Rated X for some rough language.
By Paul Saevig
When Edward Rainer and his family moved to West Fullerton, everything seemed different to him. All the streets were straight. None of the trees were very big. None of the houses had more than three bedrooms, as far as he could tell. Everything was flat. All the houses looked alike. They used to live on Santa Barbara in Sunny Hills.
His family’s house was close to two major streets and a shopping center. There was street noise most of the day and well into the night. When buses and big trucks stopped, their brakes squealed. Only a few homes had swimming pools on every block, and on some blocks, none at all. His older sister asked him, “Well, what do you expect?” He said she grew up in Sunny Hills and before that Whittier. They moved to West Fullerton after their dad had a stroke.
Edward didn’t want to be a snob, and feared he might sound like one, But this is how he saw things now. He was a thin boy with tow white hair, intense hazel eyes, and a young triangular face. Although he smiled easily and warmly, he was self-conscious, especially about his high pitched voice that he kept expected to change and get deeper. He’d been taught by his parents to be a gentleman.
What shocked Edward most was Nicolas Junior High School, where a lot of boys liked to spit every minute or two. They even had spitting fights and laughed while they spat on each other. In the locker rooms, the bodies of the boys stank. They were probably all a little surprised to see each other naked and walking around, except the boys from large families. It took Edward a while to get used to it, and he hurried to take his shower, dress and leave as fast as he could.
The boys constantly accused each other of being queers, and usually they laughed. Sometimes a boy would get mad, though, and there would be a shouting match. Some days the boys agreed to fight after school, which Edward didn’t think they’d go through with, but they did. He heard they walked down the alley to the shopping area at Euclid & Orangethorpe, and they’d stop behind a market and fight with their fists. He didn’t know whether to believe it, until one day he started walking to the hamburger stand with a friend, and they found a crowd in the alley. All of a sudden, two boys faced each other with their fists up, about twelve feet apart, and started to fight. But they had no boxing skills at all, most of them. They fought like children. Edward avoided the alley after that because the fights and the crowds frightened him. He didn’t want to be involved with that.
He also noticed the boys were constantly talking about who was after who. “Mike Siglar is after him!” “He’s got a big brother who’s after Lenny now.” “Mark chose off Brian but then found out Brian’s brother is a senior! He’ll stomp Mark if he catches him!” “Leave me along or I’ll get my cousin after you!”
Edward realized it was a whole system of who was tough, tougher and toughest, and who had older brothers, older cousins, sisters who dated older guys. The idea was that a tougher older guy would protect someone against being “pounded,” in the word they used. Or it could be a friend who would pound anybody who bothered a specific boy.
He discovered some of the boys carried switchblade knives when he had a coke at the hamburger stand one day. There was a circle of boys watching one boy with a long blade that shot out of his knife when he pushed a button on handle. Then he let some of the other boys hold his knife and push the button. They seemed pleased. The combined length of the blade and knife handle must have been ten inches or more, and could not possibly be carried with reliable concealment, not the way the boys dressed. Edward couldn’t imagine it. Sooner or later the knife would fall out. Besides, any boy who used a knife in a fight would be arrested and sent to Juvenile Hall, or maybe the California Youth Authority. Even getting caught with a knife like that was a crime. That would be on their record if they applied to get a job or for a loan, or tried to get in a college. Edward didn’t understand it. He hated being in a position of looking down on anyone.
The boys who acted tough were called the tough guys, obviously enough. They were usually cocky in one way or another, and surly somehow. People said they had a chip on their shoulder. A lot of them wore blue nylon jackets they called “tankers”. Many wore taps on their shoes that made clicking noises when they walked. The tough guys had various ways of strutting when they walked, and some of them frowned all day long, or at least when another boy looked at them. They would often make obscene gestures with their hands and fingers, called “giving the finger”, or “flipping the bird”.
Their most obvious features were their hairstyles, beginning with something called a flattop with a jelly roll. Some guys in Sunny Hills had flattops, but none had jelly rolls. He learned the term “fenders” to mean long hair on the sides of a guys who wore a flattop. Some guys tried to wear all their hair combed straight back, but it didn’t work for everyone. The majority of guys, meaning those who ere not tough guys, usually wore butch haircuts or crewcuts, or what they called “gentleman’s haircuts” where their hair was parted on one side — usually the left side — and combed across on top, with a some hair combed up at the forehead. That’s what Edward had, although he considered getting a crewcut for convenience.
Everybody seemed to accept the system. He noticed some boys befriended the tough guys and became their friends. Other boys avoided the tough guys all they could. Still others seemed to pay no attention to the tough guys whatsoever, and he wondered if these last boys know there were tough guys at all. For himself, Edward didn’t know if he could avoid it all. He didn’t see a strategy he could use.
He found out one day in the showers after Physical Education. He took his shower at one end of a long rectangular shower area, as usual, and suddenly heard boys yelling. Then there were loud cracks and he saw two tough guys snapping their towels at each other. Obviously they could damage each others’ eyes that way, or ears, or cut each others’ flesh badly. Then he saw the two boys were friends, and having their snapping contest for fun. At one point, one boy chased the other toward where Edward stood, while the retreating boy laughed and tried to wind his towel into a vicious whip. Without seeing Edward, he bumped hard against him, and yelled, “Look out, prick!” Quite a few boys laughed and the fight went on.
Edward had seen the boy who bumped him often on the school grounds, and he was a conceited boy who picked fights. Most boys talked their way out of fighting, but some agreed to fight this boy. He gave them no choice,
He spread his legs wide, one forward and one back, as if he were about to do the splits, and leaned his body in a backward slant as he began to fight. He leaned his head back if he saw a punch coming, and aimed sweeping punches at his opponent. These fights usually lasted about a minute until a teacher or a coach came to break it up came, and the cocky boy acted as if he won no matter what. This cocky boy seemed to enjoy his fame as a fighter. He swaggered.
Edward had also heard this boy brag about making out with girls, giving them “hickeys” and even “finger-banging” them, which Edward had to figure out intuitively. He decided the boy hadn’t bumped into him deliberately.
A lot of the boys talked about “jacking off”, “pussy”, “twat”, “dicks,” “tits,” “69,” “peckers,” and more. There was no way to avoid hearing them. Gentleman didn’t talk that way. As a matter of fact the boys’ counselor sometimes said, “Gentlemen don’t fight.” Edward knew sooner or later one of the tough guys would “choose him off”.
His family was struggling. After his stroke, his father had lost his job as an engineer, and his insurance didn’t cover much. He had to live in a nursing facility with physical therapy several days a week, and it was in La Mirada, a ways off. Edward’s mom went back to work teaching second grade to pay their bills, and they were using up their savings. His older sister talked about leaving school to get a job, although no one wanted her to. Their equity in their house on Santa Barbara paid their mortgage in West Fullerton for a while, and then it came out of his mom’s paychecks. His sister in fifth grade tried to adjust to a new way of life, too, without horses or cotillion or Jimmy Smith’s.
In West Fullerton, Edward constantly felt out of place. He’d wanted to be a doctor when he grew up, or maybe an astronaut, and neither seemed as possible any more. He knew a person couldn’t just hate a place, because that was unfair, but he hated West Fullerton anyway. He never knew when a tough guy might knock him down or spit on him or take his bike.
He played baseball, basketball and baseball on school teams, and made the honor roll. He sang in the choir and enjoyed the dance lessons every Sunday evening in the school cafeteria. He rode a second hand pedal bike his older sister found, and tried his best to blend in. When he rode or walked past many streets, though, there were guys sitting on the lawn and smoking cigarettes, standing in garages or walking on the sidewalks, thought guys who tried to insult him, tried to make him mad enough to fight, told him they just had “BA 69” with his older sister or his younger sister, and threatened him to get off his bike. It was miserable for Edward to see and hear them. He wondered why other boys didn’t complain. He worried he was too soft, a sissy, a chicken, a coward, But they were a realistic, genuine threat.
After a while, he noticed it was only about fifty guys who did threatened people in his neighborhood and nearby, Only those guys did the cursing and acting dangerous. There were even a lot of tough guys who didn’t, tough guys who ere content to look tough and be seen as tough. The guys who harassed him all seemed pathetic, in their own ways. But fifty out of maybe seven eight hundred guys was encouraging in a way,. He tried to feel safe but couldn’t.
When he explained that to his older sister, she said, “Edward, stop it! If you’re thinking that about people, it comes across! They know! It makes them even madder!”
She was right and he knew it. As much as he could, he tried to bond with the other ballplayers, and it worked with maybe quite a few of them. The others already seemed to have an image of him as a rich,spoiled, snobbish kid. He could tell. They looked at the nice clothes he still had from Sunny Hills, and they listened to how he talked, with a good vocabulary and enunciation. They noticed how much he enjoyed his classes, and how he read books that weren’t even assigned. They heard his dad had been a big aerospace executive and assumed he still was, with a big salary. Not much was said, but their image of them separated them from Edward, even though most of them liked him. He was not one of them, even though he tried.
Once basketball season started, Edward became a forward and he was pretty good for a boy 5’8” and 135 pounds. He could shoot and drive for lay-ups, and he knew how to set a pick and roll. The teams he played on usually won, out on the blacktop courts at Nicolas Junior High. He liked a lot of his teammates and his opponents, and had met their sisters and brothers, and some of their parents from Little League. The parents liked Edward because he was a gentleman and friendly, and quite a few of the girls “liked” him, too. He was tempted to think things were looking up, even though he felt alienated. In an outward way, things looked normal.
When his team played the cocky tough guy’s team — the one who swaggered around and bragged about “finger-banging” girls, Edward decided to be careful. His team had better players, but the other team played dirty, and they weren’t bad, either.
Every time Edward tried to get in position for a rebound, the cocky tough guy was right there to push him, elbow him, or step on his feet. When Edward shot the ball, the other boy took wild swings to block it and miss ed often,m striking edward or his teammates. It was the way Jerry West, Hot Rod Hundley and Elgin Baylor played basketball,
The boy’s name was Crayton Wurter and his father owned an auto upholstery shop on Highway 39 in Stanton. They called the boy Cray,
“Give me a break, Crayton,” Edward said calmly enough. “No more fouls.”
“You’re saying I’m fouling you?” Cray Wurter asked him in a familiar hostile tone of voice.
“Yes, so please, cut it out, OK?”
“Sure!” Cray promised with sarcasm, and on the next missed shot, he knocked Edward over.
“Oh, I’m so sorry!” he said mockingly.
Edward had discussed this kind of eventuality with their coach, and said, “Personal foul! Out of bounds!”
“What?” Crayton yelled.
“Foul. Take it out,” another boy told Edward.
Crayton had the ball and threw it hard Edward’s face, where he ducked to avoid being hit.
“Uh-oh!” another tough boy said, and make a high pitched monkey laugh.
Edward stood exactly where he was without moving. Crayton walked directly toward him with a grin on his face.
“You think you’re pretty tough, don’t you?” Crayton taunted him, and moved closer to Edward, inches from his face.
Edward said nothing.
“Let’s go a few rounds, you ass-hole!” Crayton snarled.
The other tough guys gave another monkey laugh and from all over the courts ran to watch.
Crayton Wurter pushed Edward hard as he could by the shoulders, and when Edward sprang back, he pushed Crayton as hard.
Now Crayton assumed his fighting stance, legs wide apart, head and body leaning away from edward, arms extended in front of him. If the other guys expected Edward to adopt a similar stance, they were mistaken. He stood his ground and waited with his hands at his belt.
Clayton jabbed his left hand at Edward, who blocked it with his own right hand. He tried it again and Edward slapped it aside.
When Crayton tried a sweeping round-house right hand, Edward raised his own fists, stepped forward, and glided into position to clip Crayton under the chin with an uppercut and knock him down.
While all the boys roared in excitement, the coach approached time from about one hundred feet off and yelled, “Break it up!”
“That was lucky!” Clayton screamed and rose to his feet, and he charged Edward with both fists flying. Edward dropped to crouch and left hooked Crayton in the stomach, sending him down to the pavement again. Crayton rolled on the asphalt and gasped.
The coach arrived and raised his eyebrows at Edward’s skill. He appointed another boy to take Edward to the counselor’s office, and got on his haunches to help Crayton.
“That’s it,” Edward said to himself. “I’ll be expelled, maybe get a police record. Mom will cry.”
“You cleaned his clock, Edward,” the escort boy told him. “God! You whipped his butt”
“I’m in bad trouble,” Edward confessed.
“No! He started the fight! You only defended yourself!”
“I almost wish I were dead,” Edward told him.
The escort shook his head in bewilderment and left Edward outside the counselor’s office. Edward was ashamed, and noticed the boys in Wood Shop staring out the door at him.
“What did you do?” some of them called to him.
“He beat the snot out of Crayton Wurter, that’s what! I saw it!” a passing boy told them with a satisfied smile.
Edward prayed he would only be sent to military school and get to see his family on holidays. He looked up and saw the counselor in the red sports jacket he wore.
“Come inside, son,” the man told him.
When they were seated, the counselor asked Edward what happened, and the boy explained.
“That’s what I was told,” the man said. “But Edward, where did you learn to box? Boys Club? Catholic Youth? Coach practically flipped his lid.”
“My grandfather was a boxer in San Francisco. He was a stevedore and he boxed. He taught my dad and my uncles to box, and they taught me and my cousins.”
“A professional boxer?” the counselor asked.
“Yes. His name was Desmond Rainer. A heavyweight. Small heavyweight, 179 pounds. He fought Dan O'Dowd, Jack Herman, Bartley Madden and knocked out Slippy Carruthers in the 19th round in Reno. He fought Gene Tunney and got knocked out in nine rounds. Jack Dempsey knocked Uncle Des out in five. He retired from boxing when he was twenty-four and they had seven more children. He worked for Crown Zellerbach after that.”
The counselor looked at the ceiling as he tried to remember something, and then he looked at Edward and put his own hands on his desk blotter.
“I remember Desmond Rainer! Fiery red hair! The men in my family were all fight fans. I saw your grandfather fight at Daly City when I was six years old! Goodness gracious! Imagine that, Edward!”
“Will I be expelled, sir?”
“Well — ,“ the counselor started to say and his phone rang.
“He’s right here, yes. You’ll never guess who his grandfather was. No, you have to hear it from him! Unbelievable. Yes, I’ll talk to the Wurter boy. Right away.”
Then he spoke to Edward:
“The other boy provoked you and started the fight. Between you and me, he’s done this once too often now. He’s an intelligent young man, but for some reason he’s truculent. Anyway, Edward, the principal would like to talk to you, Can I trust you to walk directly to his office, and not talk to anyone on the way?”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
“Just one thing. Do you fight AAU or maybe Golden Gloves?”
“Oh, no. I’m not even nearly good enough for that. My cousins and I used to box for fun, I mean, against each other. Maybe they are. But they moved to San Diego two years ago. I’m kind of glad, too. I don’t really like to fight.”
“I see. Well, you’re about to find out the principal was the middleweight champion of the Pacific Coast Conference at USC. Two years running!”
For the first time, Edward smiled. He never would have guessed.
The principal greeted him warmly and spoke about Edward’s school record at first.
“You make almost all A’s. You sing and play sports, and you enjoy social dancing. You’re not happy here, though, are you, Edward?”
“No, sir, I’m not. I’m trying to be, though.”
“I’ve talked to your mother, Edward. I have an idea of what’s going on, and I’m sorry. My own father was gassed in the Argonne Forest, and he never really recovered. I have kind of an idea what it’s like for you.”
“Sir? I want to tell you I like the people here, and all my neighbors, too. Some of the guys say I’m a snob, but I don’t feel that way. I’m no better or worse than anyone else, including Crayton. But it’s been hard for me to adjust. There are all these tough guys, for example. I’m afraid to walk down the street. Really. If I get in a fight, I get my clothes torn up, I could get my nose broken, arrested, sent to Juvenile Hall, upset my mom, and all over nothing. She doesn’t; have money for the dentist if I get my teeth knocked out. I don’t know what to do sometimes. It wasn’t this way in Sunny Hills. I’m sorry, but it wasn’t.”
“Oh, I know, Edward. I grew up in Golden Hill myself, and before that Pasadena. My people were in oil. I was a weakling and I learned to box to defend myself. You know what? I kind of enjoyed it, though. I won a few fights in college, and then one day I took my future wife to a dance at the Palomar Ballroom. In LA. A sailor made a pass at her, I defended her, and he knocked me out cold. A big Polish kid. Talk about a humiliating experience. I didn’t press charges. Anyway, I hear you have some mighty smooth footwork.”
“Well, the way Crayton was trying to crowd me, that was the logical step, to slide in and uppercut,” Edward admitted.
“Yeah. You could have stepped to his right and thrown your bolo punch, if you have one. Or double-hooked, and I think you’re quick enough, from what I’ve heard. Anyway — he’s all right now. No injuries. He wasn’t knocked completely out. You must have pulled it a little. Anyway — would you like to go back to class now, son?”
“May I, please?”
“I think you should. As far as feeling alienated here, I’m going to have you introduced to some of the smart kids you haven’t met yet. They don’t get in fist fights, or towel fights in the shower area.”
“That’s good to know,” Edward agreed.
“Now when you see some of these tough guys, or the poor girls who already have a reputation, there are usually reasons for it, Edward. Some have parents who beat them. Some of the fathers beat their wives. Some have been in prison. Several I know of are GIs who were shell shocked and never really recovered. The tough guys are not happy boys, Edward. Compared to Sunny Hills or Golden Hill, nobody down here has any money. That’s very hard on some of the children, who can’t have nice clothes or decent shoes, or vacations in Hawaii, Or vacations at all. The parents might not be poor, exactly, but they struggle to make ends meet. When they go up to the Barn to square dance, they see all the Cadillacs and Lincolns parked outside. They know a lot of those Sunny Hills people, grew up with them in Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee. They didn't all come out here and make good money, though. Well, you get my point. You’re a very popular student, Edward. Just keep giving them a chance.”
So he did. Edward concentrated and enjoyed Nicolas and West Fullerton a little more every month. He heard more and more about Sunny Hills High School from his sister who was a Lancelle and dated a boy from Richman Knoll, a doctor's son.
When the summer came, Edward went to stay with his mother's sister in Redlands. They had money and it was more familiar to him. He played tennis, swam, rode horses and read four books a week. He never needed to worry about tough guys cornering him and demanding his money, or tripping him so he’d fall in a rain puddle. Just the same, by the end of the summer he dreaded going back.
On his second day at Sunny Hills, Edward went in to see his physical education teacher, who was the tennis coach.
“Come on in, Rainer,” the man said. They sat in the glass widow row where the coaches had their desks.
“One of the other coaches is going to talk to you about AAU age division boxing. What do you think?”
“Coach, to make a long story short, yeah, I can box. I hate boxing, though, I got in one fight at Nicolas, when the other guy started it, and I knocked him down right away. What I mean is, I have kind of a reputation. That’s what the other coach meant?”
“Yeah, it was his own stupid idea,” the coach said.
“I want to concentrate on my classes and get good grades and learn all I can, but I know some guys are going to challenge me. I don’t know who, but sooner or later. What should I do?” Edward asked the man.
“How’d you learn?” the coach wanted to know.
“Well, I could show you, My grandfather was a professional fighter, a heavyweight. He taught us. I’m not saying I’m Sonny Liston, but I can handle myself. I don’t want to fight. I expect guys here to choose me off, and I don’t want to stand there and take it.”
“Yeah, I see what you mean. That happens a lot in physical education, out on the field. All that testosterone is flowing, it’s hot, and boys want to compete, They want to show each other what men they are. Tell you what. You stand your ground here when you need to, Rainer. Try to defend yourself, and you don’t necessarily need to put anyone on the deck. If you see it coming, come to us and we’ll arrange a fight to settle the beef, in the gym. OK? Only if we have to. I kind of know how you feel. I had a brother who was six feet three, two hundred ten pounds. He could fight, and really bang. He was fast. Strong, You couldn’t hurt him. You couldn’t. Good athlete. Seemed like every time he went in a bar or to a dance, some pipsqueak wanted to fight him. He tried to laugh them out of it, but he couldn’t always. He actually got arrested once for a fight he didn't start. They didn’t book him, though. He enlisted the Monday after Pearl Harbor, became a Marine Raider. My brother was killed by a sniper on Okinawa. He was going to play Major League baseball.”
“I’m sorry, coach.”
“Yeah. You’ll be okay, Rainer. Let me know if you have any trouble. We don’t want any fighting here.”
After that, things went along fine for Edward Rainer. He made new friends and loved Sunny Hills and the new high school, and he felt he’d been liberated from human bondage. During the Christmas vacation, he learned Crayton Wurter of Buena Park High School had been stabbed to death in a fight in the parking lot of Knott’s Berry Farm. Edward bought flowers and took them to Crayton’s mother, and sat with his family for a while. They didn’t know who he was, just a guy who went to school with their son. On his way home, Edward felt guilty for knocking Crayton Wurter down and humiliating him. It was unavoidable.
Sunny Hills High School was beautiful and safe. The only guys who acted tough here were some of the surfers, and a few guys from West Fullerton. There were guys who could handle themselves form Basque Tract and down near Commonwealth & Euclid but they almost never made trouble. No one took the Nicolas tough guys all that seriously, as far as Edward could tell. He got to know some of his Nicolas friends better, and several of them admitted they were scared down there, too. It was the tension of never knowing when two or three tough guys would make trouble. A guy couldn’t live a normal life that way.
There was one Sunny Hills upperclassman with a reputation as a bully, tough. People said he was from an old Ukrainian family in Los Angeles and his dad worked in City Hall there. The boy was a weightlifter, and good enough for national competitions. His name was Harold Kolanko, and his shoulders seemed to begin at his ears and slope down to merge with his wide shoulders. At lunch he would eat half a dozen roast beef sandwiches and drink ten or twelve cartons of milk, then eat a whole cherry or apple pie by himself. He said he needed the calories for energy. He had to wear special clothes his mom ordered for him with a seamstress. He was six feet five inches tall and weighed two hundred forty pounds, with corn blond hair, close-set blue eyes, a square jaw and thick lips. People said he lived on Amerige and dated a pretty redhead from Basque Tract, and she put out. Edward paid no attention to him at all.
But right after Thanksgiving, Harold Kolanko started to snarl at Edward in the quad and by the canteen. Somehow Edward didn’t think anything would come of it, because Harold was always in a bad mood. Edward himself was not one of the handsome guys that other guys resented.
Besides, Harold Kolanko was so big, he’d look like a bully bothering someone Edward’s size. Usually the fights he picked were at Huntington Beach or outside the Pavilion in Balboa. Edward tried not to think about the snarling and dirty looks from Harold Kolanko. His sister was even one of Edward’s sister’s friends.
At the beginning of December, Edward’s mother had a shock when her great aunt in Monrovia died suddenly and left Mrs. Rainer her entire estate, including a twenty-eight acre orange grove; a two story house, a small fortune in Redlands municipal bonds, and a larger fortune in Standard Oil stock.
When Mrs. Rainer gathered her children around to tell them of the windfall, Edward thought she was joking. His younger sister cried with joy and danced around the room. His older sister was speechless. Right away they voted to get an apartment in Sunny Hills, or maybe Golden Hill. That’s what they did two weeks later, right before Christmas
Edward was caught up in his family euphoria one morning, the last before Christmas vacation. He was walking up the main aisle when he thought he smelled Harold Kolanko’s unusual goat smell. Just then, the weightlifter stepped on the back of Edward’s right tennis shoe. The prank was called a “giving somebody a flat tire”. Edward wheeled around in anger, and saw Harold glaring at him.
“You’re nothing but a little cunt!” Harold told him.
When Edward steeled himself against reacting in anger, Harold reached out and tore off the breast pocket of Edward’s shirt. The bully’s friends laughed and a crowd formed immediately.
“You want to go?” Harold demanded, and tried to slap Edward’s face, but Edward ducked the attempt.
He took one look at Harold Kolanko and told him, “Wrestling gym.”
He took off in that direction and didn’t look back. Naturally several hundred students rush to follow, mostly boys but some girls too. They argued back and forth about who would win, who would kick the other’s ass, and wagers were placed. Quite a few Nicolas grads got lucrative odds on Edward Rainer.
The atmosphere was festive, or had been, with Christmas decorations and posters everywhere, and the Christmas assembly was about to begin in the main gym.
Edward’s PE coach and the wrestling coach heard about the fight and waited at the wrestling gym door, and the basketball coach and the head football coach arrived to let a dozen senior varsity athletes inside to watch. Edward stood ready with his shirt off, and when Harold Komanko walked in behind him, he did a couple of deep knee bends, swung his arms in a circle, and approached the center of the mat.
The wrestling coach would be the referee and made the two wear big gloves, and then they had to tap them together. When the coach clapped his own hands and yelled, “Fight!”, Harold Komanko grinned and circled slowly around Edward, who tracked him and moved counter clockwise, in and out, watching Harold’s blue eyes and his massive chest. He was muscle-bound, of course, but still dangerous.
Right away Harold threw a left jab and a right cross that missed by a foot, while he grunted, “You’re dead, queer!” to Edward.
Edward rattled off three left jabs off Harold’s face and broke his nose. Then he slid left and at an angle, hit Harold’s liver twice with left hooks. Harold gasped, and his face and throat turned red.
He rushed Edward, clinched and pulled down on his neck, while Edward uppercut Harold’s liver a third time. Just like that, Harold dropped to his knees, rolled over on his side, and moaned.
“Had enough?” the wrestling coach yelled at him, and the football coach shook his head.
“I have! Screw it!” Edward said.”Just screw it, coach.”
He stepped back to see if Harold Kolanko would get up and fight. When he didn’t, Edward had an impulse to offer to fight everyone else in the room, as long as it was one at a time.
Instead he shook off his gloves and went to where Harold lay, dazed and in pain.
The coaches knew a liver punch was a specialty of boxers from Mexico, a devastating blow that could make anyone quit. They looked around as if they were embarrassed.
Harold Kolanko came to with smelling salts and rode an ambulance to St. Jude. The X-rays showed no damage and the doctors made him rest a while, put him on a special bland diet until his liver felt better and released him.
After the fight, several of the senior varsity athletes told Edward he had a feral look in his eyes when he fought, and even little now.
“You looked like an enraged animal, man!” the football quarterback said.
The other guys admired Edward’s boxing and asked him how he learned how. He told them it was a long story, maybe for later. When he tried to pull his shirt back on, his hands trembled so badly he couldn’t close the buttons. Then he had to run to a wastepaper basket to throw up. After that he was pale for a while and his sister took him to get a 7Up at the canteen.
The Dean of Students asked Edward to come to his office, and told him the fight was unavoidable. Unlike the counselor and principal at Nicolas, the man had no interest in boxing at all, nor the least admiration for boxers. He looked at Edward grimly.
“What’s your ambition?” he asked the boy.
“I’m not sure, sir. Maybe medical school if I can make it, or veterinary school. I used to think maybe being an astronaut,” Edward told him.
“You’ll have to improve your grades a little, but it’s possible. You live with you family in Sunny Hills again?”
“On Valencia Mesa across from Ranch Town, yes.”
“All right,” the dean said, and seemed to be thinking.
Finally he continued:
“As of now, you have a new reputation as a hot shot boxer, son. What do you plan to do about it?”
“Nothing. I hate boxing and I hate fighting. I know that now. Coach told me to stand my ground, though.”
The dean winced.
“I suppose so,” he admitted grudgingly. “Girls like you, son. Why don’t you ask some out?”
Edward didn’t know what to say. He was embarrassed.
“Mister Rainer, if you can whip the tar out of Harold Kolanko, you can ask a little high school girl to dance at the Teen Center. Can’t you?”
“I think I can, yes,” Edward answered him.
“Well, what are you waiting for? For the sun to set? You can go now, Edward. You’re a good kid. I don’t think anybody’s going to give you lip, but if they do,” he shrugged.
“Merry Christmas, son.”
When Edward opened the door to go out through the dean’s outer office, a popular counselor stood right outside under the awning.
“Hey! It’s Sugar Ray Rainer!” he roared, and another counselor laughed.
The dean came to the doorway and gave them both a scathing look.
School would be dismissed for the day any minute, and the senior varsity athletes caught up with Edward again.
“Ride with us, Eddie! We’re headed for Hillside!” a wiry senior with a blond pompadour told him.
“Come in my car,” the quarterback said quietly.
Like any freshman boy would be, Edward was delighted and thrilled. He rode in the front seat of the boy’s glossy black ’40 Ford sedan, and they barreled down the hill and across Valencia Mesa. The driver played “Walk Don’t Run” by The Ventures on his dash record player. He was acting cool. When Edward looked around, there were four more friends in their cars following, giving each other the finger and laughing like a pack of striped hyenas. They had pretty senior and junior girls with them, and Edward couldn’t believe his own good luck. He had a small red bruise on his cheekbone where Harold Kolanko’s glove grazed him, and it would turn purple soon. He didn’t care.
When the Sunny Hills High School seniors rolled into Hillside, everyone looked up from what they were doing. The Lancers had a specific way they acted and drove: silent, slow and classy. The girls sat next to the drivers and the boys in the back seat, and all they had to do was look pretty. One brunette had already touched Edward’s cheek and pinched it in affection. The boys all parked and waited for the carhop, who called them by name and knew what they wanted.
“Cheeseburger? Fries? Chocolate malt?” the quarterback asked Edward, who nodded his head.
They all settled in to gossip about who they saw, and waved at kids they knew from Wilshire. The wiry boy with the blond pompadour lighted a cigarette, and the quarterback waved the smoke away in an exaggerated gesture and made a sour face.
“Your sister is so sweet, Eddie!” the brunette told him. “We met her at a slumber party! Smart, too!”
When the waitress brought their orders, the quarterback distributed the items with the manner of a wartime admiral. Everybody began to eat, sipped their cokes, and the quarterback turned to Edward and asked him:
“Can you teach us to box tomorrow morning? My parents’ back yard?”
Edward swallowed the Dr.Pepper in his mouth, looked at the quarterback and said, “No. I don’t do that. I hate boxing.”
The blond pompadour boy exclaimed in injured disappointment, “Why not?”
“Because I said so. I mean it,” Edward emphasized.
“Good for you!” the brunette girl said, and another girl said, “Yeah! Fighting is so nasty! Low class, too!”
The quarterback looked at her irritably.
One of their group, leaned in a window and said, “Aww, he’ll change his mind! Watch and see! Ha ha, ha, Eddie!”
He was a lanky boy with sandy hair and a big smile. Edward looked him in the eye and turned the door handle to get out.
“I’d better leave right now,” he said.
“No, man, sit still,” the quarterback said in a wounded cool way.
“Yeah, don’t do that, Ed! C’mon, Ed!” the blond pompadour boy reassured him.
“That’s a very brave decision,” the brunette said, and when she kissed Edward’s cheek, he felt her breasts press against him.
“Let’s cruise 15th Street!” the sandy haired boy suggested, but Edward wasn’t sure he wanted to hang around with these guys.
“Yeah! Do you surf, Edward?” the brunette asked him in his arms.
“No, but his sister is bitchin!” a tall, thin friend of theirs wisecracked, and the quarterback started his ignition.
The brunette leaned back against Edward for the ride, and he decided what the heck? He didn’t know yet she was lived in West Fullerton, near Knepp & Woods, and had an even cuter sister in his class. For now It was Christmas vacation and they were on their way to the beach on a sunny afternoon.