The Line on the Fightby R. J. DeRose
Small drops of water were falling. There was a breeze too, visible in the stray hairs of the other people in the street, especially the women. Ponti was thirty-two and bald. He only felt the wind on his face. Blisters of water were beginning to gather on his glasses.
Up in the open spaces left between the tops of the skyscrapers, the grays were darkening. The light changed as the clouds moved.
He held his glasses up to see if they were clean. At arms length the faces he saw through them were more damaged than they had been by the raindrops. Ponti wondered if he looked twisted, like the people on the street looked now. He thought about that a lot, more and more as his hair had fallen out.
A large raindrop landed on the sidewalk next to him. Ponti felt it graze his shoulder, then another land on his head. The skies were opening, so he climbed the steps and ducked through the door into the Garden. Davis was fighting Green, and Ponti had bet Davis.
It was early and quiet. There were no people in the corridors under the seats, so Ponti found a phone and called home. He hoped to talk with his wife before she left for Bingo. No one picked up. The receiver rang in his ear; he hung it back up.
She went out more and more often with her lady friends. She gave up the job she took when he was out of work, but now she played bridge and canasta and was part of a garden society and a church group and went to plays and museums. She even started to give him some of her bingo winnings. She paid for his ticket tonight so he wouldn’t have to sit home by himself. She tried to give him extra so he could have a beer and get a hot dog or two. Ponti drew the line he had tried to draw when she gave him the ticket in the first place here.
Ponti got into the arena as the bell rang to end a round. It was still early in the undercard, so the place was empty. This was the best part of fight night for Ponti. He liked to see the fighters before the public really got the chance. He liked to see who had a good jab or a weak chin. He liked the undercards best because he could learn about the fighters. It felt good to know all about the fighters, it felt like an edge. It let him bet the smart way. The betting had been going on for the better part of a year; that was the first time she tried to buy him a ticket. He took that money, bet it and won. Every time since then, since his wife started bringing him the actual ticket home, he bet part of the previous winnings.
The round Ponti came in on was the third of four. It was a slow fight, lightweights who looked like they were afraid of each other. He knew as soon as he sat down that neither of these guys were going to end up being worth anything.
But he sat and watched the fight finish anyway. He sat through the next one and the next two after that. He saw a middleweight he had been watching for a year or so knock his guy out with an uppercut. A new punch for him, Ponti noted. He saw a light-heavy he had only heard about and seen on TV get stopped in the fifth and decided that he was all right as long as he wasn’t fighting a taller fighter.
The seats were beginning to fill up. Ponti’s section, which had been empty when he came in, had people sitting in it now. Some were in his row. They were too far away for him to start talking to, though. He was waiting for somebody to sit close enough to him for there to be a conversation. An older man, because usually they knew the most about boxing, or a younger man, because they would be interested in the fights; a man would be best. Ponti didn’t want a woman to sit next to him or girl, because they would be with a boyfriend or husband probably, and couples never want to talk. Besides most of the women Ponti knew didn’t know much about boxing.
The conversation was the part of the night Ponti looked forward to. Somebody was going to witness the way he could call a fight. Some guy coming to see the fights was going to sit down next to him and be impressed by how much he knew about boxing. Ponti was going to show off his brains. He thought about it a second and figured it wouldn’t be too bad if a couple sat down next to him, as long as the man sat closest to him.
An usher was coming up the aisle trailing a young man and woman. Ponti sat straight up in his seat, preening almost, but the usher led the couple past him. Ponti turned and watched them walk higher into the rafters. They wouldn’t have been the right people he decided.
When he turned back around to watch the fighters for the third to last fight enter the ring, there were two men waiting for Ponti to get up so they could get to their seats. He stood to let them in.
One man was taller than the other, who was the same size as Ponti. They both had dark hair. The tall man wore a Yankees jacket; the short man an army field coat. There were beers in their hands.
Ponti gathered from their conversation and the way they looked at the numbers on the seats that they had the tickets for the two seats next to him. He was inwardly glad. That gladness disappeared when the shorter man said there was nobody in the row so they should stretch out and leave a seat between themselves and Ponti. They sat a space away from him, but next to each other. Ponti wondered about this for half a split-second.
The announcer announced the principals while Ponti watched the ring. He had thought about betting on this fight, but he wasn’t completely sure he knew the fighters. Also, it was hard to find bookies who’d take action on the fights. It wasn’t that hard for a big fight, but for undercards it was.
The fight was a slow one, it dragged on and on, it had rounds that seemed to last ten minutes a piece. Ponti made it longer for himself by trying to overhear what the guys next to him were talking about; if they knew what was what. He was also listening for a way into their conversation, the joke he could laugh at or the argument he could take a side in. They were speaking quietly enough for most of what they said to get lost in the crowd noise. Ponti did notice, however, that they had a program. First he would get up and go to the bathroom, then he’d wait for the introduction of the last undercard before he asked to see it.
When he came back from the john, the ref was beginning a count over the boxer Ponti would have bet on. He noticed that the air was clear, that the cigarette smoke didn’t hang in clouds over the ring. He missed that. He missed when there was smoke in the air and the days that went with it. Ponti stood in the aisle and looked at the fighter taking the count. He was on his knees at eight. Ponti watched the fighter closely and could tell by the way he held his head, down between his shoulders, that he wasn’t getting up. Ponti’s superstitions came out. He believed, on average, that every card held one surprise; he was glad this evening’s surprise was out of the way. You could never tell about a fighter’s heart; it disappeared sometimes. That was one of the things that made picking the winners important.
Ponti took his seat. That the air was clear reminded him of the old days, and the way the cigar smoke stayed in his hair. He would be able to smell it on the subway ride home. His hair had been thick and dark. His wife would run her fingers through it and the skin on his neck would pucker with pleasure. On the subways together, she would lean herself against him so she didn’t have to hold onto the straps and he could feel the curve of her back against him. They were fine times.
His throat was beginning to tighten, so Ponti put this out of his head. He didn’t want the night to be ruined. He’d been waiting for it since the card had been scheduled, three weeks.
The men were still sitting in the same seats they took when they came in. The cups the beer had been in were empty at their feet.
"Hey," Ponti said to the one sitting closest to him, the shorter one. There was no response.
"Excuse me," Ponti said a little louder. The taller man looked over and then the shorter one.
"Can I see that program?"
"Sure," the shorter man said and handed it over. Ponti didn’t like the look of the taller man, mostly because he looked like somebody Ponti didn’t like.
Ponti leafed through the booklet. It was the usual, an article about Frazier-Ali II because its twenty-fifth anniversary was coming up, then pages and pages on Davis and Green. Most of this was about the way Green was a student of the game, how he studied the old fighters: Homicide Hank Armstrong, the Rock, Ray Robinson, Tony Zale, Liston, Frazier, Ali of course, Graziano, Louis, Wilfredo Benitez, Pep, Sadler, everybody. Davis, on the other hand, was in it for the cash; he said so, at least. The program played on this heavily. It also played the way they grew up: Green easy, Davis hard. The rest was about the fighters’ records. Then a couple paragraphs about the fighters in the second to last card. Then a paragraph about each of the fighters on the undercard. These were full of mistakes, one fighter had no wins, no losses and twelve knockouts. Ponti knew that if he had been a fighter he would be one of those guys, if that much, probably one of the twelve phantom KO’s; he wanted to be one of the guys with a whole page to himself. Ponti flipped a couple of more pages and found the page set aside for scoring the fights.
The short man had kept track of the fight they had just been watching. Ponti looked down the rows of nines and tens and tried to remember how he had scored the rounds he had seen. The small man wasn’t that far off from what Ponti had given the fighters. It was good, Ponti decided, that this guy knew what was what.
The two fighters in the last undercard were standing in their corners. A middle-weight fight, Cordoba, a former champion, versus Devlin, an up and comer.
"This is a mess," Ponti said, and handed the program back to the short man.
"What?" the tall man asked. His face said it all: go away.
Ponti leaned towards the tall man, anyway. It was too late to not. "This fight," he said, "it’s a sham."
The short man spoke up warmly, "I’ve been waiting to see this fight."
"It’s crap," Ponti said as he stood for the national anthem. All three of them waited as the music played.
"You can’t say this fight is crap," the short man said. This is a conversation, Ponti thought.
"Cordoba held the title for like three years and the other guy is twenty-five and one." The tall man said this dismissively.
"What’s that mean?" Ponti asked. The two men looked at him intently. Ponti saw that there were different wheels going, though, in each of their heads. The announcer was broadcasting the fighters’ records. The men didn’t say anything.
"It doesn’t mean a damn thing," Ponti answered his own question. "Cordoba hasn’t looked good in his last four fights. And that Devlin hasn’t fought anybody."
"Why’re you here then?" asked the tall man. He opened his hands as he spoke and his voice had a tone Ponti didn’t like, so Ponti smiled as he answered.
"I have money on the Davis fight."
There was a lull in the conversation as the bell rung and the fighters came out into the center of the ring. Ponti watched the fight shape up exactly like he thought it would. Under Devlin’s attack, which was paced too quickly and was too wild, Cordoba covered up, jabbing only occasionally.
The two men were rooting for Devlin. It was Irish pride. Cordoba ducked and parried while Devlin swung and swung until the round ended. At the bell Ponti turned to the tall men.
"You guys’re pulling for the wrong man," Ponti said.
"Did you see that round?" the short man said.
The tall man smirked at him. "He beat him back and forth across the ring."
"All he hit was arms and air," Ponti said. "Cordoba’ll score a KO in the fifth or sixth."
"You’ve been drinking," the tall man said. The way he spat the words reminded Ponti more than ever about the man he used to work with.
"You know a guy, Corrigan, sells real estate in Woodhaven?" he asked.
"No," the tall man said.
"You look like him. I thought you guys might be related."
"No," the tall man said again, more curtly than the first time.
"He works for Joe Attaglia. I used to work with him."
"Yeah?" the tall man said. It was said in a way to end conversation.
Ponti wanted to answer. Yeah, he wanted to say. Yeah, I worked there, until they got that guy in. That guy Corrigan, who you look like, who just didn’t like me. And he became manager and that was it, because he didn’t like me. Forget that I was good at my job, and I’m home watching soap operas. But Ponti knew you couldn’t say stuff like this to people.
A couple of rounds passed.
The bell rang to the fifth and Ponti still hadn’t said a word. He watched Cordoba catching Devlin’s punches with his hands, picking them from the air. Cordoba ducked and slid. Devlin’s fists bounced off his forearms and shoulders.
"He needs to work the body," the short man said to the tall man. "If he works the body, he’ll get him."
Ponti turned from the ring toward the short man. He thought for a tenth of a second about what he was going to say.
"No," Ponti said to the short man, "I don’t think that’ll matter."
"Whattya mean?" the short man yelped. "Devlin’s taking the fight to him."
Ponti looked at the fight again. He spoke without turning his head:
"Cordoba’s blocking everything and Devlin’s punching himself out. He’s flat on his feet and breathing through his mouth. He ain’t got but more than one round left."
"Bullshit," the tall man dismissed him.
"I’ll go even farther," Ponti said. "Cordoba’ll get him with his right." He had no idea about this, it was an educated guess, but Ponti wanted to prove his point.
The tall man laughed out loud, meanly. This made the short man look at the tall man then at Ponti. It was getting near the end of the round, the bell was twenty seconds off.
"What’d you fix the fight?" the tall man asked Ponti sarcastically.
Ponti had thought this guy looked like a prick, but now he knew he was a prick. If he wasn’t related to that ass Corrigan by family, he certainly was by temperament.
"No," he said to the tall man, as coolly as he could, "I just know boxing." All three men paused for the end of the round. There was a smattering of applause. This is not going the way it is supposed to, Ponti thought, not at all.
The fight started again. Devlin came out swinging again, but slower than before, and Cordoba covered up. Ponti felt a little nervous, this was the round he said it would end in. He didn’t want to look like an ass. Every second Cordoba remained on the defensive stuck a pin into Ponti’s chest. The muscles in his hands began to tighten, the hairs stood up on his neck.
"Hey, man," the tall man said, "what’s going on with your man down there?"
Ponti kept his eyes on the ring. He was about to speak, to tell this jackass to hold his horses, when Cordoba slipped a punch and stepped to his right. He flurried and stepped back.
"Maybe," the short man said to the tall man.
"Whatever," the tall man answered. The crowd was getting louder as the fight picked up. The hum would jump to a roar now and again. It was getting harder to overhear.
There was a minute left in the round. Devlin stepped in to start his attack again and found Cordoba waiting. It was quick. They were the short punches of a veteran. It was the brilliance of an old champion finding himself again.
Devlin was flat on his back until the count of four. He bounced to his feet and Ponti knew Cordoba had him. The round ended fifteen seconds short of its limit. Devlin caught a double left hook to the liver, then a three-quarter uppercut to the chin. The ref didn’t even bother counting.
The crowd cheered the particulars of the fight: Cordoba by knockout at two minutes and forty-five seconds of the third round. The last thirty seconds of the fight were replayed over and over on the scoreboard. The tall man didn’t say a word to Ponti. In fact, he didn’t even look at him.
"How’d you know that?" the short man asked. They were waiting for the main event to start.
"Well," Ponti began slowly. This was what was supposed to happen. He weighed his words carefully. He wanted to show them his abilities as a boxing expert, to show them the true width, depth and breadth of what he knew. Should he start about how he watches every fight he can, how he memorizes the attributes of every fighter he sees?
The tall man interrupted.
"He guessed." The words were said meanly. "He got lucky."
Ponti was angry now, but he kept it to himself. This guy didn’t understand. He missed the sureness in Ponti’s voice when he spoke about the fighters, the way a gleam shone in his eye. The knowledge it took; the time spent and the focus. It was a skill, a craft and a science all rolled into a glimpse of the future. The finishing punches were a guess, true, but it was a rare day when Ponti was off by more than a round picking the end of a fight.
"No," Ponti said, "I don’t guess. I do my homework."
"Bullshit," the tall man said to the short man. "There’s no way."
"You don’t think so?" Ponti asked.
"I got a hundred to your ten that says there’s no way."
Ponti looked at the tall man. This had never happened before, not in all the times he’d come to the fights by himself. Sometimes people wouldn’t want to talk to him, but they never acted like this. He wanted to make the bet. He knew how it would feel to take this jackass’s money. The tall man would get a sheepish look on his face as he paid up, and Ponti would feel like every cell in his body doubled in size. The hairs on his neck would stand up. Every sensation would stand out, especially the dry softness of the new money in his hand. But there was only enough money in his pocket to pay for the train ride home tonight and a couple dollars more.
"I don’t have ten bucks," Ponti said. It killed him to admit that to this jerk, especially since these were better odds than his bookie had given.
"You’re so good at picking fights and you don’t bet on them?" the tall man asked sharply.
"I already bet a hundred bucks with my bookie," Ponti said sadly. The ring announcer was introducing the celebrities down at ring side. There was a writer and a couple of other fighters and a television newscaster.
"How much do you have?" the short man asked.
Ponti wondered if this was some kind of hustle, so he cut the money in his pocket in half.
"Three dollars," Ponti said.
The short man shook his head. The tall man made to speak, but the short man cut him off.
"I’ll give you the other seven," he said, "and we split fifty-fifty."
"What the fuck are you doing, Paulie," the tall man asked.
"Making a good bet," Paulie answered.
The tall man shook his head.
Ponti spoke up. "You wanna make the bet or no?"
The tall man didn’t say anything.
"You’re the one who thinks I’m just lucky," Ponti needled. This felt good to him.
Both Paulie and Ponti were looking at the tall man.
"All right," he said, "but now it’s fifty to ten."
"That’s fine," Ponti said. He knew it wasn’t about the money, but what kind of asshole changes the odds like that.
The three men sat for a second. The bubbling murmur of the crowd swelled, its rhythm quickened and its intensity crested, as the hoods on the fighters’ robes became visible, slicing their way towards the ring. This was Ponti’s favorite moment. A switch had been thrown, the lights dimmed and the fans turned on in their seats. The whole match laid there ready to happen. Nothing couldn’t happen, but, for Ponti, it was locked with a certainty of what would happen. Ponti felt like he held the cards; this hadn’t been an everyday feeling for a long time. He was a movie star watching the little people, a big shot watching the stock market, an old time mobster in court with a crooked judge.
The excitement in the arena spiked when the first fighter, Davis, got to the ring apron and waited for his trainer to separate the ropes.
He was a good-looking fighter from the Bronx. A black Puerto Rican who ended up with an Anglo last name. He was gangly and quick with good power, face first all the way and exciting to watch because of it. His chin was suspect, though; he had been knocked down a couple of times when he first started out.
All kinds of flags were popping up in the crowd, most were Puerto Rican but some were just bed sheets with writing on them. People were running with them, back and forth, up and down the causeways. They were signing in Spanish. Half the Bronx must be here, Ponti thought. They were hollering and jumping. Davis was a popular fighter.
The champion came to the ring. It was quieter for him. There were no flags or singing, just the music he came out to.
The two fighters were in their opposite corners with their entourages. Davis’ was much larger. The ring was packed with hangers-on.
Green was the shorter of the two fighters. He was from down South, Memphis or Mobile, a good boxer, no power, undefeated. His line was the favored one: four to one. He didn’t have many fans there.
"Hey, man," the tall man spoke up, "you gotta make your pick before the fight starts.
Ponti weighed for an instant betting against his the bet he had made with his bookie, covering his ass. But he was sure about this fight, one hundred per cent, and this wasn’t about money. He had bet against the smart money, on Davis. It was because of the way they matched up. Davis was taller, a faster starter, his boxing ability was underrated and he could punch. Green on the other hand had lost a step. He was old and hadn’t fought anyone hard in a good bit. He didn’t looked to great in those fights either.
Ponti thought the champ was attracting the money because of his belt and Davis’ early record, so he turned his head and faced the two men.
"Davis in four," he said.
"Why don’t you give me the money now," the tall man snickered. Paulie made a face.
"Just wait, wise guy," Ponti said calmly, "it’ll end with a hook too." He didn’t ask the tall man if he’d be snickering when he handed the money over. He didn’t say that he’d be snickering when he took it.
The ring announcer signaled for the timekeeper to strike the bell. He began the introductions while the bell’s echo still hung in the air.
The fighters shook hands after the announcements and made their ways back to their corners. They had to wait an extra minute for the opening bell. Davis’ fans began a chant, his name over and over.
The fight started and Davis rushed across the ring dragging the night with him.
Ponti was in the moment. He was there as the first jab bounced off Green’s defense, when the straight right landed, when Green countered with a smart double-hook combination. He was there also when Green stepped back and let Davis do the same and the fight slowed into the wary circling of two professionals.
There was an age hidden in each moment. The circle circle jab circle rhythm counted out the seconds. Ponti was lulled into wondering how the fighters themselves didn’t end up hypnotized by this rhythm. And then a soft double right by Green threw it off for a second and the fighters came close together and there was a clinch. The spell broke long enough for Ponti to lean back in his seat and see, out of the corner of his eye, the tall man leaning forward in his. The tall man’s expression was fixed, like he was getting ready to carry something heavy. Ponti thought he knew what that weight was; he got ready to lift and carry his own weight. Exactly how heavy it was going to be, who knew, but he did know exactly how much he was going to get paid for it; one half of half a yard, twenty-five dollars. He also knew where that money was coming from and what it meant for it to go from the tall man’s pocket to his; he sharpened his focus on the fight.
"Damn," Paulie said, "I thought Davis was a fast starter."
Ponti sat still.
"Hey, chum, you’re the one that sided with him," the tall man said loudly. The words cracked under the strain, and Ponti wondered if that same pressure was going to kill the wager.
Ponti turned his head to look for a clue. The crowd leapt. He turned back quickly to see Green take two steps back. Ponti had missed seeing the punch but he knew it was Davis who scored by the pattern their circling took on.
"What?" Ponti asked, "what’d you say about my man?" He hoped, then thought, then decided that this guy wasn’t going to welsh on a bet with his friend involved.
Nobody spoke for the rest of the round. The crowd quieted as the fighters circled. Davis moving forward, Green back.
During the rest period Ponti thought over what was coming. It would be a pleasure, the sweetest kind, probably just as good two days after the fight was over. An asshole with his foot in his mouth and his money in my pocket
The minute break was up, the fighters got off their stools, and the round started with a stutter of applause.
"Watch here," Ponti said, "the fight starts here."
He was right. Both fighters stepped up the pace. They spent the second thirty seconds of the round flurrying in the corner. It was an even exchange for the most part, until Davis ended it with a stiff right and slid out into the middle of the ring. Ponti felt Paulie go electric next to him.
The tall man whooped. Davis was trapped in the corner and Green was trying to load up on him. A couple shots had landed, Davis’ head snapped back a few times, but he seemed to be in good shape still. The bell interrupted the beating. Thank you, Ponti thought, trying to see the timekeeper down in the crowds at ringside, thank you.
Ponti turned his head to look at the fans around him. There were smiles and heads bent in conversation everywhere.
Ponti bent his head towards Paulie.
"Who d’ya think won that round?" He spoke softly so the tall man wouldn’t hear. But he didn’t speak softly enough.
"You’re in deep shit," the tall man crowed, "this old bird can’t even score the fight." There was a spurt of mean laughter. "I told you."
Paulie sat eyes straight ahead while Ponti smiled dryly. He let the wheels turn behind his smile. What a bastard, he thought, what a prick bastard. At least the people around here are to busy to pay attention to him.
Ponti said out loud: "There’re two more rounds until you win."
In the corner Davis’ trainer was waving his arms, exhorting his fighter.
At the start of the third Davis rushed Green. He caught him in the center of the ring. There was a quick exchange of punches. Green’s legs wobbled but he found his footing before Davis could start back up. He got on his horse and began back-pedaling. Good, Ponti thought, he can’t fight going backwards. Davis chased but Green kept him off with weak jabs, quick slaps to keep some distance between them. Davis kept throwing hard, catching his opponent in the ribs when he could.
Ponti was on his feet, and so was most of the crowd. The tall man was on the edge of his seat. The fans were cheering. It was loud in the arena. The air was full enough with noise for it to vibrate, overwhelming, like bits, physical bits of the fans were being squeezed out into space. At least, Ponti felt like bits of him were being squeezed out. His mind jumped: The clouds are low and lightning’s coming.
Then it got louder.
Green was on the canvas. Sprawled for a second, on his knees by two, waiting to get up at three. Ponti knew he would wait for eight before he got to his feet. It is a pleasure to watch a well-trained fighter. He also knew Green would try to spend the rest of the round clinching.
Paulie was ecstatic. He threw himself back down in his chair as the fighters started circling again and the people in front of him took their seats.
"This is it," he shouted to Ponti.
Ponti sat silently. He was busy. The instant the night was planned around was coming soon.
The next minute of the round went the way he had hoped it would.
With fifteen seconds left before the bell, Davis cornered Green. It was a savage exchange, three clean hooks to the body. If they had been sitting close and it was quiet enough maybe they would have heard the punches whistle as they flew. If the ref had stopped the fight nobody would have really complained.
At the bell, Ponti turned to the tall man.
"Too bad for you, he got caught in his own corner," he said.
The tall man met his eyes, but didn’t move a muscle besides.
They were silent. Ponti recognized the expression on the man’s face. He felt the same way most of the time. This man looked fiercer though. Positions reversed, he wouldn’t even dare look at this man. Ponti resented the tall man all the more because of it.
"Why?" Paulie asked.
"What?" Ponti and the tall man mumbled this together. They had been distracted.
"Why’s it matter where the round ended?" Ponti answered quickly. He didn’t want to have to listen to the tall man speak any more.
"If Green had to walk across the ring, maybe the ref stops it."
The fourth round, the one Ponti picked, lasted forty-some-odd seconds.
Davis charged Green again to start the round. It took a couple of seconds for Davis to corner him, but he did. And then it was over; left jab, right jab, speed of light quick, step to the right, straight left soft, right hook to finish. There was an explosion of sweat off Green’s head as Davis connected.
Ponti shouted right along with the crowd. Paulie’s mouth was open and so was the tall man’s. His expression was different than Paulie’s though. Maybe not his expression, but his body language; his shoulders were slack, his head was thrown back and his arms were pulled in close to his body. Ponti’s fists were in the air. The crowd nearly drowned out the count.
Davis, who had been standing in the corner, danced around the ring when the ref waved off the fight. His trainer was in the ring with him and his manager and a whole lot of other people too. There were television cameras and security.
Ponti, joyful, finally put his arms down. He was compressing minutes into seconds and seconds into instances. It was hard to breathe and to pay attention to what was what. There were parts of him that tingled and some that ached, a few were numb. Ponti believed he knew what Davis felt right now, maybe on a different scale, but it was the same feeling. For once, now, that difference didn’t matter that much to Ponti.
In one of the moments that had been squeezed down there was a tap. It was a tap on Ponti’s shoulder. He felt it and it was like it had been there for a while and he knew it had been there, but it was just now that he could respond. Paulie had tapped Ponti on the shoulder. He had money in his hand.
Ponti saw this. He was surprised to see that Paulie already had the money. The seconds popped right back to the size they belonged. This is not right, one half of Ponti’s brain screamed to the other. This is all wrong, the second side answered. This is not the way. Why’s it happening this way? Wait one second.
"Here," Paulie said. He counted out twenty five dollars.
"Thanks," Ponti mumbled.
"Not bad," Paulie said. Ponti heard this clearly in the buzz of the departing crowd. He wondered what he looked like. He tried to keep his face as stiff as possible. He didn’t want to betray one thing that was on his mind.
A man from farther down the row was waiting to pass and go down the steps.
"Not bad," Ponti repeated, and let the man pass.
The tall man was waiting to get out. Ponti was waiting for him to get out.
Paulie stepped past Ponti.
"Easy money," he said over his shoulder.
"Yeah," the tall man said to Paulie, exactly as he stepped into the aisle, "you two should go down to AC, while his luck holds."
Both of them laughed. Ponti made to smirk but he couldn’t find the muscles in his cheeks. His calves tightened at the impulse meant for his lips.
Davis was gone from the ring. The only people left in it were in Green’s corner. They were gathered around him. He made to get up off his stool but his legs were still rubbery. He ended up back where he started.
Ponti stayed where he was. There were a couple people milling about in the different numbered sections of seats. The money was dry in his hands; the paper made his fingertips feel oily, like when he picked up old newspapers. He folded the bills neatly and put them in his pocket. He had to stretch in his seat to do this. When he looked back toward the ring Green was gone. He sat some more.
It was ten minutes before he got up. To let the crowds at the exits thin, he told himself.
There were no people at the exit when he got there. There weren’t any on the escalators either. The whole way down he looked through the column of windows that formed each landing and out into the street. It would be good to be out in the street. The air looked so clean in the dark. Everything
ContributorR. J. DeRose