When the Thrill Is Gone Online - Walter Mosley

1

SOMEWHERE BEYOND my line of sight a man groaned, pathetically. It sounded as if he had reached the end of his reserves and was now about to die.

But I couldn’t stop to see what the problem was. I was too deep into the rhythm of working the hard belly of the speed bag. That air-filled leather bladder was hitting its suspension plate faster than any basketball the NBA could imagine. Nothing in the world is more harmonizing than hitting the speed bag at three in the afternoon when most other workers are sitting in cubicles, dreaming of retirement, praying for Saturday, or finding themselves crammed-in down underground on subway cars, hurtling toward destinations they never bargained for.

Battling the speed bag, first with the heels of your gloved fists and then with a straight punch peppered in for variety, you hone the ability to go all the way, as far as you can; getting in close but never allowing the bag to slap you in the face. Then, after that hard leather sack is moving more rapidly than the eye can follow, your hips and thighs, neck and head begin to move quickly, unexpectedly, like water, unerring in its headlong rush over and around any obstacle, wearing down your imagined opponent with the inevitability of time.

And, as any boxer can tell you, time is always running out.

Anybody you get in the ring with you is bigger and stronger, the worst problem you evah had in your lazy life, Gordo would say when I was a young man, sweating hard and thinking that I might be a professional boxer one day. The only chance you got is to wear him down, them fists like pistons and your head a movin’ target. You use your skull and shoulders, stomach and spit, anything you can to keep him off balance. And the whole time your fists is at him, they don’t even know how to stop.

“Give me four more.” The words came, and then a whining groan of agony.

“I can’t,” the bodiless voice pleaded.

“Four more!”

The strain audible in the ensuing grunt sounded like a man vomiting up his guts.

“My chest!” he cried. “It hurts!”

“You won’t die,” the torturer promised. It was more like a pledge of vengeance than any assurance of survival.

Without looking in their direction, I lowered my shuddering arms and headed for the showers. Pain is of no consequence in a gladiatorial gym; neither is blood or bruises, broken noses or concussions, unconsciousness, or even, now and then—death.

OF LATE I had been taking three ice-cold showers a day. Only that restorative chill, along with working the speed bag and a daily counting of breaths, kept me from going crazy. At fifty-five, I found that as life went on, the problems mounted and their solutions only served to make things worse.

I didn’t have a case at that moment, which meant that no money was coming in. When I did get a job, that just meant somebody was going to come to harm, one way or the other—maybe both. And even then I might not collect my detective’s fee.

A good friend was dying in my eleventh-floor apartment. My wife was having an affair with a man half her age. And those were just the devils I knew.

AFTER THE SHOWER I was so spent that it was all I could do to sit upright and naked on the little oak stool that had somehow made its way into the locker room. The groaning from the gym was constant as my muscles still quivered from the exertions of the midday workout session.

Rising to my feet was an act of faith. I had the feeling of being the last man left standing after a lifelong battle in a meaningless war.

THE CHUBBY, café au lait-colored young man was in the middle of failing at executing a sit-up. He looked like a giant drunken grub that had lost its sense of balance, writhing and then falling back with the impact of a heavy mattress on the concrete floor.

“Three more and you’re through,” Iran Shelfly said.

Tiny Bateman, dressed in a gray T-shirt and shiny aqua trunks, let his arms fall to the side looking to the world like a fat drunk lowered to the ground on the curb in front of his favorite bar. Above him stood a well-built copper-skinned young man with a shaved head and a perpetual grin on his lips. His mirth seemed more predatory than happy, but Iran was really trying to help Tiny out.

“Three more,” Iran