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THE HAUNTED HEAVYWEIGHT

This first episode, taken from The Wizard issue: 1109 August 17th 1946.

What Haunted Him? – A Punch from the Past

THE NEW WORLD CHAMP

 

The taxi-driver slid back the glass partition of his cab. “Sorry, I can’t get through this way,” he told his passengers. “They’re turning back the traffic. We’ll have to go round the other side o’ Hyde Park.” From somewhere ahead came the rumbling roar of a huge crowd.

 

Charlie Summers blinked through the windows at the lights of London, then glanced at his friend. “What’s the trouble? Riots?” Jack Jennings laughed. “No, a world championship fight at the Alectic Hall. You must have heard about it. Don D. Gurney fought the champ to-night, and beat him. It attracted the biggest crowd ever seen in Britain at a boxing match. I’d have been there if I hadn’t been meeting you at the docks.” “Ye-es, I did hear something about it on the ship’s wireless on the way across,” murmured the short, thick-set man who had newly returned from South Africa. “The name Gurney is certainly familiar. You say the fight is over?” “Yes, the great Don D. won. I heard the loud-speakers blaring out the news as I came to find you. He knocked out Collins in the thirteenth round, so now he is heavyweight champion of the world.” The car was backing round. Charlie Summers still looked puzzled. “But if the fight has been over as long as that, why is the crowd still blocking the streets?” Jennings laughed again. “I can see you haven’t kept up with the career of the Great Don D. Gurney! The crowd will be waiting to get a glimpse of him when he comes out of the hall. He’ll probably make them a speech, and perhaps throw out a couple of hundred one-pound notes for them to scramble for. There’s no knowing what Don D. will do now that he’s the champ. He was colourful enough when he was only the contender for the title.” Charlie Summers snorted. “Sounds a bit of a blowhard to me!” he grunted. “I’m afraid I’ve lost touch with professional boxing the last few years.” “But you used to be hot as an amateur, didn’t you?” “Yes, I’ve done a bit in my time. As a mater of fact I had a few scraps out in South Africa, but only in a friendly way.” They were now back in the West End, and making for the famous restaurant where Jennings was entertaining his friend to his first dinner in England for many years. Soon they pulled up at the door of the restaurant, and a uniformed commissionaire helped them out. There was a red carpet across the pavement and up the steps, and on either side of the doorway stood half a dozen stalwart policemen. “Expecting Royalty?” asked Summers, as Jennings paid the driver. “No, sir, but there’s a reception to be given to Don D. Gurney,” the commissionaire told him. “Unless you have a table booked, I’m afraid you won’t get in.” “I’ve booked!” said Jennings curtly, and when they had entered the swing doors they saw that the foyer was stacked high with flowers. White carnations against a background of red blossoms spelled out the words: “Welcome to the New Champion.” Charlie Summers stood and stared. “That must have cost a small fortune!” he exclaimed. “I shouldn’t have thought it worth the management’s while to spend so much.” “The chances are that Don D. paid for it himself!” chuckled Jennings, as they made their way across the huge dining-room behind a waiter who acted as guide. “It’s certainly going to be some party!” He indicated the long horseshoe-shaped table which had been set for about a hundred guests. Masses of flowers nearly covered the white tablecloth and the lights overhead were festooned with decorations. The new King of the Ring would have no cause for complaint about the welcome accorded him here. Charlie Summers studied the menu. It was the first of its kind he had seen for a long time, and he let his friend choose a tasteful meal, reflecting that it was probably the last he would eat in such luxurious surroundings for months to come. He had made no fortune in South Africa and his funds were low. He would have to look for a job soon. He was an ordinary looking person and, except for his broad shoulders, his figure was average. His clear blue eyes were his only claim to interest. But it was good to be back in the Old Country again, and good to be met by old Jack Jennings, who had once been in business with him before the South African days. They had much to talk about, and time passed so quickly that it came as a shock to them when everybody in the room leapt to their feet and cheered wildly. “Good old Don D.!” arose the cry. “Welcome to the new champion! Good luck, Don D.!” Such a forest of arms was being waved that it was difficult for Charlie Summers to see anything of the newcomers, even though he rose to his full five-feet-six. Determined to see the cause of the excitement, he stood on his chair and, across the width of the room, glimpsed the group which had just entered from the hall. Posed on the top step leading down into the dining-room was a mighty figure of a man, wearing evening-dress and a flowing opera cloak lined with crimson. Six-feet-two at least, with massive shoulders and exceptionally long limbs, Don D. Gurney would have been an imposing figure without any of his showmanship. But his clothes were of the loudest cut, his cloak deliberately turned back to display the lining, and on his head he rakishly wore a top hat. There he posed, taking in the cheers of the crowd, until suddenly he snatched off his hat, gave it a mighty kick which sent it flying far out over the room, whooped so loudly that the glasses rattled on the tables, then took a flying leap down on to the dance-floor. He skated across this, and gained the head of the table which he had prepared for him. “Champagne all round!” he bellowed. “Champagne for everyone in the place – including the staff. Don D. Gurney is on top of the world to-night!” Then followed wild uproar as waiters appeared with laden trays, and the hundred or more guests invited by the boxer rushed for their places. It was the maddest scene imaginable, and in the middle of it could be heard the loud voice of Don D. proposing his own health! Charlie Summers sat down with a puzzled expression on his face. “Well, what do you think of our new World Champion?” asked Jennings, with a grin. “Isn’t he a character?” “Funny!” murmured Summers, as he fingered his glass. “I’ve an idea I know him. I believe I’ve seen him before somewhere.”

 

CHARLIE SUMMERS’ CHALLENGE

 

The evening became wilder and wilder. Glasses were tossed in the air and smashed. Waiters were continually sweeping up the fragments. Then came the speeches. Wilber White, Gurney’s manager, gave a glowing address, declaring his champion to be the greatest exponent of the fistic art ever seen in the ring.

 

There was much thumping and stamping at this, then Don D. himself clambered on to the table and held up his hands in silence. “Ladies and gentlemen, I agree with all my manager has said,” he boomed. “I am undoubtedly the greatest boxer ever known!” There was loud cheering and laughter. “Shut up! I mean it…I have never lost a fight yet. I’m open to meet the challenge of any man in the world at any weight, and I’ve twenty thousand pounds ready as a side-bet that I knock him cold in three rounds. I’m not one of those champs who like to sit on top o’ the world without fighting…Now then, do any of you gents want to take me on?” He put up his huge fists and shadow-boxed in the air. Broad grins appeared on the faces of all who had heard this boast, then the grins became less noticeable and turned to amazement when a quite voice from the back of the room called out- “I’ll take you on any time you like, Davie!” It was Charlie Summers who had risen to his feet, and Jack Jennings clutched his friend desperately with both hands. “Sit down, Charlie, and don’t make a fool of yourself!” he urged. But the quite little man from South Africa shook him off and walked forward so that all could see him. The gigantic figure on the table had turned to stare in his direction. “Oh, so I’ve a challenger already!” Gurney whooped. “Walk up, mister, an’ let’s see you. You want to fight me, eh?” “I don’t particularly want to fight anyone,” replied Charlie Summers, still approaching between the groups of other diners, “but you threw out a challenge and I accepted it. I can knock you down any time I want, Davie!” The crowd shouted with glee at this; they thought it was the richest joke they had heard for a long time. But the champ stopped grinning and bent even farther forward to regard the quite little man in the dark pin-stripe suit. “What did you call me?” he thundered. “Did you say, ‘Davie’?” “I did. We always called you Davie at school, Davie Gurney. Where you’ve collected the ‘Don’ from I don’t know, but you’re Davie Gurney to me, and if you don’t remember my name it’s Summers – Charlie Summers.” The boxer put a huge hand on the head of one of those people round the table and vaulted lightly from his perch to land beside Summers. There was still the same puzzled frown on his battered face. Memories were awakening. “Charlie Summers! Gosh, the last time I saw you was at school! You were at the Westfront Council School with me.” “Yes, in the same class,” agreed Charlie Summers, gripping the hand that was held out to him, and instantly regretting it when fingers were all but crushed flat. “Ow, let go, you big lug! Let go, or – or I’ll hit you.” The great Don D. squirmed with laughter, gave a jerk which pulled Summers off his balance, and let go so suddenly that his victim sat down heavily on the carpet. Hoots and bellows of laughter shook the room as the champ reached for the other’s collar and hoisted him to his feet. “Good old Charlie!” he cried. “The same old Charlie – always quarrelling with someone. Come an’ have a glass o’ champagne, an’ tell me all about yourself, you son of a gun! You were always –“ Just how it happened, few could see. Charlie Summers with his collar torn apart, had whirled with fantastic speed. The champ must have seen the gleam in his cold blue eyes, for he half raised his arms as though to defend himself. Straight in under them went Summers, head drawn down between his shoulders until his neck was barely visible, his two fists leaping forward. Thud! Right in the pit of the champ’s stomach landed one of those fists, and as Gurney doubled forward with a painful jerk, the other fist whizzed upwards and caught him a terrible hook on the side of the chin. To the horror and dismay of everyone, Don D. Gurney crashed full-length on the floor, and rested there on one elbow, gazing up at his small opponent with obvious terror! “I warned you!” snapped Summers. “I didn’t want to do it, Davie, but you always were fond of that finger-crushing trick of yours. I knocked you down for it once before.” Around the table were fully a score of the leading boxers of the day, and three of them now sprang forward to get between the two men. Two of them grabbed Gurney by the arms and helped him to his feet. “Don’t start anything, Don!” they implored. “It’s not worth it. Don’t hit him back or you’ll kill him!” Don D. Gurney’s mouth opened and closed like that of a landed fish, but he did not utter a word. It was Charlie Summers who spoke. “Him kill me!” he jeered. “I can knock him down any time I like, and he knows it. We fought a dozen times at school. He was the bully of the class, and I was the smallest member, but I could always lick him. I’ll do it again, too! Get out of my way!” It was Jack Jennings who held on to him and implored him to come away before he was killed. A circle of men had closed around the champ, and four brawny police were advancing across the room towards Summers. The agitated restaurant manager was pointing at the little man from South Africa. “He started the trouble,” he said. “Throw him out!” The police took Summers and Jennings by the arms and led them across the room, which was now in frantic uproar. People craned forward to get a glimpse of this quite stranger who had knocked down the World Champion, and wondered if Don D. Gurney would break away from his friends and tear the unknown to pieces. But Don D. Gurney had sat down on the nearest chair and had hidden his face in his hands. He paid no attention to those who shook him and spoke in his ear. His manager became worried. “Are you hurt, Don?” he asked. “Shall I get a doctor?” The Champ straightened up with an effort, and forced a grin as he bounded to his feet and clicked his heels together in mid-air. “Are you kidding?” he demanded. “Me hurt by a punch from a little rabbit like that! No, what I was doing was fighting down my temper. I didn’t want to cut loose and spoil the party. Now they’ve thrown him out we can get going again…Fill up, my friends, and drink to the little guy I let knock me down! I bet he’ll go around the rest of his life declaring he can do it any time he wishes…Ho! Ho! Ho!” His deep laughter started everyone else off, but Wilber White, the boxer’s manager, frowned to himself, for he detected something forced in that laughter, and a certain something in the big man’s eyes which he had never seen before. Surely the great Don D. Gurney was not afraid of this little chap!

 

WAS IT A FLUKE?

 

Charlie Summers and Jennings had talked in the latter’s room until early in the morning. Jennings had offered to put up his friend for the night, but dawn had come, and they were still not asleep. “…I tell you for the umpteenth time that I can beat this big bazooka any time I like!” the man from South Africa was saying.

 

“I wasn’t lying about us being in the same class. He was always twice as big as me, yet I licked him at least a dozen times. In the end he became frightened to tackle me. To think that he’s now the World Champ-” “Yes, yes, old man, get to bed and you’ll feel better,” urged Jack Jennings. “I want to get you out of London as soon as possible to-morrow, before Don D. comes hunting for you. He’s got a wicked temper. I remember there was a row once in the Consort Hotel, and he set about three men just because he thought they were laughing at him. He put them all in hospital.” Charlie Summers rose, and his blue eyes sparkled angrily. “You don’t believe me!” he shouted. “I tell you I can lick him every time. He knows it, too. I’ve got him beaten before I land even a single blow. It’s something between us – something that originated back there in school. I intend to make something out of this. I’ve got a job now. I’m going after Don D. Gurney for the World Championship, and I’m not going to let up until he fights me!” Bewilderment spread over the other’s face. “But, Charlie, just because you could lick Gurney when you were a schoolboy doesn’t mean that you can do it now. Gurney’s beaten most of the foremost boxers in the world, both here and in America. He’s a world-beater – the acknowledged champion, and you’re just a good amateur.” “It doesn’t matter if I’m a good amateur or a bad, or even if I can box at all,” retorted the man from South Africa. “I don’t claim to be a world-beater myself, or to be able to beat the men Gurney has beaten, but I do know that I can lick Gurney, and that’s what I’m going to do!” He reached for his hat. “Where are you going at this hour?” demanded his host. “You haven’t been to bed at all.” “I can sleep another time. All I want now is to see the report in the papers of what happened at Gurney’s dinner last night. I want to see if they’ve printed my challenge. Get some sleep yourself. I’ll be back presently.” He went out into the grey dawn. Jennings flat was in a quite square not more than half a mile from Fleet Street, and Summers walked briskly through the deserted streets, knowing that he would be able to get an early edition at the newspaper offices. Lorries were being loaded up with the Daily Wire as he approached their premises, and it was not difficult to get a copy. Leaning against the wall, he scanned the glaring headlines which topped the four-column description of the fight in which Don D. Gurney had won the world title, but nowhere on that front page did he find mention of the incident or the challenge at the restaurant. Angrily he turned to the inside of the paper. Down in one corner he saw a paragraph which said: “After a tumultuous welcome from the populace in the streets of London, the new heavyweight champion Don D. Gurney, had a private celebration party at a well-known restaurant.” That was all! There was nothing about the fact that the Champ had been knocked down by an unknown, or that Gurney had thrown out a challenge to all and sundry. Muttering, Summers marched up to the office of the daily Wire, and demanded to see the editor. He was told that it was much too early, and that, in any case, he would need to make an appointment. He was still arguing when the chief news editor came out, on his way home. The man from Africa at once buttonholed him. “You are printing later editions of your paper to-day?” he demanded. “Yes, undoubtedly we shall, but why-?” asked the tired man. “Because I want you to print a challenge in all your editions for a fight with Don D. Gurney! I want you to say that Charlie Summers, that’s myself, is willing to fight Gurney anywhere and at  any time. I’m not particular about the stakes or-” The news editor tried to push him aside. “Go home and sleep it off,” he advised. “Listen here, I mean it!” stormed Charlie Summers. “I’m the man who knocked down Gurney at his dinner party last night, and I can do it any time I wish. I mean this challenge to be a serious one. I insist that it be printed.” Three or four printers had collected to listen to the visitor. They grinned and winked amongst themselves. “I still suggest you go home and get some sleep!” snapped the news editor, losing patience. “I heard about the incident last night. If Gurney was good-tempered enough to let you have your fun by knocking him down, you must consider yourself the luckiest man in the world that he did not hit you back.” Charlie Summers nearly choked. “You don’t believe I can do it again?” he roared. “Frankly, I don’t! Now I’ve a train to catch,” said the newspaperman, and jumped into a nearby lift speeding down to the ground floor before Summers could even find the staircase. In the hall, the news editor was greeted by a young reporter who happened to be coming on duty.” He paused and beckoned the junior. “Hey Conyers, I’ve got a job for you! There’s a crank upstairs who claims he can knock out Gurney, and that he’s the one who caused the trouble at the dinner party last night. Stay here and follow him when he goes out. You may pick up one or two funny paragraphs.” The youth grinned knowingly, and drew to one side as Charlie Summers came racing down the stairs in a tearing rage. The man from Africa had remembered that in the newspaper it had said that the new champion had gone back to his training quarters in Surrey. Charlie Summers made a decision. He signaled a taxi and climbed in. “Take me down to Hayford Grove in Surrey,” he ordered. “I’ve got to call on Don D. Gurney.” Believing his passenger to be someone from the newspaper, the driver made no argument and crossed London’s early morning traffic at a high speed. Neither he nor Charlie Summers noticed that they were followed out into the country by a second taxi. Hayford Grove was not far from Weybridge. It was a fine property, and by the time Summers reached the gates and paid off his taxi, there was a good deal of activity. He walked up the drive, at first making for the house, but when he heard the thud-thud of a punchball in a long low building on the right, he made his way there. It was a gymnasium, and three or four tough looking pugs were sparring, playing with the punchball, or merely idling as they discussed the previous night’s fight. “Hey, you, git out o’ here!” one snapped. “We want no more newspapermen.” Charlie drew himself up to his full sixty-six inches and glowered. “I’m not a newspaperman. Take another look at me. If any of you were at Gurney’s dinner last night, you ought to recognise me!” Half a dozen pairs of eyes were turned on him. Someone cried in surprise: “It’s him! It’s the guy who floored the champ!”

 

GURNEY FLOORED AGAIN!

 

Charlie Summers walked in, and they did not stop him. In a ring which formed the centre of the scene, another battered man was shadow-boxing with the gloves on. He paused to glower at the newcomer.” “You mean to say that he knocked down the Champ?” he demanded.

 

“Yes, he did it with a one-two as quick as sight,” agreed one of the others admiringly. “You ought to have seen it, Slugger.” “I don’t believe it!” declared Slugger Payne, the oldest and craftiest of the Champion’s sparring partners. “That little runt could never knock down anyone. It must have been a bit o’ fun on the Champ’s part.” Charlie’s eyes flashed. That was the second time this morning he had been told that. It made him furious. “It wasn’t a bit of fun!” he snapped, “and if you say that, I’ll step in there and knock your head off.” The moment he said that, he wished he had not, for it was unlike him to seek a quarrel. “Come on up!” invited Slugger Payne, with a crooked grin, and tossed a pair of gloves to Summers. “Show me how you floored Gurney.” Now that the die had been cast, there was no turning back. Charlie Summers kicked off his shoes, stripped off jacket, collar and tie, and stood in slacks and singlet. Someone helped him up into the ring and put on the gloves. Slugger Payne came dancing out from his corner, weaving and ducking as was his manner. Suddenly he straightened up and opened his guard. “Pretend I’m the Champ!” he invited. “Let me have it!” Summers’ cold blue eyes gleamed. Crouching, with head drawn down between his shoulders until his neck was barely visible, he dived in with both fists moving. Whizz! Whizz! Both the right to the stomach and the left to the jaw found nothing to smite. Slugger Payne, unlike the Champ, had danced aside at the last moment, and, as the amateur staggered off his balance, the old pug hit him thrice in the face. Bang! Bang! Bang! The blows were not vicious, but they were hard enough to hurt and to set blood flowing. Charlie Summers heard a shout of laughter and his fury grew. He had been claiming the right of a match with Gurney, yet he could not even knock down Gurney’s oldest sparring partner! More by chance than anything else, he succeeded in landing one left to the jaw, and Slugger shook his head in puzzled fashion as he backed away. The amateur could certainly punch. Slugger decided that it was time to finish this intruder and put him on the mat. Accordingly, he sailed in to finish the fight and found to his surprise that Summers was better when attacked than when doing the attacking. He guarded well, and once his right dug to Slugger’s solar plexus with savage force. “Huh! He wants me to get real rough!” thought Slugger, and forced a clinch during which he used all the tricks of the trade to daze and batter Charlie Summers. When he had got Charlie groggy, he suddenly broke the clinch and sent him staggering, leaping in to deliver a terrific haymaker with his right. Summers caught it on the side of the head and spun to the ropes, where he hung to support himself, shaking his head as though to rid himself of the buzzing in his ears. It was then a gigantic, bronzed figure in boxing kit ducked into the ring, and the voice of Don D. Gurney boomed out: “Well, well, well what’s going on? A little private party! Blowed if it isn’t my old friend Jack-the-giant-killer. He doesn’t look so good. What hit him?” The voice cut through Charlie Summers’ daze like a knife through cheese. His head cleared miraculously. “He just thought he’d knock me out while he was waiting for you Champ!” chuckled Slugger Payne. “I reckon he thinks he’s a world-beater. The Champ looked magnificent that morning, with scarcely a mark to tell of his big fight the night before. Grinning broadly, he crossed to where Charlie Summers was straightening up. “Poor little Charlie!” he said. “Hope that big nasty man hasn’t hurt you?” He reached out a gloved hand to pat the smaller man gently on the shoulder. Something seemed to snap inside Charlie. “Put ‘em up, Gurney!” he roared. “I came down here to knock you out. Put ‘em up!” Startled by the other’s tone, the Champ automatically dropped into fighting pose. “Hey, hey, wait a minute! Don’t make me hurt you, Charlie!” he implored, as the challenger drew in his head, hunched his shoulders, and leapt in under the big fellows guard. Don D. Gurney brought down his right to smash the intended blow, but he was a fraction of a second too late. He had been watching those cold blue eyes, and they had given him the shivers. His reaction was not as it should have been. Thud! Summers left caught him in the pit of his stomach, jerking the Champ forward suddenly and painfully. Thud! That was an uppercut in the jaw, almost simultaneous. Then Charlie Summers jumped back, breathing hard, as before his expectant eyes the new World Champion crashed sideways to the floor, first on one knee, then rolling over on his face. “Gosh!” hissed someone in the background. “He’s done it again! He’s knocked the Champ down, and if I don’t miss my guess, he’s knocked him out cold!” In the doorway, a frightened, pale-faced youth with glasses turned and fled from the scene. It was the reporter who had been told to follow Summers, and he was anxious to get to the nearest phone in order to send the astonishing news to Fleet Street.

THE HAUNTED HEAVYWEIGHT - 5 episodes appeared in The Wizard issues 1109 - 1113 (1946)

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2004