April 8th, 2022
Work was work, regardless of whether it was your intended vocation or not.
Coral Avalon, professional wrestler, knew that entirely too well.
He was a beloved children’s cartoon character, after all.
Two weeks ago, Coral flew out to Providence in order to perform the latter job, recording lines for his character and participating in negotiations for a new contract that might see the cartoon go from the web to a streaming service. While he was there, he learned that his two brightest students had signed on to a ridiculous farce that PRIME was promoting called “PRIME Tag Team Survivor”. Without consulting him.
He wanted to immediately take a plane to Vegas and yell at them for their hubris, maybe show them an octopus hold or two. But the show was far more important. Not only was it his most profitable gig, but as a founding member of the team that came up with the show, he knew he couldn’t easily leave.
So, he waited. It was all he could do.
When he was finally finished, he immediately wanted to find the first plane to Vegas. But his boss… well, his cartoon boss…
Okay, she wasn’t literally a cartoon, but…
Miranda O’Reilly had been a wrestling manager in a previous life. As the manager of the Princes of New England, she was in charge of keeping them out of trouble and on task. As it turned out, it was the only job in her life she was ill-suited for. Within a few months of their employment to PRIME, the antics of her twin brother became much more than management could bear, and the pair were sent their walking papers.
Within a few years after that…
Well, Connor cleaned up his act, at least.
When the O’Reilly twins got out of wrestling, she worked tirelessly to turn the comedy trio of Mega Job into a success. How that became her quest was beyond Coral’s understanding, but he lent his support to his friends regardless. Five years later, they all sat on top of a media empire. They had a successful cartoon, aimed at kids and adults of all ages. They had a line of toys and merchandise. They had their own cereal.
They were all, easily, far more successful doing this than any of them ever were in working for PRIME.
Coral could barely keep up with the runaway whirlwind that was “Mega Job and the Ten True Fruits”, even if he was the most important character on the show after the main trio. He played the central antagonist on the show. The keeper of the “ten true fruits”. The Devil Fruit himself. The diabolical Baron von Blackberry.
It was all such a far cry from what he thought his career would be before Dr. Kensington handed him the ridiculous, fruit-shaped mask he wore when he performed as Blackberry in Sin City Championship Wrestling.
In any case, Miranda had asked Coral to come to a dinner to celebrate the conclusion of recording. Everyone would be there. Coral didn’t want to turn down the request, because he wouldn’t want to miss a chance to see his old friends, so there he was.
It was as peaceful a night as you could imagine with a rogues gallery like that. Connor and his girlfriend spent much of their time catching up with a man named Lincoln Redgrave, who had previously been the inscrutable luchador known as the Cosmo Kid. Miranda spent a lot of her time hobnobbing it with some of the executives that’d shown up to negotiate the transition from popular web toon to a full-blown streaming service. Coral didn’t know the first thing about business, and so left such discussions with Miranda.
And then there were the stars of the show: Beef, El Janito, and Steve, known throughout the world as “Mega Job”. The trio looked almost unrecognizable in their business suits and somewhat composed behavior. Beef’s blonde hair, once the type that stood straight up like Christopher Lloyd’s in Back to the Future, was combed back into something that resembled reasonable people hair. It was a look that made Coral think he was a different man entirely. El Janito’s always long black hair had been trimmed into a neat ponytail. And as for Steve, Coral admired that a tailor was willing to make a business suit for that terrifying little guy.
Coral had known them for over fifteen years, and even he was bewildered at the change in the three morons who ran around backstage filming “interviews” and “documentaries” in the most serious air quotes possible.
Of course, underneath all of that was still the same dipshits they always were, and Coral knew that better than anyone. The only difference was that they got paid better, and nobody tried to punch them. Or set them on fire. Or try to spank their bare asses with a steel chair. Or launch a Varga at them with a catapult.
The point is, that list was a long one, and some of it might not have been entirely undeserved. But now they were a lot more successful in their lives than any of those people who did any of those things ever were. Especially the spank boy.
And in case you were wondering, no, they weren’t allowed anywhere near the alcohol. God. That’d be a disaster.
In any case, Coral had spent some time catching up with a man named Soren Knox, who had previously wrestled for PRIME as Captain Justice. He was also the older brother of Connor’s tag team partner, Simon, who had been Coral’s favorite protégé. Having gotten wrapped up in all of this by playing his own wrestling character on the Mega Job show, Soren had since become fairly successful at acting.
The conversation took a turn when Soren, who was a little buzzed from the vodka he’d been working through, came up to Coral with a question, “Hey, Avalon, Hollywood’s got to be knocking on your door by now. You ever gonna play someone other than the Baron?”
Coral shook his head, holding back a laugh.
It wasn’t the first time he’d been asked that.
Never in his life did he consider acting. Or anything beyond wrestling. Wrestling was all he knew. He dropped out of high school, and only got his GED after he got married. His hideously wealthy family disowned him over his obsession, and he in turn only kept his name because it was very unique. Certainly, unique enough for wrestling. He never went to college. He only worked odd jobs to facilitate his desire to keep wrestling.
This was all or nothing to him.
In so doing, he lived so much through the generosity of others that he didn’t know how to start paying everyone back, even after he succeeded.
But despite his dedication and coming so close, he was never once a world champion. Not once. Not ever.
Everyone thought he should’ve been by this point in his career.
But life had a funny way of creating detours, and scenarios where you could only ask “what could have been?”
What if he had been the last man standing against Jeff Garvin on that night in Seattle for the Action! Championship?
What if he’d beaten Alias and Brandon Youngblood in his own hometown for the tSC Championship?
What if Seymour Almasy hadn’t accidentally cost him the ACW World Championship against Khristian Keller?
These questions were all points of divergence, the paths not taken. Coral didn’t really have an answer for any of them.
Maybe he’d have faltered anyway against Garvin, his oldest enemy. Coral Avalon was wrestling by the seat of his pants back then, little more than an out-of-his-depth rookie still in his teenage years. He was without the wealth of experience and proven talent he now had at his disposal. He didn’t even have a finishing move to call his own. He relied on what he took from others. And Garvin was a cold, hard bastard to deal with even when he wasn’t giving Avalon a Memphis Death Certificate on any piece of discarded furniture he could.
And in New Orleans, Brandon Youngblood had his number, as he almost always did each and every time they ever crossed paths. It was all he could do to keep up with his two opponents in that match. Even then, it was Alias that knocked Brandon from the ring, and it was Alias that tapped him out that night.
And as for Khristian Keller… well, maybe he could’ve turned it around after a renewed and more experienced Avalon turned his spinal cord into a hardcore isosceles triangle for the majority of that match. Maybe. And, you know, maybe Avalon could’ve ducked when Almasy swung that chair at Keller’s face, just as Keller did.
No matter what, though, Coral Avalon never asked the “what ifs”.
He’d go crazy if he did.
“No. No, nothing like that,” Coral said, “I’ve got my hands full as it is.”
Soren gave him a look.
Coral had seen that look, the one that wordlessly asked the dreaded question, “When are you going to give up on this wrestling thing?”
Soren didn’t even have to actually ask that question, of course.
Everyone knew what Coral’s answer would be.
“Until I can’t do it anymore.”
Las Vegas, NV
April 9th, 2022
Coral wasn’t sure which part of his brain was Baron von Blackberry. Sometimes, he’d like to pull that part of his brain out and have a conversation with it. You know, the kind of conversation he’d have where he had a metal folding chair and Blackberry didn’t. Whatever it was, it only wanted to appear when he put on the mask.
Not that it mattered if Coral had a chair or not.
He wouldn’t use it, and everyone knew it.
In any case, he chose to use the Blackberry persona when managing the Winds of Change to help the pair get attention on the west coast. It worked for a time, though because Coral was a busy person, he wasn’t always around to help them.
Not very many people knew that Coral and Blackberry were one in the same. At least, Coral would certainly like to keep it that way, even if plenty of people who knew both of his identities were rather loose-lipped about the whole thing. Among those that didn’t know, however, were Joe and Sid. So if he was going to put those two idiots in their place, he had to come in full gimmick.
Either way, Coral needed to be in Vegas. So, there he was in the MGM Grand, one day after Culture Shock had gone off the air with Brandon Youngblood – Avalon’s old nemesis from the Squared Circle – holding the Universal Championship high over his head. What could’ve been, indeed, if the path he’d taken had been like Youngblood’s?
No. Best not think about it. He was here to do another job entirely.
Avalon knew where to go in the Grand. He’d made a few calls to some other individuals also in the competition that he knew, like Jared Sykes and Jon Rhine, and pinpointed the room where his idiot students would be staying.
And that’s how he ended up on an elevator with a middle-aged Arabic man bound for the 25th floor, who became increasingly distressed as Avalon began the transformation from mild-mannered Coral Avalon into the bombastic Baron von Blackberry.
Avalon had put on the lab coat by the time he noticed the other man’s clear distress, so he turned to him and asked cheekily, “How do I look?”
The man’s thick eyebrows raised in alarm when he asked, “Why are you not wearing a shirt, sir?”
He did not answer.
The man couldn’t wait to get off the elevator when it finally opened on the 25th. He was out the door before Coral could even say “bye”.
He wondered if the terrified expression he got from the man was worth it.
No. Probably not.
Once he was gone, Coral put on the mask.
Coral did well to keep his two identities separate.
One was the humble, mild-mannered, yet highly sought after trainer of the next generation of pro wrestlers, former top star of Action! Wrestling and the Squared Circle, and a former PRIME Tag Team Champion. The other identity was the Devil Fruit, the crazy lab coat-wearing lunatic who ran through Sin City Championship Wrestling like a blender that only made blackberry smoothies.
But let’s not make any mistake here.
Both of them were coming to give his students the business.
Las Vegas, NV
One hour, a swift beating, and a jigsaw puzzle delivery later…
Coral Avalon got back in the elevator and took off the mask the moment the doors closed.
Back to being himself.
His black hair was mussed from wearing it. He wiped his forehead, slipped off the lab coat, put on his old and worn “tSC” T-shirt, and smoothed out his hair. Being Blackberry was a lot of loud, sweaty work. Emphasis on loud. The Nates – well, Filmix, specifically – were definitely not happy to hear him, though Coral noted while he was being tongue-lashed by the man that Nathan Filmix seemed like a funhouse mirror version of himself.
It was eerie.
“I’m not really like him, am I?” he pondered to himself.
He considered it for a moment, and then dismissed it.
What if Filmix was who he could’ve become, had he not accepted the mask? He wondered about that. Coral was always serious about wrestling. That much was obvious whenever you saw him wrestle. But he didn’t flaunt his incredible skill over other people. What’s the point when you’ve never been a world champion?
What if the only thing that kept him from achieving his lone remaining goal in wrestling really was the mask?
Put that thought out of your mind, he decided.
Once he was done changing, he pulled his phone out and found “Home” in his contacts. After a few seconds of waiting, his wife picked it up.
“Hey, sweetie,” said Annabelle’s cheery voice.
“Hey, Annie,” Coral said, “Just had a talk with the boys.”
“You mean Joe and Sid? You found them?” she asked.
“Yeah. I made my displeasure known once I did,” Coral said.
Annabelle let out a girlish giggle on the other side of the phone.
“You didn’t hurt them too bad, did you?” she asked.
Avalon huffed, mock-offended, “Now, what makes you think I’d go and do something like that?”
“So, at least one submission hold, then?”
“Yeah, just the octopus…” Coral said. Then he caught himself, “Hey, wait a second, now…”
He could almost hear the smile of his wife on the other side, miles away in Seattle, “I figured you’d respond that way. It takes a lot to make you angry to begin with, after all, and Miranda called to tell me you were pretty angry.”
“Yeah, well… I don’t like it when history repeats itself like that,” Coral said. The elevator doors opened and Coral stepped out into the lobby of the MGM Grand, “Connor and Simon did the same thing, you know.”
“I know,” Annabelle said, “And that was not your fault, just as much as this isn’t.”
Coral shook his head, and let out a breath.
It was hard for him to believe that.
“Sweetie, you know what your problem is?” Annabelle asked.
“Ah, so you do know.”
“The thought had occurred to me once or twice or a thousand times, yeah.” Coral admitted. “But regardless, I’ve got to have a talk with PRIME’s management.”
“PRIME, huh? Aren’t you still persona non grata with that place, or am I misremembering things?”
“No, you’re not. And, I mean… things are different, now,” Coral said, “Lindsay’s in charge.”
Annabelle hummed. They’d all crossed paths several times years ago. Avalon had his clashes with her in both fWo and PRIME, sure, but Avalon always considered it a professional rivalry that never got personal. They were cordial with one another, if nothing else. So this could work. Coral could finally join PRIME again.
Even though he could only think of one other person in this entire profession that kicked him in the head harder than Lindsay Troy did.
“This, uh… Melvin guy was pretty keen on me being there, I think, since I’m the only one on the cartoon that still actively wrestles, you know? They hire me, they have an actual pseudo-celebrity that they could point to.” Coral said, “I mean, obviously, there’s still a bit of rigmarole to go through, obviously. There’s some legalities to work through, but Miranda said she’d get it taken care of soon.”
He was going to have to figure out how to take care of the hefty fines from Sid’s powerbomb spree on that one Enemigo, too. He knew damn well Sid couldn’t afford it. Between everyone on the show, they should be able to help him. But if it happened again, then Coral was going to be the one to powerbomb Sid. If Lindsay didn’t do it first.
“Right, I understand that.” Annabelle said, before she pointed out a problem, “But you know, I have my roots spread out here now. I can’t drop everything and come join you on the road like in the old days.”
Annabelle had just signed a contract to produce music for a video game being developed in the Seattle area. It was a job she spent years working towards, even when she and Coral traveled together. She performed music of the soul, he performed music of the mat.
But after the show came together, they chose to settle down together in Seattle. After all, it was about as far away as they could get from New Orleans without leaving the continental United States. Coral opened a school with a German-Italian wrestler he’d become friends with named Franco Marx to help train the next generation of wrestlers, and Annabelle made music for the next generation of video games.
In his head, he was already considering the logistics of what he was doing.
Franco would have to take over the school for a while. Coral could still teach classes himself on occasion, but it’d be Franco’s show from now on. He’d have to figure out how to balance the travel between his home in Seattle, his work with the Mega Job cartoon in Providence, and whatever the heck PRIME’s doing in Vegas. To say nothing about wanting to continue wrestling wherever he could.
His life was going to be so much busier, all because Joe and Sid couldn’t wait another year or two before they thought they were ready for the big time.
He remembered being that young and stupid himself. His early successes have since given way to late hardships. The same was true for the Princes. The same could be true for the Winds, too. What if this didn’t end well, just like the last time? Would Coral feel the guilt for that failure as well, just as he did with what happened to Connor and Simon?
Coral didn’t want to consider that “what if”, either.
“I know, Annie. I’m not asking you to.” Coral said, “We put too much time into building a place for us in Seattle for both of us to be gallivanting off to the four corners of the world together, again. Much as I’d like that. Besides, I won’t lie, we both know that Vegas is weird. And PRIME’s weird. Weirder than last time, probably. I ran into some sort of weird egg cult or something on my way into the hotel. Not sure what that was about. And, uh… pretty sure Shanahan’s lurking around here, Shanahanning it up. That’s what I hear, anyway. I’m not very interested in crossing paths with that guy again, if I’m being honest. So it’s for the best that you’re there and not here, I’ll say that much.”
Annabelle hummed on the other end of the phone, musing over what Coral had said. Thankfully, she’d not met Shanahan. And if they were all really, really lucky, she never would.
“Well, alright then. It’s fine with me as long as you get back safely from the mean egg cult. And who knows? Maybe you’ll get another chance at what you really want to do.”
Coral hesitated as he was about to exit the lobby.
One last chance at doing what he couldn’t…
That was a pipe dream.
“Maybe,” Coral said to humor Annabelle’s point, as he walked out of the hotel.
He wouldn’t consider that “what if” any more than the others.