~ Hey, Tony, Coral here. You probably had a rough time in cryo like I did, right? If you’d like some help in getting back up to speed, why not come up to Seattle and see if Franco and I can help out? ~
“Who’s that,” Olivia’s curiosity peaked as she attempted to read over her father’s shoulder.
“Coral Avalon,” Tony responded as he locked his screen, before turning to look behind him at the Nosey Nancy that flashed him a toothy grin. “He’s inviting me to Seattle.”
“I like him,” Olivia said as she nodded her head in approval. “He seems nice, and you need to be around nice people.”
“I thought you didn’t like me hanging around the Bandits,” Gamble’s left eyebrow arched slightly as his scar curled just enough to be noticeable. It was just two nights ago, as Jiles lobbed softballs in his direction for losing his match against Swanny, that he felt the same way. He needed to hear it though, and had to be held accountable.
“I don’t think you should spend time with Mr. Jiles,” she corrected him with a knowing glance. “He’s not a very nice person, and you don’t need people like that in your life.”
“Cancer’s not that bad,” as soon as the words left his lips he knew that it was a phrase no one had ever said, whether it was in regards to the genetic disease or the man that happened to have a worse reputation.
“I don’t know what I just walked in on,” Victoria’s voice drew Tony’s attention away from his daughter. The mother of his child is standing just inside the door with a glass of water in one hand and a glass of tea in the other, her eyes narrowed as she stared inquisitively in his direction. “But I really don’t think it’s a conversation you should be having with a twelve year old.”
“He’s talking about Mr. Jiles,” Olivia replied as she turned to watch her mom hand her father the glass of tea she held.
“Then it’s definitely not a conversation I want you to be having with her.”
“You’ve never even met him,” Tony started to defend the Little Gallows Boy, thinking back to his brief time on the Octane and how the two shared stories to try and one up each other on which of the two was more of a jerk. “He’s really not as bad as people think.”
“Compared to what?” Victoria snapped back without hesitation, not expecting the glance from Tony that answered her question without Olivia noticing. It’s not that Olivia didn’t know her father’s history of being an all around jerk, but there were some things that she wasn’t aware of. There were some things that Tony did during his run in the Revolution era that she didn’t feel she could tell her daughter, things she felt would make Olivia lose whatever respect she has for her father.
“I still don’t understand why he would want you to be a Bandit,” Victoria took a seat next to him on the couch. “What did he tell you?”
“That I didn’t fit in,” the chuckle that accompanied his reply is soft and quick. “Then he told me that no one else did either, so it would work out perfectly.”
“You don’t fit in,” Olivia interjected, a sharp-witted twinkle in her eye as her lips twisted into a smile wrought with contempt. “Because you don’t belong there.”
There was no malice in her comment, just a simple observation from a child that only saw the best in him. It was something he had not been able to bring himself to understand, because he did not believe there was anything within himself that anyone would consider redeemable.
All anyone saw when they looked at him was the worst.
Franco Marchesi had been off his crutches and back in as the Gates of Avalon’s head trainer for some time now. It’d been a welcome change. While Lord Gavin Yum had filled in admirably for the Venetian Assassin in his duty, it was very clear that the prestige and reputation of the wrestling school had taken a beating over the past year. A forced relocation, Marchesi’s injury, and Coral’s duties as both an international wrestling star participant and a father-to-be had all conspired with one another to bring the Gates down in 2023.
It was Franco’s mission statement when he resumed his duties that 2024 had to go much better.
Naturally, things immediately went off of the rails when Coral walked in one day in January and announced, “Hey, Franco, I’m inviting Gamble over to help him out for a couple of days.”
Coral hadn’t been seen much around the Gates since winning the Alias championship at New Orleans. The rest of the time, Coral had been at home on his paternity leave. Occasionally, the Crownless King would resurface, and Franco would have to clean up after him. He’s still not sure what to do with all of the clocks.
Of course, Franco knew who Tony Gamble was. If you were a professional wrestler, you’ve very likely heard of him. Franco also knew why Gamble was invited. Not only were they about to get into a whole tangle with Stanislav and the Halls, not only were they also teammates in the upcoming War Games match, but Gamble was also a fellow eGG Bandit now.
Franco was not enthused by any of that.
“I spent a week trying to track down every egg that Jiles and Bobby left behind the last time they were here,” Franco said, before he emphasized each of his next three words with wags of his finger, “A whole week.”
Coral understood the problem, since he encountered it in his own home, too. He decided that the next time he was visited by the OG Bandits, he was organizing a community scavenger hunt to find all of the eggs before they went rotten.
“If it means anything, I don’t think Tony will do that to us.” Coral said, “I hope.”
“Just so you know, he can drop by and train. But I’ll pitch that little shit into the sun if I see so much as a single egg on him,” Franco said bluntly. The tall Venetian crossed his arms, furrowing his brow to emphasize his point. “I’ve seen him, probably aerodynamic. Could test it.”
“Let’s not do that,” Coral said, “I kinda need him soon.”
“Fine,” Franco said. He stood there with his arms still crossed in silence. Silence was Franco’s usual go-to in most situations, but there was something about this particular silence that irked Coral.
So, Coral took the bait, “You look like you have something you want to say.”
“Just been wondering lately why you’re sticking with those guys,” Franco said, “The Bandits. You know that not a single one of them follows any of the ideals that you built this place on.”
He gestured at the back of the building, where all of the children’s artwork of a certain “Devil Fruit” was plastered all over the wall. Jiles had scoffed when he’d seen it. Bobby didn’t even pay it a first glance before he went to raid the break room of all of its delicious treats.
Coral nodded his agreement, “Yeah, I don’t think any of us are really aligned in anything. I don’t even know who’s actually the leader. Bobby’s the Captain, but Jiles is obviously pulling his strings. But also, I’m captaining the Bandits for War Games, so am I in charge? Is it Lunchbox Lemarck?”
“Exactly! I don’t know!” Coral said, throwing his hands up, “Honestly, I’m just seeing where this whole Bandit thing goes. I’ve been around worse crowds than these, and they turned out pretty okay in the end.”
Franco remembered some of those crowds. The Blue Rogues had been PRIME tag team champions. The Brotherhood of Awesome was very short-lived before Coral’s injuries caught up to him. The Crownless Kingdom, which Franco himself was a part of, were little more than a band of well-liked rogues.
But Franco knew one factor above all others that made Coral’s current situation different from all of the others.
None of those groups had Cancer Jiles in it.
There was a cold, light drizzle in the Seattle air when Coral picked Tony Gamble up from the airport. It was a typical day in Seattle for a not-so-typical scene.
Many top level professional wrestlers liked to portray themselves with great wealth, especially with fancy cars. Ferraris, Jaguars, maybe a Rolls-Royce if you’re feeling spicy. By contrast, Coral Avalon drove an SUV like he was a soccer mom. As faithful steeds went, it worked fine but wasn’t much to look at.
“Glad to see you,” Coral said, likely one of the rarest sentences Tony ever heard said to him earnestly. It wasn’t long before they went off to business, driving off into the light rain.
Tony was perhaps grateful that Coral let him ride shotgun and not the booster seat bought in preparation for Coral’s newborn daughter. Then again, Coral would be the first to tell you that the person who usually rode shotgun in his car was actually a lot shorter than Tony.
It took a while before Coral finally said something to his passenger, “So, uh… did the cryo treat you well?”
Tony looked over at Coral smiling. Wait, that’s just the scar. “What?”
“You know, when you ended up on the Octane after Colossus.”
“Oh, that…let’s just say I was in way over my head,” Tony shook his actual head for a moment, the thought of how things almost went horribly wrong that night is something he wouldn’t soon forget. “But two phone books later it was only up to my neck, so Jiles flipped the switch. I didn’t get any taller, but I sure as hell got smaller if you know what I mean.”
“Yeah, same here, that happened to me.” Coral said, “Uh, not the thing you’re actually meaning, but… well, they shoved me in the chamber and left me there for two days. Two days! My wife was worried sick, there was a manhunt, the boss definitely wanted to kill someone in electric blue, a sky pirate had to come get me… it was definitely an experience.”
He paused for a moment, and let out a breath, “Sorry. That all just kinda came out.”
“Oh, I get it,” Tony chuckled for a brief moment as he turned to face Avalon. “I missed out on a free chicken sandwich from my T-Mobile Tuesday, because Jiles forgot he even put me in there.”
“Oh. That sucks.” Coral agreed.
They drove in relative silence for a while. Before last year, the trip from the airport to the gym was a quick couple of turns and arriving and departing were commonly heard in the old Gates of Avalon. The new building was much further away in the city of Everett just a few miles north of Seattle. It took a while to get there from the airport, such that plenty of business talk happened.
“Ivan’s the elephant in the room, obviously. He’s gonna be tough to deal with,” Coral said, chancing a glance towards Tony before putting his eyes back on the road, “But I know I can hurt him, I did it before. I’m going to test to see if his leg is still hurt after Colossus.”
Tony winced. Perhaps Ivan has always been a bit of a sore subject. His spinal column still vaguely remembered the inaugural “HurricanRussia” – a terrifying attempt by Ivan to perform a hurricanrana on Tony. Emphasis on “attempt”.
Or perhaps the word “Colossus” triggered some juggle combo PTSD? It was hard to tell.
“The Halls are… a different story,” Coral said, “The other day, Vickie Hall loudly proclaimed that I knew her father. I don’t know who she means, I just know that she’s bad news and it can’t be anything good.”
“I used to think her voice was so annoying…” Gamble’s voice trailed off as his eyes followed a drop of water run down the car door window, getting larger as it gathered other drops along the way. He thought of his fearless captain Bobby, doing the same as he walked from one table in catering to another.
The Hammer of Honalee.
What the heck was going on behind that four foot wall Coral had for a forehead?
Tony turned his attention away from the window, and over to the man behind the wheel. “What were we talking about, again?”
Coral shrugged, deciding that repeating himself wouldn’t get them far, “It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.”
“You’re probably right,” Tony nodded in agreement. “We should probably focus on our match at ReVival against Ivan and that Hall guy, but what’s your take on that Vickie chick?”
Coral sighed, and kept driving.
The Gates of Avalon Wrestling School was a modest facility in Everett, Washington. It wasn’t some state-of-the-art place like Troy Combat Systems, nor was it as ostentatious as some of the places Coral had seen in Vegas when PRIME was primarily operating out of there. It was as simple and as sterling as the man who owned it.
“Avy,” head trainer Franco greeted Coral, before he looked down at his guest, “Gamble.”
“How you doin’ big guy,” Tony tilted his head back slightly to give Franco a curt nod, before turning to face the new Gamble Alias Champion. “This guy a friend of yours, Coral?”
Coral nodded, “Friends for ten years or so, yeah.”
“Eleven,” Franco corrected, “You’re just forgetting how I kicked your ass up between your ears in Europe before we formed the Kingdom.”
“Must’ve slipped my mind,” Coral said, then he turned to Gamble, “Tony, this is Franco Marchesi, he’s the head trainer of this place.”
Coral noticed that someone wasn’t there to greet Tony at the door, “Where’s Gavin?”
“I sent him to take out the garbage. Was hoping he’d take the hint to throw himself in there with it.” Franco grimaced, “He’s probably lollygagging or whatever playing Candy Crush instead of doing what he’s supposed to be doing.”
“Franco, it’s 2024. Nobody says ‘lollygagging’ except you,” Coral said.
Franco then turned to Gamble, “Anyway, heard you might need some tuning up, big man.”
“I wouldn’t say all that,” Tony tossed a quick glance toward Avalon before he looked up and over at Franco. Truth is he needed more than a tune up. As bad as he’s been in the ring lately, it was probably time for an overhaul. Seriously, there had been doubt even his own family was familiar with the name Swanny. It was actually Jiles that said it, but even Cardboard Dan chuckled. Lunchbox Lucio almost choked on a turkey leg, more laughs were had. “More like checking the tires and topping off the oil, you know.”
“Sure,” Franco said, “I’m thinking we’ll let you beat up Gavin for a while, Tony.”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” Coral said, “You know what Gavin will probably do.”
Franco gave Coral a dismissive wave, “The fact that he still hangs out here means that he should be put to use, or else I might as well send him to the Bandits with you, and none of you want that shit.”
“No,” Coral quickly admitted, “We don’t.”
“Hey, Tony, quick question,” Coral turned to Tony, eyes sparkling, “Did you bring a cup?”
“No,” Tony shook his head as he said it, one eyebrow cocked in curiosity as he remembered wondering if he would actually need one when he was packing. “Figured I could just buy a case of water bottles if you didn’t have any already.”
“Oh.” Coral said, smiling nervously, “Then let’s just get you in there with Gavin and see if we can help you out, then.”
Coral could barely hide a smile as he said this.
“I have to say, I didn’t expect that.”
“Pretty sure I was the only one.”
Seated on a stool.
“It was supposed to be easy.”
Not that stool.
“Get in the ring…dominate.”
Simply a substitute.
A bag of ice was today’s hero.
“I hope you had a good laugh.”
He’s holding it against his balls.
“Do you have a cup…”
He shook his head.
This wasn’t what you’re thinking, it just wouldn’t be the same without the star of the show.
“It was kinda funny, though.”
That’s the Golden Bandit. The Crownless King. The “Fifteen Minutes of Pain” Alias Champion himself. He’d come by with a fresh bag of ice, standing by to hand it off to Tony.
“Ha ha ha,” Tony rolled his eyes as he looked at Avalon with as straight a face as his scar allowed, while the sarcasm puddled at his feet. “I’m surprised I’m not rolling on the floor, dying with laughter.”
He wasn’t sure how The Stool would react, so the plan was to not bring it up. There’s no reason to stir the pot, so a bean bag chair would be the answer if the topic was brought up.
“The comedy of it is an acquired taste, admittedly,” Coral said, “I figured you and Gavin have some similarities, so that’s why.”
“Isn’t he hiding in a broom closet right now?”
“It’s a locker,” Coral said, and left it at that only because he didn’t know when that started or why. “It’s not the same.”
“But you said similarities, though.”
“Yeah, in wrestling style,” Coral laughed, “Technically proficient, but prone to cheating, just like Gavin. And as long as you don’t get us disqualified, that’s fine, I’m not going to stop you.”
Tony shrugged, “No promises.”
Coral considered the smaller man for a moment, before he matched his shrug, “Eh, fair.”
He left the extra bag of ice next to Tony where he could get to it, “Tell you what, Tony. As an apology for what I just put you through, I’ll treat you to dinner later.”
Coral said this as though he won’t regret it later. He turned to walk away, intending to start the next part of training, when Tony asked him a question.
“You don’t really belong with the Bandits, do you?”
It was a question he’d been asked plenty of times since joining up with Jiles and the gang. Hell, he’d asked that of himself plenty of times.
“I mean, who does, really?” Coral asked, turning back to Tony, “It’s full of misfits and weirdos and the leftovers that nobody wants, and it always feels like it’s in danger of falling apart at any given moment.”
Coral shrugged, “So, you know, it’s practically built for us if you ask me.”
The right side of his lips curled into a smile, similar words from King Crumb had stuck in his head since he defrosted. You’re not here to win anyway, he had added. I need you to become someone Coral can trust, was something else he remembered being said. Thing is, Coral was right in a sense, and they were more alike than he would like to admit.
“Not really the answer I was expecting, but I get it.” It wasn’t really an answer at all, but funnily enough it was probably the same thing he would have said. “Guess I better get back out there, if I’m going to earn this dinner you’re treating me to.”
He seems nice, and you need to be around nice people. The thought popped into his mind out of nowhere, words his daughter had told him a few days ago. He didn’t have time to think like that, to think of what his life could be like if he changed.
He couldn’t change.
Couldn’t or wouldn’t?
“What?” Gamble blinked away the thoughts that had filled his mind, realizing that Coral had been saying something to him.
Coral was staring at his phone in bewilderment, “Hey, Tony? Did you get a text from King Crumb?”
“I don’t know,” Tony jabbed his thumb behind him, then turned to verify that he pointed in the right direction. He did, so he nodded. “My phone is in my bag. I’d go get it, but I need to ice my…wait, it isn’t from El Capitan?”
“No, Bobby hasn’t sent me any texts since ReVival 41 for whatever reason. Pretty sure it’s fine. But, uh… Jiles wants us in Philly. Said it’s for your initiation. He wants me there, too.”
“I’m not entirely sure how I should feel about this,” Tony’s shoulders shrugged. “I guess I can at least look forward to picking up a Philly from WaWa.”
Coral sighed, and muttered to himself, “Annabelle really isn’t going to like the phone call I’m about to make, is she?”
Coral had a bad feeling that shenanigans were afoot, Tony actually looked forward to it.
Such was Bandit life.