by W.O. McGeehan
To begin with it had been a tough winter. The reformers had killed the fight game and I didn’t see much chance of cornering a lot of jack, working Jersey with my stable of noble gladiators in the six-round game. I lent Bearcat Malone, the best of the lot, to Jimmy Johnson and Jimmy forgot to return him. Prize-fighters are ungrateful. They always bite the hand that slips them the “ham and.”
Then I had a lease on the Arena with two month’s rent due and no show to stage. Freddie Welsh wanted a cash guarantee to box my lightweight, and the last wrestling match was so bad that I lost my nerve. And to slip the final K. O. to a guy who felt both knees wobbling I had fallen for a frail-fallen right on my chin, too.
I had just regaled Brownie to coffee and sinkers at the nearest Cafe des Enfants and taken a runout powder, giving her the rush act about a big promotion scheme. Then I went back to the office to figure out which of the various bridges across East River I would take the big Brodie from.
I tell you that I was so disgusted that I thought about getting a job and turning square.
Me with my brains in the biggest sucker-town in the world, I was actually figuring on going to work,
Think of a dame of Brownie’s class cooped in a Harlem flat, burning the eggs in the morning so that I could hit the mill in time to punch the time clock. It sounds ridiculous, but sometimes a run of tough luck will get a guy morbid.
I was brooding there so earnestly that I could almost feel the sweat of honest toil trickling down my brow into my eyes and spoiling my happy vision of life when Windy Jack McCaffery, my lobbygow blows in.
“Bird outside wants to see you,” says Jack. “He looks a little cuckoo but we can handle him.”
“Who’s he collecting for?” I asks, fearing the worst.
“Nobody,” says Jack, and I know that he’s a blood-hound for nosing a collector, having been with me all these years. “If I don’t let him in quick the squirrels are going to get him.”
“Shovel him in,” I says, “laughs are getting scarcer every day. I wish to make a smiling exit anyhow.”
In pops a bird that looked as though he had escaped from Jack Curley’s wrestling trust in an effort to live down his past. He had shoulders six feet thick and enough wax in his black mustache to make candles for a whole Christmas tree, if extracted. He is dark complexioned, a Polack or a wop or something. He is popping and fizzing with excitement like a bottle of laughing water and he has a cape across his arms. I couldn’t imitate his dialect.
“Are you the manager?” he asks. I see that is safe. He isn’t a collector, so I acknowledge that I am really and truly Billy McCarney, the great and promising promoter.
“I am Athos,” he says, and he seems to expect me to get all excited. Having been slightly literary in my youth, I had read of a guy of that name in “The Three Musketoons,” a book by some frog who wrote “The Count of Monte Cristo,” which I saw Jim and Neil play. But I knew that this could not be the same gink.
I throw the bull,” he says. “I throw the bull myself,” I says. “But I sprained my wrist at the exercise. Take a tip from me, kid. There are too many people trying to throw the bull in this town already, and they’re being batted out of the box. What is your exact brand of larceny?”
“You do not understand,” he says. “I am Athos. I throw the bull.”
“I got you the first time,” I says. “I am Billy McCarney and I also throw the bull when my aim is good. All successful men have thrown the bull, more or less, from our sterling statesmen down. Right now our wise and worthy congressmen are engaged in that ancient and honorable pastime. We are a nation of bull throwers. Speak up, Athos, you are with brothers who also throw the bull.”
He gets impatient then and reaches under the cape and hauls out some colored posters. He has a lot of colored pictures of a guy with broad shoulders and lots of wax in his mustache, wrestling with a bull. Then I get his graft. I heard of it being worked on the coast. He’s the original guy who took the bull by the horns.
“I get you now, Athos,” I says. “I thought that you referred to another kind of bull which I have thrown these many years. The idea of throwing the bull in a literal sense never occurred to me. What’s your proposition?”
“Big house,” he says. “Big money! Everybody come to see Athos throw the bull. I have thrown him in Mexico and I have thrown him in Buenos Ayres. Everybody shout “Bravo, Athos. He throw the bull.”
“It sounds reasonable,” I says. “But there is a lot to do. I’ll have to drop down to Washington and work direct to get the permit. You get me, Athos?”
I was stalling for time and wondering what I could nick the guy for, it having been, as I have remarked before, a very tough winter. I didn’t know whether Athos was from Heaven or a brick from the unerring hand of Fate. But it hit me like a hunch that he was Opportunity in disguise and with wax in his mustache.
“It will have to be sixty percent for me and forty for you,” I says very firm.
“For forty percent I will throw the bull,” he says. “Big house. Beautiful women, Bravo, Athos.”
“For sixty percent I will throw the bull as I have never thrown it before,” I says. “Bravo, Billy McCarney.”
It seems that he has a11 of the paper that he plastered Mexico and South America with. I got a few trunk-loads of it and set Windy Jack McCaffery to plastering the burg.
It ain’t easy to do, our credit being pretty rotten, but I promised a lot of people the Brooklyn Bridge and I am one of the most sincere promisers in the world.
Brownie didn’t like the looks of the thing. “Stick to your own game, Billy,” she says. “Many a wise guy has made a sucker out of himself trying to cut in on a new game.”
“But throwing the bull and peddling the bull is my game,” I says. “I have peddled the bull to everybody but you and you’re too wise.”
I sent in some short press notices to the sporting editors, hoping that they would give me a tumble. I didn’t care whether they kidded the show or roasted it, so long as they didn’t ignore it. I don’t mind being panned, but when they leave my name out of the papers altogether, I am going to select the modest granite pillar which will adorn my lasting resting place under the green turf.
Did they give me a tumble? Say, it came so fast that I was knocked off my chair. Three papers came out on the front page denouncing the audacious attempt to bring bull-fighting to a civilized community. And one guy wrote an editorial in the big and little type all about the decline and fall of Rome and the blood lust and brutalities and that sort of thing.
He wanted to know if the police would let this thing happen.
Then he had another picture of Athos and a bull. “Look at these two pictures and think,” he says. “Observe the high and intelligent forehead of the bull and the low, receding brow of the creature that will spill the gore of the bull. Which is the man and which is the brute?” Then he pans me as a promoter of encounters between human brutes and degenerated into a promoter between a brute and a human.
Brownie was for me going down to his office and bouncing a right off his jaw. But women don’t know that some strong knocks are strong boosts. I could have kissed the guy myself.
But this newspaper talk gets the police worried and Inspector Cullen sends for me. “What are you trying to pull off on my beat?” he asks. “I’ll stand for the milder forms of larceny but you’ve got everybody telling me that you’re going to stage a couple of murders and establish a slaughterhouse at the garden. What’s the new graft?”
I explain and it takes a lot of explaining and considerable promising. He finally says that the show can go on but that he will have the reserves there to see that the bull gets fair play and that there is no biting in the clinches. Also he told me what time he would meet me in the box office, where I would be able to give him the final assurances that the show would not bring discredit upon the fair name of our well-known city.
The roasts kept coming. I got the original cartoon framed that was run a few days before the show. It had a man and a bull fighting, while a pack of wolves looked on. And I had a big demand for Annie Oakleys. Those are the free tickets, so-called from the fact that they are shot full of holes-a convenience in counting up.
It begins to look as though I might have a fair profit to count up after all. But I had a hard time inducing the contractor to make the necessary improvements. I had to have the ring lowered and a fence built around it. Then I needed a covered chute from the side street for the bull to make his entrance. I wasn’t familiar with that kind of bull but I wasn’t taking any chances of bringing him through the house and having him gore some of my cash customers to death.
The contractor finally did it for a cash advance that I had to borrow. The stage was all set for the show and the publicity was fine. Brownie put me hep to the music gag. “You’ve got to have a band to play the Toreador Song,” she says. “Them bull-fights is always pulled off to music.”
So I engaged Schmaltz’s Band for another small cash advance. It began to look like a big investment and all on the margin. Athos used to drop in once in a while to get a line on the sale. I didn’t go into details much. It was up to him to throw the bull in his own way while I threw it as only an artist can.
We had a little jawing match when I proposed Billy Roach for referee, me and Bill having had many business arrangements and always satisfactory to all concerned. “Mind you.” I told Athos. “I have no ax to grind in naming Roach as the third man in the ring. He’ll be fair and if you are on your feet when the bell rings I can guarantee that he will not award the decision to the bull.”
Athos went up in the air over this. “I throw the bull,” he said twisting the mustache. “There is no referee. The bull, she lose and everybody shout, Bravo Athos.”
“Have it your own way,” I said. “Only it’s good to have a referee in the ring with you.”
So I decided not to bother him any more about his end of the show. I didn’t even ask to see the bull. It was nothing in my young life if he and the bull had an understanding same as the professional wrestlers who go around the country, one winning on Tuesdays and Fridays and the other on Wednesdays and Saturdays with the odd days for draws.
That’s where I booted one, not going into the details. It almost gave me heart failure, too.
The big night finally came round and Windy Jack McCaffery who was a periodical, had to go and get swacked, forgetting that I might have to lean on him in a pinch. But that’s the way with the periodicals. They always get soused at the wrong time.
I stayed for a while in the box office with Petie Coleman and the crowd began to come. Say, it frightened me to death. Before seven there was a line clear around the building. By half past seven I saw that I was going to outdraw the biggest fight, ever.
And it wasn’t a mob of mugs either. There were beautiful women in ball-room gowns and I saw a crew of johnnies in glad rags.
I could have wrung gallons out of my shirt. For there was the biggest crowd I ever got together and me hardly knowing what the show was. Any guy that sees an idea develop suddenly into a fortune is liable to lose his nerve. The cops are clubbing people back and making them come in single file for fear that they will batter down the doors.
Out in the lobby Athos was standing in some kind of a Spanish rig, like the posters with a red cape over his arm. He was twisting his mustache and looking like Napoleon at Waterloo or St. Helena or some place.
I was getting a little worried about Windy Jack McCaffery because, as I said before, he was lit like a torch-light procession when he started with a couple of my guerrillas and a motor truck over to Jersey to bring back a bull.
He was talking kind of wild when he left, too. He had it in for Athos. “I’ll bring back a bull that will kick the daylights out of that four-flushing wop,” he says. “I’m going to get a little bet down on the bull, too. I don’t believe that dago ever threw a bull.”
I had my misgivings then but Jack used to be property man once and they always deliver the goods. I didn’t care how fierce the bull was. If it was good enough to hold Athos to a draw, we could pull a return match and pack them in again. It looked soft then.
I ducked into the office and I was thinking some pretty hard things about Windy Jack when in he blows with his coat split up the back and as full as a coot.
“Jack, have you got the bull?” I moaned. “Have I got the bull,” he repeats scornfully. “I’ve got the wildest bull in captivity. He’s got horns as wide as Fifth Avenue and when he roars strong men tremble in their shoes. If he don’t take this dago in the first round I’m no judge of bulls and my visit to the stockyards in Chicago had been in vain. He’s a devastating, man-eating terror, the champion bull of the universe. Have I got a bull, the man asks me.”
I began to feel a little shivery myself. I needed the dough pretty badly but I did not want to see murder done unless it was absolutely necessary. I’m a humane guy at heart, but it had been a pretty tough winter.
I took another breeze out to talk it over with Athos. “Athos,” says I solemnly, “McCaffery tells me that he’s got a pretty tough bull. I know that you won’t run out on the match. You can’t. But I warn you, don’t take any chances with this bull.”
“I snap my fingers at the bull,” says Athos. “Produce him and I will throw him.”
So I went back and gave Windy Jack his final directions. “When I get through with the ballyhoo shoot in the bull,” I told him. “Don’t let him escape and go around goring the inhabitants. You’re soused?”
“Do you expect a guy to go taxicabbing around the country with a wild bull and keep sober?” says Jack reproachfully and I had to admit that there was a little logic in that.
They had closed the doors of the arena by order of the Fire Department when I got into the place. It was the most wonderful house I ever drew. It was a sort of mixture of the Metropolitan Opera House on opening night and a championship prize-ring fight.
Well, I wasn’t ashamed of myself. I had on my tux and a white silk shirt and everything. Brownie had told me that I looked the class and I felt it.
I gave them a good spiel, too. When a guy has something to inspire him he can always pull a good line or two to his advantage.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” I said, “we have in this corner Athos, the mighty, the man who takes the wild bull by the horns and at the risk of his life throws him to the ground. In performing this feat he shows more daring than the toreadors and matadors of Spain and Mexico, for they use cruel darts to weaken the bull and then stab him to death with long swords.
“Athos, ladies and gentlemen, carries no weapons with him into the ring. He uses nature’s own weapons, his own brawny arms. He takes no mean advantage of the bull.”
Athos hops into the ring, throws back his coat and bows to all sides of the ring. He got a wonder of a hand. I guess that was on account of my spiel, and he started to pose, showing up his muscles. While the applause was dying down, I could hear some of the talk around the ringside.
I hear one bird say: “Pipe the muscles, I’ll bet he does put it over on the bull.”
Right away a guy next to him says, “I’ll bet you a hundred even on the bull.” He flashes the roll, too, and a lot more begin to pull out their dough.
I raise my hand then and get them fairly quiet.
“Gentlemen,” I said, “I must insist that there be no gambling during this performance. Also, we must have absolute silence. Remember that Athos is taking his life in his hands.”
“Where’s the bull?” asks one of the impatient ones.
“The bull, ladies and gentlemen,” I said, “will be here presently. Before he arrives and the ring is cleared for the death grapple, I wish to announce that the management has spared no expense to get the fiercest bull in the United States. The bull which we have procured is a direct descendant of the Bull of Basham. Its ancestors came to this country with the conquistadores. In its youth this bull roamed the broad plains of Texas, scorning the rope of the cowboy and breaking the toughest lassos as a man would break a silken thread.
“It was finally captured through the combined efforts of Buffalo Bill, Jesse James, and a regiment of American cavalry. The feat cost many lives, for this bull, ladies and gentlemen, is a man eater, an outlaw, and a killer. Athos is tonight to face the mightiest bull he has met in the course of his heroic career.”
“A hundred more on the bull,” says the guy at the ringside. “No wop that ever lived could throw a native born, patriotic, American bull.”
By this time I had talked so much that I was beginning to believe a lot of it myself. Supposing that soused McCaffery let that bull down the chute while I was still in the ring, I signalled for the Toreador Song, kind of soft as Brownie suggested and I took it on the lam from that ring.
I climbed up to the side of the chute and shouted:
“Enter the bull.”
Athos was standing in his corner with his muscles swelling and his head lowered to meet the rush of the infuriated bull. I heard the gate open outside and McCaffery holler, “Go get him, bull. Eat him up.”
There was a clattering of hoofs down the chute and a couple of women screamed. I moved a little further up the incline praying that the bull wouldn’t break out of the barriers. The thing began to look awfully serious.
I thought I heard the thing bellow and my knees knocked together. Then I heard a snicker. Down the chute with a clatter of hoofs came a cow with her tail sticking straight up in the air. She went “Bla-a-a.” That sounded like Gabriel’s trumpet for me. Athos did not stop to ascertain the sex of his antagonist. He grabbed her right by the horns and started to give her the Strangker-Lewis stuff. The cow wasn’t came a bit. She just bent over and finally rolled to the floor. Athos stepped back, stamped his feet and waved the cape in triumph. The mob went mad and hysterical.
I was reeling when something happened that capped the climax completely. The back of Athos was turned toward the cow when she got up and Athos was bowing to the floor. The cow came back. She lowered her head and caught Athos from behind. Over he went into the orchestra. The last I saw of him as I dashed for the box office was when he was trying to pull his head out of the bass drum of Schmalz’s Band.
The cow just stood in the center of the ring saying, “Moo.” McCaffery, lit up like a cathedral, hops into the ring and holds up the cow’s tail, the way a referee holds up the hand of the winning boxer.
“The bull wins,” says McCaffery and I ran for my life.
I dashed into the box office and locked the door to wait until the mob breaks in and tears me limb from limb to get the money back. I couldn’t ask Inspector Cullen to save my life after that. I hear them filing out and every minute I expect to hear the knocking that will invite me out to meet my doom. I know how guys felt just before it was time to go over the top.
I hear a lot of laughing but no talk of murder. Pretty soon I catch one full, coherent sentence. A guy says, “I wouldn’t have missed it for a hundred dollars.”
That was my cue. All my nerve comes back and my heart beats again. I thought of P. T. Barnum, the greatest of all Americans. I got bold and I walked right out among the crowd. There wasn’t a grouch in the whole outfit. They were just limp with laughter.
I never saw Athos again. I guess that he figured he had lost the decision and had nothing coming at the box office. He left some loose posters and a dozen pounds of mustache wax. It was just as well because I wouldn’t have promoted a return match for a million.
Brownie gave me an awful panning, even after I showed her the dough and we decided to see the license office in the morning.
“This bull doesn’t get you anywhere,” she says. “You want to quit throwing it.”
“Don’t forget,” I says, “that bull gave us our start in life.”
“It wasn’t the bull,” she says. “It was the bull’s wife.”
“That’s right,” I says. “I’m for suffrage from now on.”