What Has Gone Before
April 18, 2005
Thomas’ personal secretary Marsha Sims fans a number of sketches over Stephen’s office desk with skill and ease. It’s her thirteenth year with CS Enterprises, and quite possibly her last. The tightness of uncertainty pulls at her neck like her dog’s collar, Mr. Bear, the teacup poodle who shows on casual Fridays to bask in the freedom and sense of regality that peeing on a well-kept carpet brings. It’s such a treat to see where mommy works, and have her feel respected at day’s end. The company lies between a missed payment and an unanswered prayer from declaring bankruptcy. When the automatic doors no longer pull back, Marsha knows the latest chapter in her life, one that’s been the most spiritually rewarding, comes to a muted close, and with it all comforts of security she’s had since Merritt found her at an Atlantic City poker table.
She dealt to the best of them. The professionals and even the weekend fools who brought “How to play” books to the table with them. Chad threw himself next to her on a Saturday night, fresh from a successful show and walked away with five thousand dollars four hours later. What the less fortunate didn’t see twenty-four hours before was Merritt checking into the resort, and stumbling over Marsha half-dead in his room. Victim of a divorce, her husband wasn’t willing to put faith in. Merritt dabbed her forehead with a wet rag and told her whatever she wanted to hear. It’d be alright. God only gives you as much as you can handle; that her husband Billy would soon be in hell with all the Dook fans from time gone by.
Her breath caught, she was in no position to work. Damn she needed the money. Chad saw it. The money in his wallet exchanged hands, and as he left for a party, she straightened his tie. They caught the elevator to the ground level and parted ways. Have a good life.
Chad smiled into Marsha’s recovering green eyes a day later at the poker table. She looked good, and he came out even better. “Beginner’s luck,” he apologetically offered as hand after hand cued just right. They worked well together, neither could deny that. A week later she was snapping pictures for the ground breaking, already on the payroll.
If it’s over, and Sims has to dust off the resume, it’s been one hell of a ride. The company saved her life. She relates with ample melancholy to the ones who make the same toast. When the doors close, she’ll cry first and last.
“Of course I remember, Marsha. Merritt had me digging with the workers.” Thomas pushed the blueprints away. “I haven’t got time—“
“This was all just a plan once. A dream. Remember that, Stephen.”
He stopped to soak the moment in. “Good Lord I’d hit you right now if I didn’t know you came from a military background.”
“Sorry. I just would like to be here to see the next time this place saves a girl’s life.”
“Me too. Hey,” a beam of light shot out of Thomas’ eye, “Do we still have the sketches of the statue?”
The five-hundred foot hand-chiseled piece of artwork in his likeness he envisioned erecting at the front gates.
“Line one. You have a phone call.”
“I still say we should’ve found a place for that in the budget!” Thomas fired at Marsha as she retreated from his office and he punched his phone. “Thomas.”
“Stephen. James Putsmear from U-62. Director of programming.”
“James, I don’t need your title every time you call.”
“I know, but I’m trying to guilt you into feeling thankful.”
Stephen laughed, reclined in his chair and gazed at the FISH FUND I poster on his wall. “I am, believe me. You saved my ass, Putsmear.”
“You’re right I did.”
“I’m guessing that had something to do with your network’s declining ratings. That your highest sporting event ratings are still CSWA related. I was certain Celebrity Dodgeball was going to work for you.”
“It would’ve you arrogant prick, if Jason Cook hadn’t taken a fastball in the face from the cast of ‘She Spies.’”
“Shawn-Douglas from Days all grown up and threatening your company with lawsuits. That’s a shame.”
“Glad your back, Thomas. Let’s just hope there’s a genie still in the bottle willing to grant us one more wish.”
“Everything set for the 25th? We’re getting your best show in years, right? First impressions are the most important.”
“The 25th looks great. The CSWA back on U-62. Tell me that doesn’t give you wood just saying that.”
“This is where I say, goodbye.”
Stephen hung the phone up, and laughed to himself. Desperate people don’t always do good business, but neither side cared to reflect. If lightning could strike twice, both parties would be very, very rich again. But…
The doubts crept into Thomas’ head again. They were as permanent as spots on a leper.
He’s spent the last year trying to unload Hornet’s contract from his company. Paul’s thirty-seven. Good years left, but if the Franchise was ever truly forced out, could the league survive? Is the CSWA choking because of mismanagement or is it just simply the names are changing and people no longer feel connected? Taking control from Chad has been more of a burden than he could’ve ever imagined. Worse, Thomas is weighed by the haunting realization that it’s not as much fun alone. How did it get so bad with Merritt? Stephen was sure he just got screwed on the new deal with U-62. It’s only for a year; contingent on there being no breaks, and the company receives limited ad revenue. Chad would’ve bargained for better, said no to the first ten offers, and only accepted when he had the network on its knees. But, they’re two men who have done business differently from Day One.
Can he ever go back?
Marsha buzzes through and wakes Thomas. Line one again.
Stephen listens as a source calls from Hell to break the news. Shane Southern, the CSWA’s World Heavyweight Champion, went down with a serious injury. He’ll be out for the year.
“Steve, are you there?”
Thomas swallows hard. Marsha wanted to see the CSWA save another life. It’s going to have to be his for any of this to work.
“Shut up, I’m here. Find Shane. Tell’em…we’re sorry, and…David…bring that belt back. Get me my freakin’ belt back, you hear me?”
The Other Side of Darkness
“It’s incredible,” said Ivy, as she leaned into Rudy Seitzer, “but even though he was only sporadically hangin’ out in the past few years… I feel like we’re starting off shorthanded.”
The duo stood just inside the Merritt Auditorium Hall of Fame, dubbed by the CSWA old – timers as the Jedi Archives, and looked in near complete silence at a memorial portrait of Ray S. Cornette, the famed manager who was on hand since nearly the beginning of the promotion’s existence.
“Ray was always proud of you,” said Rudy, “He said, ‘That McGinnis kid took everything good I had to pass on and left everything bad behind.’ He knew you’d be the yardstick of managers in the new millennium.”
“Stop,” replied Ivy as she walked through the gargantuan hall, “Damn it all, Rudy… there’s a lotta history in these images. I’m gettin’ one’a those If These Walls Could Talk moments right about now.”
“Oh yeah?” asked Rudy, as he stopped underneath a large image of Carl Brigsby and Wesley Paige, holding the United States Tag Team Championship belts aloft, “What’re these two turkeys sayin’?”
Ivy raised an eyebrow behind her glasses. “I think they’re trying to comprehend what a piece of shiny metal means to them. And if I remember correctly, they tried to give the belts back to the Armed Forces when they found out they’d have to defend ‘em.”
Rudy laughed. “You’re just like the ol’ perfessor, ain’t ya?”
Ivy knew who he meant, but Rudy elaborated. “You know every detail of every event that’s you’ve ever been at, don’t you?”
She winked. “It’s my job to know all the details, dear Rudy.”
They wandered the halls for a few moments in silence, awed as they always were by the enormity of the place, of the ghosts that haunted the halls.
“We owe these guys something, Ivy,” said Rudy, as he gestured to Jack ‘Summer’ Samson and single shots of Chad Dandy and Steve Fiennes, “This building is haunted with copious amounts of history… I honestly think these portraits kept the company from closing its doors last year. If this is the end of the CSWA… we owe these guys to give ‘em such an end, that nobody ever forget the name of the CSWA.
“You need a new speechwriter,” said Ivy, “but you’re also absolutely right. Some things just are… they exist for a bit and then stop… but the things that have a memorable beginning deserve a memorable ending. The CSWA needs to see Hornet and Windham teaming up against Mickey and Timmy… Eli and Troy killing each other… the Professionals finally settling their debts… and Randalls and GUNS throw down one more time.”
Ivy stopped walking underneath a poster of Merritt and Thomas, flanked by Hornet, Mark Windham, Joey Melton, and Beauford Parsons underneath the mask of the Dark Knight.
“If this is the end, Rudy… they’re gonna need more than one Merritt Auditorium to contain all the memories.”
It was the only thing Merritt and Thomas did right on March 17, 1988. The warehouse was a horrible choice of venue, the talent unfit to sell a new Porsche on a used car lot, and their business sense teetered on suicidal. March 17th was about living a fantasy. There were never any plans for a second show, and that they’d go on to create a multi-million dollar empire was a dream neither entertained.
The CSWA World Heavyweight Championship cost a small fortune. The wrestling show itself had driven the two so far in debt Chad spent his lunch hours the week of the event working out a six-year plan to crawl out of the hole. A letter to God that included winning excursions to Vegas and a Virginia lottery miracle. Both were out of their minds, clearly. There was no point in doing it if it couldn’t be done right. If the two best friends didn’t have a token of their insanity to put on the line for years after in backyard pools and living rooms between them. This was their instability playing its theme out for a few hundred friends and family to see. Instead of just buying the belt, they bought the tournament sold separately.
Seventeen years later it’s the most prestigious title in the sport: A belt that’s broken men, and launched mega careers since it’s inception on March 17th, 1988. The strap hasn’t left Thomas’ sight since its return home from Japan. Shane Southern was a deserving champion, a CSWA lifer who paid his dues, and genuinely appeared touched that he was given the right to parade as the champion. The CSWA World Heavyweight Championship is the measuring stick in the wrestling business. And it was homeless.
Throughout the league’s recent labor troubles and inactivity, there’d always been a champion crowned: Someone to carry the company’s banner and keep its head above water. As Stephen saw his reflection in the Gold plate, loneliness wrapped itself around him like never before. He was one step closer to being done. No World Champion. The last brother in a family of seventeen had been killed in the war. It was quiet on the homestead. No joy, fear, or feeling of pride. Thomas was without clue as to what to do next. It came to him days after the belt made the return journey to Greensboro and had been wiped clean of Southern’s prints. All that remained was packing and braving the battlefield himself. Thomas would put what remained of a fighting spirit into the fray. Let fate and the whims of sixteen men have at it, and when it ended, Stephen would know where his future stood.
He and Merritt did monster business in the nineties. Enough to coast on for another ten years, but Chad was smarter than Thomas ever gave him credit for. He foresaw the day his partner would come back. Merritt hid millions in ghost accounts all over the place. The case of fraud Thomas brought up against Chad is still pending. Stephen knows it’s past the point of being able to pick up the phone and ask politely for the keys to running the ship smoothly again. Delbert, the company’s private investigator, as usual, has turned up nothing that’d tip the scales in Thomas’ favor. In the good ol’ days he would’ve had money moved over from one of the other companies in CS Enterprises, but because it’s a publicly traded company now he can’t cook the books like that. The CSWA has to rise and fall on its own merits. In 2005, it cuts as the worst possible news to Thomas’ ears.
The war between Miles and Mayfield delivered a near fatal blow, making the money situation worse. Causing the cancellation of the following shows, and the loss of the NCN network television deal. Upon Merritt’s ouster he brought Miles back out of spite, but it’s potentially cost him everything. Stephen ripped Craig’s contract to pieces, and has banned he and Mayfield from the premises. Have a good life.
Sink or Swim: A former PPV title that Thomas has adopted as his new motto. The World belt carried him out of debt seventeen years before, could it do it again?
Two weeks from April the 25th, and Marsha notifies her boss that the last wrestler has checked in for the company-wide meeting scheduled next weekend. Stephen hasn’t breathed a word of what will be said. He thought of issuing last rites, but he owed it to the title’s history, not to let his reflection be the last it sees.
Sixteen man tournament. Twelve more than the original, but it’d work as well. It’d just have to be strung over more than one night, which suited Thomas perfectly, as it guaranteed the new-old network dates.
Sixteen men: some old faces, more than a few new ones.
Thomas just hopes he’ll be able to pay them.
He thumbs the intercom. "Marsha, I need you to call downstairs and get something for me. And then, come in here and take care of something for me."
"I've told you that I'm not that kind of girl, Mr. Thomas."
"Anymore, at least, huh. No, I just have something I need to you pack away."
A minute later, Marsha comes in the office. Thomas simply gestures. Marsha looks confused, but at Thomas' nod, she picks up the CSWA World Heavyweight Championship, lovingly, almost like a newborn baby, then heads out the door.
It’s an hour before the staff meeting. The sales pitch Thomas hopes sixteen men will buy into and pledge to destroy their bodies over. It’s been a while since he, or Merritt have had to twist an arm with measured amount of strength. The CSWA name speaks for itself. But, Thomas is all too aware of what it’s been saying recently.
It’s amazing the ghosts kicking around in the Towers haven’t warded off the likes Vince Jacobs, or the artist formerly known as Shawn Hart. At times it seems people want to see the league return to former glory more than Thomas himself. Such a fool would be Eli Flair. The modern-day warrior slouched over the couch in Thomas’ office.
“How’s Angel and the kid?” Thomas asks, staring from his office window onto an empty, serene Auditorium.
“Kid’s fine, and so is her mother.”
Eli cupped his hand in a bowl of M&M’s lying on a coffee table, and delivered them to his mouth. “Angel’s waiting downstairs, preparing for any question you might ask.”
Merritt signed Valerian’s Garden to a contract with CSE music. With Flair in for the State Of The Union, the boss saw it as the right opportunity to check up on CSE Music’s prime asset. If the tournament proves to be a colossal failure Thomas could be Angel’s new touring manager.
“Where the hell is Ivy, I thought she was---“
“Where is she ever when she visits the place?”
“The Jedi archives?”
Flair laughs and stands, signaling Thomas needs to pick up his pace.
“She has Rudy take her through the tour, every time.”
Stephen inhales the remaining air in the room, and sits on the front right edge of his desk. “Eli I know you didn’t return my calls, but I saved you the last spot in the tournament You’ve always been there for us. Me. The company. You know what I mean. If I’ve never said thank you. Thank you…”
“You’d make a great World Champion for us right now, Eli. You’ve carried this promotion the last few years. You’re more of a Franchise for us than Paul really. I think it’s the right fit, at this time.”
Eli looked down. Thomas, assuming he was too moved for words, pushed the contract on his desk closer to him, to make it easier to sign.
“Thanks, Stephen,” said Eli, “but no.”
Stephen shook it off, as if he didn’t hear him. “Come again?”
“It’s appreciated,” replied Eli, “don’t get me wrong. But ain’t no way I’m gonna be in this thing, signed on for another long term deal.”
“Just look at the contract,” pleaded Stephen, “The numbers are just a starting point.”
“It ain’t the money,” replied Eli, “I’m very happy with the way things’ve gone for me in the past eleven years… but I never see Angel, I never see Mariella… and I’m a thirty three year old man who has already had two knee replacement surgeries. I don’t regret the past eleven years, Stephen… but I’d really regret one too many.”
Stephen Thomas slumped back in his seat. It was obvious to Eli that he tried to form an argument against what his former Champion was saying… but that everything he could think of would only sound cruel.
“Listen, whatever you guys need me to do to get y’legs back under ya,” continued Eli, “You know I’m there for, and Ivy’s there for. But as far as the wrestling goes… there’s more that I’ve gotta think about than just me.”
They shook hands, and Eli left the room. Stephen looked at Eli’s contract, and with an exasperated exhale, tossed it in the trash.
“Marsha,” he cries under grit teeth.
Thomas pounds his desk in disgust before realizing he’s not screaming through the intercom. “Marsha!”
“Can it wait, I’m setting my Tivo online.”
“Pick up the phone before I ensure you go home tonight to a rabbit boiling on your stove.”
“Sorry…who am I calling?”
Stephen rummages through a stack of papers on his desk, finally pulling out a contract. He glosses over it; then signs confidently. “Someone I never thought I would.”
As Eli walks out of Thomas’s office, Ivy is waiting for him in the hallway. For now, there is silence between them. She knew what Eli was going to say, and by his demeanor, she knows nothing is amiss. Plus, you never know who might be listening in CS Towers. Rumor has it that Thomas has the place bugged tighter than a pre-revolution Romanian hotel.
As they descend towards the atrium in the center of the building, the glass elevator gives them a view of the entire complex. And for the first time when leaving the penthouse office, no matter who the occupant, Eli felt… calm. Free of Thomas’s scheming and plotting, free of another travel schedule, free of… What the hell?
As the elevator slows its descent over the last few floors, Eli sees his wife and child on the bench where he had left them prior to the meeting. Angel is still sitting, holding MJ on her lap, and all is right with the world. Except for the man standing in front of her.
Ivy looks up from the updated contract she has been reading. She is so in tune to Eli’s moods, that the shift is almost palpable. She looks up and… Paul. It’s hard to tell if the sigh that slips through her teeth is full of regret, anger, concern or just surprise.
The rest of Eli’s family passes out of view as the elevator comes to a stop with a ding. The doors open, but not quickly enough.
Angel had been waiting for her own meeting with Thomas, to discuss the upcoming plans for Valerian’s Garden following their latest international tour. Used to dealing with Merritt, Eli and Ivy had prepped her on how to deal with the “less stable” member of the feuding partners.
Her walk around the atrium brings her back to the start as daughter MJ continues to play with the pentacle on the chain around her neck. Once her attention turns to the beaded turquoise choker, Angel realizes its time to give the toddler some running room. Angel sits down on a bench in the atrium, putting MJ down on the walkway and readjusting her black tanktop. MJ runs straight toward the nearest flower bed. Spring had just hit the Carolinas, but obviously the CS Towers gardener had gotten a jump on it.
She closes her eyes for a moment, taking in the fragrance. So different from the smell of the interior of the nearby office building, so different from the smell of the stages and venues she is used to playing, so different from…
She opens her eyes as she hears the patter of little feet moving away from the flower bed. MJ has a handful of violets and is looking for a target. Before Angel can call her back, she stops in front of the nearest person other than her mother, a man who just happens to be walking across the atrium on his way to the other side of the building. MJ runs towards him, stopping him in his path, then presents the flowers.
“Well, thank you.”
MJ beams. “Pretty flowers.”
“Is that your mom over there?”
“Uh huh.” MJ turns back towards her mom, sees the look on her face, and quickly makes her way back over. But it isn’t her daughter that Angel is leveling a look at.
Hornet stops in front of the bench, still holding the violets in his left hand. “Hi, I wanted to introduce myself and thank your daughter for the flowers. My name is…”
“Paul. I know.” Angel pulls MJ over next to her on the bench and begins tying a rogue shoelace.
Hornet stopped cold. He couldn't tell if there was an edge in her voice because of the history he'd had with either her husband or business manager, or if there was something else entirely on her mind. But he didn't approach her any closer - the last thing he needed was for his attempts at diplomacy to be misconstrued.
"And you must be Angel. It's good to finally meet you. And MJ, too."
At the sound of her name, Eli's daughter smiles. She's used to serving as surrogate daughter to everyone in her father's wrestling circle. Angel nonchalantly puts a small notebook back into her bag as she crosses her legs on the bench. MJ, freed from the shoelace police, returns to the green grass.
"Are you here for the same reason as Eli?"
Hornet gestures to the other half of the bench; Angel seems indifferent. Like husband, like wife. But there was no "One Word Answer" glaze about her, it was more a sense that she was trying to concentrate on watching her daughter, conversing with Hornet, and keeping her focus somewhere... else.
"I got a call from Thomas - Stephen Thomas, that is--"
"I know," interrupts Angel, with a look that told him that she really did know. Hornet laughed.
"Anyway, yeah, I assume I'm here for the same reason."
"Mariella, don't pull the nice lawn out of the ground," admonishes Angel to the overall-clad toddler, "Sorry. Anyways, what--Thomas. I think he's a little bit out there. If it was up to me I'd just as soon Eli not work for someone like that. Ivy told me he's harmless... but Ivy's the type to call a pitbull on a bender harmless."
“Or a dysfunctional megalomaniacal sociopath a friend. But that’s just Ivy.”
"You know Craig, too? MJ loves her Uncle Craig."
Hornet could only shake his head at that.
"In all seriousness," continues Angel, "it's a strange situation to be in. I don't know this man, and I'm afraid he might try to use my band - I'm a singer, by the way - as some kind of leverage against him when he hears him say what he was gonna tell him."
Hornet turns away from Angel and toward her daughter. "Leverage has never been very successful in this company... probably why it's had so much trouble in the past few years. But it's also why people are willing to help build it again."
Angel smiles a sad, knowing smile that Hornet doesn’t recognize.
“So how are Eli and Ivy taking all this? Thomas isn’t ‘accidentally’ going to come flying through the window up there is he?”
"No, not at all," replies Angel, "If it comes down to it, it's easier to shove him through a door than out the window. Actually, since he's technically my boss with Mr. Merritt away, I'd prefer them not kill him just yet. Still… when Eli tells him what's happening, what could his reaction possibly be?"
Angel looks at him with surprise - she thought everyone knew by now. "He's finishing up," she stated, matter-of-factly, "Didn't… How come you didn't know?"
“He’s retiring? I always thought I’d go first. Eli and I haven’t exactly been on speaking terms since Ivy and I split. But you know that. And it’s not as if I’m buddy-buddy with some of their other friends… like Craig.”
"Still," says Angel, "it's not like it was a national secret among the wrestlers. And you'd be surprised, how warmly you're spoken of in our home."
Hornet shoots her a look that seemed to ask her how long it had been since her sanity abandoned her.
"I'm serious," laughs Angel, "I dunno… the past few years have been really crazy for us - me and Eli, and Eli and Ivy too. I think they're just letting go of all the stuff that they've been carrying around, too. It reminds me a bit of the way the Misfits looked after Garden in Tokyo… I've been hearing less about how Hornet screwed the pooch in oh-two and more about how Hornet stuck up for us in 95."
At that moment, Mariella returns to the bench; this time holding a handful of dandelions.
Hornet turns his face for a moment, apparently trying to master his emotions. He turns back, responding to a tug on his pant leg.
“For me? Again?” he says as he kneels down and accepts the bunch of ‘flowers’ from the toddler. “Thank you very much.”
Hornet seems surprised when little Mariella Jade Flair steps towards him, wrapping her arms around his neck. He stands up, holding her with one arm. It’s quiet for a moment, the only sounds that of Hornet and MJ ‘sniffing’ the gift of flowers. Then a series of footbeats sound out across the flagstones.
All three of them turn their heads toward the beats, and Mariella instantly breaks away from Hornet's grip, running as fast as her little legs could take her to Eli Flair's arms. He scoops her and lifts her high - the reaction on his face with MJ, compared to his usual look in the ring, is a shocking difference for the Greatest American Hero.
Ivy, for her part, simply walks half a step behind Eli as they come together in the heart of the atrium.
"Paul," she says, "I see you met Angel and Mariella."
"I did," says Hornet as he rose. MJ hopped into his arms, much to his surprise, "and I think we made friends."
Hornet looks back at Angel, who still looks tired, but had risen in order to kiss her husband. "We're gonna miss you two around here."
"Two?" asks Ivy, "I ain't goin' anywhere any time soon."
“Can’t give up the corner office just yeah, huh? Anyway, it’s good to see you both. You look good. Fatherhood and Aunthood must agree with you,” says Hornet. His eyes are locked on Ivy’s, even though they ache to break away and simply stare at the ground, at anything else but her.
Angel's eyes met Eli's, and the two stepped quickly away onto the grass, where Eli pointed out the spot on the wall where Bob Praxis permanently marked the building nine years earlier. Ivy was mentally cursing them both, but kept her mouth shut as Mariella jumped into her arms now.
"You're looking good too," she commented, "Off the pills, I hope?"
“It’ll be two years sober next month,” Hornet says as he fingers the one-year anniversary bracelet on his wrist. “It’s hard to believe it’s been that long. And you? Recovered from the surgery?”
"Yeah, two years this summer. Bullets on twenty nine, car crash on thirty… I'm looking forward to turning thirty - one with a nice dinner with Sean and maybe a small, inexpensive but well-thought-out present."
She suddenly gave him a quick hug, and Hornet was impressed with how expertly she kept hold of MJ while he was in the way.
"We need to take off for a bit, Paul… but I'll see you later, right?"
"Right," replies Hornet, as he watches her leave, "I’m sure I’ll see you at the meeting later."
“Tell Eli and Angel it was good to see them, will you?”
“It was good to meet you, Mariella,” Hornet says to the two-year old. “Take care of your Aunt Ivy for me.”
MJ covered her face with a bashful smirk. Hornet couldn't help but laugh at her mannerisms: she was definitely her father's daughter.
More to the point, after far too many years, Hornet had done what he'd wanted to, though he knew it was the beginning of the road, not the ending.
He had made first contact. And for now, it was enough.
"Are you sure this is the right place?"
The man formerly known as SHAWN HART appeared bewildered and confused as he peered out from his cab at what appeared to be an unusually large tool shed. He then glanced at a crumpled-up piece of paper in his hand, turned it upside down and right-side over a couple times, and shook his head in disgust as he double-checked the address.
"This is CS Towers?!" the PHENOM wondered.
After adjusting his turban, the driver responds...
"Yessh, CS Tower-berry, berry good. You-uh pay me now, yessh?"
After rolling his eyes and fumbling through his pockets, the Phenom tossed a handful of wadded bills and loose coins at the cabbie.
"Wait here, brah... I'm gonna dish out some quick justice on these fools, Gary Sheffield style..." Savoy said. "They're going down like a Bean-town whore!!"
The cab driver nodded his head in acknowledgment as the Phenom stepped out of the vehicle, his flowing locks of blonde swaying with the wind gusts.
"Thonk-you barry-much, yessh!"
With Zanzibar the cabbie waiting patiently in the car, the Phenom stepped through the front entrance of the "Towers". To his astonishment, the only things to be found inside were an unusually tall woman with unusually broad shoulders in an unusually red dress, sitting upon an oil drum before a stack of shipping pallets. Facing her from across the "table", an old man sat sipping a bottle of moonshine. Surveying the situation was a three-legged dog, leg-up and urinating in the corner of the shack. Savoy was puzzled...
"What the hell?! This is the CSWA?! Pshh... I knew you JACKHOLES had fallen on hard times, but this is TOTALLY asinine!!"
The woman interjects... in an unusually low, outrageously hoarse voice.
"Don't getch ya'self all worked up there, honey-buns. Sit down and tell me all about it."
Still unsure of his surroundings, the Phenom reluctantly pulled up a barrel and took the proverbial load off. Suddenly, it hit him...
"Oh wait... I know you! You're Lindsay Troy, Joey Melton's future baby momma! I've defeated you every single time we've faced each other... and your husband-to-be smells like cabbage! So, uhh... how ya been?! And might I add, I've never noticed how profoundly profuse your Adam's apple is!"
The woman returned the Phenom's cheesy grin with an innocent stare.
"Listen, sugar... I don't know anything about Troy." she replies.
Suddenly, she extended an unusually hairy leg out from under her dress as she licked her lips.
"Buuuuuut if you're feeling dangerous, we can get Trojan up in here right this minute!"
Savoy was tempted by this proposition, despite the unusual growth of hair on the woman's upper lip, but something was bothering him...
"What about Old Man Spanky here?"
The camera cut quickly to a tight shot of the man's open mouth as a rope of drool slowly reached down toward the pallet stack. "Troy" giggled an unusually deep giggle.
"Aaaaaaahh!! That's just Mr. Thomas, he runs the joint."
Light-bulbs flashed in the Phenom's thought cloud.
"So you're THE Thomas!!" he said, extending his hand to the man. "I'm the Phenom, the jiggiest jackhole this side of Jacksonville, the Prime Minister... of GETTIN' SINISTER..."
He paused for a beat. Meanwhile, the urinating canine finished his business, then split the scene like a SCALDED DOG!
"I'm here to rip ass, chew bubble gum, and raid your wife's panty cabinet on my way to stomping out your entire roster, rising to the top, and winning the CSWA title... only to retire and become a famous actor making science fiction movies with Charlie Sheen! What do you think about THAT, Jonsie?!"
After making known his mission statement, the Phenom watched as the old man responded by twitching, tweaking, and falling backward in a drunken stupor. The woman giggled once more.
"Don't mind him, he does that every day at this time."
Savoy nods. "I guess that's just the dangerous life of a North Carolina moonshiner.... that or he was watching Jean Rabesque promos earlier today. Did I mention I'm unbeaten against him as well?"
Un-fazed by his diatribe, the woman moved in close to the Phenom, then plopped down on his velour-covered lap. She spoke, once again, in that unusually low tone.
"I think you've got a li'l something I'd like to beat around..."
Unimpressed, the man formerly known as Hart tossed the woman off of him and leapt to his feet, all in one utterly amazing and simultaneous motion.
"Oh! OHHHHHHHH!! That's a BIG something, you filthy trollop!! And besides, I don't have time for this business!! I've got a REAL meeting to attend!!"
So with that, and also with the aid of sound effects worthy of the next box-office bomb to be ripped from comic books, the Phenom made a B-Line for the exit. The camera cuts quickly from the scene inside the shed and back to the cab, just in time to see Savoy slip through a rear door. Dismayed by his encounter, he muttered to himself...
"Wow... if that's the CSWA, I've got some BAD COMPANY. Hah, and they want to treat me like I'm second-tier? Pshaw! The other leagues on the circuit split that gap like 6 years ago... and once this tournament starts, I'm gonna be splittin' they wigs, Ron Artest thuggin' and straight-up G style........... .....Weeeeeeeestsiiiiiiiiiiiiiide!!!!"
Zanzibar the cabbie stared at the Phenom from the front seat, totally befuddled.
"Yessh, well-uh.... that's-uh berry-berry nice. Are we ready to go now?"
"The sketch is complete and my point is made, sir... now ON TO GREENSBORO. The PHENOM... has left... the building!!
"But-uh shirrr, where is building? You are in my berry-berry excellent cab, yes?"
"Just hit the accelerator, Osama!"
I’ve done this walk before, but I know its different this time. No more sinking, No more falling. I believe I belong, I know this is the light...that I’ve found the road.
Do you honestly believe that you can win without me? You can’t hide from the depths of your soul.
CS Towers – the Lobby. Martha nods at me with a smile from behind her desk, she has faith...I’m constantly battling for mine, wondering if my vices are beyond control. Urges, fears...I reveled in the black for too long, I miss the emptiness...the lack of emotion, the absence of fear.
Do not deny yourself the pleasure...it is not too late...
No more music in the elevators, not that Thomas’ new-age Jazz shit made my day. The faces are smiling, but there’s alot of different quirks with Chad gone. Merritt made sure the place shined, now it looks like Thomas decided there’s not enough money for more than one janitor.
Penthouse Floor, nobody home.
Just like old times...
Its 12:30, Thomas is on his three hour lunch before the meeting. As usual, his office is unlocked – good thing the VEEP’s just shred documents these days.
I pull out the contract...
You can’t survive. You’ll need me.
I sign it...
It is mine, and you’re not getting it...not without ME.
The Name of the Man is The Anglo Luchador
Greensboro, North Carolina.
One of the great meccas of professional wrestling in this country. Home of the Championship Wrestling Association, CS Towers, and the Merr... excuse me, the CSWA Auditorium, up there with the ECW Arena, Madison Square Garden and the Omni as shrines to the business.
Well, this shrine is about to get a new inhabitant...
A rental car pulls up into the parking lot. The engine shuts off and a masked figure emerges. He turns around to lock the door when he notices the camera in his face.
MM: Well, they didn't waste any time getting a camera in my face, did they?
A clearer shot of the lucha mask, plus the voice, indicate that the driver is none other than The Anglo Luchador himself, JA.
JA: Well, I guess this one of those things I always heard about this place. All-access, all the time. Not that it bothers me. It just means you guys can hear my witty banter all ze time, heh heh.
Now, I'm guessing you're wondering what I think about all the stuff that's happened. Eddie Mayfield getting blasted in the face with pyro. Shane Southern retiring. Steve Thomas coming in and forcing Chad Merritt out. Well, if you're looking for words on that, well, you're a bit out of luck, really.
I mean, to be honest, I really don't care. Well, scratch that, I do. I think it's a s(bleep)y thing that this Mayfield cat got the Hetfield treatment just for getting himself into a World Title match. And I guess I do owe a bit of gratitude to Mr. Southern for having to go on the shelf. Hell, if he didn't, I wouldn't be getting this shot.
But other than that, really, I'm not here to resort to bulls(censor) politics. I don't care really who's signing the paychecks, although if I see any iteration of Paul Heyman on the bottom line, I'm running for the hills. I'm here to make my mark in the most respected and storied fed around.
Maybe I'll care more when I get to know some folks around here. Maybe I won't. But whatever happens, happens.
I'm just around for the ride.
JA locks his car door, opens the back door, grabs his bag and then locks that door.
JA: Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a meeting.
JA walks towards the direction of the CS Complex as the scene fades to the CSWA logo.
As he walked towards the meeting, David Walter Smith really had no idea why he had been summoned.
Sure, he was an fWo superstar. One that had lost most of his matches since arriving in the federation proper. Losses to Shawn Stewart, Brand Frontier, and Sonny Silver dotted his resume, and despite giving it his all, Logic had come up on the short end of the stick all three times.
Thus, Logic was greatly surprised to have gotten the mail from CSWA headquarters, calling him here. By himself.
As a singles competitor, in the fWo, he was nothing special at all.
Perhaps they had seen him during Survivor IV?
He shook his head as he turned down another hallway. During the fWo’s yearly contest, he hadn’t been a lovesick puppy or a hard-luck loser. He had been dominant, using his acumen, skill, and power to defeat opponents left and right. With a powerful backdrop driver that he dubbed Proof Positive, he was perhaps the strongest in-ring competitor of the Survivors.
Then, he was eliminated.
Then, OCW happened.
Then, Logic’s career fell apart.
He was hired by fWo months after the fact, at a lesser salary. He was stuck teaming with Doctor Curiosity, a man he disliked very much indeed.
The letter that he held in his hand now was his salvation. Another chance at stardom, at success, at being a World Champion.
At everything winning Survivor would have gotten him.
He knew that the CSWA was in trying times. Rumors included a short-term TV deal and problems paying the talent. But Logic didn’t care. The names on the roster in the past spoke for themselves.
Mayfield. Southern. Miles. Randalls. Hornet.
Some of the top names in the business, wrestling for the longest running promotion in the world.
And he was about to join their number.
In a few minutes, David’s second chance would be made official.
All that Logic had to do was make good on it.
“The era of reason begins now,” he told himself, toying with the sentence as a catchphrase, before realizing that it wasn’t very good at all.
He sighed, and kept on walking.
"I AM JACK'S WEEPING P(bleep)!"
The voice of Craig Miles’ rang throughout his car. Sitting on the passenger side of the car was a laptop, playing a video from a previous fWo Ruahh~!
The man with wavy crimson hair and a Sunnydale High “Athletics” t-shirt turned to the disgusting reminder of the past, and hit the rewind button, just to have his stomach turn once more.
The fWo’s Neighborhood Lunatic, High Flyer, had been sitting inside of his car for the past twenty minutes, playing, pausing, and rewinding the video tape. Investigaging it from every angle. Taking in his breakdown again, and again, and again.
The invention of video tape was not exactly a benefit in situations like this. Overanalyzation and curiosity about a self-destructive matter doesn’t lead to a bright meadow filled with bunnies and harps
Now, having rewound, High Flyer sat on the Psychiatrist couch while his doctor, a Disney employee by the name of Clarissa Cambridge, continued to poke and prod the Lunatic’s open sores. “Craig didn’t injure your best friend Tony and Craig didn’t force you away from your wife. You did.”
Flyer mouthed along with the words he spoke on the video tape. “I’m still going to make him pay.”
He paused it, not awaiting his own answer, and fast forwarded the tape. Craig Miles burst into the interview session, and if there had been volume during this fast forward, we would have no doubt heard his not so tactful line that was stated earlier.
Words are exchanged between the two, mostly from Miles as he becomes more animated on the screen, louder and bigger, before Flyer’s quick punch sends him down to the ground.
With the image of Flyer standing above Craig, and Craig fallen clutching his lower lip, Flyer paused the tape there. He took in a deep sigh and closed his eyes.
“No… it’s not enough.”
And with that, Flyer opened his driver’s side door, slammed it shut, and headed toward the large CS Towers.
Letting out a slight smirk as he walked, “Even if he’s not here… I can still take the title that Craig has never even touched. And if he is here?”
He let out a slight audible chuckle, before pulling out some headphones from his pocket. Placing them inside his ear, he continued his way to the meeting, singing as he did.
“You heard that we were great, but now you think we’re lame, since you saw the shoooooow, last night…”
Lindsay Troy walked slowly through the Hall of Fame corridors.
All of these men on the walls, paraphenelia, trinkets...
Stopping at a posed picture of Joey Melton circa 1988, she almost laughed out loud.
"Same goofy smirk", she thought when a deep, but familiar voice snapped her from her thoughts.
"I would wager to guess he wasn't any less annoying back then."
Troy turned and saw Dan Ryan approach, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth as he reached up and removed his sunglasses.
Troy returned the smile. "It's nice to see you made it. It's been kinda weird around here. Everyone's talking in these hushed voices like somebody died."
Ryan returned a thoughtful look as he approached. "It's apt I'd say. If Thomas doesn't have something up his sleeve, it could be CSWA that bites the big one. Word is, this new television deal is only temporary anyway. As hard as they worked to get the strap onto Shane and here we are right back where we started from."
Troy sighed. "Yeah, only Thomas doesn't know what the hell he's doing."
A digitized version of Rod Stewart's 'Downtown Train' suddenly breaks the silence.
Ryan's eyes go up quizzically as Troy's face flushes and she reaches for her cell phone. She starts to explain but Dan cuts her off.
"Joey's handiwork I suppose."
Troy shrugs and flips the phone open.
"Hello?.......yeah....Yeah, he's right here too.....no problem....yeah, we'll be there."
Troy snaps the phone back into place and drops it into a bag. "Well, it looks like we've been summoned. Thomas is gonna address the troops over in the towers."
Ryan swings an arm around Troy. "Well then, this oughta be interesting. Let's go see what El Presidente has to say shall we?"
Troy throws another glance back at the younger Joey Melton on the wall.
Ryan catches her glance and shakes his head as they walk toward the bridge to the CS Towers.
"Some things I don't think I'll ever understand about you."
“Marsha, could you send Jorge in with more salsa.”
Cameron Cruise has never been mistaken for a smart man. He sped into the VIP parking garage a minute till noon and flung himself out of his moving Lexus to hit the ground running. Forty seconds later he was scaling the last group of stairs to the third floor. As he tumbled into the hallway, scant feet from the P. Vicious Memorial Ballroom he could literally see the rage on Thomas’ face. It wasn’t his fault. It never is. There’d been an old woman trapped in a burning building, a small child with digestive issues, and Muslims in the Hyatt lobby that were open to Cruise’s pitch of conversion to Christianity. The twenty-four hours in Cameron’s day never stretched far enough. If he’s not helping humanity in some way, he’s forking his eyes out with a pair of scissors over Melton’s perpetual grating nature. Cameron was running behind, but the man has a heart of Gold. He would have been a superhero, protecting his home city Jacksonville to help the undermanned police force if he’d been given supernatural powers at birth. Alas, Cruise wasn’t blessed with the gifts of the strength of ten men, shock absorbent skin, or wings that’d help him cut through traffic and make important meetings on time. He’s an average man with a tanned, built body, and staying power marveled at by the sexual All-American Joey himself.
Cruise does what he can, yet he didn’t expect Thomas to be keen on cutting him some slack. He tore into the Vicious Memorial Ballroom with a hat over his unwashed hair, and spoke the Lord’s Prayer as he’s recreated it in his mind. “Lord, please let Thomas ignore my presence as he has the previous seven years."
He was half-way to the back of the room when he realized he was alone. Cameron checked his Flash Gordon wristwatch. 12:01. Marsha soon trailed his entrance with a plate of cheese sticks, and tortilla chips. Relatively surprised to see Cruise two hours early; she’s heard the rumors of what he does in his spare time. The man is a saint, really.
Over the course of the next two hours he was reacquainted with the reasons why he shuns being the early bird. With time to kill, it’s far too easy to talk to yourself about the unresolved issues kicking around the walls in your house.
And you get a hell of a case of the munchies. By five minutes to two, when Marsha began herding the rest of the group in like cattle, Cruise had ripped through the refreshments and needed a nap.
“Marsha, chill, with great power comes great responsibility,” Shawn Savoy said, reacting to being shocked with a low-voltage electric cattle prod. “This day’s been a trip as it is.”
One by one, fourteen men, and two women, Poison Ivy and Lindsay Troy, filed into the room.
“That taser touches skin, you know I’ll drop you, Sims,” Ivy playfully shot, as Troy used her as a shield to find a seat. Lindsay was here to lend moral support, but truthfully she was hoping to lag off into a back room with Melton, but Joey was vague as to whether he’d show. He hasn’t.
The group, summoned by Thomas weeks earlier, sat uncomfortably in folding chairs in the third floor ballroom, renamed in P. Vicious's honor months earlier, after Thomas sold him naming rights. These times is hard, kid. They slowly eyed one another, unsure of what to make of the odd grouping. If Thomas was closing up shop, why the hell is Vince Jacobs here, Randalls thought?
Boogie Smallz and Jean Rabesque have spent years working their way up the ladder, and now, there were new faces to prejudge? Thomas was up to something, and the looks on a few of the faces showed some knew what.
Dan Ryan stood up and gazed out of the ballroom window. The window from the Vicious Ballroom stole a magnificent view of the atrium, where Jimmy the Gardener (formerly the janitor) spends his days putting around, and growing special requests from Randalls. The waiting performed no good for Ryan’s knees and sore back. Whatever had to be said, needed to be said. The league turned it’s back on him a year ago. Why Ryan was even here uncoiled as a mystery, one Dan had no answers for. Creatures of habit, more or less.
A minute past two on the afternoon on April the 17th, CSWA owner and CS Enterprises CEO Stephen Thomas strolled into the ballroom and took his usual spot. Front and center, lording over them all.
The pleasantries were dispensed. Thomas thanked them all for coming. Ivy read his face from the middle of the pack. He meant it.
“Some of you I’ve known for years, some I’m meeting for the first time,” Stephen continued, clichés seemed to cut through ice the best. He was winging this one, as Marsha had failed him last night. Instead of writing his speech she dove into a night-long “Gilmore Girls” marathon.
“I apologize for keeping some of you in the dark. A handful of you might have showed today intent on attending a funeral service. You don’t get off that easy.” Stephen scanned the room slowly, eyeing the mix of loyal men and new talent that potentially could be working for free. “I’ve got some bad news, good news, and better news.”
Ryan stood again. He could throw himself out of the glass, catch a tree limb and find his way to the first floor safely without harm. Anything beat Thomas’s causal pull of the needle.
“Bad news is, you’re not here for the CSWA World Tournament.”
"Then why am I here with all these peons," blurted out "Superstar" Vince Jacobs.
Eyebrows collectively raised, “Good news is the CSWA is getting back on track. As you know, the new TV deal has been signed,” Thomas unscrews the cap on his bottled water and pours a tablespoon on the carpet. “For Miles. But it also requires that we all stay focused, and that if things don’t go well this time it’s the end of the CSWA.”
Ivy and Troy Windham sighed.
“I don’t want to see that happen. That’s why I’ve made a push to bring all of you back into the fold for the April 25th PRIMETIME in San Diego event, that—“ Thomas stopped in mid-sentence and coyly smiled. He was the one with a nose for dramatics. Midgets, muppets, and the Wheel Of Death, remember? “That will kick off a sixteen man tournament for not the CSWA World Championship... but the UNIFIED World Heavyweight Title.”
Mike Randalls combed the hair out of his eyes and mentally ripped Stephen’s heart out.
“A tournament for a belt that’s been defunct for seven years? I know, but the CSWA World was lumped into that belt…," Thomas said.
“Melted actually,” Ivy added, then shrugged. “I was there as Paul dropped it into the vat with the others.”
“Thanks,” Hornet replied, amused, and locking eyes with Ivy longer than necessary.
“Freakin’ moonshiners, the lot of you,” Savoy disgusted called.
“Gentlemen,” Thomas gestured for the chatter to be cut. “The UNIFIED World Title is wrestling history. It represents more than thirty World titles over the last seventeen years. Men in this room were responsible for helping create it. Paul—“ Thomas nodded, giving the devil his due. “And others have had their careers defined by it. Mike.” Stephen gave Randalls equal treatment. Mike was breathing now, which was good.
“That’s seventeen years of not just CSWA history, but of wrestling history wrapped up in this belt.” Stephen snapped his fingers, and Marsha rode in on cue with a plate of chips, and salsa in hand.
“Honey, no…the belt,” Thomas admonished.
“And where the hell did the food go? I ordered enough to feed an army.”
Cruise counted the tiles on the ceiling, hoping not to be noticed.
Marsha, blushing, handed the UNIFIED belt to Thomas. Stephen strapped it around his waist, and posed. The laughs didn’t come, but Randalls inched closer to committing murder.
“See? I was doing Hornet.” Thomas posed again. This time more exaggerated.
“I’m in the room.”
“Right you are. Sorry, the humor plays better when it’s just Marsha and I.”
Ryan gave the glass a firm tap with the palm of his left hand. He could break through pretty easily.
“Some of the greatest names in the sport have held it. And the winner will receive a check for one million dollars.” A collective grunt from the room, “Not only have we repartnered with U-62, but also with our original sponsors, Skittles brand candies. They’re ponying up the dough, fortunately.”
Troy can taste the rainbow. It’s lemon fresh.
“Oh, oh! And, the winner receives a guest spot on UPN’s ‘Eve’. Someone owed me a favor. This all for you old-timers sticking with us through thick and thin, and the new guys, well, for being so darn cute.”
"Wait, I have come here to get a million dollars, which is chump change to me? Plus I get to be on a show that stars a female rapper who hasn't made a good CD in years. You are really making it tough for me to leave," Jacobs said in a sarcastic tone
Thomas was insane. A blind man could see that, but the league back on schedule, and the chance to be the next UNIFIED World Champion peaked everyone’s interest. “Rumors are rumors. The media’s overplayed CSE’s financial trouble. Things are stable now. One owner. No fighting over the ownership. This can happen people. I know with the talent in ths room that there’s no question this run with the CSWA can be the biggest ever, but at least if things do end, I can go out with a clear conscience that I’ve done all I could for the company.”
“We’ve done everything,” a group of voices retorted in unison.
“Of course.” Stephen grinned, they were coming together already. “Marsha has all your travel itinerary for the 25th, and I ask that you be at the building by noon. West coast show, we start at five. Cameron, do you need that in writing?”
“What?” Two-hundred and five was the final count.
“I appreciate you all paying your own way to the meeting. I wish I could’ve flown you all in, but Marsha’s gambled away most of what’s in the checking account.”
“I’ve what?” A shocked Sims asks.
“But, we were able to spring for gift baskets for everyone, you know, for making the effort. Marsha, do you mind going upstairs and…”
“I thought we cance---“
“Marsha! The gift baskets please.”
She spins on a dime and leaves hurriedly. “Thanks for coming. We’re going to be fine, guys. I’ve never been more excited about the CSWA.”
He didn’t speak for two minutes, and the wrestlers came to the realization that this meant the meeting was done. They moved to exit the Vicious Memorial Ballroom confused as to whether they’ve witnessed a train wreck, or found the Holy Grail. One by one as they stepped through the double doors, Thomas shook hands, and quietly offered thanks.
He was praying that the troubles weight down the company for years were over, and that at last, he’d taken the first step to proving the CSWA could run better without it’s heart and soul: Chad Merritt.
“Nice tie buddy. Man wears a suit to a CSWA event. That’s class.”
Thomas listened to Rhubarb Jones, the company’s Ring Announcer from as far as anyone wants to remember, work the crowd thirty seconds before "Go-time" of CSWA PRIMETIME in San Diego, unable to validate the claim. Not that Stephen has a taste for fashion, but in seventeen years he’s seen it all. Rhubarb is a natural wonder at hyping the crowd. Outside of the night a few years ago where he tried some new, edgy (critics said racist) humor, Rhubarb is as harmful as a kitten. The common people respond to him. He’s one of their own.
“What’s my excuse?” Thomas glances nervously at a checklist in his shaking hands, as he stands in the gorilla position behind the entrance curtains, “I have to dress up. Tend to frown on it around here if I don’t. But, mine’s not a clip-on.”
Stephen chuckled. He knew better. Rhubarb could no more tie a tie than swim the Atlantic in three days.
“Hey boss, again…really, I apologize.”
“It’s okay Cameron—Marvin can you hear me?” Thomas spoke into his headset, and held his breath. “You’re late. It’s what you do.”
“It was a bank robbery this time. I couldn’t.—“
Thomas laughed. “Cruise go. Please. Get out of my hair.”
“Do we have any birthdays celebrated today? Yeah?” Rhubarb asked the sell-out crowd. A myriad of voices gave the answer. “No? Too bad.”
Thomas unwrapped a stick of gum and gently shoved it into his mouth. A better taste, that’s what this has all been about. In six weeks it’s hard to believe the company has come this far. He’s pasted a World Tournament with significant names together on the fly. Maybe he is crazy, but it's like a damn a fox. The gate for tonight’s PRIMETIME should help the CSWA get through the next couple of shows, since the TV deal money was all spent on the new talent.
“In ten, nine…”
“Sammy…Bill. Thank you.”
“Quit talking, I’m helping Jones count.”
"Who's helping you?"
It calmed Thomas to hear a familiar voice, drunk as it is. Stephen wiped the sweat from his face with a cloth, and took the last breath he’d be allowed for the night. “Do we have air in this place? This is unreal.”
“I’ll go check.”
“Six,” Rhubarb had the crowd at fever pitch. The best in the business, no one should need more proof of that after tonight.
The mic cut along with every light in the building.