Bogie it's not.

The Harder They Fall
by Erin Smith ©2012

Round One

The crowd roars. Cameras flash. The announcer's voice rises, muffled, above the crowd.

That's how it is on TV when the champion boxer makes his way to the ring, body glistening in the lights, bouncing as he walks, limbs flailing, limbering up, in the zone.

That's mostly how it was for Vince. His heart was pounding, at least.

In reality, the last third of the stadium's seats sat empty. The gate was low ; all the action for this match had been behind the scenes with the bookies. This was not going to be a barnburner. It had pretty much been billed as a walkover.

There was no roar of the crowd; many of them sat with bored looks on their faces. There was an occasional scream. They were screaming,

"MIGUEL!"

Vince's opponent.

***

Vincent Henry had always been attracted to the ring.

From the time he was eight, Vincent would sneak into the back of the gym, past the bins of old gloves, unraveling mats, their creamy stuffing spilling onto the floor, the stench of stale piss, sweat, spit, blood. He'd find a hiding spot and listen to the meaty slap of glove against bag and the whir of the speed bag and the curses of the men, head gear and mouth pieces making them appear comical, almost something other-wordly.

"Hun hung her sheff," one would say to the other. The other would nod and then they would go back to hitting each other.

This was Vincent's language. Even the squeaks of the ropes called out his name. His intent gaze soaked it up; he analyzed, memorized. Eventually, they'd find him and he'd be kicked out.

"Come back when you're old enough, kid."

Vincent would sit at home in his room, pretending the dull churn of the washing machine through the wall was the hum of the crowd. He'd wrap his fingers and hands in masking tape so tight they'd turn purple. The hum of the crowd would grow more and more distinct until it was clear what they were saying. They were saying his name:

"Vincent!"

His mom stood in the open door, staring at his hands.

"I'll get the scissors. It's time for school."

Round Two

Seated on the uncomfortably tiny stool, a stream of water flying into his open mouth, Vince now clearly heard a roar, but it was coming from inside his head.

Some of the papers had said he wouldn't even make it through one round with Miguel Garcia, but he had just proven them wrong. Barely. Everyone knew why he was there. He was there to be a journeyman to Miguel's record, to give him a little padding. Against Miguel, the only thing Vince had going for him was his good chin.

Vince felt a tap on his shoulder, looked at Buster, didn't even register whether or not it was disappointment on his face. He was saying something. But what?

A squirt of water in his face and the roar went to a dull thump. Vince could hear people in the crowd cheering.

". . .remember what we talked about, that left jab," Buster was finishing some sort of pep talk or advice. Vince smiled at him through a slobbery mouthpiece.

"I hink iht's goin guh."

Buster nodded. "It will be going good. Soon."

The bell rang.

***

It was a junior high boy's dream job. Every other day after school he'd go to the gym and do the laundry. He'd try not to dawdle by the overflowing laundry bin in the main room and stare at the boxers in the ring for too long, otherwise it would draw a sharp glance from Buster, the club owner, who, despite hiring him, never seemed to want him around.

They called him Vince now. It was in those early years, getting sweaty towels thrown in his face and joking with the regulars that Vincent made a transition. He was a new man. He was Vince.

Sometimes, if Buster wasn't around, the guys would let him hit a bag or two, practice his jabs, crosses, hooks.

The guys seemed so much older, so much bigger, so much leaner.

Vince was growing, too.

Round Three

Vince had taken some good hits. Miguel was just too fast for him. There would be a blur and he would reel to one side only to find that wherever he went another glove always waited for him.

Late in the round, Miguel bum rushed him and Vince was knocked down for the first time, a solid liver punch sending him to the mat near the ropes.

"One."

Vince listened to the crowd cheering, looked out at their satisfied faces as he pulled himself up one rope. . .

"Two."

…then another.

"Three."

As he reached his knees, a face in the crowd caught his attention. Halfway up the bleachers, the man sat next to a fat woman in a floral print moo moo who jumped up and down, arms jiggling with every movement.

"Four."

The man was not cheering. He did not look satisfied with what was going on.

"Five."

He held a red and white striped popcorn bag in one hand and a black box in the other hand.

"Six."

Vince had seen the man before.

"Seven."

But where?

Vince climbed to his feet and turned to face his opponent. He felt light headed. He put up his hands and felt something, felt a tug, and the men came to the center. Miguel dodged and then ran his face into Vince's glove. No, Vince had hit him, but he hadn't remembered swinging.

He saw Miguel hit his left glove, then the right again. Vince was trying to figure out what had just happened when the bell sounded.

So was everyone else.

***

When Vince looked old enough to enter the gym as a member instead of the laundry boy he dropped out of high school. He thought he was ready to finally show what he was made of.

"You don't work today," Buster said to Vince at the front door. Vince was holding a gym bag. Clearly, he was not here to do laundry.

"I wanna join," he said.

Buster stared at him, chewed thoughtfully on the unlit cigar in his mouth and finally turned to a guy Vince knew as Billy and nodded to him.

Before he knew it, he was dressed out, wrapped up, head squeezed into a mask, and facing down Billy in the ring. Vince felt that old familiar attraction to the ring, to the sport. He moved a little awkwardly on the slightly spongy surface.

The two men met in the middle with a boxer's handshake. Vince bobbed and weaved and danced and ducked.

Billy took him down with one hit.

Vince lay on the mat and tried to figure out what had gone wrong. He got up slowly, alone in the center of the ring. Those who had gathered around had gone back to their punching bags and their weights. Vince expected them to laugh at him, but no one paid him any attention.

The next day when he showed up at the club to do laundry, he learned a new kid had replaced him.

Buster wanted to talk.

Round Four

The crowd, the judges, Miguel, Miguel's manager : all were in shock.

Vince returned to his corner, his arms feeling lighter almost instantly. Whatever had happened, it was over.

Buster had a big grin on his face.

"I own't oh uht appened," Vince said, a stream of water flying at his face, some hitting his mouth.

"What?" Buster said, irritated, but with a twinkle in his eye.

Vince spit out his mouthpiece.

"I don't know what happened."

Buster laughed. "I do. You're gonna win this fight."

Vince saw that Buster meant it. He furrowed his brow.

"What's goin' on?"

"You're winnin', kid," Buster said.

"Bu. . ." Vince began to protest, but the look in Buster's eyes cut him short.

"Don't worry, kid. Not even you can screw this one up."

The bell rang.

***

Buster was an angry man. He was a gambling addict. He was so far into debt that he might have to close the gym. It had been one of the only ways he was making money. He should have been using the money he made with it to pay off some debt but instead he used it to buy more debt with different people.

Buster met the man at a match. They were seated next to each other and the man had struck up a conversation. For one reason or another Buster did not have a sizeable bet on the match, so he wasn't paying that much attention to it. Besides, the conversation had been an interesting one. They were talking about gravity.

"The bigger they are, the harder they fall," the man said. "I'm sure you've heard that."

Buster nodded.

"That might be true," the man said. "But they don't fall faster."

He was a scientist. Gravity was his primary field.

"It's a tricky little beast," he said. "It's so difficult to measure that there can't be an accurate field theory for it. It's weak at long distances, strong at short ones. What attracts objects?"

His name was Roger.

Buster shrugged. The man had him. What had attracted Buster to gambling? What had attracted him to boxing? What had attracted him to having this conversation with this strange man?

"It's a fun trick to play. I like to pretend that the fist and face are attracted to one another. Makes the game look almost comical. Almost choreographed."

Buster had watched the match in a way he had never considered before. The man he had a hundred on lost but Buster could hardly have cared. He was not thinking of this match. He was thinking of dancing, of choreography.

"Is there a way to make it a choreography?" He asked Roger. "I mean, without anyone knowing?"

Roger looked at him, dead on, took a sip from his coke. He nodded slightly.

"Not even the boxers?" Buster asked, trying not to let his voice raise with the excitement he felt.

Roger smiled slowly. It was an idea that he'd been working on for awhile. He'd never thought of applying it to boxing, but why not?

The device could be small enough to fit into a boxer's glove and light enough that the boxer and the judges would not notice.

It was very important to Buster that the boxer not notice.

Round Five

A right jab, a straight left, a right hook; Vince felt like his arms were being thrown out of socket. He had lost all control. Miguel's face was streaked with sweat and blood and it kept coming back for more.

Vince looked like a man with Parkinson's attempting to dance the shim sham. Each step felt labored under the weight of his hands.

Or was it his gloves?

Miguel was hardly getting a punch in; the crowd was going wild. Vince's eyes searched for the fat woman in the audience, screaming, arm flab flailing. He looked at the man seated next to her with the black box in his hand. He had a devilish grin on his face as he fingered the box.

Vince now remembered where he had seen the man. He'd seen him at the gym a lot over the last few months. He'd seen him just before the match. He'd seen him holding his gloves. It was with this realization that Vince saw he was a pawn in some sort of game. He was being used by Buster. And the worst part was, he had no way of stopping it. He had no way of stopping the man in the bleachers.

***

Vince had been training with Buster and fighting for him a little over a year when Buster told him about the opportunity of a lifetime: a chance to fight Miguel Garcia. Vince knew he didn't have a chance in hell of winning, but the gesture showed the amount of faith Buster had placed in him.

Obviously, Buster saw some promise in him. Vince worked hard and swore to himself he would make Buster proud.

On the night of the big event, Vince lay in the locker room, getting worked over by a beefy Scandinavian woman in what was supposed to be a massage, and wondered about how he had ended up where he was.

Out in the hallway, Vince could see Buster speaking with a man. The man was holding Vince's gloves.

The man from the gym. No one seemed to know who he was or what he was doing there. Everyone knew that Buster was into the bookies but the guy seemed too nice, too businesslike, to have been sent for that purpose.

The man handed Buster the gloves. Buster walked into the room.

"Ready, Champ?"

Round Six

Vince only felt normal between rounds, in his corner. He had use of his hands. He knocked the water bottle out of the corner man's hands and began ripping desperately, uselessly at his gloves.

"What are you doin' to me?" he screamed at Buster.

"Making you a star," Buster said, winking toward the bleachers. Vince followed his gaze to the man. He was eating a handful of popcorn and calmly playing with the black box in his hands. Vince felt like lead again. He looked across the ring, into the other corner, with pity. Miguel Garcia did not have a chance.

"You used me," Vince hissed.

Buster laughed. "You're gonna make me a fortune."

"What?"

"Why do you think you're here, kid? You're a tomato can, a palooka. I'm probably the only guy who bet on you. And the odds were 1000 to 1!"

Vince saw red. But there was no time, the bell was ringing, the crowd was shouting, and he was being thrown out of his corner into a game he no longer felt attraction for, but a game which was drawing him in.

Round Seven

The buzz of the crowd grew dim. Vince heard the blood pounding between his ears. He watched Miguel dance in front of him, heavier this time, not as much grace. But he was still the crowd's favorite. They still called for their hero.

Vince jerked toward the center of the ring in an arc, pulled around by his gloves until he could see Buster again, eyes wide in maniacal glee. Vince could see him counting the money, spending it. Vince's eyes fell on the man in the bleachers, felt the heaviness in his hands.

Vince went straight in, unafraid now that he knew his own power, wanting nothing more than to take that power away, to beat it out of these gloves. He beat it out on Miguel's face.

Miguel was everything and nothing to him. He was Vince's mom, telling him to stop playing and do his homework; he was Vince's dad, coming home drunk and beating on Vince and his mom until one day he did them the favor of just disappearing; he was Vince's teachers, always nagging and telling him he'd never amount to anything; he was Buster, giving him hope and then taking it away; he was the fat woman in the audience, crying for Vince's demise; and he was the mystery man in the audience, with his mystery tool, deciding Vince's fate without any input from him.

Vince put force behind the gloves and felt Miguel's face slap and crack against his glove. He beat him down to his knees, he beat him down and out and then he got down on his knees and kept hitting and hitting until he felt something pop and smoke was pouring out of his left glove.

Vince's face was covered with blood. He felt the crack each time he hit Miguel's face, which was getting softer and softer.

Vince felt that his left hand was finally his own. Smoke was coming out of it and he held it up, his right hand continuing to pound into the now unbreathing body of Miguel Garcia.

Around him, the crowd had grown silent, horrified.

All eyes in the arena were on Vince, straddled on top of the lump of flesh that used to be Miguel, right arm pounding away, left arm raised in the air, smoke billowing from it like it was the Olympic Torch.

The metallic taste of Miguel's blood filled Vince's mouth and he stopped beating on the unrecognizable face and slumped over, panting with the exertion.

Buster was the first to move. He came timidly to the center of the ring. He could almost see the dollar bills slipping out of his grasp.

Vince looked up at him and Buster was horrified at what he saw.

Round Eight

Vince had death in his eyes.

Where another man might have named his fists "Love" and "Fear," Vince would have named his "Gravity" and "Electricity."

Buster took a step back as Vince rose to his feet. The referee disappeared between the ropes.

Vince's hand was attracted to Buster's face. He followed Buster's pleading gaze to the man in the stands and smiled at what he saw: the man in a panic, playing with the black device in his hands. Things were clearly not going according to their plan. Vince smiled through his frothy mouth guard. He jabbed at Buster and Buster's face hit his glove. He felt powerful again, felt like his fate was in his own hands. He boxed Buster around the ring with only his right hand, just toying with him.

He began to hit harder, each punch bringing on that feeling of rage. He wanted to use more than just his right hand ; he wanted to use his whole body. He raised his smoking, sparking left hand. He landed a punch to Buster's jaw with his right, felt a satisfying crack and went for an uppercut with his left.

It was different this time. The electricity in his malfunctioning glove seemed to be doing something to the gravity field of his right. His right arm was thrown out of the way, painfully, nearly out of joint, and his left glove did not even hit its target before Buster was FLYING. . .

Round Nine

The electromagnetic field sent Buster flying so hard, so fast, that he flew. . . into the air, over the ropes, through the fat woman seated next to Roger (a trail of red and yellow fat globs coating Roger, coating his popcorn, getting into his mouth). His body put a hole in the roof of the arena, his momentum carried him over the sparkling lights of the city and didn't slow until he came to a crashing halt on the surface of the moon, the force breaking away pieces of the mantel and creating a fissure a mile deep.

Round Ten

Everyone was running and screaming. Except Roger, who was left to face what he had created; a monster. And that monster was now headed for him, climbing, climbing over arena chairs, as the moon's pieces rained down like a meteor shower around them.

x x x

With MMA and WWF and all of those other alphabet soup fighting events, the Sweet Science has almost gone the way of the DoDo. Not for the viewer of today are the Thrilla in Manila or Sugar Ray vs Hands of Stone. Stories like this one are nearly anachronisms but-well-written as this one is-they'll find a home at anotherealm. Welcome this tale and writer on our BBS - GM

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