Saturday, October 1, 2011

Tell Me A Story - Daniel Shortell

Welcome to another addition of TNBBC's Tell Me A Story. 

Tell Me a Story is a monthly series that features previously unpublished short stories from debut and Indie authors. The request was simple: Stories can be any format, any genre, and any length. And many amazing writers signed up for the challenge.

This month's story comes to us from Daniel Shortell. He is the author of Where's Unimportant, a novel about a perpetual wanderer who finds himself tied down in a Manhattan-based soul-sucking career. The novel has been called "Amusingly sarcastic" and "Thought Provoking ". Daniel, a world wanderer himself, has put pen to paper to tell you all a different kind of story....


On When It Is NOT OK To Stab Someone In The Face

Staring down his opponent, the fact that this may be his last fight feels very real. A long career culminates into a moment defining legacy or obsolescence. A single loss on the minor circuit during his climb to the top, a technicality, killed the match before it began. Since that time, perfection, an absolutely flawless record. Never mind, perfection isn't reality and reality is rarely what it seems anyhow. This moment is all that  matters, this moment is his future, Rick "Painmaker" Johnson.
Rick sees Alonso, hell, Rick has been living and breathing Alonso for the past two months. Hour after hour of video reviewed, strategy refined, tactics played out on bloody, sweat-covered mats. A singular focus, stay alive; just make it to the end. Rick thinks of Elaine, then, just as quickly as the thought arrives, he pushes it away and regains eye contact with Alonso. Rick has learned to temper his emotions. He does not look at Alonso as an enemy, or even a threat. He is an obstacle, a physical specimen blocking the entrance to a tunnel. A door in life that must be walked through. A fear that must be faced. Rick thinks of his kid, Miles, and that little sticky lump forms in the back of his throat. Swallow. Gone, at least partially. Back to focus, back to Alonso "Wrecking Ball" Suarez.
Rick tells himself to quickly review his training, bask in it for a moment, prod, or better yet, stoke, his confidence. Origins in boxing. Years of mixed martial arts and 25 straight wins in the UFC. More recently, underground experience in the cages of Brasilia, raw jujitsu, no rules. Plenty of experience from which to draw and plenty to be confident about. Secure in his abilities, but childish in his methods of testing those abilities. Violence just always seemed to come natural, a perverse sort of contradiction to a coddled upbringing. Painmaker. A moniker earned in some focus-group-like method of character creation. A fierce, hard veneer to protect the warm, fatherly core.
Rick focuses on Alonso's weaknesses. He's not good on his back. He has a shorter reach. He's younger, less experienced. Rick shuts his eyes momentarily and speeds through as many situations as he can conjure up in ten seconds, developing counters to all perceived offences. The screams of the horde fade to silence and Rick's racing heart forces deeper breaths, more oxygen. A bouncing opponent looks on, focused, resolute. The bell.
Officer Jim Packer sits at his desk, reflecting on the previous week's activities. Chasing bookies around Queens and the Bronx, shaking down suspected contenders, assigning detectives to tail known promoters to get some semblance of the weekend's shape. Nearly all leads came up short, and, with so little evidence to go on, Packer resigns himself to a weekend of failure. Despite his best efforts, the matches will go on, money will change hands, lives will be made and lives will be dismantled. Just another weekend of illicit activity.
Packer has orders to follow which direct his action, decide how he allocates his time each week. He used to form opinions about the matches, but, over time, it has become easier to dismiss these thoughts and focus solely on his responsibilities as dictated by the terms of his employment. This is very convenient for Packer because morals no longer weigh and his point of view is rendered irrelevant. Only his job matters. It's not so much a parcelization of life, rather, it is a means by which to be a more effective custodian of the law: follow protocol based on the assumption that the system we operate within is fair and just for all. Period. If he gets any last minute leads, he will jump on them regardless of how involved he may otherwise be with his family on a Saturday night. This is what the job entails.
Alonso receives a powerful left sidekick to the ribs, and hears a very clear cracking sound. It's a familiar sound. At least one, perhaps two ribs just broke. The pain sears, but the mind compensates and a slight grimace is all that anyone could possibly detect from Alonso on a slow motion replay. Alonso fires back with a left hook, but it falls short as Rick clearly anticipated the shot.
Alonso, upon retreat, decides to take a fraction of a second to think about Carlene, his wife of two years. She is gorgeous, much more the desirable physical specimen than he. The smell of her hair, a concoction of indistinguishable fruits, sweet and usually the first indicator of her presence beyond sight. Fantastic. Something which never gets old, never ceases to arouse wonder or fails to evoke some Pavlovian sense of passion. Alonso knows that her attraction isn't his cauliflower ears or his massive leg press. It isn't his warm smile at the sight of her, or his surprisingly gentle touch considering his vocation and the callousness of his fingers. It has more to do with the thickness of his wallet and the paper it bends, but this doesn't unsettle his sentiments towards her. Much the opposite as he believes he is capable of providing her with everything she ever desired. Fists of steel, heart of gold, scent of money.
His attention returns to him in the form of a crushing kick to the inner thigh. Alonso puts his Carlene on hold to refocus on the task at hand. Jab, jab, hook.
Jeremy earns a nice living as the owner of a gentlemen's club on 3rd Avenue in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. He peddles skin and drinks, and easily clears $350k per year. His hobbies are single malts, sports cars and the underground cages up in the Bronx. Eight thousand dollars put him in the front row tonight, close enough to get splattered if conditions are just right. The splatter would be nice, but even better would be the 3:1 he placed on the Wrecking Ball. It would fetch him a solid $25k, easily enough for the new exhaust system. His wife doesn't know what he's up to in the Bronx, and she really doesn't give a shit either. As long as he stays away from the tramps at his establishment, everything else is fair game. This, of course, assumes that her comfy little lifestyle in Long Island is in no way compromised.
Jeremy came with Candi tonight. Jeremy never goes for a night on the town without being properly dressed, and what clings to your arm is just as important as what hangs from your neck. Candi is one of the many girls at Jeremy's club who is happy to earn a few extra bucks by servicing the big man. Just one rule, all after-hours activity is strictly confidential. The penalty for violating this one rule is termination of employment and a visit from Eduardo. Only Chastity has had the pleasure of Eduardo. A scarred face and a GED will get you 40 a week at $7.45 an hour at Key Foods, and the legacy of being deterrence exemplified.
Jeremy has no reason to doubt his choice thus far. "A Wrecking Ball has to take some damage through the steady process of pummeling the shit out of a building," Jeremy tells Candi who responds by checking her lipstick in her compact. Jeremy screams along with the other testosterone in the room and Candi alternates between nuzzling his neck and rubbing his moistening crotch. Wrecking Ball slashes at Painmaker, doing a bit of damage to his abdomen and Jeremy elbows Candi away, jumps to his feet in excitement.
One point five million dollars, that was his bet this evening. Richard Jennings sits in his high-roller box, swirling cognac, shifting his attention between his buddies and the fight. Most of the week, Richard sits decked in Savile Row's best, monitoring the fluctuations of market blips and coordinating financial assaults with high-powered technological salvos. The high-speed trading racket has been good, very good. Sure the hedge fund managers are banking more, lots more, but his trading status at Goldman has put him among the upper echelons of the trading elite on Wall Street. Tips come early off the wires from a network of insiders, and trades are executed ahead of market momentum. Puff up and pull back, let the little man hold the overpriced cards, then buy them back on a push-down the following week. A rollercoaster of unmerited profit. It's good business, with a solid cover of vague rules and no oversight.
The weekday stress pales immediately upon arrival at the cage. Drinks and blood flow, kicking the weekend off in style. Richard went long with his bet tonight, an unusually cocky week has him flying high, feeling invincible, perfectly in control of all around him. His horse is bleeding pretty good now, but Richard isn't phased. Painmaker jabs, fakes, then stabs to the right shoulder, quickly rolling out of the way. The gash is deep, it was a 'full shot' in cage lingo, meaning, the knife sunk to the handle. "Look at him," Richard yells to his friends, "Wrecking Ball is a fuckin' animal, he didn't even feel that shit. He so juiced that shit didn't even register!"
Alonso felt every bit of eight inches scraping across his humerus. Searing, burning pain, followed by an oddly cool reprieve, then, numbness. Carlene flashes, then his dead mother, followed by the cheers of victory. "Focus," he tells himself, "nothing but Rick, Rick is my everything, Rick is my only shot." Carlene and little green dollar signs fizzle to the outskirts of his mind as he wipes a bloody hand on his shorts, then wiggles his fingers before resetting his grip on the handle.
Big Ron lost his WPBF license first. He got caught by the board gambling on his matches at the underground bookies. His single infraction didn't deter the UFC, so he picked up a three year deal officiating all the top matches in Vegas. Inside a year, he was caught working a fix on another underground gamble, this time, passing quicklime to the underdog who staged an impossible comeback. The UFC didn't think too kindly of his interference, so he was told to pack up. Ron isn't exactly a moral person, which only enhances his credentials up in the Bronx. 
Ron's at home in his latest gig as referee. From what he could see, neither Painmaker nor Wrecking Ball had a clear advantage in this fight so Ron kept his money under the mattress. Plus, considering the illegality of the match, Ron has little net incentive to influence events as a pissed mob would probably lynch.
Without concern for the outcome, Ron's job tonight is an easy one in three parts, plus, he has the best seat in the house to witness each strike.
     Part 1: Check equipment
·                  Regulation boxer shorts
·                  Regulation metal helmet with neck and face guard
·                  Regulation 8" Bowie knife

     Part 2: Review the Rules
·                  Fight is one round and goes till a winner emerges
·                  All strikes are permitted
·                  First person to die is the loser

     Part 3: Declare winner
·                  Pause fight at any time to check pulse(s)

Not only does his job pay a nice chunk of cash, but he gets to witness those precious last moments in a man's life where his purest self is exposed. Lying, covered in blood on a canvas mat, eyes glassing over from the lack of oxygen, saying his mental goodbyes to those he loves. It's that little sadistic ripple, that little fading light, the moment where God meets man and a life crosses over. Wrenching pain triggering an existential fear, then a melting of everything into a quiet oblivion. Each man is different, handles his finality in a uniquely nuanced way, of which the variations never grow old in Ron's eyes. If only he could be the one to plunge the final blade, his depravity would be complete and he could stand one step closer to God without actually making his acquaintance.
At this point, Ron is a useless body, flailing around the cage, spectator #1. Wrecking Ball and Painmaker are cut up and drippy, but both are still on their feet, relatively steady. Ron dispels his excitement by hopping around the cage, further rousing an intoxicated crowd.
Elaine didn't want to come, in fact she and Rick fought over it for the past three weeks. He said he needed her support. She said she couldn't bear to witness the fight. "I can't lose, I have complete confidence. Have I ever lost?"
"No," she said, "But that is not the point this time"
"This is our chance to make it big, to really earn some serious money, just a single fight, then, back to smaller paydays in the pros, or possibly, complete retirement."
She was not convinced. The stakes were too high. Her high school sweetheart had never lost anything in his lifetime. He was the consummate athlete. She knew he stood a solid chance, but what if? Tears and screams were a mainstay in their house the week leading up to the bout. She took a stand not to come. He felt the blow of her rejection, but took it in stride the way he always takes a knock. Swallow, shake, guard back up. Now, as a morale-booster, she sits ringside, next to Wrecking Ball's tart, showing up at the last minute in support of her brave hero. She fights tears as Rick bleeds profusely from the stomach, hand and thigh. For now though, he appears to be on top, but the flickers of light off metal catch her eye, causing her to flinch knowingly.
Three percent fruit juice, twelve percent grain alcohol, guarana, taurine, gingko, caffeine and corn syrup. Made by a division of the Coca-Cola family of beverages, but legally incorporated as an entirely separate economic entity thereby limiting liability to the king of soft drinks. This legal separation is important, because should the fight get busted, the brand "Hell's Juice" can fold cleanly and begin under the name "Blitzkrieg" in a couple weeks after a quick retool, without impacted the legal budget at Coke.
"Teardowns" - Corporate entities of questionable legality designed to make large profits in short-term volatile situations. These entities can be destroyed and reconstituted in template fashion on short turn-around schedules. The larger corporate umbrella usually keeps three to five iterations of the teardown planned and ready to go once a bust-up occurs.
Vendors weave through the crowds selling 24-ounce cans for $25 each. An overhead signboard encourages fans to 'chug' each time a contender is slashed or stabbed. With each subsequent stab, the intolerable fan seated behind Carlene becomes increasing intoxicated, kicking her seat-back, causing her to lunge forward uncomfortably. She finds herself becoming increasingly irritated and wishing Alonso was seated next to her because he would "straighten that jerk out". For now though, he is tied up in a grapple which has both him and Painmaker outstretched on the mat, each with the other's wrist in hand, fending off a plunge of the blade.
Gerry and a handful of his friends are out for a night on the town. At two grand a pop, they dug deep in the wallet for tonight's least desirable seats. But hey, to watch a couple fights go to the death is worth some overtime down at the docks. "Damn," Reggie says to Gerry "check out Wrecking Ball's bitch in the front row, she's fine!" A Hell's Juice cheers and chug. Painmaker slices Wrecking Ball across his right forearm and a flash of red quickly emerges. "Fuck him up Painmaker!" Gerry yells as everyone chugs.
Dr. Wiley is above all the non-sense. He earned his credentials years ago, had a great little practice, until he couldn't keep up with insurance payments. Had to reduce staff, then close shop. Through a friend he learned how he could make a nice little stack under the table, and, better yet, only have to work a few hours a month, allowing him to focus on his first love: painting. Wiley is on stand-by. Once the winner is declared, he will rush to Wiley to quickly fix any gaping holes before being dropped off at the hospital for more thorough treatment. "Stupid barbarians" is how Wiley refers to them, yet he finds them to be the absolute best subjects for both of his crafts.
Rick collects Alonso's legs in his own, rolls and pins him to the mat. Alonso is clearly wearing down. Rick checks the clock. Five minutes have gone by and Rick is aware he has about one minute of full energy left before he succumbs to fatigue. He quickly lunges into a low mount, keeping Rick's hands pinned.
Alonso catches the glint of Carlene's eye. She is evaluating his progress, objectively, coolly, as if watching a couple of politicians rapt in a heated debate. A little hint of skepticism squints from her left eye as she evaluates the efficacy of the previous move. She bites her lip in contemplation, then remembering, she licks the lipstick from her teeth and rubs her lips together, smoothing out the little indentation on her bottom lip. Unknown to each other, their mental space collides as they both flash forward to their upcoming vacation in Bermuda, waves lapping on her pedicured feet, sun warming his lumpy scar tissue.
Rick is blind. He isn't seeing anything at this point. He's only vaguely aware of himself. Adrenaline overtakes him, a quick little burst of furious power, making his body light-weight and composed. He projects his victory, becomes certain of it, and a buzz tingles down through his fingertips causing him to grip his knife's handle with obscene pressure.
Sue is working late at the call center. Earlier today, she read an investigative piece on the elusive cages in the Bronx. They sickened her and she felt moved to take a position on the issue. Sue, the otherwise quiet, introverted, apolitical person. The last time she voted she wore a sparkling pair of jellies and one of those sweatshirts with no discernable neck. "Maybe I should write a little email to Schumer or Gillibrand, express one citizen's concern," she thought to herself. She nodded her way through a sense of righteousness as she sat daydreaming in limbo, the clarity of morning filling her head with ideas. Her cell rang. It was Elliot. He left his shin-guards on the kitchen table and needed them for practice later on. Then, the coffee machine buzzed to life with a fresh brew. Sue, drinking her coffee on the way to deliver Elliot's equipment ran through the to-do list for the day and decided that she would reward herself with a quick stop by Bloomingdales to get that new handbag she deserved. Now, on the phone dispatching 911 calls, her memory lurches and she thinks of a man taking his last breathes inside a cage, onlookers cheering. She alerts the NYPD of a GSW in Bed-Stuy, takes a sip of her Diet Coke then browses Zappos for the latest deal. She punches in just three hours.
The knife comes down. It probably didn't puncture the heart, but, most likely, it severed the aorta as the profusion of blood is overwhelming. Rick leaves the blade upright cause he knows that was the strike he was working for. There's nothing left to do, so he takes a pause to gain composure, catch his breath, assess his wounds.
Alonso is back-flat on the mat, sucking little breathes, hoping to capitalize on the leniency his opponent is showing. He tugs at the handle, but the shifting knife pulls at his rib cage causing him to heave nauseous from the structural jarring. Blood fills his mouth. Carlene looks on, calculating how she will approach her damsel in distress routine, rehearses a few lines in her head. Elaine is doubled-over, crying, unreachable to the outside world, connected immediately to what she believes is the grace of God squeezing her, suffocating her. She is trying to imagine just how large ticket sales were, and secondarily, feels an overwhelming sense of relief that her Rick is alive, standing, limping around the cage.
Richard Jennings isn't happy, but he's still in control, always will be and he knows this. "Dumb-fucker let Painmaker get a solid mount, of course he's going to lose at that point. Well, he got what he deserved. This turned out to be an expensive night, eh boys?" Richard's buddies look on, irritated at him for the hard sell, but more irritated at themselves for following his moves once again. Kissing their money goodbye, they take a moment's pleasure to watch their horse gasp for breath, retribution for their loss.
Ron's on his knees next to Wrecking Ball, watching his slowing breath. Clearly he is still alive, therefore, the match is not over. Ron gives the signal that the match is still in progress.
Dr. Wiley checks his watch. He's going to make his 11pm. He smiles at his good fortune.
Rick assesses the damage to his stomach, legs, and arms and glances over at Alonso to see if he is done yet. Nope, his chest is still growing and shrinking, his puckered lips regulating airflow. Rick is bleeding horribly, feels faint as he plods around in drying patches of carmine, his hands raised flaccidly to cacophonous cheers and jeers. Rick knows he is fighting a clock too, so he returns to Wrecking Ball, kneels, grabs the blade and begins jerking and twisting it side to side allowing blood greater access to the open air. Anemically, Alonso grabs at Rick's wrists, attempting to offset his motion, his legs jerk indiscriminately.
Alonso controls his breathing through his nose, as his ears slowly echo then mute the pulse of the crowd. He flashes between the sands of Bermuda and the touch of his wife. He can't remember her name. He can't remember his name. He doesn't know why he is holding the bloody hands of a stranger. He panics, then, stares off into space.
Dr. Wiley whip-stitches several holes shut, as two sobbing women approach. Tearfully, they both congratulate Painmaker then turn chipper as the judges levy their final assessment of the evening.


Candice walks through the door; another late night on stage. Jim, while he doesn't approve of her profession, he realizes the blatant hypocrisy of complaining considering their initial meeting was a one-sided dance in a smoky bar. Her choices don't exactly agree with his sense of morality, however, his erratic schedule is certainly a recurring complaint of hers. This is their compromise; blue lights for red neon is the exchange which bonds them.
Sue clocked out hours ago and is now home working her second shift with a colicky Rachael who placates herself intermittently at the nipple. Gerry comes stumbling into the living room, inebriated, but appears relaxed, satisfied for once. He struggles to string together a few words about why he arrived home so late, but Sue hushes him, smiles and tells him to sleep it off. She's proud of her husband and all of the extra work he has been putting in to help with the flailing finances; he deserves a night of fun.
Michelle was stabbed in the face three times by her boyfriend after she was caught in bed with another man in a bucolic-chic stone house off of E Shore Road in Great Neck. Rufus Nolan Wiley, a board-certified pediatrician was booked in Nassau County Jail and place on suicide watch.


The community was absolutely beside itself with anguish and a mountain of flowers decorated the front steps of Michelle's parent's house. Alan W. Voight, Chairman of the Board of The Coca-Cola Company eulogized his daughter and former New York State beauty queen in a private service at his Kings Point getaway. The donations to the Children's Heart Foundation in lieu of flowers was enough to push little Dianne's heart fund over the goal. Her surgery was successful and she quickly progressed out of the ICU.


Dianne Whitmore, survivor of childhood Restrictive Cardiomyopathy went on to lead a healthy, productive life. After completing her PhD in Astrophysics, she, along with her business partner and husband Miles Johnson, co-developed the foundational technology ultimately leading to the full weaponization of space.


I want to thank Daniel for participating in TNBBC's Tell Me a Story. If you like what you've read, please support Daniel by checking out his website and book. Help spread the word by sharing this post through your blog, tumblr page, twitter and facebook accounts. Every link counts! And be sure to check back with us next month for the next installment....

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