It was oddly quiet in the conference room when I arrived and it took me a few moments to understand why. Alex and the other winning fighters were seated behind a long table that had been erected on the raised platform and Gregor stood behind the podium in the middle of the fighters, where the only microphone was stationed. The attentive silence that filled the room was focused on Alex as he quietly finished answering a question from one of the reporters.
“… I had confidence that my training would serve me well and it did.” There was a pause before everyone realized he was done speaking and then the room exploded with noise as the reporters competed to have their question answered next. I moved along the side of the wall, keeping a wary eye out for Samantha, and got Alex’s attention. He smiled broadly and waved me over.
“Hey, how are the ribs feeling?” I asked as I crouched down beside him while Gregor tried to restore some semblance of order to the proceedings.
“They would feel much worse if I had lost,” Alex replied and opened up his jacket to show me the ice pack that had been taped to his ribs. “The ice is helping but Doc thinks I will need a lot of rest before I can begin training again.”
“Yeah, I can believe that,” I said, scanning the room for the old man. I found him at the very back of the room, leaning against the wall and looking very bored. “Well, even if you came out of tonight perfectly healthy you’d have to wait a while before you could get clearance to fight again. Either way, you’re going to be between big paycheques for a while… but I might have a solution.”
“I do not like the way you say that,” Alex said quietly but before I could explain another question had been directed his way. Looking at the impatient faces of the other fighters behind the table, I got the impression that Alex had been the center of attention since the press conference began.
“Just before you finished the fight, it appeared as though Kofi was on the verge of winning it himself,” a blonde kid began nervously. He looked like he must have been working for the university paper. “Where did you find the strength to not give up in the face of such adversity?”
“My family,” Alex replied immediately and the chuckles from the more veteran reporters stopped instantly. “My mother and my little sister are in Haiti and I fight for them. I live for them.”
“Great stuff, great stuff,” Gregor spoke into the microphone, cutting Alex off before he had a chance to get to the full story. “It’s getting late folks, so I’m going to wrap things up shortly. I’m just going to step outside for a quick conversation with my accountant and then we’ll be back to present the winner’s cheques. Thank you all for your enthusiasm and I’ll be right back.”
As he swept past, Gregor shot me a questioning look but I ignored him. Taking a deep breath I turned to Alex and tried to think of the best way to explain the situation to him.
“Gregor has made us an offer,” I said slowly and his eyes filled with suspicion. I glanced at the doorway and saw Gregor speaking with Raymond as he kept me in his line of sight. “If you agree to have him promote your next three fights then he’ll award you the fight and knockout of the night bonuses. I don’t like it but it’s a lot of extra money and it means getting your family here sooner. With your ribs messed up we could be talking at least half a year earlier.”
“I will not be his slave,” Alex replied. His voice was low but his eyes were shouting.
“I understand completely.” I looked toward Gregor again. “We’ll find another way to get you the money you need.”
“But,” Alex began and paused to swallow his pride. “But for my family I will do anything. Tell him the answer is yes.”
“This is not about me, Nate. I would rather be a slave here for the rest of my life than leave my family in Haiti for another day.”
I nodded at Gregor but looked away before his expression could change. I had no interest in seeing triumph and greed play across his face. It didn’t take long after that for the two men to return to the room, Raymond trailing behind in Gregor’s wake as he carried an oversized cheque. I decided not to meet Gregor’s eyes as he moved to the podium but Alex chose to glare at him silently.
“Okay, thanks for hanging in there everybody,” he announced in oily tones. “We’ll just get these cheques handed out and then we can all go home – or to the pub, as the case may be.”
There was some appreciative laughter from the unhappily married men in the crowd and then the presentations began. Gregor began with the winner of the first fight of the night and progressed his way down the card. I was expecting each of them to leave after they pocketed their payments but they all returned to their seats. By the time he got to the main event I was feeling sick to my stomach.
He’s still young. He has plenty of fights ahead of him. It’s not like he’ll be working for free.
“Alright, time for the man of the hour to receive his due,” Gregor said.
“But first I have a little announcement to make. After such a thrilling performance in the ring tonight, I –“
“Excuse me!” All heads in the room swivelled to discover the source of the interruption. When my eyes landed on Dawn moving towards us my jaw nearly hit the floor. “Hi there, sorry to intrude! But I have a quick announcement to make myself.”
“Who the—“ Gregor began but I stood up quickly to interrupt him.
“She’s with me.” I think. “Come on up, Dawn.” Please don’t let this be a mistake.
“Good evening everyone,” she said, tucking a stray hair behind her left ear as she took Gregor’s place behind the podium. He stood beside her, smiling uneasily. “As Alex mentioned earlier, he left his family behind in Haiti to come to Canada. What he didn’t have the chance to mention is that he’s trying to make enough money to bring them here to join him. To bring them to safety.
“As you can imagine this is an expensive undertaking. His efforts tonight have gone a long way towards that end goal but waiting for his next fight to raise the rest of the money is not an option – his mother is currently in hospital and his little sister is on her own.” She paused to clear her throat and the room was absolutely silent as we waited for her to go on.
“That is why I’d like to announce that I will be hosting a fundraiser in Vancouver at the end of the month. I'm a piano teacher and I’ll be gathering my students together - Nate here is actually one of them - for a night of performances to raise money for Alex and his family.”
“Will you be playing us something then, Nate?” Jerry called up from the front row with a laugh.
“I don’t think so,” I replied with a smile, holding up my injured hand.
“I’m sure we can come up with something for Nate to do,” Dawn said with a quick smile. “I’ll be making the time and location official later this week, so if you’d like the details I’d be happy to take your contact information now. Thanks very much for your time and I’ll pass things back to Gregor. I believe he has some bonuses to hand out to Alex for his incredible performance tonight, which is a great way to kick off our fundraising.”
Gregor stared at me, his eyes furious and his body vibrating with anger. I hid my smile behind a scratch of my nose and moved to his side.
“I had nothing to do with this,” I said as we watched Dawn collect business cards from all of the assembled reporters. “But now you’re stuck paying Alex all of the money he deserves and we have no obligation to do another fight for you.” I let him stew over that for a moment before continuing.
“But, as a show of… appreciation for the opportunity you’ve provided tonight, we’ll give you one more fight.” I let my gaze slide slowly around the room before returning to his face. “I suggest finding somewhere a bit nicer, and a whole lot bigger, to stage it.”
He didn’t like it but he was in no position to argue. One more fight was really one more than he deserved but I wanted to give him another shot to do the right thing. I really don’t know why. But I'd give him a fighting chance.