چشم در چشم با قهرمان

مجموعه: کتاب های فوق متوسط / کتاب: مرد سیندرلایی / درس 12

چشم در چشم با قهرمان

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Chapter 11 Face to Face with the Champion

Madison Square Garden, March 24, 1935

Jim Braddock and Joe Gould smiled for the cameras. Then it was time for the reporters’ questions.

“Jim, do you have anything to say to our readers?”

“Not everybody gets a second chance,” answered Jim. He looked at Mae, who sat at the front in a new yellow dress, smiling nervously. “I have a lot to be grateful for.”

A second reporter stood. “Can you tell our readers why you gave your relief money back?”

Jim nodded. “This great country of ours helps a man when he’s in trouble. I’ve had some good luck, so I thought I’d return the money.”

Another reporter stood. “Max Baer says that he’s worried he’s going to kill you in the ring. What do you say?”

Mae looked down at her hands. Jim looked the reporter in the eye. “Max Baer is the champion,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the fight.”

The next question was from a familiar face. Sporty Lewis stood and turned toward Mae. “Mrs. Braddock, how do you feel about the fact that Max Baer has killed two men in the ring?” Mae could find no words. “Mrs. Braddock, are you scared for your husband’s life?” continued Lewis.

A camera appeared in front of Mae’s face. Jim jumped to his feet. “She’s scared for Max Baer!” he shouted.

Joe Gould lifted his arms like a referee. “OK, OK, one more question . . .”

While Jim answered the last question, his eyes searched for Mae.

She refused to look up, not wanting him to see the doubts and fear in her eyes.

When Jim Braddock and Joe Gould entered Madison Square Garden’s boxing club, Jimmy Johnston was waiting for them. The rich, powerful businessman waved a newspaper at the fighter and his manager.

“It says here that this fight is as good as murder,” Johnston said, stepping close up to Braddock. “This is my business, and I’m going to protect myself. You will know exactly what Baer can do before you get in that ring.”

A door opened and a small man in a suit entered the room. This was Johnston’s lawyer, and he was followed by a secretary.

Johnston went to a machine and began to show a film. It showed two boxers getting ready to fight. One was Max Baer.

Johnston said the other man’s name. “That’s Frankie Campbell . . . A good fighter who knows how to take a punch.”

The fight began. Johnston turned to Braddock. “Is Campbell’s style familiar, Jim? It’s like looking in a mirror, isn’t it?”

“He doesn’t need to see this,” complained Joe.

“He’ll see it or there’ll be no fight!”Johnston warned.

On the film, Campbell stepped forward with a good left jab, almost as good as Jim’s. Baer blocked it easily, then hit back with his right. The punch was too fast to see, and it had a strange, terrible power. Campbell just stood there in confusion, with his gloves down by his side. The second punch hit the side of his head. And then Campbell was down, his legs wide, his eyes open but seeing nothing.

“It was the second punch that killed him,” said Johnston.

“You’ve warned us,” said Joe. “Now stop the film.”

“No,” said Jim, surprising both Joe and Johnston. “Show it again.”

When the lights were back on, Johnston stared at Jim.

“Remember Ernie Schaff ? He was a good fighter. Ernie took one of Baer’s punches on the chin. He was dead and didn’t know it. In his next fight, the first jab killed him.” He sat back in his chair. “Do you want to think about this fight?”

Jim hit his hands on the desk angrily. “Do you think you’re telling me something I don’t know?” he shouted. “How many guys died because they didn’t have enough food? Or because they had to work long hours and dangerous jobs to feed their families?

I’ve thought about it as much as I’m going to.”

“OK, then.” Johnston looked away. “Why don’t you both eat here tonight with your wives?”

The fight organizer smiled, but there was something about the look in his eyes that Jim didn’t trust.

Later that day, the two men returned to the club’s restaurant with their wives. The four ate, talked, and laughed, as a piano played quietly in the corner.

After the meal, Joe pulled a newspaper out of his pocket. He turned to the sports pages and began to read. “Jim Braddock is back from the dead to give hope to every American.”

Jim was surprised. “Who wrote that?”

“Sporty Lewis. The newspaper is calling you the Cinderella Man.”

“Cinderella Man?” Jim didn’t look happy. Cinderella was a children’s story. Wasn’t Cinderella the girl who had to stay at home and clean while her sisters went to a wonderful party at the palace?

“I like it,” said Mae, squeezing his hand.

Suddenly, an enormous man with two young women on his arms walked in through the front door. Conversations died around the room. The man had thick black hair and the brightest blue eyes. He was wearing an expensive white jacket, but he looked dangerous. As usual, all eyes in the room turned to him. This was Max Baer.

Jim turned to his manager. “Do you think Johnston planned this?” he asked angrily.

Joe nodded. “Sure. More pictures for the papers.”

Physically, Baer was the perfect boxer. He had a narrow waist, wide shoulders, strong legs, and long arms. He was young, too—at twenty-six, three years younger than Jim. And he had the strongest punch Joe Gould had ever seen—probably the strongest punch in the history of boxing.

Joe knew that there were ways to beat the champion. His right hand punch was so powerful that he hadn’t really worked on improving his left hand. But Joe couldn’t forget the sight of Baer destroying Primo Carnera. The big Italian had been knocked down eleven times in that fight.

Joe’s attention moved away from Baer when a waiter arrived with a bottle of wine and four glasses.

“From the gentleman at the bar . . . Mr. Baer said I should wish you good luck.”

Jim looked at Mae. The blood had run from her face, leaving her pale with worry. He stood. “Get the coats, Joe.” Then he began walking toward the bar.

Baer gave a big smile when he saw Jim coming. “Look, it’s the Cinderella Man!” he shouted.

Jim stood toe to toe with the champion. “You keep saying in the newspapers that you’re going to kill me in the ring. I have three little kids. You’re upsetting my family.”

Baer moved closer. His voice was quiet as he said, “Listen to me, Braddock. I’m asking you not to take this fight. People admire you. You seem like a nice guy, and I don’t want to hurt you. It’s no joke. They’re calling you the Cinderella Man. Well, people die in children’s stories all the time.”

Suddenly, a small crowd of reporters and photographers ran into the club. Baer turned to face the cameras and smiled. His voice was loud again as he started performing for the cameras. “If you’re smart, you’ll fall over in the first round,” he told Jim.

Jim’s eyes met Baer’s. “I think I’ll try for a few rounds,” he said.

Baer noticed Mae, standing behind Jim now. “You should talk to him,” he said. “You’re much too pretty to lose your husband.”

Jim squeezed his fist into a ball, ready to attack, but Baer continued to look at Mae. “Maybe I can take care of you after he’s gone.”

This time Joe Gould jumped, waving his fists at the champion.

Jim pulled him back.

Mae stepped up to the bar. Baer’s bright blue eyes followed her as she picked up his drink, then threw it in his face.

Baer just laughed as he dried his face. “Did you get that, boys?” he said to the reporters. “Braddock has his wife fighting for him.”

Jim stepped up to Max Baer. The two boxers were nose to nose.

Then Jim turned, took his wife’s hand, and led her away. As they left, the sound of Baer laughing followed them into the street.

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