After Christina's shift at the docks she found Britney waiting beside a car, and no one but a driver present. Her and Justin were gonna go spar at the gym, Pink trading off every half an hour, then maybe catch some sleep before heading out to the big night. Lance was just bringing her bike around, helmet in his hand, when Britney walked up to the three of them. She smiled and immediately Christina was set on edge. The first words out of Britney's mouth were, "we managed to book our first race."
"The first race?"
Britney said, "The thing is we're not sure how many people will show. Don needs over a thousand to break even."
Christina was already going through the number of calls she could make. Britney probably already talked to Sean and Pharrell but Christina had other connections, fighters and Busta himself could probably get some people together if she asked. She was halfway through the list before she thought to ask, "When?"
Britney's answer was just hesitant enough that Christina realized she knew exactly how the news would be received. She answered, "Tonight. People in place by midnight, race starts at one."
Britney continued, something about how they managed to rope of some of the lowest tunnels underground where they were keeping the horses - nothing but railroad tracks anymore, but they managed to get a good track, even put some mulch down - but Christina already backed up and dismissed her. When Britney realized Christina was ignoring her, she put a hand on Christina's arm. "We were hoping," she said, "that you, all of you, might be able to spread the word--"
and Christina was gripping her wrist. Britney made her arm go lax, and still Christina ground the bones in her wrists together. She asked, teeth clenched together, "Do you know what Saturday night is at ALARM?" She would have gone on, but it was obvious, of course Britney did, of course she knew. Don knew, Britney knew. Everyone knew.
"It's just one Saturday," Britney said, and then, "We need your help."
Christina let her go, stepped back, shrugged her shoulders. She looked at Justin, and his face was oddly veiled, and then told Britney, "this is the first time I actually feel used." Turned around, and almost didn't care whether Justin and Pink left too. It was gratifying to hear their footsteps half a pace behind her.
Saturday night and Christina was only a little bit surprised to see Pharrell's face up lounging beside Busta and the main room DJ. Chad ws waving a betting ticket around, and Pharell's got his portable Connect out. He wasn't playing as poverty stricken before, but still no one down there knew who he was. No one down there knew who anyone was.
Christina knew they were gonna put her and Pink, or her and Justin, in the ring tonight. She knew people wanted to see what her and Justin would do next. They'd put Justin in the ring with anyone.
The first round was Justin and Red, some fancy kickboxing, all fast paced and blurred limbs. Christina doesn't watch their style, doesn't watch their hands and feet, but instead their elbows, their faces, the crowd. Pharrell passed her blue tab, and it melted on her lips, sank into her tongue and gave her mouth a metallic flavor. She let the crowd push her on, and eventually her name flashed up on the board for a lightning round, five minutes of aerobatics with a fighter from 52nd.
The girl's good, and the crowd want them again. Christina nodded to her, stretched her back out until she heard it pop faintly. After their second bout, still nothing too bad, a bleeding lip and bruised, swollen foot, Pharrell comes down and shows her his Portable. "Thought you might be interested in the race," he said, but not unkindly. "doesn't look to be much of a turnout."
Christina shrugged, but it still stung. "I'm sure they'll wrangle up more people next week."
Pharrell said, "Britney had to work tonight." He turned the screen to Christina.
The horses were miniature, like little toys racing around the dark screen. Christina didn't care, she shoved the Connect away. "Dance with me," she said, and pulled Pharrell towards her, bending and moving, letting him snap her around. With each beat another joint would pop, pop, pop, and Christina could feel the music in the bass and every time her knees shifted or her shoulders creaked.
But it was hollow, it was nothing that Christina actually felt anymore. Pharrell had to lean into her, his lips actually against her skin to make himself heard. "You know, in all my years" he said to her, "I ain't never bet on a fight." Christina looked at him, and he patted her on the shoulder, and Busta called for her to go into the ring.
J came up, his boy close behind, and had to lean over Pharrell's shoulder to yell at her, "training round tomorrow, B's just said. got a ride?"
Christina nodded, and tucked herself up closer to Pharrell to answer J. "You?"
"yeah," and then he pulled out a messy envelope, held together with a rubber band. "do me a favor and return this, would you?" Christina didn't have to look inside to know it was money.
The thing of it was, once you were given a tip, you couldn't ever return it. A fighter's reputation was based on the fact that they took whatever people wanted them to have. That was the definition of being in the ring - it was who they were. you could refuse someone, but once you were there, you had to take what you were given.
"it's on my way," she told J. "No sweat." After the way the race looked to be going, Don might be glad of it back.