Today’s story is a fresh one! I hope you enjoy it. (and no it doesn’t actually involve boxing Rats. I just… couldn’t resist.
“Come on, don’t do this. I’m on the shore of my big break.” Clayton’s hand tightened against the frame of his entry doorway.
Gregory Snibb stared at him with narrowed eyes, a sour frown and a piece of paper held out for acceptance: an eviction notice. He shook hit again without saying another word.
“Look… I got a fight tomorrow.” Clayton pushed away Gregory’s arm. “When I get the purse from–”
“There won’t be a purse cause there ain’t gonna be a fight.” Gregory shook his head. “The ring went under. They couldn’t pay their rent either, sound familiar?”
“Shit.” Clayton turned away, searching his thoughts. “Look I got a twenty clams stashed away. I can give you that.”
“No Clayton. You’re gonna need that, even if it does exist. You owe me nearly fifty. I can’t afford to keep you in here. It’s nothin’ personal.” Gregory’s expression softened. “Look Clayton, I’ll let you off the hook until this stock baloney blows over. You’re a bright fella, got no beef with ya.”
“Then help me out Greg!” Clayton tensed.
“I am helpin’ ya out. I’m sorry you were left holdin’ the bag, and I know you’re a hell of a boxer, no palooka that’s for sure. But you ain’t polished. You might be the next Dempsey, but that ain’t exactly a good thing.” Gregory shook his head. “I need you out by the end of the day.”
Clayton watched helplessly as Gregory dropped the notice and left. The south never really got cold, but it felt icy then.
Clayton stooped over and eyed the notice without picking it up. Fifty dollars in the hole, with no way to crawl out. Gregory had been right, he did him a favor. Maybe he knew tryin’ to chase him down for the money wasn’t going to do squat. Or maybe he was being a friend.
Late September in the south of the great United States of America. The year, 1929. The eclipse of the greatest decade of Clayton’s life. Where and when he discovered boxing.
Clayton scooped up the notice and sighed at it. Twenty one years old and homeless. Though Clayton had been no stranger to adversity. He’d been a crumb since he started kissing dames. Pushing aside five hundred couldn’t be kinder. Finding a new place wouldn’t be that hard, especially if Clayton called some favors.
It took less than an hour to get his belongings together. He had his life savings in the form of some random gold, a little bit more than twenty clams, and a few changes in clothes. He tugged his good hat over his mop of blonde hair without brushing it.
He could clean up in a flophouse later. It didn’t stop him from lamenting over his lack of beard. for a big a fella, he looked young. Baby faced to the end as any dame he necked with said.
Not that Clayton was particularly handsome. A pug nose that had been broken a few times sat between two dull blue eyes. His wide jaw made him look like a gorilla when he frowned and a shark when he smiled.
It helped in the ring sure, but it didn’t land him dates.
Clayton hurried out of the small apartment. He only lived there for a year, but he knew Gregory much longer.
“Need a car boy-o?” A jitney barked at him, someone he didn’t recognize.
Clayton waved him away. He knew better than to trust anyone, especially with his life on his person. He had choices. Uncle Sam might have been able to help him if he didn’t have a record in this town, but that acted as a stretch.
The other choice, the only real choice, involved building a record.
He walked his way on the brightly lit streets, the city had an air of gloom about them. Everyone up in arms about the Stock Market falling face first. To Clayton it meant nothing. He had been nestled on the bottom for a while now, just a matter of having more company.
Clayton flinched backwards just as a man fell in front of him. Blood erupted around him as he made impact with the pavement. Clayton stared down calm and cold. He had seen dead bodies before, but not one so fresh. The flinch that spared him from being hit came from the man’s scream. Now, there were screams all around him.
People fled from the sight, like a shooting. That sort of thing didn’t happen in the south, not like Chicago at least. Criminals here had class, discretion. Clayton stooped over and twisted up his face. The man soiled himself on the way down. Practiced and quiet, Clayton slipped a hand into the dead man’s pocket and found his wallet and a few other scraps of paper. He took all of them.
He stood and glanced around. No one saw him. Calm as day he kept walking and flipped through the wallet as if it could be his own.
A small gasp escaped him. The wallet was packed with bills. Fresh crisp tens, a tenty and two fifties. Clayton’s bank consisted of ones and fives. He only caught a glimpse of a fifty once in his life. When he did he had been somewhere he shouldn’t have been.
Clayton stashed away the money and slipped into an alleyway. License, debt papers, and family photos. The paper work had more zeroes than Clayton had ever seen. If over a hundred clams in the pocket wasn’t enough to keep him from diving, it made sense.
Clayton spun to see a cop, arms folded with a glare.
“Oh… Hello officer.” Clayton smiled cautiously. “Something I can help you with?”
“Maybe I should ask you the same.” the officer glanced down the wallet. “You mind if I see that?”
“Ah… no. Of course not.” Clayton sighed and turned over the wallet.
“This yours?” The cop eyed the papers carefully.
“…no sir.” Clayton let his eyes fall to the floor. “I found it on a body.”
“Body?” The cop’s eyes narrowed at Clayton. “Where?”
“Down the block. I’m surprised you didn’t see the screamin’ people.”
“I did. That’s why I’m stopping you.” The cop closed the wallet. “Better to look for suspicious types before I chase down screamers. You’re not… responsible for this are ya?”
“No sir!” Clayton shook his head. “I wasjust–”
“Ain’t robbing if he’s already dead.” Clayton scoffed.
“Maybe not. But it’s still theft.”
“Look. I didn’t see no money in there. I just got shooed from my house. I’m a boxer see? No work cause of the shut downs.” Clayton raised his hands to show his knuckle bruises. “I just was hopin for some coins or a bill or somethin’.”
“Bad luck for you. This egg is busted. I should pinch you for liftin’ his wallet instead of callin’ for help.” The cop took it upon himself to search Clayton’s bag.
“He landed on his head! No amount of help was gonna save him. I ain’t no morgue rat.” Clayton frowned. The bag would be clean unless small clothes were illegal. The gold was carefully stashed in the seams. No way the cop’d find that.
“Let me see your wallet.” the cop held a hand out.
“What? You’re gonna rob me? All I got is close to twenty. Every penny to my name.”
“Wallet. Now.” The cop shook his hand.
Clayton scoffed. The money he stole sat cozy and safe in a hidden pocket in his coat. But that twenty had been fair earned. He offered the dusty wallet. After a few seconds the cop handed it back.
“Clayton Cobb, Huh? Looks fine. No jumper would be caught dead with crumpled clams like this. Looks like it’s been in a pillowcase. Haven’t you heard of a bank?”
“Don’t like banks much.” Clayton peered at his money.
“Take me to the dead man. Then I’ll think about letting you go.” The cop grabbed Clayton by the collar and shuffled him out of the alley. Funny, cause in a straight fight, Clayton’d flatten the chump.
The walk felt longer than it seemed. The cop breathin’ down his neck didn’t help. Had common sense enough to hold on to his bag… but the cash he had on him was more than worth running.
They came to the body and a few people had come from the building, staring down at the body.
“Him! I saw that man rob him!” A dame in the crowd jabbed a finger at Clayton.
“I know ma’am.” the cop shook the reclaimed wallet. “Under control.”
“Honestly who steals from a dead man!” The woman glared.
“A desperate one.” The cop gave Clayton a shove. The bull was no dummy, he kept him in sight. His pistol sat loose and unbuckled. If Clayton ran, he’d catch one in the leg, or worse. “Did he carry money ma’am?”
“Oy! I said he didn’t have no clams. You don’t believe me?”
“As far as I can throw ya.” The cop glared.
“No officer. He didn’t. No reason to. He’s the president of this bank. He could get anything he needed by asking.” The woman maintained her glare on Clayton.
Clayton struggled to resist smiling. Devils luck he had, a word and it proved a fast track to the pokey.
“He returned the wallet ma’am. Fine if I let him go?” The cop jabbed a thumb at Clayton.
“Fine… I suppose.” She relinquished her stare. “Given the times… I suppose some mercy is in order. Besides it’s our tax dollars that would feed and bathe him if you took him in.”
Clayton raised an arm and took a sniff.
“You heard the lady. Scram.” The cop tossed the bad to Clayton, which he caught handily.
“Thank you ma’am, officer.” He bowed behind the bag and made no move to suppress his smile. Even if they saw it, they wouldn’t know the truth.
He scurried off and let out a triumphant roar when he got two block away, startling passerbys, he did not care. He could focus on training and looking for a in to the big time.
Luck had turned around. He just needed a place to live and a way to spend big bills. Spending a fifty would be suicide. Questions would come up.
One thing was for sure, if luck ever had been a lady, she was one tonight.