I could do it.
Heavy metal door held ajar just slightly. Duffel bag resting on the hallway floor. Lips curled in behind the mustache.
I could smash this gimpy right hand in this door. It would save me a lot of trouble.
Dull stare, blurring everything in the peripheral. Aching right hand uncurling. Straightening. Stiffening.
It could give me some excuses.
Knife-edge hand slipping between door and frame.
An excuse for losing to Scott.
Door swinging out. Rearing back.
To avoid a mauling from a Russian bear.
Ready to strike.
To get put on the shelf for a while. Start over. Start fresh.
Ready to cripple.
Hand dropping. Loosely retrieving the duffel bag.
The Xanax is kicking in.
Feet dragging into the suite, heavy metal door shutting behind.
And I’m about to melt.
Pacific Northwest Wrestling found themselves at Silverton High School more often than not. Their gymnasium was big enough that they could fit a cheap ring and a few dozen folding chairs, but not so nice that the old basketball court couldn’t stand a few more scratches in the wood.
The Silverton Foxes’ locker room, similarly, was big enough to fit ten or twelve amateur wrestlers, but not big enough to escape the stench of sweat and body odor. Nothing those orange lockers couldn’t handle.
“Big Timber” Luke Knapp should have been a household name. A bear of a man, six and a half feet tall and built like a barrel, Luke had gained popularity on the indy circuit for his stiff, old school approach to wrestling. Oddly enough, lung-crushing bear hugs and rigid clotheslines were the main attraction among a sea of sunset flips and enziguris.
Tragically, his stature and build came with a price. Once the legs started buckling he knew his time in the ring was short, so instead of grasping for straws with knee replacements he couldn’t afford, the Bulldozer from Black Rock left his size fifteen steel-toed boots in the ring, having never made it to the big stage.
Instead, he launched PNW.
In exchange for giving the gym a deep clean every other week, Knapp was provided access to run his meager promotion, once a month if he was lucky, and luckier still if he could throw forty bucks at his rag-tag collection of talent. Ten bucks at the door was about all he could get away with, and thirty or forty pimple-faced teenagers was about all he could expect for an audience on a good night. He never took a cut.
And he loved every second of it.
“Hanlon?” the lumberjack bellowed, clomping into the locker room. “Hayes Hanlon? C’mon over.”
A young man across the room sat upright. Strong and lean, just a touch lanky at this stage. A few more years with a barbell would fill him out. A patchy stubble-beard shadowed his jaw and upper lip. Wide-eyed, Hayes pointed a finger toward his chest.
“Me?” he mouthed.
“Naw, the other one,” Knapp grumbled sarcastically, waving him over. Hanlon leapt from his wooden bench to meet him.
“First night with us, that right?” asked Luke, glancing over the paper in his hand and the chicken scratch he passed for notes.
“Yes sir,” Hayes confirmed, extending a hand. “Hayes Hanlon. Thanks for having me, Big Timber.”
The large man smiled behind a wiry red beard. “‘Luke’ is fine,” he corrected, his paw all but engulfing his new talent’s. “Glad to have ya. Ready to put on a show?”
“I’ll do my best,” Hayes replied, excited. “I really appreciate the opportunity.”
“That’s good, that’s real good! Alright, listen here; you’ve got the second match, but before that we’ve got Jetstream cuttin’ a promo in the ring.”
Knapp pointed over to “Jetstream” Jack Mason, a slight, but undeniably athletic cruiserweight and consistent main eventer for the promotion. Hayes glanced at the PNW’s star, blonde locks pushed back, ears covered with round headphones, eyes closed and head bobbing to his music.
“He’s gonna spend some extra time on the mic, we wanna build some good heat for his main event match against Maelstrom,” Knapp continued. “Once he’s done I’m gonna need ya to be ready to hustle out there, we won’t have time to give you a proper entrance, so I need ya to be ready in the ring for when ‘Seasick’ Steve walks out. I already talked to him, and he’s good to put you over tonight. How’s that sound?”
Hayes turned back to the booker. A big breath through the nose filled his chest, and he replied with a few quick nods.
“I won’t let you down.”
Luke smiled, clapping Hayes on the shoulder. “Good kid. Now go catch up with Steve. Put on a good show, but don’t get carried away. About five minutes, nothin’ fancy.”
Hanlon ran both hands through a mop of dark hair before clapping them together, pivoting to find ‘Seasick’ Steve.
“Hey, Hanlon,” Luke called before he could get too far. Hayes stopped in his tracks.
“You got a name? For the ring?”
“Uh, yeah. I think. My dad runs a construction company. I was thinking ‘Hammerin’ Hanlon.'”
Knapp tilted his head back and forth, mulling it over.
“Let’s work on that.”
After ReVival 15.
I hate waking up after I chew on a few bars.
Hayes always kept his bedroom as dark as possible. He rarely opened the shades, door always shut. He went so far as to put a piece of tape over the little red light on his flatscreen when it was off. He’d toss a t-shirt over his phone for the same reason. No light. At all.
Still, the sun would manage to fight its way in every morning, and a pillow over the eyes would be the next step.
Xanax hangovers are the worst.
His arms flopped out to the side, full starfish on the mattress, pillow balancing on his face and against the headboard.
I always wake up around three in the morning, and then I’m lucky to get another forty-five minutes of sleep. I feel the headache in my eyeballs. Heartbeat is all over the place. My guts feel rotten and the body fatigue is crippling.
His nose was exposed, box-breathing with long breaths in, exaggerated breaths out.
And then, the thoughts.
The hangxiety. The Sunday Scaries. Everything from the night before creeps back in. All the reasons you took the shit in the first place.
There was plenty from last night ready to creep in.
He rolled over onto his stomach, shifting the pillow to cover the back of his head, one arm dangling over the edge and his face warped against the sheets.
I let Scott beat me. I let that fucking cartoon character beat me. Is that all it takes to bring you down? A shot to the nuts and a tug of the tights?
What a fucking joke.
He shifted again, turning onto his side and bending his knees, trying to find a sleeping position to provide some measure of relief.
Knox ruined everything.
I watched Youngblood fight for the finish at the Almasy. Then I watched him crush Randall’s head into the mat at Great American Nightmare a few days after the fact. That shit made me want to get “PRIME” tattooed on my forehead.
And I wanted MY turn.
REAL bad. To plant my flag in the middle of the ring at UltraViolence. On top of his body. In front of everyone. In MESSIAH’s face, after they fucked Nova out of a win against the Marathon Man. In front of Cancer, to show him that I’m still the goddamn eGG Beater.
Show them both that they don’t deserve their title shot.
Show The Risen Star and The Tower of Babel that I belong at the top. With them.
But nope. After two and half months of swinging dicks, I don’t get to flatten Randall Knox. Instead I’m getting fed to a sixty year old Russian bear that looks like he can bench press my car.
One last turn to his back, draping a forearm across his eyelids.
Knox ruined everything.
A buzz from his cell phone, the light of the screen pushing through a t-shirt.
Fuck Knox. Fuck Scott.
And FUCK this PHONE!
He swung a hand to his nightstand, fumbling to remove the t-shirt and clumsily yanking his device from its charging cord. The phone’s blinding light pinched his eyes shut until one forced its way into a squint, adjusting to read the intrusion.
Hayes swiped to answer, then turned the call to speaker phone, resting the device on his chest and falling back into his pillow.
“Leave me alone, I’m dying.”
“So dramatic,” came Paul’s voice on the other end. “Late night?”
“Nope, just self-medicated.”
A pause in the darkness.
“I watched the show. Bit of a whirlwind for you, little brother.”
Hayes offered an incredulous snort.
“Any word on what happened? With Impulse?”
“Not a fucking thing. Breach of contract. Whatever that means.”
“Sorry, bro. I know you were itching for…”
“Three months, man,” Hayes interrupted, snapping to life and sitting up in his bed, consequently pinching his temples from the blood rush. “The better part of three months I spent waving the flag over that dude, just for him to fuck it all up.”
He swung his legs to the floor, holding the phone loosely in his hand, below the chin.
“I don’t know, bro. It felt like the rug got pulled out from under me. Taking on Knox at UltraViolence was the key. Y’know?”
“The key to what, exactly?”
“Dude, I dunno, the whole fuckin’ thing!”
He stood, tossing the covers away, his aching body carrying him to the bedroom door to retrieve a white bathrobe.
“To prove that I’m not just some other guy on the roster, man! Show that I’m the fuckin’ dude! Make up for dropping the Five Star!”
“Seriously man? Are you still on that?”
Hayes frowned, wincing at the light from the suite’s living room once he opened the door.
“What do you mean am I ‘still on that’?”
“Brother, you’re so fucking wrapped up in your losses, it’s like you don’t give a shit about your wins.”
Little Brother furrowed his brow, clumsily wrapping his robe around his body, thudding into the kitchen to start a pot of coffee.
“That’s not true.”
“The fuck it’s not,” Paul pressed. “Hayes, you’re there. Everyone knows you’re the guy. You’re next in line, bro!”
“Then why’d I lose to Scott? Huh? If I’m ‘there,’ if I’m ‘the guy,’ then why am I getting pinned by a dude who screams ‘YELL LOUDLY IF YOUR EARS WORK’”?
“And now, thanks to Randall fucking Knox, I get the privilege of get my ass handed to me by a dude that’s literally four-hundred pounds! What in the actual FUCK am I supposed to do against Ivan Stanislav?!”
Paul paused on the other end. Hayes sat heavily into a stool by his kitchenette, tying his robe at the waist.
“You should be honored for the opportunity, Hayes.”
“Oh, should I?” he replied, bitter.
“Yeah. You fucking should. Ivan Stanislav is wrestling royalty. That dude was a terror in the old PCW. And OSW. You were too young to remember, but he was the Youngblood of his time. The Nova. The Lindsay fucking Troy.”
“I know who Stanislav is,” Hayes muttered.
“If that were true, you’d be frothing at the mouth for this match! You walk into UltraViolence and take down the Russian Bear? Bro, there’s not a lot of dudes that can say that.”
“And if I lose, I’m fucked,” Hayes spat.
“No you’re NOT, Hayes!”
“AND WHAT WOULD YOU KNOW ABOUT IT?!”
Hayes rose abruptly, knocking his stool over. The outburst choked the air out of the room. Faintly, he could hear Paul seethe on the other end of the line.
“Are you fucking serious, Hayes?” he said after a long moment.
Younger Brother grit his teeth, eyes darting. There was a choice to be made: backtrack, or double down.
He chose the latter.
“I’m the one in the ring,” Hayes proclaimed. “I’m the one taking the hits, putting in the work. I’m the one with everything on the line…”
“AND I’M THE ONLY WHO’S BEEN THERE!!”
The Event Horizon winced at those biting words. He should have backtracked. Too late now.
“Mom and Dad pissed all over this dream, Hayes!! And Olivia couldn’t give a shit! So who was left? Huh? HUH?!”
No response. Hayes quietly picked up the stool, taking his seat.
“And you’re gonna tell me that I don’t know a thing about it? Me? ME?!”
His vision tunneled into the wall in front of him. The coffee maker’s drip trailed off. The noise of the Strip muffled.
“Man, fuck you, Hayes.”
“Paulie, wait. I’m sorr…”
Hayes peered into the gymnasium from an adjoining hallway, watching Jetstream trip over his own words through a microphone. It was awkward. The second-hand embarrassment was real, and the small crowd of thirty or so did little to provide Jack Mason with any momentum. Hanlon winced as the evening’s main event struggled to light them up. Nevertheless, he stood ready to take his position in-ring as soon as the promo was over.
A heavy hand on the shoulder redirected his attention.
“Locker room,” Luke Knapp said quietly. “Real quick.”
Hayes nodded and turned, following PNW’s booker through the locker room door, taking place by a wall among the rest of the talent. Big Timber glanced around the room, ensuring their conversation stayed private.
“What’s going on?” asked Hayes.
“Change of plans,” Knapp replied with frustration. “Mason’s tripping all over himself out there. He’s lost the crowd. Ain’t no way I can keep him in the main event.”
“Shit…yeah, I saw him struggling,” said Hayes, crossing his arms. “But uh, why are you telling me this?”
“Because you’re going in for him.”
Hayes blinked in response, eyes growing wide.
“Me? You want me in the main event with Maelstrom?”
“Yup. Mason’s gonna roll right into your spot against Steve, and you’re takin’ his place. But here’s the thing…”
Luke took his young talent by the shoulder.
“…I’m gonna need you to go out there and take a real good ass-whippin’.”
Hayes turned his head inward to the locker room, dark eyes locating the ball of rage known as Maelstrom; a black man barely five and a half feet tall and almost as wide, with a reputation as an absolute wrecking ball inside the ropes. So much so that the other amateurs gave him plenty of space. That, and his penchant for randomly slapping himself and the lockers around him.
Hayes pinched his eyes shut before turning back to the PNW booker.
“Can ya do that, kid?”
The young Hanlon accepted his fate with a nod.
“Atta boy,” said Luke with another clap to the shoulder, showing his appreciation. “Gonna be about fifteen minutes. You can get a couple licks in, but otherwise you’re gonna get your ass handed to ya before you take the pin.”
Knapp took his own moment to glance over at Maelstrom, who sat with his tongue sticking out, sporadically smacking his bald head. Luke grimaced at the sight, and the destiny he’d written for the newcomer.
“You’re gonna wanna talk to him about his finisher. It…ain’t pretty.”
Luke gave Hayes one last pat on the back. “And hey, I won’t forget this,” he offered before lumbering away, leaving the rookie to soak in the news.
“Yeah…” Hayes exhaled, pushing off a locker to approach his opponent.
Hayes hadn’t made the effort to call his brother. Neither had Paul. Not a word in over a week.
He figured Paul just needed some time. Cooler heads and all that. Besides, UltraViolence loomed and there were bigger things to worry about than arguments between brothers. More specifically, a seven foot Russian Bear.
Home Run Hayes entered the MGM lobby, making way to the elevators behind his gold-lensed aviators, but stopped short when he noticed a young woman waving to him behind the desk lobby.
“Mr. Hanlon!” she called. “She” being Brittany. He didn’t know her last name, but she was a regular face at the MGM Grand. A cute one, too; tall, and could pull off the short-hair style. Hayes was into that.
“What’s up, Brit?” he replied, pivoting and approaching the desk.
“I have mail for you!” she announced gleefully behind a pair of bright blue eyes, handing him an envelope.
“Mail?” he questioned. “Who gets mail anymore…”
He inspected the envelope. Addressed to him, yes, but no return address. Odd.
“Thanks, doll,” he said, holding it up to thank her. She smiled and waggled her fingers as he turned back to the elevators. It wasn’t long before he was unlocking his suite and tossing his phone to the counter. The envelope was far more interesting. He sat on his stool and peeled it open, pulling out a piece of folded, lined paper.
The handwriting, once revealed, was unmistakable.
I know you won’t return my calls, but I know you’ll read this. At least I hope.
Paul came home for a visit last week. We had a good talk. He said you’ve had a few curveballs thrown at you, and mentioned your argument. I’m not worried about you two. I know you’ll figure it out. You’ve always been inseparable.
But I am worried about YOU, and your wrestling. It seems you have quite a challenge ahead of you. And I want you to know…that I hope you face it head on.
Hayes had to take a moment. He nearly ripped the piece of paper in half. He scanned the room, looking for some kind of answer. Finding none, he drew back to the letter.
I’m sure that will come as a surprise. It surprised me, too.
You’ve always been so good at everything you’ve tackled. Baseball. Theater. Now wrestling. It’s always worked out. You’ve always put in the work. I’ve never doubted it.
And I’m sorry I couldn’t support you the way I wanted.
He couldn’t get a grip on the feeling in his chest. He wanted to crush that letter into his fist, just as much as he wanted to pick up the phone.
But, I need you to know that you have it NOW. Whatever it’s worth. Paul speaks so highly of you, of the success you’ve seen, and how hard you are on yourself. If nothing else, I need you to know that we’re rooting for you. I’M rooting for you.
You can have everything this world has to offer if you want it. And someday, I hope you’ll see yourself the way the world sees you.
I’m sorry it took me so long.
He dropped the letter, wrapping a hand around his mouth, breathing sharply through his nose.
“God damnit,” he exhaled into his palm.
The Xanax was kicking in about forty-five minutes later.
Maelstrom did his job, and so did “Hammerin’” Hanlon.
He’d escaped the ring after taking the decisive pin, the handful of spectators screaming for Maelstrom and the absolute battering he laid upon the rookie. Big Timber showed his appreciation afterwards with an extra twenty and an invitation to next month’s show. Hayes quickly accepted the offer.
The fifty minute drive home was silent, and he was careful to kill the headlights before pulling into the driveway. It was worth a little sneaking around to avoid explaining where he was. Or why he had a popped blood vessel in his eye, and a wad of tissues shoved up his nose,
He flipped on the lights to the hallway bathroom after tip-toeing up the stairs, then gingerly removed his t-shirt, revealing a few more bumps and bruises, most notably in his shoulder after a close encounter with a ring post.
Fighting the urge to swear out loud, he pulled the tissue from his nostril, painfully slow, and chucked the bloody wad in the toilet. He cleaned up the crusted blood from his nose and lip with cold water, and when satisfied, placed his hands on the edge of the sink to give himself a good look in the mirror.
His nose was tender. A black eye was forming. The shoulder felt stiff. Physically depleted from head to toe.
And then, a wide smile, and a whisper.