Doc’s lips curled up in disgust and he shook his head at this announcement. Alex, as usual, was less affected.
“Well then,” he said with a wry smile, “I am afraid that I will be a very big disappointment to him. Does that mean I get a title shot when I win?”
“Does anything ever get you down?” I asked, the heat of my anger dissipating in the presence of his cool confidence. “I think I could tell you that God himself is betting on Kofi and you’d just laugh and say you’ll go say a prayer of apology after the fight.”
“Others can do and say as they wish,” he replied with his trademark shrug. “I worry only about the things that I control. Tonight, what I am in charge of are my fists. And I have great confidence in them.”
“You’ve found yourself a fine young man to manage,” Doc told me as he rested a hand on Alex’s shoulder. “I am beginning to really look forward to this match! Why don’t we go find our dressing room and relax for a bit?”
Shaking my head ruefully, I let Doc lead us to through the thickening crowd to the tiny room that Raymond Hui called his office. With his desk and chair against one wall there was barely enough room for him in there, much less the three of us.
Ray’s parents had emigrated from China shortly after his mother discovered that she was pregnant with him and last I heard they still could barely put two words of English together in the correct order. Ray had been their interpreter since the first grade and, even though Gregor paid him well to take care of his books, he still shared a home with them.
“Nate, Doc, it’s good to see you both again,” he said as he rose from his well-loved leather chair and extended a soft hand in greeting. We shook without much affection – knowing his weak grip I didn’t bother switching to my left hand – before he turned to the man of the hour. “I guess that makes you Alex?”
“Nice to meet you,” Alex said, somehow managing not to look down on a man hardly more than half his height. I made a mental note to find a more opportune time to ask him how exactly he did that. “You have the keys to the dressing rooms?”
“I do indeed, I do indeed,” Ray said, rubbing his hands together as he sat back down with a graceless thump. He pulled open one of the desk drawers, its contents jangling harshly, before flipping open a notebook on his desk. “Ah yes, you’re in room ten – Nate and Doc remember the way, I assume?”
“I could find it with my eyes closed,” I said as I took the keys from him. “Thanks – we’ll see you after the fight to collect our cheque.”
The dressing rooms in Olson’s were located on the second floor, one level above the boxing ring. While I was never fond of having to go down the stairs at fight time (the embarrassment of taking a tumble always sitting in the back of my mind was a rather large distraction), Gregor loved the symbolism of it. “Each man must descend back to his primal roots as he prepares to fight for his life,” was his favoured way of looking at it. Despite my feelings, which I kept firmly to myself, I had never heard of any accidents caused by the layout. But there’s always a first time for everything.
The hallway that held the rooms was empty when we arrived but voices could be heard coming from behind several closed doors. I unlocked room number ten and flicked on the lights before stepping back and ushering Alex in with a sweep of my arm and a low bow.
“Considering where I grew up,” he said as he performed a slow rotation in the middle of the room, “I have nothing to complain about here.”
“No, ‘tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door,” Doc intoned as he strode into the room. “But ‘tis enough, ‘twill serve.”
A couch that had seen better days twenty years ago was shoved up against the left wall while a black and white TV stood guard on the right. Currently it was displaying the preparations in the conference room but later on the camera would be pointed at the ring so that we could watch the fights that were scheduled before the main event. The match list was pinned to the wall beside the TV and had been filled in by hand in large, sweeping letters. Other than that the walls were bare save for a handful of grey metal hooks and the only other furniture was a wooden stool that Alex now occupied.
“Looks like we’re fight number six tonight,” I announced after a perusal of the schedule. I flopped down beside Doc on the couch and rolled my neck from side to side. On the TV Gregor arrived at center stage and motioned for quiet. “I still can’t believe that son of a –“
“He’s a businessman, Nate,” Doc said with a heaving sigh. “There’s no use in getting upset over it, you’ll only hurt yourself. The only pain he feels is in his wallet – Alex laying his pet champion to rest in a few hours is the most direct way of doing that. I suggest you focus all your energy and effort into that, not swearing at the man who’s paying you to be here.”
I knew he was right but that still didn’t make me feel any better. We watched the weigh-ins for the first eight fighters in silence until a sharp rap on the door let us know that it was time for us to head downstairs. We left our coats on the hooks and Alex stripped off his black hooded sweater so that he was dressed only in a plain white t-shirt, red jogging pants, and black sneakers.
“Alright,” I said, facing them with my back resting against the door, “let’s go meet Kofi.”