sailor to make some money with his fists.
Our ship the Frisco Pete had not been docked in Innsmouth for more than a couple of hours when Captain Joseph sent word by the first mate that most of the crew would be allowed shore leave. A skeleton crew would remain on board while the rest of the boys would have most of Saturday and all of the night to engage in entertainments that sailors the world over were known for engaging in. Now having been to Innsmouth before, unlike most of my mates, I knew there was gonna be some pretty disappointed fellows once they got an eyeful of the local ladies.
Now I'm not saying that all of them were ugly, but if you were to run through the streets swinging a dead cat you'd most likely hit a real mirror-breaker every few paces. Well, the boys who hadn't docked there before would have to learn the hard way, but me, I had plans on making a duffel bag full of cash at one of the local saloons that ran fights. There were usually such places in most of the ports where we dropped anchor and Innsmouth was no exception. Most saloon keepers knew that the best method of parting a sailor from his wages was to supply an ample supply of booze, some lovely ladies and some manly entertainment of a fisticuffial nature! Fortunately, Innsmouth could supply two of the three even if they did come up pretty short in the lovely lady department.
I hadn't been off The Pete more than a couple of minutes when I ran into an old acquaintance that I had sailored with for another skipper years earlier. Strolling down the bustling Innsmouth docks I heard his high-pitched, whiny voice long before I spotted him among the surrounding tumult.
"Max . . . Max Peaster!"
I turned and almost collided with a longshoreman who gave me the fisheye. He growled some phrases that I decline to record for this tale. Although as I recall, it involved some blunt questioning of my lineage. I suggested he perform an anatomically difficult exercise and moved on in a hurry. I didn't have any plans on bruising my knuckles before making some dough with them. Now later, after I won me a boxing match, all bets were off.
Again I heard the voice of my old chum, Tub O'Brien, only closer now.
"Max Peaster! Wait up you old son-of-a-rummy."
I quickly turned just in time for him to collide with me. He fell on his butt and seemed momentarily stunned. I extended my hand, to a chorus of hoots and guffaws and pulled him to his feet.
"Dammit Tub," I said. "Does everything have to be a disaster with you?"
The big man laughed and gave me a slap on the back that would've sent me staggering if I hadn't seen it coming. It was an old familiar ritual, but one we seemed to go through every time we met.
"How you doing, you old albatross?"
"Now, Maxie, there ain't no call to start in with that!"
Tub was a bit sensitive about the reputation he had earned throughout his many travels. He was known as a hard-luck fellow and a bit of a Jonah, if the truth be known. There was more than one captain plying the seven seas who would become a full-time landlubber before allowing Tub O'Brien to crew with him. I don't know if my pal's reputation was deserved or not, but he surely had been involved in some uncanny misadventures.
Me and Tub walked down the waterfront passing several dens of iniquity until we came to a likely looking watering hole called "Dagon's Den."
"Dagon's Den?" questioned Tub. "Seems like I've run across that moniker in some of my travels. Some sort of fish god ain't it," he practically yelled with a look of disgust.
"Why don't you shout it louder?" I growled through clenched teeth. "I think there's some folks in the back room you ain't insulted yet."
"Sheesh, have a drink," he replied with a shrug of his broad shoulders. "It was just an innocent question."
"Yeah," I said. "But it ain't the kind of question you ask in Innsmouth."
We slowly made our way to a table in the darkest corner of the saloon. An ugly, frog-faced gal brought us a bottle and flashed an unnaturally wide grin. I paid her for the bottle and once she left I did my best to give Tub the skinny on Innsmouth.
I related to him how a fellow named Marsh was sort of King Toad of this pond, like his pappy and grandpappy before him. This Marsh and his family controlled pretty much everything in Innsmouth and not much occurred that didn't make its way back to him. The entire family had formed their own church, The Esoteric Order of Dagon, but didn't much cotton to outsiders nosing in on what went on inside.
"Damn," muttered Tub, downing his second glass of rum. "I once heard some Polynesian Islanders whisper some mighty strange tales about this Dagon and his worshippers."
"Well," I replied, "best to let sleeping dogs lie . . . where this is concerned. Especially around here."
"Mums the word," laughed Tub with a comic arch of his bushy red eyebrows.
Tub became restless after a couple of hours drinking and wandered off to see the Innsmouth sights. He badgered me to go with him, but I was having no part of it. I warned him to watch his back and then watched him stagger out through the saloon's doors. I was actually glad to be rid of him, at least on a temporary basis. His absence would give me a chance to ask around and see what sort of fight setup they had going on Saturday nights.
It was already late in the afternoon and "Dagon's Den" was steadily attracting a greater number of customers. I wanted to talk to the fellow behind the bar before things got too crowded to talk.
I made my way to the bar and received a few not so subtle stares. I was weaving slightly in an effort to appear more drunk than I was. This was a necessary part of my act and had served me well in the past. When setting up a fight I'd learned it was best to not seem overly competent. That way local folks would get the impression that the club favorite would have an easy time of things. Then, me and my pals would make a sweet killing on the betting end of things. I wasn't the best boxer around, but I was a tough son-of-a-gun who won considerably more often than I lost. So, my plan was to make sure I got a shot at the local favorite.
Lord knows I'd done this routine more times than I could remember. These combination saloons and boxing clubs usually had several bouts on the fight card, consisting mostly of local talent. The main event would likely feature the local or club champion paired up against some out of town tomato can. At the end of the night it wasn't unusual for the champ to take on one or more amateurs from the audience, usually some drunken lout egged on by equally drunken friends. It was grand entertainment for everyone but the drunken fool. I'd seen a couple of men killed in these affairs and there was a growing outcry from segments of the public to have the government put an end to such barbarous displays. So guys like me needed to make hay while the sun was still shining.
I lurched to the end of the bar where the balding, bug-eyed bartender was drying a mug with a dish towel that made me wonder why he bothered. He gave me a look which did little to conceal his disgust.
"The name's Peaster. Max Peaster," I said, extending my paw in greeting.
He continued to swab the glass and pointedly ignored my offer to shake hands. I pretended not to notice.
"I saw the ring in back," I said. "Gonna be some fights later tonight?"
He put the slightly cleaner mug down on the bar.
"Always is on Saturday night."
I waited for him to continue, but the ugly cuss wasn't much of a conversationalist as bartenders go. I could feel the interested stares from some of the locals and continued.
"I'm a bit of a pugilist myself," I said, picking up the mug he had rested on the bar. "Hey, you missed a spot."
"Really?" he replied in a dry, raspy voice.
I wasn't sure to which of the statements he was replying to, but pressed onward anyway.
"Yeah, that's right. Done a little bit of it in the service and still like to go a few rounds on occasion . . . especially if I can pick up a few bucks on side bets."
"Do tell," he replied.
I was trying to figure out how to draw the bartender out when he spoke again.
"If'n your still around tonight, there's a fellow that might oblige you."
Things were starting to look up. I knew the chances of getting a bout later in the evening were almost a sure thing.
"I'd be grateful if you could put in a good word for me to the promoter or whoever is in charge."
I placed a ten dollar bill under the mug and smiled. He smoothly retrieved the tip, filled the dirty mug with beer and place it in front of me.
"Consider it done," he said with a smile that I would be hard pressed to call warm.
I lifted the mug in a mock salute and had a helluva time forcing myself to partake of the amber-colored liquid that it contained. There was just something about the odd webbing between the fellow's fingers that sort of put me off.
I finished the beer and left "Dagon's Den" in search of Tub O'Brien. With any luck I might find him before he was too stewed to be of any use to me. I'd need a good man in my corner to watch my back in case things turned uglier than usual during the forthcoming bout. I also needed someone I could trust to handle the betting.
My search kept me near the docks, because that was where I was most likely to find Tub. Most of the saloons and drinking establishments were located in that part of Innsmouth. Over the course of many years it had become common knowledge that the good folk of Innsmouth did not welcome sailors or any other strangers into the heart of Innsmouth proper. Occasionally a ham-headed seaman refused to be deterred by such information and would take it upon himself to do some private sightseeing. Invariably the fool would disappear and most would write it off as a drunken or disgruntled sailor jumping ship. It didn't take too long for veteran seamen to ascertain that such misadventures only occurred to those who foolishly left the general vicinity of the docks.
Innsmouth was indeed a bustling seaport during these time, though rumors persisted that certain agencies of the Federal government were beginning to take a closer look at what sort of commerce was occurring. Hell, I knew that at least three of the ships in port consisted of captains and crew who were little more than smugglers and pirates. Still, the Frisco Pete was carrying no contraband and whatever others might be engaged in was no skin off my nose. I confess that I never much cared for the sight, smell, nor the people of Innsmouth, but I wasn't planning to let that stop me from a profitable time of my short shore leave.
I searched the crowded dockside for about twenty minutes before spying O'Brien leaving a rather seedy looking establishment. He appeared about half-lit, but I had seen him in much worse shape. I caught up to him and gave him the lowdown on what I was cooking up for the coming evening. Tub thought it was a swell idea and believed we should discuss the details over a whisky. After much argument I agreed to have a drink with him, but only with the stipulation that afterwards we eat a decent meal to fortify ourselves for the upcoming events. Tub was amenable to the idea so we made our way to the nearest saloon. Upon completion of our drink we left in search of what passed for a decent meal in Innsmouth.
We returned to "Dagon's Den" about seven o'clock that evening. The place was considerably more crowded that when I had left. It was pretty well packed with rowdy sailors of various nationalities. The liquor had been flowing freely as was to be expected in such a place with such a motley clientele. Thick clouds of smoke hung in the tavern, which was a welcome relief from the pervasive stench of fish which seemed to pervade all parts of Innsmouth. Raucous laughter and torrents of profanity filled the air as Tub and myself made our way inside.
The taciturn bartender was still at his post and greeted us with a smirky smile as we ordered whiskey. I nodded at him and turned to find a table for me and Tub when a hand clasped my shoulder. "What gives?" I started to ask before realizing who the hand belonged to.
"Your bout's on, if'n yer still interested," said the fish-eyed bartender.
"When's he go on," asked Tub.
"After the main event unless he has a change of heart."
"After the main event?" I asked to be certain.
"That's right," he replied. "Promoter says you can have a crack at the winner."
I smiled and said, "That's all I'm asking for."
The look he gave me sort of reminded me of that old adage of "being careful what one wished for." However, any brief moment of misgiving soon vanished as Tub and myself elbowed our way through the noisy crowd in search of a table.
Less than an hour passed before the boxing action got underway in the next room. There was half a dozen bouts scheduled for the card, including the main event. This was to be followed by my Innsmouth debut. The room was packed with noisy drunks situated around a fifteen-by-fifteen-foot ring. The ring was surrounded on three sides by homemade wooden bleachers that were probably more dangerous than any of the fighters scheduled to appear that night. I nursed a beer during the first two bouts that were little more than brawls, none of the contestants having much in the way of skills.
The first bout saw a young Spanish kid get the bejeesus whupped out of him by a middle-aged Irishman named Clancy. The second match wasn't much better and I paid more attention to Tub as he made his way around the room boasting me up and trying to drum up interest in my upcoming bout. Tub returned with his report shortly after the start of the fifth bout.
"What's the word?" I asked as he drained the remainder of my beer and bellowed for one of his own.
"Well, we's got great odds providing you're still game after seeing the main event."
"When've I ever not been game?" I asked.
Tub scratched at his beard and looked about as serious as he could look. He took an enormous swig of his just obtained brew and clutched my shoulder with his steely grip.
"The club palooka is 'sposed to be one bad feller, a real killer."
"They always are," I replied with a shrug. "What of it?"
"No," he said with great emphasis. "A real killer."
"So he's a real killer? Lot's of pugs have been killed in these places."
"Well this pug's supposedly killed five men!"
It suddenly dawned on me that it wasn't much likely that one boxer could've killed five times by mere accident. I admit that it set my hard head to thinking. Unfortunately I'd had just enough booze to disregard my natural instincts for preservation.
"I don't like this," said Tub. "Why don't we just get outta here and find us another joint and have a good time?"
"You mean turn tail and run?" I asked, not believing what I was hearing.
"It's better'n being carried out," he replied with a hopeful smile.
"Thanks for the vote of confidence," I said in disgust.
Tub spit on the hardwood floor and shook his head. "You're dumber than a hammerhead, you know that?
I had to agree, but wasn't about to let Tub in on it. I convinced him that we should at least watch the start of the main event before making up my mind. It would begin in a few minutes since the last preliminary bout had just ended as evidenced by the boisterous crowd. I determined to watch the first round before making my decision, a decision I would come to regret!
Well, the main event abruptly ended about forty-five seconds into round one. Before I could collect my wits about me the ring announcer was calling me up imparting to the drunken spectators that I was gonna take on the winner of the just completed bout. I gave a sickly nod to Tub, confirming that the match was indeed on. This caused him to madly scramble into the crowd and begin making bets. I retrieved my gloves from the battered old duffel bag at my side and watched as a couple of drunks dragged a large negro boxer from the ring. He wasn't dead, but you wouldn't know it by looking at him. He had managed to land the grand sum of zero punches before being knocked senseless by "The Boston Mangler."
The Mangler was my upcoming opponent and I had had next to no time to observe him in action due to the brief duration of the main event. Now, upon closer inspection it occurred to me that I might have suffered a serious, if not terminal, lapse in judgment. My opponent was a huge, brutish-looking fellow sorely lacking in the good looks department. However, I seriously doubted that too many people pointed this fact out to him. He looked a little bit like "The Dog-Boy" I'd once seen in a carnival freak show. Now my schnozz wasn't gonna win any beauty pageants, but compared to the hulking brute (scowling in his corner) mine was downright dainty. I prayed I'd get a chance to land a few good shots on such an inviting target.
Fortunately there was a ten-minute intermission before my bout. This would give Tub time to make a few wagers and return to my corner before the bell rang. I was even more fortunate in receiving the assistance of a sea-dog named Dorgan that I once crewed with in the Orient. We exchanged quick hellos and he began to expertly lace my gloves for me.
"Care to trade places?" I asked, knowing of his own pugilistic prowess.
"Hell no," he replied with a grin. "I saw this wrecking crew fight once in 'Orleans."
"Any pointers?" I asked, hopefully.
"Yeah," answered Dorgan. "For God's sake don't let him hit you!"
Tub finally returned just moments before the start of the bout. He grinned upon recognizing Dorgan and slapped him on the back.
"Great news!" he exclaimed.
"I could use some about now," I said, glancing at The Mangler's corner.
"Well," says Tub, "we've got great odds for the fight! The good news is that you don't even need to win."
"Is there bad news to go with it?" I asked.
"Yeah," he replied, nudging Dorgan in the ribs. "All ya gotta do is stay alive for the four rounds!"
"I'll do my best," I said with a sick smile.
Dorgan and Tub both guffawed, but I was having a hard time finding humor in the situation.
Dorgan wished me luck and started to find him a seat in the bleachers.
"Hey," I said. "Don't ya want to work my corner with Tub?"
"Naw," he replied, giving me the thumbs up sign. "You'll be fine. 'Sides I think I'll make me a wager or two."
"You betting against me?" I asked with a frown.
"I'll let you know after the fight," he laughed.
The ring announcer went through the usual spiel and the thin, wiry referee gave us our instructions. I barely heard them 'cause I was still dying from embarrassment at being announced as "Mighty Max Peaster." This was Dorgan's doing and his idea of a joke. I determined to punch out his lights if I survived the night's ordeal.
All through the referee's instructions I felt the contemptuous glare of "The Boston Mangler." I got the distinct feeling that he viewed me much like an annoying bug that needed to be stepped on. He was muscular, stocky and smelled as bad as he looked. It wasn't the kind of bad smell you'd associate with a sweaty athlete, but more like he'd been handling dead things. I was trying to imagine what caused his stink when suddenly the timekeeper sounded the fight bell.
It was my clumsiness more than my skill that saved me from being the recipient of a powerful right cross. I had slightly tripped as the bell sounded, causing The Mangler's punch to barely miss. I sure felt the wind of it and thanked my lucky stars that I was no twinkle-toes. The power of the missed punch threw my opponent off balance and I managed to step in with a chopping left hook to the side of the head that appeared to have no noticeable effect. This was not good. My left hook had sent many a man to the mat, but The Mangler just grinned. I hate to admit it, but it was a rather frightening grin at that. I backed away and kept my hands up, ready to block or move as needed.
The drunken crowd was roaring their approval since I'd already gone one better than the defeated boxer of the previous bout. I could vaguely hear Tub yelling for me to "stick and move." The Mangler came slowly forward and I flicked two straight jabs into his ugly mug. He was starting to look peeved.
My best jabs didn't even cause him to back-off or even slow down. He came relentlessly forward and I was soon backed against the ropes. Suddenly a hard, straight jab shot forward which I just barely managed to block with my left glove. It felt like it now had a couple of cracked or broken fingers attached to it. Luckily my opponent was deliberate and in no hurry to dispatch me.
I danced away from the ropes, but not before taking a punishing right cross to my left shoulder, nearly causing me to lose my balance. I'd been hit hard in my time, but nothing could compare with the punches "The Mangler" landed. It soon occurred to me that I was gonna have to work fast if I wanted to walk instead of being carried from the ring. If I waited much longer I wouldn't be in any shape to inflict damage on my opponent. I continued to box and managed to avoid any other crushing blows. Of course, only about two minutes of round one had passed.
With fifty seconds remaining in the round, I unloaded one of my best combinations on The Mangler, landing at least three or four solid punches on his jaw and chin. I could tell he was hurt bad. All my opponents laugh loudly after receiving three or four clean shots to the head. Yeah, right.
The Mangler answered my flurry of punches with a glancing overhand right that sent me to my knees. If he'd connected cleanly some poor slob would've been mopping my brains off the canvas. I began to see the world through one of them fun house mirrors that bend and twist everything around. Through a thick fog I saw the referee stepping in to wave off The Mangler and begin his count. Suddenly to my amazement The Mangler knocked away the ref with a thunderous, sweeping backhand.
"Sweet Jesus," I thought. "He's gonna kill me!"
I was still on queer street as The Mangler moved in for the kill. I tried to stand, but my brain refused to send the signal to my legs. Glancing at my corner I saw Tub scrambling through the ropes to come to my aid. Well, at least I'd die knowing who my real friends were. Next, I spotted the timekeeper and dazedly wondered why my old pal Dorgan was stealing the hammer that's used to ring the bell.
The crowd was smelling blood and it was damn near impossible to think above the frenzied din. I continued to unsteadily sway on my knees as The Mangler edged closer. He was winding up to hit me with a haymaker when I did the only thing I could do. I gathered what strength I could and hit the brute with a hard, straight shot to his dingus.
My punch, Tub O'Brien and the timekeeper's hammer (thrown by Dorgan) all arrived at the same time with effective results. I hit The Mangler low, Tub blindsided him with a body block to his side, and Dorgan's hammer throw hit him squarely in the right eye. My would-be killer went down like a ton of bricks and the whole room erupted in pandemonium. Tub staggered to his feet and sort of rolled me out of the ring where Dorgan helped me to my feet. By this time beer bottles were flying and countless fights broke out among the besotted spectators. To my amazement, The Mangler rose to his feet and cut loose with a bonechilling howl.
I don't know how many folks will believe this next part of my story, but I swear that it's all true.
Suddenly, thick, long claws erupted from The Mangler's gloves. Dark, black ichor oozed from the ruined eye that had been struck by the hammer. Enraged and half blind, he began to lash out at anyone within his reach. With one upward slash of his formidable claws he gutted the still stunned referee like a fish, spilling his innards onto the filthy canvas. This caused the drunken crowd to panic and make a mad dash for the exits. The Mangler left the gore-splattered ring and charged into the throng of panicked spectators. He slashed and clawed like a demon, sending crimson sprays of blood into the smoky air of the fight club. Men cussed and cried and did their best to fight back. They broke bottles and stabbed at The Mangler with their makeshift weapons. Such tactics seemed useless as the jagged bits of glass had little effect on the monster's tough, rubbery skin.
The cobwebs were starting to clear from my head when I spied the bartender place an odd looking bone whistle to his flabby lips and blow. Within seconds there was the sound of splintering wood from the locked and chained storeroom. The thick, wooden door exploded outward as the heavy chain snapped like a cheap necklace. A creature about nine feet in height lumbered into the chaos. It looked to be some hellish cross between fish and man, like nothing else I'd ever seen in my nautical travels. It walked on two legs like a man, but had gills, bulging eyes and scaly skin like a fish. It's huge hands were webbed and what passed for fingers ended in wicked-looking claws. This fish-monster shambled toward The Mangler with a look of bad intent. The Mangler continued to wreak havoc, unaware of the man-fish that approached him from behind.
The Mangler was making mincemeat out of a Chinese sailor when the man-fish's deadly claws raked across his back. The broken glass may have been ineffective, but the fish-thing's claws left deep furrows in the Mangler's back. The Mangler quickly turned to confront his attacker and slipped in the wet gore that covered the area. He then tried to regain his footing, but the man-fish was on top of him before he could recover. The Mangler did manage to snap off part of the man-fish's webbed claw before losing his other eye and his life to the monster. I call the man-fish a monster, but certainly not more of one than The Mangler turned out to be. I don't know what kind of thing my former opponent was, but I was damned thankful that the man-fish had arrived to dispatch him.
Dorgan and Tub steadied me and we hurried towards the open storeroom. It now contained a gaping hole that lead to the alley behind "Dagon's Den." Seems like the big man-fish had broken through the outer wall to enter the saloon only to find itself inside the locked storeroom. From that vantage point it made its entrance into the wild melee.
We had just reached the door of the storeroom when the lights went out.
I awoke on The Pete, which was about the most pleasant surprise I'd ever had. Tub was standing over my bunk with a big fish-eating grin plastered on his ugly mug.
"What the hell happened?" I asked.
"Well," he said, "that big hen egg on your noggin is from an errant whiskey bottle."
I propped myself up in the bunk and my head begin to swim.
"Take it easy," said Tub. "Yer lucky to be alive."
"Thanks, pal," I replied. "I remember what you and Dorgan did for me. . . . I won't be forgetting it either!"
"Well, that's good to hear," he said. "Then you won't mind that I gave Dorgan an equal split of the dough."
"What dough?" I asked. "I didn't exactly win the fight."
"Do you remember when the big man-fish attacked The Mangler?"
"Sure. Don't figure I'm ever likely to forget that."
"Well, during the melee the money-handler got separated from his bag," said Tub. "I actually tripped over it on the way out."
"And you recognized it and took it with you," I said.
"That's right. Finders keepers and all that rot."
"I doubt if I'd had the head to grab it," I replied. "Yer a good man, Tub!"
"Yeah," he said. "Not bad for an old albatross!"
We both had a good laugh and it was time for Tub to leave. He gave me my share of the money and we agreed to see each other in Panama later in the year. I never returned to Innsmouth and I guess it's just as well. It was a year later when I heard the news about the Federal action against the town. I don't guess the public was ever told the true facts but based on my experience I suspect the action may have been for the best.
Created: December 5, 1999; Updated: August 9, 2004