by Kevin Z. Garvey
Crazy Roscoe Zimmerman scooped up pieces of his broken teeth off the mat. “They look like tic-tacs,” he said, popping them back into his mouth. He rolled them around for a moment, then made a face. “But they don’t taste like tic-tacs,” he said, spitting the bloody enamel shards back into his hand and walking off the mat towards the bathroom.
Not for the first time, Roscoe had forgotten to wear his mouthpiece while sparring. And as usual he paid through the teeth for his mistake. But he was a mixed martial artist, a fighter, and losing a few teeth was no big deal to him. In fact, to Roscoe, losing a fight was far more painful than losing some blood and a few pearly whites.
Roscoe’s trainer, Art Samson, shook his head as he watched Roscoe walk away. “That’s why they call him crazy,” he told Roscoe’s sparring partner, a heavyweight bruiser nicknamed Thunder. Thunder had tried to take it easy on the much smaller Zimmerman, but Roscoe was having none of it. Roscoe liked to spar hard, no matter who he was sparring with, and he’d told Thunder to bring it. Which Thunder did.
“He’s one tough mutha,” Thunder said. “That punch shoulda put his lights out, not just wrecked his grill.”
“I told ya, he’s crazy,” Art said, tapping his temple. “Bat shit crazy.”
“Can I get a discount if you don’t use Novocaine?” Roscoe asked the dentist.
“We don’t use Novocaine anymore,” replied the dentist. “We use Lidocaine now.”
Roscoe gave him a look. “Whatever,” he said. “Can I get a discount if you don’t give me the shot?” Roscoe didn’t have insurance, and he didn’t really have the money to get his tooth fixed. Three of them were broken, but only one bad enough to require treatment.
“You need the shot,” the dentist told him. “This is going to hurt.”
“I didn’t ask if it was gonna hurt, doc. I asked if I could save money by not having the shot. I’m not made out of money.”
“You need the shot,” the dentist insisted. “Because if you’re not numb you’ll be squirming all over the place, and I won’t be able to fix the tooth.”
“I won’t squirm,” Roscoe said. “I’m a fighter, I can take it.”
The dentist shook his head. “Nobody can take that kind of pain without flinching. The nerve is exposed.”
“I can take it,” Roscoe said again. “I have a high tolerance for pain.”
“Absolutely not. I’m sorry.”
“Tell you what,” Roscoe said. “Make you a deal. If I flinch, you charge me double and I’ll pay you cash today. If I don’t flinch, it’s half price.”
“Believe me, you’ll flinch.”
“I won’t, really.”
The dentist laughed. “I don’t want to take your money, Roscoe. Well, I do, but not that way. Trust me, you’ll flinch.”
“Doc, I’m telling you, I can take it. Try me.”
The dentist considered this for a moment. “Open your mouth,” he said. “I’ll show you.”
Roscoe opened his mouth and the dentist used a dental tool to gently probe at the nerve. Roscoe didn’t move a muscle. The dentist probed harder, and still Roscoe sat immobile, like a stone. Finally the dentist stepped back, a puzzled look on his face. “That doesn’t hurt?” he asked.
“It hurts,” Roscoe said. “Hurts like hell. But I told you, I’m a fighter. Pain is nothing to me.”
“Wow,” said the dentist. “That’s crazy.”
“So now you have to fix my tooth for half price,” Roscoe said. “That was the deal.”
The dentist started to protest, but Roscoe cut him off. “A deal’s a deal,” he said, his expression telling the dentist that he wasn’t playing around.
The dentist sighed. “Fine,” he said. “Half price. But I’m giving you the shot anyway–no extra charge–because I can’t concentrate with you suffering silently like that.”
Roscoe displayed a cracked-toothed smile. “Thanks, doc.”
“Don’t thank me yet. It’s still going to cost you a bundle, even at half-price.” He prepared a shot of lidocaine and positioned Roscoe’s chair back. “Now open up, let’s get this over with.”
“Mixed martial arts is the fastest growing sport in the world,” Danny Blaff told the girls. “And the competition is stiff. Whether it’s ring card girls or fighters, it’s about who wants it more. So if you want to succeed in the MMA industry, you gotta show that you’re willing to put in your pound of flesh.”
Blaff was conducting a ring card girl interview at his cramped office in Rego Park, Queens. He was sitting behind his desk, lecturing the two young women sitting across from him on the ins and outs of MMA. They had applied for a ring card position with Blaff’s promotion, Fighting Cage Kings.
FCK held shows at various venues around New York City, despite professional MMA competitions being outlawed statewide. Blaff got around the ban by exploiting a loophole in the law that allowed amateur MMA events to take place. In fact, he was glad there was no professional MMA in New York, because it meant that he didn’t have to pay his fighters. More importantly, since his ticket sales were cash only, Blaff’s FCK events were the perfect front for his real business–a two-bit loan sharking operation.
“So the question is,” Danny was saying, “with only one slot open, which one of you wants this gig the most? Who’s willing to go that extra mile?”
“How much does it pay?” asked one of the girls, a blonde who called herself Tiffany.
“Hundred bucks a night. But it could lead to bigger and better things.”
Tiffany made a face. “No way,” she said. “That’s chump change.”
Blaff shrugged. “It’s not about the money. It’s about the exposure. It’s a great opportunity to get noticed.”
“I think I’ll pass.”
“So, then pass,” Blaff said, pointing with his thumb towards the door. “You’re too skinny, anyway. Beat it.”
Tiffany looked at him, shocked. “You’re kidding, right?”
“No, I’m not kidding. You tell me no, you get the boot. Now beat it!” He jumped to his feet. “Beat it, I said! Get out! Out! And don’t ever come back!”
Tiffany practically ran to the door. She opened it and then turned back to Blaff. “Prick,” she said, flipping him off and slamming the door behind her.
“Right back atcha!” said Blaff, sitting back down.
The other girl, an attractive brunette, remained seated, watching the fireworks.
Blaff smiled at her. “Well, it looks like your chances just improved dramatically. What was your name again?”
“Ah, pretty name for a pretty girl. So, what do you think?”
“About the gig.”
Ashley pursed her lips. “A hundred dollars? That barely covers my car fare.”
Blaff put his elbow on the desk and rested his head on his fist. With his other hand he tapped on the desktop, like he was thinking. “Okay, listen,” he said. “I like you, Ashley. You’re pretty hot.” He looked her up and down. “Maybe we can work something out.”
“Well, like I do something for you and you do something for me.”
“Like…” He looked directly at her chest. “Like tit for tat, you know what I’m saying?”
Ashley shook her head. “I don’t know what you’re saying.”
Blaff raised his hands palms up in a gesture of exasperation. “Okay, then let me spell it out for ya. I give you a hundred and fifty dollars a night for ring carding, and you put the you”–quoting with his fingers–”in FCK. Capisce?”
It took a minute for that to sink in, but Ashley finally got what Blaff was trying to say.
“Oh, my God! Are you kidding me?” She pointed to his belly. “Look at you.”
Blaff sucked in his gut. “Look at me, what? I’m in decent shape for a guy pushing forty.”
He was actually pushing fifty, but who was counting?
“Your boobs are bigger than mine,” Ashley said.
He crossed his arms. “That’s your problem. And I’m done negotiating. Take it or leave it.”
Ashley got up and strode across the office to the exit. “I’ll leave it, you pervert.” And she did leave it, slamming the door even harder than Tiffany had.
“Hey!” Blaff yelled after her, hoping she could hear him from the hallway. “You’re not hot enough for two bills, what can I tell ya!”
He stared at the door for a minute, half-expecting her to return. When she didn’t, he rubbed his chest. “Boobs, my ass,” he said.
Ashley was crying. It wasn’t the interview that had upset her, it was what the greasy promoter had yelled at her after she’d left, about her not being hot enough to be worth two bills.
Her boyfriend was consoling her in front of the building. He was a big guy, a muscle head, 6’4, 250 pounds. All tatted up and wearing a t-shirt with skulls on it.
“You’re worth three bills,” he said, bristling.
Ashley sniffled. “He was such a creep. Ugh.”
“Did he put his hands on you?” the big guy said. “If he did, I’ll go up there and kill him right now. Nobody makes my girl cry. Nobody!”
She shook her head. “Forget it, Tony.”
“Screw him!” Tony yelled, looking up at the building. “Where you at, creep! Where you at, motherfucker!”
Ashley told him to stop acting like an idiot, which only infuriated him more. The two started arguing.
As the scene was unfolding on the sidewalk, Crazy Roscoe Zimmerman happened to walk by. He was managed by Blaff and fought at FCK events, usually headlining them, and was on his way to Blaff’s office to discuss a “job” that Danny had for him. Crazy Roscoe saw Ashley crying and Tony screaming and he got the wrong idea about what was going on.
He stepped in between the couple. “Is he bothering you, miss?”
Roscoe was not a big guy. He fought at 135 pounds, had no ink on his skin, no skulls on his clothes. He looked like an ordinary, unassuming guy. But looks can be deceiving.
Big Tony turned and faced the smaller man. “Get outta here, you little shit,” he said, flexing his traps, body builder style.
Normally that would have been enough to scare away just about anyone. But Crazy Roscoe wasn’t normal. Nor was he just anyone.
“Fuck you and the dumbbell you rode in on,” Roscoe told the flexing behemoth.
Tony spit on the ground. “Do you even lift, bro? I’ll snap you in half like a twig. Who the fuck you think you are?”
“I’m Crazy Roscoe Zimmerman,” Roscoe said. “Break me in half, bitch.” And with that he shot in on Tony, grabbing the big man’s legs with both hands and driving forward. If Tony knew how to sprawl–if he had even six months of sprawl training–he might have been able to stay on his feet, but Roscoe had excellent takedown technique and he put Tony on his back with a quickness.
Tony struggled, using his strength to turn over, but Roscoe stayed on top of him, riding him like a cork on the ocean. Once Tony was lying belly down, Roscoe sunk in a rear naked choke, and choked the big man unconscious.
“You asshole!” screamed Ashley. “That’s my boyfriend!”
Roscoe got to his feet. “Your boyfriend? I thought he was bothering you.”
“He wasn’t the one bothering me, it was the guy upstairs.”
“Upstairs? You mean Danny Blaff?”
But Ashley wasn’t paying attention. She was on her knees at Tony’s side. “I think he’s dead. You killed him!”
Roscoe laughed. “He’s not dead. Here, watch.”
Roscoe heaved Tony over onto his back, then grabbed hold of Tony’s boots and lifted up his legs. As soon as the blood returned to Tony’s head, his eyes popped open.
“See?” Roscoe said. “He’s fine.”
“You’re still an asshole,” Ashley said.
Roscoe shrugged and entered the building.
“Roscoe, about time you showed up,” said Danny Blaff, his feet up on the desk. “I got a job for ya.”
“Did you just have a girl up here? A brunette with nice hammers?”
“Yeah. How’d you know?”
“I saw her crying on the sidewalk.”
“Good. I’m glad.”
“The usual. She applied for a ring card girl position, but she wasn’t FCK material.”
“You mean she didn’t put out.”
Blaff shrugged. “You say camel toe, I say moose knuckle. Same difference.” He waved his hand. “Forget about her, I need you to do a job for me.”
“Why do you have to be so mean to those girls?”
Blaff pointed a finger at Crazy Roscoe. “Hey, I own this promotion, kid. Don’t tell me how to run my business. Just do your job.”
“What job? I’m supposed to be fighting for a living, but all you have me doing is beating up degenerate gamblers who can’t pay their vigs. That’s not a job.”
“As soon as MMA is legal in New York, you can turn pro,” Blaff said. “Then you’ll make money fighting. But you’re an amateur now.” He shrugged.
“But I sell a ton of tickets, Danny. I’m your biggest draw and I got nothing to show for it.”
“I can’t pay you to fight, Roscoe. Paying an amateur would be…unethical.”
“You’re a loan shark, Danny. Remember? Not a lot of ethics in that.”
Blaff shook his head. “You’re missing the point. I gotta keep my legit businesses legit. Besides, the loan sharking gig pays you pretty good.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
Blaff stared at Roscoe, giving him a look. “Why you busting my balls, Rosc?”
“Because I can’t pay my bills, Danny. I got collectors up my ass. And you’re not helping.” Plus, the lidocaine had worn off and his mouth hurt, which was putting Roscoe in a bad mood.
Blaff threw his hands up. “Didn’t you hear me say I have a job for you today?”
“What, kneecapping some poor schmuck who won’t pay up? You call that a job? I’m tired of that shit.”
Blaff shook his head. “Wow, I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Here I am, doing you a favor, and this is what I get in return.”
“You’re doing me a favor?”
“I’ve always done you favors, Roscoe. If it wasn’t for me you’d still be fighting out on the streets. You’d be dead or in jail by now.”
Roscoe snorted. “I’d have better opponents in jail than the bums you set me up with.”
“So, go to jail then. I don’t care. I don’t need you, anyway. I can be my own muscle.”
“Yeah, right. You never trained a day in your life.”
“The fuck I didn’t. Maybe not MMA, but when I was out in Vegas a few years ago I trained with one of the top boxercise instructors in the country.”
“Don’t kid yourself, tough guy.” Blaff made a fist and kissed it. “I was bashing heads while you were still in diapers. And don’t you forget it.”
Crazy Roscoe didn’t respond. He felt himself getting hot and didn’t want to lose his temper. His adrenaline levels were up from his encounter with the juice head downstairs and he was still in fight mode. He was trying to keep his cool.
Danny Blaff misinterpreted the silence. Blaff had become accustomed to acting tough around fighters and getting away with it. Over the years, he’d developed a false sense of security.
“That’s better,” Blaff said, smiling now. “That’s how I like you, Roscoe, with your mouth shut. Remember: ring girls, mouth open…fighters, mouth closed. Capisce?”
“Fuck you, Danny.”
Blaff leaped to his feet. He came around the desk and got in Roscoe’s face. “How dare you speak to me like that!” He poked Roscoe in the chest. “Get out of my office right now!”
Roscoe was used to Danny Blaff’s rants, but this time he was in no mood to indulge the promoter. “You poke me again, I’ll break your arm.”
“Yeah?” said Blaff, puffing out his chest. “How about I put my foot up your ass? Now get out!” And with that he gave Crazy Roscoe a shove.
Because whenever somebody hit Roscoe, Roscoe hit back. It was his nature, his instinct. When his adrenaline kicked in, there was no flight mode–it was all fight. Roscoe knew of only one way to react to violence, and that was with violence of his own.
His reaction to Blaff’s shove was a punch. A picture perfect right cross that landed solidly on Danny Blaff’s chin. Blaff went stiff and fell backwards, like a two by four. The back of his head hit the floor with a sickening thud.
Now he was lying there, his eyes and his mouth wide open.
Roscoe looked down at the fallen promoter. In his mind he could hear Ashley’s voice: You killed him! Only this time she was right.
Danny Blaff was dead.
“You mind if I turn on this recorder?” detective Sal Russo said. “I’m terrible at taking notes.”
“No problem,” said Crazy Roscoe Zimmerman.
“Okay, thanks.” Russo clicked on the voice recorder. “This is Detective Salvatore Russo, NYPD. Here with Roscoe Zimmerman. Now, Mr. Zimmerman–”
“You can call me Roscoe.”
“Okay, sure. Now, Roscoe, you acknowledge that I read you your rights earlier today and that you have a right to remain silent and a right to have an attorney present during this conversation, correct?”
“And you are willfully choosing to talk to me right now, without the presence of an attorney, correct?”
“Correct. I want to confess.”
“Okay, great. Very good.” Russo opened a folder and sifted through some papers. “The Medical Examiner says that the victim, Daniel Blaff, had a broken jaw and that the back of his skull was fractured. You told me earlier that Mr. Blaff pushed you, and you retaliated by punching him in the face. Is that correct?”
“Okay. And according to the M.E., it appears that the punch knocked Mr. Blaff to the ground, where he struck his head on the floor. The fall resulted in a cracked skull, which resulted in Mr. Blaff’s death.”
Roscoe shook his head. “The M.E. has it wrong.”
“Really? How’s that?”
“He was dead before he hit the ground.”
Detective Russo paused. He studied Roscoe’s face for a moment, then reached over and shut off the recorder.
“Listen, son. I’m not supposed to say this, but I think you should hire a lawyer. I’ve seen Danny Blaff’s sheet, and trust me the world is better off without him. But the way you’re talking…it’s not good. You’re setting yourself up for a long stretch upstate.”
Roscoe shrugged. “You get paid in prison, right?”
“If you call 30 cents an hour getting paid, yeah.”
“That’s still more than I made fighting for Danny. Plus, if if there’s one thing I know about prison, it’s that inmates love to scrap. So I guess this means I’m finally turning pro.”
Russo sat back in his chair. “Geez, you really are crazy.”
“Hey,” Roscoe said, “all my life all I ever wanted to do was fight. So let me bang, bro. Let me bang.”
Detective Russo stared at Roscoe for a minute. Then he sighed and clicked on the recorder.
Crazy Roscoe smiled. “Good,” he said. “Now, where were we?”