Three months have passed since the original prologue.
A teeth-chattering, heebie-jeebieing young Southerner stepped through the entranceway as the last entrant in the Lethal Lottery tag match. The inexperienced, yet hopeful hick was looking to punch a potential ticket to War Games. Across the battlefield stood a battle-tested, Sherman tank and a sleek, speedy F-22 side by each. Both machines stood ready to fire off multiple rounds in the hopes of mowing down any chance for a rapid ascension up the ranks of the High Octane elite.
The Watson Mill Kid entered the ring with the talent of a rocket launcher, but the confidence of a BB gun. Some would debate that it wouldn’t have mattered how powerful the weapon was, as it looked uncertain as to whether or not he’d actually be able to pull the trigger.
That night, he had to put any hope of success in the hands of a man he’d never met.
And tonight, he’d have to do it all over again.
“Now pick up the bowl and spoon.”
The Maestro of COOL carried an authoritative pitch in his voice, though it was difficult to masquerade the sheer joy that he felt by the sight in front of him. The aforementioned bowl rested on a table that measured about chest-high to a blindfolded Zeb Martin. In addition to his impaired vision, his hands were also bound behind his waist, rendering him physically incapable of performing the task that Jiles had ordered of him.
However, the command wasn’t directed toward Zeb.
The length of rope near the small of the back of the Comer native wasn’t exactly just a knot. Instead, it had also been tightly wrapped around the abdomen of his tag team partner for next week’s Refueled. Speaking of rocket launchers…
The phrase “too close for comfort” would not exactly seem like something that’s applicable to the everlasting bond of the eGG Bandits. However, just overhead of both Doozer and Zeb was a laptop that periodically cycled through a PowerPoint presentation onto a humongous screen that the two of them faced.
Therein lay the duo’s second dilemma of the night. The fact that Zeb’s veil prevented him from viewing the slides was presently irrelevant, as the PowerPoint presentation in front of them wasn’t exactly a PowerPoint presentation. Unless of course it was a PowerPoint presentation for the Semi-Annual Midwest Region Dirty Sex Havers Convention.
At this point in their long-tenured friendship, Doozer could only blame himself for not questioning the reasoning behind Jiles’ odd request that he wear sweatpants to their “team building exercise.”
“Do you still have those trunks that someone cut all the holes in?” seemed like a strange ask from the Maestro earlier that day, but Zeb was presently grateful that the answer to that was a truthful “no.”
“Did I stutter?” Jiles bellows. “Pick up the bowl of delicious porridge and get to feeding! We’ve got ourselves a GROWING BOY here.”
Mixing in a few muffled expletives along with a defiant grunt, Doozer maneuvers his right hand over to the piping hot ceramic bowl filled with gruel, and opts for his left hand to work the utensil.
Up until this point, neither Zeb nor Dooze had thought to question exactly why the spoon that the COOL man had placed in the bowl appeared to have been stolen from the kitchen drawer of Stuart Little. It was roughly the length of a toothpick and relatively easy for Doozer to maneuver it to Zeb’s mouth. For the purposes of this humiliating exercise, it wouldn’t exactly achieve the anticipated comedic result of gobs of porridge being smeared all over the Georgian’s face and clothes.
CJ smiles as Doozer holds the bowl steady a few inches below Zeb’s chin, beginning to shovel small bits into his awaiting mouth. “That’s the way to do it. Slow and steady wins the race. You see, fellas, this is exactly what they mean when they say that teamwork makes the dream work.”
“I’m pretty fucking sure they didn’t,” Doozer objects, struggling internally to stay focused on the task at hand. At that very moment, it was a difficult thing to do, as Jiles had managed to sneak in a clip on the otherwise static photo presentation. “The Internet’s Top 10 Ass Shaking Videos” was a cinematic masterpiece that he would happily enjoy under normal circumstances. In the here and now, it was the knife of Brutus. “Waking us up at two A.M. to go fishing is one thing, but I’d have to say that this is your worst idea yet.”
“Nonsense,” Jiles retorts. “This right here is a secret training tactic that the army has practiced for years. It takes the concept of the buddy system and adds an entirely new level to it.”
Doozer almost drops the bowl in disgust at the claim. “The army, Jiles? Really?”
“Yes. The KISS Army knows that if you’re in a pinch at a KISS concert, you always need someone who is thinking and acting in the best interest of their partner,” CJ declares, raising three fingers into the air. “First, if you were to become physically aroused during the smooth guitar tones of ‘Strutter’, you need to know you can count on your buddy to ensure that no one sees it and gets the wrong idea.”
Jiles drops one finger and continues. “Second, if the band decides to slow things down with ‘Beth’ and the mood moves your buddy to inappropriately express his adulation to a stranger in the audience, you need to be ready. After he’s pepper sprayed in the eyes, he’ll need nourishment to regain his strength.”
“And finally,” the Maestro concludes, leaving a sole index finger extended, “if Gene Simmons tells you to clap your hands and sing along during the chorus of classic hit ‘Rock and Roll All Night,’ you do it. I’m Gene in this situation, as effective leadership is important.”
Both Zeb and Doozer sigh simultaneously (although that may be a sign that Jiles’ methods are effective.) Yes, for the first time in three months, Zeb Martin finally appears frustrated at the ongoing shenanigans that Jiles wore like a sash at a beauty pageant.
“That don’t make no sense, CJ.” Zeb states flatly.
“Agreed,” Doozer echoes. “And even if by some miracle all of that was relevant to our situation, it still doesn’t explain why you decided that tying us up together like this was in ANY WAY necessary.”
Much like his namesake, Cancer Jiles was a disease that had slowly made his way through Zeb and Doozer’s skin and proceeded to poison them. However, he maintained his own facade as the man with a plan.
“Well, yeah,” Jiles insists, “but you aren’t going to a KISS concert. You’re wrestling Darin Matthews and Brian Hollywood.”
Doozer fires a deadeye stare in the Maestro’s direction.
“What?” CJ asks with faux innocence.
“Still not seeing the whole ‘bound together’ concept, unless the match is some type of Texas bull rope gimmick that I wasn’t aware of,” Dooze spits.
Jiles, visibility attempting to come up with a lie to validate his reasoning, is unable to do so after a few moments of searching deep within his brain. He had apparently spent too much time researching such scheme mechanics as finding the best recipe for porridge and combing through hours and hours of footage to determine which was the authentic version of the “Top 10 Ass Shaking Videos” on YouTube. It left him no time to contemplate such things as logic and reason.
Finally, he settled on the best possible explanation.
“I said I’m Gene. You’re Ace. Zeb’s Peter Criss.”
“Cool,” Zeb gushes. “I’m the Cat Man!”
“Right,” Jiles nods, and since I’m the leader of KISS, what I say goes. Now finish that entire bowl or else I’m not letting you loose.”
So that’s why the spoon was so little.
“Ain’t fond of habin’ tuh open these thangs up ‘n talk about how I dun come up short again.”
For the first time since being inducted, Zeb Martin had finally made the conscientious decision to film a promo within the confines of the eGG Den.
Comfort in the environment seemed to be an absolutely crucial factor for Zeb before the HOtV crew member pressed the record button. Whether that was done by way of nature or nurture (vis a vis some form of alcohol), his bashful temperament seemed to continue to stand in the way of articulating his thoughts.
The truth was that dress rehearsals had become a large part of his routine in the past month.
Writing it down, attempting to memorize his lines, and practicing it like a politician in front of his bedroom mirror or in the front seat of his pick up truck.
An educated person in the study of psychology (or Michael Phelps) would most likely recommend that the Watson Mill Kid visit a therapist for this problem. This absolute hindrance to building a higher sense of confidence and self-worth. Who the fuck takes a job on television that’s deathly afraid of speaking in front of a camera?
The baby steps he had made thus far were gravity-deficient hops on the moon’s surface in his mind. In this moment, a completely sober Martin had made yet another hypothetical giant leap for Zebkind. He’d visited the Den only a couple of times before, always as a supporting cast member. Today, he was the star. A living marquee in a mesh-backed cap and a plain white V-neck shirt.
“Prolly explains why I ain’t too keen on the tough talk. Y’all saw in France that I ain’t never met a food I ain’t willin’ tuh eat, but my own words dun tastin’ too much like cow shit fer my likin’. Reckon I gotta put the paddy on a ses’me seed bun tuday, though,” he laments. “I stood on a big ol’ rock an’ told Jesse I was go’n lock ‘em in the Tangler, soften him up a lil’ bit fer whoever’s go’n handle the Bandit business out thar at No Remorse. Welp, y’all ain’t see nobody out there surfin’ ‘n pickin’ a clover at the same time last Saturdee, did ya?”
“Guess y’all could chalk it up tuh ‘distractions,’ and s’pose you could say ol’ CBR woulda leaped that thar guard rail at any other point in the tussle, but ain’t nobody rememberin’ all that. Foltynewicz pitched a shutout last year ‘ginst the Cards in game two, but only thang Braves fans recall ‘bout the NLDS was when he gave up seven in the first innin’ in the final one. I ain’t get it done.
“Easiest way tuh forget about a big win is to take a L the next time ya cross paths,” Zeb declares. “And dang shore been thankin’ ‘bout that whenever anybody mentions th’ name Brian Hollywood. Luck be a purty redhead I’mma have tuh go at him again.”
“This time don’t seem like he go’n have a carpenter bee buzzin’ in his ear hole, tellin’ him what he ought and ought not tuh do in the rang,” he acknowledges, revealing a few pearly whites in the form of a smirk. “Well, Darin might be doin’ that, but least I figger Brian prolly ain’t go’n actually listen to ‘em. Jus’ like me ‘n Kendrix, Brian coulda wrote off his loss tuh me on account uh interferin’, but he ain’t. He took ‘sponsibility fer his own shortfall, and danged if I don’t respect that.”
“So I’m hopin’ Darin ‘n Brian ain’t aimin’ tuh just be a briar in each other’s butt. ‘Cause I’m really lookin’ forward tuh a good ol’ fashioned ‘rasslin match without the bull hockey, without any need tuh conjure up that lil’ ol’ star thang on the record books,” Zeb explains.
He lets loose a slightly nervous chuckle at his attempt at humor. “I’m jus’ kiddin’, I know that’s called a ass-tricks. Jus’ watched a few uh those on that thang Jiles made on the PowerPoint. Don’t tell ‘em I said so, but that blindfold musta been got at the Family Dollar: I could purty much see through it. I’ont know if that lil’ team buildin’ thang go’n be all that effective instead uh just me and Dooze goin’ out there and givin’ it e’rthang we got, but I know CJ has fun with it. He’s a good ‘un tuh have around with his crazy idears. Takes some uh the pressure off, and I ain’t never go’n be against that.”
“Anywho. Brian, we’re acquainted, and I wanna see what ya got fer us Saturdee. Now, Darin Matthews? ‘Spite the fact you’s a talker, you shore as hell showed HOW that you kin still scrap not only at War Games, but the week after, too. Ain’t thank Doozer’s lookin’ at the whole ‘past don’t matter if I cain’t do it again’ scenario’s much as I am, but I know he’s ridin’ high on the hog after puttin’ you tuh pasture and ain’t a thought in him thanks he cain’t do it again.
“Don’t none of it make a damn though if it’s me ‘n yew in there that leads to one team’s arms’ done bein’ lifted, and same thang goes fer a Hollywood-slash-Doozer suh’nario. I aims tuh try ‘n catch ya with no release until your hand’s tappin’ the canvas or the referee’s hand done banged on it three times. So here’s lookin’ forward to what plays out, man.
“Hope fer the sake uh the contest, y’all kin keep yer team bound together.”
Three months ago, a Lethal Lottery had found Doozer and Zeb Martin paired together in a very uncomfortable and compromising situation.
That evening, the weaponry of Lucien Santangel and Dan Ryan proved to be far superior to the tiny spoons welded by the other strange bedfellows across the ring from them.
Since then, time had passed and bonds had been formed. Those tiny spoons could now become as lethal as an atomic bomb with the correct training regiment. Or at least a spike inverted atomic drop, which had in fact led to the death of journeyman wrestler “Little” Scroats McGroats back in 2008.
“But what if the spoons aren’t enough,” Jiles thought out loud, breaking his own internal monologue.
“Huh? Who you talkin’ to, bud?” Zeb inquires, taking a deep pull from a bottle of mouthwash and swigging it to and fro between his cheeks. The deep bowl of porridge had been cleaned several minutes ago, but due to the addition of the Maestro’s secret ingredients, he desperately needed to get the taste of a pound of oregano and garlic out of his mouth. The KISS Bandit had fulfilled his promise of setting them free, at which point both Doozer and Martin had walked to opposite corners of the room to create an unnecessarily large amount of space amidst them.
CJ comes back to his senses, “I got it!” With a snap of the fingers transitioned into a point toward the ceiling, he elaborates.
Zeb and Doozer, more in unison than ever, shoot parallel glares at The Maestro like they were synchronized swimmers. All they needed was a pool. Preferably one filled with sharks to throw Jiles in.
“Sure maybe Dooze is too old, but Zeb, you must remember!” Cancer’s cancerous grin grows wide. “You were never a close friend way back in the day without a good, old fashioned sleepover!” Jiles eyes grow distant as he whisks away to Nostalgialand. “The endless snacks, the sneaky drinks, and wrestling video games ‘til the sun came up!”
The Old Bull snorts like his nickname-sake to snap The COOLYMPIAN out of it.
“Sorry.” The insincere apology came with a headshake. “But this is the way.” Return of the shit-eating grin. “You two. Sleepover. I’ll set it up. You two HAVE to agree. Bandit Honor.”
Zeb lifts up his right hand in the traditional three-finger salute. “Bandit Hon-”
“Fuck that shit.” With blue eyes engulfed in flames, The Dooze cuts off Zeb and stares holes through his old friend.
Doozer slowly raises a threatening index finger, pointing at said friend.
“Over my dead body.”