Private: Larry Tact
Returning to Puerto Rico isn’t an alien experience to me. On the contrary, I’ve been there many times through my years. It’s a place of true majesty, and crushing heartbreak, for the residents of the island commonwealth. For me, it has been a place I hold fond for a variety of reasons. On this particular trip, it’s the thoughts of how I met the man who I’d been eluding, or was it the other way around?
I had made my way to his home, rang the doorbell, and received no response. I drove past stucco designed and cinder block made, single story homes, multi-storied apartments of the same make as said homes. Sand and gravel kicked up as I weaved through the valley city streets of Cayey – perpetually under construction, it seemed. A large portion of the youth infusion that generally turns over a population, had extricated themselves from the island. They wanted to seek opportunities on the mainland United States instead, leaving the retired and elderly group to sink with their homeland’s failing government. A body of the highest order of corruption, some had accused the island’s political entities. From an objective point of view – mine – it did appear that there were cracks in the fundamental system that had been established for Puerto Rico. The problem was two-fold: On one hand, there were slicker and savvier investigators unearthing various corruption schemes and dragging them into the light. On the other hand, the legislators and Governors were too comfortable living in their slop of deceptions and under the table deals. They weren’t going to raise a finger to change the opportunity they seized and were profiting from – exponentially. I couldn’t say I blamed them for walking through the doors to riches, while the common class is left to live in poverty, and the impoverished lived with the cats and dogs. Subhuman.
Business doesn’t cater to Charity cases, after all, or they’d be standing right in line with them.
Those who take extreme and aggressive offense to being in the Subhuman class? They don’t mind throwing down to get out from underneath. It’s Cockfighting for the new millennium, except they use a cage and tear each other’s flesh up until only one Survivor remains. Along the way in these ‘tournaments,’ let’s call them, are scouts from all different walks of life: From prize fighting firms to law enforcement agencies; organized crime syndicates to entertainment collectives. It’s a brutal series of bouts and although only one Survivor receives a guaranteed contract from the hidden financial sponsor of the bi-annual tournament, others are noticed for their performance, or entertainment qualities.
It’s here where I first met the man I’m seeking today.
I pull into the parking lot of the cemetery, and get out from my Enterprise rental Toyota Hybrid SUV. I went into the lobby area, and was reminded by Guest Services the listing for my destination. I made the short trek out along the path leading through the pews of graves, stone slabs placed over cracked concrete. I reached the plot I had been directed to, and stood for a minute staring at the name on the gravestone:
CESAR S RAMON
It would never not be a jolt to see that name on a gravestone. I bent down to a knee on the grassy patch surrounding the gravestone, and reached a hand out to clear off a combination of creeping vine and dirt:
CESAR SANTAGO RAMON
I quickly withdraw the hand to my knee as I hear slightly dragging footsteps. Looking to my side, I see a woman in her late fifties, hair grayed with whisps of jet black still fighting to hang on. Her face appeared more withered than her actual age – a toll from her battles with illness over the years.
“Madre Ramon,” I say in Spanish while standing to greet her. We had an established habit of her extending her hand to me, and my always accepting it. For the ails of her years, she maintained a grace that I admire, and overall she was someone I had respect with esteem. “Always a pleasure.”
“Likewise, Larry. You have long been my favorite of Cesar’s friends,” she smiles and gives a slight nod of appreciation. I return the nod and lead her to the gravestone, checking her balance as she sits on the grass.
“I passed by the residence earlier, but I imagine you were making your rounds on the way over here,” I recollect for her.
“Yes, just the usual suspects and their requests,” she says with a small smile. “I wish you had told me you were coming. I would have took out some pasteles to boil for us.”
“You’re too kind, Madre. I honestly didn’t want to trouble you more time than a cup of coffee,” I explain.
“Larry. You know it’s at least two cups for us,” she gives a giggle that I’m sure tickled the heart of many men.
“Too true. That aside, I figured you would be visiting Cesar here,” I motion towards the grave. “I had a couple of questions that I would greatly appreciate your perspective on,” I ask.
“Dear, please don’t give me grief over the stone here. Cesar always said to get someone to upkeep the place,” she shakes her head, as if chiding herself.
“I would never, but I do need to ask about Cesar Salvador. He had plans to come here recently, yes?” I inquire.
Brushing her hair to one side, she nods. “He said he was taking a long overdue vacation,” giving a wry smile. “I always told him, Larry. I said, ‘Take a break! Get away and do something fun – no offense meant, dear.”
“I understand completely,” nodding to her, “It’s a constant grind. I’m glad he came here, and I’m guessing he didn’t talk about anything… happening recently,” I offer.
“Oh, he did mention that he had been looking for more information on his father’s career,” she sounded neutral referencing Cesar Antonio’s fighting career, and pressed on. “Other than that, nothing much. He only left a few days ago.”
“Did he? I was hoping to catch him here, crossed up schedules and phone tag,” I take her hand in mine. “Thank you for letting me know.”
“Of course, sweetie. You need me to get in contact, say the word,” Madre Ramon replies.
After we’d paid our respects, I would catch up with Madre Ramon, over java. After that, I hopped in the Hybrid, driving towards the airport for a flight back to New York.
Standing outside of Cesar’s apartment complex on Roosevelt Island gives me a chill in the back of my neck. This feels like it’s about to go differently. It feel like the moment I’ve been searching months for, to reset things how they should be.
As I step into the lobby, I’m barely through the door before I say, “Knux, that letter you gave me was a complete…”
I stop myself as I lock eyes with Knux. The former fighter added some face art, if you called someone leaving a scar across his left eye face art. “How have your past few weeks been?”
Despite the gruesome looking carving, he chuckles. “Man, I don’t know what I was thinking,”
he slumps over against an arm. “Few days after you was here, I heard some loudmouth talking shit about me from my fighting days,” Knux shrugged. “I figured he was some full of gas jerkoff, and something in me got caught up in it. Maybe I’ve had the urge for a fight, been spoiling for one. I’ve thought about having one more go, seeing if I could catch that lightning. Turns out, my last one was pro bono for the East Side dive I was in.”
“I bet there was that famed ‘big fight feel’ for you, though,” I say sarcastically, then tense as Knux slams the counter with an open palm. “Okay, it wasn’t that bad of a joke.”
He was bristling, which wasn’t like him. “Bastard went and got another to slip him a blade, must have tucked it in a napkin or something before we started. He knew he was in deep, caught me with it, then bounced. Some are saying he was an upstart fighter who panicked, didn’t want to look bad in public, you know. Then he realized who I was and double panicked when someone handed him the blade. I was forced to go to the hospital or I would’ve chased.”
“You should have known better in the first place, Knux. Hell, you do because you retired. It’s tougher and tougher to hang around in the game for too long, with all these young fighters in the fray, hungry and fast and strong.”
“Takes health, more and more work, and even then, some luck,” Knux restores himself to a calmer state. “It’s a damn crime, but the police haven’t had any good news on identifying him.”
“I don’t mean to cut you short, and we need to get our calendars open, but I wanted to see if you had heard from Cesar?” I insist, not meaning disrespect.
“Nah, I need to start processing through. Cesar? I seen him, yeah. He got back and asked me about that letter. He didn’t say anything when I told him you got it, just went on his way.”
I nodded. “Seen him today?”
“Yeah, he went outside not long ago. He’s been coming down here to go walk,” Knux confirms, and with thanks I head outside.
The September air is a little crisper and cooler than it’s been this summer. It’s at an end, the days of warmth and peace. The time has come to forge ahead, even if in diverging directions.
I walk along a tri-colored brick pathway, curving around an edge hugging the infamous East River. It wasn’t the most pleasant of scents always passing through, but the views of sister boroughs Manhattan and Queens were worthy of your attention. I slowed my pace as I walked over to the railing, Manhattan skyline before me.
“It isn’t often you become a ghost,” I say to the man I stood a respectable distance away. Cesar Salvador Ramon, a raven mop of hair that had grown out to creep below his ears, towards his chin and down his neck. An unkept beard was thick but could still be shaped without much issue.
Cesar looked at me, no particularly strong emotion showing, just a shrug. “I’ve learned a lot in my time, and I don’t need to worry about ethics and standards these days.”
I don’t want to address the elephant in the room just yet. “Going home is a nice place to visit, but I don’t know if using that IP address will help,” I point out.
“There you go, Larry, thinking of what you would be doing,” he scoffs. “I was there to see my mother, wouldn’t you believe it? You know, since I care enough about them to call more than once a fiscal quarter.”
“I appreciate your candidness and commentary. What did you want to find on the island?” I ask directly.
“I bet you already know. This is what you enjoy, isn’t it?” the former protégé jabs. “You want to play a few rounds of soothsayer for my future prospects before you divulge what you already knew.”
I raise a hand. “That’s not what I’m saying. I want to know what this fabricated truth you’ve ingrained in your mind is, so I can dispel it.”
Cesar takes a slow, deliberate breaths. “I know you were there when my father died.” Cesar becomes animated. “I know you could have stopped him from double dosing on whatever steroids and growth hormone he was on. You could have stopped him before he went out for the fight that killed him. I know you didn’t!” he fumes, looking at me with an accusatory stare.
“Cesar, I didn’t have that kind of relationship with your dad,” I try to deescalate. “But I wasn’t the one to provide him with those drugs, either. Don’t point the finger at me out of convenience!” I inject fuel into the smoking stack of logs that our conversation was quickly resembling.
“Don’t lie to me, Larry. Did you or did you not sponsor contracts for his last fight?” Cesar looks at me unflinchingly.
From somewhere in the recesses of my mind emerges the deal he’s calling out. “We did, but that doesn’t have the influence you think.”
“It’s still influence! Don’t try and downplay your role. You have as much blood on your hands as anyone in his circle. I don’t know, did you think this was going to be some grand reunion?” he runs a hand through his beard. “I was in Puerto Rico to see my mother… and because I wanted you to meet me there. I wanted to take you to the arena and show you where you got away with it. You’ll be happy to know I gave up on thinking you’d have the decency to check on me.”
“I’ve been trying to look. You know, on my ‘off hours’ when I’m not wrestling, running a business, or trying to see my damn family, Cesar! You need to check your attitude and open your eyes. They’re swelled shut by this fiction that I was best buddies with your father,” a moment’s pause, then I practice what I advise and forge ahead.
“I’m not your foster father.”
I’d had enough, and the dam broke. He wouldn’t dictate the terms of our friendship. If he wanted out, he’d get it on my terms. My respect is a privilege not a right, and for him, it was seeping through his fingers.
Cesar’s eyes widen for a moment, the words striking him, before he straightens up to his five feet, seven inches. “I’m glad we can finally agree on something.”
“Great, Cesar. Let’s wash our hands of this, then. You go enjoy your endeavor to be a wrestler, and see if that path leads you to a happy life, or perhaps one that’s preordained to run parallel to your father’s. Then you can be close again.”
My provocation gets him thinking, I can tell, of whether he wants to strike me or not. I trust I know his tolerance and I’m tiptoeing the threshold with him. “Sorry I’m not taking your most humble approach of stepping over others. How’s that been going in PRIME, anyway? I heard you won one… now you’re set to get beat by a guy who just wanted to leave. You fired up someone on their way out, for one more match. Bravo, Larry,” he mimes a golf clap.
“I’m glad you’re keeping tabs, but as I’ve told you time and again, you need to know the substance and context, not merely what you hear. Good luck finding someone to convince putting your ass on a card.”
“Don’t think you’ve got some Midas touch. My training is complete. Yeah, I’ll need to start somewhere beneath your standards, but it’s a start and you can’t stop it, Larry.”
I look out at the water separating two boroughs, a fair gap between the two sides. Nothing is able to shift these two anchored rocks’ stance one way or the other. “Yes, go. Go and have a taste of what it takes.”
Cesar pulled on the lapels of a windbreaker, then dug his hands in the pockets. He began taking steps down the stone pathway, intentionally crossing behind my back. I don’t think he’s going to assault me.
He doesn’t, but he lets me know, “You could have done more for him, and for me by being honest. You could – should – have left me out of your life.”
With that, he strides away, the breeze strengthening. I don’t turn my head, and only continue to look towards the sunset as it makes its steady exit from the New York skyline.
“Sometimes the truth needs to be dug up from under all the garbage burying it.”
Having returned home, I decided to fire up the drone cam inside of my home office. I sat on a plush royal blue sofa. My golden blonde hair is tied back, and I drew upon my mood from earlier, with Cesar, to entrench a scowl on my face while I spoke, the camera catching me at a small angle.
“I feel like that’s what I’ve genuinely been doing since arriving in PRIME. It’s been trying to shout above the doubters, the dirtsheets, and the PRIME faithless. Whatever honest support I’ve had come my way has been disparaged and slandered, quite frankly in an embarrassing display from the other PRIME faithless on those who aren’t disillusioned. Heading into UltraViolence, the Dusk Farewell Bandwagon is attempting to be remembered for something, and I firmly believe it will: As one of the biggest sham displays of grassroots support I’ve come across since my return.”
I pause and rotate in my seat, facing center to the camera now.
“All these fools are doing is making a spectacle of themselves. You all want to support a man who’s biggest achievement has been years of winning enough hands versus Father Time to stay in the battle. But recently, even Dusk has felt those hands creeping closer to his wrestling soul.”
Reaching over, I grab a bottle of SmartWater on the counter next to my rotating seat, and pop the cap open. “Let’s not make this about age, though, Dusk. After all, your legacy is all but confirmed. You’re a two-time Intense Champion, a man who has had a rough but ultimately benign relationship with the PRIME faithless. What I did a couple months ago, Dusk, was identify your last need in wrestling. The last box to check in your career as an active wrestler: An ending.”
I take a drink from the bottle, then shake my head.
“You hadn’t really contemplated how you wanted your career to end. You never discussed it with Troy. I suppose you wouldn’t, given she apparently has as much tolerance for you as I do. But you could have chosen to pass whatever sputtering torch the Faithless have allowed you to carry to this finish. You could have picked your own opponent. Maybe you would have offended someone for not picking them, or been declined by your first choice. Regardless, Dusk, if you had the balls to choose an opponent, it would have prevented all of this…”
A small grin slowly turns a corner of my mouth.
“You tried taking the coward’s way out… Craig. Going out, retiring with an insufferable, PRIMEate juice slurping speech. You didn’t have the fortitude to stand up and represent yourself in the ring like a WRESTLER. You wanted to go out by simply putting on your best Lou Gehrig, and failing miserably. Does it eat you up inside, Craig, to know that you’ll always have Larry Tact to thank for this last match? That Larry Tact saved Dusk’s career? If only for one more miserable, excruciating, humbling night of your life. You’ll have to suck it up and live with the consequences of accepting.”
I stand from the stool and continue to hold the water bottle in my right hand, my left making a fist near my stomach. “I will continue to remind the Faithless that, in the end you accepted this match, Dusk. Once you provided that consent to Last Man Standing rules, out with it went any shred of dignity I may have allowed you to retain. Allowing you the mercy of tapping out your career when you were ready. Pinning you down and affirming what you’ve been droning on to everyone for months, that you know you don’t have it anymore. Now, I can just knock you the hell out and take the remaining pound of flesh you owe to wrestling!”
Taking a drink of water, I mock a solemn expression.
“Meanwhile, in disgrace and finality, will lie Dusk.”
Abruptly then, I fire the water bottle off the wall behind me and turn back with a furious look.
“You’re damn right I’ve been frustrated! I’m frustrated with the way an undeserving veteran like yourself has been lowering the floor and capping the ceiling of PRIME. Why was I the only one who came out to stop your cowardice? I’m the only one who truly respects the essence of the wrestling industry. I respect a very small handful of people in this industry, Dusk, but make no mistake:”
Looking down, my hair comes loose from the tie and falls down in front of my head.
“I respect the ring above all. I’m going to fight you and leave the Last Man Standing. The ring will help me humble you, and you’ll be its latest tribute.”
Raising my head, olive green eyes piercing the camera.
“Your blood will pay my way to my opportunities. A tactful ‘Fin’ to the career of Dusk.”