When a man with the physiological makeup possessed by El Hijo del Super Cool Guy delivered unto you a Canadian Destroyer, you felt it in the morning.
That was what Joe Fontaine was going through after he and Sid returned to their hotel room. He flopped on the bed like a dead fish, lying face first with his arms down on either side. His head hadn’t even reached the pillow, and his legs were left dangling off the end of his bed as a result. That’s how he slept that night. Occasionally, he would moan, but it was the kind of moaning you usually didn’t hear in a Las Vegas hotel room.
The Winds of Change didn’t say much to each other after the chaos of the Culture Shock boulder rolling competition they took part in. Sid was exhausted after attempting to make his team’s boulder go faster by powerbombing an Enemigo into it, while Joe… well, clearly Joe had better nights than what happened to him. For the rest of time, at least until it happened to someone else, he was going to be “that one dude who took a Canadian Destroyer from a mannequin”.
Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly a sterling, intelligent debut performance from the Winds of Change. Sid got fined, and he wasn’t sure how he was paying that off. Joe didn’t even know he was in Las Vegas at the end of it. It sucked.
Of course, if Joe was feeling the effects of being destroyed in a Canadian manner, he didn’t appear to let it get to him, even if it was written all over his face. Once he woke up from his awkward sleeping position and got through with morning stretches, he began to stare wistfully out the 28th story window of the suite he shared with Sid.
“Chariots, perhaps?” Joe asked, more to himself than to the other person in the room with him.
“Chariots?” Sid asked, looking up from the magazine he was reading.
“Yeah. Maybe the next event is chariots.”
Joe was a moron, but he wasn’t an idiot.
There’s a difference.
He spoke well. He understood the meaning of the words he used. Not a lot of 20-year olds could say that.
Just because he knew what words meant, though, didn’t mean that he wouldn’t sometimes connect two ideas together that were so divorced from reality that neither of the ideas got the dog in the divorce. The dog was now adrift in thought-space, alone and waiting for an owner that actually appreciated them. Don’t treat your dogs that way, especially not thought-dogs.
“Chariots.” Sid repeated.
“Yeah. Well, no… no, I doubt they’d have built literal chariots for this. It’s a wrestling company, I think, not a prop show. Well, okay, I know there’s El Hijo del Super Cool Guy, but… okay, let’s not talk about him so soon after what happened last night. Anyway, they’ll probably bedazzle a couple of forklifts and make us run through an obstacle course. Or joust. Maybe we joust on the forklifts. You’re a licensed forklift operator, Sid, so maybe you’ll drive the forklift. Oh, but then, what do I do? Do I stand around and live my best life as a beacon of hope for you? Or maybe I’ll hold the lance. Hm, tough decisions…”
Joe existed on a wavelength that fluctuated wildly between flat as a fritter and the goddamn Himalayas. Sid knew this. They’d been best friends since they were five, when their fathers finally reconciled their differences. He was familiar with his whims and flights of fancy. When Sid was younger, he even entertained quite a number of them. As an adult, though, he not only kicked himself for indulging Joe for so long, but he also kicked himself for not being smart enough to just walk away.
Then again, Joe’s father was as weird as Joe himself was. Maybe the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Maybe the apple hit every branch of stupid on the way down the tree, then hit a trampoline, hit all of the stupid branches on the way back up, and then gravity would take the apple back down through the stupid branches for another pass, until the apple ran out of momentum or missed the trampoline.
Sid wasn’t sure.
“I dunno, though,” Joe continued, unabated, “We’re in Vegas, and Vegas isn’t really known for its forklift races or jousting competitions. That’s more of a Detroit thing, probably. Maybe. Actually, I’ve never been to Detroit. It’s probably a lot nicer than it’s stereotyped.”
His monologue was only coherent because he was stringing words together into proper sentences, even if the ideas they formed were nonsense larks that should have never left their nest.
“So maybe we’ll be doing something more Vegas-themed. Oh, maybe they’ll do, like… we’re all in the indoor pools, and have to stand on floating giant novelty poker chips, and the goal is to knock the opposing team into the water. I mean, that might give that Blueberry guy an advantage, considering his awful inanimate vampire partner, but…”
Joe was interrupted from his interminably long tangents by a knock at their door.
Both of their heads turned towards the door in unison.
Then they exchanged looks.
“You didn’t order room service, did you, Sid?”
“Sure didn’t. You?”
The two eyed the door suspiciously, then exchanged looks again.
“Not it!” Joe said.
“Not it… DAMMIT.” Sid said, a second too late.
Joe’s cowardice was much stronger than Sid’s, it turned out. Sid only adopted the cowardice. Joe was molded by it. Besides, Joe had no filter from brain to mouth, and Sid did.
So, Sid tossed the magazine onto the table, got up from his seat, and walked over to the door. Behind him, Joe placed himself behind Sid, careful to not be too close. Sid was a big boy, and he was sure he could handle whatever trouble was knocking on their door. With a powerbomb, of course. With a count under his breath to three, Sid opened the door, and he came face-to-face with the one piece of trouble that he realized only too late that he couldn’t handle.
He wore a lab coat, and the top of his head was shaped like a blackberry.
Joe’s throat suddenly found itself somewhere in his left testicle. Or maybe the other way around. Joe’s a bit too dumb to understand the exact nature of his physiology, but he was smart enough to know how fucked they both were.
Sid simply went wide-eyed.
This… was going to fucking suck.
“YOU FOOLS!” the man in the blackberry mask bellowed. He went from zero-to-sixty with a Yakuza kick straight to Sid’s upper chest. It hit so violently that Sid, a man six inches taller than he was and nearly twice as wide, fell right to the ground. It left him wondering what in the blue fuck parted his lungs like the Red Sea. Briefly, Sid wondered if Moses also had a blackberry for a head.
Then he blacked out.
One year ago…
“Sid, got a second?”
Coral Avalon didn’t seem like a professional wrestler at first glance. Sure, he had the build of one, but he was so mild-mannered and humble that he couldn’t possibly have fit in within the ego-driven sport of professional wrestling. Yet, he was still one of the top talents in the world who was signed with no company.
And yes, that was his real name.
The sounds of training were happening all around them. Men and women lifting weights. A few trainees in a ring stomping around the ring as they learned to run the ropes for the first time. A second ring was set up next to it, where two other trainees were working on their lockups. This was the foundation of the Gates of Avalon Wrestling School, in Seattle.
The place was as busy as it usually was on a Friday afternoon. Avalon and his head trainer, Franco Marx, had gone through today’s training at a brisk pace. Training here wasn’t too bad once you got used to it, Sid had decided.
Avalon often trained smaller and mid-sized wrestlers. Guys like Joe. Guys who looked like they could wrestle twenty-to-thirty minutes at-will. The stamina guys. The cardio guys. Guys like Avalon himself. Sid wasn’t really like that. Sid was huge. Bigger than his father ever was. Hell, bigger than Joe’s father.
Sid sat up from the bench, and raised an eyebrow at Avalon.
He was a very lean, well-built man soon to approach his 40s. His black hair had been shorn down to a messy mop of hair. He wore a tank top and some shorts, and regarded Sid with a small smile.
“Yeah.” Sid said.
Avalon waved for Sid to follow him. Sid did, and he ended up having to walk into his office walking sideways. He was so wide, and the door was so narrow.
Avalon’s office wasn’t much. He kept so few trinkets from his travels as a pro wrestler, with two championships hanging from the wall. One was from a place called “Action! Wrestling”, and was a silver belt labeled “Bantam Championship”. Avalon wasn’t a bantamweight now, or ever, so Sid didn’t understand that name. The other was something called the “Scorpion Fighting Championship”, and was still stained in old blood from a lifetime ago.
Avalon gestured at the chair in front of the desk, inviting Sid to sit in it. He did so, though uncomfortably. He felt too big for this room.
Avalon sat down on the other side of the desk.
“So, I wasn’t here yesterday, so explain to me what happened yesterday.” Avalon said. Avalon often went away to do other things. He still wrestled abroad, and he apparently had some other job besides this that he didn’t discuss with any of his students.
“Uh, you mean the body slam drills?” Sid asked.
“Yeah.” Avalon said. “Franco told me about them.”
“I don’t know.”
“You mean, you didn’t know how you somehow turned a body slam into a powerbomb? Because that takes work.” Coral said. His smile and comment didn’t betray malice. In a way, Avalon sounded impressed.
Sid shrugged. He didn’t have a response.
His training had gone well, but he gravitated less towards the taking of offense and more towards the giver. It happened for a man his size in a place built for ants.
“Everything you do turns into a powerbomb, doesn’t it?” Avalon asked.
“More or less,” Sid said, “It works, doesn’t it?”
Avalon leaned back in his chair and considered it.
“Okay, Joe, I get. I’ve been around his dad, after all. He doesn’t have his dad’s size, or even mine, but he’s got the work ethic and he’s improving by leaps and bounds every time I see him. He’s stupid. I get it.” Avalon said, genially, like he was discussing the weather. Not that he should discuss the weather when Joe’s around, we all already know his intense opinions about forecasting.
“Extremely so, sir.”
“Right.” Avalon nodded in affirmation, “But here’s the thing. This business has a lot of weird folks in it. Cultists, luchadors, egomaniacs, invisible guys, jerks… you name it, they exist. And we intend on bringing a guy like Joe into all of that.”
“You’re worried that he’s going to join a cult?” Sid asked.
“The thought had worried me, yes,” Avalon said, “But that’s not my point. Both of you have a lot to learn. Joe’s got the acumen, but he’s stupid. You’ve got some sense, maybe, but you also only have one trick. If someone figures out that you have one trick, then you’re easy to plan around. You need to diversify what you’re doing.”
Sid never thought of it that way.
He was bigger than everyone here. He could powerbomb everyone at will, right? And it was super effective, every time. Why wouldn’t he just lean on that?
He smiled and nodded to Avalon.
I’ll still powerbomb the world.
“Uh, what the fuck is this?”
The Winds of Change felt like they’d been through a car crash after Baron von Blackberry had gotten through with them, and he hadn’t even gotten to what Sid thought would be the training yet. Sid had recovered from the Yakuza kick well enough to try and powerbomb his way out of the situation they found themselves with Blackberry, only to find himself so effortlessly placed in an octopus hold that he had no choice but to admit that he was the suck and Blackberry was the rule.
Blackberry slapped the back of Sid’s head, “LANGUAGE! There are children watching. Maybe. I don’t actually know.”
Sid rubbed the back of his head in pain. Please. God. No more of this.
Now that they were faced with training for the next leg of the competition, Sid had expected to learn more about how to thoroughly powerbomb things to death. That’s all he really knew, after all.
But this was…
“Is this a jigsaw puzzle?” Joe asked.
“Yes.” Blackberry said, “This is your training.”
“Uhhh… come again?”
“I’d rather not. That is reserved for Mrs. Blackberry alone!” Blackberry declared.
Joe tilted his head, looking at Blackberry with an expression one might expect from a man who wasn’t even 24 hours removed from taking a Canadian Destroyer from a mannequin, “There’s a Mrs. Blackberry?”
“Yes.” Blackberry asked. The masked man uncrossed his arms, visibly clenched his fist, and asked, “Problem?”
Neither Joe nor Sid could see Blackberry’s eyes through his ridiculous blackberry-shaped mask, but they both decided that there wasn’t a problem. Definitely not a problem. No problem at all. Almost entirely without uncertainty.
“What’s a jigsaw puzzle have to do with training?” Sid asked.
“Because, minions, your next competition will be to construct a jigsaw puzzle. There’s a whole rigmarole about climbing stairs and going down a slide, too, but let’s be honest. That’s not the part I, the great and mighty and ABSOLUTELY PERFECT Baron von Blackberry, am worried about!” Blackberry said.
Joe and Sid stared at the jigsaw puzzle. It was a 1,000 piece puzzle from a famous scene in the cartoon show, “Mega Job and the Ten True Fruits”, where El Janito and Beef have to contend with the nefarious Professor Rave before he could collect the Banana of Fertility from his own arch-nemesis, the Archduke VILLAM. It looked challenging.
Sid slid his hand down his face, “Please tell me you’re joking.”
Blackberry laughed. Maniacally.
“Look into my eyes. Do I look like a man who is joking to you?”
Joe raised his hand, “We can’t actually see your eyes, so…”
Blackberry crossed his arms, and said, “Let me make it clear to you two FOOLS! This competition is not strictly about your teamwork! I mean, it is. It obviously is. I’m not even sure why I just said the thing that I just said. ENOUGH! My point is, it’s not about your WRESTLING teamwork. That part, as raw and as unrefined as it is, is fine compared to your brains! Because I’m not even certain you have even ONE working brain cell between you!”
Even Joe and Sid, dense as they were, could tell that there was a justified anger behind Blackberry’s ridiculous words. Something within him felt betrayed.
After all, he’d been their manager this whole time, and they didn’t tell him about accepting PRIME’s offer for a spot in the Survivor competition.
Well, that and they didn’t return any of Blackberry’s phone calls, or any of the sixteen voice mails.
A bit of a blunder, in hindsight.
“I don’t get it,” Joe interjected, “How does this get us closer to winning the PRIME Tag Titles?”
“FOOL!” Blackberry shouted, as he usually did, “Actually use your brains! That’s the point of this challenge! Minion #1, your foolish charm alone cannot win every time. And Minion #2, the powerbomb is not an applicable solution to this.”
Joe laughed, and pointed at Sid, “Ahaha, you’re #2.”
“God, shut the fuck up, Joe.” Sid said, his hands on his head.
Blackberry cleared his throat.
“While I am appalled by your language, Minion #2, I’m afraid I have matters to attend to elsewhere. Legalities, probably have to answer for a noise complaint, that kind of thing. You must assemble your puzzle quickly. Learn how to put it together over and over again. If you fail at this, and you get eliminated, your punishment shall henceforth be SWIFT! AHAHA!”
Blackberry turned, lab coat fluttering in the air, and then he left as quickly as he’d appeared.
Sid watched him go without even taking his hands off of his head, and then turned his attention back to the puzzle.
As a kid, he never got to play with jigsaw puzzles that much. His father, Daniel, never saw that much success once he’d done what he said he would do and retire Joe’s father. His wife had passed away not long after, and he faded from the spotlight. Daniel never complained about being a single father. Not even once. Not even when he had to quit wrestling to support them. His kids meant the world more to him than pro wrestling did.
But for a long time, it was a struggle.
At least until Joe’s father, Joe Sr., helped them.
No one was surprised when Sid followed Joe to Seattle to start their wrestling careers with the successor to Joe’s father, Coral Avalon. Not even his own father, who had hopes that Sid would walk into football instead. Perhaps Sid was too dumb for football, and that would’ve always stopped him. But he wasn’t too dumb for wrestling.
He did, however, feel way too dumb for what Blackberry had presented them.
Joe smiled, and pointed at the pieces.
“Okay, so you always start with the edges on these sorts of things,” Joe said, already sliding pieces together and figuring out where they went. Every once in a while, he’d look at the box that the puzzle came in, and then go back to the puzzle, “And then you fill out the middle. Pile together some of the similar-looking pieces, and put them where they go in a way that makes sense. Oh, and keep the box handy so we can look at it when we need to.”
“What, you’ve done this before?” Sid asked.
“Yeah, with my little sisters,” Joe said, “Aunt Alex and Uncle Simon would bring them over on occasion.”
Joe worked so rapidly that Sid could barely keep up.
How was Joe so stupid, yet so good at things like this?
It baffled Sid.
Sid wasn’t as close to his siblings as Joe was with his. He hadn’t exchanged words with his older sister, Luna, since she left for college. His younger sister was officially the “weird girl” in her school, though Sid wondered if high school girls had some sort of ceremony to declare who was the weird one or not.
Come to think of it, Joe was the oldest of his siblings. The eldest of four. He set an example. He was looked up to. That was a terrifying thought to Sid. He hoped none of Joe’s sisters would ever get destroyed Canadian-style on the ACE Network like he had been.
Sid let out a breath.
“Must be nice,” he said. “I have no idea what I’m even looking at.”
“What’s so funny?” Sid asked.
“Confronted with a problem you can’t powerbomb, and you’re at a loss,” Joe said, “Maybe the boss was right.”
Sid thought of Avalon in Seattle, the boss Joe spoke of, and that short meeting in his gym. He wondered what that guy was doing right now, and what he thought of the Winds of Change entering Survivor. In fact, they hadn’t heard from him in a while. He didn’t even call.
“I mean, we’d win by default if I powerbombed everyone else to death, I’m just saying.” Sid said.
Joe shook his head.
“Come on, Sidney, you can’t have only one solution to every problem, can you?” Joe asked, “Trying to solve everything with a powerbomb is like trying to force two jigsaw pieces together that don’t go together, you know.”
That… actually made sense.
And it came from Joe.
Wait. Was… was Joe actually being the sensible one here?
“Oh yeah,” Joe said, as he continued to put the puzzle together as effortlessly as he did his wrestling, “We’re gonna have to talk about our fashion for the next show. You can’t just go in a singlet again. We’re hitting up the stores after we put this thing together, you and me, and this time I’m getting you a suit as cool and awesome as most of mine.”
No, Sid thought better of it.
He’s still a moron.
Even if he’d concede that he was right.