SI Vault
William Lindsay Gresham
August 19, 1957
The carnival's 'at'letic' man, that is, a disarmingly simple type with larceny in his heart
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August 19, 1957

'at' Man On The Midway

The carnival's 'at'letic' man, that is, a disarmingly simple type with larceny in his heart

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This time the "at" top was really jammed at a special price of $1.50 a head. A couple of dignified-looking gents who might be businessmen from a nearby town were covering all bets on Brannock. Several thousand dollars were in the tent, the stakes held by a committee of local men.

Outside, the lights had been turned off and the banner line dropped. The crowd was cautioned to be quiet, "so the cops won't get wind of what we're putting on tonight and stop it." The entrance flap was discreetly lowered. I suspected that the cops had already got wind of it to the tune of a sawbuck apiece and were lurking unobtrusively outside in case they were needed.

Tonight, with all rules off, Charley Brannock was free to use every dirty trick in the book, and the crowd was with him, urging him to slaughter the Gorilla. But from the opening bell, there occurred a strange, unpredictable and utterly mystifying reversal of roles. Charley kneed the Gorilla, punched him, stuck thumbs in his eyes, twisted his fingers, kicked his "bad" knee and chopped at his jugular vein with the open hand, all to no avail. The Gorilla seemed made of iron. Brannock's face was flushed, his mouth twisted into a scowl. His hair falling damply over his eyes, he fought like a man possessed.

Gorilla O'Toole, completely out of character, disdained dirty fighting and stuck to straight wrestling. No intercollegiate contestant could have been more punctilious. He was emerging as the "hero," while Charley Brannock, the town's idol, had become the "heel." The self-righteousness of the crowd was taking a beating. They knew something weird was going on, but they couldn't figure out just what.

After an arm-lock and inside-crotch hold had dumped Brannock hard on the canvas, he crouched and started a haymaker from the floor. It caught O'Toole on the jaw, but the old wrestler merely shook his head, wiped blood from his split lip with the back of his hand, grinned, circled around behind the younger man and deftly worked him into the murderous figure-four body scissors.

Charley struggled like a fly on flypaper while the oldtimer rode him, a sweet, tolerant smile on his battered face. Slowly and cleanly he levered Brannock's shoulders to the mat and held them there.

The crowd muttered in resentment and confusion. The show's owner and the two dignified characters, not seeming in a hurry, collected from the stake holders and suddenly were gone. The side walls of the tent fell as canvasmen started to tear it down. Some of the crowd still lingered sullenly until the center poles were pulled out and the top started to settle. Outside, the carnival had evaporated. The few naked work lights began going out one by one. Charley Brannock had vanished. And with him, Gorilla O'Toole.

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