Short Story: The Cutman

Surprise, it’s a boxing story. What kind of person fixes someone up just so they can go out and get beat up more? That’s the idea behind this story that appeared on in June of 2020.

The Cutman

Blood oozing is no big deal—even when there’s a lot of it. It’s torn flesh, capillaries,

minor damage. Looks worse than it is. But when it keeps pouring out and doesn’t stop, you’ve ripped a vein, and that’s a bitch.  The protocol is clear: clean it out, numb the spot with Lidocaine, suture it.

Scott’s best time in the back of a moving ambulance was just under two-and-a-half minutes. Even then, the wound scarred pretty badly.

He wasn’t in an ambulance, and he sure as shit didn’t have two-and-a-half minutes.

He had forty-five seconds before round seven.

Scott emptied the water bottle over the Kid’s head. It ran raw-steak red once it hit the gash. The stream ran down the boxer’s cheek and onto his heaving chest. Scott winced and thrust a blue ice pack into the hands of the assistant trainer. “Hold this on the back of his head.” Hopefully, Hector would know what he meant, but who knew?

Forty seconds left.

A clean white towel turned crimson. A quick swipe of the freezing metal end-swell above the cut momentarily slowed the bleeding. Scott swabbed nearly an entire bottle of Thrombin—way more than an ER would allow—into the opening. The stream reduced to a trickle.

For now.

The Kid stiffened as the drug sent a lightning bolt through his system.  Gus, the trainer, took the beardless chin in his hand and shouted, “Hey, look at me.”

That distraction offered enough time to swipe two gloved fingers through the Vaseline tub. Scott clumsily finger-painted the right side of the Kid’s face. He did an ugly job, just spackling around the damage. It wasn’t nearly enough, but the cutman smeared half of it off, hoping the ref wouldn’t complain about how much was left behind.

It wasn’t easy to talk with the wooden end of three swabs in his teeth. “This is bad, Gus.”

“Fuck it, he’s fine. Two to go.”

Ten seconds.

 Hector yelled something in Spanglish and grabbed the Kid’s elbow. Putting one hand under his armpit, the assistant trainer hoisted him off the stool.

The young fighter staggered once, then bounced on the balls of his feet.  He banged his once-white gloves together and nodded to the ref.

Blood, sweat, and petroleum jelly trickled down his child soldier’s face. One good punch would rip it up again. Objectively, the cut was high on the brow and off to the side. It shouldn’t drip into his eyes and blind him.


He hoped.

The Kid moved forward, his left hand outstretched to find his range. Every ghoulish eye in the arena was on the action in the ring. Scott leaned forward, gripped Gus by the shoulder, and pulled him close.

“Maybe we should stop it.”

The old man looked at him like he’d farted in church. “He’s fine. The kid’s won every round. Get him through the next two and we go home with the decision. Should have taken a point from the other guy for that dirty headbutt.”

“I don’t know—”

The old trainer’s voice interrupted his complaint. “Jab him, Kid. Keep him off ya.” Then those bloodshot eyes turned on Scott and in a stone-cold voice said, “We’re not paying you to stop shit. We’re paying you to keep him going. That’s the job.”

“Yes, sir.” Scott’s shoulders slumped, but he nodded. His EMT training kicked in. Do the job. Let your training do the thinking for you.  He gathered his gear like a chef preparing his mise en place. Everything where it needed to be for the next round.

If there was one.

He spared a second to check out what was happening on the other side of the ropes. The Kid looked alright, his pile-driver jab keeping the other guy off him. Then he circled to his left and Scott got a good look at the other side of his fighter’s body.

The Vaseline and chemical dam had burst, Black, crusted blood caked the right side of the Kid’s face. The dull roar of the crowd intensified when the opponent moved in with bad intentions, only to get caught by a left hook from the youngster that sent him staggering back to the ropes. 

The Kid had the good sense not to follow him in, blind on that side as he was. He was working on muscle memory and conditioning, but they were young, powerful muscles and damned good training.

A scream from the crowd made Scott look up and around him. He saw a full three hundred and sixty degrees of shouting, gargoyle faces blinking in white-hot tv lights. From ringside he couldn’t tell how many people there were, but it felt like hundreds, all screaming for blood. It was his job to make sure they didn’t get enough.

He was doing a piss-poor job of it.

Scott had only done a few fight nights up ‘til now. They’d been fun. It augmented his paramedic’s salary. Make a little money, see the fights for free—a pretty good deal. Even got laid once by a ring girl at an afterparty. Any other time she’d have been out of his league, but apparently not hot enough for the promoter or TV people who’d been her original targets.

This gig was supposed to be fun.

A roar filled Scott’s ears as the Kid got caught by an uppercut. A shot like that should have knocked him on his ass, but he somehow staggered back into the ropes. They provided enough support to keep the young man on his feet. The opponent lacked either the experience or the killer instinct to follow up immediately.

That’s about all that saved the boy.

Scott’s stomach lurched into his chest as a right cross knocked the Kid’s head back, sweat and blood droplets glowing in the blindingly bright lights like glitter. With the loose ropes keeping him upright but flat-footed in front of the attacker, it was only the clang of the bell that spared him a worse beating.

The Kid took two shaky steps towards his opponent’s corner, then reversed course to collapse on the stool Hector held for him.

“Good job, kid. Keep him off you one more round.”  Gus continued shouting instructions into the Kid’s blank face.

Scott had seen eyes like that; just last week when he’d pulled a seventeen-year-old out of his daddy’s Lexus. Concussion. The main difference here was he didn’t put the kid back into the car to take another run at the tree for three more minutes.

Wipe. Swab. Hold cold metal to swelling skin. Scott did the job well, albeit by rote.

The acrid reek of ammonia caused him to blink wildly as Gus snapped the tube of smelling salts at the kid’s navel level and waved it back and forth. Held any closer to a wounded fighter’s nose, it might cause serious damage.

 A shadow looming above them turned out to be the referee. “Can he continue?”

Scott started to say, “I think so,” but Gus shifted to his right, blocking the official’s view.

“’Course he can. That was a fucking headbutt you didn’t call, by the way. Kid’s good. “

The ref made him wipe off most of Vaseline as the bell sounded, then called for time and demanded Scott clean up the remaining globs of jelly protecting the wound, ragging on him the whole time.  “Come on, you know better. Let’s go. Time in.”

Scott watched the Kid rely on youth and remaining neurons to backpedal to his right, making slow, deliberate circles around the ring.  Only when Scott’s chest began burning did he realize he’d been holding his breath for nearly half the round.

One minute to go. Please kid, just get on your bike and stay away from him.

Forty-five seconds. The opponent was letting himself get distracted by desperate, pawing jabs.

Stay away, stay away.

Scott uttered a quiet, “shit,” as a last flurry from the opponent nearly knocked the kid off-balance.  Through sheer momentum, he was able to bounce off the ropes and throw a last spaghetti-armed combination of his own. 

The longest three minutes of Scott’s life ended with three quick chimes and a deafening roar from the crowd.

Scuttling under the bottom rope, Scott was desperate to check the Kid out. Gus beat him, though.

 The old man wrapped bearlike arms around the fighter’s waist and hoisted him into the air. Skinny arms waved like a car-lot balloon man. Whether it was because the Kid knew he won or was making one last play to the judges, who the hell knew? It looked good. 

But it was up to the judges, and nobody would know who the winner was by looking at the Kid.

Scott called, “Jesse.” Glassy eyes turned towards him.  With shaking hands he shone his paramedic penlight into the Kid’s bloody eyes. The pupils were unresponsive.

He swallowed hard. “Jesus.”

Cornermen, reporters, managers and people who wanted to see themselves on TV continued pouring into the ring. The bell clanged again, and the announcer took the hanging mic.

“After eight rounds of boxing, we have a majority decision…” Scott didn’t give a rat’s ass about the scores. He slammed his eyes shut, muttering “please, please, please,” until he heard the rest.

“The winner, from Oakland, California…”

It was all he needed to hear. He’d pulled it off. He’d gotten his fighter to the bell.

Gus grabbed the sweaty, scrawny victor, lifting him heavenward again. It occurred to Scott that it probably wasn’t wise to jostle a concussed man like that. Then he laughed at the notion the victory celebration was what would do permanent damage. Irony is a bitch. He allowed himself to join the celebration.

Released from Gus’s embrace, the Kid shook himself and grinned at his cutman, at least with the youthful and unmarked half of his mouth. The left side of his face was a blood-crusted, discolored, rapidly swelling nightmare.

Jesse Morales’ eyes looked more-or-less at Scott. “Thank you, man. You kept me going. You’re fu—fucking amazing.”

Scott somehow lifted the corners of his mouth and nodded, stiffening as the fighter threw his arms around him. He grimaced at the feel of sweat and blood and God only knew what against his own clammy skin. He patted his hand against the Kid’s shoulder and said nothing more. Then he tried to maneuver him out of the ring. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”

Cleaned up. It would take a hell of a lot more than soap and water. Stitches, for sure. And concussion protocol–that meant overnight observation in a hospital, if he could convince Gus to allow it. A buttload of Gatorade to replace lost fluids. Kid would probably puke it up, though, so that shit they gave babies would work. An IV would be better. Saline, maybe a little Glutamine.  Not that there was any of that in the dressing room. So, Gatorade.

“Seriously, man. You, you rock. I want you for all my fights.” The words were slurred but understandable over the maddening noise all around them. The cutman took a deep breath and said to nobody, somewhere over the kid’s shoulder, “That’s the job, right?”