If time is money then how much might the bookie’s runner’s leather shoes have cost? To start: Tommy takes a watering can and tends the window boxes on his window sill.
It’s September and the last of his cyclamen are in bloom. A decade or more
back from France but years before he’d buy a phone he set up shop and hired a boy
to run the hundred yards or so to a better-equipped establishment
and memorize the horses’ names—the ones that won, the ones that placed—
and bring them back and chalk them up. The name of that proprietor?
I don’t know. This is years before Eastwood, years before Graham.
But what I can tell you is this: Tommy filled the premises with his habit for antiques
and filled his head with knickknacks, bric-a-brac, curios from way out east—
it might have come as a surprise (to him at least, if not to me) to see his runner
emerge out of a throng of men who then came in to place their bets—
which he took—before a cheer went up; and he paid out the first return
and drawing a katana he got from god knows where he says, Who’s next?
If knowledge is power then the right hand of Shavers might hold a library.
For all that you could slip and jab he could return his one and two in unrelenting binary.
Angelo Dundee knew a thing or two himself and hired a boy to watch the fight
on a TV screen behind the scenes—the thing or two the trainer knew
were plans to show the judges’ cards on HBO between the rounds
and how he could direct his man to slow right down or hit the gas,
to lead with hooks or shy away from Earnie’s 10 oz Everlasts. So the boy ran
to ringside from the dressing room with tens and nines for the trainer’s ear.
But all of that was academic after the first of the heavy blows. Ali did what he was told
and played it cool or acted hurt or danced on light feet through exhaustion
as if you couldn’t feel the hits from New York to Kinshasa.
His hand held up, his belts retained, he headed for the tunnel
where his muscle blocked the way and stopped his entourage
and from his rattled swelling head screamed, Someone cut the goddamn lights.