Rodrigo slapped away the incoming jab, down and to the left, shifting his weight. Juan countered with a straight right.
Rodrigo dropped his hips, ducking under the punch. He drove forward, planted his left ear in Juan’s side, and hit a double leg takedown, exploding skyward.
He guided Juan down, driving his left shoulder in and through. All of his two hundred and twenty five pounds focused on the younger man’s gut.
The impact with the blue mats was violent. Air shot out of Juan, he sounded like a balloon deflating.
“Asshole! Not so hard!” Juan screamed, flat on his back, driving his right knee into the open space, trying to move his hips in front of Rodrigo, get to guard.
Rodrigo pushed the knee, rotated right, passing. He was flat on top of Juan. He popped up, kneeling on Juan’s stomach.
Rodrigo rained down elbows, too hard for practice. He wanted to smash the little prick.
Juan shifted left, then right, trying off balance Rodrigo. It didn’t work. The third elbow snuck through. Rodrigo felt the satisfying dry-pasta snap of a broken nose.
“FUCK! Tap! Stop!” Juan screamed, flecks of blood fountaining up.
Rodrigo wanted to keep going, but there was no honor in being a bully.
“Why you going so hard?” Juan asked pinching his nose and leaning his head back. His tan skin and black hair covered in sweat.
Rodrigo couldn’t stand the bullshit games. Juan knew what was up, no reason to play dumb, but he would spell it out.
“You threw that fight. You made the gym look bad. Plus, you didn’t tell me. I could have made the right bets. So, you embarrassed both of us and I didn’t make any money,” Rodrigo replied, spitting into the pooling blood on the mat. His Brazilian accent was thick, but he was trying hard to improve his English.
“I should have let you know.”
“Clean up this mess,” Rodrigo said, waved to the congealing liquid.
Juan ran to the back room, grabbed bleach and paper towels, and started scrubbing. The cleaning products’ smell mixed with the stale sweat. Rodrigo’s head started to spin as he stood over the younger man.
Rodrigo wasn’t tall, only 5’10’, but he was solid. His steroid fueled muscle and twenty years of training meant he put off a “don’t fuck with me” vibe.
Juan didn’t have that air about him. He looked like any other young Latino kid, covered in tattoos, dark hair bleached platinum. He was the same height as Rodrigo, but skinny.
“You little prick. I brought you here from Rio I gave you a life, this merdais how you repay me.”
“Yea, you did it all out of the goodness of your heart. Don’t forget you needed an investor for your gym and you wanted my dad’s money,” Juan replied, still cleaning.
It took every ounce of restraint Rodrigo had not to smash the smug little prick.
“We have a good thing. The steroids made us cash. The fake gym memberships made the money clean. The real gym memberships, and winning fights, earned us respect. We have the strongest jiu-jitsu team in Jacksonville. We own the building. We have money in the bank, no debt. We are about to stop selling, I came to the U.S., took a chance, and now I can get out clean. And your dumb ass wants to risk the cops looking at us for what? Making a few thousand bucks throwing a fight?”
“I made ten grand.”
Rodrigo kicked him in the ribs, hard.
“PORRA! Stop!” Juan yelled.
“My friend, I have a wife and two kids. You know Flavia has all those medical problems. Why in the hell are you risking everything for ten thousand dollars?”
“I didn’t think it through.”
“No shit,” Rodrigo sat down, started wiping the mats with Juan. “I’m sorry for the kick. I shouldn’t lose my cool. But after tonight we are free. We pay off Jacare and it’s over. We have a building, a business, a home, a life. We have nothing to worry about, forever.”
“I know, I’m sorry Tio.”
“It’s ok. Just stop doing stupid shit.”
They finished cleaning. Juan went to the locker room and put on a fresh white jiu-jitsu kimono and black belt with a red tip. Rodrigo put on a Carioca Fighting Systemspolo shirt and went to the front desk.
The bored soccer moms and soft suburban dads streamed in, dropping off spoiled kids. Rodrigo kissed all their asses, he was happy to. Anything was better than going back to that ghetto favelain Rio.
He came to the United States on a tourist visa with ten dollars and some fighting skills, he didn’t even speak English. Fifteen years later he was a citizen with two daughters, a wife he loved, and a successful business. The U.F.C. thing hadn’t worked out, but it got his name in the paper. Now he owned the biggest gym in North Florida.
Juan was Rodrigo’s best friend’s younger brother. He was a good fighter, but he liked to party and did things without thinking. Rodrigo loved the kid, but sometimes it was a challenge.
The children’s class wrapped up at 4 p.m. After the lesson Juan flirted with some of the moms.
“Porra! Stop trying to fuck those housewives. We don’t want to piss off their husbands,” Rodrigo called, laughing.
They showered and put on clean clothes, a red polo shirt and jeans for Rodrigo, blue board shorts and a white t-shirt for Juan. Rodrigo went to the safe and grabbed the duffel bag with the fifty grand, handing it to Juan.
“All right, we drop this with Pedro and we’re out. We did it, my friend.” Rodrigo put a hand on Juan’s shoulder. Juan hugged him.
Then headed outside and got in Rodrigo’s white BMW X1. They drove south to Orlando. It was hot, steamy, and mosquitoes were everywhere, but Rodrigo liked it. It reminded him of home.
The ride was boring, but the Samba music was good. Juan told lies about all the different American women he’d been with over the past two years. He claimed they couldn’t resist his Latin charm. Rodrigo had heard all the stories multiple times, and knew they were bullshit. The fighting had messed up Juan’s face, his ears looked like chewed gum, but Rodrigo let it slide. Juan was just young and cocky, if he ever treated a woman half as good as he treated his bulldog he would be a happy man. Plus, the kid had real talent. He could be a champion one day, if he kept working at it.
They pulled in front of Jacare’s steakhouse, Fogo De Brasil,two and a half hours later. They went inside and nodded to Silvana, the dark-haired silicone-enhanced hostess, entering the back office. Pedro, Jacare’s second in command, was sitting behind the desk.
“Playboy!” Pedro said, standing. “How are you, my friend? You want a caipirinha? A little cerveja? I have Corona.”
“No, we’re good. Just came to pay off Jacare,” Rodrigo said, looking around the office. The decoration was blue-neon, stainless steel, and faux-crystal. It smelled like roasting meat.
Pedro raised eyebrows, “You’re serious about getting out?”
Rodrigo nodded and shook Pedro’s hand, Juan hugged him. They sat down in two overstuffed black leather chairs facing the desk.
“We all thought you were joking.” Pedro said.
“It’s over. We own the gym,” Rodrigo replied, waving at Juan. “We own our condos. We have two hundred members on monthly contract. It is time to move on.”
Pedro smiled. He pulled a drawer and presented three glasses plus a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label.
“This calls for a toast. You did it the right way. Stopping while you’re winning. We appreciate you setting us up with that new distribution channel,” Pedro said, winking.
Rodrigo grabbed two drinks, passing one to Juan. Pedro reached over, they clinked glasses and swallowed.
They sat, smiling, enjoying each other’s company. They talked about Rio and the old days for thirty minutes, switching between Portuguese and English. They told the old stories and laughed at the old jokes. Rodrigo promised to come back for Pedro’s daughter’s eleventh birthday party next month. Eventually Rodrigo turned to Juan.
“Pass him the money, it’s time to go.”
Juan smiled and nodded. He turned to his right and reached down. When he came up, Rodrigo noticed the kid’s face was different.
The sound of the first gunshot confused Rodrigo. He hadn’t heard one since he left the City of God favelain Rio twenty years back.
A large red blotch formed on Pedro’s white shirt, near the right nipple. Pedro looked down, surprised, silent. The second round hit him below the left eye. His head snapped back, a red mist coated the wall.
Rodrigo turned to Juan. He didn’t feel surprised or angry, it was all happening faster than his emotions could react.
“I didn’t say I wanted to retire,” Juan spat.
A hot bolt of lightning sliced through Rodrigo’s gut. He fell over, not understanding.
Juan put the gun in Rodrigo’s hand. Then he put it against his own shoulder. Juan gripped over Rodrigo’s hand and made Rodrigo squeeze the trigger. The gun bucked and fell. A valley formed in the meat.
“PORRA! FUCK!” Juan screamed.
Juan punched Rodrigo in the nose, hard. Rodrigo felt it break.
The darkness came in from the edges.
As Rodrigo faded he heard Juan call Jacare, saying Rodrigo tried to rob Pedro, but he’d stopped it, saved the day.
“Yes,” Juan said. “The asshole’s still alive, barely.”
The black washed over. Rodrigo felt nothing.
Pedro kicked in the ribs, hard.
JB Stevens lives in the southeastern United States with his wife and daughter. He is a former Captain in the U.S. Army Infantry and currently works for the U.S. Marshals Service. He can be found online at: twitter.com/IamJBStevens