The look of joy on Tony Gamble’s face, as he looks down at the plate of chicken fried steak and eggs the waitress had just placed in front of him, is priceless.
“Can I get another glass of juice, sweetie?” Frank Pastore lifts his glass, shaking the ice around.
“Of course, handsome” the waitress with a name tag that has Janice tied on it replies, as she turns and walks away.
“Careful,” Domingo Cruz slaps Frank’s shoulder with the back of his hand. “Don’t need you getting canceled on me.”
“It’s a shame really,” Tony interjects, as he cuts a piece from his chicken fried steak. “The world has become so soft, it’s like you’re walking around on eggshells twenty four seven.”
“More like stomping on them when it comes to you, boss.”
They all laugh, but Dom seems to be laughing the hardest at his own comment when Janice returns with a fresh glass of juice for Frank. Her other hand is holding Dom’s waffles.
“Any tabasco or ketchup for your eggs?”
“No thank you,” is Tony’s answer before he shoves a fork full of eggs into his mouth.
“Well if ya need anything, just holla.”
“Will do, sweetie.” Frank’s response is accompanied by a wink.
Janice smiles, then turns and walks away. A view Frank doesn’t mind looking at, judging by the smile on his face.
“Looks like someone is thinking about dessert,” The Grin laughs, a bit of egg falling out of his mouth and onto his lap.
“You think that flavor of pie’s on the menu,” Dom asks with a crooked smile.
“I sure as hell hope so,” Frank turns back to the group, a huge grin on his face. “At least one of us should be getting laid.”
“I have a match to focus on,” Tony took another bite of his meal.
“We had a bunch of matches in Japan, and I can tell you the ring bunnies there loved the Bang!” Dom elbows Frank as he speaks. “Pretty sure we hooked up with more girls than we had matches.”
“Yeah, that’s no excuse, boss.” Frank shakes his head. “Especially when your upcoming match is against Eddie. That shit stain doesn’t deserve that much attention.”
“Well, he managed to get you guys banned from ringside.” Gamble puts his fork down on the edge of the plate. “Not that I need you guys to beat him, but I’m the only one with people banned from ringside when he’s come after me with people at his side multiple times now.”
“Dude came at you with a damn kendo stick on the last show,” Dom interrupted. “Troy’s out of her damn mind if she thinks we’d let him get away with that shit.”
“Well,” Tony leans forward on the table, elbows resting on either side of his plate. “Ivan doesn’t give a shit about what she says or does to try and control him, and Farmington and Best are considered family to her, so she likes to throw her weight around where she thinks she can. Just like the damn match against Ria, she just signed it because she got a wild hair up her ass.”
“Seriously though, how many of your matches have we actually interfered in?” Frank throws in his two cents. “Pretty sure Alexie has us beat by double digits.”
“Yeah, well, Eddie thinks this gives him an advantage over me,” Tony shrugs his shoulders as Frank takes a drink from his juice. “What it does is take away any excuse he may have had as to why he couldn’t get the job done yet again.”
“More coffee, hon?”
Tony flinches a bit, caught by surprise as Janice walks up to the table from behind him with a pot of coffee in her hand.
“Oh, yeah, thanks.”
“Didn’t mean to startle you,” Janice apologizes as she fills Tony’s cup, her focus switching quickly from the cup and Frank’s smile. “What about you, handsome, is there anything else I can get for you?”
“I can think of a thing or two,” Frank replies, as he notices an extra button of her shirt has been unfastened since she was last at the table. “How bout you give me your number?”
= * = * =
“Are you going to call me tonight?”
“No, I will call you as soon as I have more information,” Pete Moran shuffles through a couple of folders on his desk, not even looking up at Victoria Henderson as he speaks to her. “I’m up to my ears on this serial case from Sacramento, so you’ll forgive me if I don’t drop everything because you want info on your baby daddy.”
“I’m sorry,” Victoria replies. “Things have just been tough with Olivia lately, and I need to figure out a way to put this behind us.”
“I told you to tell her,” Pete finds the folder he was looking for, then starts thumbing through the pages. “Finding out from a friend that your mom’s been lying to you your whole life kind of sucks.”
“Yeah, well, I can’t go back and change that.” Victoria drops into the seat in front of Moran’s desk, leaning her head back to look up at the ceiling. “He had a DNA test done on a fork, because he thought she looked like his mother. Violet didn’t realize…”
“Wait,” Pete looks over at her. “Your daughter’s friend is named Violet?”
“Yes, and apparently Tony made a big thing about the test results with her family, and she ended up telling him Olivia was the one who used that fork and now here we are.” Victoria lowers her head into her hands, taking a deep breath before continuing. “I knew there was a chance, but I really hoped this day would never come…I don’t think I’m ready, Pete.”
= * = * =
“It’s hard to explain, but the truth is I don’t believe you’re ready for this.”
Nothing fancy, just Tony Gamble sitting on a stool.
“I look at you, Eddie, and all I can see is a little boy lost. Just some punk kid that is looking for anyone to show him how to climb that ladder fast, because patience isn’t something your generation truly understands.”
The signature #STANDING4JON tee shifts slightly as he shrugs his shoulders.
“We live in a World destined for disaster, because half the youth need to have a week long training course on how to press the right picture of a burger on a screen. That’s even if they’re willing to step outside of their damn house, because it’s easier to sit on your ass and play video games in front of a camera.”
He takes a drink from the bottle of water in his hand.
“Well, for some people, because you couldn’t even do that well enough. But at least you tried, right? I mean, you probably have that participation trophy displayed proudly on a shelf in your living room, right next to the one you got when your T-ball team went one and twelve when you were six years old.”
He raises his empty hand, palm facing the camera.
“Now before you blow me up on Jabber about how I’m wrong, I’m just providing an example to emphasize my point. That point being, that if you keep traveling down the path you’re on right now…you’re going to keep being runner up.”
Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
“And I say this, because I’ve seen it before. I’ve been in your shoes, Eddie.”
He lifts his leg slightly, looking down at the custom maroon and gold Air Force One’s for a moment.
“Hell, with as many losses as I’ve had since my return, I’m practically in them now.”
He looks back up, back at you.
“The thing is Eddie, I’ve already had my Hall of Fame run. My name is written alongside Brandon Youngblood and Matt Ward. I know once Troy had Dusk inducted it felt like it could be considered a participation award, but I’ll squash that here and now and let you know the list to add people gets smaller every year so he was eventually getting in anyway.”
He knows that isn’t going to go over well, but that has never really stopped him before.
“I knew the moment you started asking to face the man who beat Jason Snow, that slayed Goliath when he took down Hessian, and proved the Deville was anything but…that I wasn’t going to be able to give you what you wanted.”
A beat passes, as he lets out an audible breath.
“As much as I wish I could turn back time, I’m not the man that you used to watch on the television when you were a kid anymore. I hate to admit it, but I doubt I’ll ever be at that level ever again. I mean, my match against Youngblood a couple of months ago proved I can still compete against main event caliber competition, but I’m not afraid to admit that the match took its toll on me.”
The right side of his face curls into a smile.
“It’s no secret that Brandon is a tough son of a bitch, but I almost had him and he knows it. Who’s to say things wouldn’t turn out different if the Universal title was on the line…but I digress.”
The smile slowly fades away.
“I guess what I’m really trying to say, Eddie, is that you got your match, you even got the rest of the Gamble Adoration Syndicate banned from ringside, but you’re not going to get the one thing you begged for a month or so ago…you’re not getting that Tony Gamble.”
He shakes his head.
“You’re going to step into the ring and come face to face with the man that has defeated some of the greatest names in PRIME history, the man that has had his name written in PRIME’s title history on more than one occasion, but who understands that his history does not define his present. I want to say that I have nothing left to prove, that my legacy is set and I’d be fine if I decided to just leave my boots in the ring and walk away, but there is one thing that I have never accomplished in my long storied career…”
Gamble looks down and places his hand at his waist, rubbing the empty area where a title would reside.
“I guess I’ll just have to settle in beating you though, because when you’re sitting at the bottom of the rankings with the only person below you being Darin Zion…Well, let’s just say the boss has no problem letting me know I need to do what I’m told, when I’m told, against who I’m told.”
A quick shrug.
“At Tropical Turmoil that is exactly what’s happening, Eddie. I’m taking on my scheduled opponent. Unlike you, this match isn’t personal to me. It has no bearing on what I do next, or who I face next. I’ll admit though, you have been a bit of a thorn in my side these last few months. Thing is, thorns get pulled out and tossed aside all the time. Never to be thought of again, and quite frankly that is exactly what I expect to happen to you once Ashley raises my hand in victory.”
Tony brings his right fist to his mouth, then pulls it away quickly as he opens his hand and mouths the word ‘poof!’
“Never to be worried about again.”
“Because, just like most people like to point out about what I’ve done in the past, you are irrelevant. The only reason anyone is even talking about you right now, is because of who you’re up against. The other wrestlers on the roster don’t want to acknowledge what I’ve done, because most of them haven’t accomplished what I’ve done. But the fans, much like you, haven’t forgotten the titles I’ve won or the people I’ve beat, and that is what got you a temporary seat at the table with the big boys. Once the match is done though…”
“Well, so is your fifteen minutes.”
= * = * =
“Do you think that’s enough time?”
“Fifteen minutes is plenty of time,” Domingo Cruz looks down at a young man in his early twenties with red hair and freckles on his cheeks. “You should honestly try to keep it under ten, because fans can get restless and will stop paying attention.”
“Yeah you need to keep it to like three or four questions, unless Tony or C start rambling.” Frank is sitting on Dom’s left, slicing a piece out of an apple. “Which they both tend to do from time to time.”
“Oh, and be prepared to be called some type of ridiculous name,” Cruz chimes in. “Remember the guy with the yellow teeth, Frankie?”
“Oh, yeah, Butters Cotch.”
“Butterscotch – like the candy,” the redhead asks, a puzzled look on his face.
“No, he called him Butters Cotch, two words.” Frank laughs. “Because Tony said his teeth reminded him of little sticks of butter. Guy walked out without even talking to C and didn’t come back, so we called you.”
“I can just imagine the names they’re going to think of when they see your hair,” Dom chuckles softly. “Hopefully you have thicker skin than that guy.”
“Is this not a serious job,” Red looks even more confused than before. “I have a bachelor’s in sports journalism from Arizona State, so the last thing I want to do is waste my time to be the butt of someone’s joke.”
“Riiiiigggghhhhttt,” Frank hands the apple to Cruz and stands up. “Well it was a pleasure meeting you Mr. Reddington. We’ll call you to set up a meeting with the boss and Mr. Byrnes once we confirm their availability, but with the pay per view right around the corner it will definitely be soon.”
“Definitely,” Domingo agrees as he stands up as well, reaching out to shake Red’s hand.
“No need to be formal,” he takes Dom’s hand with his own and shakes it. “Just call me Levi.”
“Sounds good, mister,” Frank stops short, as he reaches to shake Red’s hand. “I mean, Levi.”
“I look forward to hearing from you,” Reddington turns to walk out of the room, with a smile as wide as the Mississippi and his heart beating so loud you’d think Zeus himself was pounding out a drum solo.
“Well, you can thank Matt for that one,” the words pass through Frank’s lips as soon as Levi closes the door behind him.
“I’d rather cuss his ass out,” Dom replies. “Did he really think that was going to work out for us?”
“Well not in so many words,” Frank sits back down. “But we’re definitely not calling that guy back.”
“I’m a bachelor,” Dom shakes his head, as he balls up his fist and shakes his arm up and down at the elbow. “Why would he be proud of that anyway, that show sucks.”
“Not what he meant,” Frank chuckles softly. “I really think we should stick with Johnnie anyway.”
“Johnnie?” Domingo pauses for a moment. “Oh, you’re talking about Juan.”
“Yeah, he was a solid dude.” Pastore reaches into his pocket, pulling out his cell phone as Cruz does the same. “Meeting at ten tomorrow about Eddie.”
“I swear, that little prick has been more trouble than he’s worth.”
“No doubt, but the boss has to prepare either way,” Frank places his phone on the desk in front of him. “You can only learn so much by watching videos of his matches.”
= * = * =
“It’s all I have, since you won’t talk to me about him.”
“What is it that you think you need to know about him,” Victoria turns the TV off, then leans back into the cushions of the couch.
“I don’t know,” Olivia picks her feet up onto the couch, then wraps her arms around her legs as she faces her mother. “All I’ve learned from the videos is that he’s a huge jerk to people, and nobody likes him.”
“Yeah,” she nods. “That about sums it up.”
“Mooom, stop,” Olivia throws her head back dramatically. “I’m serious.”
“So am I,” she replies. “That isn’t an act you see, that’s the way Tony is all the time.”
“He seemed really nice at the restaurant.”
“Now that,” Victoria points at her daughter. “That’s an act.”
“I still want to meet him.”
“Because I said so, that’s why,” Victoria stands up, shaking her head. “That man does not deserve to be a part of your life.”
“That’s not fair.”
“Not fair,” Victoria looks down at her daughter, noticing the tears welling up in the corner of her eyes. “What’s not fair about me trying to protect you?”
“By lying to me,” Olivia raises her voice to her mother. “By lying to him? Violet told me that he thought you were dead, that I was never even born.”
“I did what I felt I needed to do,” Victoria throws her arms up in frustration. “You don’t know the whole story.”
“Because you won’t tell me!”
“That’s enough,” Victoria shakes her head. “You’re not going to talk to me like that, young lady. We will talk about this when I feel you are ready.”
“No, not never. I said we’ll talk about it when you’re ready.”
“Fine.” Olivia stands up, tears streaking down her face. “You win.”
Victoria watches her daughter walk away, wiping her cheeks with the sleeve of her shirt as she struggles to keep from completely breaking down. She’s too young to understand, to realize how hard it was for her to just walk away with no explanation.
“I love you.”
Her daughter did not reply.
A slamming door is all that she hears.
Then she starts to shed her own tears.