Bobby Halpern, who is 44 years old, is unwinding tape from his hands when he is told that the heavyweight he has just beaten is not Dave Conteh after all, not the brother of the British light heavy champ, John Conteh. "He's Dave Sands from Brooklyn," the guy says, and Bobby Halpern smiles, widening a diamond-shaped cut on his chin. Blood is slowly dripping from a gash over Halpern's right eye. He is a short-legged, thick-chested, thick-armed mauler, 5'10", 192 pounds, built something like Rocky Marciano. His face is heavily scarred around the eyes and chin. His friends say he fights best after he's been stung a few times.
Halpern's left forearm bears white scars that resemble needle tracks, but when you look closely you see that the scars are too long and too deep for that. They are the slash marks of a razor, 10 of them, and were self-inflicted. Halpern says he did it to avoid a beating by the guards at Green Haven Penitentiary, his home for 8½ years.
Once Halpern was a very hot pugilistic property, an East Bronx boy and a credit to a neighborhood famous for its fighters, such as Steve and Mike Belloise, Tami Mauriello and Jake LaMotta. Seventeen years in prison ended all that, and now Halpern is picking up $200 here and there by fighting four-and six-rounders. He fought Conteh, a.k.a. Sands, in the Westchester Country (N.Y.) Center. Six brutal rounds. He earned his money.
"What's your record, Halpern?" a writer wants to know.
"Robbery one, assault two, kidnapping," says a guy who knew Bobby back in Green Haven, and a few men snicker. Bobby Halpern smiles again.
"Don't forget grand larceny," he says. "They got me on that, too."
This is April 1977, and Bobby has been out 15 months. In 1959, he was sentenced to 20 years to life for robbery, grand larceny, assault and kidnapping. According to the indictment, Halpern and John Doe, legal terminology for a defendant unknown and never caught, invaded the car of Jack Michaelson, a 19-year-old interior decorator, and stole his ring, wristwatch and $1.20 in cash. They shoved him into the trunk, drove him 40 miles upstate to Goldens Bridge, N.Y., beat him, tied him up and left him semiconscious. Then they drove his car away, set fire to it and went home.
Francis McPartland, the arresting officer, said he figured Halpern and his buddy were "drunk and crazy" at the time. Halpern, a promising heavyweight who had had two bouts at New York's St. Nicholas Arena and one at Madison Square Garden, said it was a frame job. He said he wasn't there. Halpern said that when McPartland arrested him and Michaelson identified him he was in Fordham Hospital in the Bronx, recovering from shotgun wounds in the left arm inflicted by George Colitto, an owner of a sporting goods inflicted by George Colitto, an owner of a sporting goods store and a minor rackets guy.
They'd had an argument over a girl, which led to a shootout in Colitto's apartment on East 180th Street. Halpern unloaded his revolver at Colitto, missing all six shots. Colitto fired once and Halpern, bleeding heavily from the left arm, jumped out the window and escaped. Later that day he checked himself into Fordham Hospital where he could await the pending charge of three counts of extortion that Colitto had brought against him. Then Detective McPartland and Michaelson paid him a call. He was identified and arrested. It had been a busy day for Halpern. In three days he was scheduled to fight Eddie Vick in the semifinal at St. Nick's. He asked someone to please call the matchmaker and tell him that he didn't think he could make the fight.
"They prodded that guy Michaelson into identifying me," Halpern says now. "They were just looking to get me on something, to put me away. When I went up for sentencing, every assistant D.A. in the Bronx was lined up there, like I was John Dillinger. Six guards were behind me and a deputy was out in the hallway ready to come in with more guys if he had to. It was like they expected me to go berserk or something."
The detectives in the Bronx Robbery Squad, the guys who knew Bobby Halpern as a wild neighborhood kid who couldn't stay out of trouble, roll their eyes up when they hear that Bobby thinks he was framed. How many times have they heard it? "No, we got the right guy," says the recently retired McPartland, who can go back a long way in the history of the East Bronx. "You say that Bobby filed 25 writs in prison? He says they never identified him out of a proper lineup? Well, sometimes these longtimers spend a lot of time in the library, reading the law books. They get to be pretty good jailhouse lawyers. They all try to find some loophole."
The Bronx is a series of islands. Bobby Halpern's island is the 10 blocks or so around East 187th Street, just south of Fordham University and in the hub of a Little Italy. It is not as colorful as the Little Italy in lower Manhattan—Mulberry Street with its festivals and feasts—but it is tighter and more fiercely ethnic. Surrounding the island is what the police call the Blackout, block after block of black and Puerto Rican homes and stores and bars. Blacks are not welcome on East 187th Street.
Thirty years ago the neighborhood was mixed, not racially but ethnically, and Halpern, the son of a Jewish father and an Irish mother, was no oddity. There were plenty of Jews and Irish around Webster Avenue and East 180th, where he grew up. But Bobby Halpern was something special. He was a fighter in a neighborhood where fighters were revered.
When he was 15, Halpern was the 118-pound Diamond Gloves champion and the New Jersey state champ, both amateur titles. A year later, grown to middleweight, he worked with Gus Lesnevich, the former light heavyweight champ, helping him train for the Ezzard Charles fight. Halpern is not sure how many amateur fights he had, maybe 150, maybe 200. He says he lost "about 10."
On the street his record was just as formidable. He was considered crazy and wild and he loved to fight. "Cops, kids, grown-ups, it didn't make any difference," he says. "I started a fight in the old Crotona theater. They called the cops in to get me. They almost did, except I jumped out of a window, and a cop tried to follow me and he broke his leg. Once when I was 17, we went to watch a basketball game in the St. Joseph's Church hall. At halftime I went down on the court and started shooting baskets. Pretty soon one of the teams came out and a couple of guys chased me off the court in kind of a rough way. I waited for them till after the game. Then I laid out the whole team. You do stuff like that, you get a reputation, you know?
"I used to fight every day. You ever hear of the Five Iron Dukes? Ask anybody in the neighborhood today about the Five Iron Dukes. I bet they'll remember. Me and Izzy Kaiser and Andrew Porque and Angelo DiGirolamo and his brother Brownie. Angelo and Brownie are still around somewhere upstate. They did a year in Riker's Island, selling pistols, fighting with cops. Brownie once went to a wedding in the Winter Garden. He started a fight. Then he got up on a table and dove into a bunch of guys, just like he saw them do it in the movies.
"Izzy Kaiser fought lightweight. Tall, about six feet, a freak fighter. A bad guy with a knife, forget it. He's dead now. OD'd on dope. He was into everything, every racket. Once me and Izzy were walking through Crotona Park, that's where they used to have a lot of the gang fights, and some gang surrounded us, about 10 or 15 guys. I said, 'We're from the Iron Dukes,' and they said O.K. and left us alone.
"One day when we were just kids we got into a fight with a couple of guys in a bar on 179th and Webster. The whole bar jumped us. Izzy pulled a knife and cut one guy real bad across the stomach and neck. Then an off-duty cop came out and pulled a gun on us. What do you think happened? The guy who was cut across the neck grabbed the cop's gun so we could get away. That's the kind of neighborhood it was."
Andrew Porque, the fifth Iron Duke and a professional stickup man, is dead now. He was shot during a robbery. "Andrew jumped in the back of a guy's car and pulled a gun on him," Halpern says. "The guy turned around and shot him dead. You know who that was? Detective Mario Biaggi, the most decorated cop on the force at that time. Congressman Mario Biaggi now. Andrew picked the wrong guy to hold up."
Porque appeared as a co-defendant with Halpern on a first-degree robbery charge late in 1952. Halpern was 19. It was his sixth arrest of the year. Four ended in dismissals, two in suspended sentences. "Most of the time I wasn't even put in jail," he says. "The cops would just take me down by the icehouse, right off Webster Avenue, and give me a beating."
In 1953, Halpern was ready to turn pro as a fighter. The D.A.'s office had other plans for him: five to 10 at Elmira for sticking up a food market. It is a case well remembered in the Bronx.
"A carload of kids stuck up this place on 178th and Washington," recalls a detective from the 48th Precinct. "The cop on the beat saw the stickup. He was an old-timer, 38 years on the force. He pulled his gun and fired at the getaway car. It was on a Friday afternoon, and the cop had a four o'clock swing. That's when he was off duty. He was taking his family down to Atlantic City for the weekend. He figured his shots had missed. He never filed a report.
"It turns out he had wounded one of the kids. The robbery was traced. They called the cop in. 'How come you never filed a report?' the inspector asked him, and he told him the truth. 'Let's have 'em,' the inspector said. 'Let's have your papers.' They retired him on the spot."
Halpern did four years in Elmira. He says it was rough but not too bad. The convicts stuck together. There wasn't the racial tension he found in prison later on. "I did some boxing," he says. "I won the middleweight title when I got there, and I left as the heavyweight champ. I fought a lot outside the ring, and that's when I'd get in trouble. Sometimes the guards would use their clubs on you. We had a saying: 'clubs are trumps.' "
When Halpern got out, it took him a year to get his license to fight in New York State. In 1958 he won two of three bouts. He beat Attilio Tondo in a four-rounder in St. Nick's; he outslugged Henny Wallitsch in a vicious, bloody six-rounder in St. Nick's as the undercard to Roland La-Starza-Larry Zernitz, and he lost a split decision to Tom McNeeley in a four-rounder in the Garden. It was a few years before McNeeley fought Floyd Patterson for the title.
"It's funny," Halpern says. "When I was doing my 17-year stretch I got a letter from McNeeley. He was the boxing comissioner of Massachusetts. He wrote, 'When they sent you up, I said to myself, I'm glad I'll never have to fight that guy again. You were an absolute animal in the ring. Is there anything I can do to help you now?'
"I wrote back, 'Yeah, get me out.' "
Halpern spent time in Sing Sing, Dannemora, Attica and finally Green Haven. He got in trouble. He fought. There was no boxing program. He had his own version of it. When you talk to him now it is hard to understand the wildness that must have burned so intensely inside him. He hides nothing. He ducks no questions. He looks exactly like what he is, an old fighter, with hair receding at the temples, scar tissue over both eyes and more of it around his chin. He talks very softly, and at times he seems almost embarrassed about his life. But he lays it all out.
"Dannemora's upstate in Clinton," he says. "They call it the Siberia of New York. I used to work out on the big bag there. Sometimes I'd have a fight, but it was mostly to show people I could take care of myself. Then they'd leave you alone. They wouldn't bother you. Once I saw a convict chasing another one in the yard with a knife. The guards looked the other way.
"I figured it was only a matter of time till I'd be out on appeal. Three years went by, four years. My appeals were turned down. I got mad, bitter. I started fights. I was known as a troublemaker. I'd do 15 days in the box, in segregation. No bunk to lie down on; it was just a strip cellar. I'd walk around, do push-ups. When I'd come out I'd be back in trouble again. The other inmates used to tell me, 'Bobby, you'd better take it easy. These guys'll kill you.' I used to duck meals. They'd put Thorazine in the food, to calm me down. I fought it. Once I lost 25 pounds in one stretch in segregation. My friends walked right by me when they saw me. They didn't know me.
"Green Haven was the worst. The guards knew how to give beatings there. I kept filing those writs of appeal, and they didn't like that. The hacks would say, 'You know how much money you're costing the state, boy?' and I'd get another beating. There was a warden there who used to say, 'Halpern, you think you're a tough guy, but you know, I'll kill you here.' One time they damn near did. I woke up in the hospital getting intravenous. I was afraid to eat the food, afraid to drink the water, because of the drugs they'd put in it. Once they had you under drugs, they could make anything they wanted of you. They had you coming and going.
One day I was peeling potatoes, the hacks came by. 'Halpern, who gave you that knife?' one of them said. 'Better come with me.' They told me I was going to see the bug doctor, the psychiatrist, but I knew where I was going, down the hall for another beating. I carried a razor. I pulled it out and slashed myself 10 times on the left arm before they could get it away from me. 'O.K.,' I said. 'Take me now.' At that point I wasn't even thinking about ever getting out of prison. I knew I had 20 to life, so they might as well kill me."
Halpern finally got to court on a writ, the Bronx County Court House. Three Black Muslims were in the same reception room, waiting for hearings on their appeals. There was an argument. Halpern took them on with a chair. One of them slipped a knife into his side. He wound up in the hospital instead of in the courtroom.
He remembers Willie Sutton at Green Haven. "We worked in the laundry together," Halpern says. "He'd never talk about the stuff he pulled, but he was a very good jail-house lawyer. He was always looking to help other guys. They used to bring people up to see him. He was their showpiece. And there he was, pressing the warden's clothes."
After 17 years in prison Halpern was freed on parole. He remembers one old guard handing him his things and telling him. "You know something. Halpern? This place just ain't gonna be the same."
Move ahead to April 19, 1977 and Halpern is fighting Dave Conteh/Sands at the Westchester County Center. In January Halpern got a New Jersey license to fight professionally and knocked out Terry Kidd in one round in South Orange, on the Mike Rossman-Christy Elliott card. "Fat guy, around 230," Halpern says. "Couldn't move." This is Halpern's second fight since he's been out. He's had quite a bit of trouble getting a New York State license—44 years old, an ex-con and so on.
"When I first got out, in January '76," Halpern says, "I went down to Bobby Gleason's gym to work out with this big heavyweight. Al Braverman and Bill Prezant told me that Don King wanted me to go up to Providence to fight some guy on the Scott LeDoux-Dino Dennis card. I went up there but for some reason my fight never came off. So I sat and watched the fights. I saw this great white hope knocked stiff in one round. He was undefeated. Then later I read he was still undefeated. Still undefeated, after that guy knocked him out, and you should have seen what that other guy looked like. Anyway, they told me they had a six-rounder in Boston for me, and I trained like crazy and I never heard from them again."
There are about 1,500 fans at the Conteh fight, 500 of them from Halpern's old neighborhood. As he laces up his shoes, a guy puts his arm around him. "You in shape, Bobby?" Halpern looks up at him. "In shape?" he says. "Hey, I've been training 17 years."
Conteh/Sands takes the first two rounds, inflicting heavy damage with straight rights, opening two cuts. In the third, Halpern turns animal and holds his opponent against the ropes and punishes him with both hands. He takes the next three rounds going away, and the crowd is standing and screaming.
A friend is sitting next to two guys from the neighborhood. "You think there'll be a riot?" one guy says.
"Nah," says the other. "Not this crowd. I was at the CoCo Fernandez fight at Sunnyside the other night, and before the fight CoCo gets on the microphone and tells his people, 'Please, no matter what happens, don't cause any disturbance.' You know what happens? CoCo knocks his guy dead and they still wreck the joint. Aggie got hit with a chair. Nicky got hit with a chair...."
In the dressing room is Anthony Zinzi, who just got out of Green Haven. "I wasn't worried," he says. "Bobby'll take 20 punches just to get loose. He likes to get hit first—before he massacres the guy. At Green Haven he fought a guy behind the church. He made the guy hit him first. Then he took him apart."
A stocky man with a Fu Manchu mustache and beard is planting a kiss on Halpern's swollen cheek. "I love this guy. I love him," he says. He is Henny Wallitsch; 19 years ago he had fought that brutal six-rounder against Halpern at St. Nick's. "Me and Bobby put on a bloodbath," he says. "The Daily Mirror wrote it was the greatest fight ever fought in New York. The guys at ringside had to move back, there was so much blood. Hey, how about Bobby? He's something, isn't he?"
A month later Halpern destroys a slim, nervous-looking fighter named Freddy McKay at the Westchester County Center. The fight is stopped on three knockdowns at 1:22 of the third. Halpern's father is at the fight. He is short, tremendously broad through the chest, slightly myopic at 77, but powerful. His hand, as one shakes it, closes like a nutcracker. The hand is almost perfectly square. "I'm in the household appliance business," he says. "You want an appliance, you come see me. I'll give it to you at cost. I asked Bobby to come in the business, but he wants to fight. I tell him, O.K., but dance around and don't get hit so much."
As the crowd leaves the dressing room, Halpern's friends are still milling around, still making noise. A black 30-year-old light heavy named Dave Dittmar, who has had more than 100 pro fights, is sitting on a chair, a towel over his head. He waves to Bobby. "Hey, Halpern," he says, "you got it made, man, you're going places. Hey, Halpern, you know you're a hero up here."
Another month later, in June, Halpern fights again, a six-rounder against Diego Roberson in Circle-Go-Round in Nanuet, N.Y. The fight is stopped in the first round after Roberson sustains a deep cut over one eye. Sitting in the crowd is Francis McPartland, the detective who had arrested Halpern on the big one 19 years ago. This is nothing new. The cops from the precinct have followed Halpern's recent career almost as avidly as the neighborhood guys. They've gone to see him fight.
"I wanted to see what Halpern looked like," McPartland says. "He hasn't changed much, a little heavier maybe. He spent an hour signing autographs for kids. They came up here in buses to see him fight. The place holds 3,000, and 2,000 of them must have been people from Bobby's neighborhood. It wasn't what you'd call a great fight. They ran at each other and butted heads, and this fellow got cut. It was more like a billy goat fight."
"It wouldn't have gone more than another round," Halpern says. "After he got the cut, I started hitting him. I would have knocked him out. You know what? The guy was crying."
In September, Halpern knocks out Johnny Blaine in three in Nanuet. He also comes away from the fight with a broken jaw. A doctor wires it to hold the fracture steady. After three weeks, Halpern pulls out the wires himself and starts training again. He has been promised an eight-round main event in Westchester on Nov. 9, a $500 paycheck.
The commission doctor looks at Halpern's jaw. "I don't think I'm going to pass you," he says. But then he sees the look in Halpern's eyes and he approves the bout.
Then two possible opponents back out of the fight, leaving Halpern without a spot on the card. At the last minute, Diego Roberson volunteers to face Halpern for the second time. It proves to be a mistake: he winds up in Grasslands Hospital with a severe concussion, the result of a thundering left hook delivered by Halpern at 1:09 of the seventh round. Roberson did not move for five minutes after Halpern hit him.
Halpern trains at the Cage Recreation Center in White Plains, a school for teenage dropouts. He works with the kids. "I pay him $100 a month, but it's just for expenses," says Les Fernandez, the director of the center. "He's terrific with the youngsters. They get a big kick out of going up to see him fight. I wish I could pay him more, but we're not budgeted for it."
The director of boxing at the Cage is a tiny old man named Charlie Caserta, who once handled Halpern at the Mount Carmel CYO in the amateurs, almost 30 years ago. He is Halpern's current manager, of sorts. He points to a bulletin board on a wall in the Cage gym, to a picture of another of his old fighters, Billy Bello, a middleweight. An old newspaper clipping reads: BILLY BELLO, HE'S OUR NOMINATION FOR ROOKIE OF THE YEAR.
"Billy won 75 out of 78," Caserta says. "The best thing going. He was pulling down $5,000 fighting main events in the Garden. He killed himself of an overdose."
Bello is also well remembered b) the Bronx Robber• Squad, housed in the 48th Precinct headquarters under the Cross Bronx Expressway. "A burglar," says a detective who is a member of the squad. "I locked him up once. A good fighter, though."
"I worked on the case when Bello OD'd," says another detective. "They dropped him out of a car in front of the emergency ward at Fordham Hospital. Then they drove away. They were afraid. They took him to the hospital, though. Give them credit for that. They could have dropped him in the street."
Detectives on the Bronx squad do not like Halpern's chances of staying out of prison, boxing or no boxing. They see things from the underside. They have seen too many neighborhood kids turn into pimps and pushers, triggermen and hijackers.
"That's one of Halpern's hangouts," one detective says, pointing to a bar on Arthur Avenue. The detectives are driving around the neighborhood. "It's a hangout for the heavy hitters of organized crime," he says. "What do you think Bobby's doing in a place like that?"
The shorter of the two detectives, who has a tough, bulldog face, thinning black hair and darting eyes, was once a very promising Bronx middleweight himself—18 straight victories as a pro. "Eighteen fights and I never kissed the canvas," is the way he puts it. Then one day, early in 1956, he said to himself, "I'm never going to be champ, I'm never going to get there," and he went down to Gleason's gym and cleaned out his equipment. A year later he was a cop.
"I've seen so many," he says. "Frankie Palermo, good middleweight, good left hooker. Came from Arthur Avenue. He beat Tony Janiro after Janiro's knee operation. Had Charley Fusari on the deck. Then he went cuckoo. You'd be sitting next to him in the gym after a workout, and he'd be drying out and he'd start talking to himself. Nuts. He became a strong-arm guy for a shylock on Fordham Road. One day he went out to collect from a guy...what was the guy's name? It doesn't matter. Frankie slapped him around, embarrassed him. The guy came back with a .45. Boom, he put three in Frankie. Right here on Hughes Avenue in a candy store.
"See this place? Used to be a bar called Lorbes in the basement of the gym where Bobby trained, where I trained, too. It was a hangout for everybody. The cops would be on one side of the bar, the bad guys on the other. Now it's a joint for burglars, junkies and winos."
The car passes a bar in the middle of the next block. One of the detectives identifies it as another rackets hangout, another place where Halpern had been seen.
"Why don't I think Bobby will make it?" he says. "Because I've seen too many come out of jail with what they think are street smarts, but when they come into the real world they've lost all that. They're two-bit nobodies. So they become tough guys. Pretty soon someone takes them by the hand. 'Hey, want to do a couple of two-bit jobs?' Then there's bigger money. Move a few kilos of junk, be a strongarm. Pretty soon they take a fall and they're back inside.
"Some of the guys I grew up with in the neighborhood, well, I knew they were into things. Gambling, numbers, nothing heavy. Then I'm called to do a wiretap on them. So I sit on the wire and find out what they're really into...dope, juvenile prostitution, the works."
It is a hard and one-sided view, but it is not shared by all. Solidly behind Halpern is his probation officer, Jerry Wells. Wells is a unique person, a Bronx guy who used the tall, gangly frame of a basketball player to keep out of trouble. Bachelor's degree from NYU, Master's in Criminal Justice, probation officer for 18 years, he is an example of the idealistic and dedicated type of person you occasionally find laboring in the vast web of the New York correctional system.
"Police always take a pessimistic view; it's natural with them," Wells says. "But they don't know Bobby like I know him. When you read about his background and the kind of life he grew into, you realize that this kid was a loser from the day he was born. But he's different from the other guys. He's got ambition. His whole ambition is to be something, to be a professional fighter. That's good. It makes him unique. It's what keeps him going at age 44.
"Look, I'll tell you something. Four months after he was paroled to me he got in trouble. That was a year ago May. He was speeding on Route 9W in Rockland County, and he sideswiped a car, and then he took off and finally got out of the car and ran. The cops found him hiding behind a storm drain. Reckless endangerment, it's a parole violation. Do you know they could have sent him back to jail for life for that?
I got him remanded to me to continue parole. He paid a $500 fine. I interviewed him in prison that night. He hadn't been drinking. He got scared and he panicked. He was docile, and the cops said he gave them no trouble when they brought him in. I have 60 parolees in my care. I think I can judge a few of them. I think Bobby's gonna be O.K.; I think he's gonna make it."
Halpern has got a chance as long as he keeps fighting, and so far he's 6-0 with five knockouts since he came out of prison, 8-1 lifetime as a pro. But how much fighting is left for a 44-year-old heavyweight, even a uniquely talented one? Three nights a week he works as a bouncer in a club, which in itself could be risky.
"Cops are always cynical," says Joseph Zinzi, the brother of Halpern's Green Haven buddy, Anthony Zinzi, and a neighborhood youth worker. "They think he's going to be tempted. I think they're wrong. You make an equation—the amount of time he's spent in the can to the offer he might get—and, well, I think he's got more common sense.
"You know, you just can't understand what a legend Bobby Halpern is in this neighborhood. When I was a kid, everyone wanted to be an Iron Duke. They were the immortals, the Roman legions. Everyone wanted to be a Bobby Halpern. How quickly we forget our legends."
In some places Halpern is not forgotten, he is merely past-tensed, a great fighter who might have made it. At Frankie's social club and coffee shop across the street from Bishop Pernicone Plaza, they talk about the great neighborhood fighters, Paolo Rossi and the Viserta brothers and Johnny Rinaldi, who was a terrific fighter until Bummy Davis took him out with one punch, who used to come in and yell, "Gimme a coffee!" and slam the counter so hard the dishes would rattle.
"Halpern?" an old-timer says. "If he didn't get sent away he would have been a champeen, and a good champeen."
Halpern is hurrying down East 187th Street, on the way to meet Larry Morris, whose real name is Viggiano, who was Bobby's manager when he first turned pro 24 years ago. A friend mentions that the police are a bit skeptical about the bars he's been hanging out in, about his chances of staying out of prison.
"Those aren't my places," Halpern says. "I hang out in a bar near 186th and Hughes. They do a little numbers there, that's all. Look, when a guy does a lot of time, who are the guys he's going to hang out with? You have to go back to the people you knew before. The legitimate people'll talk to me, but in their minds I'm still a criminal. Same thing with the hacks upstate. No matter who you are, you're an animal because you've been behind the cage.
"I've had all kinds of propositions—robberies, hijacking. I told 'em to forget it. A guy who does 60 days, a year—we call it the installment plan—he might be ready to look for action. But a guy like me who does a big bit is different. You've given up 17 years out of your life, and you're not too ready to do it again. You know you can't afford to.
"I know time's running out on me as a fighter. But I know I could make some money if they gave me some work in the Garden. That unbeaten guy, Jerry Cooney, a guy pulled out of the fight with him in the Garden. I called Duke Stefano, the matchmaker, and I said, 'How about it for me with Cooney?' and he said, 'Forget it, Bobby, we've got bigger things for you.' "
Later in the day, after Halpern has met Morris, his friend calls Stefano at the Garden.
"I used him 19 years ago. I ain't forgotten him," Stefano says. "I'm going to save him for a shot against Cooney on TV. He reminds me of Bummy Davis, that kind of fighter. I'm saving him for a five-to ten-thousand-dollar shot, one of those big paydays."
The friend thinks about Larry Morris, an old man with a day's growth of beard, sitting in a joint he calls a haberdashery shop, staring out the window. "A white hope, a crowd pleaser," Morris says, watching the late afternoon traffic on East 187th. "Gets into a little argument and he's gone for 17 years. Seventeen long years. My dreams went with him. It's like a person losing a fortune in the stock market."
And the friend recalls the first time he saw Bobby. He was punching the heavy bag in the Cage Recreation Center, and Charlie Caserta, the little, white-haired manager, was watching him.
"See that guy?" Caserta said. "He was once worth a million dollars."
Move ahead now to a couple of weeks ago, and a friend of Halpern's gets a call from one of the neighborhood guys. "Bobby's in a bad way," the man says. "They switched parole officers on him. They took away Jerry Wells and gave him an oldtimer who's been in the department 25 years. They don't get along. See what you can do, huh?"
The friend places a call to Edward Hammock, the chairman of the parole board. "Yes, Officer Wells was transferred from the Rockland County and Bronx area to Westchester and Mount Vernon. Yes, Halpern was reassigned to Officer Samuel Lindsey. It is not policy to further change a reassignment. I imagine it can be done in an extreme case, but it is not policy. You say Halpern is unhappy? Well, I'll look into it."
The matter is referred to William J. Cashel, the area director. Cashel is a hard-nosed administrator. A conversation with him is like a tennis match with someone who keeps serving before you're in the receiver's box. It's tough to get a word in.
"It's strictly administrative," Cashel says. "The men work geographical areas. Halpern's unhappy with Sam Lindsey? Well, that's too bad. I consider Lindsey a top man. I consider him able to handle any case.
"This nonsense of relationship. Halpern was happy with Jerry Wells because Wells left him alone; he didn't make him toe the line. Well, that's ended now. I'm not going to move Wells back for another reason, too. It's a waste of travel time. It costs us expense money."
Halpern trains in White Plains, which is located in Westchester County, Wells' new territory. This is mentioned to Area Director Cashel.
"Look, my friend," Cashel says, "if Halpern gets in trouble, it's his own fault. You don't go to a surgeon because you like him personally. The last thing I need is for a parolee to tell me who his parole officer is."