Deacon King Kong

by

James McBride

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Sportcoat Character Analysis

The novel’s protagonist, Cuffy Lambkin (whom everyone calls “Sportcoat,”) is an old deacon who attends the Five Ends Church and acts as the Cause’s community baseball coach. He is also a notorious alcoholic who often forgets his actions because he is so intoxicated. At the start of the novel, while in one of his drunken stupors, Sportcoat shoots and injures a local drug dealer, Deems Clemens. Deems used to be on Sportcoat’s baseball team and was his finest player before he started dealing drugs. Nonetheless, the two of were on good terms and no one—not even Sportcoat himself—can figure out why Sportcoat shot Deem. While intoxicated, Sportcoat often has conversations with his deceased wife, Hettie. They frequently discuss the missing Five Ends Christmas fund, which the church uses to buy presents for the community’s children. Hettie, who was in charge of the fund, is the only person who knows where it is; Sportcoat wants to find the fund because he knows how much it means to the community. Although Sportcoat is not always a model citizen, he loves his community and wants its residents to thrive. In fact, Sportcoat makes a living by performing odd jobs around the community, such as planting flowers and unloading crates. In particular, he spends a lot of time gardening for Mrs. Elefante, the mother of Tommy Elefante. At the end of the novel, Sportcoat undergoes several important transformations. Most notably, he quits drinking and finally comes to terms with Hettie’s death. He also figures out why he shot Deems: to prevent the young man from going down the same bad path that he went down when he was a young man. When Sportcoat tells this to Deems, it causes Deems to reform his life. The novel closes with Sportcoat’s funeral. Hot Sausage, Sportcoat’s best friend, was the last person to see Sportcoat alive; he tells Sister Gee that Sportcoat died after wading into the water with a bottle of King Kong in his hand. Sportcoat wanted to take a sip of the liquor, but he didn’t—meaning he kept his promise to remain sober for the rest of his life.

Sportcoat Quotes in Deacon King Kong

The Deacon King Kong quotes below are all either spoken by Sportcoat or refer to Sportcoat. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Substance Abuse Theme Icon
).
Chapter 1: Jesus’s Cheese Quotes

“In the middle of the night, she shook me woke. I opened my eyes and seen a light floating ’round the room. It was like a little candlelight. ’Round and ’round it went, then out the door. Hettie said, ‘That’s God’s light. I got to fetch some moonflowers out the harbor.’ She put on her coat and followed it outside.”

Related Characters: Sportcoat (speaker), Hettie (speaker), Deems Clemens
Related Symbols: Flowers
Page Number: 3-4
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2: A Dead Man Quotes

Clemens was the New Breed of colored in the Cause. Deems wasn’t some poor colored boy from down south or Puerto Rico or Barbados who arrived in New York with empty pockets and a Bible and a dream […] Deems didn’t give a shit about white people, or education, or sugarcane, or cotton, or even baseball, which he had once been a whiz at. None of the old ways meant a penny to him. He was a child of Cause, young, smart, and making money hand over fist slinging dope at a level never before seen in the Cause Houses. He had high friends and high connections from East New York all the way to Far Rockaway, Queens, and any fool in the Cause stupid enough to open their mouth in his direction ended up hurt bad or buried in an urn in an alley someplace.

Related Characters: Deems Clemens, Sportcoat
Related Symbols: Baseball
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3: Jet Quotes

Rather it was the memory, not long ago, of Sportcoat shagging fly balls with him at the baseball field on warm spring afternoons; it was Sportcoat who taught him how to pivot and zing a throw to home plate from 350 feet out […] Sportcoat made him a star in baseball. He was the envy of the white boys on the John Jay High School baseball team, who marveled at the college scouts who risked life and limb to venture to the funky, dirty Cause Houses baseball field to watch him pitch. But that was another time, when he was a boy and his grandpa was living. He was a man now, nineteen, a man who needed money. And Sportcoat was a pain in the ass.

Related Characters: Sportcoat, Deems Clemens
Related Symbols: Baseball
Page Number: 28-29
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4: Running Off Quotes

“I don’t swallow any more spirits than anybody else in these projects.”

“Now who’s lying? I ain’t the one they calling Deacon King Kong.”

Related Characters: Sportcoat (speaker), Hot Sausage (speaker), Hettie
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10: Soup Quotes

Like most of Sportcoat’s team, Soup disappeared from adult radar at the Cause when he entered the labyrinth of his teenage years. One minute he was striking out to the guffaws of the opposing team, the Watch Houses, the next minute word got out that Soup was in jail—adult jail—at seventeen. What put him there, no one seemed to know. It didn’t matter. Everybody went to jail in the Cause eventually. You could be the tiniest ant able to slip into a crack in the sidewalk, or a rocket ship that flew fast enough to break the speed of sound, it didn’t matter. When society dropped its hammer on your head, well, there it is. Soup got seven years. It didn’t matter what it was for.

Related Characters: Soup Lopez, Sportcoat
Related Symbols: Baseball
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12: Mojo Quotes

“The church got plenty money.”

“You mean the box in the church?”

“No, honey. It’s in God’s hands. In the palm of His hand, actually.”

Related Characters: Sportcoat (speaker), Hettie (speaker), Tommy Elefante
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 16: May God Hold You… Quotes

Elefante shrugged, pocketed his money, and leaned against the wall of his house. “I used to see her come and go from church,” he said. “She’d say good morning. People don’t do that no more.”

“No they don’t.”

Related Characters: Tommy Elefante (speaker), Sportcoat (speaker), Hettie, Joe Peck
Page Number: 230
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 17: Harold Quotes

“Seen ’em all,” Sportcoat said proudly. “Even barnstormed a little myself, but I had to make money. That ain’t gonna be Deems’s problem. He’ll make plenty money in the bigs. He got the fire and the talent. You can’t take the love of ball out of a ballplayer, Sausage. Can’t be done. There’s a baseball player in that boy.”

Related Characters: Sportcoat (speaker), Hot Sausage, Deems Clemens
Related Symbols: Baseball
Page Number: 237
Explanation and Analysis:

Deems loved baseball. He’d pitched all the way through high school and could have gone further had not his cousin Rooster lured him into the fast money of the heroin game. He still kept track of the game, the teams, the squads, the statistics, the hitters, the Miracle Mets, who, miraculously, might be in the World Series that year, and most of all, the strategy.

10000

Related Characters: Deems Clemens, Sportcoat, Haroldeen/Phyllis
Page Number: 243
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18: Investigation Quotes

Sister Gee looked at the people staring at her: Dominic, Bum-Bum, Miss Izi, Joaquin, Nanette, and the rest, at least fifteen people in all. She’d known most of them her whole life. They stared at her with that look, that projects look: the sadness, the suspicion, the weariness, the knowledge that comes from living a special misery in a world of misery. Four of their numbers were down—gone, changed forever, dead or not, it didn’t matter. And there would be more. The drugs, big drugs, heroin, were here. Nothing could stop it. They knew that now. Someone else had already taken over Deems’s bench at the flagpole. Nothing here would change. Life in the Cause would lurch forward as it always did.

Page Number: 266
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 20: Plant Man Quotes

“The man who come here to New York wasn’t the man I knowed in South Carolina. In all the years we been here, ain’t been a plant in that house of ours. Not a green thing hung from the ceiling nor the wall, other than what I brung in from time to time.”

Related Characters: Hettie (speaker), Sportcoat, Pudgy Fingers
Related Symbols: Flowers
Page Number: 285
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 23: Last Octobers Quotes

And from there, so close, he saw in the old man’s face what he had felt down in the darkness of the harbor when the old man had yanked him to safety: the strength, the love, the resilience, the peace, the patience, and this time, something new, something he’d never seen in all the years he’d known old Sportcoat, the happy-go-lucky drunk of the Cause Houses: absolute, indestructible rage.

Related Characters: Sportcoat, Deems Clemens
Page Number: 322
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 25: Do Quotes

Until then he’d always believed a partner brought worry, fear, and weakness to a man, especially one in his business. But Melissa brought courage and humility and humor to places he’d never known existed. He’d never partnered with a woman before, if you didn’t include his mother, but Melissa’s quiet sincerity was a weapon of a new kind. It drew people in, disarmed them. It made them friends—and that was a weapon too.

Related Characters: Tommy Elefante, Melissa, Sportcoat
Page Number: 342-343
Explanation and Analysis:

“I think I can handle that, Mr. Sportcoat.”

“Come again? Mister?”

“Mr. Sportcoat.”

Sportcoat pawed at his forehead with a wrinkled hand. There was a clarity to the world now that felt new, not uncomfortable, but at times the newness of it felt odd, like the feeling of breaking in a new suit of clothing. The constant headaches and nausea that had been his companions after leaving the swigfest for decades had lifted. He felt like a radio tuning in to a new channel, one that was beginning to fuzz into range, slowly coming in clear, proper, the way his Hettie had always wanted him to be. The new feeling humbled him. It made him feel religious, it made him feel closer to God, and to man, God’s honored child. “I ain’t never been called Mr. Sportcoat by nobody.”

Related Characters: Sportcoat (speaker), Tommy Elefante (speaker)
Page Number: 352
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 26: Beautiful Quotes

Then he patted me on the back and said, “Look after them moonflowers behind the church for my Hettie.” Then he walked into the water. Walked right into the harbor holding that bottle of King Kong. I said, “Wait a minute, Sport, that water’s cold.” But he went on ahead.

First it come up to his hips, then to his waist, then to the top of his arms, then to his neck. When it got to his neck he turned around to me and said, “Sausage, the water is so warm! It’s beautiful.”

Related Characters: Hot Sausage (speaker), Sportcoat (speaker), Hettie, Sister Gee
Related Symbols: Flowers
Page Number: 370
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Deacon King Kong LitChart as a printable PDF.
Deacon King Kong PDF

Sportcoat Character Timeline in Deacon King Kong

The timeline below shows where the character Sportcoat appears in Deacon King Kong. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Jesus’s Cheese
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In September of 1969, an old deacon nicknamed Sportcoat shoots 19-year-old Deems Clemens, an infamously “ruthless” drug dealer, in the Causeway Housing Projects of... (full context)
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After the shooting, residents of the projects gather outside to exchange theories about why Sportcoat shot Deems. Sister T. J. Billings, whom people call “Bum-Bum,” insists that Sportcoat “is under... (full context)
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The night before the shooting, Sportcoat dreamed about his late wife, Hettie. Sportcoat loves to tell the story of Hettie’s disappearance,... (full context)
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The next morning, Sportcoat looks for Hettie. He follows her footprints to the water, but they end there. Then,... (full context)
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...Hettie’s expense and arguments break out among two of the singers in the choir. Nonetheless, Sportcoat is relatively cheerful and enjoys the ceremony. He is in a good mood, having spent... (full context)
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That night, Sportcoat dreams of Hettie and tells her about how great her funeral service was. However, he... (full context)
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During their argument, Hettie insults Sportcoat by calling him “the cheese thief.” She is referencing a shipment of cheese that mysteriously... (full context)
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From this day on, Sportcoat regularly talks and argues with Hettie as though she is there with him. Meanwhile, the... (full context)
Chapter 2: A Dead Man
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Even before he shot Deems, it was surprising to the Causeway community that Sportcoat was still alive. The residents of the Cause often spotted him stumbling drunk through the... (full context)
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Among other health issues, Sportcoat’s had three stokes, he’s contracted gout and rheumatoid arthritis, and he’s developed a number of... (full context)
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As a young boy, Sportcoat lost his mother. His father raised him, and his stepmother treated him poorly. As a... (full context)
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Unlike Sportcoat and Hettie, Deems grew up in New York City. This upbringing made Deems tough, and... (full context)
Chapter 3: Jet
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Sixteen people watched Sportcoat shoot Deems, but no one would say anything to the police. However, they didn’t have... (full context)
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...and his fellow dealers do the majority of their selling. While watching Deems, Jet notices Sportcoat approaching him and senses trouble. Sportcoat looks drunk, and Jet sees that he has a... (full context)
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When Sportcoat reaches Deems, who is standing around with members of his crew, he asks Deems about... (full context)
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When Sportcoat asks Deems why he stopped playing baseball, Deems tells Sportcoat that he’s found a better... (full context)
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...he drops down to the ground to pretend to tie his shoe and watches as Sportcoat pulls out the gun. At the last minute, he yells to warn Deems. Still, Sportcoat... (full context)
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As everyone flees the scene, Sportcoat moves to shoot Deems again. However, after seeing Deems on his hands and knees, Sportcoat... (full context)
Chapter 4: Running Off
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After leaving the scene of the shooting, Sportcoat ends up in the basement furnace room of Building 9 where Hot Sausage works. Rather... (full context)
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On his way to the liquor store, Sportcoat sees multiple police cars and an ambulance race past him. When he enters the liquor... (full context)
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After his brief interaction with Mr. Itkin, Sportcoat makes his way to the back of the store to start unloading crates. As he... (full context)
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Just after Sportcoat finds his gun, he hears Hot Sausage come in the store. Hot Sausage tells Mr.... (full context)
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Hot Sausage warns Sportcoat that he is in great danger. Deems has deep connections in the drug business, and... (full context)
Chapter 5: The Governor
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Not long after Sportcoat shoots Deems, a police officer arrives at Thomas Elefante’s house to tell him about the... (full context)
Chapter 6: Bunch
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Next, the topic of conversation turns to Sportcoat’s fate. On the one hand, Bunch insists that there is a need for retaliation, but,... (full context)
Chapter 7: The March of the Ants
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...asks him what he said. This shocks Deems awake, and his thoughts quickly turn to Sportcoat. Deems is understandably angry at Sportcoat and cannot fathom why the old man would shoot... (full context)
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Deems always liked Sportcoat because he wasn’t like the other members of the Five Ends Church. Deems thinks that... (full context)
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However, despite all of Deems’s positive memories of Sportcoat, he is still furious with him. He begins talking out loud with Lightbulb about the... (full context)
Chapter 8: The Dig
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Sportcoat makes his way over to the Watch Houses where Rufus lives. Although the rest of... (full context)
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After his conversation with Rufus, Sportcoat departs from Rufus’ place. On his way out, Earl, who is hiding around the corner,... (full context)
Chapter 9: Dirt
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...a younger member of the force, shows up at the local church and asks about Sportcoat. As the police officers enter the church, the younger man takes the lead and asks... (full context)
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...joke about the strangeness of the other’s name. Then, rather than immediately questioning her about Sportcoat, Potts asks Sister Gee personal questions about herself and what she does for a living.... (full context)
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...Clearly, Potts is searching for information about the shooting and really wants to know about Sportcoat, but Thelonius Ellis is not Sportcoat’s real name. As such, Sister Gee is not lying... (full context)
Chapter 10: Soup
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The day after visiting Rufus, Sportcoat lays in bed and talks to Hettie, who is helping him decide what shirt to... (full context)
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Wanting to see what all of the fuss is about, Sportcoat goes outside and shows his face in public for the first time since shooting Deems.... (full context)
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Instead, Sportcoat continues to ask questions about the purpose of the party. Eventually, Hot Sausage decides to... (full context)
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As Sportcoat and Hot Sausage navigate their way through the crowd, they come across Sister Gee, who... (full context)
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Not long after Sportcoat and Hot Sausage’s conversation with Sister Gee, a fight breaks out among some of the... (full context)
Chapter 11: Pokeweed
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...she does not need his help anyway because a deacon from the Five Ends Church (Sportcoat) is coming soon to take care of her garden. Elefante vaguely knows who she is... (full context)
Chapter 12: Mojo
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Back in the Cause, Sportcoat sits alone in Sausage’s boiler room and drinks “King Kong.” He knows he is a... (full context)
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When Hettie first appears, Sportcoat worries that she plans to lecture him about what happened at Soup’s party, and he... (full context)
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Hettie then tells Sportcoat that she was lonely in their marriage. Sportcoat tells Hettie to stop complaining and then... (full context)
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As this conversation is going on, Hot Sausage arrives to find Sportcoat talking to himself. Hot Sausage immediately recognizes that Sportcoat dipped into his supply of King... (full context)
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As Sportcoat and Hot Sausage argue back and forth, Earl sneaks into the room, once again planning... (full context)
Chapter 14: Rat
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...in on the conversation with Lightbulb, that he’s called in someone else to deal with Sportcoat because Earl cannot seem to handle him. Unknown to Bunch, Earl recently decided to become... (full context)
Chapter 15: You Have No Idea What’s Coming
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...her that he’s arrested Earl, so she doesn’t need to worry about him coming after Sportcoat anymore. (full context)
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Potts insists that Sister Gee hand Sportcoat over to the police so they can protect him instead. Otherwise, he says, matters will... (full context)
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Still, Sister Gee does not help Potts find Sportcoat. This saddens Potts, who cares for Sister Gee and does not want to see the... (full context)
Chapter 16: May God Hold You…
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At this point, it’s been roughly two weeks since Sportcoat shot Deems. It is a Wednesday, and Sportcoat is spending his time with Mrs. Elefante,... (full context)
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When they return, Mrs. Elefante is weary and needs to lie down, so she leaves Sportcoat with instructions for the rest of what she needs done. Sportcoat finishes up his work.... (full context)
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To thank Sportcoat for helping his mother, Elefante attempts to give Sportcoat money for his work. However, Sportcoat... (full context)
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Sportcoat tells him that the saying is painted across the top of the mural at the... (full context)
Chapter 17: Harold
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Sportcoat and Hot Sausage talk about the best way to solve Sportcoat’s predicament with Deems. Sportcoat... (full context)
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In the meantime, Deems has other matters on his mind. He is less focused on Sportcoat and more focused on how to get rid of Bunch. He thinks that Bunch and... (full context)
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...in private. Deems refuses, but Hot Sausage relates his message anyway. He tells Deems that Sportcoat wants to meet with him to get rid of any bad blood that may exist... (full context)
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...his broken arm makes matters even worse. However, just as he thinks he will drown, Sportcoat, who has been hiding under the pier, appears and pulls Deems’s head above the water.... (full context)
Chapter 18: Investigation
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...so far. Right now, it looks as though Deems’s bodyguard was killed, but Deems and Sportcoat are still alive and in the hospital. However, Hot Sausage is nowhere to be found... (full context)
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...her about previously and wonders if the police have once again confused Hot Sausage for Sportcoat. However, she doesn’t say anything about this to Potts. Additionally, Potts asks Sister Gee if... (full context)
Chapter 19: Double-Crossed
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...At first, Peck doesn’t believe Elefante. Peck is under the impression that the shooter was Sportcoat (Peck knows that Sportcoat works for Mrs. Elefante). Elefante once again insists that he is... (full context)
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Still, Peck remains suspicious. The pier where Sportcoat supposedly shot Deems and his bodyguard was the same place where Peck planned to receive... (full context)
Chapter 20: Plant Man
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After the events at the pier, Sportcoat hides in Rufus’s basement and spends his days eating, sleeping, and drinking King Kong. Every... (full context)
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However, Sportcoat doesn’t care about all of the people looking for him. Instead, he spends all of... (full context)
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During Sportcoat’s third day of hiding at Rufus’s place, he falls asleep and dreams about Hettie. The... (full context)
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Hettie ignores Sportcoat’s comment about the money and instead tells stories about their childhood. She recalls a time... (full context)
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Hettie then turns the conversation to a different topic: Sportcoat’s abilities with plants. Hettie loves the smell of plants, and she always loved how good... (full context)
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Sportcoat tells Hettie that he changed so much after arriving in New York because of all... (full context)
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Sportcoat reaches for a drink but cannot find one. Suddenly, Hettie gets angry and aggressive with... (full context)
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After his conversation with Hettie, Sportcoat decides to be sober. When Rufus returns and begins drinking, Sportcoat refuses to join him.... (full context)
Chapter 21: New Dirt
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...Elefante may have had something to do with the shooting. First, he asks Elefante about Sportcoat. Elefante tells him that he casually knows Sportcoat, but that is all. Potts believes Elefante... (full context)
Chapter 23: Last Octobers
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However, today Deems wakes up to a new face: Sportcoat. To Deem’s surprise, Sportcoat isn’t wearing his usual coat, which gave him his moniker. Instead,... (full context)
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Sportcoat pulls out another gift for Deems: a small exercise ball that Sportcoat says will improve... (full context)
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Annoyed, Deems starts to mock Sportcoat and calls him “Deacon King Kong.” Sportcoat tells Deems that he cannot hurt him by... (full context)
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Still, Sportcoat doesn’t understand where Deems’s hostility is coming from. He asks Deems why he is so... (full context)
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Annoyed with Sportcoat, Deems continues to curse his name. Sportcoat tells Deems he’ll leave in a minute—he just... (full context)
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As Sportcoat smothers Deems, he tells him that his father used to do something similar to him... (full context)
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The last thing Sportcoat tells Deems is that he might as well die as a young and healthy man... (full context)
Chapter 24: Sister Paul
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Finally, Sportcoat makes his way to the nursing home to visit Sister Paul. When he arrives at... (full context)
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Sportcoat goes to Sister Paul’s room, and she tells him about the relationship between the Elefantes... (full context)
Chapter 25: Do
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Elefante and Melissa, who are now dating, pick up Sportcoat who they think can lead them to the Venus. Elefante is happier than he’s ever... (full context)
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This respectful attitude also carries over to how Melissa treats old people, including Sportcoat. Elefante notices that Melissa calls the old deacon “Mister Sportcoat” and never refers to him... (full context)
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...immediately felt that the two of them were in love. However, now, while driving to Sportcoat in the middle of the night, he knows it for sure. Before, Elefante thought that... (full context)
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While on their way to Sportcoat, Elefante thinks about a recent visit he paid to Sister Paul after Sportcoat insisted that... (full context)
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Back in the present, Elefante and Melissa pick up Sportcoat and head to the Five Ends Church. Together, they chisel lightly into the Jesus mural... (full context)
Chapter 26: Beautiful
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...years later, the members of the Cause gather at the Five Ends Church to attend Sportcoat’s funeral. After helping Elefante secure the Venus, nobody in the Cause (except for Hot Sausage)... (full context)
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...(although it is still being renovated during the funeral), and Elefante himself shows up for Sportcoat’s funeral, as do Potts and even Sister Paul. Included in Elefante’s renovations is a marvelous... (full context)
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...Potts is retired from the service. Meanwhile, Deems, as a result of his conversation with Sportcoat, is no longer selling drugs. Instead, he’s managed to join a minor league baseball team... (full context)
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After the funeral, Sister Gee talks to Hot Sausage to learn about what happened to Sportcoat. Hot Sausage tells Sister Gee that Sportcoat managed to maintain his sobriety throughout the end... (full context)
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Hot Sausage also tells Sister Gee that he learned that Pudgy Fingers isn’t Sportcoat and Hettie’s biological son. When Hettie first moved to New York, and before Sportcoat followed... (full context)
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...which were mysteriously planted behind the Five Ends Church. He informs her that it was Sportcoat who planted and maintained the flowers. Hettie always wished Sportcoat would do more gardening, and... (full context)
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About one week after Sportcoat’s funeral, Sister Gee takes the Staten Island Ferry—something she’s never done before—to see Potts. While... (full context)