The atmosphere, it’s electric.
The stage, it’s set.
The arena, it’s packed.
Red and white pyro EXPLODE out of the stage, the lights go nuts, and the patrons of the Star of the Desert Arena get real loud, real fast.
Once all that dies down, the lights in the arena go all the way down to black.
The arena is hushed.
Dan Stein stands in his locker room with the door wide open, his back to the door, arms stretched out wide with a white towel in each hand, and the camera out in the hall. Inside, Toni and Tina slather him with baby oil
Dan Stein: Dan Stein built the Sin City Championship.
Stein appears to be speaking to nobody in particular.
Dan Stein: I put the Sin City Championship on my waist and carried it to the top. And now…I’m going to do it again.
Stein drops the towel, showing a thonged ass to the camera. He looks over his shoulder to one of the twin women on either side of him.
Dan Stein: Don’t forget the hammies.
Out in the hall, Johnny Patriot looks on with Molly beside him.
Johnny Patriot: God Bless America, you didn’t tell him?
Molly the Cousin-in-Law: Do you blame me?
She throws her hand up, gesturing in Stein’s general direction.
Johnny Patriot: So when are you going to tell him?
Molly breathes deeply, and pauses for a moment. Through her teeth, she speaks.
Molly the Cousin-in-Law: What happens if we don’t?
Patriot crosses his arms and exhales out of his nose.
Johnny Patriot: If he thinks I’m going to give up my chance to put my hands on the Sin City Championship for anything short of a constitutional amendment, he’s a couple bald eagles short of a flock.
Molly looks at Patriot, confused.
Molly the Cousin-in-Law: I’m not sure bald eagles group in flocks, Johnny.
Patriot shrugs. Molly looks back into the locker room.
Johnny Patriot: I’m just saying, Azraith DeMitri is standing between me and Life, Liberty, and Happiness. I won’t let Dan’s jealous, delusional mind do the same.
Molly the Cousin-in-Law: You’re definitely telling him.
Backstage, more accurately the loading dock of the arena. Haskell Payne stands, somber for him, face somewhat serious, hair pomaded into a perfect pomp. He sighs and looks down.
The Colonel: Yknow, tonight…Win or Loss, which we all know is gonna be a win—I figured somethin’.
He begins walking, the camera following.
The Colonel: See I was watchin’ the show, and I saw that Wraith fella talkin about an “Open Challenge”. Anyone who wants can come try to take him on fer a shot at his title belt! I sat there thinkin’ to myself…that’s a damn fine idea.
He stops, cracks his knuckles absently.
The Colonel: Thing is, I ain’t gonna be chasin’ no belt. That’s something like…a second place loser does. Chase a damn belt. I’m Haskell Fuckin’ Payne, I’m the best wrestler ever to hail from the dark and bloody ground of Kentucky—you heard me! I aint stutter! The best! But for some damn reason that nice lady in the SHOOT offices aint seen it fit to gift me the World Championship.
At this he grins and shrugs his shoulders, chuckling. As if this is the most bizarre decision the company could make.
The Colonel: I know, I’m disappointed too.
He points to the camera, his eyes bright.
The Colonel: So I’m finna offer my own Open Challenge. I don’t have no belt, but I got something even better.
His walk resumes, and we are face to face with the long, immaculate, black and chrome masterpiece: Haskell’s own vintage El Camino. He takes a moment to run his hand along the quarter panel, sighing and eyeing it with something close to love.
The Colonel: Look at ‘er. 1970, cherry. All original running parts. LS6 engine, the V8, Four Hunnert and Fifty horses! Turbo Hyrda-Matic tranny, it’ll hit a quarter mile in 12 seconds. I light up newer Mustangs on the regular. Big fat tires, all black leather interior, all black paint, chrome spotless—shit, I even got fuzzy dice. Her name is Nuthin’ Fancy, and she’s a beauty. And she could be yours, if you actually beat me.
He raises up his keys, a ring with a brass set of testicles causing them to jangle. He grins wide.
The Colonel: That’s the open challenge. Anyone wants her, step to me. Tell me you wanna chance at owning her. We’re wrestling for pinks.
He chuckles and pockets the keys before hopping into the bed of his car truck.
The Colonel: So if you think you got the sack to take me on, any man woman or child can catch these hands! It’s the Haskell Payne Classic Open Challenge, and, being real? Ain’t a one of you sumbitches stand a chance!!
He sets to posing as the camera cuts away.
The cliffside of rock has one lone denizen at dusk: Charlie Jay Hitchens. She is working a whetstone on the edge of a full sized splitting maul, and occasionally stopping her work—scrape, scrape, scrape—to pick up a pair of binoculars. In the distance, we can see a familiar house. Too far for the camera to see, Charlie stares intently, following whatever activity she sees with her trademark stillness. Finally, she sets the binoculars on the ground and resumes her scraping, her face lit by a low fire.
CJH: Did it hurt, Buck Dresden? Not the many, many times I planted you to the ground or laid my fists into you, not the thud of my forearms into your chin. Did watching me hurt that man cause you pain? Do you still feel empathy for the plight of your common man? Or are you so truly lost that you watched me drive the back of his skull into the corner repeatedly with physician detachment?
She pauses. Tests the edge. Finding her thumb intact, she resumes. Methodical.
CJH: I know you have your eyes on the championship. Still chasing the rich man’s gold. It will not make you whole no more than your fancy house or the whores you lay with. Ive watched both with keen interest. Even after bedding those Jezebels, I see your eyes through the window. Searching the horizon for something. Something to fill a pit in you. Some sign from the Lord on high emerging from the sand.
She pauses, spits, and then keeps scraping. Her voice drops a bit, and her words come out in a low rumbling monotone.
CJH: While you ignore his messenger and her works. You shun what the lord has brought you. This will change.
She once again sets down the stone, and runs her thumb along the edge. With an intake of breath, it splits her skin. Setting the maul down, she watches as the blood runs down her grime coated hand, entranced for a moment. She takes her thumb and draws a cross on her forehead, looking off in the direction of the house.
CJH: Know you are safe from me, for now.
She sucks her cut thumb for a moment.
CJH: But also know that your time is short. I have my orders. You are His project. I will break you to pieces and burn off the cancer that consumes you. I will rebuild you into the man that I know you can be. No emptiness. No sadness. Just His light. God is the hand, and I the scalpel.
She wraps her thumb in a filthy bandanna from her back pocket, holding the material in place. Her eyes are a thousand yards off. Her voice steady, gravel under tires, unfaltering.
CJH: You will no longer live as a shadow of a man. You will have a life of fulfillment. All you had to do was accept His plan—which you defied. Such a foolish, stubborn man. Stubborn as any farm animal.
Standing up, stretching the shoulders. She walks closer to edge of the rock and then looks to the fast approaching nighttime, the ghost of a smile on her face.
CJH: Mules, cows. They do their task or they get turned into glue and steaks. You better decide which fate you want.
We leave her considering the vista in front of her, cutting away.
Dan Stein walks down the hallway in the back toward the ring with Toni and Tina flanking him. Molly, his wife, and Johnny Patriot behind him just out of earshot. Stein walks with a towel over his head and is shadow boxing. Molly shakes her head and talks out of the side of her mouth to Patriot, quietly.
Molly, the wife: You still haven’t told him?
Patriot shakes his head, also talking out of the side of his mouth.
Johnny Patriot: Not going to.
Molly, the wife: Johnny, you want this match.
Johnny Patriot: And like George Washington and being the first President, I want it, so I’m going to have it.
Molly, the wife: George Washington didn’t want the presidency, he had to be talked into it.
Johnny Patriot: Fine, like Abraham Lincoln and the thir-
Molly, the wife: You know what, just…I get it. So what’s your plan?
Patriot looks around the hallway before his eyes lock on something.
Johnny Patriot: Ever hear of the Tet Offensive?
Molly, the wife: One of the biggest blu-
Johnny Patriot: Just…watch.
Patriot walks quicker, splitting Toni and Tina. The two women are pushed out of the way and stumble into the wall, which disorients them. Patriot grabs Stein around the collar.
Dan Stein: Hey, whoa! Toni! Tina!
Stein flails his arms about, but Johnny turns back first towards a pair of double doors and absolutely LAUNCHES Stein out of the arena. Quickly, Patriot reaches to the equipment box next to the door and grabs the chain and lock, throwing it around each of the door handles. As Patriot locks the door, Stein can be heard pounding on the door.
Dan Stein: Let me in! Let me in! This is my moment! Let me in!
Molly looks on in shock as she stands between Toni and Tina and Patriot. Toni and Tina start to collect themselves as Patriot turns away from them, looking at Molly with his hands up. Stein is still banging on the door. All the chaos surrounds her. Molly sighs, facepalms, and turns around.
Molly, the wife: Don’t… move… a muscle.
She looks over her shoulder to Patriot.
Molly, the wife: Go. Fight. Win.
Patriot looks at her, confused. Molly shrugs, gesturing to the women in front of her.
Molly, the wife: I was a cheerleader, JUST GO!.
Patriot nods, looks at the doors where Stein is trying to slide a hand inside to get back in, and turns to the stage, throwing open the curtains as his music hits.
As Azraith raises his belt, “Turbo Killer” cuts off abruptly. The crowd begins to buzz in anticipation before the screech of feedback and drums kicks off “The Fall”—and Nate Robideau emerges from the back! Clad in his usually full button down casual gear, he makes his approach to the ring briskly, as Az eyes him with suspicion. Sliding under the bottom rope, he pops to his feet and hollers at a ringside tech, being tossed a microphone that he immediately taps. Eyes serious, he paces for a few before his music fades.
Robideau: Azraith DeMitri! You and I are going to have a talk, right now!
His voice is deep in a fashion that makes it boom every time he raises his volume. Azraith stands stock still, catching his breath, his feet planted. A coiled spring ready to strike.
Robideau: You know, I have felt stagnant ever since you beat me. I am sure for many people with families, time off is a wonderful thing. For me, it just meant more time to cut away what made me come up short.
Nate looks to the mat, his pacing slowing down.
Robideau: It is never enough to rest. We are built for combat, we break ourselves down and rebuild ourselves time and again for war. “Just one more”. Just one more…something I kept telling myself after I lost to you. I gave myself all the foolish justifications in the world. I thought I had you. You just got lucky. Any other night and it could have gone another way.
Az begins to pipe up, his face almost conciliatory, but Nate keeps going.
Robideau: But Azraith…after all those excuses, it came time for the hard truth. I had a half dozen chances to win that title that you now hold, and I squandered each one of them. Well…no more.
He stops pacing and walks closer to DeMitri. As his steps get closer, the anticipation in the crowd gets higher and higher, the buzz growing to a din.
Robideau: So if you wanted open challenges? Here is mine. You and me. The both of us fully rested. For your belt…
He leans in, his eyes focused. There is a long pause, before he breaks out into a genuine smile.
Robideau: …At the Pay Per View, RISE!!
Nate holds his hand out as the noise of the crowd ratchets up. There’s a long moment where Azraith considers the outstretched hand, still unsure. He shoulders the Sin City Championship, and sizes up Nate Robideau once more, eyes scanning his. With a step forward, Azraith shakes his hand, and we are left with the erupting roar of the crowd as the cameras cut to black.