The Crack of the Whip
The Crack of the Whip
Octavus Roy Cohen
I WILL admit that the Kid broke it to me gently. He slid into the room, shut the door, and blushed. Then he asked me if he mightn’t have two hundred and fifty dollars.
“Two hundred and fifty dollars!” I gasped. “Why, Kid, that’s a heap of money to have all at once.”
“I know it,” he counters.
“What you want with it?”
“Spend,” he came back evasively.
He blushed again and fidgeted from one foot to the other.
“Nawthin’ special. Jus’ a diamond!”
I got slowly out of my chair, crossed the room, took the Kid by both shoulders, and shook him.
“For yourself?” I asked sternly.
“Kid—you’ve run foul of a skirt!”
The muscles of his shoulder rippled under my hands and he met my eyes squarely.
“I sure have,” he affirmed. “Oh! chee, Mr. Joe, just wait ’ll you meet her. She’s the grandest dame. An’—well, I guess I should ’ve told you before, but it seemed kinder funny me having to run to you before I’d ever said a thing to her.”
“That’s all right, Kid. I’ll manage your fights—not your love affairs.
What’s her monniker?”
“Rose La Belle.”
“Rose La Belle.”
“You mean that?”
“Mean it? Sure I mean it. Whatcha think I’d kid you for? An’ she’s as pretty as her name.”
Whether it was the woman’s name, with its trade-mark of the chorus, or whether it was a hint of antagonism in the Kid’s manner—a sort of strategic defense—I don’t know. At any rate, I frowned a bit, and then:
“When did you meet her?”
His eyes dropped.
“Last Friday night.”
“Hmph! Eight days’ acquaintance, and buying her a piece of ice already, eh? Good progress, I call it. Kind of rushed her off her feet, huh? Love at first sight?”
“I guess that’s it,” stammered the Kid in answer.
“And of course your bein’ lightweight champeen of the world, and having a fat bank-roll, didn’t affect her none? She loves you for yourself alone?”
Innocently the Kid met my gaze once more.
“Cert. Why—she says so!”
That’s the Kid all over. Honest, if some grifter told him politics was straight he’d swallow it. He’s the most trusting lad I had ever seen. I found that out before I started managing him; in fact, it was the how of our getting together. Y’ see, in them days I was doing newspaper work.
I ain’t never been much on the flowery word stuff, but I know a thing or two about the prize-ring, and they had me covering the big fights for them. I’d hustle back to the office after a scrap and tell a rewrite man how it all happened, and then he’d whip it into shape so’s the public could read it intelligent like, and my name would be stuck over the top.
One night this here Kid Riley fought a scheduled ten-round battle with Battling Roberts, the ex-champion, and finished him in the ten rounds. It was at the Southside Athletic Club, where all his other fights had been, and me being in with the officials there just happened to drift around when they were paying off. I saw them slip the Kid fifty as his share.
At that time I didn’t think the Kid was a world-beater, but I imagined that he got at least two hundred and fifty for a ten-round bout, and I called him aside and asked him about it.
That boob explains that he’d made his start at the Southside, and that even after he got into the finals class the manager had explained to him that he owed a debt of gratitude to the club, and so he oughtn’t to ask more than fifty. Besides, said that bully, the Kid oughtn’t to fight nowhere else. Honest, it didn’t seem possible that a guy could be as ignorant as him.
“You need a manager,” I says, “the worst way. I’ll act on a fifty-fifty basis if you want. But, Kid—I’ll have to be your guardeen, too. You let me arrange your fights and handle your money—and I’ll make you rich. You’re young (he was then just turned twenty) and you’ve got the stuff. Maybe I can make you champeen some day.”
So I get a lawyer chap to draw up the articles, and the Kid and me affixes our scrawls—and the deal is closed. Right about then the Kid’s stock has been boosted about a million per cent by beating Battling Roberts, and the manager of the Southside comes along and wants to match him with One-Round Maloney.
According to our written agreement, the Kid turns the manager over to me. The mogul allows he wants the Kid to go on for ten rounds against Maloney, and I says sure I’ll let him do it.
“That’s fine,” enthuses the manager, producing a contract. “Ten rounds, and he’ll get fifty, win, lose, or draw." I pretended to be surprised.
“1 guess I didn’t get you right,” I says. “You mean two hundred and fifty!”
The long and short of it was that the Kid went on and won by a knockout in the sixth round, and pulled his two-fifty. He almost croaked when he knew how much he had coming to him, and I stuck it in the bank for him—I having made that lawyer guy put things through the courts which made me trustee for the Kid’s kale.
I won’t bore you with sperfluous (I ain’t got a dictionary handy, and don’t know if that’s the way sperfluous is spelled; but it’s pronounced that way and ought to) details; but the long and short of it was that less ’n two years later the Kid finished Eddie Franklin out on the coast, and when they put his picture in the papers next day they had a head-line which said he was light-weight champeen of the world.
The best part of it was that we all knew he wasn’t no fluke champ. True, he didn’t have the cleverness of Packy MacFarland nor the punch of Joe Wolcott, nor the speed of Young Ahearn; but when it came to all-round scrapping he was there with the best of them. Of course, right after he won the title he went on a vaudeville tour and got away with quite a bit of soft coin, and then it was the Kid who come to me and allowed that he wanted to get back into harness again.
So back to the big burg we go, and I fits up accommodations for him at a road-house in Westchester, and hire him a string of sparring partners, and he gets into trim right fast while managers fall all over each other to match him up.
But being champ didn’t turn the Kid’s head none whatever. B’lieve me he was the modestest thing I ever run across. I sort of got to imagine him a regular schoolboy until he come to me for the two and a half centuries to buy a doll the sign of submission.
I didn’t have the slightest objection to the Kid getting married—I was glad of it, in fact. The right girl sort of acts as an anchor to a man who has more money than he knows what to do with, especially if the bright lights ever get his nanny. So I come across with his two-fifty, but I allows that I’d like to give Rose La Belle the once-over.
The Kid beams like a day in June, and insists on taking me pronto down to the hotel where she is stopping. Knowing a thing or two about women whose names are similar in sound to Rose La Belle, I suggest that he call her first and let her know we’re going to drop in—which suggestion he takes and tells me she says she’ll be delighted.
Two hours later the bellhop tells us we’re to come on up, and up we go, and into the suite of rooms consisting of bedroom, parlor and bath which Miss La Belle occupies. The Kid goes in first, proud as a boy scout on parade, and the girl rises to the occasion, as it were. I close the door and the Kid turns like he was presenting me at court.
“Mister Joe,” he says tremulously, “meet Miss La Belle, my future intended.”
She slipped me five fishlike fingers and raised her drooping baby-blue eyes to mine. Maybe they fooled the Kid but they didn’t fool me none whatever. And she knew it, and into them there came a flash of fire, a sort of challenge—as much as to say: “Mebbe you’re his manager, but I’ve got the inside track and I’m gonna keep it.” And when I got right close to her I seen that the golden hair of her was dark brown at the roots.
To myself I groaned and remarked something about the Kid being up against it. To her, I says that I was delighted to meet her and knew that her and I was gonna be the best of friends. She counters in the same strain—but believe me, there was a declaration of war right there—and for the first time I sympathized with them Russians who didn’t have enough munitions. She had a clove hitch on the Kid, and knowing his innocence as I did, I wasn’t wondering at it none whatever.
I stayed for about an hour and in the course of the conversation found that Miss La Belle had been in “the profession.” Closer questioning wised me up that she had been a chorus lady, first on the road then in the Follies. She had the looks all right. Born with most of them and the rest cultivated—like the blond hair and the nice-looking eyebrows and the color in her cheeks.
Eventually we break away and the Kid allows that as soon as he finishes his scrap with Tommy Buck three weeks from then he’s gonna get married and take a honeymoon trip on the two thousand and five hundred dollars that’s gonna be handed him as a honorarium. Of course I get one thousand and two hundred and fifty dollars of that, but the balance is enough even for her honeymoon, I’m thinking.
I’m too wise to buck the Kid, especially when I see that the Indian sign the spider had on the fly ain’t a circumstance to what this dame has on him, but during the training I get in a little of the inside stuff, trying to make the Kid see that Rose La Belle ain’t the genuine stuff, but I might as well have tried to make Bill Bryan believe that war ain’t hell.
The fight comes off in the Garden with reserved seats withdrawn from the market account of the demand and rafter room selling at a premium. And what the Kid does to Buck is a plenty. There wasn’t a man in the place who ever called him a cheese champ after that bout. No, he didn’t finish Buck, but I don’t believe any man ever took such a lacing since Carl Morris was cut into chop-meat by Jim Flynn in the same ring.
Then came the marriage ceremony: about as quiet as a St. Patrick’s day parade. But everybody agreed that Rose La Belle looked queenly—which was all that the Kid needed to make him more than perfectly happy.
As there hadn’t been no reg’lar invitation, Rose had announcement cards printed, and some “at homes” which announced that Mr. and Mrs. Patrick La Belle-Riley (some monniker, eh?) would be at home at number so-and-so Riverside Drive, at such-and-such a date. She was after the style, that chicken was.
And when we was throwing rice and shoes and bidding ’em good-by after a swell feed at a Broadway hash-house, I shook with Rose once more. This time she didn’t try to hide the dislike she had for me—and I knew then that the war had started.
When they got back from their honeymoon two weeks later I knew that it had done a darned sight more than started. That skirt had already influenced the Kid against me. Not that he realized it—he was too bloomin’ innocent—but first thing he did was to come at me about the guardeenship and holding his money. Sheepish he was—like he didn’t have the right to ask me.
“An’ y’ see,” he winds up, getting courage by the route he’d gone, “it seems silly that a married man has to go to another guy for a hand-out when he’s earned the money. It’s mine, ain’t it?”
“Yes, it’s yours, Kid. What’s the rub? Ain’t our plan always worked? Don’t you know where every dollar is? Have I ever handed out less ’n you wanted?”
“’Tain’t that,” he retorted with a sort pf harassed look. “It’s—ah! th’ devil! Mister Joe, Rosie just don’t like it, and what she says goes—see?”
Of course, as far as that guardianship paper went I had the Kid dead to rights, but I tore it up and made an accounting and forked over the coin and then sat back to watch results. I saw ’em two days later when the Kid buys a limousine: a great, big husk of a car it was with a shiny black body and a vase for orchids, and a chauffeur. Rose La Belle-Riley was going to live—and live high.
I stood for a month-long honeymoon, and then I dropped in on them one night in their Riverside Drive apartment. Her and Kid were going to it hammer and tongs. The Kid, simple guy that he is, invites me in right in the middle of the mix-up, and appeals to me—like he’d always used to do before that female woman butted in.
“Some of her swell sassiety friends comin’ up here to-night,” pipes the Kid desperately, “an’ Rosie—”
“I told you not to call me Rosie,” she snaps angrily. “My name is Rose.”
“—an’ Rose says I gotta doll all up in an open-face suit. It’s rotten stuff. I’d rather wear fightin’ trunks—”
“And you’d look better in them,” she spouts once more.
“He sure would,” I says calmly.
“That’s his type,” she comes back, quick as a gatlin’.
“It is. It is the type that made him champion of the world and caused you to marry him, and pays for this fancy apartment and that big limousine and those diamonds you’re exhibiting. Yeh, I reckon he does look better in fighting togs than in anything else. That’s what I dropped down to see him about. I want him to put ’em on again.”
“And I suppose,” she says bitterly, “that you wanna get hold of his money again. The very idee of you taking half the money he made when all you did was to sit back—and he did all the fightin’. Robbery I call it!”
The Kid had been playing safe and neutral up to that time, but at that his face flamed and he took a hand in the game.
“Cut that, Rosie,” he says harshly, more harshly than I’d ever heard him speak. “I won’t stand for you—”
“Whoa, Kid!” I advises quietly. “This is her house, and she can be as much of a lady as she likes in it. If she don’t like me, and insists on callin’ me harsh names, the best thing I can do is to get out. But before I go I’ll say one thing, Kid. It’s this—I ain’t been doin’ no gumshoe work since you got married, but I happen to know that 1 a.m. has been early for you to hit the hay, and that once or twice you’ve tasted a sip of champagne, and that you ain’t been training a darned bit; and I know, Kid, that it don’t take a hell of a lot—beggin’ your pardon, Mis’ Riley—to put a champ on the blink. What I’d advise, Kid, is that you can this sassiety stuff. Let the wife do it if she wants; but you cut the smoke and the fizz-water, tie yourself down to the hay from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. Do ten or fifteen miles on the road, and get back into trim. There’s many a guy gunnin’ for your scalp.”
Then I beat it. The Kid follows me into the street and clutches my arm appealingly.
“Say, Mr. Joe,” he pleads, “you don’t think harsh of me for what happened up there, do you?”
“No, Kid,” I laughs; “I don’t feel sore at you for nothin’. But I will say that, while I ain’t hankering on comin’ between a man an’ his wife, that it ain’t no go, Kid. You’ll get soft in three months; you’ll lose your eye and your judgment of distance; your stamina and wind will be broken. A fighter, Kid, works at his business all the time. Trainin’ has to be done, and done regular. Lemme know, Kid, when you’re comin’ back out to Westchester. Meanwhile I’ll lay low and say nothin’.”
About two weeks later the Kid comes along and announces he’s ready to train for another scrap. I worked him out and put him through a course of sprouts, and in a few weeks I allowed that he was good enough to sign up for ten rounds with Battling Larey. The Battler is a wader-in, and a fighter from the gong.
The Kid trained hard. But on the night of the fight Con Kennedy cornered me and says, low and easy:
“Joe,” he says, “I’m just askin’ friendly like—you ain’t betting much on the Kid, are you?”
“Why?” I asks.
“Answer me first.”
If it had been any other man than Con Kennedy I’d have been suspicious of them questions, but me and Con have grown up together. I’d trust him with my last dollar if he needed a square meal and didn’t have a job in sight.
“Yes, I’m bettin’ kinder heavy. I’m giving two to one on Bob Edgren’s decision.”
“Uh-huh.” He frowns a bit. “An’ I suppose your bettin’ one to two that the Kid will win by a knockout?”
“One to three,” I amends. “Why all this quiz?”
“What time has the Kid been going to bed at nights?”
He sort of grins at that.
“You’re soft, Joe; plumb spongy. Three nights this week I’ve seen the Kid and that peroxid dame of his out after 1 a.m.”
“You’ve seen them yourself?”
“You got me.”
I didn’t ask no more questions, because I knew Con, and I knew he was a careful guy and a foolishly truthful one. But it was a shock—the Kid had lied to me for the first time. I guess I wasn’t none too enthusiastic when I pushed him into the ring and prepared towels and ammonia and water and lemon for the commencement of the fight. Battling Larey would have been pie ordinarily, but if the Kid hadn’t been keeping in trim—
They got together in the first round, and the fur certainly flew for three minutes. I wondered then why it was that the Kid didn’t feel him out for a round or two. But no! He stood toe to toe and swapped wallops. Of course, it was the kind of stuff the spectators go wild about, and they were standing on their seats pounding one another on the back, and howling like a bunch of Comanches on the warpath for scalps.
But when the Kid come to his corner at the end of the first round I understood, and knew for a certainty that Con Kennedy hadn’t been exaggerating about the Kid’s late hours. The Kid was breathing like a porpoise.
I didn’t say a word, but the Kid caught my eye and he knew I’d noticed. And with the beginning of the second round he waded in again, just like a streak of lightning. And gradually, as they mixed, the Kid began breaking ground. Once I heard him grunt as a hard one whipped to his midriff. Then—
The Kid backed, covered—uncovered—and his right swished wildly through the air. It landed plumb on the vulnerable point at the side of Larey’s jaw, and the challenger sprawled on the canvass—knocked-out cold.
Of course everybody went wild, and I collected my bets, and the papers went crazy and said the Kid was the greatest of all lightweight kings; but I wasn’t fooled. I knew that the finishing punch had been a lucky one, and I knew that the Kid had been on the verge of defeat. On form, he couldn’t have lasted seven rounds the way they were going.
I don’t think I need to say that La Belle-what’s-her-name made capital out of that win. The Kid pulled down fifteen hundred for that four minutes of scrapping, and Rose put it to him that he didn’t need no training more’n just a couple of weeks before a battle.
Then, to make matters worse, her old theatrical enthusiasm cropped up once more. You’ve met ’em, haven’t you—these leggy broilers who think they have Bernhardt backed off the map and that nothin’s good enough for them but Shakespeare or Broadhurst or one of them big playwriters? Rose was that, and then some. The long and short of it was that she arranges a vaudeville engagement with the billing of—
Peerless Lightweight Champion of the World
assisted by the famous
ROSE LA BELLE
I didn’t say a word to the Kid about bein’ his manager, and he sort of steered clear of the subject when he was around me. And, of course, when they went on the road for their twenty-eight weeks, I knew blamed well that I’d never see a cent of the money they raked in.
What’s the use? Twenty-eight weeks is mighty close to seven months. So I’ll skip that seven months— And the Kid came back to me fifteen pounds over weight, flabby (for a prize-fighter), a bit bloodshot; and he announced that he was ready to go into training again.
Honest, I wanted to cry. If it had been any one but the boob of an unsophisticated Kid, I’d have handed him one and consigned him down below. But not the Kid. Why, I don’t think he really had finished teething yet, he was that innocent. Fighting was the only thing he tackled where he didn’t need a guardian—and he did that by instinct, I guess.
It seems that there was a reason for the Kid coming to me at that time. Eddie Lonegan, a Pacific Coast lightweight, had cleaned up everything out there that bore the stamp of class, and had invaded the East. What he had done to the high-class crop of lightweights was a sin and a shame. And one fact stood out starkly—he was the one lightweight who was in a position to demand a chance at the title. When Eddie challenged, it was strictly up to the Kid to accept.
So we signed new managerial articles, and I started him training. There ain’t no use going into the details; but the Kid was all in. He still had the stuff, but it looked as though it was gonna be a year or so before he’d be in trim for a hard fight with a man of Lonegan’s character.
Managers all over the country started bidding for the fight. The Kid was offered six thousand for his share of a ten-round battle. I was for taking it, but the Kid refused.
“Carey, out on the coast, offers twelve thousand for a twenty-round bout,” he says. “I need the money.”
“He’ll wear you out, Kid,” I pleaded. “He’ll stay away from you for eight or ten rounds, and then he’ll start in. You’ll be a gonner—”
“Aw, say, Mr. Joe,” countered the Kid; “you just don’t understand. I gotta have the money. Just gotta, that’s all. It's twelve thousand—”
I battled with the Kid for a month. I begged with him and pleaded with him and argued with him. Nothing doing. He was adamant.
A funny little thing happened a few days before the signing of articles. The Kid came to me looking kind of strange, and, like the Kid, let straight from the shoulder.
“Say,” he says abruptly, “Eddie Lonegan knows my wife.”
“Is that so?” I asks politely.
“Yeh. I seen them in my limousine just now. Funny, ain’t it, that I should gonna be fightin’ him soon?”
I agreed that it was very funny, and then shifted the conversation into other channels.
Well, Rose La Belle kept on cracking the whip, and the Kid kept on doing the tricks she wanted. Old Cleopatra wasn’t an amateur night possibility compared with that blond dame of the Kid’s. She had latched onto the Kid for what she could get out of him, and she was clever enough to see that he stayed very, very much in love with her.
But this time she cracked once too often. The fight with Eddie Lonegan was a worse farce than the notorious Johnson-Jeffries argument out Reno way. The Kid didn’t have a chance from the gong. Eddie just played back and laughed at him, and jabbed and jabbed and jabbed. It was sickening. The Kid was gore all over, and gameness helped him out until the fourteenth round. Then he started going down. Once in the fourteenth, three times in the fifteenth, six times in the sixteenth he went down for the count. In the seventeenth it was all over, and Eddie Lonegan was lightweight champion of the world.
The Kid was all broken up. I went back east with him, and didn’t see him for three days. Then he come to me looking miserable enough to cry. He doesn’t say a word, but sticks a legal paper into my mitt.
One look shows me that it’s a suit for divorce, instituted by Rose against the Kid, and charging cruelty and incompatibility!
No, the Kid didn’t fight it. It went through flying, and the Kid was soaked for heavy alimony. And as though that wasn’t enough—less’n a month after the divorce Rose La Belle marries Eddie Lonegan, lightweight champion of the world.
That’s where the Kid hit the road to hell!
There wasn’t no use trying to do a thing with him. It’s just that way with a man when a woman’s pulled the Delilah stuff on him. He starts for the bottom, and he gets there in record time. It was pathetic—it was worse than that. And it seems that she’d just held them papers back long enough to have that twelve thousand the Kid got for losing to Eddie Lonegan put in her name at the bank.
There was the Kid, as close to broke as a man can ever get, borrowing money from me, drinking like a fish—and developing a hate for that woman that did my heart good. The awakening had been rude but thorough. He’d loved her—loved her as only a guy as simple and trusting as him could love.
During the divorce proceedings I think he almost believed that he had been cruel to her, and he was all broke up over it; but when she up and married Eddie Lonegan, then it was that the Kid put on a don’t-give-a-damn expression and hit the chute.
It was an inspiration that worked a reformation. My inspiration. I cornered him one day in Chris's place—a hangout for pugilistic and theatrical has-beens: the Kid with his boyish face already a bit seamed with the fast life. And I looped my arm through his and escorted him into a little booth.
“Kid,” I says, “I take it that you’re wise that Rose handed you a dirty deal—played you for a sucker all the way through.”
His face got real ugly.
“Go ahead,” he says tensely.
“And I guess you ain’t any too stuck on her?”
“You got that right.”
“I guess you wouldn’t like nothing better than to even the score a bit?”
“Well, Kid, I got a plan!”
He broke into a cold sweat of hope and leaned across the table, staring at me.
“You—you—ain’t stringin’ me, Mr. Joe?”
“Nary a string. But it ’ll mean hard work, Kid—mighty hard work—and nerve.”
“Mr. Joe—I’ll do anything—anything in this world to get even with that woman. She did me, Mr. Joe; did me brown. And I was sucker enough to stand for it because I—I—loved her, and I thought she meant it when she said— Ah, hell, you understand!”
“I understand, Kid. Well, this is my plan. When you was in your prime you was a better man any day in the week than this cheesy Eddie Lonegan.” His eyes glinted at mention of the name of Rose’s husband.
“They do say, Kid, that there ain’t no such thing as a comeback. I agree with ’em on general principles. But, Kid, rules is only proved by exceptions. I’m here to tell you, Kid, that if a fighter has the stuff, and if he has a motive that’s strong enough—one of these here motives that just lift a guy by his suspenders and keep him everlastingly at it—well, Kid, when a guy has that incentive, then he can do anything and then some.
“What I’m suggesting, Kid, is that you come back with me, let me finance a little training at Westchester: buck the apparatus for about six months straight, and then sling a challenge at Eddie. He’ll snap you up if any promoter will offer a decent purse, because he thinks you’re pie for him—him and Rose has probably laughed at you a dozen times—and I can tip off one or two promoters that you’ve got the stuff, the real stuff. They’ll match you! How about it, Kid?”
The Kid shoves his glass of redeye off the table and it busts on the sawdust floor. Then he sticks his hand out and clasps mine.
“Until I beat Eddie Lonegan,” he says, “ I’m done with the booze. That’s on the level!”
Of course, I knew the Kid never could win from Lonegan. No man’s who’s backslid that far ever can come back entirely. But I will hand it to him on the way he worked. In a month the blear had gone from his eyes, and the flabbiness of the muscles was giving way to the rocklike hardness which had been there before he ran foul of Rose La Belle. In two months he could do three miles on the road without exhausting himself. In four months he could do ten and come back to work out some more. In six months I was holding a rein on him to keep him from overtraining.
The only thing I experienced any real difficulty about was the weight question. A man takes on a heap of weight when he lays off, but at the end of seven months I had the Kid down to one hundred and thirty-four, and I knew that if he was matched up for a weigh-in six hours before the battle, I could steam out at least two pounds.
I tipped off a bunch of my newspaper friends—and having been in the game once myself, they fell for it—and pretty soon the papers all over the country were screaming news of the attempted comeback of Kid Riley, ex-champion. And because I had talked confidentially a few places, there wasn’t any ha-ha-ing over it.
Only Eddie Lonegan had his little giggle; and after I had taken Bob Edgren and Damon Runyon and Goldberg and a few other big experts up to see the Kid work out, and they had written their opinions to Promoter Carey—quiet and confidential like—he hung up a purse of ten thousand dollars for a ten-round go. And because the Kid was so wild for a chance, he agreed that Eddie Lonegan should take nine thousand, win, lose, or draw, while the Kid got the remaining thousand. And his training alone was due to cost that much.
Eddie accepted right off quick. It looked like chicken money to him—the easiest sort of easy coin. And two months later I saw the Kid, pink and white and with his eyes clear and his step springy, climb into the ring and receive instructions from Dan Smiley, the famous referee. And while I knew the Kid was due for a beating, I knew that he was gonna make Eddie understand that he was in a fight.
Knowing the motives behind this comeback stunt, I was prepared to see the Kid wade in and mix things from the gong. And I was never more surprised in my life than to see him, after they’d touched gloves, step back and throw up a long-range guard.
They sparred, they boxed, they danced in and out and landed light lefts and rights to face and body. The first round ended tamely. A half-dozen blows had landed on each man, but no punishment had been inflicted.
Somebody laughed. But I didn’t. I knew that the Kid’s hate had become a cold hate, doubly bitter—that it was cold enough to enable him to fight the right sort of a fight.
The second round was a repetition of the first, and the third of the second. Slowly and surely Eddie Lonegan was piling up a lead on points, but despite his downward swoop and his booze-fighting months the Kid was as fresh as when he started the first round. That was his fight.
The fourth and fifth rounds passed uneventfully, and still the Kid retained his freshness. But his eyes were glittering, and he took my words of encouragement without so much as a look or word, except when he said, between the fifth and sixth rounds:
“I’m gonna win, Mr. Joe! I’m gonna win!”
In the sixth round Eddie changed his tactics. Seemingly the sparring of the first five rounds had gotten on his nerves, just as it had on the nerves of the crowd. He watched for his opening and waded in. The Kid clinched without attempting any infighting. Eddie came in once more, slugging like a pile-driver. And again the Kid clinched. The crowd hooted, but the Kid merely smiled slightly.
Similar tactics continued through the seventh round. It was Lonegan’s fight by a tremendous majority, but I knew that the Kid hadn’t uncorked yet.
In the eighth round he started things. Lonegan, falsely confident that the Kid was going to hang on until the end, came in uncovered. Biff! the Kid’s right shot into the stomach, and Lonegan grunted. He backed away with a sudden terror, and the Kid was after him. Bang! Bing! Bang! A tattoo like a punching-bag rang out, first his right to Eddie’s head, then his left and then his right again.
This time it was the champion who covered. Then the Kid ignored the howling of the crowd and played safe for the balance of the round.
In the ninth he took no chances until just the right opening presented itself, and then he slammed in a fusillade of blows to head and body, and once again the champion covered. At the end of the round the champion was breathing like a steam-engine, while the Kid seemed fresh as at the commencement.
It was the gong at the beginning of the tenth round which awakened the Kid. His jaw set and his eyes blazed and he streaked across the ring. And that was where I climbed up on my seat and howled. The spectators went wild. I have never seen such fighting! The blows were beyond count. At the end of a half-minute fighting Lonegan went down.
He took the count of eight and arose. The Kid, breathing stertorously and cursing gutturally, a changed man entirely, circled the restraining arm of the referee and piled all over his man; ignoring the puny blows he received, and driving home lefts and rights to the stomach and wind—always the body, never the head.
Lonegan broke ground. His face wore a hunted, harassed look. The Kid came in and the champion tried to clinch. The Kid’s right streaked through his guard and landed on the solar plexus.
Dan Smiley counted ten over the prostrate form of Eddie Lonegan. And frenzied fanatics burst into the ring and lifted to their shoulders the recreated lightweight champion—Kid Riley.
And when it was all over and the Kid was dressed and had gone to the hotel with me to talk things over, I asked him a question.
“How did you have the nerve to play that waiting game, Kid?” I asked.
He smiled slowly.
“I didn’t know Lonegan,” he said softly, “but I knew Rosie. I know how she ruined me, and I knew no husband of hers could stand the gaff, ’cause why? ’Cause they’ve been drinkin’ champagne bought with my money, ridin’ until all hours of the night with my limousine. I wasn’t fightin’ Lonegan, Mister Joe; I was fightin’ Rosie’s husband. That’s why I won. I knew what I was up against. I knew she’d filled him full of bull about what an easy mark I was. She made him neglect his trainin’—just like she done me!
“I’m right happy, Mister Joe; right happy, to-night. And I’ve got one more thing to say:
“I’ve fought my last fight. I’m quittin’ the ring. And why? Because, Mister Joe—there ain’t nothin’ that ’ll make Rosie sorer than to know I quit the game while I was lightweight champeen; that’s why!”
“And the booze, Kid?”
He laughed shortly.
“Me an’ booze is done, Mister Joe. I wonder,” wistfully, “if we can’t draw up some more guardeenship papers, an’ have you handle things for me once more?"
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.
The longest-living author of this work died in 1959, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 63 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.