CRUISE of DECEPTION
The CSWA annual PRIMETIME POOLJAM tour kicked off aboard the Parsons Cruise Liner II when almost the entire company boarded for PRIMETIME in Miami. This is the story of what happened after the cameras went off.
The Beast arched its back and fired retaliation at the Gods who cursed the recent tracks of the wounded; round after round, dripping from cannons atop the Parsons Cruise Liner 2, in defiance of the current run of bad luck striking the once proud company. The aimless jabs were seen by hundreds of bystanders huddled over the Miami port, a collective bored soul desperate to celebrate achievement in any increment. The mob was mostly friends and family, with a spattering of Zachariases scaling trees to see their personal Jesus sail, until the great Ghost ship, carrying the essence of what was once the Mecca of this sport, fell prey to distance and a sleepy dusk.
The turnout was better than Thomas expected. As his company car pulled into port and he caught wind of the swelling crowd, he ordered the production crew to begin filming immediately. People don’t chuck their kids over their shoulders and pack themselves like sardines to see the circus (MMA) head for the next town. So, half were shuttle-launch junkies needing an occasion to congregate until NASA’s next mission. The rhyme or reason was of little concern to Stephen. He hugged babies and asked for Nielsen box families to step forward so they might experience treatment befitting royalty. The goodwill made the man feel warm again, and as he bellowed with a transparent insincerity for the anchors to pull and the PCL 2 to set sail, Thomas carried with him what he one knew was the silly, old romantic notion of hope. A state of mind he passed up since being left for dead by the man he loved most.
The fireworks exploded over the CEO’s head as the orange star faded. Stephen imagined he was a great leader of years gone by, sent to pull off some spectacular feat, such as discovering a new land, or destroying the British Navy. It was such a beautiful reception. My God, the possibilities were endless. Maybe they could really do something inspirational. Maybe, in a week’s time, the name brand CSWA would matter once more.
Of course, the mark of any great businessman is never forgetting the first lesson that paid dividends. He and Chad learned on night one, celebratory explosives make up for a lot of crap.
His folded arms rested atop the guardrail on the tail end of the Cruise Ship. The sounds of the launch party raging on the pool deck played as a bloody whisper to the reality Thomas knew existed. Typically the PoolJam tours were a major moneymaker for the company; and the stories that came out of them, lore with the wrestlers. You’re not anybody in the company until you’ve done a couple tours on one of these beasts. It’s Summer Camp and, for the first-years, Counselors Ivy and Mike Randalls generously await with a decade of wisdom and survival dos and don’ts.
If all went well, the company would replace the finger in the dike with something more permanent, then morale would upswing. But, as the Parsons Cruise Liner pushed further from land, Thomas knew he scheduled the tour so he could run. On solid ground, Stephen had a city, a legacy, loyalty and an impatient network to answer to. On a Cruise, Thomas minimized his problems, boxed himself into a floating corner, taking only what he needed to see the next day in with him and said goodbye to the unflinching end that awaited when he returned. When he came back, this child of his and Chad’s may never be the same.
The sun set, the last daylight of day one of seven left in the CSWA’s domain, history. Theoretically there was always tomorrow, another great escape, or favor to call in, but the journey, the last stretch of which had tired him so, was beginning to take its toll.
This was the end, and there wasn’t a man riding the Beast who didn’t know it. But, alas, Thomas had finally rid the company of its problem. These Cruises, truth be told, at this point in time could practically run themselves.
“Sir, can I get you anything?”
“No, David I’m fine. I think I’ll just stand here for the next….hundred hours.”
“Right,” Thomas’ personal assistant nodded and walked up, a foot behind the CSWA owner. “I took the liberty of placing your bags in your Cabin, sir. Everything should be as you like it.”
“Red M&M’s picked out of the candy dish?”
“I defy you to find one. You can’t. Won’t be done.”
“Temperature set to exactly 71 degrees?”
“Not a degree more.”
Thomas shot David an inquisitive look.
“I will live to serve you over the next week. If my job is done, and done well, this will be the most comfortable week of your life, sir.”
“I don’t think you have the power to pull that off.”
David began to answer, but Thomas waved him off.
“My proverbial two-ton elephant in the closet isn’t figurative David. She’s…”
“Your poor, poor man. I’ll—“
“SHOOG! THE DINNER!’ Thomas’ wife and former Love Sister, Hortense called from thirty feet away, fast approaching in a polka-dotted sun dress and white church hat. The deep Southern accent turned a pet name like “Sugar” into something approaching an alien language.
“Press your jackets again or…oh hell, I can’t help this.”
“David, this might be the last time you see me alive…”
“David, be a dear and draw me and shoog a bath. Baby, you’re sweating like a whore in church.”
“Am I? David, do I look…” Thomas checked his pulse. Damn. “Nervous to you?”
“That man of yours is a saint, Mrs. Thomas.”
“Mrs. Thomas?” Hortense grabbed Stephen by his right arm, and swooned into his body. “Mrs. Thomas. David? Bath honey. The dinner starts in an hour and you need a bath, oh baby, this wind and moonlight sparkling off the sea…I feel twenty years younger. I’ve got the urge to sing again!”
David and Stephen exchange horrified looks.
“And,” Mrs. Thomas stifles an embarrassed laugh. “to feel like a woman once more.”
“You know, David, I am feeling a little light-headed. Maybe…you should take me straight to medical. There’s bound to be a small tunnel to China I can crawl to from there.”
Stephen clutches his assistant’s shirt collar and pulls the kid into his face. “Don’t ever shake hands with the devil. DON’T”
“Baby, it’s later than I thought. The Ballroom David. I can carry him from here.”
With PRIMETIME over, all now-former-five-time United States Champion Hornet wants to do is take a shower and get a nap in before dinner. If he can even make it to dinner. Between the actual match with Hiroshi, and the lovely jumping piledriver by Ruben Ross, this is one of those times when he wishes he was still on the painkillers.
His carry-on duffel hung over his shoulder, he hopes the rest of his luggage has been delivered to the cabin. Cabin number 1029. Should be just about… here. The keycard doesn’t work with the first swipe… it never does. Every door has its own personality. Some like it slow and gentle, others like it quick and dirty. The second swipe does it. Hornet steps in, tosses his duffel on the bed. As he starts unlacing his boot, the door to the cabin bathroom opens…
Speaking of ‘quick and dirty.’ Teri Melton steps out of the bathroom, a towel wrapped around her head, and a smaller one around her torso.
HORNET: You’ve got to be kidding me.
TERI: I didn’t know you still cared. You didn’t get half as jealous when I was kissing poor Lawrence Stanley. If I known all it took was one kiss with Mike Randalls to get you sneaking in my cabin, I would’ve done it years ago.
HORNET: Your cabin?
He holds up his keycard.
HORNET: 1029. This is my cabin.
TERI: Don’t get so hot and bothered, Paul. There’s obviously been a mixup.
She steps towards him, then edges past him in the small cabin, grabbing her own keycard. As she turns, she’s standing almost right up against him.
TERI: See, 1029. Obviously we got doublebooked somehow.
HORNET: I’ll get my stuff and go find Brian. He’ll be able to figure out which room I’m supposed to be in.
Teri presses in tighter and runs a still-wet finger down Hornet’s chest, leaving a trail.
TERI: What’s the rush? I’m sure our favorite road agent is still handling the meet-and-greets after the show. Why don’t you just stay here, clean up, and by then I’m sure he’ll be able to help you out?
HORNET: You’ve got to be kidding me. You just made out with Mike Randalls, of all people, in front of hundreds of people, and now you’re…
The door swings open as a third person enters the room. She amused, perhaps dangerously so, as she takes off her sunglasses.
IVY: Dinner and a show, huh? You got away disease-free last time, Paul. Why tempt fate? But I think I’m in the wrong room.
With that one pithy comment, Ivy turns to leave, just as a large metal door drops out of the ceiling, covering the regular cabin door with a clang. Teri screams and falls forward, causing her and Hornet to fall back on the bed that dominates the cabin. Ivy reacts with her mouth as well, but not with a scream.
IVY: What the f---
Ivy kicks the door with her steel-toed shoe, but it doesn’t result in a dent, a sound, or the slightest movement.
IVY: This is a joke, right? This has gotta be a joke.
She takes one last look at the bed, where Hornet has shrugged Teri’s arm off of his chest.
IVY: This is way, way too screwed to be a joke.
Led by David, Thomas and Hortense walk into the Promenade Ballroom. The buffet is in full swing, as CSWA wrestlers, road agents, production crew and other staff are enjoying the almost unheard-of occasion to sit down all together and have a meal. Road agent “Blonde Devil” Brian Nord is telling his whole table some old war story about his time on the road with P. Vicious. Steven Shane is at a table of guys telling stories about VP of Security Gregg Gethard, including the time he was hung from a cage by his underwear.
Presidential Champ Jay Phoenix carefully picks the filet he wants as newly-crowned US Champ Kin Hiroshi looks on impatiently, amazed that anyone would hold up someone of his newly-found stature. Cameron Cruise and little Billy Cundiff sit at a table with Steve Radder and Steven Savoy, making yet another one of the ‘Make-A-Wish’ kid’s dreams come true.
The evening moves quickly as waiters refill glasses while dodging bodies and the occasional dinner roll chucked at them by Timmy Windham. Dessert is delivered table by table as Shamon vocally protests that he “couldn’t possibly take another bite,” then snags two slices of cheesecake off a passing tray. High Flyer watches in amazement as the desserts are vacuumed up by the large Michael Jackson impersonator.
Cameron Cruise stands up and uses the standard spoon and crystal glass as an attention-getter, flanked by his lovely wife, Mercedes. It takes a while for the room to quiet down enough for Cruise to be heard.
CRUISE: I’m not usually one for speeches, and tonight’s no exception. But a good friend asked me to thank you all for allowing him to be a part of this evening. Mattie wanted me to tell you that he truly feels like his wishes have been granted by being allowed to be involved with the CSWA over these past few months. As his condition…
The former Presidential Champion stops for a moment, clearly emotional. Mercedes stands up next to him, holding his shoulder in support.
CRUISE: It’s likely that this cruise will be Mattie’s last chance to spend time with us. He asked me to let you all know how much it has meant to him, and that he would like to take a moment to thank all of you…with a song.
As Cruise and Mercedes sit, the overhead lights dim and the lights pointing at the ballroom’s stage begin to brighten. Little Mattie Cundiff steps onto the stage tentatively, looking smaller and frailer than any twelve-year old boy should. But there’s a gleam in his eye, a passion that shines despite the disease ravaging his body.
Music begins to play. Mattie raises a microphone to his lips and begins to sing as a large screen lights up behind him. Home movie scenes of a small child playing appear on the screen as the orchestral introduction plays over the loudspeakers. Even at a very young age, something is obviously different about this child.
MATTIE: When you wish upon a star…
MATTIE: Makes no difference who you are…
Grainy home movies of a child give way to clips of Mattie’s recent time in the CSWA. Hanging out with Cameron Cruise… being hung thirty feet above a ring inside a small cage… almost falling out of the cage and then dropping on top of Cameron to cost him the match.
MATTIE: Anything your heart desires….
Mattie’s ‘greatest moments’ fade away as the screen goes… not black, but gray. Behind the screen in shadow is a small figure, about Mattie’s size. Another figure enters in shadow and appears to lay something over the head of the shadow-child, almost as if blessing him.
MATTIE: Can come to you.
The blessing becomes a curse as the taller figure pulls up on a shadow-rope that is around the neck of the small shadow-figure, who begins kicking and waving violently.
The small figure drops to the ground as the larger figure runs offstage. The spotlight on Mattie intensifies as he appears to be emotionally distraught, his face buried in his hands. The orchestral music over the speakers changes from Disney to Phantom of the Opera-esque, taking on a sinister tone.
Mattie’s demeanor changes. His face isn’t buried in his hands; instead, his hands are actually… removing his face. The dark circles under the eyes, the bloated cheeks caused by aggressive chemotherapy, the large nose… all gone, revealed as masterfully-applied latex.
Several CSWAers are on their feet… and some have found their voices.
CAMERON CRUISE: MATTIE?!?!
SAMMY BENSON: NOOOOOOO!!!!!!! IT CAN’T BE!!!!
THOMAS: YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!? NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!
CSWA owner Stephen Thomas steadies himself on table as the rush of emotion makes him dizzy. Hortense tries to steady him, but she is as much in shock as the rest of the audience. Some don’t know exactly what is going on, but the performance itself has been tragic enough. And it is clearly obviously that Little Mattie Cundiff is no twelve-year old sickly boy, but a grown midget in his early forties.
Before the ballroom can erupt even further, Cameron Cruise does. He rushes the stage, clearly surprising the midget with his speed and fury. But contingency plans have been in place too long – the ‘waiters’ intercept Cameron, catching him in the side with a stun gun that sends him crashing against the stage. Mercedes screams and rushes to her husband’s side. Others, who up until now have found this one of the CSWA’s amusing comedy moments, begin to realize that this is something very different, as the various doors into the ballroom begin to slam shut and additional waiters-turned-armed-guards eliminate any exits from the room.
Those who don’t know the whole story voice their concern and amazement. Those who do are stunned by disbelief. Hortense swoons.
It’s not just that a cancer patient just revealed himself as a midget who was presumed dead by most – that would almost be old hat. But with armed guards? Singing?
THOMAS: What are you doing here, Lyle? What do you want from all of us?
RED: What do I want, Steve? I’ve got exactly what I want. But it’s not about that. It’s about what you need. And right now, you need to sit down next to your porker of a wife and enjoy the show.
THOMAS: The show? What, are you gonna shock Cameron again?
RED: Not unless I have to. There’s no need for this to become violent, Steve. Not like, say, hitting someone in the back of the head with a coconut and leaving them on an island.
THOMAS: That was years ago! And the raft never would’ve made it with your extra weight! Never mind that! What the hell is going on?
RED: It’s very simple. This lovely boat that you leased and slapped a name on… is no longer under your control. In fact, nothing right now is in your control. So for now, sit back and enjoy what I call “Stature: The Life, Death and Rebirth of Lyle Tallman.”
THOMAS: If you think I’m gonna be held hostage and listen to some ridiculous one-man show about your pathetic midget life, then you really did lose your mind on that island.
RED: As they say, “the show must go on.” Isn’t that right, Steve? Like how the show went on after I was hanged by your partner-in-crime and left for dead? Boys, take care of him.
THOMAS: What do you….
Three of the guards advance on the CSWA President. Hortense quickly jumps up to guard her man, but gives way when threatened with a stun gun.
GUARD: Right this way, Mr. And Mrs. Thomas.
THOMAS: You won’t get away with this, Red. You’re not smart enough. You’re not strong enough. And you damn well aren’t TALL enough.
RED: Ohhh, a short joke. Haven’t heard any of those in my life. Speaking of my life, now that the hecklers are gone… oh, and just in case any of you wrestlers decide that you’re big and bad enough to challenge some guards with stun guns..
Metal doors come down with a clang over every entrance to the ballroom.
RED: Only I know how to open those doors. So if something happens to me… well, you get this picture. And now, Marvin, hit ‘play’ over there, would you?
The screens come back to life as the first appearance of the Mighty Morphin Power Midgets from FISH FUND X in 1995. Red launches into song as a collective groan comes from the “audience.”
Thomas was wandering the hallowed tombs of his recent mind, his feet swallowed in a layer of molasses he spread to stop second guessing and dull the sudden impulse to play chicken with a train while tied to the tracks. He leaned against a wall, knee deep in regret, and embedded the stethoscope to better hear the echoes of conversation with his wife. A taser gun lined perfectly with his heart, Stephen froze in the elevator with Hortense and Red’s two henchmen, recalling talk of liquid diets and Honeymoon fantasies. Thomas plowed through marriage by reciting trivialities from his childhood, never committing himself to his woman in any moment. With his own mortality slow-walking out of Door Number Two, he wanted speedy forgiveness for neglect.
“This is how it’s going to be,” Red’s gunman offered. A holdup is always more romantic on horseback, but the end results are the same: fear and getting whatever you desire on demand. “Boss wants you two in your cabin, out of sight, out of mind, I believe that’s the deal, yeah, so we’re going to open these doors and walk through the halls like it’s a f---ing beautiful Sunday morning and we’re all about to get right with God.”
“Shoog, it’s going to be okay!”
“Listen to her, Shoog. We can all be friends after this, wouldn’t that be nice? Just follow instructions. Walk out those doors into the New World and pretend you didn’t marry for money.”
“Whatever he’s paying you, I’ll double it.”
The second gunman buries a knee into Thomas’s chest, the exhaled air reinvesting their confidence. “You’re in no position to bargain.”
“And don’t assume we’re obeying Boss’s orders for money.”
“Stephen, listen to them, please! Baby, just breathe.”
“Your…” the words tripped over his lips, but had to be said, “...boss is mental. The man’s legally dead. Has been a hundred times. He doesn’t bleed! There’s no blood to support a heart. Whatever he’s promised you, you won’t see it. Now do yourselves a favor and let me and my wife go, before this gets out of hand and I can’t help either of you.”
A blue flash of madness shot past Hortense and crippled the CEO of CS Enterprises, his tux smoldering in a heap of dead weight. The muscle never considered the offer.
Stephen was the furthest thing from a hero, but, still smoking from the validation of Red’s intentions, Thomas led Hortense through the hallways of the PCL2 to the Master Cabin. The midget’s security tailed close behind, stepping in front of Cruisers delighted with an opportunity to steal an autograph from Thomas and his lovely lady.
Scribbling, “Help, we’re under attack” on a piece of paper probably wouldn’t have gone unnoticed, but Merritt was always the politician. Vanity wanted Thomas to soak up being on the front lines.
Security watched Thomas with a close eye, opened the door to his cabin and ushered the couple in. Stephen grabbed his wife’s left hand and pulled her massive frame into his, moving to the edge of the bed. “So, what now? You kill her?”
“Us? Eh, me? No way you’re getting off this Cruise with homicide on your hands. I’m somebody. By now, the Coast Guard’s already here. Look kids…”
“Shut up! You’re to wait here until He contacts you.”
“Like hell I am…” Thomas stood as security walked out, but as he straightened a thick, metal door dropped from the ceiling in front of the cabin door.
“Are you okay?” Thomas genuinely asked of her, grabbing the room phone with two hands.
“I,” Hortense started to cry. “I’m fine.”
“Crap! Line’s dead.”
“Baby, what are you going to do?”
Stephen kicked the nightstand next to the bed out of frustration as his wife cried. By all accounts he appeared trapped in the room with no way of knowing if their predicament would be discovered. He dropped back to the bed beside Hortense and threw one arm over her right shoulder. “Whatever we’re asked to do, I guess. I’ll get you out of this.”
“I’m scared, Shoog. I’m just so scared.”
She dropped her head into his neck; instinctively he kissed the top of her head before turning to notice the candy dish…and sporadic coating of Red M&M’s.
An hour into the ‘show’ in front of his captive audience, and Lyle Tallman, also known as the Red midget has only succeeded in showing the birth of the Mighty Morphin Power Midgets and the horrible attack he suffered at the hands of El Nino. An attack that led Bill Buckley to utter the famous words, “Get a black dot over that midget’s face!”
We’ve had a musical rendition of the hate-hate relationship between Sammy Benson and Red, as the midget goes from in-ring comedy act to commentator. The footage of the “Disney Days” moment where Sammy gets knocked off of Splash Mountain by the midgets leaves the flesh-and-blood Sammy Benson huddling in the corner, weeping.
Red has given us a long Shakesperian-esque monologue on the possible motivations for Merritt’s attack on him that led to his ‘death,’ and the scapegoating of Sammy Benson. Hamlet would be proud… except for the fact that it’s a midget doing Shakespeare.
And now, it’s the “trial scene.” Red interacts with the other “characters,” which consist of footage shown on the screens. We get the chance to watch the 1997 trial of Sammy Benson as the truth comes out, all the while with Red watching on and filling us in.
(The camera pans the courtroom, showing Sammy Benson at the defendants' table, then settles on Merritt walking to the witness stand and being sworn in.)
Prosecutor: Thank you for your time today Mr. Merritt.
Merritt: Certainly, Mr. Evans.
Prosecutor: I've asked you here today just to clarify and underscore a few of the points regarding the day in question, as well as Mr. Benson's motives for killing Mr. Tallman.
Merritt: I understand.
Prosecutor: When you rehired Mr. Tallman as a commentator for the CSWA, is it fair to say that Mr. Benson was...... concerned?
Merritt: I think that would be an understatement.
Prosecutor: Is it fair to say Mr. Benson was furious? That he wanted no part of being on a commentating team with Mr. Tallman?
Merritt: I think that's exactly right.
Prosecutor: Did Mr. Benson have anything to add, any concerns?
Merritt: As a matter of fact, he did. He mentioned that he had kicked Red Lyle off the stage once, and wouldn't hesitate to do it again.
Prosecutor: And how did you respond?
Merritt: I told Sammy that the matter was settled, and that he was to be civil to Lyle. I followed that up on the air a few hours later, and advised him that if he did anything to Lyle, that his job would be forfeit.
Prosecutor: And how did Mr. Benson respond?
Merritt: Sammy wasn't happy about it, but as I recall, he finally agreed and went on about his business.
Prosecutor: Let's move on the day of the actual murder.... can you run down exactly what you were doing that day?
Merritt: Sure. I arrived at the arena around 4pm and held a meeting with most of my staff.
Prosecutor: I'm sorry to interrupt, but was Mr. Benson at this meeting?
Merritt: No, he wasn't. In fact, I questioned Bill, that's Bill Buckley, our head commentator, about it, and he said that he hadn't seen Sammy. I asked him to be on the lookout and advised him that Red would be joining them at the table for the event.
Prosecutor: That was at about four o'clock and the event began at six?
Merritt: That's right.
Prosecutor: Did you see any sign of Mr. Benson before then?
Merritt: I did. In fact, around five-thirty I was advised by one of my staff that Sammy had come in. I went to speak with him, but he was nowhere to be found. I assumed he was at his favorite pasttime, trying to get the concessions people to give him some beer. We had taken to a practice of advising all the concessions areas at an arena that Sammy was not to be given anything harder than water....we even had posters made with his picture to give out.
Prosecutor: So you thought Mr. Benson was out on the concourse but something led you to find out that wasn't the case?
Merritt: That's right. About ten minutes before showtime, Marvin Parsons, our lighting and sound technician, advised me that Sammy had been wandering around backstage, near some of the rigging. I again went looking for him, and he was gone. Bill Buckley advised me through my headset that he still hadn't shown up, and the show was about to start.
Prosecutor: This was about six o'clock?
Merritt: About five till. I stopped looking and started back to what we call the 'hot zone' right by the entryway to the arena proper, where I usually watch the shows. On my way back....that's when it happened. The lights went out backstage to start the show, and the TV wall screen came on....I saw a small figure in the air kicking with another behind apparently strangling him. I ran to get there, but the larger man was already gone. Lyle Tallman was dead.
Prosecutor: Did you see the larger figure at all?
Prosecutor: And when was the next time you saw Mr. Benson?
Merritt: When I escorted the police to him at the commentators' table, where he arrived five minutes after the murder of Lyle.
Prosecutor: That's all I have for this witness, your Honor.
Judge Certes: Your witness for redirect, counselor.
Guards have pulled up a La-Z-Boy, and Red has planted himself in it with popcorn, apparently even the one midget in the one-midget-show wants a good seat for this part.
RED: Here we go…
(Hornet stands at the defendant's table.)
Hornet: A moment to confer with my client, your Honor. (He sits back down and begins whispering with Sammy) I'm not going to do that, Sammy. I don't care! You think I'm going to risk my legal career and my wrestling career just because a friend called in a favor to get me to defend your sorry butt? (They both stop whispering for a moment Hornet sits back in his chair for a few seconds.)
Judge: Are we ready to proceed, counselor?
Hornet: Yes, just a moment, your Honor. (Hornet pours a glass of water and downs it, then stands.) Thank you for coming today Mr. Merritt.
Merritt: Certainly. It's good to see you at the bar again.
Hornet: Mr. Merritt, what was Mr. Tallman wearing that night?
Merritt: I haven't the faintest.
Hornet: You found the man strangled murdered and didn't catch even a glimpse of what he was wearing?
Merritt: I was a bit preoccupied with the fact that he wasn't breathing.
Hornet: Did you attempt CPR or mouth-to-mouth resuscitation?
Merritt: No, I was in shock, and the paramedics arrived just a few moments later.
Hornet: Do you like midgets, Mr. Merritt? (Merritt laughs) Is this funny sir?
Merritt: No, it's tragic. Tragic that you're trying to defend a man who is so obviously guilty and asking me if I 'like midgets.'
Hornet: Do you have an answer?
Merritt My answer is...I don't have a d'mn clue. I like some, I don't like others, is that good enough for you? Are these really the questions I was called here to answer? This man is on trial for his life, please tell me his lawyer hasn't pinned his hopes to my view on midgets. Do you have any other questions for me, counselor?
(There is silence.)
Judge: Counselor, do you have anything further for this witness? (More silence)
Merritt: (standing) Thanks, Hornet, I love Nashville.
Hornet: I'm not through with my examination. Sit down.
Merritt: You'll address me with a little respect .former employee or not. And you can call me Commissioner. Is this the kind of zoo you're running, Harold? Where a wrestler turned lawyer can make a mockery of this court?
Judge: And the Commissioner will address this court as Your Honor or Sir, I'm quite certain I've earned it. Do you have anything further, counselor?
Hornet: (Looks back at Sammy ) Yes, as a matter of fact I do. Your Honor, these are the videotapes from the CSWA's Anniversary Celebration, depicting many of the fans who stopped to wish the CSWA well.
Judge: We've been over this, counselor, you're entering evidence of a woman who never existed.
Hornet: Oh, we believe she does, your Honor. We'll get to the tapes in just a minute. Commissioner Merritt, you told Sammy Benson that the Red Midget was not to be touched? Not to be disparaged in anyway?
Merritt: That's correct.
Hornet: And you're sure Mr. Benson was clear on that order?
Hornet: Then how is it that Mr. Benson allegedly killed Mr. Tallman?
Merritt: I can't answer for the actions of a deranged man.
Hornet: Really? Sir, if you gave an order for Mr. Tallman not to be touched....and yet you thought Mr. Benson was deranged...you knew the past history between the two men... the incidents at Disneyworld, the fights at the commentators' tables over the years....then why didn't you take further measures?
Merritt: I didn't think they were necessary. Sammy gave me his word.
Hornet: Really....the same man you had to have flyers put up to avoid having him get drunk at arenas....you took his word? You put two mortal enemies, for lack of a better word, together at a five-foot table next to each other when Mr. Benson had kicked Mr. Tallman off a ten-foot high stage once before? And you didn't think any further measures were NECESSARY?
Merritt: Let me be frank, counselor, Hornet, whatever you're to be called here....I'm the Commissioner of one of the top franchises in all of sports. When I give an order, or even a suggestion, to an employee, I expect it to be followed. They follow orders, or people get fired. Are we clear?
Merritt: ARE WE CLEAR?
Hornet: Crystal. In this case, someone got killed..... because you didn't do your job.
Merritt: Why you snotty little bastard!
Hornet: You didn't do your job because you had another motive....you didn't really want the Red Midget at the commentator's spot, did you? He wasn't a ratings boost of any kind....and yet you flexed your Commissioner muscle to put him in a spot that would cause more conflict than good...in a spot that had almost gotten Tallman seriously injured before...in a spot between Buckley and Benson, isn't that right Mr. Commissioner?
Prosecutor: Objection, your Honor Mr. Merritt isn't on trial here.
Judge: Overruled. I'll allow it for now.
Hornet: Well, Mr. Merritt? You knew that sometimes even commentators' take things into their own hands. You had seen it happen, even condoned it, by firing Lyle Tallman when he was attacked by Mr. Benson months earlier. And yet, all of a sudden you WANTED him back in that situation?
Merritt: Red was a great commentator.
Hornet: That's not what you said in his employee file.... you said, and I quote, "Red isn't worth the money he's getting now that he's not a sideshow 'wrestler.' He just doesn't have what it takes at the table...." I could have the court reporter give you a copy of that file if you need it, Mr. Commissioner.
Merritt: I know what it says, I don't have to have it read back to me like I'm a...
Hornet: If you gave an order that Lyle Tallman was not to be touched....and yet he was then someone either wasn't following orders or they were. Do you LIKE midgets, Mr. Merritt?
Prosecutor: Judge, we've already covered this.
RED: Wait for it…
Hornet: Follow-up, Your Honor.
RED: Wait for it…
Judge: The court will wait for an answer. Answer the question, Mr. Merritt.
Merritt: OF COURSE I DON'T LIKE MIDGETS! Thomas brought them in and they made a mockery of everything I built! Then Tallman got hurt by El Nino, and it was either continue to pay him, or end up paying a huge lawsuit! I paid all his medical bills, I paid for his 'pain and suffering', I paid for his miserable little life!
Hornet: Commissioner Merritt....you ordered Benson not to touch Tallman. Yet you put Tallman directly in the line of fire. You gave Tallman free reign, a man you had fired months earlier. You put a man you despised in a situation where he could be in grave danger....where his sarcastic comments could drive a man to the brink. But that's not it, is it? You ordered Benson not to touch him, and then you ordered someone else to take him out and went it went wrong, when things didn't go exactly as planned, you panicked....you told the police about Benson, you cut them loose, you doctored the video tapes, you hid the fat lady....
Prosecutor: OBJECTION! YOUR HONOR!
Hornet: COMMISSIONER MERRITT...DID YOU ORDER LYLE TALLMAN
Prosecutor: Your Honor!
Judge: That'll be all! Commissioner, you don't have to answer that question!
Merritt: I'll answer the question. You want answers?
Hornet: I think I'm entitled!
Merritt: You want ANSWERS?
Hornet: I WANT THE TRUTH!
Merritt: YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH! Son, professional wrestling is a world that has walls, and someone has to guard those walls. Someone with power and with balls. Who's gonna do it? You? A man who has run roughshod over the sport? You, Sammy Benson? A man who can't keep his nose out of a beer can? I have a greater responsibility then you can fathom. You weep for the Red Midget, and curse me. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know, that Tallman's death, while tragic, probably helped save a sport. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves this sport! You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't want to talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you NEED me on that wall!
We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of a business that I helped create, and then questions the manner in which I provide it! I would rather you just said thank you and went on your way. Otherwise I suggest you pick up your bankbook and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you're entitled to!
Hornet: Did you order Lyle Tallman killed?
Merritt: I did the job I was...
Hornet: DID YOU ORDER LYLE TALLMAN KILLED?
Merritt: YOU'RE DAMN RIGHT I DID!!!!!!
Hornet: May it please the court, I suggest the jury be dismissed so that we can move to an immediate preliminary hearing....the witness has rights.
Judge: Mr. Evans?
Judge: The members of the jury will retire to an anteroom until further instructions.
Bailiff: All rise!
Merritt: What the hell is this? What's going on? I did my job, I'd do it again. I'm going back to my office.
Judge: You're not going anywhere, Commissioner. Bailiffs, guard the Commissioner! Mr. Evans?
Prosecutor: Mr. Merritt...you have the right to remain silent you have the right to an attorney…
Merritt: I'm being charged with a crime? Is that what this is? I'm being charged with a CRIME?! This is too funny. That's what this is....this is.... (charges at Hornet, and is grabbed by the bailiffs) I'm gonna rip your head off.... you've screwed with the wrong Commissioner!
Prosecutor: Mr. Merritt, do you understand these rights as I have just read them to you?
Merritt: You idiots. You have no idea how to build a wrestling business. All you did was weaken a sport today, Hornet. That's all you did. Sweet dreams, son.
Hornet: Don't call me son. I'm a lawyer and a member of this bar, and you're under arrest, you son of a midget. The witness is excused.
The footage continues to play, although muted, as Red stands up from the recliner, apparently ready to launch into another awful song. The orchestral music winds up…
GETHARD: Is this what you’ve got us trapped in here for, Lyle? So we can suffer like you have?
VP of Security Gregg Gethard has stood up as his table. His job requires that he at least make an attempt at pulling Thomas out of this fire. As he walks towards the stage area, others begin trading signals by eye and hand.
RED: Well if it isn’t CS Stooge #1. Glad you could join us, Gethard.
GETHARD: Either tell us what you want or let us out of here, Lyle. You know you can’t stop all of us.
RED: Weren’t you listening earlier? Anything happens to me and you’ll never get through those doors. As for what I want… I’m getting it right now. And for you to know what it is, you have to wait for the end of the show.
As Gethard gives the order, members of his security team launch into action, going after Red’s guard. Gethard launches himself toward Red, but doesn’t get any closer than Cameron Cruise did, before he’s hit with a taser dart and folds up like a cheap card table, then starts shaking like a wet leaf. The members of his security team fare no better – none of them are able to get a stun gun away from one of the guards.
RED: Well then, that’s the end of intermission. (He motions to a guard near Gethard.) No, just leave him there. That way he’s got a front row view for the rest of the show.
The next “act” begins, featuring the renewal of the feud between Merritt and Red, as the former CSWA co-owner is chasing Red through the bowels of Fish Fund Park.
Red starts to sing...
Thankfully, we have other characters to catch up with...
An Unlikely Threesome - Part 2
IVY: This is way, way too screwed to be a joke….
Even lying on top of Hornet, Teri finds some way to lean in even closer, until they’re eye to eye.
TERI: Mmmm, been awhile since I had you like this.
There is a loud thump as Teri is unceremoniously bounced off the bed onto the floor. Ivy pounds her boot against the door again, with the same result, while Hornet sits up on the bed, trying to regain some semblance of normalcy. Teri climbs to her feet with a loud ‘hmph.’
TERI: What the heck is that? Some sort of security door?
HORNET: Not exactly. What kind of security door would lock us in?
TERI: Maybe it’s a panic room. I’ve got one in my house.
HORNET: Why? In case Timmy shows up with another engagement ring?
IVY: Or Lawrence Stanley decides to declare his love for you with a can o’Alpo?
TERI: I’m glad the two of you haven’t lost your comedy routine after all these years, but can we focus on getting out of here?
Teri tightens the towel around her as Hornet and Ivy look at each other, and then at the steel door.
IVY: Well we’re not getting out that way. I don’t suppose there’s a window or anything in the bathroom.
TERI: Nothing but a shower stall and the usual amenities.
Hornet stands up on the bed and knocks on the ceiling. Solid. Ivy starts going through the built-in closet and drawers looking for something, anything, that might be helpful. They’re empty other than the TV built into a cubby over the main closet.
HORNET: Hold on. You don’t go anywhere without…
IVY: --my lifeline. Smart man.
TERI: Finishing each other’s sentences. It’s just like old times.
HORNET: Do you get reception on the ship?
Ivy pulls her cellphone out of her bag and starts looking through a variety of menus. She hits a couple of buttons, adjusts something, then hits a few more buttons.
IVY: Not ‘real’ reception, but I can reach Adrian on the walkie-talkie function. Assuming he did like I said and left his phone on.
Ivy hits the button and the phone beeps.
IVY: Adrian? Adrian, are you there?
HORNET: Please tell me that’s not who I think it is.
TERI: Adrian who?
Ivy moves into the corner, away from the Hornet-Teri conversation, presumably to be able to hear him better.
IVY: Hey, Adrian. It’s me. We’re locked in cabin 1029. I need you to get Gethard or somebody down here. Let them know we’re behind a steel security door.
HORNET: Adrian. Little Voltron. The guy Joey treats like his own personal pet.
TERI: A midget? She’s calling a midget to get us out of here?
Teri and Hornet can hear Ivy, but Adrian’s voice comes out as mostly static.
IVY: Say that again?
TERI: I said… a midget!?
IVY: F---in Melton, f---ing shut up. Say that again, Adrian?
Ivy’s face goes from concerned to enraged.
HORNET: Red what? Oh please don’t tell me…
Ivy takes the earpiece out and turns the phone on speaker. The sound of an orchestra playing comes through clearly. And above it, the sound of one small man singing…
Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I’m through with playing by the rules
Of someone else’s game
Too late for second guesses
Too late to go back to sleep
It’s time to trust my instincts
Close my eyes
Think of what we could do…together.
Together we’re unlimited
Together we’ll be the greatest team there’s ever been
We’ll make things the way they should have been.
HORNET: What the hell is that?
TERI: It sounds like a midget plagiarizing Broadway.
The phone suddenly goes dead.
IVY: All I was able to get from Adrian is that the rest of the company is locked in one of the banquet halls, then he got Lyle’s name out. Then it just…died.
TERI: I swear… I told Merritt to finish off those midgets when he had the chance.
IVY: Then we'd be completely S-O-L, Melons, cause as soon as I can get another signal to Adrian he can get us outta here.
(Teri simply rolls her eyes and clicks her tongue in disapproval. As if on cue, the television set turns on.)
HORNET: Oh dear Lord...
(The in-room set is broadcasting an image of Lyle Tallman doing his stage show. His voice is muted, allowing another one to come through the set.)
VOICE: Good afternoon, Ivy, Paul, Teri.
(The voice is distorted, giving no clues as to identity, age, gender, or general health.)
IVY: Who are you? Where are you?
VOICE: Unfortunately, it would have been a problem to have had you three listening to Lyle's performance... He's not very good at holding fast in the face of personal injury, you see. I do apologize for the inconvenience, Ms. McGinnis... but it is all part of the greater plan.
TERI: So we're just chopped liver? I don't think so.
VOICE: Calm yourself, Ms. Melton. I assure you that you won't be held here for any longer than is absolutely necessary. But until then...
(All of a sudden, the volume on the television clicks on, and Lyle's voice filled the room.)
HORNET: (holding his head) No. Oh, no, no, no.
IVY: Turn it off or I put my fist through it.
TERI: You'll have to wait your turn.
(All three of them scrambled for the television in the hopes of silencing the midget.)
(From FISH FUND XII: Fire It Up! – August 10, 1998
(Backstage, off-camera, during the Hornet/Love match)
(Merritt is just in the middle of a hallway, deep in the recesses of Fish Fund Park Arena.)
Merritt: "The warmer you get, the warmer you get?" (looks around for a moment...then begins advancing on a doorway) You little toad...I've got you now.
(Merritt slowly opens the door to the boiler room, a vast area filled with crates and boxes...and of course, the boiler. One other doorway is lighted by a red 'EXIT' sign...it stands at the top of a metal stairway, in the center of a catwalk like upper level.)
Merritt: Here...midget midget midget.
Red: (standing on the upper level) Well, I see it only took you fifteen minutes. I underestimated you.
Merritt: And I see we're now about the same height. Not heightening are you, shorty?
Red: (grabs chest in mock pain) Ah...you've hurt me,
Chad. (turns serious) And now I'm going to hurt you.
Merritt: So what's all this about, Lyle? What are all these threats about a fire just so you can get me here.
Red: Not threats, Chad, promises. You see, you've got a little decision to make to finish the game. (pulls a small remote control out of his pocket) Two simple choices....either way you're finished, but I'm curious to see if I'm right. This room is wired to start a rather significant fire. You can either stay here and go up with it all by your lonesome in about an hour....or I can start it right now, probably taking out a quarter of your audience up there. Lawsuits, settlements...you'll be finished that way too.
Merritt: Quite a little Hobson's choice. But riddle me this little man, if it goes up now, you go up with it.
Red: Sorry to disappoint you, Chad, but this little remote will work from wherever I want....and I guarantee you I can get out of here to safety faster than you can.
Merritt: And what if I don't like any of your choices?
Red: (wags finger) Sorry, Charlie. This is my game...I make the rules. I'll be generous, I'll even give you to a count of ten to decide.
(As Red begins counting, the upper door bursts open against him, sending the remote control flying out of his hand....and into the boiler. Sammy Benson steps into the room.)
Benson: (to Merritt) You!
Merritt: (to Benson) You!
Benson: (to Red) YOU!
Red: (to Benson) YOU....IDIOT!!!
Benson: You're dead!
Merritt: Sammy...always quick on the uptake. Let me guess, Red...now we're in....
(The door to the boiler explodes, shooting a jet of flame. The flames catch a stack of wooden crates, which quickly begin going up in smoke.)
Red: You idiot...now the whole place is going to burn down!
Merritt: Sorry Lyle...guess your Hobson's choice didn't work...
Red: If I'm going, then you're going with me! (Red launches himself down the stairs toward Merritt)
Benson: This is ridiculous, I'm getting out of here. Screw you both. (The door closes behind Sammy with an audible 'click,' locking from the outside)
(Merritt sidesteps Red, who goes head first into a nearby metal barrel. Merritt starts for the steps, but is quickly stopped when Red smacks him over the head with a two-by-four. After a couple more hits for good measure, Red starts up the stairs. The boiler sends out another jet of fire as the flames continue to consume everything in their path. The pile of crates nearest the lower door collapses, blocking that exit. At the same time, Red finds out the upper door is locked. He grabs a nearby crowbar and begins trying to pry the locked door loose. As he does so, Merritt begins to stir, picks up the two-by-four and starts quietly up the stairs. Red hammers on the door with the crowbar with no effect. He turns at the sound of Merritt approaching....and gets clobbered with the two-by-four. The force of the blow sends Red over the low railing....and down into a stack of crates just below the catwalk. The stack crashes...and Red is left in the middle of the debris, blood seeping from a wound in his side. Merritt, bloodied from a gash in his head and lip, picks up the crowbar...just as the boiler shoots another arcing jet of flame.)
Merritt: You're not taking me with you, you sorry peabrained bag of filth. (He begins banging on the door with the crowbar) Do you hear me?! You're not taking me with you!!!!!
(FISH FUND PARK Arena, August 11, 1998, the morning after FISH FUND XII, and the explosion.)
Worker: We've found something...I think someone's here. (The man begins shifting the rubble. He finally uncovers a piece of wall.) I need help here....we've got to get this wall up...I think someone's under there.
(CSWA Co-Commissioner Thomas runs up)
Thomas: Is it Windham? Is he alive?
Worker: I'm not sure...we've got to get this wall up.
(Other workers begin to lever the wall up...after a few moments of straining, the wall gives way)
Thomas: Well I'll be......
Worker: Is it a kid? Wait....no, it's a....
Thomas: A midget....one that used to work for me. Is he...?
(The emergency worker climbs into the depression and checks the body for life signs.)
Worker: I'm sorry, sir....he's gone. If only we had found him earlier. I'll get the EMTs to bag him. (He walks away)
(Thomas climbs down into the depression and kneels beside the small body covered in soot, grime, and blood.)
Thomas: Ally ally oxen free. Time for all little midgets to come home. (He injects a syringe into the right forearm of the small man.)
(The Red Midget convulses once as his oxygen-deprived body begins to resume a normal intake of air, and his drug-induced coma resolves into simple unconsciousness as his heart begins to pump at a normal rate.)
Thomas: You're not off the hook that easily, Lyle. You still have to help me finish what we've started.
(From BATTLE of the BELTS XVI: Personal Business)
(FADEIN: Somewhere in Texas, deep below ground, months ago. A figure in shadow flips a switch, causing a blue light to turn on. The light illuminates a small cavern in the wall....a window cut inside the rock. A small figure lies encased in a coffin-like structure, surrounded by bedrock. As the light comes on, one eye of the tiny body opens, then both. The man known as Lyle Tallman, but more commonly referred to as the Red Midget...awakes. With a little help.....)
(The lights in the cavern rise, revealing Stephen Thomas at the controls. Lyle's eyes widen, but the entombed figure doesn't yet have the strength to speak.)
Thomas: It's time, Lyle. The doctor's say it's safe to return you to the outside now...the hyperbaric chamber has done it's job. In fact, you might be better than you were before.
(Thomas steps up the catwalk and presses a large button next to the coffin-like structure. A green light turns red as the inner chamber pressurizes. After a few moments, the light turns amber, and Thomas pulls open the outer door. The Red Midget steps out, still shaking off the effects of his months-long recovery.)
Red: I can't believe it's finally over.
Thomas: Over, Lyle? Not by a long shot. You know what I want. You didn't finish him off.....
Red: Oh, but I did. (He reaches into his "Mighty Morphin Midget" costume and pulls out a manila folder.) It's all right there....enough to blackmail Merritt for a hundred lifetimes. All his accounts, all his money, and all the access you'd ever need.
Thomas: You know, I could almost kiss you.....if you weren't a midget. I think it's time you resumed your high position in life, Lyle....and that I took control of what's rightfully mine.
Red: And Merritt?
Thomas: Without power, Merritt's nothing. He'll run like a ship in a storm.
(From ANNIVERSARY 1999: Revelation -- just prior to the Main Event match where Eli Flair wins the CSWA World Title)
ST: No, instead, I'm gonna give the fans what they want. You see Sammy, Bill, I think for this final match, for tonight's last match, the crowning glory of what has become a Triple Main Event....I think it's only fitting that we have a trio of commentators to call the action.
SB: Oh boy....lemme guess, since Poison Ivy can't come down in Hornet's corner without losing her promise from Vizzachero to have that piece of crap she calls a column put back on the TRIBUNE's front page....you're gonna put her at the booth.
ST: I thought of that one, Sammy....but I'm afraid it's just not enough. I think for ANNIVERSARY, we need something a little special. So I thought.....why not have a sort of reunion.
(The crowd begins to murmur as a large box is lowered toward the ring)
ST: In fact, Sammy, I think it's only fitting that after ten years of service....not eleven, since we're not counting the time you were absent for being fired.....that you be given a little present.
SB: Why do I think I'm NOT going to like this?
BB: But I bet I am.....
ST: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome a man you all know very well....a man who I owe a great debt of gratitude to....a man who will join the booth as the third man......here's my very special little surprise....
(The sides of the box drop to the mat...revealing...)
......THE RED MIDGET!!!!!!!!!!
BB: What in the name of all that.....
Red: I'm baaaaaack.
(Lyle Tallman, aka The Red Midget, begins climbing out of the ring to the commentators' table)
Red: Dead? Come on, Sammy....you know better than that....
SB: But I saw you....I saw him....I saw....
Red: Hush now, Benson...don't reveal any of our little secrets....we have friends that wouldn't be very happy at that, don't we?
SB: But it bl......you were......I saw.....
Red: Would you like to slap some sense into him Buckley, or may I?
BB: I'm about as blown away as he is, Red. The last time we saw you alive was just over two years ago at CSWA ANNIVERSARY 1997! And we all saw, or thought we saw you hanged!
Red: You'll have to talk to Sammy about that one, Bill....I've got no comment.
BB: We all think you're dead for two years....and you've got NO COMMENT?
BB: Now I remember why I hit you in the head with a suitcase....
Red: Oh....don't think I've forgotten that little incident either. Now do your job and get on with the show....
SB: But he's.....I mean, I saw.....
(From Thanksgiving Weekend Spectacular 1999, where Thomas and Merritt are engaged in a bizarre battle of wits to determine who controls the CSWA)
REGIS PHILBIN: I think you'll both be pleased with this question in college basketball. In the 1982 NCAA Championship game between the University of North Carolina and Georgetown, who was the highest-scoring....(buzzer interrupts Regis)...yes, Mr. Thomas, your answer for the win....
THOMAS: Michael Jordan!
RP: I'm sorry....the end of the question was who was the highest-scoring player on the losing team...the answer was Patrick Ewing. I'm sorry, Mr. Thomas, but we have a new Commissioner! Mr. Merritt, you are the winner! (crowd pops) (Thomas's head falls to the podium)
MERRITT: Was there ever any doubt? Folks, I want to thank you for your support tonight. I know I haven't always earned it in the past. Now I could boot Thomas out of here tonight (crowd cheers), making all of us very happy people...but it wouldn't be right. Steve helped build the CSWA and CS Enterprises into what they've become. However, there are going to be a few immediate changes that I'm sure my business partner won't mind, since I'm the Commish... (snip)
So without further adieu, let's move along to the Greensboro Contenders Battle Royal. Oh, and I almost forgot....Lyle, if you're still in the building after the next five minutes, I'm giving a bonus to anyone who physically removes you. The clock is ticking.... Now, I'm going to collect my VP of Security, and I'll see you folks later. (Merritt leaves the ring, gesturing to security to carry Gethard out behind him, as Thomas, Regis, and the set ascend back into the upper recesses of the arena.)
BB: Well there you have it, folks! Chad Merritt is back as co-owner and Commissioner....and the Red Midget here is NOT nor will he ever be my boss!
RM: You don't have to sound so happy about it. Sammy, what are you mumbling about over there.
RM: Stop that...he was just kidding.
BB: I don't think so. He looked dead serious to me.
RM: Stop it!
RM: I'm leaving now...you people are insane.
SB: Oh come on...just stay for another four minutes and three seconds...PLEASE!
RM: Thomas won't let you get away with this...
SB: Thomas has other things to worry about then your undersized behind...Buckley, do you still have your Haliburton under the desk as usual?
BB: Of course, Sammy...and you're welcome to borrow it...for any reason.
SB: Did you ever get that dent out from the last time I jacked Red here over the head with it?
BB: Oh this is a brand new one, Sammy...and it's even heavier than the last one.
SB: Sounds great....more bang for your buck, so to speak.
(The Red Midget runs screaming from the commentators' table....the crowd collectively laughs and begins a "Sammy" chant.)
BB: Folks, that may be a first...I don't know if the fans have ever cheered for Sammy before.
SB: And I'm lovin' it.
Well over three hours into the “epic musical saga” of the Red Midget’s life, and the audience realizes that this is not only an evening of their life they’ll never get back, but one they may have nightmares about. The disjointed song-and-dance has leapt forward and back in time, showing Red’s “rebirth” at Thomas’s hands in one moment, then jumping back to flashbacks illuminating Red’s personal life.
Did we really need to see the breakup of Red’s marriage, as his ‘average’ wife vented her disgust at her husband, once a generally successful insurance salesman, becoming a midget Red Power Ranger for children’s parties and eventually a wrestling promotion? Becoming the butt of jokes from his beloved not only for his size and profession, but also for the fact that apparently he couldn’t father a child?
The taunting of his childhood, the ridicule from his wife, the outright disgust and hatred from his employer (Merritt) and the master-slave attitude of the other one (Thomas). All of it was put out for the CSWA world to see. The therapy sessions after being mocked and even physically attacked by Sammy Benson and Bill Buckley. The slide into prescription drugs after his ‘death and resurrection’ routine. The almost-final moments after he was “pooped” as part of a cruel joke on himself and former President Schmid.
But once again, Thomas brought light at the end of the tunnel. The man who once “brought him back” personally and professionally was there once again. Master called and Red went. Thomas promised a new career, one without the public shame, away from Merritt and his ilk. And so, he boarded the ship… the ill-fated ship.
(Clip from ANNIVERSARY 2001)
In many respects Thomas was a strong man. Physically he couldn’t lift his own weight, but mentally he often moved mountains. Yet as strong as he was, he wasn’t prepared for the drop.
The drop is every bit as dramatic as it sounds. For five thousand dollars he bought a ticket on a replica version of the Titanic. The tag line, catchy if not tasteless, caught him hook, line, and sinker. “Retrace and Win Back History.” For five thousand dollars he’d put the ghosts of the original failures on his back and take them safely to the other side. It’s where they should have been eighty years ago, and the thought of finally taking them there put an extra foot in his step.
Titanic version 2.0 made history. Sadly, Thomas’ money couldn’t see to it that he made the complete journey. The ship was strong, and fearless as it carved through the memories and delivered it’s patrons home. Stephen’s best friend however, was mad and cruel.
They searched for days, until the party was called off, a logical decision in the event of a man’s death. There was to be a funeral, and surprisingly, a dedication of the breaking of a new ground, adjacent to Merritt’s offices. The economy quickly took a turn for the worse. Chad said a prayer, begged for forgiveness, then ditched plans to immortalize his peer.
A co-founder of the CSWA was assumed dead. Thanks to the drop, Thomas was lost on a deserted island; for all practical purposes he was quite dead.
It’s been three years, but today a man... and a midget... have decided to rewrite history.
“Amazing. I once tried to hang myself with this rope,” the midget spoke softly. For years little people have dreamed of ruling the world, just his luck at last they’d have their chance, albeit it a small one. The island was his to govern well it might have been if Thomas hadn’t been a full three feet his master.
“You tried? How hard exactly?”
“You had to bring that up didn’t you.”
“I hate to be lied to that’s all it is. You tried, please. Be honest and admit your body weight wasn’t enough to do the job.”
As they finished tying the ends of a makeshift wooden raft together, Red swore he’d die trying to escape rather than suffer on the island at the hands of his oppressor.
“Look I didn’t ask to be stuck here with you, that’s for damn sure.”
“Quit crying Red and give me your finger.”
“We’ve survived this long without a woman, I’m not about to...” Thomas interrupted a second too late, “Just give it to me,” Steve tied a neat bow around the stubby index finger.
“We’re burning daylight, it’s time to shove off.” Red hopped on the craft believing he was about to be carted off. “I’m sorry kid.”
With a subtle bow Thomas racked a modestly sized rock against the back of Red’s neck, dropping the midget to the sand like a tree in the forest that no one would hear.
“Godspeed kid, I’ll come back for you I promise.” Thomas picked up the tightly wound pieces of wood that he hoped would carry him back to the edges of any society, and dove into the salty cold water. As he flew over the first wave, the tyrannical laughter from the bottom of his soul pushed the escape pod further and further away.
We’re treated to our own version of “Castaway”, a silent epic lasting another thirty minutes in which Red pantomimes all his daily activities on the island. Thirty minutes of him wandering around the stage, pretending to hunt crabs and to try and start a fire. Thirty minutes of him building a giant sand statue of himself.
And then, it happens. Thomas returns. Three years after the raft left, the tattered remains of both man and vessel return. And all he had to show for it was the overly-tanned body of a man who had been forced to do slave labor by a group of natives on a nearby island. Oh, and that awkward piercing of course.
The reunion is reminiscent of the movie cliché, as Red runs towards Thomas in slow-motion. Sadly, Thomas doesn’t hold up his end of the bargain, falling to his knees and weeping in front of the sand statue, bringing up memories of another movie ending.
For months, the pair lives on the same beach. Every attempt at communication by Red is rebuffed. Finally one day, Thomas simply starts walking. He reaches the end of their beach and continues walking, pushing his way through jungle without a sound. Two hours later, he pushes through foliage to find a beautiful cove. A place so beautiful, he thinks, that they ought to put a resort there.
And that’s when he sees the water slide.
If he had had his way, Thomas’s “rescue” at the Tradewinds Isle & Resort would have been a solitary one. Thankfully, Red had followed him at a discreet distance, giving him the opportunity to be saved as well. The shame he felt at having lived four years in isolation, just around the corner from a five-star secluded resort, was washed away at simply being rescued.
Until he came back to the “real” world. Arriving in Miami had been a thrill. He stepped off the plane, kissed the ground, and then turned to share his joy with Thomas…
…and watched as a car sped away. Thomas, on his way to reclaim a legacy; Red, left alone with nothing to his name, or his alias.
He hitchhiked his way back to Greensboro. It took days to get there, and then nights spent in a shelter as he tried to cajole his ex-wife, ex-friends, anybody he could find, into helping him get back on his feet.
And then the offer came.
Drinking From The Cup Of Love
The Joker tumbles through the air, dizzying the carpet awaiting its prey. Thrown with an apparent measure of skill, the card rims the left side of a bowler hat and falls into the center with a handful of peers.
“Good shot, Shoog!” Hortense elbows her husband in the ribs as they sit, passively, at the right side of the bed, eight feet back from the makeshift basket. “Let me try again.” A flick of the wrist sends a card flying to the far-left of the hat.
"This is kinda nice, baby." The former Love Sister front-woman wraps her arms around Thomas’s neck and pulls. It’s taken being held hostage to keep Stephen in the same bedroom with her, but sunny days are wherever you look.
"This is Kathy-Bates-dinner-party nice. You show up expecting to be found dead in a wine cellar eight weeks later but taste good apple pie along the way."
"Want me to try the door again?" Hortense asks, putting the cards in her hand to the side.
"No, you'll just end up dislocating your shoulder. That sounded like a solid hit.” Thomas staggers to his feet. “Did it budge at all?"
"It's a two-foot thick metal door."
"Maybe if I Irish whip you into it, and bend your knees more..."
"Together,” she said, climbing to her feet as well.
"You hit low, I aim high."
"Are you serious?"
"Right. We're locked in an airtight room together; let's give Red the satisfaction of having me die after being hurled head-first into a cast iron door."
"Nobody said anything about head-first,” Hortense corrected, hands firmly on her hips. “If you wanna get sarcastic, you can go in the bathroom and act that role out."
"I'm the captain of this ship, doll. Don't forget that."
"A Captain who gets locked in his own cabin. Baby, you're not even fit to pilot the Love Boat.”
It was a new low to be scolded by a woman who was Thomas’s wife by a technicality only. Hortense turned to lift a bottled water from the nightstand and take a swig before catching herself. “I could only be so lucky. Speaking of which, we've been married for nearly two years, when do you think I'm gonna see a little bit of penetration up in here?"
"Oh, okay,” Thomas shot, his hands in the air dismissing the conversation. “Alright. That's it. I’m not having this conversation."
"We NEED to have it. Are you having a problem you're embarrassed to talk about? Is that why you've never touched me?"
"Yes. It’s as dead as a doornail. Hold me."
"I gave up my good years for a man like you!"
"Your bad ones won't be any better," he warns.
"Do you love me?"
"You married me for position didn't you."
"No, I married a three hundred pound, fifty-year-old polka-dot-wearing black woman for love. Don't be silly."
"I want out of this marriage." Hortense said flatly. She was serious, and caught Thomas by surprise. It’s been a marriage of dodgeball. The charade had to end at some point, but in truth, neither wanted to be alone.
"No. How about that?" Thomas said defensively.
"I want out!"
"No! I'm not giving up on us. Come on, I'm ready to fight. Why aren't you? You're stuck with me, Hortense. For better or worse, for richer or poorer...YOU made those vows. Or did they only mean something to me?" The words felt all wrong, but with any lie, over time they could be made into truth.
"You care about this marriage?"
"How dare you ask that question…”
"Consummate it then."
"CONSUMMATE YOUR LOVE."
"You're hysterical," Thomas claimed.
"I know I'm no pearl, but I deserve better than this."
“Why yes...yes you do,” a third voice entered the conversation.
Thomas and Hortense turned their attention to the large screen plasma TV where Lyle Tallman, aka the RED MIDGET sat in seclusion, apparently during an 'intermission' to his ongoing stage show in the ballroom.
“Thomas, why isn’t there any penetration up in here?” cracked Red.
"You'll swing for this, Red. Ten million people know my name. I crap and it makes CNN! You think you can just hijack my boat and not be arrested? Look, I can’t speak for your quality of life before this little stunt, and hell, maybe you worked at a zoo feeding gorillas. Whatever! But it can’t be worse than going to jail, which is where you’re going!”
“You’re assuming what I’ve done here is a crime, you foul piece of sewer scum.”
“I’m a hostage! That’s a crime. Or, it should be!”
“What was it like, Stephen, to make the decision to leave me for dead? Did it trouble you in the days leading up to your stab at freedom? Or was it purely instinctive?”
“What’s the right answer here?”
“C. NEVER LEAVING A FRIEND FOR DEAD!”
“Hey pal, you had fresh fruit and rain water to last weeks. And less we forget YOU’RE ALIVE AND WELL! Have you ever stopped to consider what would’ve happened if you went sailing with me? You could’ve died.”
“Ohmygosh. You’re right. You saved my life.”
“You really were thinking of my best interests when you nearly broke my neck trying to get save your own skin.”
“You know,” Thomas turned to his wife, “there really hasn’t been a day gone by where I didn’t figure that’d eventually come back to haunt me. It’s just, he was so little…”
“Karma; in bite-size form. Fitting, Thomas, is it not?”
“LYLE. Whatever beef you have with my husband doesn’t concern me. Let me walk sweetie, okay?”
“Hortense…” Thomas pleaded.
“Sweet Hortense, how have you been?”
“I got married!”
“You deserved happiness, love. Go on and wait by the door, you’re right this doesn’t involve you anymore.”
Hortense claps her hands in delight and faces the door. She waits for twenty seconds in silence until it becomes obvious Red’s joking with her.
“Baby, you look like a fool. Come back here…”
“Married a deserter. Justice is poetic, after all these years.”
“Red, it’s not working.”
“Give it a minute, sunshine.”
“Let’s get to brass tacks here. What do you want? A job? Is that it? Fine. Well played. Assistant to the VP of Security and your own workspace.”
“Your stay in hell will be a slow burn, Thomas. Oh, and your VP of Security has a little run-in with a taser earlier.”
“Don’t be an idiot, Red. Dental is in the health plan. Have you caught a good look at your teeth lately?”
“Enough is enough. Get us out of here RIGHT NOW!”
Lyle laughs maniacally. “For too long Thomas you’ve left me powerless. A punch line this company told over drinks and fine cheeses. Now you see who really has power. For the next week, Thomas, this ship is mine."
“Everybody aboard this Cruise has a cell phone,” Thomas shook his finger at Red’s image. “It’s only a matter of time before someone realizes what you’ve done and calls the proper authority. Hundreds are probably huddled together to break through that door right now!”
“Really?” Instantly Lyle cuts out on the TV, as various locations of the PCL2 are shown. All docile and behaving as expected: the vacation for the rest of the Cruise moves forward. "Remember, we're on a SHIP, genius. Unless someone's got a satellite phone they wouldn't be able to get a signal -- and I've even got that option taken care of."
“The revolution apparently won’t be televised. Play your cards right Thomas and you’ll leave this Cruise with your dignity in tact. And HAVE a company to run. But, if I sense a mutiny brewing, I’ll sink this ship. ‘Thousands die on a CSWA Cruise Liner.’ What would that headline do for business, Thomas?”
“You don’t have the balls to kill innocent people.”
“What if random passengers are taken into the dark and beaten by CSWA employees? You’re a PR nightmare from looking for work, Stephen. This company that I’ve suffered through is being held together with pins and needles. Don’t kid yourself to think the end can’t come at my hands here this week.”
Stephen considered the claim, and he found it to be true.
“What do you want?” Thomas asked, resigned.
“I want you at my mercy, just as I was on the Island, praying you’d keep your word and come back! I want you waiting, in tears, to see what my next move will be! I want you cowering in fear, begging to God that you’ve been disgraced enough!”
“THERE WAS A RESORT ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ISLAND!”
“I WANT YOU TO BE A MADE A FOOL OF WHEN HELP FINDS YOU, LIKE I WAS WHEN I WAS FOUND!”
“Damn you Red! Open this door!”
“Now. The lady asked you to do something. And I think it’s high time you did it. You’re overdue, Thomas, it's time to become a man.”
“What curse does the Devil dare speak of?’
“You want out of this cabin? Consummate the marriage.”
“LYLE…the do---. Did you say something?”
“A candlelight dinner is on its way up. Heavily protected, to be sure, but don’t let that kill the mood.”
“You evil little man. I will not rape my wife for you.”
“Rape? Shoog, I’d run through a fire for this.”
“You lied to that poor woman. Another innocent soul destroyed so that you might get what you wanted. But, consequences are abounding for the CSWA now. End the lie. Consummate your marriage to Mrs. Thomas.”
“I will do no such thing…”
The Cabin doors open up and Red’s henchmen bring in a candlelight dinner.
“I bet that meal is to die for, Lyle.”
“It can be.”
“This isn’t happening. Red! REDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD!”
Thomas sinks to his knees.
“You want a league to come back to? Show your wife how much you love her.”
“I’m not doing this with you watching!”
“Sad to say, I won’t be. There are other guests to attend to. But, trust me, I’ll know if there’s honor between you two by night’s end. Goodbye, Stephen.”
“I’ll kill you!” Thomas runs for the TV screen and starts pounding away on the wall. “Okay! I’m sorry! There! I said it! I’m sorry, Lyle! I was selfish and mean, and…scared. Just so scared, Lyle. I’m not proud of what I did to you. I deserve this. I know I do. But, find forgiveness in your little heart. I’ll make it up to you. I’m sorry…”
Thomas rests his head on the TV screen. Seconds later, defeated, he turns to see Hortense lying seductively on the bed.
“We’ll eat later Shoog...” the lady pats the bed and flashes a ten dollar smile.
Four hours in and the literally-captive audience has been subjected to show tunes, monologues, reenactments and even pantomiming. Unfortunate Gregg Gethard recovered from his incident with a taser only to open his mouth yet again… and yet again receives a nasty shock for his trouble.
As the “Let’s feel sorry for Lyle and his days of wandering and homelessness” scene ends, the stage and screen go black. Red turns away from the audience and faces the screen.
Red is alone in a dark room. A strange sound enters the room and a light begins to play across the midget’s short figure. He looks up and bows quickly. A blurred gray image appears on the screen.
RED: What is thy bidding, my master?
HACKER: There is a great disturbance in the CSWA.
RED: I have felt it.
HACKER: We have a new enemy – Stephen Thomas.
RED: Yes, my master.
HACKER: He could destroy us.
RED: He's just a boy. Merritt can no longer help him. If he could be turned, he would become a powerful ally.
HACKER: Yes. Yes. He would be a great asset. Can it be done?
RED: He will join us or die, my master.
Red kneels. The HACKER appears to pass a hand over the crouched midget and fades away.
Red turns to the audience and smiles broadly. It’s the first time the Hacker has revealed himself so openly – or revealed that he isn’t working alone.
A throne-like chair glides from backstage. Red climbs and sits as the John Williams-esque symphony music becomes even more broad and expansive. It’s obviously, mercifully, time for the finale.
As Red borrows from one of the oldest stage shows in the book, he disappears into the chair. The discarded ‘face’ of little Billy Cundiff lies on the seat. The time for masks is over.
The metal doors slide open as the guards escort the CSWA passengers to their cabins. Each one finds a note from Red, thanking them for attending the show, as if they had a choice. It also advises them that all ship-to-shore communication has been cut, and that if they should advise the regular passengers of their predicament, (again borrowing) “a disaster beyond your imagination will occur.”
And in case the first four hours wasn’t enough, the note advised, a replay is available on channel 57 on their in-cabin televisions.
The man known only as the “Hacker” watches from his hidden control center aboard the cruise liner. Masks, indeed. It’s a time for action. A time to reveal who is really in charge.
Three years. Just more than, actually. Three years for the seed of a plan to grow and bear fruit. Three years since bypassing the security on Merritt’s computer and beginning to gather all the information he needed. Through every bump along the CSWA way, through the return of Thomas, through the network changes and bumbles and stumbles of the beleaguered company, he continued to gather the bits and pieces he needed. Information on this contract or that business deal. And most importantly, that one document that would make it all worth it.
And now, the trap was sprung. The revelation of Red as his miniature rook. Ruben Ross as his knight. Pieces on a board, any one of which may need to be sacrificed to win the endgame. To capture the King. To force him into submission. And in doing so, to prove, once and for all…