Baltimore, after ReVival 32
The clamor of the city clobbered his eardrums and ricocheted within his skull in every possible direction. The stench of engine exhaust stung his nostrils. Baltimore Arena’s beaming lights assaulted what were usually resilient brown eyes. The noise. The stench. The light –
– All gone with the slamming of his rental’s driver side door.
And then a dull, awful quiet. Far louder than the bedlam of Baltimore.
Where did it go?
The momentum? The spirit? The urge that had burned in his soul?
Another shot to the balls, and it was all gone.
He squeezed his hand into a fist, lifting it to his mouth, biting into the skin between thumb and forefinger. His skull shook as he tried to meet teeth with teeth.
He threw his fist down against the rental’s center console, shooting fire from his nose.
Again. Forcing the console’s armrest to jump.
A loud crack, disrupting the tantrum.
He took a long breath before inspecting his handiwork. The armest sat askew; a crack in the plastic keeping it out of place. A guilty sigh escaped from his lungs as he fiddled with it, a half-assed attempt to make the armrest latch. But it wouldn’t.
It doesn’t fit anymore.
The back of his head found the headrest, and he closed his eyes.
Maybe it never will again.
Those knife-edge chops fucking hurt, don’t they, Tom?
They’re almost worse than the suplexes. Or the spinebuster. The experience is worth the blood and bruises, though. PRIME’s Ace sure has a way of bringing out your best.
I guess we both learned that sometimes your best isn’t good enough.
Lucky for you, you walked in with nothing to lose and everything to gain. Win, and you’re immortal. Lose, and oh well. You gave the Tower of Babel a damn good run for his money. A chance to prove you can hang with the big dogs.
I wish I could say the same.
Because I gave him a damn good run, too. And now everyone wonders if I can still hang, or if I ever really could.
The Old Guard has their reputation for a reason. But hey, that’s you, right? Old warrior? Back from the past with that sword of yours all sharpened?
I’m sorry, man, but I don’t think I can see it that way.
Because back when the Old Guard built this place?
You weren’t PRIME.
“Are you serious, kid?”
Hayes flinched at the sound of Scott’s bewildered and grating voice. He sighed, dropping a bag of concrete to the ground and wiping the sweat from his brow. The crusty laborer waved the young Hanlon back toward the skeleton of a house, cigarette pinched between cracked lips.
Reluctantly, Hayes plodded across the dirt of the work site. Scott Eastman, ten years in at Hanlon Construction, flashed a pair of wide baby blues to the floor before plucking the Marlboro from his mouth.
“You see a problem here?” he asked, adjusting the red bandana protecting his bald head from the sun.
“No, but I’m sure I fucked something up…” he grumbled.
Scott replied by taking the back of the young Hanlon’s head in his meaty paw, forcing him to look to the floor.
“That’s a fuckin’ circular saw!” he barked. “An’ what did I ask ya for?”
“…a jigsaw?” Hayes ventured, resisting Scott’s strong arm.
“That’s right! A fuckin’ jigsaw! Don’t fuckin’ tell me you don’t know thedifference between the two!”
Truthfully, young Hayes had absolutely no idea.
“Sorry, man…” he said after the stocky laborer released his grip.
“Don’t ‘sorry’ me! Go on and get what I fuckin’ asked you for!”
Eastman gave Hayes a shove in the right direction, and Hayes was quick to escape through the home-to-be’s framed walls, work boots kicking through dirt in the humid Oregon heat.
He hated working for his dad.
Not that Hanlon Construction’s founder actively tried to make it difficult on his youngest child; it takes a special breed of human to stomach the hard work, strong personalities, and endless ball busting required for the life of a contractor. Hayes, aged seventeen, had yet to understand or accept the idea.
Gregory Hanlon, eyeing his son’s tall, deflated frame from behind the windshield of his pickup, wouldn’t accept the notion.
He closed a pad of graph paper and tossed his reading glasses to the truck’s bench seat, stepping out of the cab and making way, meeting Hayes at the back of white work van where the frustrated youngster searched for the correct tool.
“Scott laying into you that hard?” asked the Father.
“He’s a douche,” the Son mumbled, lazily tossing a box of deck screws to the side.
“You just gotta give it right back to him. You’ll learn,” Gregory chuckled, eyes scanning the operation; Todd Elsworth and the framing team, driving the last nails before they could start the siding. Emma Gale, mixing concrete for the slab that would eventually hold the home’s detached three-car garage. Surly Scott Eastmen, prepping conduit for the electrical.
And his boy, uninterested in any of it.
“Hey, take five,” he said, prompting Hayes with a few fingers against the shoulder. “Talk to me.”
Hayes gave up his search and stood, leaning against the back of the van with arms crossed. Gregory did the same, placing a boot on the bumper.
“What’s eating you, son? Don’t let Scott get to you if that’s it. He’s a crusty old bastard but he’s full of shit…”
“No, it’s not Scott,” Hayes assured. “It’s just…”
The young man paused, pushing a hand through his mop of dark hair.
“I don’t know, Dad, I just kinda…”
“You just kind’ve hate it.”
Hayes looked to his father, the words he was afraid to say stolen right from his lips.
“I mean, I don’t hate it.”
“It’s okay. You don’t have to lie to me. I see you struggling with it every day, Hayes.”
“I’m just not any good at it,” he explained. “All I do is load the trucks, unload the trucks, and run back and forth getting tools and stuff for everybody, and I usually screw it up. I feel like…”
Gregory did a good job of allowing his son to vent, and the frustrations weren’t anything new. He’d watched Hayes struggle all summer; his head in the clouds, tripping over tool boxes and having to ask where they kept the drill bits over and over again. Regardless, every contractor starts out green, so the frustrations of his youngest weren’t a bother.
“I feel like I should be doing better things.”
Those words, however, cut deep.
Gregory masked his disappointment with a snort through the nose, tucking his chin to look toward the ground. It wasn’t glamorous, but the years spent hammering nails for a living had provided Gregory and his family a comfortable life in Oregon. In West Linn, among the most beautiful and sought-after neighborhoods in the state. Hanlon Construction had grown from odd jobs and deck building to designing some of the most luxurious homes money could buy. It was a career already thirty years old that Gregory had poured his heart into.
And his son, the direct benefactor, was too naive to really recognize it. He did recognize his gaffe, however, and moved quickly to retract.
“Dad, I didn’t mean it like…”
“No, no, I get it. Go ahead, tell me what ‘better’ things you should be doing.”
Realizing he’d already dug himself a hole, Hayes had no option other than to keep digging.
“I don’t know, I feel like I should be playing summer league. Scouts are already out there, and next school year is my last before college. And…PRIME is about to start their farewell…”
“I swear to god,” Gregory replied with a snicker of near disbelief. “If you even mention this wrestling stuff…”
“This is my last chance, Dad! It’s five shows! That’s it! I have my own car, I could spend the summer following…”
“My car,” the Father corrected with a stubby finger. “The car I bought you. You’re not even eighteen, Hayes!”
“Paul would come! He’s nineteen! He could get us hotel rooms!”
“Not a chance,” Gregory stated. “Not a god-damn chance you’re going to waste your whole summer following around this…this circus!”
“Dad, it’s PRIME…”
The outburst from Hanlon Construction’s founder caught the attention of the crew, but they were wise enough to return to their tasks. Gregory’s lips pursed behind his dark beard. Hayes, knowing he’d pushed the subject too far, crossed his arms and hung his head.
“Back to work,” said Gregory, after taking a few beats to calm himself. Hayes nodded quietly. Fixing his black and blue checkered flannel, the Father turned back toward his pickup.
“And the jigsaw’s in the red case,” he called back, marching across the work site. “Says ‘Milwaukee.’”
Lifting an eyebrow, Hayes peered back into the van. Sure enough, a red, hard plastic case sat in plain view.
He sighed, took the case by the handle, and made way back to Scott.
I’ll be honest, watching you beat Johnny in the Almasy last year was kind of a shock.
And I know that might not have been the case for a lot of people. Johnny isn’t exactly Tchu, or Sonny Silver when he steps into a ring. But I watched that guy outlast fifty people and pin Jason Snow – The Original Villain – and win the Dual Halo in 2009.
So forgive me, but watching this ought of shape white guy in a luchador mask get one over on GBJ? I was surprised. And I thought to myself, man, this is a dude to watch out for.
And then the Diamond did what the Diamond does.
And you? You got distracted.
With Aztec gods and masks. With goofy campaigns and hotlines. With swords, and now? Trying to be some little girl’s super hero. All while desperately trying to prove that you belong with the Universal Championship around your waist.
Distracted by everything but reaching the top.
And that’s why we don’t have a lot in common, Tom.
Because since the very first match of the ReVival, reaching the top has been my distraction from everything else.
And if you had that kind of focus, maybe you would have got there, too.
The completion of a twenty-five year sentence would be cause for some manner of celebration for most. Some sense of relief. Another chance. Another “lease on life.”
None of which came to mind for Tobias Castellanos.
If it had happened any other way, he would have preferred to die in his jail cell, dead-drunk off of toilet hooch. Or with his throat slit after a brawl during dinner. Washington State Penitentiary was as good a place as any for a miserable old fuck to finish his days. No pleasantries with common citizens. No job to slave away at. Nothing to take care of. No one to care for. No one to love.
Eat. Shit. Sleep.
And while Toby would rather feel his heart stop on a metal bed instead of sitting on a folding chair in a mobile home driveway in Springfield, Oregon, he had just enough motivation to stay alive a little longer.
And then, he’d let the cops fill him with holes for all he cared.
“How long you plan on stayin’?”
Castellanos shifted his sturdy body awkwardly, looking over a shoulder as Case Ketchum pulled up a plastic chair of his own, promptly taking a heavy swig from a plastic bottle of cheap vodka.
“If I have it my way, I’ll be gone before winter,” Toby replied, shaking a long, ratty mane of black hair off his shoulders.
Case nodded, his wrinkled, leathery face staring blankly into the Northwest sunset.
“Best if you keep inside the trailer most’ve the time,” he said, screwing the cap back on his bottle. “I don’t need no trouble from the rest’ve these assholes.”
“Yeah, that’s fine,” he replied with the wave of a hand. He scratched at a heavy black beard, just as mangled as the hair on his head. “I’ll keep you out’ve it. Once I’m gone, I’m gone.”
Castellanos pulled a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket, lighting one up and spewing smoke into the air.
“And I won’t miss a fuckin’ thing about it.”
Case replied with another swallow. The sounds of cheap cable television carried from the trailer to cut the silence.
“Could find somethin’ to keep you goin’,” Case offered. “Springfield’s a shit town, but ‘least it’s quiet out here. The view ain’t bad to look at while you shit yerself an’ die.”
“Guess not,” Toby chuckled, big belly shaking. Case spoke the truth; Springfield was one of the worst towns in the state. No work. Shit schools. Law enforcement barely worth mentioning.
But still, it was remote. A good place to be left alone, with a forested view that even the most hardened criminal could appreciate. A fine place for a man to ruminate on his final days.
“There ain’t no place for me in this world,” Toby continued, taking another puff from his cigarette. “Never was. Not even here. It don’t want me and I don’t want it. Sooner I’m in hell, the better.”
He flicked the cigarette butt away, letting it smolder on the gravel as he sat back in his chair.
“Just got one last thing to settle.”
“You know where she is?” Case asked absently.
“Somewhere in the state. But no. Ain’t nobody gonna give me that information.”
While Case polished off his vodka, Toby reached into the front pocket of his dirty jeans, retrieving a folded piece of paper. HIs thick, calloused fingers opened it carefully
PRIME skedule, it read. In messy, penciled handwriting, followed by a series of dates and locations.
“But I have a few ideas how to find out.”
“Hello, this is Hayes?”
“Mr. Hanlon? It’s Candace at the front desk.”
“Oh, hey. What’s going on?”
“It’s…your brother. He’s in the lobby. He brought…friends…and he’s causing a bit of a scene.”
“Shit. I’ll…I’ll be right down.”
Hours later, Hayes sat on a stool in the living room of his MGM suite, elbows resting on his knees, a scowl behind his mustache and a harsh glare in his eye.
Their target? His older brother, stirring on the beige leather couch, waking from his latest drug-addled bender.
It was hard for him to be critical, even after the embarrassing show of telling Paul’s entourage to “fuck off” while he dragged his brother to an elevator. The look on sweet Candace’s face, and how she was unsure when it would be the right time to call security. She didn’t deserve that.
It was hard for him to be critical, because he himself was hardly innocent. Chomping on mushrooms backstage at Tropical Turmoil? Fucking some random in a parking garage in San Diego? How many people watched that particular show? When would that video go viral?
But resentment was brewing. It had been for some time.
And it was about to boil over.
“My guts feel like dog shit,” said Paul, doing his best to sit up on the couch. His feet, still clad in brown boat shoes, flopped to the floor as he sat at the edge of the couch cushions, rubbing an eye with one hand. He spotted a cup of coffee on the glass coffee table, and eagerly took a sip. “Damn, when did you make this? It’s ice cold…”
“What the fuck, man?” Hayes interrupted, slapping his thighs and holding up a pair of empty hands. Paul offered a confused and squinted eye.
“‘What the fuck’ what?” he asked, choking down another sip.
“Bro, you’re a fucking mess. This shit is every night with you.”
Paul fell back against the couch cushions, eyes rolling with an annoyed exhale.
“Hayes, you’re out there with me half the time…”
“But I’m not trying to drag all these random weirdos back with me, Pauly. Do you know how shitty that looks every time you stumble into the lobby at two a.m.? Do you know how often they call me when I’m on the road?”
“I don’t know, Hayes, why don’t you tell me,” said Paul sarcastically, forcing himself to his feet and taking the coffee cup with him, dragging his feet to the kitchen and putting it in the microwave. Hayes stood from his stool to follow.
“I’m not fucking around, dude.”
Paul pressed the start button, and for a moment only the gentle hum of the microwave served to break the silence. Older Brother closed his eyes, and took measured breaths through the nose.
The harsh glare from the Younger, however, did not break.
“How much money have you pissed away on coke and molly?” he asked.
“That’s none of your business.”
“Fuck you. Seriously. Fuck you, dude. You don’t show up at my place half a million in debt and keep getting loaded like this. You don’t ask me for money and keep shoving it up your fucking nose…”
“I DIDN’T ASK YOU FOR ANY FUCKING MONEY!”
The microwave’s bell rang, and there was nothing left to cut through the tense, pregnant silence. It hung heavy, a pair of matching, dark brown eyes glued to each other for an eternity.
“I asked for a place to crash, bro. You offered to help me out with money.”
“Bullshit. I call bullshit,” Hayes exclaimed by throwing a hand in the air. “You knew you could leech off me when you showed up.”
“Leech off you? Jesus, didn’t losing to JC Hall fuck with your head that bad?”
“Kiss my ass, Paul.”
“Where is this coming from, bro?” Paul queried, taking a step forward. “If you were still winning matches would you be acting this way? Or would you and I both be stumbling into the lobby at two a.m.?”
“Don’t pull that shit on me, man,” Younger Brother replied, pointing a hard finger. “That’s bullshit and you know it.”
“It’s not! You lost your title, you lost your chance to get it back, and now it’s my fault? Miss me with that shit, Hayes.”
“Yeah? Well maybe you’re the fucking problem?”
Another scratch of the record. A ding of the microwave. Paul cocked his head to the side, in complete disbelief, in utter confusion.
“What did you just say?” he asked.
“Ever since you came back I’ve been coming up short,” Hayes replied, stalwart behind his words. “So yeah, maybe it’s you. Maybe babysitting my older brother has something to fucking do with it.”
Hayes shoved both hands into his hair, nostrils flaring. Paul stood firm, mouth agape. Eventually, Younger Brother shrugged, and let his hands fall.
“Maybe this isn’t a fit anymore, man.”
Paul laughed through his nose, and shook his head. “A month ago you were talking about your contract, and giving me a hand. So…what? All that’s off the table now?
Hayes felt his eyes glisten, but he set his jaw in response.
“We’ve been here before, Little Brother,” he continued. “You wanna do this again? Because I don’t know if we come back from this one.”
Hayes wasn’t sure if they would either.
“Get your shit together, and call me…”
“Get your shit together, Hayes,” Paul said sharply, shouldering past his younger brother.
Hayes turned and watched him snatch his wallet and cell phone, and in a short few seconds the metal door to his suite was slamming shut. He fought the swell his chest with a slap across his own cheek. Then another. And another.
Later, he’d pass out in his bed, with an orange cylinder without a cap sitting on his nightstand.
You may not be part of PRIME’s Old Guard, but I wonder if you were ever familiar with the ReVolution. If Silver, and Snow, Sirrajin, and Von Kelsig were household names in Casa de Battaglia.
And if they were? Then you would know that PRIME is no place for Paladins.
Nobody reached the top without blood on their hands. And I’m not talking about the kind that comes from barbed wire ropes. People forget what this place looked like before 2010.
People forget that Brandon Youngblood used to be the Pariah.
You’re gonna find me at ReVival 34, and wish me luck, and want to share tequila after and tell how I have a bright future ahead of me. But I’m asking you, Tom.
I tried that with Jared. The Love Convoy stormed in and put a nail in his skin. I tried it with Youngblood, and it didn’t stop him from smashing my skull into the mat, or stop the Glueminati from knocking his teeth out and putting the boots to me.
Paladins don’t fit when the rogues want to slit your throat in the shadows.
So please, let’s show up and beat the fucking piss out each other.
I don’t have time to get distracted by anything else.