The man's one good eye bore into mine and he continued to stare at me for a long while. He seemed to be lost as to what to say next and I feared interrupting him.
"You're in the news business, boy?", he asked, moving close enough that the vapour from his exhaled rum permeated the space between us.
I nodded, absent mindedly tapping my pencil on my knee.
"Let me tell you this about the Thrasher. He never should have won. Not one fight. But he always did. Every last one of them."
"What do you mean?", I asked, "Isn't wrestling rigged? It's all scripted, isn't it?"
This was a question I never wanted to ask. I knew enough die hard wrestling fans to know that question could result in a heated argument. Here, it could get me pounded into pieces.
"Rigged? Crooked? Crooked as a dog's hind leg.", my grizzled interviewee responded.
There was a pause as the man took hold of the arm of a passing barman, pulled him over the table and squeezed his empty bottle into the barman's hand before pushing him back towards the bar.
"People in the city don't watch wrestling for wrestling. They just want to cheer on their favourite. The Thrasher was as good in the ring as any of'em but he was from the hills"
The barman left him another bottle and scurried off.
"He prolly understood that this was all about money. He was no dummy. But when he auditioned for the big leagues, he was still confused when they gave him a script. Heck, the boy could barely read. He just wanted to win."
"Well, didn't they realize that?", I asked.
"Sure they knew he couldn't read. But he was a showman, He was all acrobatic and strong for his size. So they pitted him against Handsome Ronny Hawkins and told him to let himself get pinned."
"And he didn't, did he?"
"Nope. Sent Ronny to the hospital with two broken ribs."
"But it's hardly fair, though, didn't he catch Ronny by surprise?"
"Bah! Ronny knew that the kid wasn't going to take a dive and tried to teach him a lesson. "
"So, how come I haven't heard of him?"
"Because, and this is what you need to understand. Wrestling might be rigged but there are people, important people, that are given the skinny on who's going to win. Might be scripted but there are still fool enough to make some wagers. Big wagers. They lost a lot of money on Thrasher."
"So, it's covered up."
"Every time Thrasher was supposed to take a fall, he came back and won."
"Well then, why not just bet on Thrasher? Or script him to win?"
"Because, boy", his voice lowered to a growl, "these people don't want a good bet. They want a sure bet. And they want Thrasher in line."
"So, why not just fire him?"
"These people don't fire kids like Thrasher. Kids like Thrasher step in line or end up in a bodybag."
"They're going to kill him?"
"There's a match at Madison Square Gardens in two and a half hours. Thrasher against Jericho Joe Midas. Thrasher has one more chance to lose. Or else he's a goner."