(The Story So Far: Ponsie and Carolyn are still in the diner where Ponsie is telling the story of his role in turning mild-mannered Mike McCoy the Tampon salesman into Pukin’ Nuke McCoy the wrestler. Carolyn is wolfing down her asparagus au gruele like a longshoreman while Ponsie attempts to nuzzle his cheeseburger in between her karate kicks to his shinbone every time he stops talking to chew. We have just reached the point where professional Mafia Nephew and would-be crooked wrestling promoter Johnny Jenkins Bellamy-Beauregard the IV (also known as J2B2-4) has broached the topic for the first time.)

“Have you ever considered becoming a wrestler?”

Mike blinked. “Wrestler?”

“Yeah. You know. Like on teevee. You’d like to be on teevee, wouldn’t yah?”

“What would I want to be on teevee for?”

J2B2 the IV looked stunned. “For money, dopey. And fame. And chicks. And money. Lots of money.”

“Oh, I don’t know….”

“You’re out of work, Mike,” I said. “You need the money or the next time the Old Coot kicks you out, you’ll stay kicked.”

“So I’d have to swing people around over my head and then slam them down on the mat and break their arms and throw them out of the ring into some poor old lady’s lap in the third row and stuff? I don’t think I could do that.”

J2B2 the IV glared at me. “What’s wrong with him? Is he some kind of fruit?”

“He’s sensitive,” I countered defensively. “He has feelings.”

J2B2 the IV arched his eyebrows archly. I didn’t know you could do that, but he did it. “The Chrysler Building has feelings? Do tell.”

“Little known fact.” I turned to Mike, my Persuasion Ray turned all the way up to Level 5. “You don’t have a job and you’ve started singing Leonard Cohen. You need to do something, and this could be right up your street.”

“Do you know how to wrestle?” J2B2 the IV interrupted.

McCoy thought this over. “Well, I was on the wrestling team in high school.”

Johnny nodded. “That’s good. Get a letter?”

“Um, no.”

“Why not?”

“Well, I tossed Petey O’Rourke onto his nose and it started to – you know, red stuff came out? – and then I puked all over the mat and the Coach kind of threw me off the team.”

“You puked?” Johnny seemed stunned. I could see that where this was going was not where it needed to go and that some intelligent interference was required to save it. So I supplied some.

“It’s nothing you have to worry about,” I said as I hurriedly took him by the arm and steered him out of Mike’s hearing. “It’s just that he, um, vomits whenever he sees blood. Or hears the word,” I added in an undertone, and then rushed on hoping JB hadn’t glommed it completely. “But I mean, you don’t want him to box, you want him to wrestle, and how much b-l-o-o-d is he going to see? None, right? Wrestlers don’t get bloody, right?”

“Sometimes they do,” J2B2 the IV said thoughtfully. “But he doesn’t seem to want to hurt people, and that could be a real problem. It’s the essence of the game.” Johnny said that as if he knew what it meant but it must be he was just repeating something he’d heard somebody with a brain say.

“I can fix that,” I said.

“How?”

Good question. But it is when the chips are really down that the Braithwaite Brain cranks up and does its stuff. Fortunately, in about 10.7 seconds, I had a Braithwaite Brainstorm. “Look, Mike, you don’t want to hurt anybody right? But see, this isn’t like really hurting them.”

“It isn’t?”

“No. It’s like when you watch a tv show, the guy doesn’t really get shot, does he? He’s just acting, pretending like he’s shot. It’s all a trick.”

“Yeah? Like a movie, huh?”

“Exactly. You rehearse it and everybody pretends like in the movies. Didn’t you ever want to be in a movie?”

“I always wanted to be on Jeopardy.”

“Don’t hold your breath. But wrestling on tv can be…fun…too.”

“Yeah, I guess.” He was definitely coming around.

J2B2 the IV was pinching his ear in a musing manner. “We’d need a gimmick. Does he really puke every time he hears the word -”

“No! Don’t!” I shouted, and held my hands up as if that would stop Johnny from saying the word.  But it didn’t and he did.

“- blood?”

I knew enough to leap several yards to the rear, out of the line of fire, so to speak. J2B2 the IV, of course, did not and had made the further unfortunate decision to move in even closer to Mike as he asked the question. He was thus at Ground Zero when Mike’s eyes rolled up in his head, his stomach fluttered with that warning heave I’d come to know so well, and his mouth opened roughly to the circumference of a manhole cover.

Whether it was because he had just eaten or from some other cause, Mike’s effort on that occasion was epic. So much material spewed forth from his interior that if it had been cement, he could have laid the foundation for the Taj Mahal. It covered Johnny’s desk with a layer several inches thick, Johnny’s walls with a coating that, when it hardened, would require the services of a large team of demolition experts with jackhammers and vats of acid to remove, and Johnny himself. He was a statue of puke, a human vomit pit. Oddly, he didn’t seem all that disturbed  by his condition.

“Can he do that every time?” he asked from under his barf suit.

“Like clockwork.”

He nodded. A clump of something that looked like half-digested peas in compost sauce fell from his nose. “I think we just found our gimmick.”

I boggled. “Are you serious?”

“The kids,” he said, “will love it. Ever seen an Adam Sandler movie? It’s perfect.”

Brown asparagus and moldy bread dripped off the top of his head. “If you say so,” I said.

And so the Pukin Nuke was born.

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