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Ed Lacy - The Big Fix
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The Big Fix

Ed Lacy

     This page formatted 2009 Blackmask Online.

      http://www.blackmask.com

ARNO

TOMMY

ARNO

MAY

TOMMY

DETECTIVE STEINER

ARNO

RUTH STEINER

TOMMY

MAY CORK

TOMMY

ARNO

TOMMY

WALT STEINER

ALVIN HAMMER

JAKE

TOMMY

WALT STEINER

ARNO

TOMMY

JAKE

TOMMY

     THE BIG FIX

by Ed Lacy

     This book is fiction. No resemblance is intended between any character herein and any person, living or dead; any such resemblance is

purely coincidental.

            For Willie P—the noted sand-shark catcher

ARNO

     On the night Irish Tommy Cork's murder was planned, nothing very much out of the ordinary happened. Tommy was in the ring, taking a pasting—as usual. Back to the ropes, almost sitting on the second strand, Tommy crouched, gloved hands up in front of his face like a leather fence. He was fighting a strong youngster who was now whaling away with both hands in a moment of wild enthusiasm. Most of his blows were blocked, or ducked by Tommy's weaving head, but those few that didn't miss landed with loud thud sounds on the kidneys, head, or in the stomach, visibly shaking up the pale “old man.”

     There were only two hundred and thirty-one fans in the fight arena, not counting the TV crew, and although the ring seemed to be a crowded oasis amid the sections of empty seats, Arno and Jake sat back in the shadows of the overhanging balcony—quite alone. Arno was popping tiny hunks of spicy fried coconut into his big mouth. Jake sat there looking almost bored, his sullen face blank.

     “Well, what do you think of our pigeon?” Arno asked. “I been casing him for the last three weeks. A washed-up rumdum, hungry most of the time. But a real name—years ago. Fits in fine for us. Lost five of the seven bouts he's had this year. He's our new bankroll.”

     Jake said, “If the ref don't stop it, the kid is liable to beat us to it—make Cork a stiff before we can get to him. Look at that dumb kid, wide open and swinging like a rusty gate. Wonder why Cork don't belt him? You sure he was good—once?”

     “Yeah.”

     “The way that kid swings is a crime. If I was in there with him, one punch would end the fight.

     “Yeah, it sure would, kid,” Arno said, chewing on the coconut bits which he had purchased in a very fancy grocery, “either way. Jake, tomorrow you start.”

     “Nuts, I'm in shape now, for a wreck like him. I could...”

     “Shut up,” Arno said calmly but with a hint of whip-like menace under his voice. “We got too good a thing to be queered because you're a lazy bastard. You got to look the part, be on your toes. Tomorrow you start heavy training, Arno added as Tommy took a hard right on his quivering stomach, fell into a frantic clinch; his body deathly pale as he grabbed the muscular kid punching him.

     The referee sort of snarled, “Come on, break clean, boys. Come on, Cork, you're holding. Break when I tell you!”

     Jake shook his head, mumbled, “What a ref, ought to give him a soapbox for his speeches.”

TOMMY

     The fight club was a dingy affair. One sports writer swore it still held a horsey smell although it hadn't been a stable for at least forty years. The stale air was full of smoke and numerous body odors. Somehow the clammy silence also seemed to hold the lingering roar of the few fans, the hoarse, phony yells.

     If the club itself had a seamy odor, the cellar dressing room had the additional sharp stinks of damp decay, sweat, and liniments. As if a standard movie scene, the room was dimly lit by a single bulb and deserted except for the fighter on the ancient rubbing table. Tommy lay very still, eyes open, and at first glance seemed dead. The heavy, and wet-with-sweat, towel around his head like a shroud, disappeared into the faded and worn green robe with the large shamrock on the back. His unbandaged hands were neatly folded across his chest and scrawny hairy legs stuck out from the other end of the robe. A thin gold wedding ring was tied to the lace of his left boxing shoe.

     Tommy's face was naturally pale and small (when he was a child his mother used to talk of his “button face") but numerous punches had left it with a constant puffiness, the nose slightly thick, some scar tissue ridged over his eyes— which were warm and friendly, and a trifle glassy at the moment. It wasn't an unattractive face. It held a kind of rugged good looks, combined with the cruel cast of a real fighter. His upper lip was thick with a small cut, there was a red-purple mouse under his left eye, and a bloody bruise high up on the other freckled cheek.

     Tommy was humming to himself. Although deadly tired he was still full of the good relaxed feeling that comes when a fight is finished—win or lose. The door opened and Tommy raised his head for a second to watch Bobby Becker come in.

     Becker was a short plump man in his late fifties, immaculately dressed in a conservative dark blue double-breasted suit, white on white shirt, and a neat dull red bow tie. His round face was pink, the large head shiny bald except for a faint fringe of dirty-white hair. Gold-framed glasses were delicately balanced on his big nose; a heavy black ribbon ran from the glasses to his lapel. His sight was perfect but when Bobby drove a rum truck back during Prohibition days somebody told him glasses made him look like a “professional” man. There was an empty amber cigar holder between his fat lips, which he sucked on now and then. The doctor said his heart wouldn't stand for cigars any more.

     Tommy waved and tried to sit up, but the buzzing returned to his head, so he stretched out again. Here it comes, he thought. That dumb kid had to hit like a mule with his right. Jeez, I never seem to pick a soft one any more.

     Becker asked, “What you doing, living here now?” His voice was gentle but shaded with the shrillness which comes to some men in their late years.

     “I might at that. What's the rent?” Tommy said, suddenly thinking, Maybe Bobby can work out something. Let me sleep here in exchange for cleaning up, being a watchman? But it would have to be a secret, or it would spoil my rep.

     Becker wrinkled his fat nose. “Sure stinks here.”

     “But not of insecticide like the dump I'm living in.”

     “Take your shower. I'm going to lock up soon as the TV boys get their equipment out.”

     “I'm cooling off.”

     “From what? You were cooling off the last two rounds. That kid has a good right.”

     Tommy dismissed it with a wave of his left hand. “What right? Any goof can hit if he winds up and lets go like he was in a baseball game. Guy ought to be arrested if he lets himself get hit by that clumsy right.”

     “Then you'd get life.”

     Tommy forced himself to sit up, talked slowly to keep the buzzing in his head down. “Sony about tonight, Bobby. Kids these days are all headhunters. I didn't figure he'd have sense enough to go for my body. I had a plan. You saw the way this fool kid kept his hands up high, the way I worked his belly the first two rounds? Trouble was, in the third, when I finally got his guard down, I ran out of steam. Anyway, I wasn't stopped. I'll do better the next time.”

     Becker moved toward the stained rubbing table as if to sit, then brushed nothing off his sharply creased pants and stood. “Tommy, I don't know if there'll be a next time. I don't know if I can squeeze you in any more for these emergency four-rounders.”

     “Aw Bobby, you know I had an off-night. I can go a lousy four rounds any time.”

     “Yeah? You barely did tonight. Full of wine?”

     “Honest, Bobby, I'm sober. Just an off night. Bobby, you're the only break and hope I got left in the racket and...”

     “Tommy, it may not be up to me. And you can get hurt bad.”

     “Hurt? My experience is a big edge, Bobby. They don't get to me. The kid was lucky to rifle one through to my gut. Otherwise I'd have left-hooked him to death. I always give 'em a good show. Sure, he was a rough kid but... I'll level with you, Bobby. I sold a pint of blood yesterday afternoon.”

     Becker looked horrified, had to keep his glasses from slipping off his nose. “Yesterday? My God, you're crazy!”

     Tommy shrugged, then rubbed his big hands together, examining the lumpy knuckles. “Look, I was hungry, bad hungry. Would it have made any diff if I'd fainted from hunger out there tonight? I figured a day's rest would do it. It didn't.”

     “You were also gambling the main go would last the distance and you could collect twenty buck for not going on!”

     Tommy gave him as much of a grin as his cut lips could make. “Sure, I took a chance on that. You never lose a bet, Bobby? I watched the main event from the exit. That Billy Ash has a nice left. The way he took Georgie Davis out, mixing his punches, reminded me of myself in the Preston fight. I... Don't look at me like that, Bobby, I'm not going off into past history. Damn, everybody looks at me like I'm a punchy. You know I'll get up there again, Bobby. My hands are still good, never had no trouble with them....” He knocked on the wooden table, “Once I get eating regular again, get my strength back, I'll show these green kids what boxing is really like. What a good...”

     “Tommy, lad, listen to me. I've been your friend for going on fifteen years. I'm the one who first spotted you in the amateurs. Believe me, you've had it. Quit now, before your brains are scrambled.”

     “Nuts, I'm only thirty-two, I'll still make the big paydays again. I'll get up there, you know me, the luck of the Irish.”

     Becker sighed. “You and your big talk; you never even been to Ireland. Remember me, I was born in Kilkenny. It's a poor, hungry, cold country. If there's any luck, it's mostly bad.”

     “You sound like a lousy Black and Tan.”

     Becker held up the back of his fat hand. “Watch your mouth before I finish the shellacking you was taking in the ring.”

     “Bobby, you said we been pals. You know me, how I can fight. So I had a bad night but...”

     “It was on TV, too. Seeing a guy get a beating isn't good for the family. The sponsor gets complaints and... Getting to be a hell of a deal where I have to worry about ad executives and what some cigarette man's wife thinks.”

     “But if I hadn't sold my blood, I'd have flattened this rough kid. Match me with him again and you'll see. Why, if I was in shape, I would have looked real good against a musclehead like him. Then you could have set me up for a regular four-rounder next week. I win that, maybe one of the mob managers gets interested in me, and I'm making folding dough again.”

     Bobby Becker brushed his suit again as he said, “If, if, if. Wise up, Tommy, you're hanging around for nothing. Even if you still had it, it would be for nothing. I don't have to tell you TV has killed the racket, strangled the small clubs. You tell me, why should a joker go out and pay to see a bout when he can sit on his butt on his own couch and watch 'em for free? Why not long ago, before the second war, why there was a couple hundred small clubs across the country, at least a dozen I remember within fifty miles of here. Even a willing bum could fight two or three times a month. Now, there ain't twenty clubs in the whole U.S.A., a lousy three in this state, and I'm the only area operating weekly here. I lose my TV contract, I'm done. You seen the big crowd tonight, three hundred people! Okay, the TV fee carries me, but a pug has no place to learn his trade any more. In the old days a kid had maybe thirty or forty fights before he hit a main event. Now he's lucky to have thirteen fights in his whole career. Marciano had under fifty when he retired. Things are too tight. The 'in' managers keep maybe a dozen guys working steady, the rest don't make bread. Face it, Tommy, you've been washed up for years. Go get a job.”

     “They're waiting for me on Wall Street! This is all I know. I always been a pug, never wanted to be anything else. You know that. I never even had a Social Security card, until last month. You're wrong, Bobby. If TV has ruined the small clubs, it's also brought in the big money. Like you said, the pugs today are all novices. Once I get my break, I'll go over big. How many hundred-bout fighters like myself are around? TV has... Oh my God, I sure hope May didn't watch me on TV tonight.”

     Becker pulled out a folded handkerchief, carefully wiped his cigar holder. Not looking at Tommy he said, “The commission doc said something about revoking your license, kid.”

     “What?” The boxer actually leaped off the table.

     Becker nodded, replaced the empty holder between his lips. Then he said, “You looked terrible in there, covered up against the ropes most of the time, your legs shaking like you were being killed, the fans screaming to stop it. That's what I meant by it not being up to me. Well, take your shower. Here's your dough.” Bobby took a bulky roll of bills from his pants pocket. “Sixty dollars—minus my twenty, minus the fifteen you're into me from last month. I had to pay your second's six bucks. That's thirty-five... forty-one dollars. Here's yours—nineteen. Does your lip need stitching?”

     “Naw, ain't nothing. You know me, never was a bleeder.” Tommy took a large cracked suitcase from one of the busted wooden wall lockers. Opening the suitcase on the table, he removed wooden shower clogs and a crumpled Turkish towel. The suitcase was jammed with clean and dirty underwear, sweaters, socks, a pair of old shoes, and a shirt. Becker asked, “Haven't you a room no more?”

     “Of course. You think I'm a bum?”

     “Why you carting all your stuff around with you?”

     “I'm not living at the Waldorf. Stuff gets stolen.”

     “You mean you can't chance being locked out.” He sighed again. “I don't know, kid, you once looked like money in the bank—a dozen years ago. If you hadn't insisted on the Robinson fight...”

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