UPDATE: Didn't read the rules close enough and didn't realize that this was done by public vote. If you like my story vote for it here.
Eliminating the CompetitionThe red lights that ringed the top of the Cherry Bomb Ballroom made the whole place glow red like some movie version of Hell. A circular bar was sunken three steps down in the middle of the floor and the young girls slinging drinks to the college-age crowd wore next to nothing. Up those three steps, wrapping around the walls, were a series of booths made of dark leather.
From there is where Tommy Island Nation watched it all. He sat in the darkened corner with a doctor’s bag by his side. He drank something caramel colored in a short glass and kept one eye on the brunette behind the bar and another on the door.
The brunette was flirting with some kid in a backwards ball cap and worn jeans. He kept making jokes and she kept touching his arm. She’d walk away and get someone a drink, but return quickly and smile at her new friend.
The crowd was coming through the front door in waves, being let in by a guy in a black suit controlling the velvet rope out front. It took fifteen minutes before he arrived, Knockout Nicky Dolan. A behemoth of a man standing over six feet tall with tree trunk arms and fists the size of hams, Dolan wasn’t alone. He came in with two other men. Tommy Island Nation just smiled and shook his head. If there was anyone in the world who didn’t need body guards it was Nicky Dolan. He could lay a man out across the canvas with just one punch, and he had on at least three occasions.
“You really think anyone is going to mess with you?” Tommy asked, extending his hand to Nicky as he approached the booth.
The two men shouted a few minutes of small talk over the thumping music before Tommy turned the discussion more serious.
“Have you liked it?” he asked Nicky. “Being the champion?”
Nicky smiled and said that of course he did.
“Well, I hope so ‘cause your time is up.” Tommy pulled the leather doctor’s bag from his side and slid it next to Nicky. The leather creaked as Nicky opened the bag and the dim lights made it hard to count the cash inside.
Tommy watched the brunette as she hoisted herself up onto the bar to whisper something in the boy’s ear. The boy laughed and she dropped back to the floor. The brunette was wearing a tank top and black shorts that barely covered her backside. She had her hair in a ponytail and cherry lipstick. She was pretty, but what Tommy liked was her smile. They had spoken a few times before and she smiled as he made up stories about his life. She told him her name was Cara. He’d said he was Thomas, but that she could call him Tommy.
“You’re gonna go down in the fifth,” he said to Nicky. “There will be a flurry of rights and lefts about halfway through the round. Take ‘em, fall to the canvas and stay there. You do that and there’s another bag of cash coming your way.”
Nicky protested for a moment. “I can take him.” “Let me go for just a little longer.” “No one will believe I’d lose to this guy.” “You can’t ask me to do this.”
Tommy slid his empty glass to the middle of the table and a waitress quickly brought a refill. “Buster Douglas.”
“What?” Nicky said.
“James ‘Buster’ Douglas. Ever since he beat Tyson anyone will believe any result. He made everything possible.”
“But I’m good. People love me.”
“You think Tyson wasn’t good? You think people didn’t love him?”
“Stop it. Your times up. Besides, you’re getting paid well. There’s tens of thousands in that bag and there is more to come. You knew when we made our original promise to make you the king that someday we’d come back and tell you it’s time to step down. Today’s that day.”
Nicky sat still for a few moments then handed the bag to one of the men he came in with. The lackey cradled the bag in his arm like it was a football.
Tommy looked over at Nicky. The champ was staring at the table, turning a sugar packet over and over in his hands.
“Buck up, big guy,” Tommy said. “You had a good run. Two years as champ is good. You did TV. You did magazines. It was great for you. You made your money. Now you’re setup for life after the ring. That’s just coming faster than you’d expected.”
Nicky didn’t say anything, just continued to play with the packet. Then he shook his head.
“No.” He tried to pull the bag from his friend’s arms. “I don’t want it. I can beat this guy.”
Tommy stopped him. “No doubt about it you can. You aren’t the fighter that we first got into bed with. You’re better than I ever expected you’d be. You’ve got real talent now. But we run this racket and you don’t take the bag and agree to throw the fight, you’ll be dead before morning. There are guys all over this place who are only here to make sure you agree.” Tommy pointed to an older gentleman sitting across the Cherry Bomb with a girl young enough to be his daughter. He pointed to a pair of guys sitting by the door and one down at the bar.
“Take a couple of minutes. Take as long as you need. Just know that this isn’t some deal you can accept or decline. We aren’t proposing some idea to you. We’re telling you how it’s gonna be.“
Tommy sipped his drink and watched the brunette. She had smiled like that a few weeks earlier when the Cherry Bomb wasn’t as crowded. It was a weeknight. Cara wiped the bar free of streaks and Tommy made up a story about his childhood. She stopped cleaning when Tommy got to the part about running away and stealing a car. That part was actually true. He had run from home at twelve and stolen a car a few miles out of town. He was picked up by the police before getting to the highway; however, he hadn’t told Cara that part. He’d used to grand theft auto as a launching point for a series of fantastical stories, each much more unbelievable than the next. By the time he was done making up stories to get him to the present day, Cara had moved out from behind the bar and was sitting on a stool across from Tommy. She was leaning forward listening to him, asking him questions. When the lights came up at closing time she leaned in and gave Tommy a kiss on the cheek.
“Thanks, doll, for the company. Made the night go faster. Come see me again the next time you’re here.”
She had come from behind the bar again this evening and was sitting on the stool across from the boy. They talked and she smiled. Tommy watched her write something on a sheet of paper and slip it to the boy. She made her hand into a phone, held it up to her ear and mouthed “call me.”
Nicky’s friends had each stood up and Nicky was about to join them when Tommy stopped him.
“How about winning one more fight, champ? This one's for me, it’s personal,” he said and pointed to the brunette at the bar and her new friend. “Think you can fix a problem for me, make someone go away? ‘Cause I don’t need the competition.”