There’s the ding.
I typically don’t take off my seatbelt on a plane, even after the ‘fasten seatbelt’ light goes off, unless I actually have to get up for some reason.
Because, why bother? The first class seats on this flight are pretty darn sweet, I can already tell I won’t need to crack any joints when we land.
Yeah, I said it: first class seats. It might go against my ‘Jamming Econo’ sensibilities, but circumstance demands preparation, and if there was ever a moment to spend some extra money for short term comfort…
The fact that, for the first time in almost half a decade, I’m going to be stepping between the ropes of a wrestling ring with winning a match as my only focus seems to call for it.
Yeah, let’s get the obvious outta the way: four years ago I stopped being a full time professional wrestler and never once looked back. Two years ago, I signed on with DEFIANCE Wrestling as one of the head trainers in their BRAZEN project, and up until three weeks ago, I was perfectly content showing a bunch of young kids the ropes, teaching them the basics, and getting them ready for the realities of life on the mat.
It was a job in professional wrestling that included everything I love about the sport – the athleticism, the competition, the mental chess game between opponents – and left behind everything I hate about it.
The politics. The backstabbing. The office. The jealousy.
Literally everything but what happens in the ring.
Never thought I’d be taking this step, not in a million years. But sometimes you can’t see the future, even with a crystal ball.
Rosie adjusts herself next to me. Bless ‘er, she insisted on the window seat despite the fact that we’ve flown an average of six times a year, at least, for the past four years, and then promptly fell asleep. I’ve done a pretty good job, I think, of keeping my reservations out of our relationship. She loves the sport, she loves being backstage and making friends with literally everyone that’ll make eye contact with her. I know how much she’s missed the excitement, and I honestly can’t blame her.
After all, she had an apron’s-eye view of the ring, almost never stepping in herself. It’s probably better that way, she’s the only person I know who could be given a World Championship match tomorrow, and instead of trying to figure out how to beat her opponent, would try and ‘settle their differences’ with a cup of tea and a scone instead of a match.
And I love her to death for it.
It’s because of her that we’re even on this plane, and despite the fact that she claimed she knew I’d agree to it all along, she didn’t see this coming.
Of course I surprised her. I surprised myself.
Let’s see if we can’t keep that going. Good morning, PRIME. My name is Randall Knox.
You’ll come to know me better as Impulse.
Three Weeks Ago…
Bourbon, I said. Doubleshot, neat.
Rose leaned her elbows on the bar across from me, a smirk filled with equal parts amusement and concern on her face. “That kinda day with the childrens, hmmm?”
She leaned in and I gave her a quick kiss on the lips – it’s the little things that keep the sense of normalcy in this ridiculous life we live. Nah, I assured her – the kids were good. Just twinged my back a little bit in the ring today. Ain’t no problem.
It was true, too. I’ve gotten used to the fact that I’m getting older and there are certain things I can’t do in the ring anymore that I used to. Strictly speaking, working as a trainer in a wrestling school should be pretty low impact and low risk, and for the most part it is.
But, of course… full contact is full contact.
Quick as a shot, Rosie drops off my drink and moves to the other end of the bar, taking care of another group of customers. It’s not too busy tonight – I’ve seen her handle crowds three people deep, end to end, barely breaking a sweat.
This is a woman who needs to face the public. She totally lights up a room when she’s got their attention.
“Hey, Randall – how are things in the sweat mines?”
I turned around to face the restaurant manager, Sarah. First time I met her I was coming right from the BRAZEN gym and she made some kinda comment about working in the salt mines. Once she found out that I was an athlete, she pivoted pretty quick to ‘sweat mines.’
She’s good at her job, and she was a big reason why Rosie got this gig when we relocated to New Orleans for mine. Strictly speaking, Rosie probably has more experience, and Sarah listens to her – but there’s somehow no professional jealousy. It’s rare, and it’s such a load off my mind.
Always interesting, I said. Sometimes funny, sometimes painful – always interesting. Glad to have a few days off now, I can tell ya.
“Yeah, I heard,” she said. “Hope you guys have a good time out in Vegas, but I gotta tell you, I really hope things don’t work out.”
I raised an eyebrow, and Sarah gestured towards Rosie. “I’d really hate to lose her, you know?”
“So,” said Rosie, returning to our side of the bar. “Those guys over there?”
She pointed towards the group that she just served.
“They wanted my phone number, and they tipped… WAY… too much. And they want to beat up my boyfriend to prove their alpha male status.”
She’s played this game before.
“And…” continues Rose. “I found a creative way to pay Jimmy the valet back for denting my scooter.”
She clicked her tongue and gave me the finger guns, and all three of us laughed.
Fun, I said. But you’d better be ready, he’s gonna have plenty of time to plan his revenge.
I stopped to sip my drink.
While we’re in Las Vegas, I mean.
Rosie smiled again, but it was a little bit forced.
“Sweetie!” she said. “We got a letter from Mom the other day!”
“Mister Knox! Mister Knox!”
Wow. Not three steps inside the MGM and we’re recognized. Rose pokes me in the ribs with her elbow at the sound. “Big shot still got it!” she says.
I’m carrying a suitcase in my hand and wearing an overnight bag over my shoulder, and Rosie’s wearing her backpack. Fascinating, sure. But it goes to illustrate the fact that we literally just got here. The door hasn’t closed behind us yet and it seems like there’s already a fire to put out.
Every fiber of my brain tells me to just turn around and leave, since this is going to be a disaster. Fortunately, I’m already a goner.
That’s me, I said to the man in the disheveled suit and flop sweat as he stands just close enough that it’s uncomfortable, but far enough away that it would be awkward to say so. But Randall is fine. Or Knox. Mister Knox doesn’t really fit.
And I gestured to Cally. And this is Rosalyn Callasantos, my better half, I said.
“Cally, please,” says Rosie as she shakes his hand. “Or Rose.”
Whole lotta Rosie, I said, thus continuing our eternal joke.
“Nice to meet you both,” he continues, “Tom Steps, assistant MGM liaison to PRIME Wrestling. Come with me, please.”
Before Rose or I can do anything else, Melvin walks behind us and starts to guide us with a hand on our backs. Okay, so we’re doing this.
“I gotta tell you, when I got confirmation of your flight and arrival times, I nearly passed out. I’ve been stressed out beyond stressed out getting this press conference put together, and the media has been waiting since this morning to talk to members of the PRIME roster directly about how they feel about the company’s return to activity, and me and my staff can only answer so much about that.”
“Well, obviously,” said Rose. “You’re not a wrestler, are ya, hun?”
“You might have a shot with a little training, though,” she continued. “How do you look in spandex, anyways? I know they say it’s a privilege, not a right – but I believe in freedom and America, ya know?”
Wait, I said. Why are we the–
“Never been an athlete,” he continued. “I was an all star in my Tee Ball league in elementary school, but that’s about it.”
“That’s something,” said Rose. “Never give up on your dreams!”
“Maybe no spandex, though.”
“I mean, no judgement. It might be a right, but it also keeps no secrets.”
Why are we-
“And let’s face it, Mister Steppenwolf,” continued Rose, “Some thing shouldn’t be out in the open.”
Yeah. No. Even I had to stop my very logical question to try and untangle Rosie’s tangent.
“Unless you’ve got the tush for it. But only your tush guy knows for sure.”
Mr. Steps, I said.
Tom. Where’s the rest of the roster, I asked. What’s the emergency?
He stopped pushing us along and took a deep breath. “I screwed up,” he said. “We planned out two days of hype, a media buyout, a rolling press junket, a huge spotlight on Seymour Almasy, the returning legends, the tournament bounties… and we put a preliminary itinerary in with everyone’s contracts instead of the finalized, and the wrong times were noted.”
I gave Rosie the side-eye, and all she could do was shrug.
“Don’t stress about it,” he continued, “A huge chunk of the athletic talent will be here later this afternoon, and everyone is confirmed by tomorrow. But we were S-O-L with this initial press conference until I heard you’d shown up.”
And with that, this man in the disheveled suit and flop sweat grabbed both Rose and myself and hugged us, just a little too tight, around the necks.
He smells like unsalted fritos.
“You two might’ve saved my job.”
I side – eyed Rose again. How’d we do that, anyways, I asked. We got the same envelope I assume everyone else did, what’s the haps, Rosie?
“…I… kinda… accidentally spilled a bowl of cereal on the timetable,” explained Rose. “I couldn’t read it so I called Mom for the tea and she told me when she needed us.”
Smart girl. Girls. Women.
I’ll say this for PRIME. Maybe it’ll work. Maybe it won’t. Maybe I’ll be here for the duration, maybe I’ll be out the door after this match with Darin Zion. But they absolutely could not have a more competent and together person at the top of the food chain than Lindsay Troy.
“God Bless that bowl of cereal,” said Tom, a heck of a lot more seriously than he really needed to. “So, it’s right through that door. I can take your bags up to your room.”
Fine by me. I dropped them at his feet, and he reached for Rosie’s backpack, but she was on top of it.
“I’ll keep this, thanks,” she said.
“It’s really no trouble,” insisted Tom.
“It’s my inhaler, my meds, and spare underwear,” explained Rose, at which Tom immediately let go.
“You never know.”
He stared at her for a second. I’ve seen that stare before, it never gets old. But he snapped out of it pretty fast, and pointed towards a door at the far end of a path.
“Right through there,” he said. “Make a left and through the next door. Security has headshots so you don’t need any kind of laminate today. And thanks again.”
We watched him disappear into the sea of people with our bags, hopefully towards our rooms. I looked at Rose and took her hands, and she squeezed mine back.
“Well?” she asked.
He seems nice, I said.
“Can we keep him?”
I’m sure he already has a family.
“Should’ve given him a truffle.”
Babes, I said. You’re gonna get arrested for possession.
“Superheroes don’t waste their time with the fuzz, RK.”
I kept hold of her hand as we followed Tom’s directions. Through the door, left down the hallway. Another door, and here we are. Security didn’t say a word, but they did step aside as we walked into a sea of flashbulbs.
“Impulse! How’s it feel to be back?”
“Why here? Why now?”
“Do you plan to stay long term?”
Standard procedure – ignore everyone until you sit down at the microphones. Rosie did stop and smile for the cameras, though. Even poked her index finger into her cheek for faux-dimples.
I love that clown.
So it’s good to see you, I said, as the rabble calmed to a dull roar. We’re glad to be here, and we’re looking forward to doing whatever Ms. Troy and the rest of the PRIME booking office needs from us.
“Do you think your long hiatus puts you at a disadvantage?”
Maybe, I said. I’m in the gym or in a wrestling ring six days a week working with newcomers and neophytes, so it’s not like I’m coming in off the street cold. But that being said, a friendly workout and a competitive match are two different animals. I figure, it’ll be there or it won’t, and if it’s not there, at least I’ll know pretty quickly.
“Have you wrestled here at the MGM before?”
Sure, I said. A few times. It’s always interesting wrestling in Vegas to begin with because there’s so much great entertainment here and you need to be able to bring something different to really draw a crowd and build a following. With this being the only place to see PRIME Wrestling live? I think we’ve got something here.
“Did you know Seymour Almasy? Anything you want to say about him before the tournament begins?”
Only in passing. Anything I could say about him would be empty sentiment simply because I didn’t get the opportunity to know him beyond a handful of dates on the same bill over the years. I won’t insult you or him with that kind of gesture, I’ll leave that to people who knew him well, other than to say I hope I can do his memory proud with my efforts.
“What about your opponent in the first round, Darin Zion? Any thoughts or strategy you want to share as you prepare to step back into the ring?”
Again, I shrugged. I don’t think I’ve ever even worked for the same company as Mr. Zion, let alone shared a ring with him before. I’m familiar with his reputation, and I’ve watched as much tape as I could get my hands on, but on the day? May the better athlete win.
I cut off a followup question before they could finish pronouncing the first syllable.
And let me clarify, I said, holding up a hand. I’m nowhere near arrogant enough to say, think, or assume that that’ll be me. At least not before I lock up with the man.
The manners caught my notice. Yes?
“Why here? Why now? You’ve been a ghost in the world of professional wrestling for nearly five years, what about PRIME Wrestling called to you?
I smiled, and I looked over at Rosie.
Funny story, that…
Three weeks ago…
‘Dear Pulse and Cally… PRIME Wrestling… Almasy Invitational…’
I looked up from the letter in my hands. We got this three days ago, I asked.
“Technically,” said Rosie. “But I knew I needed to break it to you gently.”
Break what to me, I asked her, sincerely. Lindsay Troy is a friend, and if she’s asking us to come outta retirement to compete for her new PRIME revival, that’s good enough for me to at least consider it.
She shook her head as she tossed her sweaty T-shirt into the corner where the laundry basket should be, and walked into the bathroom. “Don’t tell me no fish tales, RK,” she said. “You’re saying that now because you’ve had a little time to get used to the idea.”
Rosie reemerged and took a bite of her truffle edible. She’d put on a new shirt but lost her pants. “Admit it, you get that letter before I can disappear it, you read it, you knee-jerk react to saying no. And now that you’re thinking about it, you don’t wanna do that.”
…Wouldn’t have knee jerk said no…
“Hah!” said Cally. “Pish tosh to that, good sir. You’d’ve been all, ‘Screw wrestling, screw the office, screw the politics, screw the backstabbing. And you’d be right about all that, but you’d forget all about the straw that stirs the drink.”
You think I’ma interrupt her when she’s on a roll? Hell no.
“You love the fans, man. So do I. Member, they’re the only part of this ish that you actually really always enjoyed.”
Rosie’s right, of course. Everything that happens, bell to bell, is exactly where I always wanted to be. The only reason I ever stepped away was when the rest of the job made the vibe in the crowd not worth the time. But no matter how much I ever hated the Hellfire Club’s faces, the fans always lit up every arena.
Suppose you’re right, I conceded. Let’s say that’s enough to get me to call up Lindsay tomorrow. Who’s to say it won’t turn out the same? Remember that one tournament?
Sidebar. Find yourself a partner who always understands your vague references.
Best of intentions, I continued. Turned out the exact same way. Who’s to say this’ll be any different?
She shrugged. “Who’s to say it won’t be? Mom don’t suffer fools, babe.”
Point conceded. Let me see that paperwork again, I asked. She handed it over and I looked at the list of athletes that PRIME was hoping to sign, as well as their plans for their comeback.
Almasy Invitational, huh?
“You do well at invitationals, RK. Seems like fate.”
I laughed. This is a tournament, Rosie, I reminded her, not the JTP Invitational Battle Royal.
Which, I also reminded her, I didn’t win.
She shrugged again. “So we’ll go home early. And at least you won’t be all Watcheresque asking ‘What If?’”
I just kept on looking over the paperwork that Lindsay Troy sent us, along with her handwritten, personalized letter. Gotta say, that was a nice touch, and it speaks to her character. I hadn’t forgotten the highs of me and Rosie’s first year in DEFIANCE Wrestling, and it looks like she hadn’t, either.
It’s the little things that mean the most. LT knows that. I know that.
Rosie clearly knows that by the little dance she just did walking back into the bathroom. She knows I’m on the hook.
I am, too.
I don’t want to fall in love with this sport again, but let’s face it: I’m already at the MGM. The idea of being in front of a crowd once again, to see if I can still get it done in the ring?
Always fought for honor, it seems like that’s what a ‘yes’ is gonna do. At least one more time.
Rosie, I called out.
Let’s do it.
“Already told Mom you’ll call her.”
End of the day, there’s a thousand reasons not to go back to professional wrestling.
Because when it comes to the ring. The competition. The fans.
I can’t turn my back on what they can be at their best. And I can’t stay here in the bullpen when I could be out there doing my best to make this sport a better place.
Because when you get right down to it, we all have a responsibility to tomorrow.
“But baby, I’m a goner,” sang Rose from the bathroom. “A sucker. Stuck here. Helplessly falling for love.”
Works for me.