The cameraman had dipped out to his next standby position leaving Hessian and Wade Elliott alone in the office. While the feed cut to the card preview for ReVival 43, the Bad Dog filled him in on the function of Jabber and its potential as well as the vibe of the ReVival era in general. They shot the breeze while his fellow WarGames teammate Cancer Jiles tore up the main event, and the arena, with TAL. Von Kelsig only realized the show had gone off the air when the distinct cadence of a broadcaster caught his ear in the hall outside. He excused himself and sheared off in time to catch his quarry passing by.
“Murder Express??” the giant boomed sternly, emerging suddenly from the office and towering overhead to a startled cry of “Jesus CHRIST, man!”
Richard Parker damn near jumped out his skin, jolted from his conversation with his colleague Nick Stuart as the two commentators hurried through the back on their way to their next appointment. Ducking out of the giant’s way as his partner stifled a chuckle, Richard gathered himself on the go, bowing his head and offering a petty wave to Von Kelsig with a roll of shuffled notes. Nick had dropped the faux pas twice as often as Richard had, but true to form the color guy got the flak.
“I don’t care if that was a rib or a dig last week, Parker,” Hessian called after him angrily, stabbing a pointed finger in the announcer’s direction. “It’s ‘Murder Show‘ and you know it! You want to explain brand tampering to Finance? Call it like it reads on the damn merchandise!”
Richard gave a more frantic wave and mouthed a firmer apology back to the giant before disappearing into the crowd. Through narrowed eyes Von Kelsig no-sold the humiliation that crept over him, certain that the announcer was thoroughly gripped by it. Nick walked away unscathed but he too would be radiating inside. The trudge back to his dressing room was a little more somber for that, even if it was a juicy little titbit to excite the worker bees.
I got the patent on Murder. Take your Rumbles and Gators and fucking guns in the ring and shove it. Had he thought that or said it?
The buzz in his bones had been constant since Colossus, he felt switched on. Back home a slight like that, or any issue for that matter, was treated with imperturbable poise. He wasn’t operating on his own time or dime any longer however, and he felt charged up each time he was flown or driven to the next stop. At least here he could benefit from letting the leash slip once in a while.
As comfy and efficient as the travel was compared to the cramped grind of the road back in the day, each destination that didn’t read Parts Unknown still had him on high alert. The ache from the stitched cheek following the battle with Seán O’Neill was palpable because of it, and now he’d lose more sleep thanks to the drone of the Parker-Fly bumbling around his brain. His work phone and personal phone added to all that noise as he packed his bags. The vvvt-vvvt of one met with a ting from the other, and then another ting, ting, like little amused robots sharing a joke. .
“Well I’ll be damned,” Von Kelsig growled under his breath as he scrolled through the first notification informing him of the Intense Title match. “Pulled a Cozen.”
Tangled up amidst the forged memories and foggy details of his career, the giant was struck by an old recollection. The year was 2008 and a shooting star had appeared out of nowhere, nearly going the distance in her debut in the Dual Halo before conquering the Queen of the Ring and capturing Universal gold in her second ever match in PRIME, rocking the company to its foundations.
Cozen was her name, or ‘The Crazy’ as Lindsay Troy had personally dubbed her. The headlines read ‘Universal Champion’ however, and Hessian had heard all about it while spending that year signed with Rush Pro Wrestling and participating in tournaments. It was part of the allure of joining PRIME the following year in 2009, knowing that there was a talent out there who won the top prize in her second match. That was like catnip to a wrestler like him who was fishing for his first big trophy.
While he similarly captured victory in his debut, beating legend of the game Jay Phoenix and newcomer Fusenshoff in a triple threat, it was nothing close to the scale of the Dual Halo. Rather than a title Hessian was rewarded with the head of Tyler Rayne, which he duly stamped the beginning of his legacy with.
Here he was now, still inspired, still achieving, thirteen years later. His efforts had paid off with the victory over ‘SurReal’ Seán O’Neill and now he had earned an Intense title shot for his second booking in the ReVival era.
“That’s the most surreal thing about all this,” he later scoffed into a microphone wafting after him as he made his way out of the dressing room to catch his next ride. He didn’t recognize the lady holding it but she had credentials and wanted sound-bites. “All these years later and the story’s the same.”
He stooped under an alcove once they were clear of the crew traffic, keeping his eye on the other staff that filtered out of the arena and taking only cursory glances at the interviewer. He thought it might be Angelica Brooks, but didn’t she have red hair? Was this an assistant maybe? So many names in the fog. It was definitely in the itinerary though.
“That means two things,” Hessian carried on, counting out the points on his fingers. “It means Seán O’Neill is either going to be as special as Jay Phoenix, or as forgettable as Fusenshoff. It means I continue my indomitable march through ReVival Forty-Three and I break Mister Kael into a Maximillian pieces. If he thinks barbed wire is a laugh then his sides will be splitting when he steps in the ring with me. Whatever mayhem he conjures won’t be enough to convince Ivan Stanislav to keep him on his WarGames team, much less retain his title. That is Max’s burden to carry and if he wants to do something about it he’ll get his chance, if he’s still allowed, when he stands across from Team Avalon at WarGames with half of us holding the Alias, Five-Star and Intense Titles simultaneously.”
The microphone dropped away and he was thanked for his time. The satisfaction in her eyes told Von Kelsig the interviewer had the content she needed as she darted off back into the guts of the arena, leaving the giant to plod on towards the back-lot to meet his driver.
Back in the day he spent hours in gaudy masks and garish outfits, pounding the streets with a purple dwarf and a camera crew trying to frame original, engaging wrestling promos around theatrical Jackass-style action. It was fun, but living that character was extremely tiring.
Wonder what ol’ Minion the Imp is up to these days…
Now in his fifties, the luxury of being able to just be himself and speak from the heart for a few minutes wasn’t lost on him. It meant more time to sort things out at home, more time to just be there, what was left of it. PRIME’s production staff were putting in the work to sell him like a million-dollar product, all he had to do was add some Intense action to the highlight reel. Exert his incomparable force on a human body with no limitations on the hard and sharp of it, easy. Especially now that he knew he could go bell-to-bell.
He stepped into the spacious comfort of another Tesla waiting for him outside. Incredibly efficient for what he needed them for, but the thought of sustainable and renewable energy turned his stomach these days. Sometimes he would bring up his beloved Conquest Knight XV to the drivers, purely out of spite for the EV model and what it represented to him.
With the topic of production fresh in his mind, Von Kelsig fired off an email from his work phone with the subject line ‘New spotlight idea’ and an attached image of a chalk outline with ‘This x100’ in the text space below. Then he put away the cell that Doug Tim had given him at Colossus and retrieved his personal device.
The pull-down menu revealed several email notifications all from the same address. His heart sank as he opened the first; a confirmation for purchase of a FV107 Scimitar. The second read similar aside from the license and serial numbers. The rest cited four M4 Sherman medium tanks and an FV4201 Chieftain, all of which had been repurposed to fire paintball projectiles from their modified barrels. It had taken him almost four years to acquire them all, and over the several years they were in operation at the park his little armoured fleet had proven a wildly successful investment.
An emissions report had followed the initial court order with a proposed cap that forced Von Kelsig to put most of his mobile assets up for sale. Converting everything to electric would put him into debt and the only other option was letting thousands of dollars worth of machinery sit idly in storage. He didn’t own any other property he could transfer the vehicles to, and in order to buy some he would have to sell off too much acreage from Parts Unknown in exchange for a lot less land somewhere equally desirable.
It was an impossible task within the 90 days the state had allotted for him to shut up shop. When enquiring further he was informed that all the land in the valley still belonged to him and he was free to conduct any business that fell within the guidelines, the essence of that caveat being that said business must reflect positively on the neighbouring environmental project.
The turbine farm had garnered enough attention and praise to where other entities supporting conservation and sustainability were beginning to move in. The area was being primed for an ecological gentrification that would steadily lower the land value to where the only viable commerce was root vegetable production.
He had been fucked over completely by someone out there; some nameless, faceless, clout chasing, politicking bootlicker. No doubt the type of worm that backhanded fat envelopes around and sold fake promises with a silver tongue. That was the type of opponent he couldn’t defeat, the type he wouldn’t even be able to find in the first place. It wasn’t worth the dirt he’d get on his hands to pick through the scum and filth of a rat-king just to pluck out one individual rodent. It was simply a case of take it on the chin and move on.
Von Kelsig shoved the home phone away in disgust and turned his thoughts back to the new day job, spending the remainder of the journey to the terminal drop-off with his head in his hand, composing his thoughts. His empire was falling while this Kael character seemed to be thriving in his ventures, according to what he’d read. His wrath would have a little extra sizzle behind it for that. It felt like a great match-up, an instant classic, the kind he wished he could share with friends. That was the notion that nudged him to send one last correspondence for the evening. He didn’t expect a reply.
“He just walked past him! You see that? Didn’t even recognize him!” the scratchy voice barked.
Cyril whipped his hand at the image of the giant bearded man on the TV screen, causing the lazy cloud of cigar smoke above him to stir. Bushy grey eyebrows furrowed over beady black darting eyes, his jowls pinched, bottle clenched firmly in hand. The leather settee squeaked as he squirmed, and his small outburst elicited a grating, throaty chuckle from across the room.
“That’s Wade fuckin’ Elliott ya dumb motherfucker!” Coocoo Haggerty croaked at the same time as Hessian said it on the live broadcast. That popped Coocoo hard and he cackled loudly with his tongue out, slapping his thigh then stifling a gritty cough while he lay on his side on the other sofa.
The serendipity of echoing a line live like that plus Coocoo’s infectious laugh lifted Cyril’s mood to where the banked ire for his next response was struck with a light-hearted note, “you see what I’m saying? He can still move but he’s fucking clueless!”
Their cacophonous laughter prickled the air for a moment longer, Cyril’s feet wagging like puppy tails. Coocoo pulled a draw from a pre-roll pinched at the base of his first two fingers that barely protruded beyond his calloused knuckles, thick lips sucking back emphatically on a shiny face between breaths.
In the beginning as Cyril shadowed his brother he had become more familiar with the top floor and how they operated. He witnessed strategy meetings and agreements between Cecil, Coocoo and the other Haggerty, Penny. While they shared a surname it turned out Coocoo and Penny weren’t related, nor were they romantically involved. “Urgh, perish the thought,” Penny had remarked once, “any one of those raspy breaths could be his last.”
The top floor mostly kept to themselves when business wasn’t being conducted. Cyril’s private, personal nickname for Penny was the Hag, given her proclivity for sarcasm to compliment the chip on her shoulder. That was all he knew and cared to know about her. Being brothers, he’d had his fill of Cecil for a lifetime and was content to let the boring prude flutter around pulling all the strings while he feigned interest. Coocoo came off as one of those jolly old uncle types that turned into a savage behind closed doors. Cyril didn’t think anything of it when he mentioned how he liked to spend his downtime “watching my stories”, as he put it.
It didn’t take long for Cyril to realize his brother literally meant what he said about making use of him. His gift for the gab and natural confidence made him an excellent intermediary, and even if he had no idea who he was dealing with he could juggle jargon and procedure well enough to spin plates for as long as the top floor needed. Their contracts and assignments seemed contradictory to their methods but their reach was incredible; offering high level solutions to low level problems for low level people with high level problems. He fit right in and forgot all about his dreams.
“Is that PRIME as in the wrestling company?” Cyril had asked one night as he was leaving Coocoo’s abode. Another meeting had run later than expected as the top floor discussed a matter involving a client with connections to a number of compromised shell companies. Coocoo wore his frustrations on the surface and Cyril felt bad for him despite the obvious holes in the matter. Afterwards on the way out he’d glanced at the TV and noticed that familiar name in all caps highlighted on the guide menu.
“You got that little brother, I’m watching my stories tonight.”
The admission was like a shot of adrenaline. Of course ‘stories’ meant pro wrestling, Coocoo never struck him as the Hallmark type. They watched ReVival 1 as it aired live then afterwards scoured the streaming and subscription services for old clips and full shows. Cyril learned that Coocoo’s grandad had been a working man and diehard supporter of some legendary luchador, so the fanaticism was drilled into him from boyhood with a patriotic fervour. He simply replied that he’d been watching it for years and rattled off a couple of famous names to placate Coocoo, unsure of whether to reveal what his role had been in the industry. Despite his sleeping ambitions he was wary of having his dreams dashed and legacy ridiculed.
They made a habit out of watching shows together over the next couple of years much to his brother’s chagrin. Coocoo appeared affable and simple, but Cecil knew better and it concerned him that Cyril had his foot in the door where he did not. It meant little brother had an outlet once again, and an unquestionable positive reinforcement to go with it. Big brother wasn’t invited and would have to figure out how to keep tabs on that influence and how it would shape both their decisions going forward.
Here they were now in the present, watching ReVival 42 and a backstage segment featuring a legendary badass and a giant from wrestling’s glory days. Both were familiar to Coocoo and Cyril felt an awkward anxiety in each backhanded compliment and insult he mustered whenever Hessian was on screen so as not to appear overly invested or biased. On this occasion the giant had shown his age when he blanked one of his peers. Cyril ragged on him but inside he was cringing every time he noticed the giant miss a step.
Coocoo had noticed the change in atmosphere over the last couple of viewings. Normally Cyril was comically analytical throughout the evening, but he hadn’t been as vocal in the last month. His work was solid and everything seemed to be fine at home, but Coocoo got the impression Cyril was bottling something up. He could sense the tragic shell-shock in the silence between remarks.
“Somethin’ got you down little brother? You been sulking like my little niece around her mom and pop after gettin’ knocked up by that cocksuckin’ defensive linesman.”
Cyril regarded him with a kind smile and sighed, searching for the answer amongst all the detritus on Coocoo’s marble coffee table.
“I’m the reason that asshole’s even wrestling again.” he replied several minutes later as the card for ReVival 43 appeared on the program, pointing at Hessian specifically on the run-down.
Coocoo squinted at the screen, “what? The bearded fuck?”
“Yeah,” he said with a regretful chuckle. “I used to work with him up until he left Old School Wrestling.”
“Minion the Imp.” Coocoo said it like it had been on the tip of his tongue for a while. He never averted his gaze from the TV, simply nodding as he uttered the name before adding, “whaddaya mean he’s back ’cause of you?”
“That’s what I’m telling you,” Cyril steeled his nerves as his old moniker was unveiled before him, “After OSW he dropped me and went his own way. I know some motherfucker was in his ear that whole time because they changed his gimmick up entirely at one point and I wasn’t involved. Some fucking cowboy shtick, pfft. Then they brought me back with the dark gimmick look and he went back to printing money.”
“He win the title there too?” Coocoo gurgled deeply, his chin tucked into his chest as the main event got underway.
“No, just PRIME. Whatever bullshit they spun him at OSW convinced him he had to pursue a ‘different style of presentation’ and when he left he just never called again.”
“You weren’t with the same management?” Coocoo craned his neck to glance over at Cyril before turning back to the action and recoiling as the action spilled out of the ring.
“No, goodwill and friendship. Took him years to win a top title by himself, too. Acting like I was the one holding him back when he couldn’t convince management to put him in the top spot for all those y-”
“HA!” Coocoo blurted out. “The Fuckin’ Stanley Cup! Fuckin’ classic!”
Cyril gave a half-hearted chuckle and acknowledged the action with a tip of his bottle while Coocoo held a hand up and muttered an apology under his breath for interrupting.
“I reached out to him right around the time he won the Universal Title. Went to him with cap in hand actually. Told him we didn’t have to work together but it’d help me tremendously if he could put a good word in and get me a job with the company. Could’ve been a referee gig, backstage role, anything. Thought it was a shoe-in when he flew me out to Europe for a meeting, but that never happened…”
Coocoo clicked his tongue and patted his forehead. He remembered hearing this story from Cecil years ago, that his foolish brother had run off to join the circus again. “Fucker straight up abandoned me,” Cyril continued, “then PRIME closed and he retired…”
The little brother shuffled forward in his seat and took a swig of his beer, smiling innocently and shrugging sarcastically.
“So maybe,” he didn’t so much grin as just bear his teeth, “someone called in a favour and ruined his little retirement party. That, my friend, is why Hessian is back…”