Fight Story Part2b

Chuck enters Rusty's Gym and looks around. There are a few new faces, but things haven't changed much. Mix is stretching out after his run here. A couple of guys Chuck doesn't recognize are sparring, their headgear almost concealing their faces, their guards high, elbows tight to their sides. Andy Jakes is working with a medicine ball, having Tucker toss it hard to toughen his gut. The gym is in motion, and none of it stops just because Chuck came through the door.

With one exception. Ox, the Russian heavyweight, pauses his assault on the heavybag. No surprise he's there--the guy always did spend about half his workout pounding away. The surprise is that he stops, waits for Chuck to meet his eye, and then nods a quick and somewhat solemn greeting before resuming his workout.

Rusty's voice snaps Chuck to attention. "You remember your routine, or do we need to start over?"

"No. I'm good."

"So get started. Let's see if you lost more than just the weight."

Up until three months ago, before that awful night in the alley next to Winks, Chuck would have copped an attitude. Not that he didn't respect Rusty--it was just the way Chuck had dealt with the world. Now, though, he changes into his gear and starts the old routines. He chooses lighter weights, but he can surpass his old count on crunches. Before long, he's gleaming with sweat, muscles loose and warm, blood flowing, throwing combinations at his reflection in the mirrors. It's all there, even after the long absence.

Rusty watches, pleased with what he sees. There's discipline to Chuck now. The gym owner talks to a couple of guys, then he joins Chuck at the mirror. "You wanna spar? No pressure. Like I said, just to see."

Chuck hesitates, then nods. "Nothing too serious, if that's ok. Maybe just a round or two. Who with?"

"Remember Rick Logan?"


"Yeah. Call him that. You game?"


They do a quick weigh-in. Chuck's at 144, and Rick's at 138. Almost 17 now, the kid has grown since Chuck last saw him--a full 25 pounds at least--and he's grown into the "Boom Boom" Mancini mode: heavy torso and lean yet strong legs. Rusty's been holding the boy back, not even letting him spar until the Doc said Rick had reached a healthy weight a month ago. In the meantime, he's been working with Ox, developing heavy hands without sacrificing much speed. He's more than ready--he's chomping at the bit. He asks to spar every day.

Chuck sizes him up and decides he's not worried. He just says, "Lookin good, Ricky."

This lights a fire in the kid's eyes. Nobody calls him "Ricky" without paying for it. At 15, he'd said he kick a guy's ass for doing that. At that point he'd been everybody's kid brother, the little guy. There were younger fighters now, smaller fighters. He didn't put up with the condescending crap anymore, and most of the guys honored that--there were others to pick on now. Rick looks to Rusty--does Chuck remember the threat? But Rusty just gives a slight shrug as if to say, "Hey, it's his funeral."

Before long, they're in the ring. Rusty visits both corners. To Chuck he says, "I just want to see what combinations you've still got. Don't push the power shots. Just ease back into it." To Rick, he says, "Let him warm up this round. Pull back on offense, keep defense high. Make him miss. Frustrate him."

The first round goes fairly well for both of them. They circle each other, flicking out jabs to measure the distance between them, exorcizing the nerves. Then, after about thirty seconds or so, Chuck brings out the old combinations: a quick one-two, left hook to body and head, left cross followed by right uppercut, two straight lefts and a right hook. Rick slips, ducks, or blocks most of it, but the final punch of a three or four punch combination can get through, clip his chin, thump against his ribs. Rick also counters a punch or two when he can, but he keeps the heat low--his gloves tap Chuck's chin, temples, gut, ribs. The impact is low, but the message is clear--I'm beating you, and I could hurt you if I turn up the heat. Before the round ends, Rick has Chuck moving backwards.

After the round ends, Rusty starts in Chuck's corner. "You up for another round?"

Chuck nods. He's breathing a little hard, but he's not beat yet, not by a long shot. He even manages a small smile. "Feels good to be back."

"Turn up the heat a little. Rick's letting you get through at the end of long combinations. Add another punch, pump up the power. He needs the test."

Then Rusty goes to Rick and says, "Go for it. Swarm him. Hurt him."

The kid's confused. "You sure?"

"Hey, he called you Ricky."

And that's enough to relight the fire.

The second round is short for more than one reason. Rick propels himself across the ring like a bullet, forcing Chuck back into his own corner. No more taps, now the punches land hard, heavy fists striking like flashes of lightning--almost no jabs now, the jabs stiffened into straight lefts and rights, one after another, too rapid to count without video replay. Chuck's head bounces back and forth as the blows land; he tries to launch an attack of his own, and a random left or right lands, but there's no will behind it, so the kid doesn't slow down. Instead, Rick starts working odd angled shots, hooks from beneath, uppercuts at forty-five degrees. Chuck pulls his elbows in tighter and tries to ride it out--not even a kid's energy can last forever. Chuck might have made it to the end of the round, but his brain plays a trick on him. Suddenly, instead of safely sparring in the gym, he's in that alley outside Winks again, and it's not one guy he's up again--too many fists for one guy, too many punches. He drops to his knees, slumps to the canvas, and goes fetal--body curled, face to knees, gloves protecting the back of his head. Not knocked out, and not exactly knocked down, but paralyzed.

Stopped in mid-attack, Rick's not certain what to do at first. Rusty waves him back into his corner, then sends him back to his workout with Ox. At some point, Ox has joined those watching the sparring session, and now he hesitates before sending Rick over to get a medicine ball.

Rusty's squatting next to Chuck. "You ok?"

Chuck manages to sit in the corner, but he's still shaken and shaking.

"You wanna tell me what happened here?"

Chuck looks around the gym. No one's staring, but he catches a couple of guys glancing at him in the midst of otherwise focused routines. "Could we talk private? Your office, maybe?"

Rusty nods. He helps Chuck to his feet, gets the headgear and gloves off him. They go into the office. Chuck sits on a folding chair near the door, his hands loosely tap his knees. Rusty closes the door, then sits behind his desk, waiting.

In the gym, Ox pair Rick with Mix Jeffries for some work with the medicine ball. Then he positions himself near the office door, close enough to hear Chuck's voice.

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