8[SUP]th[/SUP] April 2012
I trudge downstairs from my apartment like a zombie on the hunt for fresh meat, operating by instinct alone and clattering into anything and everything in my way. I’m tired, I’m hungover and the only thing that makes any kinda sense to me right about now is coffee.
As I reach the bar, I hear somebody clinking glass on glass and muttering under their breaths. I only make out every third word or so and most of that is expletives. I push the door ajar and enter the bar area with caution. I find Walt slumped on a bar stool in front of the bar, with a half-emptied bottle of Bushmill’s Original Whiskey and a full glass laid out in front of him.
Something’s obviously wrong.
He glares up from his glass and nods a brief acknowledgement and I return the favour, before turning my back on him and grabbing for the coffee. I guess I oughta give a sh*t about whatever the hell this is, but I don’t. I ain’t in no mood to deal with anyone else sh*t at the moment and besides, I’m still feelin’ kinda guilty for bangin’ his wife behind his back. She only left my place about an hour back.
“I’ve gone and ****ed up this time, kid,” Walt mutters, taking a sip of his whiskey.
******* it! “That so?” I ask, absently. I don’t turn to face him. Instead I pour myself some stale coffee from the night before and pour in enough cream and sugar to make it taste vaguely palatable. Perhaps he’ll take the hint, but I doubt it.
“Yeah,” he replies, taking a mouthful of whiskey and almost draining the glass. “Bad.”
I take a mouthful of the caffeine-laced black tar that passes for coffee and turn to face him, unable to make eye contact. I can’t leave him like this. Walt’s a crazy son of a b*tch and a f*ckin’ idiot all rolled into one – a lethal combination. Mix that with booze and there’s no telling what he’d do.
“How bad?” I ask him, wincing as my taste buds encounter a second mouthful of the stale and lukewarm beverage.
He glares at me. His eyes scream fear, his face shame. “Real bad.”
Whatever the hell he’s done, it’s a whole lot worse than anything he’s done before, I realise. Worse than I’ve ever seen him do most likely. I keep quiet, allowing Walt to spill his guts in his own time. It’s inevitable. Something this bad can eat you up inside and getting it off your chest is sometimes the only to get yourself a measure of comfort.
He doesn’t keep me waiting long. “I owe Nalton, Jake.” His eyes glaze over and he breaks eye contact, focusing on his whiskey. I don’t blame him. “I owe Nalton big an’ it ain’t a debt I can pay.”
I shake my head. “You dumb ****...”
Nalton is a local hood who owns a low-key casino in a back alley someplace normal folk don’t know about. God knows how Walt found out about it – I only knew because Nalton’s boys approached me to work his doors a couple of months back. I took one look around the place and turned down the job on the spot – I wanted no part of it. Guess Nalton is expanding his clientele.
Walt allows a hollow chuckle and knocks back the rest of his whiskey. “Thanks for your concern.”
“You oughta have known better,” I tell him. I drain the last my coffee and wince at the nasty and bitter taste. I pour myself another.
“I needed the money, Jake,” he tells me. “What else could I do?”
“What the hell did you need money for, Walt,” I grumble. “You’re turnin’ a profit with this place ain’t ya?”
“Just,” he replies, pouring himself another generous measure of Bushmill’s. “But I needed more. I wanted to take Rachel somewhere nice. She’s been kinda distant lately and I don’t wanna lose her. So I went to Nalton’s to raise a little money to make it happen.”
The guilt hit me like a punch to the gut and almost makes me drop my coffee mug. It’s all my fault. I’m f*ckin’ his wife, she gets distant and Walt does somethin’ f*ckin’ idiotic that’s liable to get him killed.
“It get’s worse,” Walt announces, tears forming in his eyes. “If I can’t pay they’re gonna take the bar and they’re gonna--” He bites his lower lip and looks away, while trying to compose himself. “They’re gonna hurt her, Jake. They’re gonna hurt Rachel.”
Anger rises from within me, but I manage to ride it out. This ain’t the time to be doing something stupid.
Walt looks at me, wide eyed and broken. “Please, Jake! You gotta help me!”
“How?” I ask.
“The Ultratitle Tournament,” Walt immediately answers. He’s been thinking about this for some time, that much is clear. “My debt is only a fraction of what the prize money, Jake. You win that tournament and all this goes away.”
I slam my coffee mug down on the bar and make Walt jump. “I told
you, Walt – I don’t have it in me anymore! I can’t win
Walt shakes his head. “You won’t have to. Get close to it and you’re surely in for some kind of payout,” he explains. “Come on, Jake! I’ve seen some of these guys! I’ve watch them on a weekly basis! They ain’t tougher than you!”
“G*oddamn it, Walt,” I mutter, reaching for a glass and then pouring myself a generous amount of Bushmills.
He grins; I’m all out of excuses and he damn well knows it.
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You see low levels of light creep in from the windows and under doors. The camera adjusts slightly and the picture sharpens. You’re looking at a loading bay. You presume it’s the arena loading bay. There’s a figure cast against the darkness. He’s taking a drag of the cigarette and ignoring the camera. Leaning against the bricked wall, he looks upwards to exhale his smoke.
The man has long, scruffy black hair with streaks of silver piercing the mane in various places. His facial hair shows all of the same characteristics.
You’re looking at Jacob McKail.
You ever need somethin’ so bad it hurts, Flair?
He takes another drag of his cigarette and glares at the camera.
I’m not talkin’ want
here - I’m talkin’ need
No? Me neither. Until now.
It’s a strange feelin’. I don’t know how to act about it, I don’t know what to say about it and I certain’t ain’t the first clue about what to do
about it. I can only wrestle or fight or brawl
to beat you, Flair. I need
to beat everybody in this g*ddamn tournament.
I’d like to be the noble warrior, looking to test his skills against the best in the toughest tournament in the world. I’d like be the arrogant son of a b*tch who thinks who takes all this sh*t in his stride and expects to beat the best because he can back his arrogance the f*ck up.
But the truth of it is, I come to you as a man past his prime. I come to you as a man broken by both life and this g*ddamn industry. I come to you as a veteran of this business who’s seen all the highs and the lows there are to see as a professional wrestler.
I reckon we have a little something in common, don’t ya think?
McKail takes another drag of his cigarette and exhales the smoke off camera.
We’re both past our prime, Flair. We’re in a young man’s game and it’s more dangerous than ever. I wonder - can you cope at this level anymore?
Okay, you may have had a more prolific career in the ring than me. You may have refined your skills a little better than me. But were you ever really just plain tougher than me? I’ve watched old tapes, I’ve done my homework and I ain’t so sure.
As older men and veterans of this sport, we lose our speed, strength, hell, even skill over time. We miss a step here, don’t be in the right place there – it all adds up. I’m a victim of this as much as you are, so don’t feel I don’t understand – I do
But do we ever lose our toughness? Do we ever lose our ability to shout “F*ck you!” and get right back up when we get knocked down? Do we ever really lose our ability to defy the odds and just plain withstand all the punishment there is to give and laugh right back in the face of pain?
I haven’t – have you?
McKail grins to himself and looks away in the distance as the camera fades to black.