JAMESON knew all along he shouldn’t have let them talk him into it. From the opening bell he knew it wasn’t any use. He was no good, and he hadn’t any right to be in the same ring with a man like Red Flynn. At the end of the second round he trudged back to his corner, blood-smeared and sullen, cursing himself for a sucker every inch of the way.
“The guy’s as good as a pro. He’s too smart. Let me go in and slug with him,” he begged Marshall irritably. “If I’ve got to take a beating, I might as well get a couple of pokes at him.”
And there was old Dave Marshall sponging his face, murmuring in his ear; “You’re not going to take a beating, Chuck. You can whip this baby, hear me? You can whip him.”
Jameson rinsed his mouth. When he turned sideways on the stool, he could see Dora down there at ringside. He wished he had never laid eyes on her.
“Yeah? Looks like I’m whipping him, doesn’t it?”
“You keep away from him like I told you. Just keep pulling away from that right hand. I’ll tell you when to go in and slug.”
So he came up from the third, up into the smoky glare under the skating-rink roof, with that mob of mining-camp maniacs whooping and howling. He came out in a crouch, the way Marshall had shown him. The mob cut loose with a roar of booing when he side-stepped Flynn’s rush. But he kept pulling away, watching Flynn’s right hand.
Flynn's eyes were a cold, pale green; he came plodding after Jameson. A big man with great breadth of freckled shoulders, reddish-stubbled head well down, gloved fists pawing, poised to smash.
Ropes grazed his back. Bam! Flynn’s left smashed the side of Jameson’s head, slammed him into the corner. He covered up, the iron gloves pounding his head and shoulders; grabbed and held. Flynn gave a heave of his big shoulders and flung him clear. Jameson slipped, lost his balance and sprawled. He flipped to his feet like a cat. But Flynn smashed and slammed him going away.
Jameson’s head was thundering; his left eye was foggy. All for a miserable twenty bucks, he thought bitterly, stumbling away from that right hand. Just because a snip of a girl said he was no good...
IT HAD started when he crawled off a freight that Monday and came down into Wendigo City—a grey town sprawled among grey northern hills, with the shaft-heads of its gold mines stark against a hot summer sky.
Jameson was looking for a job, without much hope of getting one and not much caring. He was dirty, broke and hungry, and he looked as down and out as was the case. And he trudged right into the middle of gaiety and uproar, for this was July of ’39, and Wendigo City, at the ripe age of twelve booming years, was staging an Old Home Week. Streets were crowded, banners and pennants flapped everywhere; taverns were jammed. There was a carnival in town. Big posters flared news of a fight tournament for championships of the camp.
Jameson was reading one of these posters outside the rink when a man said: “You look big and husky, fella. There’s a spot open for another heavy. One of ’em lost his nerve at the last minute. Why don’t you go in?”
Jameson shook his head. He knew a little about fighting. When he was a kid his father had bought him a set of gloves, taught him how to throw a punch and duck one. But that was all.
“It’s elimination, see. Class winners tonight go back in again on Wednesday night. Wednesday night winners make the finals on Saturday. That’s the big night. Two hundred bucks if you win a camp title. Tonight you get ten, win or lose.”
That did it. Jameson was hungry enough to take a beating for a ten.
They threw him in against a tough, muscle-bound shift boss from Bella Mine. Even in trunks and ring shoes Jameson looked like a tramp, with his untidy mop of hair and the black mask of stubble on his jaws. He came into the ring tight-lipped and bitter, hating those noisy, laughing men with food inside them and money in their pockets. They sensed it, and hated him in return. He could have won them over with a grin, but he didn’t care. He had been against the world too long. They marked him as a mean, surly bum, and wanted to see him licked.
Jameson took a mauling for two rounds, and the crowd rejoiced. He fought back with sullen ferocity, came up off the floor in the third and whacked their pet senseless with a short left.
Then he got his ten dollars and cleared out. The secretary advised him to stick around and watch Red Flynn; maybe Jameson would have to fight Red Flynn on Wednesday night. Everybody figured Red Flynn was the best heavy in camp.
Jameson spat scornfully and didn’t wait. He had no notion of going back Wednesday night to have his ears beaten off by Red Flynn or anyone else. He had ten dollars.
He was in a café beside the rink waiting for a thick porterhouse smothered with onions when the girl and the old man came in. The old fellow shuffled in behind the girl as if he was there against his will. Spare and grey-faced, with a precise mustache and tired eyes. Jameson sized him up from cracked shoes to frayed collar. A has-been. Washed up.
The girl said what she had to say directly. “I’m Dora Marshall. This is my father. He knows fighters. Maybe you’ve heard of him—Dave Marshall. Used to handle Lew Seigler. We saw you fight tonight, and dad thinks you’ve got something. We followed you in here to ask if you’d like to have him handle you Wednesday night.”
She was a slim little thing without much make-up, her dark eyes frank and her mouth candid. Her fingers nervously twisted the handle of a shabby purse. Fingers very white and slender.
It was rusty habit that brought Jameson to his feet. He towered over the pair—a hard, shabby young man, black-thatched, lean and tanned, who looked older than he was, partly because he needed a shave and a haircut, mostly because of the indifference in his eyes, that bitterness around the mouth.
“You’ve never heard of me,” Marshall said in a husky voice. His shoulders drooped; there was no confidence about him. “Ten years ago, maybe. And this isn’t a touch, son. If we’re bothering you we’ll go away.”
“We came here with the carnival,” the girl explained hurriedly. “Dad isn’t in the fight game any more, but there isn’t much he doesn’t know about it.”
“You’re with the carnival?”
“Well—not just now.” The white fingers twisted the purse strap. “When we saw you do your stuff tonight—”
“You’re green, son,” Marshall spoke up, fighting the coldness in Jameson’s eyes. “You’re no pro. But those other fellows aren’t either. Handled right, I think you could win that tournament. You’ve got a good left hand.”
“Listen,” Jameson said brusquely, “you’ve got me wrong. I’m not going back Wednesday night. I’m no fighter. I just went in there for eating money.”
“After winning tonight, you’re not going to follow up?” the girl exclaimed.
“Why should I? Twenty bucks for getting my brains knocked out? I’m eating now and I don’t need twenty bucks. Not that bad.”
“But rightly handled,” Marshall protested, “you wouldn’t need to take a beating.”
“What you’re after,” said Jameson, “is a cut of that twenty. You’re wasting time.”
Marshall stiffened. “I’m sorry you look at it that way, son. It was just on account of me knowing the game so well—”
“If it wouldn’t get me any more than it got you,” Jameson said, with a glance that flickered over the cheap suit and cracked shoes, “I’m well out of it. Nothing doing.”
THAT finished Marshall. He shrugged and turned away. But the girl said, “Just a minute, dad,” and faced Jameson. She stood very straight, and her face was white. “Dad didn’t want to come here. When he saw you fight he thought you were a natural, but he thought maybe he was too old to do much with a natural even when he found one. I thought different.”
“Forget it, honey,” Marshall said. “Let's go.”
“So you tell him he's trying to chisel in on a miserable twenty that you’re too yellow to fight for anyhow. And then you sneer at him”—her voice broke for a second—“because you can tell he hasn’t had much luck lately.”
Her eyes summed up Jameson from unkempt hair to ragged trouser cuffs.
“You don’t look as if you’ve been doing so well either, but he didn’t throw that back at you,” she snapped. “I never knew him to guess wrong on a fighter before, but he was wrong this time. You’re no fighter.”
“That’s what I said,” growled Jameson.
“Dad thought you had something,” she lashed back over her shoulder on her way to the door. “But he couldn’t see inside you.”
Every quick tap of her scuffed heels on the hard floor rapped out contempt. Chin high, she headed out in front of her father. The door slammed.
Jameson stood there staring. A red flush burned under the tan; he licked his dry lips. We thought you hod something. It had been a long time since anyone had thought he had anything. He sat down at the table again, sullenly drumming his fingers on the table top, staring. And then abruptly he surged to his feet, the chair went over with a clatter and he lunged toward the door, out into the noisy street. He pushed his way through the crowd, shouting huskily, “Hey—wait a minute!”
That was how they had found each other, and that was how he came to be in there against Red Flynn. But every thudding smash of Flynn’s fists made him regret the impulse of stung pride that sent him back.
Even if he did win, even if he went on and took the final on Saturday night, what did that make him? Heavyweight champion of Wendigo City. Two hundred bucks and back to the rods. Marshall said he had a future in the ring. Horse-radish. He couldn’t lick Flynn anyhow. Sucker!
But he weathered the round. Circling, weaving, sidestepping, ducking, covering up and clinching, poking the left into Flynn’s face when he saw an opening. Back in the corner, Marshall said he was doing fine. But Marshall didn’t have to take those smashing wallops that made your head sing, made your insides feel as if they were being torn apart.
“Let me go in and slug,” Jameson begged through puffy lips.
“You do like I say.” The old man sponged his face. “I'll tell you when to shoot. Funny thing,” Marshall said, “there’s a guy in the second row, behind Flynn’s corner. I'd swear he’s George Caslon. You’ve heard of Caslon. Big-shot fight manager. What he’s doing up here in the mining country I can’t figure.”
“What do you take me for?” snarled Jameson. “Kidding me with that line! Big-shot manager watching me. A baby wouldn’t fall for it.”
He went back for more in the fourth. The crowd thought Flynn had him on the run, and howled like mad. But there wasn’t the same snap to the big miner’s punches. They looked to be hard, but Jameson took most of them on his arms and shoulders. Toward the end of the round he caught Flynn a couple of times with smashes to the face. But Flynn was tough. It would be easier to knock over a tombstone.
“Time to take off the wraps,” Marshall said quietly when the round was over. “Flynn’s got used to seeing you go away from the right. Cross him up this time and reverse. Come in under it and feed him that left hand. He’s gone. Go in and take him.”
Jameson didn’t believe it. Flynn wasn’t gone. That big redhead could fight all night. But when the bell sent him in, Jameson came under the right instead of going away. Ducked under it and got in close. Fast. And found Flynn’s jaw wide open.
He smashed hard with the short left. Hard and swift at that granite jaw. Then struck again, savagely, when he saw Flynn’s head snap back.
Jameson couldn’t believe it when Flynn staggered, glassy-eyed. He threw the right. Flynn was reeling against the ropes, guard down. Jameson tore in and slung leather. When he whacked the left hard against the jaw again, Flynn crumpled and sprawled on the floor. That was the end.
AFTER he was dressed they watched the other fights. Jameson felt good. He felt different. Dora was excited and happy. “What did I tell you?” she said, and squeezed his arm. “Oh, Chuck, you’re going to win on Saturday night, and dad’s going to train you and get you fights, and you’ll be right up there inside a year.”
“Watch that Trexler,” the old man said out of the side of his mouth, watching two heavies floundering in the ring. “He’s the boy you’ll have to beat Saturday.”
Jameson watched, but he couldn’t figure how the old man picked Trexler to win. A big handsome youngster with curly yellow hair. But slow. Awkward. No power to his punches. Trexler was in against a swarthy drill-runner from Little Wendigo, and they both looked terrible; the crowd jeered as they stumbled, cuffing and clinching, about the ring.
“I could go up and lick both of them right now,” he said.
Dora glanced at him quickly. “You wouldn’t have said that yesterday.”
“Yesterday I didn’t think I could beat anybody. It’s different now.”
Between rounds Marshall nudged him, pointed out a pudgy silver-haired man with fat pink cheeks, a few rows away. “Caslon. I’m dead sure of it.”
Jameson stared at the silver-haired man. He couldn’t see why a big shot like Caslon would be away up here in the bush, watching a mining-camp slugging bee. But a great break, if true, maybe. If Caslon got interested. A man like Caslon could do plenty for a fighter.
“Somebody else,” Dora said. “I’ve seen his pictures. Caslon is thinner. He wouldn’t be up here anyhow. It doesn’t make sense.”
“Maybe,” grunted Marshall. “But I don’t forget faces easy.”
Trexler got the decision, but it wasn’t an impressive win. Afterward a lot of people slapped Jameson on the back and told him he had the camp title in the bag. It gave him a glow. After two years of being kicked around, after two years of the quick brush-off and the bum’s rush, it was good to know people believed in you. He would lick Trexler all right.
Marshall stayed behind. “You two run along,” he said. “I want to make sure about this Caslon business.”
In the café around the corner they had sandwiches and milk. Milk, Dora informed him, was good for fighters.
“You’re a fighter now, Chuck. You’re going to be a good fighter. Maybe a great one.” She clasped her slim white hands intensely; and when she smiled and her eyes glowed, her eager little face had a loveliness that made him blink. “Oh, Chuck, if you only knew what this means to Dad. And to me. He’s been down and licked so long.”
“Me too,” Chuck Jameson said soberly.
“But you haven’t so far to come back. You’re younger. You look different already. The other night you seemed so hard and tired and bitter—tell me about it, Chuck.”
“Not much to tell.” Like a man back from war, Jameson didn’t want to talk about it. He preferred to forget those two years of futility and despair. He told her about the small town in Nova Scotia where he was raised. He was getting ready to go to college when his dad died. “I had to get out and hustle. No jobs. You’d hear there was work out West, and you’d ride the freights with a lot of other fellows and maybe you’d get a couple of weeks. Then you’d hear about jobs on the Coast, and when you got there you’d be too late. Work your way back East again. Sleep in jails. The winters were the worst. It was kinda fun for a while, but after a while it gets you down. You figure there’s no place for you anywhere.”
She nodded. “I know. But it’s worse when you’re old.” She told him about the Ontario village where she lived with an aunt from the time she was very small. Dave Marshall used to come and see her a couple of times a year. He was a big figure in the fight game then, back in the days of Lew Seigler. She grew up never knowing how Lew Seigler had crossed up his manager after winning the title, never knowing that Dave Marshall’s great days were over, that he was through, washed up. She found out when she was eighteen. He couldn’t run the bluff any longer. He was just a shabby, fumbling old fellow who had lost hold.
“We got a job with that carnival, running the shooting gallery. That’s how we got up here. Dad always used to say he’d be up there again if he could find a fighter. A natural. A hungry fighter. A boy with nothing to lose, somebody he could take in hand like Lew Seigler. He’s always been looking for that hungry fighter. But it’s like he says, Chuck. Naturals are scarce. Like diamonds.”
The carnival manager had begun to bother her. She tried to keep that from Dave, but he found out. Even at his age he could throw a short left that knocked the manager over a water bucket.
“It was foolish of him, Chuck.” she said proudly. “Awfully foolish. We didn’t have any money. It left us stranded. But dad’s like that, and I’m glad. Then somebody gave him passes to the fights the other night and we went, and when he saw you he was excited. He said, ‘There he is. There’s my hungry fighter. There’s the boy I’ve been looking for.’ That’s what he said, Chuck. And then he sat back and shook his head. It was too late, he said; five or ten years too late for him to try any comeback—even if he found a Dempsey. But I coaxed him. I made him follow you and talk to you.”
“He didn’t find any Dempsey.”
“He thinks you’re pretty good, Chuck. And he ought to know. Why, when you knocked out Flynn tonight he turned and winked at me, and honestly, Chuck, he looked young again.” She studied Jameson earnestly across the table. “At his age it’s hard to come back; there isn’t much fight left. I’ve hoped and hoped something would happen to give him another chance, and now it’s come and—oh, Chuck, don’t let him down, whatever you do. You need each other a lot.”
MARSHALL came in. “Was it Caslon?” Dora asked him.
Her father shook his head. “My eyes must be going back on me. But I wanted to be sure.” He sat down and ordered coffee, said to Jameson: “I got one of the mine clubs to let us use their gym for training until Saturday.”
“It won’t take much training to beat that Trexler."
“Don’t get ideas, son. You’ve got to take this fight serious. It’s important. It means some dough and some publicity. But most of all, it means a talking point to get you more fights.” Marshall’s faded blue eyes were stern; the slack lines had gone from his mouth; he rapped the table smartly. “Win that fight, boy, and we’re away. Lose it, and we’re both back where we started.”
Dora’s eyes were shining. Queer how she looked so much prettier. Jameson felt warm and happy. He was going to beat Trexler all right. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, with a man and a girl who believed in him, he could beat anybody in the world now.
Condition was no problem. Jameson was hunger-lean and hard as granite. But he had plenty to learn.
Dora whipped them both on. It was Dora—a slight, tense figure crouched on a camp stool in the gym—who was boss in the long run. They found that out when the first argument came up next morning. Marshall was drilling Jameson at the heavy bag, telling him to shorten his punches.
“This Trexler,” he said. “I want you to fight him different. Don’t stay away from him like you did against Flynn. Come out fast, get in close and keep throwing leather.”
“You want me to fight Trexler in close?”
"Get inside and keep hitting. Never let him get set.”
Jameson couldn’t see it. The way that was good enough to beat Flynn ought to be good enough to beat Trexler, he insisted. They argued. Marshall was mild, almost apologetic. It had been a long time since he had given anyone orders. Jameson became heated.
“It’s a goofy idea, Dave. I beat Flynn by staying away from him, didn’t I? It stands to reason—”
“Chuck!” Dora flew between them, chin out and eyes akindle. “I’m ashamed of you. Here you are with a chance to go places if you take this fight—it’s your chance to get started, Chuck, and for you, dad, maybe it’s the last chance you’ll ever get—and you’re both muffing it already. Well, you’re not going to muff it!” she flared at them. “I won’t let you. You, dad, if you’re going to manage, for heaven’s sake manage! You used to make Lew Seigler do what you told him, didn’t you? And you, Chuck, do what he tells you and no back talk.”
They grinned at each other, sheepishly. Dora went back to her camp stool. “If he tells you to fight Trexler standing on your head, Chuck, you do it,” she flung back.
Marshall squared his shoulders. “All right, Chuck,” he said, and his voice had something of a bark in it now, “you do the fighting and I’ll do the thinking. That okay by you?”
“You’re the doctor, Dave,” said Jameson meekly.
“Then make up your mind to crowd Trexler and throw leather. And don’t give me any more arguments about a game I know forward and backward.”
They worked hard; Dora made them. Through her, Saturday night loomed tremendously important, the most important night of all their lives. Jameson trained doggedly. Here was an objective, something he could do, something he could get his teeth into. And as for Dave Marshall, old fires burned up again, and he barked out orders like a sergeant major.
When Red Flynn drifted around to the gym on Friday morning to see what was going on, it was Dora who coaxed him into service as a sparring partner. The big fellow, grinning amiably, shambled about the ring and let Jameson pound away at him with the big gloves. There was an amused, half-puzzled, half-knowing expression on his freckled face when he learned the plan of campaign.
“Jeepers,” he muttered. “If you’d tried rushin’ me like that and fightin’ close in I’d ’a’ brained you.” And in the dressing room he said, winking mysteriously: “Lots of angles to this fight. Jeepers, yes. A lotta angles.”
A lot of money was being bet, he informed Jameson. All the Flynn money, and there had been plenty of it, was riding on Jameson now. It was being picked up too, so evidently some people thought Trexler had a chance. But then, Wendigo City was the sort of camp where you could find takers if you bet the sun wouldn’t rise tomorrow, and the odds wouldn’t have to be too long at that.
Flynn’s attitude, his veiled remarks, gave Jameson a notion that there were things going on around him, things of which he was not a part. It bothered him. He said as much to Dora. She scoffed.
“Flynn’s a big stupid. You’re just on edge, Chuck. Nerves. It’s a good sign.”
BUT ON Friday night Flynn shambled into Jameson’s room that was over a Chinese restaurant. He sat down on the iron bed. cleared his throat a few times and then said in his grumbling voice: “Listen, fella, I’d like to lay a few bucks on the fight. You tryin’?”
Jameson stared at him. “You’ve been around the gym. Did it look like I was fooling?”
“Nope, it didn’t,” Flynn grunted. “That was the main reason I come around. To get a line on you. And it’s got me bothered.”
“Anybody proposition you about this fight?”
Jameson shook his head. “Not me. Been hearing things, Red?”
“Look.” Flynn rubbed his bristly chin with a big paw. “Until you came along and upset all the dope, I was a cinch to be in the finals. So I get a proposition. I don’t get the whole story, but I guess some and I add up the rest. You think you can take Trexler? You figure he’s a bum?”
“He’s not in your class. I ought to take him easy.”
“He’s no bum, kid. How does this sound? There’s a big fight manager from New York comes up this way on a fishin’ trip. He happens in on the fight tomorrow night. He sees Trexler win. He signs Trexler up, takes him back to New York and tells all the newspapers, ‘Look what I found away up in the woods. Just a big green miner, but he’s got everything. He’s the heavyweight find of the century.’ Jeepers, man! Doesn’t it make a doozer of a story?”
A name shot into Jameson’s mind. George Caslon!
“Big-shot fight managers don’t take those kind of chances. Even if Trexler does win—which he won’t. What good does all that build-up do when he goes down to New York and turns out to be no good?”
“Yeah, but suppose all this build-up started six months ago when this manager picks up Trexler fightin’ in small clubs out West under another name. He spots Trexler as a comer, trains him, nurses him along, then sends him up here to hang around camp for a couple of weeks, get himself entered in this tournament. Everything is all set for the big discovery. Trexler looks like a bum in two fights. Wads of mining-camp dough bet against him. There’s ten grand to be made if he wins, besides all the stuff in the newspapers when this manager takes him back to New York. How does that sound?”
“Sounds like a lot of trouble gone for nothing when I beat Trexler. This manager can’t use me for his big find, because I’ve got a manager already. You’ve been hearing noises in your head.”
Red Flynn got up. “Maybe,” he admitted. “Maybe so.”
“This manager’s name wouldn’t be Caslon, would it?”
Red Flynn’s greenish eyes blinked.
“I guess maybe you know more than I been thinking.”
“The fight’s on the level, Red. Even if this Trexler is a sleeper. Thanks for the tip.”
Flynn shook his head dubiously. “If they ain’t propositioned you, there must be a reason. Maybe they figured they could get away with it without countin’ you in.”
“You got a manager.”
“They couldn’t talk to Dave. He’s straight. That’s out.”
Flynn moved toward the door. “Don’t be a sucker, kid,” he grumbled. “Go and make ’em cut you in for your share. They’ll respect you the more for it. Room 42 at the National Hotel. Go and talk to ’em.”
“Why should I? The fight’s on the level, I’m telling you. I can take Trexler.”
“You fight him the way your manager told you and you’ll get your head knocked off. Jeepers, kid, wake up. That’s why you didn’t get no proposition.” Flynn stood in the doorway, wagging his head. “Just a dumb, honest pushover that’ll never know what hit him.”
The door closed. Flynn clumped off down the stairs.
At first Jameson was scornful. Flynn must be slap-happy, dreaming out loud. Dave Marshall was straight as a string...
But doubts began to nibble. He couldn’t help remembering things. Marshall’s insistence that the silver-haired man at the ringside was George Caslon, his evasive manner when he came into the restaurant later and said he’d made a mistake. And then, Marshall ordering him to stage a close-in fight. All along he’d felt it was queer that Marshall wanted him to change his style... you fight him the way your manager told you and you'll get your head knocked off... pushover...
He went downstairs and out into the street. It was about nine o’clock, and the Old Home Week crowd was whooping it up. Men were roping off part of the pavement and putting up an orchestra platform for the street dance. On the corner four drunks were yowling “Sweet Adeline,” practicing for the Lamp-post Quartet competition that would come later that night. When Jameson found himself across the road from the National Hotel, he halted irresolutely. Maybe if he went up to that Room 42 and had a showdown...
He decided to talk it over with Dora. He could trust her anyhow, no matter what the old man was up to.
She wasn’t in her room at the boarding house on a side street. Moodily, Jameson ranged through the crowds, swung down through the carnival lot and back again. His eyes searched a thousand faces under the lights. When he came back uptown again the orchestra was blaring for the street dance; men and girls were dancing on the pavement.
There he saw her under the lights. Head back, lips smiling, she was dancing in the arms of a tall boy with curly yellow hair.
Jameson felt as if he had taken a hard punch in the pit of the stomach. She was dancing with young Trexler. Swaying. Smiling. The other dancers closed in around them. Dry-lipped, he watched Trexler’s yellow head bobbing among all the other shifting heads out there. The music thudded steadily in his ears.
He turned away, bleakly. It mightn’t mean anything. It might mean a lot. He went back to his room.
TRAINING was over, so Jameson stayed in bed until noon. It had been a bad night. He lay there and gazed at the ceiling for a long while. On the road, with the world against you, you learn to keep your guard up. You learn that most men are out for themselves. You learn that it isn’t wise to trust strangers. And after all, what did he know of Dave Marshall? Except that Marshall was broke, down and out, and knew the fight game—a shady racket—from the inside.
He went downstairs and ate. Afterward he went out into the street. It was a hot, sunny afternoon; the flags and banners drooped. Wendigo City, all tuckered out after five days of conscientious celebration, seemed to be collecting itself for the final uproar. At the end of the block Jameson hesitated, undecided whether to look for Dora and have it out with her. Then, half a block away and across the road, he caught a glimpse of Dave Marshall.
Marshall was coming out of the National Hotel.
Jameson’s mouth tightened. He waited until Marshall disappeared around the corner, then he strode across the road. There was no more uncertainty, no more wondering what to do. In the National he took the stairs to the first floor two at a time, marched purposefully down the corridor and banged at the door of Room 42.
A small, swarthy man in a pink shirt answered the knock. The swarthy man’s eyes were bloodshot; he had a wise, mean face.
“Dave Marshall here?” said Jameson, giving him no time to get set.
“Why he’s—hey, wait a minute,” growled the swarthy man. “What is this?” And then suddenly Caslon loomed up behind him, silver-haired, pink-cheeked, benevolent as a bishop. He studied Jameson for a moment, recognized him and said, “Let him in, Sammy.” When the door was closed, Caslon said: “What’s your trouble, son? Don’t you know better than to come here?”
“All I want to know,” Jameson said brusquely, “is what I get out of it for taking this dive tonight.”
Caslon looked him over in a long silence. “You’re not taking any dive, my boy.” In flannel slacks and a silk shirt, he eyed Jameson leisurely. “You’re just taking a licking.”
“You and Marshall seem pretty sure of that.”
“All right. We’re sure. So what?”
“What do I get out of it?”
“A first-class headache, my friend, if you don’t watch your step,” rapped out Caslon. He thrust a fat forefinger against Jameson’s chest. “Your business is with Marshall, not with me. You’ll do what he tells you and get what he gives you.” He reached out and yanked the door open. “Now scram, you punk, and don’t bother me again.”
That was all. But enough. The case was airtight.
Dora was sitting on the boarding house steps. She waved gaily as he came up the walk. “Hi, fighter! Where’ve you been all day?” And then, in face of his grimness, “What’s the trouble, Chuck?”
“Nothing much,” Jameson said slowly. “I’ve just found out that your father is a two-timing, double-crossing crook, that’s all. But maybe you know that.”
White-faced, Dora stood up. “You can’t say things like that about him, Chuck,” she said finally. “They’re not true. I don’t care what you think you’ve found out. You know they’re not true.”
“Caslon was at the ringside the other night. And Caslon is managing Trexler. Your father has been in cahoots with both of them to make sure Trexler wins that fight tonight. How much do you know about that?”
Dora shook her head desperately. “I don’t believe it, Chuck. He wouldn’t.” But he saw the fear in her eyes. “He wouldn’t do that, Chuck.”
“Didn’t Trexler tell you all about it last night?”
Dora’s fingers grasped his sleeve. “I danced with Trexler, Chuck. Is that what you saw. But it didn’t mean anything. Not what you think.”
“It doesn’t matter what I think.”
“But it does. It matters terribly. I—I put myself in his way deliberately, Chuck, because I—well, I thought there was something going on, and I thought maybe if I pretended I knew more than I did—”
He looked down at her. He believed her.
“You thought Trexler might talk out of turn. And he didn’t.”
“No. He didn’t.”
“Maybe Trexler doesn’t know any more than they want to tell him either. Well, here’s what I know—”
He told her about his talk with Flynn, his visit to the room at the hotel. When he finished, Dora sat down on the steps again. She seemed crushed. Her hands were shaking. She twisted a handkerchief into a tight ball between her fingers.
“Oh, Chuck, he couldn’t,” she whispered. “I was afraid there was something—he was hiding something, and I saw him talking to that man he thought was Caslon. But he wouldn’t cross you up like that.”
“He won’t get the chance. He’s not going in my corner tonight,” Jameson said curtly.
“Chuck,” she said in a small voice, after a while, “don’t do this to him. You know how I feel about it. Have a talk with him. Give him a chance to explain. There must be some explanation. I’ve counted on this so much. It was his big chance, Chuck, and if you let him down now—”
“He let me down. It’s no use, Dora. He and I are washed up.”
“Then,” her voice faltered, “I guess that means you and I—we’re washed up too.”
JAMESON dropped down beside her, took her hands. “It isn’t your fault. I’m not blaming you. You’ve done the best you could. I couldn’t trust your father any more. You can see that, can’t you? I’m going to win this fight, and afterward you and I—you know how I feel about you, honey—”
She gazed out at the street. “I feel the same way about you, Chuck. But I couldn’t let him down. I couldn’t leave him. He’ll be needing me more than ever now.” She got up and turned toward the door. “You’re asking me to make a choice, Chuck. And I can’t make it—no matter what he’s done—not even for you.”
She went into the house. Jameson sat there for a long time hoping she would come out again; then he got up and went back to his room. He felt alone and bitter. Fight time couldn’t come too soon. It would make him feel better to hand Trexler a beating. Not that it was Trexler’s fault either. But it would make him feel better.
Someone came up the stairs and knocked. He heard Dave Marshall saying, “Chuck! Are you there, Chuck?” He didn’t answer. He never wanted to see Marshall again. There was a rattle at the doorknob but he had turned the key, and after a while he heard Marshall trudging down the stairs again. He wondered if he could get Red Flynn to go in his corner.
There was a rumpus at the dressing room door that night, but Dave Marshall didn’t get in. Jameson could hear him arguing in the corridor. But Jameson had been tough with the committee on that score. “The guy isn’t my manager. We’re washed up, see. If he gets into the dressing room or comes near my corner tonight, I don’t go on.”
“That’s tellin’ ’em,” Red Flynn said, taping Jameson’s hands. “It’s a good thing you got wise to yourself, kid.”
But Marshall reached him for a few seconds when they went out into the turbulent, smoke-filled corridor at ten o’clock. He scrambled out of the crowd, white and agitated, grabbed at the sleeve of Jameson’s bathrobe.
“Chuck! For heaven’s sake, Chuck, listen to me a minute—”
“I’m not listening to you now or ever.”
Jameson shook off the restraining hand. Red Flynn growled, “Scram, double-crosser!” and shoved Marshall out of the way to be caught up in the surge of men crowding back to their seats—a shabby, gesticulating little man pulled away by the throng.
Up in the white glare of the ring, Jameson was aware of the crowd as of a tossing sea out there in the gloom, a sea in violent uproar. Trexler was sitting in the opposite corner. The light beat down on his golden head and sleek white body.
“He’s worried, boy. He’s plenty worried,” Flynn mumbled in Jameson’s ear. “Seein’ me in your corner, he knows it ain’t a setup no more.”
“Chuck! Please, Chuck—”
It was Dora’s quick, clear voice, pleading and a little desperate. Over his shoulder he saw her face above the ring apron, white in the merciless light.
“You were wrong, Chuck. You were all wrong about him. Please, Chuck, let him go in your corner. He’ll tell you himself. He’ll tell you how wrong you were.”
“Beat it, sister,” growled Red Flynn.
Seeing her—the curve of her mouth, the line of her throat—brought a stabbing ache in his heart. Jameson fought it down. If he hadn’t been soft he wouldn’t have fallen for her in the first place. Scowling, he turned his head away.
“It’s his last chance, Chuck. You can throw it away like you’re doing, and you’ll get another chance maybe. But he can’t. He’ll never try again after this.”
“It’s too late,” Jameson said curtly. Then he got up and went out into the ring to meet Trexler and the referee. If she was still at ringside when he came back to shed his bathrobe, he didn’t see her. He didn’t even look.
The Trexler who came out with the gong was not the clown who stumbled through that fight on Wednesday night. This boy was smooth and fast and meant business.
Flick! Flick! The long left seemed to come from nowhere, so swiftly Jameson never saw it on its way. It clipped his right cheek, not very hard, and Jameson danced back. He felt a little foolish because he hadn’t seen that left coming. It wouldn’t happen again. As long as he stayed out of reach, pulling away like he’d done against Flynn...
But the left kept flickering like an adder’s tongue. And it landed often, an irritating, maddening left that seemed to be in his face continually. No matter how he blocked, guarded, retreated, he couldn’t get away from it. By the time he was back in his corner, baffled, resentful and with a swollen eye, Jameson knew Trexler had plenty. Lightning fast and clever. This was no clumsy, tangle-footed kid. Flynn hadn’t lied.
“Boy, if you’d gone in close throwin’ leather like the old boy told you,” mumbled Flynn, working on the eye, “he’d have blasted you wide open. Suicide, that’s what it woulda been. Stay away from him like you stayed away from me. Let him wear himself out swingin’.”
BUT you couldn’t stay away. Trexler was too fast. Flick, flick, flick, in came that left. And when Jameson tried throwing a few punches of his own it was like hitting at a shadow, at smoke drifting away, dissolving in front of the gloves. The left stabbed and stabbed. He stumbled back to his corner at the end of the round, glowering. One eye was dim, the right side of his face was raw; blood trickled from a cut lip.
The crowd, with Wendigo City money solidly on Jameson, was getting sore. Someone bawled, “G’wan, you yellow lug, get in there and fight.” Someone else screeched, “Fake!” and that hurt worse than the straight left.
“If I’d gone in close like Marshall told me to, it would have been a fake, all right,” he said bitterly, and heard his own voice as a distant mumble.
"Don’t pay no attention to them guys.” Flynn sponged his face. “He’ll tire pretty soon. You’re doin’ fine.”
The trouble was that he’d be blinded before Trexler tired at that gait. Jameson knew he was taking a beating. If Marshall had only trained him right, shown him how to block that left hand. Marshall must have known about that left. The double-crossing old rat. But he had been a sucker to think he had a chance anyhow. After two years of being kicked in the teeth, he should have known better. Listening to all that fluff about being a natural, a guy with a future, thinking he was giving Marshall a break—that was a laugh! Sucker! He lunged out for the fourth.
He was taking a lacing all right. The left stabbed again and again. It seemed made of razor blades by now, slicing at the quivering skin of his face. Trexler was all over him, hitting harder, speeding up.
Jameson tried to grab and hold on. It was like holding an eel. Another time, seeing Trexler’s tight-lipped face unguarded above him for a second he smashed hard with the right and missed, found himself among the ropes, then off balance and on the floor.
The gong smashed. He stumbled blindly to his corner; the crowd’s roar pounded in his ears. He sprawled there, and water splashed warm in his face, hands kneaded his midriff; he sniffed the pungent smell of ammonia, tingling his nose, and the smell of the stuff Flynn used on his cuts. “Jeepers, kid,” Flynn was muttering, “can’tcha block his left? Can’tcha block it at all?” And then the blare of the gong and he was out there again, with Trexler gliding toward him, golden-headed, a white shadow in black trunks, silent and swift with red gloves hovering...
...Stay away from him. Keep pulling away to the left. Or was it the right? The way you beat Flynn. Wait until he tires. You’re no boxer, see. You were a sucker to let yourself be talked into this, and if you get out of it alive you’ll be a sucker to ever go in a ring again. You haven’t any more chance in this racket than in anything else you ever tried. Slug with this guy and he’ll kill you...
Jameson knew he was licked. Slash! Stab! The iron glove ripped into his face again. Back away. Keep away from that left. And then ropes scraped his back and he was covering up, desperately trying to get out of a corner. But he couldn’t get out, the way was blocked by a barrage of gloves.
Something exploded in his head. The floor hit him hard.
Jameson rolled over. He saw a rope and grabbed at it. He was licked all right. The other guy was too fast. You couldn’t keep away from him. He hauled himself to his feet, and a sullen savage wrath flared up in him when he saw the golden-headed tormentor looming at him again, gloves flashing.
At least get one smash at the guy before you go out. What have you got to lose? Nothing. Not a thing in the world to lose.
Trexler wasn’t a man any more. He was the whole rotten world, a world that could boot you around and laugh at your dreams and sneer at your hunger, a world that despised your strength and your youth, that let you sleep in box-cars and beg for jobs, and gave you hope and snatched it away. A rotten, hostile, double-crossing world. Snarling, cornered, Jameson smashed at it.
He struck furiously at the looming face, the face grotesque with staring eyes and white mouthpiece that distorted the lips into a wolf’s grin. He saw the face tilt sharply up under the glare. He struck again and again, clubbing, slamming, battering, pounding away in a reckless and terrible frenzy.
He felt the solid impact of fist and body. He buried his face against a sweaty chest, smashed hard, lunging ahead. A terrific jolt against the side of his head made him reel. But he rebounded as if yanked by a rope, slammed his fist hard against the white mouthpiece, saw the gaping face fade away from him.
Jameson tore after it, frantic lest the face should escape him. And then he knew Trexler was giving way. There was no conscious thought about it, just a feeling that poured through his body. Trexler couldn’t take it in close. Jameson crashed in again and hammered. Trexler grabbed his arms; he wrenched free, smashed at the white face again.
Trexler wasn’t like Flynn, who could beat your brains out if you got too close. He knew that now. Here he was in close, and Trexler was trying to get away from him.
Marshall had been right all the time. “Get in close and keep throwing leather.” That was the way to beat Trexler. He closed in again; a blow blazed between his eyes, but he scarcely felt it. His fists smashed into Trexler’s body. He was driving Trexler back across the ring. The guy couldn’t stand being slugged. A boxer, all right, but no match for a tough boy with a punch and nothing to lose by throwing it.
Trexler grabbed, held again. Jameson hurled Trexler away from him, tore in and slugged. That was what Dave Marshall had told him to do. The old boy hadn’t lied. No double-cross about that. He saw the face whirling past him. He lashed out, struck it fair and square.
Solid jar of bone and muscle against cushioned fist. Through the bright fog he saw the golden head and white body spinning. He heard a thud, far away.
THEN somebody was thrusting at him, the ropes were at his back. He saw Trexler lying on the floor. Lying inert like a dead man while the referee crouched, arm flailing, and bawled, “—two—three—four—” through the screaming thunder.
Marshall hadn’t crossed him up. Standing there, the whole knowledge became part of him in an instant, and he saw it all stark and clear, like a countryside in a glare of lightning. Marshall protecting him from Caslon, bluffing Caslon, promising Caslon an easy win. Nursing the secret, running the risks, and all the time saying, “Get in close and throw leather. That way you can beat Trexler.”
“—nine—” bawled the referee through the din. “Ten—and out!"
Men were storming through the ropes. He was pushed and pommelled, pounded on the back, his arm raised high. He saw Red Flynn fighting toward him, face maniacal with joy.
“A natural!” Flynn was roaring. “Nobody but a natural coulda done it. To come up off the floor and slug when you’re out on your feet—” He flung his arms around Jameson in a bear hug. “Never seen nothin’ like it. Kid, you was like a Dempsey. You’re on your way, and there ain’t a guy in the world can stop you.” Jameson struggled to reach the ropes. “I’ve got to find them, Red. Help me find them before they get away.” He snatched up his bathrobe, his eyes searching the shifting mass of people below. “Come on, Red—I’ve got to find them.”
“Find who?” blurted Flynn.
“My manager!” Jameson had to shout to make himself heard. He swung himself through the ropes. “And my girl.”