“That’ll be one hundred American dollars, or whatever the equivalent is in Aussie bucks.”
Michael Oliver Best stands in front of a makeshift card table covered with a black sheet. The sweltering Australian sun beats down on him, making his freshly laundered three-piece linen suit cling uncomfortably to his body. Beads of sweat drip down his forehead as he fans himself with a wad of crumpled cash, trying to find some relief from the heat.
A long line of enthusiastic Melbourne wrestling fans stretches out of the hotel parking lot, snaking around the corner and extending down the street for two whole blocks. MOB, always the opportunist, had cleverly spread the word about a chance to meet the champ earlier that morning on the radio. He enticed the fans by asking them to bring cold, hard cash if they wanted a glimpse of the champion, even though he didn’t really need the money.
“But all I have is card,” whines the next person in line, a pimply kid with a goofy broccoli haircut.
“Then beat it, young man! Get out of here!” MOB snaps back at the kid before glancing at the rest of the impatient crowd. “C’mon, we’re wasting daylight here, people!”
Sitting at the card table behind MOB is the man of the hour, STRONK! Godson, dressed in the latest merchandise from the HOW Shop–97RED board shorts with the STRONK! logo displayed prominently on the backside. The HOW World Championship sits before him, its faceplate carefully turned away from the fans so that STRONK! can gaze at it between interactions.
A few fans had asked to hold the prestigious belt for a moment, but MOB fiercely protected it, springing into action like a rabid chimpanzee, not wanting to risk anything happening to it while it was out of STRONK!’s hands.
“HOW MUCH LONGER DOES STRONK! NEED TO DO THIS? STRONK! WANTS TO LIFT WEIGHTS. STRONK! WANTS TO EAT A THIRD LUNCH. STRONK! WANTS TO COMMUNICATE ELECTRONICALLY WITH BIG STACE BACK IN AMERICA,” STRONK! grumbles.
Ignoring STRONK!’s complaints, MOB turns his attention back to the line, expertly collecting money from the eager fans one by one. He tries to portray this as a selfless act of community outreach, even though he is well aware of the financial gain he’ll make from this event.
Meanwhile, STRONK! remains as still as a statue, unmoving and unblinking, while a hyperactive youngster dances around him, recording TikTok videos. STRONK! takes a folded piece of paper from his shorts pocket. Unfolding it, he reveals a hastily drawn caricature of himself and BIG STACE.
Having no access to technology and no means to take pictures, STRONK! wanted a way to remember BIG STACE, the female human he loves. The caricature shows them engaged in a fierce Greco-Roman knuckle lock, their muscles cartoonishly bulging, a memento of their intense workouts together.
As STRONK! gazes at the picture, he seems mesmerized, lost in thoughts of their future together. According to BIG STACE, they have ten (or maybe eight, or perhaps twelve) babies on the way. That seems like a lot… or maybe it’s not–STRONK! doesn’t know, he has no frame of reference, but he assumes a large family is beneficial, knowing that nature will ultimately select the strongest of the brood to survive.
“STRONK! IS GOING TO GET A PUMP ON AND PREPARE TO OBLITERATE JACE PARKER DAVIDSON,” STRONK! announces, rising from his seat and grabbing his championship belt, before marching in the direction of the hotel gym with its paltry selection of free weights.
“But Mister Godson, what about the fans!” MOB shouts, looking over his shoulder at the disappointed and aggreived faces in the queue. “They’ve been waiting all afternoon!”
Ignoring the pleas, STRONK! heads toward the hotel gym, his determination evident in every step.
“SO HAS STRONK!” Godson responds as he disappears into the hotel, leaving behind a disgruntled mob of fans.
In the distance, a hooded figure, scrawny and pale, crouches behind a trash can, observing everything with a sinister sneer.
“Mister Godson,” the front desk clerk calls out with a sense of urgency, his voice cutting through the bustling noise of the opulent hotel lobby, capturing the attention of the reigning HOW World Champion, STRONK!. The King Stallion turns his head toward the source of the voice, his imposing presence causing heads to turn in both admiration and curiosity.
“Impeccable timing, really,” the clerk continues as STRONK! approaches. “You have a phone call waiting for you.”
STRONK! halts in his tracks, his rippling muscles tensing at the unexpected news. “WHAT?”
“A phone call,” the clerk repeats, keeping the landline phone pressed to his chest in an attempt to maintain some semblance of privacy. “Someone rang reception, asking to speak with you. Should I tell them you’re unavailable?”
If Michael Oliver Best was by his client’s side, he would swiftly advise the front desk clerk to hang up. They aren’t expecting any calls, and the likelihood is that it’s just some overzealous fan. However, MOB is nowhere to be found, leaving STRONK! without his usual shield from distractions.
STRONK! simply shrugs. “STRONK! WILL SPEAK TO THE HUMAN. UNLESS IT IS NOT A HUMAN. THEN SPEAKING WILL BE MORE DIFFICULT.”
The clerk extends the phone towards STRONK!, who hesitates, never having taken a phone call himself. His innocent bewilderment is palpable. Sensing the wrestler’s hesitation, the clerk decides to put the call on speakerphone.
“Hello? STRONK!?” a voice echoes through the speaker.
The unfamiliar voice causes STRONK! to furrow his brow. “WHAT?“
The person on the other end seems to be intentionally disguising their voice. “I have important information for you that was passed along by Lee Best. Are you available to meet in person?”
“TELL STRONK! NOW,” the HOW World Champion demands.
“No can do, bapa,” the voice responds, “It’s sensitive information. Lee would have my balls in a snare trap if he knew I spoke about this over a non-secure line. We need to meet face-to-face.”
“OKAY,” STRONK! replies, naively trusting the man’s words. Normally, critical information would flow through his manager, but without MOB’s guidance, he’s left to make decisions on his own.
“Alright,” the voice says, a touch of relief seeping through. “The spot is closeby, so you shouldn’t have any difficulty finding it. Front desk guy, I’m going to ask you to draw a simple map for him. I cannot emphasize enough the need for it to be straightforward.”
The clerk promptly picks up a pen and grabs a sheet of printer paper. “Okay, shoot.”
As the map begins to take shape, STRONK! leans in to study it closely, but unsurprisingly has no idea what any of it is supposed to be. The clerk takes his time thoroughly explaining it, instructing Godson on exactly how many paces between different points, when to turn left and when to turn right, and what to look for if he gets lost and needs to double back.
STRONK! walks through the lobby, the footfalls of his bare feet rhythmically smacking against the tile floor, until he exits out the hotel’s grand entrance, the city buzzing with life, completely unaware of the imminent drama about to unfold.
Somehow, STRONK! manages to follow the map’s directions, navigating through crowded streets with a sense of purpose that’s not confined to the wrestling ring.
At last, he arrives at the rendezvous spot—a secluded alleyway with a fence that separates two sides of the alley. The voice on the phone promised sensitive information, and STRONK! wonders what it might be.
He steps into the shadowy alley, muscles coiled, senses heightened. There, beyond the fence, a mysterious figure stands, cloaked in darkness, their features obscured. The unknown informant wastes no time, cutting through the tension like a knife.
“STRONK!,” the voice says, dropping the disguise, “you got here fast. Good job.”
Abdullah Choi’s fingers cling to the steel fence as the hood on his sweater falls back, revealing his face.
STRONK! should be taken aback; however, the moment is rather anticlimactic as he scratches his head, closely examining Choi’s face. He says nothing in response, further aggravating Choi.
“You still don’t remember me?” Choi exclaims, frustration evident in his voice. “After I injected you with my super-steroid that allowed you to regain all your muscle mass and then some? That doesn’t ring any bells? No?”
STRONK! shrugs. “STRONK! HAS NO MEMORY OF THAT.”
Wiping his hand across his face, visibly annoyed, Choi replies, “Okay, whatever, fine! I guess I just have one of those faces. Fuck it. Anyway, you may not remember me, as fucked up as that is, but I’m sure you remember your beloved bull, MONGO, right?”
“YES. STRONK! LOVED MONGO.”
“No doubt,” Choi says. “And you’ve been justifiably seeking to avenge MONGO by destroying his killer Jace Parker Davidson, correct?”
STRONK! ignores the question entirely, demanding to know the reason he was called here in the first place, “WHAT DID PAPA BEST SAY?”
Choi smirks, then chuckles, then full-on busts a gut laughing, keeling over at the waist. After catching his breath and composing himself, he says, “Oh, my sweet summer STRONK!, I didn’t speak to Lee. That bald fucker won’t return my calls even though I know, like, twelve hundred ways to improve High Octane Wrestling. No, I called you here for another reason.”
The three hundred pounder quickly becomes impatient; he wants to get back to the gym to continue preparing for his title defense. “WHAT OTHER REASON?”
Unzipping his sweater, Choi presses his chest up against the fence, pulling his loose tank top to one side and grating his left nipple against the chain-link, faux-moaning. “Hold your horses, bapa, let me savor the moment a bit. I’ve been edging over this for days; let me get minez.”
Backing away from the fence, creating safe distance between him and his former client, Choi flashes a devilish smile. “I’m an agent of chaos, big man. Always have been, always will be. And so, I was thinking about what I could do to really teach you a lesson. Which I desire to do for a multitude of reasons, the primary of which is your inability to FUCKING remember me, the person most responsible for your success! I mean, such utter disrespect.”
Choi paces a bit around the alley, then walks up close to the fence, before once again backing away, like a child observing a gorilla at the zoo.
“What would a true-to-life agent of chaos do, I wondered?” he says. “What could I do to really fuck you like you fucked me… dumping me aside like yesterday’s garbage so you can gallavant around with Lee Best’s brother?”
He spits on the ground, disgusted.
The smile on his face grows wider, more sinister.
“Then it dawned on me! … You’ve worked yourself into a shoot with this ‘wanting to maim Jace’ business. You want to annihilate a man that used to be one of your best friends, all because you believe he murdered your stupid fucking bull, a bull that HAD NO FUCKING BUSINESS IN THE SUBURBS OF MINNESOTA.
“You hate him because of what he did to you, the most unforgivable thing. But what if…”
Choi really milks it, dramatically posing with his chin cradled in his hand, allowing the moment to breathe.
“What if… Jace has been telling you the truth all along and he didn’t, in fact, shoot MONGO in his stupid fucking dumb head?
“WHAT IF… it was…”
Abdullah’s face presses against the steel fence, then pulls back.
Time to drop the bomb.
“…your boi, Choi?”
“WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?”
Choi rolls his eyes and walks up close to the fence, again. “You fucking thicccky, I DID IT. I KILLED MONGO. Me! It was me and only me and Jace ain’t have shit to do with it!”
“LIES,” STRONK! growls.
“Oh really, dooooood? You think?” Choi taunts him. “Well, they say a picture’s worth a thousand words, so a video… shit… just take a look for yourself.”
Choi pulls out his phone, with a video already up and ready to be played. He pushes a button and the video starts:
It shows a stationary shot of the backyard of STRONK! and Abdullah’s former home located somewhere in Minnesota. To STRONK!’s surprise, in the video, MONGO is alive and well, lying chained up next to a pile of half-eaten chicken carcasses.
The video continues to play, the expression on STRONK!’s face changing in reaction to what he sees on the screen. And what he sees is Abdullah Choi—the man standing only a few feet away from him, with only a chain-link fence to separate them—executing MONGO with a shotgun blast to the head at close range.
STRONK! recoils in shock with every subsequent blast of the shotgun, watching as his best buddy’s head is cleaved open, brains exposed and then splattered across the grass and wood fence. The video ends with Choi turning and giving the camera a satisfied thumbs-up and a parting wave.
Choi shoves the phone back in his pocket and begins to back up slowly away from Godson.
It takes a moment for what he’s just seen to fully register, but when it does, STRONK! rushes the fence, fingers hooking the chain-link as shakes it furiously and roars with anger, his heart pumping furiously. He’s so enraged he can’t even speak; there’s only animalistic grunts that come from him.
All the while, Choi is grinning from ear to ear, very satisfied with the reaction he’s gotten. “I blew MONGO’s head off and pissed on his corpse. How’dja like dem apples, big boy?” He laughs, continuing to step backwards toward the alley’s exit, where a car awaits with its back passenger’s side door open.
“So riddle me this, bapa… why do you hate Jace so much again? Was he a terrible friend… or were you? Pretty simple to me. You’re just a massive piece of shit. Heh. I don’t think it’ll feel quite as cathartic smashing Jace’s face now that you know it is you that fucked up the loyalty, not him.”
Choi slides into the backseat of his getaway car. Just before the door slams shut and the car speeds off, he calls out to STRONK! one last time, “Goodluck on Sunday! Hope you feel like absolute garbage! Bet you’ll remember my name now, bitch! Tata!”
Godson finally manages to uproot the fence. He pushes it over and begins big-man sprinting after the car, but upon turning the corner, he sees that it’s long gone.
The MONGO execution video plays on repeat in his head, tormenting him.
Everything he thought he knew was a lie.
Jace Parker Davidson was not to blame.
How was he going to find the motivation to brutally pummel a man that only ever did right by him? A man that, it turns out, was telling the truth the whole time?
He needs to speak to Uncle Oliver.
None of this makes any sense…
“And he showed you a video of it?”
Michael Oliver Best sits on the edge of the hotel bed, while STRONK! paces around the room, which he’s completely destroyed in a fit of rage. MOB tries to calm him down, but his efforts prove futile.
“YES. THE SKINNY BOY SHOT MONGO IN MONGO’S FACE,” STRONK! shouts, before grabbing the television off the wall and smashing it on the floor.
MOB sits, thinking about what he’ll say next. Admittedly, he’s known the truth of MONGO’s murder since the start of the year when he began managing STRONK! Abdullah Choi had blabbed to his brother about what he’d done, for what reason, he wasn’t quite sure. But he can’t let Godson know as it will undoubtedly be perceived as a betrayal of trust.
Coming clean now would certainly put him in imminent danger.
“HOW CAN STRONK! DESTROY JACE PARKER DAVIDSON IF JACE PARKER DAVIDSON DOES NOT DESERVE TO BE DESTROYED?”
Nodding, MOB responds, “What is this ‘deserve’ you speak of? And why in GOD’s name does it matter?”
STRONK!’s brain strains as he recalls, at least partially, through a persistent murky haze, all of the terrible things he or his affiliates had done to Jace. And he would’ve done far worse had Jace not proven himself to be such a worthy adversary. Because of this, he feels bad—Jace Parker Davidson had stuck by his side, always been a true friend, and he allowed himself to be talked into believing something truly heinous.
He looks over at the HOW World Championship sitting on the nightstand. This is one of the few times since winning the belt that he’s not wearing it. He feels such regret, and the title is but a manifestation of all the horrible things he’s done to get it.
Is this what remorse feels like?
Had his poor decision-making finally caught up to him?
Uncle Oliver has come to know and understand the psychology of STRONK! Godson over the past several months, and, as a result, he doesn’t panic in the face of his client’s temporary meltdown.
He knows just what to say.
This is what Lee Best brought him on board to do.
To keep STRONK! focused on the task at hand.
Luckily, he’s easily manipulated by those he trusts. And he trusts Uncle Oliver a whole hell of a lot, deservedly so or otherwise.
MOB grabs the championship from the nightstand, and walks it over, shoving it into the chest of his client.
Time for some tough love.
“Mister Godson, look at me,” commands MOB. He stares deeply into STRONK!’s eyes, taking a moment to collect his thoughts. “You asked me, how can you still brutalize Jace Parker Davidson on Sunday when you now know he wasn’t at fault for the murder of your bull, is that right?”
STRONK! stares back intensely. “YES.”
“Well,” MOB says, “let me ask you a question: how can you afford not to? Really, though, what does this big revelation actually change, huh?”
Godson doesn’t answer.
“Nothing. It changes absolutely nothing.” MOB points to the championship in STRONK!’s arms, then to the unfolded caricature of him and BIG STACE. “You’re not doing this for you. You never were. Revenge is the pass-time of the weak-minded. You, Mister Godson, are doing this for your family. For Papa Best and Uncle Oliver. And more importantly, for your future wife and children.”
He gets very close to STRONK!, an inch or two from his face.
“Don’t they deserve the best? Don’t they deserve to have a husband and father they can be proud of? That is the only ‘deserve’ you should be thinking about: how can you give your family what they deserve? And I’ll tell you: by beating the ever-loving FUCK—excuse my language—out of that pissant Jace Parker Davidson and keeping that championship for as long as you possibly can.”
He notices that STRONK! needs a bit more convincing, and continues to expound on his point.
“Mister Godson, let me guess—you need a reason to hate the man if you’re going to beat the man, right?”
“JACE PARKER DAVIDSON IS A FORMER BEST FRIEND. YES. JACE PARKER DAVIDSON DID NOTHING WRONG.”
“Setting aside the fact that the plebeian criminally assaulted me, I’ll tell you why you should hate that man. Because he wants to take everything you have or one day will have, the life you want to give your family, the prestige you hope to bring to HOW… and he wants to set fire to it all! He wants… he wants your children sleeping on the street, your wife having to turn tricks on the corner. He wants Papa Best to die of a broken heart. He wants you to suffer so that he can prosper. Do you get it now? Forget all those disgusting bugs and creatures you smashed the other day, Jace is the real threat! The enemy is at the gates, Mister Godson! Don’t destroy him for what he has done… destroy him for what he will do… if you give him the chance.”
Thoughts of BIG STACE doing magic tricks on the street corner repulses STRONK!—no wife of his dabbles in the dark arts!
MOB can tell by the glint in his client’s eyes that he’s got him.
“Will you… give him that chance, Mister Godson?”
STRONK! lowers the HOW World Championship from his chest to his stomach, fastening it tightly around his waist.
“What’re you going to do to Jace Parker Davidson? Are you going to let him take what’s rightfully yours and turn you into a joke in the eyes of your family? Or are you…”
“STRONK! IS GOING TO PUMMEL JACE PARKER DAVIDSON IN THE NON-AMERICAN OUTBACK,” STRONK! shouts.
“You’re going to hurt him so bad, Mister Godson, just the thought of facing you again will trigger his PTSD,” MOB says.
“THERE ARE NO LAWS IN THE NON-AMERICAN OUTBACK. STRONK! WILL SMASH JACE PARKER DAVIDSON’S HEAD IN WITH A ROCK. HOW DARE JACE PARKER DAVIDSON ATTEMPT TO RUIN STRONK!’S LIFE AND MAKE EVERYONE HATE STRONK!”
“I know, I know,” MOB says, “it’s pretty messed up what he’s trying to do. Dan Ryan tried to do it, and you choked the life out of that old fool.”
“STRONK! WILL ELIMINATE THE THREAT OF JACE PARKER DAVIDSON ONCE AND FOR ALL,” STRONK! says. “THEN UNCLE OLIVER MUST FIND STRONK! THE SKINNY BOY THAT KILLED MONGO.”
Michael Oliver Best playfully taps the championship belt around Godson’s waist. He looks at him, smiling. “You punish Jace to a satisfactory degree… and I will personally locate and serve ‘the skinny boy’ up to you on a silver fucking platter. Deal?”
STRONK! hooks his thumbs in big red, standing tall, proud, ready for the war to come. His mind is clear; he knows exactly what needs to be done.