Drifter Axel North has just arrived in New York City, having traveled from city to city throughout the country. Given the name Charlie Malick as a contact by an acquaintance named Ed Faber, Axel is able to get a job working as a stevedore in Charlie's gang on the dockyards. Little did Axel know that Charlie is corrupt, requiring payola for that job, and is a racist. It is solely because of the color of his skin that Charlie hates his fellow gang boss, Tommy Tyler, a black man. It is also because he can see that Axel is a little wet behind the ears that Tommy tries to befriend him to get him out from under Charlie's thumb. Due solely to the reason that he is a drifter, Axel is slow to warm and open up to Tommy, eventually providing some basic information: that he is originally from Gary, Indiana, that his real surname is Nordmann, and that the only person he has ever really loved in his life was his older brother Andy, whose death exacerbated the already strained relationship he has with his police officer father. Axel is even slower to warm to the idea of a girlfriend, Tommy and his wife Lucy's friend Ellen Wilson who they are trying to match up with Axel. Although Axel says he is trying to find something in his life, in reality he is currently running away from a specific issue from his past. It is when Axel's past may catch up with him that he starts to return to his shell and contemplates running away as was his routine, despite having friends for the first time in a long time. An incident with Charlie and Tommy may bring all their issues to a head.