Waterfront Fists

by Robert E. Howard

Tags: Humor, Pulp Classic,

Desc: Action/Adventure Story: Steve has an iron jaw in the ring but a glass jaw when it comes to women. First appeared in 'Fight Stories' September 1930 and is in the public domain.

THE SEA GIRL hadn't been docked in Honolulu more'n three hours before Bill O'Brien come legging it down to the pool hall where I was showing Mushy Hansen the fine points of the game, to tell me that he'd got me matched to fight some has-been at the American Arena that night.

"The Ruffian is in," said Bill, "and they got a fellow which they swear can take any man aboard the Sea Girl to a royal cleanin'. I ain't seen him, but they say he growed up in the back country of Australia and run wild with the kangaroos till he was shanghaied aboard a ship at an early age. They say he's licked everybody aboard the Ruffian from the cap'n down to the mess boy--"

"Stow the gab and lead me to some Ruffian idjits which is cravin' to risk their jack on this tramp," I interrupted. "I got a hundred and fifty bucks that's burnin' my pockets up."

Well, it was easy to find some lunatics from the Ruffian, and after putting up our money at even odds, with a bartender for stakeholder, and knowing I had a tough battle ahead of me and needed some training, I got me a haircut and then went down to the Hibernian Bar for a few shots of hard licker. While me and Bill and Mushy was lapping up our drinks, in come Sven Larsen. This huge and useless Swede has long been laboring under the hallucination that he oughta be champion of the Sea Girl, and no amount of battering has been able to quite wipe the idee outa what he supposes to be his brain.

Well, this big mistake come up to me, and scowling down at me, he said: "You Irisher, put oop your hands!"

I set my licker down with a short sigh of annoyance. "With a thousand sailors in port itchin' for a scrap," I said, "you got to pick on me. G'wan--I don't want to fight no shipmate now. Anyway, I got to fight the Ruffian's man in a few hours."

"Aye shood be fightin' him," persisted the deluded maniac. "Aye ought to be champ of dey Sea Girl. Come on, you big stiffer!" And so saying he squared off in what he fondly believed was a fighting pose. At this moment my white bulldog, Mike, sensing trouble, bristled and looked up from the bowl of beer he was lapping up on the floor, but seeing it was nobody but Sven, he curled up and went to sleep.

"Don't risk your hands on the big chump, Steve," said Bill disgustedly. "I'll fix him--"

"You stay oot of dis, Bill O'Brien," said the Swede waving his huge fists around menacingly. "Aye will see to you after Aye lick Steve."

"Aw, you're drunk," I said. "A fine shipmate you are."

"Aye am not droonk!" he roared. "My girl told me--"

"I didn't know you had a girl here," said Bill.

"Well, Aye have. And she said a big man like me shood be champion of his ship and she wouldn't have nothings to do with me till Aye was. So put oop your hands--"

"Aw, you're crazy," I snapped, turning back to the bar, but watching him close from the corner of my eye. Which was a good thing because he started a wild right swing that had destruction wrote all over it. I side-stepped and he crashed into the bar. Rebounding with a bloodthirsty beller he lunged at me, and seeing they was no arguing with the misguided heathen, I stepped inside his swing and brought up a right uppercut to the jaw that lifted his whole two hundred and forty-five pounds clean off the floor and stood him on the back of his neck, out cold. Mike, awakened by the crash, opened one eye, raised one ear, and then went back to sleep with a sort of gentle canine smile.

"Y'oughta be careful," growled Bill, while Mushy sloshed a pitcher of dirty water over the Swede. "You mighta busted yore hand. Whyn't you hit him in the stummick?"

"I didn't wanta upset his stummick," I said. "I've skinned my knuckles a little, but they ain't even bruised much. I've had 'em in too many buckets uh brine." AT LAST SVEN was able to sit up and cuss me, and he mumbled something I didn't catch.

"He says he's got a date with his girl tonight," Mushy said, "but he's ashamed to go back to her with that welt on his jaw and tell her he got licked."

"Ya," said Sven, rubbing his jaw, "you got to go tell her I can't come, Steve."

"Aw, well," I said, "all right. I'll tell her you fell off the docks and sprained your ankle. Where's she live?"

"She dances at the Striped Cat Cabaret," said Sven.

After downing a finger of Old Jersey Cream, I tightened my belt and me and Mike sauntered forth.

Bill followed me out into the street and said: "Dawg-gone it, Steve, you ought not to go cruisin' off this way, with the fight just a few hours in the offin'. That Ruffian crew is crooked as a buncha snakes--and you know what a soft head you are where women is concerned."

"Your remarks is highly insultin', Bill," I returned with my well-known quiet dignity. "I don't reckon no woman ever made a fool outa me. I know 'em like a book. Anyhow, you don't think I'd fall for a dame as encouraged a sap like Sven, do you? Heck, she's probably some big fat wench with a face like a bull terrier. What'd he say her name was--oh, yes, Gloria Flynn. Don't you worry about me. I'll be at the American in plenty uh time."

It was after dark when me and Mike got to the Striped Cat Cabaret which is located in a tough waterfront section of the city. I asked the manager for Gloria Flynn, and he said she'd just finished a dance and was in her dressing room, changing to street clothes. He told me to wait for her at the back exit, which I done. I was standing there when the door opened and some girls come out. I said, taking off my cap, politely, "Which one of you frails is Gloria Flynn, if any?"

You could of knocked me over with a pile-driver when the snappiest, prettiest one of the bunch up and said, "I'm her--and what of it?"

"Well," I said, eyeing her with great admiration, "all I can say is, what does a girl like you want to waste her time with such tripe as Sven Larsen when they is men like me in port?"

"Don't get fresh!" she snapped.

"Oh, I ain't fresh," I assured her. "I just come to tell you that Sven fell off a dock and broke his neck--I mean sprained his ankle, and he can't make the date tonight."

"Oh," she murmured. Then looking close at me, she said, "Who are you?"

"I'm Steve Costigan, the fellow that licked him," I replied thoughtlessly.

"Oh!" she said, kind of breathlessly. "So you're Steve Costigan!"

"Yeah, I am," I said, having spilled the beans anyway. "Steve Costigan, A. B. mariner, and heavyweight champion aboard the trader Sea Girl. I knowed you didn't know me, or you wouldn't of persuaded your boy friend to risk his life by takin' a swing at me."

She looked kind of bewildered. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Oh, it's all right," I hastened to assure her. "Sven told me about you urgin' him to climb me, but it's natural for a frail to want her fellow to be a champ of somethin'. What I can't understand is, what you see in a galoot like Sven."

She gave a kind of hysterical laugh. "Oh, I see. Why, Mr. Costigan--"

"Call me Steve," I beamed.

"Well--Steve," she said with a little embarrassed laugh, "I didn't urge him anything of the sort. I just said he was such a big fellow I bet he could whip anybody aboard his ship--and he said one of the other sailors, Steve Costigan, was champion, and I said I was surprised that anybody could lick him--Sven, I mean. Why, I had no idea he'd get it into his head I wanted him to fight anybody. I do hope you didn't hurt the poor boy."

"Oh, not much," I said, unconsciously swelling out my huge chest, "I always handle my shipmates easy as possible. Though uh course, I'm so powerful some times I hit harder'n I intend to. But say, sister, I know a swell little girl like you wasn't takin' that big squarehead serious. You was just sorry for him because he's so kind of big and awkward and dumb, wasn't you?"

"Well," she admitted, "that was the way of it; he looked lonesome--"

"Well, that's mighty fine of you," I said. "But forget about him now; after the beltin' I give him, he won't want to come back to you, and anyway, he'll find a native girl or a Chinese or somethin'. He ain't like me; a woman's a woman to him and he'll fall for anything in skirts that comes along. Me, I'm a one-woman man. Anyway, kid, it ain't right for you to trail around with a galoot like him. You owe it to yourself to keep company with only the best--me, for instance."

"Maybe you're right," she said, with downcast eyes.

"Sure, I'm always right," I answered modestly. "Now what say we go in and lap up something. All this talkin' I been doin's got my throat dry."

"Oh, I never drink intoxicants," she said with a bright smile. "If you don't mind let's go over here to this ice-cream parlor."

"O.K. with me," I said, "but first lemme introduce you to Mike who can lick his weight both in wildcats and dog biscuits."

Well, Mike, he shook hands with her but he wasn't particular enthusiastic. He ain't no ladies' dog; he treats 'em politely but coldly. Then we went over to the joint where they sold ice cream, and while we was dawdling over the stuff, I let my eyes wander over my charming companion. She was a beauty, no doubt about it; curly yellow hair and big trusting violet eyes.

"WHAT'S A NICE girl like you doin' workin' in a dump like the Striped Cat?" I asked her, and she kind of sighed and hung her head.

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Story tagged with:
Humor / Pulp Classic /