.. afforded a panoramic view of the bay below. The downhill portion was easier now and once through the park gates and out on to Sandy Beach Rd, the going levelled out.
He followed his usual course and was approaching the small strip plaza when he recalled that he needed some vitamin pills. Only two left in the bottle, this morning. Turning into the plaza, he began to slow down, coming to a stop in front of the pharmacy. Old Manny, the owner, always offered to armwrestle for the cost of the pills.
Billy’s face split into a good-natured grin as he mopped his forehead with the waistband of his top. Manny was five foot three and weighed 120 pounds, tops. He opened the door and stepped into the welcome chill of the air conditioning, noticing that Janice, Manny’s cashier, was not in her usual position at the cash register. “Yo! Manny? You takin’ a nap, back here?”, he called as he made his way to the rear counter where Manny could usually be found, peering over the top of his bi-focals, tie askew and silvery hair puffed up like a mad professor.
“Hey! Manny? Janice? Is everything free, today?” His questions were cut short as a ski-masked face shot up from behind a display rack. “Shut up, mouthpiece. Get over here. Fast!” The gun held in the robber’s fist indicated that he meant business.
Billy slowly raised his hands and moved in the direction indicated. As he drew close to the display rack, he saw Manny sitting awkwardly on the floor, one hand pushed back to take his weight, the other clutching a blood- stained handkerchief to his head. Janice, her long, blonde hair obscuring her face, was bent forward, fiercely hugging two young children to her, as if by holding them she could shut the horror from their minds. “Billy,” gasped Manny, “Do as he says.
He’s threatening to shoot everyone.” “Shurrup old man,” snarled the ski-mask, “Or I’ll blow you away first. You wanna die? Huh?” His voice rose to a shriek. “Easy, man. Take it easy,” said Billy.”They ain’t gonna hurt you.
What you want?” Ski-mask blinked rapidly a few times then turned towards Billy. “I told him, man. I want the heavy stuff. Valium.
Percodan. Uppers, downers. Everything. And the cash, too. He’s stupid,” he added, pointing in Manny’s direction.
“Billy, I’ve told him,” Manny groaned.”I don’t get a lot of call for that stuff, so I only carry small quantities. He’s got all I have, but he won’t listen. He…I…He hit me with the gun,” Manny’s voice trembled as he gestured with the handkerchief. “Enough talking,” snapped the gunman. He reached over towards Janice, and before she could react, he grabbed the little girl and pulled her towards him.
“Billy,” the child’s voice rose to a terrified wail.”I want my Mommy.” Billy knew her only as Karen. Just two days before, she’d passed a bunch of dandelions to him through the marina fence. “It’s okay, honey. Mommy’s gonna be here in a minute.
Don’t be…” “Hey!”, screamed the ski-mask. “Is anybody listening to me? You got five seconds, you hear me? Five seconds to deliver, or the brat gets it.” He aimed the pistol at the struggling child’s head. “Five…four..” “Billy! I want my Mommy. Please…” “Three….two…” Billy began his shuffling dance, head bobbing and weaving, the familiar incatation rolling easily from his lips..
“Useta be a fighter. Coulda been the Champ. Didn’ getta..”. He moved smoothly, on the balls of his feet, throwing jabs and hooks at his phantom opponent, body swaying, ducking and dodging. He blocked imaginary counterpunches with his forearms,, his own blows punctuated by sharp hisses of expelled breath as he moved constantly.
Circling, always circling. “Hey. What’s that freak doing?”, yelled the gunman to no-one in particular. “Tell him to quit!” “…Coulda been the Champ..” “I said quit it! You want me to off the kid? Huh?” Billy circled closer. Ski-mask was like a rabbit hypnotised by a snake. He couldn’t remove his eyes from the big man.
“Is he crazy? I gotta gun!” “Didn’ getta chance…Know I got it…Jus’ needa…” Ski-mask removed the gun from the child’s head and aimed at Billy as he moved dangerously close. Too late,the robber realized his error.Before he could return the gun to its former position, Billy lunged. Karen fell to one side, unheeded for the moment. There was a flat crack and Billy staggered, but kept coming. His left jab was slightly off-target as he was off balance, but the looping right hook caught the gunman solidly in the ribs, just as the gun spat for a second time, before flipping end-over-end to land in the chest freezer. Billy grunted heavily, but another right to the midsection of the gunman folded him up like an accordion, and the crushing left, landed flush on the point of his chin with a sound like a two-by-four slapping wet cement.
The robber flew backwards, his feet lifted from the floor by the force of the blow, and crashed into a shelving unit before falling motionless. Manny, stunned by the speed of events, gawped at the unconscious gunman for a few seconds. Then seeing Billy clutch at his chest and sink slowly to a sitting position, he scrambled towards the big man. “Billy, you crazy son of…are you alright? Janice! Get some surgical dressings. Hurry! Call an ambulance – and the police too!”, he added as an afterthought. The front door opened, and in walked a harassed looking young woman.”Janice, did Robbie and Karen get their…Good God! What’s happened?” “Mommy! Mommy!”, cried the kids, abandoning Janice and rushing to their mother’s outstretched arms.
“Janice! Get those dressings. Now! Hurry up!”, Manny almost shouted. “Billy?… Billy?” The big man toppled over onto his side, and Manny scurried around to cradle the fighter’s head in his lap. “Can you hear me, Billy?” The eyes opened.
“Sure, I hear you.” His voice was slurred and he frowned slightly, then his eyes lit up. “Hey, Manny? Didya see the combination I threw?… Two rights set ‘im up, then the left…. Hurt me bad twice, but I didn’ quit…Knew I got the killer instinct..Y’saw that Manny, huh? Y’saw my killer instinct, didn’ ya?” His voice tailed off for a few seconds.
“Didn’ getta chance..Was gonna give you..chance, today… Armwrestle for vitamins…Wanna try?..” A faint grin appeared and a huge paw rose slowly, unsteadily, then dropped back to the floor. At 5:31 pm, the police arrived with drawn guns. They found Manny still cradling Billy’s head, tears trickling unashamedly down his cheeks as he crooned softly to the fallen fighter, “…You could’ve been the Champ, Billy. You would’ve been a great Champ..” Over eight hundred people attended the funeral, by the local newspaper’s estimate…