Honor Amongst Thieves, Uptown. 2:47 am, August 11th, 2016
In unison, “TO LARRY!”
With a sarcastic sense of modesty “Oh ok. To me.”
Larry Fitzgerald wasn’t a comedian but he was a likable individual and one the NFL’s truly good guys; and the roaring applause to his response was proof. Drafted by Arizona in 2004, Fitzgerald was the most beloved Cardinal in the franchise’s mostly-unimpressive history. Entering the twilight of his productive years, tonight, he was wrapping up a different celebration — signing the papers on his final extension with the Cardinals; a contract that he negotiated by himself.
“Well, again, thank you all for coming. I always appreciate you all celebrating with me. But, you know, I have a lot of work to do this preseason so I’m going to blow the final whistle here and call it a night. Thanks again.”
A couple jokers in the back called out, “tweet” or “whistle”. Fitzgerald flashed his pearly whites to the unidentifiable sources and the crowd laughed one final time as they began to disperse.
Bookended by his closest associates in the booth, Larry was relieved that he was generally inaccessible to the patrons as they passed by on their way to the exit. Being a football player attracted all types of followers; fans, ladies, agents, investors, shysters, and, simply put, the hangers on. He did not appreciate so many people showing up to drink for free on his tab as a celebration of his hard work but would never show it. Even when a heavily inebriated man in a #25 Seahawks jersey reached over and knocked on the tabletop to get Larry’s attention.
“Hey man. Sign my ball? Big fan.”
His boothmates eyed the man but Larry quickly broke the tension. “Of course. Always great to meet a big fan.” He took the football from the man and cradled it while scribbling across a panel with a Sharpie. “See if Richard can cover me when I write my signature this big.” Only when he offered the ball back to the 12 with a smile did the man realize the joke.
“You’re a nice guy, Larry,” he pivoted and stepped back into the crowd of exiting patrons. The associates seated on either side of Fitzgerald followed. Less than a minute later, the place was empty except for Larry, a hulking beast of a man standing at the counter, a lone barkeep drying glasses, and the waitress that had been serving Larry all night.
“Another Remington, Mr Fitzgerald?” she asked him, clearing the table.
“No, no, Lin Sue. Just a Pellegrino with lemon. I don’t drink while conducting business.” He reached into his breast pocket and produced his reading glasses and a leather-bound notepad. Tapping his Montblanc Meisterstuck on the cover, he looked up to no one in particular and asked for the first item.
“Well,” the bartender set down the highball glass he was drying, “of course, you’re free to stay as long as you’d like but if you guys want to go ahead and settle this up, I’ll be out of your way here.” He placed a lengthy printout in a glass and slid it over to the hulking individual standing at the corner of the bar.
“What you think I should do ’bout this boss?” he asked in a deep scratchy voice, browsing to the bottom line of the charges.
“I think you should let him know the party is over and we’re dealing with important business now, Calais.”
Calais shrugged his shoulders, returned the bill to the glass, and slid it back to the barkeep, who simply stared at it. “Well, I appreciate your business but I can’t afford to comp your entire event just bec–“
Calais’ mighty fist came down on the barkeep’s head and his body fell to the floor behind the counter limp. Lin Sue stepped over it to reach the lemon wheels.
“Okay now. As I was saying, item one?”
A calm voice came from two small figures who were now flanking the doorway. “Got em, boss.”
“Bring him in, Smoke.”
The shorter of the figures stepped out of view onto the landing and pulled in the fan in the #25 Seahawks jersey. The fan was sniffling, his autographed ball clutched tight to his chest.
“It’s called respect. Do you understand respect?” Larry approached the fan. “To come in here, without my welcome, and wear that. That is not respectful.”
“Hey Larry, man, I’m sorry if –” The fan’s words, and legs, were cut out by a swift kick to the back of his knees.
“Don’t talk to me all, ‘Larry man’. You think I’m ‘Larry man’? You think I’m ‘Nice Guy Larry’?” Fitzgerald reached down and pulled the ball from the fan’s clutches. He nodded once to Smoke and turned his back to return to his booth. By the time he sat down, the two men had opened up gushing wounds on either side of the fan’s head, only stopping when the fan cried out.
“What the hell? My brother is a cop! You’ll never get away with this!”
“Oh, I know.” Larry calmly replied. A moment later a uniformed figured with a bag over his head was forcefully pressed to a kneel beside the fan. Unidentifiable muffled sounds came from the bag until Calais’ mighty fist broke a second conversation this evening.
“Mikey? Mikey???? What the hell is going on?!”
“You showed me disrespect by wearing that jersey to my celebration. He showed me disrespect by failing to pay his debts. Must run in the family, I guess. Fortunately, it won’t happen again.” Another nod and, this time, all three of his associates joined in.
Larry did not call them off. Instead, he walked around the beating to the corner of the room. He reached into the shadows and pulled out a bound and shocked older gentleman.
“Do you see, James?” The man could barely focus on Larry’s words through the sounds of pounding flesh and breaking bone. “Don’t look away! Tell me you see this! DO YOU SEE?!”
“Yes! Yes! I see! I see it! Just please stop!” The man looked away and began to weep.
Larry looked back with lesser urgency. “I guess you’re right. Another good call, Coach Tomsula.” He patted the man on the back, whistled sharply and the beatings ceased. The bleeding did not. “Get them out of here. Take the bartender too. Crush them all along with the cruiser. Torch this place. And be in the film room at 8am.”
Larry looked down at his pant cuff and swore. “Lin Sue, would you open some club soda please?” He then released his grip on Tomsula and walked over to the bar. “Bloodstains are not something you want on your good pants, you know, Jim?”
Tomsula stood in shock.
“Look, I respect you too much to draw this out.” Larry retrieved a shotgun from behind the counter. “But it doesn’t change the facts.” As he began to raise the barrel, Larry’s attention was stolen by the waitress whispering in his ear.
“Why would I…Oh….Hmmm…….Hmmm….Hmmm.” He smiled. She stopped talking and stood back, waiting for his response. He finally shook his head and spoke. “Like the world would ever believe him anyways.”
Without expression, she walked to the storage room and exited sight.
Tomsula stood, shaking, unaware of what his future meant but praying and promising that, should he make it out alive, he would devote his days to investigating the truths about the NFL, it’s associates, and their personalities.
“Jim, tonight I guess I am Nice Guy Larry. Now get the hell out of here before I change my mind.” Larry set the shotgun back on the counter, grabbed his coat, and walked out, reminding his associates of their 8am appointment. They agreed and were out the door, with three bodies in tow, five minutes later.
Tomsula stood in shock staring at the open doorway waiting for someone to return until Lin Sue reappeared from the back. “You don’t gotta go home, Jim, but you can’t stay here.”
And, with only prayers in his pocket, Jim Tomsula entered the night.