Heel Turn

By Sanguine

Episode 9.16

Part Four

 


MacGyver took a deep breath and pushed through the glass door of the old bingo hall. Since Coastal Elite Wrestling was booked for another show the next day, the ring was still set up and people were still constantly flowing in and out of the locker rooms. It was the perfect time to blend in and eavesdrop.

Unfortunately, the first conversation he came across sounded like this:

“Izi hizeard thizat Gizaijizin gizot hizurt fizor rizeal.”
“Yeah, looked like he got some stiff potatoes. Definitely a shoot.”
“Hizope hize's izokizay.”

Slipping around a corner to avoid being seen, MacGyver ran a hand through his hair and frowned. He'd never heard that many Z sounds in his entire life. And none of it sounded remotely like a language that he was familiar with. If eavesdropping and snooping for information wouldn't work, then he needed to try a different tactic.

He went straight into the locker room, pausing at the doorway when he saw fifteen pairs of eyes turning to stare at him. “Hi,” he said with an awkward wave. “Name's MacGyver.” Rapidly forcing himself to recall what Jack had introduced him as before, he added, “I'm Jack's new producer.”

For a split second, everything was silent and MacGyver wondered if he'd made a mistake. Then the wrestlers burst into laughter and returned to their business.

“We wondered when you'd come by to introduce yourself,” Panama Frank commented, offering a handshake.

“Sorry,” Mac replied. “With Kobayashi getting hurt, Jack and I were a little busy.”
He reached out to shake Frank's hand, expecting a firm grip---and being taken aback when the wrestler's handshake was as loose as a limp fish.

Frank chuckled. “How new to this business are you?”

“Very,” MacGyver admitted.

Frank shrugged. “It's okay. We were all new once. You shake hands the way you work. If you shake stiff, you work stiff. If you shake loose, you work loose. So, you want to make sure you say hello to everyone. Start with Paul.” He gestured to the largest man in the room, who was playing cards at a folding table in the corner.

MacGyver nodded. “Thanks.”

As he walked over to the table, he wondered which of these men could be secretly working for a group of vicious criminals. None of them seemed particularly outgoing so far, but none of them seemed dangerous, either. He approached the card table and cleared his throat. Paul and the two men at the table with him looked up. Paul was huge up close, with muscles that were even more impressive than Kobayashi's and blue eyes that glared up at MacGyver---and suddenly, Mac began to wonder if it had been a smart idea to interrupt the game.

“Hi. I'm the new producer. Name's MacGyver. Just…thought I'd introduce myself.”

Paul stood up and MacGyver's brain began to filter through every self-defense move he knew. But then Paul's face split into a grin and he grabbed Mac for a handshake (loosely, of course). “Hey, man. I wondered when you were gonna stop by. Jack mentioned he'd be bringing on some new hands. So you're gonna be helping everyone choose moves and set up spots, huh? Well, it's great to have you here.” He sat back down again and added, “Especially if you're a friend of Jack's.”

Relaxing slightly (still keeping in mind that everyone was a suspect), MacGyver asked, “So, what do you think of Jack?”

Paul chuckled as he picked up his cards. “I gotta say, when he first took over, I wasn't sure about him at all. He knew next to nothing about this business. But he's picked it up like a natural. Between you and me? I think all of us are about to go places. That is, if everyone can stop screwing around and take it seriously. But you didn't hear that from me.” The men at the table snickered and restarted the card game.

Feeling relieved that Jack was doing well with his employees---and even more relieved now that he finally knew what it meant to be a wrestling producer---MacGyver introduced himself to every wrestler in the locker room before making his way back to Frank.

“Welcome aboard,” Frank said with a grin. “It's a good thing Paul likes you. You sink or swim depending on what he thinks.”

MacGyver shrugged. “Seems like it went well. I have one more question and then I'll get out of you hair.”

“Okay, what is it?”

“What's a stiff potato?”

* * * *

“Okay, Hikaru,” Jack said as he started the car. “How are we going to start investigating these guys? Do you have any ideas?”

“Absolutely,” Kobayashi answered without hesitation. “But it's dangerous. I'll need your help, but when the time comes, I won't ask you to go in with me.”

“Are you kidding? It's going to take at least both of us to get rid of those yakuza guys. I'm all in, amigo.”

Kobayashi nodded thoughtfully. “You might not think so when you hear what I have to say. I think we should forget Rin and Ichiro. They're small-time enforcers anyway. I think we should go straight to the kumicho.”

“What does that mean?”

“The kumicho is the yakuza boss, the leader of my gang. Ichiro let it slip that he was nearby---probably in this city.”

“That's great, but how are we supposed to find this guy? The city's huge.”
“Check the hospitals!”

Jack frowned in confusion. “Why?”

“There's only one reason why a man like Riku---the kumicho---would leave Japan, and that's his liver.”

Jack squinted. “You're losing me. I don't get it.”

Kobayashi shook his head impatiently. “Yakuza always drink and smoke. Even inject amphetamines. And the bigger you are, the more you have to drink.”

“Ohhh,” Jack said, finally understanding. “So he must be here for a transplant or something, then.”

Kobayashi nodded. “Yes! If we find his liver, we find Riku.”

Shortly after, Jack pulled into the parking lot of the UCLA Medical Center. “Don't get your hopes up too much, okay?” he told Kobayashi. “But I have a nurse friend who works here, and she might be able to give us some information.”

Kobayashi raised an eyebrow before gesturing loosely to the building with his intact pinky finger. “So…?”

Jack blinked. “So what?”

Kobayashi nudged his shoulder. “Is she a girlfriend, Jack-san?”

“Au contraire! She's just a very sweet girl that I happen to---” Jack trailed off and sighed. “Yeah, okay, we've been out a few times, but it's not serious. Now, c'mon!”

Jack's friend was short with ginger hair, and she glared at him from behind the nurse station as he walked over. “Can I help you?” she asked coldly.

“Hey! Alicia! Long time, no see! Listen, I kinda need a favor…”

“Then you should've called me back!”

She started to walk away, but then Kobayashi called, “Please! It's very serious.”

The nurse looked back at him. “How serious?”

“Life and death,” Kobayashi answered.

Alicia sighed. “Oh, all right. What do you need?”

“Please, check the list for liver transplants and see if Riku Minamoto is here.”

She shrugged. “Okay, but it'll take me a while to check the files.”

“We can wait,” Jack replied cheerfully. “This is going well so far. See! This'll show Mac that I can investigate, too. I don't need to be left behind!” Then his smile faded away. “Although, I do have one question. What will we do if we find this guy?”

Kobayashi carefully rolled up his sleeves. “Riku is an old samurai. He believes in giri.”

“And what does that mean?”

“It means…it means you give something and you get something.”

“Look, amigo, you've got to learn how to say things clearly. I have no idea what you're trying to tell me.”

“Riku wants my life, so I'm going to make him think that I want to take his.”

“Ohhh. I see. Smart plan. But, that's if he's here. He might not be. Maybe that guy misspoke and the boss man isn't even in---”

Jack never finished his sentence because Alicia returned with a clipboard in hand.
“I don't know how you knew, but Riku Minamoto is definitely on the transplant list,” she said. “At the very top, too. Which is strange, considering that I didn't even see his name on here when I checked it day before yesterday.”

“Where is he? Which hospital?” Kobayashi asked urgently.

“This one, actually,” Alicia replied, followed by a cry of “Hey!” when Kobayashi grabbed the clipboard from her hands. He checked to see which room the kumicho was waiting in before tossing the clipboard onto the counter and taking off down the hall---with Jack in pursuit.

“Thank you! I'll call you later!” Jack shouted as he chased the wrestler.

Alicia scoffed as she picked up her clipboard. “Yeah, like I haven't heard that one before.”

****

MacGyver was beginning to realize that Jack had been right about the wrestlers being a tight-knit group of people---and the more he learned about them, the more he realized how much of an outsider he truly was. Frank, his self-appointed mentor, had started to explain some of the basics as they walked to the ring.

“If you work stiff, that means you hit hard. You don’t want your wrestlers to be stiff. This isn’t Japan, and somebody could get hurt. Now, if something is scripted, like me going up against Jack, that’s called a work. If it’s real, like when those two dudes started beating the tar out of Kobayashi earlier, then that’s called a shoot. And above all, you always keep kayfabe. That’s not gonna bother you so much, being backstage, but just remember that when you’re helping these guys figure out what to do during a match.”

“I appreciate the help, Frank, but you still didn’t tell me what any of this has to do with potatoes.”

Frank smiled---and then socked MacGyver in the jaw. “That was a potato.”

MacGyver rubbed his sore face, knowing that he’d have a bruise later. Then, he did what he would do if someone had tried to crosscheck him in a hockey game: he hit back. Not hard, but enough to get Frank’s attention.

Frank’s grin grew wider and the hand that flew to his jaw mirrored Mac’s motion from earlier. “And there’s the receipt. Not bad! C’mon, the guys are already in the ring.”

Frank whistled to the three wrestlers and they paused in their training to look. “Hey, guys. This is MacGyver, the new producer. He just met everybody in the locker room, and he's all right. But he's just getting smartened up, so don't break him just yet.”

“Comforting,” MacGyver said dryly.

The three wrestlers climbed out of the ring and gave him three limp handshakes.
“I'm Randy Thompson,” the biggest one said. “I go by Trucker. These guys are Stewart Nixson and Saul ‘The Saw’ Wilson.”

“Nice to meet you. What are you working on?”

Saul grinned. “Triple Threat match for tomorrow night! We're working on the finish.”

“I'm going to win,” Stewart said, twisting one finger around the strings of his hoodie. His voice had a ring of aggression to it that automatically made Mac suspicious.

“Nice,” MacGyver said, keeping his thoughts concealed. “Why don't you show me what you have so far?”

Quickly, the three of them got into position in the ring. Lightning-fast, Saul got MacGyver up to speed. “At the last part of the match, after we throw a whole bunch of punches, Trucker's gonna knock me flat on my back!”

Grinning, Trucker shoved Saul backwards with one meaty hand, and Saul flew to the center of the ring and sprawled out like he'd been hit with a concrete block.

"After that, Stewart will take over,” Trucker said. “I'll catch his moonsault for a piledriver.”

“And then I'll recover and attack them both!” Saul finished from his place on the mat. “That's all we have so far. What do you think?”

“It sounds good to me,” MacGyver said slowly, hoping that this wasn't a test of his knowledge. “Now we need to figure out how we're going to go from your attack to Stewart's win. Right?”

“Right,” Stewart said slowly, running a hand through his short black hair. “Well, whatever we plan, I have to be able to do it in a lion suit. So this is what I think: when Saul attacks, I'll roll out of the ring and hide. Then Saul, you can go to town on Trucker.”

“That's good,” MacGyver said. “You're a heel, right?”

“Of course,” Stewart replied. His eyes narrowed.

MacGyver shrugged nonchalantly. “Just checking. So when you roll out, you can wait for Saul to get Trucker on the ground. Then just before he goes for a pin, you can hit him with a sneak attack.”

“Maybe you could use the kendo stick beneath the ring without the ref seeing,” Saul suggested. “That'd get you some real heat, and it'd be something that doesn't happen every time.”

Trucker shook his head adamantly before any of the others could reply. “No way. The last time Stewart used a kendo stick, he got somebody hurt. I'm not going in the ring with him like that until he proves he knows what he's doing.”

“No way!” Stewart snapped. “I didn't do anything wrong! Besides, I'm the heel! I'm the one who calls the match. It's my decision!”

Trucker shook his head again. “It's MacGyver's decision. He's the producer, and he reports straight to the boss. What he says goes.”

MacGyver quietly blew a puff of air through his mouth as he scanned each man's face. Saul was completely unfazed, but Trucker was looking to him for a real decision. Stewart, on the other hand… Stewart concerned MacGyver. Not only had he been showing aggression, but he had also been acting nervous the entire time Mac had been there. He was certain that the wrestler had something to hide, and he thought that maybe if he could push the guy just a little farther, he might be able to get Stewart to slip up. “Sorry,” Mac said finally. “I think using sticks in the ring is just too dangerous.”

Red-faced, Stewart slid out of the ring and shoved MacGyver as hard as he could. “You don't know anything!”

“I think I do. I'm almost certain that you're the one who helped two yakuza enforcers threaten Kiryu and Tanaka enough to make them fear for their lives.”

The truth was that MacGyver had been anything but certain, but the bluff worked.

The expression that crossed the wrestler's face was enough to convince him, but then Stewart said, “You don't know who you're dealing with! And you can't fight back.”

“He doesn't need to,” Paul's voice rang out from across the room. He stepped forward across the concrete and Stewart's face contorted. “You know, it's funny,” Paul continued. “I pegged MacGyver here for a mark the second I laid eyes on him, so I thought I'd come see how planning the spot was going. But then, you know how these concrete hallways echo. I was standing in the Gorilla, man, and I heard every word you guys just said.” When he spoke, he edged in closer. “Is it true? What he said about you getting Kiryu and Tanaka to attack another wrestler. Did you do that?”

Stewart's face drained of color and his hands balled into fists. “No way. He's not even one of us! Why are you listening to him?”

“Because it adds up,” Paul said. “You were late yesterday, and so were those two Japanese guys. I had to get Antoine to cover for you in the lion suit. Where else would you have been? And it ain't exactly a secret that you need money.”

“We all need money! It doesn't mean anything.”

“Kiryu and Tanaka also told me that they only knew the third man was an American because of his voice. They couldn't see his face,” MacGyver added quietly. “That black hoodie that you're wearing would make it easy for you to cover your face enough to avoid being seen.”

Stewart slowly began to back away---but he collided with Trucker's chest. His lip curled and he stared daggers at MacGyver. “I've had just about enough of you!” He charged forward at MacGyver, ready to attack the troubleshooter.

Calmly, MacGyver sidestepped and punched the wrestler as hard as he could. The next instant, Trucker had grabbed the smaller man by the collar and MacGyver was shaking his hand.

Paul nodded at Trucker. “Lock him up in the broom closet until the boss gets back. Then he can decide what to do with him.” Then he looked at MacGyver and laughed. “So much for Mac the Mark! Where'd you learn to throw a stiff shot like that?”

MacGyver shrugged modestly. “I took up karate a while back, just as a hobby. But I guess I'm still a mark.”

Paul laughed again. “Definitely. I'm sure you can't even speak a lick of carny.”
MacGyver grinned. “Yizou'd be sizurprizised.”

*****

Kobayashi froze in the middle of the hallway, just across from Riku Minamoto's hospital room. So far, he didn't see any bodyguards, and he didn't expect Riku to have any---they'd attract too much attention to a yakuza leader outside his territory. But the wrestler began to move cautiously, just to be sure.

“Wow, you must've been training really hard lately. You can run almost as fast as Mac,” Jack sneezed behind him.

“Shhh,” Kobayashi whispered.

“Is someone there?” a voice sounded from inside the hospital room. A faint voice, quiet but still strong, and ragged due to years of chain-smoking.

Kobayashi took a deep breath and pushed himself to stand tall. “Don't follow me, Jack-san,” he whispered. “Riku doesn't need to see your face.”

Then he stepped, slowly and displaying more confidence than he felt, into the room. Like a shadow, Jack crept in behind him.

The gang leader was lying feebly in the bed, but alert, despite sunken eyes and skin yellowing with jaundice. He was connected to IVs and medical monitors, yet he still exuded an air of authority and danger. His eyes hardened with recognition. “Ah. The uragirimono, daring to show his face before his leader. Shameful.”

“I'm not a traitor,” Kobayashi said stiffly. “But I'm also not a yakuza.”

Riku chuckled breathlessly. “Then what are you, with all those tattoos?”

“I'm not your property,” Kobayashi said defiantly. “I'm my own man. I've come to make you a deal.”

Riku laughed again, coughing slightly. “A deal? And what could you possibly offer me?”

Kobayashi leaned forward and reached out, tapping the plastic IV bag that was hooked to the kumicho's arm. “Your life for mine.”

“That's just saline. Removing it won't kill me. You'll have to do better, uragirimono.”

Kobayashi smiled tightly. “I have proof that you bribed the hospital with funding in order to get yourself moved to the top of the transplant list.”

“You have no proof of anything!”

“Are you sure?” Kobayashi challenged. “I also have proof of your dealings back home in Japan---and witnesses! What do you think the American authorities will do if they find out? Your visa will be revoked---and you won't get your liver.”

Riku stared at Kobayashi, visibly enraged. “You're lying. You have no proof.”

Kobayashi slowly crossed the room and slowly picked up the telephone in the corner. “So I can call the police now, then? You're an innocent man, and I have no proof, right? So it's okay for them to come?”

Jack watched Kobayashi begin to dial with a poker face on the outside and a stifled grin on the inside---and the hidden grin grew wider as Riku let out a hiss under his breath.

“I accept,” the yakuza leader growled, muscles tensing beneath his traditional tattoos. “Your life for my liver. If you keep quiet, I'll let you go.”

Kobayashi nodded, satisfied, and hung up the hospital telephone.

“But,” Riku added sinisterly, “if you speak a word about me ever again, you will suddenly decide to commit a very messy suicide. I swear it.”

“Deal.” Kobayashi walked out the door and Jack scrambled to follow.

“This is great!” Jack said. “I can't wait to tell Mac all about it! Hey, do you think he managed to track down the American guy helping them?”

“Definitely,” Kobayashi said with a grin. “Thank you for helping me, Jack-san. I'm free, and I wouldn't be without you.”

“Anytime, me boyo, anytime.”

*****

“So just like that, he gave up?” MacGyver asked Jack as they walked out of the police station---again.

“Sure did, Mac! I guess he really wanted that new liver.”

“I don't know,” MacGyver said doubtfully. “I know these gang types, and they don't usually give up easily. Something tells me we haven't seen the last of Mr. Riku yet.”

“What about giri?”

“What?”

“You know! Getting something for nothing---I mean, nothing for---no, it was something for--- Ah, never mind.”

MacGyver laughed. “Don't get too complicated on me now, Jack. I only just learned the difference between a work and a shoot.”

“Everything's a work, Mac. So, how'd you manage to figure out that Stewart was the yakuza guy?”

MacGyver grinned. “You want the real answer, or kayfabe?”

Jack sniffed and adjusted his cap. “Very funny, Mac. Well, either way, I'm glad you caught him. I can't believe he turned in those two other yakuza guys to get a lighter sentence. So much for gang loyalty.”

MacGyver shrugged. “All I know is that I thought the folks back at Phoenix were doing the hard work while I ran out with you for a break, but now I'm starting to think that maybe professional wrestling is much more complicated than I thought.”

“Sure it is. What's Phoenix working on this time?”

Mac ran a hand through his hair. “Still trying to figure out who's funding this Atlas thing. And basically, it's a lot of work with nothing to show for it so far.”

“Sorry to hear that, amigo. But for what it's worth, the next time you need a break, I hear that Mac the Mark is pretty respected backstage,” Jack said with a wink.

MacGyver shook his head. “No, thanks. I think my producing days are over. And Jack?”

“Yeah, amigo?”

“Never, ever play another game of poker!”


The End

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