UndefeatedSubmitted by Orgasmatron at 2006-10-10 16:44:29 EDT
Rating: 2.0 on 4 ratings (4 reviews) (Review this item) (V)
"So when did you first know?" I ask, picking at the eggs still left on my plate. The fork scrapes against the plate. I hate that sound. And yet I’ve been scraping plates for going on thirty years now.
"Y'know...when you first wanted to?"
Frankie just keeps on cutting up his pancakes. Sips at his orange juice. He's always like this. Doesn't focus on the question, doesn't avoid the question. Fuckin' Frankie.
Half a piece of toast in his mouth, he turns to me. Chewing. His answer comes out all mushy, and I ask him to repeat himself. Before he has a chance to, I look up and notice a girl all of seventeen standing by our table and staring at us. Little Nip piece of ass in a schoolgirl outfit. Staring at us. Staring at the handcuffs.
"We're boyfriends, honey" I say, lifting my arm and shaking the shackle connecting Frankie and me. "You know 'boyfriend?' Beat it."
He finishes his orange juice and sets the glass down neatly on its side atop his empty plate. "You're ridiculous sometimes."
"Ah, I hate the staring is all. Now you gonna tell me or what?"
"Oh. Right. I was nineteen. At college. Went home for winter break and found out my parents were splitting up. It wasn't because of that so much as it was that I'd been lied to for so many years. So I waited until they were out at mass, found my dad's gun and stuck it to my head. Pulled the trigger and it jammed. Checked it out, reloaded it. Up against the temple and BAM. I sneeze. The bullet goes into the wall, right next to the family portrait. Right next to good ol’ mom and dad."
"And what, that was it?"
"That was it. Then. You know what's happened."
"Not once since then huh?"
"I'm still here aren't I?"
In the metallic trim along the wall of our booth, his reflection is warped and stretched.
"S'fucked up," I say, fishing a forkfull of eggs and sausage scraps up from the plate. "A little salt here?"
The handcuffs probably aren't necessary at this point, but we keep them around anyway. At this point I think Frankie and me are so accustomed to being a foot apart all the time that it'd be strange to be free of each other.
You ever see that movie with the gay guy from that thing with Nicholson and the queer from the one with John Malkovich? Yeah it'd be like that. Once they get the surgery.
You learn a lot about someone when you're attached at the wrist 24 hours a day. Most of it you don't wanna know, like what their dinner smells like a day later. Some of it you really don't wanna know, like their nightmares or fears. And some of it you don't mind knowing. Helps you become a better person, I think. More honest-like and such. Maybe everyone should be handcuffed for a while. Bet it'd save some marriages.
Maybe it'd have helped Frankie's folks. But then, he wouldn't be here now. And neither of us would be rich.
Frankie'n me've been going on two years now. At first I considered it a job, but now the guy's actually grown on me. Strange in my line of work, I'd say. If you can call this a line of work.
I don't know what you'd call it really.
Let's just be up front, ok? I'm a bodyguard. Ice that. More of an insurance policy. My boss knows that Frankie's quite an investment, and is right to want to protect him. Unfortunately he's got to protect him from himself.
That's where I come in. I keep the gun out of his hand until show time.
See Frankie's a lifer, and I laugh when I say that. Got into the game just looking for an excuse to end it all. Maybe shuffle up a little money to help pay for a casket and all those digging expenses. Didn't want to be a burden and all that. I've seen it before.
So he shows up one night, all 160 pounds of him in jeans and a letter jacket. Says he wants a go. These underground clubs take anyone, really. It's not like any one finger is going to be more lucky than another. That's just foolish. Steps up to the man in the middle and gets a number. Waits an hour. Doesn't back out. I think that's what I remember most about that night - how he never turned tail. Most guys reconsider and duck out quietly when they've got some time to consider their decision. Think out the whole "quick cash v. the end of your life" thing. That whole deal. Especially with, well...the product of bad decisions right there in front of them, plain as white bread.
Frankie's number gets pulled and he's paired up against this Puerto Rican named Jimmy Hots. A lot of us knew him from around town. Druggie. Probably sold off everything he had and got tired of backalley blowjobs. Below the naked lightbulb hanging from the low ceiling you could see Jimmy sweat. Maybe that's why they called him Hots, I dunno. Frankie sat there calm. Smiling. The man in the middle produced two revolvers, showing the crowd that all of the chambers were empty. Loaded two bullets, gave the cylinders a spin, and set them down before each man. Each man came up dry the first round, which set the crowd into a fit. Bets were placed, wagers made. Jimmy sat there dropping water weight by the second. Hands shaking, eyes drifting from left to right like a clock pulling doubletime. Frankie just sat there, waiting. He wanted it bad. I could see that. Had the gun to his head before all the new bets were made and everything.
They made it two more rounds before a bullet took away the right side of Jimmy Hots' head. Frankie was disappointed, but most of the crowd was not.
He played five more times that night. Five. More. Times. Won them all, obviously. That's where it all started. Where the legend began.
The crowd ate it up. This kid was lucky, and he helped people build small fortunes that night. And the next week. And the next.
All Frankie wanted to do was die.
All Frankie could do was win.
He got so good that people started thinking it was rigged. You couldn't rig a live gun in the places these games go down. No sir. Not unless you wanted to wind up in pieces scattered across some alleyway. Rigged or not, they kept betting. Betting on him was sure to bring you some green, but to bet against him? Christ, the fuckin' odds on that were outrageous. One wrong bullet and you'd be a millionaire.
It was at this point that my boss asked me to step in and make Frankie a little proposition. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't because we felt his life was in danger. People could talk all they wanted to about rigged guns. They kept watching and they kept betting. It was simple: he wanted a cash cow. A golden egg. Golden goose? Fuck it, whatever, a golden ticket for all I care. Point is, he knew there was more money to be made with Frankie than without. So we made him a deal: my boss'd get half of Frankie's earnings, and in exchange would hook him up with bigger and better offers.
Let's face it. A suicide game can only get so big before the wrong people start hearing about it. Frankie was already being talked about down east, and every night we'd run the table there would be a few more gamblers than last time. He didn't care. He just wanted the gun.
Hands were shaken, words were given. That whole thing. My boss told Frankie he was going to Asia to make the rounds there. Said there was less heat there, less chance of being discovered. More money. Anything Frankie wanted. He figured Frank'd be dead in a week, a month tops, but whatever. Sometimes you take a chance.
I followed Frankie home the night we were scheduled to fly out to Thailand. That's when he told me about the gun. Apparently Russian Roulette wasn't enough for our dear boy, and so he'd occasionally play it by himself when he was at home. Said he'd tried about twelve times since starting to play for money. Not for the thrill. There was no thrill as far as Frankie was concerned. Just the end. The kid was too goddamn stubborn to try hanging himself or jumping off a bridge. Said it needed to be the gun. Said it had jammed six times on him, and the other six times he just straight up lost. That's when the handcuffs came in. Fuckin' moron, trying to kill himself like that. Some people, I swear.
We made it a month in Bangkok before we got chased out. I lost a piece of my ear and Frankie needed 41 stitches in his back thanks to one of those Hey-Joe-slope-sucky-sucky motherfuckers pulling a knife on us. Said it was all rigged. Said there was no way someone could win that much.
We heard the same in Laos. Lasted about three weeks there. Just kept raking in the money, though. Always, the money. Crazy cash. I only got a percentage, but a percentage of a fortune's nothing to laugh at. No sir.
No matter how much he played, despite how much he hated to hear the hollow click of an empty chamber, Frankie simply couldn't lose. I think by the time we cleared out of Indonesia and stepped foot here in Tokyo he was something like 142-0. I stopped keeping count after a while. Too many dead bodies, really.
The night came down heavy around us as we walked down the neon-lit alley that lead to the address I'd scratched down on a piece of paper. We weren't even a hundred yards from the place and I knew exactly what we'd find inside. These places are always the same. Damp concrete floors. Scattered wooden tables with shadeless lights above them. Pull-string lights. The smell of blood in the air, some of it fresh but most of it old and dried up in the cracks in the floor. A dead room for the unlucky ones. Underground beer in recycled bottles.
I hate these places.
Frankie's closer to me than usual tonight, and it's not just because of the handcuffs. He's been off ever since he agreed to do this thing here.
"I know it's different, sure" I'd told him over dinner. "These duel things are the new thing here, and there's lots of money to be made. Heck of a lot more than we'd score doing the one-off deals."
"I don't know, man. It just doesn't feel right." He'd only picked at his meal, which was my first real sign. The kid had an appetite like no other.
Standing here now, just beyond the reach of the crowd, I wonder if maybe it was a bad idea to come here after all. Everything's right but Frankie. The same flurry of bills and wagers. The same dull murmur of a language I don't understand.
The man in the middle is an old yellow guy about five feet tall with bad teeth and a headband that reads "Hanshin." He makes a big show of drawing the guns and revealing their empty chambers to the crowd. A little wrinkled hand slips into his pocket and pulls out two bullets. He slams them on the table and the crowd shoots up a series of cheers.
The other man's already seated at the table. Meditating. I undo the cuffs and pat Frankie on the back.
"Gonna be fine, just like always" I tell him. Give him a wink.
He walks through the crowd and past the man in the middle. Everyone's quiet as he takes a seat. They know who he is, his reputation, though it helps that he's a foot taller than everyone and white. I take the opportunity to disappear behind a wall of gamblers and take my position in the back. Place the usual bets, and the one I always make and never tell him about.
See, I always bet against Frankie just in case. Just in case.
He's at the table underneath the white light listening to the man speak his gibberish. Like there's anything to be said. Takey the gunny. Pully the tligger. The thing is, he starts to sweat and for some reason all I can think of is Jimmy Hots. Frankie never sweats. He might be the craziest guy I know with a full-on boner of a death wish but the one thing he's not is a pussy. No sir.
The man in the middle loads the bullets, spins the cylinders, and away we go. The men grab their guns and aim them at each other. Seated at the table, they're only about four feet apart. I watch a handful of spectators move closer, likely to be the first ones the blood hits when it comes. Makes sense that they wore white.
Frankie, sweat slowly running down the side of his face, sits with a calm look on his face. His hand gives him away, and starts to shake.
I wonder if it's different for him. It must be, but who am I to say? I've looked down the barrel of a gun plenty of times, but I've never had nothin' to compare it to. Maybe it's different when its your own hand doing the job. Maybe it's supposed to be that way. Maybe when there's a trail of dead behind you you can sleep comfortably at night because you know that they went because they chose to. In the end, for whatever reason, it was them and not you. Taking a life and witnessing death are two very different creatures.
The man in the middle raises his open hand and hangs it in the air, preparing to give the signal. The crowd becomes so quiet that you can hear heartbeats.
With a scream the man lowers his arm. Both men close their eyes and pull the triggers, and in an instant the hammers fall.
The crowd becomes a storm of colored bills and hollers, as second round bets are furiously exchanged. Over the sea of black hairs, I watch Frankie grow pale.
Up goes the man in the middle's arm. Again the audience quiets itself. The man across from him shoots a smile across the table, like he knows something Frank don't. Hell, he could be the Suicide King of Nippon for all we know.
Up once more go the pistols, raised to face height.
The man in the middle shouts again and this time there's a boom. The air alive with sound and smoke.
It's so fast when it happens. I never noticed that before.
I look to find Frankie slumped back over his chair. In front of him, the other man sits facedown against the table. There's blood dripping from somewhere. Someone. The crowd's a mess, and I can't get close to see for sure.
My hand slips into my coat pocket and fingers the handcuffs. I wonder if this is the last time I'll have to use them. Damned if my heart don’t drop. Stupid little pieces of metal.
I push my way past the little men until I'm at the front of the betting circle. Before me, Frankie lolls his head to one side and sits up. With a slow hand he sets the pistol on the table in front of the dead man.
"Looks like the blood got me again," he says and laughs to himself.
Guess it's 143-0 now.