Check your watches no longer! Check Lincoln’s instead: The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy is here at last! Our own Jacopo della Quercia went and published himself a book with St. Martin’s Press, and has generously shared an excerpt with us here. Take it away, Jacko:
“Taft! Taft! Taft!”
“… Taft! Taft! Taft! Taft!”
The enthusiastic crowd was on their feet, heralding the man’s arrival like a howl of banshees. The atmosphere was a thundercloud of smoke, sweat, and shouts. Tickets were clutched tightly in every fist around the ramshackle arena. Secret Service agents cleared a path for their fighter. Women rushed forward to touch him. An unabating London crowd simultaneously cheered, cursed, and chanted his name. In a darkened corner, one surreptitious spectator casually smoked a cigar, while next to him stood a transfixed Robert Todd Lincoln.
It was Friday night, July 15, one minute to midnight, which translated to high noon in the Bucket of Blood. Its four fighters, all champions, stirred anxiously on their sawdust-covered canvas as their enormous opponent thudded toward them. He was six feet, two inches tall, three hundred fifty pounds, and endowed with both the build and the grace of a bear. His torso was a medical atlas of stretch marks and scars. His boxing trunks, though frayed with age, were an unmistakable Stars and Stripes. A vast entourage of staffers and secretaries studied his every move. Spectators screamed, the brazen hearts of four challengers pounded, and every eye in the arena focused like spotlights on the fight’s main attraction: William Howard Taft, the twenty-seventh president of the United States of America.
The man-mountain moved slowly, but not lazily. In his fifty-two years of living and thirty-five years of fighting, he had long ago mastered how to steer his huge frame. He entered the ring like a toddler who had outgrown his crib, and his baby blue eyes greeted his adversaries as if they were playmates. His opponents, from left to right, were an Irishman with a checkered past, an Englishman who hated America, a Welshman who hated everyone, and a Scotsman who had once killed a man over haggis. All were tested, seasoned fighters, battle-hardened and spoiling for a fight with the single greatest underground boxing champion the world would never know of. There were no reporters, no policemen, no referees, and no rules. For the challengers, this was a fight for personal glory, a last-ditch attempt by the British Isles to put America back in her place. For Will “Big Bill” Taft, this was exercise.
The president twitched his blond mustache.
The audience froze.
The fight started.
The first man to move was the Englishman, who instinctively took a step back to study his foe. The Irishman feinted to Taft’s left and the Scot charged in from the right. As effortlessly as a gentleman tipping his hat, Taft seized the screaming Scotsman and tossed him into the Irishman like a bag of potatoes. With Taft’s right flank exposed, the wiry Welshman made his move. He rushed in and struck the president hard and fast to the chest, ribs, and head. Despite the echoing smack of the Welshman’s fists against Taft’s ample flesh, the president was not even tickled. He locked eyes with his aggressor and felled him with a single, openhanded smack upside the head. A quarter of the audience groaned as the Welshman slipped out of consciousness. The fight had barely started and there was already a man on the floor.
With the president’s right flank secured, he revisited his remaining foes. As Taft considered his next move, the unsporting Englishman interrupted him by kicking sawdust in his face. The crowd roared with laughter as the president stumbled backward. The Englishman knew this would be his only opening: He leaped onto Taft with all his weight and wrestled him to the ground. Cheers erupted as the Irishman and Scotsman piled onto the president. As the presidential entourage watched intently, a female aide covered her mouth with her hand. For a brief moment in the Bucket of Blood, it appeared to be a good day to have been born an Englishman.
But then he got Tafted.
A deafening, bloodcurdling scream rang through the building as Taft unleashed an old favorite from his Yale days: the dreaded “Skull and Bones.” He gripped the Englishman’s face like a bowling ball, digging into his eye sockets with one hand while his other hand crushed the man’s genitals between his thick fingers. The Irishman and the Scotsman backed away as Taft slowly rose to his feet, lifting the Englishman over his head in a towering clean and jerk. It was a harrowing sight that left much of the audience in tears, some out of pain and others out of disbelief. The president hurled his maimed opponent into the English section of the crowd, but was careful not to hurt anyone. The defeated Englishman landed face-first on a piano. Taft then brushed the sawdust from his shoulders and turned to face the two remaining fighters.
Now that the Irishman and Scotsman understood the unstoppable beast facing them, they agreed with a nod to take down their foe as a team. The Scot came at Taft from his left and delivered a powerful kick to his knee. The mob cheered wildly as the seemingly invincible warrior nearly collapsed under his own weight. The Irishman, tasting victory, dashed in from the right to deliver a potentially fatal kick to Taft’s skull. That is, if only the Irish were so lucky. Taft caught the fighter by the leg and swung him into the air as if he were showing the Scot how to tee off at St Andrews. The president hopped back onto his feet and let the flying, screaming Irishman out of his grip. The Irish section groaned painfully as their prizefighter hit a beam on the ceiling and landed facedown in the sawdust.
Taft turned his back on the dizzied Irishman to confront the last fighter standing. The enraged Scotsman put up his dukes and challenged Taft to fisticuffs, which the president graciously accepted. Taft glided across the floor like a dancer, throwing several punches that the young Scot was quick enough to dodge. However, the skirmish came to a quick end when Taft landed a right cross that would have staggered a Pamplona bull. The Scotsman was stunned and barely able to stand. After consulting the vast library of wrestling moves in his head, Taft threw his arms around his opponent for a finisher that no one of Scottish descent at the Bucket of Blood would forget. The president heaved his hapless foe in the air and suplexed him against the pub’s hardwood floor. The Scotsman, much like the Scottish section of the crowd, was no longer moving.
The battle was all but over until one sore gambler raised the stakes. A puukko knife was thrown toward the Irishman as the dazed fighter regained consciousness. Once he saw the weapon, the irate Irishman grabbed the knife and made a final, screaming lunge toward the president. The room gasped. Several Secret Service agents reached for their pistols, including an otherwise indifferent Chief Wilkie, but only Taft knew how little danger he was in. The president turned, met his screaming adversary with a smile, and sent him flying across the sawdust circle with a solid kick to the chest. The response from the crowd was deafening. The fight was over, the president had won fairly, and he claimed the Irishman’s puukko knife as a souvenir.
Taft studied the weapon with curiosity before turning to his staff. “Ready the flying machine,” he requested.
Copyright © 2014 by Jacopo della Quercia
JACOPO DELLA QUERCIA is an educator and history writer who has authored more than 100 articles for the comedy website Cracked.com. His work has been featured in the New York Times bestseller You Might Be a Zombie and Other Bad News, BBC America, CNN Money, The Huffington Post, “The Takeaway” public radio program, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!, Playboy’s The Smoking Jacket, CBS’s Man Cave Daily, Georgetown University professor John Brown’s Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review, among others.