Boca knights excerpt (3)
“What’s that about?” I asked.
“Very interesting,” Barry said. “The photographer and the reporter are from the Boca News, a small local paper. They’re doing a story on that kid, Han Zhang. He’s called ‘The Pugilist Professor.’”
“Because he knows more about the subject of boxing than just about anyone I ever met,” Barry explained. “I think he has a photographic memory.”
“He’s amazing,” Barry continued. “What he doesn’t already know about boxing he researches on the internet. We let him use our computer when he’s here at the gym, so he’s never far away from his information. He’s a computer genius, too. He set up his own website.”
“Impressive. Is that his father with him?”
“Yeah. Nice guy.”
“And the little kid?”
“That’s Tommy Bigelow. He idolizes Han and follows him around all the time.”
“They seem far apart in age.”
“They are. Han’s twelve, and Tommy’s only about eight, I think. I wouldn’t call them friends. Han is more like a role model for Tommy.”
“Isn’t that Tommy’s father’s job?”
“No one really knows who Tommy’s father is,” Anson sighed. “His mother was single, and when Tommy was born, both the mother and the boyfriend were addicted to crack cocaine.”
“That’s the right word,” Anson shook his head. “The State of Florida took Tommy away from his mother and put him in a foster home. A few years later she got him back after she went straight. Now he’s back in foster care.”
“Did his mother go back on drugs?”
“No, she never did,” Anson told me. “She tried to straighten out, but she had this new live-in, shithead boyfriend who beat the two of them and molested the boy. “
“What happened to the boyfriend?”
“Tommy’s mother killed him. Shot him in the head with his own gun while he was sleeping.”
“What happened to her?”
“She killed herself with the same gun after she called the police and told them to rush over and get Tommy. The cops found the two bodies in one room and Tommy in his bed asleep. He’s been in foster care ever since.”
“How old was he when all this happened?”
“I think he was about four.”
“How come no one has adopted him in all this time? He’s a cute kid.”
“Yeah, he’s a cute kid,” Bob agreed. “But he’s half black and half white, which makes him hard to place. He can also be very difficult. People don’t want to bring his attitude into their homes no matter how bad they want a kid.”
“He probably doesn’t trust anyone.”
“Can you blame him? Although, I think he trusts me,” Barry said. “And I know he trusts Matt McGrady. Those two should be father and son.”
“Why aren’t they?”
“Matt’s a cop on a cop’s salary and has two kids of his own to worry about.”
I nodded my understanding.
Matt McGrady arrived just as the interview with The Pugilist Professor ended. Matt was a good looking, friendly guy about the size of a light heavyweight, six feet one, one hundred and eighty pounds. Barry introduced us, and we talked about boxing and police work for a while. The Pugilist Professor and his protégé were nearby, and Matt called them over.
“How was the interview, Han?” Matt asked.
“Same old thing,” the Professor said.
“Were you with him, Tommy?”
“Yeah,” was all Tommy said.
“Well, boys,” Matt said, “I want you to meet Eddie Perlmutter. He’s an ex-cop from Boston, and he used to fight in the Golden Gloves. You ever heard of him?”
“They couldn’t have heard of me,” I said. “That was over forty years ago.”
“I know about fighters from eighty years ago,” the Professor said.
“Yeah, so do I,” Tommy said.
“Okay,” I directed my question to Tommy. “Who was Barney Ross?”
The four of them looked surprised and exchanged glances.
“You told him!” Tommy said to Matt and Barry.
“Tommy, we didn’t say a word,” Matt promised.
“Something wrong?” I asked.
“Why did you ask about Barney Ross?” Tommy challenged me. “He’s not famous anymore.”
“It sounds to me like I picked a guy you don’t know about.”
The kid rolled his eyes. “Barney Ross was called ‘The Pride of the Ghetto.’ He was a champion in three different weight divisions,” Tommy recited. “He fought Jimmy McClaren three times…”
“Okay, okay,” I stopped him. “You know all about Barney Ross. So why did you make such a big deal out of it?”
The boy didn’t smile. “Everyone here knows Barney Ross is my favorite fighter. Someone must have told you”
“No one told me anything, Tommy.”