By some miraculous combination of physics and luck we managed to arrive on the outskirts of Victoria in one piece. At that point rush hour traffic forced Gregor to a snail’s pace, which he accepted with good humour since he’d already had his fun on the open highway. When he turned the music down in order to talk to me I could hear Alex in the backseat doing one of his breathing exercises.
“So what did you do to your hand? Did Tommy infect you with his mummy disease?”
“No, not quite,” I replied. I wriggled my fingers and bolts of pain shot up my arm, dimming my vision briefly. It was getting worse and I really needed more pills. But at least we didn’t have much further to go to reach the hotel. “I had a little disagreement with a visitor at the Palace and let my temper get the better of me. Which reminds me, this opponent you’ve got for Alex, he’s—”
“He has a very impressive record,” Alex interrupted from the back seat and I turned to look at him. He gave me an uncomfortable shrug before adding, “He fights as though he is angry all of the time – does he have the same bad temper outside of the ring as well?”
“Well, let’s just say you wouldn’t want him dating your daughter,” Gregor said as we hung a right onto McKenzie Avenue. “Or your sister. Or friend. Maybe not even your enemy. But I tell you what, he gets the job done between the ropes and he puts butts in the seats. That’s all that matters to me. You don’t need to be nice in this business, just entertaining. You know?”
“Of course,” Alex replied, still holding my gaze. I didn’t understand why he didn’t want Gregor to know about Kofi’s minion and my patience was wearing thin. I just wanted to get to the hotel. Then Alex gave me a wink and a smile before saying, “Luckily for you I am both nice and entertaining, so not only will you continue to do good business after I win, but I will be more pleasant to deal with.”
“Huh, kid’s got confidence Natty. I like that. I just hope your gloves can back your mouth up when the lights come on tomorrow night.”
“Don’t worry about that,” I told him, shifting around to face forward again. “He’ll be ready – I’ve made sure of that. Ah, here we are at last.”
The King William Hotel came into view as we took a left onto Burnside Road and I finally began to relax. It was a three storey, red brick building that took up a quarter of the block. Three chimneys belched wood smoke into the afternoon air from each of the fires burning in the lobby, the restaurant, and the bar.
The building had once been used as a newspaper press but when The Capital News had decided to upgrade its facilities the King had scooped it up. He had turned it into a modestly successful hotel with a loyal clientele, mostly based in the boxing community.
“King William” was actually Billy Kingman, a former boxer who might have won five fights in his entire twenty year career. When his grandfather passed away and granted all of his savings to his favourite grandchild, Billy decided it was a good time to switch careers. I suppose he thought he was so good at serving up wins to all of his opponents that he might as well feed them and give them somewhere to sleep as well.
Old Billy had passed away a few years before our arrival but his widow, the sharp tongued, big hearted Doris Kingman, was still keeping the place going – and doing a much better job of it too, without her husband around to get in the way. As the three of us came through the doors, Alex carrying both of our bags, it was Doris that greeted us from behind the front desk, as usual.
“Now what do we have here?” As she finished the question she slapped a thick hand down onto the bell resting innocently on the counter. Her glasses were perched on the end of her nose, as though afraid to get any closer to her than absolutely necessary, and a chequered blue and purple sweater made her look even more plump than usual. “More bloody boxers? You’ll have to take your testosterone filled butts somewhere else – I’m full up on Neanderthals already!”
“Don’t talk that way to my fighters, darling,” Gregor said as he lead us over to her. The sickly sweet scent of her enthusiastically applied perfume hit us from ten feet away and I almost retched. “Besides, the lads already have a reservation and we all know you have a sweet spot for old Nate here – you’d never turn him out on the street!”
Doris gave me a shy smile, her pale cheeks darkening to match her dyed red hair. I gave her a curt nod, Alex began to choke on his tongue, and Gregor beamed at all three of us. I retrieved my wallet from my bag and got us quickly checked in to our adjoining rooms, despite her best efforts at small talk and delay.
“Thanks for the ride Gregor,” I said as we moved toward the elevator across from the front desk. Just as Alex pushed the up button the summoned bellhop finally turned up and relieved him of our bags with an overly cheerful greeting. “We’ll see you in a couple hours for dinner.”
“Any time lads, any time. Get cleaned up and have a good rest – I’m sure Doris will take extra good care of you.” With a wink and a grin he was out the door and his BMW was rumbling down the street before the elevator doors closed between us.
On the way up to our rooms on the third floor Alex kept his eyes on his shoes and I could tell he was biting his tongue. I remained in disgruntled silence while the boy with our bags chattered incessantly about the weather and the hotel and whatever else came into his stupid little head. The arrival ding of our floor could not have come fast enough. I tried to at least be grateful that the speakers in the elevator were out of order, so we weren’t tortured with tunes from Doris’ favourite country station, but it didn’t really help things.
Tom, or Tim, or Ted, or whatever the hell the blonde haired bellhop’s name was, unlocked Alex’s room first before showing me the room next to it. I took my bag off of his shoulder, slammed the door in his face without a word, and moved to the double bed in the middle of the room.
The only other furniture in the room was a small bedside table that held a plain white phone, a dresser the same width as the bed, and the mirror that hung over it. I noticed the locked door that led to Alex’s room as I dumped my bag on the bed and ripped it open.
“At last, at last,” I muttered as my fingers wrapped around the painkiller bottle. I didn’t even bother to fill the plastic cup in the washroom with water before wrenching the lid off and emptying its contents into my upturned palm.
My heart lurched painfully in my chest when only two pills fell out.
I stared into the empty bottle for a split second before tossing it to the floor and turning back to my bag. They must have fallen out. No matter that their container had been sealed when I found it. Surely the rest of them had spilled into my bag. As I tossed aside shirts and socks my hands began to shake and sweat formed on my forehead and under my arms. Where the hell did they go?
Within seconds I had emptied my bag of all its contents and still no more painkillers had appeared. I was panicking and confused and desperate. My breath came in erratic stops and starts. The pain in my hand was growing worse and worse by the moment.
And then my eyes fell on the door to Alex’s room and a dark red rage parted its spittle-flecked lips and swallowed me whole.