Setting Down Roots
Ted Grant (Wildcat) finds inspiration in an unusual source to begin a new life for himself and his wife, Irina.
April 3, 1988:
The day dawned clear and bright in Sarasota, Florida. In a high-rise hotel, a couple lay sleeping, intertwined under the sheets. As the room brightened, one of them stirred and disentangled himself from his wife. With a near-silent tread he strode to the bathroom, grabbing a fistful of clothes from a suitcase as he passed. Moments later, he slipped from the room and made his way to the stairs. Ten flights below, he emerged into the sunlight and broke into a trot. The trot became a jog, then the jog became a full-out run. He ran like that for almost an hour, slowing down only for the last ten minutes. The whole time, he was feinting and jabbing with his hands, punching at opponents only he could see. As he dropped from a trot to a fast walk, he turned a corner and saw the hotel entrance two blocks away. As he walked through the door, he stole a glance at the clock over the hotel desk. It said 6:15. Not bad for an old geezer, he thought to himself.
Two hours later, showered and dressed in black slacks, white turtleneck, and green blazer, he left again. This time, he was accompanied by a woman who nearly matched his impressive height, whose dark hair and fair features were offset by a pale green dress with flashes of silver trim. Heads turned as they passed, and the doorman rushed to flag down a cab for them.
“Oh, don’t bother with that, Smitty. We’re going to walk.” The dark-haired gentleman reached in his pocket, fished out a moneyclip, and, without looking, thumbed out a five-dollar bill. “Appreciate the thought, though,” he said as he pressed the folded bill discreetly into the doorman’s hand.
“Whatever you want, Mr. Grant,” said the doorman with a smile. “Whatever you and the missus want.”
St. Mark’s Roman Catholic Church was three blocks from the Regency Inn. The walk in the Easter morning sunshine was pleasant, and Ted Grant waved genially to several as they passed. Two weeks in Sarasota, whipping a middle-aged movie star into shape, had made Ted a familiar sight to many of the people who lived near the hotel. His twice-daily runs took him through many of the streets, and the resort city was home to lots of boxing fans who still remembered when Ted Grant was the king of the ring. Few questioned his appearance, as most were happy to accept that the boxer they had cheered as a kid had kept an unusually youthful appearance due to his fitness regimen and good living.
Before entering the church, Irina Grant stopped and turned to face her husband. “Are you sure you’re comfortable with this, Ted? We don’t have to go.”
“Aw, honey, it’s not that big a deal.”
“Not a big deal? I was shocked when you told me that you hadn’t attended a church service since your father died. That was over forty years ago, Ted!”
Ted shrugged. “Hey, I went for weddings and funerals. What more do you want?” Seeing her exasperated look, he grinned sheepishly. “Come on, babe, let’s go inside.”
Throughout the service, two things struck Ted. The first was the priest. Father St. Charles had a voice that flowed like thunder through the sky, low and subtle at times, loud and demanding of attention when he wanted to be. The other was a group of about twenty children, boys and girls, ranging from about four to fifteen in age. They were escorted in by a half-dozen nuns and seated off to one side in a wing of the church. The still quiet of the church was broken by the occasional hushing from one of the nuns or a stifled laugh from somewhere in the middle of the group. Instinctively, Ted sized them up. Rough customers, all of them.
“Jesus’ message was one of hope and salvation. Even in the darkest hours, between his death and the discovery of the empty tomb, he wanted us to hold steadfast to our faith in God. And it is in the miracle of the resurrection that we find hope for our own future, assurance that God is with us always–”
“Yeah, right — like he gives a damn about us!” came a voice from the wing. A pair of dark-clad nuns moved to find the speaker. “Lots of hope when the state tries to dump us with a bunch of pengui– AWK!” He was cut off as a hand grabbed his collar and yanked him to his feet. The nun silenced him with a steeley look.
“Pardon the interruption, my friends. The diocese has sent a number of young people from the county youth center to be with us today.” Father St. Charles adjusted his glasses and returned to his sermon.
After the service, he was at the front of the church greeting people as they left.
“Good morning, Father. Very nice service,” said Ted, shaking the priest’s hand. He and Irina were the last to leave, having taken a few moments to stroll around the church to admire the statues and the stained-glass windows.
“Why thank you, Mr. Grant.” Seeing the ex-prizefighter’s suprised look, Father St. Charles laughed. “Oh, yes, I recognized you. I’ve been a boxing fan since, well, perhaps I’d best not say. But I must say, it’s remarkable how much you look the way I recall from when I was a teenager.”
“Well, uh, the doctors say that it had something to do with that weirdness with the red skies a couple years ago. Felt like I dropped twenty years or something.” Ted’s expression turned serious. “Hey, Father, I was wondering; those kids in there today — what’s the scoop on them?”
“Oh, they’re a real mixed bag. Some of them actually belong in foster care, because their parents are in jail or prison. Others have been picked up for minor crimes, pickpocketing and shoplifting. We have a three-strikes law in the county here, and on the third arrest you are put in jail. For youthful offenders, that’s the Juvenile Center.”
“Hmm, I’ve been in those places before. Not much chance of finding hope or salvation in there.” Irina nodded her assent.
“I know. I have a youth ministry there, and it’s difficult to say the least.”
Ted offered his hand. “Well, I wish ya luck with it, Father. You ever need a hand with it or want someone to come in and speak with the kids, you give me a call.” When Father St. Charles withdrew his hand, there was a business card in it.
A few hours later over brunch, Ted was brooding, and Irina was curious. “Ted, I think I know that look. You’re hatching some sort of plan or idea, aren’t you?”
“You got that right, honey. You know that I’ve just about wrapped up this gig with Clint. Now, Marty has a couple more training gigs on tap for me, but there’s plenty of fitness trainers out there to help these folks. Clint mentioned that he’s gonna sell off the estate where he’s living now and move back to California. You’ve seen it — big, rambling sort of house, like you see on the ranches out in California. Couple of acres of land, mostly still wild. It’s out by itself, not a lot of other fancy places around it.”
“Oh, don’t tell me you’re going to start your own Boy’s Town?” asked the fair-skinned beauty.
“Pretty close. What do you think? I know it’s not a family of our own, but it would be like adopting a whole clan. And we could do some good with them, I know we could.”
“I take it you’ll want Father St. Charles involved, too?”
“If he’s willing. He seems like a good egg.”
“What about your, um, other work?” she asked, referring to Ted’s role as the costumed hero Wildcat.
“This would make it easier, especially since Ted Knight’s been talking about setting up a transporter system for us to use. Could put one in a private study or something.” Ted took his wife’s hand. “So, you’re in favor of it?”
“Of course. Traveling’s all well and good, but I would do better with my painting if I could set up a permanent studio. And I could teach some of the kids, too, couldn’t I?”
“Lots of cases where art has kept kids out of trouble. So, we gonna set down roots here in Sarasota?”
Irina gave his hand a squeeze. “Yes!”