Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The Duke and the Kid by Alan Graham

Read by Matt Fleming at 'Kisses & Blows'

“What more can I tell you guys? The Kid is busting a gut to take down The Duke.”

The Kid keeps quiet as his manager goes through the motions of hyping the fight. He knows the drill. Head down, scowl and keep quiet. FWAM! The flashbulbs explode around him as reporters jostle for the right image for the pre-fight evening papers.

“Look at these!” the manager grabs one of the kids arms – “he’s got the muscles to crack a jaw on a Roman statue.”

This gets a big cheer. FWAM, FWAM – more photos.

“Hey Kid!,” he hears a voice shout, “What you going to do with the money if you win?”

The Kid knows not to answer. “Hey, this young Champ” the manager grabs his arm again “I tell you, this Kid wants to announce today that if he wins he will be making a generous donation to the Mulberry Street Boxing Club that originally helped him become a boxer and to this very day keeps kids off the streets.”

The Kid tries to stay scowling and suppresses a smile. Let his manager think they were still going to get a massive handout after the fight. These charity “donations” had kept that crooked entourage in cigars, showgirls and liquor long enough. Not for much longer.

*
At the Arena, the Duke stares at himself in the mirror. He tracks his years boxing on the lines and scars of his face. He runs his tongue into the gaps between the teeth he’s lost in his previous title fights. The press had once described his large dark eyes as like a shark’s. He can’t see it anymore, he lacks the eyes of a predator.

THUMP
Urgh
THUMP
Oh Baby
THUMP
Oh BABY

He can hear DeConnick the Bookie screwing a Cigarette Girl in the room next door.  He focuses on the sounds the two are making. Where exactly are they – is either of them close to finishing? He’s trying to avoid DeConnick – you don’t really want to interact too much with the guy you are about to do over – so the longer he’s futzing around the better.

“And the Duke knows what he has to do?”

“DeConnick  told me he’s going down in the second.”

All his life, the Duke has imagined how people were talking about him behind his back. The slights, the lies, the racist slurs. It’s what started him fighting, it’s how he discovered he was good at it. Back then, he probably got it mostly wrong. Tonight he knows exactly what people are saying right now – how the word on the street is spreading about a fixed fight.

*

 “Seen this Sugar? We’re front page!” Mary Ó Cíosóig startles the Kid with the front page of the evening paper. There he is, leaving the press conference with the glamorous dame with the difficult name. Journalists have long since stopped trying to spell Mary’s last name correctly,  she just smiles when people ask and just purrs  “you can just call me Mary O”. Mary O. The press loved it. It even made the Kid laugh.

TCHIK

Mary O lit herself a cigarette and scoured the articles for further mentions of her name.  The Kid likes looking at Mary O. A few years back he’d tried to convince himself that he could even fall in love with her. But she’d put the icy mitt to that with some cold hard truths. She catches him looking at her, and she smiles and raises an eyebrow. They both know it’s her well-rehearsed act of flirtation. She’d even taught it to the Kid.

*

The crowd cheers as the fight begins. There’s none of that tentative first round crap. The Kid and the Duke lay into each other from the off, two guys fighting for a purpose.

The second round begins, and it’s also off to a flier. But as the seconds count down a few in the arena begin to worry that there’s no sign of the Duke going down. He doesn’t appear to be weakening at all. Awkward conspiratorial glances are made between faces in the expensive seats.

When the bell rings for the end of the second round, there’s an almighty Roar from the crowd. People who’d heard rumours about a fix – about a dive in the second – can’t help cheering that all the shillers who claimed to be “in the know” have been made to look real dumb.

But by the fifth round, the Duke is beginning to tire. The Kid begins to look ever more younger, faster, sharper. And when the Duke tries to land a punch it doesn’t seem to have the power it once had.

BAM

The Kid thrusts a jab against the Duke’s ribcage.

The Duke tries to respond when

KUNK

the Kid has read his punch, moved out the way and landed one right on the side of his head.
The Duke feels his legs weaken. He looks to see the Kid darting back, hesitant to follow-up on the blow. He smiles at the Kid and for the first and only time he decides to stop trying. His wobbling knees do the rest and he crashes to the ground.

*

Everyone who witnessed the fight that night raves about the fight they’ve seen. They got the story they wanted. The young Kid  – the good looking punk with the glamourous gal - finally felled the aging, unbeatable Duke. Arguments erupt among the onlookers as to whether the Kid is better than the Duke was at that age. Most people don’t spot the fury in a few of the better dressed punters. And those that do see it, don’t dwell on what might happen when a fixed fight gets broken for long.

“WHERE’S THE GODDAMN BUSHWA GOT TO?”

There isn’t much love for the Duke after the fight, and he knows he has little time before numerous heels come to collect on his betrayal. But he planned for this. He feigns concussion, and once rushed to the treatment room, delivers a quick POP POP to KO an unfortunate Doctor. He momentarily feels sorry for the poor guy, before he wrenches open the window and climbs outside.

He skips down two flights of stairs, then makes a leap onto the roof of the adjacent building. From there, he takes the goods lift to the ground floor. A car is waiting. The Kid sits in the back seat of the car, and he opens the door for the Duke.

“Did you have time to collect the winnings?” the Duke asks.

“All here,” the Kid points.

“And the safe in the boxing club?”

“Mary O emptied it during my press conference.”

.The Kid holds out his hands, and the Duke tenderly takes hold them.

“Get in and kiss me,” smiles the Kid.

“Close the bank, boys!” laughs Mary O from the driver’s seat. “Save it till we’re a safe distance away and no-one can see!”

As the engine revs, the Duke leaps into the backseat next to the Kid and embraces him.

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