“These fellas wanna fight, JD.”
Ricky Di, the sprinter for the Tampa Bay Spitballs, had succeeded in clawing his way through the Memphis Bruisers’ tough pack, free and clear, till Bruiser veteran Vin Van Vaughn illegally left the infield and locked Ricky in a closed-fist headlock, throwing both players over the rail.
JD, Ricky’s dad and manager of the Spits, rubs his chin in an I-don’t-know-about-that way.
Ref Tony in his zebra shirt insists: “Look, JD, these two’ve been itchin to have at it all year. I say we call a two lap duel. Do em both good. Fans want it.”
A cheer from the crowd.
JD shrugs his shoulders. “If that’s what they want, OK then. Ask em.”
After trading a couple of wild punches with Van Vaughn in the stands, Ricky hoists himself back up on the banked track, removes his helmet, and waves to the fans. He wears the team’s skintight red and orange sleeveless shirt, his freckled biceps shining under the houselights. Snug white shorts show off his muscular thighs and firm round butt. He skates around the track before pulling up next to his dad at the mike.
“Ref wants you and the V-Man in a two lap. Anything goes. Y’up for it, son?”
Ricky flashes a wide smile, speaks right at the mike: “You bet, Dad. Wanna bust Mis-ter Vin Van Vaughn so bad I can taste it.” He raises his clenched fist over his head: “Triple V, tonight’s gonna be your retirement, old man.”
The crowd cheers again, the majority of whom are Tampa fans, the vast majority slavishly devoted to handsome young Ricky. The “mister” and “old man,” of course, are digs at Van Vaughn, who is twice Ricky’s age.
Ricky has close-cropped black hair and the vague blue shadow of an incipient goatee. His long lashes and elegant arched eyebrows look good even from where the crowd sits, some distance away. Up close his narrow square-jawed face is spectacular.
Van Vaughn, in the Bruisers’ bulky black and blue jersey, skates around the outside of the track, hurling insults and abuse at the jeering fans. He’s both the Bruisers’ manager and star player, so the fans lavish him with double the hate.
When the ref orders him back up on the track for the start of the duel, Van Vaughan protests. He says the duel is illegal, a typical Spitball pearl harbor. He accuses the ref of favoring Tampa and grabs his shoulder and complains that his on-again, off-again “injury” has flared up.
The ref stares him down and tells him it’s a two lap or a stiff fine and a two-month suspension, his choice. Vin clambers up on the track, red faced and spitting mad. He skates to the start line, scowling and nursing his sore shoulder.
Both players hand their helmets over to teammates, one of only two rules of the two lap duel: no headgear. The other rule is that, as usual, the infield is strictly off limits during the race.
No sooner does Ref Tony fire the starter pistol in the air, Triple V elbows Ricky in the kisser, knocking the boy on his butt. The crowd boos. The attack slows down Vin’s startup. Ricky recovers quickly, and both men build up speed.
“Kill him Ricky,” somebody from the Tampa team yells from the infield. “Fuck him up.”
Ricky catches up, stretches forward, and grabs a fistful of Vin’s scraggly blond hair and yanks it back. Vin’s skates fly out from under him, and he skids about six feet to the rail. Ricky circles back and smashes his skate on Vin’s chest. Vin hollers and grabs at Ricky’s leg but catches only air.
Ricky rolls backwards, staring his man down, his fists locked and loaded at waist level.
Vin pulls himself up and charges Ricky. The two trade wild punches until Vin grabs the boy’s head and swings him to the rail. He flattens Ricky against the railing with his body, and the two make short sharp jabs to each other’s back and ribs. Vin rubs his crotch up against Ricky’s hip suggestively, and the crowd gasps, then boos. Vin smirks and knees the kid in the groin. Ricky doubles over.
Vin skates away and back, pumping his arms in the air. He grabs the back of Ricky’s shirt and pulls the boy’s body up to his. Ricky wraps his arms around the back of Vin’s knees and pushes in to the man’s belly with his shoulder. Both players fall, but Ricky’s on top.
Ricky smashes Vin’s face with his elbow and solid triceps. The crowd roars their approval.
Vin pushes Ricky off and rolls over on his feet. He shoots a bird at a couple of middle-aged women screaming at him at the top of their lungs. Triple V has the looks fans here find easy to hate. Long dirty blond hair that looks actually dirty. Thick Manchu stache, steely eyes, sweaty skin, thick hairy forearms straight out of a Popeye cartoon.
He skates away, building speed. Ricky takes off after him. Vin coasts along, shoulders up, glaring contemptuously at the yokels in the crowd. Ricky hunches down for speed and catches up. Vin swerves back and forth across the track, blocking Ricky’s every move.
Then Ricky feints to the right, but ducks and scoots handily by on Triple V’s left, then slows and delivers a sound elbow smack to Vin’s mouth. Vin bends backwards, whirling his arms for balance, but stays on his skates. Ricky then rams Vin with his body. Vin swerves towards the railing but doesn’t crash.
The two men zip past the track’s southernmost turn at top speed.
Again Ricky aims his elbow at Triple V’s face, but Vin dodges the blow, slips in line behind the kid, and delivers a vicious kidney punch. Ricky hits the rail at his midsection and almost flips over the top. Vin mounts the boy’s back and slams his fist to the back of his head one, two, three, four, five, six times.
The ref is rushing towards them, when Vin separates but tugs Ricky by the waistband away from the rail. Vin wraps his right arm around Ricky’s head and begins delivering face blows with his left. The ref backs off but looks concerned.
Skating backwards, Vin wedges Ricky’s head between his thighs and makes grinding thrusts to the back of the kid’s neck, gripping Ricky’s tights in his fists and spanking the kid’s hard butt. The crowd screams foul, and Triple V blows them a sarcastic kiss. The Spits’ manager charges towards the fracas, face red as a beet, but Tony and another ref restrain him.
Ricky pulls free and shoves Vin back to the rail. He punches the older man’s face, trading fists, right left right left, ratatatat. Vin wraps his arms around Ricky’s chest in a bear hug while Ricky shoves his opponent’s chin up. The two crash into the railing and fly over, crashing to the concrete floor at the spectators’ feet.
The crowd goes wild.
Grasping each other’s stretch tops, the two men butt heads, while spinning out of control. Men and women in the front rows flee their seats but turn back to watch, unable to peel their gaze away from the savage grudge fight.
Vin pulls Ricky’s shirt up over the kid’s head. The spectators get a good look at the young man’s rippling back muscles, narrowing to his slim, elegant waist. Ricky punches Triple V’s gut and wrests himself free, dashes back to the railing and acrobatically leaps and rolls up to the track, landing on his skates. The crowd cheers.
Triple V is right on his tail, and the two men speed past the start line into the second lap.
Repeatedly Vin tries to pass Ricky, first on the left, then the right. Ricky blocks him every time, elbow poised threateningly.
Vin falls back a couple of yards, then accelerates, gets side by side with the kid, grabs him by the head, his right forearm crushing Ricky’s upper lip, then clobbers him with his left. Both men crash down, sliding and spinning on their butts.
Ricky gets to his feet first but gets no traction, his legs running in place. Van Vaughn jumps up and lunges for him, knocking him down and straddling his waist. Vin fires punch after punch to the boy’s pretty face. Ricky’s arms flail uselessly. Blood’s popping out of Ricky’s head in three or four places.
It looks serious. Two refs haul Van Vaughn off and away from Ricky. JD rushes over and gets right in Triple V’s face, calls him a son of a bitch and a cocksucker and two more choice vulgarities in Italian, slaps Vin’s face and spits in his eye, which is when the refs pull the angry dad back to the infield.
Vin turns back to Ricky, who is struggling to get back on his skates. Vin approaches, shoulders thrust back, eyes bright and bloodthirsty. Ricky gets himself up on one knee and launches his right fist to Triple V’s belly. The smack sounds to the corners of the auditorium. The crowd rises to their feet.
Ricky takes off for the southern curve, leading Vin by a good fifteen feet. The veteran crouches down to gain speed. Ricky crouches, too, his hands above his knees, casting sidelong glances over his left shoulder at Vin.
Vin catches up just past the southernmost point of the oval track, in the final stretch.
Ricky deliberately swerves into him. Grabs the older man’s baggy jersey and slings him against the wooden rail. He shouts at the man, veins bulging in his neck, and brandishes his tight swollen fists.
“Want some of this, old man? Do you? Do you?”
The two men grapple, tearing at each other’s uniform and throwing blind outraged punches. For a second, Triple V straddles Ricky’s hips and bears down on the boy, but the kid wriggles free, cursing at the top of his lungs. Ricky grabs Vin’s jersey again and thrusts the man headfirst to the railing. Comes up from behind and plants his skate square between the older player’s shoulders. Vin goes oof! and bangs his forehead to the track. Ricky jumps on Vin’s back, rolls, and throws the man on his back—drives his knee to Van Vaughn’s ribs, slaps the man’s face with the back of his hand.
The two men roll to their feet as one, almost as if helping each other, and then pull apart.
They race neck to neck to the finish line.
The crowd is on their feet and screaming.
JD shouts encouragement to his son. Members of both teams yell hysterically.
Twelve feet from the finish, Ricky veers left and clobbers Triple V with his forearm. Vin loses his footing and flies back, landing on his head, with a deafening thud and an ignominious grunt.
Ricky turns and glides across the finish, arms upraised, fists pumping the air. The auditorium explodes in applause, whistles, bullhorns, stomps, and shouts. Ricky tears off his top, and his smooth torso glistens in the hot white lights. JD rushes to his son, weeping. He grabs the boy by the hips and heaves him up to the air. Ricky’s arms form a V over his head. The thick black hair of his armpits contrast with the freckled ivory of his skin.
Vin Van Vaughn beats his fists on the track.
Ricky, exultant and beaming at the fans, grabs the mike and shouts, “Hey, Vin Van Vaughn, big man, old man. Next time you want to fuck with somebody, make sure you got the cojones to see it through. Hear? Now take your sorry ass out of my sight before I toss you out by the seat of your fuckin pants! And don’t you ever … EVER … show your ugly face in the state of Florida again, or I’ll give you double what you got tonight!”
The crowd shouts Loser, Asshole, Cheater, Shithead, while members of the Bruisers gather their fallen leader and drag him limping out of the auditorium.