“Good morning, and welcome to Walmart!”
It’s crazy that anyone would ever miss saying those words, but as Tony Gamble walked down the backstage corridor toward his locker room he thought back on where he was a few months ago. It was a simpler time. Aside from the occasional shoplifter, there was hardly any need to get physical. There was no one throwing cups of soda or beer at you, except for that one New Years Eve but he was the only one that remembered that night so it does not count.
Still, as he struggled to make his way to the locker room, all he could think about was how this all started. Ironically, as the combined stench of stale beer and sweat made its way to the back of his throat, where it began is what he wanted right now the most…
Water streamed over his head and ran along his face like a mother’s caress. There was nothing special about it, but the water seemed to wash away the anxiety and clear his mind. It only lasted for an instant, but even that brief moment was welcomed with arms that stretched out as far as the east is from the west. He could not remember how long he had been standing there, whether it was reality he was hesitant to step out and face – or the face that had become his reality.
It always came crashing down though, like a million little shards piercing the left side of his face. There was no true escape, and the warm embrace he felt from the water ended with a twist of the knob. There was no choice left but to step through the curtain, which he did before using his forearm to wipe the condensation from the mirror as best as he could.
How could he ever walk the streets with his head raised high again, when he could barely fathom the strength to lift it now. Barely able to look at his own reflection, he could not imagine how others would react if they saw him walking toward them. Was this what the future held for him, to forever hang his head with a hoodie lifted up over it to conceal his features in the shadows.
It was bad enough that he had to leave the city, but Frankie had not given him much of a choice. What he did to Mike and Louie, they had coming to them. It was the fact that he went after Tommy that pissed Frank off. He had already said that Lucci was off limits, much like Frankie he was a made man. Tommy Lucci would have already been a capo like Frank if he didn’t enjoy doing the dirty work himself so much, he was the type of guy that would prefer to be a soldato forever. Ranking did not matter though, but after all that he had been through and would have to live with, he threw caution to the wind.
Tony decided he could not let Tommy live, not after ripping open the left side of his face and scarring him for life. Convinced he would always be looked down at, considered weak by the rest of the family, there was only one thing left to do, because what he did to Mike and Louie was not enough in his own mind. It had been six months since he moved to Vegas, but he still remembered it like it was yesterday…
“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Tony?” Frank’s words echoed endlessly through the abyss.
“Sucking on a ghost dick, Frank,” Tony replied as he struggled to breathe. He could still feel the four hundred pound frame of Ivan Stanislav on his chest, as he leaned back on the bench with his index finger pressed against the side of his neck. “Seriously though, I don’t feel too good. My fingers feel like I’m typing on a keyboard made of needles and I can’t feel my legs.”
“You just walked to the bench, Tony,” Frank Pastore chuckled in response. “Your legs are fine and you’re touching your neck. Your hands are probably still numb from Ivan botching that Hurricanrana attempt and just falling on you.”
“He tried the HurricanRussia?”
“The what?” Frank appeared puzzled. Not being on Jabber, he wouldn’t know about the most talked about move of the past week.
“Well, it’s a Russian doing a hurricanrana,” Tony lifted a hand with his finger extended as he said Russian, then lifted the other hand with his fingers and thumb curled into an ‘O’ then proceeded to insert and remove the stretched finger into the hole repeatedly. “You do the math.”
“It’s PRIME,” Frank countered with a suppressed laugh. “No math allowed, remember.”
“Seriously though,” Cruz chimed in from Tony’s left. “Looked like an elephant teabagging a baby giraffe.”
“That’s being serious?” Frank turned to Domingo and slapped his shoulder with the back of his hand.
“An ass the size of a third world country just landed on his chest,” Domingo responded with a shrug of his shoulders. “I’d say that’s pretty accurate.”
“I definitely got the picture,” Tony remarked as his face contorted in abhorrence. “And I sure as hell don’t want to see the replay now.”
“I’m glad you’re finding this amusing,” with frustration in his eyes, Pastore turned away from the two men before he walked over and slammed his fist into one of the locker room doors.
“Dude, what the hell?” Cruz threw his arms out, as Tony just lowered his head.
“I fucking told you…” With fire in his eyes, Frank made his way back over to where Tony was seated.
“…Tommy Lucci is not to be touched,” Frank stormed through the open door, which knocked Tony off balance as his shoulder caught him against the chest.
“Hello to you too, Frank,” Tony responded as he shut the door.
“Don’t fucking play with me,” Frank Monteverdi lifted his hand up as he turned back to face Tony.
“You know I haven’t done shit to Tommy,” Tony stood his ground.
“Oh, I know.” Frank shook his head as he lowered his hand. “It’s the shit that’s running around in that damn mind of yours that has me here instead of taking a trip down the Hershey highway with Maryanne McGuiness.”
“I knew about the blowjobs, but didn’t know she was into that.”
“Well, she’s saving herself for her wedding night.”
“Oh, she’s Cat…”
“Don’t you change the damn subject,” Frank cuts him off. “I put my neck out for you, Tony, and I’m telling you now that it ain’t gonna be the one on the chopping block.”
“So that’s why you’re here?”
“If it was,” Frank made a mock pistol with his hand and pressed it against Tony’s forehead. “I wouldn’t have walked in the damn door.”
“Then what then?” Tony pointed at his left cheek. “I have to keep looking at this every fucking day, while he sits at the other end of the bar laughing and sipping on cheap bourbon? Fuck that!”
“You need to stop and take a fucking breath, Tony.”
“”What do you think I’ve been doing,” the back of his throat was dry, and it was worse when he swallowed. “Would you let him get away with doing this to you, Frankie?”
“No, but you’re not me.”
And there it was, the cold hard truth.
“Because I’m a fucking nobody,” Tony nodded his head as his lips curled into a sneer, or at least that was what he attempted. It really just looked like an eerie grin.
“You were supposed to be my right hand.”
It was obvious that Frank was being groomed to eventually be the Capo Crimine, which was commonly known as a ‘Don’, but to hear him say that he expected Tony to be his Capo Bastone.
“Doesn’t matter now,” Frank interrupted. “Look, I have a guy in Vegas that owes me a favor. He’s gonna get you a job down there, but I’m gonna give you enough to get you by for a bit. No reason you gotta live like a bum.”
“Vegas,” Tony seemed confused. “Las Vegas… like in Nevada?”
“You know about another one?”
“No, but I…”
“There’s nothing left for you here,” Frank put a hand on Tony’s shoulder. “George is going to set you up with a job at one of his casinos. A legitimate job at that, so I expect you to keep your nose clean.”
“I’ve never worked at a casino before.”
“Well, he isn’t going to have you working tables or the floor,” his lips curled into a contemptuous grin of their own. “A face like that is going to scare all the customers away.”
“You kidding me right now,” Tony shoved Frank’s hand away. “What if I choose not to go?”
“If you choose not to go?” Frank’s grin faded.
“You’re going to end up dead.”
“Damn, Frank,” Domingo placed a hand on his chest. “he’s alright, man… chill.”
“No,” Tony stood up, “he’s right.”
“I told you when you called me, that I wasn’t going to go through that again.” Frank was a bit choked up as he spoke. “I’m not.”
“You won’t,” Tony tried to reassure him. “Look, Domingo, there’s something that happened a few years ago that you should know about.”
“That don’t sound good,” Domingo mumbled under his breath.
“Have to say that while I expected that we would eventually step into the ring against each other, I never expected you to still have the Intense title when we did.”
Tony Gamble leans forward in his seat as he speaks, his hands clasped together under his chin as his elbows rest on his thighs.
“Don’t get me wrong, I know you can hold your own in the ring. Like me, you’ve been doing this for years and have held your fair share of titles over that time. Still, the run you’ve been on and the competition it has been against… It’s impressive.”
The right side of his lips complete a genuine smile.
“Respect is given where it is due, and you have earned at least that.”
At least for a moment before it fades away to the trademark grin that earned him his nickname.
“With the record I have since my return, the last thing I’m going to do is say that I am confident that I’m going to walk out of Coolossus with the Intense title in my possession. No, that would be foolish. Thing is, I do know that I am more than capable of doing it. You see, even in my previous run in PRIME that earned me a spot in the Hall of Fame… my record was far from perfect and I’m pretty sure I had more losses than wins at that time as well.”
The right side of his face frowns as much as the left allows it to.
“It was the wins though, the only things that actually matter, that made people weary of facing me. Because those wins came when it mattered: when titles were on the line, at pay per views, or when no one actually expected it.”
He sat up straight, his hands still clasped on his lap. That grin was still there as he stared into the camera.
“You’re good… Wait, you know, we’re close now so I don’t feel like calling you the Anglo Luchador anymore. I see people calling you Tom on Jabber, and you have your special little nickname for me, so I’m going to call you Tommy. I’d say that I hope you’re okay with that, but it really doesn’t matter if you are or not. Now where was I, oh that’s right.”
He takes a beat.
“You’re good, Tommy. You have the number one ranking in PRIME for a reason, it unfortunately is not because you are the best in PRIME. No, that honor would more than likely be bestowed upon the Universal champion. No, you have that designation because you have a good record. Nothing more, and nothing less. A better record than me, for sure.”
He unclasps his hands, then lifts his arm with his index finger extended.
“I have one win since my return. A big win if you ask me, considering the result and the stakes that were on the line.”
His middle finger now stands tall next to its neighbor.
“It can just as easily become two at Coolossus, so long as I focus and do what I do best… which is the unexpected. According to the odds released earlier this week, that so happens to be pulling out a win against a champion that has proven himself to be quite the competitor in and out of a PRIME ring.
You have represented PRIME well, yelling to anyone that would listen about how talented this roster is. Being a part of this roster, I appreciate how highly you think of me. Even if all you ever do is insult me on Jabber, it’s nice to know you actually care.”
A big thumbs up replaces the two fingers, along with a wink.
“Doesn’t change the fact that we’re about to step into the ring, and beat the living shit out of each other. No, there’s no doubt that we’ve both been looking forward to that for a while now. Ever since I won that belt for you, you’ve had it in for me. For me, it was the moment you failed to thank me for giving you the opportunity to represent this company as its Intense champion, which set you on this road of success you’ve been on ever since. I mean, you owe this all to me and you don’t even have the courtesy to show me the adoration I deserve.”
He snuck that one in there. Pretty slick don’t you think?
“It’s okay, he that giveth can taketh away.”
Oh look, it’s three fingers. You’ve been waiting for it haven’t you… You’re welcome.
“I don’t have to say it, do I? You know what this stands for. You want to hear the crowd scream it as the sound of a hand slapping the mat precedes it, but at the same time you fear it all the same. There’s no guarantee that the count will be in your favor, and you’d be lying if you say that it doesn’t scare you just a little bit. It scares the crap out of me, but for a different reason. You see, I’m scared I might win. Am I capable of representing this company the way you have, do I want to? It is something that I’ve been thinking about all week, and I still don’t know the answer.”
He pauses for a moment, a brief one.
“What I do know, is that I want to beat the shit out of you. I don’t need to earn that second win, and I won’t be upset if I don’t walk out of the ring as champion. At the end of the match, I want you to know that we took each other to hell and back. A victory will just be the cherry on top.”
That grin returns.
“See you at Coolossus, champ.”