1972 New York City and a dazed LENNY LONG walks away from a crash carrying someone’s foot in his hand. He is also searching for the VIP passenger who has somehow disappeared from the back of his overturned van. It’s the first day of his new promotion and LENNY has less than twenty minutes to deliver the missing person or a lot of people are going to get badly hurt.
DANNO GARLAND is in Shea Stadium trying to avoid a riot. He’s coming to the end of the most successful wrestling card of all time but he’s also coming to the realisation that he might not be able to deliver his widely hyped main event. He knows there’s more than the eyes of the arena on him and if LENNY doesn’t arrive soon, blood is going to be sought. Probably his.
PROCTOR KING nervously watches the show on TV, wondering why his fuck-up of a son does not already have the world heavyweight championship belt in his grasp. Arranging this match has taken PROCTOR four years of pay-offs, double dealing and bone-breaking to arrange, and if all that effort has been wasted then he might just have to take him a business trip to New york.
LENNY, DANNO and PROCTOR. Three men with pieces of the puzzle - but none with the full picture.
When they do piece it all together, the ‘fake’ world of professional wrestling is going to get very real.
Think the organized crime genre is played out? Think you have no interest in a story about professional wrestling? Think again, on both counts.
Author Paul O’Brien’s debut, Blood Red Turns Dollar Green, is a magnificent melding of the two, breathing fresh life into an old genre and presenting the late 1960s/early 1970s world of pro wrestling in a light even those who aren’t fans of the sport will find fascinating.
Unfolding over the course of three years, Blood Red Turns Dollar Green weaves together the fates of three primary characters. Having worked himself up from circus strongman to wrestler to territory owner, Proctor King is a man who does not take no for an answer. He’s paid his dues, and King’s ready to collect on his investment. He’ll work with you if he can, but he’s more than happy to run over you if he has to.
Lenny Long is the eternal hanger-on, desperate to break into the money side of the business but stuck on the ring crew. Married with a kid, and another on the way, Lenny’s resorted to providing transportation for some of the wrestlers between gigs and selling them his wife’s homemade sandwiches. To ever be more than a lackey Lenny’s going to have to make a bold move, but doing so may put both his marriage and his life in danger.
Danno Garland inherited his territory from his father, but he has ambitions for the business far beyond anything his old man ever achieved. When he lucks into the discovery of a huge new talent, literally and figuratively, Garland’s willing to make a deal with the devil – or Proctor King as the case may be – to put on the biggest event the wrestling world has ever seen. If everything goes as planned Garland will make history, and a lot of money. If…
Peppered with a colorful cast of supporting characters, Blood Red Turns Dollar Green works on two levels. For those who are fans of a good organized crime story, the business structure of the wrestling territories and how all the owners worked, and occasionally fought, with each other is as complicated and fraught with danger as anything La Cosa Nostra ever conceived. You were just as likely to get a tire iron to the back of the head as you were your piece of the pie if the other members didn’t like how you were doing business.
There’s also the professional wrestling aspect of the story which, you must trust me, is fascinating even if you think the sport is as corny and fake as it gets. (A cop in the story finds out the hard way that calling wrestling “fake” in front of the wrong people can be hazardous to your health.) O’Brien works the history and lingo of the sport into the overall narrative beautifully, showing how those in the business run the gamut from level-headed, hard-working professionals to borderline psychopaths just looking for a legal way to inflict pain. Quite simply,Blood Red Turns Dollar Green is an instantly engaging trip through the back rooms and shady deals that formed the backbone of the territorial professional wrestling circuit in its heyday.
But don’t just take my word for it. None other than legendary professional wrestler and accomplished author himself Mick Foley has given the book his seal of approval. Sure, the guy took a lot – and I do mean a lot – of chair shots to the head, but he still knows the goods when he sees it. And Paul O’Brien’s got the goods.Elizabeth A. White, Crime Reviewer.
“Blood Red Turns Dollar Green” is a crime novel set in the pro wrestling territories of the ‘70s. Writing fiction and tying it into the pro wrestling universe is a niche market at best given the difficult nature of trying to satisfy a wrestling audience while bringing in a casual audience that otherwise might not be interested in the wrestling genre.
O’Brien successfully achieves this difficult goal by writing a gripping novel that highlights that the people running pro wrestling in the ‘70s weren’t all that different from those running organized crime operations. The operation in questions is called the National Wrestling Council and when the head of the council dies under suspicious circumstances, it sets of a chain of events that carry the rest of the novel.
O’Brien uses an interesting narrative style starting the book at a pivotal moment in the narrative and then backtracking and laying out the story from the start. Lenny Long is a driver for Danno Garland, who runs the New York territory, is charged with getting Babu the mute Champion to Shea Stadium along with his challenger Gilbert King to Shea Stadium for what is supposed to be a big title switch.
The story begins with Lenny crashing his car, which leaves everyone in a precarious situation that isn’t fully understood until the gripping final 100 pages of the story. O’Brien presents gripping characters that are put into situations and react to those situations in a very real way.
The progression of the main characters is a blast to follow. Danno, whose background is very similar to Vince McMahon before he put the territories out of business, makes a deal with Proctor King, the owner of the Florida territories, to hand the belt of to him in three years. Danno has waited a long time for his chance and now he has Babu a giant mute wrestler to draw him more money than he’s ever made in the wrestling business.
The story takes the reader on a journey that references several events that longtime wrestling fans will be familiar with. Congress is hot on Danno’s tail threatening to pull the plug on him because of their suspicion that wrestling is fake. There are references to David Shultz punching John Stossel for calling wrestling fake, one could also draw allusions to the Bret Hart-HBK feud which started off as a work, but ended up turning into a real feud, in the narrative of the relationship between Proctor and Danno.
Danno’s driver Lenny desperately wants to be brought inside the business, but as the story progressed, Danno continues to keep him in the dark to protect the business. As the story unfolds, Lenny becomes a sympathetic character as he gets wrapped up in Danno’s world of corruption and his marriage begins to crumble with the risk of his wife and kids leaving him and moving out west.
As Danno and Proctor’s relationship begins to crumble, Danno changes as fascinating situations are placed in front of him. He must come to grips as to whether or not he wants to still do business with Proctor as they backstab each other and their relationship is strained.
There’s a lot here for wrestling fans to sink their teeth into, but fans of crime novels will enjoy the twists and turns the plot takes as Danno battles congress while trying not to let his own world crumble around him as he battles for power with Proctor while fighting congress. The back stabbing that builds throughout the novel between Danno and Proctor lead to a thrilling conclusion that changes Danno, Proctor, and Lenny forever.
I give this book a strong recommendation for any audience. There’s just so much to enjoy as the narrative unfolds and it was nearly impossible to put the book down for the last 100 pages as the story built to a climax. O’Brien did a wonderful job of capturing the underground nature of wrestling during the territory days, but he also managed to blend it into a fascinating tale of crime, which is no easy feat.Sean Radican, PWTorch.com
September 30th 1972. New York.
Lenny Long lay silently and tried to focus on the icebox that was in front of him. Both he and it had just been on the same short journey. His eyes closed and his thoughts emptied from his brain with a satisfying gurgle. Lenny could finally relax; forget about everything. He made it. He proved he could be trusted with the most important job in the whole business. Finally, he could just get some sleep.
Except for one thing.
With a sharp intake of breath, Lenny snapped his eyes open. He struggled to his feet and limped to nowhere in particular along the dark and dirty street in several confused directions. He turned to see his brand new VW Kombi Van overturned and mashed into the grubby iron leg of a railroad bridge halfway down the street.
"What the fuck?" Lenny dragged his leg as he hurried toward the van, but wasn't quite sure what had happened or why.
They can't still be in there.
He tried to move faster but was slowed to a limping gallop by the excruciating pain that was shooting from his leg. He instinctively slid his hand down to where the pain was originating from and could feel a foreign, hard protrusion coming from his hip socket.
Lenny really began to panic as he approached the van. The passenger door was jammed shut and the smashed glass popped under his feet as he slid around to the back window. He gingerly stooped and saw the giant form of Babu unconscious in the back. ”Fuck.”
His other passenger, Gilbert King, was limply sprawled across the ceiling below the passenger seat of the upended van. The radio, like a shocked victim, continued to babble out Ben softly in the background. Lenny could see the windshield smashed through where he and the icebox had both departed from the driver's seat.
More worryingly, there was the faint smell of burning coming from under the steering column where a tiny stream of smoke was piping out.
Painfully but hurriedly, Lenny entered the van and snaked his way up to Babu's massive face. In running the basic math and physics of lifting a seven foot five, four hundred and seventy-two pounder, even a totally disorientated Lenny knew he was going to need some help before that smoke turned to something more dangerous.
Through the side window, just on the other side of the unlit, wet street, he could make out a graffiti-tagged phone booth. Lenny was in the kind of neighborhood where there was just as much chance of him dying over there in the open as there was in a potential explosion if he stayed in the van.
Both the explosion and the phone booth were only possible ways of dying. One thing he was sure would get him killed was to lay there and do nothing, so Lenny positioned himself to administer the kiss of life on the unconscious giant, hoping that maybe they'd both walk away from this alive.
All the pressure of the situation began to beat on him. What happened? How was he going to explain this one to the boss? There was a lot of money riding on these passengers getting to their destination. Enough money to make people do stupid things if it didn't arrive. This was the worst night ever. Of all time.
And then clarity. Sudden and serene. Absolute peace. Lenny knew exactly what to do in this type of situation. His natural survival instincts took the wheel. Like a mother that just knows how to nurse her child; he just knew the perfect technique.
Lenny slapped Babu right in his big, dry face.
He grabbed a handful of his hair and yanked it downwards, twice.
His panic and the sensation of notfuckingknowingwhattodo quickly returned and peaked with the trickle of smoke that was now accompanied by some angry electrical sparking.
”C'mon you big fucking lug,” Lenny pleaded as he hopelessly shook Babu.
”There must be fucking something...” He wormed back out of the van, and looked around for some inspiration. Anything.
He grabbed the van and attempted to lift. His modest arms tightened and his back strained. He had no chance of lifting a giant but maybe lifting a van with a giant and a grown man in it would be easier.
He exploded with power and roared with endeavor, but only managed to tweak a hammy.
Lenny hit the van with a volley of slaps to punctuate his failure and frustration. The back of his shirt became attracted to him like a shower curtain in a cheap hotel. The back of Lenny's head was busted wide open and the blood was running down his back.
He couldn't wait to get home and show Bree. This is what he'd been doing on the road. Now he could show her the man's work he was forced to deal with. This blood was the exact reason she shouldn't have argued with him in the forecourt in Queens.
”Time for something different,” the smooth voice from the radio said. The wailing guitar of Mott the Hoople kicked in as Lenny scurried to the payphone on the curb.
I have to call the cops.
”Hey?” moaned the voice from the wreckage of the van.
Lenny stopped, not sure if he was hearing things.
Lenny hobbled back to the van and anxiously tried the door again.
”Don't call the cops. You hear me?” demanded Gilbert's weak voice from inside.
Lenny continued to wrestle with the door handle.
”You hear me, Lenny?”
”What happened?” Lenny said as he finally managed to open the battered door. He instinctively grabbed Gilbert by the collar, the pain of which immediately emptied Gilbert’s lungs.
”Sorry,” Lenny said.
”No, no, get me out of here,” Gilbert demanded in a breathless voice.
”I'm trying, man.” Lenny approached Gilbert's torso from several different angles but couldn't find two handfuls of him that wasn't torn or broken.
”No, I mean get me out of here altogether.”
Lenny stopped. He looked around for prying eyes and leaned in to Gilbert's partially missing ear. ”You mean...kill you?”
”No, you fucking fairy. Get me a cab or something. I can't be here with him when there are people around.”
Lenny looked Gilbert up and down. He was no doctor but things didn't look good from where he was. ”I should get an ambulance...”
Gilbert grabbed Lenny by the inseam of his trouser leg, which pinched a little, but Lenny thought it was inappropriate to wince given the circumstances. ”You call anyone and you'll be done. Me and the giant can't be seen together under any circumstances.”
Lenny nodded repeatedly as he again planned his hand placement. Gilbert extended his arms up like a child looking for comfort. ”Drag me. Quickly, you asshole.”
Lenny carefully, but quickly, scooped his hands under Gilbert's armpits and began to drag him from the wreckage.
Gilbert moaned involuntarily as the blood was dripping from his mouth and he was slipping in and out of consciousness. Lenny managed to get his whole body free from the wreckage. He began to slowly drag Gilbert inch by inch to the other side of the road.
”Hurry,” Gilbert said as his eyes rolled in his head.
Lenny grabbed him tighter and began lugging Gilbert across to the curb with less delicate drags.
”Fuck me.” Gilbert breathlessly mumbled from pain.
Lenny gave one last pull to get Gilbert's dead weight body fully on the curb. They fell, exhausted, with Gilbert between Lenny's legs — like two entangled lovers watching the tide come in.
Lenny choked out a laugh of pure relief. No explosion. Gilbert was still alive. The only thing lost was one of Gilbert's boots that must have caught a crack in the street on the journey over.
There was a stirring from the van. Lenny rested Gilbert's head on the ground and began to stand. The humping and the dragging positioned his hip to pop right back into place. The sound was way worse than the pain. Lenny tested, cautiously, a few steps towards the van. His limp was gone, freeing him up to move at a much faster pace.
Lenny picked up Gilbert's stranded boot.
”Babu?” he said as he approached the van.
The weight of the boot in his hand suddenly caught his attention.
That's very heavy.
Lenny weighed the boot in his other hand.
What the fuck?
He slowly turned and saw that Gilbert's right leg stopped cleanly just at the end of his shinbone.
Lenny instinctively flung the boot over his shoulder. His own knees deserted him and he cracked his head off the ground.
There was no way they were going to make it to the venue on time. One of them mightn't even make it out of there alive.
This was bad. Really fucking bad.