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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:
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five

10


Chapter VI

Michael Hill found himself looking at the assemblage of talent gathered in the conference room and had to push down the urge to vomit. The looks he was getting from Trent Travers and Jack Van Jones were enough to drive a murderer to confess. He had not known if Travers would have accepted his call. Of all the former guys who had worked for him, Travers had probably done the best for himself. The podcast he ran got major attention even outside of the usual professional wrestling circles. Michael Hill hoped that whatever new crossover audience his former midcard staple had been able to generate would transfer over to his new venture. He did not tell this to Trenton Travers because Travers had plenty of reasons to hate him already and he did not need to add fuel to a fire that he was hoping would eventually burn out.

Marshall sat by himself in the corner of the room, back to the wall like an old-west lawman hoping to avoid being ambushed. The others gave him a friendly nod as they entered the room but nobody approached him. They didn’t know how to talk to him. Should they act like nothing had changed? Should they tiptoe around the glass shards of the past, careful not to touch an exposed nerve? They obviously felt it was better to not speak to him at all.

The only person who had even said hello was Nicki and that had been brief and professional. She mirrored him, taking a seat at the back of the room in the opposite corner. Two loners isolating themselves and trying not to make waves.

“Alright,” Michael said standing at the front of the room and adjusting his tie. “Before our contact from the network arrives I would like to thank everyone for coming to this meeting. I know that some of you have ample reason to balk at ever being in the same room with me ever again. That’s fair. I acknowledge that. I want you all to know that I get it. In a lot of ways I failed the people in this room. My downfall was a result of my arrogance. And if it only affected me, it would have been fair. But everyone here ended up as collateral damage.

“Everybody in this room was in the building that last night. Everybody here saw what happened. You all noticed that Marshall is here too. If there is anybody on the planet who deserves to hate me to my core, it is Marshall Ellis. I am going to be completely honest here; if Marshall had not agreed to come, I probably would have called this whole thing off. What we are going to try to build is special. Unlike anything that has ever been done with our brand of entertainment. It doesn’t work without him. And because he is going to be such a cornerstone of this new endeavor I want to take the time to, first, thank him for being here, and, second, encourage the rest of you to remember that regardless of what may have happened between all of us, we share a story. Now comes the part where we write some new chapters together.”

Trenton Travers stood up and raised a hand in front of himself, like a cop directing traffic. “That’s great Mike,” he said. “I love the sentiment and I am actually happy to see so much of the old crew together. I think most of us here have at least tried to remain close. What I am worried about at this moment is opening a can of worms. Lord knows that Marshall and I haven’t always been the best of friends but I sure as hell respect him. And the last thing I want to see is him crucified by the media anymore than he already has been. I appreciate your dedication to your people, Mike, I really do. But you’ve gotta ask if you’re helping or hurting.”

“I appreciate your concern Trent,” Michael said. “But I have a handle on this.”

“You said the same thing two years ago,” Trent replied.

“Do you really want to go there?” Michael asked.

“It’s pertinent,” Trent said. “You wrote checks with your mouth that you didn’t have the capital to cash. Most of the people in this room walked away just fine. But your boy back there? He was the one who took the hits. Judging from the look of him, I don’t know if he can take those hits again.”

“He won’t have to,” Michael protested.

“He’s a damned lightning rod, Mike.”

“I don’t need to be coddled, Trent,” Marshall said leaping from his seat so fast it toppled the chair. “I appreciate your concern but let’s get one thing straight here; I’m here because I want to be. If I could have faded away and let the IWPA survive without me, I would have done it. But things didn’t work out that way. And after what happened, it never would have been the same anyway.”

“No disrespect Marshall but I think you’re just so eager to reclaim your glory days that you aren’t thinking about how dirty this could get.”

“This isn’t about glory, Trent,” Marshall said. “Not for me at least. Why are you here, though?”

“Gentlemen!” Michael shouted, attempting to wrest control back from the two titans dominating the room. “I know emotions are running high. But nobody is here against their will. And whatever reasons anyone has for coming are their own. What matters is that we are here. And if anyone wants out, nobody has signed anything yet and you can walk away right now. If you have reservations or concerns we can address them, but the only person who can make the decision as to whether you will stay in this room is yourself.”

“That is technically true,” a voice said from the doorway. The room collectively turned to see Ms. Green standing with an attache case in one hand and a latte in the other. “However the decisions as to whether you remain a part of this project are also made by me. For those of you who I have not had the pleasure of meeting, My name is Alexandra Green and I represent the network side of this project. I have supreme confidence in Mr. Hill to establish a compelling and engaging product. What I do not have confidence in is the ability of the personalities in this room to coexist peacefully.”

“Ms. Green is the one who ultimately gave this whole project the green light, no pun intended, and I trust her instincts. While you may be able to manipulate me because I give a damn about each and every one of you personally,” Michael explained. “She will be less inclined to be suckered in by your bullshit.”

“The people in this room are people who Michael or I believe need to be the foundation of our creative project moving forward,” Green said. “Marshall is the lynchpin, obviously. He’s the hook. Everyone in this room has a different part to play. Marshall can’t anchor the show himself. He needs a foil. He needs an antagonist, someone to fight over the sole spot at the apex of the mountain.”

“That’s going to be you Ace,” Michael said.

Suddenly the room buzzed with an air of electricity as Trenton Travers once again locked eyes with Marshall Ellis. Had things escalated moments earlier they may have started trading legitimate fists, and here they were being told that they would be working a main event program together. The energy in the room had unexpectedly changed in dramatic fashion.

“I hate to be that guy,” Trent said. “But we need to talk money. If I’m going to be carrying the top of your card it means I give it one hundred percent. That means I have to cut back on my personal projects. You’re going to have to be able to cover the revenue loss and then some.”

“We have money,” Michael said.

“You will be well compensated,” Ms. Green continued. “The network understands the value of your names. That is why you are all in this room right now.”

“You’re going to anchor an entire show around three people?” Jack chimed in.

“I’m here too, by the way,” Nicki interjected.

“Right,” Jack said. “But we’re not working a program together. The ladies’ roster is a whole different thing. You know you were the only one worth a damn back in the day, don’t get it twisted. What I mean is you’re gonna elevate whoever you work with. People will buy it. Me? If we’re talking the value of a name, mine doesn’t have much to the people who watched IWPA outside of tag stuff. So if I’m one of these ‘cornerstones’ you are so big on, I don’t think you’ve thought this through.”

“There’s supposed to be one more person here,” Michael said. “I’m a little disappointed that he isn’t. But Jack I have to say that two years is a long time in our business. So much changes in twenty-four months. You’ve got indy cred now that you didn’t the last time you were on TV. I read what people say on the internet. I shouldn’t, but I do. And people want you to get your shot. That’s why we’re going to push you. We have to start thinking of what we do in terms of ‘seasons.’ That’s how we’re going to structure this whole thing. Year one, we do a slow build. Establish you as a contender. Make the fans want to see you succeed. We break their hearts when you get close but can’t seal the deal. We make that moment when you take your spot at the top mean something.”

“What if the people don’t buy into it,” Jack asked. “You can’t force things on these people. They will turn their backs on me outright if they don’t feel it.”

“We will make them feel it,” Ms. Green said. “You have the talent. You are going to carry the mid-card of this show until the time is right.”

“So who didn’t show up?” Trent asked. “And can you really trust them if they can’t make it to this meeting?”

“Sorry I’m late,” another voice called from the doorway.

“Thank you for coming Pete,” Michael said.

Pete “Painkiller” Patton tossed his gym bag at the front of the room and glided past Michael and Ms. Green to sit next to Jack Van Jones. Painkiller Pete had a reputation as one of the stiffest workers in the business. He was the elder statesman of the old IWPA locker room. A good handful of the wrestlers who had worked with him despised him. It was accepted common knowledge that Pete Patton was only ever looking out for Pete Patton and wouldn’t do anything in the ring that didn’t make him look good. If you were going over on Painkiller Pete, he wasn’t going to make it a fun experience. He also had been around the block long enough to garner the sort of clout that makes people overlook the fact that you’re an asshole. Doing business with Pete Patton was just something people had to do.

“It’s good to be back Mike,” Painkiller said. “Doing half-assed indy shit just doesn’t appeal to me. Big leagues or nothing, you know what I mean?”

“Yeah,” Jack said. “I don’t imagine you do a lot of repeat business with indy feds.”

“You know you’re right,” Pete replied. “I’m a once in a lifetime opportunity for most of those guys.”

“You are unique,” Travers said. “Nobody ever disputed that.”

“Alright guys,” Michael said. “Listen up. If you’re in this room it is because you are going to be carrying your respective divisions. While Marshall and Ace tear up the main event fighting over our brand new world heavyweight title, Jack and Pete will be carrying the mid-card and duking it out over the Television championship. It’s a new belt that we’re going to use to replace our old mid-card title. We’re going to tie it to the fact that we’re on a paid network and so it can only ever be defended on broadcast. You wanna see the TV champ, you gotta pony up the dough to watch the network.

“Nicki will be the rock we build our women’s division around. I’m putting out feelers right now for interested workers. If you know someone that I don’t, give me their number and I’ll run a try-out. When we go to production we are going to run a four week tournament for the world championship. When someone gets knocked out of contention they fill a loser’s bracket for the TV title. These stories are going to build off of each other. Nobody is going to want to miss a damn episode.”

Trent raised his hand like a schoolboy.

“Ace?”

“How long until we go to production?”

“Two months,” Ms. Green answered, cutting Michael off before he could reply.

Marshall and Michael locked eyes from across the room. Marshall offered a raised eyebrow which was repaid with a cursory nod.

“The locations for the first shows have already been booked,” Michael said. “When we get rolling we’re going to be playing very small venues. This is a risky venture and we want to save our production budget. We’re going to focus on the stories, not selling out arenas. The two months is so we can expand the roster, pick up some fresh blood and get you sad sons of bitches back into fighting shape.”

Painkiller Pete stood and clapped Michael on the shoulder.

“Some of us kept working, Mike,” he said. “You weren’t everybody’s only option.”

Pete walked out the door and it was as if the room itself exhaled. Marshall stood up and walked toward the front, eyes following him from the back of the room. He understood that whatever happened next would be a big risk for everyone but himself. He had the least to lose. The other wrestlers in the room had managed to salvage their reputations. Just being seen with him might be enough to ruin that. He appreciated that this many of the old guard didn’t simply hang up when Michael called.

“I want to thank you guys for not thinking this is crazy,” he said.

“It is crazy,” Trent said.

“Okay,” Marshall shrugged. “It’s crazy. But it is a good kind of crazy. Maybe we’ll do something people will never forget. Maybe we make history. Maybe we flame out and get mocked until the day we die. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t like that the longest entry on my Wikipedia page is the ‘controversy’ section.

“We can’t change the past. God knows all of us wish we could. But I want to make things perfectly clear; if I was put in the same situation all over again, I don’t think I could do anything differently. I did what I did because someone had to. I would like to think if that nutjob pulled a gun on me instead of on James, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But I hesitated and he pulled the trigger and James is gone.”

Ms. Green turned her head to look out the window, as if looking away might shield her from having to hear Marshall speak about something that he had not spoken about publicly since the night in question.

“I didn’t want anyone else to get hurt,” Marshall continued. “So I did what I had to. And you don’t get over something like that. I play a tough guy on TV but I’m not a cop. I was never in the army. I was never trained to mentally cope with the responsibility of using deadly force. I just did what I had to in order to protect myself and everyone within the range of that lunatic’s gun.

“And because of what happened our world fell apart. The media wanted to blame Mike for that asshole’s decision to come into the arena with a loaded .45. They wanted to blame me for not taking a bullet. They wanted to blame the production for not cutting the feed. They needed someone to blame. I get that. I really do.”

Heads nodded in agreement. Michael put a hand on Marshall’s shoulder.

“Let’s give them something to really talk about.”

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.

Click Here for Chapter One

Click Here For Chapter Two

10

Chapter Three

“Welcome back to ‘Ace in the Hole,’ the pro wrestling podcast that takes you deep inside the world of wrestling in ways you never thought possible. I am your host Trenton ‘Ace’ Travers and I am here speaking with someone who I have known practically my entire career, you probably remember him from our time as tag-team champions in the IWPA, may it rest in peace. He is the one, the only, Jack Van Jones. It’s good to see you again Jack.”
Jack Van Jones smiled. There was something inherently funny about “Ace” Travers recording a podcast out of his home office in Austin, Texas. The man had been an A-list talent before everything went to shit and now he was running a glorified talk show with other washed up wrestlers from a middle-class neighborhood and living off of whatever profit he made selling merch in his webstore. Things certainly had changed.
“It’s good to see you too, Ace,” Jack said, lying through his teeth. Ace and Jack had indeed been good friends once but the fallout from the death of the IWPA had taken its toll on the personal and professional relationships of anyone who had previously worked for Michael Hill. Nobody wanted to talk about what had happened. Most of the roster had managed to stay afloat, grabbing bookings where they could but a choice few never really recovered. Nobody else had fallen quite as hard as Marshall, he thought, but that was to be expected.
“What have you been up to lately?” Ace asked, taking a sip of his coffee and checking the level on his mix-board. He had gotten pretty good at this podcast game in the last six months. He had sponsors and did live shows at conventions. It was enough to pay the bills and that was enough for him. He took the occasional indy booking to put a little extra scratch in the savings account but he knew there was more longevity for him outside the ring.
“Traveling,” Jack replied. “Did a tour of the UK last month.”
“Good fans in the UK,” Ace said. “Different type of people than here.”
“Yeah,” Jack agreed. “Vocal. Passionate.”
“But a different kind of passionate,” Ace said. “You and I both did work in Japan and those people are passionate, but it’s a different sort of vibe.”
“I think it comes down to the product they’re used to,” Jack said. “UK wrestling still feels very underground to me, you dig? Japan is this whole other thing. It’s culture there, where you look at England and Ireland and whatever and it’s just something else.”
“You’re right there,” Ace said. “In Japan I had people offering to buy me dinner every night. It was surreal. They just looked at me different.”
“Every scene is different,” Jack said. “In the IWPA days, that was something else.”
“You ever miss it?”
“Yeah,” Jack replied. “Don’t you?”
“Honestly,” Ace said. “Most days I don’t. It was too big for itself, you know?”
“You mean it was too big for Mike?”
“I didn’t say that,” Ace said.
“But you did, kinda, I mean, Mike was that company in a lot of ways, right?”
“No denying that,” Ace admitted. “But he handled the business fine. If things hadn’t happened the way they did, and it was no fault of Michael Hill’s by the way, I want to say that clearly, then we would probably be on a whole different level, but some things just happen the way they do and you’ve got to roll with it.”
“Then what do you mean by ‘too big for itself’?”
“Who is interviewing who here?” Ace joked.
“Hey,” Jack said. “I’m just intrigued. Because I don’t necessarily disagree with you, actually. I just want your perspective because, let’s be honest, you were the bigger draw and so you had a different experience than me.”
“Well,” Ace said. “I mean that the bubble was going to burst, right? That even if things hadn’t gone tits up the way they did, they would have gone tits up some other way.”
“But you said Mike handled the business well.”
“I did,” Ace said. “And I stand by that. This isn’t about Michael Hill. Mike was was Mike, and Mike would continue to have been Mike and kept things going as long as he could. I’m saying that culturally speaking, it was too big for itself. We were a part of a very particular zeitgeist and I just don’t think it was sustainable. And hey, it wasn’t perfect. There were tons of guys that got brought in who got zero screen time because the roster was so stuffed. A lot of people resented Mike for that. Because they could have gone somewhere else; Japan, Britain, one of the other feds, you know? But Mike built a damned leviathan of a company and they wanted their chance to grab the brass ring. I know some guys are still bitter about what happened because they feel their time at IWPA was wasted. They didn’t get over enough on that stage to justify the booking fees they would like now that they don’t have Mike signing their checks.”
“It doesn’t do anybody any good to be bitter though, does it?” Jack asked. “I wasn’t exactly at the top of the card when things went down but I turned out okay.”
“Yeah,” Ace said. “But you made your name. People remember us. We were tag champions, after all.”
“I get that,” Jack said. “But afterwards, I wasn’t exactly a hot commodity. I didn’t do well in mid-card. I had always been a tag guy, even before we hooked up.”
“I remember seeing you do tag stuff in a couple of indy promotions before you came on board,” Ace said. “There’s an art form there. It’s all chemistry and timing and really being able to tell a story. I was never really much of a tag guy, but then when you came to me and pitched the idea to tag together, something made sense because our styles work so well together.”
“I agree,” Jack said. “Which is why I’ve stayed mostly solo on the indies, because people tie my name so heavily to our time as a team that it is hard to really sell the storytelling element of it with any other partner. I’ve done appearances and tagged with some of the old timers, you know, to sell an event as truly unique or whatever but I haven’t returned to that style full time.”
“So you’ve found that direction you think you were lacking as a solo worker in IWPA?”
“I think so,” Jack said. “Yeah.”
“So what’s next for Jack Van Jones?”
“I really don’t know, man,” Jack said. “Always working. There’s still some places I haven’t been. I want to work in Mexico. That’s always been a dream.”
“I’ve done a stint down there,” Ace said.
“Really?”
“Yeah,” Ace replied. “It’s a whole different world. Different culture. Lucha libre is unlike anything else in the world, and working that style is intense.”
“Yeah,” Jack said. “I want that challenge.”
“I’m sure you’re up to it,” Ace said. “We’ve gotta take a break, plug some sponsors, and we’ll be right back.”

Later, after the tape stopped Ace and Jack sat on the well broken in couches in Ace’s living room, each with a beer in hand as they watched a tape of one of their old matches on the giant TV that took up most of the real estate in the modest living area.
“I heard a rumor,” Jack said, gingerly sipping his beer. “You heard it?”
“I hear lots of rumors,” Ace said. “You’re going to have to be more specific.”
“Don’t shit with me,” Jack said. “About Mike.”
“Again,” Ace said. “Specificity is key. Mike is a damn rumor magnet. Which one is this one? Jail time? That he’s running for the senate? What?”
“He’s getting back in,” Jack said. “Hooked himself up with a network contract and plans to get the gang back together.”
“No fucking way,” Ace said, putting his beer down on the coffee table. “Nobody would be stupid enough to hand that man the money he would need.”
“Someone did,” Jack said.
“Who is your source?”
“Pete.”
“Shit.”
“Yeah, shit,” Jack said. “It is going to put a lot of eyes back on us.”
“I know,” Ace said.
“Things have been hard Trent,” Jack said. “I’ve had to do some real shit to scrape by. That UK tour saved my ass, but before that…”
“I know,” Ace said. “We all fell pretty hard.”
“So what are you going to say if the phone rings?”
“I don’t know if I can go full time again,” Ace said. “I’ve gotten pretty complacent.”
“Here’s another question,” Jack said picking his beer back up. “What are you going to do if the phone doesn’t ring?”
Ace took a long drink.
It was a good question

 

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:
Chapter One


10

Chapter II.

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?”

“I’m sorry.”

“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?”

“Why, Michael?”

“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?”

“Not really.”

“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?”

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One Fate For Failure
Song Before Nightfall
August 2017
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