Baby Needs Shoes
A dramatic story of the prize ring
THE LANDLORD was here again today, Bill.” ‘‘What did you do? Pay up for a year in advance?” “It’s no laughing matter, Bill,” said Kathleen gently. “I’m not laughing. But it won’t mean any dough in my pocket if I bust into tears either.” “He said he’d give us another week. He’s been pretty decent to us. After all, he can't wait for ever.” Bill Clancy moodily took another mouthful of stew. “Tell him I was still out of work?” “He knows that. He said we ought to go on relief.” “Relief!” snorted Bill. “Yah! Ell starve before I’ll go on relief.” “That’s what I told him,” replied Kathleen, who had her pride. “If it weren’t for baby—the poor little tyke doesn’t know what it’s all about.”
Bill winked at his young son, Bill Junior, who was pattering about, barefooted.
“Baby needs shoes, huh?”
Bill Junior looked solemnly at his pink bare toes.
“He needs everything,” said Kathleen. “Oh, darn it, Bill, I’m so sick of being broke!”
“Keep your chin up, honey,” advised Bill soberly. It was hard enough trying to smile and kid each other into believing things weren’t as bad as they seemed, but if Kathy began to break under the strain it would be terrible. “You can’t lick the Irish.”
“I know. But they’ve got to eat, just, like anyone else, Bill, there must be something! Some way of getting a job, making a little money.”
Bill thrust back his chair.
“Sure there is.”
“What is it?”
Kathy shook her head, frightened.
“No, Bill. Please!”
Bill tilted back his chair against the wall. He was a lean, powerful young fellow with a square chin, clear eyes and straight black hair. Not handsome exactly, for his nose was a little crooked and one ear had a warped appearance, but his skin was pink and healthy and he had the gcxxl looks of health and a cheerful disposition.
“You can buy a lot of shoes for baby with fifty bucks, Kathy,” he said. “All I have to do is take a few socks on the jaw. Maybe I wouldn’t even have to do that. Maybe I’d win.”
"You know I don’t want you to go back to fighting, Bill. You promised me when the baby was born
“Sure. And haven’t I stuck to my promise? I’m not going back in the ring unless it’s okay with you. I never won any titles, honey, but if I do say it myself there wasn’t a more promisin’ boy in his class.” Bill slid down from his chair, crouching in front of young Bill, arms extended. “Come on. Big Shot. Let’s see you snap over that left hook.”
He sparred ludicrously and young Bill toddled in, fists clenched, gurgling with joy. A baby slap on one big hand and Bill sprawled back on his haunches. “Whoo! What a sock !” The twoyear-old laughed and squealed ecstatically, piled on top of his father, who snatched him up and hoisted him in the air.
Bill played with the baby for a while, then:
“Fifty berries would look mighty good right now.” Kathleen was clearing away the supper dishes. She was small, plump, darkeved. Her hair had a reddish glint to it.
“You promised me you’d quit the ring.”
“I did,” said Bill. “I’ve been out nearly two years now. I’m an old has-been.” “You’re only twentylive.”
“So far as fightin’ is concerned, I’m a has-been. Nobody remembers me. I might have been middleweight champ by now—” “Say it!” flared Kathy. “If you hadn’t married me.” “True enough. And I’d rather have you than any championship going, includin’ the middleweight, light - heavy and heavyweight titles, the baseball battin’ leadership, the National Open and the six-day bike race championship. How’s that?”
Kathleen dimpled. “There’s no job in sight. The landlord wants his rent. You and the kid need clothes. We’ve got to eat,” summarized Bill. “I can go down and see Freiman at the Liberty Club and catch a spot on his next card, maybe a fifty-dollar spot. What’s a sock on the nose more or less? I can take it. I’m in good shape. I’d take plenty of socks for you and the kid.”
hate lighting!” declared Kathleen passionately. “I hate the ring! My dad was a fighter, Hill Clancy, and you know how he ended up. A broken-down, punch-drunk stumblebum.”
“Hold on. I’m no stumblebum.”
"No, thank heaven, you’re not. But you might have been if you hadn’t quit. It’s a no-good racket, Bill, and I won’t stand for you going back to it.”
“Okay, honey,” returned Bill in a voice of resignation. “But what am I goin’ to do? Baby needs shoes,” he reminded her with a wry grin.
“Keep on looking for work,” answered Kathleen firmly, as she poured hot water into the dish pan. Bill picked up the drying towel.
“Just the same,” he said regretfully, “fifty bucks is fifty bucks. In fact it’d look like a million to us right now.”
Young Bill played with an empty tin can on the floor, gurgling softly to himself as the can clattered against the wall. He had no worries.
Bill dried dishes. He thought of the dressing rooms, the smell of liniment and leather, the glare of lights over the ring, the great shadowy mass of the crowd. In imagination he was inside the ropes facing an opponent, an opponent sweaty, hairy-chested, naked from the waist. He feinted, tempted a lead, he closed in, gloves thudding hard and swift. . .
Bill dried a plate mechanically and reached for a saucer.
T) ILL CLANCY didn’t find any work next day. He was U a dock worker and jobs were scarce. At about three o’clock that afternoon he drifted around to McNeilly’s Gym, his favorite hangout. Harry Dymond, his pal and former trainer, was there. Harry called him to one side. He was a lean, shrewd, bald little man and he knew a lot about the fight game.
“Remember what I was talkin’ to you about the other day?”
Bill shrugged. “I talked to the wife about it. Nothin’ doing. She won’t hear of me tryin’ any fight comeback.”
“Who’s askin’ you to make a comeback? All you want is a chance to make a little dough. Now listen. Bill. I just got a tip that the Alabama Kid sprained his wrist in workout this morning. He’s billed to meet Sam Welch on Freiman’s card Thursday night. There’s an open spot. What say you go down to Freiman’s office with me now and put in a bid for it?”
“Aw, listen. Harry. I just told you—”
“How are you going to pick up a piece of change any easier?” demanded Harry. “You know the set-up. don’t you? They’ve been buildin’ up Welch and Nig Paddon with a string of soft fights and when the time comes they’re gonna throw ’em in against each other, the winner to gel a crack at the champ, see. Fats Roger is managing Welch but on the quiet he owns Paddon too, and he’s stringin’ along with Freiman. They won’t want to take a chance on tossing either of them in with a real good boy and maybe gettin’ his head knocked off.”
Bill nodded. “I get it.”
“You’re still in shape, Bill. They can get any one of half a dozen old crocks or green kids to go in there and get punched silly, but they don’t want the crowd to start yellin’ pushover.”
“Sure I’m in good shape. Maybe I could even lick Welch.”
“Don’t start talkin’ that way. You haven’t had a fight
in nearly two years. He’ll carry you along for three or four rounds and then put you away, but there’ll be dough in it for you anyway. Maybe a hundred iron men.”
“Boy, what couldn’t I do with a hundred smackers!”
Bill was thinking of Kathy and young Bill back there in the flat. Kathy without a decent pair of stockings, wearing last year’s dresses, buying stew meat and soup bones, making a quarter do the work of a dollar. And young Bill outgrowing his tiny shoes.
“Well, how about it? Come on down with me and talk to Freiman. I’ll go in your corner, Bill, and I ain’t lookin’ for no commission from your end either.”
“That’s blamed good of you, Harry, but gosh -you know how it is. I promised Kathy—”
“When you married her you promised you’d look after her. didn’t you? Bill, there’s times when a man’s got to do what he thinks is right, not what somebody else thinks. Especially when he’s broke.”
“Harry, I don’t care if there was a thousand bucks in it. I never took a dive in my life—”
“You won’t have to take a dive,” argued Harry. “They won’t ask you. Freiman ain’t taking any chances. You’re not dangerous enough to worry them, yet you’ve still got enough of the old stuff to make it look like a good fight.”
“I’d like to do it, Harry. But I know what’ll happen when I tell Kathy.”
“Don’t tell her. Does she read the sport pages?”
“We don’t get a paper any more. She never did read the sports anyway.”
“Well, then. Come on and talk to Freiman. If you get the date you make some dough and the wife doesn’t need to know where it comes from.”
Bill was tempted. He had never kept anything from Kathy, but after all— the landlord wouldn’t wait for ever.
“I haven’t even got car-fare,” he confessed.
“I have. Come on, Bill. Let’s go.”
FREIMAN was in his office, Fats Roger with him. Freiman was a slender, sprucely dressed man with irongrey hair. Fats Roger was big. slovenly and greasy, with pudgy hands and a red face. Freiman remembered Bill, who had appeared at a few of his shows in the days when Bill Clancy seemed to be headed for the middleweight crown.
“For the love of Lulu !” he exclaimed. “H’ya, Clancy? Thought you were in the Old Folks’ Home.”
“Does he look it?” asked Harry. “Have you signed up anyone to meet Sam Welch yet. Nate?”
"Just what we were talkin’ about,” grunted Fats Roger. “How about Bill, here? He’s been outa the ring a while but he’s still in shape; he can make the weight and he hasn’t forgotten how to toss leather.”
Promoter and manager glanced at each other. Fats Roger sized up Bill sleepily.
“What’s the idea, Clancv?” he asked. “Tryin’ a comeback?”
Bill shook his head.
“Broke,” he said. “I’m looking for just one fight.”
“1 want this to look like a fight.” mumbled Roger.
“I’m in shape,” Bill said.
“I’ll guarantee that,” urged Harry. “Of course he’s been out of the game for a while, but he’s been working in the open air all the time and doing a little boxing at McNeilly’s place. If your man will carry him three or four rounds Bill can make it look good.”
“I don’t want to be carried,” Bill told them.
“Where do you come in?” asked Freiman, turning to Harry. “You his manager?”
“Bill doesn’t need a manager. He ain’t tryin’ a comeback. I’ll be in his corner, if that’s what you mean. You can play it up as a comeback if you like, for the newspapers. Plenty of fans still remember Bill Clancy.” Freiman motioned Bill out of the office.
“Not trying to slip something over, are you, Harry?” he enquired mildly. “You understand the situation. Welch is building up a nice little kayo record. If you’ve been nursing this baby along under cover and you figure he looks good enough to smack Welch down, we don’t want any part of him.”
“Don’t be foolish!” scoffed Harry. “He hasn’t had a fight in two years, I’m tellin’ you. but he’s not so rusty he can’t make it look like a scrap. It’s the dough he needs. All he’s countin’ on is the loser’s end.”
Freiman looked at Fats Roger. The manager nodded. "Hundred bucks?” said the promoter.
"Okay,” returned Harry.
“Welch will carry him for three rounds if he can make it look good,” rumbled Fats Roger. “If your boy is terrible, though, it’ll be a quick kayo.”
“That’s up to you,” agreed Harry.
When Bill Clancy returned home that evening he had been signed to meet Welch in the semi-final of Freiman’s card on Thursday night. He was, to all intents and purposes, just another sacrificial goat on the altar of Welch’s synthetic knockout record. So far as the fight was concerned, he had no hope of winning. He had been out of the ring too long for that. But neither had he any intention of going in the tank. One hundred dollars looked pretty big to him—he hadn’t hoped for more than fifty—and he intended to earn it honestly, as honestly as he had earned every other dollar that had come to him in his life.
Just the same he found it hard to meet Kathy’s clear eyes when he kissed her on his return to the flat.
She didn’t ask him if he had found a job. She knew he would have been shouting the news all the way from the bottom landing if that had happened.
“Never mind.” said Kathy, patting his shoulder. “Tomorrow’s another day. I’ve got a meat pie for supper.”
“Swell!” Bill scooped young Bill up in his arms and tossed him in the air. “My favorite fruit.”
He was aching to tell Kathy about the hundred dollars that would be his after Thurs-
day night. But he didn’t. Perhaps she might forgive him when he put the hundred in her lap.
'“THIS BABY has a good right hand,” said Harry -*• Dymond. “He’s slow on his feet, though. Give the crowd some action, but stay away from that right if you don’t want to get marked up.”
Bill nodded. Harry laced up his gloves. In the opposite corner Welch was surrounded by his handlers. The crowd had given Welch a big hand when he climbed through the ropes, and although a gang from McNeilly’s had made their presence known when Bill got into the ring it was plain that his name had meant nothing to most of the fans.
Oddly enough. Bill didn’t feel nervous. It seemed natural and right to be here under the blazing lights waiting for the bell, with the buzz of the crowd in his ears like the hum of a gigantic beehive. It had been like coming home to enter the dressing room with its tang of wintergreen and rubbing alcohol, to stride down the aisle with his bathrobe flapping about his ankles.
“How’re you feelin’, kid?” asked Harry.
Bill was a little surprised that he felt so cool and unconcerned. It was as if he had never been away from the game, as if this were just another fight.
The announcer was bellowing now. The fighters were introduced. Welch got a big hand from the crowd. He was a thickset, bull-necked, beefy man with powerful shoulders and a flat, square face. Welch had been through the ring wars and looked it. He was a burly, ugly battler of the slugger type.
“H’ya, mug?” he grunted.
There was a scattering of applause for Bill as he took his bow. The usual instructions. Then back to his corner.
“Good luck, Bill,” said Harry and slipped out of the ring.
Welch came out crouching, his jaw tucked down behind a shoulder. He slammed a right and a left to Bill’s body, ducked a straight left, hooked a right to the head, missed with a left when Bill danced back out of range. Welch came on, flat-footed, scowling. He was known as a fighter who seldom took a backward step. He had little science and less footwork, but he was tough and he could hit. Bill knew that already. Those wallops to the ribs had hurt.
Bill flicked out a long straight left to Welch’s face. Welch kept coming in. Bill tipped him off balance with another left, then slipped out of danger when Welch tried to work him into a corner. Welch ripped a hard right to the body, but Bill took it going away and the blow didn’t hurt.
Bill had been out of the ring
for two years, it was true, but he was in perfect shape. Long hours of hard work on the docks had kept him from going soft. Those visits to McNeilly’s gym, when he had so often put on the gloves for a few rounds, when he had exercised patiently at the punching bag. had kept him from losing his sense of timing, from forgetting what he knew about ringcraft.
He knew now that he could put up a good fight against Sam Welch. He didn’t think he would win, but at least he was fast enough and shifty enough to make a showing. Bill made Welch miss with a right swing, tagged his opponent smartly and drifted away again. Bill had always been a hard man to hit, as some pretty good fighters of another day had learned to their sorrow.
So far as the crowd was concerned that first round was dull. From Welch they expected murderous, slam-bang action, but Bill was keeping away from those slugging fists. As for Bill, his own blows had been mere fleabites, jabbing straight lefts that kept flicking in Welch’s face, holding him off. But those straight lefts were piling up points.
“Nice work.” said Harry approvingly.
“He’s not so hot,” Bill said.
As the second round opened Welch rushed him and clinched.
“Get off the bicycle.” growled Welch in his ear. “I ain’t gonna hurt yuh. Mix it up for the crowd.”
Bill obliged. He wrestled free and smashed a whistling right to Welch’s face. The other man retaliated with a blistering left hook that nailed Bill on the side of the head and sent him into the ropes. He bounded out and shot over a straight left, but Welch took it on the shoulder and got home with rights and lefts to the body. At close quarters Welch was rough, tough and nasty. He gave Bill a bad mauling before Bill finally staggered him with a short right chop to the jaw and went into retreat again.
The crowd u'as showing interest. This was beginning to look like a fight. They didn’t know that Welch was in earnest now. That whacking right to the face had made him sore. He hadn’t expected such an emphatic response to his appeal for a little action.
Welch came wading in, determined to teach this fresh set-up a lesson. He wasn’t going to carry the pushover for any four rounds or even three. That right and the subsequent chop to the jaw had told him Bill packed dynamite in his mitts and Welch was a cagey veterantoo cagey to fool with dynamite, even in a framed fight.
Bill kept sending over the left, dusting Welch’s nose, just keeping him off balance. Welch kept plodding in, awaiting his chance. Out came the left again. Welch ducked and then stepped inside, uncorking a right that came all the way from his shoe-tops.
It smeared Bill fair in the face and knocked him into a neutral corner. The blow looked like a smoking terror and it brought the crowd to its feet with a roar. As a matter of fact, half its jolting force had been lost by the time it landed, but it had enough steam to make Bill wish he had stayed away from it.
7'ELCH followed up his advantage, sloughed Bill with * * rights and lefts, but Bill covered up like a mudturtle, took most of them on his arms and elbows and finally clinched. He tied Welch up and before the referee could break them he had flung himself out of the clinch, handing his opponent a beautiful left to the face the moment he was in the clear.
Bill felt a savage exultation as he got out of the corner. He was exultant because he was proving that he was still good enough to hold his own in a ring. And back of it all was the knowledge that if he was taking punishment, if he had to take a licking, it was in a good cause—Kathy and the kid.
Welch came after him. Bill rocked his man with another straight left. Then they traded punches in the middle of the ring, standing toe-to-toe in a furious exchange. Bill scored with a slashing blow that opened a cut beneath his opponent’s eye, but Welch revenged himself without delay. A short right like the kick of a mule sank to the pit of Bill’s stomach and doubled him up; a jolting uppercut to the jaw missed the button but sent Bill back on his heels, his guard down, and then Welch was swarming all over him. Bill ducked the next right aimed at his jaw but it. was more by instinct than good judgment, and the followup blow he took on the side of the head.
It sent him to the canvas, sprawling, for it had caught him away off balance. Bill was up again in a moment, but he was beginning to have more respect for Welch now. The man was better than he had thought.
Welch was waiting for him as he got: up. Welch rushed, banging away at the body. Bill missed with a left and Welch dazed him with a short right to the head. Bill stumbled away, Welch following him around the ring and handing him an artistic pounding. Only Bill’s shiftiness and evasiveness saved him from a kayo punch. He was weathering a savage storm of blows in a neutral corner at the bell.
“Baby needs shoes,” muttered Bill through cut lips as Harry sponged his face between rounds.
‘‘Boy, you’re sure takin’ it. Doesn’t look to me as if he’s tryin’ to carry you any four rounds. Looks like he’s tryin’ to put you away.”
Harry was plainly aggrieved.
“I don’t want to be carried,” grunted Bill. “Serves me right for mixin’ with him. When it comes to infighting he’s got the edge.”
Y eich raced right across the ring on one of his famous rushing attacks the moment the bell rang. But Bill had decided to fight his own fight now. A wicked straight left ruined the rush before Welch could get close enough to do any damage, and then Bill slipped back out of range, boxing. Welch followed, scowling, missed with a long, sweeping right, and Bill scored with a left to the ear.
He danced away again, letting Welch come to him. His footwork carried him out of danger half a dozen times when Welch waded in trying to get him into a corner or back him into the ropes, and all the time that left kept stabbing Welch’s face, stinging him, infuriating him.
But he couldn’t keep Welch off for ever. One of those straight lefts missed its mark and Welch got inside. His hard-bitten face was an ugly mask of determination as he roughed Bill into the ropes, ripping terrific short punches to the body. Left, right, left, right—-the gloves thudded. Bill tried to clinch but Welch shook him clear, socked an uppercut that sent Bill’s head back. Welch crowded him, let go with the right. . .
Bill got his head down and his arm up in the nick of time, for the right was labelled as a sleep-producer. He turned the blow aside. Welch was wide open. Bill shot up a right that cracked Welch viciously on the jaw. The blow travelled only a few inches but it had everything,
Welch sagged, grappled blindly, fell forward trying for a clinch. He was hurt. Even yet the yelling crowd didn’t realize that. Bill slipped clear, circled Welch and drove a flurry of punches to the body. A right to the face turned Welch halfway around. He was staggering drunkenly as Bill slid in.^ A series of savage, punishing blows to the body and Welch’s guard dropped. Bill straightened him with an uppercut, wrestled clear of the man’s heavy arms, rocked Welch with a pile-driving right, measured him, then plastered his man with a whistling left full of T.N.T,
Welch crashed to the canvas.
The crowd was in a frenzy. Welch was out cold, dead to the world. I he count was a mere formality. Welch was still out when the referee’s flailing arm fell for the tenth time, still out when his seconds carried him to his corner.
The referee raised Bill ’s arm. Even yet Bill could scarcely believe that he had actually turned the trick, won a comeback fight. Harry Dymond scrambled through the ropes, wild-eyed, incredulous and jubilant.
As for Fats Roger he looked as if the roof had fallen in on him.
"OREIMAN CAME into the dressing room while Bill was lacing his shoes. The promoter closed the door carefully behind him and stood there with his hands thrust deep in his coat pockets. Under the snap brim of his hat Freiman’s eyes were venomous.
“A neat little double-cross, eh?” he said quietly,
“How come?” rapped out Harry Dymond.
“An old has-been. Hadn’t had a fight in two years. Just wanted the loser’s end. Down and out. Willing to go in the tank for a century.” Freiman bit off his words sardonically.
Bill sprang up and strode over to Freiman.
“Lay off it!” he snapped, emphasizing the command by poking a forefinger into the promoter’s chest. “I never went in the tank in my life. I never promised to take a dive in my life. I never double-crossed any man in my life. If you and Fats Roger thought I’d be a pushover for Welch, that was your mistake, not mine.”
“What do you think it’s going to get you?” asked Freiman coldly.
“It was going to get me a hundred bucks. Now it gets me the winner’s end.”
“Try and collect,” snarled Freiman bitterly.
“Oh, yeah?” said Harry, stepping up. “And how would you like the papers to get the story? How you thought you had a set-up all fixed and you made a sucker out of yourself. We’re cornin’ around for that dough in the morning and it’d better be ready.”
“I suppose you know Welch was all ready for a match with Nig Paddon and now you’ve gone and ruined it?”
“If Welch can’t lick a guy that’s been out of the ring for two years he doesn’t deserve a fight with Nig Paddon or anyone else,” said Harry. “Scram!”
Freiman regarded them silently, then he nodded.
“Boys,” he said, “you’re sure putting out a doormat for trouble to wipe its feet on.”
He went out. Bill said:
“He can’t get out of paying me, can he, Harry?”
“If he wants his license suspended that would be about the best way he could go about it. Don’t worry, kid. He can t do a thing. Is lie sore! Bill, I always knew you were a good scrapper, but I never really thought you could knock off that Welch hombre. You’re siltin’ pretty now. Why, they’ll have to give you the fight with Paddon, and if you can take him you’ll be in line for a title shot. Sweet man !”
Bill shook his head.
“Forget it, Harry. That’s my last fight. I don’t want Paddon. I only took this scrap for the sake of the dough, remember.”
“But good grief, Bill—”
Harry argued until he was blue in the face, but Bill steadfastly insisted that he didn’t intend to take advantage of his surprise victory over Welch. He felt guilty over the fact that he had broken his promise to Kathy. Only the urgent need for money had forced him to that step, but he had no notion of getting in deeper than he was.
When he went home that night Kathy and young Bill were in bed. He had an impulse to tell his wife all about the fight, but decided to wait until he had the money in hand first. Kathy noticed that he had a bruise under one eye but she didn’t ask any questions. She simply assumed that he had been having a little sparring practice with one of the boys down at McNeilly’s gym.
Next morning, before he met Harry, Bill bought a newspaper at the corner stand; he turned to the sports pages:
“A two-fisted tornado from the docks staged a rousing comeback last night, turned the middleweight situation inside out and introduced an element of color that has been sadly lacking in that division of late, when Bill Clancy, who earned quite a name for himself around these parts a couple of years ago but dropped out of sight just when he was beginning to be seriously regarded as a top middleweight threat, returned to the ring wars and jolted Sam Welch out of contendership ranks with a short left to the button in the third round. Clancy’s clean-cut victory was one of the most surprising ring upsets in recent months. The battle was so lightly regarded that it was staged as a semi-final to the HayesMcGlone heavyweight brawl at Liberty Arena, but it was
the high spot of an otherwise dull card. Hayes and McGlone hugged and pushed each other round through a dreary engagement and Hayes got the nod, but nobody cared.
“Clancy was matched with Welch as a filler-in for the Alabama Kid and the engagement looked like one'of those things, but the lad from the docks soon showed the crowd that he hadn’t forgotten his ringcraft and that he still packed a wallop. .
It went on at some length, predicted a match between Bill Clancy and Nig Paddon as the logical outcome, with a championship bout to the winner. Bill felt a glow of pleasure as he read the account. It was good to know that he could still command the respect of the fight fans and the sports writers, even if he did not intend to go any farther on the comeback trail.
He picked up Harry Dymond at the gym and they went down to Freiman’s office.
TH ATS ROGER was with the promoter, and lolling in a chair near the window was a beetle-browed young man whom Bill recognized from sports-page pictures as Nig Paddon, reigning threat for the middleweight crown. Paddon’s nickname was derived from a pronounced swarthiness of skin and a tendency toward garments of extreme cut and noisy hues.
Fats Roger looked troubled but Freiman was suave and agreeable, in surprising contrast to his mood of the previous
“Come in, boys,” he invited. “Come in and sit down,” “Got a cheque for Bill?” demanded Harry bluntly.
Fats Roger looked at Bill sourly. “A fine guy you turned out to be,” he grunted. “You sure picked your spot for a comeback—”
“Lay off it, Fats,” ordered Freiman. “What are you crying about? Welch is out and Clancy is in.” He came across the office, shook Bill’s hand, slapped him on the back. “No hard feelings,” he smiled. “I was a little hasty last night but I wish you’d forget it. Have you met Paddon?”
Nig Paddon heaved himself to his feet, shook hands truculently with Bill and slumped back into his chair again.
“We had been sort of figuring,” continued Freiman, “that Nig would hook up with Sam Welch, the winner to have a go at the champ. Welch is out of the picture now,
I may as well admit that, and I’m just as surprised as anyone. I didn’t think you could do it, Clancy. But he’s out, as I said, and you’re in. So I suppose you’d like to talk business.”
Bill shook his head.
“I’m not trying a comeback,” he said. “I meant what I told you. I just took on Welch for the sake of the dough.” “Now don’t talk like that,” urged Freiman. “I know you’re not sap enough to be in earnest. That’s just a gag. But what’s the idea? Do you think I won’t treat you right? How about some more fights, with Fats acting as your manager?”
The promoter could hardly be blamed for thinking Bill was stalling. Freiman’s change of attitude was explained by the fact that, after thinking it over, he had decided that Welch’s unexpected defeat hadn’t been a bad thing after all. It could be converted to profit in the long run. He had discussed the situation with Fats Roger and they had decided to declare themselves in on Bill’s career, with Roger acting as manager and Freiman picking the spots. Patiently he explained all this, but when Bill doggedly insisted that he had no intention of fighting again, Freiman exploded.
“If you think you can get any fights around here without cutting me and Fats in,” he declared hotly, “you’ve got another think coming.”
“Give me the dough for last night’s fight. That’s all I came for,” snapped Bill.
“Try and get it. If you want that coin you’d better sign up with us now.”
“I’m not signing and I’m going to get the coin.” “Outside!” snarled Freiman.
“I want that dough on the line right now or I’ll give the papers the lowdown on that fight last night.”
Nig Paddon got up and lounged over to Bill.
“You heard him, didn’t you?” he said dangerously. “Outside!”
On the principle that actions speak louder than words, Bill replied to Nig Paddon with a left hook that seemed to come from nowhere. Bill was thoroughly aroused. The thought that he was being gypped out of his rightful purse had infuriated him. Nig Paddon had picked a bad time to step into the argument.
The left cracked Paddon smack on the jaw. He went flying backward, tripped over a cuspidor, banged his head on the window ledge and crashed to the floor in a sprawling
The sock on the jaw wasn’t hard enough to put Paddon away but the window ledge was. Paddon didn’t get up.
Freiman and Fats Roger leaped to their feet with yelps of indignation and dismay. But just then the door of the office was flung open. A stout, cheerfullooking young man with his hat on the back of his head, stood there with his hands in his pockets and an expression of profound and gleeful interest on his face. His sharp eyes darted at once to the spectacle of Nig Paddon lying senseless beneath the window, then to Bill Clancy standing in the middle of the office with his fists clenched ready for all-comers, “So-o-o-o!” croaked the newcomer delightedly. He swung on his heel, barked to someone in the corridor. “Slim! Catch this! Quick!”
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“No!” yelled Freiman frantically. But the young man stepped into the room, restrained Freiman politely but forcibly, while another young man stepped into the doorway armed with a press camera. He worked swiftly. “Oh, boy!” he exclaimed in a prayerful tone. Then to Bill: “Move over. Oh, curse that light. Pull down the window blind.”
Harry Dymond realized what he was doing, sprang to the window and yanked down the blind, then rushed Fats Roger out of the way just as the manager was picking up a telephone directory to heave at the camera man. There was a flash.
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“What a shot!” said Slim and retreated down the corridor with the precious plate.
FREIMAN and Fats Roger were raving.
They would have given chase, but the young man with his hat on the back of his head kicked the door shut and leaned against it.
“Shoot if you will this old grey head but spare that picture, sir, he said,” remarked Eddie Denman, fight writer of The Star. He folded his arms solemnly. Nig Paddon was beginning to stir, blinking dazedly. “Okay, boys, let’s have the story.”
“If you print a word of this,” shrieked Freiman, “I’ll have you run out of town.” “Button up your lip or I’ll print enough to have you leading me out of town by five years,” Denman returned casually. He looked at Bill Clancy. “You seem to be doing this comeback business in a big way, fella. Last night you take Welch and this morning you slough Paddon for breakfast. But why all the privacy, you sap? Fight mugs will pay real dough to see Paddon’s ears knocked off.”
Paddon was struggling to his feet.
“He didn’t knock him out!” howled Fats Roger. “Nig hit his head on the window.”
“I oughta slug you for that!” growled Paddon thickly, glaring at Bill, but Freiman grabbed him.
“Lay off!” begged the promoter. “Listen, Eddie,” he said placatingly, “it’s this way...”
And he proceeded to give a very discreet version of the affair, stressing Bill’s refusal to meet Paddon in the ring. Harry Dymond chipped in, however, and explained that Freiman had refused to kick in with Bill’s purse.
“Freiman told us last night that he wasn’t going to cough up,” Harry told the sports writer. “That’s why I asked you to drop around this morning.”
Eddie Denman looked at Freiman. “Give him his dough.”
“Now look here—”
“Give him his dough!” grated Eddie. “Do you want me to run the story? With that picture? If he doesn’t want Fats Roger managing him, that’s his business. If he doesn’t want to fight for your dub, that’s his business, too. And if he doesn’t want to fight at all, that’s still his business, although it sounds foolish to me.”
Freiman paid up. He counted out $300 sullenly. There was another long and futile argument with both Freiman, Harry and Eddie Denman trying to persuade Bill that his insistence in refusing to fight again was idiotic. Eddie Denman almost wept.
“What a build-up there could be! Just let me run that shot of Nig Paddon on the floor and the story about you handing him one in the puss—what a grudge fight it would be !”
But Bill stuck to his guns. He had $300, more than he had ever expected when he agreed to fight Welch, and although he was strongly tempted—knowing perfectly well that there would be good money and possibly a title shot involved if he met Paddon—he refused to commit himself. All they could get out of him was a promise to think it over.
Which really meant talking it over— with Kathy. And Bill knew what Kathy would say.
BILL AND HARRY clambered on board a crowded street car at the corner.
“First thing I’m going to do,” said Bill, “is get a couple of pair of shoes and some clothes for the kid. Then I’m going to buy the wife a new dress and a flock of silk stockings. Then I’m going to buy a nice tender chicken—maybe a turkey—and all the fixin’s for a swell feed. You’re invited. And I want you to take some of this dough yourself—”
“Not a nickel!” declared Harry firmly. And no amount of persuasion would induce him to accept part of Bill’s earnings.
“You could be sittin’ pretty though if you would take on that Paddon fight,” he said.
“I’d like to,” Bill admitted, “but I don’t think Kathy would stand for it. I’m going to have plenty of explaining to do, as it is. No, Harry, I put the gloves on again because baby needed shoes, and now he’s going to get ’em.”
They got off downtown and Bill headed for a department store. There he picked out shoes for young Bill— the best he could find. He got a big kick out of doing that. Bill dug his hand into his pocket for the money.
Then he groped frantically. His jaw dropped. His eyes were startled. Swiftly he rummaged his other pockets.
“What’s the matter?” asked Harry, while the clerk waited expectantly.
“Harry—it’s gone—the roll—”
Bill was sweating. His face was a study in sick dismay.
“Oh, my gosh!” groaned Harry. “Look hard, Bill.”
Bill did. He turned out every pocket in his suit. The money had disappeared. Every dollar of it.
Bill had taken plenty of punishment in the ring. He had never been knocked out, but he had taken many a jolting wallop that had him tottering on the verge. Never, however, had he received a blow that took the heart out of him like this cruel sock below the belt. He leaned against the counter as if he were leaning against the ropes and out on his feet. His face was grey.
Mechanically he gestured to the clerk. “Put ’em back,” said Bill, huskily. “I guess I—I can’t take ’em—now.” .
“Did you lose your money?” asked the clerk, unnecessarily but sympathetically.
“Naw ! He don’t want the shoes because he’s got a touch of gas on the stomach,” rejoined Harry Dymond, sourly.
“Must have been stolen,” muttered Bill.
“A pickpocket,” Harry guessed. “Some dip must have frisked you—on that street car. It was crowded.”
“A couple of fellows jostled me just after we got on the car, I remember,” said Bill, thinking back. Then he tried to force a grin but it wasn’t much of a grin. “Oh, well—easy come, easy go.”
“Why did they have to pick on you?” said Harry bitterly. “I remember a couple of fellows got on at the same corner, near the arena. Boy, if ever I lay eyes on ’em again! Three hundred smackers!”
Bill stumbled out of the store. He was telling himself that he mustn’t let this get him down. It was a bad break, a sickening, devastating break, but he had to take it without whimpering.
They stood on the curb.
“All I was going to do with that dough !” said Bill, with a short, mirthless laugh. “Shoes for the kid, silk stockings for the wife, chicken for dinner—”
“Listen, old-timer,” said Harry awkwardly. “I’ve got a few bucks put away. Get the kid those shoes anyway. I can let you have a couple of dollars—”
Bill squeezed his chum’s arm so hard that Harry almost yipped with the pain of it.
“I’m going to get the shoes, all right,” he said fiercely. “You’re a good guy, Harry. Thanks for the offer, but I won’t take your dough. I don’t need to. Heck, haven’t I just had a promoter down on his knees practically beggin’ me to climb into the same ring with Nig Paddon? Come on!” “You mean you’ll take the fight?” shouted Harry.
“Baby needs shoes. Come on!” Twenty minutes later Bill strode into Freiman’s office again. Fats Roger wasn’t there. Neither was Paddon. The promoter, behind his desk, looked up. Harry Dymond thought he detected a flash of satisfaction in Freiman’s eyes, as if he had expected all along that Bill would return. “I’ll take that fight,” Bill announced. “Now you’re talking sense,” declared Freiman. “Sit down.”
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HPHE PADDON-CLANCY go was a natural, thanks to Eddie Denman and the three-column picture The Star ran next morning.
That shot, revealing Nig Paddon flat on his back, with Bill standing near by with clenched fists, was a honey as sport pictures go. It might have been branded a publicity gag but for Eddie Denman’s story alongside, in which the sports writer told of stumbling on the scene by accident. Inside twenty-four hours Bill Clancy had been catapulted into local fame as the most picturesque middleweight challenger on the horizon.
All of which was unknown to Kathy, who went about her daily tasks in the innocent belief that her Bill was still trudging the streets in search of a job.
For that matter, Bill was aching to tell Kathy all about it. Supper seemed a savorless meal on the evening he returned from Freiman’s office after signing for the bout with Paddon. Fie had planned such a gorgeous surprise for Kathy and young Bill—and they had bologna instead. Well, he promised himself grimly, he would make up for that after the battle with Paddon.
“Nothing today, Bill?” asked Kathy wistfully.
“Well now, I’ll tell you, honey,” Bill replied, “I was talking to a lad this morning and I think he’s going to be able to do something for me next week.”
“I hope it isn’t just talk. You’ve been disappointed so often.”
“No, this fellow means it.”
“I hope he does,” Kathy sighed. “Goodness knows we can’t go on like this. I lay awake nights—”
Bill got up and kissed her. “Never mind, darlin’. You’re never out until the ref counts ten.”
If Bill could have laid his big hands on the pickpocket who had taken his $300 just then it would have gone hard with the thief. That money hadn’t been stolen from him; it had been stolen from Kathy and young Bill, who needed it.
Fie went down to McNeilly’s gym in the morning and there he went into a short, swift course of intensive training for his bout with Paddon. It was improbable that he would win, he realized, for Paddon was tough, but Bill had always given the customers his best. His policy in the ring had always been to think of the fight fans first and of himself second. The fans, after all, paid the shot. Their money made up the purses. They didn’t pay good money to watch a waltz; they wanted a fight and Bill Clancy had always given them the best fight he had in his system.
Harry Dymond was looking after all the details. Where he had taken it for granted that Bill would lose the fight with Sam Welch, he now went to the other extreme and predicted that Bill would take Nig Paddon without working up a sweat. A few of the boys around McNeilly’s place had won a little money on the Welch fight, taking handsome odds more through loyalty than good judgment, and with their help and from his own meagre store Harry scraped up enough for expenses.
The bout was carded to headline the next Thursday night show.
“And if we don’t light out for New York and Madison Square Garden and a title fight after that,” declared Harry confidently, “I miss my guess. You’ll send this Paddon baby to the cleaners.”
Bill wagged his head doubtfully.
“He won’t be making Welch’s mistake of thinking the fight is a set-up, remember. And he’s a better man than Welch. Forget about this title stuff, Harry. I’ll win if I can but after that I’m through.”
“Yeah?” scoffed Flarry. “I’d like to see the wife try to hold you back. It’ll look different when you’re in line for a crack at the title, with all that gravy layin’ ahead.”
On Monday they were called down to Freiman’s office for a conference.
The promoter had matched Bill for the Paddon fight, in spite of Bill’s refusal to entertain any proposal to fight under Fats Roger’s management. Freiman had made
the best of a situation not entirely to his liking. He had made a strong play to have Bill string along with him and let Roger take charge, but Bill had refused, and Freiman had given in. Freiman, however, had not given up hope. His scheming brain had been busy.
“Look here, Clancy,” he said. “You’d like to win the scrap on Thursday night, wouldn’t you?”
“I hope to,” said Bill.
“He’s going to,” asserted Harry. “Paddon is a pretty good man,” Freiman observed. “I don’t think you can take him myself. If he puts you away, what’s it going to get you? The loser’s end.” “That’s okay by me.”
“Don’t be foolish. Even if you’re not good enough to take Paddon, there’s no need of being content with small dough. Y'ou can take the loser’s end twice and the winner’s end once if you use your head and play ball.”
“Wait a minute!” urged the promoter swiftly. “Here’s the proposition. Go on in there on Thursday night and take Paddon. Decision or kayo, whatever you like. Then I’ll match you again. Paddon takes that one. Then the rubber fight, and if you’re good enough to take him, why more power to you. In that case you get the loser’s end once and the winner’s end twice.”
BILL SHOOK his head.
“If I lick Paddon on Thursday night he’ll be licked and no foolin’.”
Freiman argued the matter. Bill was adamant. Freiman told him he was a fool. Bill said he didn’t care.
“Okay, okay,” growled Freiman in disgust. “I’m just trying to make some extra sugar for you.” Privately, however, he saw a way of managing it without Bill’s co-operation. “If you take Paddon on Thursday night you’ll give him a return bout anyway, won’t you?”
Bill shook his head again.
“It’ll be my last fight, win or lose.”
This was a severe jolt to Freiman, who had figured on making a private deal with Paddon and Fats Roger to assure Bill’s victory on Thursday night, with a view to the return bout.
“You can’t do that!” he shouted. “Are you crazy?”
Bill insisted that he could do it.
“The fight is going to be on the level,” he said. “It won’t do you or Fats Roger or Nig Paddon or anybody else any good to have Paddon go in the tank for me. I’ll be through anyhow.”
After a while Freiman began to realize that Bill really meant what he said. The promoter was incredulous. In all his years of devious dealings in the fight game he had never run up against a problem quite like this. Fie had met plenty of fighters who thought always of money first and fighting second, but never had he met one who didn’t look forward to more money and more fights.
“Well, look here,” he cried desperately after half an hour of vain argument, “if you take Paddon you surely won’t be sap enough to turn down a chance at the title. How about signing up with me and letting me have a cut? After all, I’m giving you this chance.”
“You don’t seem to get it,” Bill replied wearily. “This will be my last fight. Understand? I’m not going after any title.” Freiman stared at him.
“Do you really think you’re smart enough to kid me into believing that?” he asked slowly.
“I don’t care whether you believe it or not. It’s true.”
“Then you’re a bigger sap than you look. What’s the idea? Why won’t you fight any more after Thursday night?”
“Because my wife doesn’t like it,” returned Bill simply. “She doesn’t even know I’m fightin’ on Thursday night.” “Tied to a woman’s apron strings!” jeered Freiman.
“Maybe.” Bill shrugged. “But she’s a grand woman.”
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Freiman leaned across the desk.
“You won’t play ball, eh? Well, get this, Clancy! You ought to know enough about the fight racket by now to realize that you can’t fool with the boys who run it. And in these parts, I’m the boss. You get this fight with Paddon simply because it’s a good draw. You don’t care whether you get the loser’s end or the winner’s end. Okay. Know what you’re going to get?” “I’ll know when the fight’s over.” “You’ll know now! The loser’s end, mug.”
“I wouldn’t bet on it, if I was you,” advised Harry Dymond, looking worried nevertheless.
“I like betting on sure things,” Freiman snapped.
“So that’s the way it is,” said Harry thoughtfully.
“That’s the way it is.”
“How are you going to manage that?” Bill demanded.
“You’ll find out. I don’t think you can take Paddon, but Pm not going to run chances. Lie’s a valuable property right now, too valuable to be kicked out of a title chance by some mug that I haven’t got sewed up.”
Bill got up.
“Do your worst,” he growled. “Just for that, I hope I knock Paddon kicking.” “You won’t,” Freiman assured him. “I’ll look after that.”
'TN-IE PUNCHING BAG was a blur as Bill drummed at it with gloved fists. Bill was amusing himself by imagining that the punching bag was Nate Freiman’s head.
A crowd of the men and boys who frequented McNeilly’s gym looked on approvingly. Bill looked good. Broad-shouldered, slim-waisted, with no excess fat, without the shadow of a paunch, he was in tip-top shape for the Thursday night go with Nig Paddon.
“Okay,” said Harry Dymond finally. “You’ve done enough for today.”
Bill wheeled away from the bag, grinned at the onlookers and headed for the dressing room.
“You’re lookin’ good, boy,” said Harry, as Bill stripped and went to the shower.
“I’ll need to be. Can’t afford to play along for a decision in this fight, oldtimer. ” “Not with Joe Kuzak as referee. It’s got to be a knockout or nothin’. Kuzak and Freiman are like that.” And Harry entwined two fingers significantly. “If Paddon can’t win by a clean decision or a kayo, he’ll win on a foul.”
“I never fouled a man in my life.”
“A smart referee can break that record for you. I wish we hadn’t stirred up all that fuss with Freiman.” said Harry regretfully. “It’s just like he told us, Bill. In the fight racket it doesn’t pay to fool with the boys that run it.”
Bill knew he was up against it. He had been in the game long enough to know that the seamy side of the fight business is very seamy indeed. Lie knew Freiman would leave nothing undone to ensure Paddon’s victory.
“The papers say the fight is going to be a sell-out,” he remarked as he emerged from the shower and grabbed a towel.
“That picture in The Star did the trick. Boy, it sure had the fans goggle-eyed.” According to the picture and Eddie Denman’s account, Bill had already handed Paddon a knockout and was bent on repeating. According to statements issued by Paddon and Fats Roger, there had been no knockout but Paddon was thirsting for vengeance.
“He didn’t knock me out. I slipped and hit my head on the window-ledge,” declared Paddon. “Just let me get in the same ring with that guy and I won’t need any windowledges to lay him out.” Grudge fight ! The ballyhoo was in full swing.
The door of the dressing room opened. A small, sallow man with a stringy black mustache stepped in.
“Scram!” ordered Harry.
The sallow man closed the door with his foot and stood there, his hands thrust into his coat pockets, regarding Harry and Bill with an ominously thoughtful air. They recognized him. Slick Lanski—hoodlum, gambler, gunman, gangster—a bad actor from the tips of his patent leather shoes to the crown of his derby hat.
“Scram!” repeated Harry, but with less conviction.
Lanski ignored him.
“Nate Freiman is a little worried about you,” he said softly, addressing Bill. “Nate thinks maybe you’ve got some foolish ideas about the fight. Nate thinks you might go in there and try to take Paddon.” “What of it?”
“Nate can’t afford to take any chances. Nate says Paddon has got to win,” continued Lanski in the same unruffled monotone. “I’ve got a few bucks on Paddon myself. If I lose, why, it’s just going to be too bad.”
“You might meet up with an accident,” he suggested.
Bill cocked his right fist. “You’ll meet up with one if you don’t beat it.”
“If you’re smart,” said Lanski, “you’ll let me go back to Nate and tell him you’ll play ball.”
“I guess I’m not smart.”
“No soap, eh?”
Lanski nodded indifferently. “Okay. You’ll be hearin’ from me.”
He turned, opened the door and sauntered out.
Harry Dymond looked apprehensive. “Bad business,” he said.
KATHY KNEW there was something in the wind. She didn’t ask any questions, but she knew Bill was keeping something from her. Ordinarily when Bill came home at night he gave an account of his search for work, of foremen interviewed, of jobs in prospect. All that had stopped. Bill didn’t tell her about his doings any more; he had become evasive, simply let it be inferred that he had spent the day looking for work and had been unsuccessful.
Kathy was hurt and puzzled, for until now there had never been any secrets between her and Bill. Once or twice it crossed her mind that Bill might have gone back to the ring again as he had suggested, but she dismissed the idea. If he had done that, he would have earned some money and the money would have been brought home. Bill had brought no money home. As a matter of fact they were so perilously close to the borderline of utter destitution—with only a dozen dimes left in the teapot—that Kathy was haggard with worry.
On Thursday afternoon Bill came home early. Lie was more cheerful than usual, whistled gaily as he played with young Bill, joked with Kathy as he dried the dishes in the tiny kitchen. Bill’s conscience had been bothering him because of the secret he had kept from Kathy, but now he was light-hearted because he would soon be free of that burden. Win or lose, there would soon be money in his pockets.
“Did you see that man yet, Bill?” asked Kathy.
“Don’t you remember? You said a man thought he’d be able to do something for you this week.”
“Oh—him. Oh, yes. I’ve got to see him tonight. Listen, honey,” said Bill, “Eve got a hunch that our troubles are just about over.”
“Who is he?”
“Oh, just a fellow,” replied Bill vaguely. “Guy by the name of Paddon. I promised I’d meet him tonight.”
Kathy glanced at her man thoughtfully. Bill was without talent or experience when it came to deception. She sighed. This fiction about a mysterious stranger and an equally mysterious job was hard to take.
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Why was Bill lying to her? Kathy blinked rapidly. She had found that if you wink your eyes very quickly the tears will stay back.
And a little later, when Bill departed and was unable to look her in the eyes when he kissed her, Kathy picked up young Bill in her arms, clung to him closely and had one of those real, old-fashioned cries that relieve tension and calm the soul.
Bill was low in spirit as he went down to McNeilly’s, where he was to meet Harry. He was haunted by Kathy’s white, appealing face, her questioning eyes. She knew there was something wrong. No hiding it from a woman.
He felt like a rat, having a secret from Kathy. Bill wished the fight were over, so that he could go home and tell Kathy everything.
She wouldn’t like it. He had broken faith by going back to the ring. But what else could a man do? He couldn’t let his wife and kid starve, could he? Kathy would see that. It wasn’t as if he planned to keep on fighting.
Bill thought of Slick Lanski. He had tried to put the hoodlum’s veiled threat out of his mind. Just bluff, probably. No use worrying about Lanski unless he managed to lick Paddon, and Bill knew very well that his chances of beating Paddon were slim. If the worst came to the worst Paddon would just cover up, make a running fight of it and depend on the referee to give him the nod.
Harry was waiting for him.
“How’re you feeling, Bill?”
It was half-past seven. Harry said they had better go on down to the arena. Then he remembered something, took a slip of paper from his pocket and gave it to Bill. A telephone number scribbled on the slip.
“Some guy was tryin’ to get you on the phone. He said it was important. Wants you to call him at that number.”
Bill dialled the number. “Clancy speaking. I got a message to call this number.”
“Listen, Clancy, I want to give you a tip,” said the strange voice swiftly. “Never mind who I am or how I got wise to this. I may be too late as it is. Get your wife and kid away from home and into a safe hide-out before you go downtown.”
Bill’s heart skipped a beat.
“What’s the idea?”
“Some of the boys are plannin’ a snatch, see. They’re afraid you’re going to be good enough to put Paddon away. Here’s the dope. They figure on snatchin’ your wife and kid and lettin’ you know about it just before you go into the ring. If you go in the tank for Paddon they’ll be back home all safe and sound after the fight. If you beat Paddon—well—use your head.”
Bill gulped. He broke into a cold sweat.
“Is this straight? Who told you—?”
A click. The line went dead.
Bill stared stupidly at the mouthpiece, then he put the telephone down slowly.
“What is it? What’s the matter?” demanded Harry.
Bill looked at him blankly. Then he wheeled and plunged toward the door.
“I’ve got to get home, Kathy—and the kid—they’re planning to steal ’em—iellow gave me a tip,” Bill flung incoherently over his shoulder. He raced out into the street. Harry, stuttering with consternation, grabbed his hat and hustled in pursuit.
Bill’s fiat was seven blocks away. Harry looked vainly for a cab. There were none in sight. Harry blurted urgent, frantic questions. Bill gave him the gist of the warning. They ran.
AMAN CAME out of the tenement door and got into a waiting car as Bill plodded around the comer. Under the street light he caught a glimpse of the man’s face.
Bill shouted, but the car door slammed and the automobile pulled away from the curb. He ran desperately. The car roared off down the street, tail-light gleaming, The number plate was spattered with mud.
A deadly fear was clutching at his heart as he thundered up the stairs. Harry was close at his heels. Bill plunged down the hall, flung himself against the door of the flat, wrenching at the knob.
The door was locked.
His hands shook as he fumbled for the key. He was shouting, “Kathy! Kathy!” in a voice of frenzy. “Kathy, are you there?”
Down the hall, a neighbor’s door opened and a slatternly woman stared at him with lustreless eyes.
Bill found the key, hurled himself through the doorway.
Everything was very quiet. The flat was in darkness.
Bill stumbled into the bedroom. Harry turned on the lights. The little flat was very neat and clean. When Bill came back into the kitchen his eyes were insane.
“My God, Harry!” he blurted thickly. “Those devils—got them—”
He plunged toward the door. Harry leaped in front of him, barred the way.
“Bill! Hold on! What are you going to do?”
“The police!” Bill gasped. They struggled in the doorway. Harry said sharply: “No! Take this slow, Bill.”
“I’m going to get the police!” Bill stormed. “They’ve kidnapped Kathy and the baby. You don’t think I’m going to sit down and do nothing, do you?”
Harry slammed the door shut,
“Bill, listen to me! You’ve got to take this. They’re safe. Safe until after the fight. If you put the police on the case they’re liable to be hurt. You can’t afford to tell the cops. You’ve got to keep your mouth shut and take it, Bill. Listen to reason.”
After a while Bill became calmer. He was shaken with anxiety, but at last he realized the truth of Harry’s contention.
“It’s a move to make sure you drop the fight to Paddon,” declared Harry. “If you lose, the wife and kid will be back here safe and sound, just like the guy told you on the phone. That’s your only out, Bill. You’ve got to lose the fight.”
Bill nodded dully.
“Take a dive.”
“What else can you do? After all, Bill, it could be worse. It isn’t as if you want to keep on fightin’. You’ll get a couple of hundred bucks for-the loser’s end anyway.” Bill’s shoulders sagged. He looked around the neat little kitchen that now seemed so cold and cheerless.
“I can take it,” he said.
THE FIGHT card was a sell-out. The arena was jammed with a whistling, roaring mob when Bill came in. One of the preliminary bouts was in progress. Bill headed blindly down the corridor to the dressing rooms, with Harry at his side.
Near one of the ramps Bill spied Freiman. With the promoter was Slick Lanski. “Take it easy !” cautioned Harry. Neither Freiman nor the hoodlum noticed Bill until he was upon them. He grabbed the promoter’s arm and swung him around.
“Listen,” said Bill slowly.' “I’ll take a lickin’ in the ring from any man good enough to beat me. It’s bein’ licked outside the ring by a pack of polecats who couldn’t fight fair if they tried—that’s what burns me up.”
“What’s eatin’ you?” snarled Freiman. “Go on down there to your dressing room—”
“You outsmarted me, Freiman. You’ve got me handcuffed, and I know it. I’ve got to go in there tonight and double-cross the fight fans for the first time in my life. Maybe that’s just a big laugh to you and Lanski. Handin’ out a double-cross wouldn’t mean anything to either of you —you’re so used to it. But get this—” And Bill thrust his jaw forward and glared at Lanski so menacingly that the gangster took a hasty backward step. “Get this! If my wife and my kid ain’t back home when I get there after the fight, if there’s a scratch on either one of ’em, I’m going to hunt you down, Lanski, and take you to pieces. And when I’ve sent you to the hospital, you cheap hood, I’ll fix your wagon too, Freiman.”
Bill turned on his heel abruptly and continued his march down the corridor.
“That’s tellin’ ’em!” exclaimed Harry Dymond admiringly. ‘T guess they were just fixing up to tell you about the spot you were in, but you beat ’em to the punch.”
Bill strode into the dressing room and flung his hat on a bench. He peeled off his coat.
“Me! Going in the tank! Dropping a fight !” he snapped bitterly. “Never fought a fight that wasn’t clean, never went into a ring without givin’ my best, and now I’ve got to leave the game by doublecrossin’ the fans that are out there pulling for me. That’s what hurts most, Harry. My last fight—and my first crooked one.”
“Kid, you’re not crooked. You’re fightin’ for your wife and kid, ain’t you? You’ve got to take a heatin’ for them, but that’s not crooked. It takes more guts to do that than to win.”
Bill unlaced his shoes. He was desperately worried about Kathy and young Bill. In his heart he knew there was little likelihood that they would come to actual harm providing Nig Paddon won the fight, but the thought of their bewilderment and terror aroused a tigerish fury in him. He pictured their frantic, unreasoning fear— his own wife and child in the power of cowardly, unclean rogues; prisoners in some shabby, sordid dive. . .
Bill tore at the shoelaces so viciously that they snapped.
It was going to be hard to ease up on Nig Paddon tonight. He felt so trapped, so helpless that he longed to take out his rage on some tangible opponent. The savage thud of leather on flesh, the primitive joy of battering an enemy to the canvas would give him some satisfaction now.
There was no sadistic strain in Bill’s make-up—back in the early days of his ring career the fight writers used to say he lacked the killer instinct—but tonight he felt the surging blood lust of an animal whose mate and young are threatened.
“I’ll tell you one thing, Harry,” he said jerkily. “If Paddon puts me away before the last round, you’ll know he did it on the level. I’m going to give the boys their money’s worth as long as I can.”
FINALLY, after long waiting, the summons.
Nig Paddon was already in the ring when Bill came down the aisle and crawled through the ropes. The crowd had given Paddon a good hand but Bill’s reception was deafening. It made him glow all over. They roared and whistled their acclaim. They were yelling their encouragement to the man on the comeback trail.
Bill smiled a little bitterly as the tapes were adjusted, the gloves laced on. They wouldn’t be cheering for him when the fight was over. He would just be another has-been who tried to come back and couldn’t make the grade. But it was good to hear the mighty tumult of approval when the announcer bellowed his name and weight.
Out in the centre of the ring now, getting their instructions from Joe Kuzak. A grey-haired, hawk-faced little man, the referee. The fighters listened with a great pretense of studious interest; Kuzak emphasized his stereotyped remarks with sharp gestures, with the air of a man who would stand no nonsense. Then he waved them back to their corners.
Bill slipped off his bathrobe. He stood erect under the blazing lights, his gloves resting on the top ropes. He eyed Nig Paddon's swarthy face steadily. The roar of the crowd subsided. The bell rang sharp and clear.
Paddon’s expression was supremely confident and contemptuous as they sparred for a moment. He tried to score with a long left but missed. Bill countered with a
body attack, driving short lefts and rights to Paddon’s ribs, but Paddon tied him up and wrestled him to the ropes. Bill got his right free and clubbed Paddon on the side of the head. Paddon covered up and backed away. Bill followed, weaving in, missed with a left to the face, then crowded Paddon into a corner, unleashing a savage body attack again.
Whack! Spat! Whack! He got home with half a dozen vicious hooks to the ribs and stomach before Paddon tied him up in a clinch. The referee broke it up. Paddon rushed, lips drawn back in a snarl, landed with a right swing, shot a left to Bill’s face, drove Bill back under a rain of punches. Most of them landed on elbows and shoulders and Bill weathered the storm easily, stopping it with a jolting uppercut that sent Paddon back on his heels.
They sparred again. Paddon had more respect for Bill Clancy now. He wasn’t so anxious to mix it up and take a lot of unnecessary punishment in a fight that was already in the bag. He let Bill carry the fight to him for the rest of the round and the bell rang during a harmless flurry along the ropes.
“I could take that guy,” Bill told Harry Dymond.
“Good grief, Bill, don’t forget yourself. You’re wadin’ in there as if you’re trying to take him. Maybe if you get an opening you’ll just naturally hit too hard and put him away. Be careful.”
Bill thought of Kathy and young Bill. Yes, he had to be careful. It was all very well to give the crowd a good fight as long as he could, hut he had to remember he was fighting for his wife and kid. Fighting to lose. Fighting under a silent threat.
Nevertheless he opened the second round with a slashing, two-fisted attack that had the crowd up on its feet howling. Bill took everything Paddon could hand him and tossed leather, with furious abandon, driving his opponent to cover. Paddon hadn’t been expecting anything like it, but he was a cagey veteran, kept his jaw protected, and lost no chance to smear Bill with terrific right-hand smashes to the body during the infighting.
Paddon was beginning to worry. He couldn’t figure it out. Here was a fighter slated to take a dive, battling as if defeat was farthest from his mind. His dull mentality grasped the possibility that he was being double-crossed. Paddon decided that this was no time for fooling. He had better get down to business.
THE REST of the round was wild and woolly. It was wide-open, fast, sensational fighting with little science but plenty of whirlwind action. One of Paddon’s wild swinging rights clipped Bill on the side of the head after he was off balance from missing, and the blow sent Bill sprawling to the floor. He was up again in a second though, and nailed Paddon, coming in, with a left hook that sent his man stumbling into the ropes. The bell could scarcely be heard above the deafening din of the crowd.
Bill had a cut over his right eye and a split lip when he came in. He was breathing quickly for it had been a fast pace. Harry handed him the water bottle and got busy with collodion.
“What’s the use, kid?” muttered Harry. “Don’t go gettin’ yourself all slashed up by goin’ in wide open. Even if you do get him in a bad spot, you can’t do anything about it.”
“He’s really trying, Harry. He’s trying to put me away. And he can’t do it. Not until I’m ready to let him.”
“Let it ride.”
“I want to know who’s the best man. If it’s him, and he wins the fight honest, then I won’t feel so bad. If it’s me, and I let him put me away, well—it’ll be something to know I could have licked him if I wanted.”
In the third round Paddon met him with a right-hand smash between the eyes as Bill was coming in. Paddon was strong as a bull and Bill had been careless, more bent on carrying the fight to his opponent than in defending himself.
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The blow rocked him, stunned him. He tried to fall into a clinch, but Paddon stood him off with a hard left to the jaw. Bill covered up and retreated. Paddon rushed, trying to beat down his guard, pounding him about the body. Bill tied him up, clinched while his head cleared. When the referee separated them he I backed away, stabbing Paddon with a j long straight left, keeping him off balance as he had done in his fight with Welch.
Paddon chased him, but Bill’s footwork was too good. That jabbing, irritating glove kept flicking out, dusting Paddon’s nose. Bill’s head was dear now. Paddon tempted the straight left again, ducked and came in swiftly, whaling hard rights and lefts to the body. He got away with a couple of low blows that brought howls from the crowd, but the referee didn’t interfere. Bill retaliated with a left hook that made Paddon’s teeth rattle, then danced away. They sparred, boxed warily for a while.
Then Paddon rushed again, caught Bill with a looping left and worked him into his own corner. He pounded Bill about the body. Bill’s guard dropped. Paddon drove a savage uppercut for the jaw. Bill’s head moved a fraction of an inch. The glove whizzed by.
Paddon was wide open. Automatically, instinctively, Bill seized the chance. His reaction was purely that of the trained lighter. He drove a short, vicious left to Paddon’s chin.
It landed fair and flush on the button. And Paddon went down as if he had been clipped over the head with a hammer.
He toppled to the canvas with a crash and lay there inert. Bill stared down at him, incredulous and dismayed. He realized now what he had done. There was a swelling, deafening roar from the crowd.
The referee motioned Bill to a neutral corner. Mechanically, Bill stepped back a pace, then stood still. The enormity of it was dawning on him. He felt panicstricken. If Paddon, was counted out, what would happen to Kathy and the baby?
The count hadn’t started yet. The referee was motioning him back again, and taking his time about it. The crowd was shrieking at him to get back. He had a glimpse of Harry Dymond’s white, startled face at the ringside.
Bill moved back. Nig Paddon hadn’t moved.
The referee crouched. His arm rose and fell. Through the screaming tumult Bill could hear hundreds of voices chanting the count. . .
“One. . . two. . . three. . . four. .
TOE KUZAK took all the time he dared. J But there wasn’t a stir of movement from Nig Paddon.
“Five. . and the flailing arm rose and fell reluctantly.
“Six!” roared the crowd.
Another long pause. Once more the arm
And then, sharp and brazen—
The mob bellowed its disappointment. Paddon’s seconds leaped into the ring, picked up their man, dragged him to his comer, worked over him feverishly. Paddon had been saved by the bell.
Bill went to his corner, quaking.
! “Boy, it’s just going to be too bad if they can’t get him out for the next round,” muttered Harry.
Bill was scared. Pie didn’t say anything, but there was a ghastly sensation at the pit of his stomach as he watched Paddon’s seconds desperately trying to revive their man. The buzzer sounded. Then the bell. The crowd hushed suddenly. Nig Paddon j came out, unsteady, crouching, his guard ! well up.
Bill could have finished his opponent j then and there. He knew it. The crowd 1 knew it. Nig Paddon knew it. But instead
of rushing in and launching a barrage of punches to beat down Paddon’s guard, he came across the ring slowly, poked out a gingery left and allowed himself to be dragged into a clinch.
A howl of wrath from the crowd.
“Don’t carry him. . . Put him away . . . Sock him...”
Bill was no actor. Even when they came out of the clinch and he tagged Paddon with rights and lefts to the head, it was obvious that he was pulling his punches. The clamor grew louder. The crowd had been cheated of the kill. Paddon was recovering quickly and as the round progressed he began showing more signs of life. But he stayed away, covered up, made Bill come to him, clinched whenever he could.
Coming out of one of these clinches, Paddon drove a short, vicious right to Bill’s abdomen. The punch was low. The fighters were struggling in a corner at the time and few of the fans saw the blow, but the referee could not miss it. Bill gasped, grunted with pain. His guard dropped. Paddon slammed him in the face with a left, drove Bill into the ropes with a onetwo to the stomach.
Bill clinched. He hung on desperately, weak with pain. Paddon mauled him, scraped a glove across his face. A loose lace flicked hard against Bill’s eyes. Paddon tore himself free and smashed a short left to the jaw. Bill sagged, grabbing at the ropes, and Paddon smashed him behind the ear, sending him to the floor. The roar of the crowd was like the crashing of a great waterfall in his ears.
He pulled himself up by the ropes, one knee on the floor. Another move and he was halfway to his feet, but Paddon was tearing in now. A right swing sent him reeling across the ring. He covered up in time to take a left on his arms, clinched, tried to tie Paddon up. Paddon shook him free and jolted him with a right.
The bell saved him, as it had saved Paddon in the previous round. Bill stumbled to his corner. His face was battered and swollen, his left eye was almost closed. Plarry worked over him.
“Let me throw in the towel,” Harry pleaded. “Don’t go back in there and get knocked goofy. You’ve shown you were good enough to beat him.”
“No!” rasped Bill. “If I’m goin’ out, I’ll go out in the ring.”
The next round was a nightmare. Plow he weathered it was a mystery. Only a savage rally in the middle of the session, a rally in which he managed to cut loose with a wild flurry of punches that drove Paddon into momentary retreat, saved him from the knockout. For the greater part of the round he stood up under a blasting storm of blows, blows that left his body like a raw beefsteak, his face a red pulp. Only obstinacy and heart kept him on his feet until the bell. Time and again as he covered up under that hurricane of leather he told himself he was a fool—it wasn’t worth it—he had to give in sooner or later—might as well take it now and get it over with.
But it hurt to know that the crowd was cheering for Paddon. They had turned against him when he failed to put Paddon away. He was tired. When the bell rang he hung upon the ropes, gulping great sobbing breaths, almost out on his feet. Harry was tugging at his arm, guiding him to the corner. He could scarcely see Harry. There was a red mist in front of his eyes. Harry was shouting something in his ear. Dimly he heard Kathy’s name repeated again and again.
“Kathy?” he mumbled through bleeding lips as he lurched to the stool in the corner. “Kathy?”
“She’s here!” Plarry was yelling. “Here —look down—they didn’t get her, Bill— the kid’s okay—”
KATHY! Impossible! He swung
around, looked down. Kathy was
crying, “Oh, Bill, Bill—-don’t let him hit you any more. Don’t go back in there again.” Kathy’s voice. And Kathy there, looking up at him. Harry sponged his face, swabbed collodion on his cuts. He could see a little clearer now. Yes, it was Kathy’s face, frightened and distressed.
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“Oh, Bill, dear, don’t go back in there—”
“She’s okay, d’you get it?” Harry was shouting in his ear. “The kid is okay, too. Safe and sound. They wasn’t kidnapped. Get it? We were all wrong, Bill. They haven’t been home all evening—”
The buzzer. Harry was scrambling out of the ring. Bill was still gazing incredulously at Kathy. People were crowding around, wondering what had happened. Bill was trying to piece it together. Kathy here. It didn’t make sense. But one thing he did know. Kathy was safe. . .
He saw Nig Paddon surging across the ring toward him. And Bill’s battered features twisted in a ghastly grin. He was too slow to duck the looping left that Paddon flung at him, but he cut loose with a wild swinging right in return, cut loose with every ounce of strength he had. The right smashed Paddon against the side of the head and staggered him. The crowd was in a frenzy. Paddon tore in, fell into a clinch, wrestled Bill against the ropes, battered him about the kidneys, wrenched himself loose, flung Bill away and smashed a left hook to the face as he did.
Bill could scarcely see Paddon, for the hook had reopened the cut above his eye. But he waded in, doggedly, head down, blindly throwing leather. The light gloves smacked solidly against flesh and bone. He felt Paddon giving way. He took some hard punches to the head and body, but they didn’t seem to hurt. He kept coming in.
Kathy was safe. He didn’t have to lose this fight. And Kathy was down there watching him. Kathy had never seen him fight. Wouldn’t do to be licked, with her there now. The thought seemed to flood him with a sudden and strange vitality, cleared his dulled brain. He brushed his glove across his eyes and saw Paddon surging in. Bill ducked a swinging right, saw an opening, put all his strength into a smashing right hook as he came in, with Paddon’s right arm encircling his neck. He heard Paddon grunt. Paddon tried to clinch. Bill drove a left to the body, then smashed a hard right to the face. Paddon went back.
Bill followed, swinging. He took a wicked smash in the face, but he shook his head and kept coming in. It was wideopen fighting, torrid slugging, a question as to which man could stay on his feet. Bill made Paddon miss another wild swing. He came in under it and cracked his man on the jaw with a short right. Paddon stumbled forward, trying to clinch. Bill sidestepped and smashed him on the jaw again and he saw Paddon going down,, stumbling, falling to his knees.
Paddon took a nine-count, kneeling there, his gloves on the canvas. When he got up he was reeling. He covered up. tried to back away as Bill came in. Bill was savage now. He didn’t have to lose this fight, didn’t have to double-cross the fans. He smashed lefts and rights to the body. Paddon’s arms dropped. Bill crossed a left to the jaw.
Paddon toppled to the canvas. He lay there, his body twitching. The arena was a bedlam. Bill leaned drankenly against the ropes in a neutral corner, The count was very slow. It didn’t matter. The bell couldn’t save Paddon this time. He was out.
Then the referee was raising Bill’s arm, there was a vast, ear-splitting din from
the shadows, Harry Dymond was racing across the ring whooping like an Indian.
IN THE dressing room, with Kathy clinging to him, her soft hands caressing his battered face. Bill said:
“I hated to do it, honey—but I couldn’t see you and the kid going hungry. A man’s got to work for his family. If he can’t do that—well, he’s got to fight for ’em.”
“I was so mad, Bill’—I—I was going to leave you. I didn’t know anything about it until one of the women downstairs came in to see me, after you’d gone. She thought I knew, of course. She asked if I’d like to hear the fight over her radio. Oh, Bill, I was angry. I said I’d never see you again, speak to you again—”
“But where did you go?”
“I took the baby and went down to her place. She told me not to be a fool. She talked to me, Bill. She showed me where I’d been stupid and stubborn; said I ought to be proud of a man who would fight for me with his fists. I’d never looked at it that way. Oh, Bill, it’s all right. If there’s no other way, if it’s the thing you do best, I haven’t any right to stop you. But your poor, poor face—”
“But why did you come here?”
“She made me see that my place was here, with you. She said she’d mind the baby. Bill, I thought maybe you’d fight better if you knew I was watching you. It was late when I made up my mind, but I took our last dollar, just to come here and tell you it was all right—”
That, then, was why Lanski had failed. And Bill had played directly into their hands when he spoke to Lanski and Freiman in the corridor. They had known then that somehow, in principle at least, their plot had worked.
Harry Dymond came in. His face was flushed. His necktie was up under one ear. He clutched a wad of bills in his hand.
“Boy, have I just had a little set-to of my own!” he panted. “Here you are, Bill. I didn’t get it all back, but there’s two hundred bucks anyway. It was all he had.” “Who? What’s the idea?”
“The guy that picked your pocket!” explained Harry, jubilantly. “Inspector McKay down at Headquarters is a good friend of mine. We went through some of the pictures in the Rogues’ Gallery yesterday and I spotted this guy as bein’ one of the fellows who got on the street car with us. Mac says he’s served a dozen terms for picking pockets. Tonight Mac put the finger on him in the fight crowd, brought him over for me to identify him—”
“And you got the money back!” gasped Bill.
“He was so scared he emptied his pockets. But he told me something, Bill—it wasn’t just a chance that he picked on you that day. He was hangin’ around the arena when we came out. Freiman tipped him off. Get it? Freiman knew you’d have to fight again if you lost the dough.”
Bill took the money. He didn’t have to worry about Freiman or Lanski or any of them now. He looked down at Kathy and grinned.
“Gosh, honey,” he said, “I guess I’ll have to wait until tomorrow.” “Tomorrow? For what?”
“No shoe stores open tonight.”
“What with that,” Harry chipped in, “and the five hundred you get for taking Paddon, and the dough that’s ahead if the wife doesn’t change her mind again—say, you’ll be able to buy that kid a pair of golden slippers.”
Even yet Kathy didn’t understand. Bill hugged her.
“Baby needs new shoes,” he explained. “I’m thinkin’ you could use a pair yourself. Let’s go shopping tomorrow.”