In a very non-traditional approach for PRIME, we open on a shot of Nick Stuart and Richard Parker, both men looking somber in their seats behind the broadcast desk. Visible over their shoulders are a series of signs, all printed on white paper, all reading the same thing:
FIGHTING FOR JONATHAN
Nick Stuart: Ladies and gentlemen, unfortunately my broadcast partner and I need to be the bearers of some unfortunate news tonight. Normally we would be taking you into our first match, but two weeks ago at UltraViolence there was an incident that occurred, and on behalf of PRIME we felt that it needed to be addressed.
Richard shakes his head and looks down at the desk.
Nick Stuart: In an act of ultimate betrayal, Paxton Ray turned on his partner, Jonathan Rhine. We’re not going to show you the footage. I have it directly from Lindsay Troy’s office that the attack has been edited from the UltraViolence replay that is available on the ACE Network. But in the weeks since it happened, we’ve received word that Jonathan Rhine…
Richard Parker: This is a black mark on the sport of professional wrestling, Nick. Absolutely, incredibly disgusting.
Nick Stuart: Fans, Richard and I have the unfortunate distinction of letting you know that as a result of the vicious attack by Paxton Ray… Jonathan Rhine’s in-ring career is over. We don’t know what will come of this, but all of us here at PRIME wish him all the best in what we can only imagine will be a long recovery. We promise to keep all of you at home updated as we…
There is a commotion in the crowd behind the broadcasters, as a series of heads turn in the same direction.
Richard Parker: It looks like we’ve got something brewing here, Nick.
The camera pans to a wide-shot of the arena. Moving alongside the entrance, with no music or fanfare, King Blueberry marches to the ring with a sense of purpose. What the camera also reveals is that the signs behind Richard and Nick were not an isolated cluster, and the arena is a veritable sea of “FIGHTING FOR JONATHAN” signs both printed and homemade. The same phrase is printed on the t-shirt that Blueberry wears. Beyond that, he is dressed for battle.
When the crowd recognizes who it is that’s moving to the ring, and what he’s wearing, the response is volcanic.
Nick Stuart: Ladies and gentlemen, we weren’t expecting this, though I can’t say I’m surprised. Jared Sykes, the man under the mask, and Jonathan Rhine have known each other for most of their professional wrestling careers.
Blueberry slides under the bottom rope, where Vince Howard has been waiting to announce the first match. There’s a look of surprise on Vince’s face, as the same man who for months has been forcing him to announce “total combined heights” and refusing to divulge his partner’s weight now confidently strides over, extending a hand for the microphone he holds.
For those in the know, this is significant. Over the course of his career, the man under the mask can count on one hand the number of times he’s stood in a ring with a microphone. It’s unfamiliar territory, something he’s not inclined to do unless the circumstances compel it.
Few situations are more demanding than this.
Notable by her absence is the presence of Reina Raspberry, but there’s a valid reason for this as well: she doesn’t know he planned to do this.
He paces the ring like a caged animal. The microphone in his hand is heavy, almost leaden in his grip. Twice he tries to bring it close to his lips, and each time his hand stops just short. The words come to him in broken, disjointed bursts; each phrase part of a half-formed thought. The panic starts to sink in. They’re all watching, all waiting. Eleven years away, one year under a mask, and now he’s here in front of the world with a microphone and no plan.
He closes his eyes, and searches for a memory, finding one he was only recently reminded of.
“You could read the phone book, and they would love you for it.”
He exhales once, and the camera catches him mouth a single phrase before drawing the microphone up.
King Blueberry: PAXTON RAY!
The response the name earns is predictable.
King Blueberry: Two weeks, Paxton. You’ve had two weeks of peace, away from a very large group of people all thinking very bad things about what they’d do the next time they saw you. Let’s not waste anymore time, huh?
He strides to the side of the ring facing the entrance.
King Blueberry: I don’t need rules. I don’t need a referee. And you can damn sure believe that I’m not interested in a fucking explanation. What I need… what – I – NEED… is for you to get your ass down here, and then we’ll see which of us gets to walk out on our own!
There is no music, no grand entrance. No one slinks through the crowd.
King Blueberry: You know, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Things are a little different when the other person knows it’s coming, aren’t they, Paxton? But I guess the big, bad man from the bayou maybe isn’t so tough after all. C’mon out, Pax’. I’m right here.
Once again, nothing happens.
King Blueberry: I said come on, goddammit!
After a few moments of silence, we hear the sound of a typewriter clicking. The PRIMEView lights up with the following word being typed on a black background:
FIGHTING FOR NORA
The letters begin to swirl around, a reverse of the image we’ve seen in their video package before, and finally two names are spelled on top of each other.
Then, slowly, a red line strikes through the name at the bottom.
The name fades away, leaving only Paxton’s. In months prior, “Piece by Piece” by Strata would start as the Lafayette Bruiser would make his entrance. But this is not months prior.
New Paxton. New attitude. New song. And it starts with a single line sung without instruments.
They say it’s good to start a story with a tragedy
Then the chunky southern guitar riff of “Fistfight” by The Ballroom Thieves starts to play. Within a few moments, the man of the hour appears under the PRIMEView.
Nick Stuart: There he is, Richard. The man who paralyzed Jonathan Rhine. His own tag partner. His friend.
Richard Parker: He certainly looks proud of himself.
Indeed he does. The Lafayette Bruiser looks at the fans with a small smile as he soaks in their hatred. He makes no motion towards the ring, or to raise a microphone to his mouth. He has waited months for this moment. The fans can wait a few more seconds.
The day I finally met you like I knew I would
You raised me from the wreck of my doubts
You were smiling to yourself as if we both understood
The silent language of the anguish of a heart that sings but doesn’t make a sound
As the song kicks into the chorus, it begins to fade, and the jeering of the crowd overwhelms the arena. The cameraman gets close to him, highlighting Paxton’s new shirt: black, with one word in white.
After a few moments, Paxton Ray pulls the microphone to his mouth and starts to speak.
Paxton Ray: I–
Paxton’s smile widens as the fans hurl boos and expletives his way. A few empty cups – and one not so empty, with soda splashing against Paxton’s feet – come flying, followed by some other debris from the fans close enough to take aim at the young man from Lafayette.
Nick Stuart: That’s right, you monster! These fans were behind you every step of the way. For your daughter! And now you do this!
Paxton waits for the boos to subside, then looks back at King Blueberry.
Paxton Ray: I hope they got a bed ready at Sunrise. ‘Least ya can keep your boy company.
He throws the microphone down and begins to stomp towards the ring.
In the ring, King Blueberry has cast his own microphone aside. Without taking his eyes off the man storming the ring, he quickly pulls his shirt off and takes a few steps backwards. He crouches low, bouncing back and forth on the balls of his feet. Whatever happens next, he won’t be caught unaware.
The ominous opening to “Put ‘Em in the Grave” by Jedi Mind Tricks creeps through the speakers, and that can only mean one thing:
The Boss is in the building.
So who’s the next to get it?
I’ll take the life of anybody trying to change what’s left…
The PRIMEates fix their eyes to the stage and roar as Lindsay Troy comes storming, furious, out from the back. She swipes Paxton Ray’s discarded microphone and stomps down the ramp. Ray has paused at the bottom of the incline and looks over his shoulder at the approaching Queen, while King Blueberry hasn’t taken his eyes off Paxton.
Nick Stuart: If looks could kill, Richard.
Richard Parker: In this case, it’s too bad they don’t.
Troy reaches her destination and stands in front of Paxton Ray. Her heels put her exactly eye to eye with the Bayou Butcher, whose smug expression hasn’t wavered. A tense ten, fifteen seconds pass before Lindsay lifts the mic to her lips.
Lindsay Troy: Get out.
Paxton scoffs, unbothered, until Troy steps closer.
Lindsay Troy: That wasn’t a suggestion, you piece of shit. You are done in PRIME, and in this business, effective immediately. Nowhere of repute will have you after what you did to Jon, and if I had it my way, not even your precious mud pits would take you back. Now, get out of this arena and get out of my sight.
Only now do Paxton’s emotions change, and they cycle: at first he snarls with rage and shakes his head, saying things the mic can’t or won’t pick up. When Troy’s expression doesn’t waver, he grits his teeth and takes a step back. Finally, he leans forward into the microphone Lindsay is holding, keeping King Blueberry in the corner of his eye.
Paxton Ray: Count yourself lucky, Blueberry. Your boss won’t always be here to save ya.
He then looks up and smiles at Troy.
Paxton Ray: Go ‘head, Queen. Remove me.
The PRIMEates have been loud this entire time, so the arrival of Dametreyus and Wade Elliott to the scene went undetected. The Heads of Security grab Paxton’s arms from behind and haul him backwards without care. The entire time down, Paxton allows himself to be moved, the smile never leaving his face. Dam and Wade are flanked by Enemigos I, III, VI, and VII as they make their way along the side of the ramp and out of sight.
Nick Stuart: Paxton Ray is outta here! Fired by the Queen and justifiably so!
Richard Parker: You think it’s too late to sing “Na na na, hey hey, goodbye?”
King Blueberry had watched this all unfold from inside the ring. He stared when the first decree was handed down, and Paxton’s role within the company was terminated. The fingers on his left hand flexed and tightened as the Queen handed down her judgment. He watched transfixed as the Bayou Butcher went willingly, quietly up the ramp and back into the same obscurity Jonathan Rhine had dragged him from.
It’s only when Paxton is out of sight does King Blueberry move, jumping between the ropes to the arena floor and marching to where Lindsay Troy now stands. The mask he wears does little to hide the anger.
Nick Stuart: Jared, what the hell are you thinking?!
In the days to follow, it’ll be a common refrain.
Richard Parker: One man fired already tonight, and another on the verge of committing career suicide.
There’s a palpable unease that spreads through the crowd, as King and Queen stand inches apart. Ordinary the height disparity means he’s looking up to meet her eyes, but tonight she towers above him. He doesn’t flinch, doesn’t move, doesn’t act. No words are exchanged, though there will likely be a series of very uncomfortable conversions to come later.
Nick Stuart: Back off, Jared. Just back… off.
Salvation comes in the form of his partner, sprinting the length of the ramp and pushing the Blueberry away. Despite not having a microphone, her first words to him are clear as a bell.
“What the fuck are you doing?!”
Troy watches Reina Raspberry haul the infuriated King Blueberry away. She subtly shakes her head and, with a resigned sigh, walks to the back.
Nick Stuart: Something tells me this is far from over. We’ve got our opening match coming up so let’s go to Vince with the intros.