Two men walked into the lobby of the MGM Grand Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas together.
In the movies, they’d have entered in slow motion. An Ennio Morricone soundtrack swelling as they walked, the wind blowing in from the side from no discernable source. The camera cutting to people in the massive lobby turning to look at them in awe as they walked. Then, perhaps because Michael Bay is directing, an explosion goes off behind them as they walk in, and they don’t even look at it because we all know what cool guys did with explosions.
Reality, however, said “fuck that” to any of that.
They just walked in.
Like normal people.
One of them was a large and wide man with muscles upon muscles. His long black hair was tied neatly into a low ponytail that brushed against the top of his shoulders. His face was growing out a goatee and mustache, though it was still a work in progress. He wore a T-shirt of a popular cartoon show called “Mega Job and the Ten True Fruits” underneath an open sweatshirt, jeans, and work boots.
The other, a short and wiry man wearing an outrageous shimmering silver suit that burned the eyes to look at if it reflected just right from the sun. His brown hair was tied up in an equally ridiculous topknot, and he wore sunglasses.
United in purpose, but not in fashion.
Such were the Winds of Change.
Maybe a few people stared at them, but it was more for the absurd fashion sense of the wiry man than because they were cool or amazing or anything. Once they’d gotten enough of an eyeful, they turned back to their own affairs.
“I’m telling you,” Joe said to his much larger partner as they walked in, “You can’t just accept that meteorologists know what they’re talking about. They might claim that it’s going to rain on Friday, but they don’t really know. Meteorology is a science of guessing the whims of the sky. Prediction models. Forecasts. They rely on patterns and records, but they don’t really know, do they? They don’t predict the future. They just guess. Anyone can be a meteorologist if they guess well enough.”
Sid pinched the bridge of his nose, hoping that this act alone would be good enough to stave off the inevitable headache.
It likely wouldn’t.
The worst part about being Joe Fontaine’s tag team partner and best friend was, undoubtedly, the long-winded diatribes he went into whenever something stuck in his craw. Sidney Phillips had known Joe since preschool. The man loved to talk. Sid was used to Joe’s incessant blabbing, but sorely wished he wouldn’t do this while they were in public.
“Yeah, Joe, sure,” Sid said.
In his head, he was kicking himself for mentioning the rare instance of rain in the southwestern United States as they were driving to Vegas.
Joe had been at this for at least a half an hour.
He’d keep going if they hadn’t arrived at their destination, too.
Sid nodded to the front desk, “Not to… you know, distract you from your thoughts or anything, but you wanna check in?”
“We as a society pay meteorologists too much for guesswork, I’m just saying,” Joe said, “But yeah, alright. We’re here and all.”
The two of them strolled up to the desk, ignoring all of the flashing lights and bright colors that went on in the lobby. All they did was make Joe’s suit seem even more obnoxious. Sid had long given up on telling his partner to stop dressing like a psychopath, because Joe was a moron that did what he wanted.
“This place is a little too… what’s the word? Ritzy. Yeah. It’s too ritzy for my tastes.” Sid commented, looking around. He’d never been to a place as big as the MGM Grand, and he shifted back and forth on his heels as they waited in line. “Think I’m too used to the shitty motels.”
“Really?” Joe asked, “I always felt out of place in those.”
Sid shook his head.
“Of course you do. Ever looked in a mirror?”
“Yeah, I know, I know. I look good. So my surroundings should look good, too. I could get used to this.”
Sid made a mental note: Definitely don’t let Joe start gambling.
After a while of waiting, it was their turn to come up to the desk.
“How can I help you?” the receptionist asked. An older man, one that looked like he’d seen thousands of customers like Joe and Sid before. Though perhaps not exactly like them.
Sid immediately started doing the talking, as the last thing he wanted was for Joe to open his fool mouth and get them kicked out of the MGM Grand somehow, “Checking in. Name’s Sid, this here’s Joe.”
He produced a sheet of paper from his pocket, and slid it across the table.
Two weeks ago, Joe Fontaine received an e-mail about a potential way to take the whole professional wrestling thing “to the next level”. Those were the words Joe used to describe the opportunity to Sid, because Joe couldn’t help but use them to describe anything he was doing. What Joe didn’t tell Sid, at least until after Joe had already signed the two of them up and they passed auditions, was that while it was a professional wrestling gig… it was also a reality show competition.
Sid was, to put it mildly, less than pleased to discover this. Actually, it was “pleased” divided by zero, which would likely have destroyed all math forever. Mr. Pfefferman would see this math and then explode and then cease to exist.
What the hell was his father going to think about all of this? Or Joe’s father, for that matter? Not to mention, Joe didn’t even run this past their manager. Though, to be fair, their manager wasn’t likely to say “no” to this even if Joe had run it by him.
“Oh, you’re part of that thing on the 28th floor, too, huh?” the receptionist asked.
“That’s right.” Joe said. He was grinning like a maniac, the moron. His excitement was so palpable that Sid was amazed that he wasn’t bouncing off the walls.
“Well, you’re not the weirdest guys I’ve seen for that thing PRIME’s doing,” the receptionist said, sliding the envelope back to Sid and typing at his computer, “That mannequin guy was something else.”
Sid blinked, “I’m sorry, the what guy?”
“Eh, don’t worry about it,” Joe said, “I’m sure that we’ll see him, and then we’ll hit that ass.”
Sid pinched the bridge of his nose again.
“Phrasing, Joe. Phrasing.”
“Well, anyway, sirs, here’s the keys to your suite.” the receptionist said smoothly, adding their room number as an afterthought. He slid a pair of card keys to Sid. Sid promptly took both of them. He feared the idea of Joe misplacing his key immediately, because he’d been known to do that. The last place Sid wanted Joe to lose a hotel key was the MGM Grand of all places.
That being said, he also feared Joe doing something so monumentally stupid that he’ll get them kicked out of the Survivor competition, the MGM Grand, the state of Nevada, or the entire sport of professional wrestling. And if they’re really, really unlucky, all of them at once.
“Great.” Sid said. “Thanks.”
“Try, uh… try not to cause too much havoc up there, please,” the receptionist said.
Oh. Good. The receptionist was clearly on to them.
Or perhaps he was on to PRIME in general.
Sid didn’t know. He put it out of his mind.
The sooner they were in the hotel room, the sooner he could relax. He nodded his last thanks to the receptionist, and then he and Joe walked towards the elevators. In no way was Sid going to take the stairs, and Joe likely wouldn’t because he wouldn’t want to sweat in his bedazzled suit. The moron.
“You know, we really should’ve told Baron about this,” Sid said, as he pushed the button to call one of the elevators, “You know what he’s going to do when he finds out where we’ve gone, don’t you?”
“Uh,” Joe blinked, “Shit. He’s going to sit us in a dark room and laugh maniacally and monologue for an hour about whatever comes to mind?”
“Something like that. It’s like a mirror staring back at you, ain’t it?” Sid asked.
“No, ‘cause I look good and Baron’s got that whole growth on his head.”
“You mean the mask.”
“That’s a mask?” Joe asked, his tone that of genuine surprise, “Like, a lucha libre kind of thing? Huh. I thought it was a weird growth. Some kind of birth defect or something that turned the whole top of his head into a blackberry.”
“Joe, how many people have you ever met that had a ‘growth’ like that?” Sid asked.
“I haven’t met every person, have I? How do I know that there aren’t people like that? Maybe everybody from Fruitsylvania is like that. You never know.”
Sid was very certain that he didn’t bring enough headache medicine for this entire venture.
“Okay, first of all, I’m pretty sure nobody else looks like that guy. Second of all, I don’t think Fruitsylvania exists. And third, and most importantly, how did you not realize that it’s a mask?”
“Well, nobody told me it was, so I made a logical assumption.”
“Seeing clouds and thinking it might rain is a logical assumption. What you just said is like putting your logic in a car and driving it off a cliff,” Sid said. “Like a logical Thelma and Louise.”
The elevator doors opened, and the two walked in. Sid pushed the button to the 28th floor.
“Oh. So, you admit that I’m right, and that the whole meteorology industry is just guesswork.” Joe said, smirking.
Sid palmed his face as the doors closed, and made an effort best described as heroic to not start screaming into his hand.
Joe whistled when he looked out the window, and saw the whole of Vegas from their 28th floor hotel room.
The pair of them had seen plenty of hotels in their year on the road together, but none of them like the Grand. It was all the shitty roadside motels. The kind you shared with your colleague when you barely made enough to cover the gas to get your venue. The kind that a promoter would spring for on their shoestring budget. Ratty, poorly maintained, sometimes in a bad part of town.
This hit different.
The carpets alone, in their odd patterns, were different than any hotel Sid had ever seen in his life. They had more than one color, and it wasn’t because someone dropped a slice of pizza on the ground like a dumb klutz. The lamps had rectangular-shaped lampshades that made them look fancier than they were. The chairs, the beds, everything looked so… nice. Even the TVs were nicer than anything Sid had ever owned in his life.
Sid felt out of place standing there in his dumb work boots and jeans. By contrast, Joe looked like he belonged here. He was a man every bit as gaudy as the hotel room they were in, after all.
“Alright,” Joe said, clapping his hands, “Let’s do this thing!”
Sid sighed, and rubbed the side of his head.
“Joe, this isn’t a joke. If you’re going to go gambling, I’m going to powerbomb you out the window.”
“Uh, no?” Joe said, defensively, like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. “I, uh… was going to go over the battle plan for this competition.”
Sid sat down on the bed. God. Even the beds here were more comfortable than anything he’d sat in before. And they’d be staying here for a while, if things went well. People had too much money, he swore to God.
“That’ll be a first. Planning. Alright. Do you even know who’s in this competition?” Sid asked.
“Uh… I know about the mannequin guy? Kind of. I mean, just from what the receptionist said.” Joe said, putting a hand under his chin in that way he did when he was going to say a lot of stuff without checking it with the filter in his brain, “Hopefully this mannequin guy’s not a fusion of a man and a mannequin, coming out of the walls like some sort of horrible H.R. Giger creation. I mean, realistically, it’s probably just a guy and his mannequin, but I don’t want to completely discount the MANnequin theory. Oh, but hm… maybe he dresses up his mannequin as though it were people, and then pretends like he’s a real boy tag partner. That’d probably make more sense, I guess. Oh, but maybe it’s a magic mannequin. You know, like it’s made from some sort of cutting-edge active plastic that responds to physical trauma. So you clothesline it and it clotheslines you right back. That kind of thing. I mean, it could happen. I wrestled a blow-up sex doll in Albuquerque on a fifty dollar bet once and I can’t even begin to tell you how many Canadian Destroyers that guy could do in a row. Now that’s magic. My brain felt a bit weird after that one, though, let me tell you.”
Sid waited for Joe to catch a breath from all of his talking, and then made an observation, “So you’ve got nothing, then.”
“Not a clue.”
Sid laid back on the bed, and stared at the ceiling.
Well, if nothing else, it got them in this hotel room for some reason.
“Okay, so is the strategy going to be that I powerbomb everything in sight to death while you point at all the things you want me to powerbomb, until there is nothing left for me to powerbomb?” Sid asked.
Joe raised his finger and opened his mouth for a response, and then paused for a long time.
Then he admitted, “Uh, yeah.”
“My God,” Sid said, “Your planning skills are inversely proportional to your wrestling skills, aren’t they? Do you even know what we’re doing in the competition? Like, what kinds of events we’ll be doing? They’re probably not all wrestling. If any, at all. Hell, I bet I won’t even be allowed to solve all of our problems with powerbombs.”
There was a long pause.
Sheepishly, Joe turned back towards the window and quietly admitted, “No. I didn’t read that far.”
Sid shot up from lying on the bed like the Undertaker being played in fast-forward.
“Holy shit, Joe.”
“I mean, all I really read was that it was a big opportunity for a tag team,” Joe said, “Even you have to admit that we’re in need of a big break, you know.”
Begrudgingly, Sid knew that to be true.
Their fathers toiled in the independents together for almost a decade before they found their way to a place called the IWO, which seemed more like a bloodsport than a professional wrestling organization. By contrast, the two of them might as well have boarded rockets to the top in a third of the time. Even if Sid hated the notion of this competition, it was going to be hard to pass up even if he knew all of the details. It was also possible that it’d only be a matter of time for Joe. He was, after all, Joey Malone’s son. And as much of a moron as he was, Sid knew that he’d make it somehow.
As his father always said, “God always takes care of the stupid ones”.
“You know, I wonder if it’s literally going to be like Survivor. You know, the reality show.” Sid said, “That means we’ll have to do some idiot challenges, like rolling a boulder down the strip or something.”
“Oh, you got that in the bag, then.”
Sid rolled his eyes, “Funny how you excluded yourself from that one.”
“Ahaha,” Joe laughed.
“Don’t you ‘ahaha’ me. We have to take this seriously, you moron.” Sid said.
“I mean, mannequin guy, remember? How hard could this be?” Joe asked.
“Okay, think about it. Let’s say ‘mannequin guy’ is exactly as you say, and it’s a guy and his mannequin teaming up like the fucking Inanimate Object Wonder Twins. Just to entertain your colorful ideas, that mannequin might have magic powers. Whatever. The guy is probably super dangerous. Certainly a moron on your level, of course, but think about it… He’s crazy enough to handicap himself in every match he’ll ever wrestle. He’s used to going it alone. He’s unpredictable, and we won’t know what he’ll do. Even worse, he could be like Baron and run circles around us in the ring.” Sid said.
“Yeah, Baron is, like, weirdly good at the whole wrestling thing despite that weird growth on his head,” Joe admitted.
“IT’S NOT A…” Sid started to yell, and then his yell tapered off into a growl of frustration. He wished briefly he were anywhere but here, back home in Phoenix where he could entertain the possibility of not having to share a hotel room with Joe Fontaine ever again.
Then Sid remembered how nice the beds were and re-centered himself. “Look, the point is, we don’t know anything about anyone here. They could be… well, your dad used to tell stories about all of the murder psycho clowns he had to wrestle, right? They could be like that.”
“Yeah, I know.” Joe said, looking away. He turned his attention back to looking out the window.
Best not to bring up the psycho circus that heavily contributed to why Joe’s father could no longer walk without a cane, let alone wrestle into his 50s, around Joe.
Sid felt it wise to change the subject.
“Point is, we should hope for the best, and expect the worst. The best meaning that we’re the strongest team in the competition and this is all just a formality, and the worst meaning that everyone knows how to handle C4 and razor wire or can do rolling Canadian Destroyers or have a forklift license or whatever.” Sid said.
“Yeah, I get you.” Joe said. Then he turned with the biggest smile on his face, the kind that Sid had always known was trouble, “So what we should do, then, is go shopping.”
“Uh, excuse me?” he asked.
“Well, I mean, if I’m not gambling under threat of defenestration, then we gotta get some new threads. We gotta show up looking like champions! Especially you, Sidney, ‘cause let’s be honest, you’re lacking that razzle, and your dazzle is critically low.” Joe said, “We gotta get you geared up. Level your game up, my friend. Get some stat bonuses. We gotta match, like tag partners should. Because let me tell you, the best way to stand out is to dress more like yours truly.”
Sid really didn’t have enough headache medicine for this whole thing, did he?
“You’ve got to be shitting me.”
“And I mean, it’s still daylight, which means that it isn’t really Vegas yet.” Joe said. He sounded more and more excited as he spoke, like he’d been waiting all day to spring this part of his plan on Sid. For all Sid knew, all of Joe’s plans involved getting his drip so fine that you’d have to hire a janitor to follow him around to clean up after him as he walked.
He rubbed his face.
Joe had gotten the two of them into what was sure to be a clusterfuck, and he had nothing but guesses for how this was going to turn out for the two of them.
If meteorology was indeed all guesswork, as Joe claimed, then Joe was probably the only meteorologist that Sid knew.
That was a scary thought.