When I woke to the sound of a fist pounding on my door it took several moments to understand where I was. As soon as I was able to figure it out I immediately wished I hadn’t.
“I’m awake!” I yelled and the sound blessedly stopped. I sat up, wiping the dried tears from my eyes, and took in several slow breaths. As I rose I caught sight of my reflection in the mirror above the dresser and quickly looked away. “I’ll be out in a minute.”
“We will wait for you downstairs,” Alex called back. After a slight pause he added, “Take your time.”
I peeled off my shirt and tossed it in a corner as I moved to the bathroom. A few splashes of frigid water on my face helped to clear my head but did little to improve my appearance. But then again, it would probably have required a team of makeup artists for that to happen.
I returned to my bag, slapped on a touch of aftershave lotion as a stand in for a shower, and retrieved a clean shirt from where I had thrown it on the floor in my search for the painkillers.
Wrestling my head and arms through the t-shirt’s opening, I moved around to the far side of the bed and looked down on the two green pills lying on the beige carpet. It took me a moment to realize that I was reluctant to even touch them.
“Am I really in such a sad state that I can’t pick them up without them magically finding their way into my mouth?” I asked the room with a nervous laugh. Thankfully the room kept its thoughts on the matter to itself. The pain in my hand raged on. “This is ridiculous.”
Crouching down, I reached out my left hand to scoop them up and noticed, with anger that narrowed my eyes, that my hand was shaking. I was a junkie reaching for his fix.
With a snarl I returned to my full height, raised my right foot, and brought it thundering down on the pills, over and over, until they were ground into a billion granular pieces divided between the carpet and the bottom of my shoe. I stood over the wreckage for a moment, breathing hard, then spun away and left the room in a rush.
Alex and Gregor were chatting with Doris in the lobby when I emerged from the elevator. I had to smile when I saw how uncomfortable Alex was now that he was in the center of her hunting spotlight instead of me, though a very quiet voice in a distant corner of my mind whispered words of jealousy into my ear. Giving Doris another nod as I passed by, we moved as a group to the door and out into the cool evening air.
“Feeling better, Natty?”
“Yeah, I had a good nap,” I replied as we stood on the sidewalk and watched the passing cars. “Where are we heading for dinner?” I crossed my fingers for something within walking distance.
“I booked us a table at Sabrina’s,” Gregor said with a nod to our left and my shoulders sagged with relief – it was only a fifteen minute walk back towards the harbour. “They have good, reliably safe food for Alex and a damn fine selection of beer for you and me.”
“I think I’ll have to take a pass on the drinks,” I said before Alex could protest. I didn’t even look at him as I held up my hand and waved it back and forth. “It could be a bad mix with the medication, so I’ll just stick to the grub.”
“You’re making me drink alone? For shame Natty, for shame.”
I gave him an apologetic shrug and turned to lead the way, Gregor falling in to step on my right, and Alex appearing soon after on my left. We passed the time on the way to the restaurant chatting about memorable cards Gregor had put on and the latest promotions that had tried to muscle in on his territory. He was still the dominant boxing promoter on the island but with the recent push to sanction mixed martial arts in Victoria he was beginning to wonder if he needed to shift with the times.
“Those crowds the UFC draws in Vegas are something else man,” he lamented as we jogged across an intersection on a yellow light. “Big money, big excitement on every show. They do better business every card than all but the top level boxing matches. It’s incredible.”
“Maybe you can start with a split card – half boxing, half MMA?” I suggested, hoping he wasn’t thinking of giving up the ropes for the cage entirely. The boxing community wouldn’t survive an abandonment like that.
“I dunno. They draw pretty different crowds and I don’t know if there’s a middle ground. You should hear some of the bloody boxing purists around here talking about MMA – they think we’re heading back to the gladiator arenas in Rome!”
“If you have two different groups of people,” Alex chimed in, “you have the chance to run two different shows. You double your market and double your profit. I do not see why you are concerned.”
I was beginning to get the impression that Alex didn’t care too much for Gregor. There was a very definite you only care about money anyway tone to his words.
“The young man has a very good point,” Gregor said with a wry smile twisting his lips. “If things don’t work out tomorrow night for you, perhaps you’d be interested in going into business with me. I’d need an extra pair of hands if I end up running and promoting two very different shows every month.”
“I do not think so,” Alex replied flatly and Gregor just smiled and shrugged it off. I could tell that the matter would be brought up again after the fight if Kofi ended up victorious and I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about it.
On the one hand it would be a more financially secure position and a physically safer one as well. But there was something inside me, something ancient and primal, that railed against being tied to a desk instead of fighting with my fists inside an arena and I think that it resided within Alex as well.
I shoved those thoughts aside when we arrived at Sabrina’s Steakhouse a few moments later and slipped inside. The smell of various meats being grilled reached us immediately, followed by the more gentle scents of pasta sauce and freshly cut herbs. The kitchen was next to the entrance, a setup I always thought excessively cruel when a long line up stood between you and a free table. Seeing the collection of rumbling stomachs arrayed in the lobby, I was grateful that Gregor had thought to call ahead.
We were seated between two tables manned by businessmen with removed ties and open collars, Gregor nodding in recognition to patrons at each table. The man knew damn near everybody there was to know in Victoria and he had sponsorship agreements with most of them. Dinner, without question, was on him that night.
The conversation was good and the food was better, when it finally arrived. Since he was the only one indulging, Gregor limited himself to only two pints of his favourite dark beer while Alex and I sipped ice water with our meals. Time flew past and before I knew it our plates were being cleared away and dessert was being turned down. As we made our way back outside I suddenly realized that I hadn’t noticed the pain in my hand since we had gathered in front of the hotel more than an hour earlier.
Maybe those damn pills weren’t as necessary as I thought they were.