The Twins, Then
They sat in wooden chairs assembled in neat rows in the shadows of Auerbach, Orr, Russell, Esposito, and Cousy.
The twins paid no mind to the banners that swayed overhead. It wasn’t because of Bird’s jumper or Parish’s defense that they’d fought their way through the crowds to their seats on the floor. They weren’t there to witness Bourque’s slapshot, or to hear their father rant and rave about goddamn Montreal and goddamn Patrick Roy.
It was no secret that Boston loved its sports; every child was born with an innate hatred of the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Lakers. It was also a deeply-ingrained wrestling town.
Andrew sat enraptured; his eyes wide, sparkling with the wonder of a child who knew that magic was real and that Timmy’s uncle really did work at Nintendo.
“This is so cool!” He shook his brother’s shoulder, trying to rouse his twin from a waking dream.
Jared paid it little attention. His mind wandered. Dragons soared through space raining fire on the alien menace of Mars. Wizards sat behind the controls of giant robots, stomping the encroaching goblin horde under foot. Between it all his thoughts would linger on his latest drawing: an elaborate series of ramps and conveyors that would lure captive circus-folk along a precarious bridge above shark-infested waters. Mimes; it was always mimes. Those fortunate enough to survive the harrowing journey would be loaded one by one into a rocket aimed at the heart of the sun. His previous sketch, a labyrinthine horror he called ‘Butt Mountain’, would be nothing compared to the combustive devastation of ‘Butt Rocket’.
“JJ, look!” Andrew shook him again.
“What? I’m watching, Andy. I’m watching.”
“No, you’re not.”
A tanned goliath in an orange singlet leaped from the topmost rope and crashed to the ground, narrowly missing his opponent. It reminded Jared of the Easter when his mother’s ham had fallen off the table.
It went on like that for a while. Jared’s thoughts would dance between fantasies, occasionally interrupted by his brother whenever Andy saw something exciting. By the time the final bell had rung and the house lights were raised Andy wasn’t sure if Jared had seen a moment of it.
“You didn’t watch,” Andy said. The boys stood beside a concrete pillar while their father waited in line to buy a tee shirt. “Why didn’t you watch, JJ?”
“I did watch.”
“You never watch with me.”
“I watch it every Saturday,” Jared protested. “We watch it every week!”
“Yeah, but you don’t like it.
Jared stayed silent.
“I’m gonna wrestle here one day, JJ,” Andy said. “It’s gonna be awesome, and I’m gonna be awesome, and if you’re not gonna wrestle with me then you need to come and watch, okay? Promise me you’re gonna come watch, JJ.”
“Promise me you’ll come and watch, or I’ll be so mad.”
“Andy,” Jared said. He raised a finger. “You’re bleeding.”
Andy’s hand shot to his face. He pressed a hand to his nose, and drew it back wet with blood.
“Dad! Dad, it’s happening again!”
I didn’t wait for Willie in the ring. As soon as the count was done I rolled my ass out of there and started to the back.
You know when you’re driving somewhere how it always feels like it takes longer to get to your destination than it does to get back home, even though it’s the same distance in both directions? This was the opposite of that. Walking out to answer Willie’s challenge was no big deal, but walking back I could feel every eye in that building.
I’m used to a certain amount of scrutiny. Let’s face it, a lot of the things I’ve done over the course of my career could at best be called questionable, and at worst be referred to as “galactically fucking stupid.” I spent four years carrying a lawn gnome named Earl to the ring for every match – he lives on a shelf in my house now, by the way. I once challenged Allen Sarven to a submission match inside a bouncy castle, and no, I have no idea how the mechanics of that would even work. I have competed as a fancy blueberry man on two continents.
Maybe it was because there were only about eighty people in the audience. Maybe the intimacy of the gym had something to do with it. For the ten or so seconds it took to get to the dressing room it felt like I was under a microscope.
As the curtain drew closer I told myself that it was all in my head, just another side-effect of the overactive imagination my teachers used to complain about at parent conferences. Then I pulled the curtain aside and realized that, no, I wasn’t imagining anything. They were waiting back there. Lonnie. Ned. Mort. All of them. Apparently they’d followed me when Willie called me out, and then stayed for the show. They’d been talking, that much was obvious, but when I got there everyone went stone silent. They just stared at me like I’d run dick-swinging naked through the middle of a funeral.
I’m going to be honest: I know the kind of things that people say about me when I’m not around, or when they think I’m not paying attention. I have the internet. And hey, maybe some of it is deserved. Like I said, I’ve done my fair share of stupid shit over the course of my life, but the part that I think people miss is that I’m not oblivious to the fact that it’s happening.
It’s not like I just woke up one morning and thought, “hey, how did this giant turkey suit get in here, and who cut a trap door in its ass?” No, I dressed as a turkey that pooped title belts because Charlie Crisp and I thought that it would be hilarious if we held an episode of Sin City’s ‘Temptation’ hostage while I wore a costume and he rapped about it. I still hear Charlie singing “po dat gravy” in my head sometimes, and then I think about how we listed all the things we were thankful for, and how in hindsight some of it was really problematic.
Then I think about how the rest of that night went. I think about how I rode with Merv to the hospital because Amy had…
Amy and I weren’t even friends then. I’d say we were enemies but I’m not confident she could even pick me out of a line-up at that point in our lives. There was a chair, and I’d done something to piss off Desade, and so she’d…
You know what, forget it.
The point is I know there are consequences to the things I do. I’m just not very good at predicting what they’ll be.
Willie didn’t say anything when he came to the locker room. He just walked in, grabbed his stuff, and left without a word.
The rest of the night went off without a hitch, but the mood had changed. I thought about leaving; thought about doing what Willie had done and just getting in my car and driving off. But then I’d be back home by myself just like every other day, and even if they weren’t sure how to deal with me, at least I was around people.
At least I could pretend that things were okay for a little while longer.
“Jared, man, I thought we were cool.”
At some point my mind went away. I don’t remember what I was thinking about; could have been any number of things, really. But it was Lonnie’s voice that brought me back. He was sitting next to me on a bench, fidgeting with a corked foam sword – the same one that he’d clipped at least half of us in the crotch with over the previous months.
“I thought we were cool.”
“We are, though. Aren’t we? Is this about Willie? Lonnie, I didn’t know he was gonna call me out like that.”
“No, it’s not about Willie. Well, it kind of is, I guess. I don’t know.”
“I have no idea where you’re goin’ with this, Lonnie.”
“We all know who you are. We all know you used to be on television, and that you were pretty successful for a while. Then you started coming around here, and hanging out with us, and it was cool. It was cool because you never acted like you were above any of us, despite getting to be in a position that none of us are ever going to be in.”
He was tapping the edge of his sword on the floor as he spoke, and it made me antsy, so I shifted my posture a little. This way, in case he went all dick-stabby, he’d have a tougher angle. The target was already hard enough to hit, but still.
“I don’t think I’m better than anyone here, Lonnie,” I said.
“Yeah. Yeah, you do.”
“Do you know what I did the first time you and I wrestled here?”
“I know that I went home and iced my crotch all weekend, Lonnie. That sword fuckin’ hurts.”
“I’m serious, Jared.” He sighed, thus gaining immediate membership into the Society Of People Who End Their Sentences With Jared Like This. I bet they hold their meetings in theaters. “We wrestled, and I went home and I pulled up your picture on the computer. Not any of the weird ones. I found the one from when you worked out of Vegas. The one where you beat that Kingsley guy.”
I could feel my throat closing. Without thinking, I flexed the fingers on my left hand. Two of them had been broken in that fight, and a third had been dislocated. There were other injuries too, other scars. For a long moment I felt like I was back in that ring, not caring about whether or not I would win, only thinking about whether or not I would walk out alive. In the ten years since it happened I have never watched that match back. Living it once was enough.
“I showed that picture to my wife and my kids,” he said. “I had to hide some of it from the little ones – you were pretty messed up. I said, ‘See this guy? Tonight your dad got to wrestle him, and your dad held his own.’ I was so proud, man. So proud.”
The lump in my throat moved south and settled into a knot in my chest.
“Lonnie-” He cut me off before I could finish.
“But I didn’t, did I? You led us on, man. You lied to all of us. And for what? What do you get out of this? What do you get out of slumming it with a bunch of never-will-bes?”
If I told Lonnie the truth, that I would rather trade my life for one like his – one where I could go home to a loving family instead of ruining a large percentage of my relationships, would he have believed me, or would he think I was patronizing him? If I had been real honest and told him how I had never planned for this to be my life in the first place, would that have just broken him down even further? So instead I said nothing. I sat on the bench, and I stared at the floor, and I shut myself off like a busted robot.
Lonnie tossed his sword into a duffel bag and made for the door.
“I thought we were cool, Jared.”
The building, a converted candy factory north of Boston, was a second home for Justine Calvin. She had trained here in her youth. She’d met a boy, and broken his heart twice, then watched from afar as he’d become a stand-out in the world she was only tangentially part of. In the years since then she’d become a trainer herself, and then left to forge a different destiny in other parts of the country, but she always came back.
Darren sat in his office – a converted foreman’s space that overlooked the gym from the second floor. He sat behind a desk that looked like a relic from the original owners, before his father had purchased the property. As soon as Justine was through the door, Darren waved her over.
“You see this yet?” he said, turning the monitor on his desk. A video had been paused, and from where she stood Justine could see a ring and a crowd of people within it.
“Is this the forklift thing? That one I’ve seen. Someone on Reddit put together a supercut. They sped the whole thing up and added the Benny Hill song.”
“Sure.” She stepped closer and took a seat nearby. “Did someone else make a video?”
“Not quite,” he said. He adjusted the monitor again, moving a stack of folders out of the way so her vision wouldn’t be obstructed. “This is worse. Buckle up.”
The video started again. Despite the number of bodies milling about, Jared was easy to see: he was the only one dressed like the childhood ideal of a superhero. Two other forms stepped in front of him, posing and flexing in the middle of the ring.
“Damn.” She said the word slow. “I think I might be pregnant. Not sure which of those guys is the father, but they are both definitely daddy.”
“Jesus Christ, Cal’,” Darren grunted. “If you’re that thirsty I got water in the fridge.” He turned to look at her, and saw that she was blushing. “Did I use that word correctly? I hear some of the new kids throw it around.”
“Um, yes. Yes, you did. Now promise you’ll never say it again.” She nodded to the screen. “Who’re they?”
“‘Solid Gold Express’, I think,” he said. “Little one’s name is Beaver, and I think the tall one is Jadakiss.”
A moment later a very different set of names appeared on the monitor. Darren shrugged.
“Close enough,” he said. “They’re actually part of the reason you’re here.”
They watched in silence as the match unfolded. For a time everything seemed normal, the presence of a ringside mannequin notwithstanding, and then the taser appeared. She sucked a breath in through her teeth as it connected with Barry Delgado, the man Darren had mistaken for “Beaver”.
“Yeah,” Darren said, “I know.”
“Darren, what the fuck?”
“I don’t know.”
“What the fuck?”
“I’m worried, Cal’. I’ve known you both since you were still kids, and I know sometimes he does things that don’t make sense, but this? I don’t know what’s going through his mind right now, and that worries me.”
“Have you heard from him? Has he said anything to you?”
“I’ve been trying to get through since before the bullshit with the forklift. Word hit the rumor mill that the keys to one went missing the week before, and I knew. Don’t ask me how, but I knew he was going to be on his shit. He hasn’t answered any of my calls or texts. But I’m concerned. You saw how he went after Rhine with that thing? Cal’, those two know each other. That’s a guy I know Jared respects, even if he doesn’t always like to admit it.”
“And you wonder what he might do to someone he doesn’t know.”
“No, Cal’. I’m worried about him. Something is wrong with one of my kids, and he won’t tell me what, so I can’t help. That’s why I need you.”
“If he won’t talk to you, what makes you think he’ll talk to me?”
He let the question hang in the air unanswered.
She’d trained here in her youth. She’d met a boy.
Justine was silent for a long moment.
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll do what I can.”
I didn’t change after the match in Vegas. I just grabbed what I could and went back to my room. Mark watched the mannequin for me; said he would take care of getting it back into storage. It wasn’t until I was in the room and past all the mirrors that I finally took the stupid mask off.
The heat and I don’t get along, but I needed air, so I parked myself on the balcony outside my room and closed my eyes tight to block out the brilliant neon assault of the Vegas strip below.
I thought about Jon, and how in the span of two weeks I’d run over a box of his merch – merch that was being used to raise money for a cause I actually gave a great deal of a fuck about, and then chased his ass around the ring with a stun gun. I thought about the time in a Sin City locker room when he’d called me out over who I chose to spend my time with, and how could he ever respect me for being so close to someone he’d fought so hard against.
I wished the taser connected.
At some point Mark wandered in. I didn’t realize he had a key, but he worked for Melvin, and Melvin worked for the hotel, so I guess it made sense. I made a mental note to start using the deadbolt on the door the next time I needed a few minutes of alone time for, you know, reasons.
My eyes were still closed when he made it to the balcony, but I knew it was him. Kid took every step around me like he was slow-dancing through a minefield. Maybe he was.
“I thought my time with spies in Vegas was over, Mark.”
“What? I don’t get it.”
Of course he didn’t.
“Mannequin give you any trouble? Didn’t try to bite you, did it?”
“It’s a vampire, Mark. Should’ve probably told you that earlier. That’s why I don’t keep it up here with me. Sometimes it gets all toothy, so we lock it up at night.”
I opened my eyes, but didn’t get up. I stayed seated on the balcony while Mark looked down at me. Probably pretty symbolic.
“So how pissed are they that you’re following me into my room now?”
“I knocked,” he said, “but you didn’t answer.”
“Well at least I still had my clothes on.”
“Oh, were you expecting, you know, company?”
Well shit, Mark. No. No, I wasn’t. You see that desert out there, beyond the big fuck-you-we-can-be-seen-from-goddamn-space lights? You wanna guess which of us has had the longer dry spell, me or the desert? Is what I thought. What I said instead was, “Nah.”
“So you’re here because…?”
“Oh, right! I’m supposed to tell you that you’re being promoted for next week. Here.” And then he handed me a sweat-soaked piece of paper with the MGM branding. One name in particular jumped out at me.
“Fuck, not Bobby,” I said. I crumbled up the paper and threw it over the balcony, not really caring that we were about fifteen stories up, and that littering was illegal.
This was punishment, I thought. For one of us. For both of us. For the forklift, and Dusk’s birthday cake, and the chocolate fountain, and for Nora, and the Halls, and the sixty-thousand dollars worth of damage. For fucking all of it.
Pretty shrewd move on Troy’s part: either I stun the bejesus out of Bobby Dean, or Bobby smothers me to death, and no matter what happens the likelihood that we get stupid in stereo again falls off a cliff. This is why I stick to checkers; I can’t play chess worth shit.
“And Doozer,” Mark said.
“You know, Doozer. He’s another one of the Bandits.”
I had no memory of Doozer; couldn’t tell you what he looked like. In truth I wasn’t sure if I’d ever actually seen the guy. Part of me wondered if he might be an urban legend, like the Mothman or the Loch Ness knock-off they’ve got in New York.
Mark hadn’t moved. He still stood in the doorway to the balcony fidgeting with his hands. He wouldn’t meet my eyes.
“Are you going to stun them?” he said. Then the floodgates opened and a hailstorm of words pelted me in the ears. “Because I didn’t know you were going to do that tonight, and then Mister Beuregard started asking questions that I didn’t have an answer to, and I know that everyone says your first job out of college is supposed to suck, but this really isn’t what I thought it would be when I signed up, and I really need this job like I really, really need this job.”
“I don’t know, Mark. I don’t want to. I don’t know if you believe that.”
“It’s just, if you do there might be consequences.”
There were always consequences.