It was the morning after ReVival #7 had gone off the air, and Joe didn’t quite remember how he got here.
All he remembered was parting ways from Sid so that Sid could go to a meeting with the head of security. Joe didn’t know what the meeting was for. Something about Enemigos or whatever. He didn’t know because he remembered not being able to breathe properly not long after Sid left.
Joe remembered his life flashing before his eyes.
Most wrestlers would experience their first near-death experience because of something bad happening in a wrestling ring. Joe experienced his first because he was allergic to something he ate.
Sid visited for a while once his own roiling stomach had calmed, but he went back to the suite before long.
It left Joe with nothing to do but think, and throw up.
It wasn’t until the following morning that he received his first visitors other than Sid. He wished they hadn’t showed up, though.
The woman with graying red hair had been aging gracefully over the years. Keri Malone, his mother, rushed to his side the moment she saw him, and gave him a big hug that made Joe’s stomach do more somersaults. If he hadn’t already lost all of his breakfast, lunch, and dinner from Survivor, then he stood a good chance of throwing up all over his mom.
After all, the last two people Joe Fontaine wanted to have visit him the morning after he was admitted to a local hospital for an allergic reaction of all things were his parents.
“Oh my god,” Joe’s mom said, “Are you okay? What happened? Are you hurt? What happened? Tell me!”
Joey Malone hobbled into the room several seconds later, walking with a cane in his hand.
He used to be a tall, imposing man. These days, the signs that he was ever a professional wrestler were the many scars on his body, and a knee that hadn’t bent right in fifteen years. The wrestling business was often a cruel one, but what it did to Joey Malone was one of its cruelest jokes. All he had to show for his work were to twice be a world champion and hall of famer… in wrestling organizations that no longer existed. At this point, he’d made a better living as the head of a construction company did he did at the top of the pro wrestling landscape.
He was still much bigger and taller than his son, as most wrestlers tended to be.
He stood there as still as a statue, watching his wife and Joe’s mother act as a mother would.
Finally, once Keri was done hugging Joe, that’s when Joey stepped forward and took a seat at the chair next to Joe’s bed.
There was a long pause.
Then he said, “Okay, I know that the chocolate oysters were a bad idea. But how were they with the mayonnaise?”
Keri whirled her head around and shot a glare at her husband.
“What? I like keeping my options open,” Malone said. He tapped his cane on the floor, and it made a hollow wooden sound as it did. His smile belied the state of his body, “I mean, if that’s what you put you here, then I won’t try it.”
His wife gave him a flower-wilting look, and then turned her attention back to Joe.
“Oh, Joe, I was afraid this might happen… who did this to you?” Keri asked, “I’ll beat the shit out of him.”
Both of the Joes stared at Keri with terrified expressions.
She was always the one to immediately suggest violence.
“Um,” Joe said, holding his hands up, “It was just an allergic reaction to something I had to eat. We’re not sure what it was yet.”
“No, I mean, which asshole fed you something you were goddamn allergic to?” Keri said.
Malone laughed, “Wow, that’s the most cursing I’ve heard you use since the family reunion. I mean, you really put Keith in his place. It’s funny he even showed up, too, because he never really liked me or how I wrestled or…”
The angry glare on Keri’s face convinced Joey Malone that it was a poor time to bring up her brother-in-law trying to commandeer all of the potato salad for himself. Her brother-in-law was also a wrestler, from Berkeley. He was an ass that nobody in the family liked. Well, except for her sister, who clearly had no taste.
Keri turned her attention back to Joe.
Joe felt like if he answered the question truthfully – that it could be anyone from a Russian wrestling legend, to that French guy’s potato chip hawking agent, to Foster Nackedy’s idiot brother, or to Uncle Simon’s best friend – that Keri would load up a goddamn shotgun and mete out some justice of her own.
Keri Malone took no prisoners, and Joe knew that his mom was the one who definitely owned the shotgun in their family.
So, instead, he looked pleadingly at his mother to try and convince her, psychically, not to commit a felony in the state of Nevada, “Like I said, mom, I don’t know. Sid made a tactical retreat from the competition. We were safe by that point, we wouldn’t get anything for winning. I made my way out… and then like ten minutes later, I had a swarm of EMTs surrounding me.”
Joe’s parents exchanged looks.
“Did no one even consider the possibility of allergies? You could have died.” Keri said. Tears welled up in her eyes, though Joe didn’t notice.
Joe laughed it off, “Ahaha, no, mom, I didn’t even know I was allergic to anything until now.”
“Still!” Keri shouted, grabbing Joe by his hospital gown and shaking him like an OutKast song. Joe ragdolled as she did, “What kind of safety standards are going on in this place?! I keep hearing you’re getting attacked by a mannequin, too!”
The elder Joey laughed.
“Oh, man, you too, huh? Wow, that takes me back. Pretty sure I had a few fights with a mannequin in the IWO days. Or maybe that was AWS Man. He had the personality of one, so I think he counts.”
“Oh, right, we were being serious,” Malone said. He assumed a “serious” face, though it only served to make him look constipated. There was a time when he could look serious. That time was in 2003. Not before. Not since. Quite frankly, we’re all as surprised as you are that this moron could have both a stable marriage and four children.
“Oh, uh. That. Um, don’t worry about that, mom. I’m fine.” Joe said.
Internally, he was screaming.
Please, no more Destroyers.
Please God, no.
Keri stared at her oldest child like he was crazy. I mean, why wouldn’t she? The boy had given no indication that he wanted to be a wrestler until the month before he graduated out of high school, and then suddenly asked Joey to help him. Keri was incensed that Joey actually did – by sending him to Coral Avalon.
“Wait. Hang on. How did you know what happened? Did Sid call you? Wait, you didn’t watch the show, did you?” Joe asked. He suddenly became very self-conscious. How many times did they see him get attacked by a mannequin? How many times did they see him and Sid fail so hard at the challenges? Was his drip on point?
Malone burst out laughing, as he often did.
“Son, you know I don’t know how this streaming shit works! Avalon called and told us you got sick and ended up in the hospital.”
“Avalon?” Joe asked.
Joe had seen neither hide nor hair of Coral Avalon, the man who trained him to be a professional wrestler, since he completed his training. For a time, he and Sid shared a room in Coral’s house living with him, his pretty wife, and their two cats. But he worked in Japan a lot of the time. He ran that school with the scary Italian man, too. He was busy, Joe thought. Coral didn’t work for PRIME, and he wouldn’t have been the first person anyone would’ve called. That would’ve been his parents.
Did Blackberry call him? He would’ve been the only one who might’ve known his number.
Joe considered this possibility, but chose to disregard it. Coral Avalon was the most average man he’d ever met in every way but his wrestling and his name, after all. The most milquetoast man with his stable marriage and his cats and his dull fashion sense. A man like that couldn’t possibly know a guy like Baron von Blackberry.
“Yeah. I mean, the guy owes me a lot of favors, you know?” Malone said, “Why do you think I sent you to meet him, and not someone more local?”
Keri rolled her eyes.
“Because I seem to recall you telling me that all of the other wrestling trainers in Arizona wouldn’t know how to tie a boot lace if they were given a detailed instructional manual and a three hour training video going over the mechanics.” Keri said.
“Well, yeah, I did say that.” Malone said, “Can’t help it if my standards are a little high.”
Joe had heard stories of his father’s training methods, and he was very glad that his father wasn’t in any physical shape to be training anyone now. To train under Joey Malone was to train under the banner of Sparta. His cruelty as a trainer knew no bounds. There was longstanding rumor that he kicked a prospective student down a hole.
The only thing Joey ever denied was screaming “this is Sparta” before he did it.
By the way, there’s only three students total that have ever graduated from Joey Malone’s wrestling school.
That’s three out of about maybe forty people.
Little wonder why he never got a lot of repeat business.
So, “a little high” might be understating it, buddy.
“Anyway, son,” Malone said, “I warned you what this was going to be. I’ve done all I can to prepare you for it. Found the right trainer. Found the right people, overall, to surround you with. Avy says you’ve got a lot of potential for your size, and I’ll trust his judgment. Man knows him some wrestling.”
Joey Malone’s hand passed over his weathered face.
For a moment, he actually looked serious.
“But listen, Joe, I got into the messes I did because I was stubborn. Still am, actually, just in a different way. I kept pushing forward even when I shouldn’t have. And I can see you’re trying to do the same thing with this PRIME thing.”
Joe’s expression turned dark, if just for a moment, and he pulled away from his mother.
“Thanks for visiting, mom, dad,” Joe said, “But I’m fine.”
“Joe,” Malone said, “I’m not saying…”
“I said, I’m fine,” Joe repeated, the heat in his voice suddenly scorching, “Everyone keeps telling me that I’m not ready for this. That Blackberry, those Princes, you… and I’m here to tell you, I’m sick and tired of it. When exactly am I supposed to know if I’m ready? When one of you say that I am? When I pass some stupid test? Come on, I was born to do this! All the eyes of the wrestling world are on me! How much more ready do I have to be?”
There was a long silence.
Then Malone let out a grunt, as he stood up from his seat. It’s hard for him sometimes. He often needed help to get in and out of a chair because of the state of his knee.
“Keri, I’m gonna get some air,” Malone said, before he turned his eyes to Joe, “Joe, all I can say… all I’m asking is to not repeat my mistakes. That’s all I want.”
With that said, Malone shambled out of Joe’s hospital room.
Keri turned to Joe, a grumpy look on her face.
“Joseph Rashard Malone…”
Joe winced at his full name, and turned back to his mother with a troubled expression.
“Uh, happy Mother’s Day, by the way?”
Sid Phillips found himself alone in the suite the night after Survivor.
He laid in bed, hands on his stomach, all of the roiling and stomach pains having faded into distant memory. He didn’t really remember what he talked about with Wade and Dam. Hell, the only thing he really remembered was leaving with a joint given to him by Rezin. He still hadn’t smoked it. He wasn’t sure he should. Who knows where it’d been?
Anyway, Joe wasn’t there.
It was the first time since this entire endeavor started that Joe and Sid weren’t together in the suite. He was in the hospital getting treated for an allergic reaction to whatever he ate that night.
What a joke.
No, not the destroyers delivered by a mannequin that may or may not have been manufactured in Canada. That’s a joke that almost everyone thought was funny. Even Sid couldn’t believe it kept happening, and now it was happening to him. And Joe was likely going to laugh about it the moment he got out of the hospital. It’s like Joe wanted it to happen. Maybe he did. It sure seemed like the only reason anyone was talking about the Winds of Change.
No, the joke was that this was the very first time either of them were in a hospital over pro wrestling, and it didn’t even happen in a ring.
The joke was this entire Survivor mess, and how ridiculously far removed it was from what Joe and Sid had been training for this whole time. Their grueling training at the Gates of Avalon. That day out in the desert trying to protect Helen Mirren. Neither Avalon’s nor Blackberry’s training had prepared them for any of this. It was like they were training to play chess, and instead found themselves in a heated game of Calvinball.
The joke was the fact that Baron von Blackberry gave them such ridiculous training in the first place, and it didn’t help them much for the challenge.
The joke was wrestling.
The joke was always wrestling.
And Sid didn’t find any of those jokes funny anymore.
As he ruminated about the jokes in his life, Sid heard a knock at the door to his suite.
Grumpily, Sid picked himself up off the bed and made his way to the door.
Sid remembered what happened the last time he opened the door without checking who was on the other side of it, but felt like if he got kicked in the chest this time, he’d be ready for it.
So he opened the door, and…
Well, he didn’t get kicked in the chest.
He might as well have been, though.
Daniel Phillips was a tall man for a billed “cruiserweight”. He only qualified for the weight class because of his lean build, and it was back in a day when the weight limit was higher than it is today. His hair had grayed in the years since retirement, though unlike Joe’s father, he was able to keep in good shape. Better, even, than wrestlers half his age. In all honesty, Sid thought his father could still go if he wanted to make a comeback.
But he didn’t.
He had nothing left to prove.
He was, after all, the man responsible for ending Joey Malone’s career. That alone was worth more to Daniel Phillips than any other championship or accolade he could have ever asked for. That was nearly twenty years ago, in a time and a place as transient as most companies in this space. A championship was fleeting, and could be lost at any time. A tournament was even more fleeting, despite the grueling difficulty. But the infamy lasted his whole career, and even beyond.
Joey Malone needed to go out in one last blaze of glory. He wouldn’t have it any other way. One last match while his knee still worked. One last fight. Beyond that fight was the goddamn Bolivian army.
The times had been tough for Daniel since that night in the famous Madison Square Garden. His wife passed away soon after, and his attempts to return to the national spotlight would’ve prevented him from raising his children.
And he chose them.
He had nothing left to prove, after all.
He wore sunglasses. His flannel jacket, tank top, and jeans seemed out of place in the ritzy MGM Grand.
Daniel looked his second child up and down, and said, “You’ve seen better days.”
“You look the same.”
Daniel invited himself into the hotel room, brushing past Sid. He took in the suite. At this point, it’d been well-lived in. Joe and Sid had made this place into their second home, and the place was a mess because of it. Several pizza boxes cluttered the table. Magazines were strewn about everywhere. Half of Sid’s wardrobe lay in a pile in the corner.
“Why are you here?” Sid asked.
“I got a call from a mutual acquaintance, said you’d be here,” Daniel said, turning to his son, “You wouldn’t answer my calls.”
“Things have been a little, uh… difficult, lately.” Sid said. “Sorry.”
Daniel placed a hand under his own chin, deep in thought. The man was never at a loss for words, but he’d become more careful with them over the years.
“I’m gonna guess what you’re thinking. Let me know how on the mark I am.” Daniel said, “You’re thinking that you made a mistake.”
Sid closed his eyes.
“Now, I don’t know to what degree you think your mistake was. But I can tell when you’re not happy. Could tell it just watching you on TV.” Daniel said, “So, I took Luna with me, and came up to Vegas.”
“Doesn’t she have school?”
“Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to.” Daniel said, “But if you’re wondering, Luna’s with Uncle Simon right now, probably talking about boys or something asinine like that.”
He took off his sunglasses, and stuck one of the ends of it down the neck of his shirt.
His hazel eyes met Sid’s.
“Sidney, why are you here?”
“Why does everyone ask me that?” Sid asked.
Daniel shrugged, “Don’t know. Why do they? Rhetorical question. Because I know why I’m asking you that. It’s because I know you don’t want to be here. It’s written all over your face.”
Sid rubbed his temple.
Daniel interrupted, “Maybe it’s just the Survivor competition. God knows I wouldn’t do half the shit you’re doing now, were it up to me. Rolling boulders, getting on amusement park rides, eating garbage… that shit ain’t wrestling. But that Avalon character told me that you were struggling to improve well before this whole Survivor started.”
“You talked to him or something?” Sid asked.
“As recently as this morning, before he got on his flight to Japan.” Daniel said, “He mentioned that you only know how to move around a ring and do a powerbomb.”
“It’s all I need.” Sid said, grumpily.
“Sure, I get that from… let’s say a practicality standpoint. But if you actually liked what you were doing here, you’d try to do more than that. I’d seen you pick up football schemes. Playing tight end is tough work, but you put in the work to make it seem effortless.” Daniel said.
He let out a sigh, “Look, you’re an adult. I mean, shit, you’re fucking taller than me. I’m not going to tell you what to do. But when this Survivor thing is over, and you can get back into the ring, I’m going to come find you again. And when you see me, I want you to look me in the eyes and tell me if this is really what you want to do. That’s all.”
Sid didn’t say anything.
He didn’t know if he had anything to say.
Either way, the sound of a loud buzzing broke the uneasy silence.
He reached into his pocket, and pulled out his cell phone. After glancing at it for a few moments, he said, “Ah, shit. Luna’s gone and found the fuckin’ boutique in the MGM Grand. I gotta go before she bankrupts the whole fuckin’ family.”
He put his sunglasses on, and made for the door.
“Oh, Sidney. It’s Mother’s Day. Got anything you want me to say to Tina when I pay my respects?” he asked.
Sid’s expression grew distant.
“I never really knew mom, so… not really.”
Daniel nodded. He understood. She died when he was barely out of diapers, after all. “Well, you might not have known her, but you’ve got her eyes. I’d like to think that someday, you’ll inherit her brain, too.”
He winked to Sid, and then walked out of the hotel room. Sid stood there, dumbfounded, before he finally asked a question.
“The hell’s that supposed to mean?”
He got no response.