Story by Bruce Harris
Illustration by Cesar Valtierra
Story begins with In The Newspaper (Part 1 of 5)
Story continues with In The Newspaper (Part 2 of 5)
If not for the badge pinned to his jeans pocket, no one would know the pony-tailed 20-something was a cop. “This is detective Ed Burgess.” Double-chinned Schofield, stained collar open and tie unknotted, gestured toward the newcomer. “Judge Denton, Detective Ed Burgess. Burgess. Denton.” Before extending a hand, the young Burgess removed mini headphones from deep within his ear canals.
“Pleasure,” said Burgess. He stood, despite the empty chair next to Denton. It was understandable. First, the thrift shop condition of the chair wasn’t too inviting and second, the judge looked like hell after the ordeal. Remarkable transformation, calculated Burgess. The judge had left his house earlier that morning, no doubt looking sharp and crisp, ready to do whatever judges do. Now, he appeared worse than shit. Burgess had dealt with down and out crack addicts who looked and smelled better.
Schofield spoke between thick lips. “Judge, this has got to be really tough for you. You know we’ll get the fucker who did this. Detective Burgess here, despite the half Pippi Longstocking looks is a damned good detective. Doubt you two have met. He came over from the south side. Good street contacts. The works. They’re promoting them early nowadays. Not like when I come up. Don’t get me wrong. These kids know what they’re doing. Except don’t try to have a conversation with one of them ‘cause they don’t know how to do that. And, forget making eye contact with him. His face is usually buried in some i-thing, big, little, round, square, anything. I don’t know how to work any of that shit. He’s got everything, but I’m telling you he’s good.” Schofield spoke about Burgess as if the detective was elsewhere. The young man looked bored. Schofield was about to continue but stopped short after seeing the look Denton gave him. “Sorry, judge. I’ll get off my high horse. It’s already been a long day for you, I’m sure.”
Denton forced a smile. “I appreciate it, really do. I know you’ll do your best.” The judge sat with the police for hours, but it was no use. He explained to them time and time again that he didn’t see the killer. He didn’t hear the killer. The killer didn’t speak. He had no idea who took his briefcase and wallet or murdered Joe Reardon. Denton felt
completely helpless. It was after 6:00 pm when he finally returned home to Andrea Brown. Despite his appearance and stink, she greeted him with a kiss, a shoulder massage, and a glass of bourbon. His tie long ago undone, his shirt badly stained with dried DNA, he tossed the morning’s unread newspaper onto the kitchen table. He pounded a fist on the butcher-block. “Damn it. What I wouldn’t give to know the murderous son-of-a-bitch who shot Joe and mugged me.” He sipped the drink. It wasn’t the loss of money or identification papers in the wallet that had bothered Denton. Those were easily replaceable, as were the legal briefs and memos in the briefcase. Rather, it was the paperwork relating to Simon “Baldy” Baines. It was bad. Serious. There was too much crap about fighters and the boxing scene that should never have been documented on paper, let alone printed and left in a briefcase for some curious bastard to uncover and read. Denton intended to remove the correspondence from his briefcase and destroy it, but it had slipped his mind. He cursed himself. Denton had political aspirations beyond judge and to say Baines had a checkered past was like saying Rocky Marciano could fight. It was paramount for Denton to protect his own image. He’d convinced himself that the city needed his guidance. Denton’s mind was scrolling through a mental roller deck of names. Who would want to do this to him? Who would know about Baines? The man was personally responsible for more than half the illegal sports gambling in the city than any three gangs combined. The funds generated by ill-conceived bets and fixed fights helped fuel Denton’s bank account and non-political machine, helped him get elected judge, and when she wore any, kept Andrea Brown in expensive clothing. “Could it be Baines?” he asked himself. He rejected the thought. Baines’ success depended too
much upon Denton. Why take a chance with the golden goose? That’d be pure stupidity. Of course, Denton had seen some pretty foolish things in his time, but a Harvard mathematician couldn’t make this add up. They needed each other, fed off one another. Baldy could be stupid, but no one was that stupid? Denton dismissed the idea. He flipped pages in the newspaper.
Andrea Brown readied herself for a shower. Through the bathroom door, she raised her voice slightly. “I’m going to clean up and present you with something I know you’ll like, something you deserve after having a day like you’ve had. Please, just be patient.” Her message went in one ear and out the other. Denton robotically turned pages.
“What about Mel Lewis?” questioned Andrea Brown over the roar of the steaming bath water.
“What?” asked Denton.
Brown screamed. “Lewis. Mel Lewis. He has it in for both you and me, no? I’ll bet he’s the one!” she said, pouring bubble-bath crystals into the water.
Denton’s fatigued cerebral index card stopped at the letter, “L.” The name Mel Lewis was the only entry. “Of course, it has to be Lewis,” thought Denton. “He’d be angry enough because I took Andrea from him.” Denton was tired. He had difficulty stringing coherent thoughts together. But, maybe Brown was on to something? Denton forced himself to concentrate. He said to no one, “Lewis, he’ll see the Baines papers and probe deeper. He’ll find out everything about Simon Baines. The bum’s been out of the newspaper racket for years, but once a reporter, always a reporter.” His worn out mind continued to race. Was it possible the Mel Lewis he knew was capable of pulling off a
stunt like that? The more he thought about it, the less likely he was convinced it was Lewis. “What that guy did who robbed me and shot Reardon took a real set of balls,” he said to himself. “The Lewis I know probably doesn’t use a urinal in which to piss. He’s got no gonads.” Self-doubt and confusion consumed the brain-fagged attorney. His thought processes were all over the place. It had been a long day. “I don’t know what the hell to think,” he said, but his words never reached Andrea Brown, busy soaping herself.
Earlier in the day, the particular newspaper Denton now fingered was fresh, propped up like all of the others in piles in Joe Reardon’s small paper and magazine stand. No one could have foretold the role this particular paper would play in the lives of so many. Denton was oblivious to a story about the Yankees and their current 7-game winning streak. He stopped short. At the center of the sports section, a small piece of folded notepaper was tucked in the newspaper’s midsection covering a small photo of a left-handed pitcher for the Chicago Cubs. With eyebrows scrunched, Denton grabbed it and unfolded it. Two handwritten words were scrawled in a very familiar style. Denton had seen the handwriting, but where? He sipped bourbon. “Think!” he screamed to himself. After several minutes, a sinister smile crossed Denton’s face. He recognized the handwriting because he had seen it many times on a number of different documents during the trial of Joe Reardon. It was Reardon’s writing. Denton read the two-word note, ANDREA BROWN. Like a burst of cool air lifting fog from a steamed bathroom mirror, things began clearing up in the judge’s mind. Denton replayed the morning’s events. Reardon’s peculiar language during the stick-up, he specified ‘someone with a gun,’ and ‘person behind you,’ rather than having used the more commonly used
pronoun, ‘he.’ The person responsible was female! Had to be. He stared at Reardon’s note. It was as clear as a high-priced Tiffany diamond. Joe Reardon had identified his own killer by placing the note in the newspaper! Reardon’s unique choice of words during the holdup confirmed that is was Andrea Brown. Denton began interlocking loose pieces of the puzzle. He figured Andrea wasn’t happy with the status quo. She never was. She needed an edge. That didn’t come as a surprise to Denton. Andrea no doubt had overheard conversations between Denton and Baldy Baines. Obtaining the papers was the evidence she needed to have a hold over Denton. J.C. Denton thought he saw things in an entirely new light now.
“Forget about it, J.C.,” mewed Andrea Brown from the warm bubbly water. “The police will find whoever it was who took your stuff and killed Joe. Why don’t you get undressed and relax and I’ll be out of here in a minute and take wonderful care of you.”
Denton grinned. “Okay, okay. I’m just a little unnerved, that’s all.” Denton got up from the table and walked into the den. He grabbed the phone and dialed police officer Martin Horowitz. When he was a kid, J.C. Denton kept marbles and worms in his pants pockets. Now, corrupt policemen resided there.
“Martin, this is J.C. Denton. Shit happens.” Denton paused for a dramatic few seconds. “Andrea Brown. Know her?”
“Everyone knows her.”
“Good,” whispered an unemotional Denton. “She’s a carton of milk, expiration date today.” Horowitz smiled on the other end. The judge continued, “I’m reporting a soon-to-be accident. Anonymously. This one’s very special, Horowitz. I want you to know that. I could have called Sheridan, but I dialed you up. That’s a compliment to you. It’s personal. Don’t fuck it up.”
“Yessir, Mr. Denton. Kid gloves. I’ll take care of everything. Count on me.”
Where and when?” The cop listened. “That soon? Okay, consider it done.”
“One other thing, Horowitz. Know a detective named Burgess?”
There was a few seconds delay. Then, “Sounds familiar. Yup, I think so. Young kid? Long hair? Him?”
Denton knew he had chosen well when he had hand selected Horowitz to manage his delicate and all too frequent illegal issues. “That’s the one. Schofield got him involved and the fewer people involved in this the better. I really dislike complicated matters, Horowitz. Know what I’m saying?”
This time, there was no hesitation in the dirty cop’s voice. “Detective work is dangerous work. As you said, judge, shit happens.” But Horowitz thought differently. Happening shit is complicated, not black and white. It’s sort of like looking at a cow, one minute grazing, and chewing, and very much alive, and the next, a steak. One person might feel regret toward the loss of life while another becomes excited at the thought of sitting down to a nice meal.
Denton fingered the note Reardon had left for him in the newspaper. He provided all of the details to Horowitz, what and how he wanted Burgess dealt with, clicked his phone off. He returned to the kitchen table, lit a cigarette, inhaled deeply, and let the smoke exude slowly from his mouth and nostrils. Momentarily, he felt vulnerable. It was unfamiliar. Uncomfortable. He chalked it up to the fucked up day. Tomorrow, things would be different. He shifted thoughts. Poor Joe Reardon. The guy had begun a new life for himself, but things don’t always work out according to plan. He stared at the headline. This was the last newspaper Reardon had sold on the last day of his life. And, he had the wherewithal to reveal the mugger’s name. Denton gave the guy credit. Still clutching Reardon’s two-word note, J.C. Denton closed the paper and tossed it into the trashcan. He’d never stray from the plan he promised himself. No one would get in his way. He had worked too hard and for too long not to accomplish his goals. Later in the evening, he’d call Baldy Baines just to see where things stood. But first…
“J.C., I’m ready.” Andrea stood at the doorway to the kitchen, slightly wet. Her skin glistened beneath track lights. Following a Gypsy Rose Lee routine, the white bath towel rested around her ankles and partially covered her feet. Painted toenails peeked through.
The judge moved closer and smelled the freshness that was Andrea Brown. They didn’t bother going into the bedroom. Not this time. “You’re an amazing woman!” he told her. The kitchen floor was hard and cold, just like the two of them thought Denton. Strictly a silicon-free zone, her perfect breasts were firm, felt like balls of packaged fresh buffalo mozzarella. Denton was certain the pair’s measurements identical to the millimeter if subjected to caliper measurement. She sighed gently when he squeezed them. Her purring uncontrollably accelerated to panting, as if she were a sports car driver that had just witnessed the illuminated, blinking red lights descend toward the bottom green.
“Harder!” she commanded. He obliged. She placed her hand over his, pressed harder still.
A fraction of an inch of space separated their lips, but the space disappeared faster than a weekly paycheck. Tongues found each other, dueled with hummingbird wing speed. It was tongue on tongue for three minutes, time enough to soft-boiled eggs, before he penetrated her. Andrea’s cheeks slapped the floor like a child taking punishment. She held on, working her way toward a big finish, and was experienced and skilled enough to insure that her partner did as well at the exact moment. She dug long and sharp painted nails into Denton’s back and pressed down hard. Human emotion was temporarily suspended. It wasn’t replaced by animal lust. It morphed into something mechanical, almost as if the two were cyborgs wired to perform, unable to control either emotions or behaviors. Like a jackhammer digging up a pavement, J.C. Denton relentlessly pounded away, but she took everything he had and demanded more. It was as intense as a closely fought 15-round fight where both boxers needed assistance back to their corners, but eventually, he took care of business. Denton savored every moment, knowing it was their last time, her last time. Like Reardon’s last time for anything. For Denton, that made it all the more sweet. She must have been crazy to think she could have pulled something like this off without Denton finding out. He momentarily had second thoughts, but quickly suppressed them. If Denton was good at anything, it was compartmentalizing. Like a professional ballplayer who makes a crucial error in the field, but forgets about it the very next pitch. “Forgive me, I’ve got to run out. Important business. Don’t wait up.” Before she could protest Denton gave her a peck on the cheek. He chalked up his time with Andrea Brown to experience and good sex. Learning was a life-long process and if he happened to enjoy sex along the way, the better. It wasn’t a bad payoff. Denton pocketed Reardon’s note and split. He was never one to take unnecessary chances or to leave loose ends. The name Lewis continued popping up in his overcrowded brain. It annoyed him. Maybe it was possible that Lewis had grown some gonads. Possibilities annoyed J.C. Denton, no matter the odds. He liked sure things, foolproof. The kitchen floor experience was ancient history. There was one thing left to do. His phone came to life.
“Sheridan. Denton here. Listen carefully. I could have called Horowitz, but I’m putting this special situation in your hands. You know Mel Lewis, the old newspaper reporter? Good. For certain reasons I can’t get into now, I’ve been made aware that Mr. Lewis isn’t going to see the weekend edition of the rag he once wrote for or any other paper for that matter. Are you with me?”
Sheridan fingered the twisted telephone cord. He tried in vain to untangle it. “I’m with you, Mr. Denton.”
“I’ll have no problem finding Mr. Lewis and seeing to it that I’m the last human being he sees on this planet.”
Denton smiled. “Sheridan, you and I need to have a drink together someday. I’m buying.”
Denton decided to kill some time at the office. Bound legal briefs stood tall and lean in polished wood bookcases like Radio City Rockettes. The judge removed his shoes, dug silk socks into the plush Pullman brown carpet. He read, took notes, and organized some legal documents, but it was tough concentrating. For the first time in a long time, his confidence was shaken. Following a call on his cell phone, Denton’s stress level took a dip the size of DuPont stock during the great depression. It was Horowitz. The cop said, “Shalom,” received nothing back, then continued. “Done.” Denton smiled, disconnected. One headache was gone. Denton didn’t figure he’d miss her. Hell, in his position, there were just as many women around from which to choose as potential jurors. It was an endless stream. His grin faded faster than the flickering images in an old 1-cent movie arcade machine.
“Mr. Denton, um, do you have a minute?” Denton didn’t like the sound of Sheridan’s voice. He pulled the phone away from his ear for a second, took a deep breath. “What’s the problem, Sheridan?” Veins in the judge’s neck ballooned.
“Nnno rrreal problem, sir” stammered Sheridan.”
“Other than telling me you took care of everything that I asked you to, why do I want to hear from you?”
Sheridan ran a sweaty hand through greasy black hair. He momentarily squeezed as many hair follicles that fit into his sweaty fist before letting go. He cleared his throat. “This isn’t, um, easy to tell you, sir, but there’s really nothing to worry about.”
Denton stopped him in his tracks. “What nothing don’t I have to worry about? Sheridan, I hope you didn’t screw this up, it’s too important. Is Lewis dead? That’s a yes or no question.”
“Mr. Lewis,” Sheridan waited, but Denton was silent, also waiting. “Well, you see, he seems to have gotten away from me, but I can assure you, Mr. Denton, it’s only a temporary situation. Very temporary, I guarantee that.” Sheridan shut his eyes, expecting a tirade from Denton. None came. Sheridan licked lips, sucked air. “I can explain. It was a fluke, a….”
“Not interested, Sheridan.” Denton thought about the first time he had ever gotten involved with Sheridan. It was shortly after Sheridan graduated from the academy. He was celebrating with a few buddies at The Lock and Key when the young, dapper attorney approached the rookies’ table.
“Celebration of some sort?” questioned the natty mouthpiece. Denton looked from one to the other. He knew very well that Sheridan was a day one cop. Now, his thoughts turned to the end of a career. “Please Sheridan, tell me you’re joking. You are joking, right?” The question was met with silence from Sheridan’s end. Denton crossed the room, stared at himself in a large, six-foot mirror. “I’m slipping Sheridan. You know that?”
“Sir?” came the weak reply.
“Slipping. Messing up. Making mistakes. Too many mistakes. Do you know what I’m doing now, Sheridan?”
Again weakly, “No, Sir.”
“I’m looking at a reflection of a man who just messed up.”
“I can assure you Mr. Denton there is nothing to worry…”
Denton stopped him. “Let me finish. I made the mistake Sheridan, not you. Me. I’m staring at myself, the dumb screw up J.C Denton. Too many slipups lately. My selecting you to carry out what I thought was a relatively simple and routine request has turned into a cluster for lack of a better term. Do you agree?”
“I know I can…”
“Enough! How many years have you been on the force, Sheridan?”
“Next month will be six years. Look, Mr. Denton, I…”
“Six years. Remember when we first met at The Lock and Key?” Denton didn’t wait for an answer. “You were a raw rookie. Now, look at you.” There was silence for nearly 15 seconds. “I’ll tell you what, let’s forget this ever happened. I make mistakes. You made a mistake. It’s human. Can’t be helped. When do you think you’ll take care of this business?”
Unexpectedly bolstered by this sudden and surprising shift, Sheridan spoke with confidence. “Thank you, Mr. Denton. Thank you! You won’t be sorry, I promise you that. Give me another day at the most and everything will be taken care of. I guarantee that. Thank you.”
“Sure, excellent. Glad to hear it. So long Sheridan.”
The line barely disconnected when Denton dialed up Horowitz again. “You’re my man, right? Good. Another situation has cropped up that needs a professional’s touch.”
Officer Horowitz grinned. “Shoot.” He listened. The grin long gone, he finally spoke, “So, what’s the problem?”
“I knew I could count on you,” returned Denton. He disconnected. What the judge didn’t know was that he had just made yet another mistake in a string of goofs, this one would prove fatal.
All cops, even crooked cops, have a code of ethics. Officer Martin Horowitz was no different. He had killed for Denton, and he would kill again. This time, not for him, this time, he would kill him.
There was an air of professional pride and understanding during the 3-way conversation between Horowitz, Burgess and Sheridan. It takes a cop to know a cop no matter how deep into shit one may have strayed. Their only question was whether to do away with Lewis first or not at all. The three decided it would be most prudent if Lewis were permanently out of the picture. The two officers did not know the extent to which Lewis was involved, but they figured the ex-newspaperman knew enough to be a future pain in the ass. The young Burgess listened. He wanted no part of things but had no intention to impede his two brethren. Horowitz and Sheridan hatched a two-part plan. Take scalpel in hand and remove the hemorrhoid known as Mel Lewis. Denton would be taken care of during surgery of the second ass cheek.
What Mel Lewis had not counted on was his good fortune when, returning to his apartment following the shooting and Denton’s mugging, he opened Denton’s briefcase and found among other things printed email correspondence between Denton and Simon Baines. Lewis, like any other curious reporter, was born with an innate ability to uncover major stories from what others would ignore or pass over as mundane. But this stuff was dynamite. Anyone could see that. There was a good deal of cash wrapped in a rubber band in Denton’s briefcase that Lewis carefully counted out. It totaled nearly $2,000. Not bad, but Lewis was now more interested in long term benefits, rather than immediate gratification. To Lewis’ surprise, Denton’s wallet and identification papers were also in the briefcase. If he tried to use the credit cards, he might as well call the cops and confess. He immediately shredded the five pieces of black, platinum, and gold colored plastic along with Denton’s driver’s license, insurance cards, and professional id badges. There were several boring legal briefs that Lewis scanned over then tossed aside. Momentarily, he basked in that special feeling of relief, knowing that the law and all of its headaches, intricacies, and tribulations were permanently foreign to him. He flipped through an old newspaper, chucked it. A tuna fish sandwich was beginning to stink. The latter found its direct way to the outside garbage disposal in Lewis’ apartment complex. Lewis turned the briefcase upside down and shook. Paperclips, a matchbook, pencils, a small-unmarked calendar, a blank writing pad with unlined paper, two expensive looking pens and a pocket knife spilled out. Lewis gave them all a cursory look and then tossed the lot. He gathered up the communications with Baines, tapped them a few times on the table to even them up and square off the corners, arranged them from the earliest dated to the most recent, and began to read. The first printed email was from Baines to Denton. In it, he asked a couple of questions.
“What is your feeling about Ortega? Do you think he’ll play ball with us?”
Following a description of a young up and coming middleweight named Georgie Ruth, “I have it on good authority he’s rough with his old lady. He wouldn’t want that to come out now that Hoskins is promoting his ass all over creation and he actually believes that he is invincible. He’s in our pocket. I plan to go to the South Street Gym. He trains there every day. I’ll chat with him.”
Finally, Lewis read, “Have you seen Larson or Sheehan? Both owe me a boatload on the Ruiz – Muhammad fight over a month ago. They’ve seemed to have magically disappeared. Use some of your connections and find out their whereabouts. I’m not crazy about waiting.”
That first printed email was enough to get Lewis’s curious blood pumping faster than a Bob Feller heater. He waded through sheet after sheet. There wasn’t much coming from Denton’s end, but he finally found one very interesting email. Denton referenced an up and coming light heavyweight by the name of Julius Rincon. He espoused the boxer’s defensive skills, from his footwork, to hand speed, to his ability to slip a punch. Lewis learned something else from Denton’s words. Rincon had been involved in the holdup of a bodega in Puerto Rico, but there were payoffs because the chief of police there is Rincon’s brother-in-law. Denton wanted Baines to see to it that Rincon was put in the ring against an “up and comer,” one that people had heard of, and he wanted a stupendous first round, something fight fans would talk about for years. Lewis could not find Baines’ response, but he felt as though he had more than enough to go on to pursue this Simon Baines – J.C. Denton connection. Angles. Newspaper reporters sought angles. Lewis found a 90-degree bend, worthy of a Sandy Koufax curveball.
Mel Lewis was no fool. He knew the kind of power and influence Denton carried. He’d have to be very careful swimming in a shark tank with little more than a battery-sized oxygen tank strapped to his back and a pen for protection. He wore his hatred and contempt for Denton visibly on his shoulder. It was so bad, every time Lewis saw the name “Denton” on one of the papers, he felt as though he needed to spit. Denton was the phony that had stolen his girl. Never mind that Lewis had taken Andrea Brown from Joe Reardon. Lewis dismissed that. Ever the newspaperman, he thought about an article linking Judge J.C. Denton to Simon “Baldy” Baines and some corrupt gambling operation. Lewis liked the fact that he could operate from a position of strength. He quickly rejected a blackmail approach. While confident that would be effective in the short term, there was no way a powerhouse like Denton would allow that to continue. The blackmail avenue stunk worse than Denton’s aging tuna fish lunch. Lewis figured he had a little time on his side. Denton, he was confident, had no idea who’d taken his briefcase. Lewis’ mind continued working, planning, the email papers were explosive. Lewis figured that Denton could only hope that the robber who’d taken his briefcase took the cash and tossed the rest without reading the papers. Lewis grinned. The theft was probably giving Denton sleepless nights. He wondered how thrilled Andrea Brown was now that her new rich man was constantly on edge. Lewis had more than enough evidence on Denton. He had paperwork tying Denton to a Simon Baines, but what more could he do with it?
Mel Lewis needed to clear his head. He went into a nearby coffee shop, ordered a large coffee with cream and found a table beneath an advertising poster. Above Lewis, dark coffee beans overflowed from the bony hands of a man with a smile that split a darkened skin-cracked face. Lewis sipped the hot coffee slowly and read. He began over thinking things. Maybe these papers meant nothing? What if this was banter between two men in a harmless fantasy boxing gambling game? Maybe it was their hobby? Or, perhaps the two were working on a short story or a book and this was nothing more than pure fiction? Lewis glanced up at the poster. The beans seemed to be slipping faster out of the man’s hands. Lewis tried to pull himself together, to slow down, and to think rationally. It then dawned on Lewis that he had no idea who this Simon Baines was. He opened a small notebook and began taking notes. He jotted down: Simon Baines – who is he? Lewis flipped through the emails again. Once he calmed himself down a bit, he realized it wouldn’t be difficult to research some of the names and fights Denton and Baines discussed. Lewis wrote: Ortega? Georgie Ruth – South St. Gym, Wife whooper? Ruiz – Muhammad – anything fishy about fight? Larson??? Sheehan??? Lewis X’d out both names, figuring both Larson and Sheehan too common for him to bother searching. He continued: Julius Rincon, light heavy – Puerto Rico robbery (Denton referenced). Under Rincon’s name, Lewis drew a thick horizontal line across the page. Beneath the line, he wrote:
Willie Pep – Will o’ the Wisp – against Jackie Graves in 1946, he told ringside reporters he’d win a round without throwing a single punch. He did. That’s no fiction.
He punctuated this odd boxing fact with a double-lined circle around the entry.
Lewis needed to find out more about Simon Baines, but began by looking into Julius Rincon. He quickly discovered Julius Rincon from Puerto Rico was a 22-year old and highly ranked boxer in the light heavyweight division. That’s where it ended. Lewis couldn’t find any proof that Rincon had boxed anywhere other than his home state. None of Rincon’s 17 fights had ended in the first round and there was no mention of the fighter having been involved in a robbery or anything questionable. He pushed Rincon toward the back of his mind and researched the Tommy Ruiz – Cedric Muhammad bout which Lewis discovered occurred in upstate New York a little over two months ago. Nothing spectacular or out of the ordinary, the two combatants fought twelve tough rounds with Muhammad winning a close, but unanimous decision. Each fighter was knocked down once during the fight, Muhammad in the third round, Ruiz in the tenth. Lewis decided to move on. There were three different fighters with the name, Ortega. Rather than sift through each one with little to go on, Mel Lewis resigned himself to get off his ass and head over to the South Street Gym.
What is it about boxing gymnasiums and zoos? Seldom had Lewis visited each, about once or twice every five years, but each time the sun was brutally cruel, a surreal combination sauna hot and humid. The zoo exuded distinct smells, especially during the summer, the gym its own. Lewis lucked out, despite the relatively early hour, the sun- bleached, paint chipped bluish-purplish door opened leading Lewis to a flight of wooden steps within narrow, graffiti covered walls. By the time Lewis ascended the top step, the back of his shirt stuck to his skin. He wiped sweat beads off of his upper lip and walked into a large, stinking cesspool of a room. He detected the rancid stench of what seemed to be old sour cherry pipe tobacco, despite his certainty that no one had smoked a pipe in the place for years. The interior apparently had received no upgrades or restoration of any kind since its construction in the late twenties. Pale gray walls were covered with old fight posters. Lewis scanned them. The most recent was for a fight that took place more than five years ago. The badly stained wooden floor, the long ago waxy gloss sheen gone the way of the great John L. Sullivan, appeared starved for a makeover.
The gym had begun life with a dual personality. Originally, the space was split between a gymnasium and a dancing studio for neighborhood immigrant children. However, that venture was as successful as the Edsel. The dancing boys were bullied. The girls were subjected to catcalls and whistles. Their exposure to the seedy fighting youth and less than appropriate language was rampant and unwelcome. The boxing half was offended by the music. After only a few years, and much to everyone’s relief, the space was converted to an all boxing gymnasium. Sometime during the late 1970’s to early 1980’s, the place was nicknamed, “The Glass Jaw Gym” because no one who had trained there, whether pro or amateur, had compiled a winning record. In fact, more times than not, most of the boxers found themselves on their collective asses with a referee crouched over them counting to ten. That all changed in the 1ate 1980’s when a couple of hard training middleweights turned professional and cracked boxing’s top ten list of contenders to the world’s title. More importantly, neither fighter had ever been knocked out or knocked down. The South Street Gym moniker was back in vogue. Only the old-timers remember its dubious nickname today. Ironically, it remains a sort of a dance studio. The highly skilled and polished combatants learn not only to throw punches but also to dance away from those thrown by their opponents. Even within the squared ring, things are circular.
Two fighters sparred in a ring that sat not quite in the middle of the open space. A pair of trainers in the ring barked instructions. Lewis approached the first person closest to the entrance, a large black man lacing up boots. The pug looked up and Lewis noticed PAIN tattooed to his forehead. He thought better of speaking to him and walked toward the one female in the place. She was a little over five-feet in height, had long curly black hair, and a towel draped around her shoulders. She was guiding a school aged looking guy as he peppered a speed bag. She didn’t look up when Lewis approached and spoke.
“I’m looking for Georgie Ruth. Is he here?”
The woman ignored him. “That’s it, it’s a rhythm thing. Wait…Now…Wait…Now… good, very good, I think you’re getting the hang of it.”
Lewis watched the youngster pound the bag. The kid was totally focused. Lewis admired his determination. The South Street Gymnasium, despite its current dilapidated condition, served as a beacon of hope for many in this depressed neighborhood. For those mired in a luckless community, it was a potential “get out from behind the eight ball” card. If nothing else, it was a means for a number of kids to release their aggression in a positive outlet and at the same time learn the skill and discipline required to succeed in the rough and tumultuous world of what was once the sweetest of sciences. “Excuse me, miss, I’m speaking to you. Do you know where I can find Georgie Ruth?”
The woman began walking away. Lewis stood still. After a number of steps, the woman turned back toward Lewis. “Well?”
Lewis returned her stare. “Well, what?”
The woman appeared disgusted. “Do you want to see Ruth or not?”
Lewis was a little surprised. “Of course, that’s why I’m…”
“Then follow me. Jeez.”
Mel Lewis followed the woman around the ring’s outskirts toward the back wall where she knocked and then opened a door leading into an interior office. “Guy here wants to see Ruth.” With that, she opened the door wider, walked away.
— ♦♦♦ —
Island in the Sky. By Lawrence Dagstine, Art by Toeken
As an explorer, he dealt with mythical places and legendary races. And during an age of adventure and intrigue, social and cultural dynamism—1920, to be exact—he could only describe this soaring wilderness as being similar to something he had read as a boy. Was it The Island of Dr. Moreau? Perhaps… Journey with this explorer as he and his companions face danger and peril while exploring this island in the sky.