Minutes before the fight, Sonny Bear felt hollow. He lay on the padded table in the dressing room staring up at shapes moving across the ceiling like black storm clouds. He imagined his body the only tepee on a frozen meadow. His skin was stretched over the tent poles, pulled taut by wooden stakes in the hard earth. The tepee was empty. Nobody home.
He knew where such images came from, and he hated that place. Shove that tired old Redskin crap, I'm not anything anymore. Not Indian, not white. Leave me alone. I'm not anywhere.
The noise boiling around him seemed distant, as if it were coming from radios in passing cars. He tilted his head, peered from the corner of one eye.
His managers, Malik and Boyd, were sniffing like dogs around a short, heavily muscled man with a familiar face. It took Sonny a moment to recognize the actor who had killed a hundred alien invaders in the movie they had watched last night in the hotel room. Sonny had fallen asleep before the movie ended.
Across the room, facing a wall, Red Eagle chanted as he poured powders from leather sacks into a steel bowl. He struck a wooden match against the zipper of his jeans. Smoke rose from the bowl, and so did the stink of cow dung.
Sonny's trainer, checking the boxing gloves, cursed the smell. Two cornermen whose names Sonny couldn't remember rolled their eyes as they filled a metal pail with taped water bottles, jars of ointments, and cotton swabs. Sonny had given up trying to remember their names. They'd all be gone soon. Nobody lasts.
The movie star said, "Make it an early night, Sonny. I bet you in the third round." He cocked his forefingers and blasted aliens. He growled his big line from the movie: "Sayonara, snotface." Malik and Boyd brayed like mules.
Sonny tried to wave at the movie star, but nothing moved.
The door banged open. A boxing commissioner marched in with a man wearing a reggae king sweatshirt.
Sonny heard ringing bells, people yelling. The preliminary fights had started. He would have to go out soon. He wanted to sleep.
The commissioner said, "Hands, champ."
It took great effort to sit up and stretch out his hands.
"You okay, champ?" asked the commissioner.
It took Sonny a moment to realize the woman was talking to him. He nodded. I'm okay. Just not here tonight.
The man in the reggae king sweatshirt said, "Let's see your hands." He checked the white tape around Sonny's knuckles, nodded, and watched Sonny's trainer, what-was-his-name, push the gloves on. After the laces were tied and taped over, the commissioner initialed the gloves and walked out. How many times have we done this? Sonny thought. But it seemed as though it were happening to someone else.
A famous rapper in a mink blazer came in, touched Sonny's glove, and introduced him to a woman whose black dress barely hung from her breasts.
"Ten minutes." An official glanced around the dressing room until someone nodded back at him, then slammed the metal door.
The rapper sang, "Ten more minutes you will, uh-huh, make yourself another five mill, uh-huh." Malik and Boyd brayed and stroked his mink blazer.
The rapper, the woman in the black dress, and the short movie star left. The room quieted. Boyd began whispering into his cell phone. Malik sat on a stool and opened a skinny little laptop on his knees. "Sonny, up. E-mail from Nike wishing you luck. Reply?"
There were no words inside Sonny, no thoughts except the realization that he had no thoughts. He had always felt something before a fight. Until now.
"Stick it to Nike," said Boyd. "Remind 'em that sales on the Sonny Bear headbands are flat. Tell 'em we're talking direct to the Chinese."
Malik and Boyd touched thumbs and brayed in each other's face. Who are these fools, why are they here, why am I here?
Red Eagle had his long nose in the stinky smoke. What is he praying for now? A Nike deal to endorse powwow feathers?
A cameraman crouched in the middle of the room. He turned slowly, panning: Sonny sitting on the table, the fussing cornermen in their Sonny Bear T-shirts, Malik and Boyd in their red silk jackets, Red Eagle chanting as his hands caressed the rising smoke.
"Do not photograph this," said Red Eagle. He covered the camera lens with his hand. "It is sacred."
"It's part of the cable deal," said Boyd.
"It's okay," said the cameraman. "I got what I need."
What I need, thought Sonny, is a reason to go out there and beat some tomato can into a puddle of flesh.
"Sonny, up. You know a Warrior Angel?"
He shook his head, a cement block on his shoulders.
"He says he's coming," said Malik.
Red Eagle said, "Warrior Angel. What does he want?"
"He says he's coming to save Sonny."
"Check him out," said Boyd.
"Can't," said Malik. "It's a blocked address."
"What's it say?" asked Sonny.
"It says, Dear George Harrison Bayer . . .'"
"How's he know Sonny's real name?" asked Boyd.
"It's in that book -- no big deal," said Malik. "Listen up. Dear George Harrison Bayer. Do not lose heart. I come on a Mission from the Creator to save you. It's signed, Warrior Angel."
"The Creator speaks through me," said Red Eagle. He sounded angry.
"Exclusive deal, huh?" asked Malik.
"Is that funny to you?" snapped Red Eagle.
"Relax," said Boyd. "Sounds like a promotional stunt to get a title fight. Ask Warrior Angel if he's white. We need a white challenger, an American." He aimed a finger at the camerman. "Don't tape this."
Red Eagle looked serious. "Did that e-mail come to the web site or a private mailbox?"
Red Eagle relaxed. "It's nobody. Forget it."
Forget it, thought Sonny. Forget everything.