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Authors: Edward Lee,John Pelan

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— | — | —

 

 

Prologue

 

 

“I
 
liked that.”

Felander shuddered as he watched the tall man put the last of seven stitches into his torn lip. The man hadn’t even removed his mask for the operation. The dead, flat nailhead eyes peered from the typical red canvas shell, with glittery blue trimming. Just his ruined mouth and flat, dead eyes exposed.

“Who do I wrestle tomorrow?”

“Slick Dare, Luntville,” Felander answered. But this was obligatory too. He wasn’t thinking about tomorrow night’s card. “An easy work. You come after him with a bat, then he snatches it and hits you in the head. Same gimmick as the last three cards.”

“Um. Fine.” The mammoth figure turned, disappearing behind the scarlet curtain. “Good night.”

Yeah, goodnight.
Felander winced when he looked at the mutilated body on the floor.
What a mess,
he thought.

 

««—»»

 

The black Winnebago rumbled down the road. Trees on either side splintered the moonlight, a lambent webwork glissading over the vehicle’s black-lacquered finish.

Just a nice quiet ride through the woods,
Jon Felander thought behind the wheel. Things could be worse, couldn’t they? He couldn’t wrestle anymore himself—blown knee. The promotion was about to get rid of him as manager for the big names like Dare and Ghoula and Funk.
You’ve lost your spark, Jon,
Virgil Watts had told him. But then Felander had brought in the spark.

And, besides, the money wasn’t bad. It was just these late-night drives that bothered him, and of course the clean-up duties.

The Winnebago slowed at a spur on the road. Crickets chirruped when he rolled down the high window and tossed the bag into an adjacent ravine.

There was a tiny splash in the night, then the massive vehicle pulled off.

The bag contained two human hands and feet, twenty-eight teeth, and two eyeballs.

 

— | — | —

 

 

Part 1

 

 

Lee couldn’t believe he’d let Lucille talk him into coming to this.
A wrestling match, for Christ’s sake.
Everyone knew this shit was fake, so what was the point?

“Isn’t this great?” Lucille enthused.

“Yeah. Terrific.”

But fake or not, Luntville Coliseum was packed. For a whopping seven bucks a pop, they had the best seats in the house, front row, center ring—so close you could smell these guys. When one took a face slap, their sweat flew out and sprayed you. Right now, amid a cacophony akin to the Superbowl, two guys were hamming it up fierce in the so called “Squared Circle,” some big guy with bleached blond hair and a bigger guy in a mask. The fans went wild, everything from ten year-old kids to senior citizens. Lee watched unimpressed as the guy in the mask picked up the blond and slammed him to the canvas with what the announcer called a tombstone pile-driver. The larger man then picked the prone grappler up in what Lee recognized as an airplane spin and tossed him deftly out of the ring.

“So who’s Blondie?” Lee asked. “He’s the good guy, huh?”

Lucille rolled her eyes at his ineptitude. “That’s Slick Dare, and he’s the Face.”

“The Face?”

“That’s what they call good guys. Faces. Bad guys are called Heels.”

You learn something new every day,
Lee reasoned, and dug into his box of popcorn. Intermittent glances, though, nagged at him. The guy in the mask—The Heel, Lee corrected himself—had just jumped off the top rope and somersaulted toward this blond guy named Dare. At the last moment, Dare jerked away and the masked guy landed belly-first on the concrete floor. The fans exploded.

“Did you see that?” Lucille remarked. “Still think this is all fake?”

“Come on,” Lee replied. “The Heel dove out of the ring and landed on the floor. Big deal. These guys train for years to take falls.”

Then—

thwack! thwack! thwack!

 
Lee watched as the Heel repeatedly smashed a metal folding chair against the top of Dare’s pristinely blond head. “They’re special chairs,” Lee insisted. “They look real but they’re actually made of plastic. I can’t believe how fake this shit is.”

Lucille scowled at his pessimism but then shrieked in glee as Slick Dare suplexed the masked guy on the cement floor. He turned and bowed to the cheering crowd. Behind him, the Heel rose, hauling a baseball bat out from under the ring. Lucille screamed and pointed: “Slick! Slick! Behind you!”

Naturally, Mr. Dare didn’t hear Lucille, nor did he seem to hear the several thousand other people screaming the same warning. At the last moment, he turned, snatched the bat away from the Heel, and—

Ka-KRACK!

—broke it over the Heel’s head.

The applause deafened Lee as Slick Dare jogged back to the dressing room, arms raised in victory in spite of the disqualification. Two men in white came out with a stretcher, and began lifting the Heel onto it.

“How’s that for fake?” Lucille challenged.

Lee laughed. “You kidding me? He hit the guy in the head with a balsa wood bat. You couldn’t hurt a lady bug with that thing.” But just as he’d finished the statement, something touched his foot. Lee looked down.

It was the fat half of the broken bat.

I’ll prove it’s balsa wood,
he thought, and picked it up.

And pick it up he did, his eyes widening at the feel of its weight and density. Ash splinters jutted sharply from the break, and Lee knew at once.

This ain’t balsa wood. Jesus Christ. This is a real fucking Louisville Slugger…

His gaze trailed off, watching the two guys in white lug the Heel away on the stretcher.

Lee dropped the broken bat with a sick sensation in his gut. “What, uh, what’s that guy’s name?”

“I told you, Slick Dare.” Lucille grinned. “Isn’t he handsome?”

“No, no, not him, the other guy. The Heel.”

“Goon,” she said. “His name is Goon.”

 

««—»»

 

The flood of semen eddied into Melinda’s mouth. Her eyes squeezed shut. For a moment, she feared she might gag and blow all the sperm out her nose.

“Yeah, oh shit, honey,” Reed said. The big black hands gripped her head like a vise. The penis in her mouth felt like a baby pig. Melinda thought it was going to push all the way down into her stomach when he came.
Gimme a break!
she thought.

“Aw, yeah.” Eventually he pushed her mouth off. “Gonna be a good girl and swallow, right?”

Melinda gulped it down, wincing. She should be used to it now; it all tasted pretty much the same: like thin, hot snot. She sighed and leaned back. Reed the Butcher sat down on the bed. He grinned slyly. “You ringrats sure can suck a cock, oh yeah. You oughts to have a belt, baby: Deep South Conference Cock-Suck Champ.”

“Thanks,” Melinda said. “You really know how to flatter a woman.” After nearly a month of this, Melinda Pierce figured she could now call herself a full-fledged ringrat. She was willing to do whatever it took to get what she wanted, and there was one thing she wanted in a big way:

Goon.

The trail of broken, abused bodies was too obvious. She knew it was him; his handiwork was unmistakable. The only problem was…

Finding the big son of a bitch.

Unabashed at her nakedness, she lounged back on the motel bed, reached for her bottle of Canada Dry to wash the fetid taste of Reed the Butcher’s Man Batter out of her mouth. But when she glanced aside, she couldn’t believe what she was seeing.

“What are you doing?” she exclaimed.

Reed, still in a sitting position, urinated gustily into the carpet. “Pissin’, baby. What’s it look like?”

“You ever heard of a toilet?”

Reed guffawed. “Shee-it, honey. This whole fucking $30-a-night motel is a toilet.”

The stream of urine churned rents into the pile. It looked to be about a gallon. All Melinda could do was shake her head.

But she mustn’t forget her purpose.
So what if the guy just pissed on the rug? I’ve got to find out about—

“Hey, baby. Ya know, I got some good friends down the other end of the motel. Cool guys, all of ‘em, and they won’t try no shit, lemme tell ya. But-what’cha think? You interested in pullin’ a train?”

A train.
Christ,
she thought. A choo-choo train. A gang-bang. Melinda had heard that ringrats do stuff like that all the time. She didn’t quite understand the phenomenon. Sexual attraction was one thing, but… Shit. These guys were mostly dopes. Fucking brain-dead morons, but the interlude with Reed had hardly satisfied her, and it was still early. Sure, most of these guys were morons, but they
did
know how to party. And most them were built, a lot of them, like Dare and Dude and Romeo—and this dolt here, Reed the Butcher—they had great bodies, plus they were quite frequently over-compensated for in the genital department.
But there’s more to the attraction than that, isn’t there?
Melinda thought.
That’s what’s so great about these guys.
Rough sex and all the sensations that a veritable cornucopia of drugs and booze could provide and she wanted to taste it all.

“A train, huh?” she said. “Well, I might be interested, but—”

“But what, baby?” Reed, then, without reservation, rubbed the deflated serpent that was his penis.

“I want to know who’s going to be there, you know?”

“Well, like I said, they all cool guys. No rough stuff. Horrific Harry Haylor, Cactus Zack, Rockin’ Randy Viper.”

“What about…Goon?” she dared to ask.

Goon?” Reed gaped. “Aw, shit, girl. Don’t’s ya tell me you gotta thing for him! That big weirdo—he never hang out with us other grapplers. No one never see him. Shit, most any town we gotta show, afterward we all’s hit the local bar and shoot shit. But Goon? No way. That man never join us. N’fact, I don’t’s think I ever heard him say more’n two words. I worked a card with the guy last year. Smacked him on the head with a two-by-four, and you know what that crazy fucker whispered to me in the next clinch? He said ‘Hit me harder.’ And, I means, this was a real two-by-four. You gots to be careful how you hit a guy, else you could wind up crackin’ his skull or even killin’ him. But this nut says ‘Hit me harder.’ So’s I did, and I’se hit him hard. That fucker falls down like the work says to do, and I win the match. But I sees him in the dressing room a half hour later like nothing happened. Shee-it, girl. That guy Goon, he ain’t right. I mean, I hit this guy hard enough to knock
me
out.”

For whatever reason, this information did not surprise her. “I want to do Goon,” she said. “I need to see him.”

“Well you can foe-get that, girl. I just got done tellin’ ya. The man don’t go out.”

He don’t go out, huh?
Melinda thought.
Tell that to the six girls he’s already raped and murdered.

Reed the Butcher gave a tilted grin, cock-eyed. “A’corse, you’se come to this party wiff me—ya know, have some fun wiff dah fellas—and one’a dem might’s be able ta introduce ya to Goon’s manager. What say, baby?”

Cock is cock,
she reasoned. Melinda shrugged. “So where’s the party?”

 

««—»»

 

“Holy motherfucking shit,” Straker muttered. He winced, appalled, at the thin, naked thing on the morgue slab. The stick-figure shone pallid white in the overhead fluorescents: slat-ribbed, a couple of tattoos, breasts so small they appeared nonexistent. And the nipples… Straker squinted. “What happened to her—”

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