King of Kings 2
Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio
December 17, 2006
Nova stands in the center of the ring, chest heaving, his eyes staring down at his own reflection in the Universal Title that he grips in his gloved hands.
The Risen Star looks up at the entrance ramp, where Tchu limps away from the ring towards the back. Moving past him are Angelo Deville, “The Renegade” Rich Rollins, and Jason Snow, who make their way down to the ring. Rollins and Snow slide under the bottom rope into the ring, and Deville takes his time walking up each step of the steel staircase. They surround Nova, hoisting him onto their shoulders. Nova closes his eyes, and a smile spreads over his face.
It’s a bit hollow.
He is broken.
He is damaged.
But also, tonight, he is at the peak of his powers.
Tonight, he stares out at the world from the mountaintop.
MGM Grand Area, Las Vegas, Nevada
March 18, 2022
A side exit door of the MGM Grand Arena bursts open and Nova stomps out into the parking garage, clad in sweats and carrying his bag. Behind him, Benj races to keep pace, Dickie Parker keeps some distance, and David Foster tries to catch the exit door. Benj opens his mouth and Nova holds out a hand. They keep walking.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Nova mutters to himself as a figure jogs up from out of the darkness waving a cell phone in front of him. It’s some asshole from Wrestling Twitter, and he introduces himself as such.
“Another huge disappointment tonight!” the asshole begins. “How are you feeling, coming back after all this time as a legend, Hall of Famer, one-seed in the Almasy Invitational, now bounced out of TWO title chases?”
Dickie steps out in front. “We’re not doing inter-” he starts, but Nova waves him off with his arm and gestures to the asshole.
“Look, man, I’m tired,” he says, “I was in the arena, got told before my match that I need to go meet with my probation officer.” Nova shakes his head. “Yeah, my probation officer. So I lost, and that’s what I get to do. So I’m gonna go do that, and everything else can wait till tomorrow.”
Nova takes a step to his left and the asshole steps with him, shoving his cell phone towards Nova’s face, the red recording light glaring.
“Everything else?!” the asshole laughs, “what else is there?! You’re out of the hunt for the Universal Title, you just blew your shot at 5-Star…bro, I think your options are getting pretty limited!”
Nova takes a deep breath. “Look,” he says slowly through gritted teeth, “I just need to go meet…”
“The only thing you’ve inflicted any violence on since returning is your legacy!” the asshole shouts. “It’s painful to watch, man! For all of us! Like if you hadn’t even done this, we’d all remember the 5-Star matches, Facey, Fuck You, the Uni run, fuck, the CABINET~! even.”
Nova shifts left again and the asshole steps around in front of him. “Now we’re gonna remember you shuffling to break up Rezin’s pin like an old man who can’t make it to the bathroom in time.”
Nova throws his arms up. “LOOK I JUST NEED TO GO MEET-”
The asshole stumbles backwards, falling onto the concrete lot floor. His cell phone clatters a few feet away from him and he scrambles for it, turning the selfie onto himself breathlessly. “You all just saw it, I was just attacked by Nova, disgraced felon and former PRIME superstar, this is live…”
Benj steps forward. “What the fuck…”
“Whoa, bro,” Nova says, stepping towards the asshole, arms held up at first and then out as if to help him up, “I didn’t touch you, man. Do you need…?”
The asshole scrambles on knees and elbows away from Nova, waving the cell phone camera in front of him. “STAY AWAY FROM ME! I’M CALLING THE POLICE!”
“Wait, what?” Nova stammers, “I didn’t touch you.” He looks back at his crew. They’re frozen in place, jaws hanging open. “Hey, man, don’t do that, for real…”
“911, what is your emergency?”
“Police? Police?!” the asshole bleats, “I need to report an assault, I have it all on video, I’m in the parking garage of the MGM Grand Arena…”
“Seriously,” Nova pleads, his voice growing quiet in his own head as it’s drowned out by the sound of blood rushing through his temples. His eyes dart down to his ankle bracelet, cheerfully blinking green. “Seriously, you don’t understand how this could jam me up…”
Time slows as Nova watches the asshole scramble away, climbing to his feet and shouting at his cell phone, his face illuminated by the screen. No time, and also an eternity, passes before blue lights illuminate the parking garage corridor and a police cruiser approaches their position. Nova takes a deep breath.
“Hands where we can see ‘em!”
Nova places one hand at a hand time behind his head, elbows pointed out. He closes his eyes.
March 19, 2022 (Barely)
Las Vegas, Nevada
At that very moment in time and space, I didn’t care. I loved everyone and everything. I loved Hayes and his brother and the pills they gave me. I loved the chair I was sitting in…oh god how I loved that chair! Sitting in it just made me feel so goddamn alive! I’d never sat in quite a chair. It’s like it was built just for me, and no matter how I contorted my body to sit in the chair, it cradled me like a babe. It fit me perfectly from every angle like I was wearing the chair, like it was just another layer of bathrobe. I loved Hayes, man, and I was so happy for him. I knew he was a good kid–a hard-working kid–and he deserved everything he had coming to him. Sure, I might have lost, and the future was unclear for me, and maybe there was no future. Maybe it was all past from here on out, but that’d be ok. The past was great. I loved the past. And I fucking loved this chair, but boy, was I ever thirsty. I had drool and drink in my beard and that felt fine, but I could barely swallow, so I poured some more drink in my mouth, some beautiful blue drink, and it just sloshed around in there and then spilled out the sides of my mouth and more of it ran down my beard. Across the room, there was some commotion (I loved commotion), and I could hear yelling, and I could smell vomit, and I thought about how the human body was just fantastic. What an intricately beautiful machine that’s full of bones that stabilize and muscles that bend and flex to allow a wide range of movements and holes and fluids and electricity. What a grand design! I thought of Muriel’s body. I loved Muriel. I grew tumescent thinking of her, and I imagined dipping my spoon into a pudding cup, scraping the goop around the edges to try and form a full bite. I needed to get back to my room, to my lighter, to take care of the situation. I could’ve taken care of it right then and there, but even then, I had some semblance of respect for social etiquette. With all the drugs I’ve done and all the stuff I’ve done on them, there still remained that final frontier of inhibition, and I had too much experience being out of my mind to be too out of my mind to unburden myself in public. I was no sex fiend! “Byebye, Hayes. Good job.” I slinked off the chair, and the folks around, some of them looked familiar, maybe, but when I thought of what people looked like, it wasn’t any of them there. Walking proved difficult, too difficult to worry myself with navigation. I flickered flamelike for air. There were plants, but I was indoors. Behind some doors there were other doors. There were different kinds of doors, and I had to figure out the order to go through them. Regular door. Sliding door. Revolving door. I repeated the mantra. It eventually got me outside. “Taxi!” It was one of those shining taxis. “Taxi!” I screamed, waving my arms. It was a night taxi, and I loved the night. I felt like America, the idea of America, and got in the cab. I flashed red and white and blue as I boarded. “MGM Grand,” I told the drivers.
Las Vegas Detention Center, Las Vegas, Nevada
Wee hours of March 19, 2022
“Listen, you’ve been straight up with me, I appreciate it, I’m comping you a room in our quietest drunk tank, on the house.”
The guard unlocks the gated door and swings it open, gesturing Nova to step through into a large open cell with benches along the walls. Nova steps inside, his hands cuffed in front of him, and looks around. The cell is largely empty save for one other occupant slumped forward on one of the benches, wild mop of dark hair hung over his face.
“So this fuckin’ guy,” the guard says, jerking a thumb towards Nova’s cellmate, “he climbed into a cop car on his own, and when they tried to get him out, he REFUSED! Kept saying the whole time how much he loved everyone. They tried coaxing him out but after a while they didn’t really have a choice, had to bring him down to the station to dry out. He seems to be coming down now, though…”
Nova takes a seat on one of the adjacent benches and leans back against the bars, closing his eyes and breathing deeply as the guard locks the cell door. “Home, sweet home,” he whispers to himself.
The figure on the other bench coughs loudly, blowing scraggly strands of hair out of his face, then spits on the floor. Nova stares at him, his eyes narrowing and then widening again.
March 16, 2009
Jason Snow reaches for the top turnbuckle and looks backwards to see GBJ down on the mat. He steadies himself and looks back again.
GBJ isn’t on the mat. He’s RIGHT THERE.
“Johnny, with fist after fist! He’s not going down!”
“Snow is fighting!”
“Fisherman’s DDT from the top rope!”
The noise is deafening as GBJ lands the Trash Compactor.
GBJ’s arm drapes across Snow’s chest and the crowd chants with the referee.
Eliminated: Jason Snow
“GARBAGE BAG JOHNNY HAS WON THE DUAL HALO! The first ever non-PRIME member has won the Halo! He has the Golden Ticket! He has a shot at the Universa–”
Steven Caldera puts down his glass.
I’d had about enough of that, so I clicked the power button on the remote and the screen went dark. Across my desk, the idiot was still staring at the blank screen while flashing a toothy grin. I hoped the remote would work on that, too, but alas. I had to snap at him like a dog to get his attention.
“I don’t know what you’re smiling about. That fucked us. That fucked you, and you don’t even know it, but more importantly, that fucked us.”
The smile painfully faded from his face. That’s why I wish I had a remote where I could just fast forward past people dealing with emotions. It’d be so much easier to be able to turn people off and on at will, the whole of humanity.
“I mean, yeah. You looked good out there, but you fucked us.”
“But Mr. Caldera, sir, I got this ticket. I can cash it in for, like, whatever you want.”
Despite his naivete, there were plenty of limitations. There were things they couldn’t do and things they wouldn’t do. I couldn’t have Johnny order them to assassinate the new commie they put in the White House. That wouldn’t be legal, and as soon as you bring law into things, the kind of lawyers that they hire could pretty much quash any idea. They’d never agree, for example, to have their stars wrestle all nude from the neck down, like the Greeks used to.
“I can have them sell PRIME to you for a dollar, or I can-” I had to cut him off there.
“Don’t use it.”
I saw it in him there, briefly, but long enough to know that those three words punched him right in the gut. I paused to see if he’d protest, but he held it in. Part of me hoped he would have, but Johnny, as tough a beating he’d take for a buck or two, didn’t have much spine for the things that mattered to just about everyone else in the industry.
“Look, you just flew halfway around the world, and it’s frankly fucking insane to think that you can sustain two completely different travel schedules. You’ll burn yourself out, and then they won’t want you. Of course, you could always just go over there full time, and who would blame you with the shot at the strap and a Golden Ticket, but it’s a big pond out there, and you’re not the type of fish they’re usually interested in catching.”
“How do you mean?”
They wouldn’t let you use the Golden Ticket to wish for more Golden Tickets. That’s just standard genie boilerplate.
“You’re the soup of the day over there. You’re three bean stew, and tomorrow’s lobster bisque or vichyssoise or whatever the common folk are eating these days. Here, you’re already a name, and if you keep playing your cards right, I can make you even more than that. You won’t even have to wrestle.”
“I’m not sure I’m qualified to do much else, sir.”
“Don’t use the ticket, Johnny. Just hold onto it. Hold it until everyone starts to forget you have it and nobody cares about it anymore. Go ahead and take your title shot, but just listen to me and don’t use that ticket. That’ll show them what happens when they try to steal my fucking talent!”
Truth be told, I had no idea what I had in store for Johnny. I knew he wouldn’t get a straight up shot at the belt, and even if he did, I couldn’t imagine him winning it. There were always conditions, even if he couldn’t see them. Maybe I didn’t have anything better for him, but as long as he listened to me, he was useful. And as long as he was useful, I’d find something for him to do.
Las Vegas Detention Center, Las Vegas, Nevada
Wee hours of March 19, 2022
Garbage Bag Johnny shivers, bending over as he mutters to himself. Nova shuffles over from his bench and takes a seat next to GBJ, leaning his ear in.
“Golden Ticket,” GBJ whispers, “I could use it to get us out of here if they hadn’t taken it.”
Nova turns his head to his friend as GBJ shudders before calmly laying his head against Nova’s shoulder, still rambling to himself. “I won, though…fair and square. I did it. I made it. I won it, and I never used it.”
“Yeah,” Nova whispers, “yeah, you made it. We made it.” A broad grin spreads over his face and he nods his head before leaning it back against the concrete wall.
“We fucking made it, buddy. And I think I have an idea.”
DPS Parole and Probation Southern Supervision Office – Bonanza (Las Vegas)
215 E. Bonanza, Las Vegas, Nevada
March 19, 2022, early morning
Nova waits in the lobby next to the metal detector, hands clasped together.
He looks up at a young man – younger than he is, anyway – clad in a grey polo shirt, styled with a neat blonde crew-cut, state badge dangling off the waistband of his black slacks. The man grins.
“I could just call you ‘Nova,’ there’s been a bit of an internal debate about whether that’s professional or not,” the man explains with a shrug, extending his hand. “I’m P.O. Gardner, they’ve assigned you to me.”
Nova warily shakes it for lack of a less non-compliant option. “Yeah, ‘Nova’ fits better at this point than anything else.”
They head back past a series of cubicles in the central workroom to an office with its own door. Gardner closes it behind Nova after he enters. Nova looks around – he sees a photo of Gardner with a hand on a woman’s shoulder, two blonde children in front of them with calm smiles on their faces.
“Have a seat,” Gardner says, gesturing to a chair in front of his desk.
Nova takes a seat, his eyes briefly wandering to the blinking green light on his bracelet before meeting the gaze of his new P.O. “Listen, man, I’m sure you wanna talk about whatever that guy said I did, but I’m telling you-”
Gardner waves him off. “We’re not worried about that.”
Nova’s chin drops. “Huh? Really?”
“We reviewed the videos from the garage, we know that guy was full of shit,” Gardner says, leaning back for a moment in his chair.
Nova finds himself leaning back as well, running a hand over his scalp. “I…I…um…”
Gardner leans forward. “We’re not sanctioning you for that. We’re not sanctioning you at all. But you do need to be involved if PRIME is the vehicle by which we are going to supervise your release, so if it isn’t the Almasy Invitational, and it isn’t the 5-Star Scramble…”
“I want to do Survivor with Garbage Bag Johnny,” Nova blurts out.
Gardner pauses briefly before clapping his hands together. “Wow! That’s a great idea!”
Nova grins. “You think so?!”
Gardner’s smile immediately fades. “Just kidding, I don’t give a fuck, we already signed you up to do it with that homeless loser and your new curfew address is the 28th floor of the MGM Grand, so pack up your shit and your blinking dot better be showing up there before I sign off at 4:30.”
Nova nods slowly before pushing himself out of his chair and moving towards the door. Before he reaches it, he pauses and turns back.
“When I was getting ready for my match at ReVival 5, someone came into the dressing room and told me I needed to see my P.O. after my match,” he remembers, his gaze trained on Gardner. “Why?”
Gardner stands up, leaning towards Nova as he rests his hands on his desk. Nova’s eyes briefly dart towards the photograph he noticed earlier. The figures are distorted now, blackened shriveled ghouls clutching at one another as their heads roll freely, seemingly disconnected from their spines, their bright white eyes shining intensely.
Nova looks back to Gardner in a panic, and his mouth hangs open as he stares in horror at the gaping raw fleshy sockets where Gardner’s eyes were moments before. Blood bubbles into them and begins gushing down Gardner’s cheeks and onto his desk, splashing over the papers he had assembled there.
Nova stumbles backwards, tumbling over a chair and across the cheaply-carpeted floor. He blinks and stares up as Gardner stands over him, extending a hand.
“Hey, you good?” he asks. “You get back to the MGM Grand, we can talk about your treatment program later. The Department is contracting with a really innovative provider and we think we’re gonna be able to do some really good work.”
Gardner hoists Nova up. “And you get to be part of that.” He claps Nova on the shoulder. “Get some sleep.”
Nova feels a cold chill up his spine and across his shoulders as he offers a nod and quickly makes for the exit.
MGM Grand Las Vegas
Later That Day
“28-808, 28-810, 28-812!” Nova reaches into his pocket for his keycard. “I think this is us.”
GBJ gives him a serious look. “Hey, uh, so before we go in, I should just say that I’m dating someone, and I’d like to institute a sock on the door handle policy so you know if I’m in there dunking noodle.”
Nova does his best to hide a look of slight unease, but Johnny doesn’t notice either way. “It goes both ways, too, I know the ladies go wild for bald guys with long side hair.”
Nova cringes. “How about we just cross that bridge if we get to it?”
GBJ shrugs. “Oh, and one more thing. If they got bunk beds, I call dibs on top.”
Nova just shakes his head and unlocks the door. What lies on the other side could be redemption or it could be disaster. However, there certainly are no bunk beds.