Fight Story Part1a

Over a year and a half has passed since Rusty suspended Chuck Henderson from the gym, but few weeks have gone by without Chuck haunting the place from a distance. Most of the time he grabs a booth near the plate glass window at Harrigan's, a restaurant just across the street. Sometimes he parks in the lot next to the gym. But not tonight. Tonight he sits on the steps outside Rusty's, indifferent to the early summer temperatures and light spring rain. He's waiting for the right moment to get his life back...if that's still possible.

He'd already be inside now if just one of the boxers going in recognized him, called out his name or asked where he's been. No surprise, really. That much time can change a guy, and Chuck looks worse for wear. When he'd been part of Rusty's stable, he'd fought at 160, trim but not hungry; he's down to around 145 now, lean and starving. Before, he'd worn his jet black hair long but brushed back, just a few strands drizzled over his forehead for effect; now he wears it short, close to the scalp, for practical reasons. Before, he'd had too much attitude, and he'd been the cockiest son of a bitch in the place; now he won't meet anyone's eyes for more than a second or two. Something has humbled the man.

Rusty had suspended him for street fighting. The gym owner didn't want his boys getting hurt or arrested, and Chuck had known the rule when he'd signed up. Rusty gave three chances when it came to the rules, so Chuck had been lucky the suspension hadn't come earlier. But there'd been something about a street fight--a particular kind of fight at that--and the rush of it had had him hooked. Like any addict, he'd done his best to hide the evidence. Like many addicts, he couldn't hide it forever. The third strike had been stupid--going after Mix Jeffries in the parking lot. Ox (the huge Russian heavyweight) had intervened to make it boxing instead of a flat out fight. Between "penalty" punches from Ox and Mix's speed, Chuck's face had shown too much damage to go unnoticed or unexplained the next day.

So Rusty had suspended him for a month. The rest of his exile had been Chuck's choice, an attempt to break the addiction if he could. He'd started by recalling and questioning the first street fight he'd ever had.

With his own brother.

Chuck was 16 then, a lean whelp of teenage energy. His dad had paid for boxing lessons and for Chuck to join Rusty's gym, but mostly as a way to get the kid out of the house. Chuck showed some promise, but both he and Rusty agreed that he probably wouldn't go beyond the amateur ranks. Chuck didn't care, though. He'd pretend the heavy bag was Greg, his older brother. It's not unusual for older brothers to pick on younger brothers, but Greg liked humiliating Chuck...and he did it often. After Greg graduated from high school and failed to get into college, he'd started drinking pretty hard. At 19, the guy turned plain mean. If their father had been paying attention, he would've kicked Greg out of the house. Instead, Greg found ways to hide abuse as "roughhousing." At that point, Chuck had weighed 130 dripping wet, and Greg--an ex-quarterback, star of the team--had weighed in around 185. Pointless to fight back--it'd only make it worse.

But one night Chuck awoke to the sound of Greg singing loudly in the front yard. Someone had already yelled for him to shut up, but Greg kept on repeating chorus after chorus of his high school fight song. Their father was working night shift. Nothing for it, no one else to deal with it. Chuck looked out the front windows. Greg was just standing there, swaying to his music. Chuck opened the front door and went out. He called out to his brother, "Somebody's gonna call the cops, Greg."

"Let 'em. Don't care. You tellin' me what t'do?" Greg's anger flashed ugly in a snap. "Get over here. Get your skinny ass over here."

Chuck checked the surrounding houses. Several had lights on, and he could see people watching them. At least there would be witnesses. Chuck went out to meet Greg.

"Tha's it, get your ass out here. C'mon, Golden Gloves. Put 'em up. Show me what you got." Greg went into a mockery of a fighting stance. He still swayed from side to side. "C'mon, bitch."

"I don't wanna fight you, man."

"Don't care what you want." Greg threw a looping right hook, which Chuck slipped easily. They started circling each other, Chuck in a cautious defense, Greg in a sloppy attack. Chuck could hear the neighbors calling down encouragement and warnings. Suddenly, Greg lunged forward with several punches, each missing its mark yet forcing Chuck back towards the chain link fence that bordered their yard. "Got you trapped now, boxer boy." Greg threw a straight right at Chuck's chin. Chuck stepped to his left to slip the punch, then pivoted left to power up his right fist as he dug it deep into his brother's gut.

The punch surprised them both. The shock of the connect (and more pain than he'd expected) stunned Greg, and he found himself sucking air. For Chuck, though, the surprise was that Greg's football star body had softened. Chuck wasted no time in reflection--he kept throwing hard shots, working his brother's gut with uppercut after uppercut, punches going deeper and hitting harder, just the way he worked the heavybag at the gym. Greg wasn't taunting him anymore--the big guy could barely catch his breath between blows. Soon, Greg could feel the gorge rise. He sank to his knees and puked out the beer he'd sucked down earlier. As Greg collapsed, Chuck took a step or two back, guard still up, pumped by the adrenaline rush and ready for more. No calls from the neighbors now.

Greg stayed on the ground for a while, gulping in air and spitting out the remaining bile. Chuck stayed clear, away from the fence, his back to the open yard. He wasn't sure, but he didn't think Greg would let it go now. He was right. Using the fence to steady himself, Greg made it to his feet. He raised his fists and stumbled towards Chuck. He may have thrown up, but the booze had already had its effect--the more intent Greg was, the slower his punches were...and the more likely they were to miss their target.

Chuck ducked the first few shots. Greg wasn't going to miss forever, and one of those heavy blows would be one too many. Chuck started popping his jab, aiming for Greg's eyes and nose. Before long, Greg's nose was bloodied, and a small welt was developing under his right eye. Greg's punches came slower now, but he still kept trying to throw bombs to the head. After the momentum of Greg's right cross actually turned him to his left, Chuck bounced his hardest right off his brother's chin. Greg fell to the ground again, but he tried to roll away from Chuck before attempting to rise again. Chuck, however, circled around his fallen foe and, as Greg started to regain his feet, Chuck ran past him, using momentum to up the power of his right as it connected with his brother's chin with a loud "thock." Greg fell a third time...and he stayed there, face down.

Chuck's hand hurt like hell. He tried shaking it out, but that just doubled the pain. Maybe he hadn't landed the punches properly, never mind their effect. By street light, he couldn't tell, but he was pretty sure his knuckles might swell. He looked around. Most of the windows had gone dark. Only one neighbor remained in view, but he just nodded his approval and lowered the shade. Chuck looked down at Greg. The big guy was sobbing now, still face down. If he'd been Greg, Chuck would have rubbed it in. Instead, he left Greg on the ground, went inside, tended to his hands as best he could (lots of ice--he was pretty sure about that), and then, when the pain allowed him to do so, he went back to bed.

Over breakfast the next morning, when their father arrived, Chuck kept his right hand beneath the dining room table. Not known for his conversation, their father looked at Greg and said, "You look like shit."

Greg just said, "I got jumped last night." He looked at Chuck with an expression that began as a threat and melted into a plea. Chuck said nothing. Let the neighbors tell the tale, if anyone would.

Rusty wasn't so easily fooled. The ice had helped the swelling some, but he'd skinned his knuckles pretty badly. And Rusty didn't particularly care why the fight had happened. So that was the first time he'd caught Chuck street fighting.

So that's how it started. But knowing that hadn't stopped the urge, nor did Chuck let himself think that every guy who fought street fights did so to get even with an abusive older brother. That was Chuck's story, not theirs.

Even now, as Chuck sits, remembering the rush, the power, the authority of it, he can feel the impulse to recreate that moment once more. No wonder he kept trying to repeat that experience, even that last, worst time, the one that had to have ended it all. All of it traced back to that night long ago, beating up his brother.

"Chuck? Is that you?"

Chuck looks up. It's Mix Jeffries, and that feels just somehow. Chuck manages a nod, but he can't say anything. Can't quite manage an apology for being such an asshole. Mix holds out his hand. They shake hands. Mix's grip is solid, strong.

"You back?"

"Dunno. Up to Rusty."

"He's not here?"

"He's here."

Mix thinks about that a moment and decides not to press it. He heads inside, and Chuck goes back to looking at the ground at his feet. Rusty's in there--of course he is. Why not just suck it up and go in?

Behind him, the door opens, but no one comes out. Chuck turns to see who it is. It's Rusty, leaning back against the door to hold it open. Light from inside creates a glow around the guy.

"You look like shit."

"Yeah. I know."

"Any street fights lately?"

"Not for about three months."

Rusty takes this in for a moment before he speaks again. "Same rules as before. Three chances, then you're suspended."

"I used up my three chances."

"You got three more. or out. Your choice, but get off my steps."

Rusty stays there, waiting. The door's open. Chuck heads up the steps and into the gym.

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