You check the time. Perfect. As intended, you’ve arrived fashionably late. The shouts and roars get louder as you open the door.
You’re in a large, single-story building. It was once a storage warehouse, but has since then been converted to an illegitimate wrestling/MMA arena.
With your navy blue suit, dark tie and neatly combed graying hair, you look like you’re going to an interview at a multi-national corporation. You look like a misfit among all these half-clothed, mindless bunch of people.
You see the large white spotlight shining over the ring and dim yellow lights hanging above the spectators. For a moment, you stand at the door, wondering how you’ll maneuver through this inhuman crowd without getting your gold laced, imported suit dirty, then shrug. You pull out your phone and dial a number. It rings for a while, then an automated voice message informs you that the person you’re dialing has currently switched off his or her phone. You curse and take off your coat; it’s the part that is laced with gold.
After some pushing and shoving, you find a seat at the front, where you can enjoy the sweaty figures of the fighters close-up. The man next to you taps you on the shoulder. He’s a small, thin man, dressed in a white shirt that he’s left completely unbuttoned. Before anything else, you glance quickly at his shoes and socks.
It has long been your habit and policy to judge a man or woman never by their outward appearance, except their shoes and socks. It has been of help in more than one of your smart investments. A dealer had once approached you, boasting of his wealth and carelessly requesting you to invest in him, but his left shoe was torn at the toe and he wasn’t wearing any socks. You politely refused, and wisely, for his company went bankrupt not long afterwards.
This particular person’s shoes and socks are both brown. This is the only person you know who does that, and also the person you’re searching for.
“You’re late,” the man says. “You missed the first fight.”
“How about fashionably late?”
The man gives you a look. “I never thought there could be anything fashionable about being late.”
“Well, there can be. It’s the new thing these days.”
The man nods, still looking puzzled. “Did you miss me?”
You smile. “I never thought I’d say this, but kind of.”
“Kind of as in yes?”
“Don’t push it. I said kind of.”
“And now, here’s our new fighters,” A deep, gruff voice calls through the loudspeaker, “Crazy B!”
Wild cheers as a man dressed in white boxing shorts emerges from a narrow gap in the spectator crowd. The shorts seem a little too tight for your liking. They also have ‘Crazy B’ written in black and red letters almost all over. The man next to you claps and hoots. “That’s who I’ve bet on.”
“Whom.” you correct. He looks blankly at you. “Never mind.”
“And now, for his opponent, this fighter has remain undefeated for three months in a row. He’s broken eighteen of his opponents’ bones and has an unsurpassed collection of thirty nine teeth. He’s none other than the ultimate champion…” (A dramatic pause), “Cap Crocodile!”
The crowd goes crazy. The man next to you whispers, “Yeah, he’s really the beast. I’ve seen every one of his fights till date.”
The referee whispers something to both the wrestlers as they stretch, bouncing up and down to get their blood flowing. Then they nod and face each other. “Round one!” the loudspeaker bellows. “Let’s go!”
The bell is sounded and the fighters circle, watching each other warily.
The man next to you turns and asks, “How long has it been since you’re out of the joint?”
“I got out yesterday. About three in the afternoon.”
He nods, then grabs your sleeve and points. “Look, there’s King.”
You squint and can vaguely make out a familiar figure sitting at the betting booth in the distance. Then you crinkle your nose. “That’s what that,” you swear, “is calling himself these days? He didn’t even pick up the phone when I called him. Look, my suit got all dirty because of that.”
“Yeah, he means it like he’s the king of this place.”
You and King were first partners in crime. You had started a company together but badly needed the money to take it forward.
At first, the crimes were small. Some pick-pocketing here, some quick thefts there. Then the company expanded, in a big way. Now the thefts were for the thrill. Elaborate jewel heists in France and Japan, gold sarcophagi in Egyptian museums.
Then, King defected. He was convicted of one robbery, while you were convicted for six in four different countries. You rotted in prison for seventeen years, while King got away with just three.
King assumed sole control of the company after his release. You remember the hour just after your arrest. You remember swearing to avenge yourself, teach King a lesson. But prison changed you. Even you yourself couldn’t pinpoint the actual change you underwent, but the final result was forgetting about King completely. None of it mattered anymore.
You turn to the man next to you, “Has, uh, has he mentioned me anytime?”
The man shakes his head. “No, it’s like you don’t exist to him.”
“Good. That’s best for both of us.”
“But now that you’re out, you are going to take half the company, aren’t you?”
You shrug. “I don’t know. As long as he doesn’t mind my watching these, I guess it’s fine. I’m old now anyway.”
You watch as Crazy B delivers a sharp uppercut to Cap Crocodile, loosening his gold plated tooth. The man next to you hollers, “Yeah, go get ‘im!”
“Looks like you might get your money back,” you remark. “How much did you bet?”
“Fifty a round. That’s all I could afford.”
The bell sounds again. The fighters jog over to small wooden stools at opposite corners of the ring. They are quickly treated for any major injuries they have. The coaches whisper to them furiously. The bell sounds again and the second round begins.
“You’ve heard of the Coyote?” The man next to you asks.
“Coyote?” You have a vague recollection of the name.
“Yeah, the one who hit the museum in Paris, what’s it called, the Lion or Tiger or something.”
“Yeah, that’s what I said. The name means ‘lion’.”
You look at him amusedly. “No, it doesn’t.”
“Whatever. That’s not the point. The point is I was speaking to the Coyote the other day. You know, that all-day bar he frequents, next to the Coca-Cola factory. And he was complaining that the security system for the Central Museum was too tight. He’s been eyeing the Princess Diamond in that for months, but no luck.
He was like, ‘Man, I’ve been trying to hit the Central Museum for six months now. I know exactly where every guard is at any given point in time, I know the area every security camera can sweep, and when it sweeps how much. Heck, I even know that the curator for the Egypt section goes to the bathroom every Wednesday morning at eleven o’ clock because she has some acidity problem.’
And then I said, ‘But acidity is not regular, is it? How does she know she’ll be able to finish the job at exactly eleven o’ clock every Wednesday?’
And he replied, ‘I don’t know about that, but at that time, no one is allowed to go to that floor’s bathroom because of some cleaning thing, and she’s bribed the janitor there.’”
You raise a hand to stop him. “So she’s not really on par with the rest of the population, digestively speaking. What does that got to do with me?”
The man pauses. “I’m getting to that part. Don’t worry.”
“Well, get to it now.”
“Okay, so the thing is the Coyote really wants that jewel, and even though he’s known to work alone, he’s looking for some help on this job. And I thought this is a good opportunity for you, ‘cause you know the place inside out too, and you’ve hit it before. So you know the weaknesses of the system.”
You sigh. “There are two reasons why your idea is useless. First, the system’s weaknesses were highlighted after I hit it, so they’ve probably covered those up. I’m going to need at least three more months to scope out the new system-”
“Yeah, but Coyote said he doesn’t mind waiting as long as it’s not too much. I asked him what too much would be and he said-”
“Secondly,” you interrupt, firmly, “Secondly and more importantly, I just got out of the joint yesterday. I’m not going to risk it all in some stupid heist for which I’m probably going to get twenty percent.”
“Coyote said ten percent.”
“Exactly! That’s way too less and even if it was fifty percent, I’d still say no. I’m done. I’m out of business now. I’m planning to get a simple, straight job. And no amount of money can make me change that.”
The man frowns as he ponders this. “Out of business?” he repeats.
The cheers reach a crescendo as Cap Crocodile pushes an advantage. Crazy B sinks to the floor. The referee starts the countdown. “Ten,” he screams. “Nine! Eight! Seven!”
“He’ll get up.” you say.
“I sure hope so.” The man next to you starts biting his nails nervously.
“You can count on it. See the way his foot is moving. He does that to pay respect to his former mentor, who used to be a demon with his legs. When he actually loses, he doesn’t do it, as a mark of shame.”
Sure enough, Crazy B gets up. The crowd begins cheering again. At this point, you get up. This is the third round, and the last of the eight before which bets are allowed. You quickly walk over to the booth on the other end. The man you were speaking to follows.
“Hey, King.” You add emphasis on the last word. The burly man behind the counter turns around. “Yeah?”
His expression changes to shock. “You… you’re… how…”
“Surprised?” you say casually, enjoying the fact that you caught him off-guard.
“I don’t know you.” King says, his expression now one of resolute defiance.
“That’s a nice new watch you got there, King.”
King glances down at his watch. It is a silver Rolex, with a black leather strap. The dial has three faces, one for the actual time (without a second hand), another for the day and the third was for the seconds. The three faces are thinly encircled with golden lines, and ‘Rolex’ is engraved at the bottom of the dial in what is, presumably, platinum.
“You’ve got all three top metals there, haven’t you? How much is it worth? Twenty thousand? Thirty? No… More than forty, right?” you ask.
“Yeah.” King replies. He’s looking uncertain and apprehensive, just the way you like it.
You look back at the fighters. The third round will end in thirty seconds. “I’d like to place a bet on Crazy B.”
“How much?” King asks.
“Oh, I don’t know, let’s say…” you pause thoughtfully, “A thousand a round.”
The man with you starts. “Oh, hold on now, you’re not that rich anymore, remember? A thousand a round is too much.”
“Relax,” you tell him, “Crazy B will win. Here,” You get out your wallet and hand five thousand in cash to King. “I drew it on the way here. Almost everything in my account.” You finish scathingly.
King takes it and stuffs it into a draw. He pulls out a thick blue notebook and scribbles something in it. The third round ends. The fighters return to the stools. You watch in silence for a while, then speak up, “I say, Cap Crocodile really doesn’t seem in form today, eh?”
The man with you looks at you concernedly. “Yeah, I sure hope so.”
Crazy B gets up. He pulls up his shorts, which had loosened and fallen a bit below the shame line during the fight. The fourth round begins. Crazy B wins. The fifth round is won by Cap Crocodile. Cap Crocodile now leads Crazy B by one round and eighteen points. You start humming a tune under your breath. You’re not very concerned about Crazy B’s apparent road to loss; you’re quite sure he’ll win.
“Are you sure about this? I mean, a thousand?” asks the man with you, for the umpteenth time.
“Yes,” you answer irritably. “Yes, I’m very sure. And stop asking me that.”
He returns to biting his fingernails.
At the end of the seventh round, Crazy B manages to reduce his trail by five points. But he still needs an almost unprecedented thirteen points to win.
“Unless he knocks out Cap Crocodile.” you comment.
“Impossible,” scoffs King, “Nobody has ever knocked out Cap Crocodile in the last three months.”
“You wait and watch,” the man next to you says. “Crazy B will kick Cap Crocky out of the ring.”
The eighth round reaches its climax, and so does the cheer emanating from the crowd. Cap Crocodile is giving it his all, pummeling a hapless Crazy B. The man next to you asks for a drink.
Crazy B is driven into a corner. The man next to you gulps down his drink, and chokes.
Cap Crocodile tries one last kick. Crazy B senses his opportunity. He grabs his opponent’s leg, but Cap Crocodile whisks it away, smartly enough. But Crazy B homes in on his advantage. He catches Cap Crocodile off-guard and showers him with blows. Cap Crocodile’s golden tooth is finally broken off. He’s pushed to a corner, when Crazy B drags him to the floor of the ring. The round approaches its last ten seconds. Cap Crocodile is still on the floor, you note with some pleasure. If he remains on it at the end of the round, he loses the match.
He makes one final effort to get up, but trips over his own foot and falls back. The bell sounds for the final time. The crowd goes nuts. So does the man next to you. He screams and jumps and tries to hug you, but you frown and move away.
“How did you know?” he asks. You smile. “The same way I knew our company would be a success. It’s almost exactly like investing.”
“I have absolutely no idea what that means, but I can’t believe Crazy B won!”
You move away for a drink. The man follows you. “Aren’t you going to collect your money?”
“All in good time, fellow, all in good time.”
There’s a large crowd in front of the booth, each person demanding their money. As the crowd subsides, you walk back, calmly. “How about my five thousand, King?”
King looks at you coldly, not saying anything. His face is set in stone. Then he opens his mouth, exposing the shining, white teeth, with a spot of silver at the back, “Now, now, cheating is strictly forbidden here. Although not much more could be expected from a jailbird.” His voice drips with contempt.
“Cheat?” asks the man next to you blankly.
“Yes, see for yourself.” King holds up the blue notebook. The entry next to your name reads, ‘Cap Crocodile 1000/round’.
You stare at King coldly.
“Come on,” King says, thoroughly enjoying himself now, “We both know you bet on Cap Crocodile. Thousand a round,” His voice goes soft. “That’s a bit above your pay grade.”
“You filthy, rotten, scumbag,” you mutter, under your breath. “You haven’t changed a bit, have you?”
“Excuse me?” King looks disbelieving.
You say nothing. Then you slowly take off your coat and hand it to the man next to you. King looks confused.
“What are you doing?” he asks.
You loosen your tie and unbutton your collar.
“What are you doing?” King repeats, his voice trembling just a little. His buttocks start to twitch. It always happens when he’s nervous. He slips a subtle hand into the back pocket of his trousers and scratches furiously.
You clench your right fist and land it on his nose, hard. He shouts in pain and tries to move away. But you quickly tackle him to the ground. You aim mainly for the wrists; it’s a trick you learnt in prison that apparently numbs your opponent’s body.
King is shrieking at the top of his voice for security. They arrive soon enough, and grapple with you for a second before you stop and allow yourself to be lifted. You shake free of them and take back your coat. You dust it down completely, including the inside of its pockets.
The man next to you bites his lower lip. “Are you fine?”
“Yeah,” you pause to give a last look of pure indifference to King. “And tell the Coyote I’ll meet him on Friday night. Same place.”
The man looks both relieved and anxious.
“Goodbye, King. I hope we don’t meet again.” You put on your coat and walk out through the silent crowd.
The doors shut behind you with a dull clang.
As you walk away, your coat pocket feel slightly heavy. You look down at it, a small smile tugging at the corner of your lips. You reach in and pull out a small object. It’s a silver Rolex, with a black leather strap.
You allow yourself a wicked cackle. It’s good to be back in business.