THE LAST SINNER
It had been minutes since the ambulance whined its way into the desert air and the bay doors of the MGM Grand closed behind it.
You weren’t fast enough.
The man in the blueberry mask had stayed in the ring until help came, kneeling beside the unconscious form of Jonathan Rhine while the EMTs took great care in bracing his neck. He offered unheard words of comfort and encouragement as they carefully moved Rhine onto the spine board and secured him in place. He stayed close – as close as could be allowed – as the morbid procession made the journey back from the ring and through the curtain where the woman in the raspberry mask met him.
Justine, that was her name. They were partners in the ring, and more than that beyond its confines. How could he have forgotten?
You never have been.
They had followed the medical team to a waiting ambulance. The blueberry man – Jared, that’s what he was called – waited all the while for a sign from his friend that things would be okay. A wave, a word, anything.
And they have all suffered for it.
Jon never opened his eyes. The only sign that he was still alive was the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest.
The raspberry girl took the blueberry man by the hand and squeezed, but he didn’t feel it. He didn’t hear when she asked if he was okay. Didn’t hear the waver in her voice when she said she was afraid. The world around him ceased to exist. There was only the cold.
I wonder who’ll be next.
He blinked twice, and the world came rushing back into focus.
He’s backstage, still in the same bay where they loaded a still-unconscious Jon into the ambulance, and he has no idea how long he’s been standing there. The two other figures, Reina Raspberry and Mark – The “Blueberry Babysitter,” as he’s known among the MGM crew – are engaged in conversation.
Backstage Assistant Mark: I don’t think he’s listening. And not like the normal not listening, either.
Reina Raspberry: We’ve gotta snap him out of this. This is seriously f-
A conversation that is interrupted when the Blueberry takes two surprise steps forward and rests a hand on Mark’s shoulder.
King Blueberry: Do you have a car?
Reina Raspberry: Oh, thank god! Jared, you completely spaced out for a while. Mark was just saying that we’re up. We’re supposed to be on our way to the ring.
King Blueberry: Mark. Do you… have… a car?
Backstage Assistant Mark: Uhh, y-yeah.
King Blueberry: Then here’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to find out what hospital they took Jon to, and you’re going to go there. I don’t know if anyone will tell you anything, but that’s not the point. You’re going to go, and you’re going to wait for me, okay? And if Wade, or Troy, or whoever is also there, then you’re going to do whatever they ask of you. You’re going to do anything they need, do you understand?
Mark’s eyes dart between the Blueberry and Raspberry, looking for answers; some sort of clarification.
Backstage Assistant Mark: I don’t know if I should-
King Blueberry: ANYTHING! THEY! NEED!
In the cavernous loading bay, the Blueberry’s voice rings out like a gunshot. All activity stops. Every eye now trained on the trio standing in the center of the room. The color bleeds from Mark’s face. His hands start to tremble. Later, when Mark’s friends tease that he probably wet himself a little, trust that it will be a lie when he says no.
After nine months of following him around, this is a side of King Blueberry that Mark has never seen.
With her eyes wide and mouth slightly agape, Reina Raspberry stares at her partner. This is new for her, too.
King Blueberry: (quietly) Shit, I’m… I’m sorry.
He pulls his hand away, then turns and begins the journey back towards the arena proper. He’s only traveled around twenty feet or so when he stops, and turns towards the wall. There, smiling down at him from his perch is the grinning visage of Brad Garrett. Before anyone can interject, the Blueberry’s hands have wrenched the frame free of its brackets. With a guttural roar the display is sending sailing through the air. It collides with a painted cinder block wall, bending the frame and littering the floor in the shattered remains of another fallen idol.