This is a new experiment for me. I want to write a weekly serialized fiction project. Every Friday I plan on posting a chapter of the story. I do not know how long the story will run. As I said, this is an experiment. I hope some people find it interesting.
Here is a brief synopsis of the tale about to unfold.
“Michael Hill is a showman without a show. Once the promoter of one of the most popular live television programs on the air, he is now trying to reclaim his former glory in the aftermath of a terrible on-air tragedy. Marshall Ellis was his biggest star, and the one probably most affected by the downfall of Hill’s empire. Together the two have a plan to rebuild. They want to start something new. They want to change the business forever. They are not yet Counted Out.”
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Marshall Ellis leaned his forehead against the tile of the shower and let the hot water cascade down his back. He hurt. Bad. He knew how to take a hit. He had trained. He knew how to “bump.” That was the problem with all of it; the world wanted to prove that he didn’t really know shit.
After the incident Marshall Ellis had to find a new line of work. Promoters figured it wasn’t worth the headache that employing him would bring. He wasn’t famous anymore; he was notorious. The distinction was a small one but one that resulted in a large difference in insurance premiums and media coverage. Most found it difficult to justify the cost of having Marshall Ellis around. It irked him; that something so unfathomably out of his own control now seemed to control every facet of his living situation.
He had recently taken up a job working the door at a hole in the wall tavern in Dallas, Texas. It seemed like every night someone wanted to make a run at him. They wanted to know if “The Mechanic” was as big a tough guy as he claimed to be. Everyone had the same old lines; “it’s all fake,” or “he can’t really fight.” Nevermind the fact that Marshall Ellis had been a champion collegiate wrestler and was a black-belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, they simply had to learn things the hard way.
That morning as he stood in the shower letting the hot water sooth the emerging bruises and blemishes that marred his body. The previous evening had seen a cadre of rednecks rush him as a group and try to deliver him a swift and severe beating. Things had not worked out well in those men’s favor however, as Marshall ended up breaking the arm of one of his attackers and shattering the orbital socket of another. The end result of the brawl had been his dismissal from duty and the discolored flesh that throbbed under the stream of hot water.
After willing himself out of the shower and into a fresh set of clothes Marshall took a seat at the cheap Swedish made table in the dining area of his ramshackle one-bedroom apartment and tepidly began to eat his breakfast, a bowl of stale cheerios and skim milk which he choked down with an absent minded sense of purpose. He tried to tune out the headache that pounded on his skull like a timpani drum and had mostly succeeded when there came a rapping at the door.
“What now?” Marshall asked himself, amazed at life’s ability to pile on in such frustrating ways.
He made his way to the door and peered through the peephole. He couldn’t make out the face of whoever was standing on the other side. The maintenance men on staff at his apartment complex had haphazardly repainted his door and rendered the tiny window entirely useless.
“What do you want?” he shouted through the door.
“To talk,” a familiar voice answered back.
Marshall had to fight the urge to vomit. He hadn’t spoken to Michael Hill in close to a year and yet here he stood, plain as day on the bird shit stained patio of his apartment.
“I don’t think there’s much for us to discuss Mike,” Marshall yelled. “I think it best you be on your way.”
“Don’t be like that Marsh,” Michael replied. “I’m sorry things have gone the way they have for you but I’m here to make things right.
Marshall opened the door,
“You don’t have the power to make things right,” Marshall said. “God his own damn self would have trouble putting the pieces of this shitshow back together.”
“Then start singing glory hallelujah because your divine providence is here,” Michael said with a grin. “In all seriousness, invite me inside so we can talk like a couple of civilized adults.”
“You haven’t ever been much in the way of civilized,” Marshall said returning to the kitchen table, leaving the door open for Michael behind him. “Not much of an adult by my reckoning either. You’ve always just been a little boy, playing in his toybox.”
He sat and took another bite of cereal. “Only difference is most little boys care when their favorite toys get broken.”
Michael closed the door behind him as he entered the room. He glanced around the dimly lit apartment at the meager decor adorning the walls. A few framed photographs of Marshall in his prime hung sloppily here and there. Beyond that, little if anything to indicate the apartment had a permanent resident.
“That’s not fair at all,” Michael said. “I did everything I could to help us. To help you.”
“For all the good it did.”
“Yes,” Michael said, rolling his eyes. “I wasn’t successful. Not then, at least. What did you expect? We needed a damned miracle to save us. The footage was everywhere. It was national news. It was everything anybody ever wanted to shut us down with handed to them on a silver platter and you were the suckling pig with an apple shoved in its mouth. It wasn’t fair to you. I’m sorry. But things happened the way they happened.”
“I was a star, Mike,” Marshall said. “A goddamn shooting star and it all went away overnight. You see how I live?”
“Are you?” Marshall asked, his voice tinged with a barely contained rage. “Because you show up here out of the blue wearing a suit that costs more than my rent and I wonder how sorry you really are. Or how hard you really tried to make things right.”
“You unbelievable bastard,” Michael said, shaking his head. “Do you understand the gravity of what happened that night? Do you?”
“Are you seriously asking me that question right now, Michael?”
“Yes,” Michael said. “Because you act like it was something that could be brushed under the rug, which, surprise Marsh, it can’t. I’ve tried. I have spent immeasurable stacks of cash to try to erase the memory of that night from the general consciousness of the world at large, and yet I cannot. Do you know why?”
“Because had it been planned it would have been the most memorable night in the history of live broadcast entertainment! Don’t act like it wouldn’t have been. If we had scripted it, if it had been part of the show, we would never be able to top it.”
“But it wasn’t scripted,” Marshall said. “It wasn’t fake. It wasn’t trickery. It wasn’t a show. It was–”
“It was a tragedy,” Michael interrupted. “A wholly unavoidable one. That’s what the court said. We are not, were not culpable. Not for any of it.”
“That is so easy for you to say,” Marshall said. “You weren’t in the ring.”
“I know,” Michael said. “It is so different for you than it is for the rest of us.”
“People still book Johnny,” Marshall said. “Ace and Peter. All the guys. They still get booked. You know who doesn’t?”
Michael stood silently, looking at Marshall with a knowing sense of empathy.
“I don’t,” Marshall continued. “I don’t get booked. Because I am the world’s biggest liability. And I don’t know how to do anything else Michael, I really don’t. This is all I’ve ever done and all I will ever be good at. Until the day they throw me in the dirt, I will only ever be good at that one thing, and I can’t do it anymore.”
“What if you could?”
“And who would sign me?”
“I would,” Michael said.
Marshall Ellis looked at Michael Hill the way that most people look at a scratch-off lottery ticket that’s one match away from a jackpot. Michael looked at Marshall with the pleading look that one might give a child struggling to reach the edge of a pool in their first swim class. It was a depressing tableau enough to make an existential nihilist rigid in the pants.
“What the hell are you talking about Michael?” Marshall finally asked.
“I have a contract,” Michael said. “A new program. Cable. Never been done before. First out of the gate. But I can’t do it without you.”
“Can’t or won’t?” Marshall asked.
“Does it matter?”
“Then shut up and listen,” Michael said. “The International Professional Wrestling Alliance was one of the crowning achievements of televised sports-centric entertainment. We cornered the market because we did things differently. We cared about fidelity to the stories we told in that ring and people gave a damn about those characters. They cared about you.”
“And it’s never coming back,” Marshall said. “Not the way it was before. Not after how it ended.”
“Which is why we don’t even try,” Michael said. “Have you been to the movies lately?”
Marshall shook his head. “I don’t have a lot of disposable income these days,” he said.
“Continuity is meaningless,” Michael said. “Reboots and sequels and nobody pays attention to whether any of it makes any sense. It’s all about hooking an audience with something they recognize and squeezing every last dollar out of them that is physically possible. I don’t want to bring back the IPWA, I just want to use it to open a new door for something else. What I’ve got lined up isn’t a sequel, it’s a goddamn spinoff. Like when the cop from Family Matters showed up in Die Hard.”
“That’s not actually the same character–”
“I don’t care,” Michael said. “And the world doesn’t care either. We’re going to sell the world on a lie Marshall, and I cannot do it without you. You are the goddamn key to the whole goddamn assing thing.”
“What are you talking about?”
“We’re going to call it the Outlaw Wrestling Coalition,” Michael said. “We’re going to sell the narrative that this whole thing is an underground enterprise. We’re going to sell it on danger. We’re going to sell it on taboo. We’re going to sell it on being the most exciting thing ever to hit cable programming and it is going to be centered around your return to the ring and your search for redemption.”
“I don’t need redemption, Michael.”
“Maybe not personally,” Michael said. “But your character does.”
“I am my character, Michael,” Marshall said. “Always have been.”
“I am offering you a chance to get back to doing what you have always been great at,” Michael said. “Or you can continue to let shitkickers take a run at you for two hundred bucks a night. But those guys you mentioned? Johnny, Ace, Pete? They’re all in. And I’ll build my show around one of them if I have to, but that’s not what I want. That isn’t what the viewing public wants. They want Marshall the goddamn shitassing Mechanic Ellis taking the spot that was unjustly taken from him. That is what they want to see! That is what I want to see!”
“The last time I was in a ring someone died, Michael.”
Michael Hill took two steps back and sighed deeply.
“And it wasn’t your fault,” Michael said. “You probably saved some lives that night. Is that what you want to be remembered for, though? Or would you rather be remembered as part of the greatest comeback story in the history of televised entertainment?”
Marshall looked at his stale cereal and then back to the promoter who for years had pushed him to the top of the professional wrestling world; the man who had made him a star. He closed his eyes and said a little prayer. Then he looked back at Michael.
“When do we start?”