"Champ, what's with ya lately?" Benny asked the question as they lay on the beach.
"Nothing," Frankie answered. "Just fight-nite miseries, I guess."
"No it ain't, Frankie. It's something else. You losin' confidence in Milt? That it? Can't you hold it one more time? You guys only need tonite and you got it. One more to make Ten-Time Defenders—the first in the game, Frankie."
"We won the last two on points, Benny. Points—and I'm better than that. I keep waiting, and waiting, for my heels to set; for Milt to send it up my legs and back and let fly. But he won't do it, Benny."
"Look, Champ, Milt knows what he's doing. He's sending you right. You think maybe you know as much as Milt?"
"Maybe I just do, Benny. Maybe I do."
Benny didn't have the answer to this heresy. By law this was Frankie's last fight—as a fighter. If he won this one and became a Ten-Time Defender he would have his pick of the youngsters at the Boxing College, just as Milt had chosen him fifteen years before. For fifteen years he'd never thrown a punch of his own in a fight ring.
Maybe because it was his last fight in the ring he felt the way he did today. He understood, of course, why fighters were mentally controlled by proved veterans. By the time a fighter had any real experience and know-how in the old days, his body was shot. Now the best bodies and the best brains were teamed by mental control.
Benny had an answer now. "Champ, I think it's a good thing this is your last fight. You know too much. After this one you'll have a good strong boy of your own and you can try some of this stuff you've been learning. Milt knows you're no kid anymore. That's why he has to be careful with you."
"I still have it, Benny. My speed, my punch, my timing—all good. There were a dozen times in those last two fights I could have crossed a right and gone home early."
"Two times, Frankie. Just two times. And them late in the fight. Milt didn't think you had it, and I don't think you did either."
Milt, Frankie's master control, came down to the beach and strolled over to join them. Milt had been a Five-Time Defender in the Welter division before his fights ran out. Now he was skinny and sixty. His was the mind that had directed every punch Frankie had ever thrown.
He studied the figure of Frankie lying on the sand. The two-hundred-pound fighting machine was thirty years old. Milt winced when he compared it to that of the twenty-two-year-old slugger they would have to meet in a few hours.
Benny said "Hi," and ambled off.
"Well, boy, this one means a lot to both of us," Milt said.
"Sure," was all Frankie could answer.
"For you, the first Ten-Time Defender the heavyweight division has ever produced. For me, The Hall of Boxing Fame."
"You want that pretty bad, don't you, Milt?"
"Yeah, I guess I do, Frankie, but not bad enough to win it the wrong way."
Frankie's head jerked up. "What do you mean, the wrong way?"
Milt scowled and looked as though he wished he hadn't said that. He turned his head and stared hard at his fighter. "There's something we maybe ought to have talked about, Frankie."
Milt struggled for words....