looking costumes, and a fifth of Jack. Don’t let the naysayers drag you down.”
“They’re getting ready to launch the boat,” Peter called out.
“Let’s move,” Sinjin raised his cobra head cane into the air and circled over his head to initiate the charge. Brian pulled the tarp back revealing a smart looking Delaware River Water and Rescue boat.
“Someone give me a hand.” Sinjin struggled with a large canvas sack, filled with heavy steel chains.
“Maybe we’re going a little overboard here?” Jack asked.
“Grab the other bag and those anchors,” Sinjin instructed. “We’re all in this together, thick as thieves we are.” The rest of the men aided in the launch of the river rescue boat. There was no fooling around from here on out. “This is war gentlemen and I’m fixin’ to win.”
The Water Rescue Boat was a bit of anachronism, but it moved well in the water. The boat also had a few centuries of design improvements on the long boats used by the judge. Sinjin found the ends of each steel chain and locked them to separate anchors. He gave the chains a tug, then pulled the pad locks and a bullhorn out of the bag. He took a moment for himself, signed the three crosses of Saint Matthew and let out a deep breath. The renegades were out on the river and in plain view. Sinjin looked over to the people standing on Washington’s Crossing bridge. They had already taken notice and were pointing.
“Alright boys, time to give the judge the high hard one.” Sinjin stood up, placed his foot on the bow, and assumed the George Washington stance. Sinjin cleared his throat and flipped the bullhorn on. It hummed in his hand and he smiled.
“Attention patriots,” Sinjin’s stage voice boomed and elicited great cheer from the onlookers. “It is I, St. John Morann, the real George Washington.” Sinjin rocked back a bit as the rescue boat picked up speed. The men had their backs in it. “I’m here to do battle against the tyrant that his taken my rightful place at the bow of that longboat. To prove my mettle, we aim to beat the usurper to the New Jersey bank and humiliate his efforts.” The crowd ate up Sinjin’s showmanship, laughs and applause carried over the river water.
“I think it’s safe to say we’re the crowd favorite,” Gary said as he exhaled.
“Let’s not disappoint.” Sinjin took the cobra head cane and pointed to the judge, then ran his finger across his throat. Sinjin’s boat closed in on the judge’s position, but the judge’s boat moved well in the water, he had skilled rowers and a larger crew.
“I’ll have you thrown in jail Morann,” the judge screamed. “I order you to back down and let me complete this crossing.”
“In the spirit of our revolutionary fathers I do not recognize your authority. Up yours Rahly,” Sinjin called through the bullhorn. The crowd continued to eat up Sinjin’s hammy showmanship. “Limey, take a look at the bridge.” Mary and Sarah had unfurled a sheet that read ‘Go Get ’em’.
“Listen up men, this is going to happen fast and it’s going to be messy. Prepare yourself. Before we all get knocked into the freezing waters know this, you’ve done an old man a great service.” The rescue boat slammed into the judge’s long boat with enough force to shift the bow down river. The two boats floated side by side, locked in battle.
“Get to it Jack,” Sinjin ordered, and the pirate moved to action. He grabbed one end of the heavy steal chain and threaded it through the rowing oars on the long boat. Once the chain was padlocked Peter dumped an anchor over and sucked the oars from the long boat and down under the cold Delaware water.
“My hand,” one of the judge’s men screamed.
“Let me see,” another rower insisted. The others circled around their team mate to inspect his condition.
“Don’t let them take the port oars,” the judge growled. His fiercest call had little effect on the men. The hired ringers could move the boat better than Sinjin’s team, but they had no stake in this fight. Sinjin hooked his cane into the stern safety latch and pulled, the long boat began to spin. The river’s current did much of the work. Jack looped the chain through the starboard oars.
“Help me, for god’s sake. They’re trying to set us adrift.” The judge drew his sword and stepped past the crew. He was within striking range of Jack.
“Get away from my boat,” the judge growled. He swung his sword at Jack’s arm. Before the blade made contact its momentum was stopped by the cobra headed cane of Sinjin Morann.
“Are you out of your mind?” Sinjin asked. “Compose yourself.” Sinjin knocked the sword out of Rahl’s hand. He jabbed the cobra head into the judge’s gut. The quick poke took Rahl’s air and forced him down onto one knee. Peter dropped the second anchor into the water and sunk the starboard oars.
“Paddle for shore.” Sinjin stretched his arm out and pointed the way with his cobra headed cane. “The day is mine Rahly. You can play hide and go fuck yourself all the way down river.”
The long boat drifted down the Delaware River while the judge made a feeble attempt to paddle the boat with his arms. Rescue boats launched from the New Jersey and Pennsylvania banks. The band kicked up, as was the custom when George Washington landed. Sinjin and his boat mates raised their arms in victory. “I am an ox,” Sinjin called over the bullhorn. “A goddamn bull, don’t any of you forget it.” He saw Mary and Sarah moving through the crowd. Sinjin jumped out of the boat and met them amongst the cheering crowd.
“My girls,” Sinjin called with his arms open. He embraced Mary and Sarah and groaned happily as he firmed up his grip on them. Sinjin had landed on that shore as General Washington many times in his life, but this was destined to be his greatest and his last. The battle had been won and the war had come to an end; all on his own terms. The old man’s eyes went glassy. He kissed each of his girls on the forehead, then let them go.
“Come here boy.” Sinjin waved Jack over. “Next year, you’ll be family, you understand?”
Tim Waldron is the online fiction editor of the Literary Review. His work has appeared in Bull Magazine, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, the Lit Pub, the Literary Review, and many others. He received an MFA from Fairleigh Dickinson. He lives in Lawrenceville. The story above is a slight condensation of his original submission.