Ugly as Sin
by James Newman
Available as a trade paperback or eBook
TPB ISBN 978-1937009502

(Excerpt)

After the trials were over, the man formerly known as the Widowmaker moved back to Memphis, where he had bought his first home in the early days of his career. Of course, the best he could do these days was a cramped apartment on the Bad Side of Town. When all was said and done, his attorney had suggested he plant himself as far from that godforsaken business as possible. Nick concurred. It wasn’t as if the smaller federations were lining up to sign him following his highly-publicized assault on the GWA’s C.E.O.

Once upon a time, Nick Bullman had been a celebrity. While he was far from a household name, the die-hard fans recognized him on the street now and then. His face appeared regularly on the cover of trade magazines like Ringside and Body Slam. He drove a Hummer, had dated a few high-class strippers and even a porn star or two during his thirty-plus years in the Biz (one of the smut queens had been his third wife, in fact, though that arrangement barely lasted a month so it didn’t really count). Before his life went spiraling down the shitter, he had been in talks with his agent and a ghostwriter about a possible autobiography.

But then he dared to lay his hands on Lance K. McDougal III.

When he got to thinking about it all, Nick didn’t know whether to sink into a bottomless funk or never stop laughing. He had spent the last fifteen months of his life inside a courtroom. Before that he had suffered through multiple surgeries, painstaking facial reconstruction which had been only marginally successful (and calling it that was a stretch—Nick compared it to washing an old suit and smoothing out all the wrinkles, after that suit had been set on fire then buried for a year). Meanwhile, the men responsible for his condition now resided in a cushy sanitarium, where the worst thing about their lives was an eight o’clock curfew and losing games of checkers to their fellow drooling schizos.

In the case of The State of North Carolina vs. Nicholas James Bullman, Nick pled guilty to one count of aggravated assault. His sentence: thousands of dollars in fines, and two years’ suspended probation. The judge who presided over the case—an old pal of Lance McDougal’s daddy, it was rumored—informed Nick that he had considered tacking on some community service as well, perhaps a PSA appearance since the defendant was a celebrity. Alas, he had decided against it because the days of anyone wanting to see Nick Bullman’s mug on TV were dead and gone. Didn’t want viewers losing their dinner during prime time.

As for the civil suit that followed, McDougal’s legal team demanded no less than one-point-five million dollars for what Nick had done to the C.E.O. The assault had resulted in little more than a stab to McDougal’s king-sized pride, maybe a bruised windpipe and a few papercuts when Nick pulled him across the desk, but that wasn’t the point. Nor was it about the money.

McDougal had sued Nick to prove that no one fucked with Lance K. McDougal III.

And he won.

Nick often found himself wishing he had killed the dickhead that day. If he had applied just a few more ounces of pressure to McDougal’s pencil neck, or pitched the prick out of his twelfth-story office window...

Prison might have been preferable to living in this shithole, with only the roaches to keep him company and nothing to fill his belly but Ramen noodles and Jim Beam.

 †

Sometimes, before society insisted on reminding him of the inescapable truth, he could almost forget about his disfigurement. For a minute or two. He certainly didn’t feel any different. On the inside he was the same Nick Bullman he had always been, save for a newfound mistrust in his fellow man and a meek disposition that belied his muscular physique (it tends to shred a guy’s self-confidence over time, venturing into public with a face once considered ruggedly handsome now reduced to a mess that would make Frankenstein’s Monster piss his pants).

He could almost pretend he was normal. That he looked like everyone else...until he dared to leave his apartment to embark upon the necessities of middle-class life.

Take this morning. Nick had stepped out around six, traveling across town in his ’93 Bronco with the terminally ill transmission, as the first rays of sunlight peeked above the horizon. His destination: the 24-Hour Grocery Outlet. He needed to pick up some toilet paper, a box of Corn Flakes and some milk, maybe a six-pack of Michelob if he had a few bucks left over. Nick always planned such trips for early in the morning or late at night. It reduced the gawking, he had learned from experience. The regulars, he could handle: the bored stares of a few red-eyed stock boys stinking of sweat and marijuana, the sad-faced single mothers working the cash registers with hickeys on their necks and tattoos like JUSTIN’S GIRL barely concealed beneath their sleeves. Some of these folks he even knew by name. They weren’t the same employees every time, but they might as well have been. Nick assumed the graveyard crew had seen stranger sights than him lurching through their store. Maybe.

When he first spotted the kid this morning, his instincts had warned him: Ignore it. No good could come of striking up a conversation. He had never liked children anyway. Doubtful he would have noticed this one if not for the boy’s loud sniffling; any time he went out these days, Nick wore sunglasses and a hooded sweatshirt, which helped hide his face from the rest of the world but it killed his peripheral vision.

The kid was four or five years old. He wore an Incredible Hulk T-shirt that was stained all over with something matching the color of his favorite hero’s flesh.

“Where’s my mommy?” he sobbed.

Nick approached the child against his better judgment. “Hey there. You lost? It’s okay, son. We’ll find your mama.”

The instant the brat saw what lurked within that colossal reaper’s cowl, he started screeching at the top of his lungs.

It was the most nerve-wracking sound the big man had ever heard. It made his teeth hurt.

“Aww, shit.”

Mommy! Somebody help me! It’s...a monster!”

A moment later, the misplaced mommy in question stumbled around the corner, her trailer-park high heels clicking out a white-trash rhythm on the store’s recently polished floor.

When she saw Nick standing over her son, her mouth stretched into a wide black “O.” She slapped at his chest with her massive pink pocketbook, demanding to know what he was doing to her beloved Billy Junior. Was he some kinda kiddie-lovin’ pervert? He sure looked like a weirdo, weren’t no doubt about that.

“Somebody call nine-one-one!” her voice echoed through the store. “I think he tried to touch my boy!”

Nick didn’t wait around to hear more.

He ran. Collided with a Cheez-Its display. Boxes flew everywhere, an avalanche of red and orange. In retrospect, he supposed his clumsy getaway made him appear guilty of something, but his only concern had been getting the hell out of there.

To top off everything else, once he reached his Bronco in the parking lot she teased him for a minute before starting (“Come on, you twat,” Nick growled, “don’t do this to me”). Took him four tries before she caught.

Nope, it certainly had not been his favorite morning ever.

The second he walked through the door of his apartment following his ill-fated trip to the grocery store, his phone rang.

He almost didn’t answer it. But he welcomed this opportunity to take out his anger on an early-bird telemarketer or some asswipe with a wrong number.

The last thing Nick expected to hear was that single word on the other end of the line: “...Daddy?”