CRUISE of DECEPTION: Epilogue
It's the end of the bizarrely troubled PRIMETIME POOLJAM Tour, which has affectionately become known as the CRUISE of DECEPTION.
The Cruise is technically over, as the CSWAers and their audience have all been forced into lifeboats as part of a scheme launched by the mysterious Hacker. Everyone made it off the ship safely, except for Marvin Parsons. At the same time, the CSWAers have 'captured' one of the Hacker's henchman, the Red Midget, who is well known to all them, especially CSWA owner Stephen Thomas.
This is the story of how our castaways made it home.
For the previous episodes, check the following:
CRUISE of DECEPTION: Episode 1
PRIMETIME in Montego Bay
CRUISE of DECEPTION: Episode 2
PRIMETIME on the Caribbean (Episode 3)
The smoke had been too much for him. If it had been a real fire, he would have been a goner. Thankfully for Marvin Parsons, the Hacker’s ruse had lasted just long enough to scare the CSWAers and fans off the boat. The smoke stopped pumping through the ventilation systems and quickly dissipated. Marvin’s body coughed, expelling some of the carbon monoxide, but his mind remained asleep. Until several hours later…
The pre-dawn light trickled through the porthole embedded in the nearby door as the coughing started up again. This time, the mind and body were linked again, bringing Marvin to his knees to pull some of the black mess from his lungs. That disgusting necessity aside, Marvin began to take in his surroundings. He had made it so close to the door – but in the smoke, it might as well have been a mile away.
Getting to his feet, he pulled the hatch open and stepped out onto the deck, bracing himself for the worst. Instead, he found… nothing. No one. No fire damage. And no lifeboats. It didn’t take long for even a Parsons to figure out that his friends, colleagues and the fans were no longer aboard. And yet, the ship was still intact.
Marvin quickly stepped back, closed the hatch and started back down the stairs. It was time to think this one out. Why would the Hacker have made it look like the ship was in trouble? Just to get everyone off? Even after he himself had flown away in the helicopter…
What if he hadn’t? What if there was a reason he wanted he wanted everyone off here?
And what else did Marvin have to do but find out? And what better place to start than the Red Midget’s own little lair?
As their lifeboat entered the shallow water, Teri Melton could already hear the chaos that awaited her. It was clear that Thomas was going to be no help in settling down the CSWA employees and the frightened passengers – he was too busy “guarding” the Red Midget. He had confiscated some sort of stockings (shudder) from Hortense and used them to tie Red’s hands again.
Years ago, she never would have dreamed that she would be the de facto head of operations for the CSWA. Back then, Merritt and Thomas were much more interested in her for 1) her tits and ass, 2) the fact that she was Joey Melton’s hot little sister, and 3) her tits and ass. She had gone on to demonstrate her skills as a talent manager, as a draw in her own right, and then…. Then she had realized that she could have power. She attached herself to Merritt, ran her little scam on Hornet and Ivy, and guaranteed herself a spot in the front office. At first it hadn’t been anything but sitting back and looking pretty, but she had used her title to start to accumulate true power – to find out how things worked and how she could make them happen.
She would never admit it, but Ivy had been her role model in this second half of her career. Her time in the front office of the CSWA, and more importantly, in running the fWo for a time, was a competitive mark to strive for….to strive to beat.
So as the lifeboat ran aground, she was the first one out, leaving Thomas behind to guard the Red Midget and deal with Hortense, leaving Hornet and Ivy to continue their uncomfortable silence somewhere else. But she grabbed Adrian and JA, in essence drafting them as part of her ‘crew’ to figure out what needed to be done.
“I don’t care.”
“What do you mean you don’t care? This is not the time for one of your ‘fits’, Stephen, this is the time to make sure these three hundred-plus people are taken care of.”
“I’ve got no problem with that, Teri. But my first priority is making sure that little traitorous midget doesn’t go anywhere I don’t want him to.”
“This is ridiculous, Stephen. The two of you are the only ones who actually have experience surviving on an island – you should be leading things here. Plus… it’s your company anyway!”
“And that’s why I’m making sure that the biggest threat is taken care of. Plus, it’s night anyway – you’ve already started a few fires, made sure we’ve collected the water we brought, and folks are settling in for the night on the beach.”
“And we should be planning for tomorrow. Not….not THIS!”
Thomas is sitting around a small fire of his own, comparing the length of some thick branches. Hortense tosses down more to the pile near him.
“That’s all I can do, Shoog. I’m plumb beat. Why don’t you come over here and snuggle with Big Mama.”
Thomas ignores his wife, and does the same to Teri as she stomps away. He has only eyes for two things: the pile of sticks next to him, and the sleeping midget on the other side, whose hands are still bound by the nylons, which are now wrapped around a large makeshift pole.
“They don’t know how sneaky he is,” Thomas says, talking to no one in particular. “I can’t chance him getting away. He still blames me for leaving him on the last island we got stuck on – who knows how deep into this idiot ‘Hacker’s’ plans he is. Hell, if he were smarter, I’d think that he is the Hacker.”
“Shoog, did you say something?”
“Nothing, Hortense. Just go back to sleep.”
His hands continue to work in near silence. During his time on an island previously, he had learned to make wonders with coconuts and the other various parts of a palm tree. It might be a sleepless night, but in the morning, he’d feel much safer.
As soon as this cage was done… and the Red Midget inside.
With the sun partway overhead, the beach had become a flurry of activity, like a knocked-over anthill. Teri had crews searching the nearby treeline for coconuts and bananas, and anything else edible. Another group was looking for fresh water, another exploring the coastline to the east to see if they could find…anything. Other groups were working on shelter, or entertaining the group of children, or any of the dozens of other things that need to be done.
Only Thomas and Hortense weren’t part of group, as Stephen continued to ‘perfect’ the makeshift cage he had created for the Red Midget the night before. At the moment, it looked like Thomas was actually trying to fasten some sort of water delivery device to the top of the cage… and it looked horrifyingly like a hamster feeder. Inside the cage, Red was spilling his guts, trying to give Thomas every scrap of information he could about his dealings with the Hacker. Anything to get a reprieve from the cramped cage. Hornet, Ivy and others had tried to convince Stephen to leave Red alone, but there was just too much else to do for them to try and soften the hardened heart of the CSWA owner.
Red’s information had been spotty at best. He maintained that he didn’t know who the Hacker was, just that he had been recruited to get revenge on Thomas and had been part of setting up the whole scheme on the Cruise Liner. He had no information on the Hacker’s motive or whereabouts…or why he wanted to get them off the ship – that part had been as much a surprise to him as to them all.
Having failed to sway Thomas’ mind with his useless information about the Hacker, Red reverted to a “remember the good old days” approach, trying to appeal to Thomas’s memories of their years alone together on an island like this one. Those stories just made Thomas purse his lips further and work even more furiously on making the cage more and more sound – even going as far as to find a way to put the whole thing on makeshift wheels found from various luggage on the beach. That led to Hortense pulling the cage-cum-cart around the beach as Thomas finally took a break for water and foot. He refused to leave the cage… so the cage had to come with him.
JA’s exploration team came back and reported on a nearby cave to the east that could be used as a more permanent shelter. It was clear of any large animals and could at least be used to keep the children out of the heat of the day. Plus, it was near a small lagoon that looked like it might be a good water source. None of them had drunk the water, of course, but it appeared to be fresh and could be boiled to make it safe.
As JA and his team continued to report on what they had found, Red began launching into some story to Thomas. Shortly after their plane crash years ago, they had found a cave shortly after being marooned on their island. Thomas had argued that he had found the cave and made Red live on the beach, as far away as he could. Red had made a small shelter for himself – apparently eventually Thomas had found the cave uncomfortable and had been forced to ask Red for help with creating a shelter of his own. The story seemed to run interminably, a whole history of their first few weeks on the island – the cave this, the lagoon that, blah blah blah the cove blah blah blah.
“What did you say?,” JA asked Red, interrupting his own report.
“I was just talking about the day we explored and found the cove to the east. A lot of great crab-hunting there, at least once Mr. Squeamish here figured out that we were going to have to actually ‘hunt’ if we wanted to eat. Sometimes I wish I had never showed him how to use that rock,” Red responded, rubbing the back of his head in remembrance.
“You said a cove to the east? And it was past the cave that you originally found? And a freshwater lagoon?”
“Yep. We got around the lagoon and found the cove, shaped like a half-moon. You could look out to sandbar and see the gulls sitting out there. It’s funny, actually, we got so comfortable there that we never explored to the west. If we had, we would’ve found the…”
“Like a half-moon? Um, I don’t know how to tell you this, but I think we’re on the same island,” JA said.
“What!?,” they all responded at once, except Thomas, still oblivious.
“The cave, the lagoon, the cove, they’re all in exactly the same area that Red here explained, down to the detail of sandbar and the seagulls. I could take him down there and we could make sure…”
”NO!,” Thomas exploded, “The little traitor stays with me.”
“Stephen, you can’t just keep him in a box forever,” Teri interjected. “We need to see if this is the same place. If it is…. How did the two of you get off the island anyway?”
“Like I was saying, if we had just explored to the west at first, we would’ve found out much earlier…”
Red trailed off as Joey Melton yelled a big “Look what I found!” down the beach from the west.
Joey Melton became the first CSWA World Champion by being in the right place at the right time. His wrestling prowess aside, the fact that he had been wrestling further south and decided to take a gig on the way home to New York, was certainly a turning point in his career, and his life in general. Connecting with Ray S. Cornette, Eddy Love, even Lindsay Troy, all had occurred at first by happenstance rather than design. It was when the ‘design’ kicked in that Joey seemed to screw things up.
What better place to reflect on life than walking alone down a strand of virginal, undiscovered beach? Joey had broken away from the other group exploring to the west, deciding to get his feet wet and stay close to the sounds of the ocean. Something had put him in a reflective mood.
And speaking of reflections – what was that glint down the beach? It had caught his eye as far back as half a mile ago. He had dismissed it as the glint off some sort of metal wreckage, but as he got closer and closer…
It couldn’t be. Could it? Here? In the middle of nowhere on a deserted island? Joey had heard of mirages – but those were only in the desert when you were dying of thirst, right? Surely here, just another quarter- or half-mile down the beach, it couldn’t be -- hooters, could it?
He began to run down the beach. In his mind’s eye, it was a movie scene of love reunited – him, the muscular model with long blonde hair flapping in the wind; her, the Pamela Anderson from Baywatch look-alike. In reality, it was a somewhat windblown Joey catching two lovely young topless sunbathers off guard. At first they were hesitant, but Joey’s charm quickly kicked in, especially when they realized he might be famous.
And so, as only he could, Joey Melton came walking back to the castaways’ beach, a blonde beauty on each arm, and with even bigger news.
For the second time, Stephen Thomas found himself aboard a ship bound from the Tradewinds Isle & Resort to the Florida Keys. And for the second time as his trip back home to Greensboro began, he was fuming. The first time had been following a four-year stint as a plane crash survivor, most of it on this same island along with the Red Midget. This time, thankfully, had been only a couple of days.
But how embarrassing.
The first time he had had someone to blame – Merritt. He laid the responsibility for the plane crash at his former partner’s feet, convinced himself that it was all a part of a master plan to get him out of the company once and for all. That conveniently rewritten history, potentially aided by those four years with no human contact (not counting the Red Midget, of course), left out the fact that he had wanted out of his then-current life. He had wanted out of the responsibility – only to find that he wanted back in. That he wanted the power that came with it.
This time was different. There was certainly someone to blame, but no face to put with that identity. The “Hacker” could be anyone – hell, it could even be Merritt again. But maybe not. There was something so personal, but also so…so… calculating, about all this. This person had popped up at various times over the last three years, never causing any huge trouble, just annoyances. And then…this. To come up with the resources to take over a whole cruise ship, to hire the men to be able to do it… To go after certain people on the ship and use their own history and personalities against them… And then, to force them off the ship just in sight of the same island that he and Red had been marooned on… the site of one of his greatest humiliations… and one that very few people knew about.
He had tried to keep that revelation to a minimum – tried to convince those that heard Red that this wasn’t… couldn’t be… the same island that he and Red had been on so many years ago. That they had languished here for four years until they hiked through a few miles of jungle and came upon a five-star resort.
As humiliating as it was… it just served as another piece in the puzzle. This “Hacker” was someone that didn’t just want to have power, to exert control… it is someone who wanted to humiliate. For what? Revenge? Personal vendetta? An old business partner who felt wronged?
Sadly, the list was almost endless. Starting with Merritt, the list ran on and on. He alone had ticked off and fired his own share. Pool that with what he and Merritt had done over an eighteen-year timeframe….the firings, putting competitors out of business, angry talent….and … the ‘pooping,’ of course.
And it wasn’t just personal humiliation, but an attack on the business itself. The Cruise Liner had been insured…but not for something like this. The cost of that ship alone was enough to threaten the existence of the CSWA. It would have been one thing to have the ship go down, but to have it stolen, with no proof? And the potential lawsuits from the fans onboard for the cruise… he didn’t even want to think about it. This was a fiscal disaster.
Thomas had acknowledged years ago that he wasn’t good at split-second decisions. But when he had time to think – the wheels turned at a steady pace, as he considered next steps. At least the PRIMETIME footage, such as it was, had made it back to Greensboro via satellite. He could use that to keep U-62 happy for awhile and until they could get back on the road. But after that? The plan had been to ride the feud between Mark Windham and Dan Ryan to the next pay-per-view…and now Troy Windham was back in the mix. Getting Troy onboard the ship had been a coup, but it added another huge paycheck to the mix. If only he could dump one of the big contracts – Mark, Hornet, Ryan, any of the others.
No sense crying over spilled milk – he needed that talent to pull this off.
Pull what off.
It took him a second to realize that the idea had already formed into existence in his mind – that he was seeing the echo, the afterimage of the neurons that had already fired in a distinct pattern, jumping from one seemingly unconnected to thought to another, until…
ANNIVERSARY. And the biggest event…and gamble… he had taken on his own to date.
Every time before, when the CSWA had been in danger, he and Merritt had pulled together to “sink or swim.” When the money got tight, they had decided over and over again to risk it on the big idea, the big event, the big contract. When the creative juices seemed to stagnate, they had prided themselves on kickstarting with matches like the WHEEL of DEATH or Firehouse, or events like the ULTRATITLE or Ironman of Champions.
And now, springing fully-formed from his mind like Athena reborn, he had it.
It's a Small Island, After All
Life on Grand Cayman moved at a slower pace. He normally liked to spend most of his time around Seven Mile Beach, either at the villa or walking the beach itself along with Johanna. But today it was a quick trip by himself into George Town to meet with the banker, then pick up a few necessities. He was already thinking about their plans for the evening; he and Johanna were headed to Hemingway’s, their favorite place on the West End, then catching a charter over to Cayman Brac to stay at the condo and get up early for some diving to one of the shipwrecks.
As he left the bank, he suddenly remembered that he needed to grab a new dive mask. Bert’s shop was the other way…
Steve Day? What’s Steve Day doing on Grand Cayman? He dropped off the face of the earth years ago.
He reversed course and headed back towards the bank. He went in the direction he had last seen Day, but the former CSWA Vice-President had apparently already taken more than one turn, lost somewhere in the small streets around the bank. Deciding to reenter the bank, he found John Ebanks still out in the lobby where they had left off a few minutes earlier.
“Why Mr. Chad, welcome back? Did you forget something?”
“I don’t think so, Mr. John,” Merritt responded in the island way. “But I did have another question for you.”
“Of course, of course. What can I help you with?”
“I thought I just saw an old friend of mine leave here. He must have been visiting the bank while you and I were conducting our business. His name is Mr. Steve Day. He used to work for me at the company.”
“Yes, of course. Mr. Day was being helped by young Mr. Stanley Bodden while we were speaking.”
“Not to pry, Mr. John, but would you or Mr. Stanley know if there was a way to contact him? I would love to reconnect with him.”
“I fear not, Mr. Chad. I heard him say that he was just on the island for the day. He apparently got off a ship that just pulled in and is pulling out again shortly.”
“Ah, well, thanks for your help as always, John. Hopefully I can catch up with him another way.”
“My pleasure, Mr. Chad. Give my best to Ms. Johanna as well.”
Former CSWA co-owner Chad Merritt left the bank and headed for his car around the corner. Seeing Steve Day out of the blue had been odd, but certainly not enough to account for the strange twinge in his gut. Day had left the CSWA after serving on the Board of Directors – last Chad had heard, he had gone on to work for a small dot-com that had gotten caught when the bubble burst.
Oh well. It would have been nice to catch up. But still, that strange feeling…
When the phone rang, the number on the caller id came as little surprise, thanks to that twinge in the gut.
“Brian? What’s going on?”
Brian Nord, a former CSWA wrestler and now road agent, responded, “Chad, long time no talk. You’re still in the Caymans, right?”
“Yeah, still here. What’s wrong, Brian? You don’t call me unless something’s wrong.”
“You’re right. I’ll get straight to the point. We were hijacked.”
“What!? What do you mean? Are you okay?”
“Yes, we are now. We’re on a small island just west of you, at the Tradewinds Isle & Resort.”
“I know where that is – you’re between here and Belize. What do you mean you were hijacked?”
“I mean the whole damn boat…the Parsons’ Cruise Liner II… was hijacked, with the CSWA on board. They forced us off the boat, just in sight of this island. And the Red Midget with us…”
“What the hell?! Listen – can you get a charter from there to here?”
“Already done. Thomas just left on the first charter out and Teri is setting up the logistics to get the rest of us home. But I went ahead and scheduled one over the Grand Cayman. I should be there in about 2 hours.”
“Alright. I’m already in George Town. I’ll grab my car and meet you at the airstrip. Hey Bryan?”
“Steve Day hasn’t been back around the CSWA recently has he? Thomas hasn’t brought him in for anything?”
“No. I haven’t even heard his name in years. Why?”
“I’ll tell you when you get here. Right now I’ve got to make some phone calls. See you then.”
It was too much to be coincidence. Steve Day here on the island. The PCL2 getting hijacked. And then Thomas and his employees being left on the very island that so few of them knew he had been on years earlier…
Oh well, dinner at Hemingway’s would have to wait. Johanna would understand. At least until he told her where he had to go next.