"Within the next few minutes Tapton Downey was going to win twenty thousand dollars in side-bets...
if he got away with it . . . "
Breaking free, Tapton Downey backed swiftly across the ring making the Slasher follow him, and the crowd booed. The Slasher charged and Downey went inside the Slasher's right and fell against his chest. As he did so he rolled his big shoulders with two half-arm blows to the belly and felt the other man's knees sag under the impact.
The next round would be the sixth and this was no time to make a mistake, so Downey bulled the big man into the ropes and gave him time to recover his wind. They had been fighting for twenty-seven minutes, London Prize Ring rules; and a knock-down was the end of a round.
Tapton Downey felt good. He was sweating nicely, and although he had caught a few punches it was not nearly so many as the crowd believed. Nobody knew more about riding or slipping punches than Tap Downey.
The sixth round was too close to blow the deal by finishing the Slasher ahead of time. He had spent two months working as a roustabout on the river-boats to set the stage for this betting coup and had won two previous bouts in a clumsy fashion, just for the smart ones to see.
There was a blue welt under his left eye and he had been down four times. The first time the Slasher had caught him in chancery and had hurled him heavily to the ground, ending the round. Three times Downey had gone down deliberately, but so shrewdly that only one man guessed he was faking.
Within the next few minutes Tapton Downey was going to win twenty thousand dollars in side-bets ... if he got away with it. If he did not he would be very, very dead. Or the fastest traveling man west of New York.
The fight was scheduled to a finish, and at his insistence they fought with three-ounce gloves. Downey knew what few fight followers realized, that with a bandaged hand and a glove a man could hit far harder than with a bare fist. The boxing glove had been invented, not to keep one's opponent from being injured but to protect a fighter's hands. The gloves protected them against the fearful battering they usually took. Also, the shock effect was much greater.
Tapton Downey was an Irish-Gypsy, and had been Jem Mace's favorite pupil. The former heavyweight champion of the world was himself a Gypsy, and one of the first scientific boxers. Downey's reflexes were especially quick, and Jem Mace realized at once that he had a rarely fine prospect.
Moreover, at five feet ten inches, Downey looked shorter than he was, and he looked a good twenty pounds less than his weight. "Don't get on a scales," Mace advised him, "and they'll never guess you're that heavy. Fight bigger men than you ... they're slower and easier to hit."
Whenever he was asked to weigh in, Tapton Downey merely laughed. "Weigh the other fellow. He's bigger than me, anyway."
That had been four years and twenty-four fights ago, most of them bare-knuckle fights, for it was only in the past two or three years that gloves had begun to appear.
The local money was backing Tapton Downey under his local name, which was Lenihan. The gamblers, with one exception, were backing the Slasher, and the Slasher was a ringer. What the gamblers had not guessed was that the man they knew as Lenihan was also a ringer, and considerably superior to their man.
The betting had been enthusiastic, and a good deal of the money laid out was Downey's own ... and some of it belonged to Farmer Bates, who placed Downey's bets for him.
Downey had begun as the favorite, then the odds evened as Slasher money appeared. Only a little of the Downey money had gone on him to win. Bates, who looked and acted the farmer he pretended to be, had seemed to be under the influence, and he had talked largely. "If the fight goes more that thirty minutes," he declared loudly, "Lenihan will win!"
This was the very thing the gamblers were sure could not happen. Over the distance the more experienced, which they believed their man was, and heavier man would be sure to win. They had suggested the farmer put his money where his mouth was, and after a bit of taunting that maybe he hadn't any money, anyway, the "farmer" had come out with a hefty roll of bills. "Sold m' cotton," he said, "and I aim to double m' money."
"Tapton Downey stood up. He was brown,
powerfully-muscled, and ready."
Yet he grew suddenly cagey when it came to actual betting. He got two-to-one that Lenihan, as he called him, would win if the fight went more than thirty minutes.
One way and another Farmer Bates laid out the money Downey had given him, and a sizable bit of his own.
After the first knock-down, Bates bet a little more. After the second knock-down he got still longer odds. Then Downey, apparently with a lucky punch, put the Slasher down.
Free of each other again, Downey took a partially blocked punch high on the head, went under a left and smashed the bigger man hard in the belly with a right. The Slasher was strong, and as he tried to wrestle Downey down, the latter deliberately let one knee give way and was thrown heavily.
As he rested on the knee of his second, Downey let his eyes go to where the Farmer stood, just outside the ring, and the Farmer spread empty hands at him. The money, those empty hands said, was all down.
Time was called, and Tapton Downey stood up. He was brown, powerfully-muscled, and ready. Under his shock of black hair his green eyes were cold as he moved up to toe the mark.
The Slasher lunged at him and Downey let his right foot go back two inches and fired his right just as the Slasher reached the end of his lunge. The Slasher had thrown his right and missed, and Downey's right fist struck like a bludgeon on the point of his chin.
The big man hesitated in mid-air, then dropped flat on his face ... out cold.
Pandemonium broke out, and the Slasher was dragged to his corner amid a roar of cheers and angry shouts.
Swiftly, a crowd of roustabouts and river-men gathered about Downey, forming a protective screen.
Ten slow seconds passed, then ten more. The Slasher was out. Farmer Bates, surrounded by river-men, moved to collect his bets. Somebody thrust a sweater at Downey and he slipped it over his head, then grabbed his coat and cap. As quickly as he could, he slipped his legs into his pants and buckled his belt.
There was going to be hell to pay when the gamblers got their wind ... but by that time he and the farmer would be safely out of town.
Suddenly from out of the crowd around him a hand grasped Downey's elbow. A ferret-faced man in a dirty checkered suit hissed at him. "Run! Run, Downey! Malone knows who you are!"
He paused in mid-stride, thinking swiftly. King Malone was the gambler who had put up most of the bets against him, and was the man who had imported the Slasher. If Malone knew that Downey was who he was, then Downey was in trouble.
"Don't wait!" The little man hissed at him. "Run!"
"I've got to see a man," Downey replied shortly. "I can run later."
"He sent me!" The little man grasped his sleeve with yellow, stained fingers. "It was the Farmer sent me! He'll meet you in St. Louis with the money!"
Suddenly the heat and the excitement were gone, the grasping fingers forgotten. Meet him in St. Louis, would he? The Farmer?
Shoving the little man away, Downey ducked into an alley and ran swiftly. As he ran he was thinking. Two weeks ago a fellow roustabout had said to him, "Hey what's your friend Bates doin' with two places to live? He hired himself a place down by the river. My brother owns it. Only he gave himself another name when he did it. Called himself Higgins."
At the time Downey had thought little of it, but now, quite suddenly, he realized what it meant. This was where the Farmer had gone with the money, for the Farmer did not intend to be found. And if King Malone had been tipped off as to who Tapton Downey was, it must have been the Farmer who did it.
- End of Fragment -
BEAU L'AMOUR'S COMMENTS: It's really too bad that Louis didn't finish this story or write something else specifically about the 19th century boxing scene; it's an interesting subject.
Boxing gloves became more common in the 1860s and were required under the Marquess of Queensberry Rules. Jem Mace (who denied being a Gypsy) was in the US for a few years, 1869 to the early 1870s, and then returned for awhile later in the decade and again in the 1890s.