From the begining there was only me. I was alone in the world. In a world where poverty was a way of life, as was sharing your sleeping arrangements with several other children, fleas, and if you were unlucky, bed bugs. I remember waking every morning with the sun, and going through the morning grooming routine- which ended with me sitting in a wooden chair while Miss Appleton deloused and combed my locks out of my face and onto a "proper" fashion. No prospective parents would even consider one of us in our natural state.
But that was then. Not any longer, and never again.it was now 1939, and I was no longer a orphaned kid. I needed something to jolt my mind away from this reverie. I needed a remedy. And I knew just the thing.
The Gentleman's Gym had been my safe haven for years now. A good match was exactly what I needed. Walking through the red and yellow lobby, Full of the smell of sweat, and the sound sneakers made scuffing in the ring, made me feel like I was home. That and the receptionist behind the desk sure was easy on the eyes.
"Hi ya, Joe. Got any good gossip today?" Maude greeted me as I walked up.
"Ah, sure, because I'm a real social butterfly" I returned.
"You here to spare? I've got ring 3 open, waiting on Cecil to gear up- hes looking for an opponent for Saturday night, too."
This was the info I was looking for. The Saturday Night Fight. Wasnt too keen on Cecil being the opponent, but it would do. Sparing sounded good at the moment. Almost as good as Maude looked in that pencil skirt. That broad was something else. All lady, but somehow seemed comfortable here, mixed in with all this testosterone, agression and down right bawdy behavior.
" Yeah. Sign me up. Tell Cecil I'll be waiting for him, I'm gonna go suit up."
I walked back through the gym and on to the locker room. Geared up, and hit the ring. None of the past was allowed to rear its ugly head as long as I was here. This was My space. The only place I felt at ease. Knowing another 200 lb man might very well turn my face inside out, and meeting it head on. What a rush.
Climbing into the ring, I heard it. That unmistakable sound. Pow. Pow pow. And then a zing as the bullet flew past my right earlobe. As I hit the mat, on my way down i say my sparing partner fall to the death while innocently walking through the double doors into the gym. I laid there, not daring to breath, much less turn to see who had Cecil in their sights.... wait. If it was close enough to hear the zing.... maybe someone had ME in their sights. I'd have to puzzle on that one later. Right now I needed to make it out of here alive.
"Joe, Joe can you hear me? Are you hurt?" Seconds later Maude was leaning over me. Rolling me and checking me. The proprietor, Pete was tending to Cecile in front of the doors, Mr.Duncan the house manager had shuffled out as fast as his old legs could carry him after the police. Which, surprisingly was pretty quick, for a man of 75. All this happened in slow motion. I was unlucky enough to be a target, but lucky enough to get Maude's care In the process.
I was fine. Frazzled but physically okay. I decided I'd had all the activity I needed today. And I told Maude so. As she helped me get gloves and knee pads off, I noticed someone I had never seen before. A kid. Couldn't be more than 12. In the gym. The Gentleman's Gym was for lads 20 and up. No kids allowed. Was he here for the shots? Was HE okay? Guess I was going to find out, as he came walking towards me.
"Gentleman Joe? Are you alright? I saw the whole thing. I saw who shot you... I mean Cecil, but he was aimed at you!" He rushed in, all excitement. Clearly this kid was a Saturday Night Fight fan. No one called me Gentleman Joe outside of the ring.
"Hey kid, I'm alright. You shouldn't be here, its adults only and righr now, it's looking a little dangerous to be around me..."
"I ain't no kid! I'm 22. Howard Donagle, at your service" he exclaimed as he struck out his hand. I just looked at him. This kid was all arms and legs, with bright red hair and freckles. An Archie typecast if I ever saw one. I know I was rude, but he needed outta here. "Sir, the guy that shot- he was aiming for you. Police are coming but hes getting away. Come on! I'll help find him!" The boy ran past me, already breathless as I tried to process what he had said. What the hell did he expect me to do, chase down a man with a gun who tried to shoot me moments ago? Kids got balls.
"Stop. I ain't running after some assassin with a gun hell bent on shooting me. Leave it to the police, kid". I turned away, towards the door before realizing I couldn't go that way. There was a dead man in the path with every other member of the gym leaned over him.
"Maybe you don't have to.... run after him I mean. Look. He dropped his keys. We can see what kinda car he drives and find him. Ain't too many cars in Clergy, Oklahoma. I can help-"
"For the last time, kid. I. Am. Not. Chasing. Down. A. Murderer." I turn away again, but feel his hand on my shoulder.
" I'm not a kid, Gentleman Joe. And I'm not asking you to. I'm asking you to give this investigating a shot. With me. Think of me as your Tonto."
Geeze. Where did this kid come from? This was the last thing I needed. But then again, I couldn't work out. I needed a distraction, remember? I decided to give this new "sidekick" a shot. See where things land.
"Alright kid,- yes I know your 22, but to me that's a kid. So that's your new name if you want to be my Tonto. Lead the way."
And with that, we walked out the side door and into the sunlight, leaving all the nastiness inside. Well, except for the killer on the loose. We headed left, towards old man Miller's key service.
Once inside, the bell jingling overhead old man Miller greeted us. Getting up from his chair he called out "Mornin fellas. What can I do for ya?"
"We need to see if you keyed this lock Mr. Miller. Someone.... dropped them today, and we knew if they were from around here, you would know how to find them." Howard slide the keys onto the counter.
"Well, let's see... elongated fin, triangle mount, yes.... I think I do remember this set. You see, there were only 3 blanks sent to town similar to this. And I have the other two waiting to be ground down. Let me see..." he trailed off turning to look through stacks of papers. "I always mark down who had work done, and the particulars. Cant ever be too careful. That way, when someone needs an unlock, I'm ready to-- ah here we go." Mr. Miller turns back with a small sheaf of papers. "That would be a Mr. Matthew Munson. Address of 264 Carriage street."
"Mr. Miller, thank you. We appreciate your help. We will head on over to ... uh... return them."
With Howard's last sentence I stared him down, incredulous. RETURN THEM??? I don't think so. We were going to the police. The kid could just get over that.
We turned and walked out, bell again ringing overhead. This time we turned right. Interestingly enough the police station was also located on Carriage Street. Passing the gym once again I let into him.
"Excuse the hell outta me, but we ain't going to return those damned keys. We are going straight to the police station. No and ifs or buts about it. You say don't call you a kid, but this is foolhardy and--"
"Relax Joe, we are going to the police. They will have a person on file for that address. We don't even have to look for the car!" With that Howard started skipping. SKIPPING along as if he was actually the kid I called him. Okay maybe not skipping but it sure wasn't all that different in his excitement. Thank God the station was around this corner.
Going in, Officer Jones greeted us at the processing desk. "Hi, can I help you?" He asked turning off the TV in the corner.
"Not now kid, let the adults talk" I said to him, turning towards Jones "Officer, I'm sure you have heard about the commotion down at the gym. Well, I was the guy the shooter was aiming at. We- me and Tonto the kid here- got his address from the locksmith, after finding his keys- give him the keys, kid." I turned to look, and noticed Howard had backed up. He didn't look so hot.
"Yes, Tonto, give him the keys" I heard Officer Jones say behind me. He followed that up with the Click of his gun cocking. Suddenly I felt the cold metal at the base of my head.
"Joe, I tried to warn you! That's HIM!"
I stood very still calculating. If what I did in the next few seconds worked, he would be out cold. If not... well I would be out cold. For good. I slowly raised my hands up so he could see them.
"Howard, give him the keys."
Howard shuffled forward slowly. Slide the keys onto the desk. The poor boy looked terrified. Now I waited. Here comes my chance. As Jones reaches over to grab the keys his gun never left my neck, but this was it. I ducked, praying Howard was out of the way, and jabbed my previously upright arm into his stomach as hard as I could. I felt my elbow make contact. He dropped his gun, I turned and kicked his feet out from under him. Gave him one good punch to the head. He was out. The kid, meanwhile grabbed the handcuffs from the desk and handcuffed him to the leg of the desk, pocketing both sets of keys. I guess he was my Tonto after all.
"Did you kill him?"
"Nah, just knocked out. Should hold til the others get back. Come on. Let's get back to the gym and let the Real heros know they have a rat and we solved the case, Tonto." I couldn't help but chuckle a little.
"Alright, Ranger. See I told you you needed a side kick"
" yeah, yeah"
Walking back to the gym, I got to thinking. Stewing maybe. This morning I woke up with the past on my mind. How lonesome it was. How gritty. Well, it may still be gritty, what with an officer of the law trying to off me, but it sure wasn't lonely now. Not now that I got myself a sidekick. Tonto didn't seem to be going anywhere and I kinda liked having the little guy around anyway. Who would of thought? I wondered if the gym had considered adding team matches yet.... Gentleman Joe and Tonto. Had a nice ring to it.