Up Close And Personal

I forced myself to walk slowly, hoping that my body would lead my thoughts by example. The steps down to the ground floor were not nearly as steep or menacing as they would be when next we made that journey with the lights down low but I still kept my eyes focused on my feet. We found the lobby crowded with the boxers who had already stepped on the scales and had to squeeze our way through.
We found Kofi, his goon, and their corner men waiting just outside the conference room.
“Hey Tony, how are those ribs doing?” I asked politely, keeping my bandaged hand out of sight behind my back. Kofi’s training partner only glared at me in response, his lips twitching with poorly restrained hatred.
“You must be Nate,” Kofi growled with a wolfish smile that revealed two gold teeth. “I must say, you look much… older than I was expecting.”
“That’s funny,” I replied with my most charming smile. “Because you look exactly as moronic as I expected you to.”

“Alright, knock off the love fest,” Doc said, stepping between us as Kofi’s smile flatlined. The Killer looked like he’d just had his hair done, with his thick locks running in tight, zigzagging cornrows from his high forehead to the back of his thick neck. He was perhaps an inch shorter than me and his tight white t-shirt and tearaway track pants gave the definite impression he was in very good shape. All in all, to anyone with half a brain, he was a rather intimidating individual.

Unfortunately I didn’t fit in that category.

“Aw, don’t be so sensitive Doc,” I said. “I just wanted to have a chance to talk to him before his surgery.”

“My surgery?” The confusion creasing Kofi’s face was far too satisfying.

“Yeah, you know – when the surgeons have to wire your mouth shut after Alex breaks your jaw tonight.”

Kofi’s face darkened and his nostrils flared, like an angry bull spotting his prey. I thought he was going to take a swing at me but just then one of Gregor’s assistants came out to let us know that it was Alex’s time to get weighed. I gave Kofi and his crew a smile and a wink before leading Alex and Doc into the conference room. Alex, satisfied to let me do the talking for now, followed after me without even looking at his opponent.

More press had arrived since our first visit to the room and it was now standing room only. We moved along the side of the room through the stuffy air and joined Gregor and an official from the boxing commission on stage.

Gregor said a few words of introduction that I didn’t bother listening to and then Alex slipped out of his shoes, took off his shirt, and stepped onto the scale. I knew that Alex had been keeping a close eye on his diet  – not that he needed to, as he fought at his natural weight both for the sake of his health and his morals – so I wasn’t under any stress while the official started to take the measurement.

The official, a pudgy man with a bald spot so large he’d make Mr. Clean jealous, announced in a thin voice that Alex came in at 174.75 pounds, a quarter of a pound under the limit for light heavyweights. Alex flexed his biceps and smiled for the cameras and then stepped off the scale to get dressed. We moved as a group to the far left of the stage to make room for Kofi’s turn in the spotlight, each of us completely at ease.

When Kofi entered the room all of the press stood to greet him - every single last one of them. Camera flashes lit up the room like a poor man’s rave club as he paused several times to strike poses with menacing glares that were so perfect he must have spent hours practicing them in the mirror. As they arrived on stage the three men that made up his entourage made a semi-circle behind the scale and Kofi took his place in front of them.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Gregor boomed into the microphone setup at the far right of the stage, “I give to you the next Canadian light heavyweight champion… Kofi ‘The Killer’ Agyeman!”

If any cameras had been on us they might have caught Doc, Alex, and myself rolling our eyes in unison. But, obviously, none of them were. They were all locked in on Gregor’s meal ticket.

Kofi stripped all the way down to his briefs before stepping on the scale, a sure sign that he had cut down to reside within the weight limit. Sure enough, the official declared that he was spot on 175 and an excited chatter filled the room as more pictures were taken. The moment he was off the scale, Tony handed him a water bottle and he started chugging it down. The race to return to his normal size was on.

“Let’s get our two fighters together for a few pictures, shall we?” Gregor suggested with a smile I previously would have called disarming; at that moment, though, the only descriptor I could think of was ‘slimy’. The scale was brought down to floor level by two members of Olson’s maintenance staff and the combatants took center stage. Kofi, still wearing only his underwear, put up his fists and flexed for all he was worth while Alex simply crossed his arms across his chest and regarded him without expression.

“My goodness,” Doc murmured to me, “I simply cannot wait to see this fight. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt like this.”

“Yeah, I think this is going to be one I’ll remember for a long, long time. I just hope that Alex can deliver us the fairy tale ending… and that we don’t get so blindingly drunk afterward that we can’t remember what happened.”

“That’s what the cameras are for,” Doc replied with a mischievous gleam in his eyes that caught me so off guard that I had to bite my tongue to contain my laughter.

Once the cameras were satisfied, the fighters returned to their respective groups and Gregor said a few final words to hype the evening’s card. The vast majority of reporters descended on Kofi once things were officially wrapped up, but a few came over to get the scoop on his opponent.

Alex answered their questions courteously enough but I could tell he wasn’t interested in spending too much time with them. The two men and one woman seemed to pick up on this and soon left him alone. As they were moving to join the crowd around Kofi the woman stopped abruptly in front of me.

“Nathaniel McDaniel?” she asked, holding her tape recorder in the air between us.

“The one and only,” I replied, trying to put a name to the world weary face before me. Her black hair was drawn back into a tight bun at the back of her head and her makeup had been applied with a light touch. She struck me as a woman who had been beautiful in her youth, attractive in her thirties, and was now slowly fading to plainness as old age settled in. Unlike many women I had met over the years, she seemed to be accepting it gracefully.

“Samantha Garrett,” she said, the name rustling a memory I couldn’t quite uncover. It must have been plain to see on my face as she added, “I interviewed you about five years ago for a piece on sport fitness.”

“Oh right, of course. I’m sorry, how have you been?” I wracked my brain, trying to remember any details of the encounter. It had been in the spring, that time of year when suddenly everyone remembers they want to look good at the beach. Had there been a photo shoot as well? That seemed right. In a weight room that had been closed just for the occasion. And then the photographer left and… oh, right. “Um, I like what you’ve done with your hair.”

“Oh, thanks – I decided it was time to move on from the blond thing,” she said with a smile that lingered on her lips just a little too long. “I better go capture some more quotes for my article but maybe we can meet up after the fights. Do another photo shoot, if you’re up to it? I’ll have my own camera this time though, so no need to bring anyone else along…”

She swept away, leaving me standing there with burning cheeks and two men looking at me with open curiosity. I shook my head at Alex and Doc and led the way back to our dressing room without uttering a word. We already had enough to worry about – there was no need to add Samantha Garrett to the mix.

The End

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