Let’s go back.
It’s the summer of 2022, and we’re in the middle of the shocking events that rocked the PRIME world at that year’s UltraViolence. Jonathan Rhine would require handicapped parking after tonight. The world would soon have the COOLest Universal Champion. And there were no other new champions that night.
That last fact had hit Joseph Malone Jr. the hardest.
For the last two months, he’d been assimilating the techniques of Seymour Almasy – one of the fallen King of Popsicles. Coral Avalon was an expert trainer and pounded all of those techniques into Joe in a crash course for the ages, pouring over tapes of Almasy’s career and adapting his techniques for him to use.
And it wasn’t enough. The team that would eventually become Eminence had dashed all of Joe Fontaine’s hopes and dreams of winning the titles in front of his friends and family as callously and ruthlessly as they would do it again six months later in Dallas.
Joe slipped out of the doctor’s office unseen while Sid was being evaluated after the match. He desperately wanted to be alone. The dirt sheets would later report that Joe Fontaine “disappeared” after the Winds of Change’s loss at last year’s UltraViolence, and wouldn’t be seen again until the following morning. He wasn’t sighted anywhere on the Strip.
So what happened to him?
Well, it began with a man in a golden mask, who greeted Joe with three simple words, “Tough loss, kid.”
Joe turned to look at this man, barely comprehending. He was a tall, broadly-built man in an ash grey suit. His tie was gold, as were his belt buckle and his cufflinks. Apart from his nearly featureless golden mask, which reminded Joe of the Saint himself, he wore a classic fedora.
Joe Fontaine loved to act the part of a fool, but he was no fool. He took one look at this man and made a number of deductions.
Masked, but he’s no luchador. He’s too Caucasian, even more than that goober TAL. I’ve heard of heavyweight luchadors, but even this guy still seems too big for the role. He’s not an Enemigo, either, the mask is different from theirs. He’s trying to look like he’s professional, but his suit is cheaper than a two-for-one Buster Gloves deal at Applebee’s and that hat… ye Gods. He’s really into gold, isn’t he? Can’t get enough of it. Probably has an ego, but if that’s the case, what’s with the mask?
After making these deductions, Joe was quick to ask, “What do you want?”
Joe could see him smile without teeth. He didn’t move from his spot, leaning against the wall next to the door leading out of the arena.
“Are you even supposed to be here?”
“Heh. Nah,” the masked man said, waving a hand dismissively, “Seen enough of these big productions to know where to be when I want to be, that’s all.”
“Cool, cool, cool,” Joe said, “Look, I… uh, I need some air, so good talking to you weird masked dude, kay thanks bye.”
Joe went through the double doors and left the MGM Grand’s main arena, finding himself in the loading zone for the production crew. He was vaguely aware that the man in the gold mask had followed him out, and he considered increasing his pace into a full-on sprint.
“Real quick, Mr. Malone, won’t take long,” the man asked, the question causing Joe to stop in his tracks, “How long will you follow the whims of a man who willfully calls himself and his ilk ‘Crownless’?”
Joe hesitated before he turned to face the man. He was holding his hands up in a placating gesture, “Because he’s hindering you. I can tell. Your ambitions rise higher than his ever hope to grace. And you… You could be so much more than a mere copy.”
Joe turned right around and marched up to the bigger man.
“Simple calculus. You can copy the moves, but you can’t copy the spirit of the man who used those moves. And being taken under the wing who made his name copying moves is like… shit, man. That’s like putting a copy in a copy machine. The ink gets less… fuck, what’s the word I’m looking for?”
Joe stared daggers at him as he offered the word he was looking for, “Legible.”
“Legible,” the masked man agreed, “Legible, that’s right.”
The man in the gold mask reached into his jacket pocket, pulling out a card and a pen. He started scribbling something down on the card, “Maybe you’re taking anything I say with a grain of salt. Shit, if I were in your shoes, I would, too. But I want you to keep me in mind if you think about making a change in your life. One without this so-called ‘king’ of yours.”
He passed the card to Joe.
The masked man winked and clicked his tongue, “See you around, kid.”
And then, just as quickly as he appeared, he walked back into the arena.
Joe was left to stare at the card that he was handed.
The first piece of information was the name “the Devil’s Ditch”, and he would be later surprised to learn that it wasn’t the ditch that Cecilworth would later claim Phil Atken was dead in, but a wrestling school in Joe’s own hometown of Phoenix. In other words, there would be no more need to travel all the way to Seattle for training. Here, Joe and Sid would be able to prepare for next time.
The second was a phone number. A quick Google search allowed Joe to find out that the area code was in the Connecticut area. He didn’t know any wrestlers in that area, since most of the people he knew in wrestling were either in the southwestern United States or among Avalon’s circle of dipshits.
What was he doing in Vegas?
The third was the name on the business card.
The masked man had written the name “The Fabulous Gold Mask” over what the name used to be on the card, scratching it out.
But Joe could see just enough of the edge of the first letter to make it out.
Joe decided that he had enough of tonight and wandered off into the Vegas night, and didn’t come back until the following morning.
Let’s go forward.
Let’s say, oh… eight months forward? Word.
Hey, just in time for the aftermath of the biggest failure of Joe Fontaine’s life!
Pirate history was not made. So many dreams were dashed. Their invitation into the Crownless Kingdom was marred by failure. Footnotes in history, yadda yadda yadda blah blah blah, so boring.
Joe Fontaine had been bruised and beaten in that encounter through his attempts to fight Justine Calvin on her level. He’d been coached into working a fair fight by Coral ahead of the match, reasoning that Joe would be able to hold his head high if he won the championships without resorting to every instinct he had to stomp Jared Sykes in the groin sixty-eight straight times and gouge out Justine Calvin’s eyes.
Well, that didn’t fucking work.
Joe left that match concussed and bruised and barely in shape to attend the wedding between his sister and Sid’s sister that would turn their team into even more of a family affair than it already was. He only showed up out of family obligation. He felt embarrassed that he had nothing to show for his injuries. He felt humiliated that the full calendar year he’d spent in PRIME chasing tag titles that now no longer existed, with a contract on his desk that he didn’t know if he wanted to sign.
Joe heard his father coming up to his room long before he ever appeared.
Joey Malone remained in excellent shape even this close to his 50th birthday, and was still a tall, reasonably heavy dude. But it’s the cadence of his walk that Joe could recognize a mile away. Always with the sound of a thunk as his father’s cane hit the hardwood floor with staggered footsteps. Joe had already turned to the door when his father knocked on the door with the hollow taps of his cane.
“Speak friend, and enter,” Joe said.
He said this wanting to sound cool.
His father was already in the room when he said it, though, so the moment to sound cool and topical had long passed.
“Yo,” Joey Malone said.
Joey was already an uncomfortably large man, even as he was staring down his 50s. He always felt like he was too big for the house, especially since no one else who lived there was over six feet tall. Not Joe, not his three sisters, and not Joe’s mom. But there were plenty of signs that his days as a professional wrestler had more than taken its toll on him. His knee wouldn’t bend right, such that when he sat down on Joe’s bed, he still had to keep it straight. The scars from often being too close to explosions were numerous. Speaking of explosions, his proximity to so many of them meant that he already needed hearing aids.
The IWO had done much to make Joey Malone’s later years a certain degree of agony.
A lot of things happened there.
So many things.
There might have been gnomes.
Like, actual gnomes that live deep underneath Arizona, waiting for the chance to invade the surface world and bring all who stand upon it under their dominion. At least, that’s what Joey claimed, along with his constant proclamation that every sporting arena in the continental United States secretly had a “Pyramid of Peril”, just waiting for the day it could be resurfaced and invaded by pro wrestlers.
You… could tell where Joe Fontaine got it from.
“Close enough,” Joe Junior said. “What’s up?”
“Well, y’know. Your mom’s worried about you. You’ve been shut up in here for days.” Joey said. He took a sniff of the air, and then added, “Pretty sure you haven’t showered much, either.”
Junior took a cursory sniff of his own body.
Eh. It’s been worse.
“I’m fine.” Junior said.
“Spoken like a man that isn’t fine! And that’s fine, it’s okay to not be fine. You fine with that idea?”
“Fine, he says!” Joey said, laughing, “Come on, son. You’re acting like it’s the end of the world or something.”
Because it was.
There’s no more tag division, it’s just us and the Masters wagging our dicks in the air while Justine gets to fuck off in catering while Jared does all of the big man wrestles. We have no other chance to make our mark in PRIME.
Junior thought all that, and simply said, “It kinda is.”
“Son, it’s wrestling. The end is just a beginning,” Joey said, tapping at his foot with his cane, “It took Danny and I almost a decade to get noticed anywhere, y’know. You guys are already years ahead of us, and neither of you have broken your necks yet. Progress!”
He raised his free hand in the air as though indicating said progress.
We’re exactly where we were when we started!
When do we get to the part where people actually notice that we’re not just weirdos, we’re dangerous ones? Like you?
“I’m sure there’s a nice tag division waiting for you in a year or two, and then you’ll be back in the thick of it!” Joey said, cheerfully.
Junior stared at him like he’d grown a third eye.
With what teams?
Didn’t you hear me say the part about wagging our dicks in the air?
Oh. Right. I only thought it.
“Actually, dad…” Junior started to say, and then sighed when he realized that the last thing he wanted to do was tell his father that he hadn’t re-signed with PRIME yet, “Nevermind. Uh, cool cane, where’d you get it?”
“Fought an Applebees demon for it, he was all hands.”
Joey paused, and then added, “…But I’ve had it for a while, you just now noticed it?”
“Nevermind. Uh… so I just… I’m supposed to wait around until there’s a tag division again?” Junior asked.
“Right. I mean, you’ll need Sid around, of course. Can’t believe how big he’s gotten! And so handsome! I bet he’s chasing away all of the ladies with a stick!” Joey laughed.
Everyone always talks about Sid.
They never talk about me.
Joey clapped his hands and picked up his cane. He made a concerted effort to get up from his seat, the entire exaggerated motion was painful to watch. He walked to the door.
“Anyway, go take a shower – maybe a couple, actually – and come eat dinner with us. I promise, we’re all proud that you made it this far!”
“Sure.” Junior said. “I’ll do that.”
Joey laboriously made his way out of his son’s room.
Junior sighed and turned back to his desk.
The business card sat undisturbed. He’d call it in a few months’ time once he decided he was embracing glue.
But somewhere, deep in Joe Fontaine’s mind, in a place he kept long buried, there was the sound of the sharpening of a knife.
Let’s go forward.
Just a little bit more.
It was October, and Sid Phillips had an important question.
“So, Fabby, I’d been curious for a while, who exactly are you?” Sid asked.
It’d been a question that’d been on his mind for a while, ever since Joe Fontaine introduced Fabby to him just a month ago. Such that when he, Joe, and Fabby got together in a hotel bar to discuss their next step… it was the first thing he had to ask.
“I am the Fabulous Gold Mask.”
“Sure, but who are you when you’re not Fabby?” Sid asked.
Fabby held his hands out in a placating manner, “Far be it for a man who doesn’t show his face to say this, but trust me… It’s not worth exploring.”
“Okay. Is this like a Mortimer Kjedelig situation where you’re allegedly in witness protection for alleged crimes you might have allegedly done?” Joe asked, “Because we already had one Kjedelig, allegedly, and we don’t need another. Allegedly.”
“How are you even pronouncing that name?” Sid asked.
“With mouth noises.” Joe said.
Fabby shook his head, trying very hard to remain calm in the face of such deliberate trolling, “Nothing of the sort, Joseph.”
“No, I’m pretty sure you pronounce it with mouth noises. Unless you’re doing it with butt noises, but then you’re just speaking Russian.” Joe said.
Fabby shook his head, “My identity isn’t important. What is important is what you’re going to do about the Masters of the…” He paused, the name pained him to say, “…Moscowverse.”
“What about them?” Joe asked, “I mean, I guess they joined the Red Army. Not sure why. Ivan smells bad.”
“He has been taken by bears,” Sid said as he got a faraway look in his eyes, “He is one of them, now. He must be purged from PRIME just as the last bear was. Purged with fire. Frozen in ice. Smote by lightning. All of the elements. Bring them all together. It is our only hope.”
Joe and Fabby stared at Sid for a long moment, and both decided to ignore him.
“Kid, I think you’re thinking about this whole thing wrong.”
“Two bears stacked on top of each other and wearing a trenchcoat?” Joe suggested.
Sid suddenly stood up and pointed an accusatory finger at the world, “FUCK THAT! FUCK YOU! FUCK EVERYTHING! WHERE IS TERRY!? TERRY, COME HERE! WE HAVE A DISCUSSION TO ATTEND TO!”
He stormed off, and eventually only the sounds of Sid’s yelling and Terry Blackquill’s horrified screaming as Sid began chasing him could be heard in the distance. The God of Powerbombs and the World’s Most Powerbombable Man were about to engage in an unholy matrimony, one that usually ends in divorce proceedings and the hiring of a powerbomb divorce lawyer.
Joe and Fabby watched him go.
The man in the golden mask nodded and took a sip of his beer, “You did that on purpose.”
“Sure did.” Joe said. “Known that guy all my life, so of course I know what to say that’d get the two of us alone.”
Another sip of the beer.
Joe’s eyes never left Fabby.
“So, seriously. Who are you, really?” Joe asked. “You’re not just some random luchador. You want something from me. From us.”
Fabby stared at him for long enough that Joe felt uncomfortable.
“Spoken like somebody already using someone, I’d say,” Fabby said. He looked in the direction that Sid had exited from, “He just follows you in what you’re doing?”
It was Joe’s turn to take a sip of beer.
He winced and did not look cool doing it.
As he’s clearing his throat, he managed to say, “Like a puppy.”
“You’re… aware of it.”
“Oh, yeah, but don’t worry about it. He made his choice.” Joe said. He eyed the man in the golden mask, “So, let me ask you something else, then. Are you some washed up old wrestler, say… maybe someone who was around when PRIME was in its ReVolution era, and are looking to get some skin in the ReVival game or something?”
“You called me old. 38’s not old. Can’t even call me middle-aged, actually.”
“That’s your only objection to what I asked?” Joe asked.
“If that’s what you think my only objection is, sure,” Fabby said, “You think I’m using you to get back into the spotlight.”
“Aren’t you?” Joe asked.
Fabby thought about it, staring at the drink in his hand.
“Listen, Joseph. If I walked into Lindsay Troy’s office without the mask on, she might give me a job on the spot,” Fabby laughed, “Or she might threaten to break my arms. With her, I’m uncertain. But it’s not about the spotlight.”
Joe took another sip of his beer.
“If the next words out of your mouth involve you taking me under your wing and leading me to greatness, you can go test that theory yourself,” Joe said, “See how far you get before Wade and Dam stop you without me and Farthy putting a word in for you.”
Fabby took his own sip of beer.
“Nah, think I’ll play intern.”
“Whatever dumb shit you think of for your act, I’ll participate. Be the straight man. If you want advice, you can ask. Not gonna be hands-on like that holier-than-thou Avalon dipshit.”
Joe raised an eyebrow.
Did I just hear a bit of… contempt when he brought up Avalon’s name?
Joe smirked, and set his beer down. He looked at Fabby with a wide grin.
“Well, then get ready to earn your participation trophy, Fabby.”
“So, let me ask you a question,” Fabby asked. “What’s the point of all of these games you’re playing?”
It was after ReVival 40 went off the air, and Joe Fontaine was half-sitting, half-lying in a chair in the Glueminati’s locker room. The others had left for the evening, and it was just Joe and Fabby. Joe felt like he’d been thrown into a brick wall by way of a Russian-built catapult, but he was busy fixing up the VENDBERGE-based lizard costume that he’d worn to the ring, possibly for a next time.
After a long pause to consider the question, Joe had an answer, “Okay, look, Kenny put our names in his mouth a few months ago, addressing his enemies or some shit. I was going to ignore it, like I usually do when people talk shit about me and Sid. But then I started to think… well, maybe we need to make an example of someone.”
“And that’s the point of the Games?”
“Something like that,” Joe said, “The point of the Games was to make Kendy and Randy let their guards down. Make them, and everyone else, think that we really are as stupid as we act. That’s why I sang as badly as possible. That’s why I kept bringing different shit to be FLAMBERGE. Long as I keep people thinking I’m dumb as heck, they won’t expect what’s coming. I’ll take a few fines if it means it pays off in the end.”
Fabby stared at Joe for a while, not sure how to take that information.
He was doing all of that whack shit on purpose.
“Huh. That’s not an Avalon trick,” Fabby said, stroking a beard that wasn’t actually at his chin as he considered the implications, “And not a Malone trick, either… why tell me this?”
“Because, Fabby… it’s about high time people put respect on the name of Joe Fontaine. So what we’re going to do at Colossus? It’s going to be awesome.”
Fabby nodded, but said nothing.
Because in that moment, he wasn’t actually sure if Joe knew.