Back in ‘88.
“Hey, Willy! Turn that shit up!”
Willy obliged with a plume of smoke through yellowed teeth, pivoting in his chair to turn up the volume on the shop’s old cassette deck. Skynyrd’s “That Smell” plucked through the haze and dim lights of Classic 13 Tattoo. The back room was a popular spot in Birmingham’s late hours for the wayward and wandering. That’s when the lighters sparked longer. The music played louder. When the artists tipped a few back and got real creative.
“You good, buddy?” asked Mike to his Canvas, leaning over in his chair to work ink into skin. The tenured and rotund tattoo artist kept the sweat from his forehead at bay behind a red bandana, covering a scalp long gone bald.
“You keep on keepin’ on,” the Canvas replied. “Could use another swig, though.”
Mike shook his head with a chuckle, lifting a bare chin to a leather-clad blonde with a bottle of Jim in her grip.
“Well I’ll tell ya what…” Mike mused as the blonde handed the bottle over to the man in his chair. “Yer a tough sonnuva bitch, Wade. The chest is a rough spot fer a needle, ‘specially when ya git close to th’nipple.”
Wade Elliott, aged seventeen, took a strong pull from the bottle of Jim, sucking it down through his teeth.
“I’ll be alright,” he replied, swiping a hand over a young face, barely showing brown hairs around the jaw. He sat semi-reclined, allowing Mike to do his work. Long legs covered in torn jeans with boots ready to bust through the sole hung to a linoleum floor soaked with beer and worse.
Wade’s gaze flashed through the small back room, filtered through smoke. Skynyrd crashed through speakers. Bloodshot eyes and whiskey breath spread among the ten or twelve patrons leaving the work week behind them. He’d lied about his age, not that anyone gave a shit, and he’d left Pine Ridge in his rear view not even a year ago.
But he felt more at home than ever.
“I hope ya dig it, youngster,” said Mike, still focused on his work. “‘Cause it ain’t goin’ anywhere fer a real long time.”
“That’s fine,” Wade replied. “I plan on flyin’ that flag til’ I’m in the dirt.”
“That’s good! ‘Cause I gave ya two!”
The young Elliott furrowed his brow in surprise, tucking his chin to try and get a look at the work on his left pectoral. Mike sat upright, snagging the bottle from Wade’s grip.
“Welcome to Birmingham, son!”
The artist tilted that bottle over and sloshed a heavy glug over Wade’s fresh tattoo while the rest in attendance roared and lifted drinks. The future Bad Dog curled his toes and grit his teeth, feeling the alcohol seep into the fresh piece of work on his chest. The young man did his damndest to mask any pain as the room laughed and bellowed. Successful, a chuckling Mike handed Wade a small mirror.
In its reflection; a pair of bright, sharp blue eyes.
When titled; a pair of crossed Confederate flags waving ever proud.
The young Wade smiled at the image, then swiped the bottle from Mike’s hand, holding it high as he stood from the chair.
“Long live the Stars an’ Bars!” he shouted, finishing it off with one more long swig before hurling it against the wall, sending glass sprinkling to the floor among the hoots and hollers.
The all but empty bottle in the bottom of his desk drawer was an unwelcome sight. Wade tilted it to find maybe half a swallow lingering in the bottom, and dejectedly dumped it into a nearby glass, tossing it back and careful not to catch any in his mustache, lest it go to waste.
He sat back in his office chair, brow furrowed at the sight in front of him.
A God. Damn. Desk.
Lindsay didn’t tell him that the Co-Head of Security gig would involve any paperwork, like the small stack in front of him resting atop a dusty keyboard. With a reluctant groan he snatched them up, keen blue eyes peering down his nose while moving the papers closer in and further away, an attempt to find some focus. He found none.
Wade’s eyes shot across the small backstage office that served as headquarters for PRIME Security. His eyes caught the back of Dam’s bald head, the giant man hunched over a desk of his own, fingers clacking away at his mechanical keyboard, probably filling out a report Wade had ignored. Or writing poetry.
Either way, the coast was clear.
The Southern Sparkplug kept an eye on his counterpart, opening the top drawer of his desk to gingerly retrieve a small black case.
Popping it open revealed a small pair of reading glasses. He almost grimaced at the sight before setting them onto the bridge of his nose.
Nevertheless, the words came into focus. At least for a minute.
Incident reported near South-East wall in catering. Unauthorized civilians found loitering without appropriate identification. Cross-reference with security footage confirmed identities. Request for patrons to leave premises cited. Patrons removed themselves from area without further incident.
“Oh fer fuck’s sake!”
Wade slapped the paperwork against his desk with a sharp smack, quickly plucking the glasses from his face. Dametreyus looked over his shoulder to the frustrated Blue Collar Brawler.
“Everythin’ alright, Boss?”
“Th’hell’s the point’ve all this shit!?” he barked, holding the papers up with an irritated shake. “Might as well be in fuckin’ French!”
“Ne t’énerve pas,” Dam replied.
“Don’t you fuckin’ start,” Wade snapped with a rigid finger to compliment his hollow threat. The former linebacker offered an amused snort, standing from his chair and crossing the room with a few heavy strides.
“Take it easy, Boss,” said Dam, calmly taking the stack in his big paw. “I’ll take care of this pile.”
“I ain’t yer boss, boss,” said the ‘Bama Bruiser, well aware of Dam’s habits, but pinching his eyes shut and rubbing them between thumb and forefinger regardless. “We’re co-heads, r’member?”
“Sure thing, Boss.”
A frustrated, uncertain exhale pushed through Wade’s nose.
“Just don’t make no sense,” he grumbled. “I used t’be the one causin’ problems. Not the one cleanin’ em’ up. Doin’ a helluva job of it, too…”
“You’re doin’ the best any of us can,” Dam replied, returning to his desk and taking a seat, his big frame a comical sight in his small office chair.
“Easy fer you to say. You’ve done this shit before. Been damn near a year and it still feels like I’m on a diff’rent planet.”
“There wasn’t much paperwork when I was workin’ for Danny,” said Dam, peering over the reports. “But I don’t mind it. There needs to be more to the job than just breaking noses.”
As if triggered by the comment, the Bad Dog’s head shot up with a thousand-mile stare, his sharp gaze time traveling back to the Philip’s Arena in Atlanta, more than ten years ago…
“She in there?” asked Wade, nodding to the locker room door.
Dametreyus didn’t respond, he only walked closer. Wade strode forward in kind, hands up in defense.
“Now Dam, I ain’t lookin’ fer trouble, and I don’t wanna have t’hurt ya…”
The Southern Sparkplug was served a very painful dose of reality, as Dametreyus took one last big step and threw a very hard, very strong, very heavy fist square into his nose.
“AH! God DAMNIT!”
Elliott clutched his face, twisting his body around in an attempt to escape the awful sting and throbbing pain a punch in the beak will bring, nevermind one from Dametreyus. He hunched over, eyes slammed shut, short yelps and gravely groans were separated by long pauses trying to stifle the pain.
“Jesus, Dam! Did’ja have t’hit me so Goddamn hard!
“Ah, I’m real sorry, Boss. Just doin’ my job.”
“Maybe just askin’ me t’ leave mighta worked!”
Two blinks and he’d escaped the memory.
“Coulda fooled me,” he muttered.
“You’ll get used to it,” said Dam. “I find it kinda soothing; filling these reports out. Like a yoga flow. I look forward to the routine.”
The ‘Bama Bruiser caught himself staring at his reflection in the computer monitor’s black screen as Dametreyus described his literal Hell: Reports. Routine.
“I’ll take yer word for it.”
After Revival 17
He never got that hour or two of sleep.
Instead, he decided to greet the sun, in the same spot he’d told it “goodnight.” A fifth cup of coffee never hurt.
Almost ten months. A whole year creeping up. In Vegas of all places. Wade had little use for the Strip, and exactly zero use for the casinos. He would allow himself to get dragged out to a good whiskey joint on occasion, but life existed between his one-bedroom suite and the Garden Arena for the most part. Not exactly the dream for most looking to make a life in Sin City.
But at least there was the sunrise.
“There’d better be coffee,” a groggy Queen declared, sliding open the glass balcony door. Wade hid a small grin behind his grayed beard, tilting his head to the lounge chair next to his own, where a steaming cup sat waiting nearby.
“When did I pass out?” she asked, flopping onto the chair and collecting the mug, blowing on it gently before taking a long drink.
“Around one or two,” he answered. Lindsay rubbed the sleep from her hazel eyes, and readjusted herself inside a light hoodie she’d brought in her bag.
“How long have you been up?”
“Only’n hour or two,” he lied. He knew she didn’t believe him.
They both took a moment, and a sip.
“Been thinkin’ ‘bout that first road trip, way back when. When you missed yer flight. Remember where we were goin’?”
“Vegas,” she replied immediately with a smile. “When you kidnapped me on our way to a ReVolution in Los Angeles.”
“Kidnapped,” he echoed with a snort. Lindsay chuckled to herself, amused.
“Funny how things still manage to come full circle,” she contemplated, shaking curls from her face.
A shared silence, both sets of tired eyes scanning the glowing horizon.
“I believe I’ll take ya up on that offer,” he said, breaking the quiet. “With ol’ Red Eyes.”
“Is that what kept you up all night?” she toyed, a smirk curling through her lips.
Wade surrendered a light chuckle before glancing toward the Lady of the Hour. She looked like she could have slept for days, right there in that lounge chair on the balcony. Despite the chaos and turmoil plaguing the promotion, there were still those moments of comfort and content. They were his favorite.
“Yeah, an’ a few other things.”
She nodded behind her mug. “Gawd. Two fifty-year olds in a main event. Our ratings are gonna fall through the floor.”
“Main event, huh?”
“Where’d you think I was going to book it?” she asked, almost offended. “The roster’s full of pretty faces and flippy-doos. They could use a clinic on what a fist fight looks like. Then you can get back to security with Dam and keep the assholes at bay.”
He didn’t reply. He stayed silent, and intentionally locked his eyes to the sunrise, knowing full well she had turned her head slowly, like a spurned owl ready to swoop in for vengeance and wrath.
“What.” she demanded. “Wade, I swear to god if you even think you’re running off agai…”
“Jesus christ, Lindsay, I told ya just last night I ain’t goin’ anywhere!” he redirected, enough to keep her from taking flight.
“I just keep gettin’ this feelin’ that I ain’t in the right spot,” he tried to explain. “If that makes any sense. Might be time to switch things up a little.”
The Queen mulled it over, allowing the thought to settle. The sun had risen fully over the mountains, and the Strip was quickly coming to life.
“Well,” she said, turning her long legs to the balcony to stand from her chair. “You know I’m all for change…”
She crouched next to him, empty coffee cup dangling from fingertips in one hand. She smiled softly through hazel eyes, and he looked back with his steely blues, even as she gave his left pectoral two light pats through his gray shirt.
“…but you’d better be ready to leave something behind when you do.”
He didn’t mind the eerie quiet of the arena.
But he’d be a liar if he said he wasn’t looking forward to walking toward the ring with his music leading the way.
For now, the hollow ring of his steel-toe boots on the ramp would have to do.
Dim lights overhead offered just enough vision to lead the way, and even the surly Wade Elliott couldn’t help but reminisce. Couldn’t help but replay all those walks from all those years ago;
In Monterrey. Culture Shock, ‘08, where’d he’d piledrive the great Hoyt Williams into Heaven Above; the night before he’d spend two hours and sixteen minutes inside the Dual Halo, setting a record yet to be broken.
In Chicago, at UltraViolence in the same year. Against Tyler Rayne. Where they fell eighteen feet from a ladder. Where he’d lose to The Golden Boy in one of the bloodiest matches in PRIME history.
In Boston, at Colossus VI, where Chandler Tsonda would knock him out against the concrete. The night he’d disappear for three long years.
In Washington, DC, where he’d kick Hessian off the PRIME*View.
And in Chicago. One more time. Where he and Rayne would say farewell.
He had carried a black shirt in his hand, draping it over the ropes as he stepped onto the apron. They were tighter than he remembered, the ring somehow smaller. It was an uncomfortable space. Claustrophobic, even. But then again, even at the height of his career, the ropes and the canvas never felt quite right. Never felt quite at home for the man they called “Drifter.”
And yet, as he stepped his long legs through the ropes, and awkwardly leaned against them, they felt familiar. Like an old friend you never quite got along with, and always wanted to call. But never did.
After a quick survey and finding no one to spectate, the Blue Collar Brawler bounded off those ropes, lumbering across the canvas to the other side, hard thuds from his boots echoing through the arena. He was slow before, but was he always that slow?
He allowed himself to rebound, but stopped himself at the edge closest to the ramp, leaning over the top rope and forcing himself not to breathe too heavily.
But before he could feel too sorry for himself, a heavier pair of boots made themselves known against the steel ramp.
“Boss Lady said you wanted to see me?”
The deep baritone that could only belong to Dametreyus almost vibrated off the walls as the larger Co-Head of Security made his way ringside. Wade smiled, pushing himself upright and waving for his counterpart to join him. Dam, every calm and ever cautious, stepped through the ropes with curiosity.
“This shit always spoke t’ya,” said Wade. “Didn’t it, Dam? Security, I mean.”
“Folks need to know someone’s got their back,” the big man conceded, crossing his arms over a broad chest and leaning against a ringpost. Wade grinned, ambling across the mat.
“You know I got yer back, right?” he asked.
“Never doubted it,” said Dametreyus.
“Even if I wanted t’give it up?”
The Man They Call Dam lifted an eyebrow.
“Don’t worry, I ain’t goin’ anywhere,” Wade reassured. “Just feels like the right time fer a change.”
Wade strolled toward the rope where’d he’d left the shirt, taking it in his rough paws.
“It’s a new PRIME, Dam,” the Drifter continued. “Some’ve it feels th’same. ‘Lot’ve it feels real different. This place deserves someone lookin’ after it that can keep up. Ain’t a secret that that’s always been hard fer me…”
Wade reached the fabric out to Dametreyus with a genuine grin
“…but it sure as hell ain’t fer you.”
The big man furrowed his brow, absently taking the shirt in his hands. It read “Dametreyus – Head of Security,” replacing the old “Co-Head” moniker. Dam studied it, shifting his gray-stubbled jaw back and forth.
“You looking’ to make a comeback?” he asked after a beat. “This match with Dusk got you missin’ the lights?
“Nah, nothin’ like that,” Wade replied. “Got a few distractions I can’t shake, and I can’t do the job justice because of em’. But you sure as hell can.”
A pregnant pause hung above the ring as Dametreyus absorbed what Wade was, and wasn’t, saying. The Bad Dog gave him the time.
“You gonna have my back when I need it, Boss?”
“God damn right I will.”
The two clasped hands, and met for a strong hug under the dimmed lights.
Well, here we go again. A lot older. A lot grayer.
The hum of a tattoo gun filled the room at Black Spade Tattoo on Fremont Street in Vegas. The ‘Bama Bruiser, aged fifty-one, sat reclined in a chair while Jen, his artist with jet-black hair, hunched over his chest.
Don’t git too excited. Ol’ Wade ain’t goin’ fer glory. Yer shiny belts are safe fer now.
Jen swung her long mane over one shoulder as she readjusted. Wade sat patiently, the shaved patch on his left pec an odd contrast to his broad, fairly hairy chest.
But if Ol’ Red Eyes wants another ride off into the sunset, who am I to tell ‘im no?
She sat back, inspecting her work before attacking her next angle. The Bad Dog offered what used to be a rare smile.
I thought I was done with it all. Never thought I’d have a place in this wrestlin’ thing again.
Jen misted his chest with her spray bottle, wiping the area clean.
But it’s a long life, an’ it can pinch ya in the ass sometimes.
He sat up from the back rest, stretching his shoulders as the artist spun in her chair, collecting a small mirror from a nearby table.
Don’t git me wrong. When ya see me at ReVival 19, yer gonna git a lotta th’same.
She handed it to him. His eyes caught his gray beard in the reflection before tilting it downward.
But at th’same time, yer gonna see somethin’ diff’rent.
He smiled at the result, blue eyes glistening, threatening a flood.
An’ after that, who the hell knows? Change ain’t all that bad.
After fiddling with his cell phone for longer than necessary, he snapped a picture of Jen’s work.
That’s how we come full circle.
Koji turned a curious eye to the buzzing of Lindsay’s phone. Lucky for him, she made no pause in his nightly scratching-of-the-ears.
The Queen, one leg crossed over the other on her leather sofa in her high rise off the Strip, collected her device with her free hand, swiping to unlock and read the incoming message.
She fought back tears of her own at the sight:
On a backdrop of reddened skin, a pair of floppy ears where two flags once waved. A salt and pepper face, highlighted with the reds and blues that lay there before. And two bright brown eyes, bordered with black fur.
Angus. The Bluetick Hound.
Replacing flags that needed replacing.