Doug & Gary's Palace

The next day was a Friday, which meant I was allowed to walk Cara all the way to school. Monday to Thursday she let me accompany her halfway, but then she would meet up with friends to make the rest of the trip without me. But Fridays she was stuck with her old man, from doorstep to doorstep.

Sometimes we talked, but mostly we just silently enjoyed walking on the side streets and through parks to avoid the aural assault of morning rush hour. On the rare fall day when it wasn’t raining we took the scenic route along the Seawall, admiring the views over False Creek while soaking up the calming sound of water meeting rock and sand.

That Friday, unfortunately, was not one of those rare days.

After we parted ways, each with our own umbrella (hers a subdued shade of purple, mine plain black), I picked up a hot chocolate from Jean’s Beans on Denman Street and made my way to Doug & Gary’s Gym, which was smack dab in the middle of Jervis and Bute on West Georgia.

Gary had passed on a few years ago, a massive heart attack taking him mid-bench press. He was the younger of the two owners but there was talk that maybe he hadn’t been living as clean as he ought to have been. I don’t know anything more now than I knew back then, but I will say that fifty-five seems awful young for such a thing.

Doug, on the other hand, was still going strong. He had been the Canadian Heavyweight Champion in another lifetime but those days he was just a heavyweight. Doug the Slug, some of the boys used to call him. But never to his face – they weren’t dumb enough to mess with the guy who held the keys to their kingdom.

Not that Doug & Gary’s bore much resemblance to any palace I’ve ever heard of. The building was sturdy and functional, nothing flashy, just like the men who founded it. Its two floors sat uncomfortably between two high rise apartment buildings and across the street from a night club none of us would have been seen dead at. I don’t think any of the patrons of that neon monstrosity had much interest in being seen on our side of the street either, so peace reigned.

There was no neon to be found in our gym, except on the odd pair of warm-up pants. No logo adorned the outside walls, just a small black and white sign above the door to let you know where you were. On the main floor inside were the punching bags, three regulation-sized boxing rings and walls peppered with boxing posters, most of them autographed with a personal message to Doug or Gary.

Upstairs you could find the showers, change room, Doug’s office and the mirror-walled weight room. More often than not the stereo was tuned to the local classic rock station, which might explain the lack of iPods dangling from the ears of the men and women pushing their bodies to their limits and beyond.

The place was relatively quiet that morning as not everybody who trained there was fortunate enough to make boxing their full time job. The place only got really hopping around five o’clock when the wannabes traded in their suits for sweats, their briefcases for gloves, and indulged their dreams of glory.

Those of us that were able to eke out a living from the sweet science were a pretty close knit group though. With only three trainers on the payroll, and the constant need for sparring partners, getting along made life a whole lot easier.

As I came through the door I spotted my trainer and best friend, Tomas Henderson, pacing outside the middle ring, his blue eyes locked on the two men sparring inside. Tomas was a skinny kid who had grown up to be a skinny man and now had shrunk to be an even skinnier old man, but he sure knew how to get every last drop of effort out of his boys.

“Keep your bloody hands up Bomber!” he barked at Jason “The Black Bomber” Carter as he ran a rough, bony hand through the sparse remnants of his once blonde hair. Strangely, I didn’t recognize the guy doing the punching. “You keep taking those shots to your mug and I’ll have to kiss your lady friend good night for the next week!”

“Morning Tommy,” I said when I arrived at his left side; he was legally deaf in his right ear, though he’d never admit it. The boys didn’t press the issue, we just made sure to be on his left as much as we could without being too obvious about it.

“Hey Natty,” he replied with a glance and a sharp nod before bringing his attention back to the ring. After a few more minutes of Jason getting his teeth rattled by the new guy, Tomas told them to hit the weights. He turned to me and sized me up in two seconds flat. “What did Doc have to say about your mitts?”

I think he knew the answer before I opened my mouth, but I went ahead and told him anyway.

The End

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