After a minute or so I had his feints and my jabs synchronized, and when his head snapped I dug in short right hooks to the ribs. I danced, circled and threw punches in flurries. Blanchard stalked and looked for openings to land the big one.
W a r d J. L I t t e l l
On reflex, I looked over my shoulder. Turning back, I caught the big one flush on the side of the head. I staggered into the white corner turnbuckle; Blanchard was all over me. My head rang and my ears buzzed like Jap Zeros were dive-bombing inside them. I put up my hands to protect my face; Blanchard slammed pulverizing left-right hooks at my arms to bring them down. My head started clearing, and I leaped out and grabbed Mr. Fire in a bear hug clinch, holding him with all my juice, getting stronger each second as I stagger-pushed the two of us across the ring.
I backpedaled, the dizziness and ear buzzing gone. Blanchard came at me flat-footed, wide open. I feinted with my left, and Big Lee stepped straight into a perfect overhand right. He hit the canvas flat on his ass. Blanchard was on his feet at seven, and this time I charged.
Fire was dug in, feet planted wide apart, ready to kill or die. The bell! I walked back to my corner. Duane Fisk removed my mouthpiece and doused me with a wet towel; I looked out at the fans, on their feet applauding. And for a split second I thought that every voice was screaming for me not to throw the fight. Stay outside! Work off the jab! The bell rang. Fisk stepped out of the ring; Blanchard made a beeline for me. His stance was straight up now, and he threw a series of jabs that stopped just short of the money, moving in a step at a time, measuring me for a big right cross.
I stayed on my toes and flicked doubled-up jabs from too far out to hurt, trying to set up a rhythm that would lull Blanchard into leaving his body open. Most of my shots hit; Blanchard kept pressing. I banged a right to his ribs; he leaped in with a counter-right to mine. At close range, we threw body shots two handed; with no swinging room, the blows were nothing more than arm action, and Blanchard kept his chin dug into his collarbone, obviously wise to my inside uppercuts.
We stayed in close, landing only glancing blows to the arms and shoulders. I was settling into serious trench warfare when Mr. Fire got as cute as Mr. Ice at his cutest. In the middle of a body exchange, Blanchard took one simple step backward and shot a hard left to my lower gut. The blow stung, and I backed up, getting ready to dance.
I felt the ropes and brought up my guard, but before I could move sideways and away, a left-right caught me in the kidneys. My guard came down, and a Blanchard left hook connected with my chin. I bounced off the ropes and hit the canvas on my knees.
Shock waves pulsed from my jaw to my brain; I caught a jiggly picture of the referee restraining Blanchard, pointing to a neutral corner. I got up on one knee and grabbed the bottom rope, then lost my balance and flopped on my stomach. Blanchard had reached a neutral turnbuckle, and being prone took the jiggle out of my vision.
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I sucked in deep breaths; the new air eased the crackling feeling in my head. The ref came back and started counting, and at six I tried my legs. My knees buckled a little, but I was able to stand steady. Blanchard was blowing glove kisses to the fans, and I began hyperventilating so hard that my mouthpiece almost popped out.
At eight the referee wiped my gloves on his shirt and gave Blanchard the signal to fight. I felt out of control with anger, like a humiliated child. I met him head-on, throwing a mock-woozy jab as he got into firing range. Blanchard slipped the punch easily—just like he was supposed to. He loaded up a huge right cross to finish me, and while he was rearing back I pounded a full-force counter-right at his nose.
His head snapped; I followed through with a left hook to the body. The bell rang just as he staggered into the ropes.
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I spat out my mouthpiece and gasped for air; I looked out at the fans and knew that all bets were off, that I was going to pound Blanchard into dog meat and milk Warrants for every process and repo dollar I could get my hands on, put the old man in a home with that money and have the whole enchilada. Box him! Fisk shoved a bottle of water at my mouth, I guzzled and spat in the pail. He popped an ammonia cap under my nose and replaced my mouthpiece—then the bell rang.
For the next four rounds I danced, feinted and jabbed from the outside, utilizing my reach advantage, never letting Blanchard tie me up or get me on the ropes.
I concentrated on one target—his scarred eyebrows—and flicked, flicked, flicked my left glove at them. Half the time Blanchard was able to counter to my body, and each shot that landed took a little bounce off my legs, a little oomph off my wind. And we were both running out of steam.
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Round seven was trench warfare fought by two exhausted warriors. I tried to stay outside and work the jab; Blanchard kept his gloves high to wipe blood out of his eyes and protect his cuts from further ripping. Every time I stepped in, firing a one-two at his gloves and gut, he nailed me to the solar plexus. The fight had turned into a second-to-second war. I slumped on my stool and let Duane Fisk feed me water and knead my shoulders, staring at Mr. The bell sounded. I moved toward the center of the ring on wobbly legs. Blanchard, back in a crouch, came at me. His legs were trembling just like mine, and I saw that his cuts were closed.
I fired off a weak jab. Blanchard caught it coming in and still kept coming, muzzling my glove out of the way as my dead legs refused to backpedal. My knees buckled; I spat my mouthpiece, toppled backward and hit the ropes. A right hand bomb was arching toward me. I put all my hate into my own right and shot it straight at the bloody target in front of me. I felt the unmistakable crunch of nose cartilage, then everything went black and hot yellow. I looked up at blinding light and felt myself being lifted; Duane Fisk and Jimmy Lennon materialized beside me, holding my arms.
You lost—eighth-round KO. When it all sank in, I laughed and pulled my arms free. I got ten days off from duty—at the insistence of the doctor who examined me after the fight. My ribs were bruised, my jaw was swollen to twice its normal size and the punch that did me in loosened six of my teeth.
On the basis of damage inflicted, the fight was a draw. Pete Lukins collected my winnings, and together we scouted rest homes until we found one that looked fit for human habitation—the King David Villa, a block off the Miracle Mile. Pete and I installed him there, and when we left he was fungooing the head nurse and ogling a colored girl making up beds. After that I stuck to my apartment, reading and listening to jazz on the radio, slopping up ice cream and soup, the only food I could handle.
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I felt content in knowing I had played as hard as I could—winning half the apples in the process. The phone rang constantly; since I knew it had to be reporters or cops offering condolences, I never answered. I wanted a clean break with local celebrity, and holing up was the only way to accomplish it. My wounds were healing, and after a week I was itchy to go back on duty.
I looked down. Lee Blanchard was standing at the foot of the steps. His eyebrows were laced with stitches and his nose was flattened and purple. The bond issue passed yesterday, probably because we gave the voters such a good show. Horrall told Loew that Johnny Vogel was out, that you were his man.