The story of a fight that was lost before it was won. Be sure to put your money on the girl.
AS he got out of his limousine, Big Bill pulled a mahogany-colored leather cigar case from the inside pocket of his dinner jacket and lighted an excellent perfecto, for when he went to a fight at Madison Square Garden he always kept some of the fragrance of good living between him and the crowd. On the sidewalk, in the crowd, he waited a moment, straightening his dinner jacket around the carefully fitted whiteness of his front while he saw and was seen.
He spoke to a police officer. "Hello, McNally. What you got for tonight?"
"I like Slam Finnegan, sir," said the officer. "Whatta you think yourself?"
Big Bill looked at him and smiled. Then he winked. In this manner he conveyed to McNally, delicately, his acceptance of the officer as one of the inside circle who "know," but he dropped not a morsel of information in the way of the hungry policeman.
Big Bill looked upon himself as a sort of expensive bomb which, if his news were exploded, would reduce the entire Garden to a rioting shambles. The greatness of his knowledge increased his dignity from the bulges of his neck to the gleam of his shoes and bestowed upon him an inner strength somewhat akin to the virtue of the good and the great, for among all the thousands there was not one who knew that he had wagered fifty thousand dollars on "Little David" La Rue, that black magician with the gloves; only two others in the entire world knew that ten thousand more of his dollars had been spent to make his profit certain. The truth was that he had bought young Slam Finnegan; in about the eighth or the ninth round the Irishman would "take a dive."
ROSENBLOOM appeared, suspended sidewise in the crowd like a fish in water as he undulated rapidly towards Big Bill. He held up his hat as a signal flag above his bald head, which shone no more brightly than his smile, for Sammy Rosenbloom was never too proud to show his joy when he saw his chief. In spite of his hairless head, which gave his opinion unusual weight with many people, Sammy was only thirty but already he knew his way around New York so well that Big Bill often forgot to be amused and was amazed outright by the precocity of the boy. He pushed his way through to Bill.
"Where you get 'em, Sammy?"
"Third row," said Sammy, swiveling his head about, "where the blood won't splash on your shirt-front, Bill."
After seven years of almost Biblical service, Big Bill had permitted this faithful man Friday to use the shortened name which was familiar on the lips of the wise. As for the row in which he sat, Big Bill only wished it to be close enough for his features to be seen when a flashlight was taken in his direction. God had given him such a nose and chin and he had improved on nature by adding such a pair of jowls that in a group photograph he looked like two-in-one.
They passed the ticket kiosk, entered one of the roped alleys leading towards the entrance door. Sammy began to walk sidewise with his usual skill, giving all his attention to the chief.
"How are things?" asked Bill.
"Two and a half to one," said Sammy.
"They think Slam is going to take him, eh?" asked Big Bill. "What you think, Sammy?"
"I think Slam has got the old sleep-syringe in both hands," answered Sammy, "but I don't think he knows as much as the chief."
He winked and laughed.
"What d'you know?" asked Bill.
"Not enough to answer questions," said Sammy. "There's the big guy! There's Harrigan!"
He got his hat off and began to wave it above his spotlight of a head. If attention were attracted his way, his master could benefit by it if he chose. In the meantime a group of men advanced three aisles away towards the entrance, a policeman going ahead to smooth the way of the great Jimmy Harrigan, the chief of chiefs, the boss of bosses. He was a little man with a face putty-white and the eyes thumbed into it with soot. Smiling was not enough. He never stopped laughing.
This group passed into the building ahead of Big Bill in spite of Sammy's fishlike efforts to advance. Bill panted out a cloud of smoke. His fat lips, which glistened almost like a chorus girl's, were saying: "See us? Did he see us? Did he walk us down or didn't he see us?"
The sweat of Big Bill ran cold upon his flesh. The answer of Sammy Rosenbloom was sweeter than milk and honey: "Didn't you see? That was Ike Fishbein alongside of him."
"What does that mean?"
"Fishbein is gunna find out in a day or two. They're gunna open him up and clean him. That's why Harrigan can't see anything now. He's too busy getting the can opener ready to use on that boneless sardine!"
Big Bill filled his lungs and sighed forth the smoke and the relief.
"You sure the chief didn't see me? You sure he didn't pass me up?" he queried again.
"Sure he didn't see you, I watched every eye in that mob. They were all full of Fishbein."
"Ike has always been right up there," said Big Bill.
"We don't know him any more," answered Sammy. "Account of that funny job he done in Jersey. He thought account of it was Jersey he could eat all that honey; and now they're gunna clean him."
They entered a Garden which already seemed full although the several thousand who were jamming towards the gates still had to be poured into the interstices. Big Bill drew towards the ringside as into a family circle. Everyone was there. Levi Isaacs turned with a wave and a laugh. Pudge Murphy loosed a shout of recognition. Old Harry Blatts had a seat just down the row.
"Everyone knows you, Chief," said Sammy. "And the ones that don't know are asking. You look like something."
THE lights went out through the arena, leaving only the many cones of brilliance above the ring. Beneath that luminous fountain the faces of the crowd weltered away into the outer dimness while Bill still recognized important names here and there. He knew them all; they all knew him; everything was all right. He felt at last a human sympathy, a warm pity for the Police Commissioner off at the left. What was it that the poor devil made in a year? And yet how useful the fellow could be! In the mystery of the metropolis nothing impressed Bill more than the men of small salary in key positions. Their industry was incomprehensible, like that of the bees and the ants.
A hand was laid from behind on the shoulder of Bill. The voice of Snipe Dickinson said at his ear: "Which one of these you like, Bill?"
"Why should I like one of 'em?" asked Bill.
"I've got a spare hundred at seven to five on McGuire," said Snipe.
Big Bill, with the easy indulgence of the great for the small, gave some of his attention to the pair of featherweights who were struggling in the ring.
"They all got the forward stance, these days," said Big Bill to Sammy. "Which is McGuire?"
"The one in the red trunks," said Sammy. "He's a baby, ain't he? Look at that left! Look at that baby go! Oh, socko! He's got Choochoo Lavine as red as Santa Claus."
The face of Lavine dripped blood but his eye was clear; he was waiting through the storm.
"La vine's holding something out," said Big Bill. He added over his shoulder: "Snipe, make it two hundred at ten to five."
"Why should I?" asked the Snipe.
"And why should I give you something for nothing?" asked Bill.
"All right, you robber," said Snipe Dickinson. "It's two hundred against one hundred, and you've got Lavine, you sucker... Hai, McGuire! The old one-two, kid!"
THE round ended. McGuire danced back to his corner. Lavine remained for a moment in the center of the ring, looking thoughtfully after his opponent. The crowd laughed.
"Get an adding machine, Lavine!" yelled a wit.
"Lavine is gunna take him," said Bill to Sammy.
The girl in front of him turned. She had black hair and blue eyes and a neat, saucy face. Bill winked and beckoned but she became aware of him only to drift her eyes critically up and down his swollen body before she turned away again.
"Listen, Sammy," said Bill. "Let that kid know who I am, after this bout."
"Is this gunna be a pickup?" asked Sammy.
"We'll see, Sammy."
The next round was already underway. McGuire kept shooting his one-two. But Lavine kept on waiting. The round almost had ended before he slipped a straight right and came in with a body blow. McGuire clinched and held on.
"He's gunna kill McGuire," said Bill.
One round later the thoughtful Lavine feinted for the body, the hands of McGuire dropped to the hurt section, and through an opening a yard wide Lavine drove the finishing punch to the chin.
"I'll take it in tens and fives," said Big Bill to the Snipe. "I need some small change."
He went over to see Gipsy Connor.
"Whatta you want?" asked the Gip.
"Money, Gip," said Bill. "I want your money. How are you laying the main go now?"
"A dollar on the nigger gets two from me," said Connor.
"It's three to one all over the house," said Big Bill.
"To hell with the house," said Connor.
"The nigger hasn't got a chance," said Big Bill. "Five to one would be more like it."
"If he hasn't got a chance, why would you wanta lay money on him?" asked Connor.
"Sympathy with a downtrodden race," answered Big Bill. "Make it two and a half and I'll talk to you."
"I don't like your lingo," said Connor. "I never did."
"Two and a half, Gip?"
"Five, let's say."
"Why should we be pikers?"
"It's ten to five," said Gip.
"You'd rob your grandmother of her glass eye," remarked Big Bill. "But I'd rather have ten of yours than a hundred of somebody regular."
HE went back to his seat where Sammy greeted him with a wink and a nod. Big Bill laughed. He leaned forward and said over the girl's shoulder: "Why should I remember you so well?"
She moved to face him. At the base of her young throat a gardenia was pinned. It had three big, green, lustrous leaves.
"Why should I remember you so well?" repeated Bill.
"How could you ever forget?" asked the girl.
He laughed again. He felt warm, at ease.
"You really own that nice horse, Dinner Gong?" she asked.
"Why not?" asked Bill.
"I don't see any resemblance," said the girl.
He had to laugh again.
"That's not bad," he said. "That's pretty good. Was Dinner Gong ever right for you?"
"He made my day at Aqueduct," she answered.
"That was when he gave ten pounds to Topsy Turvy," remarked Big Bill. "Was he carrying much for you?"
"He carried a pair of shoes and turned 'em into a fur coat," said the girl.
"Remembering you so well, why shouldn't I remember your name?" he asked.
"Some people call me Jap. Are you one of them?" she said.
"Japs cheat but they don't have blue eyes," replied Big Bill.
The gong rang. She turned from him slowly, leaving her smile behind her, as it were.
"Okay?" asked Sammy.
"Sure. What you think?" replied Bill.
"I dunno how you do it," said Sammy. "Whatta you say to them?"
"It ain't what you say. It's the way you say it," said Big Bill. "Having good intentions is what counts."
"How good are your intentions?" asked Sammy.
"Why d'you keep on talking when you got nothing to say?" said Bill.
A pair of lightweights struggled through eight dull rounds. Battling Miller had youth; old Jim Cross had a head on his shoulders and a long left that won for him and Big Bill; Snipe Dickinson counted another two hundred into the hand of the lucky man.
"It's gunna be your night, Chief," said Sammy.
WELTERWEIGHTS were next. Big Bill bet a thousand on the red head of Dick Roach, and young Dick plastered Lester Grogan in the fifth round during a mix-up in his own corner.
"I'm going to take a walk but I'll be back," said Big Bill to Jap.
"Don't lose yourself, Big Boy," she said.
He found Gip Connor again.
"Rub the trouble out of your eyes, Gip," said Big Bill.
Connor looked at him without answering.
"Another five grand the same way," said Big Bill.
"That's it, is it?" asked Connor.
"I might have known," mused Connor.
Big Bill bit into a fresh cigar.
"What you say, Gip?" he asked.
"I say you're a dirty dog," answered Connor.
"What!" cried Big Bill.
A horribly familiar sickness of heart overwhelmed him; his knees loosened; he remembered out of the great distance a March day, a windy corner, and a young lad screeching insults at him while a crowd of their schoolmates waited for the fight to start. The fight had not started and therefore, from time to time, the giddy nausea returned upon Bill.
"Get out of my sight, you yella rat!" said Connor.
Big Bill got out of his sight. He still was trembling when he returned to his seat. By that time the principals for the main bout were in their corners, Pop Finnegan pushing the gloves home over the hands of his son. Pop had a featureless blear of a face with a mouth that slopped to one side or the other when he talked, but he had been tense and bright-eyed enough when Big Bill talked money to him and put the five thousand advance into his hands.
Now the red old bathrobe was worked off over the gloved hands; now young Slam Finnegan was on his feet with the robe loose on his shoulders as he tested the spring of the top rope and shuffled his feet in the resin. He picked out people he knew at the ringside with a wave and a smile.
THIS calmness before a fight in which Slam was to "take a dive" gradually restored a regular rhythm to the heart-heat of Big Bill. He could breathe again. In place of the cigar he had thrown away he lighted a new one and could enjoy the taste of the smoke. After all, the time had passed when he needed to fear physical violence, There are other forms of courage, of moral courage. He skipped from the word "moral'' and found refuge in the phrase "strength of spirit." Take a fellow like himself who was always one of the boys and who never let down anyone who was in the know... Besides, he would be a fool to take to heart anything that Gipsy Connor did or said. By this force of inward persuasion, like a sensible man, Big Bill put fear behind him and concentrated upon the present moment, the pleasant expectancy of the future.
"What are you doing about this?" asked Snipe Dickinson.
"Ah, nothing much," answered Big Bill.
"The nigger's been coming on," said Snipe. "You heard what he did to Jeff Millard out on the coast. Two rounds!... These people are all nuts, around here, betting two to one on Slam. Maybe he'll win, but he hasn't got a walkaway. This nigger is another Joe Louis, and he's better every time he starts. If he don't take on too much weight, he'll be the middleweight champ, one of these days!"
Everyone was standing now, near the ringside, getting the cramps out of legs before the final bout. Slam Finnegan waved suddenly straight towards Big Bill, who closed his eyes and almost groaned aloud. It was the last thing that Slam should have done—to recognize his money-man on this night of all nights. But the Irish are dumb, decided Big Bill. That's why they're useful, they're so dumb.
WHEN he opened his eyes again, Jap was waving and shouting at Finnegan.
"You like Slam?" asked Big Bill.
"Oh, he's a honey, isn't he?" she demanded, turning her bright face on him.
Big Bill considered her with a smile. He leaned over and took the gardenia on her breast between thumb and forefinger.
"I better take this before you get it all messed up, waving your arms around," he said.
She looked down at his hand, then up at his face. Something that might have been almost disgust vanished with her smile.
"All right, Big Boy, you take it," she said.
He pushed it into his buttonhole. People were calling: "Down! Down in front!"
"I'll be thinking of you, Jap," said Big Bill. "I'll be breathing you, beautiful."
She gave him her smile over her shoulder as she sat down, and while Big Bill settled into place Sammy was saying: "The way you do it, Chief!... That nigger looks good, don't he?"
"Did you watch the gal's face, just now?" asked Big Bill.
"Sure I watched it."
"You didn't get a flash, did you?"
"You got the flash, Chief."
"I mean, she had a kind of a look for a second. Maybe she's stringing me."
"Stringing you? That'd be a scream, wouldn't it?"
"Well, women are all kind of nuts," said Bill.
"The nigger looks like something, don't he?" asked Sammy.
THE two had met in the center of the ring to shake hands, receive the final instructions. Now they came out fighting, as different in style as in build and color. Slam Finnegan, hardly more than a lightweight about the hips and spindling legs, had his weight layered around the shoulders and drawn down over his capable arms. He stepped in a light, mincing dance. The Negro was carefully muscled in every part; he wore a gravely studious air as he glided in and out with his stance rather low as against the tiptoe alertness of the white boy.
They came to the danger line, shifted away from it, met again with a sudden darting of gloves. Finnegan shook his head, stepped back; the Negro wove in after him; the whole Garden yelled with delight, seeing that this was to be a fight and not a sparring match.
Sammy said: "What I tell you? Notice the way that coon let 'em slide off the back of his head? See that left he stuck into Finnegan's belly? That didn't do Slam any good!"
Slam Finnegan, backing away, pecked at a distance. The punches missed the bobbing head of "Little David" LaRue.
"He can hit when he's on his heels, is what Finnegan can do, can't he?" pleaded Sammy.
"You'll see," grunted Big Bill.
He turned his head and surveyed the crowd, particularly the working faces along the near-by benches. Their eyes were wide, glaring; some of the men worked their shoulders to help home punches; some made little automatic gestures as though they were blocking hard blows. No one in the great house sat immobile, at ease, except Big Bill, a deity raised above the pitiful human concerns of the millions. For he alone had knowledge of what the end must be.
He watched young Finnegan take the initiative suddenly, hammering home short blows to the body as he backed the Negro into a corner. The crowd yelled, the dry tinder of its enthusiasm for a favorite flaming up suddenly. For from exactly such an attack Finnegan knew how to shift a blow to the head and end a battle.
The round ended. Finnegan sat with his head down a little, his father handling him, sneering out words from the drooping corner of his mouth. Across the ring Little David had begun to laugh. Still laughing, he patted his body, looking up at his trainer. It was plain that the punches of Finnegan had not injured him.
"The nigger's tough," said Sammy Rosenbloom. "He sure can take it. Out on the Coast..."
"Ah. shut up for a minute," said Big Bill. He leaned forward. "What you think, honey?" he asked.
"Idon't know... Slam isn't right," said the girl. She turned her troubled face. "There's not so much of the old 'I be damned' about him. He studies around too much. What's he think he's doing? Reading a book?"
"No, counting money," chuckled Big Bill, settling back into his place.
THAT was, in fact, his explanation. For of course as Finnegan pulled his punches he was thinking of the ten thousand dollars. Not so much that, either, as the avoidance of certain dangers at the hands of the law. It was a practice of Mr. Bill's to investigate the past lives of prominent people in all lines of work. from time to time. It was true that the detective agencies often sent in big bills, but it was equally true that he managed to reap large profits now and then. Besides, the knowledge gave him that divine power over other men which he relished more than all else in the world.
In this instance what he had learned was so unimportant and so outlawed by time that it would have amounted to nothing, except that he had been able to reinforce his knowledge with a powerful bluff. That bluff had turned Pop Finnegan white with fear. He was crumbling under the attack when Big Bill turned to the sweet music of a cash offer. He felt, after the interview ended, that he might have bought out the Finnegans for five or six thousand. In that respect he had been careless, for having victory in sight he had named the figure upon which he already had planned.
It was the second or the third round. He cared not which. Finnegan, dancing through his usual maze, was caught by the gliding Negro with two blows that sent a smacking impact through the loud speaker.
Finnegan covered, stabbed feebly at the black whirlwind, retreated, felt the ropes against his back, and hit through an opening with all his might. The punch caught LaRue high on the chest. Even when he was stung, Slam dared not strike at a vital spot for fear of abrogating his agreement with a knockout punch!
Big Bill laughed a little. It always amused him, in fact, when he considered how money controls men in love and hate, in war and peace. He, for ten small thousands, was able to insure the winning of fifty. Of course it was not a matter of the ten thousand but the leverage he had given to that sum, so that it outweighed the fifty, in the minds of the Finnegans. It outweighed the chance at the championship for rising young Slam Finnegan; it outweighed his pride in three score honest battles. Ten thousand dollars was a quicksand that imprisoned his feet and left him helpless before the Negro.
The joy of command brimmed the very soul of Big Bill. His sense of power was no less great because it was secret.
Snipe Dickinson yelled out, somewhere along in the seventh round: "Yella! Yella! Finnegan's yella... See that dirty Irish Mick, Bill? He's yella as a dog! He won't fight!"
But Sammy Rosenbloom said a moment later: "He ain't yella. He's doing about his best, but the nigger's too good for him. The nigger's lefting him to death..."
IT was true. Whatever Finnegan might have done with an honest start, he seemed hopelessly out of it, now. The left hand of Little David was hitched to his head with a strong elastic and could not miss the mark. It kept the hair of Finnegan leaping up. Now the Negro began to throw the right. The blows glanced. They cut a gash over Finnegan's left eye; they swelled the entire left side of his face; now and then they plumped home deep in the body, shots to the wind that would have brought down a giant, eventually.
Well, the next round was the eighth and then, according to agreement, Finnegan could make his dive and be out of his misery. Only an Irishman, thought Big Bill, would have endured so patiently and made the fight seem so real. In his heart he registered a vow never to forget the Irish—never to forget to use them and to pay them liberally. He felt about the entire Irish nation as a great general feels about the stout fellows who go over the top for him.
The round ended with Little David dancing to his corner, sitting laughing on his stool, while Slam Finnegan stumbled back to his place on loose knees and with hanging head.
"Little David, play on your harp!'' shouted the ringside jester.
A few people laughed. Most of them turned sour faces, for Finnegan was a great favorite.
Sammy said: "When there ain't no jump to the spark, any more, what can they do? Look at Dempsey in Philadelphia. In there with Firpo he was a tiger; down there in Philadelphia he was a tame pup and got clawed to pieces. The best of 'em... they just bog down all at once. But to see Slam go this way, eh?"
JAP had leaped to her feet with her hands cupped at her mouth. Her thin young voice cut through the muddy roar of the crowd.
"Hey, Slam! Hey, Slam, Slam, Slam!" Slam Finnegan was lying back against the ropes, his body newly drenched and polished with water, his back bent in under his own weight, his flaccid belly lifting, falling with his breathing, while a handler snapped a bath towel to give him a cooling' breeze and his father worked on his wounds to stop the bleeding. But it seemed that the voice of the girl reached clearly to the punch-drunk brain of Slam, for now he lifted himself, waving his father aside, and stared down through the dazzle of the lights straight towards her.
Big Bill, at that moment, had risen to say at the girl's ear: "Take it easy, Jap. He'll be out of pain, pretty soon."
She only screeched: "Slam, wake up! Wake up, Slam!"
Slam seemed to be waking up. He shaded his dazzled eyes with a glove and stared again. Then the fifteen-second gong was rung and the seconds left the ring. Slam Finnegan rose, but still with turned head he studied the distant figures as though he had forgotten all about the Negro who was slithering across the ring to meet him.
''Stop it!" yelled someone close to the ear of Big Bill. "Hey, stop it! He's out on his feet!"
"Stop it!" roared Big Bill, and yet he felt like laughing except that the face of Finnegan was puckering strangely almost as though he were about to weep, or shout in a frenzy. He turned at the last instant to meet Little David.
The Negro popped in his left three times. He was hitting perfectly, well accustomed to an unresisting target.
THEN something happened. The trained eye of Big Bill could not have missed it and did, in fact, see that Finnegan countered just inside a driving punch; but his mind refused to believe that he was watching Little David walk backward on his heels towards the center of the ring while an Irishman with a bleeding, convulsed face rushed after him.
Those punches were very wild. LaRue, though badly dazed, instinctively wrapped himself in a perfect defense. Finnegan stood up on his toes and with a right fist that was a leaden club beat on the side of LaRue's head.
LaRue gave ground. He began to run. Finnegan swung himself off his feet and landed on the canvas full length. When he rose, LaRue was able to fight again, though still in full retreat.
THE air of the Garden was no longer a smoking mist but a continual explosion with an endless siren screaming through the mist. Big Bill felt that he was going mad. The Finnegans had sold him out, and yet that could not be the case, for when he climbed onto his seat as every man in the house had done before him, he was able to see the face of Pop Finnegan as he crouched, making himself small, an animal fear in his eyes.
Big Bill looked up, as though for superior guidance, and beyond the glaring cone of the ring lights he saw the dim upper galleries with the pallor of crowded faces through the shadow like stones under water. It seemed to Bill that this world had no mountains except heaps of human flesh and that no winds moved upon its face except the insane screaming of human voices. A mind had been in control only a moment before and that was the mind of Bill, but now the contact was lost, all was rushing to witness ruin.
The gong sounded the end of the round like a small voice in the distance.
No one sat down. Snipe Dickinson screamed: "You see it, Bill? The kid was holding it all the time. Like a Bonthron sprint finish. He let the nigger wear himself out, and then he started..."
That was what the sports writers were getting into words as fast as their fingers could work; that was what the announcer was broadcasting; but it held no meaning for Big Bill. Pathetically, with the eyes of a child, he looked up to the misty rafters, he looked back into the ring. Three men with fear-tightened faces were working over Little David, who lay back on the ropes while Finnegan sat alert on the edge of his stool. Pop, on one knee, poured advice at him with a savage leering mouth, and shook a fist under his chin, but Slam pushed the old man off to the end of his long left arm and rose with the gong.
THEN Big Bill partly understood. Old Pop was all right. It was Slam who had gone mad. That, thought Bill, was the trouble with the Irish. You never could tell. A lot of sparkle like champagne, and then a hell of a headache.
But fifty thousand dollars... a year's profits... a year of wasted life...
"There oughta be a law..." shouted Big Bill, and found that his voice was the babbling of a voiceless child beside a roaring sea.
For Little David could still fight and did fight. He met the Irishman almost in the middle of the ring, stopped him with a stone wall of straight lefts and then crossed his right to the head, to the cheek, to the jaw.
Finnegan fell on his back so hard that his head bounced from the canvas.
Bill said through the tornado of screeching, to the profound stillness of his heart: "What a beauty... on the button! He can't get up. Oh God, don't let him get up!"
The referee, down almost on one knee, used his left hand as one half of a megaphone to make the shouted numbers reach the ear of Finnegan. His whole body swayed gracefully in rhythm with his long arm which beat out the count.
"Three... Four... Five..."
"He can't get up!" said Bill to his heart.
He reached out his hands. The spiritual weight of them would press Slam back to the canvas.
Finnegan turned over on his face.
SOMETHING burned the mouth of Bill. It was his cigar. He spat it out. It hit the back of Jap's fur coat and dropped to the floor.
Finnegan thrust himself up on his arms and swayed to his feet. He was half turned from the Negro and LaRue, seeing that wide target, forgot all the years of gymnasium instruction and risked a wide swing. It landed with a jarring thud—on the lifted shoulder of Finnegan!
And then came the clinch.
"Shake him off!" screamed Bill. "Push him away... and kill him! Kill him!"
LaRue pushed Slam Finnegan away and smashed with both hands, his face grown apelike with the grin of effort. The blows skidded off the ducking head of Slam. He fell into another clinch. The referee worked hard to pry them apart; they separated; and as LaRue smashed with his right again, Finnegan's leaden fist banged home inside the punch. A perfect counter. With dull eyes Bill watched Little David's knees sag.
It was his time to run, now, but apparently he could not believe that a man who one moment before had been helpless was now formidable. So he went in with flailing gloves to the attack.
"Keep away from him!" screamed the sore throat of Bill. "He's ready again... keep away... you nigger fool, don't you know he's Irish?"
Someone was beating his shoulder. His hat was joggling over awry on his head. But the trained eye saw everything. It watched the two stabbing lefts with which Finnegan staggered Little David back to the right distance. It saw the right poised with a tremor of dreadful power.
Big Bill wanted to close his eyes but he was crucified and had to see fate fulfilled. The blow landed. It seemed to take Little David by the chin and pull out his face to twice its normal length. The Negro fell straight forward and knocked himself out a second time against the floor.
Sammy said: "Wasn't it great? Ever see anything like it?... Hey, Chief!"
Big Bill did not answer. He only smiled as in death he would smile.
Jap was jerking the lapel of his dinner coat.
"Give me back the flower," she was crying. "Slam pinned it on me his own self. I forgot! He'll wanta see it on me!"
He let her take the gardenia but still he held her by the arm with his shaking-hand.
"Slam Finnegan... he pinned that stinking flower on you? Slam did that?"
"Sure he did? What's eating you, Papa?"
But Big Bill could not answer, for again he was seeing the picture of young Finnegan in his corner at the end of the seventh round peering under his shaded eyes at the girl. How clearly Slam must have seen the familiar face of Big Bill, large as two in the crowded picture, and beneath it, almost brushing the fat of the throat, the little white gardenia with its three big shining leaves, for luck.
"Let's go home, Sammy," he said. "Why do we care a damn about the wind-up fight?"
The noise of the storm had not abated a great deal when Sammy Rosenbloom went with him up the aisle.
"Are you gunna leave the gal, Chief?" asked Sammy. "Are you gunna chuck her?"
"Doncha see she was only stringin' me from the start?" demanded Big Bill, in a feeble rage.
"Stringing... you?" gasped Sammy.
"Yeah, me, me, me!" groaned Bill. "She's Slam Finnegan's girl. She was only building things with a big shot so's to help Slam."
"You mean that Slam... you mean a classy kid like her..." protested Sammy.
"Ah, shut up!" commanded Big Bill, and to himself he muttered: "Am I getting old, or something?"
THEY got out into the lobby. Other men came with them, slowly, weak in the knees. Some of them carried their coats and the faces of all were streaming with perspiration. Torn programs littered the floor and the sidewalk. Rain was falling, silver bright, a veil that only half covered the face of this wretched world. He was as sad as Monday morning, as lonely as a telephone ringing in an empty room. His chauffeur, signaling from the distance, was a ghost half lost in the gloomy chaos of time and space.
"The trouble with you, Sammy, is you don't understand," said Big Bill, sadly.
"Understand what, Chief?" asked Sammy.
"Gardenias, you fool!" shouted Big Bill.