09-04-2011, 10:34 PM
JD saw Cousin George working out at the heavy bag in the corner of the gym. "Hey, there's George," he said to Criss. "Come on, let's go see him."
Criss and one of the cameramen walked up to George; the other remained behind to tape footage of the two boxers sparring in the ring. "Hey, George!" Criss called out. "How's it goin'?"
George stopped sharpening his left hook and turned to see his two cousins with a cameraman in tow. "Hey, guys," he panted.
"So, how's training coming along?" Criss asked.
George swept his brow with his forearm. "I'm gettin' there," he replied. "Still working on my left."
Criss noted how heavily George was perspiring, and he became concerned. "Can I get you a bottle of water or something?" he suggested. "You're sweating like a horse!"
George nodded wearily. "Bucket's over there," he said, pointing to a tin pail with a dipper in it.
JD and Criss eyed the water bucket with distaste. "You all got to drink out of that?" Criss said in disgust.
"Yeah, well," George said, shrugging his shoulders, "this place is pretty no-frills, you know. Linehan's on a tight budget."
"Yeah, but still," Criss protested, "you have to keep up with the health codes."
JD turned to Criss. "I'll go to the truck and see if I can find some bottled water," he said.
Criss nodded emphatically. "You do that!" he exclaimed. "That thing's probably swimming with germs!"
JD left to fetch the water. Criss turned to the other cameraman. "Get some footage of the other boxers for a while," he told him. "I wanna talk to George off the record for a while."
The second cameraman nodded and went to tape a boxer at the speed bag. Criss turned back to his cousin. "Look, George," he said, "you're welcome to train in my gym if you want. I can set you up with whatever you need: punching bags, gloves, you name it. I got the weights and all the other equipment, and it's a helluva lot cleaner than this place. I mean, with all due respect to Linehan, this place is a dive, man!"
"I appreciate the offer, Criss," George said, "but Linehan's my official trainer, so it's his place or no place. I know it's a 'dive' as you call it, but it's the only training gym that's closest to me. It's not too bad once you get used to it, really. Besides, I got to get in shape for the tryouts on Saturday, and this is the only place for it."
He returned to working on his left hook. Criss drew a deep sigh and immediatly regretted it; he coughed the foul air of the gym out of his lungs. God! he thought. How can you stand it, George?The air in here will knock you out faster than Mike Tyson!
A loud whistle interrupted the boxers. "All right, ye mugs!" Linehan bellowed. "Change places!" He pointed his cane to the two boxers in the ring. "You two, out! Lacie, you and the Greek into the ring!"
"The Greek?" Criss inquired.
"Uh, he means me," George said. "He keeps forgetting my last name, so I'm either the Greek or just George."
George peeled the Velcro straps of his training gloves with his teeth and pulled them off. "My sparring gloves are over there, Criss," he said. "You wanna go get them for me?"
"Sure." Criss went to get the red vinyl gloves. They were smaller and lighter than he thought they would be. "Are you sure these are yours?" he asked.
"Yeah, that's them."
Criss bought the gloves over while George donned his padded boxer's helmet, a task made more difficult with his hands taped. Criss helped him with his gloves and walked over to him to the ring. George threaded himself between the ropes and took his place in the corner. Criss stood beside him, waiting for the sparring match to begin.
"Hey, Criss!" It was JD, carrying a six-pack of bottled water. "I got the water!" he announced. "It's not very cold, but--"
"It's okay," Criss said. "Just break me one for George over here."
JD pulled out a bottle from the shrinkwrap and handed it to Criss, who in turn handed it to George. "You'll have to open it and give it to me," he said. "I can't hold it with my gloves on."
Criss cracked open the plastic bottle and put it to George's lips. George chugged a few mouthfuls and withdrew, spraying the last of the water to the side. "Okay, I'm good," he said.
George's opponent, Tobe Lacie, had just climbed into the ring, his dark brown skin reflecting the flourescent lighting above like moonlight on water. The two combatants stood and faced each other in the ring. The referee, Linehan's eldest son Sean and champion amateur boxer in his own right, stood between them as he explained the rules: "Three minute rounds, three rounds in a bout. No hitting below the belt, no tripping, no kicking. If you need to call a time out, raise your right arm. Ready? Go!!"
Criss watched his cousin deliver punch after punch, deflect blow after blow his opponent gave him. Soon he was wildly enthusiastic, cheering on George as if he was fighting for the title. "C'mon, George!" he shouted. "Way to go! Yeeeeaaaahhhh!"
George faked a left hook, catching Tobe off guard, then he landed a powerful right cross on him. Tobe reeled from the blow. George came down with his left, hammering Tobe to the mat. The referee interceded, preventing George from finishing off his opponent.
"Back of the head, illegal move," the referee ruled. "That'll cost you three points."
George accepted the ruling grudgingly but without protest. Criss, however, slammed the heel of his hand against the post. "Damn!" he swore.
The opponents retreated to their corners. "You almost nailed him, George!" Criss cried. "What the hell happened?"
"The rules are different for amateur boxers, Criss," George explained. "We win by points, not knockouts. These aren't pros who make it their living. These are guys who have regular jobs, so they have to stay healthy and in one piece to support their families or whatever. If I kill a guy in the ring, I go to prison for manslaughter."
The referee signalled the beginning of Round Two. George and Tobe sparred around and around the ring, searching for the weak spots for where to strike while blocking and ducking each other's punches. Again, George landed a right to Tobe's chest, causing him to lose his balance, then another hook to the side to send him sprawling to the mat. Criss waited for the ref's call, but there was no interference from the official. Tobe struggled to his feet and came back swinging, catching George with a right cut to the head. George retaliated with his newly developed left hook to Tobe's chin. Suddenly the three-minute signal was given, and both men retreated to their corners.
"Good one, George!" Criss exclaimed. "I think you're gonna win this one! You're really kicking that guy's ass!"
"It's just a practice bout, okay?" George panted. "Gimme some more water, willya?"
Criss fed him another swig from the bottle, then mopped his cousin's head with a small white towel. The referee signalled Round Three. "Go get him, George!" Criss cheered encouragingly.
George rose and took his stance. Tobe took his stance as well. Then the final round began at the referee's signal. George led with his left, deflecting Tobe's right cut with his elbow. Tobe delivered a roundhouse to George's left temple, a fatal blow if not for the padded helmet he wore. It knocked George off balance, but he quickly regained it and returned with an uppercut to Tobe's exposed chin. Tobe swore through his mouthpiece and came at George, hammering away like a madman. It was all George could do to block and swerve away from Tobe's flying fists of fury. Through the punishment he received from his angry opponent, George found an opening just above the solar plexus, that part of the body containing the viscera and other vital organs and plowed his fist straight into it. Tobe's mouthpiece shot straight from his jaws from the force of it. He staggered away from George, gasping for air. Concerned for his friend and sparring partner, George signalled for a time out.
Tobe was assisted to his corner by the referee. George hovered over him, worried about the damage he had inflicted. "You okay, dude?" he asked anxiously.
Tobe nodded, still gasping for air. "I'm good," he panted. "I'm good. You just knocked the wind out of me, man!"
The shrill tweeting of Linehan's whistle meant the end of the practice bout. George didn't stick around to hear the official results; they didn't matter any more to him now. Instead, he climbed out of the ring and stood there, unsure of what to do now.
Criss went over to his grieved cousin. "You okay, man?" he asked softly.
"I'm good," George replied. "Just don't use that in the show, okay, Criss?"
"Sure, man," Criss said sympathetically. "I understand."
Later, while George and Tobe were showering and dressing for the street, Criss and his crew packed up the camera equipment in the white truck. "God!" Criss exclaimed. "It's good to be back out in the fresh air again!"
JD agreed. "Maybe with the eight thousand bucks you paid him, Old Man Linehan'll improve the ventilation in there."
"At least install a drinking fountain or something," Criss commented. "Ten guys drinking out of a tin pail? Forget about it!"
"Well, next time you want to do a sports theme for the show," JD said, "pick a fitness center or something. That dump should be condemned by the Board of Health!"
"That place would have to be redecorated before it could be condemned!" Criss joked.
"Hey!" a strange voice called out.
Criss and JD turned to see George and his sparring partner, Tobe Lacie, standing before them. "Whatchoo doin', dissin' Linehan like that?" Tobe demanded.
"We ain't 'dissing' anyone," Criss protested. "We just think that his gym could use some upgrading, that's all."
"Especially the ventilation," JD added. "The air in there could deplete the ozone."
"So, give him some money to do it!" Tobe retorted.
"We just paid him eight thousand dollars to let us tape our show in there!" Criss said.
"Eight thousand?" Tobe echoed in disbelief.
Criss nodded. "Yeah, that's right, eight thousand."
Tobe turned to George. "That right, man?" he asked.
George nodded. "Paid him just before they started taping," he said.
Tobe turned back and looked at the square cinderblock building with gang graffiti scrawled on the walls. "Gonna take more'n that to get this place in shape," he noted somberly.
"Hey, it's a start," George said optimistically.
"You don't know how deep in over his head Linehan is, do you?" Tobe said.
The cousins grew concerned. "That bad, huh?"
"Worse," Tobe grunted. "Place is mortgaged to the hilt. It's all Seamus can do to keep it running the way it is. Can't afford to make repairs, or much else. Building inspector's riding his ass to get it fixed up. Maybe eight grand'll help in some way, I dunno. It sure as hell ain't gonna solve all of his problems."
George remembered his negotiations with Linehan for the price of using the gym to tape Criss' show. "Maybe we should have taken him up for ten grand after all," he mused sadly.
"Well, Seamus ain't no quitter," Tobe said with building confidence. "He'll find a way. Now that he's got that eight grand, things'll be a little easier for him. And if our team wins the match at the Excalibur, it'll be a boost to the old man's ego."
"Isn't there any prize money offered?" Criss asked.
"Not for an amateur bout," George answered, shaking his head. "It's strictly exhibition, publicity for the Excalibur Hotel. You win a medal, that's it."
"Not much of an ego boost," Criss noted glumly.
George shrugged. "Better than nothing."
"Anything we can do to help?" Criss asked. "Anything at all?"
"You already paid 'im eight grand," Tobe said. "That's more than anyone ever did."
"I could give him more."
George shook his head. "Linehan's too proud to ask for a handout," he said. "He says he doesn't take charity from anyone. He either earns the money or wins it."
"Maybe the publicity from the show will boost membership," JD suggested.
Tobe smiled. "Yeah! There you go!"
"It'll be months before this airs, JD," Criss reminded him. "By then, it'll be too late."
"Well," JD replied, still hoping, "anything can happen before then."
"Only if you believe in miracles, man," Tobe said. "Other than that, we're up (bleep) creek."