Fixer

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FIXER is part of a special soccer fiction supplement that ran in Plastic Pitch‘s Autumn, 2016 edition… (WARNING: Strong language)

The Cow slid the envelope across the table, then picked up a pair of chopsticks and swished them into a bowl of noodles.

“Boss says you need to make everyone unhappy today,” he said before pushing a wad of noodles into his mouth. “Three goals.”

“Three?” I said as I slid the envelope off the table, then tucked it inside my jacket pocket.

“What? You think… erm… that’s a problem?” Noodles hung limply over The Cow’s bottom lip, yellow drops of broth spotted his chin.

“There’s never a problem,” I said, rising from the table.

“Still, before you go, always must remind you,” The Cow paused for a swallow. “If there is a problem, if it not working, you take the special phone and let The Rat know. Then?”

“Then, I get rid of the phone as fast as I can,” I’d recited those instructions before every home game this season. I knew the drill. But The Cow would never let me leave until I’d said it.

“You go now, then. I pay bill,” The Cow said before sucking back another noodle. As the noodle slapped against his bottom lip, droplets of broth showered his shiny blue jacket.

I got up from the table, walked towards the door of the noodle shop and out onto Robson Street. The steam escaped through the door and into the early evening breeze. The sidewalks were packed with staggering fans in white jerseys. The stadium, with steel girders protruding from the top that looked like an industrial crown of thorns, was at the end of the street. BC Place’s ring of lights was reflected over and over in the puddles on the pavement.

In all the windows of all the restaurants you could see them, more of those white shirts. Inside those bars they’d be wondering if the coach would pick the right players; if their beloved team could beat those pretty boys from Los Angeles. They’d talk and talk if this was the year that they could win the Cup. They’d argue about who should play striker as they sucked back beer after beer. They’d argue about fullbacks as they stuffed fried food into their faces.

If they only knew.

Of course I was wearing of those white shirts; it was the best way to hide in plain sight. I hate how it felt against my skin, so slippery and yet itchy at the same time. And the way the shirt tightened up around my gut, as if I was trying to advertise what a fat fuckity-fuck I’d become.

As the daylight faded, the sky was what I’d call an angry grey; if you’ve lived in Vancouver long enough, grey becomes a colour as vivid in your mind as the brightest red or deepest blue.

Some guy came up from behind and put an arm around my shoulder. He stank of old sweat, stale beer and piss. He had a scarf draped around his shoulders; the blues were dull, the white had turned kind of a pukey yellow.

“Buddyyyyyyyyy… tonight! Yeah!”

I raised my arm in the air and spouted out a “yeah!” Certainly this was better than “is this good enough for you to go away, drunk guy?” and definitely “not enthusiastic enough for you to become my best friend and walk with me all the way to the stadium.”

He let out a huge holler, holding his pudgy pink arms towards a threatening sky, then went off in search of another walker to assault. I resisted the urge to kill him on the spot. After all, thinking people to death takes up a lot of energy — and I’d promised myself not to do that anymore.

This is how it went: The bigger the job, the more energy I expend. I wish my, ahem, talent, didn’t take so much out of me. I wish it was easy.

I moved with the white mass, progressing slowly towards the stadium, passing police cars with their cherries on, ignoring dozens of homeless people moaning for spare change.

It was time to get into my routine. Before every job, I tried to clear my head. Even then, as people high-fived each other around me, as beer-fueled whoops ripped through the damp, spring evening air, I focused on the lights of the stadium at the end of the street.

I thought about my first time.

I was 14. Dad had been away on another one of his business trips. At least that’s what mom called them. (Dad took a lot of trips for a guy who was pretty junior in the insurance business.) This time, though, when he got home, he went right up their bedroom, and started packing. Mom grabbed him, begged him not to leave. He shoved her to the floor. He pushed her like he had so many times before. Sometimes, it would escalate and the shove would lead to a kick or a punch or a pulling of the hair.

I watched them from the hallway and, for the umpteenth time in my short life, I wished my dad was dead.

And then, he died. Right there. There was a kind of choking sound. My mom screamed. The doctors said he died of some kind of –ythmia.

My mom was so tied up arranging the funeral and talking to lawyers that she didn’t think much of the fact that I couldn’t get out of bed for a couple of days. She must have just thought I was sad, like a good son was supposed to be. But, in truth, I was exhausted; my head roared.

A few days later, after all the funeral guests had left our living room, I thought hard about killing all three of the goldfish that we had in our aquarium. They rolled, and floated to the surface. The headache returned, and I had to spend the next day in bed, but mom thought it was just the grief talking again.

The Boss had got me tickets right at the top of the lower bowl, right under the press box. It offered a nice, clear view of the ice surface below.

There were a few empty seats dotted throughout the stadium, but they’d soon be filled by the latecomers who decided to stay out for extra beers or who had got stuck in traffic.

The crowd stood for the anthems.

The whistle was blown and Vancouver’s players surged forward. On the bouncy turf, they took control of the game early. Win, and they could clinch a playoff spot. Lose, and they’d have to hope that Seattle — of all teams, Seattle — could beat San Jose tomorrow. The home side’s desperation showed; fullbacks surged forward, a couple of crunching tackles were delivered in midfield. Los Angeles’s players had to pick themselves up off the turf after being knocked down over and over again. The ref could have made by job a little bit easier by giving one of the home team’s players a red card. But, it didn’t happen. I could hear the ref thinking about how he didn’t want to be the one who decided the game. Good for him.

I took sips from the diet soda I had in my hand, just trying to focus on the ball. I tuned out the catcalls and screams. I tuned out the thoughts of the refs and both of the head coaches. I steadied myself as the stadium shook with every crisp pass and tackle. From the corner, the supporters sang a clever rhyme about a striker’s right foot. Blue flags waved.

Then, the first great chance: Muñoz, Vancouver’s star forward, found the ball in the box off a scramble and fired a shot towards the top right corner of the net.

I concentrated. The ball rose ever so slightly and smacked off the crossbar.

I could barely hear the sighs of disappointment from thousands of sets of lungs. But I was one with the ball. I steered another shot harmlessly against the hands of the L.A. goalie.

The fullback whipped in a wonderful cross for Muñoz. I made it so the ball struck the top of the forward’s head and went far off target.

The Boss wanted three goals. But I had a problem. Thirty minutes in and L.A. was being so badly outplayed, not one of its players had registered a shot on goal. And my brain was tiring with each fantastic Vancouver chance I had to think out of harm’s way. I made one shot swerve so it hit the post instead of going in. Then, just as a Muñoz was about to stick the ball in the open net, I made it bobble on the turf so it threw off his shot. Instead of going in, the ball looped over the bar.

There was 15 minutes left till halftime. I could take the time to collect myself, then. But, at that second, my head felt like it had been smacked with a bat.

Finally, a bad move from the home team — a clumsy back pass from the central defender towards the goalkeeper. I slowed the ball down enough so the keeper couldn’t possibly beat L.A.’s striker to the ball. Now, the forward had the ball on his foot and had the keeper at his mercy. All he had to do was chip the ball over the goalkeeper and into the gaping net. But, no, he decided to put his foot through the ball — so I had to act quick.

I thought hard; the ball hit the keeper in the shoulder. But it still had enough gas on it to pop behind him and into the goal.

I had to find more goals for The Boss, but it was a start.

“We’ll get it back,” the guy in the next seat came precariously close to spilling his beer all over me as he spoke. “We’ve been all over them this half. Really.”

He was talking to himself more than he was talking to me. There was no conviction in his voice. He spoke like he was reading from a script. He’s a Vancouver fan, I got it. These people have learned to endure failure in the wake of certain success. One bad thing happens in a game, and the stadium goes quiet. Instead of trying to roar their team back to life, the crowd was silent, waiting for the next bad thing to happen.

The guy sitting next to me tapped me on the shoulder. “Buddy, you OK?”

I reached my hand to my face and felt the blood streaming from my nose. What’s this? And then the agony, like someone was inside my skull, trying to push my eyeballs out. I doubled over, the pain receptors all on fire.

I peered out at the field, trying to push the ball into the Vancouver half. But the ball didn’t follow my command. The pain made it so I couldn’t clear my head and focus. The ball rolled out towards midfield. A Vancouver midfielder ripped a shot from 25 yards out. The ball wouldn’t do what I wanted it to do. It swerved and dipped and hit the underside of the bar before crashing down behind the goal line.

That was too obvious. Amateur hour. Even fighting the pain, I recognized that this was the work of a newbie. You can’t make the ball change directions that many times in one shot. It takes experience to know how to guide a shot into the goal — and that wasn’t it.

The crowd roared. The guy next to me was punching me in the shoulder. One second he was worried about my health, the next he’s screaming at me to get up and cheer.

I pushed myself up on the armrests, struggling to stand. Luckily, to everyone around me, save for the blood from my nose, I just looked like another drunk guy.

I tried to see through the pain. The stadium was a sea of flags and screaming fans. The goal had given them their momentum back. Damn. Damn.

I reached for the phone in my pocket. I tried to punch in The Rat’s number. But my fingers couldn’t do it. Whoever this bastard was, he’d got hold of hands.

It’s gotta be an inside job. Who sold me out? The Cow? The Rat? Who knows, the Boss himself?

“Buddy,” the guy in front of me turned back and yelled to me. He wore a blue road jersey and a scarf so new it still had the price tag attached to a sleeve. I couldn’t hear him over his voice over the roar of the crowd — but I heard him in my head. “If you stop fighting, I can make this easy for you. It won’t hurt so much.”

I felt the crushing pressure on my bones, forcing me back in the chair.

He was clapping and cheering, looking forward.

Buddy. Just sit tight, he said in my mind. Nothing personal. But if you can just take it easy…

AMATEUR AMATEUR AMATEUR, I thought.

Whoa. You made it so L.A. scored on their first shot and you call me an amateur? You think I haven’t been watching your work? When The Cow first told me about you, it was like you were a fucking legend. You can’t even make it look good anymore. Last week you put a ball right through the keeper’s hands — twice! If the Boss wants you to make it so there’s a win by three, he wants it to look good. Not three goals on the first three shots. Now, I just got Vancouver a goal back to set up a wild second half. That’s how it’s done. Also helps with halftime odds, right?

OK, I thought back. Just let me go….

Stop. Just rest. It’s over. Sorry. I can feel what you’re thinking. You’re thinking ‘If I can get out of this, I am gonna find The Cow and The Boss and everyone and shut them down.’ I can’t have that. They can’t have that.

Your problem is that they found a guy stronger than you. They told me you get all fucked up when you do your thing. I can do this all day.

I was immobilized in my seat, but no one noticed. To all of the people around me, I was just a drunk. Or, at worst, a harmless weirdo.

I’ll make sure L.A. has a huge surge in the second half. But I want to make sure the home crowd is giddy at the end of 45.

***

The first time I met The Rat, I was at a soccer game out at Thunderbird Stadium, helping the university team extend its winning streak. This is how I’d practice; control lower-league games during the week so I’d be able to be at my best for the weekend’s major-league match. I’d discovered that controlling objects didn’t hurt nearly as much as it did to kill things. It was still tiring, but I could get up the next day.

I’d bring home a few extra bucks to help mom: It was the least I could do, considering I’d killed the family’s breadwinner and, well, the life insurance on one of the company’s own employees wasn’t all that great.

It was a rainy afternoon. I was alone in an empty row of seats, until an Asian guy in a rain slicker sat next to me. He had these two massive front teeth that hung over his bottom lip.

“They call me The Rat,” he said, not looking at me. “We’ve been watching you. Every time Vancouver wins, you’ve been placing bets with Wong. You don’t lose. Ever. Always get goal-spread right, too. Sloppy.”

“Excuse me?”

“Do not play dumb. Do not worry. Today is your lucky day. We see how good you are. Last Saturday, twice in first half, Montreal has shots go off the post. But, you think you don’t get noticed, because you are stupid.”

“What?”

“Stupid. To think you are only one. Who has the power. There are many, you know? We control the many. Now you join us, so you can look after mother. More money. Lots of money. No questions.”

It was clear that The Rat knew what he was talking about. I could feel his gun jamming into my leg. I knew that I could make it so his gun wouldn’t work, but it also showed me how serious he was. I might be able to stop him, but would there be more thugs to follow?

“Yes. You guys all the same. Start off small. Some try to control game from stands, like you. Then there are the brave guys… who play tennis and golf. You heard of that Arthur McKendrick, the guy who win British Open by three strokes this year?”

“Yeah, the golfer. Best in the world.”

“He also work for us. We help train him. Make him better. Be able to think shots into hole. But also he know how to make it look good, how to bogey holes, how to look human for the crowd. Sell the image that it is real.”

The Rat sighed. “I tell you this because I know you won’t tell. We have many of your kind working for us. You tell, and we kill you. You tell, and we kill your mother.”

***

The referee blew the whistle for halftime. I was up off the seat, and I was compelled to walk up the stairs and into the concourse. He was right behind me; he controlled my every move. We were inside of a human traffic jam. People lined the stairs, waiting to get onto the concourse so they could get more beer or take their places in the bathroom lineups.

We inched our way up the stairs. I tried to root my feet to the spot, but he kept pushing me along; my soles pulled against the sticky pop spills on the concrete.

Keep going, he thought to me.

The thing is, telepathy goes both ways. He could have killed me on the spot, an aneurysm or something like that, but I could hear his mind; he wanted me to die somewhere away from the crowd, so there wouldn’t be a scene. These people, these drunken idiots, they were the only reason I was still alive.

But, even in a packed stadium, there were empty rooms; storerooms and staff-only hallways. There were stairwells that led to exit doors that wouldn’t be used until well into the second half.

If he got me to one of those places, I was done. He caught me by surprise, he was in my head, I couldn’t get him out. He could just send me tumbling down a lonely flight of stairs. Or he could force me into a service elevator and have it crash to the ground. Wait, I had to stop this — he could hear my thoughts, after all.

I stumbled through the crowd. He wouldn’t let me say a word. I staggered — and a few fans even stopped and stared.

“Whoa, man… party started early for you!”

“Still 45 minutes to go… pace yourself!”

I tried to not think of anything. Maybe if I changed the frequency, I could lose him. Once I shook him, maybe I could keep him out.

I should have robbed banks instead, I thought to myself as we a door that led to a storeroom.

Too risky, his voice in my head. Too many angles to cover. You have to know what to disable. All it takes is one camera you didn’t know was there and you’re caught.

Good point, I thought back.

Wait. That’s it! If I could distract him, I could misguide him, maybe break his hold…

You know, I can hear you, he said in my head.

In the crowd, no one would notice us slipping into the storeroom. Damn.

I heard the clicks of the silver buttons moving up and down. He was unlocking the door.

The storeroom is filled with shelves and shelves of cardboard boxes marked “scarves,” “toques” and “jerseys.”

I think hard and, as much as it hurts, slide my attacker’s body across the concrete floor. Lucky that there’s no blood.

This story originally appeared in PLASTIC PITCH #10.

I nudge him into a shadowy corner, thinking that, if I’m lucky, they won’t find him tonight. If a staffer does come in looking for jerseys, there’s a chance that person could be in and out without even seeing the body in that far, darkened corner.

My nose is bleeding. Well, gushing is more like it. Well, to the fans, it’ll just look like someone punched the drunk guy. All I want to do is sleep. But I can’t. I have to push on. To save my life. And likely, to save my mom’s life, too.

Remember what I said about telepathy going both ways? Instead of trying to break the grip, I tried something else. I filled his head with as much as I could. I thought about the nastiest scenes from my YouPorn account. I made a mental list of every Canadian player who I could remember playing for the national team… Aunger DeRosario Mitchell Berdusco Dolan Mobilio Bunbury Pesch Radz Stalteri Henry Piette Ricketts Miller Daso Samuel… I tried to recall the names of Star Trek episodes (it’s amazing, the shit you can recall when you’re about to die — Devil in the Dark, Shore Leave, Balance of Terror… ).

I could feel the pain in my chest; he’d locked us in the storeroom, now he was trying to explode my heart. My head was cracking, a hundred thunderbolts going off. I remembered my first kiss, how strange her tongue felt against mine, and wondering if I was doing it right.

Stop, he screamed in my head. Just die die die.

I tried to remember the names of the SkyTrain stops on the Canada line, in order. And, on purpose, I left one out.

And then I heard it in my mind. You forgot Templeton.

For one second, he’d loosened his grip. And I could tell right then and there that they’d sent this kid to do something he’d never done before. He’d never killed anybody. I had. And that was my advantage. He’s slipped up and, with whatever I had left, I had him.

I told his brain to turn itself off. His brain obliged.

Now, before I leave the storeroom, I search his jacket and find the phone. Bastard’s so cocky, he didn’t even bother with a password. Lucky me. There’s The Rat’s cell number, right at the top of the text message history.

Is it done? Reads the last message.

I type in “yes” and hit send.

Another message comes back. Finish the job.

Now, I just have to find the energy to make sure Los Angeles wins by three goals, then find a way to get mom out of town before they realize that I’m still breathing.

Maybe robbing banks isn’t such a bad idea, after all. Oh, how come I never thought of the professional golf angle?

Steven Sandor is editor of The 11, editor Avenue Edmonton magazine and an award-winning magazine writer. His seventh book (and fifth novel), Stick Pick, will be released through Lorimer in 2017. 

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