“Hi, I’m Marwood. I’ve come about the room.” The casually dressed figure was somewhere in his mid-thirties, though his boyish face, framed as it was by a mop of brown curls, made him look much younger.
de Lacy squinted into the light streaming through the partially opened door. “What room?”
“Your room”, the man responded with an eager smile, reaching into his back pocket and retrieving a crumpled sheet of paper that appeared to have been torn straight from the local newspaper. “See?” he said, straightening the creases and pointing to an advert.
ROOM FOR RENT: Bijou living space in vibrant and bustling location. Only the crème de la crème need apply. No hooligans or ne’er-do-wells allowed – If you’re the type to use a salad fork for your entree, this place isn’t for you! Shakespeare quoters and cocktail shaker experts preferred. Don’t miss out on this envy-worthy flat!
de Lacy arched an eyebrow at the man’s enthusiasm and the advert he proffered. It was one of his old ads, written in a moment of whiskey-induced whimsy and now long forgotten.
“Ah yes, the room,” he said, nodding sagely. “Well, you’ve certainly got the Shakespeare quota covered, I take it?”
Marwood looked momentarily nonplussed. “Oh, well, I mean, I do enjoy the occasional sonnet,” he said with a self-deprecating chuckle.
de Lacy snorted. “Don’t worry, my boy, I’m not one to discriminate based on literary prowess. Come in, come in.”
He stepped aside to let Marwood enter, taking in the man’s slightly shabby appearance and the frayed edges of his jeans. Not exactly the crème de la crème, but de Lacy had always had a soft spot for a fellow underdog.
“The room’s up the stairs, second door on the left,” he said, gesturing towards the narrow staircase that led up to his flat. “It’s not much, but it’s got character.”
Marwood grinned, his boyish features suddenly lighting up. “Character’s exactly what I’m after,” he said, bounding up the stairs two at a time.
de Lacy shook his head, chuckling to himself as he watched the young man disappear into the upper reaches of the apartment. Perhaps he was a ne’er-do-well after all, but de Lacy had a feeling that he was going to fit in just fine.
As Marwood inspected the room, de Lacy watched him with a calculating eye. He needed the rent money badly – his various debts were reaching monumental proportions, and the only way to stay afloat was to find a flat mate who was willing to overlook the occasional bookie’s henchman pounding on the door. What’s more, though he could barely confide this to himself, let alone anyone else, he was lonely. He was tired of being a stranger in a strange land. He needed a confidant. Someone with whom he could share the many trials and tribulations of living in this godforsaken land.
“So,” he said, leaning casually against the doorframe. “What brings you to this neck of the woods, Marwood?”
Marwood’s grin faltered slightly as he looked around the flat. “To be honest, I needed a change of scenery. My acting career was going nowhere back in London.”
“Ah, my dear man,” exclaimed de Lacy, “what a pleasure it is to have a fellow thespian in our midst! I daresay, it’s a treacherous road to tread, this business of show. One misstep and you’re out in the cold. Jolly good of you to take a punt across the pond, what?”
Marwood’s grin twitched, and he took a quick glance around the flat, as though searching for a way out. “Yes, well, I thought a change of scene might do me some good. My career was in the doldrums back in England, you see.”
de Lacy nodded sagely. “Oh, I know all too well the feeling, old sport. Though I myself have never trodden the boards I am no stranger to the bright lights. Many a time have I been on the verge of taking to the grandest of stages only to find myself walking back through the stage door to collect my hat and coat. It’s enough to make a chap lose his mind, what?”
Marwood’s smile turned wry. “Yes, it’s a tough old game, isn’t it? But what is it that you do?”
de Lacy shuffled his feet and cleared his throat. “Well, I… I’m a professional wrestler.”
Marwood’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Goodness gracious, really? I must admit, I never would have guessed.” His grin returned suddenly, and he shot de Lacy a quizzical look. “Say, old chap, forgive me for asking, but you wouldn’t happen to hail from the UK, would you?”
de Lacy shifted uncomfortably. “Oh, what gave me away? Is it the accent? The tweed jacket? The monocle?”
Marwood let out a hearty laugh. “Ha! Yes, I suppose it’s a bit obvious, isn’t it? No, it’s just I always thought of professional wrestling as more of an… American pastime.”
de Lacy smirked. “Yes, well, I’ve been over here so long now that I consider myself something of a local.
“And do the locals feel the same way.”
de Lacy chuckled ruefully. “I dare say not. But one can’t let the petty jealousies of others impede one’s progress, what?”
Just as Marwood was about to respond, there came a loud knock at the door. de Lacy frowned in irritation, wondering who it could be at this time of night. He opened the door to find his neighbor, Mrs. Hernandez, standing there in a revealing negligee.
“Good evening, boys,” she purred, giving Marwood a suggestive look that made him squirm. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything important?”
de Lacy coughed nervously, trying to ignore the woman’s obvious advances. “What can we do for you, Mrs. Hernandez?”
“Oh, Charles. How many times have I told you? Call me Maria. Anyway, I just wanted to welcome our new neighbor to the building,” she said, edging closer to Marwood. “And maybe show him a few of the local sights, if you catch my drift.”
Marwood’s face turned bright red, and he took a step back in alarm. “I’m terribly sorry, Mari… Mrs. Hernandez, but I’m not sure…”
de Lacy tried to intervene. “Yes, please excuse us. It’s been a long day and we were just getting ready to retire-”
But Mrs. Hernandez was not to be deterred. She reached out and stroked Marwood’s cheek with a long, manicured nail. “Don’t be shy, darling. I’m sure we could have a wonderful time together if we got to know each other a little better.”
Marwood looked like he was about to faint. de Lacy had had enough. “Mrs. Hernandez, I must insist that you leave at once. We have important matters to discuss, and we cannot be disturbed.”
Mrs. Hernandez pouted, but finally relented. “Very well, boys. But don’t be strangers. I’m always available if you need anything.”
de Lacy closed the door behind her, feeling a mixture of relief and annoyance. “Sorry about that,” he said, turning to Marwood. “Mrs. Hernandez can be a bit…forward at times.”
Marwood was still shaking. “Good lord, what a woman. Is she always like that?”
de Lacy chuckled. “You get used to it after a while. But let’s not dwell on her. Where were we? Ah, yes, the rent. The room is $500 a month. How does that take you?”
Marwood took a deep breath, trying to compose himself. “Yes, well…as I was saying, I’m feeling optimistic about my chances over here but I was looking for something a bit more…”
“Well, that’s sorted then,” de Lacy interrupted. “Shall we celebrate with a spot of the good stuff?”
de Lacy raised his glass and sloshed the remaining whiskey around inside. “To new beginnings, Marwood! I think this is going to be a jolly good show!”
Marwood, whose cheeks were now a brilliant shade of red, nodded fervently. “Absolutely, de Lacy! This flat is the start of a new chapter in my life. No more dreary London flats for me!”
The radio on the nearby shelf crackled to life, and a local Chicago station began to play. The two of them clinked their glasses together before de Lacy leaned in, a conspiratorial glint in his eye. “Speaking of shows, old chap, I have a big one coming up next week. A wrestling match with none other than Jatt Starr himself!”
Marwood’s eyes widened in excitement. “Really!? And what do you know about Jatt Starr?”
de Lacy let out a loud, booming laugh. “A good deal more than he knows about me, it would seem! I’ve already tangled with his partner.”
“Who’s that, then?”
“Dan, Ryan. By jove! That juiced-up freak only just got done giving me the thrashing of a lifetime, and now it seems the powers-that-be have decided it’s his tag partner’s turn.” de Lacy let out a groan.
Marwood grinned, now feeling a buzz from the alcohol. “Big fella, is he, this Jatt Starr?”
“Truth be told, he’s a bit of a twelve stone weakling. No, what concerns me more is his underhandedness. He’s a sneaky bugger. Got no qualms about taking the easy way out.” de Lacy took a sip of his drink and smacked his lips. “That’s precisely why I need to stay one step ahead of him, Marwood. And why I’m training harder than ever before.”
Marwood leaned in, his eyes widening with concern. “Training? You mean like hitting the gym and all that?”
de Lacy chuckled. “Oh, no, no. That’s not quite my style. I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve, though. Moves that Jatt Starr won’t see coming.”
Marwood nodded slowly. “I see. Well, if there’s anything I can do to help, just let me know.”
de Lacy raised his glass in appreciation. “You’re a good egg, Marwood. But he’s nothing I can’t handle. Good pedigree – ex-world champion and all that – but a bit of a waning force, so to speak.”
“Well, old boy, he’s a bit like a used tea bag. A bit limp, and not much use for anything anymore.” de Lacy chuckled at his own analogy. “Seems content to leave the grunt work to that chemical cocktail of synthetic masculinity”.
Marwood raised an eyebrow. “Chemical cocktail of synth…? Who’s that then?”
“Why, Dan Ryan of course! He’s hopped up on all sorts of concoctions and elixirs. And let me tell you, he’s not just all show and no go. The man’s built like a brick outhouse.”
Marwood chuckled. “Well, it sounds like you’ve got your work cut out for you with this Jatt Starr fella.”
de Lacy nodded. “Indeed I do, old sport. But fear not, I’ll give him a run for his money. It seems he’s underestimated old Charles. Yes, the self-proclaimed Rembrandt of Wrestling is nothing more than a Brushstroke Bruiser these days.”
“Rembrandt of Wrestling?”
“Yes, he’s rather prone to hyperbole, old Jatt. He fashions himself The ruler of Jattlantis. Well I’ll show everyone he’s nothing but a Jattanooga Loser!”
Marwood grinned. “Well, I’ll certainly be rooting for you, de Lacy. But if all else fails, you can always fall back on your career as a gentleman of leisure, eh?”
de Lacy raised his glass in agreement. “Quite right, Marwood. A gentleman must always have a fallback plan.”
Jatt Starr’s poorly conceived community theatre production couldn’t fool the wily de Lacy. The preemptive excuses for his upcoming match were evident in his feigned ignorance of de Lacy’s status and his childish insistence that the match result was meaningless. It was clear that Jatt Starr lacked confidence in his own superiority, or else why would he make such a concession? That’s not to say it hadn’t stung. Watching it from the squalor of his two-bed Washington Park apartment, de Lacy had become so enraged at the impudence of his upcoming opponent that he nearly spilled his whiskey all over his smoking jacket! The nerve of the man! Did he really think that flimsy excuse for a wrestling promo could outshine the dashing de Lacy? It was like comparing a mere dab of paint to a full-blown canvas masterpiece! And as for Jatt Starr’s garish, buffalo plaid outfit, well, it was simply ghastly. de Lacy couldn’t help but think the poor chap looked like a cross between a Christmas tree and a harlot. But rest assured, old boy, de Lacy was not one to be trifled with. He would give Jatt Starr a proper thrashing in the ring and put an end to this nonsense once and for all.