Private: Eddie Cross
I’d been sitting at the bar for about an hour waiting, and I thought maybe he wasn’t going to show. The bartender was getting a little sick of me asking for cranberry juice and soda water, and by the third he asked me with a twinge of passive aggressiveness in his voice if I wanted anything with a little more kick.
The television behind the bar had the local news playing and I stopped briefly as I caught a reporter introducing a story. “California officials warn beachgoers of aggressive sea lions after biting reports.”
“Huh,” I said while looking at the screen. Who gets bitten by a sea lion? The bartender shrugged and my attention was drawn away from the report suddenly as the man finally arrived.
He walked into the bar looking like Goliath should have looked after trouncing David were it not for a lucky stone. The whole place cheered as his prodigious shoulders, the ones that have metaphorically carried PRIME since reopening, swayed through well wishers and hangers on. I didn’t want to be that person, but I did make a deal to buy him a drink. I’m a man of my word, if nothing else.
Lots of people were at the bar looking to congratulate him. However, Brandon Youngblood was the only person I was interested in. I saw him walking across the room after catching sight of me, and my vision honed in like looking down a Corio 13x VRS scope in Mercado Las Almas.
“Hey Eddie…have to admit…didn’t think I’d see you here.” His voice was a slowly eroding mountainside.
“That makes two of us,” I chuckled nervously. “But I gave you my word and if I am going to drink for the first time, this is a pretty re-tellable story.”
He didn’t try to talk me out of it. He didn’t ask me if I was sure. Brandon Youngblood didn’t fuck around when it came to promises or booze. Doubly so when both are involved.
“Two,” he motioned to the barkeeper and they reached up for a bottle that said Something… Van Winkle 23 on it.
The bartender poured the two glasses neat, not wasting a drop, and finished with a few drops of water. I admit I had no idea what was happening at the time, but I had promised the man top shelf.
He took a drink and God damn he was cool. He stood, leaned against the bar with his back, waving at well wishers. I noticed his foot resting against the lower rail. Dave taught me that is a tactic people who know bar fighting use to get extra force on a headbutt when some asshole is in your face.
I mimicked him and casually took a sip of my drink expecting intense notes of ripe fruit and chocolate, or whatever the liars at the distillery tell us is going on in the tumbler. He must have seen my face. No, I know he did, because a slight chuckle escaped.
“Don’t spit it out, kid. That glass is probably worth the take on your merch this week.”
He was right, of course, and while I was once again dismayed that they didn’t allow me to pay via phone, I was smart enough to bring cash with me this time. We talked for a while before he finished his drink and thanked me with a handshake that was firm and confident. He put the glass back down on the bar and spied another patron he had been waiting on.
“Drink water in between those, Eddie. And thank you, I mean it. I do appreciate your support. I gotta admit I had you pegged as another shit heel, but you’re OK.”
“Thanks,” I replied and a boost of legitimate affirmation ran through me. “I’m trying to be better.”
“Right on.” He pulled two fingers to his brow and took his leave, but not before turning back and pointing at my drink. “And I’m serious. Water inbetween.”
And like that he disappeared into a sea of people. How a man of his stature managed to do that is a mystery to me, but some shit in life you just ain’t supposed to be able to explain. I took a look at my drink and, convinced nobody else was looking, downed it in one go. Jesus Christ and the Thirteen Apostles it burned.
I waited a few minutes for the hellfire in my throat to subside. Fuck it. I’m here, it’s a good night. Let’s do another. I motioned to the barkeep and he poured me a much more sensibly priced tumbler of rye. This one was also not laced with hints of citrus, coriander, and plums, but rather tasted like licking a hunk of charred barrels.
I took a sip, and my face looked like a victim caught in Marie Antionette. The barkeep asked if I was sure I didn’t want something a little more my speed, and I waved them off. Youngblood drinks whiskey, I’m drinking whiskey. To enunciate my point, I downed the second glass and ordered another.
The bartender smiled at me and shrugged. “How about something from Ireland?” they offered.
“I like redheads.” I said and plonked a twenty on the table. The barkeep poured three fingers of what had to be straight kerosene masquerading as something potable.
A funny thing happened somewhere toward the end of the third glass. I got really sexy and that whiskey started to taste really good. I nodded to the barkeep and they poured me another. A voice that rasped like it had been run through a cheese grater rang out in the back of my mind: remember to drink water in between.
But that voice was merely a whisper.
After leaving the bar I walked down the street taking in the atmosphere. I was feelin’ myself and put a little Carolina strut into my gait. San Diego, California, not Chicago, seemed like the place to be tonight, and there was no shortage of people who were wrestling fans out and about. I must have had more pictures taken than anywhere I’d ever been before. I gotta admit, there was something intoxicating about the feeling.
I looked at the text I had gotten earlier in the day. Rev 31, Sage Pontiff. – LT.
Here we go again.
A shudder ran through me as I realized I was going to have to jump from the frying pan into the fire, but the thought didn’t have time to resonate as a small group of college students approached me on the street asking for selfies. Of course I obliged and I even went as far as to sign a few autographs with a Sharpie that Dave advised I always keep close, just in case I needed it.
“You might be a bad guy or a good guy in the ring, but you gotta be ready to sign an autograph if you want that merch money, Ed.” I could hear him speaking to me in the air as I went down the line writing “E.C. GG” on everything from a “Fuck Your Head” shirt, to a foam pterodactyl mask, to a young ladies’ chest.
Don’t ask me why anyone gets an autograph on their chest… it’s just going to wash off.
Also, yes. I am that oblivious.
One of them asked me what it felt like to punch Tony Gamble, to which I replied “Fuckin’ awesome,” because it was fuckin’ awesome.
Another asked me to come party with them, and normally I would have turned down the invitation, but tonight? Well, tonight was swiftly taking a detour from which I have yet to recover.
We ended up back at their pad in UC San Diego. I’d never seen that many model-hot women in all my life, and I’d be lying if I said that being built like I belonged on the set of Aquaman and being somewhat famous amongst a group of college girls was without its benefits.
We drank, We listened to Drake’s newest single. We danced. I sat on a couch with a broken armrest that had at least four girls on it, each trying harder than the last to vie for my attention. Pretty soon, one of them named Olivia, or Ovelia, or Ovaltine… definitely an “O” name… got up from the couch and grabbed my hand. She dragged me over to a pair of microphones and started singing a Miley Cyrus song about flowers… or something.
Somewhere around the third verse I took my shirt off. Opaline ran her hand on my stomach and my hair stood on end, my entire body shivered with the preamble to bad decisions. She said something to me I couldn’t quite understand and my mind wandered as I saw a guy with a tattoo on his bicep.
Maybe I should get a tattoo?
I grabbed the microphone and held up my hand to the guy running the karaoke machine… I think his name was Steve… to play something with a fucking sick beat. Pretty soon, I recognized the scratch that heralded HUMBLE. by Kendrick Lamar.
“Nobody pray for me.”
They went berserk. I wish I could get these pops on the show. I mumbled through most of the first verse and forgot the second verse outright. Before long, it was just me and a kid that looked like Samwell Tarly on dual mic’s hollering the main chorus at one another.
“Bitch, be humble (hol’ up, bitch)
Sit down (hol’ up, lil’, hol’ up, lil’ bitch)
Be humble (hol’ up, bitch)
Sit down (hol’ up, sit down, lil’, sit down, lil’ bitch)”
It didn’t matter. I was like a God. That Taga… Tagalong cookie guy my Dad always talked about.
“I wanna say something!” I shouted into the microphone. They cheered.
“Next week I’m going to fight this guy who is like a living ad for deodorant. I mean, one time I forgot to shower and Dave had to hose me down, but this guy, fuck, he’s dirtier than Sam Tarly over there.”
I pointed at Samwell.
“He knows.” Sam raised his brows and smiled. I continued. “The guy gets off on pain. I mean what’s that about? I dunno. Me? I am just out here because if you can’t loosen up and have a good time, you’re… uh… yeah!”
A pause as everyone waited for me to continue.
“Are we gonna keep this party going or what?”
From somewhere in the back a guy named Eli strode out with a funnel and plastic tube. The guys started hollering in calamity that I had to drink, and the women were cheering as I sat down on a rickety kitchen chair. I heard them crack open a can and start pouring it and held my hands up to ask for silence once again.
“This is fucking awesome!” I yelled jubilantly. “I’m changing my name! I will henceforth be known as Master Chief!”
I grabbed the plastic tube. “GG, Bishes.”
It wasn’t really the beer that did it. It wasn’t the volume, or the taste, or the alcohol. It was carbonation and foam.
Remember to drink water in between.
Beer is mostly water, right?
My stomach rumbled like the thunder through a Carolina holler. I swear I aimed at Samwell, but that bitch dodged and I erupted like Mount Matavanu right on a perfect set of breasts. Ogilvie screamed and ran for the bathroom. Everyone looked at me at once, and it felt like what Tyler Best must have felt like right after the bell rang and he was headed back to Chicago empty handed.
After I wiped my mouth off and groaned, I reached down and grabbed the remainder of the twelve pack of beer they had been loading into the beer bong and looked around the room.
“K. Me and my…” I looked inside the box and wobbled a little, “seven or eight friends are going to the beach. Who’s in?”
“I see how it is.”
I closed my eyes and tried to lay down as I sat alone on the beach. The waves rolled in gently, and the noise replaced the sloshing in my mind as nausea rolled back and forth, bouncing off the sides of my skull. The stars in the sky all spun around in a non-committal pattern.
I sang off key to the seagulls perched on a pier, who squawked back at me in perfect harmony. ‘Cause now I got the world swingin’ from my nuts and damn it feels good… to be a gangsta.’
I made sand angels and startled as I heard footsteps. Oh, phew. It’s just Rezin. Thank the maker for a familiar face.
“Rezin, my man,” I sat up and blinked while simultaneously wobbling and trying to hold down the two beers I had drank since I left the frat party. Rezin didn’t say anything. Made sense. It’s late and he’s probably faded, looking for kindred souls to share some sort of hallucinogenic induced journey.
“I’m glad you’re here.” I cracked open a beer and tried handing it to him. He didn’t reach for it, which I thought was odd at the time, but then I thought oh he must be on some of that GOOD GOOD, so I just held it up to his mouth for him. As he lapped the beer up and spilled half of it into his beard, I grabbed one for myself.
“I have no idea what to do, bruh. I know I am supposed to have some sort of plan… uh strategy… but it just feels like nothing I do works.” I took a drink and let a light burp escape. “Now I have to face Sage Plaintiff. I don’t even know how to spell Bodhis… Boathouse… Boyardee, or whatever it is. I dunno, it feels like some Laser Lotus bullshit to me.”
Rezin nodded and clapped me on the shoulder. It was nice to know I had a friend in all this.
“I mean Dave… you know… uh Dave Gibson, he would probably make me run a bunch and throw wrenches at me or some shit. I still haven’t worked out how that last bit helps, but he said that it’s from one of his war movies about having balls.”
I closed my eyes and realized I, myself, was on some ass-backwards spiritual journey. I did not, however, realize it was one of colossally bad decisions.
“Hey, let me ask you something, bruh.” I held another beer to his whiskered mouth and he greedily guzzled it up, making a horrible mess. “What’s the point of all this? Like, when you won the Universal title, did you feel like the champion of the entire Universe?”
“Really? One time I took a philosophical class in community college and they asked us to write a paper describing the end of the universe. I mean… have you ever thought about the end of the universe? That’s like… the fuck is that even about?”
“You’re right man,” I replied hazily and hiccuped. “I guess if I looked into the void I might be into some of that Karma Sutra stuff too. You ever done that shit?”
He didn’t outright admit it, but The Goat Bastard’s eyes told a different story.
“You dirty dog,” I sighed. “I mean, I have had some good times, but never really had a girlfriend. I mean, I almost did. You’d have loved her Rez, she smelled like cherry blossoms and wore heavy metal shirts. But it’s… well it’s hard in the business. Hard. Haaaaaard.” As I trailed off, I sat in silence with visions of a platinum blond angel swimming in the sea that washed back and forth in my mind.
Rezin barked an order at me and I reached into the case of beer. I fished around a bit before pulling the last bottle from the box and popped the top off. He angrily drank the liquid gold, and burped up suds from deep within his gullet. God’s above he’s been eating raw fish hasn’t he?
“Hey, remember to drink water in between those, bruh.”
I looked out across the bay and weaved back and forth from my seat in the sand. “You know what I think?”
“Barf, barf?” answered Rezin.
My stomach churned as his breath hit my nose and it occurred to me that he wasn’t wrong.
“That’s an excel…” suddenly and violently my stomach wretched and contorted, spilling all the contents of the evening that wasn’t already being worn by Ophelia into the California sand. This went on for some time, until there was nothing left to spew forth.
As I dry heaved, wracked in pain, I felt a nudge on my shoulder and realized Rezin’s appetite for liquid pork chops was unsated. “Bruh, we’re out. You drank it all.” He bared his teeth and growled at me, and I held my hand up to let him know we could get more, but apparently The Ol’ Dopesmoker is an impatient son of a bitch and before I knew it, he lashed out and bit me.
“YOU DICK!” I yelled and clutched my wound as I ran up the beach. Sand flew from under my feet and the heavens swirled in the air. Suddenly a blinding light appeared and all I could see was white.
“Buddha, is that you? It’s me, The Master…” I said before my eyes rolled back in my head and I fell into a grainy abyss.
“Thanks for coming in to pick him up. We found him down on the beach cavorting with a sea lion. You know, this time of year they are quite aggressive because of the algae bloom.”
I heard a voice that sounded like a muted trumpet reply to the officer and looked at my bandaged hand. My head was throbbing and I felt as though I had reached enlightenment purely from the expulsion of alcoholic demons.
“Youngblood?” I asked gingerly. “Brando, they got me. Rezin gave me the herpatitis. Also, I think someone shit my pants.”
I heard the officer tell Brandon “When we found him he didn’t have any ID and he was referring to himself only as uh…” he checked his notes “‘Master Chief.’ Upon searching him, all we found was a piece of cardboard with a stick man drawn on it that said ‘I am 21 so drinking = yes.”
“Wah wah wah wah, wah wah wah,” went the trumpet once again.
The officer unlocked the door to my room and nodded to me. “You’re free to go, kid. Lucky you have someone watching out for you.”
As I walked out of the room the officer turned to my benefactor and said “Doc said to rebandage and treat the hand for infection. It should heal up pretty quick.”
I stumbled through the hall, my head was awash with realities. Sage Pontiff was no joke and frankly, he wasn’t a good stylistic matchup. I wish Dave was here. He would know what to do. I didn’t really have a choice though. This one was going to be no prep, no tape, no plan. Just go in there and improvise, I guess.
What the hell? It’s worth a shot.
As we exited the station I made my way down what felt like an impossible amount of granite steps. Waiting for me at the bottom was my chariot.
“Damn Brando, nice car. Trans Am?” I opened the door and slid into the passenger seat. As we pulled away toward the hotel he handed me a bottle of water, I slipped into a dream, and I could have sworn I heard my Dad’s voice telling me “Get some sleep, we’ll talk about this in the morning.”
And then the city lights and headlights and stars all went black.