Published on July 24th, 2017 | by Bobby Mathews0
A Stinking Place to Die: Part I
Short fiction inspired by the real-life murder of Bruiser Brody
[Editor’s note: The following story is inspired by the true story of the murder of Bruiser Brody. However, it is not a fact-based account of that event, and we would caution anyone from thinking that the story of Deke ‘the Disaster’ Carter is related to the real-life events that cost Brody his life.]
Four minutes past midnight, in a bar where the windows were open to let the hot breeze blow through and the music pounded its beating heart through the raucous crowd. Ceiling fans paddled through the thick, humid air. July in San Juan, and hotter than the Devil’s asshole.
Deke Carter wouldn’t have even been in the bar if the air conditioner in his hotel worked. Like the rest of the boys, he stayed at El Canario Lagoon. But tonight the AC was out. The motor purred like it was supposed to, but no cold air came out. The hot, stale air left his long, wiry hair damp and curly. He tried to open the window, but it was stuck. He tried to shower, but it was so hot that the water wasn’t even cold. It was like bathing in his own sweat. The front desk couldn’t move him to another room–they were all booked up. No amount of cajoling, bribery, or threats could move the night manager. So Deke put on his swimsuit and a Gold’s Gym tank top and took to the streets.
Puerto Rico was no stranger to him. He could have booked a room somewhere in Isla Verde over in Carolina, where the strip of resort hotels and clubs shined like cubic zirconia in a con artist’s Rolex. The air in those places would be cold, he was sure. Whenever he came to the island, he always considered staying there–he was a star, after all. He could afford a room in a five-star hotel. Instead, here he was on Alford Avenue, near the Ventana Del Mar. His training and his nature made him stay in the quiet, cheap places. If you’re any good–if you had a future in the business–some old-timer would take you aside and tell you that it’s not how much money you made, it’s how much you save.
That’s why Deke ‘the Disaster’ Carter was staying in a second-class hotel with a broken air conditioner. It’s why he turned away from the lights and the sea and headed in the opposite direction. Toward the dark. Toward Old San Juan. He wasn’t a tourist. He was looking for something cheap. Something entertaining. And something cold to drink. He wandered the streets for almost an hour. It was late, and the neighborhoods grew seedier and unkempt around him. But Deke had the confidence of a man who stood six-feet, seven inches in his bare feet and weighed nearly three hundred pounds. He never worried about getting mugged. There were easier fish in the sea. So he searched, unmolested, until he found what he was looking for.
It was a bar with no name. The music was loud, the lights were low, and the beer was iced down in huge metal washtubs. The young women working there were in a constant race to fill the tubs with ice and beer. Their brown skin glowed with perspiration, and they spoke rapid-fire Spanish that Deke couldn’t keep up with, so he just pointed at the tub nearest him. There were no labels on the dark brown bottles. Deke didn’t care. He ordered the beers two at a time: one to drink and one to hold against his neck. The beers were cold going down, the glass bottles still chilly in his hands by the time he finished them. He found an unoccupied table near a corner and put his back to the wall. He snagged the attention of one of the women and motioned for two more beers. A barefoot boy no more than twelve years old delivered them. The boy leaned in close, twitched a shoulder toward the bar.
“Sir, maybe you don’t want to be recognized here, yes? It’s not so good for — for men like you.”
Deke tilted his head at the boy. He pulled out his wallet and slipped him a couple of faded greenbacks. For the beer, and for the advice.
He figured the trouble would come from the men at the bar. Four of them, in neon-colored silk shirts that had soaked through with sweat. Their pants were tight at the crotch and flared at the ankles, and their shoes were black patent leather, gleaming in the low light. Deke drank his beer a little slower and watched the crowd, waiting to see what developed.
It was the guy in the red shirt that started it. He slithered away from his friends, still carrying his beer in one hand. He looked hard at Deke, wanting this white man to know that he wasn’t scared of him, it didn’t matter how big he was. The guy approached, trying to appear casual. His buddies grinned behind his back, elbowing one another and grinning sly, cruel smiles. Deke wasn’t looking for trouble. But the heat was in him now, and he wouldn’t mind if trouble found him.
“Hey, man,” Red Shirt said. “You look familiar. You not from here, though, right?”
Deke didn’t say anything. He waited.
“Yeah, I seen you on TV. You one of those fake ‘rasslers, right? Play with other men in your underwear?” The bar was silent now, but there was nervous laughter from Red Shirt’s friends. Deke saw them straightening from their stools near the bar. This could develop into something serious if he let it. Better to stop it now.
“Maybe you saw me on top of your sister one time,” Deke said, and saw the man’s expression go wide-eyed. One of his buddies laughed. Red Shirt glanced over his shoulder for his backup, but they were several feet away. While the man was distracted, Deke got to his feet. He towered over the Puerto Rican, who was at least a foot shorter.
“Hijo de puta!” The little man spat and reached into his back pocket. He came out with a knife–not a switchblade, but a big Buck knife, the kind hunters use to skin their prey. The hinge of the knife was oiled well, because Red Shirt flicked his wrist and the blade popped open and locked into place. Red Shirt held the knife low, like he knew what he was doing.
He started to say something else, but Deke stopped him with a left hand to the mouth. It pulped the smaller man’s lips and cracked his upper front teeth. A lot of the wrestlers knew how to do it for real–they could take a man down and put him into holds that would make him scream and cry for his mother. But Deke never bothered learning those holds. He wasn’t that kind of wrestler. A lot of the guys would pull their punches, but Deke never did. An underneath guy who got in the ring with him was taking his chances. So Deke Carter did what he’d do to any undercard guy: He hit full force.
His opponent staggered backward and tried to shake his head to clear it, but Deke was already on him, not worried about the knife, at least not yet. He had reach on the guy, and he had leverage, so he hit him with another left, putting into the same place, and then came around with a right cross that floored the Puerto Rican. The knife clattered to the unfinished concrete floor, and Red Shirt scrambled to get ahold of it. Instead, Deke stomped down on the knife to keep it in place, and Red Shirt yelped when Deke got his fingers, too. The smaller man hadn’t gotten to his feet yet, so Deke kicked him hard in the ribs and heard the wind rush out of his lungs.
Red Shirt rolled over and lay still, his bloody face turned to stare at the ceiling. Deke glared at the other men in the bar, the ones who had been egging Red Shirt on. He bent down and put the knife blade flat on the floor, taking the hilt in one calloused paw. He put his shoe on the blade and jerked the hilt up toward him, hard. The good steel blade snapped in two, and Deke kicked the pieces away while the rest of the patrons looked anywhere but right at him. He took his cap off and let his shaggy mane fall down around his shoulders. He was ready for trouble. He wanted more of it.
He reclaimed his seat and drank his beer. Eventually, the bar buzzed back to life, and Red Shirt’s buddies came over to help their friend to his feet. Deke kept an eye on them, but his sudden violence had scared them. If they were going to pick on another tourist, it would be someone who looked a whole lot easier than Deke. He shrugged his shoulders and yawned, trying to get the tension out of his body. But there was no way. He’d been angry on the plane over from Texas, and the heat here in San Juan had made him even madder. The fight with the Puerto Rican had been too short to get all of the tension out, but the knife had made it necessary to stop the man as quickly as possible. But now that it was over and the adrenaline was fading, Deke was even angrier.
He had to see Charlie. That was all. There was no way around it. Charlie owed him money, a cool forty thousand dollars for appearances over the last few months. While Deke made the most of his money in Japan–those crazy Japanese were paying him fifteen grand a week to come in and brawl with his best friends–he couldn’t let a promoter get away with keeping that kind of money from him. Let Charlie fuck him, and he might as well let everyone fuck him. And Deke had spent fourteen years as an attraction in every town he appeared–three hundred dollars here, four hundred there, until the real money had finally started rolling in during the last few years. He’d put in too much time and effort to let somebody like Charlie fuck him.
The thing was that Charlie couldn’t even fight. He wasn’t tough–not the way a lot of the guys were tough. He couldn’t tie Deke in knots. He didn’t have any street-fighting skills. But he had his ways of keeping the boys in line. Charlie would lie to you. He’d set you up, tell you that someone else in the locker room had heat with you. Kept the boys at each other’s throats sometimes, and down in Puerto Rico, that was no way to be. The fans down here were crazy.
He’d see Charlie in the morning. That was for sure. Big show tomorrow night here in San Juan, and then the show at the baseball stadium over in Bayamon. He’d have to lay it out exactly for Charlie–that Deke knew he was being stiffed, and he knew Charlie knew it, too. Sometimes–not always, not even likely–you could shame a promoter into doing the right thing for business. But Deke knew one thing: Charlie was gonna come up with his money by the end of this tour, or there wasn’t going to be another one for Deke ‘the Disaster.’ And goddamn it, as long as he was calling Charlie out on it, he’d let him know that he wasn’t doing any jobs this time out. The Japanese magazines sent photographers out everywhere, and they’d painted him as some kind of unbeatable monster–there was too much money to be made in Japan for him to take a chance here in PR.
Deke finished his beers, and ordered two more. He tucked his hair back into his hat and sat, quietly. The neon-shirted pretty boys had left the bar with their friend. A smear of blood on the concrete was all that was left to remind anyone that a fight had gone down. He thought about his wife and his kid, a little boy, eight years old. He’d have to find something to bring home, some souvenir from the road. Deke stayed on the road, three weeks out of every four, and every time he came home, he’d take his son into his lap and marvel at how much the boy had grown. And one at a time, Deke would bring out the presents. A cowboy hat from Dallas. Exotic candy from Japan. Crocodile teeth from Australia. Trinkets like sacrificial offerings to the god of time.
He dragged his forearm across his eyes, conscious of the tears that had risen there. But no one was paying him any attention now. Life on the road. Another shitty hotel room, another shitty night away from his family. He’d turned forty-two the month before. How long could he make a living this way? There was no telling. He couldn’t imagine himself at fifty years old, still blitzing to the ring in a pair of black trunks and fur-covered boots. Eventually, it would end, and he’d be home with the family every night. He could see his little boy every day, make love to his wife more than once every three weeks. He wouldn’t have to hit the road again.
He smiled. The truth was that the thought of being home all the time scared him. Wrestlers get used to the road. They get used to the miles. They get used to a new town and a new opponent and a new flight on to the next place. He didn’t know how to be a regular dad–cookouts in the backyard, baseball leagues, lawn care. He hated the road, hated the towns. And yet he couldn’t imagine life without it. He finished his beers and paid, leaving a little something extra for the bartender as an apology for the scuffle earlier.
The night in San Juan was beautiful. The moon was high, and this time he turned back toward the hotel. The lights near the shore beckoned him and he walked with his hands swinging free at his sides. He’d made up his mind about Charlie. He’d give him the choice–either pay Deke the full forty grand or give him a piece of the territory. An ownership stake could help him make the transition from wrestler to–well, to whatever the hell old wrestlers became when they retired. He wasn’t sure what he’d do. Now, somewhere past two in the morning, the humidity had finally broken. Maybe he could sleep now. He hoped so, otherwise, the tour would be off to a bad start.
He stopped to look at the display in a neighborhood bookshop when he caught sight of them, a reflection in the glass. It was the four neon-shirted idiots from earlier. One of them was carrying a baseball bat, low down at his side like he hoped it wouldn’t be noticed. Another held what looked to be half a brick. The scene in the bar had just been play. Now they were mad, and they were serious. That was all right. Deke could be serious when he wanted to be. He turned away and continued on his way toward the hotel.
Check back later this week for Part II.
Send feedback to Bobby Mathews: @BamaWriter.