“You make me look like a palooka and I swear I’ll sucker punch you in the cock. You hear?” Max Bhaltair flopped down into the leather chair like a bowling ball into a bucket. Gnarled hands, fingers like tree roots, lay an array of items on the low table before him. Silver cigarette case, tarnished square lighter, roll of white tape, bottle of knock-off brand whiskey and an empty glass all clinked together as they came to an unsettling rest. As he shifted his backside into a comfortable spot, Max cleared his throat, jowls rubbery and rumbling with the effort.
“I will do my best to paint you in the best light, I promise that.” Edward Allen, faltering with his notebook and pen, settled himself into his own leather chair. “It’s not my paper’s intent to make you look like, like a…”
“Palooka. Good. I’m a man who knows how to keep a promise, and I’ll hold you to the same standard. What did you say your name was again? My ear is a bit of a cauliflower on this side. I didn’t get it on the phone.” Max gestured to his right ear, pronouncing the word ‘colly-flowa.’ His ear on that side, while still soft looking and flopped over like the other, sat at a bit of an angle and appeared to have been crinkled up like old fishwrap. The cigarette case was snapped up, popped open and a thin brown cigarillo was planted in the fighter’s maw. His lips black, teeth sharp and yellow, the fighter’s bulldog face twitched, sucked, puffed as the lighter brought the smoke to life. From the shoulders down, Max Bhaltair was like any normal man, albeit on the ropey, muscley side. His body had the appearance of a sack stuffed tight with baseballs. From the shoulders up, though, a soft, thin coat of white and brown fur ran up the sides of his head, across his velvet flap ears and down between the two moist brown marbles of his eyes. Stiff shafts of whiskers sprouted sparsely around his wet black nose and his bottom teeth stuck out in a pronounced under-bite. Thin rivulets of slobber gathered in the far back corners of his mouth and would disconnect and fly free when the bulldog spoke.
“Edward. I’m Edward Allen.” The thin reporter stood and held out his hand to the dog-man. Max stayed seated, shook, and blew a long puff of blue smoke into Edward’s eyes before picking up and digging at the end of his white tape.
“Sit down, Eddie. You make me nervous.” The reporter obeyed. Max began taping his hands. “So, tell me again what you want from me, man. I gotta fight in a little bit. Let’s make this quick.”
“Absolutely, Max,” Edward said, fumbling through a couple pages of his notebook, looking for a clean sheet to start on. “Umm…Mister Bhaltair, sir. Sorry. Before we start, if you like, we can leave your name out of the article, being that the police frown upon the illegal nature of the sport.”
“Actually, I really don’t give a shit. Use my name or don’t. It won’t matter anyway. It’s not like they wouldn’t know who you’re talking about. Not many bulldogs in this league, and it’s only me fighting in the championship anyways.”
“Alright, then. As for the content, I just want to write about how a bulldog, uh, how you, yourself, feel going into this and it being the one fight that could make you the highest ranked bare-knuckle boxer in the state. I mean, as rare as it is for someone such as yourself to get into bare-knuckling, it’s even rarer to see them climb this high, as you’ve stated. I think my readers will want to know where you come from and what it takes to get this far. A feel-good story, ya know?” Edward laughed. Max stared, puffing smoke. Edward shut his mouth.
“You really think folks give two shits about that? I just live my life. I’m nothin’ special. I’m no better than anyone else.”
“Well, yeah. I mean, I do. I think this could make for a great story and I’m sure I won’t be alone in that thought.”
“And what makes you think this will be a feel good story? You see a smile on my face?” Silence hung in tendrils thicker than Max’s cigarillo smoke. Edward doodled on his blank page. “Well,” Max sighed, pulled the stogie out of his mouth and licked his chops. “I don’t really care either way, so let’s get moving here.”
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