The men catch him stepping into a cab, slam the door on his body over and over again until he drops. That's what Keith Stechman, a friend, says Emile told him.
Two guys start a fight in the bar. He follows them outside to break it up and two more join them, all turning on him, trying to take his money and beating him with baseball bats. That's what Butch Miller, Jack Miller's son, says Emile told the Miller family.
They kick him with heavy boots, kick every part of his body as if he were a dog. That's what Luis Rodrigo, the first to find him when he staggers home, says Emile told him.
He nearly dies in the hospital. His battered kidneys fail, he goes on dialysis, then his spine gets infected. The severity and site of the beating suggests a gay bashing, a hate crime, but no one will ever know. By the time Emile comes home, two months later, he remembers almost nothing of it. It vanishes in smoke.
He wakes up each dawn, in his 67th year, lights a cigarette and inhales three or four times, just enough to create a few puffs of smoke. It rises from the single mattress on the floor on which he sleeps; wafts through the tiny efficiency apartment that he, Luis and a friend of Luis's share; floats over cardboard boxes and suitcases and shoes and buckets and barbells crammed everywhere. Curls around the heads and fists of boxing trophy figurines poking through old black plastic bags just inside the front door.
Emile rubs out the cigarette before it's half done. Luis, 42, fixes him breakfast and hands him the medication for gout and dementia that Ring 8--an organization that looks out for indigent fighters--pays $300 for each month. He lays out Emile's clothes in matching colors and puts Emile's bracelet on him, each gesture's tender patience rewarded with a tender thank you, their relationship sealed when adoption papers were signed not long ago. Then Luis leaves for Manhattan, where he works in a mailroom elbow to elbow with Benny Paret Jr. Yes, Emile's son and Benny's son, bent over the same bins of manila envelopes every day together, both hired by Ring of Fire director Klores to work in his public relations firm.
Emile dozes when Luis leaves for work. There's nothing to do in Hempstead, Long Island, he grumbles, but he didn't want to live alone, and that's where Luis wanted to move--away from the temptations of the city and Luis's old cocaine habit--after Emile's mother died in 1997 and the family sold the house in Queens Village a few years later.
In the afternoon, after he watches his favorite show, Judge Judy, Emile grows lonely. He takes a walk through downtown Hempstead, stops at the bodega and the bar to bid hello to the regulars, sits in the park and makes goo-goo sounds and tickling gestures toward the toddlers until they smile. He's fine near the apartment; he won't get lost. But a few times a year he boards the N-6 bus to Queens, switches to the F train to 42nd Street and returns to his old haunts, and worries the hell out of Luis.
Twice a week Stechman picks him up and takes him to the Starrett City Boxing Club on the edge of Brooklyn. The champ goes around the room giving out bubble gum and advice, handshakes and grins. "Don't start!" he yelps, out of the blue, to young boxers and old trainers. "I'll call Judge Judy!"