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Float Like a Bee, Sting Like a Butterfly--A Brand Adventure

 

Brand wasn’t a betting man by nature, but he found himself sorely tempted by the upcoming heavyweight prize fight. Atticus Chalk was a brash young upstart battling it out with the incumbent champion, Julius ‘Honey’ Childs.

Even Brand couldn’t escape the hype over this one, it was everywhere!  The backstory was that they’d shared a trainer and a gym when they were both up and comers and sparred often, spurring each other to new heights of pugilistic frenzy. At one point the sparring got heated and soon the fighters were wailing away at each other with blood in their eyes.  Formerly, well, not friends exactly, but a certain respect was lost that day, as each blamed the other for the escalation in hostility. Honey Childs had beaten every challenger so far to retain his title, but hadn’t fought Chalk since the fateful spar.

So it promised to be a battle where the blood really flew. Brand made up his mind--he’d put two dollars down on the champ. But how to do it?  Gambling was illegal in Brand’s state, and he had no idea where to look for a bookie. Hmm. Clearly the thing to do was to get a ticket to the fight first.  Maybe at the arena he could find someone who would back the challenger.  At the four-to-one odds favoring the incumbent, Brand would win fifty cents!

So down he went to the Municipal Sports Arena box office, where, somewhat to his surprise, there were still tickets on sale.  One would certainly expect such a well-publicized heavyweight bout to be a sellout, wouldn’t one?  Well, no point looking a gift boxer in the glove, or something.

As the boring preliminary bouts dragged on, Brand wandered around the smoky, foul-smelling arena.  Feeling hungry, he stopped at a concession and bought a large bag of popcorn for a dime.

Hmpf!, he thought.  It was a nickel last time.  When was that?  Let’s see, he had last been at the fights for the Kid Viola/Battling Kern bout, which was in...he couldn’t remember.  Quite a while ago!  Was that the night the house lights went out, only to come on again to illuminate the crowd brawling among itself?  Brand thought so.  He meandered back to his seat, absently inhaling his hot buttered popcorn. So good!  Why did snack treats always taste so much better at a ball game or around a campfire?  

Suddenly Brand saw someone he knew hanging around the water fountain. Steamboat Durkin was a sharp-dressed guy, resplendent in a zoot suit, watch chain, and wide-brimmed hat. He was an operator from way back, and Brand remembered him from the unfortunate eggplant incident of 1996.  Durkin saw him approaching and turned away.  Brand, still keen to get his two dollars down, sidled up to him and whispered, ‘Hey, Steamboat, can I get a wager down on the champ?’  Steamboat whispered back, ‘Sure, kid, but bet on Chalk, he’s going to win!’

Now this was interesting.  Was the outcome of the fight pre-determined?  Who ever heard of such a thing in boxing?

Still, Brand wanted to stick with Childs and when he indicated this to the other man, Steamboat rolled his eyes and said, ‘Hey, it’s your money.’  When Brand held out two one-dollar bills to the zoot-suited bookie, the latter’s looked at the money in disbelief. ‘What do you think, I got some penny-ante thing going?  Get out of here!’ and walked away quickly.  Standing there still holding two dollars, Brand felt pretty ridiculous but just then another man came up to him and said, ‘Hey, bud, want to bet?’  

‘Sure, here you go.’

‘Not here. Walk with me.’

And so the two ‘gentlemen’ walked along the concourse as the dreary preliminary bouts were still going. Presently the other man spoke.

‘Name’s Cheese. Want to bet on the champ?’

‘Yes, please.’ (What kind of a name is Cheese?)

‘It’s your dough.  You know the fight is rigged, right?’

‘I heard that. What’s the deal, anyway?’

‘See, when these two were supposed to have had their little tiff, that was all for the press. They are still good friends and they’ve cooked up a scheme to put down all the money they can find on Chalk, clean up since the odds are on Childs, and then split the money so Childs can retire.’

‘But won’t he get a lot of money for the fight, even if he loses?  And why does he want to retire?’

‘He’s tired of defending his title and wants to enjoy life now while he’s still in pretty good shape.  Now, Chalk, he wants to be the champ and take his turn in the spotlight. And who ever has enough money?’

‘I sure don’t!  How do you know all this?’

‘Cause they’ve been training together at my cousin’s gym.  That’s how I know they’re still friends and that this feud stuff is the bunk.’

‘Oh.’ Brand pondered this.  If he bet on Chalk, instead of only fifty cents, he could win eight dollars!  No, his gut told him that professional pride wouldn’t allow Childs to take a dive.  Once the adrenalin started flowing, instinct and training would take over and the champeen would do his best. ‘Thanks, but I’ll stick with two rocks on the champ.’

‘Suit yourself, I’ll be at the hot dog stand over there at the end.’ And Circe took the two dollars off of Brand and did stand at the stand.

Ah! Now the main event was starting! Brand settled in his seat, all ready for his evening’s entertainment.  But as the bell rang for the first round, the two patrons on either side of Brand started shouting at the fighters, and then at each other. It seemed that one man was for Childs, and one for Chalk.  Then:

‘You bum!  I know this fight is fixed!’

‘Ha! You couldn’t fix a light bulb!’

‘Oh yeah? I could too!’

This scintillating dialogue was met with hisses and glares from the surrounding crowd, and presently the men calmed down and watched the bout.  Soon Brand and the crowd were absorbed in the fighting.  If the two were boxing according to some script, they were terrific actors; it looked for all the world like they were deadly serious. Brand stared intently at the ring.  Who would win?  Was there anything to Cheese’s story?  What of the people who innocently thought the fight was on the up-and-up?  Well, that was their lookout. As the fifteenth and last round began, Brand could pick no clear winner.  Both fighters looked exhausted, but both dragged themselves out for the conclusion.  Suddenly Brand remembered his bag of popcorn, which lay forgotten at his feet. Still more than half full!  He picked it up, hungry again, and started absently munching while still focused on the ring.

While Brand was staring at Childs and trying to decide if that really was Mickey Mouse on his trunks, he noticed that one of the patrons seated next to him had stopped shouting at the man on the other side and had started dipping into Brand’s bag of popcorn.

‘Hey, go get your own, ya moocher!’ exclaimed Brand.  In response, the other man snatched the bag and upended it into his own mouth.

Brand jumped up and shouted, loud as a sonic boom, ‘GIVE ME BACK MY POPCORN, YOU BUM!’ as he snatched it away and just like that the arena was silent.  Chalk and Childs both looked away from the punches they were delivering and gaped at Brand. They struck each other simultaneously and both fell to the canvas, unconscious. The referee had no choice but to pull down the microphone from its cord dangling from the ceiling and yell, ‘This fight is a draw!’ and then run.

A tie!  No one wins, no one loses, and no one is paid off!

 

The crowd slowly filed out of the arena, utterly silent.  As Brand and his seatmate made their way to the exits, the other man helped himself to another handful of popcorn, winked at Brand, and said,  That’s what I like about the fight racket--it’s so predictable!’

 

Brand shouted after him, ‘You owe me a dime!’

 

One month later, the papers reported that Julius ‘Honey’ Childs and Atticus Chalk had retired from prizefighting and together opened a gourmet popcorn shop. Business was said to be brisk.

 


Step into the ring with this knockout punch:

Anomalous by Samuel Williams


America's first African American heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Johnson, has a chance encounter with Alamont, a mysterious Irishman, in August 1912. When he finds himself in danger, he calls on his Mafia cronies, including a teenaged Al Capone.

http://www.mysteriousbookshop.com/products/williams-samuel-jr-anomalous

 

Questions/Comments/Neutral Corners? mike@mysteriousbookshop.com

Written by Ian Kern — March 02, 2017