The Bowery shithole I was living in was loaded with immigrants and losers. I was born in New York so I guess I know what that made me. A move uptown was the dream for most. Not me. I knew where I belonged.

It was February, and the cheap fucking landlord kept the apartments colder than the icy stoop in front of the building. All the banging on the pipes couldn’t get the super to turn on a little heat. I gave up trying some time ago.

You couldn’t say I was living it up big. Yet, I still needed to make a few bucks a week to get by. My usual shitty jobs had dried up. No one needed me to run some numbers or protect some big shots. That’s how it goes. When it gets cold like this, everything freezes over, even fucking hell.

And that’s how I wound up taking the train uptown to “Louie’s.” The gym was on 48th, off of Tenth. I was hoping to make a few bucks sparring with some punk. You know, the one who’s thinks he’s all hot shit until someone whacks him in the face one time.

I got off the IRT, took a left past the porn theaters, the peep shows, the hookers, and the pushers. The cold didn’t stop the perverts and addicts from crowding into Times Square. It was going full blast. I kept walking until I hit the third wave of whores past the Port Authority. You know, the ones who had gotten too old for the glittering lights of Broadway.

“Hey, Paula.” I knew her from the old neighborhood. We were about the same age, but she looked twenty years older.

“Hey, Jake.” Her face reddened.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, just waiting for some friends.”

I kept five bucks in my wallet for an emergency. I took out the money and slippped it into her hand.

“I’m good, Jake. You keep it.”

“I just hit it big. Take it. Go home.”

Paula sniffled. “You’re a good guy, Jake.”

“It’s nothing. Say hello to your mom for me.”

“She always asks about you.”

“And what do you tell her?”

“I always say the same thing. ‘He’s doing great.’”

The gym was chugging along when I got finally got there. Must be a landlord thing. Louie also didn’t believe in heat. “Jump some fucking rope if you’re cold,” he’d say.

Mary was at the front desk keeping out the riffraff and collecting what she could from the gawkers and the wannabees.

“Jake, where’ve you been?”

She kind of looked happy to see me which was a bit of a surprise.

“Vegas. But I missed this place so I came back.”

“Who comes back to New York in February?”

“Someone with a great travel agent.”

Mary laughed a little too hard. “That’s funny. You want to make a few bucks. There’s this guy who’s getting ready for some fight. Needs someone to go a few rounds. Max got sick. You interested?”

I didn’t have a good feeling. The last time I saw Mary I was sneaking out while she was sleeping. No way was she was gonna be helping me.

“Who’s the guy?”

“Some loser.You can handle him. What do you say? Hundred bucks. Three Rounds.”

A hundred was a lot of money. Minimum wage was a buck and some change. And it usually took me a couple weeks of hustling to make a c-note. I came to Louie’s hoping to score a fin or two. So, I knew this was too good to be true.

“What do you say? Go change. And the tomato can will meet you in the back ring.”

Now, I knew I was getting fucked. And not in the good way.

Mary dropped a couple of sawbucks on the desk. “You’ll get the rest of the moolah after the third round.” I always hated that word “moolah.” Especially the way she said it, “Moooooooolah.” She got that from Louie.

“And if it don’t go the distance?”

“You’ll get the fucking money. Unless you take another dive.”

“Not me. Never.”

“Yeah, right. Go change. Use Max’s locker.” e I grabbed the twenty bucks knowing I’d never see the rest. That’s what happens when you’re down and out. Everyone fucks you over. I knew Mary was messing with me. Not only wouldn’t I get any more dough, but the fucking guy wasn’t gonna be a bum.

It didn’t matter. I wanted to see the chump I was gonna fight, and I definitely needed whatever money I could get.

When I got out of the locker room in Max’s shorts and headgear, I headed to the back ring. It was a lot more crowded than usual. Frank from the Herald was there. Along with about half-a-dozen or so other sportswriters.

Frank shouted, “What the fuck are you doing, Jake?” I gave him the best thumbs up I could with the boxing gloves I were wearing.

I was in it now. No way I was going to walk away. I bent down between the ropes into the ring.

Jimmy, the worst fucking cut man in the whole world, moved to my corner. He waved two filthy towels towards me. “Try not to bleed too much. This is all I got.”

There’s this mirror that takes up the entire wall behind the ring. So, I began to shadowbox. I looked pretty good. Still a little tanned from Vegas. And not eating much brought out my six-pack. I was ready to kick some ass.

And that’s when the so-called “bum” got into the ring.

I checked around to see if this was a mistake. Mary was giving me the middle finger. And the rest of the gym was pointing and laughing. Well, everyone except the broom guy, Sal. He looked a little sad. Sal always liked me. And I liked him. He’s a good kid.

Let me tell you about my boxing skills. I grew up on the streets. Got into a lot fights. Was always pretty strong. Could handle myself. And was definitely great at taking a punch. Not only that but I had gotten a few bits of advice from Jack Dempsey while munching on his cheesecake. “Jake, it’s all about distance.” Whatever the fuck that meant.

Now, the fighter in the opposite corner was grinning at me and yelling, “You’re going down.”

I had no reason to doubt it. You see, I was about to go a few rounds with the heavyweight champion of the world, Emile “The Hammer” Foster.

Fuck you, Mary.