SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA
A man pulled up to the gas pump at the BP, killing the engine and stepping out to see a younger, stocky man slumped against his car on the opposite side. His grey beard only told part of the story as he reached into his pocket, only to find that he had left his keys still in the ignition. Dismayed, but not wanting to spend too much time on it, he shrugged it off and proceeded into the store – gathering snacks for his granddaughter. He produced a few bills from a pocket of well-worn jeans and handed them to the female cashier, who smiled at him.
He stepped outside the gas station, reached into his back pocket, and grabbed his debit card. The man’s eyes looked down; his mind focused on other thoughts as he walked to the gas pump where he left his car.
Only to discover his car was no longer there.
The older man opened his mouth and quickly shut it, shaking his head. He slipped his hand into his pockets and walked around the pump, where the other car he drove past was at. The car was still there, but the younger man was no longer there.
His tongue clicked the roof of his mouth before his right hand moved to the bottom of his beard and rubbed it intently. His left hand produced the cell phone, and he tapped a button before placing it against his left ear.
It rang twice before being answered.
“Dad?” the voice floated from the other line.
“Hey, Rose,” Craig growled, desperate to keep the frustration in his chest at a minimum and not in his voice. “Got a problem.”
He began to tell her the prior events, eliciting a quick chuckle and a more extended conversation.
The man who stole the car was of a lean figure, usually wearing his costume of designer jeans and black t-shirts. His dark eyes were intense and bright — born from a lifetime of looking over his shoulder and living in dark alleys. Tattoos wreathed one arm, but not so many that they left much room to be subtle or secretive in their meanings. He sat on a black leather couch inside his apartment, bare and void of decorations. His left hand wiped away the bead of sweat that gathered on his brown.
He stood and walked over to the thermostat, tapping the white button several times to release a fresh gust of air into his stuffy apartment. As he walked into his kitchen and pulled open the refrigerator, he thought about the man who’d come outside and saw his car missing. Needless to say, he chuckled at the idea of the man leaving his keys in the car in that neighborhood — a nice car at that. The moment the luxury sports car pulled into the gas station, the man had to know he’d already lost his car.
His phone vibrated, and he walked over to it, grabbing it off the armrest of the dark brown couch. The number came back unknown, to which he quickly answered it.
The other line was static momentarily before a growl greeted him on the other side. “You got the car?’
“You know I do, otherwise you wouldn’t have called me.”
“Good. I’ll send you the details to drop the car off. See me in an hour, got it?”
The line clicked. He always wondered why people would end a conversation with questions and not wait for the response.
He returned to the kitchen and opened his refrigerator door again, his eyes focused on a water bottle. As he grabbed it, a knock at the door. The man straightened up and looked at the door, confused. He grabbed his pistol from his waistband and cocked it slightly. He inched towards the door, glancing out his window to see if there were any cars outside, but there were none.
“Who is it?” he shouted at the door.
“You Shawn Graham?” a muffled voice came from the other end. Shawn inched towards the door and looked out the peephole, only to see black.
“Who wants to know?”
“The man you stole the car from,” Craig responded. The response confused him as he grabbed the top lock and turned it to the left. The sound was replaced with wood splintering the moment he did, and the door flew open, catching Shawn by surprise as the force sent him flying into the wall. Dust and flakes of paint filled the air like an ethereal mist as Craig stepped foot into the apartment and slammed his boot into Shawn’s hand, forcing him to drop the gun.
“Just came to have a chat, if that’s all right with you,” Craig spoke, his eyes intense as they locked upon the man who’d stolen his car.
“Yeah, yeah,” Shawn responded, a bit dazed as he sat there, staring at the mess generated in a matter of moments.
Shawn handed Craig a cold water bottle after the dust settled (literally and figuratively). The former wrestler quickly ripped off the top and downed half the contents before Shawn’s eyes. Shawn looked the man over, who was a bit wiry but seemed to never take his eyes off of Shawn.
“Look, I’m sorry about what happened,” Shawn responded, knowing he was in no position to negotiate as Craig had taken his gun, unloaded it, and put the bullets in his front left pocket. The rest of the gun was in pieces on a folding table Shawn had nicked out of the back alley.
“Yeah, yeah,” Craig dismissed the statement. “You’re not sorry about what happened. You’re sorry you got caught. Look, I’m a father, and I’ve heard it all. However, stealing the car is not one that my daughter has put in my lap, thankfully. I imagine you have your reasons, and the fact that you’re here alone makes me think you’re not doing this just for shit and giggles.”
“No, sir,” he responded, though he wouldn’t give up his real reasons anytime soon, not to a stranger.
“Well then, how much trouble will you be in if I take the car back?”
Shawn wished he had that bottle of water right now as he leaned against the wall.
“Someone is expecting it. What you driving in a neighborhood like this, with a car like that?”
Craig shook his head. “Don’t you worry about that. Much like you’re not going to tell me the reasons that have led to you boosting cars, I’m not going to fill you in on what brought me out here. Needless to say, fate had other ideas for us today.”
Shawn snorted a laugh as he nodded his head. It sure did, he told himself.
Craig looked down at his watch. “How long you got before you have to deliver the car?”
“Right, right. I need something out of it. Then you can have the car.”
Even though he heard the words just fine, Shawn was sure he suffered a concussion when his head bounced off the wall opposite his now broken front door.
Craig held his hand up. “Look, you caught me on a good day. Any other day and I couldn’t give two fucks about what dilemma you have found yourself in. I do need something out of the car, though, and a favor from you. It’s a sizable one, but considering the value of the car you’ve got from me, I think you won’t mind. Though, if you do, best share it now.”
Shawn opened his mouth but found himself at a loss for words. He shook his head.
“Right on, let’s go to the car and get what I need. Then I’m going to head back to my home; you’re going to drop off the car and then go to the address I provide you. Deal?”
Shawn nodded, still in shock. Yet, he led him down the stairs from his apartment to the black luxury car. Craig opened the passenger door, sat in the seat for a moment, and pulled open the glovebox before pulling out a small plastic bag. As he exited the car, Craig noticed Shawn’s eyes focused on the bag in his hand.
“It’s a gift for my granddaughter.”
“Awfully ballsy, you showing up here simply to get a gift you had in the car for your granddaughter.”
Craig shook his head. “No, I intended to take the car back. Then I saw the art on your arm. That tells me a lot about you, and I think you’ll be able to take care of what I need and give you some insight into why I was in this neck of the woods. As you mentioned, it’s not exactly the best of neighborhoods.”
“Nah, it ain’t.”
“Exactly,” Craig responded as he produced a piece of paper from his back pocket and wrote something on it furiously. “Here, take this piece of paper. That’s where I’m going to be at. Bring me what I wrote at the bottom, and we can take it from there.”
Shawn looked at the piece of paper with an address and two items on it. He took a long look at those items and then back at Craig. “You sure about this?”
“Yeah, I don’t have much of a choice.”
He nodded his head. “You need a ride somewhere?”
“Nah, I’ve got an Uber pulling up for me right now.”
A black sedan pulled up next to him as the words left his mouth. Craig walked to the passenger door.
“Hey,” Shawn then looked at the piece of paper. “Craig. Why are you doing this? What if I don’t show up?”
Craig paused for a moment and looked over at Shawn. “Because I don’t think you want this life any longer, and I’ve got a way out for you if you’re up for it.”
He then slipped into the car, and the Uber pulled away a moment later, leaving Shawn there, confused and sullen. He looked at the paper again and folded it into his pocket. He returned to his apartment, replaying the scene a few times, still trying to figure out if it was real.
Night fell in San Diego, and Craig sat inside his gym, looking at his mentee, David. Rose held court for the better part of an hour, making fun of the fact her father had his car stolen. Craig chalked up to a senior moment, which Rose only latched onto and proceeded to hold open mic night. He couldn’t care less, though; simply seeing her laugh and smile, life lighting up her eyes, was more than enough for him.
David sat back in the chair, his hand resting on the table’s edge. Craig asked him to wait with him for a while before telling him the story he wouldn’t tell Rose. The younger man was confused by the tone of his mentor but chalked it up to the brain tumor in his head.
The side door of the gym opened, and a man stepped through the threshold.
“That him?” David inquired, and Craig nodded his head. Shawn closed the gap, unsure of what would play out before him.
“Hey,” Shawn spoke softly. “I got what you asked for.” He produced a paper bag from his back pocket and handed it to Craig. Craig looked inside of it and then back at Shawn.
“This the right stuff?”
“Yeah, yeah. I’ve got a guy who… it’s not like you asked me for anything illicit, you know?”
Craig nodded before he handed it to David.
“What the hell is this?”
“We’ll talk about it later. Just put it in your dresser, and I’ll let you know when I need it.”
The words made David uneasy as he placed them in his jacket pocket. Shawn stood before them, unsure of what to do next.
“Sit,” Craig offered. “Take a load off.”
Shawn did as he was told. Craig looked over at David. “I’m good; why don’t you get back to Lor and Addie.”
Craig nodded, and David looked over at Shawn before standing up. The two were similar in build, but David was holding onto the thought he’d been in a fair number of fights, in and out of the ring, in his life and could more than hold his own. As he eyed the tattoos, he understood Shawn was of the same walk in life; they’d just diverged at different points.
David walked out the way Shawn came and left.
“So,” Craig started. “As you can imagine, I don’t have much time to live.”
“I picked up on that pretty quickly.”
“Thank you for getting me that stuff. That will help with the pain. I think. At least, that’s what I’ve been told. What was in that bag stays between you, myself, and David.”
“David your son?”
Shawn nodded. “So what do you need from me? To get you more of that stuff? Other things? You broke down my door, so something tells me you’re connected.”
Craig chuckled. “Nah, nothing like that. Though I’ve known a few who are in my lifetime. Look, I don’t need you to gangbang for me. That’s not my life; it never has been. On the evidence of me having a granddaughter, I also have a daughter. I’ve been building a family around her for the last couple of months, people to look after her after I’m gone.”
“You barely know me.”
“And yet, you’re here.”
Shawn bit his bottom lip as he leaned back in the chair. “I’m not sure I’m the kind of guy you want around your daughter or granddaughter.”
“It’s called intuition. There’s something about you that you’re looking for that you’re not going to get out of boosting cars and doing side jobs for your old boss. Which, judging from the X on that tat, tells me that you’re barely getting by.”
Shawn looked at the tattoo on his arm he received when he was thirteen years old, which he considered the worst day of his life.
“I’ll give you a different path in life. Prove yourself to me, and I’ll repay you far more than you could ever know.”
“Oh yeah? With what?”
Craig smiled. “A real life, one that actually means something.”
Shawn paused momentarily, wondering how a man who’d just met him knew him better than everyone else in his life ever had.
His eyes looked past Craig and saw something that caught his eye.
“Why you got a ring here?”
“You ever wrestle?”
Shawn shook his head.
“Let me teach you then.”