“I look like a fucking idiot.”
The reflection of an expressionless man stares back at him in the mirror, as Michael Lee Best uncomfortably tugs at the collar of a steam pressed white shirt. He adjusts the Windsor knot of a plain, boring black tie before brushing the slightest bit of lint off his shoulder. He’d always hated the look of a plain black suit– it was so charmless and devoid of personality. Even in the bygone days before the platinum blonde hair and the selfie jacket, he’d always looked at himself as anything but ordinary. It was almost funny, in a way– the human being who had made him feel the most unexceptional was the entire reason that he was dressed so unexceptionally on this particular occasion.
Maybe this whole thing was a mistake.
The Son of God flips the visor closed from behind the wheel, hiding the mirror against the roof of the rental as he swings the car door open in begrudging fashion. The cold, crisp autumn air gobsmacks him in the side of the face, as he suddenly remembers why the fuck he moved to Tampa in the first place.
New Jersey is cold and it sucks.
He turns his back on the brisk air, as his feet mindlessly begin walking the path toward a clearing beyond the trees. He didn’t exactly expect the turnout of the century, but a wry smirk grows along his chapped lips as he realizes that he’s either the first to arrive… or the only one. The idea of attending this shitshow in the first place had been a daunting one at best, but the only thing worse would have been putting on a show for a bunch of people he hasn’t talked to in twenty years. The irony isn’t lost on him that for all the years she told him he’d die alone, no one even showed up for her fucking funeral.
He stuffs the butt end of a cigarette into his mouth, lighting the tip in a fluid motion. The initial puff of smoke vanishes instantly into the wind, as he sucks back the first drag.
“Look ma,” he mutters under his breath. “All your friends in one place.”
He’d spent a lot of years wondering how he’d feel about this moment. It was one of the last great unknowns in his life— for as much as he felt he had it all figured out, he never quite locked down the emotions that would boil to the surface when the old bitch finally kicked the bucket. She’d spent the latter years of her life hooked up to dialysis, so it wasn’t like it had come unexpectedly— he’d played the good son and done his due diligence, paying all the bills, but he’d never visited once.
Not until today.
He hangs back at the edge of the clearing, staring at the empty stretch of grass ahead. Cemeteries had always freaked him out a little bit— small monuments to the forgotten, visited once a year to put flowers on a stretch of dirt. Loved ones remembered as an obligation, instead of immortalized for their actions. A bunch of carved rocks with meaningless words etched into them… Loving Wife, or Here Lies Dale. Like fucking yearbook quotes, shoved into the back of your mind until you pull them out once a year to relive the old days.
He never wants to be buried in a place like this.
Thousands of unmemorable bodies, filed away in the ground to be forgotten, and soon his mother would be one of them. Another meaningless epitaph on another meaningless piece of stone. He’d told the engraver to write something nice– it didn’t matter, he’d never be back here again to see it for himself. Even today, he wasn’t here to “pay his respects”.
Respect is something that you earn.
The cigarette burns down toward the filter, crackling as he runs out of excuses to hang back. With a flick of the rest, the Son of God fires the butt toward the damp treeline, letting out a long sigh with the last lungful of smoke.
“Let’s get this over with.”
“Let’s get this over with.”
His fingers tap restlessly on the desk, as Michael Lee Best stubs out the butt end of a cigarette into the depths of an overfilled ashtray. He knew that this day had to come, but he’d been dreading it all the same— the mountain of legal documents in front of him were more daunting than the idea of actually having this fucking match in the first place. Hold Harmless agreements. Power of Attorney forms. Event Liability, Assumption of Liability, and Free Release of Liability waivers. For all of the obstacles that Lee Best had placed in the road to keep this match from happening at Rumble at the Rock, this was perhaps his most brilliant.
He was forcing his sons to sign their lives away.
A single ballpoint pen sits idly on the desk, awaiting his touch. It might not be the most famous pen in High Octane Wrestling, but those who remember it remember it well. This is the pen that destroyed Johnny Riot’s wrestling career. This is the pen that ended Jatt Starr’s marriage. This is the pen that was handed down by the Father himself, as a showing of respect, love, and appreciation that had been lacking from his life from the second he came into the world.
It wasn’t an accident Lee had left it here.
“Manipulative motherfucker,” Michael grumbles, under his breath.
He snatches the pen off the desk, rifling through the thousands of small print words in front of him and looking for the places that need his signature and initials. The less time he spends reading, the less time he can spend second guessing… and it’s become far too late for second guessing now.
His hubris had gotten away from him.
No swerves, no loopholes, somebody dies.
Whoever came up with the phrase “it looked good on paper” never started at the words accidental death and/or dismemberment in bold font, right above a line that requires your signature in wet ink. On paper, this was the dumbest idea that he’d ever had in his life– the phrase should be “it sounded good coming out of my mouth, but then after the lawyers got a hold of it, I realized I was a fucking idiot”. For as vicious as Lee Best was inside of the ring with a microphone, that was all just child’s play– the GOD of HOW became the most ruthless wrestling promoter on the planet with a pen in his hands, not a microphone. There isn’t a dollar he won’t spend, an angle he won’t work, or a lie he won’t tell to succeed in business. If he wants to build you up, he will build you up, and if he wants to make you doubt yourself?
Well, he’s almost as good at it as Mom was.
Maybe this whole thing was a mistake.
Once the talking stops, things get a little bit more introspective. See, it turns out there isn’t a whole hell of a lot you can do to promote a death match. The stakes can’t get any higher. There’s no mind games to be played, or escalations to keep the rush going. No swerves, no loopholes, and somebody dies— put it on a t-shirt and you’re fucking done.
But the talking is what stops it from being real.
The talking is what amps you up. What keeps the rush going. For six months… hell, for ten years, Michael Lee Best and The Minister hadn’t just been embroiled in a battle of the bodies, but a war of the WORDS. Words that piss you off. Words that instill fear. Words that make you feel like you can dig a little deeper than the other guy, and eek out that pinfall just a little quicker than they can. It had almost become an HOW institution around here— Mike Best and Max Kael had become bigger than Max and Jatt had ever been twice over, and they’d always joked about it being a deathmatch in the end.
The joke didn’t seem so funny anymore.
His hand shakes, as he hovers the pen over the first stack of papers. It was suddenly becoming real. This wasn’t like Kostoff— he never asked for that match. He never wanted that match. He did what he had to do to survive, but he never walked down to the ring and asked for it. Why had he so brazenly agreed to this in the first place? Even if he survives that means…
Well, it means he has to kill his brother.
To walk away would mean admitting that he was the greatest coward in the history of HOW. Maybe in wrestling itself. He’d gone too far, and done too much. He’d be known as nothing but a bully– one of the same Fisher Price fucking rejects who talked a big game but couldn’t back it up. He knows all of this. He knows that he doesn’t have a choice.
But his hand won’t stop shaking.
“No swerves.” he swallows dry air, feeling his throat chap. “No loopholes.”
He signs the first page with a flourish of the wrist.
“We meet here today to honor the life of…”
Of what, exactly?
A beloved mother? A cruel laugh is stifled in the back of his throat, as Michael folds his hands awkwardly in front of him. Who the fuck is this guy even talking to? The old fucking drunk spent so much of her existence estranged from anyone who gave a shit that she’d died the way she lived— alone. This whole fucking thing had been a mistake in the first place.
“You can speed it up there, Father.” Michael interjects, quietly. “I don’t think anyone is gonna mind.”
Behind the preacher, an ornate piece of pageantry sits atop the mechanism that will eventually lower her into the ground. If his mother was going to spend an eternity letting her outside rot to match the insides, the least he’d felt to be appropriate was a fancy wooden box to do it in. It was his final gift to a woman who’d never given him anything but anxiety and a handful of Mommy issues. Maybe that’s why he’d never gotten any tattoos— the emotional scarring was more than enough to desecrate the temple without adding ink into the mix.
“We are all grieving.” the Preacher continues, reading soullessly from his script. “Life will not be the same, nor should it be. Together, let us open up our hearts and—“
His voice may as well trail off into static.
It’s all white noise, as Michael fixates his eyes on the ornate wooden coffin lingering just above the ground. The top half of the lid rests open, but thus far he hasn’t brought himself to look her in those cold, dead eyes. Shit, odds are it would be hard to tell the difference, even if she was still alive in that stupid fucking box. At least today, she wouldn’t be able to tell him that he was a failure. That she’d never been proud of what he’d done with his life.
At least today, he wouldn’t have to smell the stink of gin on her breath.
“Remember to bless each day.” The Preacher’s eyes are solemn. “And to live each to its fullest in honor of life itself. We often take life for–”
“I remember when I was sixteen…” Michael interrupts, suddenly. His face is emotionless. “I wanted to get my driver’s license. I just wanted to be out of the house. I wanted to get away from her. But she wouldn’t take me… wouldn’t sign the papers, so I could get my permit. Kept telling me I didn’t need to drive. Didn’t need a license.”
He unfolds his hands from in front of his body, shoveling them awkwardly into his pockets. He sways forward and back on his heels, uncomfortable with the idea of standing still right now.
“Said she’d… heh.” the future Starmaker shakes his head. “She said she’d drive me anywhere I needed to go, so it didn’t matter. She was so afraid I was going to leave her alone. That I’d get out on the highway and never come back. Had to quit the wrestling team because she was always too drunk to drive me to practice. Had to quit the football team because she was always too drunk to drive me to practice. I remember one time… she uh, she was supposed to pick me up after a field trip. And she must have passed out or something, ya know? Just never showed up. I was the last kid there, and she never showed up. Ended up sleeping behind the bus garage.”
The preacher rubs the back of his neck, unsure as to whether or not he’s supposed to continue– he averts his gaze, his eyeline wandering back toward the woods. The cold breeze picks up, rustling the pages of his service around on the center of his outdoor pulpit.
“She was a shit mom, Padre.” A sad smile curdles at one of the corners of his lip. “She was a miserable drunk, a piece of shit, and fucking sociopath. She’s gonna burn in hell, I’m not gonna be far behind her, and you and I… we’re just standing here pretending like God is listening. If God was listening, she wouldn’t have burned me with her curling iron because I came home with a D in math class. If God was listening, he wouldn’t have left me alone in a shitty one bedroom apartment to figure out how to cook a fucking grilled cheese when I was six. We slipped through the cracks a long time ago, Father. Let’s just put her in the fucking ground.”
The preacher doesn’t seem to know what to say, or whether or not it’s even his place to say anything at all. Solemnly, he nods his head, taking a step to one side so that Michael can come and say his final goodbye.
The Son of God swallows hard.
It’s the first time he’ll have seen his mother in person in over years— she’d missed out on everything. All of the proudest moments of his life, and his career. All of the opportunities that he could have had to show her that she was wrong. That he hadn’t wasted his life. That he’d made something of himself, and would be remembered for it. She never made it to a football game— Mommy has a headache. She’d never made it to a musical— Mommy just can’t sit still for that long. She hadn’t even managed to stay fucking sober long enough to show up to his high school graduation, so it shouldn’t have surprised him that she’d never seen him wrestle.
Not that she’d have cared anyway.
If that selfish cunt had shown even an iota of interest in his life, it might have turned out completely different. Maybe he’d be wearing a stuffy black suit to work everyday. Maybe he’d actually be an accountant. Maybe he’d actually be a fully formed, adult human being with feelings and a family and a fucking Golden Retriever. The irony isn’t lost on him that he’s standing in front of a coffin containing the very reason for his fucked up success in this life, and that he absolutely despises her for it.
With a heavy sigh, he steps toward the casket.
“Thank you.” He mumbles, as he fishes around in his inside jacket pocket. “For breaking me. For fucking me up on such a fundamental level that I will never be a fully functional human being. For ensuring that I’d share the same life of loneliness that you lived. For giving me all the fucked up tools I needed to succeed. Let’s have one for the road, yeah?”
He finds the flask in his pocket, pulling it out and twisting off the cap. The noxious odor of ten dollar gin nearly causes him to gag, as he throws back a swig of the one poison he’d never managed to get addicted to in his life. He fucking hated gin. He fucking hated alcohol in general— it’s the first swig of booze he’d thrown down his gullet in seven years, but there’s no time to celebrate like the present.
“Here’s to you, ma.” He smirks, sadly. “May you live on through my legacy. Because once I’m dead, no one will remember your fucking name.”
With a flick of the rest, he tips the remainder of the flask upside down over the open lid of the ornate casket, dousing the inner lining in the foul smelling, cheap liquor. As the aroma permeates through his nostrils once again, he can’t help but realize that the cold stranger beneath him finally resembles his mother again. How many days had he come home from school and found her like this? Out cold and stinking of booze, looking as dead on the inside as she was on the outside. She was a shitty addict, and she’d been kind enough to pass on her shitty addict genes as his only fucking inheretence. Even now, he can feel the warm rush of the gin cutting through the cold October morning, and he suddenly wishes he hadn’t wasted the rest of the flask on Mommy Dearest.
The first sip in seven years.
“Let’s pack it up, Padre.” Michael scowls, turning his back on his mother for the last time. “Appreciate your time. Here’s a little something extra for your troubles.”
He stuffs a small handful of crumpled up bills into the hands of the preacher, hurriedly shaking his hand as he fights back the waves of saliva crashing into the sides of his tongue. The warm feeling in his stomach has expanded, and all he can think about is getting the fuck out of here and having another little sip of something to take the edge off. He paid out five figures to stand in the cold, alone, and wish his mother a goodbye after she couldn’t be bothered to pick up a phone for the entire length of his sobriety– if there was any time that the Son of God deserved to live a little, it was right now.
After seven years, he fucking deserves it, right?
Without another word, Michael Lee Best turns from the preacher and makes his way toward the trees at the end of the clearing. The morose blackness of his boring rental car looms in the distance, and he can’t wait to fucking get rid of it. Can’t wait to get out of this shitty black suit. Can’t wait to get out of shitty, black hole New Jersey. Can’t wait to get back to the life that he made for himself despite all of this.
Can’t wait to have a fucking drink and forget about it.
As he swings the door open, the HOW Hall of Famer stuffs himself into the cramped driver’s side and slams it shut behind him. He stares into the rearview mirror one last time, before he both figuratively and literally puts his place behind him forever, and it’s only then that he notices the splotches of wet rolling down his cheeks.
A laugh escapes him involuntarily, like a hiccup leaving his throat as he watches the tears roll down from bloodshot eyes. This woman ruined his life. She created a monster— incapable of real love, or real friendship, or real… anything. A husk of a soul mimicking human behavior on a never ending question to make his Mommy proud. Why should he waste a single fucking tear on a mother that didn’t want him? That didn’t care about him?
He buries his head in his hands.
He loses all control, as the floodgates open.
His mother is dead.
“My mother is dead.”
With a scowl of disgust, he strikes through the name in clean black ink, eyeing the stiff looking attorney in the stiff looking black suit and the stiff looking tie. What an unexceptional human. His name is Brent Somethingorother, and like most of the people who Lee Best brings on board the office staff of High Octane Wrestling, Michael has not bothered to learn his last name.
“Tell me the logic there, dick.” Michael stares him dead in the face, expressionless. “You want me to give Power of Attorney over the entirety of a wrestling empire to a dead drunk?”
“My apologies, Mr. Best.” the attorney begins, with a soft nod. “Clearly there was a miscommunication between–”
The lawyer reaches for the paper as he speaks, but Michael slams his blood-crusted ballpoint pen down through the center, narrowly missing the attorney’s hand as he stabs through the contract and pins it to the desk.
“No, no.” the Son of God shakes his head. “Let me get this straight. They sent you in here with over a thousand fucking pieces of paper for me to sign, and instructions that I wasn’t allowed to leave unless I signed all of them, or called the whole fucking thing off. And the last fucking piece of paper you wanted me to sign… would give full control over my estate, assets, royalties, intellectual properties… to a DEAD FUCKING DRUNK?”
The attorney adjusts his glasses, wiping the spittle from the outsides of the lenses as he lets go of a long sigh. As one in a long line of many lawyers utilized by the Best Family, the screaming doesn’t phase him– this was your average Monday at the office.
“Again, my apologies.” Brent calmly pulls the pen from the contract, sliding the paper toward his side of the table. “I was not informed of the passing of your mother. I just assumed you’d have wanted to–”
This time, he can’t hold back his temper.
In a rage, Michael flips the flimsy wooden desk to one side, charging straight for the attorney and grabbing him by the front of his stupid black suit, shoving his unexceptional frame up against the thin panelled wall of the office. The panelling cracks under the force of the blow, knocking the wind from the lawyer as his glasses sail to the floor below, cracking against the hardwood.
“YOU FUCKING ASSUMED.” the Son of God seethes, “THAT I WANTED TO LEAVE… MY ENTIRE… LIFE’S… WORK… TO A WOMAN WHOSE ONLY CLAIM… TO MY FUCKING… LIFE… IS THAT SHE GOT SPIT ROASTED BY MY DAD… AND MY GAY… UNCLE… MIKE… ON A FUCKING COKE BINGE… THROUGH THE GARDEN STATE?”
With a heave, he throws the paper pusher away from the wall, sending him sailing back toward the flipped desk. The lawyer lands with a crash amidst a sea of completed paperwork, all now strewn about the office floor. The anger pulsates through the veins of the HOW World Champion, overcoming him completely as he stalks toward the attorney with gritted teeth and the most unsound of minds.
“I- I’m sorry!” Brent barely squeaks, still regaining his breath. “It isn’t my fault, okay? He told me if I used her name, you wouldn’t sign it. He didn’t want you to–”
“Who… Lee?” the anger on Michael’s face manifests through a venomous smile. “Lee told you to put her fucking name on my Power of Attorney? That’s all he’s fucking got left?”
The champion laughs, but it comes out cruel and hollow. Like an echo of what a laugh is supposed to sound like– like someone mimicking human joy. The Son of God cracks his knuckles, and then his neck, in succession as he slowly stalks toward Brent the soon to be eviscerated attorney. His steps stop short, as the tip of his shoe comes to rest against the body of his favored ballpoint pen. The Starmaker leans down to a kneel, picking it up and wiping the lingering dust off onto his sweatshirt.
He looks down at the pen, and then over at the attorney.
With authority, Michael Lee Best catches a handful of the hair on the side of the lawyer’s head, pulling him in close and tight. Brent tries to struggle away, but he’s within the grasp of the HOW World Champion, and perhaps at his angriest.
His expression seems to warm, but he doesn’t relinquish his grip.
“Let me ask you something..” Michael smiles, the hollow smile of a car salesman. “You have a family, Brent? Wife? Kids?”
Blinking his eyes rapidly, the attorney nods as enthusiastically as he can. He’s seen this in movies. You’re supposed to make yourself human in the eyes of your abductor.
“That’s good, Brent.” Michael nods his head, too. “I’m glad. I’m glad to hear that. Cause let me tell you what I have.”
The Starmaker shoves the head of the lawyer backward, letting go of the impromptu headlock as he stands quickly up to his feet. He swiftly picks the desk back up off the floor, setting it upright on all four legs.
“I have two parents who didn’t want me.” Mike smiles, looking dangerously chipper. “My dad was an old school cokehead who denied my existence until I proved myself successful enough to warrant a personal relationship, and he has been emotionally manipulating me for a decade for his own financial benefit. Isn’t that cool?”
The champion bends down, beginning to square up all the contracts and waivers that were strewn about the room. He quickly starts shoveling them back up onto the table, signing one after the other with the infamous pen cradled in his right hand.
“My mom?” Best goes on, still sounding upbeat. “She was a shit drunk who told me I was worthless, EVERY SINGLE DAY OF MY LIFE. When she wasn’t abandoning me in public, she kept me locked up in the house with no friends, no family, and no opportunity to grow as a human being because she was afraid that the kid she didn’t even want would abandon her and leave her to die alone. Which I did!”
He leans over the desk now, enthusiastically signing all of the forms that had previously given him pause. Whatever was slowing him down before appears to have passed, and now the signatures are flying like it’s an autograph session.
Insurance papers, signed. Waivers of liability, signed. Hold harmless agreements, signed. He isn’t even stopping to give them a once over anymore.
“I have a brother, too.” Mike nods, not looking up. “Not blood. Stepbrother. My dad adopted him to ignite a forced sibling rivalry to boost ticket sales. And it worked, because he’s a fucked up child of abuse and neglect, too, and it was really easy to make us fight for the scraps of love and attention that we desperately wanted as children.”
He stops signing, just long enough to throw a big, cheesy thumbs up to Brent, who is just beginning to stand up to his feet. He isn’t sure if it’s safe to do so yet, but the World Champion doesn’t appear to look disapproving as he rises from the floor.
“No wife.” Michael shrugs, going back to his paperwork. “Well, kind of. I got married years ago, but abandoned her on the honeymoon because my Dad manipulated me into believing that she’d just leave me anyway, and I believed him because my mother told me that she didn’t love me, and no other woman ever would either. So she’s still out there somewhere. Nice lady, if I remember. Hard to say. I married her after like, a date and a half because she showed the slightest interest in me, and I’m emotionally stunted because I was never shown affection as a child and thus mistake lust for love almost immediately. Almost had a girlfriend for a minute this year, but then she tried to hold my hand for a second after a bonfire and I immediately called it quits because I have intense and severe abandonment issues.”
Brent softly makes his way toward the desk, knowing that he can’t leave until he’s collected all of these signed documents. He swallows hard as he approaches, knowing full well that he’s walking into some kind of impromptu nervous breakdown. Michael doesn’t even break stride as the attorney fumbles around for the desk, still unable to see particularly well after his glasses were smashed just moments ago.
“Kinda have a kid, though.” the Son of God goes on, speaking faster and faster. “Stole him, basically. Won him in a wrestling match like a carnival game. Didn’t seem that fucked up to me at the time, because I inherently assume that all parents see their children as a burden and I’ve never been taught the value of family. Had to watch him and his dad both cry when I took him away. That’s probably why there’s a Guardianship form in here. Hopefully I don’t die, right? Think about the emotional trauma I would have instilled in a family for no other reason than my own selfish vanity and diminished sense of self worth? HA!”
An over the top, almost jovial laugh escapes from the depth of his guts, as Michael finishes signing the next form. He slides it across the table to Brent, clearly in a world of his own as he acts swiftly and mechanically.
“We’re almost done here, Brent.” Michael nods, looking proud of himself.
One final form remains.
The Power of Attorney.
Without a second thought, he scribbles a name into the space above the crossed out area previously reserved for his mother, adding it with confidence. There aren’t a lot of people in the world that a man like Mike Best can trust at all, much less with his entire life’s work. Despite his assertions that Rumble at the Rock will make an immortal out of him, his pen hesitates over the signature line… his eyes are looking at the document, but his brain is a million miles away.
Small monuments to the forgotten, visited once a year to put flowers on a stretch of dirt.
Thousands of unmemorable bodies, filed away in the ground to be forgotten.
When he’s dead, what if no one remembers his name?
Exhaling the last of the air out of his lungs, Michael presses the pen to the paper, quickly inking his signature across the dotted line and initialing beneath. He slides the last paper over toward Lee Best’s lackey attorney, admiring the pile of work that he’s accomplished.
“All… all set, Mr. Best?” Brent asks, softly.
“Just about.” Michael nods, standing up from the desk. “Listen to me, Brent. You did good, okay? You did really, really good. This wasn’t your fault, okay? We’ll get you out of here. Just gotta check that I crossed all the tees…”
Brent releases the longest sigh of relief of his life. He manages a weak smile, reaching out to shake hands with the Son of God and finally get the absolute fuck out of this office. As he reaches his hand out, Michael takes it and shakes it firmly… but he doesn’t let go.
The HOW World champion swings forward, jabbing the blood-crusted pen directly into the face of Brent the Former Attorney. The lawyer drops to the floor like he’s been shot, screaming in agony as his hands shoot to his eyes, trying to pull the sharp instrument from his face.
“Oh, and dot the eyes.” Michael adds, quietly.
Brent can’t stop screaming, as the fluids pour forth from his face and form a bloody mess in the center of the hardwood floor. MIchael softly gathers up the paperwork, tucking it under his arm as he makes his way toward the doorway– he’ll hand deliver the papers himself.
He doesn’t look back.