Either you die the hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.
You all know the line. I’m sure you thought it poetic, in the sense there was truth to be had in it, but fuck, it was corny and shoehorned. Now, try to imagine, if you will, what I take from this as Your Willing Villain.
Today’s lesson: what it means to be a villain.
See, I don’t call myself a villain because I think the cool guys wear the black hat. I don’t think that being an asshole makes you cool; it makes you an asshole. I didn’t pretend to myself that I was some troubled, disenfranchised soul that needed to reach out and communicate my pain in ways of violence and malice.
What it meant to be a villain was to be victorious. And I was.
The Narcotics group went as planned, and now it was all mine. Unblemished as I stride toward a friendly display of sportsmanship with my best friend. That match we’d wrestle in the park when we were 11 in front of five friends, pretending it was a sold out arena, using picnic benches as ropes.
I was the one daring enough to bend reality to my will. I was the one so brazen to expect a plan to play out. I am hated because I called my shot. I am loathed because this business is a zero sum game. There’re two men in the business I trust, and to Hell with all the rest of you.
I am the Bugs Bunny of this shit. I know, you’ll ask, ‘but Bugs was the hero?’ You think he was? He upset everyone that he came across, won and cared nothing for how it made the others feel. This wasn’t just poor Elmer Fudd out hunting to feed his family, protected with permits and legal, this extended to his ‘friends’ like Daffy. I am some Goddamned cartoon character, ain’t I?
Maybe that’s why my plan got co-opted? Maybe that’s why I was sideswiped with the news.
Lee Best had a war to wage, and purposed himself to get his titles off the waists of the eMpire, at least the ones not held by his baby boy. Just happened that boy didn’t hold a one, so it was all guns at the ready. Since before I had thought of stepping back between the ropes and under the bright lights, the Boss flung his best and brightest to the task, and to this point only managed to snag the ICON loose. And that took some fuckery on his behalf.
Now here comes Red & Ted, and in defiance of all expectations but our own, we danced through the group stage of the LBI. And after I let slip that the Boss had probably been overlooking us for the latest signings, he pulls our card.
Spite, I can work with that.
All it meant was beating the unbeatable.
This was going to take a plan.
February 24, 2020
“So, are we saying he’s more like Darth Vader or,” Teddy Palmer left his thought behind in the car as we stepped out.
I keep to myself the thought of Flyer calling out that he has the high ground as Kael plunged into that dumpster full of ‘lava.’ “I don’t know, struck more like a Bane type.”
Into his empty Timmie’s cup, “What a lovely, lovely voice.” He chuckled and stomps through puddles on the way up the drive. He was in a hurry to get out of the mild winter’s rain, with hoodie popped and drawn closed.
Me, I took my normal pace, enjoying the grey skies, knowing that it wouldn’t need to be shovelled later. And, being prudent enough to actually be wearing a jacket, it bothered me not.
“Come on, come on,” Ted urged me. Even though he was under the porch, he shook like a leaf when the wind hit.
The keys rattle as a pull them out, and I grab the right one in the third try.
“Why exactly am I up again before the crack of noon?” it seems the sugary donut stayed off this reality for only so long for Ted.
I turn loose the lock, open the door and retrieve my keys in a deft motion. I stood arms extended to push Ted through first and relay we’d be going to work, “Film study.”
His disappointment is audible.
“Well, if I could trust you to spend more than two minutes doing this on your own, you’d still be at home in your slippers and jammies.”
His defeat sounded a lot like the disappointment earlier, to the untrained ear.
I hear more than his shuffling feet, and call out, “Gracey, that you?” I didn’t know that she’d be home, but hoped it was her.
Then out of the living room, I hear her call back, “You aren’t supposed to be here, yet!”
“Should I?” Ted thought this could be his excuse out.
“Is that Ted?” she was too busy at something to pop her head out into the hall.
He mixed his emotions, and through a plastic smile, “Hi, Grace.”
“Is it,” I choke getting the words out and have to start over, “is it a guy?”
That drew her out. She appeared in the hall in full work-from-home attire: oversized hoodie and warm joggers. Her face was cross, and her tongue lashed out to me, “No.”
“Well?” Ted played arbiter, poorly.
Her face softened, “Okay. But, just close your eyes, got it?”
I see Ted close his eyelids on command. Myself, I wait a beat and look at all possible exits to note if any were open, that I might not hear whoever I expected to be letting escape. I’m pretty sure my little sister wouldn’t let anyone rob the place, but breathed deeper and opened my ears.
She takes my hand, and I assume Ted’s as well to lead us the five feet there, but we bump and knock our way off each other and the wall. She let’s go and whispers, “Wait.”
“Okay,” she declared but a second later.
The light and the colour comes flooding back in as I open. I look at my sister making this grand motion, I’d thought she’d say, ‘ta-da’ as she did. I stifle a chuckle, and follow her outstretched arm, Ted knocking me on my own.
“Holy shit,” let it never be said Ted wasn’t honest, if only a little tactless.
“Well?” Grace grew impatient.
Ted moving back allowed me to see her big surprise: it was the HOW Tag Team Titles, laid out on my coffee table. The foam black straps, and their shiny plastic center plates, they weren’t the genuine article, she couldn’t get those for us.
I open my mouth to speak, but feel the razor wire ‘round my throat. No air escapes as I just stand there, an idiot.
It wasn’t until this moment that I let any of this be more than a nebulous thought, the very same ones that all begin with, ‘Someday…’ And now, it was there in front of me. All that expectation that came with what we’ve accomplished, and the weight of it.
Gracey, my sister, who’d only ever want the best for me, and only expect my best effort, and nothing more.
Grady, who’d want me to make money, so that he’d earn a percentage. And how much more money I was in line for if I could just keep on winning. That perfection was only some guy’s ring name in this industry, and nothing more, he’d never let dampen his gold-lined dreams.
Dad, waiting his last few months out, waiting for freedom. If I just kept winning, maybe I could give him the thing to see him through it: pride in his kid. I think of how it would rob him of that if I did anything less.
The Boss, who’d to this point given us free reign and knowing that this is usually the part of the program where things start to get sideways. Winning this would mean winning his favor. Losing would mean being relegated to disposable, and that can’t be the way, not this time.
Teddy Palmer, the man I regarded as something closer than a brother, who to this point, has been focused. He’s done his best to keep us away from those things that see us weighed out and measured as expendable after a trouble too many. He’s in a place where I can encourage him, and tell him there’s something to fight for. I know that if we lose here we’re the back of the line for a long while. Yeah, there was still the LBI, but one of us had to lose there. Beating the World’s Champ, even if it wasn’t exactly for the big belt, was momentum enough to keep us together and rooting in honesty for whichever of us stepped into the Coliseum, modern day gladiators.
These were my worries, and if I was honest, I had no expectations of myself.
“Alex?” I’m drawn out of my swirling imagination to the expectant pleading of my little sister.
“It’s perfect, Grace,” I take her in a hug, and mess her hair up just before the point it’d justify retaliation.
“Where did you even get something like this?” Ted had taken up the child’s plaything and laid it over his shoulder.
“I actually found it on eBay; some guy named Stevenspedia.”
Orion Business Park
FIlm had been studied, ideas formed and plans started. I thought it best to let Ted go unwind, so I was alone when I got the breaking news.
“… Lee Best has announced that he is upping the ante for this week’s Tag Title Match between Red & Ted and the Champions The eMpire.
The match will now be a ladder match with both belts being hung high above the center of the ring. The first team to secure the belts will leave Chicago that night as the Champions.”
And there went the Boss dashing my plans again. That news came forty minutes ago, and the first thing I did was hop online and cancel my order for that heavy magnet. And second, I drove down to my local home improvement and building materials merchant.
“Hello shoppers, and welcome to Home Depot. In-store today, you’ll find deals on limited Valspar 2L paints, 2 for $47.99 and Windsor Safety Salt, $2.27 per bag. Have a great day, and thank you for shopping with Home Depot: How doers get more done,” echoed out the in-store PA as soon as I was through the sliding doors. I thought it was just for me, somehow sentient to my coming, but that fear abated quickly when the poor, lorn teenager, whose job it was to wrangle carts, cried a sigh of annoyance having heard his manager’s poor impression of a radio DJ for the fifth time in this three hour shift.
The true majesty of this place was beyond the second set of sliding doors. Open Sesame!
Like Alibaba, I entered this treasure trove, but to call the 120,000 square feet of polished concrete grounds a simple cave was a 1,001 insults. In here was every item of chaos the production techs are crazy enough to want to cram under the ring for use later. You could get lost in its maze of aisles, and maybe have been before. But if this was a labyrinth, I’d get my clew from the friendly, vest wearing employee.
“Excuse me, could you…” doesn’t register as this sister is on a mission. Probably already hassled by another customer or five, and not willing to make me number six. Or, she was on break and wore a coat of ‘go-fuck-yourselves’ as she darted off the store floor to her cold salad waiting in the little fridge in the small breakroom, if Mark from Lighting hadn’t already stolen it, that collosal prick.
So, I shrug my shoulders and soldier on. I see other people pushing carts of all manner: your standard squeaky wheel model; this low bottomed, railed affair, perfect for sheets of wood, and rock; even a child of four being pushed around in a plastic form racecar, making lasting memories with his dad. I half think of turning back to get one, any one, of these for transporting my would-be purchase to the registers, but know that isn’t needed, and not how it’s going to go down on Saturday.
As I wander, my eyes peeled up at the hanging signs in each aisle, I caught out of the bottom of my vision a couple who couldn’t decide on a paint colour and heard an argument that had nothing to do with paint. I halt dead in my tracks twice as toddlers dash about without care for being squished by the big people. I got to ‘tsk-tsk’ as one single mother, or at least she seemed determined enough, and half-crazy enough to be one, have the load she carried in her arms tumble every which way when she bumps an elbow off the racking on a turn she made too tight. All this and more I suffered on my journey, stalking down my prey, until finally I stood face to face with my quarry, grinning at my reflection in the mirror-polished sheet metal.
I must have stood like that for too long, letting my thoughts run where they would as I glanced up and down at the selection, to scare the passersby enough that an orange vested gentleman tracked over to ask, “And how are we today?”
Looking to the mid forties, pot-bellied man and his salt and pepper beard, I return, “Well enough,” and turn back to measuring up my options.
“Was there something I could help you with,” he sounded almost annoyed that I didn’t want to converse with him.
“I’ve recently been in the market for a ladder,” I relent. Maybe he could actually be of some use to me.
“Well, it looks like you’ve found your spot,” and he beamed this proud smile to show me the twenty feet of shelving space housing what he assumed was a most impressive display of all things useful at reaching heights.
“I don’t know,” I hum and sigh my doubts.
“What size were you looking for?” I catch his eyes wandering back up, from the floor, or from my jeans, I’ll let you guess.
“I think twelve feet is the standard,” just as tongue gets stuck at the side of my mouth while I do the arithmetic: twelve foot ladder, straps hung fifteen feet in the air, that’s a nine or ten foot fall to the mat, thirteen to the thinly padded concrete floor.
“We’ve got a good range of twelve footers. Were you wanting the extendible model, or the two-sided fold-up?”
“Oh, they’re always two-sided. You need to be able to fit two guys on it at a time,” draws fresh trepidation out of my friendly helper.
“O…kay,” he starts before he’s found his confidence, “the Werner model will let you climb up either side,” he found it, and the ladder as well.
It was a hulking beast of a ladder, of sturdy construction and rubber gripping feet: this would do some damage to a human being. “How far and how fast do you think I could throw that at someone?”
“Excuse me?” his reaction reminds me that I should probably be editing my thoughts to the non-wrestling thinkers.
“Sorry, sorry,” I make a show by scratching at the back of my neck. “It’s a work thing. I’m a stuntman, you see,” wasn’t a complete lie.
“Oh, oh,” he said, and was kind enough to not ask if it was a Hollywood thing, or a circus thing. “So, is this the one you’re after then?”
I want to say yes, but think over the purchase some more. “How fast do you think I could get up the thing, like, to the top?”
“You’re not supposed to stand on the top–,” he starts before I rephrase.
“Okay, not the tippy top, but the last rung up. Just how long do you suspect I could bolt up the thing?”
He traces over to the ladder, and back to me, and then to the ladder, and no this is not an Old Spice commercial. He gives up on giving this any serious thought, shrugs and says, “if you were going safely? Five, ten seconds?”
“Thank you!” was more forceful and unexpected a response than he was looking for. “Why is it those guys always seem to take a minute?”
This outburst was the last one the poor soul would stand, and satisfied that he’d done his job, he departed back to wherever it was these people go that they can never be found when you want to.
Taking the red and chrome stairway into my hands, I let myself feel the weight and start to the front.
I had my ladder, now it was time to plan a heist.
February 28, 2020
“Anyway, what do you think the room service in a place like this is like?” Ted spun around on his faux-leather office chair, head tilted back to stare up at the white plaster ceiling.
“If I could get your attention, gentlemen,” I paced back and forth at the head of the long conference table, promptly being ignored.
“And you think I’d know? This place is like two hundred a night, my Gran would be rolling in her grave thinking about how much that’d cost,” Grady was a man of refined purse strings.
“I thought your Granny was still alive?” the sudden stopping left Ted dazed and confused.
As it appeared these boys weren’t ready to get to business, I peer to the window and the midday sun fluttering its rays through wooden California shutters. I grab the bridge of my nose, heave a sigh and rethink wasting money on booking the conference room for an hour.
“My Granny, yeah, but I said my Gran.”
“Boys!” my patience and cherub-like demeanor falter for a minute before I regain myself.
It does the trick, though, as I get both sets of eyes cast upon me, Ted still rocking his chair back and forth, but at least keeping his attention on me.
“Alright,” I announce my satisfaction and flip the switch. The fan motor kicks and the light takes a second to focus on the whiteboard, and I straighten my sheet just so.
“Whoa,” Ted’s jaw dropped and relates, “I haven’t seen one of those things since we were in grade school!”
“Where do you even find anything as old as that?” came up from under the bowler’s cap.
“It’s not old, it’s an antique,” I’m already sidetracked.
“Whatever, antique,” Grady puts my verbiage in his mouth. “That must have been a bitch to source. Why didn’t you just get a projector, like a normal human being in the 21st century? Do a PowerPoint, make this your own little Ted Talk.”
Ted just grasps a sound, like a gift had been given to him, and he was going to squirrel it away to use at a later date.
“Because, Grady,” I couldn’t believe I needed to state this aloud, “you do not go digital when you are planning a heist. You go analog. That’s the way it’s always done in the classics. Now, if we are done talking about this glorious overhead rear-light projector, we need to get on the same page here.”
A moment of silence and I think I can finally get to the point, and I walk to the board to point along to my masterpiece. Then I hear Ted whispering as he counts.
“We’re just three guys, right?” he asks like he wasn’t quite sure he counted right.
“That we are,” I assure.
“And, aren’t there like always a dozen guys in those movies?”
His point was taken. We were at a numbers disadvantage when I counted our assets, too. But, I wasn’t deterred, “And shit always goes sideways in those flicks because they’re so bloated. One loose link always goes blabbing it up, or gets caught with his pants down. This tight unit will be more than enough to get it done. It’s three against three.”
“Uhhhgmmm…” I hear Grady as soon as I finish, questioning my math. Was I really counting on him to throw his weight against anyone in the eMpire?
No, not really. But I’ll explain my math when I get to it. “Just wait, Grady. Have a little faith.”
He makes a show of shutting up, and finally, I can start to the board.
“First things first: our objective.”
“Oooo! Ooooo!” Ted was enthusiastically waving his hand above his head.
“I know this one, we’re trying to get the tag titles, right?”
“You don’t need to raise your,” I give up on before assuring him, “You’re half right. Our chief goal tomorrow night is walking out of the Allstate Arena as newly crowned HOW World Tag Team Champions,” I like how it rolls off the tongue. “But, we have two objectives. The second is going to be gaining momentum.”
I hear murmuring in agreement.
“And I define momentum in one of two ways: demoralizing the opponent to the point of psychological edge in your next encounter; and, injuring your opponent to the point that they are disadvantaged physically the next time you meet. Well, gentlemen, a ladder match is certainly the type of match up where we could easily do both.”
Grady grins as he sees me painting in the colours of violence with heavy strokes of confidence.
“The only way we fail this mission tomorrow is to somehow walk out of that match in worse shape than our two opponents, Tinwoods Man and C. Money.”
Teddy’s eyes are smiling, whispering again to himself, doing the Steiner math.
“The way that we get this done is simple: We are to climb up a ladder, regulation size of twelve feet, and unclasp our two title belts hanging from the literal brass ring fifteen feet in the air. Simple enough,” I stop tenting my fingers and strike a more heroic pose.
Ted’s ready to get a slow clap going, but Grady’s not sold.
“That’s it? I mean, you’re stepping in there with two of the most dominant people on the roster. No, wait, scratch that, the two most dominant people on this roster,” and I wouldn’t deny Grady’s concerns. “You think they’re going to just let you walk in there, set a ladder and take the tag gold from them?”
I mouth the word ‘faith’ before enlightening, “Let us? Why, did I ever let you think it was a matter of their opinion? No. We will take our opportunity and let them stick their objections firmly up their asses. Alright, our assets,” I slide the sheet up to bring up the next section of silhouette.
“We have Teddy Palmer, champion back alley brawler and all around artisté in the art of international objects,” Ted takes a bow.
“Add to that, Grady Patrick, the shiftiest huckster this world has ever had the displeasure of hosting, the plague carrying flea on a cat. Distraction is all we need,” I slow my words and pause, and he gets to sigh before I continue, “And maybe tipping over a ladder or two if neither Ted or myself are in position to do so.”
The look he shoots me screams, ‘We’re all gonna die.’
“There’s myself,” I don’t waste energy hyping up myself. I know they know what I am capable of.
“I don’t know if I can really count on Lee Best to stick his nose into this, and bend the match in our favour, but it’s a good bet. So it goes on the list of assets. And this,” I pull out the lead box to show them the heavy magnet that apparently had already shipped, and, no, I would not be able to get a refund without paying the return shipping to the EU. I set the thing on the projector, and at once, sparks.
“Is that supposed to do that?” Ted asked, pulling his shirt over his nose to avoid the smoke.
Realizing in quick order my mistake, I take the thing back up and sheath it safely away. Fruitlessly I try to turn the machine back on.
“Okay, so, that’s fucked. But, in short, yes. This will be our secret weapon against the sick fuck and his cyborg ass.”
“What do you do with it?” always the scientific mind on Mr. Patrick.
I feel my cheek pull as I grin, “We get creative. He’s like, what? Fifty percent metal at this point? We stick this bad boy to the ladder, then let’s see him try to climb it. Or, even better, stick it to the post outside, and then him to the post.”
And despite the cartoonish application I thought this to be as I was speaking, it garners serious thought from the crowd.
“Okay, so that’s Vader taken care of,” Grady pulled down one finger. “But what’s your plan for Captain Armbreaker?”
Flippantly I impart, “I’ll just have to break his fingers before he can try to think about snapping that armbar on. He won’t be able to lift his own dick to piss, let alone hold Ted or I in a submission.”
My phone buzzes, and I’m glad to hear it is still working. I retrieve my hive brain from my back pocket and check the alert.
“And apparently, Farthington has spent the last night in county lock up. No way he’ll be in shape for a ladder match.”
Ted nods, and to Grady’s and my dismay jumps to his own conclusion, “Butt stuff.”
Posted February 28, 2020 @ 3:32 PM
The image on the left is from the first tag match Red & Ted ever competed in. Sure, they were eleven, and the win came over Red’s younger brother and a friend of his, but those two stood with those cardboard belts raised high. Their faces were muddy, clothes blotchy, but their smiles were as pure as the driven snow.
#TBT… but one day late.
So, what now? I guess I owe you a thanks, Boss. Thank you for giving Ted & I the opportunity to show out as a tag team. Thank you for your trust to get the job done. And thanks for finally coming to your senses and putting me in the main event.
And with the LBI Group Stage all but a formality at this point, I don’t have to apologize to anyone. I will commend everyone in the Narcotics bracket, you were real team players, stuck to my vision, and I need you to know that doesn’t go unappreciated.
We’re all set for the match I’ve selfishly wanted for the past decade: Red vs. Ted. I don’t want this to try to hurt Ted, or embarrass him. No, we want the chance to burn the whole place down and put on a match that will go down in the history books as one of the best ever. That match goes March 14.
But in the meantime and between time, Ted & I have gotten ourselves a little doubles date with the guy waiting on the other side of the semis bracket, and the guy sitting at the end of that #97Red rainbow. I want to say it’ll be an honor to get into that ring with you boys, finally. I want to.
At the end of it all, I’m expecting a thanks. Ted & I want to hear those words from the lips of MaxiPads Kael and C-Stain Farthington. We’re the guys that are going to get the best out of you. We’re the ones that will finally bring the competition you’ve been belly-aching for since before the end of last year.
And we’ll be the guys that kindly relieve you of those Tag Team Championships.
Thank us, Max, that we leave you with your identity, LSD Champion still, at the end of this one.
Farthington, the World Title is yours. For now.
All we aim to do is what we said from the start: be nice guys, and help you with that extra luggage you’ve been carrying around. You won’t even miss ‘em, I promise.
I want to say that Ted & I will be the ones to ignite the tag division, but it’s awkward, since we’ll be tied up in the LBI until after March to Glory. And even then, one of us might be pulling double duty. But, scouts’ honor (I never enrolled), we’ll try.
This time I don’t have to tell you to get there early, and you might finally get a clip of the move that will be stolen by every amateur around the globe within a year not shot on some shaky cellphone: Red Dead. Nah, you’ll get to see that in full Hi-Def. Tell all your friends.
Let them know that the main event is Red & Ted vs. A North Korean knock-off MegaMan and the DumbDumb ChampChamp.
Tell ‘em how the show ends with Ted & I holding up our first taste of gold in HOW.
And don’t play dumb when the PA goes: Drums. Guitar. Hail the Villain.
See you Saturday, eMetic,
Your WIlling Villain