I watched Beau Jack climb down from the ring apron and move in a half-trot across the floor, shoulders swaying with his rolling gait, right leg dipping to accommodate old pain. I approached him. "You fought in battle royals, didn't you?" I asked.
"Yes, sir," he said, eyeing me.
"How did it feel?"
"They should still have them," he said. "They'd be a lot of fun for people who ain't seen them. But they can't. Guys ain't tough enough anymore."
"I'd like to write a story about you," I said.
"All right, sir," he said quietly. A maroon cap hid most of his balding head with its white stubble of hair, and a T-shirt with the words FORWARD MOTION covered his still-muscular chest. "They think they can tire me out," he said, as if he had been one of the men in the ring. "They can't. I can outlast them all. They try to kill me, and I be relaxin'. I know how to breathe and how to throw punches. You're not in condition, you're gonna get your brains scattered to the wrong part of your head. Can't never quit in a ring. All that crap about defense—take it and put it up your butt. Conditioning." He threw a combination at a heavy bag and walked over to two women lying on tables, doing leg lifts. "Everybody gets sick when they first come here," he warned one. "It'll go away. Tomorrow I'm gonna murder you."
His tone turned gentle now, as if he were an old man telling his assembled grandchildren a story before bed. I moved closer to hear. "You know, if you didn't get your ticket before Friday when I fought," he said, "forget about it. They was none left. I had 2,000 ladies came to see me. They'd yell, 'Uh-oh, here comes that tiger again.' And anyplace I go now I hear people say these same words: 'We been watchin' and we been lookin', tryin' to find another Beau Jack, but we ain't never seen another one. How did you keep throwing punches from one end of the bell to the other, Beau Jack?'
"Well, you have to love people to do that. They kept screamin' 'Beau Jack, Beau Jack,' "—his fists began to punch the air—"so I loved 'em and had to fight harder and harder and harder. Didn't want no people talkin' about me like I was a dog. I had to do good for my guests. I love every human being God put on this earth. We're here for one reason—to attract each other. I fought that way, for love."
Pools of dusk had begun to form in the corners of the gym; in ones and twos the boxers toweled their sweat, called goodbye to Beau Jack and departed. "That bone tried to jump up and get away, but I chased it down and caught it, and I ain't even got no teeth, that's how good that chicken was you cooked for me," he said to one of the two women he was conditioning. "You comin' back to work out tomorrow, aren't you?"
When she was gone, I asked if I could accompany him home. I wanted to meet his wife and the 15 children that people said he had fathered. "No need for that," he said. "We disbanded. Sometimes it's best to just disband yourself."