Story by Bruce Harris
Illustration by Cesar Valtierra
4:00am, his favorite time of day, Joe Reardon’s last. The air clean and fresh, his head clear, like six-time distilled vodka. As he undid the lower locks securing the accordion-like metal covering, he sensed discord, stiffened, despite the morning’s stillness.
Joe Reardon looked up from a crouched position. “What the hell do you want?”
“Hey, is that any way to greet an old friend? I want a newspaper, what else?”
“I’m not open yet. Take a hike.”
“I can wait. Besides, I’d like to talk a little business with you,” said the ex-newspaper reporter.
Joe Reardon stood up. He stared at Mel Lewis’s mouth, specifically his bottom teeth, more specifically, the one little narrow tooth that stood out front and center from the others. The configuration reminded Reardon of bowling pins. He balled his fist, ready to deliver a strike to Lewis’s slimy mouth. “Scram!”
Lewis looked around but only he and Reardon were on the street at this hour. He scratched a head of thick jet-black hair, and then examined his fingernails. His face was cleanly shaven, almost moist-looking under the wearied streetlight. A dark tan complexion complemented deep-set brown eyes. He felt no need to suppress a smile, ten-pin rack exposed. “Not yet. Like I said, I have a proposition to discuss. You’re going to help me rob the Honorable John Clark Denton.”
The chain was complete. J.C. Denton, the hotshot dapper district judge, mister alligator shoes and matching C-note belt currently shacked up with Andrea Brown in 25,000 square feet north of the city, miles, literally and figuratively from downtown’s Martin Luther King Boulevard and from Joe Reardon’s world. While others looked at the sticker price of a Rolls Royce and dreamed, Denton thought about what color and how many would look best in his 6-car garage. Denton was about the last name Reardon wanted to hear from Lewis. The image of Andrea Brown’s creamy thighs manifested itself in Reardon’s now unwelcomed smoky grey matter. Instinctively, he licked his lips, and then caught himself and tried to pull himself together. For the moment though, standing erect in the near deserted street, with hot air enveloping his being, Reardon lost himself in the past. For the briefest moment, he thought about being a kid again during the winter. Rolling white paper into a fake cigarette, taking drags, and blowing cold air smoke. It made him feel tough. The feeling evaporated more quickly than daylight in late February. Mel Lewis stood in front of him. A vulnerable adult specter replaced the strong, gritty image of the pre-teen Reardon.
Joe Reardon first laid eyes on Andrea Brown a lifetime ago while she checked hats and coats at the Temple Club on 2nd Avenue. He lamented countless times the fact that he had gotten out of the yellow and white cab and stepped foot inside. Why did he tell the driver to stop? Had he kept his mouth shut and gone further uptown instead….what the hell was the use?
“I’m new in town,” the fresh out of business school Reardon informed the driver. He dropped a twenty onto the empty front passenger’s seat. The cabbie’s eyes in the rearview mirror met Joe’s. “Know a place where a guy can celebrate?”
The cab driver glanced quickly at the double sawbuck then eyes shifted back to the road. He worked a toothpick around the side of his mouth. “What kind of place you have in mind? We pretty much got everything here to make a guy happy.”
Reardon smiled, said nothing.
“You a cop?” The cab driver looked straight ahead; blue, red, and green neon lighting advertising everything from cigarettes to coffee to cheap hotels ricocheted within and through the cab.
Reardon’s smile increased. “You think I’d tell you if I was?” He didn’t wait for a response. “Heard today that my bank approved a loan for a little business venture I want to start up. I’ve got nothing against cops, but I’m not one. Just a simple guy out to celebrate some good news, that’s all.”
The cab turned south on Broadway. “What kind of business?”
Joe Reardon was in too good a mood to be bothered by the questions. “Wholesale food. Meat. Nothing glamorous, but there’s money in it.” They rode down Broadway
toward Union Square. “I’m planning to buy one of the smaller wholesale meat businesses not far from here.” Reardon looked out the back window, his pointer pressed against the back window. The cab driver didn’t bother turning around. “Right around here, on West 14th Street, a place called Empire Ribs and Steaks.” Reardon let out a laugh. “Kansas City in Manhattan!”
The cabbie briefly removed the toothpick from the corner of his mouth. “Working nights? Tough business. You never get enough sleep. Man isn’t meant to be awake all night. Had a brother who worked in the meat industry years back. Hated it. He’s in construction now, works days. Hates that too.”
“Yup. Lousy hours, hard work, nothing glamorous, lots of blood, but lots of green, everyone’s got to eat, and there’s lots of protein in meat.”
The cab hung a quick right and then a fierce left. He eased onto 2nd Avenue before pulling over in front of the Temple Club. “Best place around. Been taking guys like you here for a long time. You won’t have no problem in there, pal. Promise.” He worked the meter. “Six sixty.”
A crisp Alexander Hamilton was placed into the cabbie’s palm. “Thanks.” Joe Reardon exited the cab’s rear door and through the Temple Club’s entrance. The cabbie pulled away. Joe Reardon’s innocence, his past, was set free after the backseat’s seatbelt clicked open.
Reardon removed his hat, coat. It hadn’t entered his psyche that the girl he was about to meet, the one who would change his life was within two feet of the club’s entrance. She pulled a small tag with a number on it from a hanger, smiled and handed it to
Reardon. Her teeth were whiter than shaving cream and more even than the number 22 printed on his ticket. She let the ticket linger in her hand for an extra two seconds before letting go. Joe Reardon never made it further inside the Temple Club. The music filtered out toward the door, a New Orleans-type jazz number, but Reardon was transfixed, direct. He didn’t bother with formalities. “What time you get off tonight?” he asked.
Andrea Brown sat opposite Reardon in his 5th floor apartment overlooking Riverside Drive on New York’s west side. This is where money resided. Polished doormen greeted mink-wrapped blondes of all shades as they clung to their 6-digit annual salaried mates. Historic buildings whose lobbies were more expensively furnished than the average working shmuck’s dining and living rooms combined stood tall, stolid. It wasn’t the first time Andrea Brown had been in the neighborhood, but she liked what she saw in Reardon, specifically, his surroundings and his future. He was smart, good looking, and had class. Her dark eyebrows could have been made by two quick strokes of Rembrandt’s brush. They offset violet-colored eyes. A silky complexion complimented the perfect nose and mouth. She reminded anyone with at least one good eye of Elizabeth Taylor. Brown’s blessings didn’t end above the neck. The too-tight red sweater was too much for Joe Reardon as it had been for others. Too bad he didn’t have x-ray vision or better yet a stethoscope dangling from his neck. He would have known early on the beauty hadn’t a ticker.
Joe Reardon willed himself to be done with her. He reminded himself daily she was yesterday’s newspaper wrapped around a stinking mackerel. That was a good thing.
Being in love with her was like falling for a jellyfish, or the Wizard of Oz’s Tin Man. Heartless. Reardon glanced over the sordid magazines. Brown could swim circles around any of the blondes or brunettes splashed across the covers. But, she was bad news like the headlines on the dailies he sold. In those rare moments when he was honest with himself, he knew he was still sweet on her. It made him angry. She made him angry. Andrea Brown, the domino that fell on top of Joe Reardon, facilitating his downward spiral on life’s staircase. Bumped, bruised, and down, he was one of the rare cases able to pull himself back up. There would be a time, he knew, that Andrea Brown would regret what she had done to him. He forced her lovely, savage image out of his mind.
Mel Lewis knew he had Reardon’s attention. “The bastard stole my girl!” Lewis couldn’t help but let out a guttural laugh, showing the tobacco-stained headpin again. He shook his head back and forth. “I should have known she was trouble from the start.”
“I’ve got nothing against Denton,” said Reardon calmly, continuing to ready the newspaper stand for the day’s business. He took out pencil and pad, counted newspapers, paperbacks, digests, and magazines while jotting down notes. His earlier cleared head now felt more cluttered than a doctor’s waiting room at a leper colony. He and Lewis had been friends. Once.
Greased-rendered fat permeated the city’s cracked sidewalks. Under the July sun, animal grease seemed to rise, imbued skin. The stench went unnoticed by the grizzled 14th Street veterans who walked with beef sides slung over shoulders, cigarettes dangling from tobacco-stained mouths, as worn work boots, splattered with dried bovine and
chicken blood, compressed the tallow even further. It was break time. A small group of white apron-wearing workers rested on overturned milk carts, while others, despite the 5:30am hour, headed into a neighborhood restaurant for spaghetti and meatballs and cold beers. Joe Reardon sat behind a mahogany desk on the second floor of Empire Ribs and Steaks reviewing invoices and signing checks. Mel Lewis, on his feet, walked around the office perimeter and admired the autographed black and white photos of boxers, some champions, most bums. Head down, he turned toward Reardon.
“Joe, I need some help. Just temporarily. Promise.” Reardon looked up. “I’m between newspapers. I’ll find something quick. You know me. I hate to ask you, but until then, I really need a job. Anything.”
Joe Reardon’s insides shook. He yanked open the desk’s bottom drawer, pulled out a half-filled bottle of whiskey and slid it across his desk. “Here, take this.” Reardon lit a cigarette. “Fact is I could use a guy right now in unloading. Take it for as long as you need it, Mel. Believe me; you’d be doing me a favor.”
Mel Lewis polished off the remainder of the whiskey with three gulps. “I don’t know how I can thank you.” Reardon would discover that memories are shorter than break time in a sweatshop.
Reardon stood up from behind the desk. “I’ve got an idea.” He checked his wristwatch. “I’m meeting Andrea in about 20 minutes for lunch. Why don’t you join us?”
Lewis gave it a few seconds thought. “Nah, I don’t think so.”
“Why not? Hell, maybe you’ll run into one of the hundreds of snakes who call themselves editors and you’ll hit it off. Unfortunately, or fortunately, a number of them hang around at Mitchell’s.” Reardon was prophetic, in more ways than he bargained for.
The two men rose when Andrea Brown strode toward their table. Mitchell’s Grille was jumping despite the early hour, but things briefly hopped and skipped caused by Brown’s Empire State Building-like heels and the exposure of alternating smooth legs peeking through a strategically slit skirt. She leaned over and kissed Reardon.
“Andrea, this is Mel Lewis, good friend of mine.”
She barely acknowledged Lewis’s outstretched hand, but forced a, “Nice to meet you,” hardly audible over the surrounding conversations and laughter.
The waiter, a slim man with a slimmer moustache in his early 50’s took their order. Upon returning with their drinks, he motioned to a rotund, balding, cigar-smoking man with two beer mugs in front of his double chin, one full one empty. Reardon, Brown, and Lewis looked over. The man pointed with a short thick finger at Lewis and waived hello. It was Fred Makins, editor-in-chief at The Daily Scoop. Lewis shoved a finger against his own chest and mouthed the words, “Me?” Makins nodded. The corpulent editor dabbed at his mouth with a starched white napkin, folded it into neat quarters, and placed the cloth carefully on the table. He waddled his way over toward Lewis and company.
“Pardon the interruption,” as he bowed to the table’s occupants, his eyes lingered a little too long on Brown. “Mel Lewis? I’m…”
Lewis jumped off his seat faster than a housewife seeing a kitchen mouse. “Fred Makins. Everyone knows you.” Makins grinned. “This is Joe Reardon and Andrea
Brown.” Again, Makin’s eyes stayed inappropriately long on Brown. “Can I help you with something?” asked Lewis.
Fred Makins pulled a business card from his vest pocket. “This is hardly the environment for such a discussion, but as you can imagine, word gets around in our little racket faster than a cop on the take. I heard about your, um, current situation. Why don’t you stop by my office in the morning and we’ll talk about getting you back into the rag business where a talented reporter like you belongs.” He turned toward Reardon and Brown. “Pleasure meeting you, both.” He peered directly into Andrea Brown’s eyes when he said the word, “both.” With that, he turned and was out the door.
Mel Lewis held Makin’s card inches from his face. He couldn’t believe his good fortune. “Joe, this is all due to you. Forgive me, but I guess I won’t be helping you out unloading trucks. Working for Fred Makins! This is a great chance for me and I never would have met him had you not offered me a job and invited me out for a drink. How can I every repay you?”
Joe Reardon laughed. “Hell, I don’t really need an unloader. It was just a matter of time before some smart editor snatched you up. You’re too good a reporter to be without work.” He found their waiter and ordered another round of drinks.
Lewis had been ‘best man’ at Reardon’s wedding to Andrea Brown, and they had remained friends until Reardon discovered that Andrea spread her legs for Lewis. The entire thing came as a shock to Joe Reardon, although if he had been completely honest with himself, he would have seen it coming. Reardon refused to be suspicious of anyone,
especially Mel Lewis. True, men from all walks of life came on to Brown. Hell, they were breathing. But, few could provide Andrea Brown with the things in life that Joe Reardon was willing and able to do for her.
The meat business was going well. Reardon hired more staff, but more staff and more customers meant more headaches. And, that meant more time spent taking care of work- related things and less time at his castle. It’s the old story, balancing two lives, work and home. The problem becomes exacerbated when the business has many moving parts and the lady at home is Andrea Brown. It took Reardon a while to notice any changes from Brown. He was too focused on growing Empire Ribs and Steaks. The money, lots of it in cash, poured into Reardon’s fists faster than a Sugar Ray Robinson jab. Reardon tossed a lot of it Brown’s way, in the form of new clothing and jewelry. When they dined out, it was only at the finest establishments in town. But, Brown wasn’t only interested in material things. She was a woman who craved attention in other ways. The first time there was any hint of impropriety came after loudmouth Beverly Landers, whose multi-time plastic surgery-repaired nose was everywhere it didn’t belong, mentioned to Reardon that she had seen Andrea and Mel Lewis in the lobby of the Belmont Hotel. Landers was a long-time resident in the same luxury apartment building as Reardon and Brown. She was one of those people who probably never worked a day in her life, yet always had more money than several small independent banks. One could always tell she was within a half-mile radius by her overpowering perfume. Long ago widowed, the joke circulated by the unfortunate that knew her was that it must have been death by suicide,
either that or suffocation, but regardless, the old man must have been buried with a big fat grin on his face. Reardon knew the yenta enjoyed sharing the news about Brown and Lewis despite Landers’ feigned concern. Initially, Reardon ignored Landers. He would see her occasionally in the elevator or lobby, but say nothing. She would raise her eyebrows as if to question Reardon, “Well, what are you going to do about it?”
Reardon turned his head in the opposite direction, sucked air. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut in a vain attempt to make her vanish. When his head turned back and his vision returned, she hadn’t moved. “Do? I’ll tell you what I’m going to do, Beverly. You don’t mind me calling you Beverly, do you?” His aggressive tone forced the old battle-ax busybody to take a step backward, the smug expression replaced by a concerned look. Reardon took a deep breath and moved inches from Landers’ ear. He slowly exhaled as he spoke. “I’m going to kill her, okay? I’m going to find the sharpest meat cleaver in my shop, the one we use to gut pigs and gash her to death, then I’m going to remove her insides and hang her intestines from a hook next to the sausages.” Landers tucked her pocketbook closer to her bosom, took another step away. “Wait, I’m not finished. Before I slice off her ears, I’m going to tell her she’s a cheating, unfaithful harlot that would have gotten away with an adulterous affair with my best friend had it not been for my sweet neighbor, Beverly Landers.”
“Well, I never! Mr. Reardon, you make me sick! I was just trying to help,” and with that, Beverly Landers disappeared into the elevator. Reardon gave her the finger, stuck out his tongue and then headed out into the fresh air.
Reardon had barely given it another thought. There were times when Andrea Brown was out, but she always had valid reasons. They had gone to restaurants and nightclubs with and without Mel Lewis. Reardon, consciously or unconsciously, watched the two of them interact, but never was there a hint of impropriety. It was a full year after his encounter in the lobby with Landers when Reardon was out early on a Sunday morning. He ran into Landers walking her cottony white Pekinese. It took all of Joe’s will power not to grab the little beast and drop kick it into the Hudson River. He wasn’t sure if she had spotted him, but before Joe could pivot and head the other way, Landers held up a gloved hand. “Joe, you’re up early. Listen, I know we have our differences; but really, there is something very important you need to know. Let me ask you seriously. Is everything okay? At home, I mean?”
“Shit,” he said to himself, but forced a smile, said, “Yes. Why? Is there a reason things shouldn’t be?” Reardon couldn’t wait for the response.
Beverly Landers approached Reardon. Despite the outdoor air, Reardon instinctively jerked his head back several inches, a defense mechanism against the odiferous Landers. They were the only two people on the street, yet she lowered her voice to a whisper. “Well, it’s just that last night, well, I had trouble sleeping, and…” Reardon yawned. “Oh, stop that!” she said, gently slapping Reardon across the front shoulder, “Let me finish. Where was I? Oh yes, well, I took a pill, but I glanced out my window before I walked into the bedroom, and well, I saw Andrea walking toward the building.”
It was if the conversation a year or so ago never happened. Reardon thought about joking. Saying something to the effect that Landers must be mistaken, because he had killed her after their last conversation. Instead, he just said, “And?”
Her voice became softer still. “I tried to tell you this before, but you didn’t want to hear me. I know it’s tough. But, a man should know what’s going on with his wife. When I looked out, she was walking very closely to Mel Lewis. In fact, you could say the two were practically hugging! Now, it’s not my business to pry into other people’s lives, but they embraced and kissed before she entered the lobby. I checked my watch, and the kiss lasted nearly a minute and a half! I’m so sorry to have to be the one to tell you…”
Joe Reardon had had enough. “Thank you, Mrs. Landers. Really, thank you, but I’m late for an appointment and I really have to run. Thank you.” And with that, Joe Reardon practically sprinted away from Beverly Landers, her perfume fragrance still trapped within the cilia of his nose. As the number of blocks between his encounter with Beverly Landers increased, his pace decreased, until he came to a stop in front of a small, old-fashioned coffee and donut shop. He parked himself on a circular stool, ordered a black coffee and a cinnamon muffin and began to think about what Landers had said. After all, he had worked late yet again. Late nights were now the norm. Andrea Brown had called him, told him she was going out with a couple of her girlfriends. Was it possible that she was seeing Mel Lewis behind his back? Was this her gratitude for his lavish spending on her? And what about Mel Lewis? This was the way he thanked a dear friend, one who offered him a job even though he didn’t need a position filled? His insides burned from the hot coffee and what he would do if he found out Beverly Landers was telling the
truth. Something was gnawing at his stomach wall. Over a second cup of java, his mind began to wonder downward. It found a dark pathway during a third cup. Reardon remembered the time he, Brown, and Lewis were having beers and burgers one Saturday afternoon. Reardon’s napkin slipped off his lap. He bent under the table to retrieve it, and he could have sworn Brown’s feet were intertwined with those of Lewis. Trouble was, their legs separated faster than a hopped up hyena. Reardon wasn’t sure exactly what he’d seen. The two of them looked perfectly innocent upon his upright return. He forced the incident out of his mind at the time. Never brought it up again, until now. Then, his mind drifted back to a chance encounter with his wife on a busy midtown street last winter. She looked surprised, no, more like shocked to see Reardon. Andrea Brown quickly recovered, showed a perfect smile, but not before Reardon noticed she had glanced down 41st Street and subtly shook her head, no. Reardon tried to follow her gaze. He could have sworn he saw a man, about Mel Lewis’s height, dart quickly to his left and disappear into the crowd. A trifle that meant nothing at the time, but now, upon reflection, was akin to a smoking gun. The coffee tasted bitter. He shoved the mug away and slammed a fist against the table. A momentary silence sliced through the café, eyes briefly on Reardon. Just as quickly the patrons and loiterers resumed their normal business. Reardon thought of yet another incident, the time he surprised Andrea Brown at home one early evening. He thought he had heard footsteps and noises, but found nothing, other than Andrea Brown in bed taking what she said was a much-needed nap. He kicked himself now for not having checked the windows more closely. He wondered
if Mel Lewis had joined his wife in his bed, and had escaped upon hearing his entry. He did more than wonder. He was certain of it. He just needed proof. He’d get it.
— ♦♦♦ —
Following a shower and a shave, Joe Reardon selected a crisp white shirt, grey slacks, a blue and white striped tie and a sharp blue blazer from his spacious walk-in closet. Andrea Brown stirred on the bed. “Ready for coffee?” She stretched toned arms, sleepily reached for the clock on an antique nightstand.
Maybe it was Landers. He hoped not. He finally had approached his wife about Mel Lewis, his best friend, best man. From inside the closet, “What the hell’s been going on between you and Mel Lewis?”
Andrea momentarily hesitated, released the clock and regained her composure. “What?”
“You heard me.” Reardon was buttoning his shirt. From all appearances, this was a normal couple, on a normal morning, talking about whatever normal couples talk about.
Things spun quickly within Andrea Brown. Her eyes darted toward the nightstand where she had stuffed one of Mel Lewis’ handkerchiefs. Under the bed lay an untied Mel Lewis boot, the spoils of a quick getaway one sordid afternoon following an unexpected Reardon interruption. She pulled the soft covers up toward her chin, and then released her tight grip. Andrea Brown could have been on stage. With calm and aplomb, “What on earth are you talking about? Are you really serious?”
“Dead!” Joe Reardon continued to dress.
Despite the early hour and an empty stomach, Andrea Brown craved a drink. “Of course not! And, I resent the fact…”
“Beverly Landers saw the two of you…”
“What! Beverly Landers?” Brown let out a pressure-releasing laugh “That stupid old no good know-it-all that pries into everyone else’s business but her own? All she does and all she’s good at are to stir up trouble. You’re going to tell me you’re taking her word? I can’t believe this. This is a joke, right?”
Reardon undid the tie knot, went through the motions again and finally pushed the knot up against his collar. He checked the tie’s length, then the knot in the mirror. Satisfied, he put on a jacket, yanked his cuffs out so that the custommade14-karat miniature T-Bone steak-shaped links displayed, and buttoned the sport coat’s middle button. “Nothing funny about it, Brown.” He had never called her Brown. She swallowed hard. “There’s more to it than that pain in everyone’s ass Beverly Landers’ word. Fact is I hired a hard working cop, guy by the name of Ted Clark. He’s chasing the American dream, you know, trying to provide that little something extra for his family. Ted moonlights on the side as a private detective to earn some extra cash. You gotta respect a guy like Ted Clark. Do you agree, Andrea?” Reardon waited. Silence. He walked over to the dresser, pulled out the bottom drawer, ruffled through some sweaters and pulled out a large envelope. In a sadistic as well as masochistic sort of way, he enjoyed the moment. “Let’s play Jeopardy, Andrea.”
Andrea Brown yanked the covers off her body and reached for her navy blue cashmere robe. She tied the belt tightly. “Enough of this…”
“Shut up! I’m speaking.” Joe Reardon calmed himself down. “Here’s a Jeopardy answer for you. The category is, Infidelity.” Reardon fingered the envelope, unraveled the thin red string from around two small cardboard discs. He pulled out a number of photos and flipped through them as if he were still a child looking through a fresh pack of baseball cards. He selected one of the photos. “The answer is, Andrea Brown and Mel Lewis. What’s the question?”
Andrea Brown shoved her hands into the robe’s deep pockets.
“Well?” asked Reardon, “Do you want to try your luck?” He waited several seconds. “No? Oh well, time’s up. The question we were looking for is, ‘Who is the cheap whore and my best man in the photo’?” With that, he flung the black and white snapshot onto the bed. It landed face up. Brown wasn’t speaking now or in the picture, however, there was a difference. Presently she sat with lips sealed. That wasn’t how Ted Clark captured her in the photo. Her parted lips costarred along with the Lewis family jewels. The other pictures were just as incriminating, different positions, contortions, sick smiles and the like. Brown had no defense. “At least he paid attention to me and not a stupid job!”
Reardon wanted none of it. Like the garbage Brown was, he tossed her ass out. Numerous bar trips and trollops with everyone and anyone who said yes followed. And, there was no shortage of willing participants. Reardon, once at the top of his game, went downhill. Cuban rum might as well have been on tap. Reardon’s business decisions were soon impacted. Pork belly futures required research. Reardon had been the master, buying low, selling high. He used to joke that pigs had made him rich. He never dreamed that he’d be married to one. He began losing money. Once his shark-meat competitors
sensed blood, they circled like crazed war-painted braves around a fully stocked and vulnerable chuck wagon. Money losses began as slow drips but quickly escalated into torrents. Fits of violence followed capital losses. Reardon’s temper shortened. Employees quit. They refused to put up with the abuse. When Reardon’s dock foreman pulled him aside and asked if there was anything he could do to help, Reardon’s response was a right cross to the jaw. The walls in Reardon’s office and bedroom resembled a golf course, holes everywhere courtesy of taut fists. His knuckles were split and gnarled and his hand became unsteady, but he could still tilt a glass. He began sleeping later and later and drinking earlier and earlier. Empire Ribs and Steaks’ stock plummeted and Reardon fell quicker and harder than a Joe Louis Bum of the Month Club opponent. It was about this time that Reardon met Simon “Baldy” Baines.
“Baldy” Baines was not your stereotypical bookie. For one, he’d never busted knees or skulls or roughed anyone up. He was in his early forties and ran a successful import – export business. Taking book on fighters was a part-time gig for Baines. He’d boxed in the Navy and following his military stint had 37 amateur bouts, sporting a 35-1-1 record. The one draw, a bullshit decision in Syracuse, where he fought Stan Stevens, the “Syracuse Southpaw.” Enough said. He’d knocked the lefty all around the ring, sending him into the second row in the third round and into a local hospital after the 15-round rout. Baines walked out of the arena without a scratch, without pain, without a win. He quit the blood and guts business, at least within the squared circle, but discovered how
lucrative the sport could be after a discussion with one of the local judges. Simon Baines took in as much working as a part-time bookie as he did importing and exporting.
Joe Reardon was a longtime fan of the sweet science. It didn’t take much effort tracking down Simon Baines. It was a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend deal. Joe added gambling to his other vices. Dwindling profits from the meat business went into “Baldy” Baines’ bank account. Joe Reardon might have fancied himself somewhat of a boxing talent expert, but the fight game, like the Wild West went by its own set of laws, or lack thereof. It wasn’t necessarily the most skilled boxer that won on a given night. Not by a long shot. Baines made deals with fighters, promoters, trainers, hangers-on, referees, and anyone else within a city mile of the game. Incredibly, this didn’t exclude the ring girls, who in certain parlances, wielded enigmatic power in addition to sex appeal. Joe Reardon’s fortune steadily dwindled. It was as if Baines had erected a siphon hose from Reardon’s various financial houses into his own. The more Reardon lost, the more he drank. Eventually, he spent days and nights staggering into and out of bars before winding up behind them. He hit rock bottom one summer night after losing a five-figure bet on an undefeated middleweight, Sonny Blackwell. Built like a fireplug, Blackwell had knocked out all 12 opponents he had faced. None had last longer than 4 rounds. On this night, it was Blackwell who didn’t get out of the 4th round. In fact, the count over his prostate body reached 10 within the first minute of the 2nd round. Reardon was incensed. He sought out and found Blackwell, who was counting a wad of bills in a poorly lit corner booth at The Bell Tavern and confronted him. The two had words. Things quickly escalated. Reardon didn’t fare too well. Less than a minute later, he
stumbled out of The Bell, his shirt torn, front teeth smashed in, his left eye rapidly swelling. Blood dripped from cut lips. Reardon tried to wipe his mouth clean. He went into the first liquor store he found and jumped the counter. He shoved the startled clerk out of the way before opening the cash register. He helped himself to the store’s sales as coins fell at his shoes. He didn’t get far before the police arrived. Joe Reardon, once successful businessman, pillar of the community, cursed the name Andrea Brown as his hands were handcuffed behind him.
Simon Baines squeezed a straight, narrow strip of mustard along the length of his hotdog. He dropped the spent foil packet. With polished wingtips he kicked it under his seat. The two fighters in the center of the ring received shoulder massages from their handlers as the referee went over the customary Marquis of Queensbury rules. Neither pugilist appeared to pay attention. Baines took a huge bite, wiped mustard off the corners of his mouth, and looked around at the packed house. The hotdog was good. He really didn’t give a shit one way or the other, but wondered if it was beef, pork, or a combination of both, or neither. It was if he two fighters were mirror images of each other. Both retreated to their respective corners, shed robes, flexed legs and arms, and simultaneously crossed themselves and said prayers against turnbuckles. The arena lights over the crowd dimmed. The squared circle was spotlighted. The bell sounded and the two combatants met at ring’s center, touched gloves for the second time within the last few seconds took deep cleansing breaths. Fight time.
END (Part 1 of 5)
The story continues May 14th, 2017…
A professor with a unique ability is approached by three men to solve a mystery that will ultimately change all of their fates. Each of them has their own purpose for desiring to have the mystery solved. If he solves the mystery, will the professor be able to tell them the whole truth? Find out next week