Big Joe Dowd was finished, fed up, the jibes and boos of hostile crowds dinning in his ears. It took a girl to show him that what was worth having was worth fighting for
IT WAS the third, Joe thought. This one and then there would be seven more rounds to go, twenty-one more minutes of standing up to the nimbleness and the metallic power that together made Al Hayes. Twenty-one minutes more of the Garden crowd, their shouted wisdom, their nobleness. . .
Giant Joe Dowd’s left arm was an oak beam, long, outstretched, agile; but Hayes wove, tore under it. A flurry of smashes to the body. Smashes that were a series of staccato
Joe wasn’t thinking now, or listening to grunts, or the taunts of the fight fans who for a dollar and ten cents are given the divinity of contempt and omniscience. Joe was circling the ropes. His huge elbows twisted, stiff and tight against his great body, shields of bone to the punches of little Mr. AÍ Hayes. Then he was thinking bitterly: I must look wonderful. A big, overgrown elephant being chased by a prancing colt. Very wonderful.
Now the punches were coming at him like thrown fists, Hayes lunging behind them. They clinched. Hayes wrestled roughly to free himself, but Joe’s vast torso was a rock of weight on the smaller man’s shoulders. Lie on him, wear him out, Conners had said. His huge, veined arms smothered the movement of Hayes’ fists. And then the bell clanged—flat, but with a dramatic authority— ending the third which had been no different from the
There was his corner, like a prow of a boat rocking in the darkness. But a few steps and Joe’s legs steadied, adjusted themselves to the movement of walking which after three minutes of fistic action is something strange, foreign. The comer became a haven then—a minute-at-atime haven. Canvas, stool, ropes, and Clem Conners.
Clem’s face was close to his. Clem was the size of a boy, but with grey-white hair and a sphere for a waist. He was down on one knee, and he was rubbing Joe’s great muscled body with a towel and his whole face was busy saying: “You’re doing all right. Hayes is a little monkey. He’ll burn himself out. Sure. Soon all that’ll be left’ll be his
Joe’s long, thick arms hung from his shoulders. His legs stretched out wide before him, heels resting on canvas. When you’re six-six by the ruler, and two-fifty to a scale, you have plenty of leg to stretch and plenty to get as heavy and immobile as tree trunks.
But the crowd had to shout their pleasant insults. It
spurts, shoulder-driven, cruelly impersonal. Joe heard the grunts that went with their effort, that also held a wild, perspiring, satisfaction.
was a very happy crowd. Super-dreadnaught! Man mountain ! Goliath ! And AÍ Hayes was little David and his stout heart and puny sling shot. He was the underdog. The ultimate triumph of the little fellow. Of right over might. A symbol of achievement, the long shot that laughs in the face of the big numbered odds against it.
The fourth started with Hayes bounding across the ring, his right fist carrying him off his feet that it might reach the jaw of towering Joe Dowd. It landed. With the high C smack of wet leather. The crowd’s roar rose; the Garden jerked to its feet reflexivelv, gleefully. An upset —what an upset !
Joe fell back to his own corner, his ponderous weight making thunder of the floor boards. Two more rights pounded against his jaw. He circled away from the ropes, toward the centre of the ring. A big man moving with all the weariness of a big man. All he wanted was to keep away, to rest, to last out the round.
And an uppercut is not an offensive punch. It’s a counter, a defense, a “you better watch how you’re rushing in at me.” You step back as the other fellow charges—a gauged, a calculated enough step. The right glove is dropped down low; the body is twisted far to the right; the weight is on the right foot. There’s the pause that comes with the timing, and then the punch, swinging up with the sway of the shoulders and the lift that comes from the balls of the feet.
AÍ Hayes went down with Joe’s pile-driver uppercut to the chin. He went down with that one punch and the referee stepped in as Hayes was climbing like languid smoke to his feet—and it was completely over, except for the booing and Joe’s thoughts.
Joe was familiar enough with the booing. It was always like this. The catcalls of a crowd that somehow' felt itself cheated by something unfair, something that left it no appeal to justice. Why that big slob! Hayes was whippin’ the pants off him !
A FEW reporters and their notebooks can fill a dressing 4*room at the Garden. Joe was sitting on the rubbing table. A towel over his head, its ends down into the collar of this bathrobe; and Clem’s fatherly arm tight to his shoulders. Joe also wore a battered smile, but his thoughts didn’t feel so good inside, and inside is more important than outside. Poor Clem, he was worrying, this is going to be tough on poor Clem.
The wispy reporter, his hat away from his forehead, his fingers busy with a pencil, stopped chewing his gum to say: “What about Joe and the Bomber? Chance of their tanglin’? Come on, Conners, come on. Turn the tap. What’s the setup come June, July?”
Whereupon the other gentlemen of the press became quite noisy with their questions, to which Conners waved his hands before him for quiet and order. Conners’ jockey face was a happy smile. Joe could not help but see this and and understand this. He knew how Conners felt about the game. He knew that right now he was the game to Conners.
Joe took his shower. As he was sticking a leg into his trouser, he had what there was to say all ready on his tongue. Blurt it out! Co on, tell him! “I’m through, Clem. I’m not pulling on the gloves again.” But Joe didn’t take his eyes off his trousers. And he wanted to bury his head down in them, instead of his legs. And he couldn’t say the words. And he blamed himself for being the kind of a guy who was afraid of hurting little Clem.
Tommy Dowd’s is up the Avenue from the Garden and a couple of doors east. It’s a big noise and smoke. Its dance floor is the size of a card out of the pack. But it’s close to the Garden and Tommy is Joe’s brother and Tommy said that win or draw the drinks would be on the house.
It was different here than at the Garden. Here were strained out the few faithful, the friends and those loyal to him. Joe loomed out big in the middle of all the others, their talk and laughter and congratulations, all around
him. All their eyes looking up at him, their heads tilted back. His thoughts were not there. At the same time, uncomfortably, he wanted it to appear that they were. Could it possibly be that what he was really thinking didn’t show through his face—like it was cellophane, a cellophane mask?
At last, when he could break away, and still be a good sport, his six-feet-six stood up off the stool. “Tommy,” he said, “my back hurts from the slapping. Maybe I’ve got me a glass back. Say, Clem.” He touched Clem Conners’ shoulder. “I’m going over to Tommy’s office.”
When Joe got there he walked around the room; it wasn’t to look it over; it wasn’t for exercise. He stopped in the middle of a jerked turn and said: “Tommy. You saw me out there tonight. You think that was a fight? I couldn’t tell Clem; I can tell you. I’m done. Finished. I’m fed up, that’s what.”
Tommy laughed, uncertainty in its manufactured quality. Just a trace of uncertainty there, that the noise of the laughter almost concealed. “That’s a beautiful gag,” he said.
“It’s no gag. It’s not beautiful. It’s nothing.”
“What’s the matter, Joe?”
“I’m not sick. You sound like I’m sick. I’m through and fed up, is all. I’m no fighter. I never was and I never will be. You don’t like to fight; you can’t fight. Me—I don’t like to fight.”
Tommy put his cigar carefully on the desk. He touched his lips carefully with the tip of his tongue, lips that were stitched fine with the uncountable scars of a champion’s career. “You don’t like to fight?” he said, a bewildered incredulity spacing the words with thought.
Joe blurted it then: “I don’t have to be a freak in a side show !” And he was immediately sorry at the bald revelation of the thing. He extended his huge right hand, fingers up, in a plea. “Don’t you see? I’ve got two gas pumps. A house. A couple acres. I don’t have to fight. They come
to see me for laughs. I’m a clown. Outside of you and Clem, they want to see me get slugged off my pontoons. Right? By a little guy especially. That makes it fine.” Tommy picked up his cigar, stuck it in his mouth. “Gallery razzing. You’re just too blamed touchy, man. You mean to say it’s got you? Why, you were great out there. You're set to grab yourself a championship. You’re—”
“I don't have to do tricks like an elephant, Tom. And I don’t have to stand on your rep to get what I want out of life. I’m big, and it’s your rep. You’re an ex-champ and you’re my brother. Don't you think I know?”
Joe could see that Tommy wasn’t taking him seriously now. That he was taking it all as just a mood in transit. He wondered why he had come to Tommy; if it was just to put his trouble into words, it was plain that did not subtract from his trouble. “All right,” he said bitterly. “Laugh. Go on—laugh.”
THE NEXT day was Saturday, but the weather showed little respect for week ends. It rained. That atomizer, cold sweat, grey type of rain. But Joe wanted to get out of town, weather or no weather, out of the town that was the fight game. He headed north. In his car that had been paid for by the Galloway go, the draw with Kid Sherman and part of his set-to with Tolliver.
Joe hadn’t seen Clem. And now, still not having seen him, he felt like a runaway. How could you talk to a fellow who lived fight; and knew, with a dopester’s certainty, that in the star stall of his stable he had the next heavy champ of the world?
Billy Hodgers, the short-weight bantam who handled Joe’s station, was sitting on his heels putting air in a car’s rear tire, when Joe swerved up onto the drive. “Great going, Joseph!” Billy shouted around the car. “That’s putting ’em away. Clem phoned.”
“How’re you, Bill? Clem phoned? What’d Clem want?”
“Wasn’t more’n five, six minutes. Said he was coming on out. Asked if you were here. Say, Joe. I heard it all on the radio last night. You sure was doin’ some plenty hot beltin’. Hmmm.”
Joe never imagined it would be so hard to quit the game. It would be hard, sure; especially with this win over Hayes —but not this hard. “You got things looking fine, Bill.” He looked down at the tiny bantam busy wiping his fragile hands clean with the ball of black waste.
Well, Clem didn’t come that morning or in the afternoon or evening. It wasn’t until Sunday that he came and she came. She was Sally O’Rourke, smiling at the wheel of a convertible the winey color of a pair of new six-ounce mitts.
“I thought you were coming out yesterday,” Joe said to Clem, looking down at Clem but really seeing the picture of this Sally girl in his thoughts.
“Come? Didn’t it rain out here? It poured in the city.”
Joe knew then that Tommy hadn’t said anything to him about his quitting the game; for if he had, Clem wouldn’t have been stopped a whole twenty-four hours by weather no matter what its consistency or facial expression.
“Well, are you going to introduce me to your friend or not?” the girl asked, and played as if she were hurt by making a slightly less beautiful face with her lower lip.
Clem said: “Oh. Joe, I want you to meet Sally. She was good enough to give me a lift. She’s the best driver in the country. You’ve met Jake O’Rourke’s girl?”
Sally took Joe’s hand with friendly firmness. “Joe, how’d you do it Friday night?” she asked. He liked it that she said his name, that she said Joe. “There was some old fat man beside me. Oh, did he keep bouncing on this seat. Red in the face. Shouting, simply screaming for the ‘little feller.’ ” She bent forward with her laughter. “His poor little feller. My, my.” And Joe was conscious that she was looking at his size.
Joe opened the door for her and she stepped down, still Continued on page 33
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laughing, and straightened her dress and stretched. Tall, with that clean, strong solidity, with a spirited gaiety in the way she moved. “What fresh air,” she observed, taking a sample. “What a lovely place, Joe. Flowers. Clem, honestly, would you as much as suspect that there was gasoline within a hundred miles?”
“There is all right,” Joe said. He should have said something that didn’t sound so heavy, dull, so stupid.
And then to add to his misery, Clem had to go proudly into the economic basis of the station, as if he were just waiting for the chance: that it wasn’t that Joe considered it an investment, but that he thought of it as security. “It ain’t a hobby with Joe. Something he can fall back on is the idea. Maybe his looks don’t show it, Sally, but he’s smart. And when Joe gets ready to hang up the gloves—”
“Clem !” Sally cut him off with petulant, laughing anger. “The very idea, Clem.” She took Joe’s arm, which, at her touch, became awkwardly wooden and immense. “Do you let him talk like that, Joe?”
THEY went over his place, exploring his two acres and the empty house. Joe was ill at ease, but never had he been less conscious of the ludicrous disparity between his physical bulk and the feminine size than he was now. Nor had he ever, until now, desired to be the swashbuckling romantic figureof the ring she thought him. It pleased him that she thought him one of the great. It worried him that he wasn’t. It kept him upset, that he had decided to part company with the ring, and that she did not know of it, and knowing of it might not want to hold his arm and call him Joe the way she did.
They took a ride—in the convertible. That was Sally’s idea. And forsaking Clem at the station and heading up toward Peakhill were her ideas too. There seemed to be no end to her ideas. They sprang naturally from her friendly vivacity, added a becoming mischievousness to it like a lustre.
She said: “You know I’m Jake
“Jake’s okay. I knew he had a daughter. But I didn’t know you were it.”
“Uh huh.” She nodded her head. “That’s the present arrangement. How long it’ll last, I don’t know. After yesterday.”
“What’s the trouble, incompatibility? Mental cruelty? What?” He tossed the queries off almost lightly. This girl’s easy familiarity made you feel strong, sure of yourself; the light and brilliant gab flowed. You felt at home with her.
She rocked over the wheel, laughing. “Well, I only told him what I thought. After your showing Friday, I thought it ought to be you and Lou Madden for the ninth out at the Stadium. And I told him so. It’s such a natural. All he’d say was we’ll see, we’ll see. That’s Jake.”
Joe said: “Why do you want me to fight Lou Madden on the ninth?” Lou Madden was second only to the Bomber— and a close second.”
“Joe. You ask that question? It would draw—you know yourself how it would draw. My, you’re as bad as Jake. But I’m not through with the old man. Not yet, I’m not.”
“I suppose it would draw at that. Madden’s right up there.”
“And you can beat Lou. Don’t you think that you can beat Lou? And now that I’ve met you, Joe, I will talk to Jake. I’ll be sure to.”
Joe nodded his head ; yes, he thought he could beat Lou. And he also thought: “I must be nuts about this girl. It must be that. For her, I would think that I can beat Lou. I would tackle three Lou Maddens together and at the same time. Four Lou Maddens.”
And when they appeared in range of Joe’s gas station, Clem came out of the door and started down the drive, his short little legs working like a Christmas toy.
Sally shrunk down the seat’s back. “Oh, do you think he’s sore, for us being away so long like this?”
“Jake phoned ’bout half an hour ago,” Clem said, as soon as they got out, as if he could not hold the words in a second longer. “This is one you won’t guess, Joe.
He wants you for a go with Madden. I ou Madden."
“Joe . . .!"
And Joe could feel Sally’s fingers as they held the loose cloth of his coat sleeve. And he was thinking that Lou Madden could whip any and all parts of him and handily. What had come over him, he couldn’t understand.
Clem was saying: “I told him no, Joe. I know it’s a great spot, but I told him no. It’ll keep. Another year maybe, then you’ll be ready for any of ’em, including the Louis boy. But it just goes to show what they think of you, Joe. You know now what walloping Hayes meant.” This last wasn’t a question; it was something that just bubbled out of Clem like a father’s I talk about a son.
Joe thought how puny his six-six must 1 be in Sally’s eyes. “Clem,” he said, “you just can’t go and turn down a chance like that. Look at the dough. And if I win—”
“Look at the dough? And if you win? How’re you figgering it, Joe?”
“I can take Madden.”
“Joe, what’re yuh sayin’? How long yuh been fightin’. huh? Countin’ Hayes, seventeen bouts. Madden’s an old hand. And tough, and a big nut too. As big as you. almost.”
“I’ve seen Madden work.” Joe glanced at Sally, standing apart, not to interfere, and she smiled at him and his argument ■ and his shining confidence. “He’s got ! class. He don’t hit so hard though. Who’s j he stopped?” And Joe knew it was Sally’s smile that was the motor to his tongue.
And when Sally had gone, Clem was still anti the Madden go, fiercely, paternally so. j “Sally. Don’t go hold your chin out for for that perfect little dame.” There was understanding in the canine cock of his little head. “She and Madden are like j that.” He dovetailed his fingers. “He might even have put her up to this. Maybe that’s why she gave me the lift out. You don’t know. You can’t be sure with women. Once—I was married to one. A real one, Joe. So I know what I’m talkin’.”
r"PIIE NIGHT of the ninth followed the -k day as dispassionately as any law in any book of physics. And Joe was in his dressing room with the weeks of training in his vast muscles and lungs and the sunset brown of his skin. He was ready. Sally liad promised in a letter to his mountain training camp, to come in to wish him luck, and after that little ritual he would be as ready as any one fighter can be.
Clem was doing bis hands. He was making an Egyptian mummy of Joe’s ponderous right hand with the surgical gauze.
“They’ll let Sally in?” Joe asked again. “You’re sure?”
“Sure, Joe. Sure. Sure I’m sure. Relax.”
“Well you know how cops arc.”
The taping operations were watched by Scrazzo. Lou Madden was Scrazzo’s property and he did not want to see it violated by unfair hands. Scrazzo’s meaty face shaved blue. His paunch, ornate with the covering of a silk, red-green striped shirt, rested on the belt of his trousers. Thin green glass was what his eyes were made of.
Scrazzo remarked about the house, as it related to dollars and percentages and deadheads. Joe of course did not hear. The dressing room door was what he was looking at, and he was thinking of Sally and what was keeping her, for he had not seen her since he had started the training grind. He took his hand away from Clem.
1 le walked over and ojiened the door, filling it, and talked to the cop on the outside. The cop shook his head all the time that Joe was talking.
Scrazzo said: “This O’Rourke biddy’s got Joe, hull?” His eyes were very small and shiny. “Ho, ho!” And he worked his fleshy face with his fingers.
“No cracks, Scrazzo!” Clem snapped. “Understand !”
Joe was coming back, when Scrazzo pulled the rolled newspaper from a hip pocket. Scrazzo’s hand was oj>en before him, palm up. Its fingernails tapped the page to which he’d opened the paper. Then his guttural voice read each word, each a separate task to his untutored tongue. “Miss Sally O’Rourke picks odds-on favorite too. ‘Handsome Lou’s my man,’ blond daughter of promoter says as eve of big—”.
Joe snatched the paper from Scrazzo’s hands with a single sweep of his arm. There was the picture: Sally, in evening wear, turned from the table to face the camera, and across the table from her Lou Madden’s pretty face, his teeth a smile.
Clem pleaded with a whined, “Joe, what you want to go listen to Scrazzo for?” He pulled at the pai>er. “You know Scrazzo. He pays those' publicity boys what to say.” He turned about suddenly. “Goon! Get out ! Scrazzo, I’ll throw you
you’d better clear out. ...” Clem saw the paper on the (loor. I íe grabbed it up, pleading, “Look here. This is a phony. A rotten gag. Now, Joe. . . .”
But Joe stood with his back to him, his big, black-haired head bent.
The fight started off like most. No fanfare of wildly swung punches. But the cool circling appraisal; the feints that probe for a weak sjxjt ; the uncertain jabs, recovered, drawn back after partial starts. And the crowd very silent, expectant, after the tension built up in the too-long-drawnout prelude of preliminaries.
Joe flicked out his oak-beam left several times in the hot night air, but there was no Ix>u Madden. It was very awkward. Madden was inches away. Two hundred and fourteen pounds of cleverness. Very neat, very sleek in the symmetry of his muscled limbs, and very brown under the light, and very much at ease in the effortless scrape of his shoes on the canvas.
Joe thought: “What am I doing in here? This is the Lou Madden. The favorite of the fight bugs. The choice of the promoter’s daughter. Sally’s choice. And what am 1 but a sucker, a rung in Madden’s ladder to the Bomber? Wasn’t that what she’d made him?” And all the time he’d thought she’d gone for him, a Ion of beef with a hammered nose. Every sensible idea he’d ever had, she’d made him forget. Peace and quiet, with money the way others earned it, a little every day, and not for the service of standing up like a side show monstrosity and getting what belonged to you bashed in.
Madden threw a right from the hem of his trunks; his body along with it. It caught Joe high on the left cheek. Another just missed because Joe was set back and out of range by the first. Joe’s long, heavy-muscled arms were down. The ropes of his own corner were at his back. They made a wedge that held him there for Lou Madden who blocked the way.
Madden’s legs were wide and taut. His arms were that way too. Each punch a flashing shift of the whole body. Joe tried to catch them with his elbow's, grab and stop them with his mittens. Finally, before he’d be nailed to the ring post, he slid free out of the corner and down the ropes.
Joe’s legs pumped fast to keep him circling about the ring away from Madden. The attendance did not like the cycling exhibition; they expressed their dislike. Joe thought: “They can’t ever be on my side. Always I’ve got them to fight too. Madden’s no midget. This pug’s nearly my size, and still they’re yowling.”
The second, the third, fourth, fifth, sixth were Madden’s. Now all he wanted to do w'as flatten Joe, and that desire was plain in his wild, over-anxious charges. Joe kept his arms high. Stepped into the swings. Held tight; broke reluctantly, making a sweating, grunting, growling crowbar'out of the referee. He’d get into his shell, often -his contracted body bent at the waist, right arm circled round his head, his left rigid across his great body. This, especially, was obnoxious to the fans. Throw out the overstated burn! Throw 'rn
out! They expressed themselves literally and figuratively; they showed all the enthusiasm of indignation and a worthy cause. Where's my Mamma! Better be careful, Lou! What a woilwitid!
"DEFORE the clang of the bell for the seventh, little Clem Conners was on his knees, hollering with tears in his eyes. “Boy, go out there an’ take the play! Get to him ! Carry the fight to him ! Lay ’em in there!”
“It’s that girl that’s eatin’ you, ain’t it? Huh? That Sally. That O’Rourke’s kid.” “Where’d you get that idea?”
“Get her out of your head, Joe. Scrazzo —you don’t believe anything Scrazzo’d try to pull. That Madden palooka was Sally’s boy friend—that’s all.”
“I stepped out of my class, Clem. It’s in the book. Tonight’s not my night.” “You’re not fightin’. You’re not shadow boxin’. Joe”—the ten-second
buzzer sounded; Conners stopped, then went on with a rush — “Joe, you gotta take these last ones!” He slapped Joe’s leg as he got up and started through the ropes. “Every one of ’em!”
Madden came out to meet him, three quarters of the way across the ring, very happy, very eager. Joe’s thoughts came as fast. They came with his distaste for the crowd, for Madden, for Sally and what she had wrenched out of the inside of him. To quit, w'as the main thought. Lay down. Take a dive and make a big splash. Let them all think him yellow; give them their chance for a last prolonged lusty too. And then never pull on another pair of gloves. Then Sally would have what she wanted and he’d have what he wanted. . . .
They were tied up tension-tight in Madden’s comer. Madden’s left w'as holding Joe. His right w-as thudding into his body and then up to the head, moving with skilfull speed and power, with the automatic ease of a punch press. His hot, wet face complained: “Open up, bum! Scared? What are yuh, a blunderin’ turtle?”
Joe spun, tore awray, grabbing the top rope. “That movie face!” he shouted at him. “I don’t want to muss it! Sally wouldn’t like that! She’d hold it against me !” And shaking Sally’s name brought a surge of melodramatic feeling that told him he had nothing to lose now let alone fight for. But instead of apathy, it brought anger. He was suddenly savage sore—a wave of determined heat inside him.
His legs stopped the scissor movement that sent him circling. “Madden, I’m going to give it to you,” he told himself, with savage pleasure. He walked diagonally across the ring, doggedly, relentlessly. “Yes sir, Madden. Yes siree!”
When he got to Madden, he wouldn’t budge from the spot ; he stood there throwing punches with the w'ildness of an oak with a storm in its branches. Madden appeared very happy at this change of tactics. He set up shop and traded punches. It was not at all scientific. The bell had a wild struggle tearing them apart when the round’s time was up.
The eighth and the ninth, except for brief breathers, were all business too, primitive, elemental business. And between rounds, Conners forgot all professional calm, shouting: “Yuh got him,
Joe ! Yuh got him ! I Ie’s dragging his tail, big boy! Keep the steam up! How you feel, Joe?”
Joe rushed to his feet at the warning buzzer, impatient until the bell. The searing bitterness in him did not subside. The wild action did not help. It was only symptomatic of all his pain and the futility and all the helplessness.
A right sw'ung in an overhand arc caught Madden high on the side of the head. It set him stumbling. The upper rope hit the back of his neck and stopixxd him. Joe did not waste time. He caught him on the ropes and punished him about the body. Out in the clear, a clean, straight right clipped Madden’s chin. An uppercut in close set him down, his legs, torso and
arms, momentarily in the air, forming a V. He started a dazed scramble upward ; was woozy on his feet at four.
The house was on its feet too, raised almost as it were by their screaming mouths. And it was like that until the end. And when the referee held both Madden’s and Joe’s arms in the air, signifying a draw, there were boos and stomping of feet and shouts of disapDroval. The rows of people remained standing. Their busy, excited complaint did not let up.
But it did not taste pleasant to Joe’s mind. He wanted to get away from the cameras and the microphones and the policemen: someplace out of this circus where he could be by himself. So what if he had fought Madden to a draw? So what? There was a blue cordon about him all the way to the dressing room.
Inside the door he stopped, and there was Sally. A first, quick thought: “She’s made a mistake. She asked for Madden’s room and they told her wrong.” He stood there—hot and wet, his broad chest heaving—watching her dumbly as she took strides toward him.
“It wasn’t even, Joe. You should have won. They all say that, Joe. You should have had the decision. That last round gave it to you.”
Clem was bubbling his agreement. Joe didn’t answer her. He sat against the edge of the rubbing table. There was a thick murmur in the crowded room. Clem puffed and grunted as he cut away the gloves. Clem looked up at Joe’s hot, grim face and then looked over at Sally.
“You’re not hurt, Joe?”
Clem looked at Sally. He said: “Hurt?” and laughed.
“I couldn’t watch it, Chm. I was in here from the second round on. Shouldn’t you get some people out of here?” She put her hand to her throat. “There’s no air to breathe.”
“You gotta stand for crowds when you’re up there,” Clem said. “Joe’s right up there now.”
“It’s really Louis now. Isn’t it?”
Joe hopped up on the table, his bulk covering it. “Don’t string along with me on that account,” he said. “It was a draw. After all maybe Madden’ll get the bid.” He was against the words while they were yet in his mouth. What was left of that savage anger had said them.
Clem said quickly: “Hand me a leg, Joe. I’ll get your shoes off.”
Sally pulled Clem’s shoulder. He turned, enough so he could see her. She looked at him—as if there were nothing to say, that all she had to do was wait for her answer. Her usually vivacious eyes were still, worried.
Joe said: “I didn’t want to say that, Sally. I—I—”
“Oh, for the love of all that’s decent!” Clem exploded. “You two. What’s wrong with you two?” He was serious and peeved, yet at the same time his little face showed good humor. “You got Joe stammerin’ like an embarrassed pup. All it was was that Scrazzo,” Clem told Sally. “He comes in here shoo tin’ off his mouth. Tryin’ to stampede Joe before the fight with an old picture they ran in the Chronicle. I booted Scrazzo one. I told him to get out and stay dear of Joe.”
“A picture in the Chronicle,” Sally said thoughtfully.
Those in the room had gathered tightly around the table at the first sound of Clem’s explanatory explosion. It was very still. “Clem,” Joe said, looking around the room. “Could I talk to Sally?”
“Sure, Joe. Sure. Why not?” He turned about. “Come on now. Everybody out.” He spread his arms wide, and, advancing slowly, moved the mob in front of him.
THEY were alone; there was still the hum of voices beyond the door just closed. Joe eased himself off the table. She seemed tiny and fragile beside him. “I’m sorry, Sally,” he said.
“Sorry? There’s nothing to be sorry about. Misunderstandings can’t always
be helped.” She noticed his bruised lip. “Your lip—is it bad?”
‘Tm okay. Sally, I got to ask you something.”
“Why’d you want me to fight Madden?” “Joe! You’re jealous. Why’d I want you to fight Madden? Why? What heavy wouldn’t want to fight Madden? Wasn’t that what you wanted, Joe?”
“Yeah. Sure—sure it was what I
“Your heart was simply set on it, Joe. I could see that. I know fighters. I’ve been around fighters. After all, Dad— that’s Dad’s business.”
“Hey!” Joe stepped up close to her. “Wait -a minute now. What’s this? You sound like you didn’t want me to fight him.”
“You didn’t want me to fight Madden !” Joe’s big hands gripped her arms. It all came suddenly bright and clear with a dancing lightness.
Sally laughed. “Those are my arms you’re choking, Joe. A fine chance I’d have had talking you out of fighting. Don’t I know you pugs. You don’t have
blood, just regular red blood like a human being. Not after the lights and the crowds and excitement and the big money gets in it.”
She was close in his big arms, tender, warm. “Sally,” he said, “Sally, maybe I ought to talk to Clem about the champ. It’s an idea.”
“Wasn’t I right? About what it does to your blood.”
“But I have to make a lot of dough. Sally.”
“We’ve the place up in the country. The gas station. We could get along.”
“WThat about fixing up the house? It’s got no insulation. And what about taxes and grocery bills? Things like that. And what’s more, Sally, right now I feel I can take the champ.”
“Oh, sure. My wholesome influence.”
“That is right, honey. You make me feel extremely superior. Not like an overgrown clown. Not like a side-show monkey. And I know I can take the champ. I want to take the champ. And the fans want to see me go.”
Saily said: “I know you can take him, Joe.”
“So he can hit.—So what?”