Pull right up on the curb, he tells the limo driver. No can do bawdee, says the limo driver in a thick Philly accent. You from North Central, he says to the driver, slipping a hundred dollar bill through the partition. The driver looks at him in the mirror and smiles, Anything for a Glenwood boy. I’ll drive ya right through the wall, brawdah.
The crowd clears around the limo as it hops the curb and pulls a lazy half circle on the square in front of the arena.
He sits in the idling car for minute, letting the mystery of the tinted windows settle as people crowd in, cell phones aimed and ready.
Ya gonna win, brawdah, I just know it, says the driver, grinning.
Already have, he says, pulling the cassette tape out of the pocket of his robe and passing it through the window with another bill. Play that as I go out.
You got it, brawdah.
He slides on his sunglasses. Makes sure his robe is cinched tight. He gives the driver a nod and swings the door open as the first notes of Metallica punch in.
He jumps out of the limo and takes two steps into the middle of the crowd, forcing them to open around him. He stops, pounds his fists together and gives them what they want. The gold fringe of his robe flashes. Three uppercuts, timed to Hammett’s guitar—rapid fire—boom, boom, ba-ba-BOOM!
He makes them forget he’s not the main fight. He makes them remember. He’d stepped out of the ring at his peak, with his image still intact. His career was a highlight reel. He didn’t hold on to the dreams like a lot of guys did. Pounding away until they were raggedy cornhusks, leaning on their opponents just to catch a breath.
I never seen anything like him, he hears a dad, still in his work overalls, lean down to tell his son.
Then he raises his arms, like he’s already won. But instead of a belt, he’s holding a cardboard box above his head. He takes a breath and starts the patter: Ready for a true knockout? Taste the thrill of the Nightmare BBQ grill. Say goodnight to undercooked meals and get the grill of your dreams.
He chants, Ninety-nine ninety-five. Ninety-nine ninety-five.
He keeps his sunglasses on. He doesn’t look at anyone in particular. He doesn’t want to see them. He looks above the crowd.
The tape jams in the limo’s deck, screeching.
People start trickling away. Off to get beer, hotdogs, shinier things. Greener pastures. The man in the overalls is one of the last. Maybe toying with asking for an autograph. But his kid tugs at his hand, and the man rubs his eyes, as if he’s waking up from a bad dream. I don’t wanna miss the fight, the kid says and they head off to the arena.
He tucks the box under his arm and throws a few more punches for the last stragglers. Nobody’s buying. Not now. But when they saw the commercial later tonight, or some other night, hiding in the blue dark of their televisions, nodding off, they’d remember him. Maybe then.
He throws the box back into the limo. Keep it, he says to the driver.
Sure thing, brawdah, the driver says, yawning.