My motor coach rocked to a gentle stop with the soft hiss of air brakes. The motion and sound captured my attention and I looked up from my laptop. “We’re here?” I asked as I glanced around.
David, my friend, driver, trainer, and stunt coordinator, gestured out of the large windshield. “That’s the place.”
We’d stopped in front of a slightly tatty warehouse in Folton, Alabama, a small-town straddling I-65 just north of Birmingham. This looked like the type of place we normally played, which wasn’t surprising considering what we did. Areas where trucking firms, warehouses, and light industrial congregated were often ghost towns in the evening and on weekends, giving us enough privacy to put on our show without disturbing the neighbors or drawing unwanted attention. That was our life on the road, performing our show in larger, more upscale, titty bars and temporary spaces carved out of underused warehouses.
Sitting near the door of the building was a Champaign colored, fifteen-year-old, Cadillac CTS that had seen better days. The dirty and faded door opened as a sweaty, bald, hugely overweight man labored his way out of the car, the vehicle rocking heavily as he struggled to his feet. Unfortunately, there was nothing unusual about that either.
As David piloted our RV the two hours from Atlanta to Birmingham, the rest of the show following along behind like ducklings following Mother Duck, I’d been reviewing footage from our previous show to determine its suitability for inclusion on our next DVD release. I swiveled my chair around and rose from the passenger seat where I’d been riding, replacing my ass in the chair with the laptop and the lap desk it was sitting on.
“Ready to go see what we can do with this shit hole?” I asked the woman sitting in the small office space behind the driver.
Lisbeth was my lover, business partner, and played the evil Brio Gambrelli, henchwoman of the Gambrelli crime syndicate, in the finale match. She rose from the desk where she was working on our storyline and scripts using her own computer. We toured the entire country, but since we regularly returned to previous venues, we had to update up our act two or three times a year to move the stories along and keep our show fresh, if for no other reason than to drive DVD sales.
“Yeah. Let’s go see what we’ve got to work with.”
As we stepped out of the coach, Dirk and Michelle Pickard pulled to a stop in the rig hauling our equipment, with the other RVs of various sizes filing into the parking lot behind them. In about eight hours we’d be doing our only show in this location, and we’d arrived in our RVs so we’d be ready to leave for our next location right after the show.
Since breakdown only took about half as long as setup, when we did a single show, as we were tonight, everyone wanted to do the show, pack our shit, and then hit the road afterwards to put some miles under our belts before trying to sleep. Once the adrenaline from the show wore off, we’d find a Wal-Mart or similar where we could pull off and grab a few hours’ sleep before pressing on.
The show was entirely self-contained with everyone living out of RVs. I owned the two largest coaches, the one that Lisbeth and I lived in, along with another one setup to sleep eight. I also owned the semi and trailer emblazed with our characters that served as a rolling advertisement that Dirk and Michelle slept in. When I started Hot Wrestling Entertainment, it hadn’t taken me long to realize that living out of a coach was no more expensive than booking a decent motel room every night, and a hell of a lot less hassle. Those that didn’t have their own coach paid me monthly rent for the use of my coach unless they wanted to make their own sleeping and travel arrangements. It rarely took anyone long to realize that five hundred a month to rent a birth in my extra coach, and not have to arrange travel, a place to sleep, or pay for their meals, was the way to go.
Today was Saturday. Tuesday we were booked for another single show in Jackson, Mississippi, before we moved on to New Orleans, Louisiana, where we were booked to do three shows on three consecutive nights beginning Thursday. The three back to back shows was going to be tough on Lis, but she was a trooper, and if we needed to, we’d modify the routine for the third night.
Since Birmingham to Jackson was an easy four-hour drive, and New Orleans was only three hours beyond that, we weren’t going to have to kill ourselves to make our gigs. Even better, not having to setup or breakdown the show while in New Orleans for three days gave us plenty of time to sight see or relax. We were already booked in a campground right on lake Pontchartrain and I was looking forward to the downtime. Once we were settled into the park, we could unhook our towed vehicles and leave the big, thirsty, RVs parked for a few days while we grabbed some ‘R’ and ‘R.’
The three of us trotted down the steps, standing by our coach and watching as Henry Wheedleman, the fat bastard that’d booked us, wheezed karabük escort his way toward us.
“One of you Ron?” Hank panted, out of breath after walking no more than a hundred feet, his eyes flicking between me and David.
“I’m Ron Misson,” I said extending my hand. Hank clasped it with a tepid grip. “This is Lisbeth Hambrick, my business partner, and David Reynolds, my stunt coordinator,” I said, gesturing to each in turn after I released his hand.
I smiled to myself as Hank’s eyes roamed over Lis’ body. I couldn’t blame him. She was a fucking knockout. Fit, with limpid brown eyes and raven black shoulder length hair without a strand of gray, worn in a breezy, messy is sexy style, she looked five to ten years younger than her thirty-five years. She had breasts that’d make a preacher hard and her legs and ass looked like she could crush bricks between her thighs. Like all the stars of the show, male and female, she was athletic and gorgeous.
“Glad you could make it. I was starting to get worried. It’s almost one. Are you going to have enough time to setup?” Hank asked.
I forced myself not to roll my eyes. I’d told him to expect us about one. “The show is scheduled to start at nine?” Hank nodded. “Plenty of time. We can be ready to rock and roll in four hours. What’s the expected crowd?”
“I got 326 confirmed sales, so I’d figure four, five hundred, minimum.”
We could seat 750 if we had the room, and we’d played to a crowd as big as a thousand a couple of times, but four to six hundred was typical for us.
Our standard deal was the promoter set the ticket price, with a fifty dollar a head minimum, and we took eighty-five percent of the box, with a thousand-dollar bonus for every hundred tickets sold after four hundred. We took one hundred percent from our merchandise booth, and the promoter got all the concessions. We normally cleared between twenty and twenty-five grand a show, sometimes more.
I nodded. We got ten thousand just for showing up, but if Hank could put five hundred asses into our seats, this was going to be another good stop. I loved the south. The good ol’ boys and southern-fried girls loved their wrestling, and we offered them something that nobody else did. We always made better money south of the Mason-Dixon line than we did north of it.
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s open the place up and see what we’ve got.”
By the time Hank had the door open, the rest of the show had joined us. Compared to the big, nationally televised shows, HWE was tiny. We had twelve performers, plus another four working behind the scenes in support. Everyone wore several hats, and we worked together as a team to keep the show moving.
We stepped into the large empty space. It was hotter than hell in the building. I asked the question I knew was at the front of everyone’s mind. “Is the place air conditioned?”
Fuck. We regularly played venues that didn’t have air conditioning. We had several big fans that we used to move the air, and since we were performing at night it would be a little cooler, but it was going to be a hot and sweaty show tonight for everyone, our audience included.
“Dirk, get the doors up and let’s start venting the place.” David turned his attention back to Hank. “Bathrooms?”
“Two in the back, and two right here,” Hank replied, gesturing to a pair of doors. “Each one has two stalls. I thought I’d use that office over there as the ticket booth.”
“If we get five hundred, the bathrooms are going to be tight,” Dave muttered to me.
I shrugged. At least they weren’t portajohns. The room we were standing in was wide open and massive, giving us plenty of room to spread out. We’d played places a lot worse than this, especially when we were just getting started.
I allowed my gaze to sweep the area, but I saw no obvious problems. “Looks good?” I asked David, checking to see if he’d noticed something I hadn’t.
He nodded. “Yeah. We can setup the changing room in the back corner, ring there in the middle, and we can put the chairs all the way around, so everyone has a good view. Having the loading dock is going to make this easy.”
I looked at Hank. “I think we’re good to go. You’re covering permits, security, sales, insurance, and concessions?” It seemed ridiculous I had to confirm this stuff, but I’d learned not to take anything for granted.
“Do I have to worry about the cop?”
A slow, sly grin crept across Hank’s face. “Relax. You’re just a wrestling show, right? I’ve got the permit for that… and I’ll have a guy on the door.” His smile spread.
I grinned, taking his meaning as I extended my hand. “Let us get setup. If the show starts at nine you can open the gates any time after seven.”
Gripping Hank’s hand was like holding a ham hock. “I was planning on seven-thirty,” he replied as we shook.
I nodded. “Good enough.” I turned to my people, clapped my hands together, and rubbed them vigorously. “Okay, boys and girls, we karaman escort know the drill.”
Eighteen years ago I got my start in wrestling. I started out in the minors, performing in one of the many small traveling shows that didn’t pay shit. I was a punk nineteen-year-old, but I did okay, working my way up to top billing for a regional show while learning the craft from the inside. Five years after I got my start I was finally noticed and was picked up to open for the big boys. I gave it my all, but after years of working the opening bouts, I realized I’d never be a national name. It took more than skill and determination to make it big in the spectacle of the premiere shows, and I couldn’t seem to catch the break I needed.
That was when I decided to risk it all and go out on my own. It’s common knowledge that sex sells, but there was a line the big shows couldn’t cross if they wanted to keep their mass appeal. There was a lot of hint, hint, wink, wink, and nudge, nudge going on in their shows, but I decided to take it to the next level. I saved every penny I could, sold everything else I had, and gambled it all on HWE. I was willing to show the audience what the big boys could only hint at.
We also stepped up the game from the lame porn wrestling matches that littered the internet. Almost without exception, the ‘wrestlers’ in the typical nude wrestling video sucked at everything except, sometimes, the sucking and fucking. Their moves and acting were so lame, lazy, and awkward, the videos made my teeth hurt, probably because I was clenching my teeth in annoyance. Unlike porn videos, HWE did the same athletic, high-flying moves of other big, professional wrestling shows, complete with rivalries and storylines. We just happened to do them in the nude.
I knew I’d never be as large, famous, or prosperous as the premier shows, the nudity limiting the size of my crowds and where I could play, but I was the only player in this niche, and it was working for us. Between the show, and the almost pure profit of our DVD and merchandise sales, I was able to cover my expenses, pay my talent a befitting wage, and for the last few years, give them a nice bonus at the end of the year.
Because my expenses were so much lower, I didn’t have to play to 50,000 screaming fans to make money, and there was always a titty bar somewhere looking for a fresh draw. That was us, and after three years, we were becoming well enough known we were turning down gigs while still working our asses off. We were doing over ninety shows a year, and the grind was becoming a real bitch. In another year, maybe two, that was going to change when I started a second show. I was already evaluating talent to fill out the roster of a second show, and Lis and I were discussing stories and strategy.
There was plenty of talent out there. There were lots of men and women just like me, people with the skills, looks, and determination to excel once they were out of shadow of a big show. Lisbeth was a perfect example. She joined Hot Wrestling Entertainment because she wanted to be a big fish in a small pond, not a small fish in a big pond. I gave people like her what they really wanted, and that was a chance to shine, and she believed in the idea so much that a couple of years ago she’d invested $140,000 of her money into the show to help me over a tight spot.
There were no superstars in HWE to suck all the oxygen out a room. If someone was in my show, Lis and I made sure they had their own story line, and everyone got equal billing.
HWE might be small, and I might be back to having to get my hands dirty setting up a venue, where when I was in the big leagues I didn’t have to worry about it, but it was my small show I was setting up, and that made all the difference in the world. We were family, we took care of each other, and everyone seemed happy.
For the next three hours it was well choregraphed chaos. After Dirk backed the rig into one of the loading docks, everyone set to work. Just like there were no superstars, I didn’t tolerate prima-donnas. Everyone had to pitch in to help setup and break down the show. Getting the ring setup was always the single biggest task, and Colt and I were shirtless and sweating our asses off as we wrestled the ropes into place to finish the setup while Beverly, Harlow, and Lis hung the heavy skirt around the bottom to hide the support structure.
Off to the side but close to the front where it couldn’t be missed, Michelle and David were setting up our merchandise displays and arranging the booth where we sold our overpriced clothing, posters, and DVD’s, the signed copies selling for a premium. The temporary walls that formed the changing room were up in the back corner of the warehouse and Mike was busy taping the heavy extension cords we used to power our sound system and lights to the floor. At least the place had adequate power and we weren’t going to have run off the big generator in the semi. As Mike worked, Antony was raising our spots into position behind the chair kars escort line and putting barriers around them, Greg was hooking up our sound system and video displays, and everyone else was setting up chairs behind the barriers that kept the crowd back from the ring. We didn’t want the crowd too close so we had room for the performers to get thrown out of the ring without worrying about anyone in the audience getting hurt. Just as importantly, the extra space gave Greg and me room to move around the ring so we could videotape the matches for the DVDs. Since Hank thought we could get five hundred, if not more, people tonight, we were putting out all 756 of our folding chairs, working on the assumption that it’s better to have a hundred too many chairs than one not enough. Our show was rapidly consuming the space Hank had reserved for us.
“Missile, I want to talk to you about moving up,” Colt grunted as we hauled on the thick, stretchy rope, straining to pull it tight and hook it to the corner post.
Colt was the hero in the first bout. The first bout was my training ground for the newbies, and at twenty-three, he was pawing at the ground to step away from, as he called it, the kiddie table.
“Colt, we’ve been over this,” I growled as we covered the connection hardware in bright red safety padding.
“I know, and I know you said you’d move me up as soon as you can, but when? I’m ready!”
“Where do you suggest I put you? You want me to bust Mike or Antony down?” I asked as we wrapped the rope we’d just attached in the bright, easy to clean plastic to protect the expensive line inside from sweat and dirt.
“I know what you’re saying, but look, I was thinking. You have enough on your plate. Why don’t you take a step back, you and Lis both, and focus on growing the show? You could move Mike up with one of the ladies and I could take Mike’s place. That’s a win—”
“Not going to happen,” I snapped, already tired of the conversation.
“Why?” Colt asked, his irritation clear in sharpness of his tone.
“Because I’m not adding two more people to the payroll just so I can sit around on my ass. Not with us trying to launch the second show.”
“Exactly! You could focus on getting that off the ground!”
“I’m working on it, but we’re not there yet. I’m still looking at talent, and you have no idea what it costs to put together an operation like this. I don’t want to overextend ourselves.” I could tell Colt didn’t like my answer, but that was too damned bad. We’d already had this conversation three times before and my answer was the same every time. “I’ll move you up as soon as there’s a spot available, but until then, you’re just going to have to play your part. You don’t hear Justin pissing and moaning all the time.”
“That’s because Justin doesn’t have the moves I’ve got and he’s content to sit at the kiddie table. I’m not.”
“My decision is final. If you don’t like it, you know where the door is.”
“You can’t fire me! Who’d you get to replace me?” Colt challenged.
“I’m not firing you, but if you think I’m not treating you fairly…” I gesture at the dock doors. “David can cover your spot until I can bring someone else in and get them up to speed.”
Colt glared at me as we hooked the last rope and wrapped the hardware in its protective, padded, covering. “Fine. Fuck it.”
He tumbled out of the ring and stomped away. Lis glanced up at me with a faint smile as she shook her head with an almost imperceptible movement. Colt was a hot head, everyone knew it, and he was only getting worse. I admired his piss and vinegar, but we all had our roles to play, and for now his was to open the show.
Colt was a big, strong, good looking kid, well-muscled with dirty blond hair, worn long and messy on top and close cropped sides in the current fashion, and crystal blue eyes. Playing a hero, with his muscular good looks and big cock, he was a female favorite. While there was no doubt he had the skills and drive to excel, he’d only been wrestling professionally eight months, and he needed more seasoning. He was still a bull in a china shop, and I didn’t want anyone hurt, which could more easily happen in the later bouts. By the time I got our second show off the ground he’d be ready to step up to at least the middle bouts. He’d be perfect playing the villain in the Friends and Sister storyline opposite Antony, or maybe as the one of the two performers in the final match in the second show, but for now I needed him where he was.
I worked the plastic covering over the final rope myself before I tumbled out of the ring. “Damn, it’s hot,” I growled, wiping sweat from my face.
The big fans we’d setup to circulate the air weren’t cutting it. We might as well be standing in front of giant hair dryers. According to my phone, the high today was ninety-two, and it was at least that hot in the warehouse, but probably more.
“Wait until tonight. The low is only supposed to be eight-five,” Lis said.
“Fuck…” I muttered.
For obvious reasons we couldn’t leave the big roll up doors open during the show, and worse, the metal doors faced west. With the evening sun beating on them, the doors were going to be giant heating elements. We were going to be like croutons in a toaster oven tonight.