As it turned out, we would have had to quite literally storm the castle if we wanted to gain access.
“Closed for renovations,” I said listlessly, reading the sign hanging defiantly on the iron metal gate. “Reopening in the spring. Damn it.”
“I guess we should have called ahead,” Alex said with a slight shrug. “It is okay, Nate. I enjoy just looking at it from the outside like this. It lets me imagine what is inside.”
“Yeah, that’s true. Well at least this means we have enough time to get back to the hotel by foot. With all this walking you won’t have to do much of a warm up before the fight!”
“Yes, but I am certain you will make me do the full preparation anyway.” Alex turned and we began our return journey but only a few steps later he added, “Because you are a mean old man.”
I threw my head back and laughed, the sudden sound sending several nearby crows into noisy flight. Alex smiled, a bit sheepishly, and I tried to put on a straight face while I lectured him on the importance of respecting one’s elders. It didn’t take long before we were both giggling like boys at the back of class trying to avoid the attention of the disapproving teacher.
The rest of the trip was spent chatting about whatever our eyes happened upon, techniques on how to get in and out of the hotel without Doris noticing us, and just how much colder it was going to get with winter approaching. The fight, and boxing in generally, was not mentioned once. And I couldn’t have been more pleased about that.
It was really nice to be able to spend time with Alex outside of the gym, to get to know him in a ‘real world’ setting. We’d met such a short time ago that there had been very little time for that. Even though it wasn’t for nearly as long as I would have liked, the bonding we were able to do that morning helped to increase our trust in each other.
And trust would be worth more than gold when it was time to step between the ropes that night.
We arrived back at the hotel just after eleven, having taken the scenic route from the castle. As discussed during the last stage of our walk, we waited outside until a taxi arrived and spewed out a young couple with suitcases, the man looking like he might be on the undercard at Olson’s that night.
They went inside and we counted to ten before following them. As planned, Doris was busy checking them in so we were able to get into the elevators before she could call us over for a chat. We exchanged an awkward, left-handed high five on the way up to our floor, accompanied by more childish snickering.
Neither of us really felt like being alone, so we left the door between our rooms open and passed back and forth regularly. Eventually Alex sat down on my bed and we got back to work on the crossword puzzle book. We had filled in maybe twelve more clues when the phone next to my bed rang, startling us both.
“Nate, it’s Doc.”
“Hey, you’re here?”
“Yes, and I’m starving – you know I can’t stand the food they serve on the ferry. Meet in the restaurant in five?”
“We’ll be right down.”
Alex and I took the fire escape stairs down to the lobby, emerging just to the right of the restaurant and safely out of sight from the front desk. We slipped into the dining area and spotted Doc sitting at the table closest to the fireplace, sipping a cup of tea. As we manoeuvred our way through the table obstacle course I tried betting Alex it would be chamomile but he was having none of it.
“Good to see you again, Doc,” I said as I sat down across from him, Alex taking the seat between us on my left. “I hope the waves weren’t too bumpy for you on the way over?”
“I stayed in my car and slept until the guy behind me honked to let me know it was time to get off the ship,” he replied after taking a moment to savour a sip of his tea, “so it couldn’t have been too bad.”
“Yeah, but you could sleep through a hurricane so that’s not saying much,” I said as I picked up the menu. The selection wasn’t the most extensive in town but the quality of each dish could not be questioned – King Willy was very fond of his food and he paid his kitchen staff better than most to ensure their loyalty.
There had been some speculation that his widow would be less willing to continue his practices in that area of the business but so far the wages and cooks remained unchanged.
“Alex, if you’re in the mood for a burger I would highly recommend that you try the Cajun chicken – it’s spicy but the kick is gentle.”
Alex ended up getting the chicken burger with a side salad, Doc requested the mushroom soup with a cheese bun, and I, after far too much deliberation for the waiter’s liking, ordered the chilli. Doc raised an eyebrow at my choice after our menus were escorted back to the rack beside the entrance.
“Hey, I’m not the one fighting tonight,” I said defensively. “If my stomach gets upset I’ll just sneak off to the bathroom and you can tell Alex what to do.”
“I was more concerned with how it will interact with your medication,” he replied flatly, his eyes going to my exposed hand. “And I suppose you’ll want me to wrap that up again.”
“Yeah that would be great, when you have a chance to. And… I’m not exactly taking my medication any more.”
“Not exactly?” Doc asked in a measured tone as Alex chose that moment to excuse himself to go use the washroom.
“I was having trouble… sticking to the recommended dosage,” I replied, suddenly feeling like a child being held after school for detention. “Alex helped me to… ah, realize that.”
“Christ, Nate… you’re serious?” Doc leaned back in his chair, causing him to look down his nose at me. I nodded before letting my eyes fall to the table between us. He loosed a long, whistling breath from his nostrils before lapsing into silence. Finally he asked quietly, “How bad did it get?”
“Alex took the bottle away and I was prepared to fight him to get it back.” Hearing those words come out of my mouth sickened me – somehow just thinking them didn’t seem so bad. But now my shame was known to a third person and there was no taking it back.
“You’re lucky he was there and was brave enough to act,” Doc said after another sip of tea. “I know someone you can talk to when we get back to Vancouver. I’ve referred quite a few athletes to him over the years, some of them quite high profile. I can assure you that he is extremely discreet.”
“Thanks but I don’t think that will be nec-“
“That was not a request,” Doc cut in as Alex came out of the men’s room. “I will set up an appointment and you will see him before the end of next week. I am understood?”
I glared at him but I knew there would be no getting out of it – even if I didn’t show up for the first appointment he would simply track me down and accompany me to the next one he scheduled. If there was anything more frustrating than having an overbearing father, it was having a father figure who happened to be a doctor. There was just no dodging of health issues, mental or physical, allowed.
Our food arrived shortly after Alex returned and conversation turned to the night ahead. Doc explained to Alex the circumstances under which he would be required to put an end to the fight – mainly a cut that impaired his vision or any indication that a concussion had been sustained – and I ran him through a last minute strategy quiz. Alex handled it all like a seasoned pro and by the time we had finished our meals most of my confidence had returned.
“Let’s go up to my room and get your hand taken care of,” Doc told me as we left the restaurant. “My supplies are up there and I can take another look at Alex’s ribs at the same time.”
“Doris didn’t put you on the first floor?” I asked, surprised that she hadn’t thought to keep him close to the front desk in case of emergency.
“It was all booked up,” Doc replied dryly. “Perhaps if I had booked sooner I would have had better luck. Had someone cared to let me know my services were needed a little more ahead of time, I might have done so.”
“Thanks again for coming,” I said, more than a little sheepishly. “And thank you for… everything else, too.”
“Don’t mention it. Just promise to behave yourself and that I won’t have to intercede on Cara’s behalf again – I’m not your damned father.”
No, I thought with a sadness that surprised me, but I would be pretty lucky if you were.