Balaam the Mask of Malice
When God created the universe, his focus was unbreakable. The same can be said of a bird building a nest, a spider weaving a web, or an artist designing their art. All do so in total focus. When creating, the mind demands absolute attention to breathe life into something that never existed.
In a small nearly empty room surrounded by various fabrics of vibrant colors, and the warmth of a corner fireplace we find the homely Mexican man with the experience of a thousand lifetimes worn on his face. Lines crafted by the consistent flow of time, like a river crafting a canyon. Joe Burro is working with needle point focus, sewing a beautiful wrestling cape of black and gold.
Thousands of years of rebirths, he has crafted wardrobes for kings, queens, gods, thieves, armies, visionaries, labors, scoundrels, social revolutionists, socialites, philosophers, musicians, and even a few cats in the kitty craze of the early bronze age in Egypt.
Joe Burro’s hands dance in trance to the sounds of “Sin Ti” by Los Ponchos, an old timey song playing from an old timey radio. His breathing slows as he carefully stitches a black rose into the gold silk satin cape. The world could be, and possibly is, crashing around him in Ultraviolence, but at this moment nothing else but that black rose matters. He stops for a moment as the lyrics of the song playing hits him somewhere deep in his conscience. Joe closes his eyes in the darkness of his mind he finds a deep recollection long faded, but not buried, as he lets the words of the song resurrect his memory.
there is no mercy for my pain,
the hope of my love, at last
you are taking it away.
it is useless to live,
as useless it will be
wanting to forget you.”
–Sin Ti (English Translation)
Peeking into her father’s study the woman notices the fireplace burning. The gorgeous and very pregnant fiancée of John Kennedy Royko, Jr., the former Miss Alabama, Aurora Jennings takes a deep breath and straightens her hair in the hallway mirror before entering the study of her father, Alabama’s first black Supreme Court Justice, Fredrick Jennings.
His study is surrounded by photos of his family and of him accepting various accolades. Law degrees adorn his wall along with newspaper articles about him. A powerful looking wooden desk highlights the center of the room as it sits on peacock blue carpet. The old man is sitting behind his desk working on some papers. A pair of glasses sit at the edge of his nose. When he notices his daughter, he takes them off and lovingly shoots her a smile.
Fredrick Jennings: What brings my baby girl to the court of fatherly love?
The beauty queen smiles back and sits down in the big leather chair in front of the desk.
Aurora Jennings: Hey daddy. I just wanted to talk to you.
Her father knows its news he is not going to like, based on her tone and his parental instinct. He stands up and starts mixing a Manhattan meticulously, measuring every ingredient, and even straining it properly. He takes a strong sip and sits. Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” spins on vinyl from an antique looking record player that clearly is not, as it has a Bluetooth button. The song gets to an intense dramatic part as both are speaking with their eyes, yet no words.
Aurora Jennings: I’m going to Vegas.
Frederick Jennings: The hell you are. Weeks away from giving me my first grandchild. You are not leaving this state. I’m done dealing with you having your heart broken by your absentee fiancé and FUCKING wrestling. Now I don’t like to cuss sugar, but you got me all hot. You just need to accept the reality of the situation.
Aurora Jennings: This is the last time. I’m going to get that mas…
Frederick Jennings: Again, with the MASK? A mask that makes a man not take care of his pregnant girlfriend and responsibilities? A mask that makes another man control him. A mask that drains a man’s moral, parental, and social obligations to roll around on a mat for a television show produced in Sin City? I’m sorry child; I’m done hearing about masks. It’s as believable as the immaculate conception, or pro-wrestling.
Aurora’s expression turns to a stern angry look that rivals that of her father’s.
Aurora Jennings: I know you don’t get it, and everything is orderly and lawful in your world. But in mine things are different. My REALITY is based in my love of that man, no matter if you understand it or not. He is the father of this baby inside me and will be the husband and MAN I know he can be. So, I don’t give a damn about what you think I should do, and I’m not your BABY girl anymore, I’m a strong woman.
The judge sips his drink lost in deep thoughts while trying to maintain his cool he rubs his temples and closes his eyes trying to let the sounds of “Bitches Brew” calm his nerves.
Rubbing his temples trying to relax we find the Malice Man, Duke Williams, sitting on that removable white paper sheet that allegedly protects us on a doctor’s table. He is shirtless looking at the fading tattoo of a pin up model on his right arm. His chest is covered by a thin patients robe some thin nurse gave him twenty minutes ago. His shitty insurance doesn’t give him the right to question why he must wait so long, leaving him with helpless anxiety, as his mind swirls thinking about his medical issue.
Lost in the moment, Duke sways his legs, showing his nervousness as he twiddles his thumbs. Craving a drink, he thinks of the whiskey in his truck and if it would be appropriate or not for him to sneak out for a swig before the doctor sees him. Duke is about to go, when he remembers he’s still in a stupid patient’s robe and his ass would cause optical pain to innocent bystanders. He tries to remember taking his pants off but can’t. He thinks for a moment about putting his pants back on, but before he can make a bad decision the door swings open, and the doctor enters the room.
Doc: Elwood D. Williams, it has been a long time since we’ve seen you.
Duke Williams: Forgive me doctor for I have sinned. It’s been three years since my last visit.
The doc smiles and makes the motion of the sign of the cross.
Doc: Well, I absolve you of your sins, but honestly at your age you should see me at least once a year.
Duke Williams: Noted.
Doc: So, I understand you’ve been having some memory gaps? I see you had an accident after leaving a Jack’s frozen pizza in the oven and forgetting about it?
Duke Williams: Yea Hoss I just forgot. It’s been happening a lot lately. I went to the hospital and took them CAT scans and M-R-eyes you told me about. What’s the good word?
The doctor checks the Malice Man’s blood pressure listening intently before ripping the Velcro cuff off Duke’s arm and taking the stethoscope out of his ears.
Doc: Blood pressure is still good. Body seems strong. I’m sure given your line of work your body is probably causing you pain from time to time?
Duke Williams: The usual shit. Knees, back, even some erectile situations, but those pills you wrote for me helped solve that.
Doc: Yea. Even the test on your liver came back ok. You do need to stop drinking but that’s not why we are here.
Duke Williams: Thankfully it’s not.
The Malice man smiles thinking about that whiskey in his truck.
Doc: Have these gaps in your memory become more frequent?
Duke pauses for a moment to long and looks at a poster for heart medicine on the wall with two guys on a boat together watching a sun set.
Duke Williams: What was your question again?
The malice man laughs heartily.
Duke Williams: I’m kidding hoss. Yes, they have been more frequent but not terribly bad.
Doc: Besides the pizza, what is the most recent example that you can remember?
Duke Williams: I was driving to the store to get the damn cat some damn food. Nice day, windows down, fresh air the typical description of a small Montana mountain town. You know, a Norman Rockwell style Sunday drive. On the radio the lady reading the news mentioned the passing of Horacio Accavallo, an old Argentinean boxer, who helped train me when I was a young man fighting for the Golden Gloves. I thought about Horacio, his accent, and his stern teaching style fondly for a moment when some lard-ass in an SUV honked his horn startling me. I realized I was at a stop sign but I couldn’t remember why, or where I was going. I drove back home where the damn cat yelled at me, and then I remembered where I needed to go so, I went back out. I don’t know maybe it was the weed.
Doc: Hmmmmm. you remember a lot of details of the story. How long were you at the stop sign before the “lard-ass” honked at you?
The disheveled wrestling legend thinks hard but just shakes his head.
Duke Williams: I don’t remember. I assume for a short moment but the short run to the store seemed to eat up a lot of daylight. I just don’t know.
The doctor frowns.
Doc: Your tests were not good.
Duke Williams: Ha! Back in high school, I was terrible at grammar and punctuation. Really bad at school in general. This is NOT the first test I’ve failed, Doc.
Doc: You show signs of severe Cortical shrinkage.
Duke Williams: Like a water penis. We’ve all been there.
Doc: Enlarged ventricles.
Duke Williams: Now we’re talking.
Doc: Severe shrinking of the Hippocampus.
Duke Williams: That’s not a real word. So, what does all this mean. Let’s get down to brass tacks here.
Doc: Elwood. All those times you were hit in the head with a chair added with family history. You are near the end of moderate Alzheimer’s and are nearing the severe stage. I would guess you have 1-3 years before you’re going to need at-homecare… or worse.
It was like the air conditioner was turned on full blast as a chill swept across the body of the Malice Man. Everyone knows their time is coming, but yet you still assume you’ll have nothing but the golden years to enjoy before you collapse. This was different. This was an unseen booking. The old cowboy looks up at the Phantom Booker with utter sadness upon his face.
Duke Williams: Ron, you have to change the booking. I can’t do the job. Not like this.
Doc: We are going to manage it the best we can.
Duke Williams: Yea but not like this. I mean I’ll take the three count, but there has to be another way. What about Hoyt? I need to provide for him.
Doc: Family is going to be important in your care. Do you have a support team in place?
The old cowboy rubs his temples trying to focus after the family question hit him. He looks up to see the Phantom Booker, but he’s gone, and the doctor comes back into focus.
Duke Williams: I ummm don’t know. My personal life is… complicated.
Doc: It might be time to uncomplicate a lot of things in your life.
Duke isn’t sure if Hoyt will take care of him, and what options he really has. A life of being the world’s best friend and yet he feels nothing but loneliness at this vulnerable moment.
Doc: I’ll give you some literature you can share with your family. I’m going to prescribe to you some medicines that might help slow down the process….
The doctor talks on but Duke’s mind is only focused on his future and how everything he wanted to do is now being recalculated with the new data. He buries his face into his hands. Darkness is all he sees.
It’s the inner sanctum of a Christian confessional where John Kennedy Royko, Jr. sits talking to the slot in the wall.
JK: Forgive me father for I have sinned it’s been two weeks since I last confessed.
Priest: Go on.
JK: I have done a terrible deed. I have sinned greatly.
Priest: Salvation can only be had by admitting your sin.
JK: My father has been sick. I don’t think he has much longer. My knee is still a concern and I just signed up for a wrestling tournament in Las Vegas. A whole new profession for me. I’ve been very stressed. A week ago, a girl caught my eye, and I couldn’t help myself and I cheated on the woman I love.
Priest: A wife?
JK: A girlfriend who am about to ask to marry.
Priest: Well in the eyes of the church the only crime you’ve committed was sex out of wedlock. I think you need to keep this just between us as not to hurt her and say ten hail Mary’s for redemption. Don’t do it again. Now go forth my child you are forgiven.
Feeling a bit rushed, JK Royko steps out of the confessional and leaves. Sitting on the priest side of the confessional is Hoyt Williams who has just obtained enough information to black mail JK Royko. A man he’s been scouting to wear his cursed mask for months. Knowing how much JK loves his girlfriend, and Hoyt knows now he can control him.
Hoyt Williams: In the name of Hoyt, AMEN!
The Personal Jesus takes off his white cotton collar throwing it to the ground in excitement.
In his shop Joe Burro picks up a cut off piece of white fabric and discards it. He then puts the finishing touches on the wrestling cape of gold with the black rose stitched in the center. Silver tasseling flow down the sides. He holds it up and searches for flaws. He finds none and smiles in satisfaction.
A masterpiece, one of the finest capes ever made. Unable to just look at it, he can’t help himself, tying the cape around his neck. He dances the Gavotte around the small room with a big smile on his homely face. He remembers Paris and the fashion revolution he helped create. He stops dancing in front of the full mirror as he notices the smile on his face which fades instantly as his eyes well up and somber replaces the appearance of bliss. His low self-esteem shouts down his joy and reminds him no matter how much beauty he creates and wears, he is only seen by what society deems as an ugly face. Joe feels sorry for himself for a moment, that to him feels like another eternity, before something on the cape catches his eye.
A slight inaccuracy in the stitching that possibly only he would notice shatters his opinion of the cape. No longer a masterpiece Joe downgrades its quality to excellent, far below his standards. He takes a deep breath tossing the cape watching it as it floats through the air the gold shimmering. The cape lands in the fireplace where Joe watches the flames do their own samba across the fibers before being consumed by fire. A blueish red color flash throughout the fire as the silk turns to ash.
Joe is not upset, agitated, or even sad as the smoke rises from the destruction; and opportunity is born inside his passions once again.
God created many worlds before discovering the one that worked to his satisfaction taking elements from every flawed world along the path of his creation. The best creations from inside each failed world moves forward, those landing in the end result are what we refer to as the best of all possible worlds. Is that what we are or are we one of the worlds discarded giving birth to an alternate better reality. Joe ponders the thought before walking over to his selection of fabrics and sets forth the hope of a new masterpiece.
The old Judge grabs a white piece of paper, crumbling it up, getting frustration out before throwing it in the waste basket.
Frederick Jennings: You do what you have to do. Let us file some papers and get the law to step in if your man really is being held against his will or brain washed. I can make some calls to the Nevada……
Aurora Jennings: This is not something that your world and the law can solve. This is a world few understand. I didn’t want to but now I do. I found a man who wants to stop the evil force behind JK’s control. This man, The Anglo Luchador, I have faith in him. Plus, I’m not going to hold back come high or hell water I will get JK back. Forgive me father for vengeance is what it’s going to take.
The pregnant woman struggles to get out of the deep-seated chair but does so. Her father shakes his head in reluctant defeated agreement. The baby girl storms out a warrior queen. A moment later Aurora’s mother, Dawn, enters the study.
Dawn Jennings: I was listening. She gets that fire from within from you.
Frederick Jennings: I hope she can contain it or at least slow it down.
The Malice Man sits in his old black pickup truck outside in the parking lot of the doctor’s office. “Black Rose” by Billy Joe Shaver plays from the old AM/FM truck radio. In his hands are tickets to Vegas and Ultraviolence. What’s the point, he thinks, as he sets them down on the seat next to him. He reaches into the glove box and pulls out a shiny single action army revolver and spins the chamber.
Was life worth struggling through if you knew the finish line was a trap. Ending it all now would save a lot of people a lot of suffering, himself included. He looks at the gun his hands shaking. He puts it down for a moment and reaches back into the glove box. This time he pulls out a bible and sets it on his lap. He rubs his hands over the leather cover for comfort.
In a moment of needed salvation Duke opens the bible to reveal the center cut out where a golden flask sits. He grabs it, opens the cap, and takes a swig. He drops it beside him and picks the gun back up. He looks over at the road sign that leads deep into the Montana woods.
Duke Williams: I’ve no showed a lot in my day but now’s not the time. I guess Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound has a bit of a closer feel now.
The Malice Man puts the gun back in the glove box, takes another swig from the flask before putting it back in the bible. He picks up his plane tickets to Vegas smacking them into his left palm and shaking his head in an affirmative way.
Duke Williams: Sin City, here I come.
Duke looks at his old eyes in the dirty mirror and listens for a moment to the song on the radio.
“Well, the devil made me do it the first time
The second time I done it on my own
Lord, put a handle on a simple headed man
And help me leave that black rose alone”
—Billy Joe Shaver, “Black Rose”
The monster Balaam stands in front of the penthouse window overlooking the tiny tourists of Las Vegas on the street below. Hoyt Williams wearing a golden cape with a black rose approaches behind him and whispers into the masks ear.
Hoyt Williams: Biggest match of your life. I need that Cheap Mask destroyed, son. I want him humiliated for insulting me on that Jabber thing. I am that petty. Make no mistake about it. I want to also punish him regardless of if he stole the mask from my inner sanctum or not. Expose his face and show the world what a weak little man he is hiding behind that mask of his. Do it, or I’m done with you. I will expose your cheating nature and ruin your life before finding someone better to honor that mask you wear. You need to find the darkest, savage, careless corner of your mind and unleash ULTRAVIOLENCE. Millions will be watching on PPV, Billions will watch from the underworld. DO NOT embarrass me. One way or another at ULTRAVIOLENCE someone will be destroyed forever. Do not forsake me. The Luchador’s tale must end here. So, mote it be.