Things heat up for Clayton in this chapter. And for those of you not savvy with his adventure. I have it all in one place here.
The Rat — Part 5
Clayton Cobb leaned against the ropes on his corner of the ring. His ‘trainer’ rapped on his chest, shouting words of encouragement he didn’t need. The cheers of the crowd filled Clayton’s ears, burning into his memory. They didn’t cheer for him. They saw him as a palooka opposite of a hometown hero.
They wouldn’t be cheering long.
His opponent came into the ring wearing an open jacket, black with gold lettering. He’d been sponsored, the next big thing. That would change with four punches.
David Blake raised his arms in triumph, like he had won the fight already. He drank in the cheers like a bright eyed rookie tended to do. Clayton might not have been pro, but he’d been there. He remembered the early days when some scout saw him flatten a guy in a bar with a right hook and think he’d be the next Jack Dempsey.
But I will. Clayton pushed off the ropes and raised his fists to his chops. He loosened up, got the blood flowing, while his opponent wasted time showboating. David looked surprised for a moment, giving way to an obnoxious half smile.
“Stop prancin’ peacock,” Clayton said, ducking and weaving. He ran through those four punches. “This is a fight not a fashion show.”
David gave a nod, handing off his coat. Clayton could see the resemblance to Shirley. He had just as much pretty as she did, too bad Clay’d have to mess up that face real good. Well he didn’t have to, but he would.
David’s trunks were black with a gold pinstripe, just like his coat. Clayton sported blue trunks with a white stripe. No frills. His trainer shouted at him to calm down. He ignored him. Clayton needed adrenaline if he planned to pull off what he needed to.
His opponent met him eye to eye. He was a big fella just like him, a heavyweight with no questions at the weigh in. Just how it should be.
David squared off and the ref stepped up. The peacock took the bait.
They didn’t announce the rules in an amateur fight, and Clayton banked on that. What he didn’t bank on was the crowd. The gym had been packed from wall to ceiling. So many people. Too many people. Too many witnesses.
“I want a clean fight,” The ref said. His voice carried well.
“Of course,” David said.
“Yeah,” Clayton said.
The ref fixed his eyes on Clay, giving a small nod. “Bump gloves and get this started.”
Perfect. Ronnie had the ref in his pocket. The start from the center would make this quick.
“Wait.” David’s corner man approached, offering a bottle of water to Clayton.
“No thanks,” Clayton said, scowling.
David snatched the bottle instead, took a big swig and tossed it aside.
Idiot. What kind of rookie drinks water during a match?
“A show of good faith.” David said, smirking. “You won’t even touch my body once.”
Clayton clenched his teeth, raising his glove instead. “We’ll see, princess.”
David tapped Clay’s glove and turned to the crowd, drawing an eruptive cheer from them. Clayton didn’t hear it. He wanted one thing, the Bell.
The hammer struck the bell and Clayton let loose, a heavy hook that found the mark on his opponent’s chin. His prancing made it easy and David flew back to the ropes with a look of shock on his stupid face.
He rubbed his chin, un-phased otherwise, and grinned. “That was your freebie.”
Clayton smirked. A love tap before the four punches.
David dropped the bull shit, raising his dukes and closed in. His first jab screamed at Clay full of piss and vinegar, catching the impact on top of his gloves. The second swing he couldn’t stop. A left aimed at his body that landed clean.
Clayton focused on defense. He needed all four hits to count.
David’s eyes filled with rage. His punches fueled with the wrath of hellfire. Clayton clenched up catching every punch after that stray left. Something had been wrong. He reared back, an opening, but one he had to ignore.
The punch tunneled through Clay’s defense pushing him back and towards the ropes. His forearms ached, a tell-tale sign of bruising. Clayton broke his guard, shaking his arm to make sure he stayed loose. Time for the first punch.
David had no guard up. That was a problem. Clay needed him clenched. Otherwise the punch wouldn’t so it’s job. Instead he taunted Clay, saying words he couldn’t hear. Instead the sound of Clay’s own heartbeat filled his ears. But he saw his opponent’s lips form two words.
Clayton froze. Did he know? Did David know his sister had been murdered? I didn’t do it. I just—
The punch landed clean on Clayton’s cheek tossing him to the canvas. The crowd’s roar reached his ears and he pushed himself to his knees.
“Four,” the ref said.
Fuck. What happened to one through three.
Clayton pushed himself to a stand without the aid of the ropes. Just blindsided, no sweat. He couldn’t know.
But David’s glare said otherwise.
The ref’s gesture had been all he needed. Clayton rushed at David with a left straight, his opponent took it clean. He made no move to dodge at all.
Damn, he knew. He knew it’d be a feint.
Clayton took a punch to the chest as punishment, drawing a gasp from him. Another slammed into his chest, full of power and rage. He staggered backwards only after the third punch. David raised his guard for the first time in the fight, but Clay’s mind had been shattered. His body wouldn’t react. He settled for a dodge, rolling to David’s side, the wrong side.
Clayton stopped the punch, but David lowered his gloves, protecting his body with perfect form. He remembered being this sharp. He remembered being this focused.
I’m supposed to murder this guy? He’s murdering me.
Clay backpedaled and the two faced off with ironclad guard. Something changed in his opponent. His focus dwindled and Clay saw the chance he needed. He didn’t set up the feint, instead laying down that fast juke to the right, with the hook. His fist made impact with his opponent’s ribs drawing out a satisfying crunch.
He stepped to dodge, but David made no move to strike back, nor did he flinch. He clenched up, but not to protect himself. Clayton let loose the left straight, connecting clean and setting his opponent off balance, just as planned. He wound up for a haymaker, leaving his body wide open, but David didn’t react.
Clayton let the punch fly, setting his plan to motion, but David fell forward. His eyes glazed over and he toppled to the canvas. Clay’s haymaker went wide and he stumbled to the ropes instead.
The crowd fell to stunned silence, Clayton’s mind raced. What the hell happened?
Clayton cleared away. The ref stooped over and checked David briefly. He stood and waved both hands, calling the fight.
The bell rang. Clayton won.
“What’s wrong with him?” Clayton said, still groggy from his opponent’s assault.
“He’s dead,” the ref said, glancing over.
“D–dead?” Clayton said. “But I didn’t even—“
Finishing that sentence would be really bad.
The audience let out a gasp. The ringside people overheard and whispers spread the news like wildfire. David’s ring man hurried over and clapped his cheek. But a thin trail of foaming spittle formed at the corner of his mouth.
Poison. Clayton tightened his hands around the ropes. The water bottle.
He turned back to his own ring man, but he wasn’t there.
“It was the bottle.” A man called from the audience. “That lousy crumb poisoned him.”
Other shouts followed. And accusing fingers aimed at him.
“That’s why he didn’t drink, he knew.”
“We’ll tear ya apart.”
Clayton glanced around, wanting to protest, but what could he do? He remembered then, David Blake did that every fight. It had been part of the appeal of his fights, an act of camaraderie with his opponent. But David must have known Ronnie had his number. He committed suicide instead.
“Whoa. Hold on how could I have messed with his bottle?” Clayton said, his mind clear. “I didn’t know anything just—”
A bag of peanuts pelted him across the face. He raised his arms to shield himself. He looked deep into the gym, spotted Ronnie in the distance.
Ronnie shook his head and drew a thumb across his throat.
Wh—What? What did I do wrong? How could I tell David would off himself. Or maybe Ronnie spiked the bottle.
He jumped the ropes and scurried toward the back exit. The audience pelted him with trash, but one moved to stop him. At the end of the aisle, stood the man in the black suit, standing with his arms folded.
Clayton pushed forward, raising his fists in front of his face. He’d take him out if he had to. But the man stepped aside, waving him out with a gun in his hand. Clayton ran past him and caught his words.
“You’re already dead, little rat.”