“Come on Grant hit the ruddy thing!” The squat man yelled as he held the punch bag.
The Battery gym lay at the meeting of two totally different parts of Lincoln DC. One was the affluent area of Queens whilst over the bridge was the poor quarter called strangely enough The Battery. The result was a strange mixing of clientele from both area’s.
The odour of the Battery was all of its own. A mixture of Testosterone, talc, liniment and good old fashioned sweat that clung to your nostrils long after you had left.
The owner of the badly battered face had opened it two years ago in 1936 and against all odds made a success of it was watching Ted Grant intently.
His name was James Smith but most of the users of the gym used his nickname “Socko”, whether it was from the battering his face had received as a boxer or a nod to his own prowess no one was quite certain, and no one had the courage to ask.
The young coloured Canadian was his latest hope of success as a manager. The twenty year old was a young man called Ted Grant, an ex-collegiate with a degree in the newly formed subject of sport science. Ted had passed with honours and far quicker than anyone else on the course.
Ted was a shy, erudite and highly intelligent youth with an innate ability for boxing.
He had turned professional at Christmas and had had two fights already as a Heavyweight , both of which he won with a knockout well before the last round.
Sweat poured off his ebony skin as he hit the punch bag with considerable force.
Watching with great interest was a dapper coloured man in a silver Italian cut suit.
“Take a rest son.” Socko instructed.
Ted rolled his neck and shoulders to prevent any stiffness.
The dapper man crossed over and squeezed Ted’s forearm.
Ted looked up and gave his father a bright loving smile.
“Hi dad. I didn’t know you’d be here today?”
“My morning appointment cried off so to speak and where better to be but here watching my son train.” Ted’s father, Amos, had a soft deep voice that seemed to caress your ear.
“How come? You were banking on that one.” Ted said as he rubbed himself with the towel Socko had thrown to him.
“Believe it or not he was arrested for fraud.” Amos sighed.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes. I’ve just come from the Precinct House, never the most relaxing place. I handed in all his financial records. I will explain later.”
“I’m doing Italian tonight so try not to be late.”
“I wouldn’t want to miss one of your spaghetti meals.” Ted replied in a very bad mock Italian accent.
“Ted get washed up lad.” Socko told him.
When Ted had vanished into the showers and steam room Amos turned to Socko and asked him the question that niggled in his mind.
“How’s he doing Socko? Is he ready?”
“The truth Tomas, is that I simply don’t know. Physically he’s in the best condition I have ever seen a boxer in. He has all the moves and strength but he has no anger in him, no killer instinct.”
“So he’d lose.”
“No I don’t think so, certainly not these early matches, but it could be a problem in the contender bouts. He has more ability in his little finger than they have in their whole body.” Socko sighed once again. “I have two other boxers on my books that may not have Ted’s skill but more of a killer instinct.”
He pointed at two young men lifting weights in the corner. You couldn’t have got a more mismatched pair. One was tall, well over six foot with a lean athletic frame the other was a short, just five foot, with a muscular body and a shock of ginger hair.
“The tall one is Jim Harper, or more precisely Officer Harper of the Lincoln Police Department.
He’s got a beat down in Hells Kitchen.
He’s a contender for the inter forces belt at middle weight. The short one is a fiery Irishman, Alan Pratt. He’s a physics and physical education student from Cal Tech. He’s a contender for the inter college belt at lightweight.
Can I get either of them to turn professional, can I heck.”
Socko froze as he spied three heavyweights in Ivy League suits come in.
The three Valentine brothers ran more than their ice cream parlour and Italian restaurant. It was said they had their fingers in more illegal operations than you could shake a stick at. From illegal gambling den’s and prostitution to protection rackets their influence spread far and wide.
“If you’ll excuse me a moment Amos.”
Thomas watched with growing concern as the conversation grew animated and the newcomers more threatening.
It was then that Tomas was distracted by the return of his son.
Ted had come out of the changing room wearing a white open necked shirt, grey slacks and blue deck shoes, tied around his shoulders was a light blue cardigan. He looked less like a boxer more like a fashion model.
“Hey dad there’s some friends I’d like you to meet.”
“Lead on my son, lead on.”
He followed Ted over to where John and Alan were packing up for the day.
Despite already having them pointed out to him by Socko Amos acted dumb and allowed his son to introduce them once again.
Up close he could see how fit the two men were and why Socko was getting frustrated by the fact they wouldn’t turn professional.
“This is my friend Jim, an officer in the Lincoln police force, and this is Alan who’s a student over at Cal Tech.”
“Pleased to meet you Mr Grant. Ted has told us so much about you.” Jims voice was a pleasant tenor.
“Oh dear has he?” Amos said with a sad expression on his face.
“Only the best bits I can assure you. My names Alan.” Alan said.
Alan’s accent was a soft southern Irish brogue.
For the next few minutes the four of them indulged in small talk.
The door opened and a gaggle of noisy teenagers entered followed by what looked like a stern monk in a raincoat.
Jim excused himself and crossed over to the children.
There were eight in all, six boys and two girls.
Amos could see that even though their clothes were clean they were threadbare and patched up and hung loosely over their thin bodies.
“Kids.” Jim called squatting down to be at their eyelevel and could look them in the eye. “Calm down and listen to what Brother Lucian is telling you. Girls listen to what Robbie the cut man tells you about dealing with cuts and bruises.”
“Sure Officer Harper.” They chorused together.
He smiled at them.
One a small lad who’s nick name was ‘Scrapper’ eagerly pulled on a pair of tatty gloves and began to pummel the punch bag.
“They are kids from Jims patrol area. They were on the slippery slope to petty crime and gang violence when Jim found them. They all come from bad backgrounds. Scrapper’s mum was regularly beaten by her drunk husband. Last year she couldn’t take it any longer and hit back at him. He picked up the carving knife and stabbed her with it in rage. He is in prison for murder. Posh, the dark haired boy with glasses, came from a well to do family that were made paupers due to the crash. His father took to cooking the books for the local mafia whilst his mother Bella entertained men in their flat. They are both dead.
All the stories are similar. Jim sort of adopted them and got them out of their homes to safety in a hostel run by the monks and nuns. He even got them jobs selling news papers. The girls, for safety, work with one of the boys. They have even given themselves a name. They call themselves ’The Newspaper Boys League. ” Alan explained.
“They have a great respect for him, almost love.” Amos observed.
“He has been the first person to ever treat them with kindness.” Ted said sadly. “He’s a good man in an evil part of town. That goodness makes him the target of physical and verbal abuse from those that equate his kindness with weakness.”
Jim rejoined them.
“Sorry about that.” Jim apologised
“That’s alright, the boys have just been explaining.”
Socko came over with a false smile on his face.
“Good news boys I’ve just arranged a fight for each of you. You’ll all be on the same bill.”
“When are these fights due?” Ted asked.
“Who are we up against?” Alan asked.
“That’s the bad bit. They are scheduled for next Saturday night at York arena. As for the fighters. Jim’s up against King Croc Douglas from the 16th precinct, Alan is up against Joe Slipper Wainright.” Socko turned to Ted. “Ted you’ll be up against an Italian called Francesco Illuminary for the right to have a go against the present holder of the W.B.C. belt. So I want you back here first thing in the morning to find out more about your opponents. I have faith in all three of you.”
“I’ve got to go I’m on duty this afternoon.” Jim told them.
“Yeah and I’ve lectures to go to.” Alan added.
“I’ll drive them back.” Ted offered.
“Okay son, but be careful you’ve not long passed your test.” Amos warned his son.
Ted laughed and gripped his fathers shoulder. “You’re a worry wart dad, do you know that?”
The two of them laughed and hugged each other.
Ted was still laughing as he led the other two toward the changing rooms.
“Would you like to join me in a coffee Amos?” Socko asked.
“I’d love too. Then you can tell me what is going on?”
“The Valentine brothers didn’t visit just to get the ice cream and French fries concession at the bout, now did they?”
“No. If the Valentine boys tell you to jump you say how high.” Socko looked over to where one of his staff, a shambling hulk of a man, was helping Scrapper with a pair of new boxing gloves. His face carried the reminders of every blow that had laid him low. “Archie!?”
“Yes boss.” His voice was slow and punchy.
“Mr Amos and me are going over to Joe’s diner for a coffee. Can you look after the place until I come back?”
Archie thought for a moment before replying in his distinctive slurred voice.
“Yer, dats okay boss. Wive only got de kids in.”
“Thanks Archie. I’ll be back in half an hour with a take out coffee and a salt beef bagel for you.”
A little while later the two men were sitting in the diner sipping on scalding hot coffee and tucking into a small mound of ringed sugar donuts.
For the first few minutes they passed in pleasant small talk until Socko got to the nitty gritty.
“How have you been Amos? I was surprised when Ted said you had sold the place up in Canada and had moved into an apartment with him on 3rd. That must have been quite a step down from the mansion you had up there.
Ted told me that you had moved down to be closer to him. But somehow I don’t quite buy it.”
“We lost nearly everything in the Wall Street Crash, selling ‘Lark Rise’ was the only way we could avoided bankruptcy, I’d been staving it off for years. To be honest it wasn’t the same after Martha died and Ted moved here for the university. I was just rattling around it all alone so I decided to move down here and do free lance book keeping for people.”
Socko was a good judge of character and knew instinctively what Amos was holding back.
“Does Ted know?” He asked.
“Heaven forbid. He’d pack up boxing and get a nine to five job and I won’t have that.” Amos grimaced in pain a moment.
“How long have you got?” Socko said sadly.
“I don’t know what you mean by that?” He started to protest only to stop and looked like a balloon that had been deflated. “Twelve to eighteen months tops.”
“I’m so sorry Amos.” Socko meant it. “Cancer?”
“Yes. They found it in my prostrate gland. It’s inoperable and no I haven’t told Ted. I will in time but not yet.” Amos paused to gather himself. “Now what did the Valentines really want? Not fixing the fight I hope?”
“No. They’re no advantages to fixing a fight at this level. I managed to convince them of that at least. They have two fighters who are nearing retirement who need a good purse to finish with. The two that Jim and Alan are fighting. Though they are amateur fights their purse goes into a trust fund to help with medical bills when they retire from the ring, so is still useful. And they want to go out on a high.
Ted is already the under dog in his fight so there would be no point knobbing him. They wanted assurance that Ted would win and that I could happily give them. Ted’s well able to take the Italian. But…”
“I could hear the but coming.”
“If he does get a chance of a crack at the world champion all bets are literally off. They may, if it turns out that he is the favourite, want him to throw the fight. I told them I’d never ask him too and that I knew he never would. They weren’t so happy about that.”
“Are you going to be alright?” The boot was on the other foot now.
“Yes. I’m old and ugly enough now to deal with these things. I’ll make sure the boys are safe.” He smiled a Amos warmly.
“See that you do Socko or it’ll be me, whether I’m alive or dead, that you meet and it won’t be in the ring.” To belie his stern words he gripped and squeezed the mans arm.
“I’m sorry Amos I’ve got to go back to the battery before those kids have run rings around poor Archie.”
“Yes and I have got to make a move to get the last ingredients for the Italian. It’s minestrone soup with gnocchi to start with, then Penne Alfredo, and to finish a coffee ice cream I can’t pronounce.” He looked at Socko. “I can stretch it to another place if you’d like to join us? You know you are more than welcome.”
“Thank you but no. I’ve a date tonight. Now don’t look at me like that even ugly fellows like me can get lucky you know.”
With that the men parted, their souls a little lighter from the sharing.
Socko sighed. He was glad Amos hadn’t pushed about his evening. His date was with an old prostitute down at the junction of Harbour and Benson. They knew each other so well that sometimes it wasn’t for sex they met up for but company as they listened to the radio or took in a film. She even cooked a meal for him, well when I say a meal it was a simple dish of fried eggs and beans.
He sighed again and wondered if either of them would ever live long enough to see Ted crowned champion.
That night a young woman called Angie Lesson walked down 21st street toward her apartment after work. She had got off the subway and was making her way down passed the park toward her home in the next block.
She never like walking down passed the park in darkness, she always had the fear that someone was watching her.
It was nearly midnight. Her job at the casino meant she worked late hours.
She was looking forward to listening to the late night instalment of Dick Tracy on the radio with a light meal before going to bed.
She turned the corner away from the park with a sigh of relief.
Then suddenly a mans arm curled around her neck and a hand clamped over her mouth.
She struggled but the mans grip was too strong.
“Naughty, naughty girl, out so late.” The laughing voice said gloatingly. “Tonight your going to feel what its like with real men.”
Another man had appeared and had taken her kicking legs and together they hustled toward the park. With horror she realised what was going to happen to her. She tried to cry out and thrashed about even harder till a knife pressed against he neck drawing a bead of blood.
“Quiet missy if you want to live.” Hissed the one that had a hand over her mouth into her ear.
“We’ve watched you for weeks as you saunter along in your sexy clothes, daring a man to have sex with you. You must be punished.” The other growled.
They dropped her unceremoniously onto the hard packed ground in the shadowy park. The first mans knife made short work of her clothes. Soon she was laying naked on their tatty remains.
The first dropped on top of her and covered her mouth again, the knife at her neck.
The other man froze.
Walking his beat a patrolman walked passed the park whistling Danny Boy as he went on his way without a seconds glance at the shadowy figures.
“That lazy sod Macintyre is late again.” The man that was standing by the tree said.
The first released her and began to fiddle with the belt and buttons of his workman’s trousers.
Angie could see the gloating face of the second man as he rested against a tree watching the action with feral delight.
A black shape flashed into the space between them and the man vanished with a strange savage grunt.
The first man had finally release his throbbing member as a black shape smashed into him sending him reeling back. The black shape flashed in front of him and was gone. The first man staggered forward a few steps before dropping onto her body spurting blood from the gaping hole where his throat had once been.
She screamed as a massive snarling head appeared above her. The cat like head of a huge black panther surveyed the scene before turning to face her blood dripping off its muzzle.
At that moment Angie thought she was dead.
The creature look at her a moment before it spoke to her in a low purring voice.
“You good, you safe.” With that the head withdrew and the creature dashed away.
Angie at last screamed, long and hard.
Soon the afterwards officer Macintyre crashed through the bushes and found her in a naked ball staring at the two men that lay on the ground where the Cat had dumped them. Their throats had been ripped out which had covered her with their blood.
The officer took out his whistle and blew hard whilst drumming his night stick on the ground. He hoped the noise would drive off the creature that had attacked the men. For the first time in a long time he actually prayed
Moments later a couple of taxi drivers who had heard the alarm crashed through the undergrowth to the officers aid. One rush back to his cab and told his dispatcher over the radio to send an ambulance.
The Black Panther had struck again and the area seemed less safe than it did before. As the mighty beast stalked the shadows once again.