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Rumble in the Jungle (Fight Card Book 13), страница 1


Rumble in the Jungle (Fight Card Book 13)

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Rumble in the Jungle (Fight Card Book 13)
























  e-Book Edition – First Published January 2013

  Copyright © 2013 David James Foster

  Cover by Keith Birdsong

  This is a work of fiction. Characters, corporations, institutions and organizations mentioned in this novel are either the product of the author's imagination or, if real, used fictitiously without any intent to describe actual conduct.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission from the publisher.


  The Irish Rover. Traditional.

  Men of Harlech. Traditional.

  The Minstrel Boy. Traditional.

  The author would like to acknowledge the Bunurong people, the Traditional Custodians of the land on which this story was written. They are connected to this land, have walked upon it, and continue to care for it and nurture it for future generations.


  Shelton's Boxing Hall, Queens, New York, 14 October 1953...

  Brendan Slugger O'Toole saw the right cross coming. Normally, he would have danced to the left, out of range, and slipped in a left hook or a body shot while his opponent was exposed.

  Normally. But not today.

  Today, O'Toole was hit hard. He wanted to be hit. He shrugged off the blow, and then taunted his opponent, Elmo Hurricane Higgins.

  “Come On! Can't you do better than that!” he bellowed.

  Even through the mouth-guard, O'Toole's breath reeked of whiskey.

  Higgins, a veteran colored fighter from Harlem, accepted the challenge and threw another right cross. It landed cleanly. O'Toole shook his head with rage and charged his opponent.

  Higgins saw him coming and pushed out a left jab, and followed it up with yet another right cross, and then a left uppercut. The three punch combo had the desired effect and sent O'Toole reeling back into the ropes. Higgins followed him and began pounding away at his opponent's midsection.

  Slugger choked back the mixture of bile and whiskey rising from the pit of his stomach. Then brought his elbows in tight to protect himself.

  Higgins went upstairs. Head shots.

  O'Toole was swaying in the rigging, being peppered with blows. Higgins moved in to strike again. However, before he could land another shot, the bell rang.

  The fighters broke apart.

  O'Toole muttered an obscenity and then stumbled to his corner and flopped on the stool. O'Toole's trainer, Leo Bourke, a corpulent man with a comb-over, was not happy with what he had been witnessing.

  “What's wrong with you?” he yelled, spittle flying from his lips.

  O'Toole grunted, which only served to make Bourke angrier.

  “Don't you want to win?” the trainer added.

  Another grunt. Bourke threw his head back in disgust.

  Out of desperation Bourke said, “Look, I know you're all eaten up inside about your wife dying, but you're in a boxing ring now. If you're hurting, take it out on the other fighter. Don't just give up like this. This is not the Brendan O'Toole I know.”

  O'Toole was angered that Bourke brought his wife into it. What did Bourke know about loss? What did anybody know? They couldn't understand.

  To hell with everybody!

  While Bourke continued his monologue, O'Toole contemptuously turned his head and looked out at the sparse crowd. In recent months he hadn't been much of a draw-card, turning up drunk for his bouts. Catching his eye, one of the ringside onlookers started singing a verse from the The Irish Rover.

  “There was 'Slugger' O'Toole, who was drunk as a rule, and Fighting Ben Tracey from Dover, and young man, Bert McCann, from the banks of the Bann, was the skipper of the Irish Rover ...”

  Drunk as a rule! O'Toole didn't take kindly to the taunt, and spat at the singer. This drew a chorus of boos and hisses from the crowd, but O'Toole didn't care. He hadn't come here to make friends.

  The bell rang.

  O'Toole stood and walked to the center of the ring. Higgins came out to meet him, and threw a sharp right body shot, landing cleanly in O'Toole's breadbasket.

  O'Toole almost threw-up, spitting out his mouth guard.

  Slugger slouched forward and lowered his gloves. Higgins came in fast throwing a flurry of punches, all head shots. O'Toole absorbed the punishment. Blow after blow landed, forcing him back against the ropes once again.

  O'Toole didn't put up a fight.

  Higgins stopped, figuring O'Toole had had enough.

  “Come On!” O'Toole yelled, raising his fists, and daring Higgins to throw another punch.

  Higgins did.

  Slugger lowered his gloves again, and the punch hit him on the point of the jaw.

  It was good enough. O'Toole slid down the ropes and slumped to the canvas. As the referee counted, through swollen eyes, O'Toole stared out at the blurred patrons in the crowd. They were not pleased with the contest. Expressing their disapproval, they pelted the ring with empty beer bottles and other refuse.

  To hell with them.

  O'Toole closed his eyes and let the darkness wash over him.


  The smelling salts brought O'Toole around fast. He was in the locker room, laid out on the table. He shook his head, opened his eyes, and tried to focus. A blurry figure stood before him. It was Bourke. As O'Toole sat up, Bourke threw a towel at him in disgust.

  Bourke had been O'Toole's trainer for three years, and for a while it looked like they made a formidable team, climbing the rankings quickly. But that climb was over.

  “That's it, Brendan. You're done. You'll never get another fight in New York City. You'll be lucky if they don't take your license.”

  “I don't care,” O'Toole muttered, running his fingers through his greasy hair.

  “Well, I do. It makes me look bad. I don't want you coming around the gym no more. I’ve had it with you!”

  O'Toole just grunted.

  Bourke shook his head.

  “Here's your fee for the fight,” Bourke said. He handed over a small Goldkraft envelope. “Frankly, I don't think you deserve it. Why don’t you put it to good use? Get yourself a meal and get tidied up. What happened to the man I used to know?”

  Bourke turned on his heel, walking out of the locker room and slamming the door behind him.

  O'Toole sat in silence for a few minutes, clearing the cobwebs from his mind. Then he went to the locker, opened it and started to get changed. On the back of the locker door was a small mirror. He looked at the man staring back. He was twenty-eight years old. His thin face was swollen from the punishment it had absorbed during the fight. Hi
s left eye was practically closed, with a purple crescent hanging under it. His sandy hair was slicked back with stale sweat. He took his battered fedora from the top shelf and slapped it on his head. Then he forcibly flung the door to the locker shut.

  He was sick of boxing, and sick to death of the man in the mirror.


  Danny Reilly's Bar, Hell's Kitchen, New York, Christmas Eve, 24 December 1953...

  “I'll have another,” O'Toole slurred, slamming his empty glass down on the bar.

  “Don't you think you've had enough?” Dan Reilly asked, scooping up the glass and wiping down the bar with a cloth in the process.

  “I'll tell you when I've had enough. Pour,” O'Toole snapped.

  Reilly shook his head, but picked up the bottle of Bushmills from the shelf and poured a slug into a fresh glass, and placed it in front of O'Toole.

  Reilly was in his sixties, partially bald, with tufts of gray hair circling his head. He had the perfect disposition for a barman. He was a great observer, and could see what people needed. Sometimes, it was an ear for them to pour out their troubles. Or maybe it was a bit of peace and quiet. On this night, he could tell Brendan O'Toole wanted to talk. It wasn't a rare occurrence. After O'Toole got a few drinks into his belly he always wanted to talk... and it was always the same story. But each time Reilly would listen intently, as if it were the first time he had heard the tale.

  “I don't care about the boxing,” O'Toole mumbled, staring at his distorted golden reflection in the glass. “I have had enough of fighting... Sometimes it seems like I have been fighting all my life.”

  “Sometimes a man has to fight for what's right,” Reilly said.

  “I done more than my share. I grew up in Chicago – the windy city. Never knew my parents. They dropped me off on the steps to an orphanage.”

  As Reilly excused himself and served another customer, O'Toole's mind drifted back to Chicago, and to St. Vincents Asylum for Boys where he grew up. He wondered what Father Tim would think if he could see him now. Most likely disappointed.

  The fighting priest, Father Tim, was the man who taught O'Toole how to take care of himself in the ring, and consequently on the streets. He taught him about honor and respect, right and wrong. These life-lessons were delivered in three minute sessions in the boxing ring set up in the basement of the orphanage. As O'Toole thought back on those lessons delivered by Father Tim’s lightening fast hands, he rubbed his jaw.

  O'Toole's journey from St. Vincent's Asylum for Boys in Chicago to a bar stool in Danny Reilly's Bar had been a long one. When he was eighteen, he left the Asylum for Parris Island, where he was trained in the art of war. In early 1944, he was shipped to Italy as an infantryman. There, he learned he couldn't rely on anything except himself and his Enfield rifle. He came to trust that rifle more than any man. It never let him down, even when his battalion walked into a fire-storm in Palermo and O'Toole had to use it to take out eighteen enemy soldiers.

  Using his rifle he had killed coldly and dispassionately, all in the line of duty. At the time, it hadn’t bothered him. He knew what he was fighting for and why. It was after the war, that he had trouble adjusting.

  Reilly returned with a bowl and a bag of pretzels. He placed the bowl in front of O'Toole, and filled it with pretzels.

  “Help yourself,” Reilly said.

  O'Toole reach over and grabbed a small handful. He slid one into the corner of his mouth and then continued with his story, as he crunched down.

  “You probably think I am just another drunken bum,” O'Toole mumbled.

  “You're just going through a rough patch, that's all,” Reilly responded.

  “I used to be a drunk,” O'Toole admitted. “I settled in New York after the war. I was okay at first. Then I began to have nightmares about the men I’d killed. They were men like me, just serving their country. They probably had wives and families. Now abandoned. It got to me, you know?”

  Reilly nodded.

  O'Toole ate another pretzel, and then continued. “I guess that's when the drinking began. At first it was just the odd shot of whiskey to calm my nerves. Then I moved on to a small hidden hip flask. When nobody was watching, I'd take a belt to help get me through the day. Then it became a bottle every night. I reckon I would have just become another drunken stumble-bum if it hadn't been for Merryn. She saved me. Good Lord, she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.”

  O'Toole paused for a moment, wallowing in his memory, as Reilly saw off two other patrons. The barman wished them a merry Christmas as they left the establishment. The bar was now empty except for O'Toole and Reilly.

  Reilly didn't return to his position behind the bar, choosing to pull up a stool beside O'Toole.

  The ex-boxer continued his reminisce. “She was twenty-four years old with strawberry blond hair, and built like Rita Hayworth. She worked in the coffee caravan parked across the way from the construction site where I was working. Every morning I would get an extra strong black coffee from her van. We would make small talk, and tell jokes. It was strange how her smile, and a few well-chosen words, made me forget I was hung-over. It was a rare gift she had. She was someone special. I finally worked up the courage to ask her out to the movies. She said yes. Can you believe that?”

  “Why wouldn't she? You're a good man, Brendan O'Toole,” Reilly said, but it was debatable if O'Toole even heard him. He was on a roll.

  “It's like there was a piece of me missing, or somethin' like that. And Merryn filled that hole. Before her, I'd been trying to fill the hole with booze, but being with her killed my thirst. I didn't need it any more. I straightened myself out. Even started saving a little money. Nine months later we were married. For five years, I had the perfect life; a good job and a loving wife. What more can you ask for?”

  “She was a good woman,” Reilly admitted.

  O'Toole nodded.

  “That she was. Better than I a bum like me deserved, that's for sure.”

  Reilly knew the next part of the story. O'Toole didn't need to say it aloud. On the night of June 23, 1953, Merryn was driving home when a tire blew-out on a delivery van traveling in the opposite direction. The van slewed over the center line, into oncoming traffic. The driver desperately pulled the van’s steering wheel hard to the right. In response, the rear of the van swung a savage arc, crossing the center line once more, and plowing into the front of Merryn's car.

  O'Toole's eyes were glassy and moist. He stared ahead blankly, his voice a lifeless monotone.

  “They said it was a freak accident – a one in a million occurrence. I don't know. Maybe I am being punished for the men I killed in the war? Maybe the last five years of happiness were never meant to be mine? Maybe Merryn's life was the trade off?”

  “Oh, Brendan, I don't think it works that way,” Reilly said, trying to sound optimistic.

  O'Toole looked around into the old man's eyes. “No?”

  “No,” Reilly reaffirmed.

  O'Toole returned his gaze to the glass before him. He picked it up and gulped down half of the whiskey in one shot. Then finished it off with a second swallow. He slammed the glass down and pulled some crumpled dollar bills from his pocket. He placed them on the bar to cover his tab.

  “Gotta go,” he said, pushing himself to his feet.

  “Merry Christmas, Brendan. You take care of yourself,” Reilly said earnestly.

  On unsteady legs, O'Toole turned and left the bar. As he burst out into the cold night air snow was gently falling. He pulled his coat tight around him, and started walking home.

  He had only walked the length of the building, passing the darkened entrance to an alley, when three hoods suddenly surrounded him. The leader, a fresh-faced youth of about eighteen, wore a leather jacket, the collar turned up to touch his duck-tailed black hair. He produced a flick knife and tossed it from hand to hand.

  “Okay, lush, hand over your money.”


  O'Toole staggered, then stopped. He tried to f
ocus on the punk with the knife, but was seeing three of him. But that didn't faze him any. There was no way he was handing over his money without a fight.

  “Beat it kid,” O'Toole slurred defiantly. “Before I teach you a lesson.”

  The hood leaped forward, his knife hand outstretched. O'Toole caught the wrist in his huge mitt and slung the young punk around. The kid flew into the alley wall, slumping to the ground amid a pile of trash cans.

  Pleased with his handiwork, O'Toole smirked. He started to walk away, forgetting two other punks were around him. One of them ran up and sucker punched O'Toole from behind. The ex-boxer buckled, dropping to his knees. The third punk kicked him in the ribs, which knocked him to the snow sodden pavement. Then the two of them went to work kicking him senseless. O'Toole tried to defend himself, raising his arms to protect his middle. But it was no use. He was at their mercy.

  Seething with anger, the leader of the trio picked himself up, brushing off sludge and filth. Seeing O'Toole lying there defenseless gave the young man his confidence back.

  “How do you like that, old man?” he taunted through gritted teeth. “Nobody messes with us. Nobody!”

  The punk approached O'Toole and knelt down beside him. He began to reach into O'Toole's jacket pocket, searching for his wallet. O'Toole, raised his arm to stop him. Using his free hand, the punk brought the flick knife blade up against the ex-boxer's throat.

  “Don’t even think about it,” the kid growled.

  O'Toole lowered his hand. The punk retrieved the wallet, taking the last money O’Toole had. For good measure, the kid dragged the knife across O'Toole's cheek, leaving a permanent reminder of the incident etched into the ex-boxer's face.

  The punks ran back down the darkened alleyway. O'Toole threw up and then passed out.

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