Somewhere beyond my line of sight a man groaned, patheti¬cally. It sounded as if he had reached the end of his reserves and was now about to die. But I couldn’t stop to see what the problem was. I was too deep into the rhythm of working the hard belly of the speed bag. That air-filled leather bladder was hitting its suspension plate faster than any basketball the NBA could imagine. Nothing in the world is more harmonizing than hitting the speed bag at three in the afternoon when most other workers are sitting in cubicles, dreaming of retirement, praying for Saturday, or find¬ing themselves crammed-in down underground on subway cars, hurtling toward destinations they never bargained for. Battling the speed bag, first with the heels of your gloved fists and then with a straight punch peppered in for variety, you hone the ability to go all the way, as far as you can; getting in close but never allowing the bag to slap you in the face. Then, after that hard leather sack is moving more rapidly than the eye can fol¬low, your hips and thighs, neck and head begin to move quickly, unexpectedly, like water, unerring in its headlong rush over and around any obstacle, wearing down your imagined opponent with the inevitability of time.
And, as any boxer can tell you, time is always running out. Anybody you get in the ring with you is bigger and stronger, the worst problem you evah had in your lazy life, Gordo would say when I was a young man, sweating hard and thinking that I might be a professional boxer one day. The only chance you got is to wear him down, them fists like pistons and your head a movin’ target. You use your skull and shoulders, stomach and spit, any¬thing you can to keep him off balance. And the whole time your fists is at him, they don’t even know how to stop. “Give me four more.” The words came, and then a whining groan of agony. “I can’t,” the bodiless voice pleaded. “Four more!” The strain audible in the ensuing grunt sounded like a man vomiting up his guts. “My chest!” he cried. “It hurts!” “You won’t die,” the torturer promised. It was more like a pledge of vengeance than any assurance of survival. Without looking in their direction, I lowered my shuddering arms and headed for the showers. Pain is of no consequence in a gladiatorial gym; neither is blood or bruises, broken noses or concussions, unconsciousness, or even, now and then—death. Of late I had been taking three ice-cold showers a day. Only that restorative chill, along with working the speed bag and a daily counting of breaths, kept me from going crazy. At fifty-five, I found that as life went on, the problems mounted and their solutions only served to make things worse.
I didn’t have a case at that moment, which meant that no money was coming in. When I did get a job, that just meant somebody was going to come to harm, one way or the other—maybe both. And even then I might not collect my detective’s fee.
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