by Bruce Harris

Strange things occur when you’re down for the count.

~*~

TRAGEDY IN THE RING – THE HEAVYWEIGHT CONTEST BETWEEN CHAMPION PAOLO “ANGEL” GALENTO AND CHALLENGER JOHN “THE GENTLEMAN” SULTAN ENDED IN TRAGEDY LAST NIGHT…

“Your mother was ugly.” Sultan spat as he spoke.

Paolo “Angel” Galento stared into the exanimate eyes of John “The Gentleman” Sultan. Outwardly, Angel showed little emotion. He rotated his head and flexed his neck muscles.

“You both received your instructions in the dressing rooms,” the referee admonished.

“She wore combat boots, right?” The Gentleman showed his mouthpiece.

“Obey my commands at all times.”

“I, for one, am glad she’s dead. She meant nothing to me.”

His gloves down at his sides, Galento shook his hands back and forth in order to keep limber. It was hot under the lights. He lifted his right leg an inch off the ring mat and shook it. He did the same with his left foot. It looked to the Sultan that it took a herculean effort for Galento to ignore him.

The referee turned toward Sultan and then Galento. “Okay, I want you both to protect yourselves at all times.”

Sultan opened and shut his mouth. From the last row seats in the auditorium, it might have appeared to be a yawn. But he spoke again. “I’m gonna put you down, Mama’s boy. You got that? There won’t be no next time for you.”

The referee was between the two combatants. “Shake hands, and come out fighting.” Galento extended his glove. Sultan smirked, turned away and walked to his corner. The man with the bowtie either hadn’t seen Sultan’s disgusting display or didn’t care. Galento pounded his gloved fists together.

In his corner, Sultan winked at his trainer. “I’m in his head,” he said, “this’ll be easy.”

Sultan’s trainer was wearing a Gentleman John Sultan sweatshirt with a picture of Sultan decked out in tails and a top hat on his back. Sultan’s corner man was old school. He barked last second instructions at his fighter.

“Just remember what I told you. Stick and move. Stick and move. Don’t let this guy get in too close. He’s strong. He’s the champ for a reason. Left jab, boom, another left, double it up and get the heck away from him. Just like we’ve been working on. Right?”

~*~

The ticket for ringside seat number 13, the one nearest Galento’s corner, was sold but the seat was vacant. It was always vacant these days for an Angel Galento fight. Vacant, that is, since Galento’s mother had died five years ago in her native Italy.

Galento was supposed to visit her on the day he got the sad news. Before that, Mrs. Galento was ringside for every fight her son had fought. She was his biggest fan and supporter. She single-handedly raised the boy, scraped up enough money to buy him boxing gloves and paid for one of Italy’s finest boxing instructors to teach her son the finer points of the sweet science. He was well schooled. His trainer taught him to keep a cool head, to fight smart, and above all, to respect his opponent and the sport. Angel Galento was a powerfully built man who immediately took to boxing. He was a natural.

Next to his devoted mother, there was nothing more important than boxing in Angel’s life. After her death, he had a photo of her tattooed above his right elbow, firmly implanted on his muscle. The same muscle used to knock out 37 opponents on his way to winning the championship belt. It was his tradition now to purchase ringside seat number 13. Angel Galento knew his mother was with him in spirit for every fight. As was his custom, Galento brought his right arm up to his mouth and kissed the tattoo. He looked across the ring at Sultan. The bell rang and the two warriors moved toward each other.

Sultan flecked a couple of quick left jabs that Galento easily blocked with his right. “Your mother ain’t here to protect you tonight, pretty boy.” Galento ignored the comments and went about his business. He pinned Sultan against the ropes and smacked him with a left to the midsection, but he was slightly off balance and didn’t get much behind the punch. Sultan came back with a barrage of his own, but Galento managed to bob and weave his way to safety.

The fight was even through the first five rounds. Midway into the sixth round, Sultan became frustrated that Galento hadn’t lost his cool. If nothing else, The Gentleman knew some ungentlemanly-like behaviors. He positioned himself in such a way as to block the referee’s viewpoint and loaded up a right that zeroed in several inches below Galento’s belt.

“Take that!” he spat.

The air went out of Galento and before he dropped to the mat like a sack of bricks, Sultan hit him hard with a right cross to the temple. For Galento, the arena went black. He slumped to his knees, choking on his own vomit. His corner men jumped up and down protesting the punch, but the referee saw it as a legitimate knockdown and pointed The Gentleman to a neutral corner.

“One,” he began the count.

Angel Galento shook his head to clear the cobwebs. He was experienced enough to know he was in deep trouble, but he’d never felt this way.

“Two.”

Galento stayed down, knees bent, trying to gut out the pain. His eyesight was beginning to return. He saw Sultan in the corner. The dirty fighter was trying to lead the bloodthirsty crowd in cheers of, G-E-N-T-L-E-M-A-N. G-E-N-T-L-E-M-A-N.

“Three.”

The referee was inches from Galento’s ear. The fighter whispered through his mouthpiece. “He hit me with a low blow. Didn’t you see it?”

“Four.”

Galento wasn’t going to get any help from the man in charge. His corner continued screaming as well, but the ref would have no part of it.

“Five.”

Galento spit vomit. His bells were still ringing, but feeling was beginning to return. He looked at the clock. There was still over a minute to go in the round.

“Six.”

The crowd was becoming pro-Sultan. Galento detected a rising crescendo of, G-E-N-T-L-E-M-A-N. G-E-N-T-L-E-M-A-N.

“Seven.”

Galento’s corner was yelling at him to get up. He grabbed the top rope and slowly began to pull himself up. He felt light-headed.

“Eight.”

Galento scanned the crowd. They appeared to be hidden behind a great haze of smoke. He tried to focus but he couldn’t really see anyone. He stared down near his corner, at seat number 13. He blinked.

“Nine.”

“Hey, Galento,” screamed Sultan from his neutral corner. “Get up. You want more? C’mon, get up so I can knock you down again!” Sultan’s words sounded robotic.

Ringside seat number 13 was no longer empty. Galento was certain of it. His mother was sitting in the seat just as sure as he was in a fight for his professional life against one John “The Gentleman” Sultan. His mother was speaking to him. The arena was still, except for the movement of his mother’s mouth. “Remember what old Two Ton Tony Galento said he’d do to the great Joe Louis? Remember those words, son?”

How could he or anyone else forget, “Moida da bum.”

Angel Galento brought his right arm up to his mouth for an extra good luck kiss, but the tattoo of his mother was gone! There was nothing but clean flesh. He glanced back at seat number 13 and his mother sat there, smiling, shaking her head up and down. Galento had no time to let any of this register. The referee grabbed Galento’s gloves and wiped the resin off against his chest. The referee brought his hands together, motioning for the fighters to continue their battle.

Galento quickly got inside and close to his opponent. The Gentleman never saw the left uppercut that rendered him momentarily helpless and he didn’t feel the crunching straight right that could have knocked down a skyscraper. The thunderous punch shattered his nose and busted up his mouth and teeth. His face looked as if a runaway train had hit it. The referee counted to ten. He could have counted to ten thousand.

…IN THE SIXTH ROUND WHEN JOHN “THE GENTLEMAN” SULTAN STRUCK A CRUNCHING BLOW TO THE SIDE OF PAOLO “ANGEL” GALENTO’S HEAD. THE ANGEL WENT DOWN, NEVER TO RISE AGAIN. SULTAN, WHO DIDN’T GET HIS NICKNAME “THE GENTLEMAN” FOR NOTHING, WAS VISIBLY UPSET AND SHAKEN…

“Angel of Death” © 2012 Bruce Harris

Original fiction debuting at Fear & Trembling Magazine.
(Image Credit: Kerelin Molina, Wikimedia Commons)