His father had warned Howie, "You can't ride two horses with one ass." But here he was, living a double life -- one racketeering with his crew and the other sitting in cafes reading Penguin classics. To fit in, Howie hides his intellectual interests fromhis gangster friends, but they still suspect something is not right about him. The real problem is that someone has been bad-mouthing Howie to Vinnie Five-Five, his captain. Howie thinks he could solve all his problems by finding a way to leave Vinnie's crew without anyone thinking he would turn rat. And while he goes about advancing this plan in his deliberate, half-baked way, a war breaks out between the Italians in Sheepshead Bay and the Russians in Brighton Beach. Now, besides his friends, he has enemies who wish him dead. So he must run from the basement apartment he rents from his sister -- the one person who truly loves him -- into the arms of demure and bookish Ariel, who likes her men rough and her sex rougher. Howie believes it necessary to continue keeping his erudition under wraps lest Ariel lose erotic interest. Will Howie survive the war? Will he survive Ariel's wrath when she finds out she's harboring not a thug but an esthete with PhD-level cultural knowledge? Why the hell not? But boy is she pissed.