The Orange Key
by Terry Brunt
“I think I’m going to shit myself,” Clinton sputtered as he tried to escape.
“You’re such a little bitch,” Alec said, laughing, and focused as much weight as possible down through Clinton’s chest.
Sweat dripped off Alec’s chin and into Clinton’s eyes. Clinton realized it was becoming hard to breathe. Slowly he snaked his right hand to Alec’s left hip and right elbow into Alec’s stomach. Then he hooked his left arm over the back of Alec’s head. Pulling down with the left arm while pushing up with the right and simultaneously arching his back, Clinton rolled Alec over. Shifting his weight, Clinton put his right knee on Alec’s chest and kept his left foot wide for balance. While kneeling on Alec’s chest, Clinton punched him hard, in the face, twice. Alec yelled, “TAP!”
Letting out a long breath, Clinton shifted the weight off his opponent. He watched sweat fall from his body and pool on the navy blue mats. Pushing wet brown hair out of his eyes and behind a pale, mangled ear he thought about how much the kid had improved. Alec had real talent and could go far if he stayed focused. Absentmindedly he noticed himself in the mirror and realized he would have to do another load of laundry tonight. The black t-shirt and green fight shorts were soaked. Alec threw him a threadbare beige towel.
“I thought you had me for a second there. Is this my blood or yours?” Clinton said.
“It’s always my blood, asshole. Yeah, I thought I had you, but then I was on my back and you punched me in the face,” Alec responded.
“Well, with how ugly you are it can only improve the situation.”
“Your mom seems to like my situation.”
Clinton threw out a jab. The fist caught Alec squarely on his bare chest. Alec coughed and rolled backwards. They both started laughing.
“Really, yo-momma jokes? My mom is still in South Africa, douchebag. But you’re getting better. You had me stuck on my back for a good three minutes. Two years ago you couldn’t even last thirty seconds with me.” Clinton said.
“Well, I am six inches taller and outweigh you by about seventy-five pounds. And my mom lives close enough to take care of me.” Alec responded.
“I agree. Five-eight, 175 pounds and six-two, 250 pounds is a big difference. But there is no denying your skills are growing.”
“When do you think I will be ready?” Alec asked as he adjusted the protective cup under black spandex compression pants.
“What are you asking me? When do I think you’ll be ready to fight, or when do I think a promoter will be ready to pay you to get in the cage?”
“I guess both. I need money bad, Coach. I am willing to do just about anything I can get away with at this point.”
Clinton considered his answer. Alec needed money; that much was obvious. Supporting his mom and brother on a Burger King employee’s salary wasn’t easy. Talent and lack of funds led to Alec being the second person that had trained for free at Unity Fighting Club.
“Here’s the thing Alec, you got a good back story, no criminal record, no tattoos, you weren’t born with a silver spoon in your mouth, hard upbringing, taking care of your mom and little brother, your dad leaving when you were a baby, all that crap. But you are still approachable and good looking, even though you seem to get uglier every day. A promoter would take you on in a second, but they will throw you to the wolves. We need to get you seasoned. Get you to a high level in jiu-jitsu, boxing, and wrestling. Then, when you start really excelling in one of those disciplines, we start looking at fights, but the right fights. We want challenges that are reasonable. We don’t want tomato cans that you will run right through, but we also don’t want to throw you in with a bunch of sharks. We have to take it slow. We want to get you to 5-0 or 5-1. Then get you in an eight-man tournament. You win that tournament and you are ready for the big show. Try to get to the UFC and make the real money. It could take four or five years, but if we do it the right way the sky’s the limit. A small sacrifice now for the big money later.”
“I know, coach, but my Georgia Power bill won’t wait five years.”
“Light bills don’t wait, but brain damage is forever. You want to stay with me, you have to do it the right way. And I’m the only legit trainer in Savannah, so I guess we’re stuck together.”
Taking off his hand wraps, Alec sighed, “Alright, Coach, I’m going to hit the showers. See you tomorrow.”
Watching Alec walk away, Clinton reflected on the situation. He felt satisfied with the gym and fight team he had built. Getting out of the South African Army, he had no skills other than fighting. He thought about the four-year stint as a private military contractor and the time in Iraq, all his bad dreams, bad hearing, and the costly divorce. Judgmental people calling him a mercenary, not understanding that a contractor is a different animal. He looked a good bit older than his thirty-four years. His ex-wife had taken him for almost everything; at least he got American citizenship out of it. A chance meeting with an old Iraq contact got him an investor. A black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and ten years boxing in Johannesburg gave him the skills to open a gym. He was proud of the well-worn mats, the dozen black hanging heavy bags, and chain-link fence simulating a fight cage. He named it Unity Fighting Club simply because the word “Unity” seemed very friendly while “Fighting” was so aggressive, and the initials being UFC seemed good for marketing purposes. In the four years since Clinton opened Alec was his best student. Clinton had tried to get him to join the military, but he wouldn’t leave town. Savannah could be a tough place and Alec wanted to look out for his little brother.
Clinton watched Alec pull on an old gray sweatshirt and walk out the back door. Then he took out the mop and began his nightly cleaning ritual. The mats had to be disinfected and the customers could really destroy a bathroom. While wiping down a heavy bag he heard a scream from behind the building. “Coach! I need you now!”
Running outside he saw Alec standing in the trash filled alley. It always smelled like shit out there. Next to a green dumpster, slumped against the damp red-brick wall, was a man. He looked Latino, with dark wavy hair and a tan, clean-shaven face. A gold necklace around his neck said “Jacare” in large letters. He was wearing a well-tailored gray suit, open-collared white shirt, polished black loafers, and a matching black belt. The belt’s buckle was a golden alligator. There was a tan leather duffel bag on the ground. He was covered in blood.
“What the hell, Alec?”
“He was like this when I got here, Coach. What the fuck! The police are going to think I did this.”
“Settle down. As long as you didn’t touch him you’re fine.”
“I take care of my whole family. I can’t deal with this shit!” Alec said.
“You’ve done nothing wrong, and you have nothing to worry about. We’re going to call the cops and get this straightened out.”
“Are there any cameras out here?”
“No it’s a dirty alley behind a shitty building, why would there be cameras? Relax, you’re good. You watch those CSI shows, right? None of your DNA’s on this guy. None of your hair’s on this guy. Whoever fucked him up, that DNA will be all over the place.” Clinton answered.
“Should we look for a wallet or something? Do you know who this dude is?”
“I think we shouldn’t touch shit, we should just call the cops.”
“Alright, let me go grab my cell phone.”
Alec turned and started walking towards the gym’s open door. Clinton remained with the body, looking up and down the alley hoping to see someone who knew what the fuck was going on. As Alec walked back inside Clinton noticed that the duffel bag was unzipped and partially open.
“Alec, hold on a second, what’s inside the gym bag? Can you see that?”
“See what? I don’t give a shit. Let’s just call the cops. The less we deal with this headache, the better.” Alec answered.
“Inside the bag. It looks like cash.” Clinton said.
“Who gives a shit? Wait…how much cash?”
“How much does it take to fill a duffel bag with hundred dollar bills?”
“Enough to think twice, shit. What do we do now?”
“How the fuck am I supposed to know?”
“We should call the cops. This is some serious shit. Who would kill a guy and leave that much money?”
“That’s a lot of money… A lot of money…”
Clinton looked up and down the alley, not seeing anyone and thinking fast. Should he call the police? Is there a way not to look like a suspect in all of this? He hoped for security cameras. That would make everything clear and the decision would be easy. Looking around Clinton realized that he was out of luck, no cameras at all.
“No one saw shit. It will be a bit of a headache proving we didn’t do this. But I am sure that CSI crap will be on our side.” Clinton said.
“Clinton…no one saw shit.” Alec answered.
“I know, I just told you that.”
“If there aren’t any cameras…That means no one except me, you, and the murder know about this money.”
“Who gives a fuck? That’s not our money.”
“I know, but what the hell, man. I work at fucking Burger King. I know your gym doesn’t make shit.”
“Yea, and if we screw around we could make ourselves suspects in a mur-“
“I know what we could do.” Alec interrupted. “We could also be able to pay our rent and buy our groceries. This dead guy, Jacare, doesn’t need it. I could buy a car for my mom and pay for nice apartment in a good school district for my brother. I have to do right by him, if he falls in with these gangs his life is basically over. You know I did some evil shit when I ran with those boys. It’s only by the grace of God I am not locked up, I did some bad shit. I don’t want my brother to experience the same crap as me. The cash would solve a lot of problems for both of us. We don’t want it sitting in some evidence room, right? What good would it do? And if it is some asshole’s drug money, then we are doing a good thing by keeping it. You know I would do anything to help my brother. I don’t give a shit about some dead asshole. If you are murdered you don’t need cash.” Alec said.
Clinton realized that Alec was making a lot of sense. Both of them had a tough past and neither had a bright future. Getting punched in the face or teaching people how to punch faces was not the most secure career path. He thought about how much good the money would do for both of them.
“What is the point of having the money not do anything good? Some dirty cop will probably keep half of it anyway.” Clinton thought out loud.
“Plus, I saw some news show on civil forfeiture. The government will just keep this money. Probably use it to pay for a new park bench. We could hold it for a minute, see what happens. If it’s some little old lady’s we’ll turn it in. Just say we found it down the street or something.”
“We really wouldn’t be doing anything wrong.” Clinton responded.
“We would actually be doing a good thing. Making sure this money does something positive. Shit, you train people for free; using your own time and money to keep local kids out of trouble. You’re already basically a charity.”
“You are making a lot of sense.”
“Of course I am. You help people and never ask for anything in return. You deserve this money. Life hasn’t giving me anything, I deserve this money. Maybe this is the chance we both need to take the next step.”
“Are you sure this is the right thing?”
“I am sure. I know it would be the right thing for us to take it. What do we do with this body in the mean time? What do we do with the cash?” Alec asked.
“Ok, if you are sure. I don’t want compromise our morals. We are good people. As far as what to do…this is my first time dealing with anything like this. They don’t cover found money and dead body disposal in the army. I don’t know. First, I think we do just leave the body. No one knows we were here. Our priority’s the money. I am not sure on the best location to hide it. We cannot leave it in the gym or our houses. We need somewhere safe and anonymous.”
“The bus station over on Oglethorpe Avenue, it is the most anonymous place in the world. Let’s go get a locker at the station, put the bag in there, then come back and call the cops. We have to do the right thing.” Alec said.
“Always. We will make sure to do the right thing, we are honest guys.”
They walked the six blocks to the bus station quickly. The gym was off of Cinder Road near Bay Street, close to the Yamacra Village public housing project. Alec was carrying the bag while Clinton kept an eye out for trouble. Clinton reminded himself not to stumble over the broken sidewalks and to avoid the abandoned buildings. He made sure to go around people sleeping in doorways just in case someone tried to grab the bag. Looking up he wondered if every nearby streetlight was shattered. Entering the bus station, Clinton recognized the smell of floor cleaner and unwashed travelers. Immediately they found a locker, number 1789, put in their duffel bag, and took the small orange-tipped key. Clinton realized they had just crossed a very large line, but there was no turning back now.
“So what next? What do we do?” Alec asked.
“We call the cops and report the dead guy. Tomorrow we pick up the bag and put it in the crawl space of one of those abandoned houses near Thirty-Third and Jefferson. Next we see if anyone starts asking about this money. If no one come’s calling after a few months we count it and split it. But we need to be calm and stay cool. If we fuck this up we’re going to become murder suspects. If we do this right we’re going to be rich,” Clinton responded.
“So who keeps the key?”
“We have to trust each other. I trust you. You can keep the key. But remember, if we fuck this up we’re murder suspects, death penalty-type shit. If we do this right we’re rich. So let’s do it right.” Clinton said.
Clinton watched as Alec took a red shoelace out of his dirty black Vans sneakers. He put the orange key onto the lace, tied a knot, and then put the lace around his neck. They both looked around the locker bank to make sure no one was watching them. They were alone.
“Lets go back to the gym and call the cops. Remember, we tell the whole truth, everything one hundred percent legit. We just leave out the duffel bag and we never went to the bus station. Other than that the whole truth, no lies, no fuck ups,” Clinton said as he turned and started walking back to the gym.
They went back by a slightly different route to make sure no one saw them twice and remembered their passing. They arrived at the gym, cut through the inside, went to the alley and approached the body. The dead man lay undisturbed. Clinton got his mind ready to call the cops, mentally rehearsing what he was going to say.
As he was preparing to dial he sensed movement from behind. Turning, he saw a fist clutching a knife coming at him in a long overhead arc. Immediately his mind switched from scared witness to fighter. Time slowed down, his years of training kicked in. He saw that this man was also well dressed and appeared Latino. He was in a fitted black shirt, grey dress slacks, and black loafers. As the attacker’s arm traveled towards his face, Clinton reached up with his left arm. Next he took a small step towards the attacker and caught the attacker’s arm near the forearm, stopping the arc of the knife. At the same time he struck his opponent in the face with his right elbow. Next he grasped the attacker’s left wrist and over hooked the neck. Clinton drove his hips through to the attacker’s right side. Dropping his weight low and back, he exploded upwards while turning to his left. He executed a textbook perfect hip throw. The attacker’s feet arced eight feet overhead and he slammed into the pavement. The impact was loud and jarring. Clinton watched the knife fall out of the attacker’s hand and clatter to the ground. The ground knocked the wind out of the attacker. With all his weight Clinton dropped his right knee onto the attacker’s chest. He heard the crunch of broken ribs. Placing his left foot out wide for balance, he punched the attacker twice in the face, hard. The attacker went limp, probably knocked out, but maybe worse. Trying to gather his thoughts and turning to make sure there were no more attackers’ he rose. Realizing he was safe, at least for the moment, he turned to find Alec.
As he rotated he felt a burning sensation on his right side. What the fuck was that? Looking down he saw blood. Suddenly it became hard to breathe and the air started to smell like copper. Why weren’t his lungs working? Looking around trying to figure out what was going on, he saw Alec holding a bloody knife. The same knife the attacker had been holding.
“I am sorr,y Clint. I am so sorry, man. That money, I can’t share it. I need it all for my family. I am sorry.”
What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck, the phrase cycled over and over in Clinton’s head. “Alec, what the hell? We’re friends!” Clinton sputtered.
“The bills don’t stop. I am sorry, Coach.”
Alec reached down to take out his other shoelace. He tied up the attacker’s hands and gently wrapped an unconscious hand around the bloody knife. Taking off his grey sweatshirt he soaked up some of Clinton’s blood. He covered the knocked out Latino man in it and then placed the sweatshirt over Clinton’s wound. Waiting until Clinton didn’t have a pulse for a full five minutes to ensure death, Alec took out his phone and dialed 911.
Holding the phone up to his ear he got his mind prepared. Mentally he rehearsed what he would say. When the 911 operator picked up he was ready, “Hello, Hello, oh God! I need the police! Someone just stabbed my coach. There is a dead body out here. What the fuck. I need the police now! I have no idea what the hell is going on. We are at Unity Fighting Club. Please hurry. Oh, God, please hurry!”
Terry Brunt grew up in Atlanta and attended The Citadel. He served as an infantry officer in the Army from 2004 to 2009, with fifteen months of service in Iraq.