Oof has never been one to plan too far ahead.
When friends came round to play and Oof’s mamma asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up, they’d say astronaut, baseball player, singer. Oof simply said, “Taller.”
Well he’s grown plenty tall, but his grey matter hasn’t quite kept up. Now he’s in the slammer, and instead of his beloved mamma looking out for him and bringing him cocoa, he’s got a cellmate quizzing him on what the pair of them are gonna do tomorrow.
“I dunno, Marl.”
“You don’t know anything, ol’ pal. You never have done. Well luckily you’ve got me, and luckier still, I’ve got a plan.”
Marl is always coming up with plans. It was a plan that got the pair of them shipped to this high security island prison in the first place.
“What you got brewin’, boss?”
Marl straddles his chair backwards like a youth club leader and unrolls a flier he’s had stuffed down his pants. It’s advertising the Island Inmate Boxing Championship, starting tomorrow, $10 entry, grand prize $100.
“We’re gonna make ourselves some dough.”
Oof shows up to his first fight without gloves, a mouth guard, or the entry fee. He’s lucky he’s got Marl.
“Right, Oof. Hit him straight and hit him hard. Remember your combinations?”
“What’s a commie nation again, Marl?”
“OK let’s not worry about that. Just whack him on the bonce till he falls, then once more for luck. Here, get some fluids down ya.”
Marl pours an entire bottle of water down his prizefighter’s throat. Two hours training the night before with a pair of rubber gloves and a pillow for an opponent isn’t going to turn Oof into Ali, but it might at least get him punching in the right direction. Let’s see:
The bell jing-a-lings and this little old chap with more hands than teeth jitters about the canvas like a lazily spun spinning top. He circles Oof three times, stops to aim a punch at his opponent’s belly… and that’s also where his boxing career stops.
Oof may not be quick up top, but he is from the neck down. Before little crazy feet has even started his forward swing, Oof’s huge right paw has come thumping down from the heavens and landed on top of his dome.
Face down on the canvas.
If this were a cartoon there’d be little yellow birds swimming around his head.
One down, four to go. Oof saunters back to his seat in the corner and waits for Marl to return from Sanchez’s little stall. Sanchez has set up a gambling den and Marl’s backing his man all the way. Oof can keep the cash prize all for himself when he triumphs, $100 will be petty cash to Marl when his plan comes together and he wins five bets in a row.
All Oof’s got planned right now is a trip to the John.
Over the course of the week Oof takes between one and two punches to dispatch each of the other wannabe champs who line up in front of him.
So he’s smashed his way into the final and his opponent will be Charlie One Eye, an uglier and tougher criminal the world ain’t never seen. Ears like Dumbo, scar on each cheek, marble in his right eye socket. A decent professional record under his belt, too: 20 fights, 18 wins, 15 by knockout. Rumour has it he’s locked up in here for swinging his fists a little too freely outside the ring.
But he’ll be no match for Oof Bulletproof.
He thought it up himself.
Above the gym doors is a temporary sign with the wording WELCOME TO THE GOLDEN RING. Someone’s crossed out GOLDEN and underneath scribbled BLACK AND BLUE – because that’s what colour they come out after going ten seconds with Oof Bulletproof.
The media are gonna be in the front row. What a story, the up-and-coming, not-so-gentle giant, against the old timer, the former pro. There’ll be cameras and everything.
It’s 2300 hours on the eve of the fight and well after lights out, when Marl’s called to the telephone by Warden Glynn. Now, this is highly irregular. Since his wife found out about his other wife, and his other wife found out about his wife, neither of them have felt much like calling lately.
Well this isn’t either of them, then, but Marl can’t tell who it is because the person on the other end is using a voice distorter.
“I’m going to have to be quick because people are listening in. It’s about the fight. I can’t tell you who I am but let’s just say I ain’t in Charlie One Eye’s corner. I just need you to remember one thing tomorrow, then you kids will beat him. The old beggar is batty. Completely B-A-T-T-Y. Work it out.”
Well, that made as much sense to Marl as a judge’s wig.
He lies awake for an hour working it over, but soon he’s in the land of nod where it’s raining hundred dollar bills and Marilyn Monroe’s taking a rather keen interest in one particular boxing trainer.
Round one was a catastrophe, and that’s putting it lightly. Oof swung and hit thin air more times than there are bends in the Mississippi, and each time got clocked on the nose for his trouble. Old Charlie One Eye knows his way around a boxing ring alright. He’s in and out, biff, boff, baff, and he’s even got this annoying martial arter’s “cha-chi-cha” that comes out under his breath as he goes about his business.
Talking of business, Marl’s beginning to sweat on his wager. He got all excited when he saw the odds Sanchez was offering on a two-round win for his fighter, and his entire week’s winnings are riding on it. It’s not looking like his best move.
“Oof, you gotta hit him. Come on ol’ pal, concentrate out there and you can do it!”
Oof’s concentration is up there with his planning.
The bell’s jing-a-ling suddenly sounds too loud, too shrill, and way too early to Marl, who’s frantically layering vaseline onto his man’s eyebrows.
Oof rises and walks straight into a belter of left hook and goes “Oof.”
He gets up and this time it’s him who’s seeing tweety birds. He stumbles back towards his corner, swinging at a startled Marl.
“Jeez, buddy, you gone crazy? Charlie’s that-a-way!”
“I’m winna gone it for ya, mamma,” says the loon in Oof’s body. “Proof Bulletoof’s the greatest fightprizer there ever was. This watch.”
Oof spins around, straight into an upper cut this time.
“Foo,” he goes, as his chin hits the deck. When the bell jing-a-lings for the end of round two Sanchez’s cheshire cat grin can be seen by the man on the moon.
Marl’s mind is racing. He’s lost his jackpot, but he’s gotta come up with something quick or Oof’s $100 first prize is up in smoke, too. He’s gotta do right for his buddy, and his buddy’s mamma. He promised he’d look after her kid, and at this rate Oof will be getting an early reunion – from the inside of a body bag.
Dabbing at the mess where Oof’s face used to be, Marl scrutinises old Charlie One Eye over the other side of the ring. Not a drop of sweat on him. Charlie takes his gloves off, re-ties his shoelaces, then re-ties them again. He’s got all the time in the world. Marl almost hurls when Charlie casually removes his left eye, rinses it in a basin, and pops it back in.
His left eye.
His LEFT eye.
HIS LEFT EYE!
Marl’s just worked out how to win this thing.
He pours a bottle of water down Oof’s throat, then unstraps those cheap red gloves and rips one apart, rolling up two balls of cotton wool padding. The crowd don’t know what to make of it. Of course, they can’t hear the conversation.
“Forget hitting him for a minute. Poke these in his ears and you’ll be able to push him over with one finger.”
Oof’s just about managing to follow. Must’ve been the magic water.
“In his ears? But why, mamma?”
“Yours is not to reason why. Just do it.”
Oof stumbles back towards old Charlie One Eye. Charlie doesn’t seem perplexed by his opponent having de-gloved. He does seem perplexed when two balls of cotton wool are jammed into his big old hearing holes, though.
Sure enough, Charlie stops swinging. He doesn’t seem to know where he is. He doesn’t seem to know where anyone is.
With the pinky on his left hand, Oof prods Charlie over the ropes and onto the astonished journalists in the front row. Oof raises his arms in triumph, over rotates, and hits the deck himself. He’s taken a battering, but he’s won.
Warden Glynn’s come down for this one, it being the final and all. He grabs hold of Marl and asks him the question.
“What the hell just happened out there?”
“Echolocation, Warden. Simple science.”
“Didn’t they teach you anything in Warden School? Echolocation, like bats. That mystery caller told me Old Charlie One Eye was completely batty. What they couldn’t say was that he’s completely blind. Yesterday I saw the old devil cleaning his right eye in a little basin. Today he’s doing the left. Charlie one eye is Charlie no eyes! I thought I was being told Charlie had lost his marbles, when he’s actually got two more than us! That cha-chi-cha was his way of bouncing sounds off his opponent to see where they were. Clog up those elephant ears of his and he’s, well… blind as a bat.”
“Well I’ll be,” says the Warden. “Well I’ll be.”
A flash young man appears ringside. He’s got a microphone in one hand and a press pass tucked into the ribbon of his trilby.
“Oof, you’re the champ! How do you feel?”
Oof’s up but he’s swaying. He opens and closes his mouth like a goldfish but no words are forthcoming.
“What are you planning to spend your Benjamin Franklin on?”
More fish-mouthing. Same amount of words.
“Have you got any plans to enter the Inter-Prison Boxing Championships next month?”
This is like a fourth round for poor Oof, he’s squinting his eyes, trying his darndest to understand what it’s all about. When he’s just about to come crashing down to the cold hard floor, Marl steps in front of the camera, props his mate up with one hand and grabs the mic with the other.
“Oof’s done with fighting. He quits. It was my idea to get him into the ring in the first place and it’s mine to take him out. All Oof’s got planned for the next month is getting outa his bunk in the morning and getting back in at night.”
It’s about the best plan Oof’s ever heard. It may be down to his weary legs, but that’s one helluva hug he’s giving Marl right now. And he’s whispering in his best buddy’s ear.
“Hey Marl, I can’t wait to tell mamma. She didn’t call last night and I do miss her so.”
Oh, didn’t she?