Cheap Heat (Short Fiction)

wrestling ring

Jesus, where am I?

Brody opened his eyes. He was lying on a weight bench, his head throbbing.  Above him hung a banner of some no name high school in who gives a shit Georgia. Preston Bulldogs, it read. A high school gym, it was coming back to him now. The banner was flanked by the typical motivational bullshit you’d find in pretty much every high school weight room. “The pain of discipline is nothing like the pain of disappointment” “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” ”Go hard or go home.” If his head didn’t hurt so much, he would’ve rolled his eyes.

Brody got the notice of the gig the night before from a booker he worked with up in MidValley South Wrestling. Brody had driven down from Nashville to Atlanta for a Chikara show; he wasn’t booked for a match, just hanging around to see if they needed him. He wasn’t a big draw, but he had name recognition from his run in the WWF back in the 90s. Sometimes he’d get lucky and get put on the card, but they had a full show scheduled. He even offered to put someone over in a squash for $50, enough to cover his gas and a meal for the ride, but they turned him down.

Brody set up a stand in the parking lot to sell shirts after they told him he wasn’t going to make the show, managing to sell a couple to a few old school fans before security shut him down.  That’s when he got the call about the gig in Preston. The heel for the main event match had cancelled due to a MRSA infection in his leg so they needed someone quick. It was a fundraiser show for the athletic boosters, but the pay was decent: $200 plus money for a hotel room, and he would get a table for signing autographs and to sell his shirts and DVDs.

He drove all night, fueled by some cheap Molly he traded for a few shirts and even cheaper gas station coffee to arrive at Preston High School at 8am for a 1 o’clock show. Since he didn’t need a room his hotel money just rolled into his pay, turning a $200 gig  into a $300 gig. He met with the guy he was wrestling, a babyface who spent a few years as a Gaijin in Japan and was looking to make a name for himself on the Indy circuit that he hoped would parlay into a WWE tryout. The kid had the size and looks to make it on the bigger stage, but was still pretty green in the ring. He was a good talker though, which was important. If you can’t talk and get a crowd invested in an angle, especially a small crowd gig like this, then you weren’t going to put on a good show.

They worked out the finish, deciding Brody would go over due to heel tactics but the ref would reverse it and restart the match and the kid (Sterling? was that his name? Brody couldn’t remember) would get him in a crossface and Brody would tap out. Brody was the bigger star, but he was also the bad guy, and in small shows like this the babyfaces get the win. Brody knew his role was to get the crowd to hate him and help put the kid over.

Brody sat up, his head still pounding.  Across from him the sign that read “Go Preston! Beat Rockdale!” hung from a single thumbtack on the bulletin board by the football sign in sheets.  He could hear the crowd stomping in the gym next to the weight room as the undercard tag match was taking place. Brody didn’t know who they were, just that it was a team of luchas against a couple Ring of Honor has beens. The luchas were going over, doing their flippy shit finisher that crowds like this ate up.

Brody hadn’t even noticed that he wasn’t alone in the weight room until he heard the sound of metal plates clanking together as someone loaded up the incline bench. He looked over to see his opponent warming up, getting his chest and arms pumped for the match. Back in his younger days Brody would do the same, but at 46 years of age with two reconstructed knees his prematch routine consisted of chewing three Oxycontin and chasing it with Mountain Dew.

Brody walked over just as Sterling (that was his name, his singlet and boots were emblazoned with it, and a monkey for some inexplicable reason) pressed the bar from the rack. He had three plates on each side of the bar as he sped through eight reps. Jesus, this kid was a monster. Outside he heard the crowd clapping and stomping in a steady rhythm, meaning one of the luchas was about to make a hot tag. Crowds like this are easy to work. As expected the crowd popped with a huge cheer as the tag was made.

“Luchas are about to go home,” Brody said as Sterling re-racked the bar. “You ready to blow the roof off this place?”

Sterling nodded, feeling his chest as he flexed. “We’re lucky you were available to step in on such short notice. Our booker was scrambling trying to figure out how to work this show being down a heel. They talked about dressing up one of the other guys in a rival mascot costume and just have me beat the shit out of him for fifteen minutes. You ever have to do something as stupid as that coming up?”

Brody laughed. “There are worse ways to be booked than squashing a rival mascot, kid.”

Sterling’s face was smooth, not the crisscrossed mess of scars that littered Brody’s forehead from years of hardcore matches. He could tell the kid about the show in Mobile back in ‘91, when a fan stabbed him with a broken bottle after beating down a babyface. Or the time in Dayton back in ‘89 when he was knocked out in the ring and guys took turns breaking fluorescent light tubes across his back. There were still some promotions where that shit happened, but extreme matches are less the norm these days.

“I grew up watching you,” Sterling said. “You had a run with the belts didn’t you? Like around 96?”

“Yep, me and Outlaw Joe,” Brody said. They had traveled doing shows together, they were a decent draw up until Joe died. Three years ago, no four. Overdosed in the hotel room the night before a match in Charleston. In the gym the crowd chanted along with the count… one, two, ohhhh! Save by the heel partner. That was the last false finish, after a flurry of flippy shit the luchas were going over and then Brody was on.

“We’re up,” Brody said as the crowd made the three count. “You better hang back so they can’t see you when I come in.”

Sterling stood up from the bench and extended his hand. “Let’s give them a show.”

Brody shook his hand; it was a bit too firm. First the shiny boots, then the prematch warmup with a shitload of weight, and now a firm handshake. The kid was going to stiff him in the ring. Brody smiled as he popped three Oxy into his mouth, then decided a fourth was needed. He washed it down with a flat bottle of Mountain Dew. Kids gotta learn.

Brody walked down a narrow hallway from the weight room to the doorway of the gym. Marty, the booker was there holding a mic. He extended it to Brody as he walked up.

“Two minutes and keep it clean,” Marty said. He was dressed in a tux, as if dressing up somehow lent an air of professionalism to a wrestling show in a high school gym. Brody peered through the small window of the door, it was a packed crowd, maybe a thousand or more.

The lights in the gym dimmed as opening guitar riff of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck played over the soundsystem. The crowd clapped along as the announcer spoke.

“And now, ladies and gentlemen, your main event! First, weighing in at 247 pounds…”

Brody smiled as he thumped his palm against his belly. I haven’t been 247 in a decade he thought.

“He is a former world tag team champion from Chicago, Illinois, Brody Thunder!”

Brody stepped into the gym just as AC/DC started chanting Thunder, and soon the whole crowd was chanting and cheering along. He was getting a babyface entrance, but he’d soon turn that around. Nothing was more fun than getting a crowd that wanted to cheer you to turn against you.

Brody made his way into the ring, running the ropes and posing for the crowd before his music cut and he was left standing in the ring as the crowd chanted “Thunder!”

“Hello Preston Bulldogs!” Brody screamed into the mic, erupting the crowd into another frenzy. Mention the town name, easy cheap pop. Usually it was the babyface’s job to milk the town name for a pop, but Brody figured the more he built them up the more they’d boo him when he went heel on them.

“I drove in last night from Atlanta just to see you, just to come put on a show for the Georgia famous Preston Bulldogs. And as I drove in last night over the War Memorial Bridge, down Main Street past Dooley’s Pizza, I said to myself, ‘Brody, does this look like a town that needs a little Thunder in their lives? Does this look like a place that’s ready for Brody Thunder to call down the Thunder and Lightning in the ring here and tear the roof off this gym?’  What do you say Preston Bulldogs, are you ready to get Thunderstruck?”

More cheers and chanting of “Thunder!” Even in his medicated state last night driving in, he managed to glean enough information about the town to work into his promo. The crowd was into him, and he was so over that it was almost funny when Brody took the wind out of their sails.

“No, you’re not ready,” he said as the “Thunder!” chant came to an abrupt, confused halt. “I look at this crowd of peanut farmers and I wonder why Brody Thunder wasted his time driving here. I mean come on Georgia! I thought you were famous for your peaches, but when I look at the women in this crowd, all Brody Thunder sees is pits.”

Brody could see it materialize in their faces as it sank in that he was insulting them. The boos grew louder as he amped up his attack.

“Maybe Preston isn’t ready for Brody Thunder. Maybe Brody Thunder should go somewhere he’d be more appreciated. maybe Brody needs to head to a real town, like Rockdale!”

If anyone was on the fence before, they turned white hot against him at the mention of the rival town. The boos were deafening, and a few people even threw trash at him in the ring. Brody picked up the balled up popcorn bag and threw it out of the ring back at the crowd.

“Now you’re throwing trash? Just what I would expect from a low class city like Preston. You don’t deserve to see Brody Thunder. You don’t deserve…”

Brody was midway through the ropes when the kid’s music hit, Guns n Roses Welcome to the Jungle. Sterling stepped through the doorway into the gym and the crowd went nuts for him. After the setup Brody did, even Vladimir Putin could’ve came through those doors and the crowd still would’ve cheered.

“Battling out of the blue corner, weighing in at 278 pounds he is a former Japanese super heavyweight champion from Stillwater Florida, Gorilla Sterling!”

Gorilla, Brody thought. That explains the monkey on his singlet.

Sterling stepped into the ring as the crowd cheered. He posed from the corners, flexing and pointing to the crowd before stepping down and staring Brody in the face.

“You know, Gorilla Sterling grew up in a small town much like this. Gorilla Sterling had a blue collar mom and dad who worked late shifts, night shifts, overtime, time and a half, double time, all the time! Whatever we had we worked hard to get! Maybe Body Thunder doesn’t understand how we do things here in the South!”

The crowd cheered. Brody played his part as the shocked heel.

“ What do you say, Preston?  Should I show this Chicago thug a little down home, Southern justice?”

More cheers erupted. Sterling turned his back to Brody to address the crowd.

“Once I lock in the Gorilla Vice, Brody Thunder won’t…”

Brody kicked him in the back, knocking the kid down. He stomped him down as the crowd booed. Brody didn’t go too stiff with the kicks, just enough to sell the attack. The kid went down as he was supposed to, selling Brody’s offense. Maybe the kid’s going to be okay, Brody thought.

Once Sterling was down and rolling on the canvas in pain, Brody did a couple mocking poses for the crowd as another shower of boos rained down. Brody rolled out of the ring and dragged the official in, berating him to start the match even though his opponent was still dazed by Brody’s kicks to the back of his head. Although he was reluctant, the official signaled for the bell.

The match was over; all they had left to do was wrestle it.

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