Coral rarely went to Japan by himself, like he did for this mini-tour he agreed to for Bang! Pro Wrestling.
Usually, his wife was with him.
His wife, Annabelle, came from a family of Americans who immigrated to Japan years ago. She was born in Japan, went to school in Japan, and only returned to America when she met Coral.
Despite a degree of xenophobia that the family experienced over the years, most of them still lived there to this day, and both he and Annabelle take regular trips overseas to visit family and let Coral continue his wrestling career in Japan – the place where he was the most popular. For a time, they even lived there while Coral wrestled and Annabelle composed music.
But for once, his wife didn’t come with him to Japan when he took what he assumed would be his last tour for Bang! Pro Wrestling for a long time. She had her own work to attend to, now. Coral didn’t want to interfere with that.
So, what is “Bang! Pro Wrestling”, you might very well ask?
First of all, it’s very important that you spell Bang! with an exclamation mark. Some even go the extra mile and spell it in all capital letters. BANG! Pro Wrestling. Your word processor will hate you for this. Embrace this hatred. Savor it. Become one with the hatred of your processor’s grammar check as it attempts to tell you that a random exclamation mark in the middle of your sentence is no bueno. It may also tell you that “bueno” isn’t a word. The red underline will try to shame you. Fuck shame. Don’t listen to it.
Second, Bang! Pro Wrestling was the brainchild of Doi Inoue, a prominent joshi wrestler who made her name in America as the eponymous “School Girl” of the Squared Circle. She was best known for her brutal, hard-hitting style, the type that could bring even her bigger male opponents to their knees. Coral had many battles with her in the Squared Circle and in Japan, and regarded her as one of his more unpleasant opponents who relished the idea of giving him a concussion every time they met.
He was, after all, the first person to defeat her.
Ever since then, she made it her personal mission to bring out the side of Avalon that beat her that night in Mississippi. Try as she might, though, Avalon had become used enough to her antics that while he didn’t always beat her, he was the one person who could beat her consistently, and he could do it without losing his temper. If not in tSC, then certainly in Japan.
And third, Coral had made Bang! Pro Wrestling his home for the last decade. Sure, he’d work dates with American independents and European promotions across the world, sometimes even working a show in Mongolia or Chile or wherever else wanted to pay him good money to travel abroad. But Bang! was his home for so long that he seriously considered moving to Japan permanently. He didn’t, though, especially once the Mega Job cartoon took off.
So, when Coral came to Japan, it was like home.
It was also a home he knew he’d have to move out from, eventually.
Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan
May 10th, 2022
Coral Avalon found himself buried under school girls.
Okay, that’s definitely a creepy fetish thing for some people. Let’s provide some context.
For Coral, it only meant that he was visiting the Natsukawa family in Sendai, Japan. Specifically, the home of Natsukawa Minato, his wife, and his three nieces, who were triplets that were crowding their uncle as he sat on the floor.
“Come on, girls, let your uncle Coral breathe a bit. He had a tough night last night.” Minato said.
The three identical triplets, named Seiko, Shion, and Sora, looked at their father with disappointment. They shared their mother’s dark hair, but their eyes were his particular shade of brown. They all purposefully dressed identically to really confuse everyone around them. Coral found it difficult to know which one was Sora, especially when the girls would use each other’s names liberally to truly sow confusion.
Shion – at least, Coral thought it was Shion – had spent some time trying to tie Coral’s hair into pigtails. Coral’s hair wasn’t as long as it used to be, but it was still long enough to get something resembling that going. Sora – at least, Coral thought it was Sora – lay horizontally across Coral’s lap, paying him no attention as she stared at her cell phone. And Seiko – at least, Coral thought it was Seiko – was standing next to Coral trying to get a hat on top of his head without interfering with what Shion was doing. She was bracing herself by placing her hand on Coral’s shoulder.
Troublemakers, the whole entire lot of them.
“But dad…” the girl that Coral assumed was Shion complained.
“Your uncle Coral had to wrestle a shark last night. Cut him a little slack. Why don’t you go play with your mom?” Minato said, amicably, to his daughters.
There were pouts all around, but eventually, Coral’s woes were behind him as the triplets did as they were asked and largely left him alone.
Minato took a seat across from Coral, and let out a long breath.
Minato was ethnically American. You had to go back to his maternal grandmother to find someone Japanese. Like his younger sister and Coral’s wife, he was born in Japan to immigrants. It hadn’t been easy for any of his family to find acceptance in Japan’s culture, but Minato held a job as a translator and consultant while his Japanese wife worked in the office for the same company. The triplets were of an age where they could take care of the home when they weren’t at school.
Coral didn’t bother fixing his hair after Shion attempted to play hairdresser with him. She only got as far as applying one scrunchie to him before Minato asked the triplets to leave him alone. Coral figured he’d leave it like that for now, so as not to hurt the girls’ feelings when they inevitably returned.
“Seriously, though, a shark?” Minato asked.
The previous night’s presentation of Bang! Pro Wrestling in Sendai featured Coral going one-on-one with the dreaded Lord Kurosame-sama. He was a wrestler with a giant novelty-sized shark mask. Coral won by yakuza kicking him so hard that the tanuki were probably finding pieces of him out west on Sado Island.
At one point before the kick, though, Coral got bitten in the ass by Lord Kurosame-sama.
Coral Avalon was a very dignified wrestler, we’ll have you know.
Though he supposed he had no room to make fun of Jared for his recent ass-related injury.
“Don’t mess with Lord Kurosame-sama, man.” Coral said. “Anyway, thanks for letting me crash at your place, as usual.”
“Oh, the girls love having you here. Though I think they’d prefer Wakana. Her hair does the pigtails better.” Minato said.
Coral smiled vaguely.
Wakana was the Japanese name of his wife, Annabelle. Her birth name was Natsukawa Wakana.
When she and Coral first met, before the triplets were born and Minato had married his own wife, she awkwardly gave “Annabelle Summers” as her name. As someone whose Asian features were muted, she always felt awkward having an ethnically Japanese name, and had lied to Coral about what her name was.
In retrospect, a lie was an interesting start for what became their lifelong relationship.
By the time Coral learned his future wife’s birth name, “Annabelle” had stuck enough that she legally changed her name to “Annabelle Wakana Natsukawa Avalon” after they married. Which was a bit much, Coral thought, but his wife always did joke that she was getting a name she’d have trouble fitting on a business card when she finally changed it.
“She wanted to come out here with me, but she’s been swamped with work lately. She’s been in high demand lately.” Coral said, “We did plenty of traveling for most of our relationship, so I don’t want to push her into doing more of it if she’s busy.”
“I remember thinking how rare it was to see you without her around.” Minato said, “But if all’s well, I’m not complaining. She was a big troublemaker before she met you, after all.”
“I still find that hard to believe.” Coral said, “We were so awkward around each other when we first met. Like we were both walking on eggshells, trying to figure out the steps to a dance that neither of us knew. I just came off a very messy breakup, and she didn’t know how to deal with guys. It’s a miracle we ever got to dating.”
“Yeah, I know, right?” Minato said, “Color me surprised when she brought you to here for the first time. Based on your ridiculous name, I thought you were another girl.”
Coral couldn’t help but smile in response, “Yeah, not the first time people thought I was a woman based on my name alone.”
Minato stood up and walked to a shelf placed against the wall. After a bit of rummaging, he found a large book. It was dusty enough that when he blew on it, a cloud of dust floated into the air.
He returned to his seat and flipped through it.
Then he plucked a photo out of the album and passed it to Coral, “Here.”
Coral picked up the photo, and raised his eyebrows at what he saw.
Two girls stood holding hands next to each other. Neither of them looked that much older than any of the triplets. Maybe 15 or 16.
One was dressed in a familiar school uniform. It was familiar to Coral because it was a lot like the uniform that Doi Inoue wore when she wrestled for the Squared Circle. For all he knew, it was the same uniform, because he recognized her as Inoue. Coral would recognize that grumpy, sourpuss expression anywhere, because even when Inoue was happy, she still looked that way.
The other girl was blonde, her long hair in a ponytail. The blazer of her uniform was tied off at the waist instead of worn properly. The skirt was definitely not an acceptable standard of length. Her socks were loosely worn. There were an obnoxious number of accessories that adorned her wrists and the lapels of her shirt.
He recognized her.
It was his wife.
“Huh.” Coral said. He handed the picture back to Minato, “Never seen Wakana as a blonde before.”
“That’s funny. She’s a natural blonde,” Minato said, chuckling, “Wakana was into kogal stuff when she was in school. She and Inoue used to leave school grounds all the time to go shopping. She was smart enough, but… you know what they say about square pegs and round holes. I think they eventually threatened to expel her if she didn’t dye her hair, and she was always in some kind of trouble even after she did.”
“It’s pink right now, so she’d still get in trouble.” Coral said. Knowing his wife, her hair might be a different color when he got back to the States, but it was definitely a soft pink when he left.
“Some things never change with that girl.” Minato said, “Is she well?”
“Oh, yeah,” Coral said, “Apart from being busy, I think she’s settled down better than I have. She knows where everything is in our neighborhood, which I still don’t, and she gets along with our neighbors.”
Come to think of it, Coral didn’t think he even remembered his neighbor’s names. He should probably fix that when he got home.
“Quite the turnaround.” Minato said, “I remember getting postcards from you guys from Mongolia or some crazy country like that.”
He remembered Mongolia. That show in Ulaanbaatar was utterly scuffed. Nobody knew how to speak the language except for a Chinese wrestler he couldn’t remember the name of, and that wrestler’s grasp of both English and Mongolian was… suspect. At least he got paid for it. Just not as well as the trouble it took to get there.
“I don’t think we’ve had a permanent residence for most of the time we’d been together, other than with you and the rest of her family. We liked to travel, and I liked to work everywhere I could.”
“Well, Japan is still her home,” Minato said, “I’d say it’s also yours, too.”
Bang! Pro Wrestling had been his home for years, and he’d been its biggest foreign star for as long as he’d been there. He even lived in Japan with his wife’s family for some of those years on a work visa.
“Inoue probably isn’t happy that you came to work without her, though.” Minato said.
“Well, I told her the last time I was here that I might not be able to bring her with me as much as I used to, since she’s got herself a stable job now. She didn’t take it well.” Coral said.
“In what way?” Minato asked.
Coral looked off in the distance, as though he was seeing something that Minato couldn’t see. He was dreading the last day. He was dreading it for one simple reason.
“Well, she hasn’t told me what I’m doing in Sapporo, yet, even though that’s my last day on the tour.”
THE JAN-KEN-PON INCIDENT
Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, Japan
May 11th, 2022
“You want to do what, now?” Claire asked.
The arena was another gymnasium. Bang! Pro alternated between actual sports arenas and gymnasiums, depending on the city. It wasn’t as big as some Japanese wrestling organizations, but its biggest shows could often rival them. The biggest show of this tour would be in Sapporo, just a week from today.
Avalon still didn’t know what the plan was for his last night in Bang! Pro, but he did know what he was doing tonight in Morioka.
Coral Avalon had teamed up with his student and the last remaining fellow member of the “Crownless Kingdom”, Claire Merci.
Coral had this tour booked about a week before he found out that the Winds of Change had gotten themselves way in over their heads in PRIME. With himself signed to PRIME as another veteran presence, he made the difficult decision to move on from Bang! Pro.
But he liked it here. There was a joy in how the place operated that he so rarely saw in American wrestling promotions. People came here to have fun and to better learn their craft.
Coral supposed that you had to have fun in an organization that openly promoted an all-hours championship like the Bang! All Day Championship, which changed hands so frequently that its championship history would become a doorstopper if it were to be printed out.
The promotion had its share of serious competition amongst the silly characters and matches. Coral himself led a faction that wanted to bring actual competition to Bang! Pro Wrestling, made up of other strong talents like himself who were never given a fair opportunity at a world championship in other promotions.
He called it “the Crownless Kingdom”, with himself as its “Crownless King”.
He was a top star in this organization, without question. But he was never afforded the opportunity to actually win the top prize: the Bang! Openweight Championship. If you asked Avalon about it, he’d have told you that facing him was the same as facing the champion. The “Crownless King” idea was born from this concept. By claiming and embracing what should be a derogatory title, he declared himself the same level as the champion.
Even if he’d never in his life had been a world champion.
Claire was a tall woman, an inch taller than Coral himself was. Her long blonde hair was in a braided ponytail. Her makeup was heavy on the eyeshadow, and her cheekbones a little more angular than you might expect from someone from the very French part of Canada. She was a very tall, muscular woman who had little trouble introducing grown-ass men to the ground, and ensure that their new relationship with the ground would be much far more intimate than it would be with another woman.
Coral took on Claire as his student in 2013, before the Gates of Avalon Wrestling School had been opened. Back then, he mainly served as one of the trainers at Bang! Pro Wrestling, and he trained a number of Japanese talents. Claire was the first non-Japanese wrestler he’d trained since the Princes, but before he opened his school in Seattle.
Short of Simon Knox, she was his best student.
She’d previously been working in the country as an English teacher, even though English wasn’t her first language as someone from Montreal. However, when Bang! Pro was first getting started, she happened to catch a show. That’s because it was being held in one of the high school gymnasiums of the school where she was teaching, in Tokyo.
And that’s when she found her calling.
At least, it was her calling until she found herself standing across the ring from a pair of Japanese guys wearing matching flesh-colored trunks.
Their opponents were known as the Fabulous Hentai Brothers.
Yes, that was their name.
No, they weren’t actually brothers and likely weren’t “fabulous”.
The hentai part was true, though.
Their trunks made them both look very naked. The tall brother, Michael, was as tall as Coral and Claire were, a lean six feet tall. Matthew, the other brother, was maybe 5’8”. However, he had a killer mustache and a ridiculous afro that almost made him seem as tall as the other three, so he had all that going for him.
Coral smiled at Claire, and said, “Just follow my lead.”
Coral strode up to the Fabulous Hentai Brothers. The bell hadn’t yet rung yet. In fact, the music of the FHBs was still playing. If you’re wondering, it was Prince’s “P. Control”. Because of course it was.
When the music finally cut, he shouted for everyone in the building to hear.
“Brothers!” he shouted, and then he transitioned to Japanese and said, “We meet on the field of battle! The weapons of choice… are rock, paper, and scissors!”
Or, in Japanese, “jan-ken-pon”.
Everyone in the ring were beside themselves for different reasons.
Michael Hentai – we’re all just assuming his last name is Hentai, by the way – reacted with shock. He took three very quick steps backwards and hit the turnbuckles behind him, and held out his hands in front of him as though Coral Avalon had a bazooka in his hands. Matthew Hentai – again, just assuming here – spun around three times before he, too, reacted as though Avalon had a bazooka and held his hands out.
Claire just palmed her face, an expression that had become more and more common as the lines between Avalon and Blackberry blurred.
“Sir,” Claire said to Coral, “You’ve been a berry for too long.”
Coral just smiled at her.
Once the Hentai Brothers stopped reeling from the force of Coral’s jan-ken challenge, the two of them conversed with each other. It was a quiet conversation amidst the cacophony of the small crowd in the acoustically unsound gymnasium.
The referee, Doi Ryu, looked at all four parties in this opening contest like they were all insane, which Coral was certain was completely unfair. Claire wasn’t insane.
Doi Ryuunosuke, or just Ryu, was simultaneously Bang! Pro Wrestling’s co-promoter, head referee, and Inoue’s older brother. When Inoue made the journey to America, her brother was there alongside her as “Mr. Suit”. His nickname within Bang! Pro was “Suit-san” as a result, even if he hadn’t really been called by that name almost two decades.
Ryu wasn’t the wrestler his sister was, but he was a great manager who managed to keep his unruly, unpleasant, yet prodigiously talented sister in line.
His salt-and-pepper hair was growing ever grayer as he aged gracefully into his mid-40s. He was taller than Coral was, but his lean frame hadn’t seen a lot of exercise lately in the same way Coral religiously kept himself in shape. He got out of breath easily.
A lot of the younger wrestlers liked to mess with him in subtle ways, like deliberately making him rush around for pinfalls or taking a brawl outside of the ring.
Ryu probably liked working with Coral just because he was considerate of him.
For example, deciding to play jan-ken with his opponents instead of making him run around. Although perhaps he was also mad at him for even starting with this farce.
Then Michael Hentai – seriously, I don’t think that’s actually his name – stepped forward.
“What terms!?” he shouted in heavily accented, somewhat broken English.
He knew full well that Coral could speak Japanese. As any true wrestler would, he was hamming it up for the audience.
“This is how we decide the wrestling match. Loser lays down, winner pins the loser.” Coral said, smiling.
It would be the easiest payday of his life, win or lose. Though he would definitely prefer to win.
Claire grumpily grabbed Coral by the shoulder and pulled him away from the Hentais for a second.
“What exactly are you doing?” Claire asked.
“I told you to follow my lead, right?” Coral asked.
“I’m not consenting to this if you lose, sir.” Claire said.
Coral thought it wise not to remind Claire exactly who the “evil” foreigners were in this situation. She was a smart lady, and didn’t need the reminder. She wasn’t a rookie. She knew what the score was. She trusted that she would have his back.
Ryu Doi looked to Coral with a pleading look. The look that every professional wrestling referee gave to those who dared to become a berry. The look of a man who knew that this was all a terrible idea.
“Let’s make this two out of three, Ryu-san.” Coral said to Ryu.
“This is all very irregular, Avalon-san,” Ryu said to Coral in English.
“That is my brand, Ryu-san.”
Ryu looked at Coral, and then at the Hentais. He shrugged, and called for the two participants to meet in the center of the ring. On one side was Coral Avalon. On the other side was Michael Hentai (name unclear). Two warriors of jan-ken, in a battle for the ages.
Ryu counted down.
“Jan, ken, pon!”
Coral threw scissors.
Michael threw rock.
“Oh. Crap.” Coral said, seeing his choice against Michael’s. Upon winning the first game, Michael held up his hand and Matthew obliged him with a high five. Behind Coral, Claire Merci seethed as only she could.
Yeah, if Coral didn’t turn this around soon, he was just as likely to get suplexed to death as the Hentais were. He swallowed, and recentered himself.
Ryu counted down.
“Jan, ken, pon!”
Michael threw paper.
Coral threw a rock that suddenly became scissors at the last second.
Ryu gave the win to him.
Upon losing the second game, Michael fell to his knees, hands clutching his head, and let out a scream like he’d just been locked in some sort of fucked up submission that English torture artists would come up with. Everyone from Coral to his “brother” looked at him like he was a big idiot.
Which, considering that he was half of the Fabulous Hentai Brothers, wasn’t too far from the truth. After all, the feud they had with Mega Job about five years ago culminated in a non-standard use of a rubber chicken. We’ll leave it to your imagination as to what that use might be. It’s not relevant to this story, unlike this ridiculous farce, which definitely is.
Matthew stepped up to be the deciding throw.
Coral and Matthew Hentai, name incredibly suspect, stared daggers at one another. This was it. This was for all of the marbles.
Ryu counted down.
“Jan, ken, pon!”
Coral threw scissors.
Matthew threw gun.
“REACH FOR THE SKY, MOTHERFUCKER!” Matthew shouted at the top of his lungs in his heavily accented English, with his index finger pointed directly at Coral, his thumb pantomiming a hammer.
Coral did, in fact, reach for the sky.
“Oh no!” Coral said, and then he said in Japanese, “Why did I bring scissors to a gun fight?!”
Laughter from the crowd.
Claire had her hands on her hips, and while she reached for the sky as well, it was only temporary. A gesture of sheer frustration. A gesture that suggested that she wasn’t taking part in this farce any more. She stepped forward to go suplex Matthew out of his flesh-colored boots. Coral, however, reached his hand out and blocked her from going forward.
“No, what are you doing, you fool? Are you trying to get us shot and killed?” Coral asked.
He was barely able to keep his smile in check.
Claire gave him the eye lasers in response. The kind that suggested that if he kept up the farce, she would kill him first.
Coral simply kept up the farce.
So did Ryu, who was waving his hands frantically.
“Matthew!” he shouted, “This is not the way!”
Next to him, Michael Hentai – name definitely not what we should be calling him – had recovered from his loss, but was looking at Matthew like he was crazy.
“What are you doing!?” Michael asked. He reached to pull Matthew’s hand away, only for Matthew to whirl around and point the (finger) gun at him. Michael immediately backpedaled, begging off from being shot.
So, you had three grown-ass men shitting bricks over being threatened by a finger gun, and a woman who was on the verge of either walking out on this farce entirely or suplexing every single one of them.
Claire just walked to her corner. She was done with this. Call her when she can violently throw men to the ground again.
“On the ground!” Matthew demanded. “All of you!”
“Dude!” Michael said, in English.
Matthew whirled around to face his Hentai Brother. For a moment, there was a pause. A nod of understanding. Matthew and Michael Hentai (names likely drawn from the same hat that gave us Mortimer Kjedelig) knew three things in life.
One? That, despite being brothers from other mothers, they had a kinship. A friendship that stretched beyond the realms of Japanese social norms, something deeper than the stereotypical images of hyper masculinity often seen in Japanese media. They knew each other well. Possibly intimately. No one dared to ask.
Two? That they were threatening the man that trained both of them with a deadly (finger) weapon, ostensibly just to obtain victory in a seemingly meaningless rock-paper-scissors competition.
Three? That they were the greatest professional wrestling perverts to ever live.
Michael knew that if Matthew went through this crazy notion of shooting their teacher to death with a deadly (finger) gun, then that was it for them. The Fabulous Hentai Brothers would never work in this town again. They could still work the next show in Hachinohe two nights from now, of course, but it would be ridiculous if they’d ever work in Morioka again.
And so, he tried to talk his brother down.
“The gun is bad! But the penis, good! Very good!”
Coral did his best to maintain his seemingly terrified poker face, but an eagle-eyed viewer could see the hints of a smile forming at the corners of his mouth as he struggled not to break character.
The crazy part was that Matthew seemed to listen. He understood. The Hentai Code of Honor dictated that there should be an additional “K” in the word dictate. Also, that you probably shouldn’t shoot a man with your (finger) gun.
And all seemed well, until Claire chose to try and walk forward again, believing that the shenanigans were about to be over and they could actually get on with the part in a wrestling match where she was going to leave both of these idiots lying in a crater like Yamcha.
Matthew pointed his (finger) gun at Claire.
Coral knew exactly what had to be done.
He had to make the ultimate sacrifice.
“Claire, nooo!” he shouted, and then he dove in front of Claire just as Matthew shouted “BANG!”
Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, Japan
May 12th, 2022
Okay, full disclosure, Coral Avalon didn’t die that night in Morioka.
He laid there flopping like a dead fish for more than two minutes while everyone – except Claire – was panicking over the supposed murder of beloved gaijin wrestler Coral Avalon. Then Claire just got fed up and suplexed Michael Hentai (name under scrutiny) to near-death. As Michael was getting put into the ground, and Matthew was trying to stop her, Coral suddenly sprang to life and put Matthew in the Pillory until he had little choice but to tap out.
It was good, silly fun.
Well, maybe not so fun for the Fabulous Hentai Brothers, but their job was to have fun. Coral obliged them. Until it came time to win the match, of course.
Claire was not happy about the whole affair, either.
And on the show the following night, she confronted Coral in the ring and challenged him to a match later in the tour.
Coral, being who he was, accepted.
In a lot of ways, Coral Avalon was destined to fail at being a professional wrestler no matter how talented he was, and he knew it. He was humble in a sport full of egomaniacs, honorable in a den of disreputable ne’er-do-wells, maddeningly stubborn over his refusal to use weapons, and maybe a little more empathetic than he should be. Plenty of people had taken advantage of him over the years, and he knew it. And there was a limit to how far he could take someone before they needed to break away and stand on their own.
Claire was realizing this now. There was always going to be a moment where she’d realize that she needed to leave the Kingdom in order to rule one of her own. Coral knew this, and accepted it for what it was. Someday, he thought that Joe and Sid would be able to stand on their own without him, too.
But this part of the story isn’t about that.
Morioka had a karaoke bar, and it was full of professional wrestlers that night. There would be booze and a lot of questionable-to-surprising singing.
Of the crew that showed up for karaoke, it was the Fabulous Hentai Brothers (whom we cannot stress enough were not brothers) and the only other gaijin faction in the company besides Coral and Claire of the crumbling “Crownless Kingdom” – the Jacks of All Trades. “Jumping” Jack Sweetwater, “Jammin’” Jack Graves, and “Picture Perfect” Jack Pizazz. They were the current Bang! With Your Friends six-man tag champions.
The Jacks came together from different walks of life. Sweetwater had been wrestling nearly as long as Coral had, and worked several dark matches for the Squared Circle. Pizazz was a failed soap opera actor who turned to wrestling as a last resort, and found that he had a natural knack for the in-ring drama. He and Graves showed up at the Gates of Avalon when it first opened, and he was trained in the same class that also produced Claire.
All three of them eventually made their way to Bang! Pro, and Coral was amused that Inoue and Ryu decided that it would be smart to pair all three together.
A lot of sake was pumped into the karaoke box that night.
Coral, a lifelong teetotaler, naturally abstained.
But amidst the cacophony of the Fabulous Hentai Brothers launching into an absolute word salad rendition of MC Skat Kat’s parts of the classic Paula Abdul song “Opposites Attract”, Coral’s mind was elsewhere. To home.
Eventually, he excused himself from the cacophony and made his way outside.
Morioka was a scenic city that he’d seen with his wife a few times before in their many trips to Japan through the years. A volcanic colossus to the northwest, Mount Iwate, made up a significant part of its skyline, and the city itself was located where three rivers – most significantly the Kitakami – met. At night, you didn’t really see the mountains that surrounded the city. You saw a lot of street lamps, instead. It’s not the same.
Coral pulled out his cell phone and thumbed through his long list of contacts before he got to the one that mattered the most.
The one that said “Home: Annie”.
The woman that picked up on the other end of the phone answered with a long yawn.
“Mornin’ over there,” Coral said, “Rise and shine.”
Annabelle perked up somewhat hearing Coral’s voice, “Oh, Coral. Hi! How late is it over there?”
Coral looked up. There was a bank that was displaying the time where he was.
“Half past 11,” Coral said, “I’m about to head back to the hotel for the night, but I thought I’d call at a not-insane hour for you.”
Annabelle groggily confirmed that it was still insane, at least for her, “I haven’t even had coffee yet.”
“Well, this wasn’t a problem for us before, was it?” Coral asked.
“Yeah, but I was with you.” Annabelle said, “It’s a bit different when we’re an ocean apart.”
“Tell me about it,” Coral agreed, “Oh, everyone keeps asking about you. And not just Minato. Everyone in Bang! Pro keeps asking why you aren’t here. Especially Inoue, of course.”
Annabelle hummed on the other end of the phone.
“Oh, if only my evil stepboss hadn’t dumped so much work on me last week and let me go to my Japanese pro wrestling prom!” Annabelle said, laughing, “I guess it’s not the same, huh?”
“Well, once we settled down, I never expected it to be exactly the same. I mean, it’s hard to get used to you not being around all the time, but you know what they say about absence and the heart,” Coral said, “How’re things back home?”
Annabelle took the prompt to chatter away about the neighbors. During this time, she made coffee for herself.
She found herself invited over for tea in one instance, and she’d been making ample progress on the sound engineering for the game. In response, Coral chattered about Minato and his three daughters, and how they’d all grown up so admirably since the last time either had seen them.
Then Annabelle said, “Oh, by the way, a bunch of old memorabilia from the Squared Circle got sent to us by Marcus yesterday.”
“Good ‘ol Max,” Coral said, smiling at recalling his old mentor and close friend, “Anything fun?”
“There was that photo album that Tanya and Xiao put together. A lot of you and Marcus together. And Inoue, too, of course.” Annabelle said.
Coral remembered Tanya Isama and Xiao Suarez, the first tag champions of the Squared Circle. He hadn’t heard from the erstwhile Girls on Parade in a very long time. He wondered what they were doing, now. Certainly not wrestling. He’d have heard about where they’d gone since tSC’s closure, if so. Tanya was on his list on “hardest things to have ever kicked him in the head”, and while Xiao wasn’t on that same list, he remembered her being a tough opponent to deal with even with her age and inexperience for the time.
“Yeah, I think Inoue’s asked about you the most out of everyone.” Coral said.
“I’d be disappointed if she didn’t,” Annabelle said, laughing, “How is she?”
“Stressed out, I think. She didn’t take finding out that this was going to be my last tour for a while very well.” Coral said, “I mean, I assured her that I’d still come back to Japan because of you and your family, but… do you remember what I always told you? Wrestling is like a big bubble made up of lots of little bubbles, right?”
“Right. If you’re in wrestling, you know everything there’s to know about what’s going on. But you don’t know what’s going on in every promotion in wrestling. And if you’re not in wrestling at all, then it’s exponentially more difficult to keep up with all of your friends still in it.” Annabelle said.
“I taught my young padawan well.”
“I’m only two years younger than you. Baaaka.” Annabelle said, cheerfully. “So, because you’re leaving, you don’t think it’ll be that easy to hang out with Inoue, then?”
“Yeah. Inoue’s busy. Busier than ever. She’s trying to get Bang! to expand even further. She wants to get to a point where they could run the Tokyo Dome without getting laughed out of the entire Japanese wrestling scene. I get out, then it’ll be that much harder for us to meet up again.” Coral said.
He thought about that.
They were getting into more and more important arenas over the years. Before Coral arrived for this tour, Bang! had finally run the legendary Korakuen Hall, and sold the damn building out. He’d wished he’d been there himself, but a confluence of events like PRIME and the cartoon’s most recent season had prevented him from joining his friends in Japan until this much quieter tour in upper Honshu and Hokkaido.
Maybe they could run the Dome someday.
But they’d be doing it without him.
“Could they?” Annabelle asked.
“Give them a year, two tops. Your bestie’s as relentless as a promoter as she was as a wrestler.”
Annabelle’s giggle still remained as girlish as it was when she was fresh out of high school as an 18-year-old, coming to America to help her best friend. Coral liked that sound.
“Well, she wouldn’t be who she was if she backed down.” Annabelle said, “I’m sure she misses me, though. Well, maybe she doesn’t miss my beauty tips. Never listened to a thing I said about trying to attract boys.”
“You weren’t exactly interested in attracting boys, yourself, if I remember right.”
“Nope! You were the only guy I was ever interested in. Thanks for confirming my bisexuality, by the way.”
Coral’s smile widened.
Even after eighteen years of being together, of which fifteen were spent married, he never got enough of his wife. His best friend.
“I wish you’d have come with me for my last run through here as a wrestler.” Coral said. “Next time I come to Japan, it’ll be as a tourist. I’m not sure what I’d do with myself as a tourist. I never… well, I never thought I’d go anywhere just to be a tourist, you know? Especially Japan. I didn’t just work here. I lived here. This being my last tour here is a bit… bittersweet.”
“I know, sweetie,” Annabelle said, “Just remember, you and I will always have a home there. If not by the Natsukawas, then certainly, Inoue would invite us.”
“She’d invite you. Me, I’m not so sure about.” Coral said.
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous. She likes you the best out of all the wrestlers we know.” Annabelle said.
Inoue still wouldn’t tell him what was happening in Sapporo.
Everyone else knew what they were doing on the last day of the big tour.
Except for him.
Knowing the kind of surprises Inoue liked to spring on him, he couldn’t imagine enjoying it.
After all, he still had the one surprise she sprung on him that he did know about. The one for the show in Hachinohe.
A ROUGH DAY AT THE OFFICE
Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture, Japan
May 14th, 2022
Kensuke BLACK was one of the biggest stars of Bang! Pro Wrestling.
Standing 5’9” and probably just as wide in pure stout muscle, the man had won the promotion’s second-most important championship four times – the Bang! Hardweight Championship. It was a championship defined by the ludicrous matches that took place in its defense. He was its current holder, and would be defending his championship against Avalon.
Coral himself won the championship once before.
In a water park.
The part he remembered the most about participating in that match was putting his opponent in a figure-four leglock at the top of a water slide, who then forced both of them to slide all the way down to the pool below. He ultimately won with a kimura in that pool, almost running the risk of drowning both himself and his opponent at the same time. Because it was that kind of match.
Coral had a pure disdain for real deathmatches. The kinds with the barbed wire, the light tubes, and the explosives.
Back in those halcyon early years of his career, when Coral last flirted with the prospect of becoming a legitimate world champion, he wrestled in a match so dangerous that it was only ever attempted once. It was called “Gimmick Hell”, and was the brainchild of a wrestler named Lowell Dot Com. God rest his soul.
Okay, he’s not actually dead, but Coral didn’t know that. He hadn’t heard from him in a very long time.
The point is, that match nearly killed Coral, and he’s the one who won it. He lost so much blood that he needed an emergency transfusion. Some of the things that happened in that match had never been replayed on television, and with good reason.
His attempts to fight through the laundry list of injuries in order to defend the championship he won only served to worsen them until he had to take a lot of time off to heal. By the time he was ready to wrestle again, the promotion he worked for had shuttered its doors.
So he wasn’t the biggest fan of having to wrestle in water parks or office buildings. However, sometimes, Inoue liked to put him in those scenarios just to see him squirm. At least she usually had the decency to keep him away from the barbed wire, the light tubes, or the explosives. Instead, she liked to put him in matches that were set anywhere but a wrestling ring.
The cameras followed Avalon as he tried very desperately to look like he wasn’t about to shit bricks.
Kensuke BLACK – his real name was Sakagami Kensuke – was one of the many young wrestlers that Avalon helped train in Japan. Avalon had a hand in training almost everyone on Bang!’s roster, but none of them scared him as much as Kensuke did. To be fair, Kensuke was a good guy. Coral remembered a lot of good nights going with him and several of the other students to get teriyaki. Dude could also croon a Sinatra track at the karaoke bar like few others could. He was also a hard, thick bastard. The kind of bastard where you would punch him, and you would take more damage than he would.
As he walked, the building’s sound system was playing the theme music Coral used in Bang! Pro Wrestling – a cover of Duran Duran’s “Ordinary World” performed by Red.
Much like a lot of things he did in Bang!, it wasn’t his idea.
Especially not the “Working Overtime for the Office Deathmatch!”
And yes, once again, the exclamation mark was required when talking about the title of this thing. Sorry, word processors the world over.
Anyway, the Working Overtime for the Office Deathmatch! was really just a normal, everyday wrestling match.
It just happened to take place in an office building.
You know, one where work was ostensibly being done.
So, imagine the surprise of your typical Japanese salaryman when the elevators open up and a large, barrel-chested Japanese man in black trunks and white boots walked in. The sides of his head were shaved off, leaving only a narrow landing strip of hair on the top of his head. A rat tail poked out from behind this narrow strip of hair. He had a mustache and goatee that were both dyed blonde, contrasting greatly with his landing strip for a hairdo.
A hushed, awkward silence came over the people of the fifth floor of the building.
Abroad, there’s this image that Japan is insane and like to do wild things all the time. They are the country with the bizarre Mountain Dew flavors, with the women’s panties you find in some vending machines, and made Takeshi’s Castle a thing.
The truth is that Japan was as terribly boring and mundane underneath what it presents in its entertainment as anywhere else. Salarymen working dull, long hours spent meaninglessly in cubicles. Television that was often mindlessly dull. The Bount arc of Bleach.
The purpose of Bang! Pro Wrestling was to not be boring and mundane. To bring the excitement and hysterical ludicrousness of professional wrestling to any place that they could. Sure, the ring would be the safest and most reasonable place to conduct a pro wrestling match. But to Bang! Pro, there was little difference except locale in where a match could take place.
And so, the people of a humble office building in metro Hachinohe had to contend with Kensuke BLACK shouting almost unintelligibly in Japanese, but the main thrust being that he wanted to fight the Crownless King right there.
Well, Coral never really backed down from a cordial invitation like that.
He took the stairs. With the cameramen in tow, as well as Bang! Pro Wrestling’s senior referee, Ryu Doi.
Coral entered the floor, the camera crew and Ryu behind him. He and Kensuke locked eyes. There was a mutual understanding between the two of them in that moment.
Yes, it was a battle between student and mentor, yet the student had long come into his own. He was ready to show the King that he was no mere Prince.
Coral stood mere inches from Kensuke’s face, and looked down on him. Physically, I mean. Coral had a few inches on him. Figuratively, Coral knew exactly what he was in for with Kensuke.
And then the match began, and it all went to hell very quickly.
First came the strike exchange.
Coral threw a European uppercut that might have moved Kensuke back an inch. One might need some football chains to really measure that, though. It definitely wasn’t enough of a movement to move the line of scrimmage.
Kensuke responded by throwing a forearm.
Coral was a tall man of lean muscle. Kensuke had the exact build of a mini-fridge. Like, one of the bigger, fancier ones that held more things in it. A mini-fridge with a good budget, not one of those mini-fridges you buy when you can’t afford a real fridge to put all of your favorite beers in. Do you know what I’m talking about? Like, really, when you start describing human beings as appliances, you know you’ve got what this narrative loves to describe as a hard bastard.
Oh, uh… also, he hit Coral so hard that he knocked him straight off of his feet.
Okay, maybe getting into a striking contest with a man being described by most of the items of a Best Buy catalogue wasn’t the best plan.
Coral scrambled to his feet, and Kensuke met him when he got to his feet, grabbing him by his hair and pulling him to the nearest desk. He slammed his whole damn upper torso into the thing, and started to climb up on top, dragging Coral with him.
And without a lot of preamble, Coral suddenly found himself in mid-air. Not a great feeling, especially when you weren’t entirely sure where you were about to land.
Coral flew over the wall of one cubicle and landed hard on the desk found on the other side. His upper back hit the desk, and took a computer monitor with him to the floor.
As suplexes went, it was one of the less pleasant ones he’d experienced in his long career. Which said a lot. Coral Avalon had likely spent as much airtime from being suplexed in his twenty years as a professional wrestler as there was running time of any of the Lord of the Rings movies.
That’s the problem with taking a big move away from a wrestling ring. A wrestling ring was a safe, controlled environment for one to do sick wrestling stunts. An office cubicle was the opposite of that. Even just getting knocked down from a forearm could do more damage than you might expect.
Coral found himself crawling out of the cubicle on his hands and knees. He looked back to see the scattered remains of what had been someone’s Gundam model strewn about on the desk and on the floor.
The match went like this for a while. Coral would get in some shots, and Kensuke would suplex him into more office furniture that may or may not have had a very painful decorative object on top of it. Kensuke BLACK was clearly a suplexing demigod, born to a suplex god and an ordinary mortal woman. Most wrestlers in Coral’s situation would find something that wasn’t nailed down to clobber Kensuke with. A chair, a piece of a desk, a Gundam statue painstakingly built with glue and love over a long period of time… anything.
It’d never been his style.
Which, you know, was a good candidate as to why he almost died that one time, as explained above. Maybe he’d have died less if he didn’t stick to his golden rule about not using weapons to win wrestling matches in a fucking deathmatch.
Despite the beating Kensuke had been delivering to Avalon so far, though, the man was still fighting back. Each suplex was a challenge. The difficulty in defeating Avalon in any scenario wasn’t whether you could damage him or not. It’s whether you could beat him before he inevitably outlasted you.
Kensuke BLACK obviously knew this. He’d been hitting Coral with every big move in his arsenal. Every suplex he knew. Even a few he didn’t until he tried it out. But nothing actually beat him yet. And it wasn’t like he was suplexing him at will, either. Avalon kept fighting back until the next suplex would put him on the ground. He was getting frustrated.
And frustration was an aphrodisiac for mistakes.
Anyway, Kensuke’s growing mistake boner had convinced him to stalk after Coral as he crawled towards anything that would help him get to his feet. What he didn’t know was that Coral had anticipated this. He let Kensuke pick him up, intent on hitting another suplex. This one would’ve been of the vertical variety, one of the more vanilla and milquetoast of the extended and ornery suplex family fathered by the Suplex Daddy, but no less painful.
Coral made himself limp for a moment, and Kensuke couldn’t muscle him up as a result. When Coral’s feet hit the ground from the failed attempt, he spun out of the headlock, keeping hold of his opponent’s wrist. Then he cracked him in the jaw with the yakuza kick.
For disclosure, Avalon does have a name for this thing he keeps doing to put Sid in his place, but for the purposes of the story, we’ll just keep calling it a “yakuza kick” for now. Anyway, Kensuke BLACK might have been a hard bastard, but even he couldn’t shrug that off. He staggered as though punch-drunk, and found himself by the elevators before long. His hand brushed against the button to call the elevator.
Coral timed the second yakuza kick perfectly, nailing his opponent with it just after the elevator doors behind him opened. Kensuke staggered backwards and fell on his ass in the middle of the elevator.
Coral… did not follow him in.
Instead, he let the elevator doors close.
“Alright, I win!” he declared. He raised his arms in the air. Well, one arm. The other one throbbed quite a bit from one of the landings he suffered in the earlier suplexes.
He did not win.
Ryu told him as such.
Coral palmed his face as Ryu told him that he had not yet pinned or submitted his opponent. He merely delayed it.
By the time he was done getting admonished for thinking he’d won a match he hadn’t won, Coral turned to find the doors opening again.
And Kensuke came roaring out the instant he could clear the doors and sent Coral spinning to the ground with a lariat.
Coral rolled onto his stomach, and watched as Kensuke picked up a piece of stationary that he wished he hadn’t.
A red stapler.
And that’s when Coral knew that this truly became a “deathmatch”.
“This is definitely not my day,” he muttered.
JAW JACKIN’ IT WITH THE JACKS
Aomori, Aomori Prefecture, Japan
May 16th, 2022
Inoue knew what the word “mercy” meant.
She simply chose to pretend that it didn’t exist.
Even knowing how banged up, bloodied, and full of staples Coral Avalon was after losing the Working Overtime for the Office Deathmatch! against the Bang! Hardweight Champion, the erstwhile School Girl still put him in a singles match against Claire Merci. After all, Coral and Claire had agreed to the match after the events in Morioka.
The match was a back-and-forth affair. They were evenly matched, but Coral’s experience had an edge over Claire’s youthful exuberance. There’s the fact that Coral had taught Claire everything she knew, but obviously hadn’t taught her half of what he knew. There’s the fact that Claire could suplex a man twice as big as Coral was. In the end, the fight ended in a draw. A double countout caused by Coral preventing Claire from getting back into the ring but being unable to beat the count himself.
Coral knew that it couldn’t end like this.
He knew that a king would have to go out on his sword.
After the show, Coral was invited to a steakhouse in Aomori, on the northern shore of Honshu Island. From here, they were going across the water to Hakodate in Hokkaido, and then Sapporo after that. Coral figured that he had to be wrestling Claire again in Hakodate, but Inoue hadn’t said anything one way or another. He’d have to find out when they got there.
Of course, it wasn’t just food that they were here for.
They were also here because the Jacks had a v-log, which was on YouTube and was called “Jaw Jackin’ It with the Jacks”.
Sweetwater, with his stringy brown hair down one side of his face, looked like he belonged at the front of an aging punk rock band. Pizazz, with his dashing good looks, looked like he belonged on a B-level soap opera like he used to be. And Graves, with his buzzed haircut and ridiculous goatee, looked like he belonged on the set of an action movie as one of the more recognizable henchmen to get kicked in the face by Jason Statham.
Graves usually held the camera for the v-log.
“So, Avy,” Sweetwater said, “Got any advice for the newbies here?”
“Yeah. Don’t wrestle Kensuke in an office building.” Coral said, immediately.
There was laughter all around.
Aside from the Jacks, there were two other people gathered around. The first was a former idol-turned-wrestler, Tsukino Riko. She wore sunglasses and a Boston Bruins hat that Pizazz had given her, and was trying to remain very inconspicuous. Paparazzi and photographers had been hounding her since she suddenly announced her retirement from idol work and her decision to get into wrestling. She’d only been wrestling for eighteen months, but had made great strides and was currently half of the Bang! With Your Partner tag team championships.
Yes, that’s what it was called.
No, I will make no attempt to explain it.
The other person there was the “ace” of Bang! Pro Wrestling, the top star and the Openweight Champion. His name was Ichikawa Gorou. “Big Iron” Gorou, some called him. Coral knew upon training the young man that he had the talent to make it far. Within three years, his talent had been more than enough to capture his first major championship: the Openweight Title itself.
Neither of them were “newbies” in the strictest sense. Both had talent and charisma for days. Both were champions in Bang! Pro Wrestling. But Coral had been wrestling twice as long as both of them. Combined.
It made him feel pretty damn old.
Maybe Ria was right.
Maybe he was a fossil just like most of the rest of PRIME’s roster.
Well, okay, he was still younger than most of the other fossils.
Still. It made him think. And he certainly wasn’t healing as quickly as he used to from a match like the one with Kensuke.
“It wasn’t that bad, was it?” Pizazz asked.
“How many staples did they say Kensuke put in your body?” Graves asked.
“Twenty-six.” Coral said.
“Man loved him that stapler.” Coral said. He needed a fair amount of medical attention after that fiasco. Nothing major, but it was why he looked like a mummy underneath his flannel jacket, T-shirt, and jeans. The wounds had closed in the two days since that match, but a number of them could start bleeding again once he started wrestling again.
Which, you know, he did tonight. And would likely do tomorrow in Hakodate.
He was definitely due for a rest after this tour was done.
Except, of course, he had to catch a flight back to Vegas for PRIME immediately after the tour was done.
A kings was not expected to rest.
“Okay, okay, but… it wasn’t all staples, right?” Sweetwater asked.
“I was also stabbed a couple of times with a fountain pen.” Coral said. Then he held up his hand, and started adding fingers for everything Kensuke did to him in that match, “I was also suplexed into six desks, kneed in the face against the wall of a cubicle, got gouged in the forehead by one of those wicked-looking staple removers, got hit over the head by one of those cheap flat-screen computer monitors, had a water cooler thrown at me… uh, what else…”
It was on the tip of his tongue…
Everyone else in the room – at least the ones who understood English – looked horrified.
Coral turned to Riko and Gorou, who’d spent most of the conversation just smiling and nodding along, and said in Japanese, “Just telling them about Kensuke-san’s Wild Ride.”
“Ohh!” Gorou said, his tone impressed, “I see!”
Like most of the roster of Bang! Pro, Gorou looked up to Avalon. He was a mentor to everyone. Coral leaving was bittersweet for more than just him, and he knew it. Maybe that’s why Kensuke BLACK went the lengths he did in that office building.
“But why the staple remover, though?” Coral asked himself.
All of this made him wonder.
Was it really right to move on?
He loved it here.
Bang! Pro was there when Sin City Championship Wrestling fell apart, when his whole career looked like it’d gone up in smoke at the hands of Terrence Kingsley. No matter what happened in Ulaanbaatar or Santiago or wherever he worked where the water was poor and the likelihood of him getting stabbed for his wallet was a non-zero percentage, he could always come back to Bang! Pro and feel at home again.
But too many plates were spinning, now.
The cartoon. The wrestling school. PRIME. His wife finally gaining traction as a musician.
Going back to PRIME meant once again facing his own glaring shortcomings as a professional wrestler. That he was too nice for this. That he didn’t possess the boundless ambitions of his peers, even if he himself desired to win his first world championship. That there were lines that he dared not cross.
But for now, back to answering questions about how much Kensuke bodied him in an environment he wasn’t suited for.
“Oh, and he also hit me over the head with a keyboard,” Coral said, finally remembering the last of the things Kensuke did to him.
“Jesus, Avy,” Sweetwater said, astonished, “I’ve been wrestling near as long as you have, but I don’t think I’ve ever had that thorough a list of things happen to me in a year, let alone one month.”
“Some people’s just built different, I guess. Plus, I got some good hits in, though,” Coral said. “Can’t deny that.”
“Yeah, Avy, but nobody’s giving out a participation reward because you kicked him really good in the face once or twice.” Pizazz said.
Coral turned back to Riko and Gorou, and said to them in Japanese, “They don’t think I did very well in the match with Kensuke-san. Can you believe that?”
“Hey, that’s not fair, stop defending yourself to them in Japanese!” Graves complained.
They all laughed.
“No, but seriously. This PRIME thing. What’s up with Joe and Sid? I thought they just joined your academy.” Sweetwater asked.
It was a fair question.
“They did, ten months ago. Franco was getting them booked for our indie to help them work out the kinks. I’d give them advice after every match. Then I went to Providence to work out some business with the cartoon, and discovered while I was there that they joined that PRIME Survivor fiasco.” Coral said.
He let out a long sigh. Nobody involved with Survivor seemed to like it. He empathized.
“They’ve survived half the competition, but the moment they have to wrestle, I think their goose is cooked. Their geese. Birds of some description.” Coral said. “They need more time. I’d send them here if they would listen to me. I’m sure Inoue-san wouldn’t mind.”
Would they listen to him?
Well, it wasn’t worth thinking about it while he was here.
He’d have to have those conversations when he got back to the States.
Without the mask, preferably.
Hakodate, Aomori Prefecture, Japan
May 17th, 2022
Doi Inoue paced grumpily in her makeshift office in the building.
That was typical of her.
She could never sit still, and the fact that she couldn’t wrestle stewed her clams. She was the type of woman who would’ve never caved to the Japanese societal pressure of being forcibly retired at the age of 25. She’d still be wrestling now at 35 if she didn’t experience constant double vision.
In 2016, she took a hard elbow to the face during a tag match against “Diamond” Daisuke Hashiwara and Cowabunga Kenji. Apart from a broken orbital bone, Inoue discovered even after the bone had healed that her left eye didn’t work properly any more, and it turned out to be a paralyzed nerve. Because she couldn’t move her eye, she constantly saw double, and found it utterly disorienting. She slowed down as a result, too careful to not throw a kick that might actually decapitate someone instead of merely concussing them.
Eventually, she decided to focus entirely on running Bang! Pro Wrestling and step away from the ring.
Inoue had lightened up a little since starting Bang! Pro Wrestling nearly a decade ago. I mean, not with Avalon, certainly. Sure, she valued his experience and his even-tempered nature. She also found his humbleness infuriating, especially when it came to their record against each other.
By the time Inoue had to stop wrestling, Coral had more wins against her than she did against him.
Her pride found this unacceptable.
But still, she lightened up.
Bang! Pro Wrestling had a lot of nonsense in it, and if Inoue had been running the place when she first made her name, it would’ve just looked like any other wrestling company in Japan. Instead, she ran a company with a shark mascot, questionably named not-brother perverts, a bunch of Jacks, a man who thought he was an art piece, a former idol, and so many other crazies.
She ran a circus, and she was the ringmaster.
She was fine with this.
“Idiot.” Inoue said to Coral when he first walked in.
To Coral, it wasn’t a conversation with Inoue if she didn’t pepper it with constant insults about his intelligence and decision-making. They were like commas. The only difference between now and when she did it before was that her English had improved enough that there was a certain charm to the heavily accented insults.
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Coral said, “Sorry.”
“No apology.” Inoue said, shaking her head, “I know.”
The two were backstage at the night’s event in Bang! Pro Wrestling. Coral had only just arrived, and he’d already changed to his ring gear when he found Inoue pacing by herself, going over her notes. She wore glasses, which did little to help her vision problems. Her pantsuit was roughly worn. The shirt wasn’t tucked in and she didn’t wear a tie. Her hair was tied into a ponytail, which was folded back into itself into a makeshift bun.
Her glasses were just for show, really.
They also belied the fact that if she wanted to, she could beat the shit out of a grown-ass man twice her size. If she could pick out which one was the real one, anyway.
Coral knew that Inoue was even grumpier than usual around him on this tour, for two reasons. One, it was his last tour with Bang! Pro. Two, and much more importantly, Annabelle couldn’t be there with him. Both of those were the reasons was why he was apologizing.
Coral had a long history with Inoue, and their careers were so thoroughly tied together that you couldn’t tell one story without the other. Sure, you had your Jeff Garvins and your Brandon Youngbloods, and that messy business with Lowell Dot Com and Jimmy Cain. But that was a long time ago, and Coral hadn’t shared space with any of those names in a very long time.
“Stop smiling.” Inoue snapped, not even looking Coral’s way to see him smile, “Hate it when you smile.”
“Right. Sorry. About the apology.”
Inoue turned to glare at him. Even now, she had this way of staring at someone that made them all but certain that she’d cave their skulls in.
She was, without a doubt, one of the scariest women in his life.
But she was also his friend, for whatever that was worth. Since Inoue was in his life, he could handle the tumultuous way Ria Nightshade acted, he could handle Lindsay Troy’s acidic wit, and even someone like Alexandra Pierce couldn’t phase him.
Because he was used to it.
He worried for a whole month about how Inoue would act around him when he informed her that this might be his last tour. That PRIME had signed him. That an American company, for the first time in years, had deigned to recognize his talent.
Or perhaps more accurately, that it’d deigned to recognize that the character he played was what was worth recognition. Coral suffered no delusions about the truth, because wrestling had long since cast them aside. Coral knew that PRIME signed Baron von Blackberry, the iron-fisted and fruity leader of the scenic, yet diabolical nation of Fruitsylvania, who commanded the thousand robot armies of his great nation. They sure as hell didn’t sign a boring, humble wrestle robot like Coral Avalon.
Beep boop suplex.
The only person in the world who wanted that side of Coral was Doi Inoue.
Because she was used to it.
And so, in Japan, he was free to be who he was under the mask. He could be Coral Avalon, the Crownless King, and wrestle like he always knew he could. Quietly, seemingly without anyone noticing, he’d continued to put forth the work in being the solid main event-level talent he was in Action! Wrestling, the Squared Circle, and All-Star Championship Wrestling.
Leaving Bang! was bittersweet for both of them.
Because they weren’t used to a world without the other in it.
“So,” Coral said in the awkward silence after his apology-for-an-apology, “Are you ever going to tell me what I’m doing in Sapporo?”
“No.” Inoue said.
Coral stifled a laugh over the immediate denial.
“Alright, guess I get to find out with everyone else, then.” Coral said.
There was a pause.
“No.” Inoue interrupted, “Not now.”
“Not now? Uh, about Sapporo?”
“About whatever you were about to say.” Inoue said, in Japanese, “Spare me whatever speech you had in mind about how this isn’t goodbye or whatever. I know. You have family here. You’ll always come back. I know.”
“Was I that obvious?” Coral asked.
“You’re an idiot. Easy to read everywhere but in the ring.” Inoue said, “An idiot, through and through. You don’t need to wear that stupid mask to show everyone how much of an idiot you are.”
Commas, as stated much earlier.
“I get it, I get it,” Coral deflected. Then he sighed, and admitted, “I don’t want to leave. Not really.”
“I know that, too. Idiot.” Inoue said, “But Wakana-chan needs you. You both made the decision to stay in America, and so I will suggest what benefits her. Entirely her. You, I could do without.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.” Coral said.
For Coral, there was little wonder why Inoue treated him the way she did.
It wasn’t just being the one to initially shake her confidence and swagger in the ring.
It’s the fact that in the end, Annabelle chose him.
A KING NEEDS NO CROWN
Sapporo, Aomori Prefecture, Japan
May 18th, 2022
It took until the show began before Coral finally found out that he was in the first match of the night. The opening contest of the biggest show of the tour.
In Hakodate, he had another grueling contest with Claire. This one ended in a double disqualification after they stopped listening to the referee’s instructions and started beating each other senseless. Once both of them pushed the referee out of their way so they could keep fighting, they got disqualified.
It was only after this happened that he finally had an inkling of what he was in for in Sapporo.
It was him against Claire in a no holds barred match.
This match was also hard on your boy.
It became hard in minute one, when Claire grabbed a kendo stick – actually a kind of training sword called a shinai in Japan – and blasted Coral over the head and shoulders with it. She didn’t even call “Men!” when she did it, like most kendo practitioners would. Since she never practiced kendo.
After that, it was a lot of back and forth, but Claire consistently held the advantage because she was a pragmatist and Coral was insane and still refused to grab a weapon. Every time Coral took her down for a moment, she’d always land where a weapon was, and then he was in a world of pain again the moment he tried to press his brief advantage.
Thumbtacks got involved. There was some barbed wire. Stuff you didn’t commonly see in a place like Bang! Pro Wrestling. The kind of stuff that Coral hated.
Claire bled, and Coral bled even more.
But in the end, Claire beat Coral by dumping him on his head with a half-and-half suplex into more thumbtacks.
And with that, Coral’s time in Bang! Pro Wrestling had come to an end.
As Ryu Doi counted down the final three count, Coral – spent as he was after all thirty minutes of that violence – could hear Claire’s voice.
The student, once again, had overcome the teacher, as Kensuke had done just four nights ago.
Claire had nothing left she needed to learn. At least, not from him. Time would tell if she’d need to learn from others, of course. But now, the Kingdom had but one ruler, and it was a French-Canadian.
Trainee wrestlers flooded the ring to help tend to the exhausted foreign wrestlers after the war that’d been waged.
They knew they had to clear out soon so that cleanup could begin.
Claire was out first, raising her arms into the air in triumph. The crowd loved her in that moment, and if Coral wasn’t in so much pain from two matches in a week that involved getting very tiny pieces of metal shoved into his body, he’d be happy for her.
It took Coral a while to gather himself enough that he could leave the ring. He refused further help once he was outside the ring, and instead staggered his way back behind the curtain.
When he got to the back, he found so many people standing there waiting for him that it took him aback. Every single person in Bang! Pro was there waiting for him. Lord Kurosame-sama, the shark wrestler. The Jacks. Cowabunga Kenji. “Diamond” Daisuke. The Fabulous Hentai Brothers. Tsukino Riko. Her tag team partner, the Giant Tekkai. Kensuke BLACK. Gorou. Even Inoue and Ryu Doi. Claire, sitting behind them receiving medical attention of her own, could be seen beaming a smile towards him.
And everyone, all at once, bowed at the waist.
Coral genuinely didn’t know how to react.
He’d been at this for so long that he never really considered what kind of impact he had on all of them. It just was. His happiness at being so appreciated and his sadness at having to say goodbye made for a hell of a hurricane in the pit of his stomach. He knew that letting go was always the hardest part, but now it finally hit him that this was it for him in Japan.
Ten years of his life were spent here, and now he had to let go.
It took him a while to find a response.
He could barely keep his voice steady when he finally spoke.
“No. Thank you.”
Inoue walked over to him and wrapped her arms around him in a hug, not caring how much Avalon’s blood would stain it when she did.
“An idiot to the end,” she said, “Don’t be a stranger, Avalon-san.”
Most wrestlers would tell you that the best thing you can be in this business is the champion, and that’s the end of the discussion. The Cancers and the Hoyts of the world, who measured success only by being at the top of the mountain, would have you believe that this was all that mattered.
But for a man like Coral Avalon, it’s things like these that he cherished more than anything.
Maybe he’d someday have a crown to rid himself of the “Crownless King” epithet that he embraced as his own.
But he didn’t need it.
Because a king needed no crown to be king.