The look on his face is priceless.
The anger in his eyes – as they narrowed and focused on mine – is something you have to experience for yourself in order to fully grasp how satisfying it can be. He probably thought this was his chance to prove that he was still as good as he once was, an opportunity to end a streak that would be talked about for years to come as Flamberge continues to add neck after neck to an already impressive collection. Tonight turned out to be no different, and I was more than happy to have been a part of it.
To say that Tsonda and I have had a long and storied history would be settling out short, because the truth is our story is far from over.
This is just another chapter.
Another page waiting to be turned.
“Get used to this,” I say to him with a huge smile on my face, as I make my way toward the ramp. “Because the only happy ending in your future, Chan Chan… is the one you need to pay for.”
I say it loud enough that only he can hear, because the last thing I need is for someone to post it on the internet and claim it was a racial remark. I’ve been trying my best not to get suspended on Jabber again, but something like this would definitely have cancel culture screaming for Troy to hand them my damn head on a platter.
Then again – knowing me – I’ll probably say or post some other stupid crap that will get me suspended. Despite the fact that I like to think things through and plot out my actions in order to have continued success in the ring, I have a tendency to not think before I post on Jabber. Then again, maybe I know what I’m doing there too.
I take a glance back at the ring and notice Tsonda still staring at me, seething.
He must be really pissed off.
Like a kid in a toy store with Mom’s boyfriend’s credit card so Dad doesn’t find out about him, that brings a genuine smile to my face and makes my tummy feel like a thousand Oompa Loompa’s are doing cart wheels inside of it. I can literally feel that happiness get sucked out of me faster than noodles in a bowl of ramen in front of Bobby Dean, when I turn away from Chandler and take a few more steps up the ramp.
That’s when I see her.
Her hair is brown now and styled differently, but there is no way I would ever forget her face…or her smile.
Damn, I missed that smile.
I know she is saying something because I can see her lips moving, but it is hard for me to understand a thing she is trying to say when a majority of the crowd is booing me so damn loud.
“What?” I ask loudly as I lean closer to her.
= = = = =
“We need to talk,” Jake Nguyen plops down onto the chair across from Tony Gamble.
“About?” Tony leans back in his chair, loosening the silver, blue, and black striped tie around his neck before unfastening the top button of his black long sleeve shirt.
“My agent is having a little trouble finding me work with the whole writers strike going on,” he begins, staring up at the ceiling as he tries his best to avoid eye contact with the current Gamble Champion. “So I was thinking maybe you could put me back on payroll.”
“That well’s run a little dry,” Frank Pastore is sitting on a couch with his arms folded across his chest. “Don’t you think, boss?”
“I don’t know,” Tony shrugs his shoulders. “I’ve been tossing around this idea in my head that I think would be pretty damn funny.”
“I’m in,” Jake yells out in excitement, as his eyes widen and a smile the actual size of Rhode Island stretches across his face and tries to tickle his ears.
“Honestly,” all attention turns in the direction of Domingo Cruz as he continues to speak. “all the cool kids are using cardboard cutouts these days. The fans are going crazy over it all over social media.”
“Hopefully not all the cool kids,” Jake chuckles nervously.
“I’m sure it’s cheaper, but for my idea to work I need to do more than just sit there talking to a cardboard cutout of Tsonda. Pretty soon you’re going to see the new kids like Logan Hunter or Kennade Kael doing it to get over, and that’s when it gets lame.” For the record, Tony pronounced it Kuhnayd, because if her parents wanted to name her Kennedy they would have spelled it right. With that clarified, we go back to Tony as he turns to Jake and leans forward, resting his arms on the edge of his desk. “Jake, I’m going to need a performance from you that will turn more heads than a car crash on the interstate. I’m going to need you to be so damn good, the fans will beg Lindsay Troy to let you take Chandler’s spot on the roster because you’re so damn much better at being him than he is.”
Tony stands up, slowly walking around the desk as he continues. “We’ll start off with you kneeling before me – polishing my title – then end it with you saying you’d be willing to throw the match if we make it a ‘join GAS if you lose’ match at UltraViolence. We’ll have Dom record the whole thing on his phone and upload it to social media, so the fans can see how Chandler Tsonda really feels about facing me.”
“I can do that.”
“I’m counting on it,” Tony replies as he places his hand on Nguyen’s shoulder. He leans in close, right next to his ear. “Because if I end up with egg on my face, Jakeychan, you’re going to regret ever stepping back into this office.”
= = = = =
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Exactly how it sounded,” Victoria Henderson replies, twirling her fork in the little bit of pasta left on her plate. “I can’t tell you why I made the choice I did back then, but I need you to understand that it was a very tough decision that I would do again if I had to.”
“So you’re not going to tell me what I did wrong, or if I even did anything wrong?”
Victoria shakes her head in response, which doesn’t sit right with Tony judging by his body language.
“So now what,” looking slightly defeated, Tony looks down instead of at the mother of his child sitting across from him. “I’m just supposed to act like nothing ever happened?”
“I didn’t say that, Antonio.”
“Well that’s what it sounds like to me,” Tony’s voice is an octave or two higher than normal when he looks up and over at her, while his brow furrows and his nostrils flare with every breath he takes. “You made me believe the two of you were dead, Victoria…”
His voice trails off as he turns away from her again, this time looking at the family sitting a few tables away instead of at his hands fidgeting under the table. He did not want to be angry, but it just felt like she did not care about how he felt back then – or even now for that matter – and despite how much he attempts to hide it…
It hurt so damn much.
It was almost fourteen years ago right here in Cleveland when he realized that he wanted what the man at that table had. A wife that loved him, and he would eventually grow old and gray with. A son or daughter that the two of them would raise together, and inevitably take care of them when they could no longer take care of themselves.
In an instant, that was taken away by the Thanos in a green dress sitting across the table from him; sipping from her glass of wine.
He wasn’t the same man after that, not for a long time.
That isn’t something he could let her know though, especially not right now.
No, right now, angry is what he had to be.
“I’m not sorry for the decision I made, and the fact that some psychopath was just sitting where I am now a few minutes ago reminds me that it was a good one.”
“Who, Arthur, that wasn’t even about me,” Tony shakes his head. “Just another scrub looking for a rub, thinking I have a side job as a bike messenger.”
“I don’t know what that means,” her eyebrow arches as she gives him that look women give when they think their point has been made. “But I know it is something I don’t want Olivia to be a part of.”
“Then I’ll quit.”
“What?” It was not the answer that caught her by surprise, but the lack of hesitation when he made it.
“I’ll go to Troy’s office, give her the Alias Championship, and never look back.” The scowl on his lips is gone. The furrow of his brow is a distant memory. “If that’s what it takes to be a part of her life, I’ll go do it now.”
“No,” she laughs softly as she shakes her head. “Olivia would never forgive me if I asked you to do that.”
“What,” It’s Tony’s turn to be surprised.
“That little girl has been stuck to her laptop watching every Revival, Revolution, and pay per view you’ve been a part of, since she found out about you,” her lips curl into a smile, as the flicker from the candle on the middle of the table begins to dance in her eyes. “And all she’s been talking about for the last week is going to see you live in Chicago.”
“You’re bringing her to Chicago,” this time it is Tony’s eyes that light up.
“That’s what I really wanted to talk to you about,” Victoria locks eyes with Tony. “We can deal with whatever issues we have with each other later. She wants you to be a part of her life, so I’m willing to push our issues aside if you are.”
She pauses for a moment.
“You don’t have to forget what happened, just promise me that you’re willing to not let it be your focus.”
Another brief pause, but in a surprising turn of events it doesn’t look like Tony knows what to say.
“For her sake.”
Tony nods as tears begin to stream down his cheeks.
= = = = =
“Are you crying?”
Tony Gamble shakes his head, then grabs a cup of soda from the table in front of him and takes a big sip.
“We’ve seen this show like six times,” Frank Pastore rolls his eyes and points at the screen. “You know the old man didn’t really get shot, he was behind the whole damn game.”
“Geez Louise Frank, you no half to spoiler the show for me.”
“Damn, sorry Johnnie,” Frank apologizes. “I forgot you were there.”
“Freakin jerk,” Gamble slaps Pastore’s shoulder with the back of his hand. “A damn popcorn kernel went down the wrong pipe. I’m over here choking to death, and you’re sitting there cracking jokes and spoiling the damn show for Johnnie.”
“I forgot he was there.”
“Are you freaking kidding me,” Tony asks, a look of confusion on his face. “He’s the reason we’re watching the show again, Frank.”
“Damn, you’re right, I forgot about that.” Frank mouths the word ‘oops’.
“I will be calling it a good night,” Johnnie Newsman says with a quick nod. “Thank you for the cheering up, seeing many people die was real pick me up.”
“You’re heading out,” Tony looks at his watch. “It’s only a quarter past nine.”
“I be like Domino if I stay,” Johnnie points at Domingo Cruz passed out at the end of the couch with his mouth wide open. “You no want to hear that.”
“Alright Johnnie,” Gamble nods in his direction. “We’ll see you tomorrow.”
“That is correct,” Newsman replies before opening the door to Tony’s office. “Tomorrow.”
“Damn, he’s taking this kind of hard isn’t he,” Pastore asks quietly as soon as Newsman closes the door behind him.
“It was one thing to fire Morty,” Tony emphasized the word fire by doing finger quotes when he said it. “And another for him to decide he really wants to leave PRIME.”
“But it’s not like he’s leaving forever,” Frank looks over at Tony. “Right?”
“We really didn’t talk about when he’d be coming back,” Tony answers as best as he can. “He just wanted to thank me for making him join us, because he didn’t know it at the time but it was what he needed.”
= = = = =
“You know what I need, Chan Chan?”
Tony Gamble, the Gamble Championship, and a stool.
“I need you to think about when this all started.”
That damn grin.
“Revolution one hundred and ten, the night you planned to beat some guy that pulled out a lucky win against Jonathon Winters.”
“I had a few people in the back taking notice, but you weren’t really one of them. I actually think I could count on one hand the amount of people that thought I could beat you that night, because as much as you wanted to win that Five Star title back from the man…that beat the man…that beat you…you needed to beat me in order to advance in the Jewel in the Crown tournament and get closer to your actual goal.”
“An opportunity to challenge for the Universal title.”
He looks away from the camera for a moment, but it’s brief.
“I sure had your attention at the end of that night though, didn’t I? I walked out of the ring with my Five Star championship, and a few matches closer to your Universal title shot.”
He unfastens the belt around his waist and hoists it up next to his face.
“All these years later, and we’re right back to where our story began. Except now you’re here to try and take a championship that is named after me. I hate to be the one to break it to you, Chan Chan, but this chapter is going to end just like the first one did.”
He stands up.
“Because this is my story, and to hell with everyone else.”