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Then two possible opponents back out of the fight, leaving Halpern without a spot on the card. At the last minute, Diego Roberson volunteers to face Halpern for the second time. It proves to be a mistake: he winds up in Grasslands Hospital with a severe concussion, the result of a thundering left hook delivered by Halpern at 1:09 of the seventh round. Roberson did not move for five minutes after Halpern hit him.
Halpern trains at the Cage Recreation Center in White Plains, a school for teenage dropouts. He works with the kids. "I pay him $100 a month, but it's just for expenses," says Les Fernandez, the director of the center. "He's terrific with the youngsters. They get a big kick out of going up to see him fight. I wish I could pay him more, but we're not budgeted for it."
The director of boxing at the Cage is a tiny old man named Charlie Caserta, who once handled Halpern at the Mount Carmel CYO in the amateurs, almost 30 years ago. He is Halpern's current manager, of sorts. He points to a bulletin board on a wall in the Cage gym, to a picture of another of his old fighters, Billy Bello, a middleweight. An old newspaper clipping reads: BILLY BELLO, HE'S OUR NOMINATION FOR ROOKIE OF THE YEAR.
"Billy won 75 out of 78," Caserta says. "The best thing going. He was pulling down $5,000 fighting main events in the Garden. He killed himself of an overdose."
Bello is also well remembered b) the Bronx Robber? Squad, housed in the 48th Precinct headquarters under the Cross Bronx Expressway. "A burglar," says a detective who is a member of the squad. "I locked him up once. A good fighter, though."
"I worked on the case when Bello OD'd," says another detective. "They dropped him out of a car in front of the emergency ward at Fordham Hospital. Then they drove away. They were afraid. They took him to the hospital, though. Give them credit for that. They could have dropped him in the street."
Detectives on the Bronx squad do not like Halpern's chances of staying out of prison, boxing or no boxing. They see things from the underside. They have seen too many neighborhood kids turn into pimps and pushers, triggermen and hijackers.
"That's one of Halpern's hangouts," one detective says, pointing to a bar on Arthur Avenue. The detectives are driving around the neighborhood. "It's a hangout for the heavy hitters of organized crime," he says. "What do you think Bobby's doing in a place like that?"
The shorter of the two detectives, who has a tough, bulldog face, thinning black hair and darting eyes, was once a very promising Bronx middleweight himself—18 straight victories as a pro. "Eighteen fights and I never kissed the canvas," is the way he puts it. Then one day, early in 1956, he said to himself, "I'm never going to be champ, I'm never going to get there," and he went down to Gleason's gym and cleaned out his equipment. A year later he was a cop.
"I've seen so many," he says. "Frankie Palermo, good middleweight, good left hooker. Came from Arthur Avenue. He beat Tony Janiro after Janiro's knee operation. Had Charley Fusari on the deck. Then he went cuckoo. You'd be sitting next to him in the gym after a workout, and he'd be drying out and he'd start talking to himself. Nuts. He became a strong-arm guy for a shylock on Fordham Road. One day he went out to collect from a guy...what was the guy's name? It doesn't matter. Frankie slapped him around, embarrassed him. The guy came back with a .45. Boom, he put three in Frankie. Right here on Hughes Avenue in a candy store.