John Irving got out.
“This is Wolfe’s place?” he asked.
“Dude in the white suit with a big hat? If that’s the guy, it is.”
Irving paid the driver and walked to the front door.
A doorman appeared.
“You must be Mr. Irving? Mr. Wolfe awaits you, sir,” he said.
Tom Wolfe stood outside his door on the fourteenth floor.
“John, what a nice surprise. You actually showed up. And you’re on time,” he said.
“I always show up, Tom. That’s what a real man in full does.”
“I accept that. Please come in. I’ll show you city living and you can explain the barbaric MMA thing you have in mind.”
The surprising part of the Wolfe home was the amount of color. For a guy who owns more white suits than Colonel Sanders, the walls in his place showed amazing good taste.
“I adore flowers. So does my wife. We always have a fresh bouquet. Do you enjoy flowers, John?” Tom Wolfe asked.
“More when they’re growing in the ground. A transplanted flower loses something, then something more when it’s cut. You don’t have flower beds in New York, do you?”
“The occasional window box, but not much more. The noise is so much greater with a window open, especially on the fourteenth floor. By the way, Ken Kesey left a message for me. You’ve talked to him recently?”
The Wolfe home said one thing: no MMA in the house.
“I have. He encouraged me to see you.”
“Did he now?” Wolfe said. “He encouraged me to see you too.”
“And here we are.”
Tom waved an arm around his rooms.
“As you can see, I live in a very busy environment. Fragile vases, plants, and furniture. Everything needing attention. It’s a first-rate environment.”
“It looks like every other phony New Yorker place. You are all trying to top one another. Not a very classy activity,” Irving said.
“This coming from a man who arrives to fight bare-knuckled.”
“We wear gloves. The fingers are bare for grabbing.”
“So I can expect a bare finger fight?”
Irving looked around the rooms.
“You won’t expect anything in here unless you want to remodel. Let’s take it outside.”
“My dear man, we have Shakespeare in the Park. We have concerts in the Park. Now you suggest we have MMA in the Park? How novel.”
“As much as you know about novels, which I plan to knock out of you, MMA in the Park will be over faster than anyone will notice,” Irving said, moving toward the door.
Wolfe followed him.
“Kesey said not to fight you. He said you’re too tough for any writer except him.”
“He said that?”
“Ordinarily, I’d say no. But since it’s you, and we’re here anyway, yes. We will fight. You will lose. I will go home.”
“I see. How should I dress?”
“Don’t change a thing. Wear a white suit, but don’t clean it afterward. Then, every time you’re feeling feisty, look at the suit and reconsider the probable outcome.”
Wolfe looked at himself in a mirror. “What can I expect to see?”
“Grass stains, blood, rips. I see myself foot sweeping you to the ground and applying some heavy hands to your face.”
“My face, eh? What about my face irks you so?”
“The irk is the smirk. I won’t slap it off you, it’s been there to long. But I might be able to rearrange things for you so it won’t get old.”
“Kesey left you a message. He said if we do fight, and you take it too far, he will put himself on your schedule.”
The two men walked to the front door.
“It always goes too far, Tom. That’s what we do. We’re writers. If we didn’t take it too far we’d all be like you. It’s probably gone too far for your liking already.”
They rode the elevator to the first floor and the doorman opened the gate to the street.
Once they crossed to Central Park, Tom Wolfe took a pair of riding gloves from his pocket and slapped John Irving across the face.
“That should do it,” he said.
“That is how gentlemen redceiving the 2010 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters express their intent in my world.”
“Welcome to a new world, Tom,” Irving said. He circled and reached out. Wolfe raised his hands. In that instant, Irving stepped in with a body lock, lifted the other man, and drove him into the ground with a shoulder in his chest.
Tom Wolfe didn’t move. His suit was grass stained and torn. Blood ran from his nose in a small creek along his cheek.
“Wolfe. Wolfe. Wake up. Wolfe. It’s all over. Wolfe.” Irving knelt and slapped his face.
Tom Wolfe jumped up.
“As I suspected. You just hit an unprotected man. You hit a man while he was down. That’s who you are. I knew it. Now I have the proof. That is going too far. You will hear from Ken Kesey, my friend, because he will hear about this,” Wolfe leaned forward with his last words.
Irving gave a head fake and dropped into his stance. Wolfe fell straight down to a fetal position, leaving more grass stains, ripping his pants.
“Will he hear about the wind knocking you over, Tom? Will you tell Ken that part?”
“Too far, Irving. You’ve taken your little excercise too far. Now it will end.”
“Right after I call Ken Kesey.”
“Right after you call daddy.”
Tom Wolfe crab walked away from the scene on his hands and feet. “You would know, wouldn’t you?”
“I’m sorry, Tom.”
“As you should be.”
“I’m sorry this can’t go longer. Your smirk still isn’t fixed.”
The expression on the crab walking man’s face wasn’t a smirk, but he tried to make one.
“Think about changing clothes before you go to The National Book Foundation for your medal.” Irving said. “Maybe something in white?”