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Jerry Quarry Died for Our Sins

By Al Walentis

Xyla Press


Smashwords Edition

Although some characters and events depicted in this book are real, the narrative is entirely a work of fiction. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher. For information, contact Xyla Press, 504 Brighton Avenue, Reading, Pennsylvania 19606

© 2017 by Al Walentis. All rights reserved.

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For those who could still find beauty after loss,
as they fought through the night

The Heavyweight Championship of the Multiverse

The Field (listed alphabetically)

Muhammad Ali

Record: 56-5, 37 knockouts

Career: 1960-1981

Best night: November 14, 1966. Ali stopped slugger Cleveland Williams in the third round at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas, flooring the “Big Cat” four times and introducing the Ali Shuffle.

Jack Dempsey

Record: 60-7, 51 knockouts

Career: 1914-1927

Best night: July 4, 1919. Won the heavyweight title by massacring champion Jess Willard in three of the bloodiest, most lopsided rounds in ring history. “The Manassa Mauler” dropped Willard seven times in the first round.

George Foreman

Record: 76-5, 68 knockouts

Career: 1969-1977, 1987-1997

Best night: January 22, 1973. Flattened Joe Frazier in two rounds to capture the heavyweight crown, the champion driven to the canvas six times.

Joe Frazier

Record: 32-4-1, 27 knockouts

Career: 1965-1976

Best night: March 8, 1971. In a battle of unbeaten champions, Frazier earned a unanimous victory over Muhammad Ali in Madison Square Garden in what was billed as the “Fight of the Century,” leaving Ali sprawled on his back in the final round.

Larry Holmes

Record: 69-6, 44 knockouts

Career: 1973-2002

Best night: June 9, 1978. In a war that pushed both warriors to the limit, Holmes scored a split decision over Ken Norton to win the heavyweight crown.

Evander Holyfield

Record: 44-10-2, 27 knockouts

Career: 1984-2011

Best night: November 9, 1996. Opening as a 25-1 underdog, Holyfield outboxed and outclassed Mike Tyson to score an 11th round TKO and reclaim the heavyweight belt.

Jim Jeffries

Record: 19-1-2, 14 knockouts

Career: 1985-1910

Best night: June 9, 1899. Challenging heavy hitter Bob Fitzsimmons for the title, Jeffries dominated start to finish, knocking out the champion in the 11th round.

Jack Johnson

Record: 56-11-8, 36 knockouts

Career: 1897-1931

Best night: July 4, 1910. Johnson outclassed unbeaten Jim Jeffries, lured out of retirement as the Great White Hope to challenge the flamboyant champion. Jeffries’s corner tossed in the towel after 15 rounds of the 45-round bout.

Vitaly Klitschko

Record: 47-2, 41 knockouts

Career: 1996-2004, 2008-2012

Best night: June 21, 2003. Although he lost on cuts, Klitschko dominated heavyweight king Lennox Lewis through six rounds. Lewis retired afterward rather than face Klitschko in a rematch.

Wladmir Klitschko

Record: 64-5, 53 knockouts

Career: 1996-2017

Best night: July 2, 2011. Klitschko executed a 12-round demolition of David Haye, pinning him with his ramrod jab and clubbing him with rights.

Sonny Liston

Record: 50-4, 39 knockouts

Career: 1953-1970

Best night: September 25, 1962. Liston delivered power shot after power shot to Floyd Patterson’s heavyweight crown, which Patterson wore for only 2:04 of round one.

Joe Louis

Record: 66-3, 52 knockouts

Career: 1934-1951

Best night: June 22, 1938. Avenging the only blemish on his record, Louis knocked out Max Schmeling at Yankee Stadium in 124 seconds in one of the major sports events of the twentieth century, a battle that pitted the “Brown Bomber” against the pride of Hitler’s Germany.

Rocky Marciano

Record: 49-0, 43 knockouts


Best night: September 23, 1952. Hopelessly behind on points against Arnold Raymond Cream, also known as Jersey Joe Walcott, Marciano uncorked a right hand for the eons, knocking the champion unconscious with a punch that traveled no more than six inches, yet landed with the force of an asteroid slamming into the earth — the greatest one-punch knockout in boxing history.

Max Schmeling

Record: 56-10-4, 40 knockouts

Career: 1924-1939, 1947-1948

Best night: June 19, 1936. Schmeling handed Joe Louis the first defeat of his career, knocking him down in the fourth and out in the 12th round.

Gene Tunney

Record: 65-1, 48 knockouts

Career: 1915-1928

Best night: September 22, 1927. In one of the most famous matches in ring lore, Tunney arose from the infamous “long count” to outbox Jack Dempsey and retain his title with a 10-round decision.

Mike Tyson

Record: 50-6, 44 knockouts

Career: 1985-1991, 1995-2005

Best night: June 27, 1998. The richest bout in boxing history to that date proved a devastating mismatch. Tyson made short work of unbeaten Michael Spinks, knocking him out 91 seconds into round one.

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Whenever I hear the name, Jack Dempsey, I think of an America that was one big roaring camp of miners, drifters, bunkhouse hands, con men, hard cases, men who lived by their fists and their shooting irons and by the cards they drew. America at High Noon.

Jim Murray

I look at my past
Great memories abound
For I fought, I bled, and I cried
I gave it my all round after round
And the world knows that I tried”

Jerry Quarry

Time is a motherfucker and it’s coming for all of us.

Jonathan Lethem



A Thousand Years

The Lives We’ve Lived


August 31, 2035

The day he met Muhammad Ali, nineteen years after Muhammad Ali died, Buck Lazarus feared the champ was drunk.

Ali wobbled. His knees buckled and his arms dangled as his hips swayed in a woozy dance.

No way was Ali drunk, nor ravaged by Parkinson’s disease, not the Muhammad Ali of November 14, 1966, the fighter Buck anticipated greeting today, a gladiator at his peak.

Buck dreaded something worse.

He dreaded his heavyweight championship of the multiverse might sunder into chaos and ruin before the competition even took wing.

Ali was clad in a full battle uniform: white satin trunks, tasseled boots, scarlet gloves. His chest glistened with perspiration as he parked himself under the gym entrance, a troll guarding his bridge, ragging the dour figure who sat hunched twenty feet inside on a decrepit wooden stool beside the ramshackle ring.

“Radio chump, radio chump.” Ali spat the words while he showboated and sashayed, pantomiming the role of a sot struggling not to pass out, rather than a boxer reeling from a haymaker.

“Jesus Chrysler drives a Dodge,” Buck sputtered, thrusting himself toward Ali.

The archway peered into a drab cinderblock cavern. Chipped-paint peeled from its lime green walls surrounding a ring mat dusty with resin. The faded leather turnbuckles remained unadorned by company logos. A row of skip ropes hung on pegs on the back wall, and two heavy bags dangled from silver chains. The musty odor of dank, humid sweat and acrid tobacco smoke permeated the gym. Buck ordered the aroma pumped in to set the mood, a duplicate of the spartan training camp of a champion whose finest days lay between the pages of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

“Come on, champ, everyone’s on board. You are the Greatest.” Buck clasped Ali in a half-assed bear hug—a cub hug.

“I whup you right here, not on a white man’s radio show,” Ali bellowed, waving his glove across the gym at James J. Jeffries, whose sable hair slicked from Brilliantine.

“Radio?” Jeffries laughed. “We got pictures where I’m from. Moving pictures. Flickers.”

Ali’s eyes glittered with scorn. Jeffries kept Ali in a harsh, steady fix. Buck’s sour grimace, confusion dissolving into panic, betrayed that his tournament had gone hideously wrong.

Face to face, Buck was strikingly angular and dark in an Italian way. From the profile, his hawk nose dominated, a beak so hooked it might pop open a can of beer. Not quite forty and ravishing in a peacock-striped jacket, Buck projected the flamboyance of a man-child first experiencing the pleasures of the world. Buck’s swagger faded fast. His sneezer sniffed trouble.

Jeffries sprung from his stool. He sported woolen boxing tights stretched halfway down his thighs and clinging to his bulging crotch, flaunting alpha dominance. In fine fettle, he matched Ali: six feet and two inches, 225 pounds, his square shoulders so splendid he might haul a deer carcass nine miles while never flinching, something this steely athlete once did.

Ali blazed into his shuffle, feet a blur, daring Jeffries to storm over and mix it up.

Buck propped himself as a shield between Ali and his nemesis. His sandy-colored hair, a Don King electro-cut, was a wiry smorgasbord of tangerine, lime, canary that jutted straight up in crinkled waves, eager to collapse in submission.

“Come on, champs, I’m your promoter. Plenty of time to slug it out soon in the ring.”

Buck tugged at Ali, aiming to guide him back to his own training quarters. Buck assigned each fighter private workout space, Ali’s halfway around the arena. Ali wandered here purposefully, vengeful, eager to torment Jeffries. Buck knew from the films he studied that Ali was playacting, egging on Jeffries, a hot dog with mustard and relish and all the fixings.

Jeffries had never witnessed Ali’s shtick before today. Buck was certain he could not distinguish the Greatest from a nutty boxing wannabe. Jeffries, a fighter from the faraway past, a duelist with whom Ali should have no quarrel, somehow worked Ali into a high state of agitation. Buck’s palms dampened with sweat.

Ali juddered, pretending he lacked the force to slip free from Buck’s meager grip and flutter across the gym.

Without warning and with a ferocity that shuddered Buck, Jeffries walloped a heavy bag. His fist crunched a deep imprint into the sand-packed canvas. Such vim threatened to crackle the apparatus from its moorings: a sound of thunder that might only come from someone capable of pounding rivets into steel with his bare knuckles, a Boilermaker.

“Your boy here, he looks intemperate,” Jeffries drawled, basking in the shocked quiet that spasmed through the gym after one pulverizing hook.

The word “intemperate,” Buck concluded, referred not to Ali’s brashness, but to suspicions that Ali overindulged in intoxicating spirits. Or that Ali was cuckoo crazy. Jeffries was a warrior, too polite to flaunt the n-word, however popular the slur had been in his time. Calling Ali “boy” was hideous enough.

Ali unhooked the dazzle. Playing make-believe no longer, he flicked free of Buck’s puny vise with the ease of gelatin dessert popping from a mold. Now Ali wasn’t just popping off. He popped off whiplash jabs—pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop!—ten in three seconds, a salvo threatening to crack the sound barrier.

Buck admired it as bebop; a lyrical and physical jazz. He basked in the moment, even as the first of many panic attacks sank in, even while something did not sit right. History spiraled through the building, history not yet made.

He tried to smother Ali, hugging biceps that seemed chiseled from caramel marble, gazing at a face Adonis would envy. He was the most beautiful specimen the boxing gods ever spawned.

“Champ, come on, your training quarters are over here.”

“Hope it’s my Deer Lake training camp. Else I ain’t doin’ no fighting.”

This Old Armory lacked the elegance and space to replicate Deer Lake. The training quarters Buck designed were throwbacks to other eras. Knotty, cloth-covered ring ropes, weathered speed bags waiting to deflate. Everything lived-in, some of it altogether spent.

Ali offered no struggle, but he toyed with Buck, a Technicolor-attired promoter fruitlessly aiming to halt a serious rumble. Turning square to Buck, Ali brayed, a mad torrent of syllables mashed together, decades of poetry and fury condensed into one riff, machine-gun rapid, subhuman, unintelligible, except to Buck.


Buck froze, not only in space, but in time, across multiple dimensions, in this multiverse he wished were not his own.

When quantum theory proved a decade ago the existence of multiverses, everything changed. Once the conclusive evidence verified an infinite number of parallel universes stacked atop each other, separated by subatomic particles that came to be known as keloidtrons, the inevitability of time travel grew near, before the world government’s obscurantism throttled research. The laws of science proved that for every choice a person makes, the opposite choice renders in an alternate reality. The concept of freedom came unhinged. For some, these discoveries brought hope, for others despair.

“Pinskie!” Buck required reinforcements.

Lester Pinskie schlepped into view. A squat, rumpled man, with a horseshoe of chestnut hair and a pencil-thin mustache, Pinskie served as Buck’s personal assistant, his fixer, his flack, his go-to guy.

Buck caught Ali’s smirk, his shoulders relaxing, catching a breather after a hard-fought round.

“It’s Ali,” Buck said, hoping to take ten himself. “He’s provoking a tussle with Jim Jeffries.”

Pinskie caught his first glimpse of Jeffries. “That guy looks pissed. Wouldn’t want to start no rumpus with him.”

“He ran a saloon for a spell, farmed alfalfa crops in retirement, toured the vaudeville circuit. For six years, starting in 1899, he was the baddest sonuvabitch in the known multiverse.”

Ali had no interest hearing Buck sing Jeffries’ hosannas, so he fired off his own verses now. It was poetry so bad, but so street smart, it sired rap music.

Ali improvised a couplet.

What kind of chance should you give this Jeffries named Jim?

Buck wheeled Ali out to the corridor, as much as Ali allowed himself to be wheeled, while Ali flapped his mitt with disdain. Jeffries sprung forward. Eyes smoldering, he coiled like a pillbug, his left hook cocked to snap and strike.

Ali wasn’t drunk before, but he was drunk now, on his own beauty, his vigor, his pizzazz, his aura of invincibility. “Octopus. You need more than eight arms to hit me. I’m too pretty, I’m too fast.”

“Only sissies, they’re pretty,” Jeffries snapped, refusing to blanch.

Buck understood Ali’s mind games. He teased opponents with nicknames that boiled their blood: “The Washer Woman” for Canadian plodder George Chuvalo, mocking the motion of his fists churning; “The Rabbit” for Floyd Patterson, because Ali found him scared like a rabbit. Now Jeffries, “The Octopus.”

Such was the logic behind Ali’s verbal squall minutes earlier, the cannon-fire blast of insults directed at Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, and why Buck feared his tournament faced desperate measures.

Panting, Buck sought to bask in the moment, the sweetest of all sweet scientists eyeballing the greatest of great white hopes. This was what this dream match was all about, the sixteen greatest heavyweights of all time, facing off on the best nights of their careers to crown the heavyweight champion of the multiverse.

“Pinskie, please escort the champ back to his training quarters. I need to find the doc.”

The doc. Dr. Egon Keloid. Master of this multiverse, The eccentric sorcerer whose formulae, equations, and potions returned these old champs to the Old Armory young again.

Buck barreled through the warren of hallways ringing the Old Armory. He christened it the Old Armory, though it was not old, but built solely for this tournament, just outside San Angeles. While the building showcased the stern brick-and-mortar ambiance of the boxing palaces of yore—if a place where men shed blood and teeth and brain matter might be a palace—its layout was unlike any other.

He slowed his charge and glimpsed into the glass-enclosed enclaves where the sixteen fighters Buck had matched would train, each sheltered within a replica of a gym from his era, each a portal to its own time capsule, each festooned with bric-a-brac from eras spanning more than a century. Miami Beach, Brooklyn, the Catskills, Atlantic City, and a dozen others. The arena itself was circular and accessible through gangways off to the right, with 1,500 seats for the VIPs invited to the live event. That was for optics. A multiverse-wide audience would experience the action via XR, Xtreme Reality, as surrogates for the agony and euphoria of the warriors. No one had experienced the holy sport of boxing for nearly a decade.

Buck gawked through the glass towering floor to ceiling, soaring over two stories high. He found it clever to install one-way mirrors so the fighters might ogle themselves while they sparred. Guests could admire the athletes in privacy from the outside.

Surveying his masterpiece, Buck imagined the gyms morphing into cages populated by beasts of burden locked in a zoo, assembled for the gawking pleasure of the elite: a wax museum of eldritch creatures sprung to life. Buck had no clue how Egon worked his dark magic. Did the fighters arrive in pods, emerging viscid and unformed? Or did they materialize from a swirl of gases, like stars at the dawn of the universe, helium transfiguring into carbon, the building block of life? Were the fighters even self-aware?

Trade secret, Egon always whispered. Egon’s trade was not as a doctor of medicine or biologist, but a physicist with degrees in multiple disciplines, hailed in academia as a genius unequaled.

Buck circled the Old Armory like a doomed rat ensnared in a labyrinth. He craved answers, while he fought back paranoia that struck deep.

The buzzkill of a few minutes faded, and he basked in the rush, his heart fluttering, neither a butterfly nor a bee, but a fanboy luxuriating in the ultimate wet dream. He admired the animals in his zoo, one by one. Gene Tunney, slight of height, bobbing and feinting, a sleek panther about to pounce. Rocky Marciano, crouched low like a fireplug, whistling off hooks and uppercuts. Jack Johnson, big bald head gleaming, arms folded as he grinned with self-satisfaction, a rock star in his day. Here was a bazaar of heavyweight titans.

Buck skirted up the mezzanine, past the row of skyboxes where the elite might enjoy the matches in safe harbor, like the Romans deciding thumbs up or thumbs down in the Colosseum. Egon’s offices occupied a whole half of the mezzanine. He had insisted that he design his offices himself.

A pantheon of kitschy excess, Egon World nestled behind tall, thin windows, mirrored on the outside and allowing no one to spy inside. Gold and chrome beams crisscrossed at wild, orthogonal angles, a surreal frosting inspired by the old Dr. Caligari movie. Egon had the hots for classic horror films.

Buck gave one loud pound before pitching open the heavy oak door, its nameplate reading in gold-leaf font:

Dr. Egon Septimus Keloid

Chief Scientific Officer

Heavyweight Championship of the Multiverse.

Egon jolted and his eyebrows arched in merriment. “Would you like a gin? It’s my only weakness.”

He tapped the crystal decanter, dominant on his polished, ornate desk. It was as elongated as a conference table. He wore a double-breasted white smock, as if he were a medical doctor working in a laboratory.

Egon projected self-absorption, charmed by his own pomposity. Edging near fifty, Egon escaped the outdoors, and his sunken cheeks emphasized a sallow complexion. His forehead sloped like a prehistoric fish’s beneath a retreating hairline of frosty white tendrils, an irony born of Keloid’s stature as the foremost scientific mind of his day. He needed such a wicked skull to house such a wicked mind.

Buck yearned for a gin, a tall one, but he shook off the offer with a pout.

“A cigar?” Egon asked, flipping open a tabletop humidor. “It’s my only other weakness.”

That was the Septimus in him talking. Egon delighted in draping his arm over Buck, clasping his shoulder, as a friend or a brother, telling him how he appropriated his middle name from Dr. Septimus Pretorius, the fey dabbler in forbidden science who created miniature creatures displayed in bell jars. That was in the Bride of Frankenstein, a horror classic released one hundred years ago.

Buck never watched it, never wanted to until Egon forced him to soldier through a screening while sipping his gin and puffing his fine cigars. He delighted in dominating Buck before he agreed to cement their alliance.

“Something’s not sitting right, Egon. You brought back the wrong Ali. That trash-talker downstairs is not the Muhammad Ali of November 1966.”

“Bah. A mere foofaraw.”

“He’s down there spouting off about the Thrilla in Manila and George Foreman being a mummy, and he’s jawboning Jim Jeffries. Then his spigot opened and out came all these words, almost as if Ali were speaking in tongues.”

Egon pulled Buck close, and they locked eyes four inches apart, connecting their iBrain chips. iBrain chips permitted telepathic communication and installed five additional senses. Medics implanted them in all newborns.

“Ali had many fabulous nights,” Egon said. “We could…”

“I’d rather blow a ferret,” Buck countered.

Egon didn’t give two runny shits about the sanctity of the tournament, rolling the dice in his gin haze, pissing off Buck.

“Listen,” Buck said. “I can’t fathom who or what’s out there in those training rooms.”

“I told you the basics. Everyone’s DNA contains not only their complete genetic blueprint, but their entire lives, their memories, their complete physical existence, all in that one tiny strand of deoxyribonucleic acid. Turning that DNA into three-dimensional people, the greatest heavyweights, is what our experiment is all about. Genetic holograms.”

Experiment? Buck never signed on for an experiment. This was his life’s work so far, a sporting event for the history books.

“Ali knows about the Woroner tournament, too,” Buck said. “That’s why he has a beef with Jim Jeffries.”

The Woroner tournament, the first computer simulation, had sparked the Buck-Egon dyad. Two years back, over some drinks—Egon nursing his ubiquitous gin and Buck a draft—Buck described the tournament. How, back in 1967 with Ali in exile after refusing the military draft, interest in heavyweight boxing had flagged and a radio producer from Miami named Murray Woroner brainstormed a resurrection. He could feed data into a National Cash Register 315 computer and stage a series of fantasy fights pitting fighters from different eras, crowning what the machine said was the “All-Time Great Heavyweight Champion.”

“A computer the size of an airplane hangar!” Egon roared, gin snorting from his nostrils. “Its innards—its gizzards—were these funky vacuum tubes. So twentieth century.”

Buck told Egon how Team Woroner would input data about each fighter and the computer would whir and purr and crunch bits and bytes. A commentator would pretend he was sitting at ringside, offering a breathless, blow-by-blow narration, accented by faux crowd noises.

“People sat in front of this little box,” Buck said. “They called it a radio and listened every week. Sixteen million tuned in when Jack Dempsey and Rocky Marciano pitched haymakers at one another for fifteen rounds in the championship fight.”

“And Dempsey whupped his ass?” Egon asked.

“Sorry. Marciano floored Dempsey six times and snatched the $10,000 purse.”

“So many sawbucks. What a jackpot!”

“Here’s the bug in the machine. Marciano was the only heavyweight who quit undefeated. That had to be the key when the computer jizzed out its calculations.”

The Woroner field failed to impress Buck, larded as it was with old-timers. They were no match for the beefier, brainier brawlers competing in the decades since. Those were the fighters Buck studied, whose careers he obsessed over.

“Dumbass computer,” Buck said.

“Here’s another bug. That computer” —Egon gave the word air quotes— “could only offer probabilities. Run a thousand simulations and you’ll wind up with a thousand different simulations.”

“You know what else that computer missed?” Buck asked. “Heart. Cus D’Amato, a damn wise trainer in his day, said, ‘When men of near equal skills meet, the man with the superior will to win will win every time.’ That’s something a computer can never measure. Heart.”

The night Egon said he could make it happen, he put all computer simulations to shame.

“What if we could match the actual fighters, Buck, fighters who fought almost a century apart, and we bring them all together? You’re a fight fan. You’re a showman. How much do you think people would pay to see Ali and Marciano and Dempsey go at it, in the flesh? The real deals. I can do it. We can do it.” Egon gave his best eyebrow arch and gin blossom smile.

Now, here they were two years later, the fighters gathering, the press soon milling, the moment at hand, and Buck sensed his tournament preparing to dine on a dog’s breakfast.

“The radio tournament,” Buck said. “Ali knows about it. After Ali lost to the computer, to Jim Jeffries, he called it a white man’s computer. He went to court. He sued the instigator, that jackass Woroner, for a million bucks for defamation of character.”

Buck knew Egon still wasn’t getting it.

“The Ali who’s fighting for us had his best night in November 1966, when he starched Cleveland Williams in three. The radio tournament came after that fight. If Ali knows about the radio tournament, not to even mention the Thrilla in Manilla and the Rumble in the Jungle with Foreman, then you resurrected the wrong fucking Ali.”

Buck caught himself saying something that should sound foolish. The wrong fucking Ali. What were they dealing with here? Egon never revealed his secrets. How had he materialized these old fighters who existed only in memory?

Egon’s aerie rattled from the tumult detonating within the fighters’ cages. Ali bellowed from the locker room as Buck and Egon jetted down. There stood Ali cocking off, his mouth opened so wide it could engulf a submarine sandwich, if not a submarine itself. Ali aimed his fury now at Rocky Marciano, the Brockton Bomber, a fighter no match for Ali in physical stature, but no heavyweight flattened so many foes. Forty-three knockouts in forty-nine fights, an unrivaled percentage among heavies.

This was the Rock of September 1952, when, trailing on points, he dug deep into the well and flattened Jersey Joe Walcott in the thirteenth. Some say he was greater the next year when he smoked Jersey Joe in one. But heart matters in boxing more than brute force. Or so Buck assumed.

If Rocky was in a cage, Ali rattled it. He pretended to lift Rocky’s toupee, much in the manner he had impishly pinched at sportscaster Howard Cosell’s sad rug. But the Rocky from September 1952 was not wearing a hairpiece.

Ali turned to Buck, a new favorite foil.

“You wearin’ a carpet, too, just like Howard.”

Switching hairpieces to match the moment —Buck called them “units”—was one of his signatures. This morning, he played a dandy in rainbow hues, a box of crayons melting in the sun.

Buck wrapped Ali in a bear hug, again, as tightly as he might, and tugged him out the door. There would be no more daydreaming about the history of this moment.

Buck and Egon leaned against the glass wall outside Marciano’s training room, his cage, the scrunch of Marciano’s zig-zag of a nose ready to propel piss and vinegar. Buck and Egon inched back to Egon’s office.

“Looks like Ali knows about the Marciano computer fight,” Buck said, “another fake bout Woroner promoted, so he could settle the Ali lawsuit for a dollar. Ali was bummed about how the computer savaged his reputation.”

“Ali didn’t do too well in these simulations” Egon said. “Tsk.”

“Fans watched that one on what they called closed-circuit TV,” Buck said. “You bought your ticket at a movie theater. Rocky took it dead serious. Dropped fifty pounds, bought himself a new hairpiece. That fight irritated Ali even more. Claimed they built the computer in Dixie. Rocky died in a plane crash before the broadcast and he never knew he won the fight.”

Pinskie lumbered down the corridor, dragging his heavy body like a sack. “One of our arrivals is AWOL.”

“Who’s missing?” Buck froze.

“Jack Dempsey.”

“Where the hell is he?” Buck asked. “Barnstorming at some riverboat saloon?”

“Doctor Keloid, I’m supposed to tell you that Dempsey...never arrived.”

“We have no tournament without Dempsey,” Buck said. “He might win the whole damn thing.”

Buck didn’t want to play favorites. He was ready to give no fucks, but this was the fight game, and he pulled for Dempsey

Egon streamed another gin, draining his decanter.

“There may have been a problem with the sample,” Egon said.

“Then the tournament’s off,” Buck said. “We can’t hold any tournament without Dempsey.”

“Relax, friendo,” Egon said. “Dempsey will be here.”

“When? We have a press conference in three hours. The whole multiverse wants to meet our fighters.”

“Time is relative, my boy, we all recognize that.” Egon lifted his glass in a silent toast and continued. “Many years ago, on one bright summer night in 1970, they held a party for Jack Dempsey, right before his 75th birthday, in this old arena called Madison Square Garden.”

“I heard of Madison Square Garden. Go on.”

“He was there.”

“Who was there?” He fumed at the way Egon loved to drag things out.

“Jack Hanson.”

“Jack Hanson? He was there?” Buck thought Egon was spitting nonsense.

“He was right there that night, basking in the ring with Dempsey. He shook his hand, he might have grabbed an autograph. Jack Hanson can fetch us what we need.”

“Nobody’s seen Jack Hanson in how many years?”

“Ease on up, Buckaroo. I know where he is. I can reach out to Jack.”

Buck despised that hinky pitch to Egon’s voice, how Egon held his cards tight to the vest, signaling he was the smartest fellow in the room.

“Jack Hanson was there?” Buck asked. He believed none of this.

“That’s what I’m saying.”

“That night?”

“That night.”

December 23, 1999

Jack Hanson was drunk. He was eloquently drunk, lovingly and pugnaciously drunk, not menacingly drunk, not piss-faced drunk, drunk just enough to collapse those ugly waves of melancholia that heaved and quivered down his shoulders, across his chest, passing through his heels like a lightning strike. Jack hunched over his mug of Pabst, frowning into the amber, and watched the foamy head vanish into a thin white film.

“Preach to me, Stanky.”

“You’re a mess, buddy,” Stanky said.

Bluff, portly, deep into middle-age, Stanky swabbed the bar with a soapy dishrag, splattering suds and dregs on his wrinkled white shirt, the same one he wore every night, laundered less than Stanky tapped a new keg of beer.

Jack was a son of the coal regions, the anthracite mine fields of eastern Pennsylvania. He bragged about his capacity to consume vast quantities of brew. Beer coursed through his veins, resisting blackout-caliber intoxication, both his blessing and his doom.

Jack swatted at a gnat buzzing his salt-and-pepper hair, close-cropped in bristles so coarse they might scrape paint. His granite face betrayed only the preview symptoms of age lines around his lips and eyes. He hailed just past fifty.

“Fucker flies I call them,” Jack said. “They thrive on the stench of stale beer.”

“You got something against insects, buddy?”

“Butterflies. I’ll always love butterflies. They’re my only weakness.”

Jack slouched dissolute in the ruin of winter, relieved some spring endured in his step. He eyed himself in the bar mirror. His anguish flattened his face into a mask of nothingness.

“Don’t hold back, Stanky. Am I handsome and am I strong? You got to admit I maintained a fighter’s tone—lean, paunch free.”

“You got that drinker’s gauntness, too. Truth is, you look haunted, chief.”

“You can’t cheat an honest man. I’ll drink to that.”

Jack tipped his pint Stanky’s way.

“Do you think you may have swore off the hooch if you had that prizefighting career?” Stanky asked.

“Never know until you try. I never tried.”

“Rough times?”

Rough year. The Brits have a term for it: annus horribilus.”

“You know your Britspeak.”

“It’s Latin,” Jack said. “Ambrose Gillen taught us Latin in tenth grade at Cooper High. Did you have Mr. Gillen?”

“Nobody taught no foreign language in my days. Diagramming sentences tasked us plenty.”

Unshaven with three days of stubble, Jack cultivated the rugged look, a manscape persona for some, slovenly for others. He sloughed the Pabst residue, his fifth draft at Chico’s Corner Cafe, his holiday dive bar on a backstreet of row homes in Jack’s hometown. Chico—he pronounced it “chicko,” the way Groucho always addressed his Marx brother—was dead and buried long before Jack reached legal drinking age. Legal drinking meant shit in the Region, as folks called their home.

Dive bars endure for the company of their bartenders. Stanky lent that welcome ear. Aside from the typical bar snacks of the kippered herring, hot baloney, and pickled tripe, Chico’s only buzzed as a true café on weekends when the white-haired matron everyone called Mom fried her homemade pierogies, slathered in greasy butter and browned onions. No essence of mulled wine, fresh-baked gingerbread, or fresh scents of merriment wafted through the murk of Chico’s that frigid Thursday night before St. Nick slithered down good little boys’ chimneys. Jack sniffed only skunked beer and Stanky’s soiled shirt.

He handed Stanky a homemade CD, its jewel case gunked and flogged after seasons of hard living.

“What’s this?” Stanky squinted. “Can’t read your chicken scratch of a scrawl there. Holiday favorite?”

“Best of all time.”

Jack invoked Bogie. “Play it, Stanky. You played it for her. Play ‘Fairytale of New York’ for me.”

Stanky slid the disc into the ailing boombox hiding next to the cash register, a boombox incapable of booming. Stanky set the volume low. Never guess what musical treasure Jack might tote to douse his sadness.

The harmonies of the Pogues faded in, too weak to annoy anyone sitting more than a few stools down. What did it matter? The joint cowered, dead, two days before Christmas and just a half-dozen poor souls scattered around the horseshoe bar.

It was Christmas Eve babe

In the drunk tank

An old man said to me,

Won’t see another one

And then he sang a song

The Rare Old Mountain Dew

I turned my face away

And dreamed about you

The world moves away from us in time.”

“This one captures that old-timey holiday spirit,” Stanky said.

“This song,” Jack said, with frank authority, “is the greatest Christmas song ever recorded.”

“Better than ‘White Christmas?’”

“Hell better than ‘White Christmas.’”

Jack pulled rank. He was the customer. Play that Irish Christmas music louder. You other barflies deal with it.

“They’re an Irish band,” Jack said, “the Pogues, guest vocals by a singer named Kirsty MacColl.”

He sang quietly along with the music, low voice rasping out of tune:

You were handsome

You were pretty

Queen of New York City

When the band finished playing

They howled out for more

Sinatra was swinging

All the drunks they were singing

We kissed on the corner

Then danced through the night...”

Three stools down, wearing a Phillies baseball cap, the coot everyone called Crazy Carl blundered through a sing-along. “All the drunks they were singing. Give this songwriter a beer on me.”

Jack, the songwriter who wasn’t, sank in resignation that no one but Crazy Carl paid heed to the greatest Christmas song ever recorded.

A few more hard-cores shuffled in, two foxy ladies giggling with the apprehension of vacationers entering a boardwalk funhouse, two sad factory workers primed to drop shots and beers in private solace.

“Give us two Heinekens.” The factory workers inched some weathered fivers across the bar.

“Heinekens!” Jack blurted. “Pabst Blue Ribbon!”

Jack sized up the place, peering over and around the sticky, long expired bottles of whisky and bourbon and other cheap booze lined behind Stanky.

“You remember what Hunter S. Thompson wrote?”

Stanky did not. His job was to listen.

Jack sneaked a smoke from Stanky’s pack, pretending it was encased in a gold holder, transforming himself into HST. “We came down here to see this teddible scene: people all pissed out of their minds and vomiting on themselves and all that… and now, you know what? It’s us…”

Close by the door, gaunt, gray-whiskered Old Man Franken fired down bottles of Bud and sucked on Lucky Strikes, hands shaking with every drag. The smoke he blew in the neighborhood of Big Crow didn’t annoy that twenty-something alcoholic in training, Crow’s eyeglasses hitched high on his head, every sentence punctured with “Da fuck, da fuck.”

Jack’s loins pointed toward the two foxes, one clearly foxier than the other. Her butterscotch hair hung lank and long, framing alabaster skin, high cheekbones, and a Mona Lisa smile. Jack caught her eye, then quickly turned away, facing out a smeary window. Jack felt his face flush. He grew shy meeting new people. Once, in what seemed two lifetimes ago, he fell in love that way.

“Her name’s Peg,” Stanky said. “She gets everybody’s rocks swelling when she’s in town. She’s visiting her friend there, Gloria. Go on over. Put a little stink on your Jack Johnson.”

“Been a while since I got some mud on this turtle. There’s no stink about Peg. She sends over a vapor of beauty. It drifts all the way over your smelly bar.”

“Peg’s a looker,” Stinky said.

Outside, the night whipped bitter, damp flakes. This crumbling coal town, where the widows failed to find work once the dress factories shuttered, aged grimmer by the second, and Chico’s, a blast from Jack’s past, helped him not forget, to sadly remember.

Stanky tilted Jack’s pint beneath the tap, perfection every time, until Jack let the head fade to a white membrane, downing his lagers in fits and spurts, brooding. The lyrics to the next track on Jack’s party disc washed familiar.

“‘Fairytale of New York,’” Jack answered, not asked. “This version’s by Celtic Thunder. More than a hundred bands covered this song. I burned twenty of them on this CD. I can burn you a copy?”

Stanky edged down to refill drinks. “Thanks, but I think I’ll pass. I figure I’ll listen to twenty versions tonight.”

“Jack here lives in the city,” Stanky told Crazy Carl. “But he was born and raised right here in our own Shen-an-do-ah.”

Stanky stretched the syllables, comic emphasis. Most crackers shorten it to Shendo or Shendodafuck. Some hardboiled natives lengthen it to Shendo462dafuck, adding the borough’s telephone prefix.

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