Manny and his mafia overlord is introduced. Sean trains and has his first love affair.
Part 2. Out Into The World
By the time Sean was born, Manuel Liebowitz was in the fifth grade of an elementary school in Brooklyn. From his birth he had been called "Manny." His parents were Jewish immigrants from Ireland, and his father made a modest living as the proprietor of a small shoe repair shop.
Unlike many of his peers, Manny did not excel in scholastics. By the time he was attending high school it was clear that higher education was not in the cards for him. When his classmates discussed their plans for college, Manny would use his family’s modest economic means as a feeble excuse for why he didn’t plan to continue beyond high school. But none of the others were fooled. It was common knowledge that Manny just wasn’t very bright … at least not in mathematics and the sciences. As a result, virtually all of the Jewish girls gave him the cold shoulder. By the end of his sophomore year he had developed a healthy inferiority complex.
It was a fluke that Manny wandered into an athletic club early in the summer before his junior year. He asked the manager if there was anything he could do to help out, and the manager hired him (at sub-minimum wage) to sweep and do other odd jobs. Manny worked "off the books," which meant that none of his pay was withheld for taxes. And that was fine with him. It just meant more money in his own pocket, and he had never seen anything wrong with breaking the law (other than getting caught).
The so-called athletic club was in actuality a training facility for boxers. Manny quickly developed an affection for the place. No one there had any education beyond high school. Many of the aspiring fighters had not even graduated, and some of the foreigners were barely literate.
In his junior year Manny continued working at the club after school and on Saturdays. His father and mother were not religiously active, and no one objected to him earning a little money on the Jewish Sabbath. While his peers in high school were busy making plans to attend college, Manny wormed his way deeper into the fight world.
The one high school friendship he did cultivate in his senior year was with a Polish boy whose nickname was Rocky. The name was apt. Rocky feared nothing. He had a crushing punch, and had used it more than once on hapless young men who rubbed him the wrong way. Manny mentally toyed with how he and Rocky might have a future in the fight game.
Many of the aspiring fighters at the club were "owned" by Mafia figures. The fighters’ expenses were partially or fully paid by these sponsors (depending on how promising the fighter was), and in return the Mafiosi would get all of the fighters’ winnings when they went professional. How much of those winnings got channeled back to the fighters was strictly up to the sponsor.
In his senior year, Manny approached one of the more prominent sponsors. His name was Tony Skopelli. Skopelli had grown fat from years of overindulgence on rich Italian cuisine. He knew who Manny was, but acted like he’d never seen him before.
"Whadda yuh want? Do I know you? Get lost! Can’t you see I’m busy watchin’ dis sparrin’ session?"
"I know, I know, Mr. Skopelli. But I got somebody you might wanna have a look at," Manny suggested. What Manny might have lacked in scholastic prowess he more than made up for with chutzpah.
"You got nothin’! Gedoudda here!"
"No, I do, Mr. Skopelli. Really! Why would I lie?"
Skopelli glanced sidelong at this nervy punk. He took the stub of a well-chewed cigar out of his mouth and heaved a bored sigh.
"Where is dis wonder?" he grunted.
"I can have him here tomorrow!" Manny answered excitedly. "You gotta see this kid in action, Mr. Skopelli. He can punch like a … like a …"
"Yeah, yeah," Skopelli answered. "Have Super Boy here in the ring at 4 tomorrow."
"Yes, sir, Mr. Skopelli! You won’t be sorry!"
"Your boy might be," Skopelli smirked, waving Manny away.
Manny wangled a short-term locker rental and a pair of gloves, trunks and shoes from the equipment room manager. He promised all of his next week’s earnings to pay for the gear. When he left the club that night his head was swimming with ideas. He was a manager! He called Rocky and told him what he’d set up. It was all news to Rocky, and Manny had to sell his friend on the idea. But eventually Rocky agreed.
The next afternoon Manny and Rocky slipped out of school early and hurried to the club.
"This is your locker, champ," Manny said expansively, once they were in the locker room. "Here, here’s your key. Suit up and we’ll have you do some warmin’ up."
Rocky looked at Manny incredulously. Nobody but Manny could even come close to ordering him around that way. But somehow he found himself always deferring to Manny. He unlocked the locker. Inside were gloves, trunks and shoes.
"You get a towel from the equipment room for showerin’, after you’re done for the day," Manny said, acting like this was all old hat stuff to himself.
Rocky nodded compliantly and changed into the boxing togs.
"We won’t tape your hands," Manny explained. "This is just gonna be a short sparrin’ session I set up for yuh."
Manny had Rocky run in place and do some pushups. He laced Rocky into the gloves and had Rocky punch him in his open palms. Even with gloves on, Rocky could make Manny’s hands tingle.
"Feel good?" Manny asked, pulling on Rocky’s gloves.
"Yeah, man, they feel real good," Rocky answered. He was starting to get into the spirit of the thing. He suspected he was a natural!
The big clock on the wall clicked to 3:55.
"It’s time. Let’s do it!" Manny said. As they walked out of the locker room, Manny gave Rocky a pep talk. He told Rocky to just think of the pug they’d put him in with as one more high school mama’s boy. Hit him hard! Take charge!
Rocky listened intently and nodded. So this was the fight game! Already he found himself dreaming about fat purses and his name in the papers.
"Well, here he is, Mr. Skopelli," Manny said as they approached fat Tony. Skopelli eyed Rocky.
"Just a kid," he thought. "But what a jaw! He looks like he can take a punch."
"Ever fought in a ring before?" Skopelli grunted at Rocky.
"No," Rocky answered, slightly mortified by his lack of experience.
"You’re steppin’ in with somebody’s had a lotta fights. You sure you wanna do this?"
"Sure, I think so," Rocky answered, trying to sound casual.
Skopelli motioned to some men across the room, and one in his forties approached. He was dressed in sweats and boxing gloves. He looked like he weighed at least 100 pounds more than Rocky. Manny noticed that one of his ears was cauliflowered.
"Let’s see what yuh got," Skopelli said in a throwaway tone. Manny helped Rocky into the ring.
"How long will they spar?" Manny asked Skopelli, feeling he should establish some sort of proprietorship.
"As long as I want," Skopelli snarled. "Now gedoudda there."
Manny stepped through the ropes and gingerly sat down a couple of seats away from Skopelli. Rocky looked down at them, uncertain of what to do. Skopelli looked up at Rocky with amused eyes.
"Ding!" he said, placing his cigar stub into his mouth.
The other fighter walked out toward the center of the ring, holding his gloves out for the customary "hand shake."
"How old’re you, kid?" he asked quietly.
"Twenty … one," Rocky lied. The older man shook his head somberly.
"Well, let’s see what you got. Don’t hold back. Give me everything you got. You ain’t gonna hurt me."
The two men backed away from each other.
Bam, Bam! The older man snapped Rocky’s head back with two fast jabs.
Wham! He slammed a left hook into Rocky’s jaw. The force of the blow sent Rocky back pedaling across the ring. But he didn’t go down!
"I knew it … he can take a punch," Skopelli thought. He’d seen plenty of men knocked flat by a shot like that.
"See? Didn’t I tell yuh, Mr. Skopelli? Can’t he take a punch?" Manny yammered excitedly.
"Shaddup!" Skopelli snarled.
In the ring Rocky’s face took on a set look. He wasn’t used to being hit like that. In fact he had never been hit like that. Most sane people would have started having second thoughts after being stunned so. But Rocky seemed to be rallied by the realization that, for the first time, he had some real competition!
He came back toward the center of the ring in a crouch. The older fighter debated for an instant whether to finish him off. He was only a kid! It was a mistake.
Rocky feinted high and drove a fist deep into the older man’s abdomen. With a grunt and a look of surprise the older fighter dropped his gloves slightly.
Boom, Boom, Boom! Rocky hit the older man with a crunching right, left and right to the jaw. The older fighter went down hard on his back, nearly doing a backward somersault.
"Dat’s enough!" Skopelli barked.
Manny looked at him with shining eyes. Skopelli looked back, waiting for Manny to shoot his mouth off again. But Manny instinctively kept quiet.
"Be here with your boy tomorrow at 3," Skopelli said in a slightly more friendly tone. He rose to leave.
"You OK, Pete?" he called to the older fighter as an afterthought. Pete rose up on one knee and nodded. As Skopelli left by a side door, Pete smiled up at Rocky.
"You punch pretty good, kid," he grinned. Rocky noticed that one of Pete’s front teeth was missing, no doubt from one of his many professional bouts.
"Thanks," Rocky answered. He reached out a gloved hand to help the older man to his feet. Pete’s first impulse was to wave him off. But then he thought better of it and took hold of Rocky’s forearm.
"I’m gettin’ too old for this," he muttered.
Down at ringside Manny was glowing. He flashed Rocky the OK victory sigh. They were on their way! Fame and fortune awaited!
The next day, at ten minutes ‘til three, Manny and Rocky nervously took seats in the back of the club’s sparring room. At five after 3 Skopelli waddled into the room and motioned for Manny and Rocky to join him at ringside.
"So you think you wanna be a fighter, huh?" Skopelli asked Rocky. His tone was much friendlier than it had been the day before. Rocky nodded.
"You think maybe you got the right stuff, huh?" Skopelli continued, his fat face even smiling!
"Maybe I do," Rocky retorted.
"Maybe I do, maybe I do," Skopelli mocked, still grinning. "You know somethin’, kid? You might be right."
Manny wriggled in the next seat, beside himself with glee. Skopelli glanced his way. Again his face looked more friendly. It seemed to say that he’d be getting around to him after he was finished with Rocky.
"I think you should finish high school," Skopelli continued. "You’ll train here every afternoon and Saturdays. Bag and rope work. No sparrin’ for starters."
Rocky gulped and nodded enthusiastically.
"After high school, we see what develops," Skopelli added. "Fer now, I’ll pay your locker and equipment fees. Kapeeshi?"
Manny’s heart sank. No expense money … at least not for now. He cleared his throat. Skopelli glanced at him again, but continued talking to Rocky.
"I’m gonna have Louis take you under his wing. He’s gonna be your trainer. You do what he tells you, unnerstan?"
Rocky nodded mutely.
"Hey, Louis!" Skopelli yelled. Both boys jumped in their seats. They turned when they heard someone hurrying toward the ring.
"Louis, Rocky. Rocky, Louis," Skopelli grunted. Louis was a gaunt little man. He shook Rocky’s hand, pulling Rocky to his feet in the process. Manny estimated he was in his fifties.
"Remember: Louis’ word is law. I don’t wanna hear no crap about you. Discipline! Discipline! Unnerstood?" Skopelli barked.
"Understood," Rocky promised.
"Let’s start right now," Skopelli ordered Louis. "Get him into a locker."
"Ah-h-h, he’s already into one," Manny interjected. Skopelli looked at Manny, slightly annoyed.
"I, ah, rented him locker space and gear yesterday," Manny added nervously.
"You did, huh?" Skopelli answered. "Fer how long?"
"Just for a week," Manny answered sheepishly.
"All right, use dat," Skopelli ordered Louis. Louis nodded and motioned for Rocky to follow him into the locker room.
"How much did it cost you?" Skopelli asked Manny. For a fleeting instant Manny considered inflating his expense, but thought better of it.
"Fourteen dollars," he answered.
"Here," Skopelli said, peeling off a twenty dollar bill. Manny took the bill gingerly, looking distressed at not having six dollars change. Skopelli seemed to understand. He liked that and smiled.
"Keep it! Don’t worry about it!" he grunted. "Now let’s talk about you!"
Manny listened raptly as Skopelli laid out his plans. He wanted Manny to become a talent scout. For the remainder of the year Manny would visit other clubs in New York City and in a few burgs north of the city, expenses paid. After he finished high school they’d see where he’d go from there.
Manny was obviously excited, but suggested in a very small voice that there was one small problem.
"Oh? And what’s dat?" Skopelli asked.
Manny explained that it sounded like a great opportunity. But it didn’t sound like he’d be continuing on with his Saturday job there at the club. He’d be losing fourteen dollars a week.
Skopelli looked at him with surprised eyes. This kid had stones! He liked that!
"Nah, nah, I thought o’ dat," he retorted. "You’re gettin’ twenty five a week, in addition to your expenses. Kapeeshi?"
"Fair enough!" he answered contritely.
"OK!" Skopelli exclaimed. "Don’t say any t’ing to Rocky about dis, unnerstan? Dis is between us."
"Absolutely!" Manny promised.
"OK. Here’s fifty expense money." Skopelli peeled off a fifty-dollar bill and handed it to Manny. Manny looked bug-eyed at the bill. It was the first time he’d ever seen one of these, let alone hold one in his hand.
"Saturday I want you to go over to the Bronx. Dere’s a club dere where some tough High School kids work out. Check ‘em out. See what dey got."
"Yes, sir!" Manny exclaimed.
Skopelli looked at Manny with shrewd eyes.
"Dat fifty should more than cover your expenses. I want the change, unnerstan?"
"Right!" Manny answered in a more subdued tone.
And so Manny’s career as a scout officially began. After graduating from high school he would work full time for Skopelli. For the first year he scouted in New York and New Jersey. But a year later Skopelli began to send him out of town, to Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles and other big cities.
Skopelli developed a certain trust in Manny … at least as much trust as is possible for a man like him. Being Jewish, Manny could never aspire to become a made man in the Mafia, and thus he presented no threat. And, Manny had unlimited gall and seemed devoted to Skopelli.
Manny, meanwhile, was making more money than his father did. He moved out of his parents’ place and rented his own apartment. At least once a month he went back to their place for dinner, wearing flashy and expensive clothes. In his third year of full time employment he bought a Cadillac and took them on day trips to upstate New York on the weekends. Manny’s mother worried about him and the people he associated with. But Papa shooshed her and told her not to look a gift horse in the nose.
Manny introduced several promising young fighters to Skopelli, and some of them were taken into Skopelli’s ‘stable.’ In his fourth year of employ he was sent to Europe for the first time. There were some clubs in Italy that Skopelli wanted him to check out. An Italian sports car was rented ahead of time for him, and he was met at Rome International Airport by one of Skopelli’s colleagues. As Manny made the rounds … Rome, Naples, towns in Tuscany … he couldn’t help thinking about the saps who had gone on to college from his old high school. He smilingly reveled in the thought that he wouldn’t give the Jewish girls who’d shunned him the time of day now. The truth was he didn’t want anything to do with Jewish women. He liked blondes … he preferred the kind of women that Jewish American Princesses never became.
In due course Manny was sent to other European countries … Germany, France, and England to name a few. When he flew into London he gravitated to a pub in Soho one evening and struck up a conversation with a limy. He mentioned that his parents had emigrated from Ireland to America. When he told the other bloke what he did for a living, the Englishman became quite amused.
"The fight game, eh?" he mused. "Well, I guess you know there’s a lad in Ireland that can deck any heavyweight in the world."
"Come on! Wha’ wha’ wha’ …" Manny grinned.
"I tell you, it’s the truth!" the Englishman said soberly. When Manny pressed him for details, he filled Manny in on the legend of Sean Crabbe … how he’d dropped a 2000-pound bull and saved a man’s life. Manny was fascinated and begged his drinking companion to tell him more.
"Well, as I understand it, he works in the same meat packin’ plant in Ireland today," the Englishman continued. "And do you know what his job is?"
"No, what?" Manny answered, motioning to the barkeeper to set them up with another round.
"He stuns steers by punchin’ ‘em. By the dozen, he does! Knocks ‘em to their knees with a single punch."
"Wha-a-at? Why?" Manny pressed, wondering if this Englishman was hustling him for a drink.
"Why what?" Why does he stun ‘em?"
"Well," the Englishman continued, "they’re big animals! They’ve got to be put down … stunned … before the processin’ boys have a go at them!"
Manny learned that the processing plant had tours every Wednesday afternoon. That night he placed a transatlantic call to Skopelli. He told him that there was something he needed to check out in Ireland, and that he’d return to New York Thursday afternoon. By now Skopelli had come to trust Manny’s judgment and gave him the go-ahead.
Manny visited a couple of clubs in London on Monday, and on Tuesday he caught a flight to Dublin and drove to Sean’s hometown in a rental car. He checked into the village inn and had the innkeeper reserve a place for him in the next day’s plant tour.
That night he made friends with the inn’s bartender. Manny was a personable chap when it was to his advantage, and he was adroit at winning people’s confidence quickly. In time he divulged his tour plans for the next day, and probed for information about Sean Crabbe.
"Ah! Sean Crabbe!" the barman exclaimed. "Sure and everything you’ve heard about him is true! I’m surprised you didn’t read about him in the Yank papers."
"To tell the truth, so am I," Manny answered.
One wall of the pub was plastered with framed pictures of people who had enjoyed the inn’s hospitality. Included were several newspaper clippings.
"Here!" the bartender said, moving from behind the bar and across to the wall. "You can read about his encounter with the great bull right here. Here’s where the world first learned of Sean Crabbe’s mighty fist."
Manny followed the bartender to the wall and studied the yellowed newspaper clipping. At the top of the story was a picture of Sean. His massive left arm rested against the suspended, skinned carcass of the huge bull.
Manny read the article twice, stealing glances constantly at the picture of Sean. How could they not have heard about this stateside? It seemed a natural for the American tabloids, if nothing else. Maybe they’d carried the story but he, Skopelli and others had missed it.
Manny stared at the picture of Sean. The man was a freak! Manny wondered if any fighter alive could drop a 1-ton bull with one or two punches. He doubted it. He returned to the bar and continued quaffing mugs of stout until closing time. When he retired to his room his head buzzed in the familiar way. He had long since developed the habit of spending the last hours of his days on the road in one bar or another. There was nothing else he’d rather do with his evenings. And, after several drinks, he’d found that sleep came easily in the innumerable strange beds.
But tonight was an exception. Manny tossed and turned for over an hour. He couldn’t tear his thoughts away from the picture of Sean Crabbe. The man’s arm looked nearly as big around as his waist! At last sleep claimed Manny, but it was a sleep punctuated by disturbing dreams.
Manny slept in later than usual the next morning. At 9 AM he got up, showered and shaved, and ordered the most American looking breakfast he could find on the inn’s menu. He had five hours to burn before the tour at the processing plant, and after cruising by the plant he drove out into the Irish countryside.
"No wonder my old man misses this place when he’s had a glass or two of Mogen David," he thought. Everything seemed rain-washed and green. There were stonewalls everywhere. In the fields, cows and sheep grazed. Here and there was a rustic sign advertising hen’s eggs.
"Bet they’re fresh, too," he mused. He passed through a small hamlet and stopped by a cemetery. In one corner the stones displayed Jewish stars of David. There was no one around, so he pulled over and strolled out among the graves. Some of the stones were too weathered to read.
"So much history!" he marveled. "Some of these people died in the 1600’s!"
He wandered until 11:30 and then headed back to the village. Rather than return to the inn, he dropped into a small pub and had a sandwich and a mug of stout for lunch. At 1:30 he pulled into a visitor’s spot at the plant and was directed to the tour assembly room.
Manny purposely maintained a low profile. He hadn’t mentioned what his interest was to anyone since leaving London. At 1:50 a woman came in and gave a little spiel about the wonders of a big, modern slaughtering operation, charging the squeamish not to faint. A few people smiled, but most didn’t understand that this was her one little attempt at humor. At 2 PM the tour began. Manny tagged along dutifully through all of the uninteresting stuff, and at last the guide informed them that they were going out onto the slaughtering floor.
The whole thing seemed to be timed so that a fresh batch of steers were being led in when they arrived. With clangs the stanchions closed.
"Some of you perhaps know what makes our steer slaughtering operation so unique," the tour operator shouted above the noise. She gave a brief account of how the might in Sean Crabbe’s fist had been discovered on that fateful day, and how it had been determined that letting him stun the animals would be more economical than doing it the traditional way.
Everyone smiled and nodded their heads, as if believing every word. And of course everyone knew the real reason for this somewhat macabre practice was publicity, pure and simple. But, no one would have changed a thing. Without exception they had all come to see Sean Crabbe in action.
Manny recognized Sean right away. With a smile and a nod, Sean passed the group and went methodically to work. His massive arm moved in a blur, like a great piston. He was deliberately dressed in a sleeveless tunic that showed off his awesome musculature. The whole group watched in silence as animal after animal dropped. Clang! the stanchions would be thrown open, and with a whoosh the big animals would be hoisted up by their hind legs.
Afterward Sean came over to the crowd to answer questions. Manny got into the loose line of autograph seekers. When his turn came, he stepped up to Sean and fixed him with his most amiable gaze. He handed Sean his business card. Sean smiled back at him and glanced at the card. It bore Manny’s name, the word "Scout," and the address of the athletic club in Brooklyn. As Sean scanned the card Manny spoke to him in a low voice.
"I’d like to talk with you sometime."
"About this?" Sean answered, flashing the card.
"Exactly," Manny said. "Interested?"
"Aye, maybe," Sean smiled. "How about over dinner?"
"Tonight?" Manny exclaimed, his face lighting up.
"Aye, that would work fine for me," Sean smiled.
"Fabulous! But my treat, OK? How about at the inn, at, say, 6:30?"
Sean nodded agreement and Manny gave him a little wave.
"See you then!" he said quietly, and stepped aside for the next person.
Once back at the inn, Manny inquired about having dinner served in his suite. That could be arranged, for a small extra charge of course. And so a table for two was set up in the ‘reading’ area of the 2-room suite.
Manny went down to the pub at 6:15 and seated himself where he could spot Sean when he came into the dining room. At 6:30 Sean appeared. He was dressed in a sport jacket that played down the asymmetry of his torso. Manny noticed that the cloth of his slacks was snug on the left leg, but flapped loosely on his right.
He went out into the dining area to greet Sean and asked him if he’d like to have a drink in the pub before dinner. Sean agreed and ordered an Irish Whisky on the rocks.
Manny turned on all his charm, telling Sean that his parents had actually emigrated to America from Ireland. The whisky fanned their camaraderie. Sean couldn’t help but like this Yank! After a couple of drinks, Manny informed Sean that they were having dinner in his suite. For an instant Sean’s eyes flickered. But he knew that he could handle any unseemly developments, should they arise.
Once they’d settled at the private table and were left alone with their dinners, Manny got down to business.
"So, Sean, have you ever thought about boxin’?" he opened.
Sean pursed his lips and nodded.
"Aye, I suppose I have once or twice."
"But you’ve never done any?"
"No, I can’t say I have," Sean answered. "I’ve always … gone easy on me mates, don’t you know."
"A noble course," Manny nodded gravely. "You’ve never used your secret weapon in anger…"
"Well … it’s not so secret, is it?" Sean laughed. "But you’re right, with the possible exception of that bull."
"Well, I’m gonna lay it right on the line for you, Sean. I’ve been at this for quite a few years now, and I’m convinced … I think that with the right trainin’ you could go straight to the top of the fight game."
"Do you, now?" Sean answered, obviously intrigued. "D’ yuh mean become a world champion?"
"That’s exactly what I mean," Manny answered. "How much do you weigh … 210 … 220?"
"Well, the truth is I weigh 235 pounds," Sean replied.
Manny nodded that that was so much the better.
"Heavyweight," he mumbled. "Heavyweight champion of the world. Do you have any idea what kind of money…"
Manny pushed his dinner plate to the side and leaned over the table. He stared intently into Sean’s eyes.
"Sean, if you want to do this thing, then I’ll make you richer than you ever dreamed possible. I’m convinced it can happen."
Sean’s heart quickened. He knew it! He knew this day would come!
"How would it work?" he asked. "Would I be goin’ to the states?"
"Eventually. But not right away," Manny explained. "We’d get you some intensive trainin’ in England, and after you’re ready we’d line up some bouts in Europe. Build a reputation … a track record."
"I feel ready now," Sean exclaimed.
"In a way you are," Manny nodded. "There’s no doubt that you could crumble any opponent in the first few seconds of a fight. But that isn’t what we want to do."
"It isn’t?" Sean probed.
"No. We want your big punch to be kept under wraps. It’s gonna be our secret weapon. That means goin’ several rounds with some tough boys. You’ve got to train. You’ve got to learn how to box … how to protect yourself."
"But I’ll still finish with me left?"
"Yes, but you’ll hold back. You’ll use just enough power to end the fight. A lot of the bums you fight in the beginnin’ will know the score. They’ll lie down, either because we tell them to or because they don’t want to be hurt bad."
"It sounds … less than honest," Sean said. Manny stared hard at Sean.
"Sean, listen to me," he said earnestly. "Nothin’ in this world is honest when millions … tens of millions of dollars are at stake. I’m gonna tell you somethin’. That left of yours is like a nuclear bomb. If you unleash it too early … if you show it to the world too early, you’ll never get a title shot. That’s the way things work."
Sean nodded that he understood. He pushed the puritanical corner of his mind back into the shadows. This was his chance at the big time!
"How would I live?" Sean asked.
"You mean money?" Manny clarified.
Sean nodded. Manny explained the system to him. He determined what Sean earned at the plant and said they’d double it. And, once he started fighting, there would be percentages of the gates.
Sean agreed, but told Manny he didn’t want to sign anything yet.
"A handshake is good enough for me," Manny beamed. And so they shook on the new relationship. Manny said that he’d get things lined up in England and would give Sean ample time to give the people at the processing plant two weeks notice.
"Shamus O’Roarke isn’t goin’ to like it," Sean thought to himself. "But, that’s the way of it sometimes."
Manny suggested that they return to the pub. Once seated, Sean called to the bartender.
"Two jars of Guinness, Tommy," he said, laying a five-pound note on the bar.
"Jars?" Manny remarked. "Not mugs, but jars?"
"Aye, it’s jars in Ireland," Sean smiled.
By now a small group of musicians over in a corner of the pub was playing lively Irish music. An older couple took to the dance floor and moved ‘round and ‘round with surprising ease. Manny told Sean about his drive out into the countryside earlier in the day.
"I think I’m fallin’ in love with Ireland," he remarked, lifting his jar of stout and clicking it against Sean’s.
"Perhaps it’s simply comin’ back to you," Sean smiled. "Your folks came over from the old sod, didn’t you say?"
"Aye, I did," Manny answered in a stout-induced brogue. "I am rememberin’ the old times, aren’t I?"
"Erin go bragh," Sean toasted.
"Wha … What’s that? Erin go what?"
"Manny, the old memories might be there. But we’re goin’ to have to re-educate you on the particulars."
"The particulars…" Manny mused. "Aye, we both have a good deal to learn from each other. Erin go … faith and who might Erin be?"
Sean laughed raucously.
"You’re a droll leprechaun. That’s what I’m thinkin’."
Manny jumped off the barstool and did a little makeshift jig.
"Shall we have another jar on that?" he shouted, laying his own money on the bar.
Manny returned to London early Thursday morning. His flight to New York didn’t depart until 7 PM, so he took a cab to a large metropolitan library. By 3 PM he had made copies of a number of newspaper and tabloid articles about Sean. He’d worked right through lunch and was famished.
"I could use a huge steak and some action," he told a cabby.
"Action? You mean the ladies?" the cabby asked.
"Check," Manny confirmed. "Preferably on the way to the airport."
The cabby drove him to a large saloon that was famous for its generous meals and infamous for its shady ladies.
Manny took a seat at the bar and ordered a pint of stout and his steak. In no time an attractive blonde approached him and hustled him for a drink.
"Give her whatever she wants," he told the barkeeper. While pleased at the easy score, somehow she knew that Manny wasn’t the standard pigeon who wandered into the joint.
"Ever done any housekeepin’?" he asked her.
"What … cleanin’ and makin’ beds and the like?" she asked, obviously intrigued at this off-the-wall approach.
"Well, yes I have," she said.
"How much you make a week doin’ this?" Manny asked.
The blonde looked at him suspiciously.
"Why?" she demanded.
"Because maybe I got a job for yuh," he responded.
The blonde’s pretty eyes narrowed. Just what was this bloke up to?
"You’re a Yank, aren’t you?" she asked.
"What if I am?" Manny answered. "Would you be interested in makin’ what you make here and then some, for light housekeepin’ chores and takin’ care of a man’s needs?"
The blonde gave a little snorting laugh.
"Yours?" she smiled.
"No. A boxer in trainin’."
"Maybe," she said. "Where ‘bouts?"
"It ain’t set yet, but I’m thinkin’ not too far from London."
"Well, sure, I guess," she said.
"Good," Manny said. Write your name and phone number down on the back of this and I’ll give you a call."
Manny took out one of his business cards and handed it to her with a pen.
The blonde studied the card for a moment. She began to think that this guy was actually legit. She wrote on the back of the card and handed it back to Manny.
"OK," Manny said. "Can I buy you anything to eat?"
"No. No, thanks," she smiled. "I’ll leave you to eat your steak in peace. "When d’ you think I’ll be hearin’ from you?"
"If all goes accordin’ to plan, in a week or two."
"OK! It was nice meetin’ you, Manny."
Manny smiled at her. She remembered his name from the card. It was a good sign. He glanced at what she’d written on the back.
"I’ll be talkin’ with you, Vicki," he answered as she strolled away.
Manny’s flight chased the setting sun across the Atlantic, and he called Tony Skopelli when he landed in New York.
"It’s late. You must be tired," Skopelli said. "You comin’ in tomorrow?"
"Oh yeah!" Manny exclaimed. "I got hot stuff to show you!"
"I got some hot stuff for you too," Skopelli said. He didn’t sound like his old wise guy self.
"What’s up?" Manny asked carefully.
"We lost Rocky."
Manny was stunned. In the five years since they’d graduated from high school, Rocky had racked up an undefeated record, with most bouts ending in knockouts. They hadn’t seen much of each other, but Manny still felt that Rocky was one of his few real friends.
"How?" he asked weakly. "Accident … sick…"
"Acci… No, No, he ain’t dead," Skopelli barked into the phone. "He left our organization."
"Left!?" Manny exclaimed. "Can he do that?"
Again Skopelli’s voice lost its wise guy edge.
"Ordinarily not," he mumbled into the phone. "But Carbino hired him away from us."
Manny took a deep breath. Vito Carbino was a mafia capo, and Skopelli was a member of his organization. That much he knew.
"What’re we … what’re you gonna do?" he asked.
"What’re we gonna do?" Skopelli yelled. "We do nothin’!"
"Yeah, I guess I understand," Manny answered. "It’s just that I’m a little ignorant about…"
"A little ignorant? You’re a lot ignorant," Skopelli barked. Then his voice took on a softer tone. "But dat’s OK. Dere’s stuff you ain’t supposed to know."
"Yeah, for sure."
"When you comin’ in? I got stuff tomorrow morning. Come in after lunch. Get a good night’s sleep."
Manny agreed and rang off. He slept in late and had breakfast in one of the countless restaurants at street level. At 1 PM he was at the office. Skopelli came in at 2.
"Hey! Look who finally shows up!" Skopelli yelled when he saw Manny. He motioned Manny into his office.
"So, whadda yuh got?" Skopelli asked, settling behind his desk.
Manny excitedly spread the copied news articles out on Skopelli’s desk. Skopelli’s eyebrows arched as he scanned them.
"Mama Mia!" he finally exploded. "Dis guy’s a gorilla! What … a freak?"
"Yeah," Manny agreed. "But think what he could do in the ring!"
Skopelli nodded and seemed to drift away in thought.
"Why not?" he mused at length. "Dere’s no rules says he can’t…"
"My thoughts exactly!" Manny exclaimed.
"Get him some trainin’, some bouts in Europe…"
Skopelli laid out a strategy almost exactly like the one Manny had already worked out and presented to Sean.
"He holds back. We’ll never get a title shot if Carbino finds out about dat left."
"My thoughts exactly!" Manny repeated. "Great minds think alike!"
"You tink you’re great, huh?" Skopelli asked, skewering Manny with a hard stare.
"Well … no … it’s just a figure of…"
Skopelli grinned at Manny.
"Well, you ain’t no dope."
Manny breathed a sigh of relief. At times he actually felt affection for that fat, pockmarked face.
"OK!" Skopelli concluded. "I want you should drop everyt’ing. Dis is your sole concentration. Take the weekend and get back to England on Monday."
"Are we goin’ all the way?" Manny asked.
Skopelli pursed his lips and bobbed his head.
"Why not?" he grunted. "If dis monkey has da right stuff. You t’ink he can take your old pal?"
"Yeah Rocky. Why you t’ink Carbino stole him? He’s gonna be heavyweight champ!"
Manny puffed his cheeks out. It made sense. By now he had no illusions about how champions … particularly heavyweight champions … won their crowns.
"You t’ink he can?" Skopelli pressed.
Manny nodded his head gravely.
"Take Rocky? Yeah, I think he can. If he unloads … really unloads, what human could stand up against him?"
Skopelli studied the picture of Sean and the skinned bull carcass.
"A one ton bull! Mama mia, I t’ink you’re right," Skopelli agreed. "OK! Get ouda here! Keep me informed."
Manny took his parents for a drive out to Long Island on Saturday, and on Sunday his mother had him over for dinner. Monday morning he was back on a plane to London. He called Sean and told him that everything would be set in two week’s time. Sean told him that he could be in England earlier if necessary.
"No, no, two weeks will be good," Manny spoke into the phone. "I got lots to do. I want to find a private place for you to train. Remember: secrecy. Don’t even tell people you’re getting’ into the fight game."
"I, ah, I already mentioned it to my parents."
Manny blinked into the phone. This kid was so honest!
"Have they told anybody else?"
"No, I don’t think so," Sean answered.
"Good! Ask your folks to keep a lid on it. No harm done. You know where to find me, right?"
Sean said that he did, and they rang off with Manny promising to wire $500 expense money.
Manny wasted no time. After some nosing around he rented a small, vacant farm about 30 miles southwest of London. He had the open area of the barn converted into a training gym. All the furniture in the farmhouse was stored in a shed, and new, cushy stuff was brought in. A freezer was moved into the kitchen and stocked with thick steaks. A cook was hired, and he called Vicki and told her the housekeeping job was hers if she wanted it. He invited her to lunch and showed her pictures of Sean.
"I read about this guy!" she exclaimed.
"Yeah, I thought you might have," Manny said. "But listen, the fact that he’s goin’ into trainin’ to fight is top secret, you understand? You keep your mouth shut!"
"Absolutely," Vicki agreed.
"I think you might be his first … romance," Manny added. "You think you can handle that?"
Vicki smiled. So she’d be his first? Well, she’d be sure he never forgot her!
"Oh, I think I can," she smiled, looking again at the photos of Sean. "My, he’s a handsome one, ain’t he?"
"OK! You got the job!" Manny grinned. "Three hundred quid a week. Agreed?"
"Done!" the young woman smiled.
Sean arrived in London on schedule, two weeks after getting Manny’s phone call. He had used only a fraction of the $500 expense money that Manny had wired to him, and offered the rest back to Manny when he arrived. Manny looked at him with amused eyes.
"No, no, that’s yours! All of it," Manny reassured him. "Use it any way you like."
The two of them made a night of it in the city and the next morning they drove out to the rented farm (newly transformed to a training facility). Manny had retained the services of one Bruno Schuster to be Sean’s trainer. Sean got the same pep talk, in somewhat gentler terms, as Rocky had gotten from Skopelli. "Bruno was boss," and so on. Sean nodded that he understood.
After getting a tour of the barn-turned-gym, Sean was introduced to the two women who made up the household staff. Mrs. Gruber, a plump and red-cheeked middle aged woman, was the cook. Sean guessed that her accent was German. Manny was the soul of innocence when he introduced Sean to Vicki. Vicki beamed and made a convincing show of being totally blind to Sean’s deformity.
Sean’s bedroom was the biggest one in the house, and it had its own private bath. The sheets on the bed were dark blue, and there was room for a comfortable recliner, a desk and several lamps. All in all it was perfect bachelor’s quarters
"Colors and everything OK?" Manny asked him.
"Aye, very nice," Sean chuckled a little awkwardly.
That night he found the queen-size bed to be firm but comfortable. It was summertime and he slept like a log with the bedroom window open. The only sounds out in the country were night bugs singing to each other.
In the days that followed, Bruno proved to be a stern taskmaster. Sean really knew nothing about boxing, and he had to start with the fundamentals of defending himself. The sparring partner Manny had retained to work with him was an old pro named Pat. He drove out to the camp on an as-needed basis. It didn’t take him long to convince Sean of the importance of a good defense. By the end of the first week Sean had gotten a taste of what it felt like to have another heavyweight land some clean shots to his head. It was different from the punch on the nose that the bully, Michael Lister, had given him when he was a kid. Even with protective headgear on, he found Pat’s punches to be real wake-up calls. And he knew that Pat was not even coming close to unloading on him.
Manny stayed around for the first couple of days, but then left to take care of other matters. He promised to be back within a week. From the start, Mrs. Gruber had fixed three square meals a day, with lots of meat and potatoes.
"Take care of this guy. Make sure he gets enough to eat," Manny grinned at her on the morning he left to return to London. Sean was still at the breakfast table, shoveling in fuel for another strenuous day.
"Oh ja, ja," Mrs. Gruber answered in her singsong voice, replenishing the platter of pot-roasted beef on the breakfast table. Manny told everyone he’d be back in a few days, and started the drive into London.
"I could get used to beef for breakfast," Manny mused to himself. Man, could that old girl cook!
Sean wolfed the big meals down with gusto. He had never worked so hard in his life. In addition to boxing lessons, Bruno loaded him up with hours of work on the light and heavy bags, and at least three hours of running every day. Sean slept like a dead man at night. After only a week he could feel his young body beginning to respond and grow stronger.
Vicki was warm and friendly to him from the outset, but Sean thought it was politeness and nothing more. He had become convinced that a relationship with a person of the opposite sex was never going to happen.
After a hard first week, Sean was relieved on Saturday afternoon when Bruno told him they were knocking off for the weekend. Up until then he hadn’t been sure whether or not it would be business as usual through the weekend. When he went into the house and told the women that they were through for the day, Vicki asked him if he’d like to drive into a town on the way to London and take in a movie that night. Sean was more than a little surprised, but said yes.
He still had over $200 of the expense money Manny had given him, and he asked Vicki if she’d like to have dinner with him before the show.
"I’d love to," she answered, smiling prettily. It occurred to Sean that this might upset Mrs. Gruber’s plans, and he asked her if she’d prepared anything for their dinner.
"Ach, no, I haven’t started anything. You young folks have a good time."
"Would you like to join us, then?" Sean asked, catching Vicki a little off guard.
Mrs. Gruber smiled impishly at Vicki, but then told Sean that she’d be leaving within the hour to spend the weekend with her sister in London.
"I wonder if Bruno is doing anything tonight," he asked himself aloud.
"I know for a fact that Bruno will also be leaving soon, to spend the weekend with his family."
"Well, it looks like just you and me," Sean grinned sheepishly at Vicki.
"So much the better," she smiled. "When should we leave? I think the first show is at 7."
Sean suggested that they leave at 4:30, and went up to his room for a nap. By 4:15 he had showered and changed into slacks, an open collar shirt and a sports jacket. He settled down in front of the living room TV to watch the news and wait for his date.
When he heard her heels clicking down the farmhouse stairs he rose to greet her. He gasped when she walked into the living room. She literally took his breath away. Her blonde hair was swept up in a very attractive way, and it was the first time he had seen her in makeup. She wore a very flattering mini-dress, and a black ribbon was wrapped around her slender neck and held in place by a small rhinestone clasp.
"You … you look g-g-great," he stammered, feeling his face flush hot.
"Why thank you, Sean. You look nice too," she smiled. "Shall we go?" Sean could only nod stupidly. The plain truth was that she was beautiful. She slipped her arm into his as they walked out the door.
When they got into the car she slid across the seat and snuggled up against him. During the short drive to town she chattered, and Sean strove mightily to think of intelligent responses.
"Oh, look at the ruins," or "Look at the rose garden," she’d exclaim, leaning forward to look across in front of his face. Every time she did so, her soft and fragrant hair brushed his cheek. It made his head swim!
When they walked into a seafood restaurant for dinner, she took Sean’s left arm and felt the mammoth muscles through his jacket.
"O-o-o," she cooed approvingly, "you make a girl feel so safe."
Dinner was the best time Sean had ever had in his life. He and Vicki shared a bottle of wine, and his tongue finally loosened up. Vicki laughed at all of his attempts at humor. After dinner, in the movie theater, she put her hand in his and laid her head on his shoulder. By the time they were driving back to the farmhouse, Sean was hopelessly in love.
In the living room Vicki kissed him on the cheek.
"Well, goodnight, then," she smiled. "It was a lovely evenin’."
"Yes, it was," he mumbled thickly. It was all he could do to restrain from begging her not to retire … to spend more time with him. But, she turned and headed for the bedroom. His whole body ached as he watched her shapely form walk out of the room.
Sean sighed and debated whether or not to watch some TV. He decided that that would be anticlimactic to the most fabulous evening of his life. Morosely he climbed the stairs, hung his clothes in the closet and crawled into bed. Despite the wine he’d had with dinner, and despite the morning’s rigorous workout, he suspected that sleep was not going to come easily that night.
Outside a full moon hung in the sky, visible through his bedroom’s open window. His whole body seemed to be tense and awash with strange, new feelings. He resolved to ask Vicki out again next Saturday night. And what about tomorrow? Everybody was gone but the two of them! What should they do?
Sean’s fears about a sleepless night turned out to be unfounded. His young body, vigorously stressed to the limit all that week, quickly surrendered to sleep. Sometime after midnight he awoke with a start. Something had shaken his bed. He rolled over in time to see Vicki slipping in beside him in the moonlight.
"Hi!" he whispered, wondering if he was dreaming.
"D’ you mind?" she whispered back. "There’s just the two of us…"
Sean rose on his left elbow and pulled her in next to himself. She lifted her face in the moonlight and he kissed her tenderly on the mouth. It was, in fact, the first time he’d ever kissed a girl. His head reeled and his young body quivered. Vicki ran her fingers through his hair and pulled his body against hers more tightly.
The house was silent except for their breathing. Outside, down by the farm’s pond, peeper frogs lofted their nighttime songs of love onto the summer wind. With her soft hand Vicki explored Sean’s left shoulder and mighty arm. Her eyes shone with obvious admiration. Softly the bedroom curtains rose and fell … rose and fell in the evening breeze.
Manny returned when everyone was gathered around the kitchen table enjoying supper.
"How’s it goin’?" he grinned, shaking Sean’s hand vigorously while shrewdly studying his face. He thought he detected a subtle change there … a certain guardedness.
"Well, well," Manny thought to himself, "a boy when I left, a man when I return."
"Vicki!" he greeted with a little wave. His eyebrows arched questioningly when he glanced at her. Almost imperceptibly, she gave a little nod and returned his greeting.
Manny joined the others for dinner. Sean told him that he was feeling great, but that Bruno was working him hard hard hard.
"Is he learnin’ anything?" Manny asked Bruno.
"Oh yeah, he’s doin’ good," Bruno smiled. Later, in private, Manny asked Bruno how long he estimated it would be before Sean was ready for his first professional fight.
"I take it you got plans for him … some real fights," Bruno probed.
"Yeah, you could say that," Manny answered.
"Well then, I think 11 … 12 more weeks. He’s plenty strong but he needs lots more coachin’ and sparrin’ practice."
"That’s what I thought too," Manny agreed.
Later Manny sought the team members out individually and handed them their pay envelopes. He caught up with Vicki in the laundry room and decided to verbally verify his initial impression.
"Well?" he asked.
"You were right," she answered in a voice that was all business. "I’m his first."
Manny smiled and pressed an extra 50-pound note into her hand.
"Thanks!" she smiled back.
"You know, in half a year or so we’ll be takin’ him to the states. You’re gonna have to end things when that happens. You think there’s gonna be any problem?"
"Maybe," Vicki answered. "But not a big one."
"How you gonna cut him loose when the time comes?" Manny pressed.
Vicki thought about it.
"Probably tell him I’ve got involved with someone else," she murmured. "That usually does it."
Manny pursed his lips and nodded soberly.
"OK! Good work!" He gave her a pat on the shoulder and left to find Mrs. Gruber.
Sean seemed embarrassed to take the pay that Manny handed to him.
"I don’t feel like I’ve done anything to earn this," he muttered.
"But you have, you have!" Manny rejoined. "You have to realize that you’re an investment for us. We’re gonna make a lotta money off you! You’re gonna make a lotta money off you!"
Sean nodded, smiling weakly.
"Siddown. I wanna run somethin’ by you," Manny said.
"You know," he began, "when I was a kid my father took us on a summer vacation once down to the seashore in North Carolina. We had a nice little cabin right on a harbor where shrimp boats used to come in. Anyway, when the tide was out there used to be millions of these little crabs runnin’ around. They came out o’ holes in the sand when the tide ran out. You got those little suckers here in England?"
"I think we might," Sean answered.
"Well, you know what they’re … no, wait a minute. Lemme describe them first. The thing about these little crabs … about the male ones anyway … is that one of their claws is really huge. I’d bet it’s a third of their body weight."
Sean nodded, guessing where Manny was headed.
"I don’t know … maybe they use those big claws to plug up their holes when the tide’s in. But nah, I don’t think the females have them. So I think the males must use them … the big claws … for fightin’. Anyway, you know what they call them?"
"Fiddler crabs," Sean replied.
"Right!" Manny exclaimed. "You’ve heard about ‘em!"
"Well, I was thinkin’," Manny continued. "It ain’t a bad idea for a boxer to have some sorta ring name … ‘Killer,’ ‘The Jersey Mauler,’ like that, you know?"
"Fiddler Crabbe," Sean mused.
"Bingo!" Manny cried. "Whadda yuh think?"
"I like it," he murmured. "It’s clever. We’d use the proper spellin’ o’ me last name?"
"Absolutely!" Manny confirmed. "Just imagine the ring announcer. ‘And in this corner, from County Louth in Ireland, Fiddler Cra-a-a-be!"
Sean giggled. He pictured his image on posters with the name "Fiddler Crabbe" beneath it.
"OK! We go with that, then," Manny said. And thus was Sean’s ring name born.
Manny made himself scarcer during the remainder of Sean’s training period. But he talked with each member of the team at least once a week by phone. When he couldn’t be there in person, he mailed them their paychecks.
Vicki joined Sean in his bedroom every Saturday night after the others had left for the weekend. She and Sean spent virtually all of their weekends together. Sean had more money than he knew what to do with and they took some trips, spending Saturday nights in hotels and country inns. Sean tried tapping on her own bedroom door one week night. She opened the door but stopped him from coming into her room with an upraised hand.
"No?" he whispered in a puzzled voice.
"Not durin’ the week. You need your strength!" she whispered, giving him a little peck on the cheek. "And anyway, I like your room better. It’s got that fine, queen-sized bed."
"Fit for a queen," he whispered.
"Cheek!" she smiled, closing the door. With a sigh Sean padded down the hall to his own room. It turned out that she was right. He was dead to the world three minutes after his head hit the pillow.
It seemed that Bruno never let up during the week. After the third week Sean began to feel that he was actually earning the money Manny handed or mailed to him. He could feel himself growing stronger, especially in his right side.
Manny instructed Bruno to experiment with Sean’s left.
"We don’t want him killin’ anybody," he remarked. "But we want him to K.O. just about everybody. You know what I’m sayin’?"
"I do," Bruno replied. "And Pat’s been around long enough to know a knockout punch when he feels one."
And so Sean was schooled in how hard to use his left, which of course boiled down to how much he should hold back with his left. Every now and then he would unload one on Pat, always on his shoulder so as not to hurt him. On such occasions the blow would knock Pat off his feet and drive him across the ring. Pat would good naturedly get up, rubbing his right shoulder.
"Good one," he’d grunt with a smile.
Bruno related the first such incident to Manny.
"I tell you, I never seen anything like it," he marveled. "One heavyweight knockin’ another down with a shoulder punch."
Manny nodded soberly.
"You know he once dropped a one-ton bull with two shots," Manny reminisced.
"Oh yeah, it was in all the papers," Bruno said. "And after that he was droppin’ 30 … 40 steers a day, wasn’t he?"
"That he was," Manny answered. "I watched him in action one day. That was the day I first met him."
"You know, if he ever really unloads on somebody’s head, he’s gonna kill them," Bruno mused.
"I know, I know," Manny agreed. "That’s why it’s important to train him how to hold back. Use enough for a convincin’ knockout, but no killin’ shots. At least not until we tell him. You know what I’m sayin’?"
Bruno nodded. He knew exactly what Manny was saying, and why.
"Fiddler Crabbe, undisputed heavyweight champion of the world," Bruno thought to himself. "Wow! I wonder if they’re gonna take me with him to the top." Sadly that would turn out not to be the case.