How They Met – Part One
Brooklyn, New York – Ten years before the Alabama Murder Trial
Gleason’s Gym smelled of sweat and liniment, of worn leather and guts. It was an old-world gym that carried the legacy of seven decades of athletes training and sparring, of men’s soaring hopes and shattered dreams, broken bones, and blood.
The boxer in the ring was just an average Joe, but he had the heart of a lion. Vinny Gambini was thirty years old—burly with not quite cat-like reflexes and a front foot he continually forgot to keep outside of his opponent’s stance. But in close, body-to-body, he was a deadly combination-throwing juggernaut, a gladiator willing to bleed for glory. He’d easily overpower his opponent if he could only draw him in close.
He was fighting “Blazing” Al Dempsey. Al wasn’t short for Alan, or Albert, or even Alexander. It was short for Aloysius, and he was a direct descendant of the great Jack Dempsey, with a right hook like the release of a medieval catapult. He was born in Ireland and had trained in the same gym as his ancestor, a school-of-hard-knocks brawler’s gym, where you spit teeth before you got a shot at a real contender. Aloysius was way too smart to be suckered in close and allow Vinny the opportunity to put out his lights.
They were in the third and final round of an exhibition match. By Vinny’s estimation, they were about even in scoring. A nine-minute amateur match spans no more than a heartbeat and permits absolutely no time to expand on or modify pre-fight strategy. Vinny attempted to lure Dempsey in over and over again, but he wouldn’t take the bait and with just seconds to go in the match…it all happened in the blink of an eye—Vinny was off balance but saw an opening that was just too good to be true, a chance to throw his left cross. He reared back, his glove just off-angle—the punch broke Dempsey’s jaw and his wrist all at the same time.
He fell against the ropes, cradling his shattered wrist in his free hand, too much of a man to show how much pain he was in. He refused to take his eyes off his fallen opponent until the referee counted to ten. And then he could hold the pain at bay no longer. He dropped to his knees even before the referee could raise his hand in victory. His gloved hand hung limply. Although he was gratified by the knockout decision, he knew in his heart that his career as a boxer had come to a tragic close.
He was writhing in pain as his trainer and the gym doctor rushed to his side. Through the ordeal, a solitary image kept him from going to pieces. She sat in the front row with her father and her two brothers, the prettiest girl he’d ever seen in his life, far prettier than any woman who had ever shown interest in him. He couldn’t understand why this incredible beauty was smiling at him as if he were a god who had just descended from the heavens. Through sweat-burned eyes, he was able to make out the name on the pendant that hung at the end of a gold chain around her long and perfect neck: Lisa.
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