Short Story
                                            The Fight Corps
                                                                    By J.B. Toner


    As the chunks of Taylor’s brainstem slid pinkly down the wall and plopped to the floor behind his chair, I
stuck the burning cigarette back in his bullet-catcher and put a glass of bourbon in his slowly cooling hand.
No reason not to be civil.

    “I trust I now have your full attention.” I resumed my seat. “As I was saying, Mr. Taylor, fight choreography
is a cutthroat industry. Or hey, let’s coin a phrase—how about a shootface industry! Huh?” He didn’t seem
amused. “Well. Anyways.” I finished my drink. “I’m glad we had a chance to clear the air. Good luck in your
next endeavor.”

    Then I doused the table and the body, and tossed in my cigarette: a solid whump of flames. ’Nother day
at the office.

    My name’s Domingo Jack, and I work in the toughest city in the world. Not Detroit, not Sarajevo:
Hollywood. If you knew half the shit goes on behind the scenes.

    A beautiful sunny day, just for a change of pace. God, I miss Donegal sometimes. (Yes, I’m from Ireland.
My mama’s Mexican. Just—don’t ask.) I sped through the lush, palm-lined avenues built on blood and
bone, past fifty-dollar coffee shops teeming with neglected Fausts desperate to sell their souls, till I came
to the old decrepit warehouse where we ply our trade.

    As I walked in, Sing Ka was throwing a spectacular flying back spin kick at Joey Damascus. Joey
ducked, and Ka’s heel damn near shattered my jaw. ’Sokay, though. You know how you’re a kid and you
dream of one day working in a place where you can walk into a secret room full of people sparring and
shooting flamethrowers? Welcome to the Fight Corps.

    “Goodness!” Ka exclaimed. “Dreadfully sorry, old boy.”

    “No worries.”

    Ka was five and a half feet of Thai fighter, born to jump off elephants and kick his enemies in the throat.
He also boxed at Oxford and held a Master’s in Aristotelian Philosophy. Damascus was six and a half feet
of bad motherfucker from Cleveland. He didn’t have any advanced degrees, but he once broke a man’s
knees with the man’s own forehead.

    “How’d it go with Taylor?” he asked.

    “His company has withdrawn its bid for the Unmentionables contract.”

    “Awright! Now we just gotta edge out the Seven Deadly Finns.”

    Ka grimaced. “Easily said, I fear.”

    “’Sall right, I got a plan. Hey Ma! Quit screwin’ around with that flamethrower and gimme a hand,
wouldja?”

    Ma Jack came pacing toward me. “Taylor?”

    “Taken care of, Ma.”

    “Finns?”

    “Got a plan.”

    She nodded. “Good plan?”

    “Better’n no plan.”

    “Interview is today, 3 o’clock.”

    “. . .Say what?”

    Damascus nodded. “Call came in about an hour ago.”

    “But we already scheduled. We were supposed to have three more days!”

    “I gather Mr. Fenton likes to test his prospective servitors for their ability to improvise,” said Ka.

    “Dude, servitors? Really?”

    He shrugged.

    “Well, this tanks my plan. I was working on a nice unobtrusive electrical fire, but I don’t think we call pull
that off in the next two hours. Not subtle-like, anyhow.”

    “New plan?” said Ma.

    I sighed. “Gonna have to play it straight for the time being. Lucky for me, we are in fact the best fight
choreographers in the business.”

    “Damn straight,” said Damascus.

    “Yo, Waits!” I called.

    “Whattaya want.”

    “Would you just come over here and take part in the confabulation, please?”

    Tom Waits wandered over, grumbling in his scraggly beard. He wasn’t Tom Waits the singer, obviously,
but I’ve always suspected him of harboring a pseudonym. What I can tell you for sure is that he was the
best and most clinically insane stunt driver in Hollywood.

    “I wanna show up to the interview in style,” I said. “Is the Ferrari working yet?”

    “I mean, it’s got legs.” He produced an acetylene torch and lit a cigarette. “Somethin’ wrong with the
brakes, but I can’t run a test on ’em until I fuckin’ feel like it.”

    “Well, don’t stress yourself out. Where’s the keys?”

    I came gliding into Fenton’s studio parking lot at 2:56, carefully downshifting and plucking the e-brake
like the lyre of a Neapolitan bard. As I entered the lobby and nodded to the secretary, I saw my old foe Tal
Vipuri standing in the corner. Before I could catch myself, my teeth and my sidearm came out. Vipuri had
the same reaction, sadly a tiny bit quicker, and crescent-kicked the nine-millimeter out of my hand. Then
we were grappling on the plush mauve carpet—him struggling to lock in a rear naked choke, me battling to
reach the .22 in my ankle holster.

    “Gentlemen!”

    We paused. Roger Fenton, executive producer, was standing in the door of his office with a stern but
unsurprised expression.

    “This is not how I settle contract negotiations. Please, come in. Both of you.”

    “Sir,” I said as we eased into the peacock-themed upholstery and accepted Glenfiddich from hovering
personal aides, “your representative promised me a one-on-one interview. On Friday.”

    “Yes, and also is same for me as well.” Vipuri and his six fire-crotched brothers ran the second-best
fight corps in town. Bastards.

     “I’m aware of that,” Fenton said. He was a tall thin white guy in Bermuda shorts, a Hawaiian shirt, and a
tasteful grey tie. I disliked him instantly. “But I like to keep my colleagues on their toes. For example, I
believe I had discussed the possibility of an exclusive contract with both of you. However, I’m now leaning
toward hiring both of your agencies to work together.”

    Silence.

    “You see—”

    “Fenton, this is unacceptable!”

    “Not is acceptable at all!”

    He pounded his tiny fist on his big oak desk like a man used to having people pretend to be afraid of
him. “I’ll decide what’s acceptable! Now, compose yourselves.” He straightened his ludicrous tie. “The
Unmentionables is to be a film about conflict. Tension. Dynamism! What we need is a sense of that
tension, pulsing, throbbing, beneath the surface of every action sequence. And believe me, gentlemen:
every scene in this movie will be an action sequence.”

    “So you want to smash together two feuding choreographers and hope the resulting shit-storm will feel
like authentic drama?”

    “Precisely! Now, either one of you can walk away right now. But unless you, Mr. Jack, or you, Mr. Vipuri,
are prepared to choose pride over the biggest martial arts extravaganza of the year—nay, the decade—
then you’ll just both have to sign right here and now.” He pushed two contracts across his desk.

    Vipuri and I looked at each other. A stray gnat flew in between us and fell down stunned. “I am kill you,”
he whispered.

    “Likewise, you red-haired fuck.”

    We both signed.

                                                                            * * * * *

    Day 24. Idiot Finn wanted to block a scene in which Chase Hardrock, hunky male lead, unloaded twin .
45s into a ski-masked goon and then used the empty pistols as melee weapons against faceless goon #2.

    “Is Filipino Eskrima,” he insisted. “Hold gun by barrel, use like sticks. Very very cool!”

    “I’m not arguing with the Eskrima part,” I snarled. “But you can’t use two-gun mojo anymore, this ain’t the
’90s. John Woo’s not the gold standard nowadays. Look at Keanu in John Wick, he never once fires two
weapons at the same time. Because he’s a real gunman, not some ballet dancer from the Laplands.”

    Niles Rupert, the director, heaved another deep sigh. “Guys, if we could just—”

    “Could have knife.”

    “I mean yeah, I guess. He could use Espada y Daga.” (Sword and dagger, kind of a spin-off style from
Eskrima.)

    “Is good. He block overhand strike with gun-butt—”

    “And then he draws and cuts across the midsection—”

    “Draw, cut, same movement.”

    “Like batto-jutsu.”

    “Yes, like. Very cool!”

    Rupert scratched his head. “Did you guys just agree on something?”

    “Not on purpose.”

    Day 39. Dumbass Finn wanted Adriana Kingsford, fetching astrophysicist, to axe-kick a guy with her
stiletto heels.

    “Leave cut straight down face. Like Bond villain, is iconic.”

    “Why in the hell would an astrophysicist be wearing stilettos?”

    “Is stylish lady! Can be smart and sexy, same time.”

    “See, this is your problem, you don’t see character. Look at the blocking of the scene. She’s too smart
to risk brawling with a guy when her car’s right over there with the engine running.”

    Rupert ruminated. “What if she—”

    “Is pretty woman in man’s job. Has chip on shoulder.”

    “S’pose that could explain why she practices MMA in the first place.”

    “There, you see? Can be good fight and also ‘develop character’ to satisfy dweeby little Irish Mexican
college English major.”

    “I’ma develop my fist up your ass.”

    “Is no sense. Would poop all on hand.”

    “That’s a really good plot point about Adriana,” said Rupert. “You guys are knockin’ this outta the park.”

    “I’ma knock his tiny sunburned dick outta the park.”

    Day 60. Stupid Scandinavian had a halfway decent idea for once in his stupid Scandinavian life. The
climactic fight sequence started in a C-130 cargo plane, continued through freefall as Chase Hardrock
and Darkson Kilmore tackled each other through the bay doors at 30,000 feet, and concluded with a
Harrier jet swooping down to match Hardrock’s velocity and catch him just before impact, leaving Kilmore
to splatter himself all over the Mongolian countryside. Pretty standard stuff. But as Vipuri pointed out, no
one in cinema has yet dealt with the problem of practicing Brazilian Jiu-jutsu in freefall.

    “There was that zero-gravity hallway fight in Inception,” I pointed out.

    “Yes yes, but still was walls and ceilings for them to use as leverage. BJJ, you need ground, need things
to push off. Need base. Grapple in midair, is whole new movie thing.”

    “Hot diggity damn, you Finnish fuck, I think you’re onto something. Rupert, we need one a’ them,
whattayacallit, Vomit Comet planes they use to train astronauts. Stat! We got research to do.”

    “Well, uh—that sounds a little pricey—”

    “Call Fenton then, he’ll greenlight it. Tell him Vipuri and I just agreed on something. When has that ever
happened? This is the make-or-break scene for this movie, we gotta pull out all the stops.”

    “Well, er—yes, I—suppose." He pulled out his phone. Haggled with a secretary. Bantered with a
personal aide. Finally: “Mr. Fenton! Niles. We’ve, ah—got a request.”

    Then things got dark.

    Rupert explained about the grappling and the zero-G training our stuntmen would need. Explained
about the uncharacteristic accord between myself and Vipuri. A pause ensued. Then a flurry of, “What?
No! Sir, we can’t—that’s simply not—but Mr. Fenton—I—yes. Yes sir. I understand.” He hung up and
raised his eyes to ours like a man under sentence. “He greenlit the plane.”

    “Okay? That sounds like good news.”

    “And he’s—bringing in a third choreographer.”

    “Is do what?”

    “He said if you two are on the same page now, then we need more dynamic tension behind the scenes.”

    “Are you insane? I don’t give a rat’s plague-bearing fuck-hole about dynamic tension!”

    “Fellas!” He raised his hands. “Fellas, I feel the same way, but there’s nothing to be done. He’s already
put up the cash, and he’s got this crazy contract that basically gives him unlimited power.”

    A beat went by.

    “Already put up the cash, you say.”

    “. . .I do things. Western medicine never understand cause of death.”

    “Oh God.” Rupert clapped his hands over his ears. “Oh God, oh God, I can’t hear this. I didn’t hear
anything.” He scuttled away.

    “You busy tonight?” I asked.

    “Busy with brutal murder, yes.”

    “That’s funny, me too.”

                                                                            * * * * *

    Getting past the security gate wasn’t a problem. You learn things. Fenton was sitting by his pool,
sipping Scotch beneath the starlit smog.

    Now I’ve got to tell you, folks, before that night I was highly skeptical of Dim-Mak, the art of “death touch”
from the grim shadows of the Orient. Not anymore.

    As we stepped into the dim Citronella glow, Vipuri went from a leopard’s stalk to a cheetah’s sprint.
Fenton jumped to his feet, shouting, “What do you think—” and Vipuri hit him three times, so quick I couldn’
t even spot the targets. There was a loud flat crack, and Vipuri took a step backwards. Turned towards me
with smoke rising from his solar plexus. Wobbled, and fell into the pool.

    Fenton advanced, aiming the derringer he must’ve had tucked in the sleeve of his pink silk robe.
Paranoid sumbitch.
    
    “So,” he snarled. “Thought you could take my money and cut me out. Just like everyone else.”

    I eased back the hammer of my Glock. “Now hold on, it’s not what you think.”

    “Brilliant idea ’bout the plane. Brilliant! Too bad you won’t be—” He twitched. “Won’t be around to—”
Blood started running from his nose. “To—” The gun clattered on the tiles. Fenton wandered in my
direction, scratched idly at his head, and lay down. Exhaled.

    Hell of a turn to things. I was just starting to like that red-haired pain in the ass. But, what can you do? I
took a seat in Fenton’s deck chair and sampled his Scotch.

    Damn good stuff.
About J.B. Toner

J.B. Toner studied
Literature at Thomas
More College and holds a
black belt in Ohana  
Kilohana Kenpo-Jujitsu.
He currently works as a
groundskeeper in New
Hampshire, and he and his
lovely wife just had their
first daughter, Sonya
Magdalena Rose. Toner
blogs at
jbtoner.blogspot.com and tweets at
AntiheroCouplet
@twitter.com.
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