Memorial Day Weekend, Las Vegas, NV.
The poker room was abuzz with anticipation. Steve Wharton, one of Vegas’ most notorious poker players, looked at the dealer, then at his mysterious final challenger in his sunglasses and hat. His cool demeanor and curt body language reminded Steve of the Yakuza, but it was quickly made clear such comparisons were not appreciated at all.
Of course, whether that guy liked being called a gangster wasn’t at the top of Steve’s concerns, as he stared at his pair of kings and nodded to himself reassuringly.
“Two hundred,” Steve said as he pushed a decent stack of red chips toward the dealer and looked back at the newcomer. Without a word or an expression, the newcomer pushed a smaller stack of blue chips. The dealer laid out three cards. A Seven of Hearts. A Two of Clubs. A Nine of Hearts. The mystery man looked at the cards on the table, and then the ones in his hand, before shaking the room with his first words in at least an hour.
“Alright. I’m all in.” The buzzing among spectators became scattered expressions of surprise, with a few hoots and hollers scattered about. Steve Wharton swallowed hard, and he could feel his insides start to sink as he checked his opponent’s call, and they flipped their cards up; Steve’s pair of Kings to the other guy’s Six and Eight of Hearts. Against anyone in their first tournament he would be sitting pretty, confident that he was about to send the amateur packing, but there was something about this guy that suggested he was no rookie.
The turn. A Jack of Diamonds. The two players kept their eyes locked on each other. The river, a Five of Hearts. The newbie grinned as he surveyed his hand; a straight flush. Steve Wharton graciously accepted his defeat, rising to shake his opponent’s hand. The victor nodded and smiled, before accepting his winner’s share of a $15,000 prize pot and the hand of his vanquished opponent.
“Good job there, young fella,” Steve chuckled, a while later, as they made their way to the cashier’s booth.
“Thanks,” the rookie replied humbly, “first time I’ve ever done a tournament in Vegas.”
“Yeah. Lots of practice in the poker rooms where I usually hang though; Florida, Louisiana… I could tell ya some stories, brother.”
“I believe it,” Steve chuckled, “by the way; I’m sorry about that mix-up over the gangster thing.”
“Don’t mention it,” the stranger shrugged as he cashed in his winner’s share, “this oughta be a nice little gift for that girl.”
“That girl,” Steve nodded, “Nora?”
“You’ve heard about that girl, then?”
“Yeah,” Steve said as he looked over at a tray of drinks in the hand of a comely cocktail waitress, “it’s all over that wrestling company that does shows here, PRIME, I think it’s called?”
The mysterious gambler’s throat tightened as he subtly checked his glasses and hat, “that’s what all this was for, actually. I’m not keeping any of this stuff for me. And I’m hoping I get on a hot streak so I can keep contributing for that poor kid.”
“Well, you got a much sweeter soul than most gamblers I’ve seen, anyway,” Steve chuckled and sighed, “what’s your name, anyway, young fella?”
The stranger paused a bit as he stared into space and bit his lower lip in contemplation.
“I’ll be honest with you, the only people who really need to know are my mama and the IRS, you know what I mean?”
The pair shared a hearty guffaw that caught the attention of a few geezers at the slot machines.
“Why don’t you call me… Akagi,” the stranger finally answered, “Mr. Akagi.”
And so, the legend of Mr. Akagi, scourge of many a Nevada poker table, was born.
“Ultraviolence… ya mean the name of PRIME’s next big event, or the kind of ass-kicking I wanna throw down on the Masters of the Multiverse B-Team?”
David Fox greets us in the basement of the MGM Grand Hotel, pacing back and forth alongside a portable fountain of Coca-Cola products. He clearly looks distraught, like a man on his last nerves.
David Fox: For WEEKS, Randall Schwartz and Kenny Freeman have been a consistent pain in me and Mushi’s asses. Like a case of herpes that just won’t go away, that keeps popping up to remind you it’s there, and taking up space with you, but ALWAYS running away before you can do anything about them. That’s exactly what they are..
Fox stops pacing, and snaps his head up towards us, anger etched on his face.
David Fox: And you know the worst part of it all? They’re clever about it.
A pause. David looks to the nearby wall, gritting his teeth in frustration.
David Fox: Mushi and I coulda just reached out to their throats and turned them into skid marks on the MGM Grand floor and LT coulda sent me that damn owl GIF a hundred times a week later about the cleaning bill. But did we do that?
A derisive snort.
David Fox: Hell no, of course not! Why? Because we took those two little snots too lightly, and they manage to live to fight another day, and next thing ya know? Now we gotta PAY to play.
David veers off to the side, staring at a kiosk of Mandala Chai Teas before hauling himself over to make himself a paper cupful with a bag and some hot water. He turns back to us and continues his spiel.
David Fox: And we did. Ten bands, straight from our pockets, into the pot for our match at Ultraviolence. Even though Mushi and I would be completely within our rights to tell Freeman and Schwartz they can go chase themselves. Even though we could just walk away and let those annoying shits find another way to get attention. But NO. We just HAD to put up, so we could make them SHUT up. Now, I’m not gonna toot my horn too much…
Fox chuckles and raises his hand up before quickly jerking it down twice, in a fashion similar to a truck driver honking his rig’s horn for a school bus full of excitable children, letting out a little “toot toot” in rhythm.
David Fox: But getting the money wasn’t a problem. I’ve had a fairly successful wrestling career, and have been good with my winnings, so anteing up was more of an inconvenience than a real expense. I gotta wait a few more weeks to get that Ninja Turtles game compilation and my wife Saori has to wait a few more weeks for that spa trip she’s wanted for a while. Good thing she understands how this stuff all works.
David nods and shrugs, as if to say “what can ya do?”
David Fox: But it was worth it anyway; and you wanna know why, boys?
David walks back over to the drink kiosk and pulls the tea bag out of his cup.
David Fox: ‘Cause it’s time to leave you two in the past. Time to put your sorry asses in the dirt so Mushi and I can push on and up the tag ranks. We got a lot to prove here in PRIME, and at the top of that list, we wanna prove we can hang in a ring with Kings of Popsicles and fight for those Tag Team Titles.
Looking around for some fresh milk to pour in his teacup, he instead settles for some powdered non-dairy creamer and stirs a heaping amount of it in.
David Fox: Truth is, boys, you’re keeping us from doing those things we wanna do, and you’re doing it with absolutely NOTHING other than being a pair of obnoxious pains in our asses!
David takes a sip of his fresh brew.
David Fox: Forget the endorsement, folks, this is just plain good stuff.
June 18, 2022. Secaucus, New Jersey. Just like any early summer day.
Jason Patel would saunter into his office just outside of New York City, where his assistant Lisa would have a hot cup of tea ready for him to sip as he went through his emails, newsletters, and trade publications. Despite being in the overtly cutthroat world of startups, especially in the food and beverage industry, Jason nevertheless insisted on going at his own pace, and living in the moment.
He had seen his father and mother work their hands to the bone for many years as a kid, all so he and his two sisters could have the education and tools they needed to live their best life, while still making time for them. He was forever grateful to his parents for all the hard work they did for the family, and he reasoned the best way to honor their sacrifices was to not have to make them himself.
And that wasn’t an excuse to slack, either; he graduated summa cum laude in economics and philosophy at Princeton, and contemplated law school (he figured between Em finishing med school and Aly taking up engineering there would be enough Patels in the sciences already) until he went in with an old classmate in the food and beverage sector. Before long, the duo were selling things like tea and coffee to food trucks, diners, and other small businesses throughout the Garden State and beyond. A series of big deals among prominent New York City yoga studios and cafes, however, was the tipping point for Mandala Beverages’ rapid growth.
Jason walked into the office and said good morning, first to Lisa at the reception desk, then to the empty room where his partner Roger Nardi would work before his tragic passing three years ago. Jason fervently insisted this room be left undisturbed at all times, save a semiannual cleaning to keep any possible household pests from taking up residence.
He sat at his desk and began sipping the cup of Masala By Mandala brand chai that had made his company a heavyweight, not only in New York, but in Chicago, Dallas, and points west. After reading through his papers, he popped open an email from one of his employees with the subject “Don’t We Have A Contract With These Guys?”
He clicked on it, and a clip from what looked like some kind of TV show started playing.
“Man, I can’t wait to get my masala on! Hey, Mushi. What time is it?”
“That’s right, big man, it’s chai time. A little treat for a night off, and then we’ll get to work on how we take on those Multiverse weirdos.”
Jason never really watched wrestling, but he did know that PRIME Wrestling out in Las Vegas was one of his contracts. But this guy with the spiky hair looked familiar, like a kid he went to high school with who was always talking about becoming a pro wrestler someday. He always wondered whatever happened to D-
“No way,” Jason muttered to himself, “is that him?!”
Without breaking his focus on his laptop, Jason dialed his assistant.
“Yeah, Lisa… could you do me a favor and give our Vegas contract a call?”
“I think I might have to do an endorsement soon.”
August 15, 2022.
David Fox has been on Cloud Nine for a while. A few short days ago, he had gotten a big victory on ReVival 13 against Darin Zion. A few weeks prior, he had got a call from Mandala Beverages, the official tea of PRIME Wrestling, which he would later find out was run by his high school friend Jason Patel. After a fruitful visit to Secaucus and catching up on years gone by, he signed a contract giving him a “considerable” amount plus incentives to endorse Mandala-brand teas. Given it was constantly available in PRIME catering, that wouldn’t be a problem at all, and besides, David actually really liked the stuff.
He had taken a pit stop back home to tell his parents and his brother the good news, as well as catch up with said brother, Daniel. It was there that David had first heard about Mr. Akagi. His mother and brother never missed Dateline, and a recent episode of the show featured the mysterious gambler in Vegas casinos, shrouded in secrecy.
As he watched the tape, he saw shots of a gambler dressed in black, with a hat and sunglasses obscuring his face. Given his size and features, he kinda looked like Mushi, but… no. The security cameras showed the guy talking, using words other than “osu.” It couldn’t be him. Kinda funny to think about, though.
Of course, he didn’t know while the ink dried and he was on a plane back to his base in New Orleans, Saori Kazama had found receipts on the floor from Mushi’s pockets, for casino cashing, VISA prepaid cards, and donations to Fighting for Nora, to which Dateline did say Akagi was sending all his winnings…
“Y’know, Kenny, Randall… I almost feel bad for you.
David takes the last sip of his Masala by Mandala chai and tosses the cup at the nearest trashcan.
David Fox: I’m sure you guys let your egos get all nice and swollen when you somehow managed to avoid me and Mushi turning you into paste at Great American Nightmare.
A pause. The air around him is dead silent.
David Fox: But I wouldn’t count on you being so lucky a second time. Not when there’s even more at stake than plain ol’ “bragging rights,” or God forbid, “the chance to put on a GREAT match!”
Fox’s register goes up during that last quote, almost to a falsetto. He follows that up with a roll of the eyes and a dismissive, lewd up-and-down gesture with his left hand with an accompanying raspberry.
David Fox: But it ain’t just about the money, that I GLADLY put up because it was my ticket to make you feel like something that fell out of one of your little Food-O-Matics. And it’s not just about some kind of endorsement war between our respective sponsors. No.
Fox shakes his head and points at the camera.
David Fox: This is about making the big impact here in PRIME that Mushigihara and I SHOULD have made as soon as we were out of that Survivor competition; that proof that we’re not just some flash-in-the-pan who showed up, lost, and went home like the others. That… which you denied us with nothing but sheer buffoonery.
He pauses, tilts his head, and looks into the camera lens with a side glance.
David Fox: Well, buffoonery’s taken you as far as it can, and it’s dropped you off, right at our feet. So after UltraViolence, the show, and after Mushi and I have finished our own UltraViolence, the way we merk you in the middle of that ring, try and remember what to tell the hospital when you ask why you’re there; the consequences of your buffoonery, that long-overdue beatdown finally catching up to you, and the generosity and support of an ex-kickboxer’s wife.
Fox smirks and turns on his heels.
David Fox: Just try to remember that all after Mushi and I fill every nerve ending in your bodies with as much pain as possible. If you can, of course.
With a scoff, David begins walking away from us, into the proverbial sunset, until UltraViolence.
“I know what you’ve been doing at night, Mr. Akagi.”
Mushigihara froze in place as David Fox called out to him from behind in the gym. Mushi was about to squeeze himself under the bar and rip out a couple of warm-up squats at around 350 pounds, but instead he turned around and stared down his tag team partner.
“Shweta confirmed a whole bunch of Visa prepaid card transactions,” David continued, “you might have gotten under the radar if you had rounded the dollar amounts, but you didn’t.”
“Osu,” the Kaiju bluntly responded.
“I’m not even mad, big guy. You won all that money for Nora. It went to a good cause. And it helped.”
David sighed and took another big breath.
“But you can’t keep secrets like this from us. From me. We’ve known each other… gosh, about ten years to this point? And yet, you NEVER opened up. About ANYTHING. If this partnership is going to keep going, man, we gotta stop with these secrets.”
Mushi silently nodded. David’s fists clenched into corded polyps of frustration.
“Are you hiding any more secrets, Mushigihara? Better yet…”
The Soul Survivor gritted his teeth and delivered a whammy.
“Are you hiding any more secrets, Eiichiro Yamazaki?”
The tension only grew, and seconds felt like hours. Neither man made a move or a sound, until someone broke the silence.
And a narrative stretching almost a decade with it.
“I have a lot to tell you.”