After a brief moment of static, the feed cuts in, just in time to see Jimmy Turnbull’s hand hit the mat for the third time.
DING DING DING
duPont: IT’S OVER! SHE DID IT! JENNIFER COLTON WINS!!
Callais: THE WINNER OF THE MATCH…AND THE WINNER OF THE 2022 BELMONT CLASSIC…JENNIFER! COLTON!
As the crowd explodes with a roar of triumph, Jennifer raises her hands to the sky. She is quickly swarmed by her family, who surround her with hugs before Nate and Benjamin raise her on their shoulders. The confetti rains down, the audience pours out its adulation, and tears of victory stream down Jenny’s face.
Two of the tournament’s representatives start pushing the enormous trophy down to ringside, and Jennifer is overwhelmed again. That thing is almost as tall as she is. As big and heavy as it may be, it is nothing compared to the weight of expectation that will be on her in the future.
But that’s a concern for tomorrow. Right now, there is only the glory. She is surrounded by family…her blood relatives, of course, but also the family forged by the dream. The wrestlers, the fans in the arena, the little girl watching on her phone and thinking “that’ll be me someday.” Jennifer Colton is on top of the world, with all eyes upon her…
In fairness, it makes sense that everyone would be lost in the moment. The Belmont Classic is a major wrestling event, and while winning the event is not a guarantee of stardom, it can often be a good indicator. The victor’s coronation is like looking into the future, and it seems almost foolish to look away. Also, there is, and has always been, an expectation of decorum surrounding the event. You can get away with a lot at the highest levels, but the rules are strictly enforced at the Belmont Classic. No matter how intense things get during the match, the final bell is a clear message: it is over; there will be no more.
Only Paxton Ray doesn’t listen.
At the end of the match, he had rolled out of the ring on the far side. After a few minutes, his head cleared, and he slowly got to his feet. When he saw the celebration in the ring, realization dawned.
Disappointment, frustration, and bitterness washed over him, one after the other. But none of those emotions helped him get what he wanted, so he turned them into a different one.
And over time, the rage became…more rage. Paxton gorged himself on it, allowing the anger to grow and grow until it threatened to consume him.
That brings us to now.
Now, Paxton’s blood boils. Now, he sees other people as vaguely human shapes in a sea of red. Now, he must destroy something beautiful.
The cheers of the crowd are like a fire alarm, right in his ear. They’re not cheering because Jennifer Colton won; they’re cheering because she defeated the monster. She stopped him from making a mockery of everything they hold dear.
He focuses on the smiling face of Jenny Colton, still held aloft by her brothers.
They don’t love you. They just hate me.
I’ll give ‘em a fuckin’ reason.
Paxton steps backward, as if trying to put distance between himself and the ring…but what he’s actually doing is closing the distance between himself and the timekeeper. He delivers a sharp elbow to the face, causing the poor guy just doing his job to spill to the floor, clutching his nose. Nobody seems to notice, because everyone is looking at the ring, and who pays attention to the timekeeper anyway.
Paxton grabs the ring bell and clutches it close to his chest, the way a child would to a stuffed animal. He feels the weight in his hands, and smiles when he thinks about the sound it’s about to make.
He takes a step toward the ring, and a lot of things happen all at once.
Security doesn’t notice right away what Paxton Ray is up to, because there’s a rush from the crowd around the same time. Suddenly they’ve got their hands full trying to keep the fans on the other side of the guard rail. Somehow they succeed, keeping nearly everyone out of harm’s way.
Patty duPont isn’t the first to notice, but she is the first to say something–after all, observation is ninety percent of her job.
duPont: Oh, God…Paxton Ray! He’s got the ring bell, and he–he can’t! Somebody, please! Somebody needs to stop this!
But with all the noise in the arena, no one at ringside can hear her.
Jake Colton also isn’t the first to notice, but thanks to his decades of experience he senses trouble before the rest of his family. He spots the seething Bayou Butcher and quickly alerts the others. Nathan, Benjamin, and Blake quickly form a defensive wall around their sister, although seconds later Jennifer pushes her way into the line because she’ll be damned if anyone thinks she can’t defend herself.
This complicates Paxton’s plan, but he still smiles…because now he’s got options. Maybe he can ruin the face of PRIME’s new golden boy…or put the little one in the hospital…or put the old man in a wheelchair.
Something else happens, though, that complicates his plan even further. Remember a second ago, when Patty du Pont begged for “somebody” to stop Paxton Ray? And how nobody at ringside could hear her?
She came through loud and clear backstage.
Now is when the curtain parts, and “somebody” comes out to save the day.
Only…that doesn’t happen. Because it isn’t “somebody.”
It’s Coral Avalon, who needs his students to see that there’s a difference between professional wrestling and the base, vulgar brutality that the Lafayette Bruiser represents.
It’s Joe Bergman, who is sick to death of this kind of bullshit tainting the sport that he loves.
It’s FLAMBERGE, who would have laughed his way to the parking lot if the attacker had been literally anyone else.
It’s Milagro DC, who refuses to allow another tragedy while the fighting spirit still burns inside her. Even without her mask, ella es técnica.
It’s Garry Nelson, and Jonah Ke’ela, and Anthony Mancini, and even Turk February. In fact, it’s all of the competitors in the Belmont Classic who hadn’t gone home already. Wrestlers, trainers, managers, anyone who makes their living in or around the ring.
A few recognizable faces from the audience manage to squeeze through security. The Anglo Luchador. Lindsay Troy and her cohorts. Crash & Burn. Clay Byrd. The New World Trash. The ones who will no longer watch, because they have long since seen enough.
And it’s not just them, either.
Here come the other referees, because even mob rule needs enforcers.
Next is the ring crew, tools in hand. They’re the ones who put the event together, and they’re prepared to take someone apart.
The medics join in, because they don’t want to see any more blood tonight…unless it’s Paxton’s.
Even the announcers join in. Hank Wheeler is long retired but still has a little fight left in him. Patty du Pont has no fight in her, but courage is contagious and sometimes you just can’t be impartial. Even Dustin Callais, who cannot get to his feet, insists on making a stand.
A sea of defiance swarms the ring and the ringside area, cutting off Paxton from both attack and escape. Paxton looks at the multitude of faces set in steely determination, and the unspoken message rings out loud and clear.
He doesn’t focus long on the overwhelming odds, though, because there is one man in particular who catches his eye. This target stands in front of all the others, and no matter how much the ring fills up, there is always a line of separation between him and the swarm.
He was staring down Paxton Ray before the army emerged from backstage.
He was sliding into the ring before the Coltons had turned around.
He was already over the guardrail before security came to quell the stampede.
He was charging to the front as soon as the timekeeper went down.
Because at that one key moment, everyone in the arena turned their eyes toward the celebration, and away from the Bayou Butcher…
…except Jared Sykes.
Paxton Ray’s savage grin is wider than ever as he and Jared lock eyes. He says something, and there’s no way anyone could hear it–the crowd noise is at a fever pitch and the Belmont can’t afford those super-sensitive microphones. But the intended receiver gets the message.
“This is what it takes to stop me.”
Jared doesn’t respond. In fact, at no point in this whole ordeal has he even acknowledged the presence of others around them. As far as he’s concerned, he and Paxton could be the only two people in the building, and it wouldn’t change a thing.
Paxton drops the ring bell to the floor and steps back. Within moments he is surrounded by security and several members of the St. Louis Police Department, who lead him away from the ring. The others at ringside give them a wide berth, allowing Paxton and his escort to leave the arena. Sykes stares him down the whole time.
Moments after Ray disappears from sight, the arena lets out a collective breath, and the tension starts to dissipate. Hands are shaken, thanks are made, and headsets are put back on–the announcers still have a job to do. FLAMBERGE rolls out of the ring and leaves; if he saw the slight nod Nate Colton gave him, he’s not saying.
Jake Colton tries to squeeze through the mass of humanity in the ring so that he can thank Jared Sykes personally…but by the time he gets there, Sykes is already gone.