Cat In A Cage
A story of boxers and strippers.
“I don’t miss boxing.” Sugar Ray Leonard
Manz Farino won a fifteen round decision against Larry Krill in ’73, a big win that nearly cost Manz his left eye. He hung up his gloves after that, and opened a strip club on Decarie near the Blue Bonnets Race Track, attending charity events, and becoming what columnists called “a gentleman hero.”
I met Manz through Jonesy, this playwright friend of mine. We’d just come off a ten day hunger strike, meaning we hadn’t written a thing in weeks. Jonesy and Manz went way back. When Jonesy needed a meal, all he had to do was show up at Manz’s club, so that’s where we went after the third race.
Manz took out guys nobody figured he could take out, especially Krill who had a two inch reach advantage.
Manz made good money off the racing crowd. The club was more than half full when we arrived. Everywhere you looked was boxing memorabilia. One big picture had Manz standing over Krill. Manz was all of five foot ten, stocky, but he punched like a heavyweight. Manz took out guys nobody figured he could take out, especially Krill who had a two inch reach advantage.
Jonesy and I found Manz in a booth going over some renovations with a gray-haired guy. There were architectural drawings all over the table.“Don’t give me big pillars,” Manz was saying. “I hate big pillars.” The architect nodded, gathering up his stuff. He said goodbye and left. We took his place. Manz wore a tweed jacket, burgundy shirt and three gold rings.
“This is Phil,” Jonesy introduced me. “He thinks you’re one of the best.”
“One of the best?” Manz said to me. “You thick or something? I was the best. What are you boys drinking? Juice or coffee?”
That’s what Manz asked everybody. Juice meant you were flush and wanted a real drink. Coffee meant you were broke.
“Coffee,” Jonesy said.
“Tough day at the races?”
“No money, Manz. We just go to watch these days.”
Nobody played the broke act like he did. Big as he was, he still gave the impression, until that beard and overcoat, he was practically starving.
Manz didn’t go in for horse racing himself. He’d done enough gambling in his day, mostly on his own fights. He listened to Jonesy talk, his thick fingers interlocked on the table. “You boys eaten?” he asked and Jonesy put on that broke face. Nobody played broke like he did. Big as he was, he still gave the impression he was practically starving. The beard didn’t help, either. He looked like a mountain man who found an old overcoat to wear.
Manz called over a waitress.
“Bring these boys a beer and a Blue Bonnets special,” he said. “And get me some tea.”
She went away without saying anything.
“What’s tea stand for?” I asked.
“It stands for tea,” Manz said. “What’s with this guy?” — looking at Jonesy, then back at me — “I’m on my third ulcer. You know who gave me my worst ulcer? That bastard Williams. See his picture over there?”
I went over and looked at Manz standing over Clive Williams back in ‘72, two eyes practically shut. Manz would meet Krill eight months later, doing enough damage to put them both out of boxing. Over the bar, Manz had the true greats: Johansson, Patterson, Chuvalo and Foreman. Chuvalo got pummelled by Frazier, but never went down. When they stopped the fight, Chuvalo said, “What? Are you nuts?”
I came back and sat in the booth.
“You’ve got some great memorabilia,” I said.
Manz gave me a big capped smile. “Come upstairs after you eat,” he said to us. “The best stuff’s in my office.” He winked at Jonesy. Then he got up and went through some red studded leather doors at the back.
“Told you,” Jonesy winked at me. “Never lets a friend down.”
We watched a dancer slide lazily up and down a pole on the stage. People starting coming through the doors, some happy, some not so happy. The fourth and fifth races must have ended.
Our food came and we ate it. Manz gave good portions.
“Let’s go upstairs before the place gets lousy,” Jonesy said.
At the top was door with rippled glass and Manz’s name over it. We could hear rumba music.
We finished our beers and went up a wide set of stairs running next to an old open-grille freight elevator. At the top was door with rippled glass and Manz’s name over it. We could hear rumba music inside.
The office itself was filled with every kind of boxing and stripper memorabilia you could imagine. An old print of Gypsy Rose Lee was up next to Joe Frazer. On another wall was a poster of Manz’s firstfight with O’Shea. It was a twelfth round split decision. Manz had a sixty-eight percent knockout average at that point.
The phone was ringing as we came through the door. Manz picked it up.“Yeah, that’s right,” he said. “Just get her out of here.” He motioned us over. “Whatdya mean when?” he said over the phone. “As soon as possible. Whatdya think I’m running here, a zoo?”
Manz slammed the phone down.
“You see this?” he said, pointing to the other side of the room. There was this woman in a cage. She was lying on a settee in a leopard print Danskin. A long tail was draped across her hip. She wore a mask with whiskers, the whole deal.
“My supplier’s idea of a joke,” Manz said. “I told him I wanted promotional stuff nobody would forget. Guy took me at my word.”
“Be careful, Jonesy,” Manz said. “She nearly tore off my arm this morning.”
Jonesy went over to the cage and ran his fingers along the bars.
“Be careful, Jonesy,” Manz said. “She nearly tore off my arm this morning.”
“What are you going to do with her?” Jonesy asked.
“Supplier’s coming by to pick her up.”
Jonesy crouched down and tapped the bars.
“Here, puss, puss,” he said. “Here, kitty, kitty.”
“Don’t get her riled,” Manz said. “She’s fast as anything.”
The woman rolled over on her back, stretched and yawned.
“She looks harmless,” Jonesy said.
Manz opened his bottom desk drawer and took out a bottle of scotch.
He poured us each a drink.
“Whatdya think of my set up?” he asked me. He pointed to a picture on the far wall. “You know that guy there?” he said.
“Cortez,” I said. “You ever fight him?”
“Nah, he was a middleweight at the time. I never got down that low. Turine’s a lot like him. He’s a light heavyweight now.”
I went over and looked at the picture.
“I fought Dunhill on the same card once,” he said.
Jonesy was crouched with his fingers through the cage.
“You’re going to get mauled,” Manz said.
“She’d probably eat an antelope if I gave it to her.”
“I think she’s waking up, Manz,” Jonesy replied.
The woman let out a purring sound.
“You hear this?” Jonesy said. “She’s purring.”
“She’d probably eat an antelope if I gave it to her,” Manz said.
The woman raised herself up on her haunches and stretched.
“She even moves like cat,” Jonesy said.
“Don’t get too close, Jonesy.”
“You’re a good kitty, aren’t you?”
“You’re going to get mauled — ” Manz said.
She had one leg wrapped around his leg. She was trying to lick his face.
The words were barely out when she suddenly grabbed Jonesy by the coat, pulling him against the bars. She had one leg through the bars wrapped around his waist. She was trying to lick his face.
“Holy shit,” Jonesy cried. “Get her off me, Manz!”
Manz and I both jumped up. She had Jonesy by the shirt now, Jonesy screaming, Manz pulling him by the coat. I saw a broom over by the wall. I grabbed it and shoved the end though the bars into her stomach.
She squealed and staggered back. She looked at me like I was crazy.
“Ouch,” she said. “That really hurt.”
Jonesy slid down the bars, wheezing away. I looked over at Manz. He was doubled up over his desk. They were both laughing their asses off.
“That — ” Manz said, “ — that was priceless.”
The woman was still rubbing her stomach.
“He really jabbed me with that thing, Manz,” she said.
“I’m sorry, Monique,” he gasped. “You really had him going. Hell, I almost bought it myself. You okay?”
“Open the door for her, Jonesy,” Manz said, wiping his eyes with a handkerchief. “My apologies, Monique. I didn’t know he’d grab a broom. Go have a nice dinner on me. Get yourself a steak.”
“I’m going to have a bruise,” she said.
“I’m—I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t know it was a joke—”
“Open the door for her, Jonesy,” Manz said, wiping his eyes with a handkerchief. “My apologies, Monique. Go have a nice dinner on me.”
“Can I leave early today?” she said. “My kid’s in a school play.”
“Sure, go ahead,” Manz said. “Give him my best, will ya. He’s a good kid.”
Monique went out the door with her tail swishing behind.
Manz wiped his eyes again. Jonesy was looking at his torn shirt.
“I guess I’m buying you a new shirt,” Manz said. “These practical jokes are getting expensive.”
I was still holding the broom.
“Better put that down, lad,” Manz said to me. “Let me refill your glass.”
I got my glass off the rug.
“Like the cage?” he said. “I bought it last year.”
“He used to have Jungle Fever Nights,” Jonesy said to me.
“When did you guys cook this gag up?” I asked.
“Jonesy called me earlier,” Manz said. “Monique wasn’t doing anything so I asked her to play along. You staying for the show tonight?”
“We better not,” Jonesy said. “Thanks, anyway.”
“Well, drop around any time,” Manz said to me.
We shook hands and Manz led us to the door.
It was supposed to be burlesque, but it was more just some costumes, a few routines, stuff the girls made up themselves.
Downstairs, the place was practically full. All the races were over. The evening shift were coming through the doors, girls in sweatpants and big coats. They’d get into their feathers and head dresses, doing what Manz called a burlesque. It was really just stuff the girls made up themselves.
Monique was over in the corner packing up her stuff. She passed us on the way out. “Sorry about your shirt,” she said to Jonesy.
We stayed for one more drink and left. Going out the door, I looked at Manz’s pictures again, the fights, the championship belts. When I got home later, I sat thinking about Manz. I could write about him, the fights, the history. That wasn’t the story, though, was it? The real story, if I wrote it — if I could get it out — was that cage, and Monique, and Manz doubled over the desk. That was a story worth telling. I wondered if Jonesy was thinking the same thing.
Robert Cormack is a satirist, novelist and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores. Check out out Robert’s other stories and articles at robertcormack.net
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