Short fiction inspired by the real-life murder of Bruiser Brody
[Editor’s note: The following story is Part II of a short fiction piece inspired by the real-life 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. Read Part I Here.]
They’d been drinking again after they left the bar. That was the only thing Deke could figure. Booze gave the men stalking him liquid courage, a reckless bravery that made them want to defend and reclaim their damaged honor. Red Shirt was lagging behind the other three a little. He was woozy and probably still not completely with it. The other three presented a problem, though. They were armed; they were angry; and they were coming after him.
Deke retreated back toward his hotel, pausing now and then to catch a glimpse of his pursuers. He cut his eyes to the shop windows to check the distance between them. Three blocks. Not far enough. Deke’s ears strained for every sound, hoping to hear the sound of rushing footsteps before it was too late. His shoulders ached with the heavy strain of constant awareness that his enemies pursued him. They were playing coy, hanging back. The one in the yellow shirt was twirling the bat in his hands now, swinging it like a batter about to step up to the plate. They knew he’d spotted them, and they didn’t care. Four of them, and one of him. And the four were armed.
For more than fifteen years, Deke had plied his trade in dangerous territories. He’d worked shows in Puerto Rico, Japan, Uganda, Singapore and Djibouti. He’d had trouble with fans before. But four physically fit men–all of them armed with a blade or bludgeon–was a task he wasn’t sure he was up to. He’d read somewhere that a man passes his physical peak by the time he turned forty, but so far that hadn’t happened to him. He could still squat the same weight he could rep in college. Unlike a lot of his colleagues, his knees weren’t shot. Because he didn’t take a lot of bumps in the ring, his back wasn’t in bad shape, either. So he knew what he should do, even though it rankled.
He ran, and his pursuers let out a shout and sprinted toward him.
A few blocks ahead, the Ventana Del Mar appeared, green and lush and dark, and Deke poured on the speed, heading for the park. It offered space and dark places to hide. It also offered an easy escape route to his hotel, just in case things went south. It was two hundred yards away, then a hundred and fifty. And then a hundred. Deke was building a good sweat. He could feel it coating his body like engine oil, loosening his joints. He felt like a tightened spring allowed to slowly unwind. His breathing came easily, in through the nose and out through the mouth. He could smell the sea air. His pulse pounded in his ears, and he realized his heart was beating in time to the rolling of the waves against the shore. By the time his feet touched the grass of the park, he was feeling good.
The men following him were faring much worse. They had looked good in their tight clothes and dress shoes in the bar. But now the clothes constricted them and impaired their speed. Their slicked-back hair had fallen forward into their faces and their hard-soled shoes clopped like horse hooves against the pavement. Their clothes weren’t helping, but long nights in the bar weren’t doing the men any favors, either. Their breathing was ragged and whistling like a balloon leaking air.
Deke watched them come, sliding his sneaker-clad feet backward through the dewy grass and trying to stay quiet. He was thinking, thinking, thinking. They had numbers on their side. They were younger than he was. But they weren’t smart. They’d shown that by not letting things lie and bringing the fight to him. He spotted a young palm tree, its fronds almost reaching the ground, and drifted behind it. He made no sudden moves, but strained his eyes wide in the dark. He turned his face away from the ocean in order to hear better. Being hunted like this was a continuous pressing weight. In the ring, he never showed fear–not even when he was a heel and the babyfaces expected him to show ass when they made their big comeback–but this was real life. He was man enough to admit to himself that he was afraid. He didn’t want to die on this sweltering island.
His arms were covered in goosebumps, despite the heat. Death was a real possibility, and he had to face that. His sweat no longer felt good. Instead, it was rancid, a reminder that he was only an animal and could be killed. He knelt beside the young tree, trying to minimize his bulk and praying that he wasn’t backlit by one of the few lights in the park. If he had one advantage, it was that his pursuers were so many. It was a game to them. They were four, and he was only one. Eventually they would find him, and then it would be over.
Unless he did something.
Deke shook himself lightly. He could hear them, drunk and blundering through the park. They were dangerous, of course. But so was he. He’d never been good at waiting–it was one of the reasons he could never last in a territory. He didn’t want to wait in line or work his way up the card. No, Duke "the Disaster" Carter had a family to feed. He didn’t have time to toil for fifty dollars a night in some backwater like Mobile or Little Rock. He showed courage and booked himself around the country as a goddamned attraction. And if a promoter shorted him, Deke never hesitated to fight back the only way he knew how–with his fists. So if these bastards wanted some, Deke would take the fight to them. The fear of dying in the dark on this island he had never loved was still heavy on his back, but his rising anger at these fools pushed it aside.
He stepped from behind the palm tree directly into the path of the man with the baseball bat.
Deke saw the yellow shirt a fraction of a second before the man saw him, and his reaction was instantaneous. He snatched the bat out of the man’s hands. When Yellow Shirt opened his mouth to yell for help, Deke drove the cap of the bat into the man’s face. The sound of teeth breaking was audible. Yellow Shirt let out a strangled cry and clapped his hands to his face. Blood leaked through his fingers, black in the dim light. Deke refused to feel mercy. He got a good grip on the bat and swung like Reggie Jackson, bringing the bat across the man’s solar plexus. The blow expelled the air in the man’s lungs like a balloon deflating, and he crumpled to the ground in a heap. From across the park, cries sounded, questions asked. Deke didn’t speak enough Spanish to understand, but he was fairly certain the gang was waiting for Yellow Shirt to answer. They’d be waiting a while.
Deke slipped through the dark, looking for another hiding place from which he could attack. Even though it was purely accidental, his triumph over Yellow Shirt made him braver. He crouched near a park bench made of poured concrete and listened. He held the baseball bat in both hands. His grip was so tight that he had to periodically stop and shake his hands loose to keep them from cramping. Idly, he wondered if that was why the bat had been so easy to snatch from his attacker. He moved the bat from hand to hand, keeping it low.
Something must have warned him, some whisper on the grass, some shift in the air behind him. Deke turned, and an explosion of pain went off against the back of his head. He tumbled to the ground, rolling, losing his grip on the bat, rolling again, and coming to his feet to see the Puerto Rican who had been carrying half a brick in one hand. Now the brick was in pieces, and Deke could feel the blood flowing from a cut on the back of his head. Deke shook his shaggy head, trying to clear it from the swarm of bees that seemed to envelop his brain, and then immediately regretted it. The pain was enormous. But that didn’t matter, not at the moment. The only thing that did matter was to take care of the bastard who did this to him.
Someone roared "You son of a bitch," and Deke vaguely realized it was his own voice. He tackled the man in a long dive, driving them both into the ground. The smaller man kicked and scratched, struggling to get away, but Deke hit him with a forearm to the side of the head, full-on, the way he used to hit offensive linemen when he played college football at West Texas. It rocked the Puerto Rican’s head back and crossed his running lights long enough for Deke to get ahold of the man’s silk shirt and drag him over to the bench. He banged his attacker’s head against the bench a couple of times, just to ensure that he wasn’t going anywhere.
The thought of the blood flowing down the back of his head brought out the animal side of Deke. He didn’t mind bleeding. His forehead was a permanent patch of scar tissue from blading it almost nightly for years. He didn’t even need a razor blade anymore. He could use his thumbnail to start a gusher anytime he wanted. But he didn’t let anyone else make him bleed, damn it. He took the Puerto Rican’s leg and straightened it against the bench seat. Deke stepped back a couple of paces and leaped into the air, driving his nearly three hundred pounds down onto–and through–the man’s fully extended knee. The leg rolled under his weight, so Deke did it again. This time there was a satisfying snap as the man’s knee gave way.
Deke screamed, a long ululating cry of exultation. Now there were only two. Now he wouldn’t hide. Now he would hunt. He grinned a feral smile in the dark of the night, knowing now that he was predator and these men who had wanted to hurt him were the prey. He felt his way carefully along in the dark, crouching every few feet to sniff the air and listen. By his own count, he’d gone only a hundred yards when he smelled it.
Deke slithered forward, as quiet as he could, until his eyes focused on a human-shaped heap lying on the ground next to the thick trunk of a fully grown palm. He moved closer, cautious as a wild thing. He wanted to put them all down, but not at the expense of his own health or life. He was still conscious of the blood running down the back of his neck. The man on the ground didn’t move. Deke nudged him with his shoe, but the man was still. Deke moved away a few feet, cautious of an ambush. But he couldn’t figure out what was going on. He looked at the body, keeping his eyes open wide, trying to take in the whole scene. After a few more minutes, he approached again, using his hands to explore the body. The unconscious man was still breathing. And then he understood. The man must have run into the tree headfirst. Deke grinned. And then he laughed.
He didn’t try to stifle the laughter. He let it explode in loud cackles, straight from the gut. Four of them had followed him into the park. Three of them were down. The fourth, if he was smart, would flee. Deke rose to his full height. For the first time since he slipped into the darkness of the park, he felt the weight of fear leave him. He walked out of the park, made one turn, and headed back to the hotel. If he was lucky, he’d get some sleep.
It was not to be. When Deke stepped into the hotel lobby, he found Oilcan Wilder reclined on a settee, reading the latest Robert B. Parker novel. Oilcan was a veteran wrestler, a dark-haired man with a handlebar mustache and enough body hair to make even the most religious person believe there was something to Charles Darwin’s theories. Oilcan made most of his living in Puerto Rico, Florida, and the deep rural American South, running down the rubes and telling them that he was mean and dirty enough that even their favorite wrestlers could never stop them. But in real life, Oilcan was one of the smartest people Deke had ever met. He carried three or four books with him on every tour, and he’d trade them with other wrestlers or with fans. He was always looking for something new to read.
Deke tapped him on the leg, and Oilcan looked up, surprised.
"Jesus, what happened to you?"
Oilcan nodded. "I should see the other guy, huh?"
Deke grinned. His adrenaline was still high.
"You oughta see the other three. They’re laid out next door."
Oilcan gave a short laugh and asked what Deke needed.
"Take a look at the back of my head. I caught a brick."
Oilcan dog-eared the page he was reading and placed the book on a side table. He shifted to allow Deke to sit, and then worked with gentle fingers to explore the cut. Blood continued to leak through Deke’s hair.
"You’re gonna need to stop that one. You wanna get some stitches?"
"You got any Super Glue?"
Oilcan said yes, so the men took the creaky elevator up to Oilcan’s room. Like Deke’s room, the air-conditioner was out. But his shower ran cool water, so Deke washed the grime and sweat from his body. He dried off, wrapped a towel around himself, and sat down on one corner of the bed while Oilcan used a short pair of scissors to trim some of the hair away from the cut. He then took a bottle of glue and sealed the cut as best he could. Deke was coming down off the adrenaline high, and now his body craved the rest he hadn’t given it. His eyes felt like there was ground glass behind them, and his arms and legs ached as though he had run a marathon with a gorilla on his back.
Oilcan rummaged in his bag and came out with a bottle of Bushmill’s Black Label single-malt Irish whisky. He cracked the seal and offered the first slug to Deke, who accepted it gratefully. They passed the bottle back and forth in companionable silence for awhile before Oilcan finally spoke again.
"Charlie’s gonna give me the book."
"Yeah. He thinks things are stalling with Berto as the booker. Houses aren’t down or anything, but it’s time for something fresh, he says."
Deke nodded. This was good news. Oilcan liked him. He knew how to use a guy like Deke. Maybe this trip to Puerto Rico wouldn’t turn out so bad after all. Now all he had to do was talk to Charlie about his money.