This is what an old street busker thinks and decides when catastrophe turns towards his dog, which is unaware of human discrimination and doesn’t know that man can go to such extremes due to his ego on petty issues.
They marooned him in a Godforsaken place – a place from where no one could ever have escaped.
The story sheds light on the dark side of illegal gold mining in Africa.
Conflicts between Italian mobsters and Mexican mafia, underground fights, blend of human love and animal affection, this compelling story will leave a deep impact on hearts.
The bar door opened and Johnny entered, along with his two friends. Sammy was in his late 20s, like Johnny, while Frankie had just entered his early 20s. Upon seeing them, a man standing at the counter was bowled over. As soon as they came up to the counter, Frankie grabbed him by his collar.
“Are you gonna resist again or are we doing this the easy way?” he said, looking back at Sammy with a smile he returned.
The man gave them a disgusted look and, as soon as his hand reached under the counter, Frankie pulled him a little over the counter, took a knife out of his pants pocket, and poked his neck with it.
“Don’t try to be smart, Ricardo,” Johnny said in a somber tone, standing behind Frankie.
When the man’s hand returned from under the counter, it contained a packet, which he put on the counter. Johnny picked it up and tossed it, as if weighing it, and then threw it towards Sammy.
“Look how easy everything is done now, like water off a duck’s back! You shouldn’t have resisted last time. I felt bad when Johnny beat you black and blue, but it seems that you’ve learned your lesson well; you’re a fast learner,” Frankie said, patting him on his shoulder. After this, they walked to the door. While walking out, Frankie turned back and said, “See you soon!”
Outside on the road, a 1972 blue Buick Riviera was parked. After Frankie got in the back seat, Sammy sat on the driver’s seat next to Johnny.
“Did you see his nose?” Frankie asked.
“Yeah, it was twisted,” Sammy said, laughing while looking at him through the rear-view mirror.
“Last time, Johnny’s first punch hit him on his nose,” Frankie said and both laughed.
Looking out of the window, Johnny also smiled. Johnny “Fracture” Lorenzo, whose real name was
John Lorenzo, usually moved in a casual suit, but often managed with suspenders and a newsboy cap. He worked with two friends from his childhood for a notorious Italian mobster, Anthony Trapani, who was enamoured of fighting tournaments. Johnny was peerless in crushing people’s bones, not only in their racketeering activities, but also in underground fights. He was an extremely indomitable and unshakable champion of Anthony’s. Johnny was given his nickname after he had broken countless bones of his rival in a flash. He was unmatched in briskness and fastness. No one knew better than him where and how to damage the rival. He behaved as if his opponent was standing behind an x-ray machine. His worth strengthened further after he got a hold of weapons. Even if he took out his weapon later than his opponent, he could make a move before him.
His Italian parents died in a tragic road accident when he was only twelve. A search for shelter and hunger led him into the clutches of a lame, but ruthless, person who already has six more children under his thumb. Two of them were his sons. He had forced them into selling newspapers, but when they returned at night, they brought all the newspapers back, plus a lot of money. A week later, it dawned upon Johnny that he also had to pickpocket under the guise of a newspaper seller. After he had learnt this art, he became the quickest among the other six. When he pick-pocketed someone, the victim did not realise at all what had happened to him. The lame master named him “Butter Finger”. It caused his sons to become jealous of him, and they often bullied him, along with the other children, and always looked for a chance to trap him. They always came down on him like a ton of bricks on petty issues. Now, it had become their only aim to tell on him and get his hide tanned by their father, which was usually accompanied by depriving him of his supper. Early in the mornings, he used to put on a newsboy cap, take newspapers, and go out along with the other boys. After walking together for a certain distance, they used to part from one another and take their own paths, returning after the sunset.
On that day, if the wallet had not fallen from his hand, the policeman would never have known about it and nor would have he whistled. While trying t0 elude the police, he took shelter in a duct. The sound of the police whistle was striking his ears. Before he could wait for the whistles to dim and allow him to escape, he heard noises coming through the duct. He curiously crawled ahead and saw a little light sneaking through a hole. He fixed his eye to the hole and found several hands punching in the air. Some people were huddling around a stage in a state of frenzy and rage, where two men were whaling the tar out of each other. The silver bowls above the cameras were raining flickering flashlights upon them. He used to see such pictures in newspapers, but now he was beholding this all with his own eyes and felt excited about it. He always felt excitement to witness such things. The next day, he returned to the duct. It did not take him long to find the entrance gate to the building. After entering, he looked around with his eyes wide open. Looking at statues and pictures on the walls with excitement, he at last reached the spot he had seen through the hole, but now there was silence and only one African man, who was shining the floor with a broom. He stopped his work upon seeing him.
“Hey, what you looking for, kid?” he asked.
Then he smiled at Johnny’s innocent question and said, “This is a gymnasium. People come here to learn and train.” Then, pointing towards the canvas, he said, “This is a ring. Fighters fight here.” And what he had beheld the day before was a bout.
Upon his next innocent question, the man put the broom in an iron bucket and said, with a smile, “It takes a lot of hard work, devotion, good food, balanced diet, enough money, etcetera. Do you have any of them?”
With Johnny’s innocent desire and insistence, the man thought for a moment and then nodded his head in agreement.
Johnny kept pick-pocketing until noon and then went to the gymnasium. After he had hit the floor and shined it, the African allowed him to hit the punching bag. Johnny started visiting the gymnasium daily. The routine, though, had begun to effect his earning. Before, he used to return with fifteen wallets, and now he showed up with only five, most of them almost empty because he did not spend the time determining the best targets, such as an opulent person. Such earning caused him to get severely beaten at home, which, in turn, made the other boys overjoyed, but now he was not mindful of these things. He just wanted to become a fighter.
When the African perceived that he had the devotion to become a fighter and was determined to keep on with his pursuit, he made up his mind to teach him as much as he could. His name was Christopher Terry. He told him that he had been in the corner with fighters and had spent time with coaches. In the beginning, he taught him the jab, straight, hook, and uppercut and told him to practise the moves.
One day, when he was searching through the wallet of his recent target, he heard whistles. In the next moment, a panicked boy was running towards him. He was one of the master’s two sons. Before Johnny could understand what he was doing there, the boy fell down after stumbling into a sack of cement. Johnny, at once, threw away his newspapers and ran towards him. The boy had sprained his leg and was no longer able to run. Johnny gave him support and hid him in a sewerage pipe nearby. In order to divert the attention of the police, he took the wallet from him and made the police run after him, and, in no time, they circled around him. The next day, when the police sent for his lame master, he looked at Johnny and denied recognising him. So far, Johnny had been swallowing all of the harsh attitudes at the master’s hands, but such behaviour was incomprehensible to him, and he found it impossible to digest. After having served a few days of a light sentence, he came back home. The master gave him a warm hug, as if he was his missing real son that had been lost. The next morning, Johnny held newspapers along with the other boys and was ready to go to work. That day, he left and never came back.
Terry gave him a place in the store to reside in. During the day, he assisted Terry and, during the night, he practised. One day, when Terry found him raining punches on the bag, he stopped him.
“Balance, footwork, and punching power! Keep that in mind,” he said. “There are five components to punching power that must be there for a puncher to be considered truly powerful: lack of arm punching, proper weight shifting, stepping during a punch, pivoting with a punch, and using proper footwork, and this connection requires the development of a strong core. The core is perhaps the most important element in a powerful punch, since it connects the powerhouse of the legs to the delivery system of the arms. Now, you’re probably thinking what is core,” he said, smiling while looking at his confused face. Giving him a strong pat on his back, abdomen, and inner thighs, he said, “This! This group of muscles is where much of the body’s strength comes from.” He stood up and said, pointing towards a bench, “Lift it up and move it. It is a hindrance to your practice.”
Johnny held it up and placed it aside, and Terry went to the door.
“What is this glove doing there?” He turned back and pointed towards a glove lying on the floor. “Kick it here, so that I can put it back into its place.”
Johnny stepped ahead and kicked it and the glove reached Terry’s feet, bouncing.
Terry picked it up and said, “You’ve brought your core strength into use in three ways and you didn’t even realise it. You use this strength to kick something and to lift a heavy thing.”
Before Johnny understood which third task he
performed, he said, “Yeah, yeah, I know, you also use it to stand up straight.” Then Terry left, smiling.
The next day, Terry trained him in an exercise of core strength. He made him lay on his back, put both of his hands behind his head, and draw his right elbow and left knee together, extending his right leg. Then, he switched and drew his left elbow and right knee together.
Like every new boxer, he desired to try his skill after only a few days practise. He soon got that opportunity, when he found some grown up boys standing in an alley, bullying a small kid. He called out to them and soon realised his mistake when one of them turned round, gnashing his teeth. Johnny drew back the extra-long sleeves of his loose coat and took out his small fists, as if he was hoping that they might realise that he was a boxer and would run away, but the boy looked at his fellows laughing and walked towards him. Various thoughts hovered around Johnny’s mind. “Should he take off his coat? And what if he takes off his cap, he may look older?” However, all of his schemes of defence did not prove out to be helpful, as a strong blow came out of nowhere and hit him on his head. When he came to, it was getting dark. Holding his head for a while, he ran towards the gymnasium.
The next morning, after hearing his account, Terry said, “If you don’t know what hit you, it must’ve been a kick.” In order to explain, he said, “Here, in this ring, we rely on arms, but if you get into a street fight, your opponent may use any part of his body. So, your strategy will be different there, and you’ll have to make use of your legs, as well as your hands, to gain an upper hand on your opponent.”
Upon his insistence, Terry said, “I’m unable to train you in this matter, but I can send you to a Korean friend of mine who lives in Texas. He can train you in this art.”
A few days later, he gave him some money, and Johnny left for Texas.
When he returned, he had become well-versed with the useful skills of martial art, such as Akemi, which targeted weak points like the solar plexus, fulcrum floating ribs, throat, groin or any of the major nerve clusters on the back of the calf, and the charley horse, a little notch on the hip joint just above the bony protuberance that drastically reduced an opponent’s ability to stand, let alone attack. He, once again, put on gloves and began to practise boxing. With the passage of time, he started to spar with other boxers and then practise matches, as well. However, after doing all this, he would enter the store exhausted and loneliness caught hold of him, but his loneliness was not to last for long.
Sammy “Detector” Luca’s real name was Sam Luca. He wore a brown leather jacket. He had been given the name “Detector” because of his skill in metal detection. Sammy could tell how many weapons his opponent was armed with and whether it would be a knife or a revolver when his hand came out of his clothes. Through the expressions of his opponent, he used to know whether his opponent intended to surrender or try to reach for his weapon. Johnny took a great fancy to the acuteness of his senses. On one occasion, Johnny could not help but sing the praises of him when Sammy told him to fire at a person standing in front, because he was bluffing with an empty weapon. Johnny took him at his word and made a move, and when he examined the weapon of the dead person, it was indeed empty.
Sammy’s father was a blacksmith who remained as drunk as a lord and kept Sammy’s nose to the grindstone by making all kinds of work for him. It was his practice to tan Sammy’s hide for minor mistakes. One day, he told him to repair a brass bell and deliver it to its owner by himself. When the bell was repaired, Sammy went to deliver it to the gymnasium where Johnny worked. That day, he left and never came back.
Frankie “the Credit,” who was often called “the Priest,” always buttoned up his collar and was often laden with some sort of debt. Whenever Johnny came to know that his lenders had cornered him, he presented himself at the spot. He either paid them money or made bouts with them and settled scores with him. Even though Johnny went halves with them after every job, Frankie always kept himself loaded with debt from top to bottom, and it was beyond Johnny’s understanding. Whenever he asked him about it, he was given all sorts of reasonable and unreasonable excuses. However, Johnny always looked the other way because he felt more like a younger brother. Sammy often said that it was all because of Johnny’s flexible treatment and fondling that Frankie had been spoilt. But a person who had lost all of his dear ones in his childhood could bear with even more follies from his younger brother.
His name had been registered as Franklyn Nicolo in the Catholic orphanage, and he would never come to know who registered him there. Sister Martha found this name on the chit when someone had left him there in the basement of the orphanage. That’s why he abhorred this name and told others to call him Frank.
Although he was not a problem child, the Superior Mother always treated him as if he was. She had him, alone, in her bad books. Therefore, he was often made scapegoat of others’ mistakes. He had been bearing this for a long time. At last, he found himself at the end of his tether, and the time had come for the worm to turn. Even when Sister Martha told him to stitch his collar, he would take ill of it. He wanted to bid adieu to that place once and for all. One day, a boy named Johnny came there to donate money from a charity boxing match. On the very next day, Sister Martha found him trying to sneak out the window. At first, she stood there dumbfounded. Then, she said, after a moment, “Franklyn, stitch your collar,” and went away to offer confession. Frankie saw her go, with a smile dancing on his face, and left through the window. That day, he left and never came back.
Now Johnny was no longer alone. He kept them with him, with the permission of Terry. Both of them lent him a hand in the chores of the gymnasium. The little amount Johnny received as wages did not stand them in good stead. One day, his sparring partner told him that he was entering a street fight. Johnny knew that there were many fighters who engaged themselves with street fights for money. Hence, he decided to enter, too, and his partner carried him along.
It was an abandoned plaza, where many people were standing like a jam-packed crowd and were raising hue and cry. Only those who had lost money were standing with long faces. He had always heard about such fights, but it was the first time he was witnessing all this. About love, he did not know, but he could see that everything was fair in this war. They were doing eye-gouging, fish-hooking, and head-butting. Playing below the belt was all fair in this game. All kinds of actions were fair and square.
In ring, fighters wore gloves, but he was to fight here bare-knuckled. He was here to play a game with no rules, no referees, no cutman, no ice, no petroleum jelly, and not even the white towel.
In the ring, they gave a bow to the opponent for an honourable end, but here they were bowing only to make sure that the opponent had given up his ghost or just been crippled.
When it was his turn to fight, he discovered that his opponent was older than him. Johnny was eighteen, but the opponent’s age could not hold a candle to his agility and ability, and he was knocked down by just a single blow. Johnny was well-versed in how to serve his opponent with such a horrific and baleful punch that it proved to be a nail in his coffin. In order to add mass to his punch, he had moved hind body as a unit throughout the punch. Power was generated from the ground up, such that the force from the ankles was transferred to his knees, from the knees to the thighs, from the thighs to the core, from the core to the chest, from the chest to the shoulders, from the shoulders to the forearms, and, finally, the compounded force was transferred through his fist into the opponent.
He bought Sammy a shoeshine kit out of the money he won in the fight, and he started shining people’s shoes. He assigned Frankie to sell newspapers. During day, they worked out, and, at night, they slept in the store after having helped Johnny and Terry with gymnasium chores. And they accompanied Johnny to street fights twice a week. The more they grew up, the more their demands increased. Frankie used to insist that he take on long odds, but Johnny always responded to him that he fought only to fill a few in-betweens. However, one day, he at last rose to the bait and played a big game. He found Frankie, as pleased as punch at the winning amount, because he would not have to work for a few days because of that money. Then, he made up his mind to go for big games and told them to give up work, because, from now on, their job was to grab money from people and see to his wounds.
One day, after a bout, they were messing around with each other. When Frankie was trying to snatch money from them, Johnny noticed a cream-coloured Lincoln Continental at a small distance eyeing them. As soon as he took steps towards the car out of curiosity, the window raised up and the car went away. Although Johnny could not see who was inside, it was obvious that someone was stalking them.
When Terry discovered that Johnny was getting more and more involved in the street fights, he told him that many people would try to attract him towards themselves, but he needed to strike the right path and keep himself aloof from their alluring and misleading offers. Johnny was perturbed by these words, and, at long last, one day he asked Terry about it. Terry heaved a deep sigh and was obliged to tell him the bitter truth about his life, so that the mistake he had committed might not be repeated by Johnny. He told Johnny that he had been brought here by a dream to become a legendary boxer. He needed money to start learning about a professional career. That’s why he had begun to take part in street fights. His fame had gained the ears of people far and wide, and a man named Anthony offered him a chance to become an underground fighter. The offer was accompanied by the desired money, and he jumped at it without any other thought.