“What about Ana?” I asked out loud. “I thought that you were going to train her.”
“Eh, I’ll get to her later. She’s got to do some more conditioning, anyway.” Octavio turned to Ana. “Run on the treadmill at 9 miles per hour for about 30 minutes. That should get you warmed up.”
Ana nodded. “Okay.” She winked at me. “See ya later, Pete.”
I couldn’t help but glance at his older cousin’s posterior curves as she walked away, and even though it lasted no longer than a moment, Octavio caught my ephemeral indiscretion towards her feminine assets. With a bemused expression that included one raised eyebrow, Octavio stared and grinned at me in expectancy.
I gave him a slight shrug and a cha-grin (i.e., a grin of chagrin). “Hey, look, I may be old…but I’m not dead.”
Octavio chuckled. “Esso! Look at the balls on this old man. I love it!” He clapped his hands. “Okay, let’s get suited up and get started!”
Opening my bag, I pulled out the necessary equipment: handwraps, mouthpiece, helmet, gloves, and shoes. Man…the greatest pain in the ass about boxing is carrying all this shit. And let’s be honest…I don’t really need to wear this helmet. Once I start to sweat, it’s just enough lubrication for this thing to start spinning on my head. Which wouldn’t be so bad if it had eye holes spanning all 360 degrees…unfortunately, I’m not Zatoichi. After donning all of the requisite gear, I was just about to insert my mouthpiece when I paused to pose one more question to Octavio.
“Hey,” I stated simply, getting Octavio’s attention. “Seriously, though…what do you know about this thing with the cop and the guy in the red jumpsuit?”
Octavio’s face once again transformed into another pensive mask. “I…it…it’ll sound silly once you hear it. But I promise that I’ll tell you about it after I’m finished knocking the crap out of you.” He paused long enough to give me one of his cocky smiles. “Deal?”
I nodded. “Okay. That’s fair.”
Octavio paused once more before inserting his own mouthpiece. “And remember…stop telegraphing those powershots, especially your jump hook. I can see that shit from a million miles away. If another opponent can figure that out, then that’s Bad News Bears for you.”
I shrugged. “Easier said than done…but I’ll do what I can.”
Alas, per usual, what I could do wasn’t enough. Keeping with the amateur standard of three three-minute rounds (and since my middle-aged heart threatened to burst at the hint of any more), our pugilistic dance once again proved that my young comrade had all of the power and speed of a panther while I performed comparably to a drunken sloth. (Or, as I liked to tell him when we would run together outside, with his shirtless torso attracting every woman’s attention: You be poppin’, I be floppin’.) In my favor, I did land a few punches towards the beginning, but more often than not, they missed. During the second round, when I attempted to surreptitiously throw my infamous jump hook, I found myself striking nothing but air, and without being able to explain it, I knew immediately that he was behind me. Damn kid is too quick! I turned around and was fed an overhand right that I blocked somewhat…but it was still enough to make me see stars. Even though I basically hobbled over the finish line, I did make it to the end of the third round with a few tatters of my dignity still intact. Just like always.
“Hey, you did better that last time,” complimented Octavio, as we stepped out of the ring and took off our equipment. “Though you did telegraph that jump hook yet again…”
“No shit…we should level the playing field by attaching weights to your legs. So, now that I’ve been properly humiliated, can you tell me your story?”
Octavio nodded, turning his head to yell over his shoulder. “We’re going outside for a break, Ana! Keep it up! I’ll be back in a few!”
Leaving our equipment in small piles next to the ring, Octavio grabbed a small joint from his duffel bag, and per our ritual, we walked outside and proceeded to the very lip of the cliff. A perfectly serene setting for getting a little high. Unlike most kids of his age, it was a compliment to Octavio that he had learned the necessity of not packing a joint too tightly. Within a few seconds, we were enjoying a nice strain of sativa that had quickly become a favorite of mine.
After a few quiet rounds of puffing and passing, I asked again. “So…what’s the story?”
Leaning against the fence that was his sole protection from death that awaited far below, Octavio exhaled a small nimbus of chemical delight before calmly speaking. “So…this is gonna sound silly…but here it goes. So, you know that lots of Hispanics are superstitious, right?” I shook my head. “Well, they are…my grandmother included. She used to make me wear red shit as a little boy because of mal de ojo and shit like that…Anyway, when she used to come over and tuck us in at night, she would always tell me to be good, or else the diablitos would come and get me. She said that they had come for my aunt, who had actually died from bad kidneys…and they’d get me too, if I didn’t act right.” He paused, again with that same pensive look as before. “And for a little while, I believed it…and for an even longer time afterwards, I thought that it was bullshit. My aunt died when I was just a few years old, and I can’t really remember shit about it…but, lately, I’ve been having these dreams…I see these guys hovering over her, and they’re all wearing red.” He paused again. “It’s weird, too…because I’m not the only kid who has dreams about these red dudes.”
I took the joint from him. “Woah,” I said, as I took a drag. “I wonder if your red dudes are related to my red dudes! Man, this town has got it all…illegals, demons, ghosts…”
Octavio turned his head slowly to me, furrowing his brow. “Ghosts?”
“I’ll tell you about that some other time. In the meantime, can you do me a favor? If it’s not asking for a lot, can you dig into this diablitos thing a little more? It’s gotten me curious.”
“Yeah…me, too.” Octavio nodded. “I’ll ask around, old man.”
“Thanks, kid.” I pointed in the direction of the skyline, where the clear sky was being chased away from an encroaching storm. “We better wrap this up. You should get to training now with Ana if you don’t want to run home in the rain later.” I gave a slight chuckle from the tickling THC that now ran with my blood. “You know, it’s funny…I remember being a kid in my house, watching an approaching thunderstorm and taunting it from my window, even as the rain began to fall. You can’t get to me, I’d say to it. I’m nice and warm. Keep trying, buddy! Now, though, when the clouds get dark, all I do is worry about the leaks that are inevitably going to happen…and how I’m powerless to stop it. Just like everything else.” I somberly stared into the distance. “It’s funny how your perspective on everything changes as you get older.”
Octavio’s eyes narrowed as he tilted his head at me in scrutiny. He shook his head in an almost paternal way. “Wow…you are really fuckin’ high right now.”
Though my ability to focus was quickly departing the premises, I had just enough for one last salvo at my irreverent young friend. “You…you…shut up.”
Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.