Bred for Battle

Damon Runyon

May 1934

One night a guy by the name of Bill Corum, who is one of these sport scribes, gives me a Chinee for a fight at Madison Square Garden, a Chinee being a ducket with holes punched in it like old-fashioned Chink money, to show that it is a free ducket, and the reason I am explaining to you how I get this ducket is because I do not wish anybody to think I am ever simple enough to payout my own potatoes for a ducket to a fight, even if I have any potatoes.

Personally, I will not give you a bad two-bit piece to see a fight anywhere, because the way I look at it, half the time the guys who are supposed to do the fighting go in there and put on the old do-se-do, and I consider this a great fraud upon the public, and I do not believe in encouraging dishonesty.

But of course I never refuse a Chinee to such events, because the way I figure it, what can I lose except my time, and my time is not worth more than a bob a week the way things are. So on the night in question I am standing in the lobby of the Garden with many other citizens, and I am trying to find out if there is any skullduggery doing in connection with the fight, because any time there is any skullduggery doing I love to know it, as it is something worth knowing in case a guy wishes to get a small wager down.

Well, while I am standing there, somebody comes up behind me and hits me an awful belt on the back, knocking my wind plumb out of me, and making me very indignant indeed. As soon as I get a little of my wind back again, I turn around figuring to put a large blast on the guy who slaps me, but who is it but a guy by the name of Spider McCoy, who is known far and wide as a manager of fighters.

Well, of course I do not put the blast on Spider McCoy, because he is an old friend of mine, and furthermore, Spider McCoy is such a guy as is apt to let a left hook go at anybody who puts the blast on him, and I do not believe in getting in trouble, especially with good left-hookers.

So I say hello to Spider, and am willing to let it go at that, but Spider seems glad to see me, and says to me like this:

“Well, well, well, well, well!” Spider says.

“Well,” I say to Spider McCoy, “how many wells does it take to make a river?”

“One, if it is big enough,” Spider says, so I can see he knows the answer all right. “Listen,” he says, “I just think up the greatest proposition I ever think of in my whole life, and who knows but what I can interest you in same.”

“Well, Spider,” I say, “I do not care to hear any propositions at this time, because it may be a long story, and I wish to step inside and see the impending battle. Anyway,” I say, “if it is a proposition involving financial support, I wish to state that I do not have any resources whatever at this time.”

“Never mind the battle inside,” Spider says. “It is nothing but a tank job, anyway. And as for financial support,” Spider says, “this does not require more than a pound note, tops, and I know you have a pound note because I know you put the bite on Overcoat Obie for this amount not an hour ago. Listen,” Spider McCoy says, “I know where I can place my hands on the greatest heavy-weight prospect in the world today, and all I need is the price of car-fare to where he is.”

Well, off and on, I know Spider McCoy twenty years, and in all this time I never know him when he is not looking for the greatest heavy-weight prospect in the world. And as long as Spider knows I have the pound note, I know there is no use trying to play the duck for him, so I stand there wondering who the stool pigeon can be who informs him of my financial status.

“Listen,” Spider says, “I just discover that I am all out of line in the way I am looking for heavy-weight prospects in the past. I am always looking for nothing but plenty of size,” he says. “Where I make my mistake is not looking for blood lines. Professor D just smartens me up,” Spider says.

Well, when he mentions the name of Professor D, I commence taking a little interest, because it is well known to one and all that Professor D is one of the smartest old guys in the world. He is once a professor in a college out in Ohio, but quits this dodge to handicap the horses, and he is a first-rate handicapper, at that. But besides knowing how to handicap the horses, Professor D knows many other things, and is highly respected in all walks of life, especially on Broadway.

“Now then,” Spider says, “Professor D calls my attention this afternoon to the fact that when a guy is looking for a race horse, he does not take just any horse that comes along, but he finds out if the horse’s papa is able to run in his day, and if the horse’s mamma can get out of her own way when she is young. Professor D shows me how a guy looks for speed in a horse’s breeding away back to its great-great-great-great-grandpa and grand-mamma,” Spider McCoy says.

“Well,” I say, “anybody knows this without asking Professor D. In fact,” I say, “you even look up a horse’s parents to see if they can mud before betting on a plug to win in heavy going.”

“All right,” Spider says, “I know all this myself, but I never think much about it before Professor D mentions it. Professor D says if a guy is looking for a hunting dog he does not pick a Pekingese pooch, but he gets a dog that is bred to hunt from away back yonder, and if he is after a game chicken he does not take a Plymouth Rock out of the back-yard.

“So then,” Spider says, “Professor D wishes to know if when I am looking for a fighter, if I do not look for one who comes of fighting stock. Professor D wishes to know,” Spider says, “why I do not look for some guy who is bred to fight, and when I think this over, I can see the professor is right.

“And then all of a sudden,” Spider says, “I get the largest idea I ever have in all my life. Do you remember a guy I have about twenty years back by the name of Shamus Mulrooney, the Fighting Harp?” Spider says. “A big, rough, tough heavy-weight out of Newark?”

“Yes,” I say, “I remember Shamus very well indeed. The last time I see him is the night Pounder Pat O’Shea almost murders him in the old Garden,” I say. “I never see a guy with more ticker than Shamus, unless maybe it is Pat.”

“Yes,” Spider says, “Shamus has plenty of ticker. He is about through the night of the fight you speak of, otherwise Pat will never lay a glove on him. It is not long after this fight that Shamus packs in and goes back to brick-laying in Newark, and it is also about this same time,” Spider says, “that he marries Pat O’Shea’s sister, Bridget.

“Well, now,” Spider says, “I remember they have a boy who must be around nineteen years old now, and if ever a guy is bred to fight it is a boy by Shamus Mulrooney out of Bridget O’Shea, because,” Spider says, “Bridget herself can lick half the heavy-weights I see around nowadays if she is half as good as she is the last time I see her. So now you have my wonderful idea. We will go to Newark and get this boy and make him heavy-weight champion of the world.”

“What you state is very interesting indeed, Spider,” I say. “But,” I say, “how do you know this boy is a heavy-weight?”

“Why,” Spider says, “how can he be anything else but a heavyweight, what with his papa as big as a house, and his mamma weighing maybe a hundred and seventy pounds in her step-ins? Although of course,” Spider says, “I never see Bridget weigh in in such manner.

“But,” Spider says, “even it she does carry more weight than I will personally care to spot a doll, Bridget is by no means a pelican when she marries Shamus. In fact,” he says, “she is pretty good-looking. I remember their wedding well, because it comes out that Bridget is in love with some other guy at the time, and this guy comes to see the nuptials, and Shamus runs him all the way from Newark to Elizabeth, figuring to break a couple of legs for the guy if he catches him. But,” Spider says, “the guy is too speedy for Shamus, who never has much foot anyway.”

Well, all that Spider says appeals to me as a very sound business proposition, so the upshot of it is I give him my pound note to finance his trip to Newark.

Then I do not see Spider McCoy again for a week, but one day he calls me up and tells me to hurry over to the Pioneer gymnasium to see the next heavy-weight champion of the world, Thunderbolt Mulrooney.

I am personally somewhat disappointed when I see Thunderbolt Mulrooney, and especially when I find out his first name is Raymond and not Thunderbolt at all, because I am expecting to see a big, fierce guy with red hair and a chest like a barrel, such as Shamus Mulrooney has when he is in his prime. But who do I see but a tall, pale-looking young guy with blond hair and thin legs.

Furthermore, he has pale blue eyes, and a far-away look in them, and he speaks in a low voice, which is nothing like the voice of Shamus Mulrooney. But Spider seems satisfied with Thunderbolt, and when I tell him Thunderbolt does not look to me like the next heavy-weight champion of the world, Spider says like this:

“Why,” he says, “the guy is nothing but a baby, and you must give him time to fill out. He may grow to be bigger than his papa. But you know,” Spider says, getting indignant as he thinks about it, “Bridget Mulrooney does not wish to let this guy be the next heavyweight champion of the world. In fact,” Spider says, “she kicks up an awful row when I go to get him, and Shamus finally has to speak to her severely. Shamus says he does not know if I can ever make a fighter of this guy because Bridget coddles him until he is nothing but a mush-head, and Shamus says he is sick and tired of seeing the guy sitting around the house doing nothing but reading and playing the zither.”

“Does he play the zither yet?” I ask Spider McCoy.

“No,” Spider says, “I do not allow my fighters to play zithers. I figure it softens them up. This guy does not play anything at present. He seems to be in a daze most of the time, but of course everything is new to him. He is bound to come out okay, because,” Spider says, “he is certainly bred right. I find out from Shamus that all the Mulrooneys are great fighters back in the old country,” Spider says, “and furthermore he tells me Bridget’s mother once licks four Newark cops who try to stop her from pasting her old man, so,” Spider says, “this lad is just naturally steaming with fighting blood.”

Well, I drop around to the Pioneer once or twice a week after this, and Spider McCoy is certainly working hard with Thunderbolt Mulrooney. Furthermore, the guy seems to be improving right along, and gets so he can box fairly well and punch the bag, and all this and that, but he always has that far-away look in his eyes, and personally I do not care for fighters with far-away looks.

Finally one day Spider calls me up and tells me he has Thunderbolt Mulrooney matched in a four-round preliminary bout at the St. Nick with a guy by the name of Bubbles Browning, who is fighting almost as far back as the first battle of Bull Run, so I can see Spider is being very careful in matching Thunderbolt. In fact I congratulate Spider on his carefulness.

“Well,” Spider says, “I am taking this match just to give Thunderbolt the feel of the ring. I am taking Bubbles because he is an old friend of mine, and very deserving, and furthermore,” Spider says, “he gives me his word he will not hit Thunderbolt very hard and will become unconscious the instant Thunderbolt hits him. You know,” Spider says, “you must encourage a young heavy-weight, and there is nothing that encourages one so much as knocking somebody unconscious.”

Now of course it is nothing for Bubbles to promise not to hit anybody very hard because even when he is a young guy, Bubbles cannot punch his way out of a paper bag, but I am glad to learn that he also promises to become unconscious very soon, as naturally I am greatly interested in Thunderbolt’s career, what with owning a piece of him, and having an investment of one pound in him already.

So the night of the fight, I am at the St. Nick very early, and many other citizens are there ahead of me, because by this time Spider McCoy gets plenty of publicity for Thunderbolt by telling the boxing scribes about his wonderful fighting blood lines, and everybody wishes to see a guy who is bred for battle, like Thunderbolt.

I take a guest with me to the fight by the name of Harry the Horse, who comes from Brooklyn, and as I am anxious to help Spider McCoy all I can, as well as to protect my investment in Thunderbolt, I request Harry to call on Bubbles Browning in his dressing-room and remind him of his promise about hitting Thunderbolt.

Harry the Horse does this for me, and furthermore he shows Bubbles a large revolver and tells Bubbles that he will be compelled to shoot his ears off if Bubbles forgets his promise, but Bubbles says all this is most unnecessary, as his eyesight is so bad he cannot see to hit anybody, anyway.

Well, I know a party who is a friend of the guy who is going to referee the preliminary bouts, and I am looking for this party to get him to tell the referee to disqualify Bubbles in case it looks as if he is forgetting his promise and is liable to hit Thunderbolt, but before I can locate the party, they are announcing the opening bout, and there is Thunderbolt in the ring looking very far away indeed, with Spider McCoy behind him.

It seems to me I never see a guy who is so pale all over as Thunderbolt Mulrooney, but Spider looks down at me and tips me a large wink, so I can see that everything is as right as rain, especially when Harry the Horse makes motions at Bubbles Browning like a guy firing a large revolver at somebody, and Bubbles smiles, and also winks.

Well, when the bell rings, Spider gives Thunderbolt a shove towards the center, and Thunderbolt comes out with his hands up, but looking more far away than somewhat, and something tells me that Thunderbolt by no means feels the killer instinct such as I love to see in fighters. In fact, something tells me that Thunderbolt is not feeling enthusiastic about this proposition in any way, shape, manner, or form.

Old Bubbles almost falls over his own feet coming out of his corner, and he starts bouncing around making passes at Thunderbolt, and waiting for Thunderbolt to hit him so he can become unconscious. Naturally, Bubbles does not wish to become unconscious without getting hit, as this may look suspicious to the public.

Well, instead of hitting Bubbles, what does Thunderbolt Mulrooney do but turn around and walk over to a neutral corner, and lean over the ropes with his face in his gloves, and bust out crying. Naturally, this is a most surprising incident to one and all, and especially to Bubbles Browning.

The referee walks over to Thunderbolt Mulrooney and tries to turn him around, but Thunderbolt keeps his face in his gloves and sobs so loud that the referee is deeply touched and starts sobbing with him. Between the sobs he asks Thunderbolt if he wishes to continue the fight, and Thunderbolt shakes his head, although as a matter of fact no fight whatever starts so far, so the referee declares Bubbles Browning the winner, which is a terrible surprise to Bubbles.

Then the referee puts his arm around Thunderbolt and leads him over to Spider McCoy, who is standing in his corner with a very strange expression on his face. Personally, I consider the entire spectacle so revolting that I go out into the air, and stand around a while expecting to hear any minute that Spider McCoy is in the hands of the gendarmes on a charge of mayhem.

But it seems that nothing happens, and when Spider finally comes out of the St. Nick, he is only looking sorrowful because he just hears that the promoter declines to pay him the fifty bobs he is supposed to receive for Thunderbolt’s services, the promoter claiming that Thunderbolt renders no service.

“Well,” Spider says, “I fear this is not the next heavy-weight champion of the world after all. There is nothing in Professor D’s idea about blood lines as far as fighters are concerned, although,” he says, “it may work out all right with horses and dogs, and one thing and another. I am greatly disappointed,” Spider says, “but then I am always being disappointed in heavy-weights. There is nothing we can do but take this guy back home, because,” Spider says, “the last thing I promise Bridget Mulrooney is that I will personally return him to her in case I am not able to make him heavy-weight champion, as she is afraid he will get lost if he tries to find his way home alone.”

So the next day, Spider McCoy and I take Thunderbolt Mulrooney over to Newark and to his home, which turns out to be a nice little house in a side street with a yard all round and about, and Spider and I are just as well pleased that old Shamus Mulrooney is absent when we arrive, because Spider says that Shamus is just such a guy as will be asking a lot of questions about the fifty bobbos that Thunderbolt does not get.

Well, when we reach the front door of the house, out comes a big, fine-looking doll with red cheeks, all excited, and she takes Thunderbolt in her arms and kisses him, so I know this is Bridget Mulrooney, and I can see she knows what happens, and in fact I afterward learn that Thunderbolt telephones her the night before.

After a while she pushes Thunderbolt into the house and stands at the door as if she is guarding it against us entering to get him again, which of course is very unnecessary. And all this time Thunderbolt is sobbing no little, although by and by the sobs die away, and from somewhere in the house comes the sound of music I seem to recognize as the music of a zither.

Well, Bridget Mulrooney never says a word to us as she stands in the door, and Spider McCoy keeps staring at her in a way that I consider very rude indeed. I am wondering if he is waiting for a receipt for Thunderbolt, but finally he speaks as follows:

“Bridget,” Spider says, “I hope and trust that you will not consider me too fresh, but I wish to learn the name of the guy you are going around with just before you marry Shamus. I remember him well,” Spider says, “but I cannot think of his name, and it bothers me not being able to think of names. He is a tall, skinny, stoop-shouldered guy,” Spider says, “with a hollow chest and a soft voice, and he loves music.”

Well, Bridget Mulrooney stands there in the doorway, staring back at Spider, and it seems to me that the red suddenly fades out of her cheeks, and just then we hear a lot of yelling, and around the corner of the house comes a bunch of five or six kids, who seem to be running from another kid.

This kid is not very big, and is maybe fifteen or sixteen years old, and he has red hair and many freckles, and he seems very mad at the other kids. In fact, when he catches up with them he starts belting away at them with his fists and before anybody can as much as say boo, he has three of them on the ground as flat as pancakes, while the others are yelling bloody murder.

Personally, I never see such wonderful punching by a kid, especially with his left hand, and Spider McCoy is also much impressed, and is watching the kid with great interest. Then Bridget Mulrooney runs out and grabs the freckle-faced kid with one hand and smacks him with the other hand and hauls him, squirming and kicking, over to Spider McCoy and says to Spider like this:

“Mr. McCoy,” Bridget says, “this is my youngest son, Terence, and though he is not a heavy-weight, and will never be a heavyweight, perhaps he will answer your purpose. Suppose you see his father about him sometime,” she says, “and hoping you will learn to mind your own business, I wish you a very good day.”

Then she takes the kid into the house under her arm and slams the door in our kissers, and there is nothing for us to do but walk away. And as we are walking away, all of a sudden Spider McCoy snaps his fingers as guys will do when they get an unexpected thought, and says like this:

“I remember the guy’s name,” he says. “It is Cedric Tilbury, and he is a floor-walker in Hamburgher’s department store, and,” Spider says, “how he can play the zither!”

I see in the papers the other day where Jimmy Johnston, the match-maker at the Garden, matches Tearing Terry Mulrooney, the new sensation of the light-weight division, to fight for the championship, but it seems from what Spider McCoy tells me that my investment with him does not cover any fighters in his stable except maybe heavy-weights.

And it also seems that Spider McCoy is not monkeying with heavy-weights since he gets Tearing Terry.