“I need your cell phone,” I told Tommy as I came around the desk at full speed. “Did he tell you what time his flight is leaving?”
“Hold up Natty,” he said, placing his frail frame in between me and the weight room. “What do you think you’re doing? You can’t stop the kid from taking care of his family, you should know better than any of us that home comes first.”
“I need to talk to him before he abandons his future,” I snapped. “He’s got a shot at making it here, maybe even making it big. All going home will accomplish right now is getting himself killed or thrown in jail. Do you want that for him?”
“His mother is in hospital Nate! His little sister is over there on her own with nobody to look out for her!” Tommy was right in my face; I almost took a step back. “You’re telling me one boxing match is more important than that?”
“It is if it means he can bring his family to safety!” I was yelling now. Heads were turning in the weight room and I didn’t care. “Nothing is going to change if he goes home now. What’s the best possible scenario if he leaves today? He takes care of whoever did this to his mother, protects his sister… and then what? He comes back to Canada only to have it happen all over again? Except maybe his mother dies next time, or his sister. Nothing changes until they are out of Haiti, Tommy. Nothing. Give me your phone.”
Tommy held his ground but looked less sure of himself. He opened his mouth, looked away, and shut it again. It was good enough for me. I yanked his phone from his shirt pocket and pushed my way past him, heading for the stairs as I flipped his old Nokia 6085 open.
I brought up his contacts and began scrolling through them as I reached the main floor. When Geena Malhi’s name finally came up I hit Send and put the phone to my ear.
“Good morning, Malhi Travel – this is Geena speaking, how can I help you?” Geena was one of the three daughters that worked as travel agents for Papa Malhi. Of the three, she was definitely the most adept at finding cheap flights whenever the boys had to go out of town for a fight.
“Hey Geena, it’s Nate McDaniel. I need a quick favor,” I said as I stepped out onto the sidewalk and scanned the passing cars for a taxi. “How many flights are leaving Vancouver for Port-au-Prince this morning – I need the airline and departure times.”
“I’d ask why on Earth you want to know,” she said with a bemused laugh, “but you’re in a hurry so I’ll save it for later. Sit tight, I’ll have your answer in a minute.”
The seconds ticked by achingly slowly as the usually ubiquitous yellow cabs of downtown Vancouver seemed to be avoiding Georgia Street that morning. Two went speeding by on the opposite side of the street, fares already ensconced in their back seats, before Geena’s voice came down the line again.
“Air Canada has the only direct flights this morning,” she told me. “I’m seeing one flight that already departed at 7:45 am, with two to go – one at 10:35 and another at 11:50. Can I do anything else for you Nate?”
“Yeah, hold the 10:35 at the gate until I get there,” I said as a taxi finally pulled up to the curb. I checked the time on the phone: 9:28 am. “Thanks G, I owe you one.”
“I take payment in sushi dinners and martinis on a decent patio,” she replied in a wistful tone. I shook my head, snapped the phone shut, and jumped in the back of the idling cab.
“The airport, international departures, fast as you can manage without killing anyone,” I told the driver before opening the phone again. He screeched us away from the curb without comment while I scrolled through Tommy’s contacts again. I found the one I needed and took a deep breath before hitting Send one more time.
I didn't even allow the thought of Alex catching the already departed flight to enter my mind.
“Tommy, you walking mummy! What the -”
“Greg, it’s me,” I interrupted reluctantly. “It’s Nate.”
“Natty? Please tell me this is good news.”
“Well… it’s not bad news… yet.” I braced myself against the window as we swerved across two lanes without losing speed. “I just wanted to give you a heads up as soon as possible, just in case.”
“This is about the Haitian kid, isn’t it?” He could not have sounded any less impressed if he tried.
“Listen, I’m going to talk to him right now.” Hopefully. “The situation is really complicated here Greg, but -”
“Nate, you listen to me real good. There are three names associated with the main event this weekend. If this kid bails, there are still two names left. It only takes two to tango, and it only takes two to put on a fight.”
“Greg, I can’t -”
“I’ll see you on Saturday Nate. I hope you have the kid with you.”
The dial tone in my ear sounded like a heart monitor flat lining. I put the phone in my jacket pocket and stared out the window for the rest of the ride to the airport, my eyes turning lampposts into ring posts and telephone wires into ring ropes.
Could I do it? Step into the ring one final time, have my final match be a main event? Would I be able to walk away afterwards, satisfied with one final performance?
The cab lurched to a halt outside the glass sliding doors of the international terminal, pulling me back to the present. Back to my final chance to be in the corner instead of inside the ring. I tossed two twenties on the front seat and stepped out of the cab, the roar of overhead engines and honking car horns momentarily overwhelming my senses.
I entered the heated confines of the terminal and went straight to the Air Canada Customer Service desk. There might have been other people waiting to speak with a representative, I honestly don’t remember. I do know I was face to face with a skinny young man in a too-big suit without any delay.
“I need you to page Alexandre Denis. Now.”