Sean wins the crown, is in peril of death, and is saved by a miracle.
Part 4. America!
Once back at the training camp, Manny told Bruno that he’d be training a promising young welterweight from Liverpool. Bruno couldn’t conceal his disappointment.
"You’re not missin’ anything," Manny half apologized. "The next two fights in the states are a done deal. There won’t be any real trainin’ to speak of."
"I know. I just thought…"
"Nah, we need you here!" Manny insisted. "I think this new kid has real possibilities."
"You’re the boss," he smiled half-heartedly.
Manny clapped him on the shoulder.
"I’m givin’ you and Mrs. Gruber both a couple weeks off," he said. "We could all use a rest."
After Bruno and Mrs. Gruber had departed, Manny and Rufus drove to the airport and caught a flight to New York.
"There she is," Rufus murmured as the jumbo jet glided down over Long Island in its final approach. He and Manny both stared at the lights that stretched to the horizon.
"Just like we left her," Rufus mused.
"Greatest little town on earth," Manny added.
"Where we gonna train our boy?" Rufus asked.
"Well," Manny answered, "there ain’t really much trainin’ to be done. We’re gonna have him work out at the club in Brooklyn."
"Awright!" Rufus exclaimed. "I still be on the team?"
"Oh yeah," Manny assured him. "I don’t think Sean would have it any other way."
Rufus grinned. He was clearly pleased.
"Yeah, we be brothers," he murmured. "Who gonna train him?"
"You know Louis?" Manny asked.
"I know Louis? What, Rocky’s old trainer? O’ course I knows him! He gonna train de Fiddler?"
"Yeah, we thought that might be a good match," Manny said.
"Oh yeah, I hear tell Louis ain’t no friend o’ Rocky’s since he jump ship."
"Is that right?" Manny mused. "Ver-r-ry interesting."
Rufus was glad to be back on his old turf. His brother, Seth, was the club’s equipment room manager. When Seth’s wife learned that Rufus was back in town, she insisted that he come over for Sunday dinner. Rufus loved his niece and nephew like they were his own and eagerly accepted. When he arrived, he got down on the living room floor and the two youngsters wrestled with him.
Manny went to work at Skopelli’s office the following Monday morning. Skopelli of course knew about the Dublin win.
"A close one, huh?" he grunted, after Manny had settled into a chair.
"Very close," Manny agreed. "Our boy learned a hard lesson."
"He cuts easy, huh?" Skopelli continued.
"Wel-l-l," Manny answered carefully, "maybe … maybe not. He took a very hard left hook."
"What is he, some kind o’ stupid?" Skopelli growled. "Why’d he hold back and let dat bum get to him? He could o’ blown everyt’ing."
"I know, I know," Manny conceded. "He’d be the first one to agree with you."
"So what happened?" Skopelli pressed.
"Well, he boxed for a couple minutes. I think he wanted to give the hometown crowd their money’s worth. After I got his attention from ringside, he went for the kill. But he missed."
"And Smythe nails him."
"To the wall!" Manny confirmed. "I thought it was over! But, he made it up and then the bell saved his butt."
"And the next round … Wham!" Skopelli mused.
"Like nothin’ you ever saw. He ties Smythe up and goes in over the top. I tell yuh, for a moment I thought he killed him."
"How many ribs?" Skopelli queried.
"Three, I read. Pushed right into his lung."
Skopelli grimaced. It was like nothing he’d ever heard about in the boxing world.
"I bet dat stung," he joked.
"He was pukin’ up blood."
"No kiddin’! Dat must o’ been a sight," Skopelli said, leaning back in his big leather chair. "Oh, well. All’s well dat ends well. The important t’ing is, we get the title shot."
"And …" Manny murmured.
"No change. Rocky lays down in the eleventh. Our boy just has to make it look good. But o’ course he really only gives Rocky a love tap."
"And after?" Manny asked.
"Rematch, like we discussed. Rocky takes his crown back."
"Interesting. I’m surprised Car … Mr. Carbino is so trustin’," Manny mused.
"What, trustin’?" Skopelli barked. "You mean he might t’ink we don’t keep our agreement in the rematch?"
"Well, somethin’ like that," Manny answered.
"Are you nuts?" Skopelli stormed. "You don’t unnerstan’ how dese t’ings work! Me cross Carbino? Sure, when pigs fly."
"You’re right," Manny admitted. "I’m not suggestin’ you ever would. I’m just … it’s nice to know that Mr. Carbino knows that."
"Yeah, well, Vito and me are gettin’ on real good dese days. We worked all dese details out over dinner one night, his invite."
Manny arched his eyebrows.
"Wow!" he remarked. "Pretty soon you make capo, no?"
"Who knows?" Skopelli smiled. "Stranger t’ings have happened."
Back across the Atlantic Sean rented a car in Dublin and drove home. The Irish countryside was as beautiful as ever. Emma fell on his neck in tears when he knocked on the cottage door. She pulled the bandage on his cheek back and examined the stitches.
"If I’d known it’d come to this, I’d o’ never let you get into it," she scolded.
Sean nodded humbly. He didn’t even try to downplay the cut, knowing it would be futile.
They had a quiet supper that night, and Lester and Emma pumped Sean for every detail of his time away. When he told them that he’d had a friendship with the housekeeper, Emma took particular interest. She was properly incensed when Sean related how Vicki had eventually hooked up with her ex again.
"Why the little tramp!" Emma seethed. "Playin’ with you when it fit her purposes."
Sean laughed and Emma was relieved to see that his heart hadn’t been broken.
"All o’ the girls you used to know are fascinated by your success," she said breezily.
"Are they now? And how would you be knowin’ that?"
"Oh, I talk with their mothers," Emma smiled demurely. "You’ve become quite a catch, you know."
"It’s the unvarnished truth!" Emma insisted.
"Aye," Lester agreed, tamping tobacco into his pipe. "I expect it is at that. You know, Sean, nothin’ stirs a woman’s heart like a handsome bank account."
"Not all women," Emma complained.
Lester looked at her with twinkling eyes.
"Aye, not all," he agreed. "There are always one or two pearls among the dross."
Before they turned in for the night, Emma told Sean to keep the next night open. She was having her father and Lester’s parents over for dinner. The prospect pleased Sean. The only down side in his mind was that Grandma Mary wouldn’t be there.
"I think I’ll visit Grandma’s grave tomorrow mornin’," Sean murmured.
Emma’s eyes softened.
"She’d like that, Sean. She’d like that a lot."
"Is Peck’s flower shop still in business?" he asked.
"Oh yes," Lester answered, smoke swirling around his head. "They’ve still got the prettiest roses in all o’ Ireland."
When Sean awoke he could hear Emma and Lester already having breakfast in the kitchen. He put on a robe and went out to join them.
"How’s our boy this mornin’?" Lester boomed.
"Oh, fine enough," Sean smiled.
"Can I fix you some breakfast?" Emma offered brightly.
"No, no thanks, Ma, I think I’ll just fix meself some toast."
Lester and Emma made small talk with Sean until it was time for them to leave for work.
"There’s cold cuts in the ‘fridge if you’re home for lunch," Emma said, kissing Sean on the head.
Sean rose and hugged her.
"Have yuh got money in your pocket?" Lester asked sheepishly. Sean laughed and gave Lester a hug too.
"Aye, money’s one thing I’m not lackin’ these days," he smiled.
After Lester and Emma were gone, Sean wandered into the bathroom. He removed his bandage, showered, and carefully shaved around the stitched wound. It occurred to him that things had changed … that he was a grown man now, and only a guest in his father’s house. He decided to cut his visit short. The length of his stay had never been discussed, and Lester and Emma would be none the wiser.
After getting dressed, Sean sat down at the phone and made reservations for a flight to New York. It was Monday and he reserved a seat on a Wednesday afternoon flight.
"Plenty o’ time for the get-together tonight, and maybe treat the folks to dinner tomorrow night," he thought.
At Peck’s flower shop he bought a dozen roses in a pretty vase. Old man Peck was delighted to see him, but sensed Sean’s reason for buying the flowers and refrained from being too jovial.
"Good luck in America, lad," the old man said as Sean headed out the door.
"Thanks, Mr. Peck. Thanks a million," Sean smiled back. "And give my best to Mrs. Peck."
Once in the cemetery, Sean had to search for Grandma Mary’s grave. Like Manny had done so many months before, he marveled at how old some of the stones were. Some of the names on newer stones he recognized … people who’d been alive when he was a boy. He passed a freshly covered grave and stared with eyes of disbelief at the inscription. It was Pee Wee, one of his old school chums. Dead at 20. What could have happened? He’d have to ask Emma or Lester when they got home from work.
At last he found Grandma Mary’s stone. Grandpa Shamus’ name and birthdate were inscribed next to hers, but the date of his death remained uncarved in the smooth granite. Sean did the math. Grandpa was now 74 years old. How long before he’d take his place next to Grandma?
With a sigh Sean propped the roses against the marker and bowed his head. He thought he ought to say something, but no sound came out. No matter, he thought. If Grandma Mary’s spirit was there, she’d know his thoughts. It was a beautiful, peaceful spring day.
The old song, "Danny Boy," drifted up from memory. How many times had they sung that in primary school? He knew it by heart and silently began to sing the words. The last few lines brought him up short.
And I shall hear, tho’ soft you tread above me
And all my dreams will warm and sweeter be
If you’ll not fail to tell me that you love me …
Sean’s breath caught in his throat and tears welled up in his eyes. He knelt and pushed the vase of roses more firmly into the turf.
"I love you, Grandma," he whispered. "I miss you."
Two rows away the song of a bird drew his attention away from the roses. Tiny and full of life, the singer’s feathers were as blue as Grandma Mary’s eyes had been. For a moment the little bundle of fluff returned his gaze, and then it flew away. Sean watched to see where it would enter the trees. But it never did. As it receded into the distance it climbed higher and higher, and finally vanished from sight.
"Grandma?" Sean whispered. He crossed himself and walked slowly back to the rental car.
"So many here in this one graveyard," he mused as he walked through the rows of headstones. People who had loved and hated, succeeded and failed. Here and there a special marker identifying a fallen soldier or sailor. Had they left young sweethearts behind when they marched off to war? Had the young women married someone else in time, keeping the memory of their first love forever locked in a secret corner of their hearts?
War was such madness. And was it not the same with the business he’d gotten into? Two men, each trying to pound the other senseless. And the crowd screaming the while for blood.
Almost without thinking, Sean steered the car through the village and pulled up in front of Grandpa Joe’s little shop. When he entered, a little bell over the door tinkled and Grandpa stepped out of the back room. Neither of them could speak for a moment. Grandpa came through the shop and embraced his grandson.
"What a stout mountain of a man you’ve become," he cried at length, stepping back and squeezing Sean’s arms. "Sit down, sit down, Bubby, and tell me of your travels."
Sean talked with Grandpa Joe at length about his time away. Thankfully, business was slow and they weren’t interrupted. When the conversation turned toward the upcoming events in America, Sean’s face grew dark.
"What is it, Bubby? What’s troublin’ you, boy?"
Sean shook his head morosely.
"I don’t know what I’m gettin’ into, Grandpa. You see, the whole thing is fixed."
"Fixed? You mean faked?" the old man pressed.
"Aye. I’m to gain the crown in the first fight, and then lose it back in a rematch."
"But why …" Grandpa Joe murmured.
"Oh, a variety of reasons, I reckon. It makes for a record gate in the rematch. And I’m thinkin’ there are great sums wagered …"
"So them in the know make a killin’."
"Aye, that’s their game all right."
Grandpa Joe and Sean both grew silent. At length Sean spoke again.
"I’m ashamed for bein’ part of it," he confessed.
"What happens if you choose not to be?" Grandpa Joe wanted to know.
"Yuh mean, like, play the second fight honest … hold onto the crown if I can?"
"Aye, somethin’ along those lines," the old man mused.
"I don’t know," Sean answered. "The problem is, I don’t know what sort of a crowd I’ve fallen in with. The only contact I’ve had over here is a chap called ‘Manny’."
"And what about him?" Grandpa Joe queried.
"Oh, I like him well enough. His folks actually came from Ireland. But … the others in his organization … the higher ups … I don’t know. They might be criminals."
"Sure and they are, aren’t they?" Grandpa muttered indignantly. "Riggin’ the boxin’ and all."
"I’m not exactly playin’ the game of life straight, am I?" Sean muttered, recalling one of their old talks. Grandpa Joe seemed to remember it too.
"Well, now, let’s have a careful look at that, shall we," he answered. "If it isn’t your idea … if you’re only followin’ orders …"
Sean looked at his grandfather.
"But the point seems to be, I don’t have to play along."
"I don’t know about that!" Grandpa exclaimed. "From all you’ve observed, I don’t like the possible consequences of crossin’ them up … not a bit."
"I suppose I could just quit now …"
"And if you did, d’ you think they’d let you go?"
Sean gave that some thought.
"I don’t know," he murmured at length. "They’ve already made some money off me. But then again they’ve also spent a lot. And o’ course nothin’ approaches what they stand to make in the next two bouts."
"And you?" Grandpa pressed.
"Me? If I go along with the plan, I’ll be a rich man. I’ll be a millionaire easy."
Grandpa Joe puffed his cheeks out. Whoever would have thought …
"So if you drop out now, you might get your legs broke or worse. And if you play it straight in America, the same," he muttered.
Sean shook his head ruefully.
"Well, you know, Bubby," the old man continued, "a man could do a lot of good with money like that. We all read about your generosity with the Old Fighters’ Home. Think o’ the good you done there."
"Aye," Sean nodded, "it’s a point, it’s a good point. Who’s to be hurt if I play along? I hardly feel obligated to uphold the honor o’ the fight game. I’m beginnin’ to think the whole business is crazy."
"Are yuh now?" the old man answered. "I must confess I’ve always enjoyed watchin’ the fights."
"Aye, and so did I," Sean agreed. "But havin’ been in the ring … it changes a man’s views."
Grandpa Joe nodded, beginning to appreciate what Sean had been through.
"Well, what do you think you’ll do?" he asked.
"I think I’m gonna take the bloody money and run," Sean replied.
"You mean quit after losin’ the title back to the Yank?"
"Aye. By then my … sponsors will have recouped their investment many times over. There shouldn’t be nearly the problem."
"I think it’s a wise course," the old man approved.
"O’ course all this is a family secret," Sean murmured. "Like I say, I don’t know much about the people I’m dealin’ with."
"Understood," Grandpa agreed. "Mum’s the word."
Just then a customer entered the shop and Sean decided to leave.
"We’ll be seein’ you and Grandma tonight at supper, then," he said.
"Aye, we’ll be there, Bubby. We’ll talk some more then."
Dinner with the grandparents was a relaxing time for all. Grandpa Joe kept a low profile, giving Sean’s other grandparents ample opportunity to talk with their grandson.
After dinner Emma and her mother-in-law cleaned up, and the men went out into the backyard and relaxed in the wicker chairs there. Lester sought clarification on what Sean had hinted at in the Dublin arena dressing room, and they pretty much went over the same ground that Sean and Grandpa Joe had covered earlier in the day. Again, Sean admonished all to keep his plans secret, and everyone saw the wisdom of that.
After a while Emma and her mother-in-law joined them. Emma set out a pot of coffee and cups on the backyard’s picnic table, and the six of them had a fine time of it. Lester asked Sean if he could still do the one-armed pull-ups, and Sean did several using a fruit tree limb. Grandma Rose called Sean over to her chair. She felt his left arm when he knelt beside her. Her hands flew away like they’d touched a hot stove, and as quickly returned. Everyone laughed.
"Pity the blighter on the receivin’ end o’ that!" Grandpa Shamus crowed.
"Aye," Sean answered, "a few have already had a taste."
The family revelry went on into the night, and by the time the grandparents took their leave everyone was ready for bed.
"Good luck, Bubby," Grandpa Joe whispered when he gave Sean a farewell hug. "Play the game smart!"
"Aye, that I will," Sean answered, meeting the old man’s eyes fondly.
Tuesday morning was much the same as Monday. After Lester and Emma left for the day, Sean wondered what he should do. On an impulse he drove to the processing plant and walked down to the stockyards. The men there immediately recognized him and raised such an uproar that the steers in the pens grew restless. His old friends encircled Sean and marched him into the processing rooms. Everyone stopped what they were doing and mobbed him. For a while it was like old times. One of the men wanted Sean to drop a few steers. But the foreman intervened.
"Are yuh daft?" he scolded. "Them fists are worth a million quid now. Do yuh think he’s gonna risk them on the noggin o’ one o’ these bloody cows?"
The foreman thought about calling Shamus O’Roarke. But he thought better of it. If Sean wanted to see Shamus, he’d go up to his office. As it turned out Sean never did. After ten minutes he knew the men should be getting back to work, and he told them he’d have to be going.
"Busy day, busy day," he fibbed. "It’s great to see you hard workin’ blokes again."
"Good luck, Sean," they shouted. "Give the Yank double what you gave Smythe!"
Sean smiled and waved goodbye. As he drove away he realized that no one but he had really changed. Men who had never fought in the ring were as pumped up as ever at the prospect of a good match. He mused that practically every man is at heart a warrior. The only thing that changes that is a taste of life in the trenches.
Sean returned to the cottage and fixed some lunch. He snoozed and watched some TV in the afternoon. The soap operas were a new experience for him, and he marveled at the rancor and steamy intimacies. It occurred to him that women, in their fashion, were as war-like as men.
Sean had invited Lester and Emma to join him for dinner at the inn. When everyone returned from work, they got cleaned up and walked outside.
"Let’s walk," Lester suggested. "It’s a fine evenin’." And so it was. The air was like an angel’s kiss, and fragrant with the smell of the sea. Sean and Emma readily agreed, and off they set. Unbeknown to Sean, some of his old pals had suggested to Lester that they throw a surprise bash for Sean at the inn’s pub. Lester promised to deliver him there after they’d finished dinner.
Sean and his parents had a sumptuous meal. For a change, Sean had the fisherman’s platter and it was as delicious as anything that ever crossed his lips. Several other couples in Lester’s and Emma’s peer group were in the dining room. They greeted Sean and wished him well. Emma positively glowed with pride.
After dessert Emma excused herself and headed toward the powder room. Lester took Sean by the arm and walked him toward the adjoining pub. Sean assumed that his father wanted to buy him a drop of stout.
"What about Ma?" he objected.
"Tush, tush, not to worry," Lester grinned. As they entered the pub the whole room erupted into a rowdy rendition of ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.’ Sean stood frozen inside the entrance, round-eyed and grinning like a fool. All of his old pals were there.
"Have fun!" Lester shouted. "We’ll leave a light on for yuh."
While Sean watched his father walk back out into the dining room, the pub crowd surrounded him and practically carried him to the bar.
"A fine, frosty jar of stout for the next heavyweight champion of the world," one of them shouted to the bartender. It would be the first of many. Pint after pint slid down Sean’s throat. Along the way he asked, in a somber moment, what had happened to his old friend, Pee Wee.
"Killed in a car accident," several responded in a moment of temporary sobriety. "All alone he was."
"This one’s to Pee Wee," Sean said with a red but sad face.
"To Pee Wee," the others chorused, lifting their ales. For a while they reminisced about their fallen comrade. But nothing could dampen their spirits for long.
Sometime between 8 and 9 a group of young women came into the pub.
"Well, look who’s come to see the champ," one of the guys shouted. Sean looked over at the group and recognized several girls he’d grown up with.
"Go on, go on," several of his friends prodded him. "Say hello to them. Do yuh think they came into this den of iniquity to see us?"
"No, no," Sean demurred shyly. But his pals would have none of it, and pushed him toward the table of young women. All of the girls beamed as he approached, and one of them pulled a chair up to the table and asked him to join them for a bit. Sean blushed, but gallantly took the seat. At the bar his cronies howled with laughter.
The girls insisted on buying him a stout, and he soon warmed to their affectionate attention. That little voice whispered to him that it was his fame that excited them. But what the hey, he thought, who’s to blame if he enjoyed himself?
"Did you hear about Lillian and Pete?" one of the girls eventually asked him.
"Lillian and … Peter Connolly?" Sean asked carefully.
"Aye," another answered. "Pete met a girl at university. From a fine Dublin family, she is. They’ve got engaged to be married!"
"How about that," Sean murmured, arching his eyebrows.
"Aye, and little Miss Lillian took it hard," another exclaimed. Sean looked at her, his eyes encouraging her to continue.
"Off to Belfast she went. We hear she’s workin’ in a textile mill there."
"And what about you, Sean Crabbe," another girl asked. "Any romantic involvements to tell us about?"
Sean was slightly taken aback that they’d even consider such a thing were possible in his case. What a change since his high school days! The girls at the table seemed once again to be totally oblivious to his deformity. He sensed that any of them would gladly accept a date if he asked them out.
With a blushing face he ducked the question, but the girls continued to flirt with him. By the time he’d finished his pint of stout, the boys at the bar had grown quiet. He felt he should rejoin them. Thanking the girls for the drink, he told them how good it was to see them all again. They seemed to understand, and all smiled up at him with bright, admiring eyes.
"Good luck in America, Sean," one of them said. The others chorused the same. As he walked back toward the bar, one of them called after him.
"Come back to us one fine day, Sean."
Things got noisier once again as soon as Sean rejoined his mates at the bar. There were more rounds of stout, and some time later he looked over and saw that the girls had left. Someone began singing ‘My Wild Irish Rose,’ and by the third line the lot of them were raising the roof off the pub with their singing.
By midnight Sean found himself stumbling through the streets on his way back to the cottage. His head was swimming, but he was in high spirits. What a night it had been! He entered the cottage as quietly as he could, shed his outer clothes and slipped into bed.
"Good night, son," Lester’s voice called from the master bedroom. Sean grinned in the darkness. Trust them to hear him, no matter how quiet he was.
"Should we wake you in the mornin’?" Emma called.
"Aye, for sure," Sean slurred. "It’s a good two hour drive into Dublin.
"Of course, wake me in the mornin’," he groused to himself. "You’ll be goin’ off to work and it’s the only chance we’ll have to say goodbye."
By the time he had quaffed two cups of coffee on Wednesday morning, Sean was sufficiently clearheaded to bid Lester and Emma a proper goodbye.
"Let us know how you like America," Lester said, hugging his son tightly.
"Aye, I’ll write often, Da’," Sean promised.
When it was Emma’s turn, her countenance grew dark. After hugging Sean she stepped back and gazed into his eyes.
"Promise me you’ll always let us know where you are," she murmured.
Sean was puzzled. Of course they’d always know that.
"What…" he began.
"Promise me!" Emma admonished.
"O’ course, Ma. I promise," Sean answered.
"God be with you, son," she whispered, giving him a kiss on the cheek. And then they were gone.
With a sigh Sean went back into the cottage and packed his things. Less than an hour later he was out of the village and on the road to Dublin. After turning in his rental car he dialed the cell phone number Manny had given him. He told Manny what time he’d be arriving in New York that night.
"Tonight?" Manny exclaimed. "Man, I thought you were gonna spend a week with your folks."
"Well, you know how it is," Sean apologized. "I’m no longer a kid … I’m a guest in me parents’ house now. And there’s an old Irish sayin’: company is like fish. After two days it begins to stink."
"Yeah, I’ve heard that one. Are you sure it ain’t Jewish?" Manny chuckled. "Anyway, I’m in Cleveland. Have you got somethin’ to write on?"
Sean fumbled in his jacket pocket and told Manny to fire away. Manny gave him the name and address of a hotel close to the fight club in Brooklyn.
"I’ll call right now and reserve a room for you. I’ll see you at the fight club on Friday mornin’, say 10 o’clock. You got its address, right?"
Sean assured him that he did.
"Don’t rent a car for now, OK?" Manny suggested, fretting privately over New York’s expressways. "Take a cab to the hotel."
Sean agreed to that and they rang off. Dinner was served on the flight to New York, and not long after finishing his meal Sean watched the sun dip slowly below the western horizon.
"Amazin’ how long it’s takin’," he mused. "We’re chasin’ it almost as fast as the earth turns."
The customs people in America recognized Sean, and he was accorded VIP treatment. By 10:30 that night he fell into his hotel room bed. He slept soundly and enjoyed an American breakfast in the hotel dining room the next morning.
It was a full day before he’d be meeting Manny, and lacking anything better to do Sean decided to check out the fight club. It was only blocks from the hotel and an easy walk.
"So this is America," he thought as he strolled along the sidewalks, taking in the sights and sounds. It was a fine spring morning and all the trees were blushing green. Here and there a dogwood was in bloom, and it seemed that tulips were pushing up out of the soil in practically every yard he passed.
Rufus was one of the first to spy Sean when he entered the club.
"Hey! Looky here! Look who’s arrived!" Rufus shouted. He held his hand out, palm up, and Sean slapped it with a broad grin.
"How you doin’, man. It’s good to see you!" Rufus cried. "Hey, Seth! Come out here and meet The Man!"
Rufus’ brother came out from behind the equipment room counter and shook Sean’s hand.
"We already got your special gloves in stock," Seth smiled. "We gonna take good care o’ you."
"How’s dat cut?" Rufus asked solicitously, touching the bandage on Sean’s face.
"Good!" Sean reassured him. "I guess the stitches should be comin’ out tomorrow."
"Yeah, it’s near time, ain’t it?" Rufus said. "Manny’ll get you hooked up wid a doctor. He gonna be back tomorrow."
"Aye, I’m supposed to meet him here at 10," Sean exclaimed.
"Well what you doin’ tonight?" Rufus asked. "I kind o’ owes you, Irish, showin’ me the sights o’ London and all."
"No plans," Sean shrugged. "Have you got any suggestions?"
"Shoot, man, I knows where dey plays some sweet jazz over in Harlem. You want to have dinner and go listen?"
"Sounds great," Sean answered. "When do we leave?"
"I meet you here at 4," Rufus suggested. "We take the train into Harlem."
Sean agreed, and Rufus and Seth gave him a tour of the club. Seth had already set Sean up with a locker, and handed him the key.
"Well, I see you at 4," Rufus told him after they’d finished up.
"Aye, here at 4," Sean smiled. "It was a pleasure meetin’ you, Seth."
"Same here, Fiddler. The pleasure was all mine," Seth smiled.
Once outside, Sean wondered what to do. Here he was in America’s Big Apple. Rufus had said they’d take the trains into Harlem. Sean decided that New York’s transit system was as good a place as any to start his exploration of the New World.
Sean figured out which train went into downtown Manhattan, and climbed aboard. He watched wide-eyed as they penetrated into New York’s famous skyline. He got off the train at Canal Street. Everyone but he seemed to know where they were going.
Once back up at street level Sean found a magazine stand and asked the vendor if he had any maps of the city. The operator looked at Sean with round eyes.
"Hey! Ain’t you Fiddler Crabbe?" he asked.
"Aye, that I am," Sean smiled.
"Holy Toledo! How long you been in America, Champ?"
Sean glanced at his watch.
"About half a day," he grinned.
"Half a … well I’ll be!" the operator cried, extending his hand. "Can I help you out … give you a steer?"
Sean smiled gratefully. He’d heard horror stories about how tough New York could be. But so far he found it to be as friendly as Ireland.
"Well, it’s gettin’ close to me lunch time," he answered. "Is Chinatown far from here?"
"Not far at all, Champ."
The vendor pulled a map out of one of the stand’s magazine racks.
"We’re right here," he explained, unfolding the map and marking it with an X. "If you follow this route, you’ll be right in the center o’ Chinatown. You like Chinese food?"
"Aye, I love it," Sean answered.
"You ain’t never gonna taste better," the operator smiled. "It’s the real McCoy. If you feel like stretchin’ your legs, it’s an easy walk from here."
"Aye, I think I’ll do that," Sean said. "How much do I owe yuh?"
"For you, two bucks," the operator grinned.
"Two … dollars?" Sean clarified, pulling out his wallet.
"Right. Two smackers," the newsman grinned.
Sean paid and thanked him, starting off on foot. He rubbernecked up in wonder at the tall buildings.
"Real McCoy," he thought. Bucks … Smackers … he liked America! Twenty minutes later he was in the center of Chinatown, scrutinizing the oriental signs and trying to decide which restaurant to eat in.
"One’s as good as another," he finally decided, entering a street level establishment.
"One?" the proprietor asked, not seeming to recognize who he was.
"Aye," Sean smiled, following the proprietor to a table.
"What do you suggest?" Sean asked the waiter, once he was seated.
"What you like? Po’k? ChickEN? Fish?" the waiter asked.
"Seafood’s fine," Sean answered.
"This pretty good," the Chinaman said, pointing to an item on Sean’s menu.
"Right enough. I’ll have that," Sean smiled.
"What you want drink?" the Chinaman asked.
"Just tea, if yuh have it."
"Oh yeah, we got tea," the waiter smiled. "You relax. Enjoy pictures," he added, waving to the delicate murals on the restaurant’s walls. "Food be ready pretty quick."
Sean poured himself a cup of tea, and minutes later the waiter placed a plate in front of Sean. He took the cover off a bowl of steaming seafood on a bed of crispy, fried rice noodles.
"Faith," Sean thought as he spooned some of the delicacies onto his plate. "This is a bit of a change from fish ‘n chips!"
He leaned forward and examined the wonderful smelling stuff. There were shrimp and scallops, and a whole lot of other things he didn’t recognize. With a happy sigh he pushed the chopsticks aside and picked up a fork. He shoveled some of the saucy fare into his mouth and nearly swooned. The newsstand guy was so right! This was the Real McCoy!
"New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town," he hummed to himself, munching away in ecstasy.
After lunch Sean wandered over to Wall Street, and on an impulse entered The New York Stock Exchange.
"This is the hub," he thought as he watched the action from the visitors’ gallery. "This is what makes America, and Ireland for that matter, and all the free world go ‘round. Money!"
Afterward, again out on the street, Sean kicked himself for not having gotten the names of the mysterious visitors in Madrid. Soon he’d be coming into a prince’s ransom. How to invest it? Surely, if there was expert help to be had, this was the town to find it in!
Sean arrived back at the club by 3:45. Rufus was waiting for him.
"Hey, man," Rufus greeted, "it’s party time! You take a nap and get all rested up?"
"No, I’ve just come back from Manhattan," Sean grinned. "I went to Chinatown for lunch."
Rufus stared at him with wide eyes.
"Say what?" he cried. "You already ridin’ the trains?"
"Aye, it was easy," Sean smiled.
"Irish, you too much!" Rufus exclaimed. "I gonna have to keep my eye on you."
Sean returned to the station with Rufus, and they took the trains into Harlem. Both were hungry by the time they got up to street level.
"What you like, man?" Rufus asked.
"To eat?" Sean queried back.
"Yeah. Ain’t you hungry?"
"I’m starvin’. I like anything."
Rufus scanned the street.
"Dis place down the street got good ribs. You like ribs?"
"Let’s do it!" Sean agreed.
Sean was fascinated by the café that Rufus picked out. His was the only white face in the entire establishment. But no one seemed to care. If anything, a few men were interested because they recognized him. Rufus was in seventh heaven, playing the sidekick to the world’s next heavyweight champion.
The ribs were delicious and there were lots of them. After dinner Rufus asked Sean if he’d like to walk some of the meal off.
"Absolutely!" Sean exclaimed, slapping his belly with his hands. Dusk was beginning to fall on New York, and the lights were coming on all over Harlem. Sean could hear subway trains roaring by under grates in the street He sucked the oily smelling air that rushed out of them into his nostrils. A pusher approached them and offered to sell them some cocaine.
"We don’t use dat stuff, man," Rufus scolded. "Don’t you know who dis is?"
The pusher looked at Sean almost sheepishly, and evidently didn’t have a clue.
"Dis here is Fiddler Crabbe! He fightin’ for de heavyweight crown dis summer."
"Sorry," the dope peddler muttered, fading into the shadows.
By the time Sean and Rufus had walked for half an hour, hookers were working the streets. They seemed mostly interested in passing cars, but every now and then one of them would glance at Sean and Rufus. Rufus would grin and wave them off. Some were dressed so scantily that it stirred Sean’s blood up. This didn’t escape Rufus’ eye.
"Uh Huh," he muttered. "Um Hm-m-m. Oh Oh-h-h."
Eventually they arrived at Dooby’s, Rufus’ favorite jazz club. A burly bouncer waved them inside. The place was a big room, with a large dance floor and a bar along one side. On the wall opposite the bar stood a bandstand. Five musicians were in the process of setting up their evening’s gig. Sean noticed that there was an electronic keyboard, a sax, a trumpet, bass and drums.
"We’s early," Rufus explained. "But dat’s cool. We gets our pick."
Rufus led the way to a table close to, but a little off to the side of the quintet.
"You sit right in front of dese boys when dey really jammin’, dey make you deaf," he grinned.
"What can I get you?" a very pretty waitress asked them.
"Hey, liddle daughter, how you doin’?" Rufus shouted. "You still goin’ to school?"
"Every day," she smiled.
"Dis pretty girl gonna be a doctor," Rufus told Sean.
Sean smiled politely at her. The moment she had spoken he’d detected a certain learnedness.
"You know who dis man be?" Rufus continued. The young woman looked at Sean but didn’t seem to recognize him.
"Dis be Fiddler Crabbe!" Rufus cried. "We just come over from Ireland. He gonna fight for de heavyweight crown!"
"Well!" the waitress exclaimed. "How do you do? I’ve heard the name."
Sean jumped to his feet and took her hand in his. Rufus continued.
"What your name be, liddle daughter? Ol’ Rufus don’t remember squat dese days."
"Jasmine," the pretty woman smiled. "I’m pleased to meet you, Mr. Crabbe."
"Call me Sean," Sean smiled. "Fiddler is just me ring name."
"Uca pugilator," Jasmine murmured.
"Uca what?" Rufus challenged.
Sean smiled at his pal.
"Uca pugilator," he repeated. "I believe it’s a species of fiddler crab."
"Very go-o-o-d," Jasmine exclaimed, pleasantly surprised. She looked at Rufus and raised her little order pad.
"What we want … what we want?" Rufus asked rhetorically. "You like champagne, Irish?"
"Well … sure," Sean answered. "But isn’t that a mite fancy?"
"Nah, nah," Rufus admonished. "Bring us two champales, Jasmine honey."
Less than a minute later Jasmine set glasses and two bottles on their table.
"Champale," Sean mused, studying the label.
"Taste it, taste it!" Rufus urged, filling his own glass. Sean took a pull right out of the bottle.
"Blimey!" he exclaimed. "This does taste like champagne."
Rufus giggled in delight.
Time slid by painlessly, and three rounds of champale later the place was filling up. Here and there in the sea of black faces Sean would spy a white one. More often than not it was a white woman with a black man. Sean noted absently that there were no white men with black women, and wondered why.
By 9 o’clock the place was jammed and the band was in full swing. It was the best live music Sean had ever heard. Here he was, in the country where jazz was born, listening to the people who invented it. The small part of the dance floor not occupied by tables was filled with dancing bodies. Many were spinning around and hitting their hips together.
"Dat’s de bump," Rufus explained. "You never seen dat before?"
Sean assured Rufus that he hadn’t. It occurred to him that some of the men were outgunned by the derrieres of their partners.
"But then again," he mused, "they ain’t exactly fightin’, are they?"
Sean guessed that other couples were improvising to the music. He marveled at how uninhibited everyone seemed to be. Black men spun and moon-walked, and their partners smiled and shook their hips.
"It doesn’t get any better than this," his young mind exulted.
At 10:30 a very large, somewhat obese black man lurched up to the table and stood glowering down at Sean.
"You Fiddler Crabbe, ain’t you, boy?" he slurred. "You thinks you stronger than Bubba, don’t you?"
"Hey, man, chill out!" Rufus cried. "Dis man wid me!"
"Is I talkin’ to you, Uncle Thomas?" the big man snarled. "I doin’ business wid dis man. Keep yo’ black nose out."
"Here, now," Sean said. "We’re not lookin’ for any trouble."
"Ain’t gonna be no trouble," Bubba said in a falsetto. "Not if you fights Bubba."
"I can’t do that," Sean began, "I’m a professional…"
"Not dat way, man. I ain’t crazy," Bubba interrupted. "Arm rasslin’. You know how to arm rassle?"
"Well, yes," Sean answered.
"Man, what you smokin’?" Rufus shouted. "De Fiddler break your fat arm off!"
"It’s OK," Sean said, motioning for Rufus not to get so excited. "It might be fun."
"Oh, man," Rufus moaned, sinking down in his chair and looking up at the ceiling.
"You think it gonna be fun, huh? I hear tell you pretty strong in your left arm," Bubba said, settling his huge form on a chair and wrapping his ankles around it. "What you willin’ to bet, Bubba whack yo’ knuckles on dis table?"
Men at an adjoining table were all ears and obliged Sean and Bubba by removing empty champale bottles from the table. Bubba swept Sean’s and Rufus’ glasses aside.
"Well, how about a bottle of champale?" Sean suggested.
"A bottle of champale?" Bubba laughed in a deep voice. "Man, you ain’t exackly bustin’ with confidence, is you?"
"OK, dat’s cool. We rassle for a bottle o’ beer. Le’s do it."
Bubba pulled the sleeve of his T-shirt up over his shoulder. Sean estimated that he weighed over 400 pounds. His arms were enormous, but they were smooth and fat. Sean’s own hardware was well concealed under the jacket he wore. He pursed his lips and nodded his head up and down admiringly.
"I’m impressed," he congratulated Bubba. "You’re one big man."
"Yeah, well dere’s only one way you gonna get dese knuckles on the table, and dat’s by liftin’ dis chile off de floor. You ready, sucker?"
Sean smiled and leaned forward. He put his elbow on the table and grasped Bubba’s left hand in his own great paw.
"Psychin’ me out, are we?" he thought. "Two can play that little game."
Sean squeezed Bubba’s hand with his great club of a fist. Bubba felt stabbing pains, and his eyes flickered. Rufus read the signs immediately and sprang to his feet in glee.
"You boys ready?" he crowed, placing his right palm on their interlaced hands.
Sean grinned wickedly at Bubba.
"I reckon we are," he drawled.
"OK. When I lifts my hand …" Rufus said.
When Rufus raised his hand, Bubba gave a mighty lunge. Sean could see the big man’s black face flush red. He was strong … no doubt about it. But not nearly strong enough. Sean never budged. For a few seconds Bubba’s eyes were shut tight and his face was contorted as he poured everything he had into his left arm. When nothing gave, he opened his eyes and they met for an instant with Sean’s.
"Ready?" Sean grinned. And then, Wham! He smashed Bubba’s knuckles down on the tabletop. The force of it did in fact lift Bubba out of his chair. The big man’s ankles came unwrapped from the chair’s legs, and the chair shot across the floor like a cannonball, careening into the adjoining table. With a grunt Bubba fell to the floor.
"Are yuh all right, lad?" Sean asked, rising and extending his left hand to help Bubba up. At first Bubba would have none of it. But then, evidently realizing how ridiculous he'd look trying to get up unassisted, he accepted Sean’s help. Sean braced his left leg and easily lifted the huge man to his feet. By now a large crowd had gathered around them. Everyone was agog with amazement and disbelief.
Sean put his face up close to Bubba’s and smiled.
"I believe you owe me a beer," he grinned.
"Oh … yeah," Bubba said in a chastened tone, taking a five-dollar bill out of his wallet and laying it on the table.
"Don’t feel bad," Rufus cried. "Fiddler here in de Guinness Book O’ Records for doin’ over a hunderd one-arm pull-ups."
Bubba nodded his head.
"I believe it," he admitted. "Guess I’ll be goin’. Good luck with Rocky, man."
"Thanks, Bubba. I appreciate that," Sean called as Bubba beat a hasty retreat out of the club.
A chunky but shapely woman approached Sean.
"Show us what you got under dat jacket, Sugar," she smiled.
Rufus looked at her and began to object. But Sean, his head now swimming from more champales than he could remember, said he didn’t mind. He shrugged out of his jacket. The crowd hoo’ed and hummed at the enormity of the left half of his torso.
"Make a muscle!" the woman urged him, her eyes all aglow. Again Rufus began to object but Sean waved him off.
"It’s OK," he smiled, "I don’t mind." He tried to pull the sleeve of his short sleeve shirt up around his shoulder, but it was too tight on his arm. When he flexed his bicep the sleeve split wide open. The black woman shrieked and began stomping around and around in a circle. Sean couldn’t take his eyes off her soft flesh, jiggling provocatively under the thin material of her dress.
"OW! OW!" she yelled time and time again. "That be too much! OW!"
She pushed Sean down into his chair and sat on his lap.
"You want to come home with me, big man," she murmured, running her hands over Sean’s shoulders. Sean was inclined to say ‘Yes’ when he heard Rufus calling softly to him.
Sean looked at his pal, and Rufus shook his head ‘No’ almost imperceptibly.
"What?" Sean objected thickly.
Rufus didn’t answer him, but spoke to the woman.
"Girl, what you want to make trouble for? You knows you belongs to dat bartender."
The woman looked over toward the bar. A big man behind the bar was watching as he wiped the bar’s polished surface with a towel.
"Yeah," she conceded, "but dis boy so pretty!"
"Nah, nah," Rufus said, rising and pulling her to her feet. "We don’t want no trouble."
With a sigh, she smiled at Sean.
"’Bye ‘Bye, Sugar," she murmured, moving away toward the bar with swaying hips.
"Come on," Rufus said in a low voice. "Time for us to be goin’." He laid a five-dollar bill on top of the one already on the table, and spied Jasmine’s face in the crowd.
"Be seein’ you, liddle daughter," he called. "Hope dis helps out wid de schoolin’."
Once outside, Sean complained to Rufus.
"Man, I had a good thing goin’ in there."
"You think you had a good thing?" Rufus demanded, turning and facing him. "What you think … dem gals in dere is virgins? You know what happens to me if you catches sump’n and can’t fight?"
Sean looked at Rufus with surprised eyes.
"I goes in de East River, dat’s what," Rufus grumbled. "Come on, Irish, I takin’ you home."
The next morning Manny arrived at the club an hour before his appointment with Sean. Rufus was already there, adjusting one of the sparring ring’s ropes.
"Got a minute?" Manny called, motioning for Rufus to come down out of the ring. Manny spread one of the morning paper’s sports pages out on the ring apron.
"What’s this?" he demanded, pointing to a news article.
Rufus stared at the paper uneasily, shifting from foot to foot.
"Could you read it?" he asked meekly. "I don’ got my glasses."
Manny looked at him, mildly surprised. Comprehension crept into his eyes.
"It says here that a 400 pound gorilla got his arm nearly twisted off by Fiddler Crabbe last night in Harlem."
"Yeah, dat’s de truth," Rufus smiled nervously. "I was dere."
"You were there," Manny repeated. "It says Fiddler almost went home with a B-girl."
"Yes, suh, dat’s true too," Rufus mumbled. "She be hittin’ on him pretty hard."
Manny looked intently at Rufus. His eyes began to fill with disappointment.
"You know what could happen if we screw up Skopelli’s investment?" he more stated than asked. "I could end up in a box, and we don’t even want to think what could happen to you!"
"I knows it, I knows it," Rufus mumbled, hanging his head. "Dat’s what I tole de Fiddler."
"What … what’d you tell him?" Manny demanded.
"I tole him if he catch sump’n, den I ends up in de East River."
Manny looked at Rufus and confidence began to steal back into his eyes.
"You told him that," he mumbled. "And what’d he say?"
"He don’ say nothin’. We come home den."
"OK, you’re cool," Manny said in a more relaxed tone. "But listen: I don’t want you takin’ him into Harlem anymore, understand?"
Rufus shook his head up and down vigorously.
"You the boss, Manny," he answered.
"OK. What’re you doin’ with the ropes?"
"I’s tightenin’ ‘em up," Rufus said. "Dey works loose."
"Good idea," Manny approved. "We don’t want nobody gettin’ any rope-a-dope habits."
Rufus climbed back onto the ring apron.
"Dere’s jes one thing," he said as Manny moved away.
"What’s that?" Manny asked, glancing back at him.
Rufus avoided eye contact, but continued in a low voice.
"Dat boy be needin’ company … female company."
Manny nodded in agreement.
"I think you’re right," he answered. "But I’ll worry about that, you dig?"
Rufus nodded and darted a glance Manny’s way.
"You callin’ de shots, Manny."
An hour later Sean arrived and he and Manny greeted each other boisterously.
"You want a tour?" Manny asked.
"No, I got one yesterday," Sean grinned. "Rufus and Seth showed me around."
"Oh! Then you got a locker already?"
"Aye. With all me special gear inside."
"Well," Manny said, "then how’s about we get you settled into your apartment?"
"Sure!" Sean agreed. "I’m not stayin’ at the hotel then?"
"Nah, nah, that was just temporary," Manny explained. "I got you set up in a nice furnished place. Lots more room."
Manny and Sean went out and got into Manny’s car.
"Beautiful car," Sean murmured on the way to his new digs.
"A gift … from my boss," he answered.
"Blimey!" Sean exploded. "This was a gift?"
"The organization rewards them that makes money for it," he smiled at Sean.
"Does it ever!" Sean murmured.
"You’ll be meetin’ Tony … Mr. Skopelli tomorrow," Manny added.
"He’s your boss?" Sean guessed.
"You’ll like him," he said enthusiastically.
Sean nodded and smiled back. He wondered if he would.
Manny pulled the Lincoln up in front of an attractive complex of single story apartments.
"Nice and quiet. Nobody makin’ noise above you," he mentioned as he led Sean down a sidewalk.
Once inside, Sean was impressed. The place was new and modern … much better equipped than anything he’d seen in Europe.
"Big screen TV," Manny said with a wave as they passed through the living room. "Lots o’ chairs for entertainin’."
Sean nodded politely, doubting that he’d be doing much entertaining.
"King size bed," Manny continued, leading the way into the master bedroom.
"Ample room there," Sean murmured.
"This is where the housekeeper/cook will stay," Manny said casually, opening the door to another bedroom.
"Housekeeper/cook?" Sean asked.
"Yeah," Manny answered. "I’m still interviewin’ for the position. Mr. Skopelli wants you eatin’ nothin’ but good food. And you ain’t gonna have time to clean house."
Sean nodded appreciatively.
"I thought I’d be eatin’ in restaurants," he admitted.
"Nah, that gets old quick. Believe me, I know," Manny said. "She’ll be takin’ care o’ your laundry too. It’ll be just like back at the farm."
Sean smiled and wondered just how much like the farm things would actually be.
"She’ll probably be an old woman," he thought. Manny, ever the astute and sly one, guessed Sean’s thoughts and smiled to himself.
"So, I’ll drop you off at our doc’s office," he said. "It’s just down the street. He’s expectin’ you."
"For me stitches?" Sean murmured.
"Yeah. After you’re done there, take the rest of the day off. Maybe get your stuff moved over here from the hotel. We’re meetin’ Mr. Skopelli tomorrow at the club, 11 o’clock. Be there early."
"Good enough," Sean agreed.
The doctor was a pleasant man. He told Sean that everything was healing nicely. After the stitches were removed, Sean walked back to his hotel, called a cab and moved his gear over to the new apartment.
By the time he’d finished unpacking it was lunch time. He walked down the street to a chain restaurant and took a seat at the counter. A pretty young waitress took his order. During a lull he struck up a conversation with her.
"I’m new here," he smiled. "Just come over from Ireland two days ago. What’s a bloke do in New York to keep out o’ trouble?"
The waitress looked at him suspiciously, but then decided he was no threat.
"Well, let’s see … you’re new …" she thought aloud. "There’s no end to what a newcomer can see in New York. Do you like museums … shows …"
"I like a good museum," Sean answered. "I’ve read o’ The Museum O’ Natural History …"
"Only a train ride away," the waitress smiled.
"By the way," Sean grinned, "my name’s Sean … Sean Crabbe. I guess I’ll be comin’ in here fairly regular."
"Cra … Wait a minute!" the waitress exclaimed. "I think I saw you on TV the other night. Are you Fiddler Crabbe?"
"Aye," Sean grinned. "That’s me ring name. But me friends call me Sean."
"Well … sure!" the waitress blushed. "I’m Julie."
"Good to meet yuh, Julie," Sean said gently, reaching his hand across the counter. Julie placed her hand in his and Sean gazed into her eyes. After a few seconds Julie lowered her eyes and gently pulled her hand back.
"Well!" Sean exclaimed. "I’ll be goin’ for now. I’ll see you again, I hope. D’ you work here every day?"
"Pretty nearly," Julie answered shyly.
Once outside, Sean turned toward the train station.
"Another fine day," he thought, strolling along with a bounce in his step. "Julie … Julie … pretty name for a pretty girl."
After dropping Sean off at the doctor’s office, Manny had some lunch and went to work. Eventually Skopelli called him into his office.
Tony had of course read the account of Sean’s adventures in Harlem. Like Manny, he was concerned about their investment.
"You know about dis?" Skopelli asked, holding up the news article.
"Oh yeah," Manny answered. "I already had a little talk with Rufus."
"Uh," Skopelli grunted. "What’d you tell him?"
"I told him ‘no more trips to Harlem’."
"Oh, he agreed," Manny said. "Rufus may not be a rocket scientist, but he’s no fool either."
"Yeah, he knows duh ropes, don’t he?" Skopelli agreed. "So what about dis kid? What’s it gonna take to keep him out o’ trouble?"
"Well…" Manny winced, "I’m still gettin’ to know him. And he’s changed since I first met him. Time in the ring does that to young guys."
"Does he need strong armin’ … finessin’ …?" Skopelli queried.
"In my opinion, finessin’," Manny thought aloud. "He’s like all fighters … you push, their first instinct is to push back."
Skopelli nodded agreement.
"OK," he mumbled, "here’s how we set t’ings up. Trainin’ from 8:30 to 11:30 every mornin’. Den a long lunch break. More trainin’ from 2:30 to 6:30. Den dinner. He should be too bummed out by den to wanna go out and get into trouble."
"That should work, all right," Manny nodded.
"You got him set up in an apartment? I want a cook for him. Three squares of good food every day. No gettin’ fat."
"He’s in an apartment all right. But I’m still interviewin’ for the housekeeper/cook position."
"What’s wrong wit’ Mrs. Gomez?" Skopelli asked. "I t’ought she was available."
"Yeah, she is," Manny acknowledged. "But I was thinkin’ about gettin’ somebody younger."
"What? For a little side action?" Skopelli asked.
"Yeah … that’s the way it was in England. It worked out pretty good."
"Hm-m-m," Skopelli thought out loud. "Did he know we set him up dat way?"
"Oh no," Manny exclaimed. "I acted like I was real surprised when I found out about their little fling."
"Good," Skopelli approved. "You never know how a pug’ll take dat sort o’ t’ing. Some don’t mind. Others get insulted."
Manny nodded. Skopelli asked when he’d be meeting Sean.
"Well … are we still on for tomorrow mornin’ at the club?" Manny asked.
"Oh yeah. 11 tomorra," Tony affirmed. "Let’s give him a week off, to get adjusted. A week from Monday we put him to work. Are we usin’ Louis for his trainer?"
"That’s the plan," Manny affirmed. "Rufus says there’s no love lost between Louis and Rocky since Rocky left us."
"No kiddin’," Skopelli laughed. "That’s interestin’. No big deal for duh bout in July, but after Rocky recaptures duh crown, who knows?"
"That’s what I was thinkin’," Manny said. "Who knows what the future holds? We got some other promisin’ heavies comin’ along."
Skopelli waved Manny out of his office, saying he’d see him and Sean at the club the next morning. Manny returned to the club that afternoon and told Louis how they wanted to handle Sean.
"How you gonna keep him out o’ trouble on the weekends?" Louis grinned.
"I’m workin’ on that," Manny answered. "Your job is to work him hard every afternoon. Take the starch out o’ him."
"No problemo," Louis answered. "He won’t want to do nothin’ but fall into bed on weeknights. I guarantee it."
Sean, meanwhile, took the Red Line back into Manhattan and got off at 79th Street. He walked to the American Museum of Natural History. When he arrived he was bowled over by the size of the place. There were 25 buildings and tens of thousands of displays! Obviously he’d be able to take in only a small fraction of the museum in one afternoon. Even at that, he found he wasn’t concentrating on things all that well. His mind kept drifting back to what Manny had said about the housekeeping and cooking situation. For the first time it occurred to him that his relationship with Vicki might not have been all that spontaneous. Had Manny set him up with a playmate? And was it about to happen again?
Sean smiled at the idea that Vicki might have been hired to do more than cleaning chores. In hindsight it didn’t particularly bother him. On the other hand, things here in America were shaping up differently. The truth was that he harbored secret aspirations for Julie, even though he’d only seen her once. And if that didn’t work out, he knew that he wanted to connect on his own in the future. Being supplied with female companionship by another man just wasn’t his cup of tea.
Of course he didn’t actually know that Manny had fixed him up in England. Manny had seemed surprised enough when he learned that he and Vicki had been an item. Still, the more Sean thought about it …
Sean smiled to himself, moving from display case to display case and from hall to hall. Whatever the situation had been in England, he resolved to set Manny straight for future purposes. From here on out he’d find his own girlfriends. Period!
By 4:30 Sean had seen as much of the museum as he felt he could absorb in one visit. He drifted back out onto the streets of New York. What a huge and mighty place it was! Dublin had excited him, but New York was more than his mind could grasp. There were people everywhere … thousands and thousands of people! The streets and boulevards were indeed canyons of concrete and steel. And there were restaurants of every conceivable kind at street level. It was getting to be dinnertime and he decided to eat in Manhattan. Afterward he took a cab to Times Square and made the rounds of a few bars. But, it was lonesome drinking alone, and before 9 PM he was on a train back to Brooklyn.
It was good to gain the sanctity of his new apartment. He watched some TV before turning in. It occurred to him that he didn’t really want someone else, of Manny’s choosing, sleeping in the apartment with him.
"Yet another thing to talk over with Manny tomorrow mornin’," he thought, rolling the TV channels and exploring the plethora of programs available in America.
Saturday morning Sean was at the club by 9 AM. Manny came in at 10.
"Well, that was quite a little toot you and Rufus had in Harlem," Manny greeted him.
"Rufus told you?" Sean asked weakly.
"No, I read about it in the papers."
Sean looked at Manny with disbelieving eyes.
"You don’t get it, do you?" Manny admonished. "You’re fightin’ for the heavyweight title in July. Here in America you’re big news."
"Aye, I’m beginnin’ to see that," Sean admitted. "It’s gonna take some getting’ used to."
Manny nodded his head and smiled.
"No harm done," he said. "Sit down. I want to go over some things with you."
Manny first told Sean that they’d both have the next week off. He’d already decided to take Sean out of town for five days, for much the same reasons as he’d taken him to the Costa Brava in Spain.
"Monday mornin’ we’re leavin’ for a trip up into New England," he more stated that invited. It didn’t even occur to Sean to argue.
"I’ve heard o’ New England," Sean replied. "It’s actually several states, isn’t it?"
"Yeah, it is," Manny affirmed. "I thought we’d do Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts … Mystic Seaport, Newport, Boston …"
"Sounds like fun!" Sean grinned. "D’ you have business there?"
"No … no, it’s gonna be strictly vacation for both of us. We’ll take my car and just explore. How’d you sleep in the new bed last night?"
"Fine enough," Sean acknowledged. "By the way, I’d like to discuss the cook and housekeeper thing."
Manny nodded, inwardly becoming all ears.
"Was Vicki hired to be more than a housekeeper?" Sean asked innocently. Manny looked blankly back at Sean.
"Whadda yuh mean?" he asked, putting on a puzzled face.
"You know …" Sean continued. "Was she … was our … friendship less than an accident?"
"What are you askin’ me? If I hired her to keep you occupied?" Manny snorted.
Sean pursed his lips and shook his head ‘yes’. Manny guffawed.
"Come on, Sean. I’d never do somethin’ like that."
Sean nodded sheepishly.
"Whatever gave you that idea?" Manny pressed.
"Well," Sean sighed. "I’d never had much luck with the ladies before then."
"Yeah, man, but you were a nobody before then! You gotta realize, you’re a famous guy now. You were already gettin’ famous back in England."
"And," Sean thought to himself, "that’s the big attraction, isn’t it? Not me, but me fame."
Manny’s mind was still on high alert. Sean evidently wasn’t comfortable with the idea of being supplied with female company. He couldn’t blame him.
"I haven’t had time to interview anyone for the position here," he murmured tentatively, candidly watching Sean’s face.
"Well, I wanted to talk to yuh about that too," Sean said.
"I’m listening," Manny nodded.
"I appreciate all you’re doin’ for me, settin’ me up in such a grand apartment and all," Sean began. "But to tell the truth, I’d rather be alone there."
Manny nodded. "No problem with that," he said. "Anything else?"
"Well," Sean added, "it seems to me that older women are the better cooks. More experience, don’t yuh know?"
"Somebody like Mrs. Gruber," Manny murmured.
"Aye, exactly!" Sean exclaimed brightly.
"Well," Manny mused, rubbing his chin, "there is an older lady we’ve used before. She has to spend her evenin’s at home and would only be available durin’ the day."
"That sounds perfect!" Sean cried excitedly.
"OK. I’ll see if she’s available," Manny promised. "Whatever you’re comfortable with."
It was still over half an hour before Skopelli was due to show up, and Manny showed Sean where the coffee machine was. Each poured himself a cup, and they made small talk until 11 AM.
When Tony Skopelli came into the area where they were waiting, he grinned broadly at Sean. He was so affable when he approached that it caught Manny off balance.
"So you’re Fiddler Crabbe," Skopelli smiled, shaking Sean’s hand. "I’m Tony Skopelli."
Sean was also blindsided, and secretly chastised himself for having prejudged Skopelli.
"I’m pleased to meet you, Mr. Skopelli," he stammered, shaking Tony’s hand.
"Tony … call me Tony," Skopelli smiled warmly.
"Aye, I’m honored," Sean murmured. "And you probably know my real first name is Sean."
"Yeah," Skopelli grunted. "Siddown. Let’s chat."
Sean sat down next to Skopelli, and Manny slid into the seat next to Sean. He was speechless and even a little envious at Tony’s warm treatment of Sean.
"So! You gettin’ everyt’ing you need?" Tony asked.
"Aye!" Sean exclaimed. "Manny’s fixed me up with a super nice apartment."
"Good, good," Skopelli approved. "Whadda you t’ink o’ New York?"
"I’m bloody overwhelmed," Sean answered. "And I haven’t scratched the surface even."
"Yeah, there’s plenty to do in this burg," Tony grinned. "Sports, shows, concerts … opera! You like opera?"
"To tell the truth, I’ve never been," Sean confessed.
"We go sometime … the t’ree of us," Tony said, lighting a cigar and glancing at Manny. "Us Italians, we love opera. I can even translate some o’ the Italian songs for you two."
"That sounds great!" Sean said eagerly.
"Let’s talk a little business," Skopelli said, blowing smoke up at the ceiling. "You know duh score on duh next two bouts, right?"
"Aye," Sean answered cautiously. "I’m to capture the crown and then lose it back to Rocky."
"Right!" Skopelli confirmed. "Dat’s duh way the world turns. But you ain’t gonna coast from now to July, kapeeshi?"
Sean nodded that he understood.
"We want you to be ripped … nothin’ but muscle when you take dat robe off. Duh world’s gotta t’ink dat you ripped duh crown off Rocky’s head."
Sean kept nodding.
"So Louis is gonna work your butt off dese next t’ree months, unnerstan?" Skopelli continued. "You’re gonna be rich, but we’re gonna make you earn it."
"I understand," Sean said.
"Dat whole deal … dat you take Rocky by storm … makes for a monster gate in duh rematch. Den it’s Rocky’s turn to body build. Dere’ll be plenty o’ prematch publicity. Duh world will see him in great shape. Half duh people on earth are gonna be watchin’ to see him get his revenge. You know?"
Sean and Manny both nodded that they understood.
"OK, Manny’ll fill yuh in on your trainin’ schedule. I take you two to lunch, whadda yuh say?"
Manny’s eyes widened in amazement. Sean deferred to Manny with a sidelong glance.
"Hey, we never turn down free food!" Manny exclaimed.
"OK. We go to a big Irish place I heard about," Tony said. "In honor of our boy here."
Tony drove the three of them across to Manhattan Island and pulled up in front of a big restaurant with shamrocks all along its front. Once inside he scanned the menu and spoke to Sean.
"So what’s good, Sean. I eat mostly Italian."
"Well," Sean answered, perusing his own menu. "I see they’ve got Irish beef stew. That’s always good. And they’ve also got one o’ me favorites, corned beef and cabbage."
"Cabbage, huh?" Skopelli grunted. "I’ll have duh beef stew," he said to the waiter. "And bring us all some big mugs o’ dat Guiness stout. Dat’s Irish, ain’t it?"
"It is," Manny affirmed. "By the way, Tony, in Ireland they call ‘em ‘jars’ and not ‘mugs’."
"Jars?" Skopelli barked. "Jars are for pickles! Whoever heard o’ drinkin’ beer out o’ jars?"
Manny and Sean both laughed. By lunch’s end Sean was totally won over by Tony. And Manny was awash with newfound admiration for his boss’ shrewdness.
Skopelli dropped them off again at the club. Manny told Sean he’d call him the next evening and let him know when he’d pick him up for their New England junket.
"Pack for five days," he told Sean as he took leave.
Sean nodded obediently.
"Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts…" he thought as he strolled back to his apartment. All places he’d heard about now and then back in Ireland. Now he’d actually be seeing them.
"Whoever would o’ thought," he mused, breathing in the spring air. "And all because o’ me deformity. What a strange world we live in!"
Sean and Manny had a fabulous five days in New England. Connecticut was beautiful and, in places, not unlike Ireland in springtime. Mystic Seaport was quaint, and Newport alone was worth the trip. Sean and Manny both stuffed themselves with lobster, which was in plentiful supply on the waterfront. They toured some of the ‘Summer Cottages’ … fabulous mansions built by scions of old, in spare-nothing attempts to one-up each other. Manny was bowled over by the hundreds of beautiful yachts in the Newport Yacht Basin, and secretly vowed to moor one of his own there one-day.
Sean got a special charge out of that stronghold of the Irish, Boston. He insisted on touring the campuses of Harvard and MIT. Again, they ate too much in some of the downtown oyster bars.
They ended up taking a ferry across Long Island Sound and returning to New York by touring part of Long Island. On the way back Manny informed Sean that he’d hired Mrs. Gomez to clean, do laundry and cook. When they reached the western part of the island he called her on his cell phone and asked her to meet them at Sean’s apartment. She had her own key and was waiting for them when they arrived.
Sean liked her from the start. They agreed that she’d start on Monday morning, and would have the weekends off.
"You gonna be OK on your own, tomorrow and Sunday?" Manny asked as he left.
"Aye, for sure. Not to worry," Sean assured him.
"Well, stay out o’ trouble," Manny waved.
Sean kicked back and watched TV for the rest of the evening. Saturday morning he walked to the trains and went to the Bronx Zoo. He had always loved wildlife, and had heard since childhood that this was one of the world’s great zoological parks. He spent the day, and had dinner at the diner back in Brooklyn. Once again Julie wasn’t there.
Sean returned to the diner the next day at noon, and this time he found Julie working behind the counter. After some small talk he screwed up his courage and asked her out. She appeared startled and troubled.
"I’m involved with someone," she said gently.
Sean was mortified and mumbled that he should have known.
"It’s OK," she reassured him. "My boyfriend is a big fight fan. When I told him you’d come in, he wished he’d been here to meet you. I’m sure he’d still love to meet you."
"Well, I’m gonna be pretty busy, trainin’ you know," Sean objected.
"He’s right over there. Why don’t you go say ‘Hello’? I’ll bring your dinner over to you if you like."
It was only with an effort that Sean suppressed a groan. He felt rotten and embarrassed and wanted nothing more than to get out of there. He morosely looked over his shoulder at the booth Julie was nodding toward. In the aisle, in front of the table, sat a young man in a wheelchair, reading the Sunday paper. His back was to the counter and he hadn’t noticed Sean.
Sean looked back at Julie, nodded without speaking, and slid off the counter stool.
"Top o’ the mornin’," he said, sliding into one of the booth seats so that he wouldn’t be looking down on the wheelchair’s occupant. He noticed that the young man had no legs.
"Your fiancee said you’d like to meet me. I’m Sean Crabbe."
"Fiddler Crabbe!" the paraplegic cried. "Well, this is an honor!" He extended his hand and Sean was surprised at the strength of his grip.
He told Sean that his name was Sam Steadman. He’d followed Sean’s career in Europe, and had already bought tickets for the upcoming title bout in July. He was so enthusiastic that Sean couldn’t help liking him from the start. Sean barely noticed Julie when she brought his Sunday dinner to the table.
"Here," Julie said to Sam, setting a hamburger in front of him. "Sean won’t have to eat alone."
Sean was curious, but couldn’t think of any way to broach the subject of Sam’s legs. So the two men talked about boxing and other things. By the time Sean had finished his plate of food, they had become quite relaxed around one another.
It occurred to Sean that Julie probably told Sam everything, so during dessert he mentioned that he’d asked her out before finding out that she had a boyfriend. Sam nodded soberly.
"I can’t blame you. She’s a lovely girl, isn’t she?" Sam murmured.
Sean thought he might have made a gaffe, and munched on a forkful of apple pie in embarrassed silence. Sam sensed his discomfort.
"It must be lonesome for you, being so far from home and all alone," Sam said.
"Well … it looks like they’re gonna be keepin’ me busy, startin’ tomorrow mornin’," Sean answered.
"’They’ being your trainers?" Sam clarified.
"Aye. I expect it’ll be strenuous goin’, to say the least. I’ll be too tired to be lonesome durin’ the week."
"And what about your weekends?"
"Are you open to suggestions?" Sam asked. Sean looked at him inquisitively and nodded.
"How about the three of us doing some sightseeing between now and July," Sam said. He seemed to be so guileless and eager to help out that Sean was moved and inclined to accept.
"Are yuh sure?" he asked. "Sometimes three’s a crowd."
"I don’t think that’ll be so in our case. We could use a friend … we’d like to be your friends."
Sean took a long sip from his cup of coffee. What a sly fellow Sam was, he thought. By extending his hand in friendship, he’d effectively claimed exclusive ownership of Julie. Only an unmitigated cad would hit on her now.
"I’d like that," Sean said at length.
"Great!" Sam exclaimed, fishing a business card out of his pocket. "There’s a lot of things to see in New York. If you’d like to do something next Saturday, why don’t you give us a call toward the end of the week?"
Sean scanned the card. Sam was evidently an Amway distributor. The card indicated that the phone number was for both his home and business.
"Give us a call," Sean thought. So they were living together.
"I will. I’ll give you a call," Sean promised, tucking the card into his shirt pocket. "What’ll we do?"
"You name it," Sam grinned. "There’s no end of the things to see. Maybe you’ll have some ideas by the end of the week."
Sean told Sam what a pleasure it was to have met him, and they said ‘So Long’. He paid for his dinner at the counter and offered to pay for Sam’s hamburger too, but Julie declined.
"Thanks," she said softly when she handed him his change.
"Thank you!" Sean smiled. "Sam’s a great guy. Did yuh know the three of us are makin’ a day of it this comin’ Saturday?"
"You’re kidding!" Julie exclaimed.
"Aye … I mean ‘No’, I’m not kiddin’," Sean grinned. "If it’s all right with you, that is."
"Sure!" Julie replied. "You two must have really hit it off!"
"Aye, we did," Sean said. "I think we’re gonna be mates."
Sean returned to the table and left a tip for Julie.
"Be seein’ yuh," he smiled, extending his hand. Sam grasped the hand and gave it a manly squeeze.
"We look forward to it," he smiled. "Until then, Fidd … Sean."
Once outside and walking back to the apartment, Sean couldn’t help smiling to himself.
"Life is full o’ surprises, isn’t it?" he thought. "Who’d have guessed an hour ago that things would take this direction?"
Mrs. Gomez would be cooking three meals a day for him, and he wouldn’t be going to the diner very much, if at all.
"Just as well," he muttered. He resolved to read the paper every day, and educate himself on some of New York’s attractions. It occurred to him that, with him along, Sam might be comfortable taking Julie to places that he might otherwise be inclined to avoid.
"Sammy, you’re a sly one, all right," Sean grinned. "Legs or no legs, you’ll fare well in the game o’ life."
Sean was introduced to Louis the next morning at the club.
"I was Rocky’s trainer, you know," Louis grinned. Sean was surprised.
"Were you now? I had no idea!" Sean exclaimed. "How long have yuh been in this … organization?"
"Longer’n I can remember," Louis stated. "Rocky used to be here."
"Wha-a-at?" Sean cried. "I didn’t know that!"
"Yeah. He abandoned us for bigger bucks or somethin’."
"Well I’ll be," Sean muttered.
"Well, get into your sweats," Louis said. "It’s time to put you to work."
True to the plan, Louis worked Sean mercilessly all morning. Sean dug in willingly and did each exercise until he felt the burn. By 11:30 it was clear to him that the emphasis was now going to be on body building, rather than boxing.
Mrs. Gomez had a healthy lunch fixed for him when he returned to the apartment. He zoned out in front of the TV after eating, and she woke him at 2 PM.
"Time for you to leave, Mr. Crabbe," she said, gently shaking his shoulder.
"Call me ‘Sean’, won’t you?" he smiled up at her. Mrs. Gomez smiled back.
"Si … yes," she answered. "But only if you call me ‘Maria’."
Back at the club it was more of the same, with some roadwork thrown in. At 5 PM Manny came in.
"How’s it goin’?" he asked Louis and Sean. Sean was sweating and puffing. He blew out his cheeks.
"Goin’ well," he answered. "I’ve gotten a bit out o’ shape. Too much o’ the good life last week!"
"Why don’t we knock off," Manny suggested to Louis. Louis nodded, and Manny turned to Sean.
"I’m joinin’ you for dinner."
Sean nodded agreeably, but voiced concern that Mrs. Gomez might have already fixed something.
"Nah, nah, I already called her. She’s fixin’ extra. We’re eatin’ at your apartment."
"Oh! Great!" Sean exclaimed. He showered, got into his street clothes, and they drove back to the apartment in Manny’s car. When they arrived, Manny was pleased to note that Sean and Mrs. Gomez were on a first name basis.
Over coffee Manny told Sean that they were going to have visitors on Wednesday morning.
"Carbino and company," he said. Sean looked puzzled.
"Vito Carbino … Tony’s boss," Manny clarified.
"Tony’s boss?" Sean exclaimed. "Then Rocky is still part of this … our organization. I thought…"
"You thought right," Manny interrupted. "Carbino is Tony’s boss. But as far as the fight game goes, they’re different outfits."
Sean nodded and arched his eyebrows.
"So it was Carbino that wooed Rocky away," he mused.
Manny nodded sardonically.
"Wooed, stole, somethin’ like that," he smirked.
"And what’s the purpose o’ the visit? Just to get acquainted, or…"
"I don’t know, exactly," Manny admitted. "But I can guarantee you it’ll be more than just gettin’ acquainted."
Manny left and Sean spent the rest of the evening turning things over in his mind. There were obviously political nuances that he was only beginning to sense. Carbino was Tony’s boss, but in what capacity? Each has his own fight group. Maybe Rufus would know something.
Tuesday passed without incident, and the first hour and a half of Wednesday morning seemed to be business as usual. But then, at 10 AM, Manny and Skopelli came into the club. Manny motioned for Sean to join them at ringside.
"How are yuh?" Skopelli greeted. "Dey keepin’ yuh busy?"
"Aye," Sean smiled.
"You eatin’ good?"
"Oh yes. Mrs. Gomez is a great cook," Sean exclaimed.
"Good! You eat what she fixes. She knows what we want. No between meal snacks, kapeeshi?"
"Yes, sir," Sean promised.
"OK," Skopelli continued. "You know we’re getting’ company this mornin’, right?"
Sean nodded but said nothing.
"You get to meet the current champ," Skopelli said.
Sean waited for Skopelli to continue, and when he didn’t Sean concluded that Tony didn’t know anything more than Manny did.
"Go ahead and keep workin’ out," Skopelli grumbled. "We’ll call yuh when our visitors get here."
A little after 11 AM a group of men entered the club. Skopelli and Manny hurried over to greet them while Sean and Louis watched from the heavy bag.
"Take yer gloves off," Louis whispered.
Sean could guess which one was Vito Carbino. He was well dressed, rather short, and quite lean. It seemed incongruous that he would be big Tony’s boss. His dark eyes scanned the big, open room, and it occurred to Sean that he’d never seen a more mirthless countenance. Carbino said something to Skopelli, and Skopelli shouted across the room to Louis.
"Everybody out! Except you and Fiddler!"
Louis hastened over to the equipment room window and told Seth to go find some coffee somewhere. Seth seemed to understand.
"Rufus too?" he asked. "He’s workin’ in the locker room."
"Yeah, the man says everybody," Louis answered.
Manny motioned for Sean and Louis to join them at ringside.
"OK," Skopelli barked, "Fiddler, dis is Rocky. Rocky, Fiddler Crabbe."
Rocky smiled slightly and nodded, but didn’t extend his hand.
"And dis is Rocky’s trainer, Vic," Skopelli continued. "He’s gonna explain why we’re here."
Vic nodded to Skopelli’s people and hopped up into the sparring ring.
"We all know what to expect in July," he began. "What we need to do is work out how Round 11 is gonna go. It’s gotta be convincin’ on the one hand. But," he added, looking squarely at Sean, "we can’t have any real damage done. We all know by now what you’re capable of, Fiddler. And we respect that. But o’ course the big money comes in the rematch. And with all due respect to Rocky’s ability to take a punch, we want him in one piece after the knockout in July. Understand?"
Sean nodded and glanced at Rocky. He didn’t like what he saw in Rocky’s eyes. He could only imagine that Rocky despised the idea of faking a defeat. He couldn’t blame him.
"This is the only time we’ll be meetin’ before the bout," Vic went on. "But both you guys are gonna practice what I show you today. We don’t want any screw ups."
Again Sean looked at Rocky, but Rocky refused to look back. He did, however, grudgingly nod his head at Vic.
"OK, come up here," Vic told them. Sean and Rocky climbed up into the ring, and Vic commenced showing them how Sean was going to take Rocky down.
"I’ll motion like this from ringside, when there’s only a minute left in Round 11," he told Rocky. "You’ll say to Fiddler, ‘Do it’, just in case he ain’t lookin’ at me. Got it?"
Fiddler and Rocky both nodded.
"OK, turn around and face each other," Vic commanded, taking the two fighters by their arms.
"You watchin’ this?" Vic asked Louis.
"Yep," Louis nodded from ringside.
"OK," Vic continued. He took Sean’s right wrist.
"As soon as you hear Rocky say ‘do it’, you’re gonna throw a round house, loopin’, overhead right at Rocky’s head like this. You, Rocky, are gonna raise both hands to block. Go on and do it."
Rocky cynically raised his hands.
"Then you, Fiddler, are gonna give him what appears to be a hard shot to the gut. But of course it ain’t really gonna be all that hard. Go ahead and do it."
Sean faked driving his left into Rocky’s gut.
"Bend over," Vic chided Rocky. "He just hit you with a punch that could kill a cow."
Rocky smirked but complied.
"And now, the knockout," Vic said excitedly. "This’ll bring the crowd to its feet. You, Fiddler, slam the back of Rocky’s head with your left. It drives Rocky right down into the canvas and out cold. Just fake it for now. Rocky, you don’t have to go down here, but I want you to practice bein’ slammed to the canvas durin’ practice, got it?"
Rocky and Sean both nodded.
"OK," Vic said, turning away and addressing the men at ringside. "After the takedown, we’re gonna rush into the ring and protest that it was a foul. But the ref … he’s in on this … is gonna rule it’s a legitimate knockout and give the win to Fiddler. Rocky’s gonna swear revenge in the months before the rematch. There’s gonna be lots of public interest. Does everybody understand?"
All of the men at ringside nodded, save for Vito Carbino.
"So that’s it," Vic concluded. He turned back to Sean and Rocky. "Both o’ you guys are gonna be drilled on this, and we expect your full cooperation. It’s gotta look convincin’."
Sean and Rocky both acknowledged that they understood.
"And remember," Vic added, poking his index finger into Sean’s chest, "it’s only for show! No rough stuff! OK, Big Guy?"
"OK," Sean answered softly.
"One final thing," Vic said. "You can mix it up … put on a good show in the first ten rounds. Fiddler, you can use your left, but always on Rocky’s shoulder and arm. We’d like to see Rocky knocked down a couple times from those arm and shoulder shots. Your ability to do that is a real big buzz in the fight world. It’ll get the crowd juiced up big time."
"Aye, it’s OK with me," Sean grinned, casting a glance at Rocky.
Rocky smiled, but with a look that seemed to say, "In your dreams!"
Sean got a cold feeling in the pit of his stomach. Rocky’s mouth was saying ‘Yes’, but his eyes were saying something else. Again Sean chalked it up to Rocky’s reluctance to fake a defeat.
"All right," Vic concluded. "You two shake hands and come out swingin’ in July."
Sean extended his hand and Rocky took it. On his part, Sean imagined that they shared a certain kinship. He was guessing that Rocky didn’t like rigging a fight any more than he did. He hoped that the shaded look in Rocky’s eyes reflected that. But of course, known only to Vito Carbino and Rocky, the reality was quite something else.
Carbino and company departed, leaving Tony and his crew standing at ringside. Tony seemed out of sorts.
"Well, dat’s dat," he growled. "You got dem moves down pat?" he asked Louis
"Yeah, I think so," Louis nodded.
"You t’ink so? You better know!" Skopelli shouted. Louis winced abjectly.
"I do … I know," he apologized.
"OK. We don’t want no foul ups," Tony said in a gentler tone. "Anybody got any questions?"
No one was inclined to respond.
"OK, den," Tony said, motioning to Manny. "Come on, we got stuff to do."
Tony waddled out of the club with Manny obediently in tow.
"Well," Louis said in a shaky voice, "Let’s break for lunch. I think I’m gonna see if I can find Seth and Rufus."
For the first time Sean found himself alone in the club. It gave him an eerie feeling and he hastened toward the door still wearing his sweats. Presumably the place didn’t need to be locked up. In any case, it wasn’t his problem.
On the walk home it occurred to him that he hadn’t heard Vito Carbino’s voice once that morning. The man was something of an enigma; he seemed to be surrounded by an aura of evil. And then there was Rocky. Sean’s instincts told him that none of them … not even Tony … really knew what the bottom line was. He’d have to be careful … very careful … on fight night.
The rest of the week passed without incident. Louis made Sean and a sparring partner take a couple of practice runs through the knockout that Vic had choreographed. During coffee break Sean told Rufus that Carbino and company had come in Wednesday.
"Yeah, Seth tole me," Rufus said somberly. "How did Rocky look?"
"He looked good," Sean answered. "I’m not certain he much likes takin’ a dive though."
Rufus nodded but said nothing.
"I don’t know what all the secrecy is about," Sean continued. "You all know what the story’s gonna be in July."
"I ain’t sure Seth does," Rufus murmured. "And dat’s prob’ly a good thing, him bein’ a family man and all."
"Is he?" Sean asked brightly. "Any young ‘uns?"
"Yeah, he got two," Rufus grinned. "They’s like my own."
"So what’s the relationship between Carbino and Tony?" Sean asked. "Manny says we’re independent camps on the one hand, but that Carbino is Tony’s boss on the other."
Rufus looked at him with round eyes.
"You kiddin’, man? Skopelli and Carbino is Mafia. They’s part o’ the mob."
Sean nodded soberly.
"I wondered about that back in Europe," he murmured. "And how about Manny?"
Rufus shook his head.
"He ain’t Mafia … can’t be. He ain’t Italian."
"So he’s more like us … one of Tony’s employees," Sean mused.
"Yeah, I guess," Rufus replied. "But higher up."
Thursday evening Sean called Sam and Julie. Sam asked him if he’d decided on anything, and Sean suggested they go to the top of the Empire State Building.
"You know, I’ve lived here all my life and I haven’t visited it," Sam confessed. "Let’s do it!"
They agreed to meet at the diner for breakfast on Saturday morning. Sean was there at 9 AM and Sam and Julie were already waiting for him inside.
"How does it feel to be waited on?" Sean asked Julie when a waitress brought their breakfasts.
"It feels good," Julie smiled. "I could get used to this!"
"What made you pick the Empire State Building?" Sam asked. "Did you hear or read about it in Ireland, or…"
"Actually, I’ve wanted to see it ever since watchin’ the movie, ‘An Affair To Remember’, Sean answered. "Did yuh ever see that movie?"
"Have we ever!" Julie gushed. "With Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr? We watch it every time it comes on cable."
"And Julie bawls her head off at the end, without fail," Sam teased.
Julie protested, but Sean admitted that he got teary the one time he’d watched it.
After breakfast they walked to the train station.
"Would you like me to push?" Sean asked Sam.
"Yeah, thanks," Sam agreed. "It’ll probably be faster."
They took a train into 5th Avenue and walked to the Empire State Building. The sidewalks were already jammed with throngs of pedestrians.
"What an amazin’ city!" Sean marveled out loud. Sam asked him about Ireland, and they made small talk on the way up to the observation deck.
The view from the top took Sean’s breath away. As they worked their way around, Sam pointed out various landmarks. By 11:30 they were back down on 5th Avenue and moving along with the river of humanity. Sam preferred wheeling himself along. Sean could sense how strong his arms and shoulders were from the ease with which he maneuvered along in the crowd.
It was lunchtime and Sean asked Julie and Sam to pick out a restaurant, his treat. Sam thought for a moment.
"How about Broadway Joe’s?" he suggested. "I hear they’ve got really good steaks and seafood, and it’s a sports hangout."
"Sounds good!" Sean said. "Do we walk to it or…?"
"We should probably take a cab," he muttered. Sean could tell that Sam was fretting over the logistics of his wheelchair. He stepped to the curb and flagged down a taxi. When one pulled to the curb, Sean bent over and spoke to the driver.
"Could yuh pop your trunk?" he asked.
"Sure thing," the cabby exclaimed, jumping out and hurrying around to the back of his taxi. Sean bent over Sam.
"Grab a hold," he murmured, not looking at Sam.
"Like this?" Sam asked, putting his right arm around Sean’s shoulders.
"Aye," Sean replied, effortlessly lifting Sam out of his wheelchair and swinging him into the cab. Julie wheeled the chair around to the back of the cab and expertly collapsed it. The cabby put it in the trunk.
Sean sat in up front, next to the driver.
"Where to?" the cabby asked. Sean shrugged and looked back at Sam.
"Broadway Joe’s," Sam said. "I think it’s on 46th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenue."
"You’re right," the driver answered, tripping his meter and pulling into the traffic.
Sean was bowled over by the restaurant. He learned that it had a long history of entertaining show business and sports folks. The food was superb. Their waiter was very attentive and recognized Sean right off. Sean introduced Sam and Julie, and told the waiter that his friends were showing him the sights.
"Have you seen the Statue of Liberty yet?" the waiter asked.
"No, I’ve only been here in the states a couple o’ weeks," Sean answered. "How about you two?" he asked Sam and Julie.
Again Sam had to admit that he’d never been, despite his lifelong residency in New York.
"You’re not alone on that one," the waiter smiled. "If you all want to go, you should have plenty of time to catch the Circle Line out to the island."
So everyone agreed that they’d do that after downing some New York Cheesecake and coffee.
It was a beautiful day and Sean enjoyed the boat trip out to Liberty Island. It felt good to be out on the water again. He was moved by the poem at the statue’s base. He and Julie passed on climbing up inside, despite Sam’s urging. By 4:30 they were played out and headed back to Brooklyn.
"Sam, Julie, this has been one o’ the greatest days o’ me life," Sean exclaimed back in the diner’s parking lot.
Sam beamed and shook Sean’s hand vigorously.
"We had a ton of fun too, Sean. Can we drop you anywhere?"
"No, thanks. It’s only a short walk from here," Sean declined. "Shall we do this again sometime?"
"The sooner the better," Sam grinned. "Why don’t you give us a call."
"I’ll do that," Sean promised. "Here, let me give yuh my cell phone number."
He didn’t have anything to write on, so Sam jotted the number down on the back of one of his business cards.
Once back at the apartment, Sean heated a frozen dinner in the microwave and settled down in front of the TV. The Saturday night fights were on, and he kicked back and studied the techniques of some of his peers.
"I wonder how much o’ the fight game is fixed?" he thought to himself. At the end of one bout, which he found too close to call, one of the boxers raised his hand in victory and the other all but climbed through the ring ropes before the winner had been announced.
"It’s gettin’ more and more like wrestlin’, isn’t it?" he thought to himself cynically. "It’s become show business, and a cash cow for them on the inside."
Louis worked Sean as hard as ever on Monday and Tuesday. Manny came into the club midmorning on Wednesday. He asked Sean whether he’d seen Madison Square Garden, the scheduled site of the title match in July. Sean told him he hadn’t had the pleasure, and Manny suggested that Rufus take him there for a get-acquainted look-see.
Rufus of course agreed. He called a Garden caretaker named ‘Chazz’ on his cell phone.
"How you doin’, man?" Rufus spoke into the phone. "Guess who I’s bringin’ over this mornin’ to check out the Garden."
"Fiddler Crabbe?" Chazz answered.
"Yeah! How’d you know?"
"Jus’ a lucky guess," Chazz laughed.
"We gonna be gettin’ there aroun’ noon. You want me to pick up some chicken?"
"Man, that sounds good to me," Chazz said. "I be waitin’ for you down in my hideaway."
"OK, Bro’. We see you there."
Sean showered and changed into his street clothes, and he and Rufus took a train into Manhattan. Outside their destination Rufus bought a bucket of fried chicken.
"Here she is," Rufus said, leading the way into an alley. "Madison Square Garden."
Sean wondered why they were going into what appeared to be a blind alley. But Rufus paused before a steel doorway, fished a ring of keys out of his pocket and unlocked the door.
"I ain’t s’posed to have keys to this place," he said quietly. "But I used to work here, an’ I never gave my keys up."
Rufus led the way through a maze of hallways and out into the Garden’s main floor. A dog show was in progress.
"Here’s where you and Rocky does it," he whispered.
"They’ll set up a ring?" Sean wondered.
"Oh yeah. They plays basketball in here, has concerts, you name it," Rufus continued. "Some o’ them pups gonna get wind o’ this chicken. Shall we go find Chazz?"
Sean nodded and Rufus led the way back through a locked door, into the restricted area.
"Dey’s dressin’ rooms down there," he said, pointing down one hallway. "We’s goin’ down to the basement."
Rufus unlocked another door and he and Sean descended a flight of stairs to the enormous subterranean area of Madison Square Garden. Rufus clearly knew his way, and at length they entered a well-lit lounge. Rufus’ friend, Chazz, was slouched on a sofa, watching TV.
"Hey, Chazz, come meet de Fiddler!" Rufus greeted. Chazz walked over and shook Sean’s hand.
"Glad to meet you, champ," he grinned. Sean wondered if that was just a figure of speech, or if Chazz knew about the pre-arranged outcome in July.
"Man, what you got here?" Chazz asked Rufus, taking the large paper sack from his arms. "You all want a beer or soda, he’p youselves," he said, gesturing toward a refrigerator. Rufus went over and got a beer, and Sean followed suit.
Chazz unloaded paper plates, side dishes and the bucket of chicken from the brown paper sack, and all three men dove hungrily in, breathing grunts of approval.
"So, you gonna be the champ," Chazz smiled after eating his fill. Sean glanced at Rufus.
"Oh yeah, Chazz knows," Rufus volunteered. "Ain’t nothin’ goes on here in the Garden he don’t know ‘bout."
"Aye, it appears I will be," Sean confessed. Chazz noted the troubled look on Sean’s face and liked him for that.
"How many fixes you seen here since takin’ over from me?" Rufus asked Chazz.
"More’n I can remember," Chazz snorted. "It gettin’ to be a way of life. It gettin’ to be like rasslin’."
"That’s just what I was thinkin’ Saturday night, watchin’ the fights on TV," Sean said. "It seemed obvious in some cases that the fighters knew who won the match even before the announcement.
"Oh yeah, I’s seen some climb through the ropes and get pulled back into the ring before the decision’s announced," Chazz said.
"You’d think they’d know better," Rufus muttered.
"They prob’ly would under normal circumstances," Chazz answered. "But after twelve rounds, even puttin’ on a show, they sometimes don’t know which way is up."
"I ‘spects so," Rufus nodded. "How’s old Sonny doin’? I ain’t seen him in quite a spell."
"Oh, he’s fine," Chazz replied. "He’s still workin’ at the News Stand over yonder a block."
Rufus looked at Sean, who didn’t have a clue who Sonny was.
"Sonny most got hisself killed ten, twelve years ago right here in de Garden," Rufus explained.
"Yeah, he was s’posed to become middleweight champ," Chazz added. "That was the understandin’. But he got double crossed."
"Double crossed?" Sean pressed.
"Yeah," Rufus said. "The champ was s’posed to lose to him in de ninth, but he caught old Sonny in de seventh. He scrambled his brains before he could go down."
"That was the end o’ him," Chazz interjected. "He never fought again. He been sellin’ papers an’ magazines ever since."
Sean nodded his head somberly.
"Why would they do such a thing?" he wondered aloud. "I thought the whole idea was to maximize profits."
"Ordinarily, I s’pects it is," Rufus answered. "But ever’ now and then … who knows? Maybe one capo don’ like another … wants him to lose some big bets laid off aroun’ the country. Could be a lot o’ things."
The three men continued talking about things they’d witnessed in the fight game. At 1 PM Rufus rose.
"Well, I s’pects you gotta get back to work," he said to Chazz.
"Oh yeah," Chazz groused. "Ain’t no tellin’ what dem mutts gonna leave on the floor upstairs."
Rufus laughed and made several quick hand clasps with Chazz. Sean couldn’t follow them or duplicate them in his mind.
"Hey, Fiddler, you play poker?" Chazz asked Sean.
"Aye, I’ve done me share," Sean smiled.
"What you think?" Chazz asked Rufus. "We take this chile’s money Saturday night?"
"I’s all for it," Rufus grinned, looking at Sean. "You want to join us Saturday night for some penny ante at Seth’s place?"
"Sounds good," Sean agreed.
"All right! Dat’s cool, man," Chazz said, shaking Sean’s hand. "I see you suckers then."
Rufus led Sean off in a different direction through the maze of underground hallways. They emerged into a large storage room where hundreds of cardboard boxes were stacked.
"Step in here," Rufus suggested, lifting a wooden gate. "We ride back up to de street in style."
Rufus pushed a button and Sean felt the elevator floor push up against their feet. Above them two rusty steel plates opened upward and they could see blue sky. Once they’d stepped out into a broad alley way, Rufus sent the lift back down.
"Deliveries," he grunted in explanation.
"Where does Sonny work?" Sean wanted to know.
"Not far from here," Rufus answered. "You want to walk over to his stand?"
"Aye," Sean said. "I’d like to meet him."
"They ain’t much to meet," Rufus nodded. "He got hurt in the head, that last fight. But he be a good soul."
Rufus led the way, and in less than ten minutes they were at Sonny’s newsstand.
"Hey, Sonny!" Rufus greeted. "Shake hands wid Fiddler Crabbe. He fightin’ for de heavyweight crown in July!"
Sonny grinned and shook Sean’s hand, but said nothing. Sean estimated he was in his forties, but he looked older. His hair was mostly white, and it was clear that he wasn’t quite right in the head. He didn’t seem to recognize the name ‘Fiddler Crabbe’ despite the numerous ring magazines on his stand.
Rufus picked out a magazine and handed Sonny a five dollar bill.
"We be goin’ now," he said. "Take care o’ youself, Sonny."
Sonny nodded and added the fiver to a roll of bills he pulled from his pocket.
"A double cross, huh?" Sean mumbled, once he and Rufus had moved out of earshot.
"Dat’s what I hear," Rufus confirmed. "It happens. Sometimes I don’ know what holds de mob together."
"Only their common hate for the cops, I expect," Sean nodded.
"Yeah, dat’s it all right. But you be careful in July, Irish. Hear? They ain’t nothin’ certain in the fight game."
"I plan to be," Sean answered. "Frankly, I didn’t get a warm feelin’ when Carbino and his crowd visited the club."
"Yeah, I can dig it. Dat Carbino is one spooky dude. Here," Rufus muttered, handing the magazine to Sean. "You can have this. I ain’t got time to be doin’ much readin’."
Sean invited Rufus and Chazz to come over to his apartment Saturday afternoon and watch a ball game. They barbecued up some steaks for dinner.
"Man, this is nice!" Rufus said when he and Chazz first arrived and looked around. "And dey pays for all this?"
"Aye, I guess it’s all part o’ the trainin’ package," Sean grinned. "O’ course they get it all back, plus several million to boot."
Rufus nodded his head.
"I s’pose I oughta be jealous," he sighed. "But you know sump’n, Irish? I wouldn’t know what to do wid dat kind o’ money. I don’ even play de lottery for fear I wins it."
Sean laughed and said he wasn’t in any better shape. He told Rufus he was going to have to get some professional advice on how to invest his winnings.
"Yeah, Seth an’ me got a liddle inves’ment club goin’," Rufus said. "We tries to buy some stocks or bonds ever’ month."
"Good for you!" Sean exclaimed. He wanted to ask Rufus how much they had, but decided not to pry.
Chazz was less inhibited.
"You buyin’ stocks?" he cried, clearly flabbergasted. "How much you got?"
Rufus grinned and shrugged.
"I don’ rightly know. Seth is de brains. I jus’ kicks in some money ever’ month."
"How much you kick in?" Chazz pressed.
"Not much," Rufus demurred. "Only $200 lately. But it add up in time."
"Don’ it jus’," Chazz thought aloud. "Man, I got to start doin’ sump’n like that."
"Yeah, a man can’t retire jus’ on Social Security in this town, that’s for sure," Rufus observed.
The three men kicked back and enjoyed the ball game. By mutual consent they drank soft drinks, knowing they’d be going to Seth’s house after dinner.
None of the three owned a car, so after dinner Sean called for a cab to take them over to Seth’s home. Rufus had wanted to clean up the dishes after they finished eating, but Sean insisted on leaving everything in the sink.
"Mrs. Gomez’ll take care o’ that Monday mornin’," he explained.
When they arrived at Seth’s house, Seth introduced Sean to his wife, Beulah. She was a pleasant, plump woman, and Sean guessed she might be a few years older than her husband. Their son, the older of their two children, was clearly fascinated by Sean. When Beulah took Sean’s jacket, the boy looked at Sean’s lopsided physique with eyes of wonder.
"Uncle Rufus says there ain’t no man in the world stronger than you!" he exclaimed.
"Isn’t," his mother corrected. "There isn’t any man in the world…"
The boy nodded, but couldn’t tear his eyes away from Sean.
"Uncle Rufus say you can kill a grown bull with one punch," the youngster continued.
"I expect I could make one blink, all right," Sean grinned. "What’s your name, lad?"
"Oh, I’m sorry," Beulah interjected. "This is Danny. And this," she continued, pulling a shy little girl out from behind her skirts, "Is Shilah."
"Shilah … what a pretty name," Sean said. "And Danny … that’s a fine Irish name!"
"How about Fiddler?" Danny asked. "What kind o’ name is that?"
"Danny!" Beulah scolded. Sean laughed.
"It’s OK," he said. "It’s a good question. ‘Fiddler’ is me ring name. Me real name is ‘Sean … Sean Crabbe’."
"So how come they nickname you Fiddler?" Danny wondered. "You play the violin?"
"No," Sean laughed. "It’s after these little crabs that have one enormous claw. They’re called fiddler crabs, and someone thought that would be a good name for a fighter."
"Oh-h-h," Danny murmured, "now I get it."
Sean spent some more time getting acquainted with Danny and Shilah, and won Beulah over in the process. They were both cute kids, and Sean could understand why Rufus loved them like they were his own.
After a while Beulah took the children into the living room to watch TV and the men sat down at the kitchen table for a night of poker. Seth had the refrigerator well stocked with beer, and they drank straight from the bottles. It was strictly penny ante and for fun. It occurred to Sean that even the worst bad luck case wouldn’t be able to lose more than $10 in the course of an evening.
Beulah had set out a couple of bowls of pretzels, and would come out into the kitchen every half-hour or so to see if the men needed anything. On one such occasion the topic of ‘most memorable person’ had just come up.
"Who was your most memorable person?" Seth asked Rufus.
"Shoot, Bro’, you know who dat would be," Rufus answered. "It was our Mama."
"Yeah, I ‘spects for me too," Seth agreed.
"How ‘bout you, Irish?" Rufus asked. "Who done have the greatest effeck on you?"
Sean peeked at his hole card and took a pull from his bottle of beer.
"Well," he murmured, "there’s been a few. I’d say me late Grandma Mary was one."
"That’s nice," Beulah commented. "She’d be happy to hear you say that."
"What you remember ‘bout her?" Seth asked.
"Oh, many things," Sean said. "She and Grandpa Shamus used to come to me parents’ house for Sunday dinner. I remember one Sunday, not long before she died, she told me that my wanderin’ would cease the day I looked into the right woman’s eyes."
"That’s so roMANtic!" Beulah cried. "What a beautiful thought!"
"Aye," Sean continued. "She said that every man has one special island he calls ‘home’, and that he knows the island when he gazes into his love’s eyes."
"Well, I don’t know about dem eyes," Chazz snorted, "but I sho’ ‘nuff agree wid de island part."
"Oh yeah?" Rufus challenged. "An’ how’s dat?"
"’Cause I knows what my island home is," Chazz grinned, "an’ its name is Ma-a-anHATtan."
"I’ll drink to that," Seth said, raising his bottle in mock toast.
"Hear, hear!" Sean chimed in, following suit.
"Yeah, I’ll sho’ ‘nuff drink to Manhattan," Rufus said, glancing at Chazz. "Man, is your ante in de pot?"
"No," Chazz shot back, "but I b’lieve my Uncle Bubba’s in dere."
Sean called a taxi again after the poker game broke up. He dropped Chazz off at the trains into Manhattan.
"This be good for me too," Rufus said, following Chazz out of the cab. "I can walk to my place from here."
Chazz bent over and peered back into the taxi at Sean.
"Hey, man, thanks for the sody pop and steak," he grunted. "Dat was a lot o’ fun."
"Same goes here, Irish," Sean heard Rufus chime in.
"Thank you guys, for invitin’ me," Sean answered. "Rufus, I’ll probably see you on Monday."
"I be dere," Rufus called back. "Be good!"
That night, as he lay waiting for sleep to claim him, Sean wondered how Sam and Julie had spent their day. He debated whether to give them a call in the morning, but finally decided that perhaps Sunday was family time for them. The next day he took a train into Manhattan and re-visited The American Museum of Natural History. This time he took in The Hayden Planetarium. It was astounding how realistic the show was. He’d never seen anything like it in Ireland. And of course only light from the brightest stars made it through New York’s air at night.
The next week went by rapidly, with Louis keeping the pressure on. Were it not for his misshapen form, Sean could have been a contender in any body builder contest. His young body responded quickly to the rigors of weight training and the healthy meals prepared by Mrs. Gomez.
There was an article in Sunday’s paper about himself and Rocky. Among other things it said that Fiddler Crabbe’s share of the gate in July would be ten million dollars (with Rocky getting fifteen million). Sam read the article with interest and left the paper folded open and on the floor with the rest of the news and features.
Julie ordinarily didn’t even glance at the sports pages, but when she gathered the scattered pages up to put into the trash that night, the article caught her eye.
"Ten million!" she thought to herself as she lay in bed next to Sam that night. It was more than she and Sam might expect to earn in one or two hundred years! Of course the reality was that Sean himself would receive only a fraction of the ten million. But Julie didn’t know about such things and took the article at its word.
Thursday evening she helped Sam pack, and Friday morning she drove him to JFK airport to catch a flight to Atlanta. Sam had worked his way up in the Amway network and was expected to attend their conventions whenever possible.
"See you Sunday night," he told her at the passenger drop-off area, pulling her down for a goodbye kiss.
"I’ll be here," she answered. "If there’s any problem, give me a call."
Julie drove back to Brooklyn and went to work for the day. That night she was restless, and finally had to admit to herself that she yearned to see Sean.
The next morning, at around 9:30, the phone rang.
"Hello," she spoke into it, fully expecting to hear Sam’s voice.
"Hi, Julie, it’s me, Sean," she heard instead. "Did you have a good week?"
"Oh, Hi!" she answered, feeling her heart pound in her chest. "Yes … pretty much the usual. We missed you last weekend."
"Yeah," Sean apologized. "I got roped into a Saturday night poker game with some o’ me cronies. I thought I’d call and see if you two wanted to do anything today."
Julie paused, but then caved in (she didn’t know to what).
"Why don’t you come over for lunch? You know the address, right? We can … go on from there."
"Great!" Sean answered. "Any special time?"
"Oh, say 11:30?" she suggested.
"I’ll be there," Sean promised. He didn’t have a clue what they’d be doing, but decided to let Julie and Sam make the decision this time. At 11 o’clock he had a cab take him around to a bank teller machine, withdrew a couple hundred dollars, and continued on to the address on Sam’s business card.
"Very nice," he mused, eyeing the big apartment building. He went inside, found their apartment door and knocked on it. Julie opened it. She looked very pretty and her eyes were sparkling with excitement. For an instant, pangs of jealousy stabbed at Sean.
"Hi," he began. But she took his hand and pulled him inside. Sean thought that perhaps they were going to surprise Sam as she closed the door. His head went numb when she grasped him by the back of his neck and kissed him on the mouth.
"Are yuh crazy?" he whispered hoarsely, pulling back and looking down the apartment’s hallway over her head.
"Sam’s not here. He’s away at a convention for the weekend," Julie whispered.
Sean’s first impulse was to bolt. But she pulled his head down toward her face again.
"I want you," she whispered, "and I know you want me."
Her eyes closed and her lips parted, begging to be kissed again. His head spinning, and unable to think straight, Sean pulled her tightly against himself and kissed her passionately. His hands ran over her body. It had been so long! He swept her up into his arms, kissing her again, and carried her into the apartment’s living room.
"The couch, the couch," she whispered huskily, kissing his neck with a desire that matched his own.
Later, while he could hear her taking a shower, Sean began to experience feelings of remorse. He didn’t really know Sam that well, he argued to himself on the one hand. Yet he couldn’t help feeling guilty on the other hand. His one overriding thought now was to get out of there. He had no idea what the outcome of all this was going to be. If only Sam was … whole! It would be so much easier!
Julie emerged from the bedroom that she shared with Sam. It was clear that she was confused too. Sean smiled sheepishly at her. Even now he wanted to remove the terry cloth robe she’d put on.
"We need some time to think, don’t we," he suggested softly. Julie only nodded.
"I think I’m fallin’ in love with you," Sean murmured, rising to his feet. Julie’s brow wrinkled and tears brimmed in her eyes.
"What should I do?" Sean asked, looking down at the floor. She walked to him and kissed him on the cheek.
"I don’t know," she whispered. "I don’t know what any of us should do."
Sean put his hands on her and felt her soft body through the robe. But she stepped back, her eyes pleading ‘No’.
"You’re right," she murmured weakly. "I need time."
Sean nodded and walked to the door. Julie followed him as far as the hallway.
"Call me," he called, turning to look back at her. "Let me know what you want."
Julie seemed to think for a moment, and then answered him.
"If I call, it’ll be because I want … us to happen," she promised.
Sean walked outside and scanned the street for a cabstand.
"And if she doesn’t call…" he thought morosely. Part of him hoped she would, and another part feared that she would. What a bag of snakes adult life could be! The old saw, ‘There are no snakes in Ireland’, drifted through his mind. He thought of Lillian Scully and Peter Connolly and the way things had worked out for them. Had they been intimate as High School sweethearts?
"Probably," Sean thought. "Face it. Like every race on earth, the Irish have their share o’ snakes."
Julie spent a troubled Saturday afternoon in her apartment, and after dinner she called her widowed mother, Alice, who lived in Queens. She told her that she needed to talk, and asked if she could come over the next day. Alice of course said ‘yes’.
A little before 9:30 the next morning Julie rang her mother’s doorbell. Alice hugged her daughter and took her into the kitchen to have some light breakfast.
Julie told her mom the whole story and Alice listened quietly.
"What should I do, Mom?" she pleaded.
Alice rose and freshened their cups of coffee, marshaling her thoughts.
"I can’t tell you what to do," she began. "You’re a grown woman. But how about if I ask you some questions?"
Julie nodded eagerly.
"First off, I don’t think you should be consumed by a lot of guilt," Alice said. "You haven’t broken any vows to Sam."
"I know," Julie agreed lamely. "But still…"
Alice shook her head negatively. She wasn’t budging on this one.
"Sam, and every young man who lives with a woman, should know that he doesn’t have any right to expect exclusive access without a ring. If the two of you were married, this would be a different story. But as things stand, you don’t need to beat yourself up for considering a sincere offer from another man."
Julie pondered that for a few moments.
"Should I tell him?" she wondered.
"Well, let’s look at that next," Alice answered. "Who do you want to be with? If you want Sam out of your life, then telling him will probably accomplish that. If you want to continue on with him, then I don’t recommend it. Your big problem right now is to make a choice. I don’t really think a woman can have it both ways, no matter what the modern hype says."
"That’s just it," Julie complained. "I don’t know."
"If you never called this fighter back, would you spend the rest of your life worrying about what became of him?"
"Probably not," Julie admitted. "I’ve only seen him, what … four times."
"And how about Sam? What if you walk away from him?"
Julie’s eyes misted over.
"How could I?" she murmured, hanging her head. "Sam is such a part of me."
Alice nibbled on a piece of toast and said nothing.
"We’ve become such good friends," Julie continued. "We’re so … comfortable with one another."
"You know, unless he wins the lottery he’s probably never going to be a millionaire," Alice prodded, playing the devil’s advocate.
"I know, I know. But he’s a fighter too, in his way. I think he’ll always do well."
"Where do you think your best long term prospects lie?" Alice asked. "Will Sam still be with you ten years from now? How about the prize fighter?"
Julie knew, then, that she had her answer. She looked at her mother and her face relaxed for the first time.
"Thanks, Mom," she said, squeezing Alice’s hand.
"Why don’t you go to church with me this morning, and we’ll go out for some lunch afterward?" Alice suggested.
"I’d better not," Julie replied. "I’ve got to pick Sam up at JFK by 3. And I’m not really dressed for…"
"Nonsense," Alice said. "You’re dressed better than a lot who go to services these days. I’ll settle for church. That’ll leave you plenty of time to get to JFK."
Julie agreed, and they went to her old church … the one her parents had always attended. On the way, Julie thought about her mother’s situation. Although widowed, Alice seemed to be comfortably well off. She owned her house and car free and clear, and between 401K’s, investments that she and her late husband had made over the years, plus Social Security, she had an adequate income. Julie knew that her dad had never done any better than Sam was doing. So obviously great wealth wasn’t the key to happiness. The secret to Alice’s security seemed to be that she and Julie’s dad had stuck together and worked as a team for more than forty years.
It had been quite a while since Julie had been in any church, and feelings of peace enveloped her when they entered and sat down in one of the pews. There was a subtle fragrance in the air that she’d never found anywhere else. When she and Alice had seated themselves, Alice’s chin dropped to her chest in silent prayer. Julie wondered what her mother’s thoughts were. Was she talking to Dad, now gone for more than seven years? Was she praying that her daughter would find happiness as she had?
Julie closed her own eyes and wondered what she should be thankful for. And then, without really thinking about it, the words were there in her mind.
"Thank you, God, for Mom."
Julie kissed her mother goodbye when they returned to Alice’s home.
"Thanks, Mom," she whispered. "Thanks for listening."
Alice smiled and smoothed her daughter’s hair.
"I know you’ll do the right thing," she said softly. "Don’t be a stranger."
"I won’t," Julie promised. "I’d better be going."
On the drive back from JFK, Julie told Sam that Sean had called.
"No kidding! I was beginning to wonder what’d become of him," Sam exclaimed.
"I told him you were out of town," Julie said quietly. Sam sensed there was more.
"And?" he murmured.
"And he wanted to come over. I … don’t think we should see him anymore, Sam."
Sam grew silent. At first he was awash with disappointment. He wasn’t usually wrong about people that way. Then other thoughts … darker thoughts … began creeping into his mind.
"And did he?" he asked at length.
"What? Come over?"
"No, of course not," Julie muttered.
That night, after dinner, Julie did what she’d thought she never would. She handed Sam an ultimatum.
"Sam," she said in a determined tone, "I don’t want to live like this anymore."
Sam’s first reaction was that he was losing her. But, he was no fool and he rarely fell victim to self-doubt. Just when Julie was becoming exasperated by his non-responsiveness, he spoke to her again.
"Will you marry me?" he asked softly.
Julie looked at him with startled eyes. Suddenly she began to weep and laid her head on his shoulder.
"Yes," she whispered, turning his face toward her and kissing him again and again. "Yes, Yes! When?"
"Whenever you say," he smiled, kissing her back. "But not before we buy you an engagement ring."
Other than having legs that ended in stumps above the knee, there was nothing wrong with Sam Steadman. And that evening, after they’d gone to bed, the future Mrs. Steadman gave him a night he’d never forget.
By Sunday evening Sean was pretty much hoping that Julie wouldn’t call. Was he ready to complicate his life, given everything else that was going on?
Throughout the following week he continued feeling the same way, but by week’s end he was starting to wonder why she hadn’t called. His pride couldn’t accept that she might have chosen Sam over himself.
"The man’s a bloody cripple," he thought spitefully. A heartbeat later he couldn’t believe the thought had crossed his mind. He was filled with self-loathing to the depths of his soul.
He knew that any chance for a friendship between himself and Sam was gone forever. He waxed hot when he thought about his interlude with Julie. But he as quickly turned cold when he wondered about her motivations. After all, she barely knew him! Was the attraction physical? Was she a gold digger?
He’d said he was falling in love with her. What a joke!
"Amazin’, what desire will lead a man to say," he thought cynically.
Midway through the second week, he had convinced himself that she wanted to contact him but didn’t know how. Obviously she wasn’t going to ask Sam for his phone number, any more than he was going to call her for fear that Sam would answer.
"You’re a dirty rat," he upbraided himself, "but you’re not rotten enough to feign friendship under the current circumstances."
By Thursday of the second week, Sean had decided that he absolutely had to know what the score was. By now he was well aware that it was his own vanity that drove him. Yet he felt he had to be certain. And so, after lunch, he bypassed his usual snooze in front of the TV and set out on foot for the diner.
He decided that if Julie was working behind the counter, then he’d go to a booth. The important thing was that she’d get a chance to talk to him if she wanted to.
As luck would have it Julie was working behind the counter when he came in. At first she didn’t see him, and he sat down at a booth where she couldn’t miss him.
"Just coffee and a piece of apple pie," he told his waitress quietly. Before his order arrived, Julie began wiping the countertop and noticed him. He put on his most benign face, neither smiling nor scowling. She frowned, looking him straight in the eye, and shook her head ‘no’.
Sean felt the blood drain from his head. It was Lillian Scully all over again. Yet he knew in his heart that Julie was no mean-spirited shrew. It was quite simple, really. She had chosen Sam.
Sean’s eyes stung with mortification. Julie turned her back to him and began brewing a fresh urn of coffee. Two minutes later, when she glanced back at the booth, it was empty. A five-dollar bill lay on the table.
The waitress came to the empty booth and looked around, bewildered. She waltzed over to the counter.
"Did the guy in that booth go to the john, did yuh notice?" she asked Julie.
"He left," Julie answered quietly.
"Left?" the waitress exclaimed. "What am I supposed to do with this?"
"Dump it," Julie shrugged. "He paid for it, didn’t he?"
"Well, yeah," the waitress said, glancing back at the table. "But what…I don’t get it! People are crazy these days!"
Sean walked back to the fight club, numb with embarrassment.
"So now yuh know, stupid. Any questions?" he self-flagellated himself. He changed into his sweats and attacked the heavy bag savagely. By the time Louis returned at 2:30 he was sweating profusely.
"What’s goin’ on? How long you been here?" Louis asked.
"I can put in some extra time if I want, can’t I?" Sean snarled.
Louis arched his eyebrows. Wow!
"Sure, champ," he said. "You can do anything you want."
Sean continued pushing himself to the max for the next two weeks. At least he slept well on weeknights. On the weekends he began haunting strip joints in Manhattan. His dampened spirits suppressed his immune system, and with only two weeks until the title bout he developed a nasty and persistent cough. Louis told Manny about it. Manny came in late Thursday morning and told them to knock off…he was taking Sean to the doctor. Sean protested, but Manny told him he didn’t have a choice.
"Any fever? Chills? Sweats?" the doctor asked Sean, once he was seated on the table in an examination room.
"I don’t think so. O’ course I sweat a lot when I’m workin’ out," Sean said.
"Yes, of course," the doc nodded. "But not at night?"
"Nah, I sleep like a dead man at night," Sean answered.
"You’re eating good…no loss of appetite?"
"No, I eat like a horse," Sean smiled wanly. "I feel fine."
The doctor studied Sean’s face. He sensed that Sean was hiding something…probably emotional.
"How’s your love life?" he asked quietly.
"What love life?" Sean snorted, hanging his head.
"OK!" the doc said. "Put your shirt on. Let’s go talk with Liebowitz."
Sean complied and found the doc conversing with Manny at the prescription counter.
"Probably an allergy," he overheard the doc say. "We’re into July now, you know."
"Should he be takin’ anything?" Manny asked.
"I could prescribe something," the doc answered. "But it would make him lethargic."
"What if I just ride it out?" Sean asked, approaching the other two.
"Most people do," the doc responded. "It’s not a serious condition."
"I think I should just do that," Sean said to Manny. Manny nodded agreeably.
"Let me know if anything more than the dry cough develops," the doc said. "Itchy, watery eyes, rash, or anything of that nature. Barring that, I think you’re OK."
On the drive back to Sean’s apartment, Manny breathed a sigh of relief.
"Man, all we need right now is for you to get sick," he muttered.
"I’m fine!" Sean reassured him.
"Only two weeks from this Saturday," Manny said. "You’re gonna be a rich man! Heavyweight champ of the world! Are you ready?"
"Aye, ready as rain," Sean answered. "All things considered, how can we miss?"
Manny nodded and studied Sean candidly. He seemed down, and Manny chided himself for not having noticed earlier.
"You ever been upstate…to the Catskills?" he asked.
Sean shook his head ‘no’.
"Except for our New England trip, I haven’t been out o’ the city. What are the Catskills… mountains?"
"Yeah. You know, we always have a contender take some time off before a title bout," Manny lied. "I think you and I will take another trip. Upstate New York this time. We could leave Saturday…day after tomorrow."
Sean nodded agreeably.
"Sure, whatever," he mumbled.
Manny pulled his Lincoln up in front of the apartments.
"On second thought, I got nothin’ goin’ on tomorrow. Let’s leave tomorrow mornin’. We’ll beat the weekend traffic."
Sean glanced across at Manny and again nodded.
"I’ll pick you up tomorrow at 9, OK?" Manny continued. "Tell Mrs. Gomez she has next week off."
"Sounds good," Sean smiled weakly, reaching for the door handle.
"Stay out o’ trouble, huh?" Manny said, giving Sean a mock punch on the shoulder. "Pack for five days. I think we’ll do Grossingers. It’s a big resort up north. We’ll get some fresh air."
"Somethin’s buggin’ that boy," Manny thought as he pulled away. "A week in new surroundin’s might be just what he needs."
Manny knew from experience that, despite the resort’s rural setting, a man didn’t need to forego the pleasures of female companionship.
"Oh yeah," he grinned, "he’s gonna be a new man after a week in that mountain air."
Manny was right. A change of scenery was just what Sean needed. The Catskills were lovely, and Grossingers Resort was a blast. There was nightly entertainment, and Sean laughed at the featured comedian until his sides ached. Grossingers had entertained many fighters over the years, and Sean and Manny received the royal treatment. They swam, played golf (Sean did remarkably well), and of course ate and ate some more. But Manny adroitly assured that they ate healthy.
After three days at the resort, Manny suggested that they check out and work their way back to New York City by way of eastern Pennsylvania. Manny himself had never been there and he wanted to have a look at the Amish country.
Both of them got a huge kick out of the horse-drawn buggies with electric taillights and turn signals. And even Sean, with his rural Irish background, wondered at the austere lifestyle of the Amish.
"Belief systems … humans live in a world of belief systems," Manny exclaimed. "Models of reality … of what’s right and true … of what’s worth fightin’ for."
"An interestin’ thought," Sean murmured. "These Amish people do seem to have their own set o’ beliefs about how men and women should live, don’t they?"
"Don’t we all," Manny grunted. "I’d bet almost every war ever fought was fought over clashin’ belief systems."
"Aye, that and real estate," Sean added.
"Even the game we’re in … the fight game … prospers because of people’s desire to fight for a cause," Manny mused.
"Playin’ on the warrior spirit in every man," Sean murmured.
"Yeah. Blood sports are probably the oldest of all the sports. I bet they go back to prehistoric times."
"I expect they do," Sean agreed. "Men hackin’ each other up for the release and amusement of other men."
"It seems to be as good a way as any to fill in the lulls between wars."
"And it doesn’t even have to be real, does it?" Sean thought aloud.
"Heck, no. Every kid knows that movies are only make believe. Not to mention pro wrestlin’. People in wrestlin’ openly admit that it’s bogus. Yet audiences flock to the matches. It’s bigger than ever!"
"And now it’s happenin’ to boxin’," Sean said.
"Yeah … some of the time, for sure," Manny admitted. "But not always."
"Aye, I can vouch for that," Sean murmured, feeling the scar on his cheek. "What d’ you think I should do if Rocky goes for the win?"
"Whadda yuh mean? If he doesn’t lie down like agreed?"
"Aye. It’s been known to happen."
"It ain’t gonna happen in your fight," Manny said. "I know Rocky from way back. Independent thought ain’t his strong suit. The only way that would happen would be if Carbino wanted it to happen. And Vito Carbino ain’t walkin’ away from the kind o’ gate that your rematch is gonna generate."
Sean nodded. But he silently resolved still not to take anything for granted on fight night.
Manny and Sean made it back to Brooklyn by suppertime on Friday night.
"Stay out o’ trouble," Manny charged Sean when he dropped him off at his apartment. "Business as usual on Monday. Tuesday we got weigh-in. I think Tony’s gonna be goin’ with us."
Sean relaxed over the weekend, and Louis went easy on him all day Monday. By then the goal was limited to keeping Sean limber and looking good. At the weigh-in on Tuesday, Sean and Rocky indulged the press and posed with Sean’s left side prominently displayed. Rocky was cordial and pleasant for a change. As Manny had guessed, Skopelli accompanied them. Tony took Sean, Manny and Louis out to dinner afterward.
"Nothin’ too strenuous dis week," Skopelli told Louis. "And Friday off."
Louis nodded obediently. Later, Tony spoke to Sean.
"How you feelin’? You ready for Saturday night? What’s dat cough I been hearin’ all night. You ain’t gettin’ sick, are yuh?"
"No, I’m fine," Sean reassured him. "Manny already took me to the doctor’s. It’s just the air here in New York … an allergy, the doc said. Nothin’ to worry about."
Skopelli looked at Manny and smiled approvingly.
Louis went easy on Sean for the rest of the week. Manny insisted on treating Sean to dinner and a Broadway show on Friday night. The show was enjoyable, but for the most part Sean was preoccupied with the fight, now less than 24 hours away.
Manny picked Sean up at 2 PM Saturday afternoon and they swung by the club to pick up Louis, Rufus and Sean’s fight gear. Someone … Skopelli or Manny (Sean didn’t know who) … had ordered a new robe made up. It was a gorgeous thing, like silk, with a colorful picture of a fiddler crab embroidered on its back.
"You gonna knock their eyes out wid dis baby," Rufus grinned when he had Sean try it on for size. It was a perfect fit, and Sean had to agree.
For Sean, everything seemed to happen in a blur from that point on. It was rather like he was being prepped for surgery. Everyone around him seemed to know what they were doing, and he was along for the ride.
Somehow Manny’s car got parked and they all ended up in a spacious dressing room at Madison Square Garden. Rufus helped Sean get dressed for the fight. Manny was popping in and out of the dressing room, growing more and more excited as the minutes ticked away. It was contagious, and Louis began to get juiced up too.
"You know what to do," Louis coached Sean. "Some arm and shoulder shot knockdowns in the early rounds."
"Do I hold back?" Sean asked him.
"Well … we don’t wanna break his arm," Louis answered. "Don’t end the fight before it’s s’posed to end. But no, go ahead and give him some good punches. He’s in shape. It’s gotta look convincin’."
Sean nodded and smiled ever so slightly. He looked forward to seeing Rocky’s eyes when he unloaded on him. Rufus took note.
"Um Hm-m-m, Oh Yeah, He got dem cattle punch blues," he sang. Sean smiled at Rufus and Rufus grinned back.
"It be payback time in de Rockies," Rufus continued singing. This time Louis smiled, but said nothing.
Manny burst back into the dressing room.
"Come on, you guys, let’s get his gloves on!" he shouted. "It’s almost show time!"
Rufus checked his cut kit out while Louis pushed the gloves onto Sean’s hands and laced them. Manny was babbling advice, but Sean found it hard to concentrate on what he was saying. He felt like he was in the best shape of his life, and knew he’d be able to take Rocky even without things being rigged. To be sure, it would still be rough and tumble. And that was fine with him. The thought of slugging it out with Rocky roused his blood lust. The moment was at hand. The time had arrived to do battle with the heavyweight champion of the world, and to give him a taste of Irish justice.
Sean and the rest of the team were met at the restricted area’s exit by eight security guards. They formed a circle around the fight team and escorted them to ringside. It was a sellout crowd in the Garden and, although not the favorite, Sean received lots of encouragement as they made their way down the aisle.
Once inside the ring, Sean did some dancing and shadow boxing, showing off his new robe. When Rufus removed it the crowd’s excitement audibly increased. The musculature of Sean’s left side was truly massive and spectacular … not unlike the bull he’d dropped back in Ireland.
Sean stole candid glances out over the sea of faces. There were several show business personalities at ringside, and he also recognized the mayor of New York. Tony Skopelli and Vito Carbino were there too. Carbino was seated within eyesight of Tony, but on an adjoining side of the ring.
Several men at ringside were smoking cigars, and Sean couldn’t help coughing every minute or so. He knew from the roar of the crowd when Rocky entered the auditorium. The uproar continued when Rocky climbed into the ring and danced with his gloves above his head. Vic was putting on a good show of giving last minute instructions to Rocky. When one of his seconds removed Rocky’s robe, the crowd cheered even more loudly. Rocky did some shadow boxing, smiling at the crowd, and there was no question that he too was in terrific shape.
Sean and Rocky were introduced to the audience, and Sean got more applause than he’d anticipated. The ref gave the two fighters the usual lecture at center ring and the fight was on. Rocky and Sean put on a good show. Sean swung his left several times, but was careful to miss or only graze Rocky. Rocky danced and boxed confidently, as befit a world heavyweight champion.
Manny had suggested that Sean knock Rocky down with body shots in rounds 4 and 7. When the bell for round 4 sounded, Sean came out boxing and a minute into the round he landed Rocky a crushing blow on his right shoulder. It sent Rocky careening into the ropes and he lost his footing. Sean retreated to a neutral corner while Rocky took the standing eight count. The crowd went ballistic. This was what they’d been hearing about for more than a year and had come to see.
Rocky came out of the eight count smiling ever so slightly at Sean. His face seemed to acknowledge Sean’s awesome power and Sean actually began to like him. Rounds 5 and 6 came and went, and in round 7 Sean gave Rocky another sledgehammer blow on the shoulder. This time Rocky went down, tumbling across the mat. He felt like he’d been blindsided by a loaded eighteen wheeler. Sean played to the crowd, standing menacingly over Rocky for a few seconds before retreating to a neutral corner.
By now it seemed clear to Sean that everything was going as planned. He relaxed his defense imperceptibly and let Rocky land some shots to his head. It looked good to the audience, but he could tell that Rocky was holding back.
At the bell for round 9 the two fighters came out and mixed it up. Rocky backed Sean into a corner and Sean feigned going for some body shots, giving Rocky an opening to his head. And then … the unexpected … out of the blue. Rocky unloaded a vicious left hook at Sean’s jaw. Had Sean not coughed and bent forward at just that instant, the punch would have found its target and Rocky would have finished him off before his head cleared. But, thanks to Sean’s sudden lurch forward, the punch caught him on the right ear.
Between the sheer force of the blow and the inordinate weight in the left half of his torso, Sean was sent spinning over the ring’s top rope. He hooked the rope with his left arm as he cartwheeled over the top, and ended up sitting on the ring apron. Rocky sprang on him, trying to punch his head through the ropes. The ref grabbed Rocky and pushed his own body between Rocky and Sean. He was in on the fix, and was as confused as everyone except for Rocky and Carbino.
Manny and Louis were immediately in front of Sean, looking up at him from ringside.
"You OK?" Manny asked him, staring anxiously up into his eyes. Sean’s right ear was ringing, but other than that he felt all right.
"Double crossin’ scum," Louis hissed, looking malevolently at Rocky. Rocky, ordered to a neutral corner, was crossing the ring, shaking his head up and down in angry paroxysms and audibly cursing.
Manny glanced at Tony Skopelli. He couldn’t see Vito Carbino from where he stood. Ordinarily Skopelli would have been on his feet in a state of rage. But in this case he was evidently looking over at Carbino in confusion.
"Is Louis right?" Sean asked. "Are they double crossin’ us?"
Lacking feedback from Skopelli, Manny didn’t know what to answer.
"Can you go on?" he muttered, looking back at Sean.
"Aye, I can and will," Sean growled.
"Get back in there then," Manny said. The ref had already counted to 3.
"Kill the rat, Fiddler. Take him down," Louis whispered hoarsely to Sean as Manny returned to his seat. Sean nodded and grinned.
"Aye, I will that," he promised, climbing back through the ropes.
The noise from the crowd was deafening. Rocky’s initial rage at having missed his window of opportunity had passed, and his eyes had taken on a hunted look. When the ref waved them together, Rocky rushed Sean and clinched him.
Even now Sean was inclined to give Rocky the benefit of the doubt, and was going to ask him what he was doing. But before he could speak, Rocky snarled into his ear.
"’Bye ‘Bye you Irish turd." And with that, Rocky gave Sean a vicious head butt. Sean felt like his forehead had been caved in. Head buzzing, he instinctively hooked his left arm around Rocky’s right elbow and lunged upward, thinking to push Rocky’s right arm up and away so that he’d have a clear, steer-killing shot. But Rocky’s right glove and wrist were under Sean’s armpit. So prodigious was Sean’s strength that he lifted Rocky entirely off the canvas a good three feet. And then there was a loud snap and Rocky’s body came back down, his right arm broken completely backward at the elbow and still draped grotesquely over Sean’s massive forearm.
Sean was aghast and disengaged his own arm with a mixture of terror and disgust. Rocky lifted his right upper arm in disbelief, staring at the dangling forearm. The crowd hushed. The pain was more than Rocky could endure. He staggered backward a few steps and fainted.
The fight doctor rushed into the ring, beckoning frantically for a stretcher. The ref, as stunned as the crowd, wasn’t sure what to do. Louis was the first of Sean’s team to enter the ring. He pulled Sean to their corner.
"His boxin’ days are over," Louis crowed. Rufus was next through the ropes, but he said nothing. Manny climbed up onto the apron, but was intently looking at Skopelli. Tony, in turn, was staring bug-eyed at Vito Carbino, who was returning his stare with the eyes of a snake. Skopelli’s face and raised hands seemed to be telling Carbino that he didn’t have a clue what was going on. And the truth was that he didn’t.
Manny looked over at Carbino in time to see four well dressed but bad looking thugs bent over him. Carbino looked up into the ring at Sean and made a kissing motion with his hand. The four thugs nodded and moved away. Manny could literally see the big handguns bulging under their suit jackets. He glanced back at Skopelli and Skopelli motioned with his head for him to come down by him. The look on his face seemed to be saying ‘Get away from him!’
With knees turning to rubber, Manny knew that Sean had been marked for death. He reached over the ropes and grabbed Sean’s hair in both hands. Pulling Sean’s head close to his own, he whispered into Sean’s ear.
"Run, man. Get away from here. Get out of America if you can. I can’t protect you. Even Tony can’t protect you. I’m sorry. Good luck."
Manny jumped down to the floor and motioned for the security guards to get into position. He gestured to Rufus, and then moved away toward Skopelli.
"Come on, Irish, let’s get out o’ here," Rufus said, holding the ropes open for Sean. Louis followed Sean through the ropes. Once down on the arena floor, Sean, Rufus and Louis were surrounded by security. They began the trek out of the arena. Midway to the restricted area doors Sean saw Louis push through the ring of guards and run toward a public exit.
"Pay him no mind," Rufus said. "He just be gettin’ in our way."
The security guards delivered Sean and Rufus to the restricted area entry, but that’s as far as they went.
"Here we are, champ," the squad leader said, unlocking the door. It seemed like he wanted to say more, but given the bizarre turn of events he appeared to be at a loss for words.
Rufus and Sean entered the restricted area and waited for the door to click shut behind them. It was eerily quiet in the hallways, and Rufus put his finger to his lips signaling that they should keep it that way. Midway down the hall he took out his keys and opened a door to the basement. He clearly knew where he was going and Sean followed quietly.
They entered a room where dozens of paint buckets and other painting paraphernalia were lined up along the walls. Rufus grabbed an extension ladder and motioned for Sean to hold the door open for him. They walked down the hall, around a corner, and Rufus motioned for Sean to open another door.
The door opened into a cavernous room with a 6-foot pit at its center. Around the pit was a concrete walkway. A couple of stairwells led down into the pit where there were large boilers. At first Sean thought that they were going to hide behind the boilers. But Rufus set the ladder on a walkway, 16 or 18 feet below a large, 3-foot square grate.
"It be hinged on de top," Rufus whispered. "I hid money up in dere once. Climb up. I be back in a few hours to get you out o’ here."
"You think I’m in danger?" Sean whispered. Rufus looked at him with compassionate eyes.
"Irish, if Carbino’s boys catch up wid you, you in danger all right. You a dead man!"
Sean nodded and climbed the ladder. He lifted the grate and could see about ten feet into a large, square duct. Once inside, he scooted around and looked down at Rufus.
"Stay put," Rufus whispered. "I be back later."
He carted the ladder back out the door, and Sean settled down behind the grate with a view of most of the boiler room. He was still in his fight togs, but it was pleasantly warm in the duct.
Sean was mentally, if not physically exhausted. But, unlike when he’d broken Smythe’s ribs in Dublin, he felt no compassion for Rocky. He still wasn’t sure that Rocky hadn’t fractured his skull with the vicious head butt, and wondered if Rocky’s head was in similar shape.
With a sigh he laid his chin on his forearm, trying not to doze off. At 11:45 he was jolted awake from a dream. The door to the boiler room had opened and he could hear voices. Chazz came in with two swarthy men. Each man held a big, 9mm automatic pistol in his hand. They scanned the boiler room.
"What’s down there?" one of them asked Chazz.
"Gas-fired boilers," Chazz answered nervously.
"Watch the stairs," the man told the other, descending into the boiler pit with gun at the ready. A minute later he emerged from between two of the boilers, shaking his head.
"Nothin’," he grunted.
"What’s that?" the other man asked Chazz, pointing up at the ventilation shaft with the barrel of his gun. Sean’s heart pounded in his chest. Both men were looking right at him! Yet they didn’t seem to make him out behind the grate.
"Ventilation, I guess," Chazz said. "It gets hot in here."
"Whadda yuh think?" the man asked the other. They both considered the height of the grate above the walkway.
"Nah," the other man answered. "Let’s keep movin’."
The men motioned to Chazz, and they all filed back out of the room. Sean was drenched in sweat, and didn’t have any trouble staying awake after that.
At 2 AM the door opened and Sean could hear an aluminum extension ladder rattling. Rufus came into view.
"Irish?" he whispered.
"Aye, I’m still here," Sean whispered back, pushing the grate outward on its hinges.
"I got clothes for you in de paint room," Rufus said while Sean climbed down. They returned the ladder to the paint room and Sean changed into the clothes Rufus had brought. They made their way out to the freight receiving room that Sean had been in once before. Rufus pulled a stack of cardboard boxes aside.
"Hide in here ‘til I sees if de coast be clear," he whispered. Sean edged into the opening and Rufus slid the stack of boxes back, hiding him from view.
Sean heard the elevator go up and then come back down.
"Come on," Rufus whispered. "Nobody in sight."
Up in the alleyway Rufus motioned toward a beat up Pontiac.
"Seth’s car," he whispered. "I got no license, but I drives pretty good. You hide on de back floor."
"Where are we going?" Sean asked as Rufus started the engine.
"Seth’s," Rufus whispered back. "My place prob’ly bein’ watched."
"No way," Sean answered. "It’s too dangerous for Seth and his family."
Rufus seemed to be at an impasse. He appreciated Sean’s concern.
"What you suggest?" Rufus whispered. "You wants to chance my place?"
"No, you’re probably right. Chances are it’s bein’ watched. I think I should get down to the waterfront … maybe hide there or stow away on a ship."
Rufus couldn’t think of anything better, and he eased out of the alleyway. Less than twenty minutes later the Pontiac was slowly cruising along the wharves, with Sean peeking out of a back seat window.
"Here! Stop here!" he whispered as they approached what appeared to be a blue-water fishing boat. Rufus could make out the boat’s name in the dim light.
"What be its name?" he whispered. "Can you make dat out?"
"Aye. She’s the Gypsy Queen," Sean answered. "I think I can shinny up her moorin’ rope."
Sean climbed out of the car and bent over at the driver’s open window.
"Thanks, Rufus. If I make it, I’ll get word to you somehow."
"Good luck, Irish," Rufus whispered, extending his hand out of the window. Sean thought about slapping it, but then took it in his own and squeezed warmly.
"I owe you me life, Rufus," he whispered.
"You don’t owe me squat," Rufus grinned. "We be brothers!"
"Don’t count me out," Sean grinned back. "Never underestimate the luck o’ the Irish."
And then, with a little wave, Sean crept to one of the big boat’s mooring lines. He swung down under it, hooking his left leg over it, and began shinnying up effortlessly.
"Dat boy can climb like a monkey," Rufus thought.
Once over the rail, Sean disappeared from view. But a minute later Rufus could see one of the covered lifeboats rocking slightly from its supports.
With a sigh Rufus put the car in ‘Drive’ and pulled quietly away.
"Lord, I never ask you for much," Rufus prayed silently. "But I’s askin’ you now to keep a eye on de Fiddler."
Sean curled up on the lifeboat’s floor. Despite himself he began to doze off again. Just before daybreak he was jolted awake by the sound of men coming aboard. He guessed that they were conversing in Italian. Within half an hour he heard the rumble of the big boat’s engines and sensed that they were getting underway. An hour later he could smell the open sea and feel the boat rise and fall as it plowed out into the Atlantic.
He decided to stay put for as long as he could. Perhaps the boat’s crew would fish for a day and return to New York. Or perhaps they’d put in at another port. All he knew for certain was that he was still alive and, for the time being, out of reach of Carbino’s soldiers.
The ship remained underway all that day and the following night. At about 2:30 AM Sean crept out from beneath the lifeboat’s canvas cover. The deck was deserted. He could see lights on up in the bridge. A radar dish on top of the bridge whirled ‘round and ‘round, scanning the open sea.
Up in the bow was a mast with a running light at its top. Sean crept around in the darkness and eventually came upon a water tap with a cup hanging next to it. He drank greedily. He was hungry, but decided not to risk going below decks.
He repeated the same routine the next night. Still the ship kept plowing along, he had no idea where to. By the afternoon of the third day he was frantic with hunger and decided he’d have to reveal himself. At about 4 PM he lifted the lifeboat’s tarp and climbed out. A deck hand looked at him with startled eyes. He began to shout in Italian. Other deck hands materialized. They were all shouting wildly, and one of them ran up to the bridge.
Seconds later the captain rushed out and stared at Sean in disbelief.
"D’ yuh speak English?" Sean called up to him, putting on his least threatening face. The captain nodded and Sean continued.
"I came aboard your vessel in New York. I’m very hungry and would be glad to work for a bit o’ food."
The captain shouted something to the deck hands and two of them stepped forward, taking hold of Sean’s arms. They seemed friendly enough and Sean didn’t struggle.
Now the reality was that Sean could not have picked a worse ship to stow away on. It was registered to a phony front company owned by Vito Carbino and two other New York capos. It wasn’t a fishing boat at all; it was used to smuggle contraband. On the present voyage it was carrying a load of weapons across the Atlantic to the IRA in Ireland.
The captain recognized Sean at once and placed a ship-to-shore call to Carbino’s New York offices. One of Carbino’s top lieutenants answered the phone.
"Guess who’s stowed away on the Gypsy Queen," the captain said in Italian.
"Who, the pope?" the lieutenant wisecracked.
"No. Fiddler Crabbe."
There was a stunned silence on the other end of the line.
"Are you sure?" the lieutenant asked.
"On my mother," the captain said. "I’m looking at him this very minute."
"Hold on," the lieutenant exclaimed. Moments later Vito Carbino came on the line.
"Did you know we’re looking for him?" Vito asked in Italian.
"No. But that makes sense. He’s obviously on the run."
"That’s right," Vito said. "There’s a bounty on him."
"Mama Mia," the captain exclaimed. "What do you want me to do with him?"
"How far from land are you?" Vito asked.
"A hundred miles … maybe a little more … west of Ireland," the captain replied.
"And you’re out of the shipping lanes?"
"Oh yeah. Like always. We haven’t seen another ship since leaving New York. You want he should go overboard?"
"I want him dead," Vito answered. "I don’t care how. There’s five hundred for every member of your crew, and five thousand for you."
"Consider it done," the captain promised, signing off.
The skipper came back out on the bridge and again shouted something to the deck hands. They looked at one another, shrugged, and advanced toward Sean. Three of them took hold of Sean’s left arm, and another three took hold of his right. They walked him toward the rail. When they tried to lift Sean over it, he suddenly realized what was happening. With a lunge he easily lifted the three deck hands hanging on to his left arm, tossing them against the three holding on to his right. Four of them fell to the deck. The others drew knives and advanced toward him.
With a leap Sean vaulted over a large container on the deck and scrambled up the mast in the bow. There was a small lookout platform near the mast’s top and he perched there, hanging onto the mast with one arm. No one seemed inclined to go up after him.
The captain stared at Sean, went back into the bridge and re-emerged holding a rifle. He worked the bolt action and took aim. Sean heard a rifle slug sizzle by his ear an instant before hearing the rifle’s report. The captain cursed, worked the bolt action, and took aim again.
Sean gave a mighty leap to the side of the ship. He flew through the air with arms and legs flailing. Clearing the ship’s gunwale by a yard, he slammed into the ocean and was pulled under by the turbulence of the ship’s propellers. He could see the blurred shape of the hull and the churning screws slide by. Fiercely he clawed his way up and broke the surface with a gasp. He reeled around in the water and watched the ship pull away. The captain fired again, and a slug zinged into the sea two feet from Sean’s head.
"Shall we go back and finish him?" the first mate asked.
"No, we’re a good hundred miles from land and these waters are shark-infested," the captain decided. "He’s a dead man."
With panic-stricken eyes Sean watched the boat’s stern recede. He reeled around in the water, scanning the horizon. There was nothing but blue sea in every direction. The only visible object was the ship, already growing smaller.
Sean got control of his emotions and checked the sun’s position. The boat was clearly headed eastward. How far from landfall could he be? Could he make it? Would he find something to keep him afloat?
He took a deep breath and went under, taking off his fight boots and socks. The afternoon sun’s rays penetrated obliquely into the depths, with no bottom in view. His mind played tricks on him and he imagined seeing great dark forms moving below him.
With a cry he broke the surface again, gasping for air. He wriggled out of the trousers and shirt Rufus had given him. Naked except for his jock, he began to sidestroke after the ship, already nearly gone from view.
He marked the sun’s position again. Would he be able to maintain his bearings long enough to get a fix on the stars when they came out? It was his only hope. He had no knowledge of where in the sky the constellations were. And besides, he knew that they rotated around the pole star in the course of a night.
How long could he swim? He was as strong as he’d ever been. Yet he knew he was weak from hunger. He swam and swam, trying not to swallow seawater. It was rough going. The waves were eight to ten feet high. One moment he’d be struggling along in a trough, and the next he’d be riding a crest. Every time he crested he looked at the horizon in front of him. Suddenly he realized that the boat had entirely disappeared from view. He was alone, far out in the Atlantic. The waves seemed to be coming at him from the east. Was he actually losing ground, being pushed back toward the west?
He remembered his last words to Rufus: ‘Don’t count me out.’ With tears squeezing out of his eyes, mourning the imminent end of his life, he resolved to keep swimming until he sank.