'I'm really not a beast,' Nikolai says. 'I used to write poetry. My wife and I used to write together, in front of the fire on our leopard skin rug. We are both poets, essentially.'
Steve scribbles something in his notebook and looks up at Nikolai. 'Do you no longer write poetry?' he asks.
Nikolai puffs his cheeks and blows air through his mouth. He looks to the ceiling as he thinks. 'We haven't written anything for a time now,' he says. 'Not for some time.'
'It is not my own opinion that you are a beast, by the way.' Steve smiles.
'You have very nice teeth,' Nikolai says. 'And I never said that you said that I was a beast. It is them. It is what they call me.'
'Who are they?'
'They are them.' Nikolai cradles his coffee mug between giant thumb and giant forefinger. 'There you go,' he says. 'There's some poetry for you.'
Steve laughs. 'You talk of them with contempt. Whoever they are.'
'The Beast From The East. It is they who invented the name.'
Steve stops laughing and scribbles once again in his notebook. 'You don't like the name?'
'Because I am not a beast, and because St. Petersburg is in the west of Russia, not the east.'
Steve laughs again, and once more writes in his notebook.
'Would you say, then, that Russia is at the centre of the world?'
Now it is Nikolai's turn to laugh. 'Yes,' he says. 'I would.'
'May I suggest a reason as to why they've given you that nickname?' Steve asks.
'Well, I would say, and this is only one point of view, understand, and not necessarily mine. There is some evidence of a split in your personality.'
Nikolai hooks his forefinger through the handle of his coffee mug and tightens his grip.
'This is not suggesting,' Steve says, quickly, 'in any way, that you have issues of the mental kind.'
'I am glad.'
'Yes, I apologise, I am having difficulties explaining what I mean.'
'Carry on, please.'
'Thank you. I mean, of course, there is your size to contend with. Your girth is beast-like, you have to agree. But what I am suggesting is that when you step into the ring and you have the bit between your teeth, so to speak, and when you are under fire from an opponent, there is an element of your personality that changes somewhat.'
'I am not entirely sure what you mean.' Nikolai finishes his coffee.
'I have seen you,' Steve says. 'There is a point when you are fighting, a specific moment, when it is like a switch has been flicked. At first it seems that your head is in darkness, as if you are fighting by routine, sometimes taking many punches without fighting back. Then, snap.' Steve illustrates with a snap of his fingers. 'Off you go, and the fight is done, finished, in minutes.'
The two men are silent for a minute. Steve scribbles in his notebook. Nikolai squeezes his coffee mug and chews on his bottom lip, squirming in his chair, uncomfortable. The fan above them twists ineffectively around, turn after turn. Both men listen to it beat the air, mixing warmth with warmth.
'Do you watch yourself fight?' Steve says, eventually.
'How can I, if I am fighting?'
'Of course, I am sorry, I mean afterwards, on the television.'
'No, my wife and I do not own a television.'
Steve rubs the back of his neck. He has to tilt his head at an angle of forty-five degrees to look at Nikolai's face and his muscles are sore. He looks down at his notebook. His hand comes away from his neck wet. He rubs it on the cloth of his trouser leg. It is hot, and Nikolai himself is glistening with sweat.
Steve coughs. 'Would you mind telling me a little about your family?' he asks.
'Why would I mind?' Nikolai says.
'I didn't want to presume.'
'That's okay. She is beautiful, of course, my wife. Her name is Galya, and no, she is not the size of me. My son is called Grisha. He is three years old but he could easily pass for six. His favourite toy is a robot which is as big as him. He fights it, pushes and pulls it about the flat.' He chuckles.
Tucked into the middle of his notebook, Steve has a picture of Nikolai with his wife. He lifts the pages to look at it. It was commissioned by Nikolai's management soon after his triumph to become the WBA world heavyweight champion. Galya barely reaches the line of his nipples. She has Nikolai's championship belt draped around her shoulders and her head is turned around and tilted up to look at him. Steve rubs the back of his neck again and looks his subject in the eye.
'Can I see your belt?' he says.
Nikolai laughs. 'I do not have it,' he says. 'It is too small to fit around my waist, so they have taken it to be enlarged.'
'I am not surprised.'
'May I ask you something now?' Nikolai leans forward. His chair creaks with the strain.
'Of course,' Steve says, drawing a series of spirals on the page of his notebook.
'Why do you avoid looking me in the eye?'
Steve laughs. 'Why do you say that?' he says, looking briefly at Nikolai's face before glancing back down at the photograph on his lap.
'You can barely bring yourself to look at me.'
'I don't know what you mean.'
'And you have hardly written a word in your notebook.'
'I can tell. All you do is scribble, or draw something.'
Steve smiles and rubs the back of his hand across his forehead. Nikolai sits back in his chair and runs his finger around the rim of his empty coffee mug. They are both silent. A train passes alongside the building, the track lying a hundred yards away. The floor shakes. Somewhere across the city a car alarm is going off. The fan beats, endlessly, pumping the warm air.
'Okay,' Steve says. 'I have been thinking to myself while we have been talking this afternoon. I have been pondering something.'
'What have you been pondering?'
Steve swallows. His throat cracks. 'Because of your size, you see, I am interested. I was considering the logistics of how you sleep with your wife.'
'Ha!' Nikolai lets out a powerful laugh. He stretches his arms upwards and cradles his head in the palms of his hands. The trunk of his body expands as he draws air into his lungs and contracts as he breathes out heavily. Steve can feel the force of his breath. 'You mean, when we fuck?'
'I am sorry,' Steve says. 'But yes, I mean, that is what I was pondering.'
'It is okay, it is a fair question,' Nikolai thinks for a second. 'In fact, it is my favourite question of the afternoon. It is honest. That is what I like the most.'
'And the truth is simple, that I must be underneath, of course. Or we can be on our sides, sometimes, or standing up, but in general I will be underneath. They are your logistics.'
They are silent again. Steve looks at the photograph on his lap.
'Thank you,' Steve says.
Nikolai leans forward, his face barely six inches from Steve's, his breath slow and ragged. 'Logistics,' he says, with a gentle shake of his head and a curled smile. He stops, thinking, sitting back in his chair once again, staring into his coffee mug. 'I can never be on top,' he says, and laughs again.