Jiu-jitsu fighter and writer
Cover image.

Chapter One

By Gaston Cavalleri

A shaggy mop fell each side of a grappler’s neck as he stood proud, until the fight bell rang. Then the grappler slumped to his knees, sporting black lycra shorts and a defined body like a transparent sachet of peanuts. This was Johnny Cava, an over-the-hill Australian grappler, who just found himself on the rough end of an underground fight bout in Brazil. A chaotic swell of Portuguese chanting surged through the hall. Johnny Cava staggered to his feet, covered in sweat beads and splashes of blood. Cava’s head hung in shame. A referee grabbed his right hand then raised the left hand of his fresher opponent.

Cava was thirty-four, but, in many ways, still had the mind of a younger man. His competitor was at least ten years his junior, about the age Cava felt, especially when he gave his name: “Call me Caviar.”

Caviar tasted an electrical charge from his newly split lip. A single rope encircled him, a referee, and a victorious rival. Cheers in Portuguese spiraled into the fight pit. It wasn’t common to hear English among these crowds, but tonight, a spooky white face with magpie eyes shone out like a moon.

“Nice tip, asshole!”

A mousy-brown Lego haircut stole Caviar’s attention. The haircut sat on a delicate head and a neck barely the thickness of Caviar’s forearm. This was Tony, about the same age as Caviar, with a squeaky voice, which he often raised. Tony stood in front of a blazing redheaded woman, at least a forehead taller. She sported collagen-enhanced lips like a flattened pair of Rottweiler’s balls and a set of piercing blue cat’s eyes. This was Tony’s partner, Sheryl, and together they made a cutthroat couple. Sheryl gave Caviar a once up and down.

“Throw some coin at my head!” Tony mimicked like a squeaky child.

Caviar’s face showed a man in distress. He fought to pay his rent, so when he didn’t win fights the following month was usually beans on rice.

Caviar hobbled across to Sheryl and Tony. “You win some,” he reasoned with opened hands. “You lose some.”

“If you’d said that earlier,” Tony replied spitefully, “I wouldn’t be ten down.”

Caviar scratched his head. “An hour ago you didn’t know me from a bar of soap. Consider yourself lucky I even care.” Sheryl patted Tony’s shoulders.

“Walk with me,” Caviar continued, turning for the locker rooms. Tony fumbled under the ringside rope dragging Sheryl behind, crossing a blue fight mat the length of two small cars.

“I think you owe me five,” Tony squawked as Caviar walked ahead.

Amused, “You can’t get blood out of a stone,” Caviar said, with a brief glance over his shoulder, as he left the fight mat and walked into a hallway the length of a school bus, making for the locker rooms. Angry chants floated into the hallway from the arena. Security guards parted a path through the crowd. “You think I do these fights for love?”

“I’m not saying you do,” Tony replied. “But it does make me wonder why.”

Caviar bumped his way through the crowd. Sheryl and Tony tagged behind.

“I lost tonight, too, you know.” Caviar continued bitterly. “… a bit a courage, a bit a pride; next month’s gonna be a bitter reminder. Would you like to contribute to this?”

“You’ve cost me an absolute fortune tonight,” Tony retorted with expressive hands. “If I leave now, I’m running a loss.”

“I haven’t a cent on me,” Caviar replied sincerely, eyeing Tony with Sheryl by his side. “Like I said, you win some, you lose some.”

Tony stretched his neck tall. “Get cleaned up. I’ve got an offer. It’s twelve hours north of here.”

Caviar laughed. “You must’ve heard me.”

“I heard you,” Tony snapped back. “If I leave now, I’m ten down.” Tony was in Caviar’s battered face; Caviar was financially up shit creek.

“I’ll get you work,” Tony proposed. “You contribute.” Caviar curiously raised his chin. Tony went on, “You’ll owe me five.”

Thirteen days later, a deep base note hit a toilet bowl in the bathroom of “The Cheery Den,” an upper-class drinking hole in New York’s East Village. Caviar stood peeing, admiring his pride and joy – a biscuit-beige pair of cow skin boots.

The bathroom door creaked open, the noisy bar crowd echoing off a tiled wall. The sound vanished as the door swung shut. Someone entered an adjacent toilet cubicle. Then another cascade, with a higher pitch, drizzled into the neighboring toilet bowl. Caviar finished, shook off the last few drops, put his pecker away, and saw, to his astonished surprise, a splash of fluid had hit a white tile on the floor under the cubicle’s barrier.

“Mate?” Caviar’s lips filled with air, exhaling as he looked at the top of the toilet partition. “You’ve pissed on my boot.”

An unenthusiastic hum was the only response.

Caviar, usually a rather humble man, had played contact sports his entire life, and hadn’t given up jiu-jitsu since the day he’d started it – fifteen years ago. No less than five times a week, Caviar scrubbed the soles of his feet so he could enter a jiu-jitsu mat. He bowed before he entered a mat, and before he exited, and often to lesser men. Caviar had been dished up hidings, and he’d dished many hidings out. So his days of proving himself to himself were over. Nevertheless, every now and then some rude bastard risked tipping him over the edge.

Caviar bent down, elbows on knees, to look under the cubicle wall. “Sorry, maybe?” he quizzed. Two pasty white legs stuck out of a pair of green knee-length shorts and ran down into a peach-colored pair of boat shoes. “No frigging manners!” Caviar continued. He straightened his clothes and took a deep breath, containing his irritation. A scent of disinfectant mixed with urine saturated the air. Then Caviar saw it: a wet splash of urine, smack on the point of his favorite boot. “Not even a cheap-ass ‘sorry’?”

A hollow trickle persisted behind the cubicle wall, followed by a moment of silence. Next, with five bear-like fingers, Caviar reached under the cubicle wall, shackling a fragile pasty ankle. There was a struggle along with another cut-price moan.

“A few more manners,” Caviar coached, “And we wouldn’t be here.”

Caviar dominated the leg, clamping it hard against the wall. The toilet brush sitting behind the bowl somehow found its way into Caviar’s hand, then into the rich orange urine and freckled black stains at the base of the bowl. As Caviar scrubbed the porcelain, a surprise dropped into his line of sight, in slow motion – a walking crutch – fell beside his boots. “What the fuck?” Caviar released the leg, dumbfounded, and grabbed his belongings – a faded black military cap and a small sturdy sports bag – hanging from a hook on the cubicle door. He knocked at the neighboring cubicle. “I’m sorry, but you did piss on my boots.” Caviar baffled, raced to the exit, paused a moment, gave a blank look, then left the restroom.

In The Cherry Den’s main bar, business attire and polo shirt collars were a popular theme. Some patrons stood by the large wooden bar while others sat by tables with silver cutlery and champagne. Caviar was underdressed, not by his own standards, but the bar had a yacht club feel. He stood proud in a hole-riddled white T-shirt and a well-worked black military cap – a hand-me-down Italian racecar pit crew’s gift from a friend. Caviar had spent his childhood in a dirty dump area, for the “lower class” or poor folks, if you like, back in Australia. Now, he was a fish out of water.

Caviar arrived at a classically dressed table to find Sheryl, Tony’s partner – his appointment – waiting with a crystal glass of Champagne. Sheryl’s lips were pumped up, possibly bigger than two weeks earlier, and her low neckline now exposed the white china-doll skin of her bust. Sheryl glared. The look in her eyes was hard to read. Caviar played it cool, as the pee stain on his boot burned at the back of his mind.

Sheryl was sitting alone when Caviar arrived.

“Where’s the cocker spaniel?”

“He’ll be here in a minute,” Sheryl replied. “He had an accident last week. I think his jaw’s fractured.”

“That’s terrible.”

“His shoulder’s in a sling too.”

“Those bloody planes are a nightmare,” Caviar replied as he slumped at the table.

“He’s in the men’s room.”

Caviar’s pupils dilated and eyelids almost tore open. “He’s not wearing peach boat shoes is he?”

“Aren’t they nice?” Sheryl replied in a slightly raised voice. The bar crowd was noisy. “I chose them.”

Caviar dropped his head. “Sheryl, I think we’re about to have a problem.”

“It’s fine,” Sheryl replied. “I’ve ordered a Seafood Platter. Eat that, have a chat, then get your sleep.”

Tony hobbled out of the bathroom.

“Bloody hell.”

“You can get home to rest after this.” Sheryl pointed to a chair. “Pull that out for him, will you?”

“Can’t he sit there with you?”

Tony’s jaw had strapping tape running from one temple, under his chin, to the other. His left arm hung in a sling, and he hobbled on crutches.

Caviar looked down at the wet splash on his boot.

Tony arrived at the table. “You look good,” said Caviar. “Let me help you with those.”

Tony looked constipated, needing to speak, but just staring furiously.

“He’s in a lot of pain,” said Sheryl.

Caviar placed Tony’s crutches against a chair, then offered him a seat. Tony declined, and just waved his index finger from side to side.

“He can’t open his mouth,” Sheryl said. “Sit down there, sweetie.” Tony, deadpan, didn’t reply. His chest was slightly puffed up like an angry pigeon.

“He’s still not over the money,” Sheryl said.

“Give me time,” Caviar replied “I’ll sort it.”

The bar noise rose. Tony wrote on a piece of paper, then placed it in front of Sheryl.

“Ok, dear,” Sheryl looked at Tony. “I’ll sort this out then get home.”

Caviar passed Tony his crutches. “You’ve got to be more careful,” he said patting Tony’s shoulder. Tony stared through Caviar, then hobbled out of the bar. Caviar’s comfort zone melted to idle. “Oh, well, more seafood for us.”

“I’m on a lot of favors to get you this role,” Sheryl replied. “Mick needed a handyman.” The seafood platter arrived with a Latin waitress. “And your résumé fit the bill.”

Caviar’s eyes stayed glued to the brown-haired girl holding the silver platter.

“What were you doing in Brazil for five years?” Sheryl said. “You’re too old to be fighting, aren’t you?” Caviar’s eyes grew bleak as Sheryl threw salt in the wound. “You get beaten like that every fight?”

“I got a win or two,” Caviar replied, not too sure of himself.

“I‘ve got somebody wanting big things,” said Sheryl. “He’s seen your fights.” She handed Caviar Tony’s doodled paper.

“You’ll meet Mick tomorrow.”

Caviar looked at the scribbled note. “Central Park, eh?”

“You know it?”

“I got here from the airport,” Caviar replied. “Which brings me to my next question: the flight money?”

“I’ll wire it when I get home.”

Caviar sat peeling a prawn; he wasn’t big on money talk, but his pockets were near empty.

“You go easy on those oysters, too,” said Caviar. Sheryl didn’t reply. Her eyes glazed as she stared blankly at Caviar’s chest, as though a bird’s feather just brushed lightly over her clitoris. She sat eating another oyster, sucking every drop out of the shell. “You going to fuck me while you’re in town, Caviar?”

Caviar laughed. He took a moment, catching his breath while peeling a prawn and maintaining a cheesy grin.

Sheryl sucked down another oyster, almost deliberately trying to turn Caviar on.

“It’s a lovely offer,” said Caviar, munching on a prawn. “I’ve gotta get to Fluffy’s apartment in Soho.”

Sheryl sat poker-faced. “I’ll get you there.”

Five blocks later, on a dilapidated street smothered in Cantonese writing and Chinese restaurants, a door covered in graffiti welcomed Caviar and Sheryl to Fluffy’s apartment.

“Sorry Caviar, this isn’t Soho,” Sheryl said.

“That’s what he told me,” Caviar replied. Fluffy had a habit of telling people he lived in Soho. It was his way of saying: “I’m doing all right, thanks for asking.” Chinatown was just a few blocks from Soho, and still pretty flash by Caviar’s standards.

Caviar burst open the door into a darkened hallway, escaping the reek of the street. Sheryl trailed behind up the shabby staircase – four floors higher up – to another opened door. Caviar and Sheryl followed a scent of lavender through the entrance to find a jaw lined with dark facial hair resting in a reclining chair. This was Fluffy, an Australian with Greek blood, whose real name was Con Boulos. Over the years, the “Con” dropped out of use, and the “Fluffy” associated with his furry Greek features got added onto the “Boulos”. Fluffy was well known to the neighborhood’s African refugees, and to many others, as the Australian with a pretty quick tongue. He was also the person to talk to if you needed a cheap Louis Vuitton bag, an imitation Rolex, and any number of other street deals.

Fluffy opened his eyes, then jumped to his feet. “Caviar!” The pair exchanged a brief, brotherly hug. “And who’s this cupcake?”

“She’s no cupcake, let me tell you,” Caviar replied. “This is Sheryl.”

Fluffy stood in front of Sheryl wearing blue retro soccer shorts, and an open white bathrobe exposing scattered belly button hairs. He leaned over to greet Sheryl with a kiss. “Pleasure to meet.” Sheryl didn’t reciprocate, so Fluffy steered his attention to Caviar. “You staying long?”

“Let’s see.” Caviar scanned Fluffy’s apartment, an open plan studio with a separate office containing a screaming sized Mac computer. “She needs to wire me money,” Caviar said.

“I said I’d do it at home,” Sheryl cut in.

Caviar continued. “Can she use that computer?”

Fluffy chuckled, “You haven’t changed a bit. Computer’s in there.” He gestured with an open hand to the spare room. “Help him out will you?”

Caviar looked at Sheryl. “Now would be good,” he said.

“We’ve gotta get you cleaned up if you’re gonna last here,” Fluffy continued to Caviar.

Sheryl was hesitant. “You sure you want to go in there?”

“Watch my paperwork,” said Fluffy. “Chinese tomorrow, hey? Dumplings, thank you.”

Caviar didn’t reply. Fluffy loved a cheap plate of Chinese – especially when it wasn’t his shout. And when it was his shout, you could expect a nice duck-ass special slapped on a plate of white rice. “Bloody beautiful,” Fluffy would say, chewing his deal. “You don’t get food this good back in Australia.”

Fluffy was very talented at saving a dollar, with a weekly budget the cost of smelling an oily rag. Three meals a day, seven days a week, were devoted to Chinese duck specials or Mexican deli leftovers.

Caviar walked Sheryl into a dull spare room, with a plain Ikea desk supporting an iMac, and some cardboard boxes stashed in a corner. A red futon sat to the left of a window leading to a frail balcony-style fire escape. Caviar fired up the computer then turned his gaze to Sheryl, who had that look in her eyes. Caviar’s primal urges surged, slowing him down, smoothing out the rough edges. He reached for a black label bottle of whiskey conveniently placed beside Fluffy’s computer. Sheryl watched Caviar pour two generous shots. Then, as Caviar recapped the bottle, she grabbed his shirt, pulling him into a ferocious, lip-devouring kiss. Caviar ran with it, tearing open Sheryl’s top. Her nipples perked out, like the pinkest cherries Caviar had seen. Caviar exhaled, explosively rasping, “They’re bloody beautiful. I love strawberries.” Struggling to jam an entire breast into his mouth, Caviar turned Sheryl’s body, wrapping her arms in a bear hug. Sheryl leaned forward, her torso hanging outside the window, hands braced on the fire escape in the shadows above the streetlights. Caviar licked his three middle fingers, then slid them lightly over and into Sheryl’s wet slit. Sheryl moaned. Caviar growled.

The sound of Caviar’s zipper cut through the noise of their breathing, and his pulsating member sprang out of his jeans. His hard cock slid against Sheryl, then he took a deep breath before plunging smoothly into her depths. Hot balls slapped against warm skin. Caviar hit his stride, powering through Sheryl’s balcony-shaking climaxes. Sheryl’s hands gripped the balcony more tightly as Caviar picked up the pace, his breathing steady – in through the nose; out through the mouth – taking the encounter as seriously as his usual middleweight jiu-jitsu competitions. Caviar focused on his one goal – ensuring Sheryl enjoyed everything he had to give her, all the while firmly pinning her head and bare breasts out the window. Caviar thrust wildly, then pulled out, shooting his hot fountain loosely across Sheryl’s naked butt – and on to the point of his favorite biscuit-beige boot.