THE GAMBLER’S FALLACY
The adrenaline has finally worked its way out of his system, and now Jared Sykes – the blueberry king – sits on a chair in a small conference room backstage. His head low, his hands shaking, refusing to make eye contact with any of the four people gathered around him.
A few feet away paces his partner, Justine Calvin, trying to shake a knot out of her right hand. It was her punch that started the dominoes falling, but what happened after that was something that she would have never predicted. And if not for the intervention of Joe Fontaine, Sid Phillips, and Coral Avalon, she might find herself in a very different situation, likely giving a statement to a man in uniform about why Paxton Ray is no longer breathing.
King Blueberry: Can one of you just say something and get it over with? The silence is killing me.
Joe Fontaine: Bro, I don’t even know where to begin with you.
Coral Avalon: Joe.
Joe Fontaine: What?
Coral Avalon: Give us a sec. We’ll call this berry business.
Joe rolls his eyes, looking like he wants to say something about so-called “berry business”, but he relents when Sid grabs him by the sleeve of his suit and pulls him away. Once the Winds of Change are out of sight, or at least off-screen, Coral sighs.
Coral Avalon: Sorry, I felt we had to step in before that escalated to an actual, real-world homicide.
King Blueberry: It would have never got that far.
He keeps his eyes trained on the floor.
Justine Calvin: Bullshit it wouldn’t! When you finally settle down, then you need to watch back what happened, so that you can see… I don’t know… whoever it is under that mask right now come damn close to taking someone out permanently. I’ll be forever grateful that you guys stepped in, Coral, but Joe’s right. I don’t even know where to begin.
Jared peels his eyes off the ground and looks up at his partner. Ever since the night they ascended at the Great American Nightmare there have been cracks forming in his armor, battle scars in his mask coming in the form of rips and tears. His expression – what elements of it that Justine can see – is almost pleading, begging her to believe him.
King Blueberry: Justine, it would have never got that far.
She shakes her head, looking away.
Coral slides his palm across his face, looking up at the ceiling, uncertain. It takes him a few seconds for him to level his gaze at the king of blueberries again.
Coral Avalon: Jared, I’m not even sure you believe yourself when you say that. You wouldn’t have stopped until that man was in a grave.
Here lies Paxton Ray. “He’s your problem, now, Hell.”
Coral Avalon: To me, it’s not a question of “never going that far”. We’ve been well past “too far” since UltraViolence. But I don’t want you to go so far that we can’t get you back.
Justine Calvin: You keep crossing this line and nobody’s going to be knocking on your door in ten years.
Her face flushes red as a wave of regret hits. Sometimes the buttons are too easy to push, no matter how much you know you shouldn’t. She glances at Jared just long enough to see his own eyes burning back in her direction, but this isn’t a conversation for the masses to hear.
King Blueberry: Every fuckin’ time.
He presses his palms into his eyes before turning his attention back to Coral.
King Blueberry: Terrence Kingsley. Knowing how things would play out, what would you do if you could go back twelve or thirteen years? What would you do if someone tried to take him out of the game? What are those years of your life worth? What do you think they’d be worth to the people who didn’t make it back?
Coral hesitates, taken aback. Once upon a time, he’d found himself free-falling in piledriver form from ring apron to concrete, thanks to the aforementioned Kingsley. A man who, Coral would admit, came within a hair’s breadth of putting him in a wheelchair just like Paxton did to Rhine.
Coral Avalon: It’s… it’s not like I hadn’t thought about it.
He looks away for a few moments, considering his words, and then turns back to Jared.
Coral Avalon: But, you know, I can’t change the past, and wouldn’t even know where to begin if I could. There’s no such thing as time travel for the likes of us. And I’m much more concerned about the present, about this friend of mine who acts like he has no future.
King Blueberry: And what about Joe’s future? Sid’s? What about Ria or Hayes? Colton? Timo’s kid? Do they all have to worry about whether or not everything they worked for suddenly comes to an end at the hand of that psychopath Paxton? He’s here again, and that’s partially my fault.
He once again locks eyes with Justine.
King Blueberry: I know that. I own that.
And once again refocuses his attention on Avalon.
King Blueberry: I couldn’t stop Kingsley then, Coral. I thought I could, but it was… it was just words. My own devil kept him just out of reach. And people got hurt because of it. Everyone, everyone that I cared about paid a price. We can hide it all we want, we can pretend that we’re past it, but some of this shit just does… not… heal. I will trade my future every goddamn day if it means that doesn’t happen to anyone else. Mine for theirs. For hers.
He offers a weak shrug.
King Blueberry: Seems fair to me.
Coral Avalon: Slippery slope. Can’t believe I have to say that for a second show in a row. What kind of example would you set for those kids if you decided to enact frontier justice? Do you want to become a Paxton Ray for someone else?
King Blueberry: Coral, I don’t want to do any of this, but these are the cards I keep getting dealt. And you and I have been in Vegas long enough to know that you either play your hand or fold.
Coral Avalon: You know what they say about the house, in that case.
He shakes his head and turns pleadingly to Justine. As though he’s apologizing for what she’s had to deal with day-to-day.
Coral Avalon: Jared, I know you’re going to fight this fight no matter what anyone tells you. I know that what Paxton did was inexcusable, and he deserves triple of what’s coming. All the same, I’d prefer it if you were able to walk away afterwards without having to post bail. And, preferably – and hear me out on this one, I know it’s crazy – but maybe fight him while there’s a man in a striped shirt present.
King Blueberry: You’re not wrong. Neither of you are wrong. I know that, despite how it looks – and I know it looks crazy, but…
Justine Calvin: But you’re going to do it anyway. Fight him, I mean.
King Blueberry: Yeah. I am.
Justine Calvin: And there’s nothing we can say to make you change your mind on this.
King Blueberry: I’m sorry.
She finds a nearby chair and all but collapses into it, looking utterly defeated.
Justine Calvin: Then… then can you at least listen to Coral? Can you promise no more of this vigilante shit? He’s right. Don’t be them.
He looks to each of them in turn, first locking eyes with Avalon.
King Blueberry: I give you both my word.
And then with her.
King Blueberry: For whatever that’s worth.