Impossible Gold by Ronald K. Myers

EXTRACT FOR
Impossible Gold

(Ronald K. Myers)


Impossible Gold

PROLOGUE

 

Blondie stared straight ahead and focused his opal-green killer eyes on Myers Hill.  Even though the 1948 Chevy pick-up truck was struggling under the weight of Al Capone’s vault, he had to coax the six-cylinder motor to get up enough speed to get up the hill.

He gripped the black knob on the floor shift, shifted through all four gears, and jammed the accelerator down.  With black, oily smoke pouring out its rusty tailpipe, the tailgate rattling, and a broken spring, causing the little green truck to tilt to one side, he charged the bottom of Myers Hill.

As a yellow splash of sunlight danced on his shoulder, a red flash of his girlfriend’s polished red fingernails caught his eye.  He jerked his head in her direction.

Carolyn raised her hands in protest.  “I know you’re trying to get away from a life of crime.  But slow down!”

“We’ll be all right.”

Carolyn dropped her hands to her lap and raised her voice.  “The tires are bald.  They’ll blow out.”

Determined to make it up the hill, Blondie stared straight ahead.  “I know that.”

With a look of excruciating discomfort filling her lovely face, Carolyn balled her hand into a fist.  Rearing back to strike Blondie’s shoulder, she screamed, “Slow down!”

Blondie kept his foot flat to the floor.  “The illegal gold we have in the back is our future.  If we get stuck, they’ll take it.”

For a moment, Carolyn’s cheeks grew tight with fury, but she slowly lowered her fist and jerked her silky black hair to the side.  As it flowed over her red gingham shirt of her bra-less body, she forced a nod and tensed for a crash.

Halfway up the hill, the motor groaned and began to lose power.  Blondie downshifted into third gear.  After a few yards, the truck slowed.

Carolyn relaxed.

Blondie hit second gear.  For a moment, the truck gained a little speed, but it was not enough.  He double-clutched and jammed the transmission into low gear.  Letting the engine run wide open, he jerked his foot off the clutch pedal.  It popped up off the floor.  The transmission whined and the engine bogged down.  Smoke and the smell burning asbestos rolled out from under the floor.  Just as it was about to stall, the engine surged with new energy.  The truck increased speed.

Near the top of the hill, the engine slowed.  Trying to encourage the truck to go faster, Blondie banged on the steering wheel.  “Come on, you piece of junk.”

With its overworked engine protesting in a steady moan, the truck crawled toward the top of the hill.  It was going to make it.  Blondie was finally going to be a rich man.  The tension of a lifetime vanished.  With a relieved grin, he looked over at Carolyn.

Her prominent cheekbones accented her lovely face and reminded him of a movie star.  Soon, they would have a beautiful life together.  He reached over and gently touched her on the shoulder.  Tomorrow, we’ll be married.”

Carolyn reached over and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder.  “Yes, we will.”

Before the truck got to the top of the hill — there!  The black blur of a Cadillac lurched to the right.  It swayed so far over, for a moment, it rode on two wheels.  Then it leapt over the centerline and came right at the truck.  Cutting the wheel to swerve away from the impending crash, Blondie hit the brakes.  The bald tires locked up.  The truck skidded toward the Cadillac.

Carolyn shrieked.

In the Cadillac, horror filled the man’s face.  He jerked the steering wheel.  The speeding Cadillac flew off the road.

Just when Blondie felt he had avoided a crash, the vault in the back shifted toward the broken spring side of the truck.  The sideways movement jerked him across the seat.  He mashed Carolyn against the door.  As he tried to get back behind the steering wheel, the bald tires let the truck slide off the road.

He managed to pull his body back behind the steering wheel, but it was too late.  They were rapidly heading down the steep side of Myers Hill.  He glanced off to the left.  As if they were in a race to the river, the Cadillac sailed down the hill ahead of them.  Grass and brush whipped at the front of the Cadillac, but the heavy front bumper cut and whapped it, sending it flying into the air.

Carolyn held her hands straight out and braced herself on the dashboard.  The truck hit the grass.

The Cadillac shot into the water.

The speed of the truck increased.  Grass and weeds flew up and plastered the windshield.

Carolyn screamed, “I can’t see.  Hit the brakes!”

Standing on the brake pedal with both feet, Blondie could not stop the truck.  Rushing toward the water, it hit a boulder.  Blondie flew up.  His head clunked on the metal roof and sent a bright four-pointed star into his mind.  He felt the truck lift off the side of the hill.  As it sailed into the air, a tingling sensation rolled in his stomach.  The truck whipped across the water with incredible speed but finally slowed and came to a stop.  Just before he blacked out, an earsplitting squeal of steel being ripped apart burned into his brain.

Sometime later, Blondie opened his eyes.  But it was as if he were looking through a curtain of mist.  A yellowish-green ribbon of river water sprayed passed by the doorpost of the truck and brushed across his face.  Struggling toward consciousness, he blinked the water from his eyes and peered out the opened window.  A hundred yards downriver, the water kicked up, hissed into a spray, and burst into angry, raging rapids.  Where jagged black chunks of rotten-teeth-like rocks hung from the shoreline, high waves of water exploded and swelled into pure white foam.

Directly over Blondie’s head, streaks of lightning signaled the start of a downpour.  In the center of the pale-green river, the arm of the man who had been in the Cadillac made one last dismal splash.  When the fingertips of his hand slipped under the surface, a widening pool with a core of air bubbles followed them.

Blondie wanted to swim to the center of the river, dive down, and save the man before he was carried to the rapids, but it wasn’t a heroic gesture.  Blondie wanted to see what the idiot that had forced him off the road looked like, but the murky water was up to Carolyn’s knees.  With rain slanting across the cracked and grass spattered windshield, he reached over to lift her from the seat.  Her eyes were closed.

He shook her.  “Carolyn, are you all right?”

Before she could answer, something under the truck clunked.  A powerful jolt jerked him sideways.  The truck tilted to one side and sank down.  Twin torrents of mustard-colored water rushed down the riverbank and poured over the passenger side window, filling the cab of the truck and began covering Carolyn’s head.

Blondie took a deep breath, bent over, and stuck his head into the rising water.  Groping around, he found her arm and pulled.  It didn’t budge.  He felt the right side of her body.  One of her lovely legs and her frail arm were mashed between the firewall and the caved-in passenger door.  He thrust his head up out of the murky water and looked at Carolyn’s face.  Her unblinking eyes bulged wide open.  Her beautiful jaw hung open to her chest, and her wet hair was plastered against her head.

“Don’t die now!” Blondie cried.  “We’ve come too far to quit.”

A jagged tail of lightening zigzagged through the treetops and sizzled across the roof of the truck.  Chest-pounding thunder exploded and echoed down the valley.  Water gushed out of the charcoal sky and pounded on the river so hard the water seemed to boil.

The bluish tint in Carolyn’s oxygen-deprived face told Blondie the only girl he had ever trusted had met her Maker.  Pain he had never felt before, filled his chest.  Tears welled up, but he had no time to cry.  The water was rising fast.  To save himself, he had to get out of the truck, but he couldn’t free his left leg.  He was scared, but the essence of any good gangster was the ability to admit to himself that he was afraid and then have the discipline to channel it into something that would save his life.  He tried to slow his racing heart and assess his options.

During the crash, Al Capone’s gold vault, as big as a coffin, had crashed through the back window and grazed his left shoulder.  Now the vault tilted at an odd angle.  It felt as if its full weight of two thousand pounds was sitting on his left leg.  Blondie pushed on the vault.  It didn’t move.  He stretched his neck to the left to see if he could find a way to move the vault off his leg.

The end of the vault was wider than the back window.  During impact, its weight had caused it to plow right through the metal surrounding the back window.  Then with the power of a runaway freight train, it had zipped past his shoulder, hit the left side of the steering wheel, bent it down, and stopped at the bottom of the steering column.  He could see that the vault was jammed as tight as if it had been pounded in with a gigantic hand.  He would never be able to move it.

He reached down and grabbed his trapped leg.  Pushing with his other foot, he pulled.  His leg slipped out an inch but seized solid.  The water was up to his chest.  With the rain falling fast, in minutes, the water would be over his head.  Hoping he could signal someone in a passing car, he craned his neck and searched the far away top of Myers Hill.  But in the rain, cars going past up on the road would not see the tracks the Cadillac and Chevy had made when they had gone over the edge.  People would drive on by without even a vestige of curiosity.  The only way he could get out the death trap would be to cut his leg off.

He reached into his pocket for his knife.  It wasn’t there.  As a goodwill gesture, he had left his suit coat at the old Peacock Alley Bar for Neal, the young man who had made things happen.  In his haste to haul the valuable vault away, Blondie had forgotten about the encoded message that led to a box of money at the old Peacock Alley foundation.  His knife and the message were in the suit pocket.

He needed something sharp.  When the vault had gone through the back of the truck, it may have sheared off a piece of metal.  If it had, he could use it to cut off his leg.  He felt around on the seat.  Nothing.  He felt under his arm.  His 38 Colt was still there.  Seven bullets.  Maybe he could shoot his leg off.  The water had covered Carolyn’s face and rose to a foot below his chin.

He screamed, “Finally I’m a rich man!  Why does this have to happen now?”

Trying to gain a little more freedom, he wiggled his body.  His leg stayed trapped.  He pounded on the bent steering wheel and moaned.

Common sense should have told him not to trust an old gangster like Smeal.  Mob guys were dangerous, and there was no telling what they would do.  But if he had paid just a little attention to politics, he would have known President Franklin Roosevelt had imposed a ban on U.S. citizens buying, selling, or owning gold in 1933.  To him it didn’t make any sense to make gold illegal, but the government had done it.  In January 1934, the price of gold had risen sixty-five percent.  Making owning gold illegal and enforcing the law with a fine of ten thousand dollars, ten years in jail, or both, stopped hoarders from profiting after Congress devalued the dollar.  Even at the frozen price of thirty-five dollars an ounce, Blondie figured the troy weight of the vault to be over two thousand pounds, and worth eight hundred forty thousand dollars.

No wonder Capone had devised encrypted letters and made special keys that had led Blondie and three young men to the notorious Jungle Inn Casino, where an unsuspecting victim, thinking he had found the vault and was going to take it, triggered a hidden shotgun that blew his chest wide open.  Although the man had been killed, the wooden stock of the shotgun contained clues that led to the hidden mine, and the vault.  Blondie wasn’t going to sit back and let the wealth of the vault pass him by.  He didn’t know how, but he was determined to grab a share for himself.

Even though mob guys said Smeal didn’t have enough sense to hold down a blow job, he had the connections to get the gold vault across the border.  And to stay out of jail, it was always a must to do your business through front men.

Overhead a flurry of hail rattled on the roof.  Blondie turned and looked out the open window of the truck.  The river pitched magnificently and fired sheets of water into his face.  With a vengeance, a chill wind scooped down into the river, sending another volley of spray.  It drenched his face and blond hair.

The water level in the truck rose to just under his chin.  Holding the Colt in his hand above the water, he checked the action.  Would seven bullets be enough to shoot his leg off?  Seven good shots might shatter the bone and he would be able to rip his leg free.  So what if he would end up with only one leg.  When he cashed in the vault, he could buy a new leg and much more.  He placed the gun under the water and pointed it at his leg just below his knee.

“Wait!” he yelled.

When he had shot a man in the leg, as a warning, the bullet had hit an artery and the man had bled to death.  He didn’t want that to happen to him.  He reached down, slipped off his belt, and clinched it around his thigh.  He held the barrel of the Colt two feet away from his leg.  At that distance he couldn’t miss.  He placed his finger on the trigger, but he didn’t fire.  He thought about Smeal.

Smeal had made it seem so right.  He even had a code name for the vault: “Milk Horse.”  Blondie wished he had gotten the truck himself.  If he had, it wouldn’t have been overloaded, and he wouldn’t have gotten a beat-up 1948 Chevy truck with a broken spring.  For cryin’ out loud, it was 1962.  He would have stolen something new.  He would have stolen something with good tires that wouldn’t have slid off the road and sent him and the only girl he had ever loved, sliding down the steep embankment of Myers Hill and crashing into the river.

He grimaced and pulled the trigger on the Colt.  It jumped in his hand.  A dull plunk came from the water, but he didn’t feel the bullet hit his leg.  He took a deep breath and bent his head into the water.  The water from the cloudburst had rushed down the riverbank and washed yellow mud into the river.  He couldn’t see.  He reached down, and felt where the bullet should have gone into his leg.  Nothing.  He pulled his head up out of the water.  Maybe it was a bad shell.  He shot again.  Still, nothing.

Then it dawned on him.  The cold water had made his leg numb.  Now the water was just below his nose.  Tilting his head back, he gulped in deep breaths of air.  Then he ducked down, bent over, and emptied the Colt into his leg.  With all his might, he tried to pull his leg free.  Pain shot through his entire body.  Throwing his head upward, he gasped for air, but breathed in water.

Struggling to get his head higher, and between coughing out sprays of water from deep in his lungs, he gulped in a few good breaths of air.  Then he yanked and twisted his trapped leg.  He contorted with pain and belched water, but no matter how much he struggled and squirmed, his trapped leg would not separate.  At the last moment he remembered that there were two bones in his bottom leg.  He figured had only managed to shoot through one.  Now the only way he could shoot his leg off would be to hold the barrel directly on his leg, but he had already spent the last five bullets.

He reached down and felt his leg.  Where it should have been shredded from the bullets, it seemed unscathed.  Too late, he realized the resistance of the water had slowed down and stopped the bullets.  They hadn’t even penetrated the cloth on his pants.

As he sat back and waited to drown, he wondered how Al Capone had died in the coalmine that had hid the vault, but he figured in a few minutes he would follow Al Capone’s footsteps.  He too would shake hands with the Devil.

Although Blondie had always broadcasted a tough guy image with no feelings, he didn’t want to face death alone.  Holding his breath, he reached over, grabbed Carolyn’s limp hand, and pulled.  Her lifeless body broke free.  He pushed her out the window.  With one eye barely above the surface of the water, he watched her beautiful head float face up.  If he could free his leg, he could pull her to shore and maybe revive her, but the water went over his head.

He pulled on his leg.  It moved about six inches.  He stretched his neck and managed to lift his head above the water.  There was still a chance.  He let loose of Carolyn’s hand.  She drifted for a moment.  Then the current swept her into rising mists of the raging rapids.  The last thing he saw of her was a dim flash of her red polished fingernails just before they disappeared in the mad swirling water.

More than ever, Blondie wanted to save her.  He pushed against the broken steering wheel and pulled.  His leg moved.  The rain slowed.

He gulped down one breath of air.  Like the coup de grâce on a dying man, the wind moaned overhead, bringing a hideous squall that rushed down from the black sky and gushed into the window of the truck.  The truck turned sideways and rolled over onto its roof.

While the rain washed away all traces of where the truck had gone off the road, Al Capone’s gold vault, the truck, and Blondie sunk to the bottom of the Shenango River.

As gloom and the darkness of death surrounded him, Blondie wondered what would have happened if he had shared the vault with Freddy Crane, the muscular black-haired kid, Rafferty Allnut, the orange-headed wise guy with the wide-toothed smile, and Neal McCord.  They weren’t the usual fresh-faced kids whose youth made them loud and arrogant.  They were quite inventive, and although they came from the wrong side of the tracks, they didn’t let it slow them down.  When Blondie thought about the third of the trio, Neal McCord, a little laugh escaped from his mouth and sent air bubbles to the surface.  When Neal made love with a girl, it was said that they generated so much excitement that people ran for tornado cellars.  But then, sadness filled Blondie's chest.  He and Carolyn would never make people run for tornado cellars.

He was out of air.


Chapter 1

 

An announcer wearing a black suit emerged from the darkness and stepped into a spotlight.  After a spatter of applause, the crowd went silent.

Looking at Freddy Crane’s faintly American Indian face and his black, swept back hair that accented his dark brown eyes, a person would never believe that he and his friends had been cheated out of Al Capone’s gold vault.

Now in a heroic venture that few had the courage to attempt, Freddy was trying to get rich.  As he waited to pit himself against an unyielding force, inside his muscular body, violence ached to explode.

Standing in the center of a boxing ring and reaching above his head, the announcer held up his hand.  From high in the rafters, a microphone came down on a wire.  As he grabbed the microphone, his baldhead gleamed under the bright light, and his black bowtie contrasted against his white shirt.  When he began to speak, his nostrils flared.

“And now…for the main event.”

Silenced filled the air.

The announcer continued.  “Six rounds of heavyweight boxing.”

Freddy gasp.  He had only trained to go three rounds.  Something was wrong.

The spotlight raced across the ring and stopped on his opponent.  The opponent bared his teeth, and a guttural sound came from deep within his chest.

The announcer raised his voice.  “In this corner, from our hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, Bonebreaker Burke.”

Clapping their hands, the crowd stood up and roared in approval.

Freddy snapped his head around and looked into Terry’s eyes.  “What’s going on?”

Terry massaged the back of Freddy’s neck.  “Your opponent didn’t show up.  I arranged for you to box heavyweight.”

Freddy spun around and held up his hand in protest.  “No way.”

Although Terry was a rare guy that really listened to Freddy and cared about what he was doing, Freddy stood up and attempted to climb out of the boxing ring.  But Terry held him back.

“Don’t worry,” Terry said.  “This is that guy’s first match.  You’ll take him easy.”

“But he outweighs me by a hundred pounds.”

“No problem.  He’s all fat, and you look heavier than you are.”

Freddy didn’t care how fat or out of shape his opponent was.  He didn’t want to box a heavyweight.  “Let me out of this ring.”

Terry gave Freddy a pleading look.  “We’re a long way from Patagonia.  Here, we’re all we’ve got.  We got to stick together.”

Terry was right.  If they didn’t have each other, they wouldn’t have anything.  Freddy calmed down and mentally tried to prepare for the fight, but the spotlight bathed him in bright light.

The announcer turned toward him.  “And in this corner, from Bomb Town, Youngstown, Ohio, Freddy Crane.”

Although Freddy didn’t live in Youngstown, infamous for its many car bombings called “Youngstown Tune-ups”, Terry said saying they were from Bomb Town would enhance his image and strike fear in his opponent.  But Freddy didn’t care what the announcer said.  Hunger pains from not eating to make weight and little money for food made him want to get the fight over, collect the money, and eat.

The usual custom of both boxers coming to the center of the ring didn’t happen.  Elbowing the referee to the side, the announcer held the microphone and talked to the crowd.

“Gentleman, you know the rules.  Let’s have a nice clean fight.”

While the microphone slowly followed the cord back up into the rafters of the dilapidated building, the announcer stepped through the three ropes of the boxing ring that had been set up on a hardwood gym floor.

The main lights came on.

Freddy looked toward his opponent’s corner.  Burke was sitting down.  A white robe hung from what looked to be shoulders of stone.  Even though the robe covered what seemed to be a potbelly, Burke looked as big as an old steel refrigerator.  Freddy grabbed Terry’s shoulder.  “Are you nuts?  He’s not all fat.”  He stood up.  “I’m getting out of here.”

Terry pushed him back down.  “You can take this guy.”

“But I’m not in shape for six rounds.”

“This guy ain’t nothin’.”

“Then why do they call him Bonebreaker?”

“That’s just to scare people.”

Freddy forced a smile.  “He’s doing a good job of it.”

“Yeah, I know.  That’s why his opponent chickened out.  This is the only match we could get.”

Freddy looked across the ring.  Burke sprang to his feet.  His trainer helped him slip off his robe.  The massive man stood six-foot-six, and he didn’t have a potbelly.  His tiny waist looked like Freddy could put his hands around it until his fingers touched.  And it caused his shoulders and chest to look bigger.  His big boxing-gloved fists looked like iron wrecking balls hanging down on long lethal arms, ready to break Freddy’s little bones.  With his arms raised, Burke danced in circles, accepting the cheers of the crowd.  As Freddy watched in awe, Burke’s leg muscles rippled like they would never tire.

The referee signaled Freddy to stand up.  Like a trapped animal, Freddy squirmed on the tiny stool.  Protesting to Terry, he stood up.  Cheers from the crowd drowned out his protests.  Terry bent down and took away the stool.  Freddy glanced at Burke then at Terry.

Terry smiled.  “What are you worried about?  You’ll be wearing headgear.”  Terry placed a leather boxing helmet onto Freddy’s head and smudged Vaseline on his eyebrows.  “This will keep you from getting cut.”

The uncomfortable helmet constricted Freddy’s sight.  He wiggled it around on his head and turned to Terry.

“This thing’s too big.  Do I have to wear it?”

Terry nodded.  “Even this dump has rules.”

Freddy reached up and adjusted the oversized headgear.  “But I’m no heavyweight.”

“We didn’t have a choice.  I bet every cent we had.”

Freddy’s stomach churned.  He didn’t like the idea of not having any money for bus fare to get home.  Miles of running to get in shape for the fight had worn holes in the bottoms of his only pair of shoes.  If he lost, it would be a long seventy-five miles back home.

He looked to Terry.  “You didn’t bet all the money, did you?”

Terry nodded confidently.  “It’s a sure thing.  I even borrowed a big chunk of dough from the loan sharks.”

With his eyes narrowed, Burke stood in the center of the ring and fiercely stared at Freddy.  As Freddy cringed under the threat, Terry handed him his mouthpiece.  Freddy put it in and clinched down.  Burke waved his gloved hand in a come here gesture.

The bleachers were filled to capacity, and many people were standing.  The people cheered and called Freddy’s name.  If he backed out now, they would think he was a coward.

Terry stepped behind Freddy and massaged his shoulders.  As Terry’s fingers jerked on his neck, he hoped Terry would call off the match, and give the money back to the bone-breaking loan sharks.  He tried to relax for a second, but the bell rang.

In a blazing fury, Burke jumped to his feet, ready for action.

Feeling as if he were walking into an execution chamber, Freddy stepped to the center of the ring.

Burke held out his gloved hand.

Freddy touched it.

The fight was on.

Knowing he wasn’t in shape for six rounds, Freddy knew he would have to conserve energy.  He danced around, but didn’t throw a punch.  Suddenly, the big canyon mouth of Burke’s trainer roared, “Come on, Burke, One-two!  One-two!”

Before Freddy could turn his head, Bam!  Bam!  Two, quick hard whaps landed on the top of his helmeted head.  The helmet dropped over his eyes.  He reached up with both gloved hands and pushed it up.  Like double-barrel shotgun blasts, Bam!  Bam!  Two more punches shot straight into his face.  The helmet went down over his eyes again.  He pushed it up and was rewarded with another one-two punch.  Moving away, he jerked the helmet up off his eyes and jammed it high up onto his forehead.

Terry yelled from the corner, “Get Inside!”

Freddy moved in.  Burke’s fists came at him like shots from exploding cannons.  Freddy ducked.  The flying fists sailed over his head.  He jabbed back.  His fist only flicked air.  Burke was too far away.  Bam!  Bam!  From out of nowhere, that one-two got Freddy again.  Freddy turned and pushed up the helmet.  Then he moved in close.  Burke jumped back and moved from side to side.  As if they were coming from somewhere outside the ring, punches from his long arms flew at Freddy.  Punch after punch landed on his head.  As bright fireworks danced on the backs of his eyelids, he covered up and stood his ground.  He tried to jab, but hit nothing.

The bell rang.

Staggering to his corner, Freddy felt the leather athletic supporter, boxers were required to wear, droop down around his behind.  Riffles of laughter trickled in from the stands.  When he finally made it to the stool, he pulled up the supporter and sat down, Terry was there with Q-tips in his mouth.  He held a water bottle in one hand and Vaseline in the other.  Holding his mouthpiece in his hand, Freddy huffed for as much air as he could suck into his oxygen-deprived lungs.  Feeling his chest rise and fall with each breath, he turned to Terry.  “I can’t make it.”

Terry smeared more Vaseline of Freddy’s eyebrows and handed him the water bottle.  Freddy took a mouthful of water and spit it into a dented bucket.  Terry put both hands on Freddy’s shoulders and looked into his eyes.  “We can’t quit now.  The crowd’s cheering for you.  When you win, we win a lot of money.”

“When I win?” Freddy questioned and sucked in a deep breath of air.  “I won’t last another round.”

The bell rang.

Terry jumped out of the way.

Freddy didn’t get up.  He sat on the stool and turned to Terry.  “Throw in the towel.  I quit.”

Burke stood in the center of the ring and waved his arm in a come-here gesture.

Freddy stayed on the stool.

The crowd booed.

Terry jerked the stool out from under Freddy.  He started to fall, caught his balance, and staggered to his feet.  Terry patted him on the back and talked in his ear.

“Go out there and knock him out.  The fight will be over.”

Freddy wondered why he hadn’t thought of knocking out his opponent before.  If he knocked him out, it wouldn’t matter if he couldn’t last six rounds.  The fight would be over.  He would have enough money to have the electricity turned back on at his mother’s house.  All he had to do was knock the big lug out.  He pulled on the heavy athletic supporter and shambled to the center of the ring.

Again, “One-two!  One-two!” blared out from Burke’s corner.

Even though Burke had an extremely long reach advantage, Freddy was sure he wasn’t going to get caught with that one-two again.  Bam!  Bam!  It got him anyway.  Pain raced through his eyes and exploded in his brain.  Blood ran from his nose.  Fighting to gain back his equilibrium, he looked into Burke’s face.  Burke laughed as if he had already won the match.  But when pain crawled into Freddy’s chest, anger erupted.

“Get inside!” Terry yelled.

Freddy put his chin on his own chest.  Walking slow and deliberate, he waded toward the long-armed skyscraping opponent.  Burke’s punches rocketed off the top of his head.  He didn’t care.  He had to get close enough for his short arms to do some damage.

He jabbed.

Burke jumped to the right and mockingly smiled.  Freddy stepped in and got inside.  As fast as he could, he threw three good punches into Burke’s stomach.  Burke moaned and bent over.  Freddy looked into Burke’s face.  His smile disappeared.  He backed away and fired that one-two.  This time it whizzed over Freddy’s head.  Freddy stepped in and caught Burke in a clinch.  Burke tried to wiggle out of it.  Freddy caught him in a bear hug and lifted him off the canvas.

Someone in the crowd mocked the lift and jeered, “Eeww!  Strong man!”

That felt like a slur against Freddy’s fighting abilities and a personal attack at him.  If this were a street fight, he would have hoisted the big bully onto his shoulder and flipped him right on his head.  He’d be looking up.  Freddy flexed his knees to lift and throw.  Laughter erupted from the stands.

The referee tapped Freddy on the shoulder.  “Break it up.  Fix your supporter.”

Freddy’s supporter was drooping down again.  He lowered Burke and pulled the supporter up almost to his chest.

The referee started them again.

Freddy bulled his way in and kept punching.  That helmet went over his eyes again.  Burke punched it up.  Freddy kept punching.  He pushed Burke against the ropes.  The loose ropes sagged and wrapped around the sides of Burke’s body.  Now Burke couldn’t jump back.  Now he couldn’t jump from side to side.  Now he couldn’t make Freddy miss.

Like a trapped wild animal, Burke punched back.  Freddy bobbed and weaved in a steady rhythm.  Burke’s lethal punches fell out of sync with Freddy’s rhythm.  Over and over, Burke’s punches zinged past Freddy’s shoulders and swished past his head.  When he realized all of Burke’s punches had missed, Freddy punched back with newfound strength.  Even though the laughter of the crowd changed to an oceanic roar, he could hear sounds of pain erupt from deep inside Burke’s body.

Finally, the seemingly indestructible Burke stayed bent over.  Now his head was within range.  To set him up for a good hit, Freddy jabbed.  Burke jerked to the right.  Freddy let a powerful right-cross fly.  It landed square on the side of Burke’s face.  He fell against the ropes.  As his face turned purple with rage, his enormous weight caused the posts that held the ropes to sag to the floor.  Suddenly, they were standing outside the ring, boxing on the hardwood gym floor.

Freddy dropped his arms and looked toward the ring.  With a punch that seemed to come from outside the gym, Burke blasted him right in the nose.  Freddy felt it snap.  Spangles of tiny blue stars exploded in front of his eyes.  He lifted his arms for defense.  Burke cocked his arms for another punch.  Freddy’s legs didn’t want to move.

From out of Burke’s corner, came, “One, two!  One two!”

In his mind, Freddy yelled at Burke, You’re not going to blast me with that one-two again.

On the edge of losing consciousness, Freddy tried to take a step toward Burke, but his wobbly legs would not support him.  Off balance, he fell forward.  His head crashed into Burke’s chest.  It felt like a huge hard rock, but it stopped him from falling to the floor.  He regained his footing, shook the cobwebs out, and waded into Burke.  With every ounce of strength left in his body, he jackhammered Burke’s stomach with punches.

Falling back, Burke let the one-two fly.  Bam!  Bam!  He got Freddy again.  Like fabulous silver fireworks, bright stars exploded before his eyes.  Through a gray haze that was filled with spangling spiders, he followed Burke’s body and fell forward.  On the way down, he kept punching.  Burke’s head was a foot off the hardwood floor.  Freddy’s right cross came out of the universe and smashed into Burke’s jaw.  Burke’s head clunked on the floor.  His body collapsed.  He was out cold.

The referee excitedly waved the fight over.  In a blind rage, Freddy kept on punching.  Trainers and the referee seemed to come from somewhere in the middle of all the cascading stars whirling around Freddy’s head.  As they pulled him off the fallen Burke, he looked back over his shoulder.  The people in the bleachers looked like they were fighting each other.  Terry ran to Freddy and lifted his arm in victory.

“You knocked him out,” he said, with jubilation.  “We won.  They threw in the towel.”

Freddy couldn’t breathe through his nose.  He spit out his mouthpiece, opened his bloody mouth, and sucked in deep drafts of air.  His raised arms over his head felt like a heavy iron weight.  He lowered them.  Terry cut the ties to Freddy’s boxing gloves and slipped them off.  As he threw a robe around Freddy’s shoulders, a flashbulb went off in front of them.  A man with a crazed look on his face stormed out of the bleachers and rushed up to Freddy.

“What did you hit him when he was down for?”

A jovial, redheaded man walking past, said, “Anybody that can knock an ape like that out of the ring can’t be all bad.”

The man with the crazed look went after the red-haired man.  The bleacher crowd, booed, and cheered at the same time.  Terry jumped up and down next to Freddy.

“You won!  We’re rich!  We’re rich!”

The announcer stepped to the center of the ring.

The crowd went silent.