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The Brave

Chapter One

Sonny Bear swaggered down the aisle, banging his big red gloves together, whipping his black ponytail from side to side against his bare shoulders, feeling the hatred the crowd slap his body like a fine cold spray. Keep it coming, you hillbilly bozos, thought Sonny. Makes me strong.
He vaulted into the ring, a sudden move that surprised the crowd. No one expected a heavyweight so quick. He raised his fists above his head. The crowd stomped and hooted. Someone shouted, "Gonna need a tommyhawk tonight, Injun," and the bozos laughed. He felt the monster stir in his chest.
The hometown fighter was already in the ring, a big farm boy with curly yellow fur growing over his chest and back. He flexed his lumpy biceps and glared at Sonny. The crowd cheered. The farm boy was Sonny's height, six foot one, but he looked fifty pounds heavier. Not all of it was fat. He was older, too, at least nineteen. Sonny glared back. The crowd booed.
Jake pulled him back into his corner and pushed him down on his stool. "Here to win. Not make 'em mad." His dry old fingers massaged Sonny's neck.
Sonny checked the crowd. What you'd expect at a Friday-night smoker in a mountain town. A couple hundred white guys on folding chairs sucking on beer cans and talking big. They were in their workday clothes, overalls and greasy jeans and short-sleeved shirts with their nicknames stitched on, the chests. The bigmouths who like to give Indians a tough time in hardware stores and gas stations, thought Sonny. If I wasn't wearing gloves, I'd give them the finger. The monster was hot in his throat. Furry farm boy's going to taste some tommyhawk tonight.
The overhead fluorescent lights blinked off. Spotlights blazed down on the ring. Bells rang. A big man in a white bowling shirt that read, HILLCREST MOTOR HOMES on the back raised his beefy arms. "Listen up now, fellas, final match of the evening, heavyweights, two hundred bucks, winner take all....In the black trunks..."
Boos swamped the ring. A crumpled beer can sailed out of the darkness and landed on the canvas. Crowd's juiced, thought Sonny. The announcer kicked the can out of the ring. The crowd laughed.
"...weighing one hundred and eighty pounds, youngster's been making a name for himself, five straight wins, from the Moscondaga Reservation, Sonny Bear."
Bells rang to choke back the jeers. The monster filled him.
"In the white trunks...weighing two hundred and fifteen pounds...the pride of Hillcrest...our own ...Glen Hoffer."
The crowd stood and cheered as Hoffer lumbered into the center of the ring, arms raised. His body hair was golden in the ring lights. He's closer to two fifty than two fifteen, thought Sonny. When he goes down, the whole building's going to shake, rattle and roll.
"Jab," whispered Jake. "Jab and work his belly. No head-hunting."
The announcer beckoned Sonny to the center of the ring. He was going to referee this one, make sure Glen Hoffer didn't get hurt too bad, thought Sonny. Good luck.
"Five rounds, anyone gets knocked down twice in one round it's over. Got that?" When they both nodded, he looked directly at Sonny. "No kicking, boy, no gouging, biting, butting, hitting below the belt, none of that reservation stuff."
The ref turned to Hoffer. "After a knockdown, Glen, go right to a neutral corner so's I can start the count."
Back in his corner, just before the bell, Sonny swigged water from Jake's taped bottle and spat it into a bucket. He opened his mouth so Jake could slip in the plastic guard. Jake pushed his dark, wrinkled face close. "Careful, Sonny. jab and belly." Between his feet was the overnight bag with Sonny's clothes. Good old Great-Uncle Jake, he thought, ready for a fast getaway.
The bell rang.
"No head-hunting," yelled Jake.
Bust that pale face, ordered the monster.
Sonny sprang out and fired the left hook at Hoffer's head before the farm boy got his hands up.
Hoffer's legs kicked out and he crashed to the deck. He sat on the canvas, an amazed expression on his big, dumb face.
Sonny's laugh woke him up. Hoffer rolled over on his hands and knees. Clumsily, he pushed himself back up to his feet. The referee jumped between them and wiped Hoffer's gloves off on his shirt. Sonny couldn't hear what he said to Hoffer.
The farm boy's cheek was bright red where the hook had landed. There was a drop of blood in one nostril. He raised his gloves to his heaving chest and marched toward Sonny, eyes narrowed, lips tight.
He never expected another hook. To the same spot.
This one turned him around. He staggered into the ropes and fell to his knees. Only his elbows, snagged on the middle rope, kept him up. He hung there like a side of beef. Sonny strolled to a neutral corner. Second knockdown. It's over. Easy payday.
The referee helped Hoffer up. "That was only a slip," he said, "not a knockdown."
The monster snickered, What do you expect, Redskin? A fair fight?
Sonny watched Hoffer lurch toward him, carried along on a chanting chorus, "Glen...Glen...Glen," his eyes glazed and his lips slack.
He's out on his feet. One more good shot and he's gone, there's no way they can rob this fight.
"Jab and belly," yelled Jake. "Don't let him come close."
Sonny dug in and let Hoffer come close, into range to catch the full impact of the final punch, a short left hook that would bust that pale white face like a rotten cantaloupe, bust all those pale faces, bury the tommyhawk in every one of them.
C'mon, farmer, I'm gonna plant you now.
He unleashed the hook.
It never landed.
Sonny felt the uppercut graze his thigh before it slammed into his groin and lifted him off his feet. He fell forward, into Hoffer, his legs rubbery. He was swimming into a damp, hairy wall. He couldn't focus. There were three Hoffers. They pushed him away.
Sonny staggered backward, tripped himself, hit the canvas and rolled over on his face. He gasped for air as the pain exploded between his legs and surged up into his belly.