BookHound
Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

SMOKER: A BOXING FABLE by Mel Odom

Just got my second digital novella published at Amazon for the Kindle. If you don’t have a device, they have Kindle for PC for free on the Amazon site.

The book retails for $1.99. Set in 1952, it’s a story of revenge as young merchant seaman Terry Farrell goes after the men that murdered his father in an illegal underground boxing match called a “smoker.”

One of my favorite stories I ever wrote.

Here’s the first bit of it.

1952

     When the Malaysian stopped heckling the young waitress and upped the ante by grabbing her, I tossed the pair of Jacks and deuces I’d been holding onto the ratty tablecloth and pushed my chair back. The docks of Singapore were some of the most dangerous in that part of the world, and if the police came at all they’d be too late to help the woman.
     Tipper’s was a sailor’s bar and had a reputation as a bad place to be. The only décor consisted of American movie posters of Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Errol Flynn, Rita Hayworth and a half dozen others on the smoke-stained walls. Bottled beer sat at room temperature behind the scarred bar and everybody paid to drink from the house bottle. Night draped the room and left heavy shadows that felt cottony from tobacco smoke. I’d stayed past the sundown curfew I’d promised myself I’d stick to.
     The sandy-haired British seaman to my left glanced at me casually. A tattoo of an island girl in a grass skirt with bared breasts decorated his left forearm. He spoke in soft warning. He was fortyish and spoke softly, belying his rough exterior and the oily smudges on his weathered face and scarred arms. “This isn’t any of your concern, Yank. Let it go.”
     The young waitress struggled against her captor. I guessed that she was sixteen or seventeen. The Malay sailor laughed as he held the woman and ran his free hand over her. He bumped up against his prisoner obscenely.
     “Can’t,” I said. Part of that decision was mine, but a lot of it had to do with the way my old man had raised me.
     The Britisher shrugged. “Suit yourself, mate.” He checked his cards again, then tossed in another American quarter. The three other men matched his raise grudgingly with coins from all over the world. Eventually, they’d all reach ports where the coins could be spent. “His name’s Shafeeq. Carries a bayonet hidden along his left forearm. Bloody bastard likes usin’ it on blokes, too.”
     “Thanks.”
     “What ship you with?” The Britisher looked at me calmly. “In case I have to tell your cap’n what’s become of you?”
     “Sunfisher,” I replied, watching the Malaysian. No one else in the bar moved. Most of the bar patrons ignored the struggling woman. It wasn’t the first time something like that had happened at Tipper’s; but it had never happened when I was there. “Flies under an American flag out of Los Angeles. Just ask for Cap’n Zachary Tyler.”
     “There’s your problem, mate,” the Britisher said. “You’ve been watching too many of those bloody Roy Rogers cowboy films Hollywood is putting out these days.”
     Actually, I’d always liked John Wayne’s pictures more than Roy Rogers’. When I was a kid and my old man had a little extra money-which wasn’t often, we’d spend a Saturday at a theater in Los Angeles. My old man always got there in time to watch the news footage of World War II even though I’d wanted to sleep in and get there in time for the first Fleischer Superman cartoons.
     My old man usually slept through the cartoons and the movie, so that didn’t leave us much to talk about afterward except the film footage of the war effort. But when I’d been a kid, I’d always liked knowing my old man was there, one seat between us so none of the local toughs would be tempted to say anything about us sitting too close together. My old man didn’t put up with that and most of them had learned it the hard way.
     Seven years ago, when I’d been fifteen and had discovered girls, I’d lost interest in going to the movies with my old man. Or maybe he’d lost interest in going with me. Or maybe we’d just quietly chosen up sides and decided we’d lost interest in each other. Neither one of us had liked each other very much over the next few years.
     Me joining up with the Merchant Marine four years ago had given us something to talk about for six days till I caught my first berth. It was the most we’d talked in a long time. Still, I think we were both relieved when I stepped on deck and sailed out past Angel’s Gate Lighthouse in Los Angeles Harbor. My old man never seemed to know quite what to do with me, and having to raise me by himself after my mother ran out hadn’t helped. But he’d walked me out to my ship and waved when I left, told me not to do anything that he wouldn’t do. I knew he meant it.
     It had been over a year since I’d seen my old man. I remembered thinking that for some reason as I stood and approached the bar. Maybe it even crossed my mind that I wouldn’t see him again after the Malaysian got through with me. Setting out to do something and being able to do it were two different things.
     Shafeeq turned toward me, hiding behind the woman. She squealed in fright as he grabbed her throat with his free hand, closing off her scream. “What do you think you’re doin’, Yankee?” he asked me.
     For a minute, the only sound in the bar was the slow, squeaking sweep of the ceiling fan’s long blades.
     Then I smiled one of those sassy, smart-alecky smiles my old man had taught me when I was just a kid. No matter how scared I was, or how hurt physically or emotionally, my old man had always made me smile at somebody threatening me. I always did, too, because my old man was bigger and scarier than anyone I’d faced as a kid.
     He told me if other people saw you smiling when you should have been scared or crying, it made them wonder just what the hell they’d got hold of—made them think you were a tough guy and maybe they should be afraid of you. I’d seen my old man grin at collections guys the bookies sent around when he was a hundred in the hole, late on the vig, and all broke up inside already from a fight the night before. And he smiled at them through the whole beating they came to give him. The bookies always sent three guys or more to take my old man.
     “Getting a beer,” I told Shafeeq. I held up the empty bottle from the card table. “Seems like you got the only waitress all tied up.”
     After a moment’s hesitation, Shafeeq grinned wickedly and nodded. “Get you a beer. Get me a beer.” He was a big man, bronzed dark from the sun and the sea from at least twenty years’ of hard sailing. Scars crisscrossed his dark skin like fat gray and pink worms. Some of them were from nets and others were from knives. His eyes glittered blackly, like a bilge rat’s trapped down in a cargo hold.
     Shafeeq didn’t see much of a threat in me. In his eyes, I was just a skinny Irish kid with freckles and short-cropped red hair burned strawberry by the sun and the salt. He knew I was a sailor from my stained dungarees and unbuttoned shirt over a frayed undershirt and the reddened skin that somehow always seemed to burn but never quite tan.
     I was lean but built hard from handling tons of cargo over the last four years. I’d never gotten my old man’s broad, sloping shoulders or height. He was a heavyweight, and I was a solid middleweight on my best days. He blamed my mother. I took his word for it because I’d never even seen pictures of her.
     I crossed the uneven wooden floor to the bar, listening to the squeaking ceiling fan and knowing every eye in the place was on me. Probably most of the sailors there figured me for a poster child for stupid. Maybe some of them were generous and thought maybe I was drunk enough to want to play the hero.
      They didn’t know I didn’t believe in heroes. Superman and Popeye were great cartoons for a kid, but my old man had raised me on the streets—the school of hard knocks, he’d called it—and I’d spent the last four years of Merchant Marines in cesspool ports all over the Pacific. You didn’t find heroes in those places, only tough guys and wiseguys.
     I wasn’t sure I knew which I was, or even which one my old man would have accused me of being. But I knew I couldn’t let the Malaysian do anything to the young woman. If I’d left Tipper’s when I’d promised myself I would, I might have heard about her over breakfast the next morning, said, gee, that’s too bad, and went on with my day. I’m not a hero.
     A skinny old Chinese man with gray hair, a wrinkled New York Yankees baseball cap, and a cigar stub clenched in a vacant spot between crooked yellow teeth tended bar. A dirty bar towel draped one narrow shoulder. “What you want, Yank?”
     “A beer for me and my new friend,” I said. I saw my father’s smile in the age-spotted mirror behind the bar. It looked strange on my face but I left it there. “And a shot.”
     “You pick up friends fast,” the bartender said as he uncapped two beers, then poured a shot in a glass.
     I didn’t say anything as I paid for the drinks. I picked up the shot and poured it into my mouth, holding it there. Then I lifted the two bottles by the necks in one hand. I turned and fished a pack of Lucky Strikes from my shirt pocket as I walked back toward Shafeeq. I palmed the black crackle Zippo lighter from my shirt pocket as well.
     I stopped in front of Shafeeq with my hands full, just out of arm’s reach.
Shafeeq’s eyes narrowed and I knew he didn’t trust me. His pupils were pinpricks and I guessed that he’d visited one of the opium dens around the city before he’d wandered into Tipper’s.
     I shook the cigarette pack at the Malay sailor. I only smoked occasionally, just to cut the stench of the sea every now and again. My old man didn’t hold with smoking because it cut down on a guy’s wind and took some snap off his punch. He’d busted my lip for me when he’d found me smoking with the guys when I was thirteen.
     “Smoke.” Shafeeq nodded. “Like American cigarettes.”
     I shook a cigarette out, still holding the whiskey in my mouth and ignoring the harsh burn.
     Shafeeq took the cigarette, coming out from behind the waitress a little more. He lipped it and waited on me.
     I put the pack back in my shirt pocket, then flipped the Zippo open. The click of the hinged lid sounded louder than the squeaking ceiling fan. When I thumbed the flame, I blew the whiskey from my mouth the way my old man used to for gags with his pals. He’d learned it from a broken-down old magician that played in some of the bars where he worked occasionally as a bouncer.
     The whiskey spread thinly through the air and ignited into a rolling ball of gassy blue and yellow flame as it shot toward the Malaysian sailor. With him standing behind the waitress, I couldn’t put the flame directly in his face the way I would have otherwise. Still, he cursed in his language and dodged back. The alcohol flames brushed over the left side of his head and burned out before they got much past him.
     I dropped one of the beer bottles and broke the other one across Shafeeq’s face. Scared by the flames and hammered by the beer bottle, the Malaysian released the waitress and stepped back, howling in murderous rage. I stepped in and planted a jab in the middle of Shafeeq’s ugly face, snapping his head back.

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One Response to “SMOKER: A BOXING FABLE by Mel Odom”

  1. Hey!

    Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed this novella. It reminded me of the best of the boxing fiction in such pulps as Fight Story and Sport Story Magazine.

    I’ll be pimping it on my blog later today.


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