Fifty Bits Is Fifty Bits
Tomas O’Grady had fifty bits on the fight. He did not overlook the fact that Seamus O’Toole was a fellow countryman — people who suffer together stick together in the new country — but he was also a scientific pugilist and that made him a sure bet.
Tomas had information that the Opponent, a bruising Heidelburg man, had chloroform in his glove. Not enough to do instant damage but enough to influence the luddite cogitations of the slug umpire and slowly wear O’Toole’s stamina down to levels the Heidelburg man could manage.
O’Grady sat in the front row and leaned close enough toward the ring that spit splattered on his fine linen suit when the mitts met the mugs. He took off his jacket after the first round.
He had men posted around the ring. John Hudson, the great Black heavyweight was posted at the exit. Nothing would get past him if it came to a rush. He wouldn’t remember anything about the fight no matter how hard he stared or understood the brilliance of the uppercut O’Toole just gave the Opponent — too many slugs had landed on his head.
Chi Ling sat with his brother in the third row back. They’d been discredited as trainers because they taught the new fangled fighting from the east. Their dad had arrived to do railroad work and had migrated against the current, landing in New York City on the eve of the boom. O’Toole had to train with them in secret and developed the use of his legs to intimidate, not to actually fight.
John Gunn sat directly opposite Tomas in the front row. He kept his bald head down and his eyes lifted underneath the boxers. He’d trained in Heidelburg and knew the tricks. Tomas felt his fifty bits were pretty safe.
Behind Tomas in the second row sat a buffoon with bucked teeth and ears that reached to Chi Ling’s ancestors. The guy’s laugh began with a high pitched cackle and had a snork at the end. He used obnoxious cologne that filled at least five seats on either side of him.
Tomas watched O’Toole dance. The man was pure liquid honey on his feet. The Heidelburg man made the ring floor shake with his heavy pounding. But Tomas kept his eyes glued to his left mitt. He kept that one high.
The buffoon with the laugh crowded forward and jostled Tomas who stuck out his elbow. His eyes never left that mitt.
The bell rang and the umpire called the round. O’Toole backed into his corner, not taking his eye off the Opponent. Tomas watched Goffney the trainer inspect O’Toole’s face and rub a bit of cream on a cut.
Tomas’ elbow lashed out again. The guy behind him was really getting on his nerves. He’d heard him declare for the Heidelburg man.
“Hey!” the buffoon yelled. “Keep it to yourself.”
Tomas was about to get up and give it back to him when the fifth round bell rang. The buffoon started thrashing the guy beside him and Tomas was glad he’d kept his head.
The Heidleburg man was sweating like a watermelon fresh from the ice house. If he was going to make a move, this round would be it.
The two swayed in grips. O’Toole needed to use his legs more. Ah, good, Tomas thought as his man leaped to kick and held back so he didn’t make contact.
John Hudson waved his hand. He’d seen something. Tomas waved him off. He didn’t have his muscle man in position to flag trouble, only to squash it.
Chi Ling whistled. The signal. He saw the same thing. Tomas glanced at his third spotter, John Gunn. His eyes were still glued to the underside of O’Toole’s chin. Was he a traitor? He couldn’t have missed what the others saw, except that maybe he had to look at O’Toole’s backside too long.
The Opponent staggered back, gathered himself and drew back for an almighty smash. O’Toole wavered in the danger zone. If he didn’t pull back … The heavy mitt seemed to travel at an ice pace through the air. Tomas cringed, trying not to blink or duck.
A terrific snork pierced Tomas’ concentration. The buffoon’s elbow caught his rib and Tomas swung around. His nerve had broken. One little caustic comment. Once glance away from that mitt and it was all over.
When he looked back, John Hudson was climbing into the ring, John Gunn not far behind him. Chi Ling and his brother were climbing over seats and shoulders to get to Tomas, their ring leader.
O’Toole lay on the mat, the slug umpire wavering over him, pounding out the eight count.
Tomas leaped on the buffoon. He’d get the fifty bits from selling the guy’s teeth.