Thursday, November 10, 2016
Sucker-Punched: Meet the Cantwell Brothers
I've been kicking this idea around for a while now. My dad was a big fan of pro wrestling, and the one thing we did as a family when I was growing up was watch wrestling every Saturday night. We'd have pizza, usually, and the three of us--Dad, Mom and me, would eat in the living room while we watched the matched and often argued with the TV. Today, Collin and I continue that family tradition--today via the WWE Network (special programming, classic matches and special events like the annual Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania) and Monday Night Raw and Smackdown Live. I guess it was inevitable that I'd end up writing fiction featuring wrestlers.
I first created the five wrestling brothers, the Cantwells, while working on An Army of Angels (the latest chapter of that story is available on its own site). I was going to write it as a romantic comedy, but that didn't work, so I decided I'd post weekly installments here every Friday. Hope you enjoy it--and for those of you who have seen excerpts I posted previously, hang in there. There will be new material coming up!
I was in the center of the ring with my brother Mike hoisted high above my head, poised for a body slam. The crowd was roaring. It was great. I love it when the fans go crazy like that. Pro wrestling fans are the most verbal, least politically-correct fans in the world. That's what makes them so great—in my opinion, anyway. This is a crazy life, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
Mike was trying to break free. “Come on, Paulie,” he gasped. “This is the third time this week!”
“They love it, Mike,” I told him. “Listen to them!”
“Listen to me, you idiot,” he shot back at me. “I'm your brother!”
“Not here, you're not,” I said, preparing to make my move. In the ring, we weren't brothers. I was the Punisher—no relation to the comic book guy—a Heel, a bad guy, of the first order, and my kid brother was a Face, a good guy known as Pretty Boy. That was a stretch. Mike's a long way from pretty.
“I love you, bro,” he pleaded.
“I love you, too.” Then I slammed him to the mat.
“Was it my imagination, or were you enjoying that, bonehead?" Mike asked when we went backstage to the locker room afterward.
I grinned. "What do you think? "
"I think you're an asshole, " my brother said. "I think you like beating the crap out of me."
"I like winning."
“I was supposed to win.”
“Only by disqualification.” Mike was looking for something in his locker. Pain meds, probably. Who said to be a wrestler means being in constant pain? I can't remember—but whoever he was, the dude was right. Bruises, broken bones, torn muscles, concussions....
I was about to head off to the showers but got sidetracked. The reigning heavyweight champion, Mad Dog Mueller, came barging into the locker room, duffel in hand. Mad Dog is the biggest, ugliest creature to ever walk the earth—three hundred-plus pounds of pure mean and a face that looked like it had been on the losing end of a fight with a meat cleaver. There are few movie star faces in wrestling, but Mad Dog's got a face only his legally blind mother could love. And I'm not sure about her devotion to the beast.
His match was next up and he was just getting there. "You do know you're late, right? " I asked. “You're going to be the cause of the boss' next scheduled stroke.”
Mad Dog glared at me. Most of the heels in pro wrestling are nothing like their ring personas, but Mad Dog really is a world-class jackass. "What are they gonna do, start without me? " he asked, pulling off his street clothes. "I'm the champ. It's my show."
"Sure it is, champ, " I said, nodding. Mike was looking from one of us to the other but not saying a word. He didn't have to, really. He thought Mad Dog and me were about to brawl right there in the locker room. It wouldn't have been the first time. But no, I had no desire to roll around on the locker room floor with a naked Mad Dog. The other guys might come in and get the wrong idea, y'know?
“Mad Dog--” Mike started.
“Shut up, loser!” Mad Dog wasn't interested in anything either of us had to say. He pulled on his robe--he was one of the few who still wore a robe out to the ring anymore—and hoisted the heavyweight championship belt onto his shoulder with a smug look on his ugly mug. His entrance theme began, filling the arena with eardrum-splitting heavy metal music as he headed for the ring.
"Don't you think we should have told him? " Mike asked as we went out to the entrance to watch.
I grinned. "And ruin the surprise? No way! "
The crowd greeted old Mad Dog with the usual chant: "You suck! You suck!" He leaped into the ring and threw off his robe, his arms outstretched to allow the unworthy a view of his physique, which was a lot better than his face, visually speaking.
That's when the audience—and Mad Dog—realized he'd forgotten his trunks. The idiot was standing in the middle of the ring, in front of fifty thousand people—and—God knows how many watching on TV—butt naked!
"You did this!" The general manager, Morty Robeson, looked to be more on the verge of a major stroke than I'd ever seen him--which was saying a lot, since the guy had been in a constant state of panic throughout most of the seven years I'd been with the company.
"Did what?" I asked, damn near choking on my own laughter. The audience was still trying to recover from the shock of getting such an intimate look at Mad Dog, and network censors had been on the phone ever since Mad Dog dropped his robe. "Morty, the Dog's a grown man--that is, he's a grown whatever creature he is. You telling me he needs somebody to tell him to put his drawers on?"
"You distracted him, didn't you?" Morty demanded.
I had to give him that one. "Okay, he has the attention span of a gnat...but he should be able to remember his own friggin' trunks. Anyway, Mike tried to tell him. He blew Mike off."
Mike, standing next to me, nodded. "That's true, Morty. I did," he said. "He called me a wuss."
"Loser," I corrected him. "He called you a loser."
"Yeah." Mike nodded again.
Morty was not satisfied. "We could get yanked off the air!"
"Don't get your arteries in a knot, Morty," I told him. Not that he'd listen. "The Dog was late, for starters. He came cruising in here ten minutes before his match in his usual crappy mood and started shooting off his mouth. Did I know he was headed for the ring without his trunks? Yeah, I knew. Did I try to stop him? No, I did not. Frankly, I didn't think anybody could see anything, even in the front rows. The Dog ain't the most well-endowed guy in the locker room, if you know what I mean."
Morty glared at me for a moment, then stormed off in a huff. I could swear he was growling at me.
"Think we'll get suspended?" Mike asked.
I shook my head. "For what? Not babysitting a giant moron who forgot his knickers? We'd have to get paid extra for that."
There are five of us--brothers, that is. Mike, J.J., Adam, Chris and me. We're all pro wrestlers. It came naturally. From the time each of us learned to walk, all we did was fight. If we couldn't find other guys to fight with, we'd fight each other. I don't remember which of us came up with the idea of making a living at it, but it was a genius idea. Everybody should get paid to do what they love doing. We get to see the world on the company's dime, and we have women throwing themselves at us.
Okay, the truth is that none of us were ambitious enough to get real jobs.
If there's a downside to it, it's that it's hard to have anything resembling a real life. We're on the road two hundred fifty days a year...a different city every night. Try finding the right woman, having a relationship, getting married and having a home when you live out of a suitcase.
In the ring, we're not brothers. We're rarely even tag teammates. We often find ourselves facing off against each other, and private lives are kept private. When stuff does get leaked, it's bad for business. Gotta keep up the image, you know? The bosses even give us grief if the Faces and the Heels are seen together socially. Try avoiding your own brothers in your off hours. It's not easy.
“Hey, Paulie,” J.J. called out to me from the doorway. “We're headed out to forage for food. Hungry?”
“When is he not hungry?” Mike asked, pulling on a shirt.
Adam spoke up. “We saw a place down the street—Slice of Life. We can walk there.”
The restaurant's name made me laugh. “Slice of Life—what is it, some prissy tea room?” I asked. “Can you see us in a tea room?”
“I hear they have great desserts,” Chris put in.
“Desserts?” Now that really made me laugh. “I need a steak, bro. And potatoes. As much as I love pie, it's not that filling.”
“There's a Burger King down the street,” J.J. said.
Now that appealed to me. Half a dozen Whoppers with cheese might do the trick....