This post continues on the gang wars parallel drawn to the World Cup by Hrishi Varma, here. I thought the idea was genius and loved it so much that I wanted in. He agreed and we might continue this as a series through the tournament, if people like this thing and we don’t run out of stuff to write or the interest to do so, in 2 or 3 posts. This particular post takes up from where Hrishi left his or rather, provides an alternative take. You’ll be better off reading it to get some background. Our styles are different and our views contrast, so I hope this won’t get monotonous. Read on.
I try to open my eyes. I can’t. The blood. Most of it has dried; it must have been hours since they left. I guess they thought me dead. Well, I am not dead and this alley is not Sunset Boulevard.
An attempt to push myself up against the wall is greeted by pain. Sharp, stinging pain coursing through each and every bone. I flop back into the blood. As I register that the blood is all mine, I black out.
Don’t be afraid of the blood, son. We cannot afford to.
I know, Papá.
You have to follow me into the ring one day. And I know you’ll be greater than me. You know it too, right?
So, who’s afraid of the blood?
Spoken like a true Matador.
It’s dark when I come to, again. The alley is lit by a slice of neon from the street. There’s no one about to ask for help. Anyone wandering in would probably be grossed out by the blood, anyway. I try to feel my hands. The right feels as if it’s been through a mixer. Looks like it, too. The left is better off, only slightly.
The pain only seems to have multiplied between then and now, but I brave it to prop myself up against the cold brick wall. I find it difficult to breathe. Each breath sounds like one of those damn horns.
I try to take stock of the damage done. A few minutes of prodding and wincing later, I give up. The blood makes it impossible.
I lean back on the wall and think. What went wrong?
Do you know what the golden rule of Tauromaquia is, my son?
Sí, Papá. Never underestimate the bull.
Right you are. Never forget it. It’ll serve you well inside the ring, as well as outside it.
I had come a long way from the kid whose only dream in life was to be a star Torero like his Dad. But I had never forgotten his one golden rule. Kind of hard to, when you were made to recite it at least once a day for half your childhood. Not that I hated it. I loved to see the gleam in his eye as he puffed his chest out and tousled my hair after he said it.
His wisdom had always stood me in good stead. It kept me alive inside the ring, when I stepped in after his career ended on the horns of a desperate Miura from Seville. And it kept me alive as I stepped outside the ring and faced up against enemies more dangerous than a 400 kilo bull.
My rise was swift and steady. It helped that the bigwigs in town didn’t pay heed to my growth. As far as they were concerned, the Spaniards were around since forever, I would fizzle out like all the others did, in time. But I was shrewd. I realized that to stay in the game, I had to change the game. My customers were happy. I gave more importance to the quality of the product than the others. Hence, my stuff got them higher than what the others sold. My stuff was even being compared to the legendary stuff which came out of South years ago, the likes of which they couldn’t just make anymore. I expanded at a rate which began to alarm the others.
Half the credit to my meteoric rise goes to the ace team I assembled. No shooters were sharper than mine, no generals more astute. I got the wily old fox to be my Capo. Sure, he was a racist fucker, but he knew the game inside out. Under his eye, there was no stopping my lads. Italians were considered the best in the business then. They were good, they held out against us as long as they could, but had to give in at the end. The Krauts were next up. The underworld didn’t think we had a chance, the Germans were big operators. They had a knack of closing out deals no one gave them a chance at so consistently, that the odds were soon in favor of them every time they closed in. It took one mistake for my Lieutenant to get in. Once he gets his sights trained on you, The Kid doesn’t miss. Bam. He had made a name for himself in the English underworld with some legendary operations, like the one he pulled on the Big Serb. The Krauts were the last barrier. We took the place by storm and became the talk of the town. The Big Ones were getting worried about us. We were beating them at their game.
Then I ran into the Swiss.
Tell me which is the most dangerous bull to fight, son?
The one that does not drop its guard but waits for you to do so.
I’d heard about the Swiss of course. He generally preferred staying neutral but had excellent resources when it came to limiting damages in a war. They had such excellent hideouts throughout the underbelly of the city that they didn’t have a single casualty in the last gang war. Hell, they even managed to hold out against the all-conquering French under the bald Arab, the hardest general ever. Their fortress was the bank, which was also the legal front for all the businesses the old guy ran.
I knew they would be tough to break down. If anything, they would be even harder, because they had the best in the business advising them. German resilience and Swiss determination was a bad combination. For me. But they were in our way and had to be taken care of. Even without The Kid, who was recovering from a minor graze he suffered in the last shootout, I thought we had enough firepower to do them. To put it simply, I underestimated.
We went in.
The rope was cutting into my limbs. The cold steel of the chair sent a million needles into my skin. I felt like I would black out any moment. Yet the Swiss didn’t seem in the mood to talk. He just kept twiddling his thumbs. I wished he would stop that. His stare was chillier than the night. I wouldn’t hold out much longer.
He broke the silence.
“Look, son, I’ll be quick. I know this isn’t all about territory. There’s a much larger thing going on here. I know it. ”
I tried to look puzzled. Because I WAS fucking puzzled. What larger thing?
“This attack of yours has just been one in a long line of things aimed at us. Why don’t you come clean, son?”
I would have, if I had some clue of what he was talking about. I had always heard he was a slight bit on the mad side. Had he finally cracked?
“I am sorry, my friend, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t play dumb, my friend, this has been going on for years now, and my own brother was humiliated several times by this fellow from your lot.” He threw a mugshot at me. “Are you telling me you have no idea who this guy is?”
Bang. Everything became clear. So, the boy was what making the old man vindictive. What the heck? I wasn’t giving him up.
“Come on, son, why would you risk your head being in Zürich, limbs in Geneva and balls in Davos. For a nobody? ”
Nobody? The Swiss had done excellent homework to bring me down, but he had missed out on one tiny detail.
The kid was family. His uncle served me for years. One of my most efficient and loyal Soldados ever.
“Well, it’s your choice, then. Don’t blame me. My boys will take care of you. They won’t kill you. They will beat you within an inch of your death and leave you outside.”
“You must kill me then, Old man.”
“Ah, you will be dead, don’t worry. Just that I don’t want to dirty my hands.”
That didn’t sound good. It must’ve showed on my face; the Swiss smirked.
“When the lion hunts, can the hyenas be far behind?”
Six hours and three horrendous assaults later, here I am. Propped up against the wall, in one of the shiftiest neighbourhoods in town.
The area was a known haunt of the Chilean kids. Yesterday, my little finger would have had them for breakfast. But now… It just wasn’t safe to run into them in such a vulnerable state. They would stick you up in the blink of an eye and plunder all they can. What’s left, anyway.
I haul myself up, inch by fucking inch. God, it is murder. I haven’t taken a beating like this in ages.
The Swiss did it in a battle. Respect. But the filthy South American swine. Ganging up to mutilate – what they thought to be – a dead body . They are going to pay, if it is the last thing I do. They should’ve made sure I was dead. They didn’t. Their mistake. I don’t repeat mistakes. Neither mine, nor that of others.
To have a shot at them, I have to get out of this place in one piece, first. I shuffle along the wall towards the street.
Voices. From the street. I fervently hope it’s not the Chileans. I risk a peek.
It’s the Hondurans. As I look on, the group splits and one of them head my way. My God, they ARE slow. Why else would one walk alone in this neighbourhood, at this time of the night.
I don’t like to prey on small fry, normally. But I have no choice now. To get out of here, I need clothes. Money. And Confidence.
I take a deep breath.