Excerpt from THE LAST ROUND
Boxing had sunk so low in the public eye that Jamal’s interview didn’t air until the Friday evening broadcast. He missed the first airing because he was in New York taping the Letterman show. But ESPN repeated their programming all night long, so when Jamal returned home that night he was able to catch a rebroadcast. Tia was in Miami getting ready for her fashion show. Pops had come to Jamal’s oceanfront condo to watch the interview. Stephanie was sleeping over.
Stephanie had a condo in Manhattan that she’d leased back when she was a Wall Street shark, but she often stayed at Jamal’s place on the Jersey Shore when they had extended business to handle. It was easier that way because Jamal trained at Pop’s gym in Asbury Park, and he was almost always in training. So Stephanie staying over because they had their telephone meeting with Bob Sterling’s people tomorrow afternoon was nothing new.
What was new was that this time Stephanie was here but Tia wasn’t. Jamal didn’t see it as an issue. Stephanie had spent nights in his guest room before he ever knew Tia. And Tia never said it was a problem, even though Jamal had noticed that when Stephanie slept over, Tia always made sure that she gave him some hot sex, and that she was much louder than usual while they were doing it. He figured that that was just Tia’s way of peeing to mark her territory, letting Stephanie know what was what. He’d told Tia about the meeting tomorrow, so she had to figure Stephanie was at the house. So it was no issue.
Jamal and Pops were in the living room watching ESPN when the reporter started the lead-in for his interview. Pops yelled out, “Hey girl, come on! Our boy’s coming on TV!”
Stephanie hurried out of the kitchen carrying a sandwich on a paper plate and a bottle of water. She wore a plaid flannel nightshirt that fell to her knees and ankle socks. “What’d I miss?” she asked.
“Nothing yet,” Jamal said. “It’s just coming on.”
Jamal was sitting on one end of the sofa. Pops sat on the other end. Stephanie plopped down between them and curled her shapely bare legs under her bottom. As she made herself comfortable Jamal caught a whiff of whatever girly stuff she’d bathed in. It smelled nice. It crossed his mind to wonder if she had anything on under her nightshirt. But he didn’t dwell on it because he had a woman. Besides, Stephanie was more like a big sister than a real chick.
Pops leaned toward the screen and said, “There he is!” like they were looking at a stranger. Jamal sat back, watching himself on video replay. Stephanie sat with the paper plate resting on her hip. In the corner of Jamal’s eye plaid flannel molded to the curve of hip and bottom. But he didn’t dwell on it because he had a woman.
The interview was edited with the reporter’s questions cut out so that the piece just showed Jamal talking about his strategy for beating Delgado, and how he wanted to bring respect back to boxing, and how one day he hoped that every weight class would only have one champion, and how he wanted to start things off by unifying the Middleweight title.
When his piece was done the reporter said, “Well, if this were a presidential State of the Union Address, now is when we’d air a rebuttal by the opposing party. So here’s our interview last night with the WBC Middleweight Champion, and arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, Ernest ‘The Gunslinger’ Gaines.”
The scene switched to show Gaines standing just outside the arena tunnel in Las Vegas in his day glow orange suit. As the piece started he was already talking:
“…Delgado is what, thirty-five years old?” Gaines grinned. “He’s washed up. He’s nobody. He beat a nobody to get that fake belt, and now a nobody beat him to take that fake belt. I’m the real champion, and Jefferson knows it. The whole world knows it. I don’t need to fight Jefferson because I’m the real man and I’m already on top. Everything Jefferson wants, I got. Everything he wants is mine. Everything he desires is mine. And he knows exactly what I’m talking about.” Gaines looked directly into the camera and repeated, “Everything.”
Later Jamal watched the live webcast of Tia’s fashion show down in Miami. She modeled four ensembles. In Jamal’s opinion she made the other models look like men. Nobody could hold a candle to his baby.
On her last run Tia wore a military style jacket over a mini skirt that showed off her long legs and gave a whole new meaning to the term “combat ready.” She attacked the runway with the shoulder-swaying swagger that models must learn on their first day of training. Watching her, Jamal was thinking that he had just the weapon with which to go to war with his baby. He couldn’t wait for her to get back to Jersey.
Tia reached the end of the runway, stopped, and with one hand on her hip cut a sharp turn and pose left, then right, then did an about face and started back up the runway. The camera angle switched to a side view of the runway, which Jamal liked because now he could see the nice curve of Tia’s booty. He was looking at her ass and thinking that maybe he should fly down to Miami after his meeting tomorrow when someone in the audience at the side of the runway stood up and pumped their fist in appreciation as Tia sauntered past.
It was Ernest Gaines.