I know that you can’t hear me now
I know that you don’t care
Life is moving quickly now
We aren’t going anywhere
We’re reaching out for nothing
Falling out of love
Unless we keep on killing it
Nobody gives a fuck
–“I’ll Go Crazy” by Bluejuice.
March 14, 2020
I knew this was going to be a highwire act from the minute they broke down which bracket winner would face which. Tonight there was no net, just making it across, or falling forever, until that all too sudden stop. So, yeah, I held my heart in my throat as I took Ted’s hand and started along the top rope.
“Red Dead! No! Reversed! Ted racked him with that reversal!” Hoffman, the backing track to every important match and moment in HOW history. I was damned determined this was going to be another one of those.
And it’s some strange emotion that moves over me to have Ted be the first to unravel this riddle, to not have to drive his skull to the mat, but the gnawing idea that I still pulled the trigger, and all that saved him was a misfire. I was ready to go there, but now, I wasn’t going anywhere but down. As my lungs finally agreed to let me take another breath, I see Ted breathlessly mouth something to me.
I swear to God, I think he said he was sorry.
The next thing I can remember, I’m sitting on the apron, being told to follow a pen, with this 10,000 megawatt light blinding me. I can hear the crowd roaring. I can smell the inexpensive cologne the ringside doc drowned in. And, I can feel my nerves burn in my fingertips and toes.
But I don’t taste cooper.
“Just a stinger,” Doc moves his pen and handheld searchlight back to his breast pocket. I really haven’t even come-to by the time he fucks off back to his seat beside the timekeeper. I guess it meant the fall didn’t kill me.
Ted comes back from what the shitty rapped verses tell me was a victory lap and tosses my arm over his neck. “Come on, chief.”
He looks as bad as I feel, hollow eyes above the plastic smile. Don’t tell me I’ve lost twice; First the match, and then his Godforsaken want to. It makes me wish I’d lost just a little more time.
So, I lost as a competitor, and lost some time. I’ve lost for the second time.
I’ll lose again, I’m sure.
Kostoff’s lost how many times? He didn’t let that slow him down. He didn’t let that define him. He was still a monster. He is still a Hall of Famer. I’ll bet he’s giddy just thinking about getting locked in a cage with three other guys, if only for the chance to indulge in a little of the ol’ ultraviolence.
He’s been beaten by Ted, too. I probably have to take that receipt. All I need is that hulking brute with an axe to grind, thinking my bones will do the job.
God bless you, Boss Man, for making this a cage match. At least Kostoff won’t get to flex his full artistic ability and acuity for forgein objects. Still, I bet he’ll be just as creative with those twelve foot high, iron mesh walls at trying to make me nothing more than an oil stain on the canvas.
R.I.P. me to pieces?
“Thirty seconds,” the deputy junior assistant to the producer looked like a bundle of nerves and sweat wearing a headset and holding that clipboard.
“Thirty seconds ‘til bright lights and show time. Show up, show off, show out,” the entertainer’s prayer. What do the cool kids in self-help groups call it? Affirmation? “You’ve got this, broham.”
Ted’s doing all the usual routine, stretching his arms across his chest, rolling his neck, cracking his knuckles, but this time is different. This time he isn’t smiling, or cracking wise. This was Ted, laser focused.
“Excuse me, sir,” has none of the gravitas that it might read if it was written.
I turn away from the curtain and cast a disinterested gaze on the riot geared, ‘roid raged, nameless grunt of Lee Best’s EPU.
“Mr. Best’s given strict orders that no one is allowed to be at ringside for tonight’s main event.”
Good joke. I almost laugh, but totally turn my back, back to being there where Ted needed me.
“Sir!,” might as well been a four letter word as he spun me back around. “I cannot let you accompany Mr. Palmer to ringside tonight.”
“Just like you’re going to tell me you guys are doing everything in your power to make sure Kael’s boys ain’t going to make any appearances, right? You’re going to stop a North Korean army? Ha. You’re going to flex tough like this to the boss’ brat?”
In that little bit of his mouth I can see beneath the smoky face shield, his jaw flinches.
“I’m not letting Ted get ganked by any so called G.o.D.s, so you can just wander on back to baldy’s office and tell Boss Man I’ll be happy to tell him I told him so AFTER Ted gets his hand raised out there tonight.”
Greasy little fingers fold into a fist as the headset, lanyard and clipboard counts Ted down. The curtains get pulled, and we both step forward.
But I don’t get to take a second.
I feel a hand on my shoulder, but rather than turn me around again, he kicks out the back of my knee. Two sets of hands drag me like I was nothing but a petulant child. I kick and kick, but can’t dig my heels in. I swing one arm and make purchase on a forearm. That’s enough to get them to drop me. Alright, you boys want me to try to explain in fists?
Clear? Why the fuck would they say that? Who did they say it to?
And then the hooks tear through cotton and flesh.
My eyes have rolled to the back of my head. My whole body flinched. Fighting dirty? Well, good thing I had just come from the washroom, so not that dirty.
I don’t know how much time I lost, or how long I had 50, 000 V coursing through my nervous system, but the first thing I do is scramble up back to my feet, just as gracefully as you might expect. I try to stand straight, but can’t get there just yet.
Four. Four of these determined and well-defended dicks. Two in front, one a piece to my left and right. My brain runs hot just trying to compute the way I win this and make it out with enough of me to be any use to Ted.
“Alright, you boys win this round.”
So now I’ve lost again, and do you really need me to paint how much harder I took this one? Losing as a friend?
But, you have to know all about that, right Deacon? You could try to run through every verse and chapter of the Good Book that had anything to do with the cost of friendship and faith. Make sure it has all the pretty pictures, too, like I got this Rosary inked around my wrist for the funsies.
Bible thumper, or not, I know I haven’t had the pleasure just yet. Ted had. I bet that means I have a thumping coming my way, a goat you paint with your insecurity and stone to death. Ha, like you think wearing that half-mask means I can’t see the complete delight, compassion denied, going just far enough, and then a little more, each time throughout your LBI run.
One more legend, and a Colossus at that, come back to reclaim old glory, old gory glory. If that meant painting my body a stained glass of black, blue, purple and crimson, all the better?
Tonight was everything I had planned for. I don’t know if you believe that, but, I know I don’t care. When Grady presented this opportunity to me, the Lee Best Invitational, I sat and mapped everything out. Every last detail. Call it OCD, I’ll call it preparedness. And when I looked at every piece, I knew how to make the most of it, how to extract my best outcome: Teddy Palmer engaged, focused, and motivated. Teddy Palmer headlining March to Glory.
This was cause for celebration.
Then why was I back at the hotel, by myself, before midnight?
How was I supposed to plan for the unforeseen? How in the exact fuck was I supposed to react when Ted refused the vodka shot?
So stifled, I sit on the pillow top king, messing up the 1,500 thread count, packing away the Smirnoff, sip by sip. The TV’s on, but I couldn’t tell you what was on, just white noise breaking against the rocks of my conscience.
What am I supposed to feel? I had planned on celebration, but only got this pity party. Pride, surely. My good brother was taking good steps to bettering himself. But dropping one addiction doesn’t mean you ain’t an addict no more. I know I’m supposed to feel proud, but I only feel afraid.
The bragging rights? I called it, and it came to pass just as I said. I was some Old Testament prophet or some new fangled psychic medium. No matter how many of his cryptic writings seemed to pass, do you think the corpse of Nostradamus gave a damn? You don’t have to be a prophet, just an adult, to know that dreams all lose some grandeur coming true.
As I gulp down my last swallow, my phone buzzes and dances away from my first grab. The thing settles down, and I unlock it with some patience. The message’s from Grady and it’s just exclamation marks. I can’t set the thing down before the lede comes second, a link to a HOW news post, straight from the offices of Lee Best.
Apparently I have an LSD title shot? I didn’t plan for that.
I’ll have to get on with new plans straight away, just as soon as I can think straight. I set the phone down, next to the empty bottle on the bed stand, and give up on another day.
And as I lost time for the third time, I’d lost for the third time that night. Losing as a competitor, that’ll happen. Losing as a friend, that too is bound to occur from time to time. Losing as a strategist, the one thing I knew myself to be? This was cause for great concern.
How do you do it, Max? How do you lose who you are so many times and keep coming back?
The third legend I’d have to share the cage at the Colosseum with, the marriage of metal and man known as Maximillan Wilhelm Kael. The reason for the forthcoming carnage. The king of reinvention, even if you take into account those rumors that the original guy died and was replaced sometime around UTAH.
Anything to come back for more? Anything for that feeling, whatever it is you take away from this. I won’t hazard a guess at what that precisely is, but I know it’s strong enough to make you the most dangerous man/thing in all of HOW.
And Lee Best has aimed me at you as some sort of punishment. Imagine that, me, the Scourge of GOD?
How will you reinvent yourself this time when I take your title? May you Maim no more.
A new day was dawning, and the light fought against the gloom. Daylight dances through the shades, and reveals me in a fog. I’d toss a pillow over my head and hold on to dear sleep a while longer, but mathematics could not be denied.
600 ML bladder + 1 L of Russian firewater = me racing to the bathroom to avoid any sort of paradoxes.
When I’ve finished washing my hands, and washing my face, I wash back two capsules of acetaminophen. I break open another bottle of water, and surf over to the haphazard arrangement of phone, remote control and empty bottle on the bed stand. Relief might wash over me in fifteen minutes, but my soul was a torrent.
What about last night was real? If I had settled on any opinion of the way things went, it went away, flushed along with the ‘processed’ vodka. My brain, the hive brain, would be able to check me up. I guess I forgot to charge the thing, but it has power enough to tell me that I was going to be much busier in Rome than I’d hoped.
More messages from Grady.
Nothing from Ted.
And that one annoying push notification, showing you a picture from years-gone. Why, I don’t know. Probably something some life insurance company thought up as you try to not think about just how much younger you were then, and how much older you are now.
But, this photo meant something. This was the night I won the GCW United States Championship, my first singles strap, and at the tender age of 22. That guy looks so different. Same tattoos, just a little less faded. It’s more than that holding my attention. He’s looser. He’s happier. He’s more successful.
And that’s when I remember the fourth guy I have to fight two weeks from yesterday, in the shadow of a faded empire: