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BELOW THE BELT

Title: Below the Belt

Series: The Boxer Series Mysteries, Book 1

Author: Deni Starr

ISBN: 978-1-60975-145-6

Product Code: BK0110

Format: Trade Paperback

Pages: 308

Release Date: September 2016

Cover Price: $19.95

Our Price: $19.95

 

 

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Book Jacket

 

Sean O'Connor, retired boxer, is asked by Maybelle Preacher to check out the boxing gym her grandson joined. Doing a quick check, Sean agrees that the place feels wrong. To help him find out exactly what, he contacts the professional private investigator, Cindy Matasar, who helped him with his car accident. While they begin their investigation together, quickly developing a romantic interest, they soon learn that their efforts are not appreciated by well placed political figures.

 

When boxers from he and his friend's gym end up murdered, Sean and Cindy find themselves targets of a well-organized criminal enterprise with political clout. Just when they think they know who is behind it all, they find their prime suspect has been dead for years. Now it is a race against time to uncover the killer before he strikes any closer to home.

 


 

Book Excerpt

 

 

 

ONE

 

 

 

I thought my life would be leisurely after I was able to give up working for a living.

Silly me.

“Y’all need to get up off your butt and do something with your life besides sit here feeling sorry for yourself, Sean,” Maybelle Preacher said. “You ain’t doing any good for yourself, no good for the Lord, and no good for anybody else.”

Maybelle sat primly on the small cane chair in my living room, dressed in what I assumed was her Sunday-go-to-church clothes.

I sighed, swung my legs off the couch and came to a sitting position. I glanced around the room and wished it were in better shape. I was going to have to talk to my sister, Mary, about when she let in visitors. She had been doing some cooking, cleaning, and light housekeeping for me since my accident and did a pretty good job of keeping things tidy; but in the six weeks that I had been home from the hospital, I’d pretty much camped in my living room and it was difficult for Mary to be in and out when I was sleeping in here so much. I noted the three soda bottles on the coffee table, the untidy pile of movies on top of the T.V., and the much larger untidy pile of newspapers on the floor next to the couch.

“Yes ma’am, Mrs. Preacher,” I said politely, in response to her admonition. “Maybelle,” she corrected, still holding her purse stiffly on her lap.

“Maybelle ma’am.”

I pretend that I am polite to this woman because I have so much more power than she does in our society; more power because I am a man where she is a woman, more power where I am white where she is black, more power because I am young where she is old. I can afford to be polite because I outrank her, so to speak.

At any rate, that’s what I pretend. Actually, I know if push came to shove, if I had to match my determination and moral courage against this woman’s, I’d lose.

I ran my fingers through my short, rust-red hair, trying to look more presentable.

“Did you just come by to give me some good Christian advice, Mrs. Preacher, or did you have a more specific reason to call?”

“I need your help with Ricky,” she said.

“He hasn’t been jockey-boxing cars again, has he?” I asked.

I rubbed my chin and wondered how badly I needed a shave—badly, from the feel of things.

“I don’t think that’s the problem. I don’t think,” she said, stressing the last word.

I had met Maybelle’s grandson Ricky Preacher three years ago when he had just turned fifteen and was headed for trouble. I caught him jockey-boxing my car when I had been over doing some business on the sad side of town. I told him to remain where he was until I could turn him over to the police and his response to this was to take a swing at me. I blocked the blow and cold-cocked him. He was out for half an hour, which is what it took to get a police response in that part of town.

 I signed a complaint to have charges filed against Ricky in juvenile court; but when the time came for a hearing, the cop called me up and suggested strongly that I just let the matter go rather than force taxpayers to pay for the expense of a trial. Apparently this officer did not want to take time out of work to testify in a minor misdemeanor when he could be getting on to more serious crime; which is what I thought Ricky would go on to if he got off on this. I told the cop I would not drop the charges. The case was then postponed three times. I got the impression both sides were hopeful if it just took long enough to get to court, I would lose interest. I would not.

After I went to the effort of putting on a suit and tie to appear in juvenile court, at 8 A.M., the District Attorney, a harassed looking white man, maybe twenty-three years old, approached me and suggested I tell the judge the matter had been handled between the parties, so the case could be dismissed.

What was this? Doesn’t anyone care about crime? I was the victim here. The people who were supposed to protect and serve me were copping an attitude. I felt my complaint was very much resented. Exasperated, I had decided to just go with the flow and let the complaint be dismissed. Then I had the pleasure of meeting Ricky’s grandmother, Maybelle Preacher.

“You the guy with the car?” she asked.

“I am,” I said, looking over this woman who stood five-feet-five to my five-eleven and weighed 230 pounds to my 185.

“You gonna drop the charges?” she asked, looking up at me from underneath what I assumed to be her Sunday hat.

I indicated I was.

“You do that and I’ll hit you upside your head harder than anything you got while boxing,” she informed me.

 After that remark, I decided it might be a good idea to discuss the matter with this woman.

She thought that if Ricky were not punished for his crime, he would think law enforcement was a joke and get in worse trouble. Finally, someone who agreed with me!

I did not dismiss the charges. Maybelle Preacher and I went back to the deputy district attorney and told him the charges would not be dropped. He said he would see what he could do.

 The four of us, the deputy district attorney, Maybelle, Ricky’s attorney, and I agreed to postpone Ricky’s case until September. If, in the interim, he put in two hours of work every Sunday with my landscaping business, the charges would be dismissed. If he did not work to my satisfaction, the pint-sized woman who sat as the juvenile referee promised a jail stint and left no doubt in anyone’s mind she meant what she said. I liked her. I thought she probably had a lot in common with Maybelle. I wondered if she had kids, too.

As it turned out, Ricky was a good worker. After he put in his two hours “community service,” I paid him to do other work.

Ricky respected me because I’d knocked him out with one punch, something I felt embarrassed about. I mean, after all, an adult, particularly one who had been a professional boxer, had no business hitting someone without any training, particularly a kid.

But Ricky was interested in boxing, so in July I introduced him to Bruce Ferrell. Bruce had a gym in town and offered to train him.

I know there are some people who question the wisdom of training a would-be juvenile delinquent to use his fists, but I knew how Bruce trained people. In his gym, you don’t start by learning to hit people. You start by getting in shape. This means showing up when you are supposed to, showing up on time, and working hard while you’re there. Only after you have proved that you have the discipline to do this, and are taking your training in a respectful and responsible manner, does Bruce teach you to box.

I didn’t think Ricky would stick with it, but he did. Bruce required his boxers stay in school and maintain a C+ average. He demanded they pay training fees, which meant Ricky had to work on Sunday so he could pay to train the rest of the time.

Maybelle was pleased. Ricky was doing his schoolwork, holding down a job—admittedly very part time—and spending his weeknights and Saturdays at something constructive, rather than getting into trouble. He had made a whole new set of friends at the gym and seemed to be on his way to doing something useful with his life.

I’d checked on Ricky from time to time, watched his first two fights—which he won—and then I lost interest.

Then I had my accident. A drunk driver hit me from behind and drove my car into a wall. I was unable to do any work for four months and lost my landscape clients.

Losing the business didn’t ruin me, I’d gotten enough money out of the settlement to support myself without work; but it left me with nothing to do for the last six weeks but pop painkillers for my chronic backache, and feel sorry for myself. This is what I was doing when Maybelle came knocking on the door.

“So what’s up with Ricky?” I asked, wondering if was time for another pill.

“He quit with Bruce and started with a new gym,” Maybelle informed me.

“That doesn’t sound like the end of the world,” I said, frowning.

“He’s dropped out and quit his job,” she said.

“How’s he paying for his training then?”

“He’s not. He says he works for the gym instead, so he’s there all the time.”

“I’m sorry he’s dropped out of school,” I said, “but come on. He has real potential. He could turn pro and make a name for himself. He can only do that when he’s young and healthy. He can get his GED anytime.”

 She sighed. “I know that,” she said.

“So what’s the problem?” I asked.

“I don’t like this Fischer Davis guy, who runs the gym. Sean, there is something wrong here. I don’t know what it is, it’s not right.”

I digested this information. In seventy years, Maybelle Preacher had seen a lot of the world. As a poor black woman with no formal education, she had probably spent much of her life as the target of flimflam men and rip-off artists. She’d been around enough to know when someone was giving her a line, and when something wasn’t right. If she thought something was wrong with this place, there probably was.

“So what do you want me to do?” I asked.

“You know boxing, you know gyms, and you know trainers. I ain’t asking you to do a lot, just go check it out and see what you think. ‘Sides, Ricky will be happy to see you again.”

I had nothing else to do with my life but sit here—I figured I might as well.

I told Maybelle I would drop by the gym, see what I thought of it and let her know. I promised I would also talk to Bruce to see what Fischer Davis’ reputation was in the boxing community. She gave me the address, repeated that Ricky would be happy to see me again, and told me God would bless me for helping out.

I managed to get to my feet to show her out and decided that, as long as I was up, I should shave and try to look more respectable, since I would have to face the world again.

 

v   v   v

 

The Rejuvenation Gym—God, what a name—was located in the part of town where I myself generally spent very little time. It took up part of what had been an old warehouse that the city was trying to improve. The gym was on the corner section of the first floor. A large sign painted in black, white, and gold announced the gym.

 I walked in and noted this was not a typical gym. For one thing, the smell was wrong. Every gym I’d ever been in smelled like a pile of a hundred-and-fifty dirty socks and a gallon of Ben-Gay. This place smelled like air-freshener. Pine. The boxing ring looked state-of-the-art: the bags were all new, there were no free weights; it was all modern Nautilus equipment. I’d never heard of a gym starting with this much capital investment.

I did notice what was missing, though.

Every trainer worthy of the name has a history in photographs and newsprint. Walk into any gym—any gym but this one, apparently—and you will see pictures of the trainer as a young boxer, pictures of the trainer’s trainer as a young boxer, pictures of the trainer’s boxers, newspaper clippings of the trainer, the trainer’s boxers, the trainer’s trainer and his boxersanything and always something in newsprint, along with a collection of trophies, plaques, and framed certificates of any kind at all.

Here there was nothing. Weird.

I’d called Bruce before coming over here and asked if he’d ever heard of Fischer Davis. Bruce had trained fighters for over forty years and knew everybody who was anybody on a national level, and certainly knew anyone who was local. He’d never heard of the guy. Not good news.

Ricky was in the ring sparring. I strolled over and watched him for a while. I can’t say I was particularly pleased with what I saw.

When Ricky had started with Bruce he had some bad habits, which came from having been in fights without having any training, and watching too much T.V. Bruce had refused to let him drop his hands, showboat, or try wild swinging punches. Bruce drilled his fighters in the basics and had a disdain for individual style. He taught his fighters to keep their hands up on their cheeks, their chins tucked, and to pick their target carefully.

Bruce demanded his fighters learn how to target. He had fighters focus on determining when their opponent was in range and not taking swings when the person could duck away, or when they were in too close for a hit to be effective. He spent hours drilling his fighters on learning when the target got to just the right spot.

As I watched Ricky, I could see some of what Bruce had taught him, but I saw less discipline in his style. He dropped his hands too often and got lazy by wading in on his partner and hitting him when he was too close to have had much power. I was not seeing any improvement in Ricky’s fighting. In fact, I was seeing a fighter who was getting away with being lazy. Not good.

There were a lot of other people in the gym: working on the machines, punching bags, getting their hands wrapped. But they were all black and all male.

I knew that five years earlier, in order to survive economically, Bruce had offered aerobic boxing for women just like every other gym in town—except this one—was doing. Most trainers despised the idea of women fighters; but it was a new market—and they weren’t really being trained to box, just allowed to exercise while doing something more entertaining than jumping jacks or leg lifts.

Bruce had assumed all women wanted aerobic boxing and was surprised to find many of them expected him to actually train them to box. He obliged.

I made the mistake of teasing him about it.

This had been about two years ago, before my accident, when I was still dropping by Bruce’s gym to work out and help train some of his young men and spar with his more advanced fighters.

I had also used his gym to recruit workers for my landscaping business. These young men always needed money, and since they were in prime physical condition they were just the sort of people I needed to haul shrubs and pull up stumps. So for one reason or another, I was dropping by Bruce’s gym quite often.

 Bruce’s place was way out on the east side next to a set of apartments known to the local police as “felony flats.” It was on the second floor of a building that housed a junk shop and pawnshop on the first floor. There was one small sign on the door announcing its presence.

His gym occupied the entire second story of this building, which took up half a block. There was a fighting ring and a locker-room of sorts. The water pressure in the showers was less than optimal and it was no longer possible to tell the blood stains from the rust stains on the sinks. There were several workout areas with punching bags and several sets of free weights and weight benches. The Coke machine, which had been there since the fifties, still produced bottles of Coke in glass bottles that the rest of the world hadn’t seen in several decades. I think the people in Atlanta kept them in production just for this machine. There was also Bruce’s office back in the corner.

There was, and still is, no bare spot on any wall in the office. Every wall is covered with pictures and framed newspaper clippings. There is a picture of Bruce taken forty-five years ago that shows him winning his division at a national championship. There is a picture of Bruce taken forty years ago when he first opened this gym. There is a picture of me winning the welterweight title in the Marine Corps and another of me winning my first professional fight.

 Bruce’s place always felt like home to me, despite of how hot it got in summer and how bad it smelled all year round.

So, imagine my surprise back then when I walked in one afternoon to find a bunch of young women stripped down to shorts and T’s—okay, so there is some positive aspect of women’s boxing—and Bruce teaching them how to put together combinations. I sat and watched for a few minutes until he had finished class and sent them all off to the showers, reserved for women only during this hour.

“Girls, Bruce? You’ve got a class for girls?” I asked with incredulity.

“I need all the students I can get, Sean. A lot of women are interested in boxing,” he said.

“Yeah, I can see how this could be really lucrative for you. Not only can you collect more training fees, but you could start a whole line of new equipment like pink-colored gloves,” I sniggered.

“What have you got against women boxers?” Bruce asked.

“Oh come on. Get serious. Can you see one of those girls in the ring with Mike Tyson?”

“Animals like Mike Tyson are exactly why women should know how to protect themselves,” Bruce said, wiping the sweat off his face with a towel. “Besides,” he continued, “could you see me in a ring with a heavy-weight? I’d have about the same chance as those young women. If only the biggest people are allowed to box, then why have any division except the super-heavy weight one?”

He had a point. People unfamiliar with boxers would not have picked out Bruce as a fighter. He was old, white, and small. He was not very big; he’d fought as a bantamweight.

But, to people who knew boxers, he looked like one. He had broad shoulders, strong arms, hands thick at the knuckles where they’d been broken, a thin waist, and a lithe flow to his movements. He also had a flat nose that got that way from having been broken several times. He had scars above both eyebrows from cuts.

I couldn’t see any women being interested in sporting those kinds of battle scars.

 “Come on, Bruce,” I argued. “Small fighters can at least fight. There is some heart and soul to this sport. It’s not just aerobic exercise.”

“You know Sean, I have a woman training here I think you should meet. She’ll be in on Friday. Why don’t you spar with her for a couple of rounds?” Bruce asked.

“Oh puhleeze,” I protested.

“You shouldn’t bad-mouth things you’re ignorant of,” Bruce pointed out.

“Okay, fine. I’ll be here Friday,” I agreed.

The young woman in question was named Kimberly Fletcher. We’re friends now.

She looked more like a model than a fighter with her blue eyes, short wavy blonde hair, high cheekbones, and full lips. I have to admit Bruce had warned me she’d had some experience kickboxing and this would be by her rules. I couldn’t imagine how that could make any difference. I agreed.

Silly me.

Oh brother, I thought as I climbed into the ring, I’m going to have to be very careful, because if I so much as break one of her nails I’ll be branded a bully for the rest of my life.

Kimberly was in her late twenties, 5’8’ in height, and looked thin. Her gear did not make her look like a fighter. I thought it made her look silly. We started sparring in front of a crowd of ten of her fellow women kickboxers and about two dozen of the young men who were there to box. I came out of my corner with calm confidence and gave Kim some gentle taps with my left lead, letting her easily bat them away. I figured I could do that for a while and then follow up a left lead with a right cross and that would be the end of it.

It was the end of it.

Kimberly batted away my left jab, ducked my right cross, and then connected a spinning kick to my head, hitting me with her calf. Even through the sparring helmet I felt like I’d been hit with a lead pipe. Suddenly the floor got very close to my face.

“You were out for five minutes,” Bruce told me. “We were going to call you an ambulance, but figured you’d rather die than be admitted to the hospital after getting beaten up by a girl.”

 I have never, ever, been disrespectful of women fighters since.

Since then, aerobic boxing has become more popular with women and with young white male executives. I’ve sparred with the women, and the yuppie set, and discovered there are, in fact, two types of people who hang out in boxing gyms: people who want a novel form of exercise, and people who have the heart and soul of a fighter. I also discovered you can’t tell which is which just on the basis of gender.

But apparently Rejuvenation Gym had not discovered either women or the yuppie set. The only people here were young black men. The only thing Rejuvenation Gym seemed to have in common with Bruce’s gym was a low-rent location.

“Can I help you?”

I turned around to see who had addressed me, and found myself standing very close to a large black man who stood at least 6 feet 4 inches and went over 250 pounds. He looked as if he might have played defensive tackle in his younger days. Now he was probably near 45 years old and was putting on a bit of padding. He was dressed in an expensive, stylish, nylon, warm-up suit and wore lots of gold jewelry. He had a full beard, short hair, and wore sunglasses. Odd, since we were inside. He was standing just close enough to me to look menacing.

“Hi,” I said, in what I hoped was a friendly voice. “I’m a friend of Ricky’s. I just thought I’d drop by and see him work out. You don’t mind, do you? I mean, I’m not breaking any rules or anything am I?”

“Hey Ricky, you know this guy?” he asked, as Ricky was climbing out of the ring.

“Sure. Hey Sean, how ya doin’?” Ricky came over to where we were standing. He took off his headgear and started to unwrap his hands.

“Ricky used to work for me,” I said. “I had a landscaping business, and he was one of my best workers on weekends. I’m glad to see Ricky’s boxing. He sure seems to be doing well, doesn’t he?” I continued to smile.

The man’s demeanor changed abruptly. He gave me a wide smile and a pat on the shoulder.

“Glad you dropped by man. Hope you don’t mind my checking you out. We can’t let scouts from other gyms come in and get a line on our fighters, you know; but if you’re a friend of Ricky’s, why you’re welcome to come by anytime. It’s great when these kids have some community support,” he said, smiling and nodding.

“How’s his training going?” I asked, hoping I looked innocent and naive.

The man went into a long statement using a lot of boxing terms and slang, obviously hoping to impress me with expertise. I couldn’t tell whether or not he knew anything about boxing, but he certainly didn’t know anything about Ricky. I thanked him for his information, and asked Ricky if I could take him out to dinner. Ricky was smart enough to never turn down a free meal; so, after he grabbed a quick shower and changed into a clean, nylon sweat-suit that had REJUVENATION GYM on the back, we headed out.

I wondered, as we walked out to the car together, if Ricky had a girlfriend. He had ebony-dark skin, high cheekbones, green eyes, and an almost baby-smooth complexion, odd in a teenager. He was already taller than I was: He was just over six feet, and in superb physical condition with broad shoulders, muscular arms, a flat, washboard muscled stomach, and small hips.

But unlike most teenage boys, he didn’t have that arrogant I-know-everything-kiss-my-ass attitude. While Ricky never showed much emotion, when he had worked for me he was pleasant, hardworking, and very happy to get a compliment. The tough-kid attitude I had seen when he was jockey-boxing my car seemed more like a part he was trying on that he shed whenever he didn’t think he needed to be making an impression on his friends. I knew he wasn’t academically inclined, but I knew he wasn’t stupid, either. He hadn’t worked for me for very long before I went from giving him menial work to skilled tasks.

Ricky impressed me as a person with a lot of potential to grow up into a responsible, happy adult—if he could make it through the perilous years of his teens and stay away from gangs, drugs, and crime. I knew the people he chose as friends, and his girlfriend, if he had one, would have a lot of influence on that. But it was a personal matter and not really any of my business.

“Cool car man,” he said, seeing my Mercedes sports coupe. “Looks brand-new.”

“It is. I got it after I got my settlement on a car accident.”

“Way cool, man.”

“See Ricky, this is what happens if you work hard all your life, apply yourself, scrimp, save, and get hit by a drunk driver carrying $500,000 worth of insurance.”

“You spent $500,000 on this car?” Ricky asked, his eyes wide.

“Of course not. If I were going to spend that kind of money on a car, I’d have gotten a Ferrari. I spent $75,000 on the car, paid off my house, and the rest of the money is in investments.”

“Say, there’s a barbecue place around the corner here. A lot of my friends hang out there. You want some good ribs?”

“No. We are going downtown to Yuzen,” I said.

“Why?” Ricky asked.

“Because there won’t be anyone there who knows you.”

“So what’s the sitch man? And how come you didn’t tell Fish you were a boxer? He thinks you’re some kind of chump who mows lawns.”

“Because people in this business tend to be competitive. If he knew I was a friend of Bruce Ferrell’s, he might not want me around. He might think I was there just to be critical of him. So don’t tell him, okay?”

“Okay by me. You want him to think you’re a chump, I don’t care.”

By this time we had reached Yuzen’s, and conversation was suspended until we had been seated and were looking over the menu.

“Man, I can’t even read this,” Ricky complained. “What is sashimi?”

“Very high protein, low calorie. Good for you. I’ll order us some,” I said.

“Man, why couldn’t we just get some hamburgers?” he complained, his eyes roving around the room, annoyed at what I’m sure he considered stodgy clientele.

“Because anyone who plans to become a cosmopolitan man of the world with savoir faire, like yourself, needs to be able to appreciate haute cuisine,” I explained.

“What’d you just say?” Ricky asked, looking more annoyed.

“You need to get out more.”

“Man, you talk like a college boy.”

“Well, I never had the opportunity to go to college. I’m self-educated.”

“Well it’s okay if you order, but you get me something I can eat.”

I ordered sushi, sashimi, and teriyaki chicken with lots of rice.

“So how come you haven’t checked me out before now? Man, I haven’t seen you in forever,” Ricky pursued.

“My accident slowed me down some,” I said.

“Well you can drive can’t you? You can walk can’t you?” he asked in a sarcastic manner.

“Not without pain.”

“ Oh. Hey, I’m sorry man. I didn’t know it was that bad. How you doin’ your business?”

“The business is dead. My employees quit two weeks after the accident, because I couldn’t pay them, and I lost all the clients after that.”

“Bummer.”

“Yeah.”

The miso soup arrived and, when Ricky kept looking for a spoon, I explained that you drink it out of the bowl. Ricky was hesitant.

“You know if I did this at home, my grandma’d slap me around. So, you’re taken care of aren’t you?”

“The insurance took care of it.”

“You gonna be okay?”

“Yes.”

“So how come you came around now? You feelin’ better or did my grandma get you to do this?” Ricky asked, after sipping the soup.

“Your grandmother ordered me to get off my butt and go do something for God with my life. At the moment that means checking out this gym you joined.”

“Oh man, you getting on my case too? Look, I can get my GED whenever,” he said, pushing aside the soup.

“I know that. You got to box when you’re young, and when the opportunities are there,” I agreed.

“So what’s the sitch, man, why are you on my case?” he asked, still ignoring his soup.

“Your grandmother has some concerns about this gym,” I said, finishing my miso.

“What the hell does she know about boxing?”

“She knows if you’re lying on your face when it’s over, you didn’t win. Other than that, she doesn’t know jack shit about boxing. But, she does know a lot about life.”

“Hey, what difference does it make anyway?” Ricky asked, going back to the soup.

“It makes a difference because this is boxing. This is a blood sport. People die in boxing rings. You don’t get in one if you don’t know what you’re doing, and you don’t train with people if they don’t know what they are doing.”

“Does she know these people are going to give me a chance? That Fischer Davis knows I am somebody? That he’s got a fight lined up for me that will make the magazines? Does she know any of that?” Ricky demanded.

“She knows you quit your job and dropped out of school, and she thinks that’s a bad sign,” I said.

“Well I’m kinda busy right now.”

“You still doing weights?”

“Yeah, six hours a week. I do two hours, three times a week. Plus I do conditioning for an hour every day, and spar three times during the week and on Saturdays.”

“And you can’t take a few classes at the community college and at least graduate by the end of the summer?” I suggested.

“You don’t understand. This is a community program. Davis gets money for helping out street youth, training us without cost; so we have to contribute to the program. We go out to the schools and do inspiration talks: stay off drugsthat kind of thing.”

I didn’t want to say anything to Ricky directly, but really, what kind of role model was he? He’d been convicted of crimes as a juvenile, only turned his life around because of his grandmother, and now he’d dropped out of school and quit work to live off a government grant. What kind of role model was that?

“So, is Fischer Davis your trainer?”

“Not directly. He runs the gym, talks to the politicos, stuff like that. Melvin is the trainer. So, what the hell is this stuff?” Ricky asked, having stuffed some of the sashimi in his mouth.

“It’s sashimi. It’s good for you,” I informed him.

“Geez. It tastes like raw fish,” Ricky complained, having some more.

“Put some of this on it,” I suggested, passing him the wasabi.

“What is it?” Ricky asked, looking hesitantly at the light green paste.

“It’s a Japanese version of horse radish,” I warned. “You don’t want to use very much.”

Ricky put a tiny dab on his sushi and took a bite. Immediately his eyes widened. He gasped and grabbed his water, gulping down nearly all of it.

“Damn. That’ll put hair on your chest,” he said, putting more on his next piece.

“What is Melvin’s last name?” I asked, taking a bite of mine.

“Why?”

“I just was wondering if he’s someone I’ve run across.”

“Lemme think. Bailey. Melvin Bailey,” Ricky said, going through the sushi at a respectable rate.

“Doesn’t ring any bells. Where’s he from?” I pursued.

“Philly. Worked with Stu Christman.”

I nodded. “I’ve heard of Stu. He’s been in business a while. I fought one of his fighters back in my professional days. He’s good on basics. Got anybody to spar with who’s interesting?”

“Oh yeah. There are a lot of us at the gym. But I’m doing pretty well. I’ve rung a few bells,” Ricky said as the tempura arrived.

I wasn’t surprised. Bruce gave his young men good fundamental skills, and they always did well at the beginner’s level.

“You’re dropping your hands too much,” I commented, picking up a piece of shrimp and dunking it in soy before popping it into my mouth.

“That’s for beginners. You watch Sugar Ray. He don’t keep his hands on his cheeks all the time,” Ricky said, helping himself to the tempura.

“You’re not Sugar Ray. Not yet. But don’t take my word for it. You drop your hands like that, and you’re gonna get your bell rung. So, tell me about your new friends.”

We waded through lots of rice and teriyaki chicken while he told me about the other boys, their size, their speed, their reach, and their tricks. He had, I thought, a great enthusiasm for his sport and a good read of his opponents. This wasn’t just someone trying it on; he had a feel for this. He needed, and deserved, a good trainer. But I can’t say anything he told me about the gym reassured me, or convinced me his grandmother had been wrong. We talked for about two hours and I promised I’d come see his first fight.


 

 

 

 

 

TWO

 

 

 

The next morning when I got up I reduced the number of pain-killers I was taking, because I wanted to be active. I poured myself some coffee to go with the donuts. I took my breakfast of champions out on my back porch to enjoy the spring morning, and thought some more about the Rejuvenation Gym.

There was a limit to what I could do. I could hang out and watch Ricky during his workouts without attracting too much attention, but I wouldn’t learn much by doing that. If Melvin Bailey had trained with Stu Christman, like Ricky said, then he did know a few things about boxing, so I doubted if the problems with this gym were going to show up in the ring. If I dug around for information by talking to the boys, or the trainers, or others, I would attract attention to myself and the information would dry up. Worse, Ricky might get kicked out and he’d blame me. That would not be particularly productive.

But I didn’t know what else to do. I was no detective. I didn’t know how to do background checks, and I certainly wasn’t going to break into a private office and snoop through files like all the detectives in fiction did. If the police caught me, what was I going to say? I was only trying to help out an old lady? I didn’t know much about the law, but I didn’t think that constituted a legally recognized defense. Maybe if she had been my grandmother I could get some sympathy from a jury, but I wasn’t sure how much judicial sympathy I’d get for breaking and entering on behalf of someone else’s grandmother.

That’s when I thought of Cindy Matasar. Cindy and I had met exactly three times, and I’d liked her very much.

Cindy was an investigator with the public defender’s office who handled private cases on the side. She had been hired by Ted Stanley, the longhaired, over-fed, leaping gnome of a lawyer I’d had for my car accident. She hadn’t had to do much for me as an investigator on my accident, because the case had been pretty open and shut. She’d taken pictures of what was left of the cars, the intersection and wide spread of glass everywhere, and my impressive injuries. She rounded up my medical records and the other driver’s criminal records—he’d already had two drunk driving convictions.

I had not been comfortable with how this information had been used. The man had been charged with negligent felony assault with a deadly weapon, in addition to drunk driving. The deal my lawyer worked out with him was: we got paid the maximum on the policy, and I didn’t show up for trial so the criminal cases would be dismissed. There were a number of things I didn’t like about the way Ted Stanley had handled the matter; but I’d never been in an accident before, never had to file a claim or work with a lawyer, and I didn’t know what the normal routine was or how things were supposed to be handled. I did know Cindy had stopped working for Ted, but she didn’t tell me why.

Anyway, Cindy came to mind as I sat there appraising the blooms on my azaleas, and I decided to give her a call. I left a request for a lunch meeting on her voice pager, and, fortunately, we managed to touch base later that morning and set a luncheon time.

“I haven’t too much time these days,” Cindy told me as we were seated at Abu Karim’s. “I’ve got two murders going and I’m working about 70 hours a week. What’s up?”

Cindy was biracial with a “cafe au lait” complexion, and very attractive features: a small button nose; wide, sensuous mouth with full lips; and handsome dark eyes. She was in her mid-thirties, stood about five-foot seven, and she had an athletic figure. She was a very sharp-dresser; her clothes had a New York look to them. Today she was wearing a three-piece suit; black blouse; plaid black, white, and gray vest with matching jacket; and gray dress slacks. The blouse had a fairly low V-neck—which I thought was very attractive.

I wanted to ask her about the murders. I didn’t know anybody who had contact with killers and Cindy’s job intrigued me. But, she had only half an hour, and I figured I’d take up all of that with Rejuvenation Gym.

“What kind of checking can I do to find out if someone is legit? Or just get some background on him?” I asked.

“Is this an employee?” she asked, running an eye over the menu.

“No, it’s a guy running a new gym in town. I think he must have something on the side to have the amount of money he does, and he may be using the gym as a front at the expense of the young men he’s supposed to be training,” I explained.

I put down my menu. I already knew what I wanted, and apparently so did she.

 After we’d placed our orders, she began: “It’s easier if you have full information on this guy. You can write to the State Police and ask them if he has any criminal convictions. They usually need a full name, date of birth, and social security number, but you might be able to get records of anyone with the same name.

“You can use the OJIN computer at the county courthouse to find out if the guy has his name on any court files: criminal, civil, domestic relations. You don’t need the DOB to use those; but if the guy’s name is John Smith, you’ll probably end up with more information than you can handle.

“You can write DMV and get his driving record, though again you’ll get every John Smith on file unless you’ve got his DOB or Social Security number. DMV will give you his driving record, home address, and all vehicles registered in his name. That’s not always as useful as it seems. A lot of people let their license expire, so all you may get is an old address that hasn’t been used in a decade. His cars may be in someone else’s name. If someone else had an interest in a car, like the lender, it will show on the title and you might be able to call and get more financial information from the lender, though that’s hard to get over the phone.”

I was scribbling notes madly.

“If he’s got lawsuits filed against him, you can find out who his creditors are. If any restraining order has been filed against him, and if he’s been divorced, you can get that information. Divorce files can tell you a lot. You get the name of the lawyer for the wife, and he will usually tell you everything he knows about the guy, particularly anything disreputable.

“Another thing you can do is go to the library and look at old phone books. You can find out a history of where someone has lived and then go interview their neighbors.

“If his business is some type of corporation, you can request information from the corporate division at the state capitol and get the incorporation papers which list the shareholders, officers, registered agents, and people who did the original incorporation.

“You can also get the UCC record, which will show you if he’s pledged any business assets in order to get loans.”

I continued my scribbled notes on all this. I knew I’d never remember it if it was not written down.

“I don’t think it’s a corporation,” I interrupted. “Ricky told me it’s some kind of government program to help under-privileged youth.”

“In that case, there must be a lot on him,” Cindy said. “You have to tell the government everything to get any money. Do you know what kind of grant he’s getting: federal, state, or city?”

“I think Ricky said the city.”

“I bet you can go down to city hall and just pull files on him. I’ll bet that’s all public information. I’m not sure. I don’t investigate entities, just people. I can’t believe the government would give money to anyone who hadn’t been vetted. Of course, he might get someone to front for him who would get past any background checks. That’s always possible.”

The food had arrived by now, and Cindy dug in hungrily. My guess was she skipped breakfast this morning, and possibly dinner last night. The life of a public defender.

“What murders are you working on?” I asked, unable to restrain my curiosity.

“Remember that body they found at the convenience store about two months ago without a head or any hands? The dead guy’s brother and sister-in-law have been arrested. I don’t think the District Attorney has any clue as to what her involvement was, but they’re charging her with being the prime mover—not because they’ve got any evidence, but because they think they can get her to testify against her husband that way. The other one is just a drive-by. Gang wars. Boring.”

Cindy finished her humus and tabulie and got up. “Well, I’ve got to run,” she said. “I’ve got to go look at a lot of gory pictures.”

She had only had time for about half of her meal. This explained how she stayed so trim. She grabbed her coat and purse, and dashed out.

I ordered a cup of Turkish coffee and sipped it while thinking about the information Cindy had just given me. Checking out the Rejuvenation Gym through city hall made sense, but I didn’t know where to start. Did I just go down, look for a receptionist, and ask where the records were? Did I contact one of the commissioners to get it, and if so, which one? Would they all know, or would only one of them be in charge? Did I just start with one and go through all five?

Then I remembered Anne Chapman. I’d done some landscaping work for her, and she was an aide to Commissioner Gills. Maybe she could help. At least she could tell me where to start.

I finished my coffee, paid the tab, and went out to my car. I end up asking for directory assistance and run up a hell of a tab.

I got a hold of Anne Chapman and mentioned I was looking for information on the Rejuvenation Gym, which I understood got funding from the city. She said she would look it up for me and send me whatever information she had; it might take a couple days. I thanked her and headed to the county courthouse.

I was stopped at the security checkpoint at the entryway and had to send my briefcase through the X-Ray machine, empty my pockets of everything metal, and go through the detector. After I got everything back in my pockets and picked up my briefcase, I looked at the directory. I didn’t see anything mentioning a computer room. I asked the sheriff sitting at the information desk and he jerked his thumb in an upward motion. That helped a lot. There were eight floors, and everything was upstairs from where we stood. I walked over to the elevators and asked a person who looked like a lawyer. He did not know.

A young man with hair to his waist, wearing biking shorts and a biking helmet, arms and legs decorated with tattoos, told me the OJIN computers were on the second floor, Room 210.

Room 210 proved to not be a room, but a hallway with service counters—somewhat confusing. After asking several more people for help, I found the computers in a small room off Room 210. There was an instruction sheet taped on the wall, but it presumes you are starting with a blank screen. The screen I sat down at was not blank and there were no instructions for getting back to step one. Fortunately, several other people offered to help me.

The OJIN computers keep track of everyone whose name comes up on a case in court whether it’s a traffic citation, a crime, a civil case, a small claims matter, or a divorce case. Just out of curiosity, I punched in my own name and found my three speeding tickets and the civil claim that had been filed after my car accident.

I found one listing for a Fischer Davis. The young woman helping me told me it looked like a domestic case. I wrote down the number on the entry and went back downstairs to the file room. I waited in line for fifteen minutes, and the file clerk brought me the file.

It was a petition for a restraining order to prevent abuse, filed by a woman named Aramanda Ryles. She said Davis had hit her and threatened to kill her. It had been filed more than five years ago and had expired. I wrote down Ms. Ryles address, the address listed for Davis, and his description. It sounded like the Fischer Davis I’d met: six feet four inches tall, 310 pounds, black, and thirty-four years old. That would make him thirty-nine now. He was also described as having a tattoo of a snake on his right forearm.

Didn’t sound like a nice guy, but this wasn’t a conviction of any kind. From the file, I could tell Fischer never contested the charges, so they were never proved. The file didn’t really mean anything other than this woman had made allegations. No one had ever testified in this matter.

I returned the file, and decided to drop in on Bruce and see if he’d picked up any gossip on Rejuvenation Gym since I’d talked to him a couple days ago.

 

v   v   v

 

It is my opinion that when boxers try to make the transition from fighters to trainers the lightweights do it more easily than the heavyweights.

In the upper weight division, the fighters are so powerful they win most of their fights with knockouts. This means they need to be able to take a hit, and, once in a while, get one in.

Smaller fighters, however, can’t rely on knockouts; they have to know how to box. They have to have the stamina to do well through the entire fight. They can’t cruise through several of the middle rounds losing points and count on a KO or TKO to win the match.

So, while Bruce had only been a mediocre fighter, he had what it took to be a good trainer. He was good at grounding his fighters in the basics, and then teaching them how to read an opponent, and how to respond to that read. If the opponent was good at body shots and upper cuts, you stayed away from the ropes. If he was great at landing a solid punch on a full swing, you got him against the ropes and worked him inside.

All fighters have different styles, and a unique combination of strengths and weaknesses. Bruce taught his fighters how to neutralize the other guy’s strengths and exploit his weaknesses. His philosophy was: if you have good basic techniques, and you fight a smart fight, you’ll do okay. That worked for Ali against Foreman.

I had first met Bruce when I was 14 years old.

I am the fourth child in a family of eight children. We’re a good Irish Catholic family, originally from Boston. My father was a police officer. My mother worked odd jobs whenever she didn’t have her hands full with the kids.

Our life in Boston had been very insular. We lived in an Irish Catholic neighborhood; we went to St. Patrick’s church with all our neighbors, and we attended St. Patrick’s Parochial school. We seldom left our little enclave and when we did it was to visit with the families of other Irish cops.

I had never had any trouble getting along with anybody at school. I hung out with a group of boys that I had been friends with since we were all five years old, and no one ever thought to make fun of me. I was a good student, and a fair athlete. Furthermore, my oldest brother, John, had been accepted into the seminary, which brought my family a lot of respect in the neighborhood. And my father was a cop. This was not nearly as prestigious as being a priest, but it was respected.

Then we moved across the country and everything changed. My father had gotten into trouble in Boston, and although it was the kind of trouble his captain sympathized with, it was trouble that couldn’t be overlooked.

My mother had known a family in our church whose 13-year old daughter had been raped, and impregnated as a result of the rape. My father, good Catholic though he was, thought there should be exceptions to every rule and provided the girl’s family with a “useful” address back when abortion was a crime.

There were complications and the girl ended up in the hospital. When it looked as if there might be criminal prosecution of her parents, my father stepped forward and accepted responsibility. No criminal charges were pursued, the cops would not go after one of their own, but they couldn’t keep my father on the force anymore. The captain arranged for my father to get a job in Portland, and we moved across the country. My father restarted his career on a patrolman’s pay.

That was the year I entered high school.

My new neighborhood baffled me. It totally lacked any form of homogeneity. There was no Irish Catholic community, at least not in the form I was used to. The other members of the Catholic Church we joined were Polish, Italian, and Hispanic. Most of the Irish members were in their eighties and nineties.

Two of the families who lived on our block were black, none of the families on our block were Irish, and my father had not yet made any connections within the police community. I spent the summer friendless, hanging out with my brothers and sisters, and entered high school that year with fear and trepidation.

Looking back on it now, I realize most of the kids felt the way I did: lonely, lost, and out of place. Of course it didn’t seem like that at the time. Everyone else seemed to know how to fit in. They already had their friends. It seemed to me at the time that blacks and Hispanics in particular had social sets, because I only saw them in groups.

Alexander Hamilton High School was not really very diverse, it was at least 80% white; but I had gone to an all-white parochial school with less than 200 people in it. My cultural experiences were severely limited. I had never seen Native Americans before, or Hispanics, and I’d only run into blacks on the bus the few times I ventured out of my neighborhood. Here there were blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, Japanese, Chinese, Samoan, Thai, Korean, and Vietnamese.

Even the white community wasn’t very uniform. There was no distinction between Irish, Italians, and Poles the way there had been in my old neighborhood, and here we had Russians, and Ukrainians, and Germans, who barely spoke English. It was, to say the least, very confusing for me.

For the first three weeks, I kept a low profile and tried to avoid committing any major social faux pas. I would take a seat in class, nod or smile at those closest to me without actually going so far to say hello, and then meet with my older sister, Eileen for lunch. During study period, instead of chatting with friends, I actually studied.

It was in my fourth week, during my P.E. class, that I ran into my first conflict.

P.E. classes were mixed; freshmen and upperclassmen, depending on what other classes you were taking.

Showering in public wasn’t the ordeal for me that it was for some other young men. After all, I had quite a few brothers at home with whom I had shared a bath and bedroom, so I wasn’t over-used to privacy. As a good modest Catholic boy, I found it awkward, but not unnerving.

We were all issued towels at the beginning of class and were to return them to the “cage” area after they were used. On this particular day, I was the last one in the shower. As I left the shower area, I was hit in the face with a wet towel.

Someone I didn’t quite see, since I was occupied with removing a towel from my face, said: “Hey freshie, take this back to the cage for me.”

“Take it yourself,” I snapped back.

Free from the towel, I saw I was confronting not one, but three boys, all of whom were at least half-dressed. Therefore they had a moral advantage on me, as I was still buck-naked. They were also all older than I was, and most alarmingly, two of them were black. They picked up three towels and threw them all back in my direction, one of them hitting me in the face again.

“You don’t give us any shit, freshie, you just do what you’re told,” the white boy said.

His two pals stood there grinning.

“Or what?” I demanded.

I didn’t realize I was supposed to be intimidated by the odds. People in my old neighborhood did not gang up three to one and hurt someone smaller—you’d get in to too much trouble. It didn’t occur to me these boys would be violent, since I had no experience with that.

One of the black boys pulled at a corner of a poster hanging on the wall and just started to tear it.

“You take our towels back and we won’t tell Mr. Redler you ripped up the locker room,” the white boy said.

“Yeah. Right. Like anyone’s going to believe you,” I said.

He stepped forward and punched me in the stomach hard enough to knock the wind out of me. I dropped to me knees, gasping for breath. All three towels hit me in the face this time. By the time I had regained my breath and could stand up again, the three of them had gone.

I was furious. It had felt horribly humiliating to be down on my knees, unable to protect myself, naked, and getting hit in the face with their wet towels. I wanted to kill all three of them; but I just sat there, not knowing what to do. Finally, I got dressed and looked around the room to see if they had done any damage to anything besides the corner of the poster. I couldn’t see any more vandalism.

I sat and waited for another half an hour, guarding the locker room against any further vandalism until the next rush of boys came in. I’d convinced myself this would protect me from any false allegations. The boys coming in would see there was no damage to the room when they came in. If the room was vandalized later, they could at least say it hadn’t happened at the end of my class.

I picked up my towel, and only my towel, and took it back to “Pops” at the cage. This old janitor was responsible for both passing the towels out and getting them back again.

“Hey you, where are the other towels?” he called after me.

I shook my head as if I didn’t understand and started to leave.

“Get your ass back here, boy. Jimmy said you’d bring those other towels out here and damned if I’m going to go get them. Now, you get me those towels. What the hell were you doing in there so long anyway? Jerking off?”

My face flushed a deep red. I wasn’t sure whether I was angry at having to get the damn towels after all, or offended at the man’s suggestion as to what I had been doing with my time. Smoldering, I went back in the gym and picked up the three wet towels. Some upperclassmen in the next class, who must have had an idea of what happened, made comments about “towel boy.” I quickly left the towels in the hamper by Pops and nearly ran out the door into the hallway.

By now I was forty-five minutes late for my math class, so I thought I’d better just skip it entirely and go to the next one, my English class. I went to the student library and pretended to read a book while thinking over what had just happened.

I wanted to go find this Jimmy and see how he’d like a punch in the stomach. I did not see my desire to even up the score as being unreasonable or immoral. While my mother did not believe in solving problems with violence, both my mother and my father believed we Irish should stand up for ourselves, something we had historically been called upon to do quite often in Boston.

I had not stood up for myself. Those boys had bullied me, shamed me, hurt me, hit me in the face with wet towels, threatened me with a false report, and I ended up having to pick up their goddamn towels for them in the end. And not only that, I now had the janitor thinking I engaged in self-abuse. That part was so embarrassing I couldn’t bring myself to think about it.

After considering the revenge question all through my English class, and then through my social studies class, and finally through my science class, I figured there was nothing I really could do. It was not that I was afraid of Jimmy—not even if he had his two friends with him—or of being hurt. I was afraid of violating the rules of the culture. I did not know how violence here would be accepted. Supposing I went up to Jimmy in the hall, or waited until after P.E. class tomorrow, and punched him—would I be suspended? Would all of my friends despise me for doing the wrong thing? While I was willing to risk both suspension and social ostracism, there was one factor that stopped me cold—Jimmy’s friends were black.

This was back in the sixties, remember. I had been taught to believe all black people belonged to the Panthers. I had seen black people on the bus, but otherwise I had only seen them on T.V. burning down Chicago and then burning down Watts.

If I picked a fight with Jimmy, would his two black friends round up their brothers and kill my family? Would they riot at school? Would they burn down this city, too? I had no idea, and this made me believe I could do nothing to avenge myself.

When I got home from school my eldest sister Mary, who served as a surrogate parent, confronted me. She said the school had called to complain about me.

Oh my god, I thought, Pops had called, and he’d told my sister Mary, of all people, that I’d spent way too much time alone in the shower! I thought I would die right there on the spot of mortification. Then, Mary went on to ask why I thought I could skip my math class.

I told her my stomach had been upset and I’d had to spend the hour being indisposed. I’m sure I looked ghastly pale; she believed me. She told me Mom would dose me when she got home.

By the time our mother got home I was truly sick. The worry had given me acute stomach cramps. Mom dosed me, and the next day I was still suffering from the effects, so I stayed home from school that day and the next day, Friday. I knew by Monday I would have to go back to school, but I convinced my parents I shouldn’t have to do P.E. They agreed and gave me a note to the teacher to excuse me for the rest of the week. What I was going to do after that, I didn’t know.

Fortunately, my brother Michael came to my rescue. I had not told him what had happened, I never told anyone, but Michael was three years older than I was and wise in the ways of the world. Maybe he guessed. At any rate, he knew it was common for upper classmen to isolate freshmen and pick on them. I did not know it was happening to a lot of other boys, just as they did not know it had ever happened to me.

So, Michael took me down to Bruce’s gym and introduced me. This was only ten days after the incident and I still wanted desperately to hit someone, to lash out my anger and rage. So, boxing sounded great. A couple of boxing classes and I’d take Jimmy and his friends apart at the seams.

Of course, it didn’t turn out that way. Michael talked to Bruce, and he agreed to take me on as a student, but I would have to pay training fees. He and Michael worked it out so I would skip my P.E. class and tell the school I was taking boxing instead, an arrangement Bruce had with several of his students. Skipping P.E. also gave me some extra time to come to the gym and help Bruce keep the place clean, which would pay for my fees.

I didn’t run into Jimmy again for two years. By then he was a senior and I was a junior. I went out for track; the javelin throw. I proved to be moderately successful at it. By the time I was a junior, I had grown seven inches and put on forty pounds—most of it on my arms and shoulders. I was strong, confident, and trained. I saw him looking at me and I stared back, hoping he would try something. He did not. He looked away and never made eye contact with me again. Since he was a miler, we had little opportunity for any kind of connection.

I discovered that by the time I was ready to avenge myself, I really didn’t need to. By the time I graduated from high school, I was a powerful, confident, happy kid with a good grade average and a very pretty girlfriend. Nobody picked on me, and I never felt called upon to prove myself. During those four years of high school, I never got in a fight outside a boxing ring.

I thought about this as I drove over to Bruce’s gym that afternoon.

My childhood must have been very different from Ricky’s. Gangs, drugs, drive-by shootings—all that had been unknown to me. I wondered if the drive-by shooting Cindy was investigating had taken place in Ricky’s part of town. I should have asked Cindy for some details. I wondered if that’s the thing Ricky went home to at night; cops down the street because one of his neighbors had been shot.

I got to the gym and grabbed a Coke out of the antique machine while I waited for Bruce to have a few free minutes. I told him what little I’d found out. He did not know Melvin Bailey, but he’d heard of Stu Christman in Philly.

“Do you know anything about governments giving grants to boxing gyms?” I asked.

Bruce shrugged. “I suppose it’s been done before, like midnight basketball.”

“Not very fair for you to have to compete against the government, is it?” I asked, feeling indignant on my friend’s behalf.

Bruce was unconcerned. “Gyms come and go. A new one opens every month, two more close. Some start with a lot of capital, most don’t. It doesn’t have much to do with anyone’s ability to run a gym.”

“Have you lost any other fighters to the Rejuvenation Gym?”

“I lost four.” He ticked them off his fingers. “Ricky, Isaiah Robertson, Kennedy Williams, and Wil Gilchrist.”

“How did that happen? Did they hear about it, or did Fischer come recruit them?”

“Isaiah Robertson joined after he got out of prison as some part of his parole program and he got the others to join. Kennedy Williams is Isaiah’s cousin, and Ricky and Kennedy and Will all go to the same high school,” Bruce said, gulping down some Gatorade.

“So they’re not sending out scouts to lure away other people’s fighters?” I pursued.

“Not as far as I know. Any reason to think they are?” Bruce asked.

“No. Just thought I’d ask.”

I paused for a moment to watch the two men sparring in the ring. Nice right hand, I thought. I felt a twinge of jealousy that these two young men were able to get in the ring and I wasn’t.

“If there is something wrong with this place, as Maybelle Preacher thinks, what would it be?” I asked, focusing my attention back to Bruce.

“Money or injuries. Those are the two main problems with a gym. Either there is money that shouldn’t be there, which is a sign of corruption, or too many people are getting hurt, which is a sign of incompetence. You know, it’s very hard to get rich in this business. In fact, it’s hard just to stay in business. If anyone at Rejuvenation is getting rich, then you’d better worry,” he advised me.

“Is there such a thing as a mob buy-out these days?” I asked. I knew it had been common in the Thirties and Forties, but I’d never run into it.

“Not like there used to be. The Mafia doesn’t own gyms anymore. People don’t pay boxers to take a fall. Not in this part of the country at any rate. But there are problems. Companies, which make sporting goods, sponsor some fighters as an advertisement and then you get a large sum of money involved in someone’s career. People are willing to fix a few things to keep money coming in. People still try to cheat bookies by getting someone to take a dive, but not as part of the mob anymore.

“Nowadays the problem is steroid use. I heard of a case back east recently where the lab people got paid to fix some test results—either to show someone was using or wasn’t, I don’t remember which. But yeah, lots of people are still trying to make money out of boxing they aren’t entitled to.”

I thanked Bruce for his time and drove back home. I thought about the steroid angle. I suppose someone who had just opened a new gym, who wanted to get people to pay him money to train, could put some of his amateur fighters on steroids to make them look good. That way he could build his reputation quickly. If he didn’t involve his professional fighters, he stood a good chance of getting away with it. I made a mental note to ask Ricky if he had been put on vitamins.

When I got home, I debated taking some painkillers versus doing some stretching exercises: my back and neck were aching from all the time in the car. I was irritable and tired. I could take a bunch of the painkillers, chase them with a coke, and take the rest of the day off. However, thinking of Cindy, I thought it would be better if I did some stretching exercises instead. Then, maybe just one painkiller. No beers.

Being in the gym this afternoon had reminded me of the days when I used to work out for three hours and not find that remarkable. Even after I had stopped boxing professionally, I’d stayed in shape by working out in the gym and hauling shrubs in my business. But that had been tapering off even before my accident had put me flat on my back. I had spent less time in the gym, stopped my morning runs in favor of work, and spent more time marketing my business while the hired help did the physical labor. I’d lost much of my conditioning and started to put on some weight even before my encounter with a drunk driver. Two months in the hospital and six weeks lying around the house did not improve me much. I needed to start thinking in terms of making it back into shape, rather than just convalescing.

I stripped down to a pair of shorts, cleared off a space in the living room, and started working the stretches I had been taught by the physical therapist. It hurt; but then, I reflected, leaning down over an out-stretched leg as I sat on the floor, I was used to pain. I was used to the pain of having my muscles burn as I kept my arms up until they felt like lead, hitting the bag one last time with the last of my strength, and then again one last time, and then again one last time. I was used to the pain of having my lungs burn as I put in the last dash, on the last sprint, of the work-out that lasted two hours, and then feeling my neck shake with effort as I sucked in breath after breath, replenishing my exhausted body as my sweat pooled at my feet. I was used to the pain of having every inch of my bruised body ache in the aftermath of a twelve-round pounding the day before. Yes, pain and I were old acquaintances.

I supposed that was why I’d been able to handle the accident with such equanimity; the pain of the injuries did not shock or frighten me.

And I was used to working past it, putting in my five miles on mornings I was so stiff I could hardly get out of bed. Lying around in bed all day really wasn’t my style. I was used to a disciplined lifestyle. It was time I got back to it. It was time I put the accident behind me, and found a way to get on with my life.

 


 

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