The man who would one day be known as
Latch was born Alain LaChance, one of fourteen children in a
French-speaking family in central Quebec. Arrested fifty-one times
by his sixteenth birthday. In fact, he got arrested on his birthday;
and this time they locked him up for good—until someone, a judge or
a priest, could figure out what to do with him. It happened that a
Canadian ex-boxer-turned-holy-roller, named Hard-Neck Schutz,
decided that the best way to handle savages like Alain LaChance was
to put them in the ring, and let them get the hell beat out of them,
then talk salvation into their busted heads. Reform school
gladiators. Authorities were offended at Hard-Neck's gall, but were
ready to try anything on the bored, drunken brats who were filling
their rural jails.
But Alain didn't reform. When he put on the gloves he beat the spuds
out of every Quebec kid that came his way, and soon was Whelp-Weight
Champion (a category invented by Hard-Neck himself for his kid
fighters) for all northern Quebec, and was punching his way south.
He became Lash LaChance on posters. His average opponent fell in
It was 1959, the end of the first decade of TV, and when these
Christian boxers got a slot on Canadian prime time, the public
thought they were going to see a polite version of the awe-inspiring
Friday night fights that Gillette broadcasted from Madison Square
Garden in the states in which, usually, two black guys whaled the
hell out of each other. But this was Canada, and these were boys,
Christians at that. Maybe they'd raise a bloody lip at the worst.
However, when Ragin' Roy Hawkins from Windsor, Ontario, faced Lash
LaChance, people jumped to their feet in living rooms all over
Canada in horror; Lash bashed that kid until he lay splattered like
an upended casserole.
Switchboards jammed at CBC. People wanted the head of Hard-Neck
Schutz., who himself went after Lash as soon as the boy stepped out
of his shower. He'd told the kid before the fight to cool it down.
This is TV, kid. You gotta be nice. But Lash had seen his big chance
to be noticed by a real promoter; to hell with Schutz and his Jesus
fights for meals and Cokes. But now the ruined Schutz whipped Lash
LaChance all over the locker room with his belt. Lash couldn't seem
to land a punch on tough old Hard-Neck, and so he got whipped bad
and kicked out into the night alone with only a towel around his
butt. For weeks he roamed Montreal, shop-lifting, living by his
It was now clear to Lash that fists were a thing of the past, same
as horses and butter churns. You had to get automated. He acquired a
gun. And soon he was swiping TVs left and right. He became known as
Latch LaChance for his lock-picking talent. Latch had never learned
good English, but he knew what his new name meant. In those days TVs
were heavy buggers. But they fetched a good buck if you didn't drop
them down somebody's stairs. It was a hard life, dangerous. But for
the first time Latch felt free.
One night he went into a dark apartment on the English side of the
city, a residence he'd been watching, where he was pretty sure no
one was home. But inside he heard the unmistakable voice of that
big-time American TV preacher, the one that filled all the stadiums.
He crept ahead and saw an old woman asleep in an overstuffed chair;
or at least she seemed to be sleeping. Latch laid his head on her
breast and couldn't hear the slightest breath. He sighed and crossed
himself, then reached over and changed the channel. It was time for
the fights. It was round three of a match between a tough Newfy and
a Quebecois, beating each other to mush. Blood running, teeth jarred
loose. What a battle. Latch whooped.
He heard a clicking sound, and turned to see the old woman roused in
her chair. She'd picked up the gun he'd carelessly set on the floor
when he'd listened to her heart, and now she was sighting him along
the barrel. "Turn that channel back!" she said.
Latch sort of understood her. But he was excited; he pointed at the
boxers on the screen. "I fought too," he said in French. "I was like
them. A fighter!"
The old woman pulled back the hammer. "Turn it back to Billy
So, Latch thought. It has come to this.