E.C. AND THE BEAR
Backstage, a hulking figure’s booming voice can be heard jovially chattering in his native tongue to his comrade, Alexei Ruslan. The tremendous Ivan Stanislav stands with his back toward approaching danger. That danger comes in the form of one Dave Gibson and his protege, Eddie Cross.
Dave Gibson: Well, well, well. I had heard you were here. I guess it’s true what they say; old legends never die, they just gain weight.
Ruslan’s head peers around Ivan’s body as he sees the source of the “introduction,” if one could call it that, and his brows push together as he sneers. Stanislav turns and lifts his own eyebrow curiously while muttering something to himself in Russian.
Ivan Stanislav: Кто теперь должен врезаться в стену?
Stanislav immediately recognizes Gibson, and his expression doesn’t improve much. Ruslan is the first to speak.
Alexei Ruslan: It is just Dave Gibson, Ivan.
Alexei Ruslan: In case you had forgotten who this… fellow… was?
Ivan Stanislav: I do not forget. Also, Gibson, I have never heard such a phrase in all my life. I think you made it up just now. Eh Alexei?
Alexei Ruslan: Indeed.
The two Russians cross their arms in unison and stare at the duo of Dave Gibson and Eddie Cross. Dave looks at Eddie and smirks in his Carolina way. Eddie listens intently to his mentor.
Dave Gibson: Believe it or not, Eddie, this guy used to mortify the hearts of entire locker rooms. As strong as they come, and successful, too. But that was a long time ago, wasn’t it, Ivan?
Dave peers to Alexei, looking through him.
Dave Gibson: I see you’re still clinging on to greatness like a bad case of athlete’s foot. Must get awful cold standing in that shadow.
The two Russians look up and down at each other for a moment, then look back at Gibson and Cross, once again, in unison. Ruslan bristles and clenches his fists, but Ivan speaks before Ruslan can pipe off.
Ivan Stanislav: (with a loud sigh) The two of us have been working together since far before Ivan dominated wrestling world, Gibson. And to clarify your point, that was not a long time ago.
Ivan Stanislav: Ivan still mortifies the hearts of locker rooms, including this one. So what is this about? Are you just spouting off words against my frame so they reverberate back into your ear?
A confident, almost brash, chuckling is the response from Gibson.
Dave Gibson: No, no, no. I just couldn’t believe you were willing to risk your legacy and come back. I had to see it for myself. A lot of guys in your position, they would see the writing on the wall for what it is.
He motions to Eddie and nods at his pupil.
Dave Gibson: I also wanted you to meet my student, Eddie. I wanted you to look into the eyes of progress and see that no man, not even you, stays on top of this sport forever.
Stanislav inhales loudly through his nose and the hair in his nostrils causes the air to squeak. His expression is somewhat indifferent, but his brow is lifted. Ruslan, however, purses his lips together and looks up at Ivan pensively, then over at the student of Gibson. At this moment, his poker face isn’t working so well and there is a hint of concerned calculation in his eyes, which narrow carefully. Ivan clears his throat and finally looks over at Cross.
Ivan Stanislav: You keep hearing this dog yap in your ear long enough, Edward, and you will get hurt. Come now Gibson, you know better than to try to get a rise out of me regarding this boy. I do not want to put him down before he even gets started. Why, his handler has not even given him…
Ivan accents the next word and leans forward slightly, his arms still crossed, and stares at Eddie.
Ivan Stanislav: …permission… to speak.
Dave thinks about it for a few seconds, turns his head slightly, slowly, and raises his brows while glancing at Eddie.
Dave Gibson: Well? Are you going to take that?
Eddie Cross looks up at Ivan, let’s face it everyone looks up at Ivan. He steps forward, removes his yellow tinted glasses, and looks directly in Ivan’s eyes with his intense green iris burning like demonic energy. His voice is deep, raspy, and a little bit serpentine.
Eddie Cross: My name…is Eddie Cross, not Edward. I know you know that quite well. But you don’t know anything else about me.
The youth takes a beat while assessing his monumental elder.
Eddie Cross: Here’s something I know: I know you are dangerous, and I’m sure you will find some way to tell me all about your accomplishments and try to blow me off as a threat.
He narrows his eyes, not leaving Ivan’s gaze.
Eddie Cross: But that would be a mistake, because I am a threat. I’m a threat you’ve never encountered. Meanwhile, everything about you, it’s all out there online. You haven’t changed one bit from the past, Ivan. You’re still the same…old…man that you always were.
The younger man stares, unflinching, into the eyes of a man that has terrorized countless before him. Stanislav considers this and watches the fiery young wrestler meet his gaze directly. He straightens his back slowly and takes note of him as his mouth twists into a hint of a frown. He looks down at Alexei without moving his head, Ruslan does the same, looking up at Ivan. The Russian Bear runs his tongue along the outside of his teeth, which pushes out his lips slightly.
Ivan Stanislav: If I had a ruble for every young pup who reminded me of how many birthdays I have had, then got into the ring with me and ended up staring up at the ceiling, I would be richer than President Putin…
Ivan clears his throat and inclines his big chin and stares down at the two men along the bridge of his nose. It takes a moment, and Ivan’s eyes search Eddie’s face, even if his head doesn’t move. The sharp cheekbones, the bright haunting green eyes, the accent. The lightbulb goes off internally.
Ivan Stanislav: Yet, you see I do know something of you; You are a Bolamba, for better or worse; I am sure of it. You have your father’s stubborn tenacity. Probably some of his foolhardiness as well. And if you gathered Gibson’s attention, well, he’s probably trying to get something out of you for himself.
This comment makes Dave bristle. What comes next widens his eyes and reddens his face.
Ivan Stanislav: Since you are so keen on knowing things, let me tell you something about your mentor: This louse was opening matches while Ivan was winning world titles.
Gibson steps forward, glaring at the big man with a nasty temperament and wildness in his eyes. It’s no secret the subject of titles has always been a sore spot for him.
Dave Gibson: Louse? Does a louse wear the finest shoes? Does a louse have custom cut jackets? Does a louse eat dinner with the mayor and the city council right here in Las Vegas, Nevada? I don’t think so, Red!
Gibson takes off his jacket, throws it down, and begins to undo the gold and silver bracelet holding a Patek Philippe tourbillon timepiece as Eddie reaches over and places a hand calmly on Daves, stopping him while his watch hangs loosely. Ruslan backs up warily, just a step, as he sees Dave start to posture and the danger behind Eddie’s eyes. A piece of metal slides from within his coat sleeve into his palm, but he doesn’t produce it.
Eddie Cross: It’s just his game, Dave. Remember you taught me not to play their games; we play our own game.
Dave snorts indignantly while Eddie turns his attention back to Ivan. The mountainous Russian towers over the normally tall Eddie.
Eddie Cross: Timo Bolamba might be my father, but he didn’t give me anything, and I’ve asked for nothing from him…I don’t want his legacy…or his name. I will make my own, even if I have to start right now and do what he couldn’t by beating you.
Ivan inhales more and his chest pushes out. He undergoes the Herculean task of keeping his anger in check, which is a rare feat. He tightens his jaw and the hinges bulge beneath his beard. He points at Eddie with two huge fingers.
Ivan Stanislav: One cannot ignore history, family, or not, and think it does not exist, Eddie Cross. The last… fool… who spouted off to me in hallway ended up going through a wall. I make no illusions of my age and I make no illusions of what I can do.
Ivan breathes hard and he grits his teeth as the muscles in his arms, back, and shoulders tense up. He continues to point, but this time at Gibson.
Ivan Stanislav: He has the pedigree and he has the fire, hm? And I reckon he has the skill. But there are ways one can achieve greatness without prodding a bear. I do this once, and whether you want to accept it or not, Eddie, it is what it is:
Ivan looks back at Eddie.
Ivan Stanislav: Out of deference to your father… nyet… to your family, I will not…
Ivan pauses, maybe for dramatic effect?
Ivan Stanislav: …yeet… you through a wall for following your handler’s example. But you two come to Ivan and Alexei and you puff your chests up and try to, what, pick a fight? With me?! This is what they call trolling, nyet?
Ivan’s voice grows louder and then suddenly drops into a growl. The Kaiju sized Russian looks at Eddie, then to Dave, and back slowly.
Ivan Stanislav: A word of advice? Don’t go dancing to the tune of this leech. He will get you in trouble.
He smiles, but it’s not particularly warm.
Ivan Stanislav: We’ll be seeing you…Edward Cross.
As Ivan turns away, Eddie keeps his gaze focused, even precise. Dave fumes, sweating a bead, but he swoops down and grabs up his jacket, draping it over his forearm. He takes a deep breath and runs his hands through his hair. Meanwhile, Ivan and Alexei walk away, and mutter to one another.
Ivan Stanislav: All I want is bag of popcorn before I crush some Coral. Every time, Alexei, this happens!
Ruslan, however, turns and looks behind him and frowns to himself as he stares at the two with a more concerned look. His attention is drawn away as Ivan complains.
Alexei Ruslan: It is because you are so popular, Ivan Sergeiovich…
As Alexei and Ivan disappear around a corner, Eddie speaks in a hushed tone to the specter of the Russians, gravel and menace in his voice.
Eddie Cross: That’s the difference between my Father and me, Ivan. If I want to fight you…
He pauses and slowly backs away, taking Dave’s lead as his mentor slaps him lightly on the arm. He keeps his eyes on the spot where Ivan disappeared.
Eddie Cross: You won’t see me coming.