One Year Earlier…
The ripped piece of parchment pinched between my finger and thumb reeks of her overpowering perfume, almost as if it had been soaking in it. Red was more than eager to part ways with the sexual invitation, quick to claim the ‘seven minutes in heaven’ wasn’t worth the lifetime of regret that would follow. Entertaining his caution briefly, I did notice a hint of crazy behind those amber eyes of hers when we were introduced at the airport. That being said, Red also has a flair for the dramatic, and I’ve yet to meet a degree of crazy I couldn’t handle. It’s the spice life needs, so I couldn’t help but acknowledge his red flags with a grain of salt.
“Seven minutes. Pfffft.” I mumble slash borderline slur to myself before taking a swig from the Jack Daniel’s bottle glued to my opposite paw. “Fuckin’ amatuer…”
Pulling the paper up close to my face, I squint, pull it away, then slowly back in as my eyes try to focus on her cursive. “Room 712. Jasmine. Ex-oh-ex-oh.” I confirm.
Oh there’ll be more than ex-oh-ing…
Dropping my hand down to my side faster than anticipated, the bounceback has me drop the note onto the red and gold patterned carpet below. Looking ahead at the walnut stained slab door in front of me, my eyes shift to the right side of the doorframe. The bronze plaque secured to the tackily wallpapered wall is engraved with the number ‘712.’ Taking another gulp from the bottle, I place it down on the carpet, resting it up against the white baseboard. Giving myself a quick pat down, my breast pocket produces what I’m looking for, a pack of spearmint gum, and I pop a handful of pieces into my mouth. As I begin to chomp on the breath freshening aid, I pound on the door with my fist.
Knock! Knock! Knock!
“Ali?” her voice excitedly shouts from behind the blocked threshold almost instantly.
I can hear her feet scurrying across the floor, a loud crash coming from behind the door which I can only assume is her hands crashing into the handle. The knob spins, and soon enough the barrier between us no longer exists. Elise…er…Jasmine stands before me in her flowing cyan pants and matching crop top. Her flawless almond skin glows, and her sparkling eyes lock onto me.
I smile and flash my trademark wink. She does not return either gesture.
“Ted?” she asks, confused. “Where is my Ali?”
“Ali?” I briefly forget. “Oh, you mean Red?”
“Uhm, no.” Her tone is stern. “My…Ah…Lee,” she states again, slowly, as if I were challenged.
“Ohhhh. Riiiiiight. The Disney thing.” I tap my hand up against the side of my head, rolling my eyes wondering how stupid of me. “Ali is…has been…imprisoned.”
“By who!” she demands, taking a step forward.
“By me. Akbar!” I deepen my voice, taking a step forward myself.
Again, she looks at me with a hint of confusion, almost as if I were the crazy one in this scenario. She leans in and whispers, “Do you mean Jafar?”
“Yep!” I point at her, smiling. “That’s me. Jabar. And if you ever want to see your precious Ali again, well, you know…” My eyebrows dance.
“JA-FAR,” she slowly but forcefully pronounces, again as if I were simple for not being up to speed with my Disney knowledge. “And I would never betray my Ali by having relations with a scoundrel such as yourself.”
I start to wonder what the hell I’m doing. Tomorrow is the end of the Lee Best Invitational. The biggest night of my career. I should do the responsible thing, so I try to reason with myself.
Get some sleep, Teddy. You need it.
Fair point. You win.
“Hmmmm,” I groan, growing tired of this charade, but not willing to quit because of, well, sex. “Jafar is off the table. Gotcha. Does Genie have a name, or is he just Genie?”
She places her hands on her hips, cocking her head to the side impatiently. “Just Genie…”
“Well, I, the blue skinned Genie, come with that terrible news.”
“What terrible news!” she demands.
“…that Ali has been imprisoned,” I remind her, wondering if even in my drunken state I’m the smart one in this back and forth.
“You have to save him!”
“I can’t. It’s too late. He’s been…put to death. Gone. Caput.” I shrug my shoulders.
She lunges forward, latching onto me with the waterworks beginning almost immediately. Her grip is unrelenting and her body convulses with each sob. She drags her button nose across the front of my shirt, then inhales deeply to suck the remainder of her snot in. I can’t help but be amazed at how great of an actress this girl is, like seriously, talk about commitment to the bit.
Or maybe Red was genuine with his parting words of ‘Danger Will Robinson.’
I’ll be the judge of that, thank you very much.
“And that’s not all…” I struggle to get out, her tiny frame surprisingly constricting my air intake.
“What…else…could there be?” she releases her death grip and spits out inbetween weeps.
“Jafar got ahold of the lamp.” I scrunch my nose and nod with sadness.
“This is terrible!”
“I know, right?” I agree, my eyes wide with shock. “And he made his first wish…which is why I’m here…” I continue to chew on the mound of gum in my mouth like a major league pitcher.
“What did he wish for?”
“You’re not going to like this.” I place my left hand on the doorframe, leaning in slightly, finding it extremely difficult to keep my balance. “That you and I have sex.”
“What? Why?” she cries in disbelief. “That makes no sense.”
“That’s what I thought too.” I begin, searching for my in, so to speak. “But he explained it to me, and it kinda makes perfect sense.” I reach down and grab my bottle of whiskey. Disregarding the ball of spearmint in my mouth, I take a drink.
“…and?” she asks, shaking her head, her arms out to her side waiting for my explanation.
“And…he thought…it’d be the perfect way to disgrace your Ali…” I wheel and deal. “By having his best friend sleep with you.”
“I thought Abu was his best friend?”
A few floors below Grady’s ears must be ringing.
“Best human friend.” I clarify. “Jafar is evil, but not evil enough to wish beastiality on anyone…” I place my hand on her shoulder.
She furrows her brow, and locks her eyes onto mine, squinting slightly. She bites on her ruby red bottom lip and I notice her foot tapping on the floor. She is thinking, which I can only assume is dangerous. After a brief delay, she offers a slight smirk and releases her lip. She places both hands on my chest, grabs hold of my shirt, leans in and whispers, “I can work with that…”
March 13th, 2021 – 10:43 AM
O’Hare International Airport
To Thine Own Self Be True
It wasn’t until late last night that I decided to attend today’s Alcoholics Anonymous meetings at the Lincoln Park Alano Club. I did a quick search to check if there were any flights out of O’Hare that’d accommodate skipping my red eye flight, and as luck would have it, there were seats still available for the 11 AM departure. After some quick calculations on logistics of my NYC arrival time and Times Square kickoff, I determined I’d make it with more than enough time to spare. Or just in time. Either way, I’d be okay, so I bought my ticket.
And I’m glad I did.
Looking down at the medallion in my palm, it feels much heavier than it actually is. It carries with it a year’s worth of battles and victories. The Roman Numeral I is prominent in its center, a triangle surrounding it with the words Unity, Service and Recovery scrolled along each side. The royal blue base makes the gold pop, highlighting my achievement with a hint of elegance.
“And that was the last time I drank,” I beam with a hint of pride, looking up. “One year ago to the date…”
“That’s great, Ted. Good for you.” Carl offers his congratulations on my milestone, but looks less than impressed with the physical representation in my hand. “But is that coin really worth the risk of missing March to Glory?”
Coin? Coin he says…
This is so much more.
I can only imagine the Butterfly Effect on my career had I not reached this anniversary. Would I have won the LBI had I not bought in on day one? If I hadn’t, what would I have done in Rome rather than Main Eventing in the Colosseum? Would I have been able to make a successful comeback after my injury? Would I have been able to scratch and claw my way onto tonight’s jam packed lineup? Would I even be an employee of High Octane Wrestling at this point?
That’d mean no Second Act to my career.
That’d mean no budding friendship with Zeb.
That’d mean no blossoming romance with Lindsay.
When I think of it that way, you’re fuckin’ right the risk was worth it.
Carl stands a few inches taller than me, so when addressing him I have to look up slightly. The whippersnapper before me is on the thicker side, but by no means out of shape. The conclusion within his question is inaccurate, causing me to snicker, shake my head and pat the young man on the shoulder.
“First off, it’s a Medallion, not a coin.” I hold it up for him to see once more before shoving it in the front pocket of my jeans. “Secondly, I’m not missing my Times Square soirée. I’m here, ain’t I? We’ll land in New York with hours to spare.”
I didn’t sprint through Terminal 1 like a member of the McCallister family at Christmas time for nothing…
“Still…seems kinda irresponsible. You’re leaving yourself little time to prepare.”
The line pushes forward, and like sheep we follow along closer to departure gate C16A. I unloop one of the straps to my backpack, then let the bag slide down my other arm. Unzipping the top, I hold it up with both hands, inviting Carl to take a peak.
“What do you see in there?”
Carl peers down his nose, taking inventory of the stock within the bag. “Tape…cigarettes…are those brass knuckles?” He asks, to which I hold up a silencing index finger, masking a smirk. “How’d you get those through security?”
“Don’t worry about it.” I wave off his inquiry. “But you see what’s in there? Very little. And when it comes to preparing for a street fight, that’s the amount of time you should invest in ‘preparing:’ very little.”
How do you prepare for the unknown?
“But it’s a huge match!” he exclaims.
“Never said it wasn’t. But there are too many factors that will play into the outcome. The referee, I choked out in a cage a few weeks back. My four opponents, two of them I’ve choked out recently too. Does that mean anything? Maybe? But not likely. Did you know it’s possible I don’t even factor into the outcome, unless the higher ups elect to make that clusteruck elimination style…”
That’d be a welcome surprise.
“Too many variables I can waste my time worrying about. So rather than do that, I’ll focus on what’s within my control: showing up, fists taped, ready to knock some fuckin’ teeth out,” I say matter of factly. “And I’m pretty good at that.”
The line pushes forward a little further.
“I guess so…hey…mind if I ask…” he begins. “What happened to Jasmine?” His curiosity circles back to the princess.
“I don’t know buddy.” I offer with a shrug, sliding my backpack back on. “I did my thing and left Red to deal with the mess in the morning. It was kinda our routine.”
When I say it out loud, I realize how much of a dick I was.
“Oh…” he nods.
A brief silence sits between us before I decide to break it. “Does that make me a dick?” I ask, knowing the answer, but hoping he’ll sugar coat the blow.
“Total dick.” He wastes little time cutting me before adding, “But I get it,” in a semi-comforting tone.
With that being said, the woman standing a few feet in front of us whips around. Her nostrils are flaring, her eyes shooting daggers my way. She grabs onto Carl’s tree branch of a forearm, pulling it back towards her.
“He’s fourteen!” she sneers. “Stop harassing my son.”
Fourteen? Bullshit! The kid’s a fuckin’ brickshithouse!
Wait…why’d she let me talk to him this long in the first place?
“How am I harassing him?” I ask his mother, opting for her to explain herself rather than argue about the legitimacy of her offspring’s age. “He recognized me. He started talking with me. If anything, this is one of those pleasant celebrity experiences you rarely hear about.”
“He doesn’t need to hear about your sexcapades!” she says, a little too loud for my liking.
“Woah.” I exclaim, hands up, taking a step back. I snap my head left to right, taking note of anyone who might have heard her asinine claim. “I did no such thing.”
She scoffs before spitting out, “You literally just told him about your ‘adventures’ with Jasmine.”
“I most certainly did not!” I adamantly defend myself. “I told him about the last time I drank, which just so happened to have coincided with my successful attempt at bedding a not-so-stable damsel. I did not discuss any sexual activity whatsoever…pervert…”
“Are you dense?” she asks, flabbergasted by my response. “Just stop talking with my son.” The woman forcefully guides Carl to turn his back to me.
“Nice talking, Ted,” he says with a hint of disappointment as his mother pushes him forward. “Good luck tonight!”
Carl, the human growth hormone, waves adios as his mother instructs him to look away. I wave back, but he doesn’t see. His mother, however, flips me the bird.
“Rude…” I mumble.
The iPhone wedged in my back pocket begins to vibrate, the Marimba ringtone accompanying it. Pulling it out, the illuminated screen reads ‘Lindsay’. Smiling, I swipe across the screen and hold the device up to my ear.
“Hey there,” I’m sure my smile can be heard.
“Hey you,” her voice is warm. “Let’s meet up for lunch.”
“That’d be great, but I can’t,” I take a few steps forward, closer to boarding my flight. “I’m still in Chicago.”
A brief silence sits between us. I pull the phone away from my ear to look at the screen. The time is still counting, the call still active. I place the phone against the side of my face again.
“Hello?” I ask.
“There you are, thought I lost ya. You heard correctly. Chick-a-goooooo.”
“Ted.” Her voice is now not quite as warm. “You were supposed to get to New York this morning. What happened?”
“Change of plans. Can’t say anymore, it’s a surprise. I’ve got something to show you,” I tease, not intending for it to come off as sexual as it did.
An exasperated sigh starts off her response. “That’s nice. We’ve got roll call in a couple hours. You gonna make it?”
“Of course. We’re all good.” The nonchalant tone in my voice most certainly conveys reassurance. “It’s like I was telling Carl…”
“A ‘supposed’ teenager I met.” I toss up some doubtful air quotes, as if Lindsay could see them. “The kid’s a behemoth.”
There’s another short period of silence where I wonder if the connection’s dropped.
“Just get here, please.” There’s no anger lacing the request. Instead, I can tell it’s made with concern. “Okay?”
“I’ll be there.” I reply earnestly. “I’m not going to the Garden though, I’m heading straight for Times Square. So…good luck tonight. Kick some ass.”
“You too. And hey…” Lindsay says, before I hang up the phone. “Hughie’s the outlier, and he’s no joke. Keep your head about you.”
“Looking forward to it.” I wink, again as if she can see me. ”And hey…Equal Rights.”
March 13th, 2021 – 3:07 PM
New York, New York
The taxi comes to a halt just shy of McDonalds. The driver, who has only communicated via grunts and hand signals since I entered his vehicle at LaGuardia, taps on his dashboard and the Fare Counter perched atop it. It reads $35.08, so I toss a couple Jacksons onto the front passenger seat. Grabbing my backpack, I pop open the rear driver door and slide out.
“Keep the change,” leaves my mouth as my feet graze the pavement, but I doubt the driver hears me as his lead foot has him some twenty yards up the street already.
I’m not even sure I shut the back door…
Standing underneath the glamorous Golden Arches, I pull out my pack of smokes. Pushing one of the darts out far enough to pinch the filter between my lips, I yank it out and light it up. Edging out of the crowd to the curb, I want nothing more than to take a brief moment to absorb my environment. I’m quick to realize, however, that it doesn’t matter where I stand, I’m in somebody’s way. Ignoring the shoulder checking and passing comments, my eyes are attracted to one of the digital billboards across the street, positioned above the famed Red Stairs. It’s advertising tonight’s highly anticipated March To Glory, scrolling through the lineup one by one. After waiting patiently and withstanding the barrage of jaded New Yorkers, the image I’ve been longing to see finally appears.
Times Square Street Fight.
LSD Number One Contenders Match.
Looking into my larger than life eyes up in the sky, a sense of calmness envelops me. The type of feeling you get when you go somewhere you’ve never been before, but for some odd reason feel at home. I’m not in anyone’s way right now. This is my fuckin’ street. This is my fuckin’ night.
And anyone who thinks otherwise can fuck right off.
After fifteen seconds or so, the next match transitions into the bright lights: the Tag Team Championship. Now I could dwell on the fact it’s not Zeb and I defending those titles, but take that Negative Nancy bullshit and shove it up your ass. Another battle for another day. My mind has been obsessing over a different prize, and my eyes are locked in on it. In what’s an afterthought in the Starsek and Bruvs advert, that LSD Championship draped over Jatt’s left shoulder is what tonight’s about. The chance to RSVP as that fat fuck’s plus one and forcibly remove that Championship from his sausage-fingered grip.
A Championship in need of some serious rehabilitation.
Preparations for the evening are well underway as the TKTS booth tucked underneath said Red Stairs is littered with High Octane production crew members. A media van is pulled up onto the sidewalk, and it appears they are testing out the various pieces of electronic equipment required to capture the magic of tonight’s violence. What would a street fight be without adequate sound and visual representation?
Waiting for what seems like an eternity for a break in the traffic, I’m eventually able to cross the street with a herd of people, swarming towards those Red Stairs. Half the crowd continues on while the other half climb the landmark in search of their own private piece of real estate. I, on the other hand, elect to sit dead center of the bottom step, dropping my backpack between my legs. Unzipping the mostly empty sack, I pull out my roll of athletic tape and the brass knucks I snuck past TSA. The bag is soon kicked off to the side, the knucks go in the breast pocket of my leather jacket, and I begin to tape my wrists.
It isn’t long before a robust middle aged man stands in front of me. I pay no attention at first, but his stare is unrelenting, and he’s taken a keen interest in every movement of mine. “I’m waiting for a couple friends.” I offer, briefly glancing up from my tape job.
“You’re…a bit early…” he huffs.
He doesn’t move, but his gaze moves upwards. Then back down towards me. Up once more. Then back down again. Ripping the tape at the roll, I rotate my wrist, open my fist, then clench tightly. Looking up at the mighty neckbeard, a lanyard snugly rests around his neck. A ‘HOW Event Staff’ badge is attached to it, his lovely photo safely laminated and the name ‘Ernie’ underlining it. Taking a peek behind me, my handsome mug shines brightly promoting tonight’s brawl. The four other faces just so happen to be there as well…
“Yeah,” I turn back, smiling. “Those friends.”
“But,” he hesitates, “you’re like, super early. Production is just getting set up.”
“Pay me no mind.” I wave off the staffer. “You do you, Ernie.”
“Okay,” he shrugs, beginning to turn away. “Do you like, need anything.”
“Nope,” is my instinctive response.
But that’s when I have an idea.
“Wait,” I call out, and Ernie in mid-turn shifts back my way. “Do you guys have access to that billboard?”
“So, let’s say we were to record some good ol’ shit talking, you’d be able to broadcast it on that monstrosity for all of Times Square to see?”
I can’t help but smile.
Let’s have some fun.
We did it Zeb!
We made it to Broadway!
Sure, it’s not the vision either one of us had some three weeks ago, but all things considered, it’s pretty fuckin’ sweet. We went from being afterthoughts in Lee’s lost and found to landing starring roles in one of the night’s marquee matches. We earned it buddy. So enjoy the bright lights. Soak in this larger than life experience. Make everyone back in Comer proud.
And most importantly…learn from tonight’s heartache.
Now I’m not the biggest fan of the idea that I may need to go through you to get my hands on Jatt, but that’s the nature of the beast. Plenty of positives came from me choking you out in Round One of the DeNucci Cup. I’m certain we’ll look back on tonight and be able to draw some positives as well.
So don’t get discouraged. Go out and give it your fuckin’ all. You’re young. You’re talented. You’ll rebound. And these past few weeks are all the proof you need that hard work pays off. Keep putting that nose to the grindstone, and there’s no doubt in my mind you’ll have my number soon enough.
Just not tonight.
Did you hear that Zion? A few sentences back? Hard Work Pays Off. Not being a whiner. Not making idle threats about beating up the nameless crew members. Not making dumbass sports metaphors of ‘making touchdowns,’ whatever the fuck that means.
So do us all a favour and shut the fuck up.
You didn’t do shit to get us on March To Glory. You got choked unconscious. That’s it. And now that I look back on it, maybe I held on just a second too long because you’re definitely throwing off a simpler than usual vibe. What’s with hanging out in catering with a toy replica championship? And you’ve been bragging about owning twenty four of them.
The sad thing is I believe you….
Here’s some food for thought: do you think winning the LSD Championship back in ‘16 factored into Lee’s decision to close shop? He was all like, ‘welp, we’ve hit rock bottom now. Let’s shut this bitch down before it gets any worse.’
Except it didn’t happen in time. Nope. That legacy you were robbed of cementing, you seemingly forget to mention the fact Hollywood beat you for said Championship before the doors slammed shut for three years. What a fuckin’ embarrassment, bro.
Even more so than playing with toys backstage.
And delusional too.
The man on a mission to exact revenge. For what? Hell if I know. Apparently he was robbed of the opportunity to face me in last year’s Lee Best Invitational because he got his ass kicked in the preliminaries. Makes perfect sense.
Question. Will you be ringside for my Tag Championship match tonight?
No Brian, had we met up in last year’s LBI, it would not have been a match for the ages. It would have been a fuckin’ massacre. You would not be here tonight if that alternate reality played out. Don’t you dare tarnish the matches I had with Red or Max by inserting yourself in place of either.
You or any other of your personalities.
Did you know if I didn’t lose to Farthington last year I’d be World Champion?
You almost had it right when you preached about ‘Basic Instinct’ though. Almost. So let’s practice our fun with phonics you plucky little dope.
Great job. Don’t forget it. Jot it down in your diary so when one of your other characters comes out, you can remind yourself what you truly are.
And while you’re at it, flash Hughie a peek. Maybe even write him his own copy. Rip it out and fold it up all cute, like a grade school note. Don’t let the teacher intercept it, Pikey, you might draw yourself a detention. It’d really suck balls to be trapped under the thumb of a disciplinarian with a band of hopeless rejects.
Unless, of course, that’s your thing.
Glorified Prize Fighter he says.
What a fuckin’ joke. Top notch, really. And you were competing with Zion word blunders too. The DeNucci Cup is announced, a literal FIGHTING tournament. An octagon that encourages brutality, bloodshed and broken bones. The perfect environment for a Prize Fighter.
And ours disappears.
I get it though. You came in like a bat out of hell with all these grandiose claims. You even kept the charade up for a bit, waging war with the super impressive twenty twenty version of Scottywood and winning the LSD Championship off an emotionally uninvested Jiles. But then Lindsay happened. Twice. Then you shit the bed in that scaffold match. And you realized it would totally suck to enter The DeNucci Cup and risk being a one and done. It’d be career suicide…
And, so, the underground hero bravely bitched out for three months. That was your answer.
Then you returned on the go home show and attacked Scotty from behind with a baseball bat.
Another bitch move.
And then you announced yourself as the fifth member of The Best Alliance.
Is being a bitch your new schtick?
I’m totes confused, because you were all anti-establishment. Fuck the man! But now the man paid you, so ‘Celebrate The Man’. You held out for more off the books money. You fought the law, but YOU won.
Hughie Freeman, a real rags to riches story.
Except Lee doesn’t pay losers. So I call bullshit.
I’d be more inclined to believe you begged for your job back, Lee said suck my dick, you said how long, he said forever, you said deal.
But you got a cool shirt out of the deal. Don’t be fooled though, it ain’t free. It’s coming out of your next pay.
Let’s take all the bullshit, every delusional dream, every nonsensical metaphor and throw it out the fuckin’ window.
Tonight is my night. Tonight I finish what I started when I returned: re-establishing myself. I didn’t hold out for a flashy debut, title match or pay per view gimmie. I fought on undercards, I threw fists in the DeNucci Cup, I wrestled when called upon. I earned my spot in tonight’s match.
Bright lights and bad men, huh?
Times Square is set to become my playground. I’m the bully who will have you running to mommy. It will serve as a horror movie of sorts for Jatt. A terrifying preview of what’s coming for him. A marquee win for me, and the countdown officially starting on Jatt’s days remaining as Champ.
It’s my fuckin’ time.