Private: Balaam the Mask of Malice
An unseasonable cold night in Prospect Heights, Illinois. The kind of night old timers will tell you builds character, well at least the dumb ones will. The smart ones are already on a beach in Florida, far away from the dirty frozen water of the Des Plains River, and the misery of the cold air doing its best to honor Berlin by taking your breath away.
It’s also a downer of a night for John Kennedy Royko Jr. whom sits in his childhood room in a modest ranch style house with dark brown wooden trimmings located on Burning Bush Lane in a middle-class dwelling. The room is as he left to go to college a few short years ago Mylie Cyrus poster, next to Fall Out Boy poster, a Chicago Bears pennant, and a single sized bed next to a small desk. JK Royko Jr. is a big dude at nearly 6’7” and thick as a weeping willow tree. His size is really amplified by the way he fits in a desk clearly designed for children.
In his noticeable massive hand is his I-phone wrapped snuggly in an otter box durable to handle the occasional accidental drop.
“He’s not going to make it,” the text plainly reads as JK sends it off.
A moment of endless dots signals a response is coming from his girlfriend Aurora. The world seems to freeze in wonderment waiting to find out what she is typing. As John Royko Jr. waits time moves forward quickly in his mind, it’s like somebody pushed the fast forward button in a video game simulation of suburban life.
“I’m sorry John. I love you and your father greatly. His passing will be tough on all of us, I know what he means to you. Have you cried yet”?
The message stops as JK’s fingers begin dancing across the touch screen with the skill and speed of a millennial who’s had a phone in his hand his entire life. He pauses a moment, deletes some words before adding new ones and hitting send.
“It does no good like I thought it might. I’m numb right now. It’s weird but I mean, I knew this moment was coming. It will be hard, but he’s even prepared me to handle this. That’s the kind of man he is…. or was,” JK’s eyes well up with emotion.
Putting the phone down for a second JK is distracted as an old man walking past John’s side window which looks out the front of the house. The gentleman looks like he’s looking for an address or something as he stands under a streetlamp his breath visible with each exhale in a plum of steam. JK studies the older man greatly, taking note that he’s a large imposing figure out of place on a frigid night in Prospect Heights, or anywhere.
The old man is in a black leather trench coat which is opened slightly to display a Waylon Jennings ‘78 world tour T-shirt, he’s wearing black jeans tucked into black shark skin boots. The strange man is wearing cowboy hat with its brim turned down shadowing the details of old man’s weathered face. A thick greyish white beard is visible which is highlighted by a brown toothpick he’s gnawing on.
“What are you doing right now,” The phone startles John as it vibrates on the desk with another message from Aurora.
“Some weird cowboy looking dude is standing in front of my house. He looks lost and is chewing on a toothpick. I feel like I’m in some artsy old Clint Eastwood movie,” John hits send again turning his attention back out the window.
The old man rubs his hands together trying to find some warmth before he reaches into his coat and pulls out a bottle of Eagle Rare 10-Year-old Kentucky Straight bourbon. He unscrews the cap and chugs down a healthy swig like a marathon runner handed a water cup in midstride during a long race on a hot day. The shadowy cowboy screws the cap back on and JK watches as the bottle vanishes back into his coat.
“lol, that’s cray, maybe it is Clint Eastwood,” the text from Aurora reads.
“LOL!! No way just an old drunk. He pulled out a bottle of whiskey and took a chug like T-Pain at an open bar. I think he has a whiskey bottle holster in his coat,” A smile appears on John’s face for the first time in a long time as he sends his text refocusing on the old man out the window.
“What’s he doing now?” Aurora wonders via text.
The old man now has a wooden box in his hand. He just stands staring at it. John Kennedy Royko Jr. stands up and grabs a pair of binoculars off a shelf on his wall and heads over to the window. He peers out the side of the window peeking just so slightly as not wanting to be seen. He zooms in on the box the man is fiddling with. It takes a moment for his mind to figure out what he’s looking at. In the old man’s hand is a wooden box with silver balls rolling around inside of its glass window. It’s one of the oldest games in the world as the old man tries to get all the balls to fit into different divots on the flat surface all at the same time.
“JK,” is heard yelled in panic from another room.
The binoculars drop to the carpeted floor as JK rushes out of the room. In the hallway he is met by Maria, his father’s HOSPICE caretaker. She has a tear in her eye as she meets the young man surrounded by loving family pictures showing various stages of life and happiness adorning the walls.
“He’s just about gone JK,” she relays panicked.
The son rushes in to see his dying father hooked up to machines as he lays near lifeless in his bed. A chair is next to the bed where JK sits down. JK’s father is much older than his son, as he had JK late in his life.
“John I’m so proud of you,” the old man whispers through labored breaths.
Junior squeezes seniors’ frail hand as he turns his ears closely to his father’s mouth making sure to hear what is likely his final words. Jr. notices a white owl watching them through the window which is weird since Owl’s are not a thing in Prospect Heights, IL but before he can process the peculiar sighting, he puts his focus back on his father looking into his once bright blue eyes now fading to a dull gray as he listens with all his heart.
“I hope you forever know I’m proud of you. You are a strong man. You took your mother’s death and moved forward with such bravery and solace. That courage will be called upon you again today, and certainly again in your life. Don’t lose it. Honor me by being yourself. You are such an incredible son, man, someday father of your own. I can’t tell you how much you’ve taught me by allowing me to teach you as you’ve grown into the man you are. Don’t let the depression grip you, don’t fall victim to evil temptations, just keep being my son. Being a pillar. I love you my boy,” the old man fights to make sense of his rambling words which become harder to find with every passing moment.
The owl blinks twice, JK has a tear in his eye as he squeezes his father’s hand harder.
“I love you too dad. Thank you. I am because you are, and I’ll never forget that. You are my hero and the greatest example of decency I know. Thank, you,” JK says through the struggle of sadness.
The old man now squeezes JK’s hand hard with every ounce of life left in his failing vessel.
“Don’t forget to take care, and brush your hair,” the old man smiles as the life leaves his body and vanishes into the great unknown.
The color leaves his face, the twinkle leaves his eye, his mouth remains open and both breathless and speechless. Most people expect death to be more dramatic than it is, as it just kinda happens. Like a candle in a dark room going out as the wick runs out of wax you know the smoke exists and the smell is present but without the light gone you only sense it and understand its finality.
Senior’s hand grows cold in Junior’s grip as he rubs it hoping life returns. JK does not want to let go as his mind races with memories of happiness while fighting back the pain of feeling cheated. Death is what it is, and that’s why it’s so frustrating to the living. There is no manger to speak to, there is no plead to be made, there is no price that can change it, and there is no God who can perform a miracle to reclaim it. It’s over. Festina lente “Hurry Slowly”
Flooded with emotion while maintaining the solace his dad asked of him JK lets go of his father’s hand for the last time. His dad was right, he’d been here 8 years ago with his mother, only this time there is no one else’s hand left to hold. He now was all that remained of his parents’ legacy on earth. He kisses his father’s cold colorless forehead and closes his dad’s mouth.
Maria comes over and hugs the young man who squeezes back.
“I’ve called the funeral home and they will come for his body. Your father always being prepared prearranged everything. I’m so sorry JK. I’m glad you were here for him now.”
For a moment JK is reminded that if his knee had not been destroyed in that car accident he would be playing for the 49ers in San Fran and would not be able to be here in this moment. He’s oddly grateful as his father always told him, “Shit happens for a reason”. JK reaches into his pocket and pulls out five one hundred dollar bills and gives them to Maria.
“Oh no I can’t accept this,” she pleads.
“My father told me when he goes to make sure to tip you. As you said he was always prepared. It was his way; nobody is in servitude as we’re all in this world together. I promised him I would make sure you got it, and you know in this moment I can’t break his promise,” JK stands firm.
She pockets the money.
“You could have kept it and I never would have known. That is who the Royko’s are. I suffer with many families in my line of work, but truly your father was special. You are special. You guys have a warm light that shines from your very soul. I’m blessed to have been there with him at the end. Thank you again,” Maria beams.
Maria leaves the room to pack up her things. JK’s world is still spinning as he sits down in a rocking chair and just rocks to the rhythm racing in his mind. He pulls his phone out of his pocket to let his girlfriend know his father is dead only to find a string of missed texts.
“What happened with the drunken cowboy??”
“Have you picked a theme song for the tournament yet?”
“JK, I know this is terrible timing and I wanted to tell you in person but….”
“…with you so far away and you dealing with your father I just have to tell you…
“My anxiety is going crazy not telling you a and you know I get nervous on the phone. I can’t wait soooo…”
“Please call me”
“JK? Please respond”
“I hope you’re not by your phone right now your silence is scaring me.”
JK drops his phone with the case breaking the fall as it bounces three times seemingly in slow motion. His mind is broken in so many directions as he wishes he could talk to his dad right now and share this joyous moment. The death of a father, the creation of one. The timing God awful. JK sits in silence as he tries to breath and comprehend it.
Panic grips the respiratory system with a kick to the gut while it pours fear and uncertainty into the mind until everything just shuts down and breath is a luxury no longer instantaneous. A panic attack, a war within, and JK’s soul is on the front line. Fight or flight in a moment of calm is crippling like an earthquake during a preschool nap session. It just doesn’t make sense to the mind, or the body and every ounce of existence just shouts, “Fuck it”. After controlling his breathing, it passes like it was never there, or an overreaction in a flash. He picks his phone back up and texts Aurora.
“I’m sorry my dad just died. I need you to fly into Chicago I’ll call you as soon as I can talk as I’m in shock right now. I’ll be there for you. Be there for me, now. Together we will be there for our child forever.”
The owl fly’s away as time marches on and we join John Kennedy Royko Jr. a few weeks later in the MGM grand where his focus is now back to wrestling. A needed vacation from the reality of the last few weeks with wakes, funerals, bunch with forgotten relatives, bills, and the damn cold.
Two stunningly beautiful women grab each arm of John Kennedy Royko Junior as they prepare to walk him onto a stage. The young wrestler is about to Meet the Press at The MGM grand in a hype event for the exciting new show ReVival show.
Royko is startled by the girls grabbing him and pulls away out of their grip. He smiles at them as he excuses himself trying not to offend. He immediately walks over to the man in the well fit suit The MGM grand liaison to PRIME Melvin Beauregard.
JK Royko: I appreciate the eye candy after all it is sin city, but I just proposed to my fiancé, and I would love to have her come out with me tonight. I don’t want to send mixed messages.
Melvin Beauregard: Kid, it’s show business. At the Grand we make it Grand.
Royko’s fiancée standing off to the side looking a bit nervous. She’s an attractive ravened haired back woman with beautiful dark brown eyes and a striking figure.
Melvin Beauregard: Is that your fiancée?
JK Royko: It is.
The suited man gives her a once over and flashes a thumbs up.
Melvin Beauregard: Well, done. Sure kid. Do what you need to do, but it’s show time.
In the background the MC can be heard. JK walks over this his fiancée and stands with her arm and arm as the other promo girls are waved off by the promoter like they were an annoyance instead of two girls just trying to make their modeling dreams come true.
Announcer: A third round pick to the San Francisco 49ers our next competitor stands 6’7” and weighs in 335 pounds. A star on the rise who’s known as the master of the chop. He is John Kennedy Royko Junnnnniorrrrr!!
A polite golf clap is heard followed by the sounds of cameras taking pictures of the large man as he walks to the wooden table with his girlfriend beside him. He takes a moment to pose for the camera’s making it look like he’s about to chop someone. He smiles and sits down and pulls the mic closer to him.
JK Royko: This is so cool. How is everybody? My name is John Kennedy Royko Jr. Most just call me JK. This is my fiancée Aurora, who I proposed to just last night in front of the water fountain out front.
She smiles as the press give a celebratory clap.
JK Royko: First off let me say it’s great to take up a residency here in Las Vegas as I start on my journey working for a major American wrestling promotion. I’m not a gambler by nature, but I think it’s fitting we start here in a casino with the greatest gamble I’ve ever taken in my life, and that’s betting on myself. I couldn’t be here without opportunity, and I would like to thank all the coaches who have worked so hard to train me, my family who have supported me, my fans who have given me drive, Killean Sirrajin for the scouting opportunity, and Lindsey Troy for the hiring.
Royko takes a sip of water and squeezes his fiancées hand lovingly you can almost feel the support she offers to him flow through the touch.
JK Royko: A few weeks ago, I lost my father to a terminal illness. It was New Year’s Day. It’s been a tough couple of weeks, I need this moment and thank you for giving it to me. You know the Almasy Invitational is about remembering the past by paying tribute to one of the corner stones of wrestling. I had a Seymour Almasy poster that hung in my room as a kid so I’m honored to be in a tournament named after such an amazing competitor. I’m privileged to have my name attached to such greatness and really the entire history of PRIME. I didn’t know Almasy on a personal level, but I did know my father and this tournament to me is about respecting and honoring both their memories and life’s work. I’m in it to win it, and I do so wholeheartedly to represent their greatness.
The wrestler has noticeably large hands with fingers like Italian Sausages from Joseph’s Finest Meats in Chicago. The size is emphasized as he uses his pointer finger to tap on the table three times when saying “greatness”.
JK Royko: As much as this tournament is about remembering the past the history, and even the ending. It’s also the start of a beginning, and a future.
Royko gives Auroras hand another squeeze as she smiles with a slight tear in her eye thinking about the baby inside her and the life that is to be.
JK Royko: A new champion will be crowned. PRIME is about to be reborn, and that’s exciting as hell. History will be made anew. I hope to be a major part of that saga. I know my odds are slim to come out of nowhere and but the first Universal Champion of a new generation but until another competitor can pin or submit me my chance exists. I’ve worked hard to get here, I’m going to work harder to remain, and I look forward to stepping into the ring with an elite talent like Shawn Warstein Friday, February 4th, right here at the MGM grand. Man, I’m excited does anybody have a question?
A small line of people is waiting behind a microphone.
Press 1: First off congrats to you and your fiancée I wish you much happiness. Can we see the ring?
Aurora blushes slightly as she shows off a modest ring.
JK Royko: As my belts get bigger so does her jewelry, which might be why she wants me to win this tournament so bad.
Press 2: Thoughts on Shawn Warstein?
Royko pauses for a moment and thinks.
JK Royko: He’s an impressive warrior who has worked his ass off to build a Wikipedia worthy career. I hear he likes pushing and challenging the green guys like me. I welcome this challenge. I respect his experience and I hope he underestimates my youth. I am an underdog here and that’s part of being the new guy. Let’s do. I’ll either sink or swim but given my training, determination, and desire I’m going to give beyond my all, as this is my father’s legacy and Almasy’s history.
Press 2: How is your knee?
JK Royko: It’s a question mark at this point. I’ve wrestled the Indy’s for over 6 months now, and we’ve had good days and bad days. My doctor tells me it should hold up but only time will tell. Just know when you see me you will see my full effort. Knee, life, whatever it is I’m ready to stand my trials and see exactly where I am as a professional and a man. February 4th one way or another you will see a fight and it will be violent, yet fair, and balls to the wall. Good luck to Mr. Warstein. I look forward to your best, and one hell of a match!
JK poses for a few more photos with his wife as the cameras flicker and life marches one day closer to a war in the ring, and one day further from the sadness of JK’s New Year.