The Abysmal Brute/Chapter X
Who, of all the sports present, will ever forget the memorable night at the Golden Gate Arena, when Young Glendon put Tom Cannam to sleep and an even greater one than Tom Cannam, kept the great audience on the ragged edge of riot for an hour, caused the subsequent graft investigation of the supervisors and the indictments of the contractors and the building commisioners, and pretty generally disrupted the whole fight game. It was a complete surprise. Nor even Stubener had the slightest apprehension of what was coming. It was true that his man had been insubordinate after the Nat Powers affair, and had run off and got married; but all that was over. Young Pat had done the expected, swallowed the inevitable crookedness of the ring, and come back into it again.
The Golden Gate Arena was new. This was its first fight, and it was the biggest building of the kind San Francisco had ever erected. It seated twenty-five thousand, and every seat was occupied. Sports had traveled from all the world to be present, and they had paid fifty dollars for their ring-side seats. The cheapest seat in the house had sold for five dollars.
The old familiar roar of applause went up when Billy Morgan, the veteran announcer, climbed through the ropes and bared his gray head. As he opened his mouth to speak, a heavy crash came from a near section where several tiers of low seats had collapsed. The crowd broke into loud laughter and shouted jocular regrets and advice to the victims, none of whom had been hurt. The crash of the seats and the hilarious uproar caused the captain of police in charge to look at one of his lieutenants and lift his eyebrows in token that they would have their hands full and a lively night.
One by one, welcomed by uproarious applause, seven doughty old ring heroes climbed through the ropes to be introduced. They were all ex-heavy-weight champions of the world. Billy Morgan accompanied each presentation to the audience with an appropriate phrase. One was hailed as "Honest John" and "Old Reliable," another was "the squarest two-fisted fighter the ring ever saw." And others: "the hero of a hundred battles and never threw one and never lay down"; "the gamest of the old guard"; "the only one who ever came back"; "the greatest warrior of them all"; and "the hardest nut in the ring to crack."
All this took time. A speech was insisted from each one of them, and they mumbled and muttered in reply with proud blushes and awkward shamblings. The longest speech was from "Old Reliable" and lasted nearly a minute. Then they had to be photographed. The ring filled up with celebrities, with champion wrestlers, famous conditioners, and veteran time-keepers and referees. Light-weights and middle-weights swarmed. Everybody seemed to be challenging everybody. Nat Powers was there, demanding a return match from Young Glendon, and so were all the other shining lights whom Glendon had snuffed out. Also, they all challenged Jim Hanford, who, in turn, had to make his statement, which was to the effect that he would accord the next fighter to the winner of the one that was about to take place. The audience immediately proceeded to name the winner, half of it wildly crying "Glendon," and the other half "Powers." In the midst of the pandemonium another tier of seats went down, and half a dozen rows were on between cheated ticket holders and the stewards who had been reaping a fat harvest. The captain despatched a message to headquarters for additional police details.
The crowd was feeling good. When Cannam and Glendon made their ring entrances the Arena resembled a national political convention. Each was cheered for a solid five minutes. The ring was now cleared. Glendon sat in his corner surrounded by his seconds. As usual, Stubener was at his back. Cannam was introduced first, and after he had scraped and ducked his head, he was compelled to respond to the cries for a speech. He stammered and halted, but managed to grind out several ideas.
"I'm proud to be here to-night," he said, and found space to capture another thought while the applause was thundering. "I've fought square. I've fought square all my life. Nobody can deny that. And I'm going to do my best tonight."
There were loud cries of: "That's right, Tom!" "We know that!" "Good boy, Tom!" "You're the boy to fetch the bacon home!"
Then came Glendon's turn. From him, likewise, a speech was demanded, though for principals to give speeches was an unprecedented thing in the prize-ring. Billy Morgan held up his hand for silence, and in a clear, powerful voice Glendon began.
"Everybody has told you they were proud to be here to-night," he said. "I am not." The audience was startled, and he paused long enough to let it sink home. "I am not proud of my company. You wanted a speech. I'll give you a real one. This is my last fight. After tonight I leave the ring for good. Why? I have already told you. I don't like my company. The prize-ring is so crooked that no man engaged in it can hide behind a corkscrew. It is rotten to the core, from the little professional clubs right up to this affair tonight."
The low rumble of astonishment that had been rising at this point burst into a roar. There were loud boos and hisses, and many began crying: "Go on with the fight!" "We want the fight!" "Why don't you fight?" Glendon, waiting, noted that the principal disturbers near the ring were promoters and managers and fighters. In vain did he strive to make himself heard. The audience was divided, half crying out, "Fight!" and the other half, "Speech! Speech!"
Ten minutes of hopeless madness prevailed. Stubener, the referee, the owner of the Arena, and the promoter of the fight, pleaded with Glendon to go on with the fight. When he refused, the referee declared that he would award the fight in forfeit to Cannam if Glendon did not fight.
"You can't do it," the latter retorted. "I'll sue you in all the courts if you try that on, and I'll not promise you that you'll survive this crowd if you cheat it out of the fight. Besides, I'm going to fight. But before I do I'm going to finish my speech."
"But it's against the rules," protested the referee.
"It's nothing of the sort. There's not a word in the rules against ring-side speeches. Every big fighter here tonight has made a speech."
"Only a few words," shouted the promoter in Glendon's ear. "But you're giving a lecture."
"There's nothing in the rules against lectures," Glendon answered. "And now you fellows get out of the ring or I'll throw you out."
The promoter, apoplectic and struggling, was dropped over the ropes by his coat-collar. He was a large man, but so easily had Glendon done it with one hand that the audience went wild with delight. The cries for a speech increased in volume. Stubener and the owner beat a wise retreat. Glendon held up his hands to be heard, whereupon those that shouted for the fight redoubled their efforts. Two or three tiers of seats crashed down, and numbers who had thus lost their places, added to the turmoil by making a concerted rush to squeeze in on the still intact seats, while those behind, blocked from sight of the ring, yelled and raved for them to sit down.
Glendon walked to the ropes and spoke to the police captain. He was compelled to bend over and shout in his ear.
"If I don't give this speech," he said, "this crowd will wreck the place. If they break lose you can never hold them, you know that. Now you've got to help. You keep the ring clear and I'll silence the crowd."
He went back to the center of the ring and again held up his hands.
"You want that speech?" he shouted in a tremendous voice.
Hundreds near the ring heard him and cried "Yes!"
"Then let every man who wants to hear shut up the noise-maker next to him!"
The advice was taken, so that when he repeated it, his voice penetrated farther. Again and again he shouted it, and slowly, zone by zone, the silence pressed outward from the ring, accompanied by a muffled undertone of smacks and thuds and scuffles as the obstreperous were subdued by their neighbors. Almost had all confusion been smothered, when a tier of seats near the ring went down. This was greeted with fresh roars of laughter, which of itself died away, so that a lone voice, far back, was heard distinctly as it piped: "Go on, Glendon! We're with you!"
Glendon had the Celt's intuitive knowledge of the psychology of the crowd. He knew that what had been a vast disorderly mob five minutes before was now tightly in hand, and for added effect he deliberately delayed. Yet the delay was just long enough and not a second too long. For thirty seconds the silence was complete, and the effect produced was one of awe. Then, just as the first faint hints of restlessness came to his ears, he began to speak:
"When I finish this speech," he said, "I am going to fight. I promise you it will be a real fight, one of the few real fights you have ever seen. I am going to get my man in the shortest possible time. Billy Morgan, in making his final announcement, will tell you that it is to be a forty-five-round contest. Let me tell you that it will be nearer forty-five seconds.
"When I was interrupted I was telling you that the ring was rotten. It is—from top to bottom. It is run on business principles, and you all know what business principles are. Enough said. You are the suckers, every last one of you that is not making anything out of it. Why are the seats falling down to-night? Graft. Like the fight game, they were built on business principles."
He now held the audience stronger than ever, and knew it.
"There are three men squeezed on two seats. I can see that everywhere. What does it mean? Graft. The stewards don't get any wages. They are supposed to graft. Business principles again. You pay. Of course you pay. How are the fight permits obtained? Graft. And now let me ask you: if the men who build the seats graft, if the stewards graft, if the authorities graft, why should n't those higher up in the fight game graft? They do. And you pay.
"And let me tell you it is not the fault of the fighters. They don't run it; they're the business men. The fighters are only fighters. They begin honestly enough, but the managers and promoters make them give in or kick them out. There have been straight fighters. And there are now a few, but they don't earn much as a rule. I guess there have been straight managers. Mine is about the best of the boiling. But just ask him how much he's got salted down in real estate and apartment houses."
Here the uproar began to drown his voice.
"Let every man who wants to hear shut up the man alongside of him!" Glendon instructed.
Again, like the murmur of a surf, there was a rustling of smacks, and thuds, and scuffles, and the house quieted down.
"Why does every fighter work overtime insisting that he's always fought square? Why are they called Honest Johns, and Honest Bills, and Honest Blacksmiths, and all the rest? Does n't it ever strike you that they seem to be afraid of something? When a man comes to you shouting he is honest, you get suspicious. But when a prize-fighter passes the same dope out to you, you swallow it down.
"May the best man win! How often have you heard Billy Morgan say that! Let me tell you that the best man does n't win so often, and when he does it's usually arranged for him. Most of the grudge fights you've heard or seen were arranged, too. It's a program. The whole thing is programmed. Do you think the promoters and managers are in it for their health? They're not. They're business men.
"Tom, Dick, and Harry are three fighters. Dick is the best man. In two fights he could prove it. But what happens? Tom licks Harry. Dick licks Tom. Harry licks Dick. Nothing proved. Then come the return matches. Harry licks Tom. Tom licks Dick. Dick licks Harry. Nothing proved. Then they try again. Dick is kicking. Says he wants to get along in the game. So Dick licks Tom, and Dick licks Harry. Eight fights to prove Dick the best man, when two could have done it. All arranged. A regular program. And you pay for it, and when your seats don't break down you get robbed of them by the stewards.
"It's a good game, too, if it were only square. The fighters would be square if they had a chance. But the graft is too big. When a handful of men can divide up three-quarters of a million dollars on three fights—"
A wild outburst compelled him to stop. Out of the medley of cries from all over the house, he could distinguish such as "What million dollars?" "What three fights?" "Tell us!" "Go on!" Likewise there were boos and hisses, and cries of "Muckraker! Muckraker!"
"Do you want to hear?" Glendon shouted. "Then keep order!"
Once more he compelled the impressive half minute of silence.
"What is Jim Hanford planning? What is the program his crowd and mine are framing up? They know I've got him. He knows I've got him. I can whip him in one fight. But he's the champion of the world. If I don't give in to the program, they'll never give me a chance to fight him. The program calls for three fights. I am to win the first fight. It will be pulled off in Nevada if San Francisco won't stand for it. We are to make it a good fight. To make it good, each of us will put up a side bet of twenty thousand. It will be real money, but it won't be a real bet. Each gets his own slipped back to him. The same way with the purse. We'll divide it evenly, though the public division will be thirty-five and sixty-five. The purse, the moving picture royalities, the advertisements, and all the rest of the drags won't be a cent less than two hundred and fifty thousand. We'll divide it, and go to work on the return match. Hanford will win that, and we divide again. Then comes the third fight; I win as I have every right to; and we have taken three-quarters of a million out of the pockets of the fighting public. That's the program, but the money is dirty. And that's why I am quitting the ring to-night—"
It was at this moment that Jim Hanford, kicking a clinging policeman back among the seat-holders, heaved his huge frame through the ropes, bellowing:
"It's a lie!"
He rushed like an infuriated bull at Glendon, who sprang back, and then, instead of meeting the rush, ducked cleanly away. Unable to check himself, the big man fetched up against the ropes. Flung back by the spring of them, he was turning to make another rush, when Glendon landed him. Glendon, cool, clear-seeing, distanced his man perfectly to the jaw and struck the first full-strength blow of his career. All his strength, and his reserve of strength, went into that one smashing muscular explosion.
Hanford was dead in the air—in so far as unconsciousness may resemble death. So far as he was concerned, he ceased at the moment of contact with Glendon's fist. His feet left the floor and he was in the air until he struck the topmost rope. His inert body sprawled across it, sagged at the middle, and fell through the ropes and down out of the ring upon the heads of the men in the press seats.
The audience broke loose. It had already seen more than it had paid to see, for the great Jim Hanford, the world champion, had been knocked out. It was unofficial, but it had been with a single punch. Never had there been such a night in fistiana. Glendon looked ruefully at his damaged knuckles, cast a glance through the ropes to where Hanford was groggily coming to, and held up his hands. He had clinched his right to be heard, and the audience grew still.
"When I began to fight," he said, "they called me 'One-Punch Glendon.' You saw that punch a moment ago. I always had that punch. I went after my men and got them on the jump, though I was careful not to hit with all my might. Then I was educated. My manager told me it was n't fair to the crowd. He advised me to make long fights so that the crowd could get a run for its money. I was a fool, a mutt. I was a green lad from the mountains. So help me God, I swallowed it as truth. My manager used to talk over with me what round I would put my man out in. Then he tipped it off to the betting syndicate, and the betting syndicate went to it. Of course you paid. But I am glad for one thing. I never touched a cent of the money. They did n't dare offer it to me, because they knew it would give the game away.
"You remember my fight with Nat Powers. I never knocked him out. I had got suspicious. So the gang framed it up with him. I did n't know. I intended to let him go a couple of rounds over the sixteenth. That last punch in the sixteenth did n't shake him. But he faked the knock-out just the same and fooled all of you."
"How about to-night?" a voice called out. "Is it a frame-up?"
"It is," was Glendon's answer.
"How's the syndicate betting? That Cannam will last to the fourteenth."
Howls and hoots went up. For the last time Glendon held up his hand for silence.
"I'm almost done now. But I want to tell you one thing. The syndicate gets landed to-night. This is to be a square fight. Tom Cannam won't last till the fourteenth round. He won't last the first round."
Cannam sprang to his feet in his corner and cried out in a fury:
"You can't do it. The man don't live who can get me in one round!"
Glendon ignored him and went on. "Once now in my life I have struck with all my strength. You saw that a moment ago when I caught Hanford. To-night, for the second time, I am going to hit with all my strength—that is, if Cannam does n't jump through the ropes right now and get away. And now I'm ready."
He went to his corner and held out his hands for his gloves. In the opposite corner Cannam raged while his seconds tried vainly to calm him. At last Billy Morgan managed to make the final announcement.
"This will be a forty-five round contest," he shouted. "Marquis of Queensbury Rules! And may the best man win! Let her go!"
The gong struck. The two men advanced. Glendon's right hand was extended for the customary shake, but Cannam, with an angry toss of the head, refused to take it. To the general surprise, he did not rush. Angry though he was, he fought carefully, his touched pride impelling him to bend every effort to last out the round. Several times he struck, but he struck cautiously, never relaxing his defense. Glendon hunted him about the ring, ever advancing with the remorseless tap-tap of his left foot. Yet he struck no blows, nor attempted to strike. He even dropped his hands to his sides and hunted the other defenselessly in an effort to draw him out. Cannam grinned defiantly, but declined to take advantage of the proffered opening.
Two minutes passed, and then a change came over Glendon. By every muscle, by every line of his face, he advertised that the moment had come for him to get his man. Acting it was, and it was well acted. He seemed to have become a thing of steel, as hard and pitiless as steel. The effect was apparent on Cannam, who redoubled his caution. Glendon quickly worked him into a corner and herded and held him there. Still he struck no blow, nor attempted to strike, and the suspense on Cannam's part grew painful. In vain he tried to work out of the corner, while he could not summon resolution to rush upon his opponent in an attempt to gain the respite of a clinch.
Then it came—a swift series of simple feints that were muscle flashes. Cannam was dazzled. So was the audience. No two onlookers could agree afterwards as to what took place. Cannam ducked one feint and at the same time threw up his face guard to meet another feint for his jaw. He also attempted to change position with his legs. Ring-side witnesses swore that they saw Glendon start the blow from his right hip and leap forward like a tiger to add the weight of his body to it. Be that as it may, the blow caught Cannam on the point of the chin at the moment of his shift of position. And like Hanford, he was unconscious in the air before he struck the ropes and fell through on the heads of the reporters.
Of what happened afterward that night in the Golden Gate Arena, columns in the newspapers were unable adequately to describe. The police kept the ring clear, but they could not save the Arena. It was not a riot. It was an orgy. Not a seat was left standing. All over the great hall, by main strength, crowding and jostling to lay hands on beams and boards, the crowd uprooted and overturned. Prize-fighters sought protection of the police, but there were not enough police to escort them out, and fighters, managers, and promoters were beaten and battered. Jim Hanford alone was spared. His jaw, prodigiously swollen, earned him this mercy. Outside, when finally driven from the building, the crowd fell upon a new seven-thousand-dollar motor car belonging to a well-known fight promoter and reduced it to scrapiron and kindling wood.
Glendon, unable to dress amid the wreckage of dressing rooms, gained his automobile, still in his ring costume and wrapped in a bath robe, but failed to escape. By weight of numbers the crowd caught and held his machine. The police were too busy to rescue him, and in the end a compromise was effected, whereby the car was permitted to proceed at a walk escorted by five thousand cheering madmen.
It was midnight when this storm swept past Union Square and down upon the St. Francis. Cries for a speech went up, and though at the hotel entrance, Glendon was good-naturedly restrained from escaping. He even tried leaping out upon the heads of the enthusiasts, but his feet never touched the pavement. On heads and shoulders, clutched at and uplifted by every hand that could touch his body, he went back through the air to the machine. Then he gave a speech, and Maud Glendon, looking down from an upper window at her young Hercules towering on the seat of the automobile, knew, as she always knew, that he meant it when he repeated that he had fought his last fight and retired from the ring forever.