It was a beautiful day.
Birds chirped, sun shined, and everything was in order…
…Until the tires squealed like they were in a blender.
Two electric blue sports cars swung through a road surrounded by the ocean of trees that made up the bulk of the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Every once in a while, dollar bills would fly out from behind both vehicles without a single care in the world about where they would end up. Both vehicles were playing their radios at an eardrum-bursting volume. You could hear that bass from another county over. Maybe another country.
What were they playing in perfect unison?
Jermaine Dupri and Jay-Z’s classic “Money Ain’t A Thang”, of course. Appropriate.
In the lead car, Coral Avalon was the one doing the driving. He was doing his best attempts to rap along with the song, and he was doing it very well and he wasn’t being painfully white about it or anything. In one hand, he held the steering wheel with all of the care of a man looking to have himself an accident. In the other, he had a fat stack of Benjamins spread out like a fan. He wore sunglasses and a three-piece suit that might have cost as much as the car he drove.
In the passenger seat was his wife, also wearing sunglasses. Like everyone’s favorite wine aunt, she was drinking straight from the bottle because she sure as hell wasn’t going to be the designated driver. That’s for nerds. The Alias championship that Coral held rode in the back of their car as though it were treated as a third passenger. It even wore its own seatbelt.
And in the car behind them, there were four individuals.
Cancer Jiles was sprawled out in the backseat of the sports car, clearly not running a fuck charity. He looked like a man unbothered by the reckless driving, the money that was quietly being lost on this venture, or really anything that was going on. Jiles was too COOL for this… or too high for this. One of the two.
Bobby Dean, riding shotgun, was waving his hands in the air like he didn’t care. Or he was panicking. He might be panicking. We couldn’t imagine why he would be, he’s covered in wealth. Literally, his robe had discarded Hamiltons sewn into it, as though none of the other Bandits wanted them and he took what was left. Tony Gamble got those dank-ass designer phone books in his seat. Let’s look at who’s driving the OG Bandits’ vehicle, and…
Oh, was there no one driving?
No, wait. No. That’s Doozer. Doozer’s driving.
God help them all.
They drove through the verdant forests of Washington State with reckless abandon, a trail of money floating mirthfully behind them like they were a bunch of careless D.B. Coopers. Speed limits were merely a suggestion. Curves were a roll of the dice. Jesus needed to take the wheel, but the Bandits said “nah, we good”.
Top down, screamin’ out, “money ain’t a thang!”
Soon, they’d approach the mansion. It was a lavish, multi-storied abomination of gold. They had to mine out all of the resources of an entire country to construct this building, and by golly, they didn’t rest until they turned up every last sliver of gold! Sure, it absolutely cratered their GDP and left it a smoldering ruin from which no good could ever come again, but it was worth it for the way the sun reflected off of the surface of the building!
They literally drifted through the gates, as though the gates were constructed specifically so that one could drift right into the property. Their cars passed by the multitude of ornate marble fountains, each depicting a particular member of the eGG Bandits in all of their glory. A Biblically accurate Cancer Jiles fountain with many wings and eyes and T-shades covering those eyes. An almost see-through Doozer fountain. Horrifyingly, Bobby Dean in the nude. There’s one for Coral, it’s mostly forehead. There’s even one for Tony Gamble, which depicted him being in mid-combo as he was juggled by a Neanderthal in a singlet and (for some reason) a Magneto helmet.
Finally, the cars screeched to a halt. There’s a cacophony of two sets of squealing tires, as the vehicles came to a stop mere inches from the head butler of the mansion.
The butler was appallingly British, and his name was Sebastian. “Seabass” to Coral, “Sea-ass” to Jiles. Seabass stood there, completely nonplussed at nearly being run over by a pair of hilariously reckless drivers, his arms neatly folded behind his back.
“Masters, sir,” Seabass said to the Bandits, “Welcome home.”
Jiles turned his head towards Seabass, but remained seated exactly where he was in his sports car even as Bobby was crawling out from the vehicle and kissing the ground, ever-thankful to still be alive. Doozer was questionably there. Tony had some difficulty getting down from all of the phone books.
Coral and his wife exited their vehicle to greet Seabass and experience his majesty. What a good butler he was, so many years of exemplary service!
“Seabass!” Coral said with an unusual amount of cheer in his voice, “How’s tricks?”
“House Bandit has experienced a minor windfall in the stock market,” Seabass explained in his smooth baritone and extremely English voice.
“Cool,” Coral said, “We can get that second chocolate pool built into the mansion, then!”
He turned to the other Bandits, “Hear that, fellas? We’re putting in another story!”
Bobby and Doozer cheered, one of them doing so invisibly. Jiles continued to give the exact amount of fucks he’d been giving before. Meanwhile, Annabelle was trying to get Coral’s attention, but he was far too excited about his prospects to notice.
“And you know, why just stop at one story? We could get two!” Coral continued, looking up at the great mansion before him that looked like it played Also sprach Zarathustra every time you looked at it. “I know a guy.”
Coral pulled out a square-shaped device from his pocket. After fiddling with it for a few moments, it emitted a great blue light that radiated in front of the great mansionlith. It formed a familiar face, a man who we all know and love as the great professional wrestling architect of our times. His top hat and monocle highlighted a rugged, handsome face complete with a five o’clock shadow that looked like it wanted to put in extra hours.
His name was Tunnel King Wentworth.
“Coral, my boy!” TK greeted, “Mr. Jiles, as well!”
Jiles reacted to the appearance of the large holographic head with only the slightest of nods. This was maybe a fourth of a fuck being given, as though such a thing could come in fractional form.
“TK, what would it take to get another story or two on the mansion?” Coral asked, beaming a smile.
TK went into exhaustive, boring detail about how they’ll have to get a squadron of “quad copters” to carry the new story up after they pop the roof off like the lid of a jar. Really boring stuff, something about teleportation technology and time magic and all of that stuff that only nerds cared about. Now Jiles was asleep and Bobby was looking for his third brunch of the morning and God only knows what Doozer was up to because we couldn’t find him anymore. Coral nodded along, though TK lost him a bit with an extended aside about the economics of “quad copters” and how a man named “Tunnel King” Wentworth really shouldn’t be dealing with air travel at all, but did so in order to take the piss out of his competitors.
All the while, Annabelle was still trying to get Coral’s attention. She’d taken to waving some of the fat stacks of cash at him.
Finally, she grabbed him by the shoulders.
“Sweetie! Wake up!”
Coral looked up at the hologram of Wentworth, still waxing poetic about a topic that Coral realized was drifting away from his mind. There was panic in his eyes.
The world was shaking. The mansion was crumbling. Everything was being swept away.
Coral realized, all too quickly, that this dream was being subjected to cold reality.
Coral was bleary-eyed, barely comprehending the face of his wife.
It took him several moments before his eyes passed over the digital clock hanging from the wall. His eyes burned, and he had to blink several times before the cursed numbers came into focus.
Had it only been three hours?
“Sweetie, it’s your turn,” Annabelle said. She looked as exhausted as he felt. It’d been a long couple of months since Aoi was born. So many sleepless nights, and not all of them involved Tony Gamble needing a stepstool and a couple of Seattle phone books to get on the couch.
“Oh.” Coral managed to say. He’d gotten used to hiding his disappointment about being woken up so quickly, but he was getting into that dream of his. He swore it was the first time he ever rapped the chorus to that twenty year old Jay-Z song just right.
Coral didn’t so much get up from the bed as he did roll off of it, landing on his knees while his head was still down on the pillow. He wanted very much to remain in that spot and catch some more Z’s. Maybe see what happened to Wentworth. He knew he couldn’t, though. His daughter took priority.
So, he pulled himself up in an effort that one might call heroic and sauntered off to the old guest room of his house that’d been converted into Aoi’s room in the last year. A lot of love and attention went into this room, most of it from Annabelle. There were tapestries of Hokusai’s pleasant mountain paintings hanging from the walls and several toys and gizmos to amuse babies. Little irritable Aoi was in her crib, awaiting her father to come swaddle her. As healthy as could be, unlike her father who got thrown violently to the ground for a living.
He woke up pretty fast seeing the light of his life.
There’d been some dark times of late. He’d been a Bandit for months now, that’s pretty dark. He still couldn’t get the best of Farthington. He took a tough tag team loss to Stanislav and the Halls. Tony Gamble knew where he lived now. Sure, he held a championship, but his position in the Bandits felt tenuous. He had a terrible feeling that the Alias championship was really a Sword of Damocles, the one thing keeping his position in the Bandits secured.
But he’d come home to this face and his life sparkled again.
She squealed in delight when Coral puffed up his cheeks and stuck his tongue out for her. In moments like these, Dan Van Slade or the threat he posed to the Alias championship in his position didn’t even cross his mind.
Because for the first time in what felt like forever, he was happy.
Wait, what happened to the time? Why’s the clock being a real Anna Daniels right now?
Coral looked around in a state of sleep deprivation that he hadn’t felt since his last major injury over ten years ago. He remembered putting Aoi back in the crib. He remembered sitting by her side and watching over her. And then it was a lot of drifting in and out of sleep. Just when his dreams would take him back to his many dream sheep, he’d slip enough out of his seat to jostle himself awake again.
But Aoi was asleep, and that’s the important thing.
He wondered how long it would last before she’d wake up needing another swaddling. Would it be Annabelle’s turn by the time that happened?
At this rate, he wondered if he’d even have the rest needed to get in the training and the study of his opponent, let alone meeting him in the ring on the other side of the country. He wondered if he should’ve taken more time off for his paternity leave.
But he was the Alias champion, and he represented the company as one of its four champions.
Come to think of it, Flash never got back to me about a photoshoot with this title like he did with the 5-Star, what’s that about?
His mind drifted with that thought. It’d been bothering him ever since he took the Alias from Tsonda at Colossus and then needed to take time away from wrestling to care for his wife and his daughter. Jiles kept sending him texts about all kinds of Bandit activities to go and do until he finally relented and took the trip to Philadelphia to egg a house that may or may not have been the Anglo Luchador’s. Bobby had been giving him the cold shoulder since ReVival 41. Lunchbox Lorne might be tired of Coral not actually knowing his name.
It led him to one single question, one that burned at his core.
“Why is it that I’m opening the show?”
It was a question that Coral Avalon asked, but not to his daughter. That might make sense. But instead, Coral found himself on a stage, in front of a cascade of red curtains. He sat on a tall bar stool, in front of a microphone. Before him was his audience, a group of men and women who paid to see him speak to them.
Well, okay, they’re sheep. Literal sheep, not the flock what followed His Word and His Light.
Coral was in his Sunday best. A black suit and tie. No pants, but boxers. Coral knew well after he asked the question that this definitely wasn’t the waking world, but he was so tired that he accepted what was before him.
“That’s what I ask you, the audience. The sheep audience. My sheeple.”
Coral cringed the moment that last dream word came out of his dream mouth. Nobody said that word unironically.
“I’ve never opened a show in PRIME in my entire history with this company. Not with the Rogues, when I was maybe the fifth most important person in that crew. Not when I gave Eddie Cross a bad time, both times. Not even when I went up against Lunchbox Loverboy. But now, when I am a champion that’s supposed to be one of the apex predators of the PRIME world… that’s when I get the Jiles treatment!?”
The moment the name “Jiles” left his dream lips, the sheep booed (baa’ed?) and threw tomatoes on the stage. Tough crowd. These were definitely not Philadelphia sheep.
“I could take this as a sign of disrespect, the same way that he would,” Coral said, “But me? I see this as an opportunity. A mission statement. A proof of concept.”
He gestured behind him at the curtains, which began to part ways to reveal a large portrait of a man. A tall man. A deviant.
“This man. This…”
He sighed, for the next three words hurt him to say.
“…Universal Bad Ass.”
The sheep baa’ed. It’s all they could do, really. But it was a baa in unison, enough that it sounded like boos. Coral stood, and the stool that he sat upon morphed dream-like into a podium. Rather fortunately, standing behind it also prevented his audience from paying any further attention to the fact that he wasn’t wearing pants.
“Dan Van Slade wishes to make his mark in PRIME! He wishes to bathe this company in his deviance! He wishes to continue his undefeated streak of one! To that end, he will attempt to overcome his fifteen minutes of pain! And I say thee… nay! Nay!”
Coral slammed his fist down on the podium. It split in half, such was his power in his dreams!
Whoopsiedoodle, that’s his junk again.
“He forgets himself! He doesn’t know that the last time I met a Montanan in New York City, I annihilated him! And he doesn’t have a bear in his corner like that moron did!”
The audience brayed in excitement.
As they did, Coral’s weight shifted under him, and it jostled him awake again. Suddenly, he was back in Aoi’s room. Like he’d never left.
He looked around dreamily, mildly concerned that he was talking in his sleep. The last thing his infant daughter needed was to learn that her dear father cut wrestling promos in his dreams. Well, it had to be time for Annabelle to take over, right? His eyes settled on the clock.
Son of a Daniels.
Coral heard the cry of a baby and instantly panicked.
He jumped up out of his chair, his arms spread out and his stance lowered into a crouch, prepared to rush off to take care of his daughter in that moment.
It took him a lot longer than it should have to realize two things.
The first was that he wasn’t home. He was in the media room of the Gates of Avalon Wrestling School. The second, a bit related here, was that his daughter wasn’t there. She was still home in the care of his wife, away from all of the sweaty men that surrounded the place.
Franco stared at Coral like he’d lost his mind. Maybe he had.
The laconic Venetian calmly paused the video the two of them were studying, right before Dan Van Slade was setting up for the Deviant Driver on Mar, and continued staring intently at his longtime friend.
Coral realized that he was being silently judged and he felt a little awkward. So slowly, without a word, he sat back down with Franco staring at him the whole time.
When Franco spoke, it was his usual calm, “First time you did that, I didn’t pay it much mind. Second time, that’s weird. Third time, I start thinking that we’re getting into a pattern. Seventh time, though? That’s when I gotta ask… the fuck’s up with you, Avy?”
Coral plopped back down on the chair, and ran his hand over his face, “Just hearing things.”
“You start hallucinating in the ring and that weird deviant is going to fuck you up,” Franco observed.
“I know,” Coral admitted, “He’s got nothing to lose. He knows that. I know that. If he loses, he doesn’t fall far. If he wins, he’s a champion. I have so much more to lose. I’m the stalwart, the champion, the father, the captain.”
Franco resumed play on the video and they watched as Slade sent a man plummeting to the unemployment line.
“That’s why he’s going to fail, Franco,” Coral mused, watching as the referee raised Slade’s hand in victory. “Because I have so much more to fight for than mere vainglory, now.”
Aoi was asleep, and Coral and Annabelle sat together on the couch, both staring blankly off in the distance. It’d been another long and exhausting day in a marathon of them. Fulfilling, but long days.
“I feel like we’re being besieged,” Coral mused with a purposeful yawn.
Annabelle’s eyes looked heavy. Coral knew he was asking a lot of his wife to take up the lion’s share of looking after their daughter while his work kept him busy, but he had a job to do and he couldn’t walk away from it for another eleven months.
“Our daughter is not a battering ram,” Annabelle complained without looking towards Coral, “Even if she’d be an adorable one.”
“Okay, fair. She would be precious at the head of a siege weapon.”
Annabelle leaned her head against Coral’s shoulder.
While the going had been tough, and Coral felt like he was going a little crazy, they still persevered together.
“I watched the last show, by the way. How the hell did you end up at the head of the dumbest group of asses I’d ever seen assembled?” Annabelle asked, “Did I miss something?”
Coral’s sigh was the most defeated she’d heard in quite a while.
“That bad, huh?” she asked.
“I’m pretty sure that one of the dumbasses in my team is going to turn up dead before we get to Culture Shock.”
“Oh,” Annabelle blinked, but she managed a smile, “I hope it’s Jiles.”
Coral nodded, “Me too.”
In his experiences with the Bandits over the past few months, he knew exactly one truth: They were so much worse with Jiles than without. That beautiful day in New Orleans when Aoi was born felt like a fleeting memory, and now the COOLYMPIAN was back to casually being a menace in his life.
Hold out until the year’s done, and then I won’t have to think about the Bandits again.
It was a comforting thought, even if Jiles’ words echoed in his sleep deprived brain.
Just remember. Once a Bandit, always a Bandit.
That thought might keep him awake more than his daughter will.