An Edge

There were no steel bars. It was minimum security. It was like summer camp for grown-up reprobates. There were no heavily armed guards walking around with clubs or spying on us perched from towers. This would be home for a few months. I would leave “rehabilitated” but without my medical license. With what I did, I wouldn’t need it, wouldn’t want it. I was done with all that.

I was in the same prison as the doctor who molested the young women gymnasts and the cancer doctor who gave chemotherapy to patients who did not have cancer. I never thought I would be in their company. Because they were in maximum security, I never saw those two doctors. Sometimes you could get a peek at them on the exercise track, but the warden kept them under lock and key. The general population wanted to get them. If they got Whitey Bulgered, the warden’s career would be over.

I was in the minimum-security section, considered an elite inmate in the same company as the counterfeiters, the forgers, and the high-volume bookies. My bunk was hard; the wool was scratchy; the food was terrible. 

My roommate, Dutch, was a very nice guy. When I asked what he did for a living, he told me he was the treasurer for an Elks Club. 

“That doesn’t pay much,” I said.

“Okay, I was a bookie.”

“How big a bookie?”

“Enough to get a two-year sentence.”

I wanted to know more, but you never asked another inmate what they did to wind up in prison. If they told you, it was okay, but I learned to never ask why someone was in prison. 

Dutch continued, “I was into gambling. Loved it. It’s a disease, but I didn’t want to be cured. My partner had once been a big-time college quarterback.” He told me his partner’s name. I recognized the name, remembered that he’d got into a lot of trouble for shaving points, and then he fell off the radar.

“We owed a lot of money, got behind on the vig, so we went to work for them. I didn’t like it at first but later came to love it—keeping on top of the action. My partner’s daughter went to college on a swimming scholarship and he went to her swim meets, which were out of state. Going out of state alerted the feds. One day two FBI agents came to my office. They told me they would go easy on me if I rolled on my partner. I couldn’t do it. I was a bookie, but I’d like to think I was still a man of honor. I told them I didn’t have a partner. It pissed them off; they’d worked very hard on the case. In a way, I felt sorry for them. They sure didn’t feel sorry for me. So here I am. It’s not too bad. No walls. We’re in the same position as the guards, only we can’t walk into town. I lift weights, run on the track. I’m in better shape than when I was in the army. It kind of reminds me of being in the service.” 

The conversation came to a halt. I knew he wanted to know what had brought me here. He was too polite to ask, and I was too polite not to tell him.

“I tried to do good.”

Dutch smiled. “And no good deed goes unpunished.” 

“I worked in a hospital during the pandemic. We were out of everything, gowns, masks, gloves, ventilators. The Covid relief money was gone. The hospital was supposed to be not for profit, but I learned they’d only filed for a tax break. The hospital didn’t have to pay taxes on profit if the money made was returned to the community. Even during the pandemic, the hospital aggressively cut back on services that should have gone to the doctors, nurses, and patients. Instead, they invested in construction projects, lucrative accounting practices, real estate, and huge salaries for the administrators. The construction projects were owned by board members or relatives of board members. They set up shell companies run by the spouses of the board members. During the pandemic years and even decades earlier, the hospital profits were being plowed into construction projects owned by the hospital’s board members. Nothing was going to the patients or the community. People with no money and no jobs became rich just for getting on the board of a not-for-profit hospital.”

“That’s money laundering,” Dutch said.

“Yep. So I started asking questions, and the next thing you know, I’m getting death threats.”

“The Feds hate murder for hire.”

“I didn’t take the threats seriously. I kept going. Then the hospital manufactured a computer violation against me and had me removed from the hospital on a HIPAA violation.”

My roommate shook his head. “That’s a frame-up.”

“The hospital contacted Medicare and fixed it so I could never work in a hospital that takes Medicare, which is basically every hospital in the country.” 

“A doctor without a hospital is not much of a career.”

“It’s like being the treasurer at an Elks Club.”

Dutch smiled. “Can hospitals act like that?”

“All the time.”

“What the hell did you do?”

“I became a cut man for professional boxers.” 

“How did you get in the fight game?”

“I was an amateur boxer. I was the ringside physician for the Golden Glove boxing matches. Some of the kids went pro, and I got interested in learning how to be a cut-man. I became very good at it. As a doctor I could tell how bad a cut was by the color of the blood. Bright red meant an artery was hit and I’d need to use epinephrine to stop it. Dark blood mean it came from a vein, and I could stop it with thrombin, Avitene, and Gelfoam. Monsel’s solution was the best, but it was too easy to spot and was outlawed. But I was one of the few who knew how to use it. Monsel’s was the chemical that got in Muhammad Ali’s eyes during the first Liston fight. I even used Negatan. It will stop most bleeders. I learned to manipulate a broken nose, keep the nasal passages open so the fighter could breathe and continue fighting. One of the kids I worked with was doing well. He had a fight arranged in Omaha. If he won that fight, he’d be in the top ten and get a title shot. It would mean a lot to a kid that had come from nothing.”

“Yeah,” Dutch said. “Boxers always need money. I never took a book from them; most couldn’t afford it.”

“This was a big fight for the kid. I talked to him that Friday before he flew out to Nebraska. It was going to be good money. But he didn’t sound right. His voice was off, scratchy. ‘You’re sick,’ I said to him. He told me he was fine, that it was just allergies. I knew better. I wanted to meet, check him for Covid. I was convinced that he had it. But then I thought, if he wins this fight, he’ll be in the top ten and get a title shot. So I let him go. The guy he fought was tough; you could tell he was pumped up on steroids—even his ears had muscles. My guy is handling him until the tenth round when he starts to slow down. He’s winded, out of gas. He gets hit twice and the referee stops the fight in a tenth round TKO. It was a quick hometown stop.” 

“The kid’s finished?”

“We had a rematch clause in his contract. They were supposed to fight again in four months. I had to make sure he would win the rematch.”

“You were going to make sure he’d win? Fix the fight?”


“I would have liked to make book on a sure thing.”

“My guy had to win, so I gave him steroids. I used human growth hormone, HGH. You can’t trace it. It turned him into one big muscle. He was ready—”

Dutch interrupted. “He stops the guy in a rematch and now is in line for a title shot. They caught you and that’s how you ended up here.”

“Not exactly. I took the HGH from the hospital’s pediatric endocrine clinic. They gave the growth hormone to children who stopped growing.”

“So you hurt kids like that Olympics doctor we got locked up with us?”

“No—they never missed a dose. The clinic kept running out. They went over budget. They blamed a young nurse and accused her of giving HGH to body builders. They were going to remove her from the hospital and take her nursing license. She was a single mom.

“Once I heard, I came clean, told the clinic that I was the one who’d taken it, that the nurse was innocent. I went down for stealing the drugs and the hospital fired her anyway.”


“Because they could.” I started packing my duffel. 

“Where you going?”

“To the gym. They may need a cut man. They’ve got some pretty good fighters training to go pro after they get out of prison. Want to come?”

“Yeah. I need a change of scene.”

A guard escorted us to the medium security section of the prison. We walked past men in their cells, hands draped over the bars.

Someone called out, “Here come the girls.”

The caged men whistled at us. It was like walking past lions and tigers in a zoo. Most inmates don’t like those who are too familiar with the guards.

“Snitches get stitches,” a man barked at us.

We walked through a corridor and down a flight of stairs to the boxing gym.

The prison boxing gym had been there a long time. It was a shoddy, crummy place like any boxing gym on the outside. The thunk of the heavy bag, the rapid slapping of the speed bag, and the snapping of the jump rope on the wood floor were familiar sounds that I liked.

There were pictures of fighters who’d been in prison but had gone on to have successful boxing careers. Sonny Liston, Mike Tyson, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. There was a large picture of Muhammad Ali, who went to prison for different reasons than the others.

A huge sign read:


Two fighters were sparring in the ring. They snorted with each punch thrown. The leather striking flesh made a muffled sound, followed by a groan. A bell rang and the fighters touched gloves and then left the ring.

There was an old man who everyone called “Pops” who ran the place. He helped a young man into the ring, holding the ropes open for him and having him sit in the red corner. 

“Listen to me,” Pops said. “The boy you’re sparring’s tough, strong, and mean. He was a pro, a prospect. Won’t get out of here for a few years and will be too old when he does get out to be a contender. He knows it and it makes him mean. Blames everybody but himself. But he can’t defend the jab. Just keep jabbing him. Keep him off balance. Throw one to the body once in a while, bring his hands down; only then you go for his head. Just try to last a few rounds till he gets tired. You can’t get any endurance with the shit they feed us.”

The other fighter was older, looking chiseled and mean. He had a snake and dagger tattoo on both biceps. The guy looked like he’d been around.

Pops was ring savvy, a teacher, and a coach. There was a lot of humanity infused with his instruction, and it made me wonder how he’d ended up there. But I sure wasn’t going to ask.

The two entered the ring and squared off. The older convict wouldn’t touch gloves, he just snarled, showing his white mouthguard. 

“Circle right, throw jabs,” Pops shouted.

The young convict nodded and started throwing serpent-like jabs. One, two, three. They all found their mark, and the pro’s head snapped back. The old pro jabbed and hooked off the jab, but the kid slipped in the punches and threw a roundhouse left hook, then a check-up left hook. The young man’s punches landed and the pro looked shocked, then pissed. Two jabs and a right cross landed on the pro, and he was stunned. 

Then the kid threw a right-hand lead, and the pro was hit and went to the canvas. The bell rang. The kid dropped his hands to help the fighter up. The old fighter stood and hit him.

It was a supreme sucker-punch cheap-shot. The kid hit the canvas and rolled around, then became still. 

I’d seen a lot of punches thrown by amateurs, but this was the hardest I’d ever seen anybody hit. The sound of him hitting the canvas echoed throughout the gym.

Pops screamed, “That was a lousy thing to do!”

The kid was bleeding from the nose, but I was most concerned that he wasn’t responding.

“Get the cut man.”

I entered the ring, kneeled, and then tried to pry open his eyes. Next, I snapped open a plug of smelling salts and waved it under his nose. His head moved violently away from the stimulant. His nose was bleeding heavily but he would be okay. I took some Q-tips out of my bag, dipped them in adrenaline, and then stuffed them up the kid’s nose.

The fighter who’d hit the kid said, “Nobody dies of a bloody nose.”

Pops yelled, “You stay out of this gym. You come back, I will kill you!”

I helped the injured man to his feet, Q-tips hanging from each nostril.

“You look like a walrus,” Pops said. 

After I removed the Q-tips, I packed Gelfoam up his nose. The bleeding had stopped. I’d done a good job.

Pops looked at me. “I could have used you on the outside. I could’ve been a middleweight champion, but I was a bleeder,” Pops told me. “I had to stop the other guy before I got cut—had to move fast, and that left me open, and the good fighters knew it. Jab, jab, jab till the bleeding started—then I was finished.”

Pops turned and put his arm around the kid, escorting him out of the gym.

“Exciting,” my roommate said. “More interesting than reading the racing form. You weren’t kidding about being a cut man.”

“When I get out of here, I’ll be in the corner for my boxer and he’ll get to fight for a title, only they’re watching him like a hawk. I can’t risk giving him steroids again.”

“You can give him the edge.”


“The edge. It’s the advantage that makes all the difference. It’s not as obvious as your steroid trick. It’s what we bookies look for. Pops could’ve had the edge if you were in his corner back in the day. Your fighter won’t be sick next time, won’t have the Covid, and he’ll have you. When you’re in the gambling business, you can get the odds in your favor, but you must be subtle so you don’t get caught. You ask questions, you learn stuff. Steroids were too obvious. A good cut man and no Covid should be all your fighter needs next time.”

“Will it be enough?”

“Maybe. An edge works. A sure thing violates the rules of the universe. The first rule is there’s no such thing as a sure thing.”

“I’m learning.”

“I learned that at Hialeah Racetrack. The track’s gone now, but in its day, it was a gorgeous place. They had a lake and sailboats and pink flamingos in the infield. Anyway, I got a jockey to bring a stake horse down in class. I tell the jock to slow the horse down for several races so he drops in class. We did it slowly over the winter season, and by the time spring arrived, the horse was in the field as a cheap claimer. I was married at the time, my wife was pregnant about seven months. We put every cent we had on the horse, it was a sure thing. The horse broke clean and was leading, but this other horse comes on his tail and is running my horse down. We’re yelling and screaming and jumping up and down. The two horses are making the turn for the homestretch and are now neck and neck. If I lost, my wife and I were finished. Maybe dead. The two horses hit the wire, and mine wins by a nose. It makes my wife go into labor early, and my son is born premature. But we made money. The track suspended me for one year.”

“It was a sure thing?”

“It was supposed to be. That day I learned there is no such thing.”

“What happened to your wife, your son?”

“Divorced. My son worked with me, still works there. He’s deaf. Premature kids are often deaf. He talks with his fingers. But the kid is good with numbers, and he keeps the books, knows the odds. The feds didn’t go after him because he was deaf.”

Months passed; I was set to be released with a tether. I went to the gym to say goodbye to Pops. Dutch went with me.

“Pops, I’m out of here.”

“I wish I was going with you, but I’ve got a few more years to go.”

He must have done something really bad, I thought.

We shook hands. 

There was a loud bang as the locker room door opened. A man came into the gym with a long metal knife, a shiv.

It was the guy who’d sucker punched that kid a few months earlier. He raised the knife but Pops ducked down and threw an uppercut that landed on the guy’s jaw. The guy was out. The shiv rolled around the floor. I went to pick it up. I wanted to kill the guy. I never thought I would have such a feeling. I guess prison can do that to you.

Dutch shouted, “Don’t do it.”

I dropped the shiv.

The alarm sounded. The guards had us all stand down. 

“That was close,” I said, shaking. “I don’t know what came over me.”

“Pops had the edge,” Dutch said. “You didn’t. You stick that shiv in him and you’re done. Hard time, not easy time, and you wouldn’t know how to do it.”

“You weren’t afraid for Pops?”

“Pops was always looking in those shadow boxing mirrors. He’s been around. The mirrors gave him the edge.”

Dutch still had a month left when I left prison. I wrote to him. He wrote back, said Pops was doing fine. The fighter who’d attacked him was sent to maximum security.

Dutch reminded me to always look for an edge and not a sure thing. Find the edge. It makes all the difference. 

My fighter did get a title shot in Las Vegas. 

This was his chance. 

Dutch planned to meet us at the fight. Fight night was always very exciting; the beautiful women, high-rolling gamblers, and there strolling among them was Dutch. A crowd formed around him. He handed out twenties, even one-hundred-dollar bills. 

I waved. 



He gave me a big hug and then we shook hands.

“Dutch, you look great.”

“Lost fifty pounds in the joint.”

“How’s Pops? Man, he would love to be here.”

The smile left his face.

“The Covid went through the whole prison. There was no social distancing. Pops got it and they took him to the hospital but he didn’t make it.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Everybody was. Even the guards. I feel like he’s up in heaven watching us now.”

“My kid looks good,” I said.

“Do you have an edge? Should I bet him?”

“I have an edge.”

“Okay, I’ll lay down some money.”

I left Dutch and went to my guy’s locker room. I taped his gloves. The opposing cut man watched me wrap his hands and signed the wraps, and then I went to the other locker room and did the same.

It was showtime. The lights went up. The announcer stepped into the ring. My heart raced as the crowd got louder. The bell sounded.

My fighter threw jabs that hit the mark. Then a vicious right cross landed and the opponents’s head turned and produced a shower of sweat. The fighters exchanged punches. 

Rounds flew by. We were winning until the other guy landed a left hook over my guy’s right eye and the blood began to flow; he couldn’t see; the other fighter sensed his advantage and kept landing punches. 

The bell rang. I had one minute. The tissue over his eye was cut; a small artery had been severed. Epinephrine wouldn’t work. I needed Monsel’s but it wasn’t allowed in Vegas. DQ if you were caught. I knew it. Before the fight I’d studied the composition of Monsel’s. The ferric iron that chemically cauterizes the wound turns the wound black and leaves scar tissue. There’s no way to hide it. I changed the active ingredient from ferric iron to silver nitrate; it does the same thing, only there’s no discoloration of the skin and minimal scarring. I applied it to the bleeder; the artery shriveled and stopped bleeding. 

We shoved our guy back into the ring; able to see, he went the distance and won a decision.

Dutch came into the ring, handed me a ten-thousand-dollar bill. I’d never seen one much less held one.

“What’s this for?”

“I made a hundred thousand on your fighter. That’s your ten percent. I’m going to follow you to all your fights!”

“It’s not a sure thing.”

“But it’s an edge, and an edge is all you can expect in gaming and in life.”

I took Dutch’s words to heart, spending the rest of my life avoiding a sure thing, always looking for an edge. 

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