—Did you get a robe? Billy asks.
—No, the Kid says, I don’t need a robe.
—Robe’s gonna make you look like a champeen.—
—I don’t need a fuckn robe, Kid answers Billy Faherty.
The Kid grabs a long white towel and rips a hole in the center of it big enough to put his head through and for the ends to cover his chest, shoulders, and back.
—There’s my robe, the fighter tells his trainer.
Billy Farts turns to Mike White.
Billy takes out a pair of boxing trunks from a plastic bag—green trunks with a yellow stripe on the seams and a gold shamrock on the front of them.
—What do you think? he asks.
—They suck, the Kid tells him. I hate all that phony shit.
—Easy does it, Billy Faherty says.
—You and your fuckn slogans.—
—Him and his fashions, Mike White says to Kid and nods in the direction of the trainer.
Billy Faherty wears a cheap purple and red nylon gym suit and old two-tone black-and-white sneakers. He’s got a white terry cloth towel around his neck, and he hasn’t shaved for several days.
The Kid picks up the Irish trunks and tosses them on the floor. In their place he selects from his gym bag black nylon trunks with a white stripe down the seams.
—Okay, okay, Billy Faherty says. I was trying to add a classic touch, but I can see you aren’t interested.
—I’m not interested, the Kid tells him.
Mike White lays out the other gear, including a protective cup, CoolMax socks so the Kid won’t blister as his feet sweat from moving around the ring. Kid has a fairly new pair of high, black boxing shoes (—leather soft as a baby’s ass, Billy Farts says.). There is also tape, scissors, ice, cotton swabs, water, Endswell, bucket, and liquid adrenaline for cuts.
Many of these things Mike White stuffs into pockets of his jacket. The jacket is blue and looks like something a surgeon might wear. But it is really a barber’s jacket he brought from a friend in Leathe who has a haircut emporium there.
Mike White’s daughter Penny White Half-Dog is their spit-bucket lady. But she won’t come into the dressing room until the Kid is dressed and taped and almost ready to go.
In all the talk about Irish trunks Mike White has not said a word. He could care less about shamrock trunks. Mike White thinks Kid Coole is a pint-sized version of Joe Louis. He says the Kid—hey, Keed—fights like the old black fighters.
—Kid don’t have an ounce of Irish in his fighting style, Mike White says.
People think Kid’s Puerto Rican or Dominican or Cuban. They think he’s Italian. Some think he’s Jewish. Get him a white or yellow star or a star of David or trunks the color of the Italian flag. He’s not wearing a goddamn gold shamrock on his trunks.
There is a knock at the door, and an assistant state commissioner enters, along with Lutrec Spears’ trainer. Kid gives them both a dirty look.
—Who’s taping my hands?—
Both Billy Faherty and Mike White tape his hands beautifully. But it is a matter of protocol in a championship fight. Billy is the trainer; Mike is the cutman. The trainer should tape the hands, and he does.
Lutrec Spears’s trainer watches the taping along with an assistant state commissioner.
Taped hands make you feel powerful. Especially when Billy or Mike does it. When the Kid’s sparring or working in the gym, he often tapes his own hands. But he needs a perfect taping now, so Billy will do the honors.
As Billy tapes the Kid’s hands, Spears’s trainer, Eddie Piano, objects.
—Make them looser, he says.
—It’s not your fuckn business to see them tight or loose, Billy Faherty tells the opponent’s trainer. Ask the commissioner if you don’t believe me.
—The tape is fine, the assistant commissioner says, and he then signs the taped hands with a permanent black marking pen.
—So don’t break my balls, Billy says to Eddie.
They are old friends. But this is boxing, and they have a championship fight. The protocol is to make each other as uncomfortable as possible. The Kid and Mike White ignore both of them.
—I’ll break your fuckn head, Farty, you thick-headed donkey.—
After the hands are taped, Billy leaves with the assistant commissioner and Eddie Piano for Lutrec Spears’s taping in his locker room.
The Kid has time to kill.
Now that he is taped and wearing his jockstrap and cup and black trunks and the boxing shoes and white socks Penny White Half-Dog joins her father Mike White to wait until the big moment.
Kid does situps on the massage table. He stretches. He walks back and forth. He shadow-boxes. But it is too early to break a sweat. Kid’s just loosening up his muscles.
—You be fine, Penny says.
Kid smiles at her. It is the first time he’s smiled all week. Everything has annoyed him lately. Everyone pisses him off.
Penny looks enormous in her bib overalls. Her hair is done up in corn-rows with bright-colored ribbons in her hair. All of this is for the Kid to see her—to be able to get back to the corner quickly and easily.
Ralph Half-Dog, the former spit-bucket man and Penny’s beau, was still recuperating from his stroke, and he would not be in the arena.
The Kid lies down on the rubbing table. He closes his eyes and tries to meditate. He lets his mind go blank.
Then he sits up. He gets up. He walks around. He paces.
This is his first main event. It is also his first time fighting at Madison Square Garden. He’s been an upstate fighter, a New York State Thruway fighter, going from Sticks to Leathe, Catskill to Troy, Schenectady to Rome, Utica to Syracuse and beyond. Just walking through the fighters’ entrance on Thirty-third Street sent his normal pulse racing. Usually it is around 45 beats per minute. There it was more like 100 beats a minute. Now he has to control his emotions, channel them into one thing, to fight and beat his opponent (fuckn Spears) and win the championship.
—Lousy dressing room, the Kid says, looking around. You’d think the Garden would give you a deluxe place.
—It ain’t half bad, Mike White says.
—I seen uglier, Penny agrees.
Billy is still in the other guy’s dressing room breaking chops over the taping.
The Kid goes off to a corner and jumps rope.
—Don’t get too worked up, Mike White says.
—Don’t worry about me, Kid says. Worry about what your job is.
—You are my job, Mike says.
—Worry about how much ice and water you got in the fuckn bucket. Worry about the Endswell. Worry about the cotton swabs.—
Billy Farts walks back in.
—Fuckn bastards, he says.
—What? Mike asks.
—That fuckn Eddie Piano’s breaking my balls again.—
—What else is new, Billy?—
Then Billy Faherty looks at the Kid.
—You ain’t sweatin’.—
The Kid does some sit-ups. He jumps rope. He jogs in place. He shadow-boxes. He’s sweating now.
At around ten o’clock a man from the Garden comes in and says,
—Half hour to show time. Be up and ready. Get your fighter warmed up—
Warmed up? The Kid’s dripping with sweat. He’s ready. He’s on fire. Let’s go.
Now he’s pacing back and forth. He wants to go out and fight. Enough of this preparation. Enough of the media. Enough of commissioners and assistant commissioners and Garden officials and corporate sponsors. Enough of teachers in high school. Enough of people who never believed in him. Enough of those who wanted the worst for him. Enough of the ones who thought him a complete nobody. To hell with his family, his mother and father, his brothers and sisters. His aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents, great uncles and great aunts. To hell with them all. He’s fighting for the lightweight championship, and he’s here, and they are not. They are there.
—I’m here, Kid says.
—Course you here, sugar, Penny Half-Dog says. Where else you be but here?
—I’m fuckn here.—
Penny just smiles at him now. She knows all about fighters. Their brains are not like other people’s brains. They have funny ways of thinking and expressing themselves. God bless them all, she thinks. I’m just the spit-bucket lady. But him, the Kid, he has a beef. Its name is Lutrec Spears. He’s the beef. Kid has a grudge against him.
At the weigh-in the day before, downtown across from City Hall, he called the Kid
—a jew bastard—
—I’m not Jewish, Kid said.
—Quit the jawin’, Billy Faherty warned him. Settle with him in the ring.
—Jew bastard, Lutrec shouted.
Lutrec had become a Moslem.
Now the Kid’s a jew bastard.
—Ready, the man from the Garden yells into their quarters.
The Kid wears eight-ounce gloves. Red ones. Reyes. Mike has Kid’s mouthpiece in the bucket.
Parnell “Kid” Coole jukes down the aisle toward the lighted ring. A medley of music plays. He picked it himself. James Brown (—don’t want nobody open the door I’ll get it myself—). House of Pain. Van Morrison. One bleeding into the other.
He runs up the steps to the ring and steps quickly through the ropes and bounces around the ring in his black leather boxing shoes. The canvas under his feet feels good. He circles the ring. He throws punches and nods to people in the front row. He says hello to Tony Bones in the front row. Tony takes one of his thumbs and points it skyward, and then waggles it. Kid winks to him. Tony smiles.
Where’s Lutrec Spears?
He comes down the aisle to the music of Bob Marley and then some French music. He runs up the steps and steps into the ring. They applaud him wildly. He wears a black cape which flies in the air as he dances around the ring.
They nearly collide.
The ref tells them to go to their corners.
Mike White rubs the Kid’s back muscles, getting him limber.
—Are you ready? Mike White asks.
—Ready? Penny Half-Dog asks.
—Are you ready, Kid? Billy Faherty asks him.
—Yeah, I’m ready, he says.
—Then let’s go, Billy says.
The Kid dances side to side to side to side, all around the ring. The ref tells him to stay on his side of the ring until the Kid is told to come out. But the Kid ignores him. As soon as the ref isn’t looking the Kid inches back around the ring.
He doesn’t look at Lutrec except out of the corner of his eye. Lutrec looks good. Kid’ll give him that. He looks real good. He’s big for a lightweight, much taller than Kid Coole. His reach is a few inches longer. His legs look six inches longer than the Kid’s. But none of this bothers the Kid. He’s ready to fight Lutrec Spears.
When the referee brings them to the center of the ring to give them the instructions, Kid looks directly at Lutrec Spears for the first time. Lutrec’s staring at him in this tough-guy way. The opponent—the other guy—is just staring. Kid’s no tough guy. He’s just tough enough. He’s blank like a combat soldier who’s going out to hump the boonies looking for the enemy. This is the other guy. The opponent. It’s nothing personal. They are going to fight. Whoever wins will be the new lightweight champion of the world.
Tough enough, Kid says to himself.
They go to their corners.
The bell rings.
Kid trots out. Lutrec runs across the ring.
Kid slips Spears’s first punch and counters with one of his own which Spears slips. Lutrec throws a huge right that Kid slips, and Lutrec’s momentum carries him over to the piling in the neutral corner where Kid races to bash him in the head.
Lutrec Spears wheels around. He throws quick jabs followed by real punches. Right. Left. Uppercut.
The uppercut misses the Kid’s jaw by a quarter of an inch. Had it landed, the Kid would be counted out. Kid had been off balance.
Lutrec’s cute. That’s how Billy Faherty would phrase it.
He’s fast, for one thing. Very reflexive. He’s never where you think he’s going to be. His punches don’t look like much. But when they land, they hurt.
The Kid’s opponent is very loose and flexible. Kind of rubbery almost. He’s like Michael Spinks when the younger of the Spinks brothers was the light-heavyweight champion. He slips the Kid’s punches. He doesn’t have bones in his body from the way he pivots and bends to slip a punch.
The Kid has yet to land a good one.
Kid’s stance is flat-footed. His brain seems drugged.
Lutrec Spears misses several punches. He lands the jab. But when he follows with a big punch, Kid slips it.
Missing is very painful. It pulls your back muscles apart. Your back can go into spasms.
Finally Kid Coole hits Lutrec Spears solid on the jaw off a counterpunch the Kid threw coming under the jab.
Lutrec Spears is able to take a punch.
He says something in French to Kid Coole.
—Merde, he says.
Lutrec sticks out his face to show that Kid Coole’s punch has no effect. But the Kid has his attention.
The bell rings to end the first round.
Kid turns to find the corner. Where is Ralph Half-Dog? Then he remembers. Ralph had a stroke. Kid sees Ralph’s wife Penny waving him into the corner and the stool. Then Kid sees Mike White. Next he sees Billy Farts.
One minute goes by quickly. His pulse goes from 180 beats per minute down to 50. They work frantically on what it is they have to do.
Billy does not look pleased.
—That was too close to call, he says. You need to come out strong the last minute in the round, Kid.
The bell rings.
Kid is not even off his stool.
Lutrec Spears is in his face. He lands a punch on the Kid’s stomach. He follows it with one to the ear. Kid spins and gets out of the corner. The Kid moves around the ring.
As Spears pursues him, Kid plants his feet, and he lands a left to the opponent’s liver which stuns him.
Kid’s knocked out people with that punch. But Lutrec Spears comes on stronger after the Kid popped him one.
Kid dances around the ring.
Lutrec Spears won Round One by coming on with flash at the end of the round. But Kid Coole wins Round Two with a jab. The jab is the best it’s ever been. It has snap. Menace. Power. The Kid senses the sting at the end of it, like it’s a scorpion’s tail. In Round Three, Spears showboats. There is nothing fancy in the Kid’s own style. He’s paired it down to essence. It’s elemental. He jabs. He moves. He jabs. He sets. He lands a punch. He steps away. He dances left. He jabs again. Nothing fancy. Kid’s economical. He’s elementary. Fundamental.
Lutrec Spears has got something like a bolo punch. He throws it from the hip. It is a right cross that hooks in. But it comes as an uppercut. Kid’s never seen anything like it nor has he felt anything like it when it grazes his lower chin or hits his Adam’s apple.
Kid Coole has a welt under his eye from a left hook, then a follow up with the bolo from the right as he tries to slip a faked jab.
Mike White gets the swelling down in the one-minute rest between the rounds.
The bell rings.
Kid goes across the ring towards the other guy, his opponent.
Lutrec Spears fights in flourishes. Kid goes three minutes every round. He paces himself. Lutrec goes in spurts, then he comes on at the end of the round.
At the end of the round, Billy Faherty kneels in front of Kid Coole as Mike White works on the swelling and his daughter Penny hands him his tools.
—How am I doing? Kid asks.
—He’s taking rounds from you, Billy says. You need to step it up at the end of the round, Kid.
—Okay, Kid says.
—The jab is a thing of beauty, says Billy.
—It’s the best jab I ever had.—
—Focus, Billy says. No words. No thoughts. Actions. Reflexes. Act and react. Jab and move. Punch and counterpunch. Whack him!
The bell rings.
Kid trots to center-ring.
They get it on.
Lutrec Spears is very fast. Kid needs to time his counterpunch just right if he wants to slow his opponent down. But the Kid is beating him to the punch. Kid notices that Lutrec feints when the Kid fakes the jab. That’s because the jab is working.
The jab won’t open a cut.
But a good jab will allow another punch to open a cut later. The jab makes Lutrec’s face swell. Once it swells enough, the Kid’ll slice it open with a hook or cross or head-butt (accidentally, of course). Uppercut. The tape on the gloves nicking his face.
Spears flinches when the Kid lands the jab. He pulls back. Kid is taking him out of his rhythm. If Lutrec Spears pulls back, he can’t throw the bolo. He’s not within range to land it or his hook or the straight right, though Kid Coole is beginning to understand that Lutrec Spears does not have a straight right, only that cork-screwing uppercut-right cross. His bolo.
The bolo hooks in from down below around his waist.
When it lands, Kid hurts. Spears has the biggest punch the Kid’s ever encountered. It hurts all over when he lands it well. Kid dances away, wincing.
The other guy fights in outbursts. A series of ten fast punches in combination. Then he drifts through a round. He floats. Then he repeats the flourish at the end of the round.
Kid manages to punch the opponent good in his hip joints on both sides of his body without the referee warning or taking away a point. The punches slow down Lutrec’s gliding side-stepping and put him more squarely in front of Kid Coole.
Lutrec Spears throws a bolo.
It lands on the tip of Kid’s nose, and it stings.
Kid dances away.
Spears pursues him.
Kid’s legs are good. He has a lot of stamina. His punches get stronger as the fight progresses. He is not a knockout artist. The punches accumulate. The combination of the punches turns into one big hurt.
By Round Eight it adds up to a throbbing pain in the other guy’s system.
But Kid’s never gone twelve rounds other than in a gym brawl or sparring session.
Who owns Round Eleven? Who Twelve?
That’s who wins.
Neither Lutrec Spears nor Kid Coole is a knockout fighter. They’re boxers. Little guys. Lightweights. Kid’s an old-fashioned, no-nonsense fighter. Lutrec’s a dazzling hummingbird of a fighter.
The bell rings to end Round Nine.
Kid turns to look for his corner. Where’s Ralph Half-Dog? There is no Ralphie anywhere. Big fat Ralph Half-Dog in his bib overalls and his black hair in long Indian braids. That’s right. He’s sick. He had a stroke. He’s home in bed, watching the match on the cable television.
Then Kid sees Ralph’s big wife Penny in bib overalls and her hair in corn-rows waving him to the corner.
Kid sits on the wooden stool. His breath is short. It is hard to focus. His ribs hurt. His chest aches with each breath. His head feels foggy and swollen. His arms ache like he had flu. His legs are getting tired.
—Where’s the bolo? Billy Faherty asks.
The Kid is not sure what he means.
Mike White drops a bunch of ice down the Kid’s trunks and sticks smelling salts under his nose.
Kid jumps. He screams.
Billy slaps the Kid hard in the face. He holds the fighter’s face in his rubber-gloved hands to get his attention.
—The bolo is conspicuous by its absence, Billy Farts says.
Kid doesn’t understand what it is the old trainer is saying.
—You’re getting to him. Keep doin’ what you’re doin’. Jab. Move. Jab. Set. Whack him good! Whack this motherfucker hard, Kid. Then move again.—
The stool is pulled out of the ring.
Kid trots to the center of the ring.
Dance left. Right. Jab. Move. Jab. Set. Unload a hook. Land it hard on his liver. Get out of there!
By Round Eleven, they fight on the inside. They are no longer moving around. The Kid takes blows. Lutrec Spears takes them, too. This is the Kid’s kind of fight. This is the kind of match he likes. He’s an inside kind of guy. Kid likes to go toe to toe with the opposition. (Most of the time Billy Faherty won’t let him go toe to toe, but Kid likes mixing it up this way.) He enjoys the other guy’s breath so close to his face. It’s intimate. Personal. It’s the way he wins.
Lutrec’s combinations are crisp again. He’s back to the flourishes in the beginning, middle, and end of the round.
Kid wounds him with a straight right that bursts inside the other guy’s nose. Blood gushes out. Wounded, Spears fights better. Kid takes a big hook to the ear that rocks him back on his heels. The Kid loses his balance. The would-be champion pursues the challenger.
Ref breaks them apart. Makes them come to the center. They clinch again. Ref breaks them again.
Their legs move in a slow motion around the ring.
Lutrec Spears’s punches are bigger than ever.
The punches hurt so much the Kid could cry. But the adrenaline deadens the pain. Kid fights on. So does Lutrec Spears. The opponent fights through his own pain.
The distance between them keeps halving. They are fighting the Kid’s kind of fight. The arcs get smaller and smaller. Their legs don’t even move. They stand in the center of the ring exchanging blows. Kid is on the inside, landing short, painful blows to Spears in rapid succession. The other guy obliges Parnell Kid Coole with the same.
This is what it is all about.
Lutrec’s punches land. They hurt. But they are not cleanly thrown. So they do not land cleanly. Kid’s own punches are sharper. They land more solidly. There is no hollow ring when they land on Lutrec’s body. They have a thud to them.
If Kid were fighting anyone else, he would have had a K.O. His punches are tight and good. They land heavily on the face and raise lumps all over the body.
Round Twelve: Kid fights his own fight. He doesn’t waste anything. Not even an extra breath. Everything is economical about his style. He jabs. Then he abandons the jab and goes inside. He bangs the body on both sides. Liver one side. Spleen the other.
When Spears scores on him, Kid clinches.
Ref breaks them apart.
Kid doesn’t hesitate now.
Jab isn’t going to do anything at this point in a fight.
Kid keeps banging away at the body. Then the Kid gives Lutrec a good uppercut that brushes his jawline. Then the Kid hooks over Lutrec’s shoulder and cuffs the champ’s ear. Kid follows this with a straight right. It lands. Right on Lutrec’s cheekbone. It is not a knockout punch. But Kid stuns Lutrec.
By the end, Lutrec Spears has no more flourishes left in him.
The bell rings.
People flood the ring as Lutrec stumbles to his corner.
Kid pivots and looks for Ralph Half-Dog who is not there anymore. Sick. Stroke. In bed. Home. But not his wife.
He sees Penny White Half-Dog running toward him with her hair in corn-rows and in her bib overalls with her big arms opened wide. She pulls Kid Coole into her enormous bosom and swallows him into her arms. She is probably twice the fighter’s size.
—This is your fight, Kid, she says, kissing him all over the bumps on his face.
Mike White, her father, runs over to his fighter.
—You did good, he says, hugging the Kid hard. You was great, Kid.
—What a tough bastard! The Kid shouts to Billy Faherty who embraces his fighter and kisses both of the Kid’s cheeks as he holds the beat-up face in his own big old swollen hands.
Mike White drips cold water from the sponge over the Kid’s head. Then he makes the Kid put the towel with the slit in the middle of it over his head.
—I love you, Kid, Billy says.
Billy Farts is crying.
Kid says that he loves Billy, too. The fighter puts his arms around the trainer, and he cries, too.
Mike White throws a big new white terry cloth towel over the Kid’s head and wraps another one over his shoulders so he doesn’t get cold.
—You were great, Billy Farts says. That was the best fight I ever saw, Kid.
They wait for the judges’s decision.
Two judges score it five-five-two for each of them. Lutrec Spears wins five rounds. The Kid wins five. They each split two. The deciding judge is Tippy Cohen-Levine, a man from Albany. He scores it seven-five.
The Kid looks at Billy. Kid looks at Mike. He looks at Penny.
Across the ring, Lutrec Spears can’t get off his stool to wave to the crowd. They administer salts to him. A doctor checks his eyes, shining a light in them to see if he gets any response.
Lutrec Spears is the lightweight champion of the world.
The Kid looks at his corner again. They look back at Kid Coole.
The ring fills with more people. They shout. They shove each other around.
An announcer sticks a microphone under the Kid’s nose.
—How does it feel? he asks him.
Billy Faherty shoves the microphone away from the Kid’s face.
—This is a travesty! he says. Kid Coole won that fight!
Announcer sticks the microphone in the Kid’s face again.
—How do you feel, Kid?—
Penny White Half-Dog jumps in the announcer’s face and grabs the microphone from him.
—How you think he feels? she asks. That’s a dumb-ass question. He feels like shit. Empty. Robbed. That’s how he feel. He feel robbed. You ever been robbed? That’s what it feel like. It feel like robbed.
Billy and Mike tug the Kid away as Penny keeps jawing with the announcer.
Mike takes off the gloves. He secures the towel with the hole in the middle of it with the other towels around the waist and he wraps new towels around Kid Coole’s head. He slides a bag of ice around the Kid’s face to counter the swelling on the right cheek.
Lutrec Spears is helped from the ring and put on a stretcher and taken away.
The Kid goes down the aisle and out of the arena and into the locker room where his clothes and valuables are stored. He showers and gets dressed and meets the corner-people outside on Thirty-third.
They walk to a parking lot two blocks from the Garden.
The Kid gets in the back of the van with Penny.
Mike White drives the van up the West Side Highway, catches the Taconic in Westchester, and heads north toward home. As he drives the Kid calculates what he earned. After expenses, fees to his corner, and taxes, he will take home a check for ten-thousand dollars. The original check was two-hundred-fifty-thousand dollars.
Billy Faherty, being an alcoholic in recovery, likes to say,
—Easy does it.—
But it’s really easy come, easy go.
Billy talks to Mike about the old days. He mentions Rocky and Cus and Gus and Jimmy and Billy and Joe and Henry and Lou and Barney and Benny and Archie and, of course, Ali and Sonny. Ali and Joe. Ali and George. Ali versus Ken. Ali versus Leon. Ali versus Larry.
Penny Half-Dog leans over and touches Kid Coole’s sore face.
—You won, she says.
Then to her father, Mike White, who is driving, she says,
—Coole here won that damn fight, Daddy.—
—Of course, Coole won, sugar, Mike White says. Kid Coole won.
—He won, Billy Farts says, and Lutrec Spears is lightweight champion.
—Maybe I didn’t fight hard enough, the Kid tells them.
As they drive north upstate and into the night, Billy Faherty says,
—Take some time off.—
The Kid already knew what Billy wanted him to do which was to stop fighting and do something else.
—Decide what you want to do, Billy Faherty says. After you’ve given it some thought.
Billy doesn’t want to train him anymore, the Kid figured. He wants this to be his last fight.
—Maybe I didn’t fight hard enough, the Kid repeats.
—You won the fuckn fight, Mike White says.
—Yeah, that’s right, Penny White Half-Dog tells the Kid. You fuckn won that fight all right, man.
—He won the fuckn fight, Billy Farts says. He fuckn won. Period.—
Kid won the fight.
This is the final chapter in the Kid Coole serial that began in May of 2015.