Read CHAPTER XII of Once to Every Man , free online book, by Larry Evans, on ReadCentral.com.

Monday morning was always a busy morning in Jesse Hogarty’s Fourteenth Street gymnasium; busy, that is to say, along about that hour when morning was almost ready to slip into early afternoon. The reason for this late activity was very easy to understand, too, once one realized that Hogarty’s clientele especially that of his Monday mornings was composed quite entirely of that type of leisurely young man who rarely pointed the nose of his tub-seated raceabout below Forty-second Street, except for the benefits of a few rather desultory rounds under Hogarty’s tutelage, a shocking plunge beneath an icy shower, and the all pervading sense of physical well-being resultant upon a half hour’s kneading of none too firm muscles on the marble slabs.

It was like Jesse Hogarty or Flash Hogarty, as he had been styled by the sporting reporters of the saffron dailies ten years back, when it was said that he could hit faster and harder out of a clinch than any lightweight who ever stood in canvas shoes to refuse to transfer his place to some locality a bit nearer Fifty-seventh Street, even when it chanced, as it did with every passing year, that he drew his patrons at an alarmingly high rate per patron almost entirely from far uptown.

“This isn’t a turkish bath,” Flash Hogarty was accustomed to answer such importunities. “If you are just looking for a place to boil out the poison, hunt around a little take a wide-eyed look or two! There are lots and lots of them. This isn’t a turkish bath; it’s a gymnasium a man’s gymnasium!”

That was his invariable formula, alike to the objections of the youthful, unlimited-of-allowance, more or less hard-living sons that it “spoils the best part of the week, you know, Flash, just running ’way down here,” and the equally earnest and far more peevish complaints of the ticker tired, just-a-minute-to-spare fathers that it cost them about five thousand, just to take an hour to work off a few pounds.

But they kept on coming, in spite of their lack of time and Hogarty’s calm refusal to consider their arguments some of the younger men because they really did appreciate the sensation of flexible muscles sliding beneath a smooth skin, some of them merely because they liked to hear Hogarty’s fluently picturesque profanity, always couched in the most delightfully modulated of English, when the activity of a particularly giddy week-end brought them back a little too shaky of hand, a little too brilliant of eye and a trifle jumpy as to pulse. Hogarty had a way of telling them just how little they actually amounted to, which, no matter how wickedly it cut, never failed to amuse them.

The older generation dared do nothing else, even in the face of the ex-lightweight’s scathingly sarcastic admiration of their constantly increasing waist-line or lack of one. For their lines were largely a series of curves exactly opposite to those on which Nature had originally designed them.

They continued to come; they ran down-town in closed town cars, padded heavily across the sidewalk like sad bovines going to the slaughter, to reappear an hour or two later stepping like three-year-olds, serenely, virtuously joyous at the tale of the scales which indicated a five-pound loss. And the Saturday and Sunday week-end out of town which presently followed, with the astoundingly heavy dinners that accompanied it, brought them back in a week, sadder even than before.

Monday morning was always a very busy morning in Hogarty’s but never until along about noon. And because he knew how infallible were the habits of his patrons, Hogarty did not so much as lift his eyes to the practically empty gymnasium floor when a clock at the far side of the room tinkled the hour of eleven. The two boys who were busily scrubbing with waxing-mops the floor that already glistened like the unruffled surface of some crystal pool were quite as unconcerned at the lack of activity as was their employer. They merely paused long enough to draw one shirt sleeve across the sweat-beaded foreheads it was a very early spring in Manhattan and the first heat was hard to bear and went at their task harder than ever.

Hogarty had one other reason that morning which accounted for his absolute serenity. From Third Avenue to the waterfront any one who was well-informed at all and there was no one who had not at least heard whispers of his fame knew that the thin-faced, hard-eyed, steel-sinewed ex-lightweight who dressed in almost funeral black and white and talked in the hushed, measured syllables of a professor of English, loved one thing even more than he loved to see his own man put over the winning punch in say the tenth. It was common gossip that a set of ivory dominoes came first before all else.

No man had ever ventured to interrupt twice the breathless interest with which Hogarty was accustomed to play his game. It did not promise to be safe a second interruption. And Hogarty was playing dominoes this particular Monday morning, at a little round, green-topped table against the wall opposite the door, peering stealthily at the upturning face of each piece of a newly dealt hand, when the clock struck off that hour. But if Hogarty was oblivious to everything but the game, his opponent was far from being in that much to be envied state. Bobby Ogden yawned yawned from sheer ennui although he tried to hide that indication of his boredom behind a perfectly manicured hand, while he scowled at the dial.

Ogden was one of the Monday morning regulars one of the crowd which usually arrived in a visibly taut-nerved condition at an entirely irregular and undependable hour. An attack of malignant malaria, contracted on a prolonged ’gator hunt in the Glades, coupled with the equally malignant orders of his physician, alone accounted for his presence there at that unheard of o’clock.

There were purplish semi-circles still painfully too vivid beneath his eyes; his pallor was still tinged with an ivory-like shade of yellow. And he fidgeted constantly in the face of Hogarty’s happy deliberation, stretching his heliotrope silk-clad arms and tapping flat, heel-less rubber-soled shoes on the floor beneath the table in a fashion that would have irritated any but the blandly unconscious man across the table from him to a state of violence.

Ogden’s quite perfectly lined features were smooth with the smoothness of twenty years or so. His lack of stability and poise belonged also to that age and to a physique that managed to tilt the scale beam at one hundred and eighteen that is, unless he had been forgetting rather more rashly than usual that liquids were less sustaining than solids, when one hundred and ten was about the figure.

He was playing poorly that morning playing inattentively with his eyes always waiting for the hands to indicate that hour which was most likely to herald the arrival of the advance guard of the crowd of regulars. Hogarty himself, after a time, began to feel, vaguely, his uneasiness and lack of application to the matter in hand, and made evident his irritation by even longer pauses before each play. He liked a semblance of opposition at least, and he lifted his head, scowling a little at Ogden’s last, most flagrant blunder, to find that his antagonist had moved without so much as looking at the piece he had slipped into position.

The boy wasn’t looking at the table at all. He sat twisted about in his chair, staring wide-eyed at the figure that had pushed open the street door and was now surveying the whole room with an astonishingly calm attention to detail. Ogden was staring, oblivious to everything else, and with real cause, for the figure that had hesitated on the threshold was like no other that had ever drifted into Hogarty’s place before. His shoulders seemed fairly to fill the door-frame, for all that bigger men than he was had stood on that same spot and gone unnoticed because of size alone. And his waist appeared almost slender, and his hips very flat, merely from contrast with all that weight which he carried high in his chest.

But it was not the possibilities of the newcomer’s body that held Ogden’s fascinated attention. In point of fact, he did not notice that at all, until some time later. Denny Bolton’s long, tanned face was entirely grave even graver than usual. Just a hint of wistfulness that would never quite leave them showed in his eyes and lurked in the line of his lips an intangible, fleeting suggestion of expectation that had waited patiently for something that had been very long in the coming. And the black felt hat and smooth black suit which he wore finished the picture and made the illusion complete. His face and figure, even there in the doorway of Hogarty’s Fourteenth Street place, could have suggested but one thing to an observant man. He might have been a composite of all the New England Pilgrim Fathers who had ever braved a rock-bound coast.

And Bobby Ogden was observing. Utterly unconscious of Hogarty’s threatening storm of protest, he sat and gazed and gazed, scarcely crediting his own eyes. Domino poised in hand, Hogarty had turned in preoccupied resignation back to a perplexed contemplation of whether it would be better to play a blank-six and block the game or a double-blank and risk being caught with a handful of high counters, when Ogden reached out and clutched him by the wrist.

“Shades of Miles Standish!” that silk-shirted person gasped. “In the name of the Mayflower and John Alden, and hallowed Plymouth Rock, look, Flash, look! For the love o’ Mike look, before he moves and spoils the tableau!”

Hogarty lifted his head and looked.

Denny Bolton’s eyes had returned from their deliberate excursion about the gymnasium just in time to meet halfway that utterly impersonal scrutiny. For a long moment or two that mutual inspection endured; then the boy’s lips moved open with a smile that was far graver than his gravity had been and he started slowly across the floor toward the table. Hogarty half rose, one hand outstretched as if to halt him, but for some reason which the ex-lightweight scarcely understood himself, he failed to utter the protest that was at his tongue’s end. And Young Denny continued to advance continued, and left in the rear a neatly defined trail where the heavy nails of his shoes marred the sacred sheen of that floor.

Within arm’s reach of the table he stopped, his eyes flitting questioningly from Hogarty’s totally inscrutable face to the tense interest and enjoyment in Bobby Ogden’s features, and back again. Hogarty’s hard eyes could be very hard hard and chilling as chipped steel and they were that now. He was only just beginning to awake to a realization of that profaned floor, but the smile upon Denny’s mouth neither disappeared nor stiffened in embarrassment before that forbidding countenance. Instead he held out his hand a big, long-fingered, hard-palmed hand toward the ex-lightweight proprietor. And when he began to speak there was nothing but simple interrogation in the almost ponderous voice.

“I I reckon,” he said slowly, “that you must be Jesse Hogarty Mr. Jesse Hogarty?”

Flash Hogarty looked at him, looked at that outstretched hand looked back at his steady eyes and the smile that parted his lips. And Hogarty did a thing that made even Bobby Ogden gasp. He bowed gracefully and reached out and silently shook hands. When he spoke, instead of the perfectly enunciated, picturesquely profane rebuke which the silk-shirted boy was waiting to hear, his voice was even smoother and softer, and choicer of intonation than usual.

“Quite so,” he stated. “Quite free from error or embarrassing mistake, sir. I am Mr. Jesse Hogarty. You, however, if I may be permitted that assertion, have me rather at a disadvantage, sir.”

He bowed again, once more elaborately graceful. Bobby Ogden hugged his knees beneath the table, for he knew from the very suavity of that reply all that was brewing. Hogarty’s silken voice went on.

“Regrettable, sir, and most awkward. You, no doubt, have no objection, however, to making the introduction complete?”

The smile still hovered upon Denny’s lips. Ogden noted, though, that it had changed. And he realized, too, that it had not been a particularly mirthful smile, even in the first place. Again Young Denny’s eyes met those of the other boy for one moment.

“I’m Denny Bolton,” he replied just as deliberately. “Denny Bolton, from Boltonwood or or I reckon you’ve never heard of that place. I’m down from the hill country, back in the north,” he supplemented.

Hogarty turned away turned back to the green-topped table and played the double-blank with delicate precision.

“Of course,” he agreed softly. “Quite right quite right! And er may I inquire if it was something of importance something directly concerning me which has resulted in this neighborly call?”

He did not so much as lift his eyes from the dominoes beneath his fingers. If he had he would have seen, as Ogden saw, that Denny’s smile faded away disappeared entirely. But when he replied the boy’s voice was unchanged.

“I don’t know’s it’s particularly important to you,” he answered. “That’s what I came down for to see. I was directed back a day or two I was told that maybe if I looked you up you’d have some opening for me, down here. I was told you were looking for a a good heavyweight fighter!”

Bobby Ogden threw back his head to laugh. And instead he just sat there with his mouth wide open, waiting. He felt sure that there was a better moment coming. Hogarty fiddled with the dominoes and seemed to be considering that information with due deliberation and from every angle.

“I see,” he murmured at last. “Surely. Quite right quite right! And I may, I believe, safely assure you that I have several fine openings in the establishment for young men for just the right sort of young men, of course. May I er inquire if you wish employment by the er week, or just in your spare time, to put it so?”

The question was icily sarcastic. Denny’s answer came sharp upon its heels. His voice was just as measured, just as inflectionless as Hogarty’s had been.

“If you hire them here by the week,” he said, “or for their spare time, I I reckon I’ve come to the wrong establishment. I was only asking you for a chance to show you whether I was any good or not. I was told you’d be just as interested to find out as I was myself. Maybe maybe I’ve made a bad mistake!”

Bobby Ogden was sorry he had waited to laugh. There was a hardness in the big-shouldered figure’s words that he did not like; a directly simple, unmistakable rebuke for the sneer concealed in Hogarty’s question that could not be misinterpreted. And something utterly bad flared up in the lean-faced black-clad proprietor’s eyes something of enmity that seemed to Ogden all out of proportion with the provocation. All the smooth suavity disappeared from his speech just as chalk marks are wiped out by a wet sponge. And Hogarty came swiftly to his feet.

“Maybe you were maybe you did make a bad mistake!” he rasped out in a dead, colorless monotone that scarcely moved his lips. “But no man ever came into this place yet, and went out again to say he didn’t get his chance. I know a few specimens who make a profession of pleading that. They’re quitters and they assay a streak of yellow that isn’t pay dirt!”

His voice dropped in register. It just missed being hoarse. With a rapidity that was almost bewildering he began to give orders to the two boys who were still phlegmatically waxing the floor. And the English-professor intonation was gone entirely.

“You, Joe!” he called, “get out the rods; set ’em up and rope her off! Legs, you chase out and find Sutton, if he’s not in back. You’ll run into him at Sharp’s, most likely. Tell him to come a-running. Tell him a new one’s drifted in from the frontier and thinks he needs to be shown. Move, you shrimp!”

Before he had finished speaking he had started toward the locker rooms at the rear. Denny he ignored as though he did not exist. He went without a sound in his rubber-soled shoes. Bobby Ogden, waking suddenly from his trancelike condition, leaped to his feet and ran after him. Hogarty halted at the pressure of the boy’s pink-nailed fingers on his arm and wheeled to show a face that was startlingly white and strained.

“Why, you great big kid!” Bobby Ogden flung at him. “You big infant! You’re really sore! Don’t you know he didn’t mean anything. He’s only a kid himself and you egged him into it!”

“Is he?”

From that gently rising inflection alone Ogden knew that interference was absolutely hopeless.

“Is he? Well, he’s old enough to seem to know what he wants. And he’s going to get it see? He’s going to get it and get it good! No man ever flung it into my face that I didn’t give him a chance not and got away with it.”

Hogarty glanced meaningly down at the restraining hand upon his sleeve and Ogden removed it hastily. He stood in dismayed indecision until the ex-lightweight had disappeared before he turned toward Young Denny, who had been watching in silence his effort at intervention. Denny had not moved. Ogden’s almost girlishly modeled face was more than apprehensive as he stepped up to him.

“He’s mad,” he stated flatly. “You’ve got him peeved for keeps. And I guess you’ve let yourself in for quite a merry little session, too, unless unless” he hesitated, peering curiously in Denny’s grave face, “unless you want to make a nice quiet little exit before he comes back with Sutton. You can, you know, and and it may save you quite a little er discomfort in the long run. Sutton well, the least I can say of Sutton is that he’s inclined to be a trifle rough!”

Ogden saw that slow smile returning; he saw it start far back in the steady eyes and spread until it touched the corners of the other boy’s lips again.

“You mean leave?” Young Denny asked.

Ogden nodded significantly.

“That’s just what I do mean only a great deal more so!”

“But I I couldn’t very well do that now could I?”

The silk-shirted shoulders shrugged hopelessly.

“Well, since you ask me,” he said, “judging from what I’ve already seen of your methods, I I’d say most emphatically no. I’ve done all I can when I advise you that now is the one best hour to make your getaway. It wouldn’t be exactly a glorious retreat from the field, but it wouldn’t be so painful, either. Just remember that, will you? I’m to fit you out with some fighting togs, I suppose, if you’ll just come along.”

He turned to follow in the direction which Hogarty had taken, and then paused once more.

“Beg pardon for the omission, Mr. Bolton,” he added, and he smiled boyishly. “My name’s Ogden Bobby Ogden. Glad to become acquainted with you, I’m sure. And now, if you will follow on, I’ll do my best for you. Would you mind walking on your toes? You see, there are just two things most calculated to get Flash’s goat. One of ’em’s marring up his floor with heavy boots, and the other is butting in when he’s playing dominoes. You couldn’t have known it, of course, but he can’t stand for either of them. And together I am afraid they have got you in pretty bad. You’re sure you can’t swallow your pride, and just beat it quietly while the chance is nice and handy? Maybe you ought to think of your family no?”

Denny’s smile widened. He shook his head in refusal. He knew he was going to like Ogden like him for the same reason that he had liked the fat, brown-clad newspaper man in Boltonwood because of the charming equality of his attitude and the frankness in his eyes.

“No,” he decided, “I I’m afraid I can’t. I didn’t mean to stir him up so, either, only only I thought, just for a minute or two, that he was laughing at me. I think I’d rather stay and see it out. But you mustn’t worry about me I wouldn’t if I were you.”

Again Ogden shrugged resignedly. On tiptoe Denny followed him to the locker-rooms in the rear, and at a word of direction began to remove his clothes. While he plunged head-foremost into a bin in search for a pair of white trunks, Ogden kept up a steady stream of advice calculated to save the other at least a small percentage of punishment.

“Sutton’s big,” he exclaimed jerkily, head out of sight, “but he isn’t fast on his feet. That’s why they call him Boots. He steps around as though he had on waders hip-high ones. But he’s lightning hitting from close in in-fighting they call it where most big fighters don’t shine. That’s because he’s had Flash’s coaching. You want to keep away from him keep him at arm’s length, and maybe he won’t do too much harm. I I’d let him do all the leading, if I were you, and and kind of run ahead of him.” The voice came half-smothered from the cluttered bin of equipment. “That isn’t running away from him because you’re afraid, you understand. It’s just playing him to tire him out, you know!”

It was silent for a moment while Bobby Ogden burrowed for the necessary canvas shoes. Then a hushed laugh broke that quiet and brought the latter bolt upright. With the trunks in one hand and the rubber-soled slippers in the other, Ogden stood and stared, only half understanding that the big boy before him was laughing at him for his solicitude and trying to reassure him with that same mirth.

“Funny, is it?” he snorted aggrievedly. “So very very funny? Well, I only hope you’ll be able to laugh that way again say even in a month or two!”

“I wasn’t laughing at you,” Young Denny told him soberly. “I I was just thinking how strange it seemed to have somebody worried over me worried because they were afraid I might get hurt. Most little mix-ups I’ve gone into have worried folks lest I wouldn’t.”