Killer Instinct by Jim Adams Over 800 people attended the funeral, according to the local newspaper’s estimate… The cloudless day, lit by an early morning sun that cast soft shadows among the mourners, was disturbed only by the gentle murmur of the preacher’s voice and the distant hum of traffic racing past on Hwy 401. Off-duty Durham Regional Police officers received an unexpected bonus that morning, when they were called in to handle parking problems around the cemetery and direct the seemingly endless flow of floral tributes. “Black Billy” he’d called himself. He’d appeared in Pickering one unremarkable day, just as suddenly as he’d departed this life. No fanfare of trumpets, no grandiose announcements, no pre-fight publicity. He simply showed up at Mulligan’s Bar one Sunday afternoon when the regulars were discussing the merits of the Tyson/Doakes fight, and settled in the far corner next to the miniscule stage, nursing a half-pint of beer.
Mulligan’s being the type of place it is, he wasn’t alone too long. “Useta call me Black Billy,” he growled, lumbering to his feet. His head ducked and dodged, body swayed, as he danced on his toes, shooting lefts and rights at an imaginary opponent. His scarred face looked troubled for a moment. “Coulda been the Champ. Didn’ get a chance.
Said I don’ got the killer instinct. I know I got it. Jus’ need a chance.” His audience nodded appreciatively and exchanged understanding glances. Billy shuffled to a stop and shook his big head as a huge grin split his battered face. “No use cryin’ over spilt milk. That was a long time ago.
Yeah man, a long time ago. He extended a large paw and shook each person’s hand solemnly. “Jus’ call me Black Billy,” he said, the infectious, innocent grinencompassing the entire group, like a warming beam of sunlight after a rain-storm. It was hard not to like him. Before too long, someone who knew someone who had a friend, had arranged a job for Billy, in the Marina at the foot of Liverpool Rd. A small housetrailer – “It was just rusting away, sitting up at the cottage,” according to the owner – was procured and installed in a corner, near the parking lot.
Billy spent a few days cleaning it up and airing it out, then he moved his meagre belongings from his temporary home in the small motel on Hwy #2. Pillows, blankets, drapes, cutlery and all of the things needed to make a house a home were donated with quiet mutters of, “Here, Billy. Maybe you can use this. Wife was gonna throw it out anyway, so you’re welcome to it.” He became a fixture in Pickering. If he’d lived in some quaint country village, he’d have been known as “a character.” When he wasn’t scraping hulls, or painting the underside of yachts in the marina, he could be seen, trotting around in a jogging suit, surprisingly light on his feet, as most big men are, his sneakers gently slap-slap-slapping the sidewalk in a steady, unbroken rythym.
Occasionally, he’d drop into Mulligan’s to nurse a half- pint of beer, and despite repeated offers, was never seen to drink more than one. “No, man. Gotta stay in shape,” he’d grin. “Too much o’ this stuff slows the reflexes. Thanks anyway.” He was a quiet man, keeping himself very much to himself, unless invited to join a group, which he invariably was. All attempts to extract information about his past life were met by the same big grin, and the same stock answer.
“Long time ago, man. Useta be a fighter, long time ago…” In a moment of weakness, he confided to someone that he hailed from Nova Scotia, and that he had no living relatives. Initially, the more cautious parents in the neighbourhood instructed their offspring not to talk to Billy, but as time progressed he became a familiar figure. And he’d happily interrupt one of his endless jogging trips to help a flustered young mother trying to cope with two kids and armfuls of groceries, or lend a hand with a pile of lumber destined to become a garden shed. He became accepted by everyone.
He had a special affinity with little kids, though. They hung around the marina, peering through the chainlink fence, watching Billy scrape hulls, his huge, muscled body stripped to the waist in the summer sunshine, the sweat beading, glistening and forming rivulets to soak his trackpants. “You a boxer, Billy?”, some third-grader would squeak, initiating the ritual that had been performed hundreds of times before. “Yup! Useta be a fighter, long time ago. “Could you beat up Mike Tyson?” “Dunno.
Sure woulda liked to try, though.” Then the infectious grin would make its appearance. “You think he’s maybe afraid o’ me?” “Yeah! I bet he is.” “Well, he’s a pretty big guy..” “Big as you, Billy?” “Uhhhh..Guess not, but he’s fast.” “Fast as you, Billy?” “Yeah. Maybe faster.” “You could beat him, though,” the eight-year-old expert would proclaim. “You’re strong.” “Maybe. Too old now, though.” “How old are you, Billy?” ” ‘Bout forty-two, I think.” “I’ll be nine, next week!” “Well..
You don’ say. You sure are big, for nine. But your Momma’s gonna be wonderin’ where you are. Maybe she won’ buy you any presents if you don’ hurry home for lunch.” “OK. But I brought something for you.” “Something for me? Well! Maybe it’s MY birthday today,” he’d chuckle softly. Sometimes it was a child’s painting, still damp from the excess of watercolours used.
Sometimes a treasured marble, a baseball card, or a stick of gum, the wrapper sticky from being clutched too long on a warm day. But Billy accepted any gift with feigned delight. Each painting would be scrutinized closely, its artistic merits questioned and explained, and the budding Picasso would head home, secure in the knowledge that at least two people in the world understood art. Marbles and other childhood artifacts were accepted by Billy only under the solemn understanding that he would look after them until the rightful owner required their use again. One Friday around dinner time, Billy finished work for the day, had a quick wash and changed into a fresh jogging suit. He set off on the path along the beach, swapping “Hiya’s” with just about everyone he passed, his smile flashing on and off as regularly as Christmas tree lights. Someone noticed that the time was 5:18 pm. Continuing along the beach, Billy swung left into the Hydro Park and followed the gravel path, his sneakers making a satisfying scrunch-scrunch as he picked the pace up a little.
He travelled the meandering walkway, and slowed to call a warning to two kids who were playing a little close to the slippery edge of the lake. Moving uphill now, he forced himself to a quick sprint, for the sheer joy of it, before reaching the high plateau which …