09-04-2011, 10:11 PM
Meanwhile, in a small downtown gym somewhere in North Las Vegas, a group of amateur boxers were going through their daily training regimen. A couple of burly men sparred in the ring, while others shadowboxed, rehersing their feints and blows in the large mirror on the far wall. There was no conversation during the training period. The fighters focused solely on their drills in grim silence; banter was reserved only for the locker room.
One boxer in particular, George Strumpolis, pummelled away on the speed bag. The brown leather bulb was a blur from repeated punches, battering from its hook-and-eye like a hummingbird's wing. George was a muscular man, middle-aged, with salt-and-pepper hair he kept under a billed cap to prevent heat stroke from the Nevada sun. His features were thicker and heavier than that of his famous cousin, Christopher, know to the world as Criss Angel. Upon first glance one would think he was a truck driver or day laborer instead of a technician for his cousin's television show, MindFreak. He had been boxing for over a year now, training on his days off and during hiatus. He had built up considerable upper body strength not just from his daily hour in the gym, but from years of lifting heavy equipment for the show.
George had been working for Criss for a few years now, setting up props, assisting in "demonstrations", which was Criss' term for life-threatening stunts, and other technical duties. He made a good living at it, though the stress of watching his younger cousin lock himself in a car trunk and almost drown in a lake, get run over by a steamroller while lying on broken glass, and nearly get blown up in a collapsing hotel was nearly unbearable. Criss was a performer, an artist or so he claimed, but he was still family, and George didn't like the idea of a family member trying to kill himself in the name of art. But, it was his destiny, and George was there to make sure Criss got through his latest stunt in one piece--or pick up the pieces afterward.
Boxing was George's greatest pleasure in life. He had never gone professional, preferring the steady income of his position with MindFreak Productions to the fame and glamor of the pro circuit. Besides, the risk of serious injury would cut any professional career short. Amateur boxing was a good stress reliever; he enjoyed doing something for himself instead of catering to his cousin's outrageous whims. He was good at it, and he knew it: he knew the moves, he had the reflexes, and he had the stamina for it.
And he had a right cross that would stop a truck. Criss had a punching bag game in his suite at the Luxor which digitally registered the force applied to the bag after one blow. To date, George held the highest score, seven-sixty or so, a hundred points more than his cousin. Sore loser that he was, Criss tried and tried to beat him, taking swing after swing on the bag but never quite getting past seven hundred. George couldn't wait to have another go on the machine; after a year's training, he could break eight hundred, he figured.
The trainer's whistle blew. George ended his pummelling with a final blow to the bag and walked over to where his trainer, a barrel-chested old Irishman named Seamus Linehan, a two-time Golden Gloves winner back in his day (though his day was so far back hardly anyone remembered it) who had converted an old garage in North Las Vegas into a boxing gym thirty years ago. His auburn hair had turned white with age, his face had been flattened by too many fists in both the ring and the pub, and he used his oak cane for more than just supporting himself after his last hip replacement. He was a surly old sod with a good set of lungs despite his lifelong habit of cigar smoking, and he wasn't afraid to use them.
"All right, ye mugs!" Seamus bellowed loudly enough to be heard across Lake Meade. "Ye've enough for t'day! But b'fore ye clear outta here, I've got an announcement! There's to be an amateur match in a month's time, in the Excalibur Arena! If ye want to qualify, ye gotta try out on Saturday noontime! Remember, bouts are won by points, not knockouts! The highest score after three rounds goes to the match! If ye want to fight, don't ye go slackin' yer trainin'!" He waved his cane toward the locker room. "Now, git yer arses out of here!"
Seamus hobbled away. George and his fellow boxers filed into the locker room to shower and change. Inside, the attendant, a chubby boy of about twenty or so with his face distorted by Down's syndrome, handed them fresh towels. His name was David Linehan, youngest son Seamus, the only person for whom the crusty old Irishman had a soft spot next to his late wife, Meghann. Despite his tenderness with his disabled son, Seamus never let himself take pity on the boy. He gave him a job as locker room attendant, to mop the floors, scrub the toilets, fold the towels, and clean the shower room. David carried out his duties satisfactorily and without question, seldom speaking but flashing a pudgy smile when someone tipped him a dollar.
George took the towel from David with thanks, stripped off his sweaty gym clothes, wrapped the towel around his hips and headed for the shower room, a large olive-green tiled cube twelve feet square, with six spigots jutting out of the wall like chrome thumbs. He turned on one of the spigots and braced his bare chest against the stinging spray. George didn't mind the lack of privacy; he was used to communal showers since his high-school days. Nor did he particulary care with whom he was showering; you'd seen one naked ass, he thought apathetically, you'd seen them all.
Next to him was a stocky black man named Tobias "Tobe" Lacie. Tobe was a genial type in regular life, but in the ring he was a formidable opponent. Fighters found out early in a bout that punching him was like hitting a brick wall. Tobe could send an opponent to the mat with just a single hammer blow to the face. He would have gone professional, but he had to support his family after his father died, a fact that George could appreciate.
"You tryin' out for the match?" Tobe asked George.
George remained aloof as he soaped himself. "Maybe," he replied noncommittally. "I gotta check my schedule, first."
Tobe smiled through crooked teeth. "How's your cousin doin'?" he asked. "Get himself into any more crazy-assed (bleep) for his show?"
"Not recently," George answered evenly. "We're still in the planning stages for Season Five. Besides, he's got his live show, so he's gotta stay alive for that."
Tobe nodded. "Seriously, man, what's it like working for that dude?"
George rinsed off and turned off the shower. "Lemme put it to you this way," he said, wrapping the towel around his waist, "After a day working with Criss, I come here to relax."
Tobe laughed out loud. George left the shower room, his light olive-complexioned skin glistening in the flourescent light. Poor dude, Tobe thought to himself, gotta do all that crazy-assed (bleep) for that crazy-assed magician cousin of his! Still, the money must be good if he's stuck with it all this time! Hell, I'd do that (bleep) myself for that kind of cash! But, hey, this is Vegas--you gotta expect wierd (bleep) around here! And Criss Angel is as (bleeping) wierd as they come!