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

Jesse Hogarty had been listening without moving a muscle without once taking his two brilliant eyes from Morehouse’s warm face even when Morehouse refused to look back at him as he talked.

“‘Introducing The Pilgrim,’” he murmured to himself, after a moment of silence, and the professor of English accent could not have been more perfect, “The Pilgrim! Hum-m-m, surely! And a really excellent name for publicity purposes, too. It it fits the man.”

Then he threw back his head he came suddenly to his feet, to pace twice the length of the room and back, before he remembered. When he reseated himself he was gnawing his lip as if vexed that he had showed even that much lack of self-control. And once more he buried the point of his chin in his hands.

“Do, Chub?” he picked up the other’s question silkily. “What am I going to do? Well, I believe I am going to pay my debts at last. I think I am going to settle a little score that has stood so long against me that it had nearly cost me my self-respect.”

That lightning-like change swept his face again, twisting his lips nastily, stamping all his features with something totally bad. The man who had never been whipped by any man, from the day he won his first brawl in the gutter, showed through the veneer that was no thicker than the funereal black and white garb he wore, no deeper than his superficially polished utterance which he had acquired from long contact with those who had been born to it.

“I’m going to pay my debts,” he slurred the words dangerously, “pay them with the same coin that Dennison slipped to me two years ago!”

Little by little Morehouse’s head came forward at the mention of that name. It was of Dennison that the plump newspaper man had been subconsciously thinking ever since he had entered Hogarty’s immaculate little office; it was of Dennison that he always thought whenever he saw that bad light kindling in the ex-lightweight’s eyes. Dennison was the promoter who had backed Jed The Red from the day when the latter had fought his first fight.

And, “You don’t mean,” he faltered, “Flash, you don’t mean that you think that boy can stop ”

Hogarty’s thin voice bit in and cut him short.

“Think?” he demanded. “Think? I don’t have to think any more! I know!”

For a second he seemed to be pondering something; then he threw up his head again. And his startlingly sudden burst of laughter made Morehouse wince a little.

“Don’t make a fool of him, Chub?” he croaked. “Be merciful with the boy! Man, you’re half an hour late! I did my best. Oh, I’m bad I know just how bad I can be, when I try. But he called me! Yes, that’s what he did he as much as told me that I wasn’t giving him a chance to get his cards on the table. So I ran him up against Sutton. And I did more than that. I told Boots to get him told him to beat him to death and I meant it, too! And do you know what happened? Could you guess? Well, I’ll tell you and save you time.

“He went in and took enough punishment from Boots in that first round to make any man stop and think. He put up the worst exhibition I ever saw, just because he was trying to fight the way Ogden had coached him, instead of his own style. That was the first round; but it didn’t take him very long to see where he had been wrong. There wasn’t any second round that is, not so that you could really notice it.

“He was waiting for the bell, and the gong just seemed to pick him up and drop him in the middle of the ring. And Sutton went to him and he caught Boots coming in! Why, he just snapped his right over and straightened him up, and then stepped in and whipped across his left, and Boots went back into the ropes. He went back and he stayed back!”

Swiftly, almost gutturally, Hogarty sketched it all out: Young Denny’s calm statement of his errand, his own groundless burst of spleen, and the outcome of the try-out which had sent him hurrying back to Denny’s dressing-room with many questions on his tongue’s tip and a living hope in his brain which he hardly dared to nurse.

Hogarty even recalled and related the late delivery of the card of introduction which Morehouse was now nervously twisting into misshapen shreds and, word for word, repeated the boy’s grave explanation of his reason for that tardiness.

“He bothered you, did he?” he asked. “Well, he had me guessing, too, right from the first word he spoke. There was something about him that left me wondering thinking a little. But I’m understanding a whole lot better since you finished talking. You’re right, too, Chub you’re all of that! Five years is a long time to wait for a chance to swing. I ought to know I’ve waited half that long myself. That was the way he started for Boots, that second round. Oh, it was deadly it was mighty, mighty wicked. And now, to top it all, it’s The Red for whom he was looking, too. I wish it wasn’t so easy; I sure do! It’s so simple I almost don’t enjoy it. Almost but not quite!”

Once more he shot to his feet and began pacing up and down the room. Morehouse sat following him to and fro with his eyes, trying to comprehend each step of this bewildering development which was furthest of all from what he had expected. He had listened with his face fairly glowing with appreciation to the ex-lightweight’s account of Denny’s coming. It was all so entirely in keeping with what he had already known of him. But the glint died out of his eyes after a time; even his nervously active fingers stopped worrying the bit of cardboard on the table.

“Granted that he could turn the trick, Flash,” he suggested at last, “even admitting that he might be able to stop Conway after a few months of training to help him out, do you suppose he’d be willing to hang around and fight his way up through the ranks, until he forced ’em to let him have his match? It’s usually a two year’s job, you know, at the very least.

“I don’t know why, Flash, but somehow the more I think of it, the surer I grow that there is something more behind his wanting that fight than we know anything about. It isn’t just a grudge; it isn’t just because of the dirty deal which that village has been giving him, either. I’ve been wondering I’m wondering right now why he asked me if that account of the purse was true or not. Because men don’t fight the way you say he fought, Flash, just for money. They fight hard, I’ll admit, but not that way!”

There was a living menace in Hogarty’s steady tread up and down the room. He wheeled and crossed, turned and retraced his steps noiselessly, cat-footed in his low rubbed-shod shoes. And he turned a gaze that was almost pitying upon the plump man’s objection.

“Two years to get ready?” he asked softly. “Chub, do you think I’d wait two years now? Why, two months is too long, and that is the outside limit which I’m allowing myself in this affair. You’re a little slow, Chub just a bit slow in grasping the possibilities, aren’t you? Think a minute! Put your mind upon it, man! I’ve told you I am going to pay Dennison off and pay him with the same coin that he handed me. Doesn’t that mean anything at all?”

He stopped short, crossed to the table and stood with his fingertips bracketed upon its surface. Morehouse knew Hogarty knew him as did few other men, unless, perhaps, it was those who, years before, had faced him in the ring. And at that moment Hogarty’s eyes were mere slits in his face as he stood and peered down into the newspaper man’s upturned features, his mouth like nothing so much as a livid scar above his chin. There was nothing of mirth in those eyes, nothing of merriment in that tight mouth, and yet as he sat and gazed back up at them, Morehouse’s own lips began to twitch. They began to relax. That wide grin spread to the very corners of his eyelids and half hid his delighted comprehension behind a thousand tiny wrinkles.

“I wonder,” he breathed, “I wonder now, Flash, if you are thinking about the same thing I am? For if you are well, you’re too sober faced. You are that! It’s time to indulge in a little hysterics.”

And he began to chuckle; he sat and shook with muffled spasms of absolute joy as the thing became more and more vivid with each new thought. Even Hogarty’s answering smile, coming from reluctant lips, had in it something of sympathetic mirth.

“That’s just what I am thinking,” he said. “Just that! It’s what I meant when I said I was going to pay him with his own coin. When a man plays another man crooked, he expects that other man to come back at him some day; he is looking for him to do that. But there is one thing he doesn’t expect not usually. He isn’t looking for him to work the same old game. It is something new he’s looking to guard against.

“And that is where Dennison is weak in that spot and one other. He doesn’t know even yet that when I fell for his game I fell hard enough to wake me up. He thinks I haven’t a suspicion but what it was just an accident that laid Sutton out, two years back just a lucky punch of The Red’s that went across and spoiled our perfect frame-up. And he hasn’t a suspicion that I know he was sure The Red was going to clean up Sutton, just as surely as they went to the ring together.

“That is where he is weak. When a man is a crook he wants to be a real crook and a real one is suspicious of everybody, even of himself.”

He lifted one hand and pounded gently upon the polished surface of the table.

“The old days are done dead when a man got his reputation, and a chance at the big ones simply by fighting his way up from the bottom. I can give a man a bigger reputation in a week, with five thousand dollars’ worth of real advertising, than he’d be able to get in a lifetime the old way. And training? ”

He jerked his head over one shoulder toward the dressing-rooms beyond the closed door.

“Right now he is just where I want him. Why, he looks like a pitiful dub if you hold him back. Order him to wait and it’s heart-breaking to watch him suffer. In one month I can teach him all he’ll ever need to know about blocking and getting away. And the rest? Well, you’ll get a chance to see just what happens when he really goes into action. I tell you it makes you stop and think.

“And I don’t care what he is fighting for; I don’t care what he wants. Pleasure or profit, it’s all one to me. It’s you I need most right now, Chub. I know you have always been a little particular about soiling your hands. A shady deal never appealed to me so much, either, but I’m not exactly bashful about this one. That part of it will be my own private affair. You handle the publicity end merely hail Bolton as a comer, when the time is ripe. Are you are you in on it?”

Morehouse thoughtfully scratched his head.

“I have been a trifle fastidious, haven’t I?” he murmured, and unconsciously he mimicked Hogarty’s measured accents. “But I hardly believe that any sensitive scruples of mine would annoy me much in this matter. I don’t know but what I’d just as soon squash a snake with a brick, even if I knew it was somebody’s beloved performing pet.

“That, as you say, is your side of the question. As for me well, every time I remember that popeyed unctuous fat party they called the ‘Judge’ chanting Conway’s innocent childhood, with that big, lonesome kid standing there in the doorway listening and trying to understand, I begin to sizzle. It is time that Conway was licked and licked right!

“Oh, I’m in on it I want to be there! But,” he stopped and made a painstaking effort to fit the torn card together again, “but I have an idea that Bolton may be the one to hold out. There are some honest people, you know, who are honest all the time. He might not understand the necessity of er a little professional fixing, so to speak.”

“Will he have to be in on it?” Hogarty countered instantly. “Will he? Not to any great extent, he won’t. According to my plan he fights straight. Don’t you suppose I know a straight man when I see one, just as well as you do?

“Here’s the whole thing just as I’ll put it up to Dennison before it’s dark tonight. It’s Dennison’s own plan, too, in the first place, so he hasn’t any kick coming. We’ll match Bolton against one of the fairly good ones Lancing, say in about two weeks. Lancing gets his orders to open up in the sixth round and go down with the punch and stay down! That’s plain enough, isn’t it? Well, Bolton is fighting under the name of ‘The Pilgrim,’ and you step up the next morning and give him two columns you hail him as a real one, at last.

“We’ll match him with The Texan then. Conway whipped him back a week or two, but he had his hands full doing it. The Texan and I ought to know is open to reason if the figure is big enough to be persuasive. We’ll see to that.

“He gets his orders, too just as if they were really necessary! About the twelfth he lies down to sleep. Why, it’s so simple it’s real art! I’ll just hold Bolton back until those rounds. I’ll make him take it slow and then send him in to clean up! Dennison is shy a match right this minute for The Red; they’re all a little doubtful about him. The Pilgrim will be the only logical man in the world to send against him that is, according to your sporting columns. And Dennison, of course, being on the inside, knows he is really nothing but a dub knows it is simply a plain open and shut proposition. That is to say he thinks he knows!”

Jesse Hogarty paused and the corners of his lips twitched back to show his teeth, but not in laughter.

“It’s the same little frame-up that he sent against Boots and me,” he finished. “He ought to be satisfied, hadn’t he? And I’ll have him on the street the next morning I’ll put him where he’ll be glad to borrow a dollar to buy his breakfast with!”

For a long time they stared back into each other’s face: Hogarty taut at the table side, Morehouse slouched deep in his chair. The latter was the first to break that pregnant silence. He was nodding his head in thoughtful finality when he lifted himself to his feet.

“You’ve got me,” he stated. “You’ve got me snared! Not that I give two hoots about what happens to Dennison, mind! I don’t although I must admit that the prospect of his starving to death is a lovely one to contemplate. And I’d die happy, I think, if I could see The Red trimmed, and trimmed with conscientious thoroughness. But those aren’t my reasons for going hands with you in this assassination.

“I know a hunch when I see one. I ought to, for I’ve spent the contents of my little yellow envelope often enough trying to make one come true. And I’m in with you, Flash, till the returns are all in from the last district, but it’s because I know that there is something more than either of us dream of behind that boy’s wanting to meet Conway. He has something on his mind; he wants something, and wants it real bad. And I like him I liked him right from the beginning so I’ll stick around and help. Maybe I’ll find out what it is that’s been bothering him, too, before I get through. But I wish I wasn’t of such an inquiring turn of mind. It keeps one too stirred up.”

He stopped to grin comically.

“Any objection, now that I’ve sworn allegiance, Flash, if I go out and present myself?”

Hogarty’s whole tense body began to relax, his lean face softened and his eyes lost much of their hardness and glitter as he shook his head in negation.

“That’s a little detail of the campaign which I had already assigned to you,” he replied, and the inflection of his voice was perfect. “Not that I have any fears of his going the way of his forefathers, however, because I haven’t. And if my assurance on that point perplexes you, you might ask him to have one drink and watch his eyes when he refuses you.

“But I would like to have you look out for him for a while. If you don’t Ogden will Ogden likes him, too and he is too frivolous to be trusted.”

Hogarty reached out one long arm and dropped a hand heavily upon Morehouse’s shoulder. He was smiling openly now smiling with a barefaced enjoyment which the plump newspaper man had never before known him to exhibit. And he continued to smile, while he stood there in the open door and watched Morehouse mince on tiptoe across the polished floor to the corner where Ogden was officiously presenting each member of the Monday morning squad of regulars, as they returned from the dressing-rooms, to the big-shouldered boy in black, whose face was so very grave.

Hogarty smiled as he closed his office door, after he had seen Morehouse slip his hand through the crook of Young Denny’s arm, in spite of Bobby Ogden’s yelp of protest, and clear a way to the outer entrance with one haughty flip of his free hand.

Hours later that same day, when the tumult in the long main room of the gymnasium had hushed and the apathetic Legs and his helper had turned again to their endless task of grooming the waxed floor, Dennison, the manager of Jed The Red, sitting in that same chair which Morehouse had occupied, cuddling one knee in his hands, fairly basked in that same smile. The purring perfection of Hogarty’s discourse was enticing. The absurd simplicity of his plan, which he admitted must, after all, be credited to the astuteness of Dennison himself, was more than alluring. But that smile was the quintessence of hypnotic flattery.

It savored of a delightful intimacy which Jesse Hogarty accorded to few men.