Los Angeles, 1952, Part 2 by Wayne Turmel
Language Warning.This story contains language that may put off some readers. Be aware it takes place 60 years ago, and things weren’t seen the same as they are now. Also, any discerning fiction reader should know that the opinions expressed by our characters don’t always reflect the opinions of management. Enjoy.
To read Part 1, click here!
The first fight was just about to start by the time we’d bought a couple of Cokes and found our seats. Sure enough, we were front row, right behind the scorer and his big fedora. Lorna had to lean into my shoulder to see around it, so that was working at least.
The Legion was a big barn of a place and it was only half-full. I couldn’t imagine how hot it would have been if the place was packed like it was some nights. Smoke hung at head-level, and Lorna waved a dainty hand over her nose as we took our seats.
“I hear there are a lot of movie stars and big shots come here,” I said, hoping it would add a little glamor to the scene.
“I work on a movie lot, silly. I see stars all the time.” She scanned up and down the arena anyway, frowning a bit at not seeing anyone she recognized, but the night was young. We were seated next to a big guy in a really expensive-looking black suit. The woman next to him probably cost him considerably less.
The guys’ blonde companion nodded to us in a friendly way. Lorna crossed her legs at the ankles and primly nodded back just to be polite. The announcer was in the center of the ring already, along with the fighters and their corners.
The first fight was “Baby” Marvin Smith against some Mexican kid, Flores or something, who was making his debut. They were a couple of lightweights, and one look at Flores told me this wasn’t going to be his night. Maybe it was because the biggest thing on him was the mustache.
Lorna shifted in her seat to get a better angle away from the scorer’s hat, which meant leaning into me a bit. I didn’t mind at all, but she didn’t look comfortable.
“Want to switch seats?” I asked.
“Do you mind? I can’t really see. That’s so sweet of you.” We stood up and swapped. As Lorna drifted into her seat, the woman next to her offered a toothy grin. Her teeth were bigger than Lorna’s but not nearly as perfectly straight or white.
“You got a real nice guy there, honey.” If that was a shot at the guy she was with, he didn’t pay her any mind. He just sat staring straight ahead, arms folded, and every couple of minutes some weasel-y looking fellow in a much less expensive suit would come up, whisper in his ear and hand him a piece of paper, which got shoved nonchalantly into his pocket.
“Yes, he is. And a real gentleman too.” She patted my arm affectionately as she said it, and I sat up straighter.
“Lucky you,” Blondie said, popping her gum. She nodded in the direction of her escort, without saying another word.
The announcer finished introducing the fighters and the bell rang. Flores came out like a Mexican in his first fight was expected to, all face first and leather everywhere. Smith just kept his jab out, keeping the skinnier man at bay.
Lorna watched, her brow crinkling adorably. After the first round, she whispered in my ear, “Why isn’t anyone hitting anyone?”
“What do you mean?” I wasn’t entirely sure what she meant. It had been a pretty good feeling out round, although it was clear Flores was on borrowed time.
“Well, you know I don’t know anything about boxing, but in the pictures they…I don’t know…hit each other a lot more.”
I smiled and tried to explain the concept of the sweet science, and how it’s actually a very technical thing…and if no one gets knocked out there are judges who will decide who won, There was more to the sport than the movies made it seem, and I loved playing the expert. She nodded but didn’t seem convinced. Just about then Smith hit the Mexican with a right cross that seemed to come from nowhere, but drove its target clear across the ring and against the ropes, his back to us. Pinned against the ropes, Flores was a sitting duck and Baby teed off on him. Sweat flew with every punch, droplets reflecting the stadium lights in the smoky air like stars, which I’m sure Flores saw.
Lorna pulled back in horror. She let out a squeaky “ooh,” and covered her eyes when it looked like Flores was going down but he low-blowed his way out of the corner and the bell sounded, sparing him for another round at least.
“Your first fight, honey?” Blondie asked her.
“Yeah…yes, it is.”
“You’ll love it, but it takes some getting used to. I’m Maggie.” She held out her hand, big fake rocks—that big they had to be— adorning two fingers, and her nails kind of a tangerine-y orange. Lorna took it obligingly, her own perfectly polished red nails and pale smooth skin a clear contrast.
“Lorna Malone. Charmed.” Maggie whistled when she saw Lorna’s hands.
“Wow, who did your nails?”
“Oh, these? Our date was kind of last minute, so I got one of the makeup people at the studio to do them. Isn’t that a darling shade?
“The studio, nice.” The way the blonde said it was more like “noice,” but Lorna humbly accepted the compliment. The two of them began to discuss nail color and my attention drifted back to the fight. Flores got his skinny behind kicked, which was no way to begin a career, but he was still on his feet when the decision was announced.
We had a little time before the next bout, another four-rounder. I explained what was happening, and what a welterweight was—something of a trick for me since I could never remember what weight fell into what division. All I knew was, on a good day I was a tall middleweight, which made these guys about my size but in way better shape. Of course, they didn’t have Ma shoving food down their gullets every day, telling them they looked skinny.
“Here, this’ll make the time pass, honey.” Maggie tilted her big triangle purse towards us, a mickey of rum conspicuous among the loose tissues, breath mints, various tubes of war paint and a pack of Marlboros.
Lorna demurred. “Oh no, I really couldn’t,” but the look she gave me said she was at least tempted.
I realized she was asking permission. “Sure, go ahead, what can it hurt?”
Maggie the blonde glugged a healthy pour into Lorna’s half-finished bottle of soda. “What about you, handsome? Want some?”
The last time I drank rum I left most of it—and I think a healthy piece of my stomach lining—in an Okinawan alley, so I waved her off. “No, but thanks.”
Lorna turned those big brown eyes at me. “You sure this is okay?”
“Yeah, ‘course.” I guess she was afraid I’d think less of her or something, which was pretty much impossible as I was already planning our wedding, third kid, and how I’d tell Ma. Lorna left a bright pink smear on her straw as she took a long slurp.
“Oh my, that’s strong.” She giggled.
“Plenty more where that came from, Honey. Oh my stars and stripes, look at the form on that one.” That one, it turns out, was Don Casanova. He stood in the ring in black trunks, with a good sweat on him and a physique like a miniature Victor Mature, including the overdeveloped pecs.
“He’s quite, um…muscular,” Lorna agreed.
“You know,” I chimed in a little too quickly, “Muscles like that sometimes work against a fighter.”
Maggie let out a honk like the horn on a Studebaker. “Honey, he could waste them muscles on me anytime.”
Lorna covered her mouth to stifle a giggle. “Oh, Maggie. You’re terrible.”
“You have no idea,” she laughed, and looked fondly at her date, who was whispering to his cheap-suited friend and pocketing more slips. Maggie sighed and then leaned over to Lorna and said, in what was supposed to be a whisper. “Always business…I haven’t been terrible for a week now.”
Again, Lorna’s perfect hands flew to her face with a gasp. Then she gave the older woman a playful slap. “You’re an awful influence.”
Maggie took a long pull on her own drink. “Given half a chance.”
The fight began and Lorna quickly learned that heavier men landed heavier punches. Sure enough, Casanova looked good and had great form but was painfully slow. That gave the opponent, Don Smith, the opening he needed to counterpunch every time the he-man tried to get inside. Lorna’s eyes were glued to the action now, and I kept side-eyeing her to see if she was having a good time or not. It was hard to tell. Her hands were clenched, when they weren’t over her eyes, and she gasped deeply with every punch.
During the third round, she caught herself just before biting one of her perfectly manicured nails. She knew I’d seen it and laughed. Compared to Maggie’s honk, Lorna’s laugh was a tinkling piano.
“It’s nerve-wracking, isn’t it? Makes me all nervous.” She dropped her hands to her lap.
“Sure, that’s the fun of it. Are you enjoying yourself?” I asked hopefully.
She flashed me a shy smile and nodded eagerly. “Yes, it’s just so…different than it looks in the movies. I haven’t seen nothing” she stopped in mid-sentence. “Anything, like it.” I watched the official scorer at the table in front of us wiping away sweat when he should have been watching Smith give Casanova an elbow to the ear. True enough, nobody in the front row at the Loews gets splashed with water, sweat, and blood. Maybe that’s why I seldom went to the movies, although you could bet I’d see the next Bowery Boys.
It was somewhere in the third that Lorna got hit by the first sweat drops. She waved her hand away, thinking it was a fly or something. When I explained what it really was, she made a disgusted noise, and I think might have thrown up in her mouth a bit, but she sat further back in her seat and used one of Maggie’s tissues to wipe it off like a champ.
After a draw was declared to the boos from the crowd—the boxing fans who thought Smith did enough to win, and from Maggie and Lorna, who shouted that Casanova got robbed—I went to fetch us more Coke. As I passed in front of her, I felt a small, soft hand on my leg. It was an innocent enough gesture, but it made me feel like I’d won a four-rounder of my own.
Coming back down the concrete steps, second-guessing my decision to get popcorn too, since it made the balancing act a little tricky, I saw Lorna whispering to Maggie. To my shock, when our eyes met, she guiltily dropped her cigarette and crushed it with her pointy toed pump. “I hope you don’t think badly of me, Maggie offered and…I’m just kind of a party-puffer, you know?”
I told Ma’s voice in my head to shut up and reassured her it was fine, so long as she was having a good time. She nodded and hungrily snatched an unladylike handful of popcorn. Popping some I her mouth, she giggled. “Everything’s better with popcorn, don’t you think?” It sure was.
The longer the night went, the quieter Lorna seemed to get during the action. Her eyes widened with each big swing and scrunched tightly shut when someone landed a particularly loud body shot.
It was amazing what a difference it made being up front than in the cheap seats. The boxing wasn’t particularly good, but it was live, and I was front row, and I was with Lorna. I felt like a big shot when I pointed out George Raft sitting catty-corner from us with some of Mickey Cohen’s boys, and my date was so thrilled she bounced up and down in her hard seat.
Another four-rounder, and it was time for the co-main event. I had a soft spot for Cadilli ever since I saw him draw with Keeny Teran in the first fight I went to after getting home. He was one of “Senator” Johnny Forbes’s boys—a bunch of tough kids, vatos mostly, from East L.A. but a pretty fighter to watch. The opponent was Leroy Jones, whose fight name was “Casey”, which hardly seemed worth the effort of having a nickname. Jones was a stocky negro with a flat nose, which may or may not have started out that way, and a granite chin. He also fought more often than any human I’d ever heard of.
“Who are you voting for?” Lorna asked.
“Gil Cadilli. The Mexican guy.” He might have been Italian, it was hard to tell.
“Then that’s who I’m voting for, too.” She said, determinedly. She cupped her hands to her mouth and yelled, “Go Cadilli.” I don’t know if she was a cheerleader back in Milton, Mass, but she’d have been a damned fine one.
By now, Lorna and Maggie were chattering like magpies, and really cheering the fighters on, which allowed me to concentrate on the bout and relish my front-row status. The first round was slow, but Cadilli looked solid. I was amazed at his slick footwork, and shots from Jones that looked like they connected, actually hit nothing but air or bounced off his arms as my boy slickly dodged them. Lorna started asking more questions, and I got to play big-shot explaining the difference between an uppercut and a hook, and what the judges were looking for.
In the second, the two fighters butted heads and blood gushed from Gil’s forehead. Lorna gasped, and covered her eyes. “They’re gonna stop the fight, aren’t they? I mean he’s really bleeding bad…ly.”
I tried to soothe her concerns. “Nah, they’ll put a little ice and styptic on it between rounds. It’s not as bad as it looks.” That punch would have put me in the hospital, but I wasn’t a prizefighter.
It looked a whole lot worse when Gil’s concentration lapsed and he found himself against the ropes. Jones landed a flurry of body shots and that’s when more than sweat landed on my date. I held my breath, waiting for a reaction. It wasn’t the one I expected.
As Jones worked Cadilli over, the Mexican shook his head to get his hair out of the way. That’s when drops of all kinds flew everywhere and I saw the red spot on Lorna’s blouse. She was too busy cheering Cadilli on, becoming more vocal and wild-eyed with every combination but covering her eyes when things went the other way. “C’mon Gil…. Hit him…” After one particularly vicious uppercut, Lorna gasped, leaned halfway out of her seat and yelled, “C’mon, hit that nigger.”
No sooner had the words left her mouth then her hands flew to her face. She was mortified, although I don’t know whether it was the word itself or the shanty-Irish way she pronounced it—more niggah than the other word—that caused her embarrassment.
I laughed loudly, managing not to show my shock. Ma would have washed my mouth out with soap for using thatword. It wasn’t polite, and since I was to have to do with those people, there was no reason to ever say it anyway. It did sound funny coming out of that angelic face, looking for forgiveness like it mattered what I thought. After all, it was hardly the worst thing ever yelled at a prize fight. It might have started a riot in my normal section of the arena, but down among the rich and mostly white, it was just another word in a roiling sea of cussing and shouting.
Maggie heard it, though, and slammed her purse shut with a braying laugh. “Oh honey, you’re cut off.”
Lorna hid her face in my shoulder. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I never talk like that.” I took a moment and patted that gorgeous red hair, savoring the moment, wondering how I’d ever top this if we had another date, and it looked like we just might, though I’ve been wrong before.
“It’s okay.” I said after a pause, not sure if it was or not, but really what would you have done?
She turned her head up to me, those eyes a little watery. “You don’t hate me?”
It was the right answer because she kept her head on my shoulder and we finished watching the fight. She had one hand on my arm, squeezing when the action got intense. Cadilli finally got his legs back and did what I knew he’d do—punish Jones but not put him away. Lorna continued shouting encouragement, but much more politely.
By the time Gil’s hand was raised, Lorna had a peculiar look on her face.
“What?” I asked.
Lorna bit her lip, then whispered in my ear. “Can we get out of here?”
My heart sank. There was still the main event- Bobby Garza and Mickey Northrup. We had front row seats. The winner was going to get a title shot. Trying to hide the disappointment in my voice, I asked, “You want me to take you home?”
She laughed that perfect tinkling laugh, leaned up and caught my earlobe in her perfect teeth and bit softly. “I didn’t say, take me home, ya big dope. I said get me out of here.”
Garza lost a unanimous decision to Mickey Northrup. Or so I heard.
Wayne Turmel is a Canadian writer and speaker based in Las Vegas. He’s the author of 8 non-fiction titles, but his first love is fiction. His novels include “The Count of the Sahara,” “Acre’s Bastard,” and the upcoming (January 2019) “Acre’s Orphans.” His stories have appeared in Dodging the Rain, Storgy.com, and e-Fiction Magazine. Wayne’s website is http://www.WayneTurmel.com and he can be found on Twitter @Wturmel.