The opening pages of The Journeyman

There’s a moment just before a fight when the adrenaline kicks in. Your brain tells your body that it’s time to either put up your dukes or take a hike, preferably a quick one in any direction that has nothing in the way to trip you up.
For some reason my brain got its wires crossed somewhere down the line as just before a fight I always feel sleepy. Just tired of it all, I guess.
From the locker room, I could hear the crowd in the hall getting impatient. The mumbling had taken on a more urgent quality. I was first in the ring tonight, just an appetizer before the main show.
Popeye had wrapped my hands and checked his cut bag for the tenth time. Everything was in there except for an operating table and a bone saw.
I’d warmed up with a bit of half-assed skipping and less than a minute of shadowboxing. My heart wasn’t in it. I wanted to take a nap.
Popeye was doing his best to gee me up. “He’s a good kid, this one.” He said. “They reckon he could go far.”
“He’s gotta get past me first,” I said trying to sound mean.
“That’s the spirit.” Popeye said, “Make him work for it. Test his chin, but not to the point of destruction. Watch his left it’s a bit dangerous but you’ll know when he’s gonna let loose with it, he has a habit of winding back from his hips so there’s plenty of warning. But it’s hard if it lands so don’t open up too much, keep your guard up, let him work for it and don’t counter too hard. And he has decent reach so keep on your toes or work inside.” Popeye always talked a lot when he got excited. He’d been over and over this already, still he carried on. “It’s just a five rounder and we’re getting a nice round hundred for it if you don’t flatten the kid. So it’s a good payday. Ten bucks apiece per round. Not bad going eh?”
“I’ve had worse nights,” I said.
“They’re getting him ready for the big time so he needs to look good but don’t make it too easy, make him work, but if you feel you’ve had enough and you wanna go down and be out for the count in say the forth or the fifth then it won’t matter much to anyone.”
“It’ll matter to me,” I said. “I’m never out for the count, especially not tonight.”
Popeye was now massaging my shoulders. “What’s so special about tonight? You got someone coming?”
“Last fight.” I said.
Popeye stopped his rubbing for a second. “You always say that.”
“This time I mean it. I’ve had enough, I’m not enjoying it like I once did and I want out while I still have my brain and my good looks.”
“What will you do? Pump gas? Get paid to frighten children with that mug of yours? You can’t do nothing else. You can’t break up the act. You only know the fight game and it’s regular work.”
“Too regular,” I said. “In less than three years I’ve had my nose broke too many times to count, I’ve lost teeth and cracked ribs. The day after a fight I can hardly move. ”
“Yeah, but no one’s knocked you out yet.”
“Yet.” I said, “I’ve had fifty-seven fights. I’ve won less than half of them, drew a handful and lost most. ”
“It’s not your job to win.”
“It’s not my job to lose either.”
“No, it’s your job to make the other guy look good and not just walk out there and lay down like some of the mugs. This is all you have, this is your life, you couldn’t do anything else. Besides we’re a good team you and me. Haven’t I looked after you?”
“You’re welcome to swap places if you want. You take the beatings and I’ll count the money.”
“You know I do more than that.” Popeye looked offended.
“I’ve been thinking a lot lately.” I said, “I’ve had it with getting beat up for a living. I’m never gonna be major league, I’m too old. I’m too slow nowadays, I used to be good I know, but not that good. I’m always gonna be a journeyman until someone scrambles my noodle. I don’t wanna end up like those punchy old guys in the bar, which I will before long. So I figured it’s time to hang up the gloves. With the bits of door work I get at the clubs, a bit of laboring here and there and you could always use a bit of help at the gym. I don’t mind cleaning up or doing a bit of sparring. I could even train one or two of the new kids.”
“The gym doesn’t make enough to pay me let alone an assistant.” He said.
“Plus I’ve been reading up on it.” I said, “I’m thinking of starting my own private detective firm. I just need to take the course to get the license to operate, then I’m set. I saw it advertised in the papers. I think I’d be good at it.”
Popeye laughed. “You, a private eye?”
“Why not? It can’t be that difficult. Lot’s of fellas are doing it.”
“Well ain’t you a regular Robert Mitchum?” He said still laughing.
Before I could answer there was a knock on the door. It was time. Popeye slipped a gown over my shoulders picked up my gloves, checked his cut bag one last time and followed me from the locker room towards the noise of the hall. “Come on, Detective.” he said, “Let’s go make this kid look good.” …

Author: Ken White