Fighters don't dive
Nimbly “Flash” Moran parried a jab and went in fast with a left to the wind. Stepping back, he let Breen get a breath. Then he flicked out a couple of lefts, put over an inside right, and as Breen bobbed into a crouch and tried to get in close, he clinched and tied him up.
They broke, and Breen came in with a flurry of punches that slid off Moran’s arms and shoulders. Then Moran’s hip moved and a left hook that traveled no more than four inches snapped Breen up to his toes. Breen caught himself and staggered away.
The gong sounded, and Flash Moran paused . . . then he slapped Breen on the shoulder and trotted to his corner.
Two men were standing there with Dan Kelly. He knew them both by sight. Mike McKracken, an ex-wrestler turned gambler, and “Blackie” Marollo, small-time racketeer.
“You’re lookin’ good, kid,” Kelly said. “This next one you should win.”
“You might, but you won’t stop him,” Marollo said, looking up. “Nobody knocks Barnaby out.”
McKracken studied Moran with cold eyes. “You got paper on him?” he asked Kelly.
“I don’t need any,” Kelly said. “We work together.”
“Well, if you had it, I’d buy a piece,” McKracken said. “I need a good middle. Money in that class now with Turner, Schmidt, and Demeray comin up.”
“I wouldn’t sell,” Kelly said. “We’re friends.”
“Yeah?” Marollo shot him a glance. “I’d hate to see somebody come along an’ offer him a grand to sign up. You’d see how much friendship matters.”
Flash Moran looked at Marollo, then dropped to the floor beside him.
“You’ve a rotten way of looking at things, Blackie,” he said. “We aren’t all dishonest, you know!”
“You’re pretty free with that lip of yours, kid. Maybe somebody will button it up one day. For keeps.”
Moran turned, pulled his robe around him, and started for the dressing room.
“That kid better get wise or he won’t last,” Marollo said. “You tell him, Kelly.”
“You told him yourself,” Kelly replied. “Didn’t you?”
Dan Kelly turned and walked up the aisle after Flash. Behind him, he heard Marollo’s voice.
“That punk. I’ll fix him!”
“You won’t do nothin’ of the kind,” he heard McKracken growl. “We got too much ridin’ on this to risk trouble.”
The voices faded out with the distance, and Kelly scowled.
In the dressing room the trainer spoke up. “Keep an eye on Marollo, kid, he’s all bad.”
“To the devil with him,” Flash said. “I know his kind. He’s tough as long as he has all the odds with him. When the chips are down, he’ll turn yellow.”
“Maybe. But you’ll never see him when he doesn’t have the difference.” Kelly looked at him curiously. “Where you goin’ tonight?”
“Out. Just lookin’ around. Say, Dan, what do you suppose is bringing Marollo and McKracken around to the gym? One or the other’s been down here five days in a row.”
“Probably sizing you up, figurin’ the odds.” Kelly knotted his tie. “Well. I’ve got a date with the wife.”
Shorty Kinsella was lining up a shot when Flash Moran walked into Brescia’s Pool Room. He looked up.
“Hiya, champ! How’s about a game? I’m just winding up this one.”
He put the last ball in the corner and walked around, holding out his hand.
Moran took it, grinning. “Sure, I’ll play.”
“Better watch him.” The man who Kinsella had played handed Shorty five dollars. “He’s good!”
Moran racked the balls. “Say, what do you know about Blackie Marollo?”
Shorty’s smile went out like a light. He broke, and ran up four, then looked at Flash thoughtfully.
“Nothing. You shouldn’t know anything either.”
Flash Moran watched Kinsella make a three-cushion shot. “The guy’s got me wondering.”
“Well, don’t. Not if you want to stay healthy.”
Flash Moran finished his game and went out. He paused on the corner and peeled the paper from a stick of chewing gum. If even Shorty Kinsella was afraid to talk about Marollo, there must be more behind Blackie than he’d thought.
Suddenly, there was a man standing beside him. He was almost as tall as Moran, though somewhat heavier. He lit a cigarette, and as the match flared, he looked up at Flash over his cupped hands.
“Listen, sonny,” he said, “I heard you askin’ a lot of questions about Marollo in there. Well, cut it out . . . get me?”
“Roll your hoop.” Flash turned easily. “I’ll ask what I want, when I want.”
The man’s hand flashed, and in that instant of time, Flash saw the blackjack. He threw up his left arm and blocked the blow by catching the man’s forearm on his own. Then he struck. It was a right, short and wicked, into the man’s wind.
Moran had unlimbered a hard blow, and the man was in no shape to take it. With a grunt he started to fall and then Moran slashed him across the face with the edge of his hand. He felt the man’s nose crunch, and as the fellow dropped, Moran stepped over him and walked around the corner.
So, Blackie Marollo didn’t like to be talked about? Just who was Blackie Marollo, anyway?
Up the street there was a Chinese joint, a place he knew. He went in, found an empty booth, and sat down. He was scowling, thoughtfully. There would be trouble. He had busted up one of Marollo’s boys, and he imagined Blackie wouldn’t like it. If a guy had to hire muscle, he had to keep their reputation. If it was learned they could be pushed around with impunity, everybody would be trying it.
Moran was eating a bowl of chicken and fried rice when the girl came in. She was slim, long-legged, and blond, and when she smiled her eyes twinkled merrily. She had another girl with her, a slender brunette.
She turned, glancing around the room, and their eyes met. Too late he tried to look indifferent, but his face burned and he knew his embarrassment had shown. She smiled and turned back to the other girl.
When the girls sat down, she was facing him. He cursed himself for a fool, a conceited fool to be thinking a girl of her quality would care to know anyone who earned his living in the ring.
Several times Moran’s and the girl’s eyes caught. Then Gow came into the room and saw him. Immediately, he hurried over, his face all smiles.
“Hiya, Flash! Long time no see!”
“I’ve been meaning to come in.”
“How are you going to do with the Soldier?”
“Think I’ll beat him. How’re the odds?”
“Six to five. He’s the favorite. Genzel was in, the fellow who runs that bar around the corner. He said it was a cinch to go the limit.”
For an instant, Flash was jolted out of his thinking of the girl.
“Genzel? Isn’t he one of Marollo’s boys?”
“Yes. And Marollo usually knows . . . he doesn’t know about this one, does he, Flash?”
“Hell no!” he paused a moment. “Gow,” he said. “Take a note to that girl over there for me, will you?”
Hurriedly, Moran scribbled a few lines.
I’d like to talk to you. If the answer is yes, nod your head when you look at me. If it is no, the evening will still be lovely, even if not so exciting.reilly moran
Gow shrugged, took the note, and wandered across the room. Flash Moran felt himself turning crimson and looked down. When he looked up, his eyes met those of the girl, and she nodded, briefly.
He got up, straightened his coat, and walked across the room. As he came alongside the table, she looked up.
“I’m Ruth Connor,” she said, smiling. “This is Hazel Dickens. Do you always eat alone?”
She moved over and made a place for him beside her in the booth.
“No,” he said. “Usually with a friend.”
“Girl?” Ruth asked, smiling at him.
“No. My business partner. We’re back here from San Francisco.”
“Are you?” she asked. “I lived there for a while. On Nob Hill.”
“Oh.” He grinned suddenly. “Not me. I came from the Mission District.”
Ruth looked at him curiously.
“You did? Why, that’s where all those tough Irish boys come from. You don’t look like them!”
He looked at her again. “Well, maybe I don’t,” he said quietly. “You can come a long way from the Mission District without getting out of it, though. But probably that’s just what I am . . . one of those tough Irish boys.”
For a moment, their eyes held. He stared at her, confused and a little angry. She seemed to enjoy getting a rise out of him but she didn’t seem to really be putting him down. So many times with girls this very thing happened, it was like a test but it was one he kept failing. Her friend stayed quiet and he was unsure of what to say or how to proceed.
The door opened then and three men came in. Flash grew cold all over.
“Sit still,” he told the girls softly. “No matter what happens.”
The men came over. Two of them had their hands in their coat pockets. They looked like Italians.
“Get up.” The man who spoke was short, very dark, and his face was pockmarked. “Get up now.”
Flash got to his feet slowly. His mind was working swiftly. If he’d been alone, in spite of it being Gow’s place, he might have swung.
“Okay,” Moran said, pleasantly. “I was expecting you.”
The dark man looked at him. “You was expectin’ us?”
“Yes,” Flash said. “When I had to slug your friend, I expected there would be trouble. So I called the D.A.’s office.”
“You did what?” There was consternation in the man’s voice.
“He’s bluffing, Rice,” one of the men said. “It’s a bluff.”
“We’ll see!” Rice’s eyes gleamed with cunning. “Tell us what the D.A.’s number is.”
Excerpted from With These Hands by Louis L'Amour. Copyright © 2002 by Louis L'Amour. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.