The crowd erupted with cheers as Adrian Talbot fell to his death. The rabid fans were of the impression they had seen a death-defying act, but in truth, Adrian had shown almost no defiance in the face of the reaper.
Keijo Watanabe, Adrian’s good friend stood at the top of the scaffolding in shock. Yes, just moments ago he had pushed his friend off the rickety, eight-metre-high structure, but he had envisaged things going rather differently.
Adrian had been meant to fall onto four large foam mattresses that were to lie behind the steel barricades, where the crowd would be unable to see them. Instead, Adrian had fallen onto the bare concrete, and proceeded to paint one side of the steel barricades with the contents of his skull.
Keijo spread his hands in front of his face. He looked like a man wondering what had come over him to commit such an act of violence. In reality, Keijo was trying to determine his left and right to determine whether he had thrown his friend off the correct side of the scaffolding. Keijo frowned. He remembered being told you could tell which hand was your left because your thumb and forefinger would form an “L” when you splayed your fingers. Keijo had quickly checked when he and Adrian reached the top of the scaffolding, but he now realised which hand formed an “L” depended on whether his palms were turned towards him or not.
Keijo was beginning to feel he might have made a grave mistake. He gingerly edged over to the opposite side of the scaffolding from which Adrian had fallen and looked down. Beneath him were four foam mattresses and a confused looking member of the company’s medical team. Keijo swallowed.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” a voice boomed over the loudspeakers. “Let’s hear it for the winner of tonight’s match, and your new Death Cult Wrestling Champion is Keijo ‘The Killer’ Watanabe.”
The crowd roared their approval. Keijo found himself instinctively raising his fists to the air, thinking maybe if he pretended nothing was wrong the world would right itself.
Yet even as he descended the scaffolding it became clear this would not be the case. Below him, Death Cult Wrestling Staff were starting to gather around Adrian’s body, their voices etched with panic. On the other side of the barricades, a different reality seemed to be unfolding, as satisfied fans got up from their seats to leave, excitedly discussing the incredible stunt that had closed out the show.
Keijo was tempted to cross to their side of the barricade and never return but as soon as he reached the ground sweaty hand gripped his bicep.
“Come with me Killer.” It was Freddy Long, the owner and promoter of Death Cult Wrestling.
“What a mess,” muttered Freddy as the two hurried past Adrian’s prone body.
Freddy led Adrian into a small demountable set up as a makeshift kitchen and locked the door. He began to pace back and forth, pulling at the stubble on his chin.
“Damn shame,” Freddy said to himself. “Kid was just starting to draw. This stunt was meant to push him to the top, now they’ll be lucky to scrape him off the concrete.”
Freddy then looked up at Keijo. “What happened? Why’d he go off the wrong side?”
Keijo was still in shock. He wasn’t sure whether to tell the truth or lie. In the end, he compromised by opening and closing his mouth without making a noise.
“Look kid. Yer ain’t in trouble, they call it deathmatch wrestling for a reason. Besides, I’ve just lost one of my main workers, I can hardly afford to lose my champion to a prison sentence as well, can I?”
“I-I-I got my left and right mixed up,” Keijo spluttered.
Freddy’s face scrunched up at that, and he began pacing again. “That’s… unfortunate. But I don’t reckon the cops will buy it.”
“Yes, the cops. When they hear someone has been pushed 30 odd feet to their death, they’re going to suspect foul play.”
“You think they’ll do me for murder?” Keijo whimpered.
“Either that or they’ll bust us for unsafe practice. If that happens, we’re buried. No one will ever work for a deathmatch wrestling company with a reputation for being unsafe!”
“Are we sure he’s dead,” Keijo knew he was grasping at straws. “What if he’s just unconscious? He might make it still.”
“Well, there have been several wrestlers I have worked with before who have gotten by without a brain,” Freddy muttered. “But all the king’s horses and all the king’s men won’t be of any use here; Adrian’s dead as they come.”
Suddenly, blue and red lights began to illuminate the room.
Freddy cursed. “Time’s up kiddo, we better go and face the music. Let me do the talking here.”
Freddy grabbed Keijo by the arm again and the two exited the demountable. Keijo could now see that two police officers and two paramedics were now standing near Adrian’s body. The officers were politely asking the onlookers to clear the area when they saw Keijo and Freddy approaching.
“Are you the killer?” said a short female officer looking at Keijo.
“Yes, yes he is,” Freddy jumped in. “This is Keijo ‘The Killer’ Watanabe – three-time, uh, four-time Death Cult Wrestling Champion. I’m the promoter, Freddy Long. Pleasure to meet you.”
The woman nodded before looking over to her partner.
“Let’s go over her,” said the male officer, leading them away from where the paramedics were inspecting Adrian’s corpse. “I’m Officer Domingo and this is Officer Bailey.”
“Ha! Domingo and Bailey,” chimed Freddy. “Sounds like a buddy-cop duo.”
Keijo thought the nervous energy his boss was radiating could have powered an entire city, but he as he only had the feeblest of excuses himself, Keijo kept his mouth shut.
“Yes, well, we’re obviously getting Homicide to come and inspect the scene,” said Bailey, flipping to a new page on her notepad, “so we’re just here to gather as much information as can before they arrive.”
“Homicide. Yes, of course,” said Freddy. “Attempted murder is indeed a most heinous crime.”
Keijo watched as both Domingo and Bailey arched their left eyebrows in unison. Or maybe it was their right eyebrows.
“Attempted murder?” Domingo said, turning to glance back at where Adrian lay. “I would say it’s more like succeeded murder.”
“Well evidently not,” said Freddy wagging a finger. “If Adrian had been successful then young Keijo wouldn’t be standing beside me, would he?”
“You mean to say that the deceased was trying to kill your employee here,” Bailey said, beckoning at Keijo with her notepad.
“Yes, yes.” Freddy nodded enthusiastically. “I don’t mean to speak ill of the dead, but it was a dastardly thing he sought to do. In wrestling, you put your life in the other man’s hands, so I can’t imagine how poor Keijo felt when those hands tried to throw him to his doom.”
Domingo chewed on his lip, looking doubtful. “The call from your medical officer said your employee here threw the deceased to his death – avoiding the mattresses placed to break the fall – are you claiming that was self-defence.”
“Of course it was self-defence,” Freddy was starting to get into gear. “Before the match we had it all laid out. Keijo and Adrian – the dead one – would brawl to the top of the scaffolding. Once the crowd was at a fever pitch, Adrian was to throw Keijo off and onto the mattresses. The crowd would marvel at Keijo taking such a heroic fall and would cheer Adrian for retaining his championship, it was going to be perfect.”
“But Adrian had his own plans,” continued Freddy. “When he and Keijo got up the top he started to drag Keijo to the side of the scaffolding where only concrete lay beneath.”
The two officers glanced at each other uncertainly. Freddy forged on.
“I was below watching the whole debacle unfold. I have never felt so helpless, or so stupid. I had always known Adrian was the violent sort, but never had I thought he’d take things this far. I was certain Keijo was going to meet his maker when he managed to squirm free of Adrian’s grasp. Adrian’s momentum then sent him tumbling over the edge, and- “
Freddy clapped loudly to mimic the sound of Adrian hitting the concrete.
“Sickening sight it was,” said Freddy, shaking his head. “But I would be lying if I said there wasn’t some relief that it was Adrian who fell and not the innocent party.”
Freddy put his arm on Keijo’s shoulder, his face a picture of compassion and concern.
The two officers looked at each other once more. Keijo thought they looked doubtful of the story, but also noted this was better than them being certain of what actually happened.
After what seemed like an eternity, Bailey nodded to Domingo, who then turned back to Keijo and Freddy.
“In that case, I’m sorry for what you’ve been through,” Domingo said. “But you’ll understand we will still need to take you into the station to get your statements on record.”
“Yes,” Freddy chirped, almost jubilant his ruse had appeared to work. “We understand. Totally fine.”
“We appreciate your cooperation,”
Domingo led the four of them to the cop car, lights still flashing on top. Keijo was replaying the skirmish on top of the scaffolding in his head, trying to think of how he could support Freddy’s story without having to change too many of the facts.
“Watch your step, puddle on your right,” Domingo said.
Blinded by the lights of the police car, Keijo stepped to his left, bringing his boot down and splashing the legs of Freddy and Bailey either side of him.
Bailey stopped and turned to look at Keijo, whose foot was still ankle-deep in the puddle. She looked down at the puddle, at her own muddied pants, and then back to Keijo.
At that moment, regardless of rights or lefts, Keijo knew he was on the wrong side of the law.