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The eviction from the armory had come at a particularly inconvenient time for Nick's Cavalry. A few days earlier, Haywood had ordered $225 worth of steaks, lamb chops, orange juice and cod liver oil. His plan was to feed his fighters at Haywood's Hall as part of an intense training program to make them strong for the local Golden Gloves competition. This communal feeding effort had to be abandoned, but Haywood kept 13 of his boxers in good enough condition to enter the tournament. One of them, a quick, slender, silent 17-year-old featherweight named John Herron, won a novice title. As a reward to Herron for his good performance, as well as to give him a bit of educational travel, Haywood took a week off from work and went with Herron to Shreveport, La. to watch the national Golden Gloves finals. Upon their return, Haywood found an empty warehouse on Locust Street in the center of Kansas City that he thought could be used as a gymnasium. The building is one of many downtown properties managed by a family named Barket, two generations of which have been important Haywood People. The late Alexander Barket was a Kansas City banker, political figure and builder who owned the construction firm that has employed Haywood for nearly 20 years. Says Alexander Barket Jr., himself a banker, "My father thought Nick was as straight and decent a man as he had ever known. They had their own mutual admiration society."
Alexander and his brother Tom inherited many of their father's interests, including Haywood, and they were agreeable to Haywood's suggestion that the empty Locust Street building be used temporarily for a boxing club. Haywood paid to have the utilities reconnected and spent his evenings cleaning the warehouse and converting it into a gym. On the first Friday in April, after an active day running wheelbarrows full of wet cement across the roof of the parking garage where his construction crew was then employed, Haywood, Herron and several of Nick's other people worked until after midnight getting their ring, pads, bags, gloves and headgear ready for use. Word was passed along the street grapevine that the Ace Athletic Club was back in business, and the next morning 20 youths came by the warehouse to recommence their training.
While his exceptional energy, good humor, picaresque adventures, smile, derby and gift of gab are enough in themselves to make Haywood a rare and interesting man, his reputation as an urban hero rests essentially on his accomplishments with old edifices and young men that have been more or less abandoned by everyone else. With the basic elements, a building and youth, reassembled on Locust Street, it seemed that a visit might reveal the formula behind his success. Then, again, it might not; because even if there is such a formula, it may be either too simple or too complex to be recognized. In the gloomy warehouse on a Saturday morning, vivid incidents and seemingly instructive vignettes followed quickly, one after another, as in an important dream. There is a strong sense that they must be intrinsically related, but how they are, never becomes clear.
The youngest youth is a 9-year-old. He is accompanied by a kid of about the same age, who says he's the other boy's manager. "His name is Billy," says the manager of his fighter, who is flailing away at a light bag.
"Billy Haywood," says the fighter between punches.
"Ain't either," contradicts the manager with some impatience. "You can't say your name is Haywood."
Nick Haywood suggests some changes in stance to the tiny fighter and says, with a full smile, "Billy he mah granson. Down in Mississippi he what we call the bastud chile."
The oldest member on hand is a 25-year-old named Johnnie Lee Hooker, a light heavyweight who fought in the Service and who wants to make a comeback. Just before entering the warehouse, he flips away what he says is his last cigarette ever. Hooker wears heavy shades, a faintly menacing deadpan stare and the scraggly beginnings of a beard.
"Hookah, what that growf on yoah face?" Haywood asks immediately.
Hooker pauses in the doorway indecisively but then removes the shades, grins, touches his chin and says, "Take it off tonight, Mister Nick. O.K. if I stay today? I need the work bad."