“He’s like a lost little puppy.”
Angus Skaaland looks up from his phone for the first time in half an hour. He drags his shades down the bridge of his nose just enough to peer over at his charge.
The Only Star signs another autograph and passes it back across the table to an eager fan. I’d love to sit here and tell you it’s a twelve year old kid or something, maybe a hot chick. It isn’t, though, it’s a weird looking dude in his late thirties wearing a vintage Eric Dane t-shirt from something like nineteen ninety-eight with a different replica championship belt draped over each shoulder.
ED: Jace. With all of that mewling and caterwauling.
Angus shrugs, already lost back into his phone.
AS: Fuck that douche-bro. Seriously.
ED: Like I said, lost puppy. Can’t find the tit, so he just squeals at the top of his lungs, desperate for some kind of attention. Any kind.
AS: So, give it to him?
Just as The Only Star is about to sign one of those replica belts, an old Pacific Northwest Heavyweight Championship by the looks of the pristinely kept plates, he double-takes at Angus.
ED: Are you fuckin’ high?
AS: Yes. Wait, why?
ED: When he talks, my brain scrambles. It’s like he recorded himself running his fingernails down a chalkboard then ran it through an autotune. And you want me to engage him? The fuck? Don’t I pay you to somehow keep me from having to deal with just this type of bullshit?
He finishes the signature and hands the belt back across the table. The fan, awkward as any other wrestling junky pushing forty whose just met-slash-been blown off by their favorite wrestler of the last twenty years, makes another request.
Fan: This one too?
The fan hands over another belt, WfWA by the plate, and gives Eric this strangely pathetic grimace that the poor schmuck must think makes him look endearing. It does not.
ED: Yeah man, lemme see it.
Eric grabs the belt and takes a long, nostalgic look at his reflection in the center plate. A lifetime ago he wore the real version of this title on four separate occasions. For the moment, he is lost in the memories before the chunky mark across the table ruins it by gushing.
Fan: Yeah! I got it right after you won Summer Games III back in-
The Golden Pariah cuts him right off.
ED: Two-thousand and three. Yeah. I remember. I was there.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a long dead company held an event just like the upcoming Summer Games event in the CWF. Well, not exactly like, but close enough for government work. Eric Dane won that event twice, in 2003 and 2006. In the back of his mind he can’t stop laughing at the irony of having to do it all over again fifteen years later.
He signs the belt with a flourish, stands up, and slaps it over the fan’s shoulder. Eric shakes the guy’s hand and poses for a selfie. When it’s all said and done, he even thanks him.
Angus, dumbfounded, comes out of his phone one more time and cocks an eyebrow at The Only Star. Oblivious, Eric sits back down behind the folding table and the stack of 8x10 glossy’s that he’d been signing for the better part of the afternoon.
AS: We’re reduced to this, now? You gonna start kissing babies next? Helping old ladies across the street?
ED: [deadpan] It’s good for business.
Angus’ face scrunches as if he smells a fresh turd.
AS: The fuck? Pressing the flesh? You know what used to be good for business? Shitstomping lesser-thans and winning fuckin’ title belts! Not signing replicas and smelling the proletariat, naw’mean?
Momentarily Angus is ignored as Eric signs another 8x10.
ED: Thanks for coming out.
With a practiced smile and a non-threatening handshake Eric sends another happy customer through the organ grinder and out the other side. Culturally enriched, and twenty bucks lighter in the wallet.
AS: You’ve sold out.
ED: Fuck you.
AS: Jumped the shark.
ED: Whatever. Fuck else were we talking about?
From behind them Pete Whealdon makes his presence known. He’s been there the entire time, blending into everything and becoming nothing all at once. A lit cigarette dangles astutely from his lip but nobody seems to care enough to say anything to him about it.
PW: Jace Valentine, and how this whole lost ball in the tall grass bullshit needs to end sooner rather than later.
Angus cocks his eyes again, this time at Whealdon.
AS: Have you been here this entire time?
PW: Long enough to understand, not so long as to have become bored.
Eric stops signing, mid-signature, and turns to engage the Gunslinger of the Golden Paradigm. Whealdon pulls a drag and stares out into the middle distance at nothing in particular.
ED: Pete, seriously, I want you to focus all of that…
The Boss gesticulates wildly with both hands. Pete smokes.
Whealdon is nonplussed. Dane is incredulous. Angus is quickly becoming the third wheel in this equation and as such sinks directly back into his phone. He taps away with a fury induced by something he can’t quite figure out.
ED: ...into bringing me Andy Murray’s head on a fucking platter. I’ll handle Jace, just like I’ll handle everybody else in the End Games, and we’ll all live happily ever after. Groovy?
PW: Far out.
Here we go again, time to put in work.
Eric Dane is suited, booted, and dressed for success.
You know the outfit and you know what it costs. Cerulean eyes are covered by ridiculously expensive Maybach sunshades and pearly white teeth gleam under the television lights. This is what achievement looks like. This is what a champion looks like.
“Well, well, well.”
The Only Star claps his hands, grinding them together as if he had the throat of an opponent between them.
“I told you that I would change the game, and I did. I told you that the paradigm would shift, and it did. Right now I’m telling you that by the end of Summer Games, when they’re playing my music and the referee is raising my hand, I will have taken the CWF Championship for my own.”
“And I will.”
Eric’s absurd smile widens.
“You see, while it’s possible that I haven’t been making myself quite clear, the chances are exponentially higher that the men and women of the CWF are by and large a shockingly stupid lot. You see, while I keep doing whatever it is that I please, to whomever it is that I please, you people continue to think that I’m playing.”
The Boss shakes his head back and forth.
“Like, maybe Eric Dane is all fun and games.”
Eric pops the lapels of his Armani Collezioni mesh knit jacket for emphasis.
“Well friends, allow me to invite you to go on thinking that for as long as you’d like. Far be it for me to try to educate the unwashed masses here in the CWF. Christ KNOWS I could say it over and over again until I’m blue in the face, but you scum fucks seem hell bent on making an Olympic sport out of missing the fucking point.”
Behind designer shades blue eyes roll.
“Eric Dane is the straw that stirs the fuckin’ drink.”
“Eric fuckin’ Dane is the cream that rises to the top.”
Another nod, accompanied by a vintage smirk.
“Eric motherfucking Dane is the end all, be all, omnipotent universal life force that pumps blood through the veins of the Championship Wrestling Federation. Don’t believe me? Take a look around you, tell me what you see.”
“More like, tell me what you don’t see.”
A pause, he can’t help but get a kick out of himself.
“No, seriously, I’ll wait.”
Eric waits. He looks around in every direction for whatever or whoever it is that he’s talking about. Of course, no one is there. That smile widens.
“What you don’t see here anymore is every single person who stood in the way, accidentally or on purpose, of my reaching the World Title that is my goddamned birthright. Get it? I’ve been here less than two months and it’s my name that’s on the tip of everyone’s tongue.”
“It’s me, Eric Dane, leading a team into End Games.”
“Not even that idiot Rishel.”
“It’s all me, little itty bitty ol’ Only fucking Star Eric Dane.”
The End Boss spreads his arms wide, daring anyone to put themselves in the same category as Eric Dane. He can’t wait, and he knows that it’s going to happen sooner than later. When it does he’ll be smiling all the while he’s making examples out of anyone and everyone who dares to have the audacity to test him.
Hours have passed.
Lines have dwindled.
Pete Whealdon has fucked back off to wherever it is that he fucks off to.
Finally, after six hours sitting in metal folding chairs behind a plastic table, signing pictures, magazine covers, t-shirts and title belts (and one spectacular pair of tits) the very last fan comes up to The Only Star and presents him a UTA action figure of himself, mint condition in the box.
ED: Damn. Yanno I don’t see a lot of these for whatever reason.
AS: Probably because UTA was a dumpster fire and nobody bought any of their shit.
Dane cuts eyes at his manager/assistant for just a moment before going on and signing the figure’s card. He shakes the kid’s hand and thanks him for coming out and waiting in line all day and the kid gives him a high five. His parents snap a picture of the two of them, and before long they are ushered on down the way. Eric turns back to Angus.
ED: The fuck is your problem today?
AS: Nevermind that this whole convention scene is supposed to be for the washed up types out there who can’t still get a gig on TV, but why in fuck’s name did I have to sit through it? I only just got back from fucking Scotland! Where I spent a week babysitting your headcase of an insurance policy.
Skaaland waves dismissively.
AS: There are any of a thousand things I could have been doing besides-
ED: [interrupting] You know what, don’t.
There is an awkward moment. Angus stands up and stuffs the phone into the front pocket of his skinny jeans. Looking back at Eric the wind goes out of Angus. He sighs, crestfallen.
AS: I’ll tell you what man, I’m out. Drive your fuckin’ self home.
Keys magically produce themselves from his other pocket. They are tossed at Dane who snaps them out of the air without taking his eyes off of Angus. Eric almost says more but he is waved off.
AS: I’ve barely seen Richie in weeks. I came here with you today instead of going home to see my goddamned husband. I hate to be the one to have to help you pull your head of your ass for once, but I’ve been arguing with him for most of the day about why in fuck’s name I had to sit next to you while you signed a bunch of shit when I could have been home by now. So, if you don’t mind, and I don’t really give a shit if you do, I’m going home. I’ll email you our itinerary for Summer Games after I’ve had time to decompress from the whirlwind that is babysitting Bronson Box and getting Eric Dane from town to town without some bullshit or another going off.
The Boss narrows his eyes.
ED: Alright. Go home. But no more of this pouty, passive aggressive bullshit. When we head out, you’re either with us or you need to stay home, clear?
Angus turns and walks away.
“Summer Games is close.”
That trademarked smirk returns.
“With it comes the End Games match.”
The Hardcase has calmed down markedly since before.
“Seven men and one woman will step into the End Games cell and one by one we’ll knock each other off until only the World Champion remains. We’ll try to hurt and maim and kill one another inside of that cage for an hour at Summer Games and we’ll do it with gusto…”
The smirk softens to a smile.
“Well, some of us will do it with gusto. Others will go to the hospital. I can tell you from experience that the cell is an unforgiving beast. Miles upon miles of chain link and steel will come together to rend flesh from bone and let blood from the faces and bodies of each one of us.”
“As the old cliche goes, this match will take years off of our careers.”
Eric rolls his eyes again.
“I sure hope not, I mean, how many years can I have left, right?”
A chuckle escapes The Boss’s lips.
“Understand that I’ve been here before. I’ve survived cage matches. I’ve thrived in Cell matches. I’ve ended careers in WarGames and I’ve had the flesh stripped from my bones inside of a barbed wire cage. Not only have I done it all before, but I’ve done it for some title belt or another more times than I can count. This time, I spill blood for the CWF Championship.”
Eric shrugs, almost nonchalant.
“Seven other people will tell you that they’re not scared of the Cell. I’m here to tell you, having been chokeslammed through the roof of a Cell once and slammed through the wall of a WarGames cage a time or two that I’m scared completely shitless of that cell.”
“I can tell you right fucking now that I won’t be climbing my ass up the side of that cage, not for all of the money in Maryland. Think what you want, call me a coward if that makes you feel better. I really don’t give a shit. That cage is a weapon and it is to be feared and respected. You can better believe I don’t have a problem in the world brandishing it, but I’ll be fucked if I’m gonna put myself in a position to be thrown off of it or anything else of that ilk.”
The Golden Pariah shakes his head to and fro.
“Nope. I’m not going to Summer Games to have some kind of a moment, I’m going to win. I’m not out there for the spectacle, and I could care less for the adulation of the people who paid for a ticket. This isn’t about them…”
“This is about me.”
Eric thumbs himself in the chest.
“The Only Star.”
Followed by a smirk.
“Your next CWF Heavyweight Champion of the World.”
“Let that sink in for a moment, lady and gentlemen. Once this is all over and this mess is cleaned up you’ll have a Champion that you can trust in, one that you can depend on. I’m going to make it my singular obsession to take that title belt, strap it around my waist, and bring to it more prestige, more notoriety, and more publicity than the CWF has ever seen.”
Clearly Eric has put thought into the matter.
“And that’s not to say that my good friend and associate Mariella Jade wasn’t a proper Champion, it’s just that she was so young, maybe too young. Maybe she didn’t have the perspective to hold that title up to its highest cachet of dignity and importance…”
“Maybe she’s still too young.”
Dane ponders this, taking his sweet time.
“Maybe, just maybe, she’s the best of us all. Maybe it doesn’t matter how much posturing and planning that we all waste our time on because she’ll simply outlast all of us with that ’Can do!’ attitude and literally force that indomitable will of hers into a second World Title reign.”
Thoughtfully, a hand reaches up and rubs at his chin.
“Maybe she knows her place.
Dropping his head, The End Boss begins pacing.
“Hell, maybe ol’ Bronson Box’ll remember how much he loves to hate me and jump at the first chance to put my dick in the dirt, so to speak. Let’s face facts here, I can only barely control him when there’s not a prize on the line, what happens once we step inside of that cell is anybody’s guess, know what I mean?”
“Maybe he brings his golden spike and I bring my fork and we have ourselves a good ol’ fashioned knock down drag out fracus. He could probably take me yanno. He’s younger, in better shape…”
Another shrug, accompanied by its matching demure grin.
“Then again it’s always possible that I’ve already addressed and preempted each and every one of these possible scenarios with my Golden Paradigm, and maybe we’re on the same page from top to bottom. Mayhap it doesn’t matter who gets the strap so long as it’s Boxer, MJ, or myself. Either which way I control the Paradigm and that would put me in control of the title, right?”
“Maybe I’m not that selfish after all and in my twilight years in the business I’ve learned to share the glory with those that stand by my side. Did you ever think of that? I mean seriously, how fucked would the CWF be if we were that tight knit of a group, hmm? How fucked would everyone on the CWF roster be if the Golden Paradigm were so singularly minded that we made it a concerted effort to get the job done, eh?”
“How fucked, indeed.”
Another pause as he switches gears just a bit.
“So where then does that leave this Ringmaster character?”
Wait for it.
Eric winks through the screen at his other partner.
“Do yourself a favor, kid, stay home.”
Moving right along.
“And that brings me to our esteemed opponents.”
The pacing stops as quickly as it started. He feigns respect.
“There’s Dick Fury, Jarvis Something-or-Another, my illegitimate son, and a guy who wants to be treated like a panda. Or, did he say that he identifies as a panda? I don’t know, something about a panda, it’s stupid and it doesn’t matter.”
With a bit of a dramatic flair he pulls the shades from his face.
“Are we supposed to take this shit seriously?”
He stifles a bit of laughter.
“A played out dick joke, some fuckwit that physically misplaced the Paramount Title, a horrendously botched clone and a furry are supposed to not only take down the Golden Paradigm of the CWF, but then decide the World’s Championship between themselves?”
“I mean, really?”
“There will guaranteed be more effort, more willpower, more bloodlust and more talent on display once we’ve dispatched those mooks and it’s come down to a three way elimination match between Bronson, Mariella, and myself. It’ll be then and only then that the paying fans in attendance will get any modicum of their money’s worth.”
Again he pauses, taking one last moment to collect his final thoughts on the matter. Before he speaks he replaces the shades over his eyes. The smirk is firmly plastered on his face as always.
“Summer Games is going to be a big night for the CWF.”
Nostrils flare, teeth are bared.
“I cannot stress strongly enough the magnitude of this moment in time. And to be clear, it has nothing to do with anybody’s fragile ego, nothing to do with the fact that it’s eight people inside of a Cell trying to out-maneuver one another. It’s not buyrates and it’s not merchandise sales.”
Let that sink in.
“It has everything to do with this.”
Eric runs his hands back and forth across his waist making the internationally recognized sign for the championship title belt.
“It’s about that fifteen pounds of gold.”
The smirk returns, somehow even more self-satisfying.
“That singular championship, the most important title there is.”
The greed in his eyes is palpable, there will be no stopping Eric Dane from attaining this loftiest of ambitions on this most important of nights.
“I will do everything, and I do mean everything in my power to become the Champion of the World one more time. It’s the only thing that exists to me, the only goal worth even pursuing, let alone attaining.”
“I've been the Champion almost everywhere I’ve ever gone, it’s the one drug that I can’t kick. The one high that I can’t live without. It’s the feeling that you can’t get from any lover or any friend. There is no chef at no Michelin rated restaurant that can prepare you a meal as fulfilling as strapping that gold and leather around your waist and calling yourself Champion.”
“I’ve gone through men and women who thought they had what it takes to climb to that highest apex of our industry only to find themselves wanting in the end. They come and they go and they all think that they’ve got more than Eric Dane, that they’ll go further…”
The smirk melts into a sneer.
“Always have been, always will be.”
Again Eric claps his hands together, his smile returns.
“There’s going to be a very high bar set for success in the foreseeable future of the Championship Wrestling Federation. The future, as it were, has gone from murky to blindingly bright on my watch and I haven’t even taken my throne.”
Eric laughs, it doesn’t sound funny at all.
“As I said, the future is bright.”
Wait for it...
“The future is mine.”
It’s hot in New Orleans.
Smouldering, smothering, sweat sticking to everything hot.
It doesn’t matter that the sun has been down for hours anymore than it matters that the meteorologist has been screaming about a cold front coming in off the Gulf for days. There is one undeniable fact about New Orleans in the month of August. Simply stated, it’s fucking hot.
Angus Skaaland dabs at his brow with the sleeve of his tuxedo t-shirt.
“Goddamn cocksucking motherfucker.”
He mumbles to himself, as is his habit, most assuredly still stewing over the earlier argument with his friend and boss. Until now he hadn’t figured out exactly the words for it, but the growing gnawing aching fever in the back of his mind that’d been causing the rift between himself and Eric Dane over the past several weeks was about to come to a head if he didn’t find a way to reconcile the problem that he’d only just figured out that he has.
As it turns out, Angus is sick and tired of feeling like Eric Dane’s lackey.
He turns into an alley and lights a cigarette, absently wondering if he would ever be able to quit. Not fucking likely, not when he can hardly concentrate on his home life because he’s obsessed with his work life which is driving him crazy because he no longer seems able to separate personal from business when it comes to his career.
He guffaws at himself at the thought. Career, ha, he’d been Eric Dane’s personal running boy for as long as he could remember. Nevermind it pays six figures. Nevermind he’s been able to live his dream even without having any of the necessary skills to make it as a wrestler.
One thought repeats in his head, over and over.
Something is different this time.
Angus can’t quite put his finger on what, but something is definitely different. He meanders through the back streets and side alleys of the French Quarter. It doesn’t occur to him that he’s been taking the longest of out of the way routes to his home that he could possibly take without actually walking in circles.
He lights another cigarette.
“Eric fuckin’ Dane…”
“Pretentious motherfucker, always gotta be right about every-fucking-thing...”
For the life of him, he just can’t seem to shake it.
He finds another alleyway.
Another cigarette finds his lips.
Before he knows it he’s halfway up the hundred year old iron stairs that lead to his apartment. He’s a few blocks away from the Quarter proper, but this is New Orleans we’re talking about, not only is there a bar just underneath the apartment, but there’s one across the street as well. It’s a never ending parade of jizz, jazz, and junkies, but it’s home.
Without thinking he jabs a key into the lock, it slides home with a click. The sweet smell of honeysuckle greets him as he crosses the threshold into his home. Candles provide the low lighting that keeps his eyes from adjusting right away and as he steps further into the room the honeysuckle gives way to the savory aromatics that could only come from cooking down the holy trinity of cajun cuisine and slowly building up the complexity of the dish until it found perfection.
It was his favorite food and he knew it. Crawfish Etouffee, the way only his Richie-Rich could fix it. His eyes start to adjust to the lighting just as he makes out the sound of gentle footsteps from the hallway.
AS: Richie, that you?
From the darkness comes a small, tentative voice.
“I made your favorite.”
AS: I can tell, it smells wonderful.
For the first time in what seems like weeks Angus lets his demeanor soften. He forgets about Eric Dane, at least for the time being, and turns his mind back onto the person that matters the most. As Rich steps out it’s his eyes that stand out the most. Dazzling green eyes that Angus often found himself lost in.
Eyes that were strikingly highlighted in gold and bronze by a practiced and steady hand.
AS: Are you wearing… eye-shadow?
Richie P. Gardullo, formerly known around the wrestling circuit as Rich Mahogany, steps out from the shadows and into what little light that there is. The reddish brown mop of hair that Angus is used to is gone, replaced by an immaculately straightened, if conservative look. Past the eyes all of his features have been softened with makeup, it’s not a bad look for him.
RG: All this and all you notice is the eye shadow?
To be fair Rich has a point. He’s dressed in a cute but classy red dress, a shawl covers his shoulders, and a pair of black flats to tie it all together. Angus takes a step back, eyeballing the man that he loves. He runs a hand through his own mop of a bleach blond rats nest and looks for the right choice of words.
He does not find them.
AS: You look… pretty?
Rich’s eyes go wide, hands immediately find hips and attitude is amplified. You could go so far as to call it sass and Rich wouldn’t correct you.
RG: Excuuuuuuse me? Was that a question?
The Motormouth of Malcontent finds himself without words.
AS: Yes- I mean no- I mean.... What was the question again?
Rich tries to hold the scowl but can’t, his face melts sweetly into a smile and he approaches Angus, finds his way into his arms and plants a kiss on still unsure lips.
RG: What do you think?
AS: What do you mean?
RG: About this. About me. What do you think? I need to know…
He trails off, the insecurity returning.
AS: I mean… it’s just that-
Angus is interrupted by a curt knock at the door he’d entered only moments ago. He pulls away, eyes rolling and general negativity returning to his demeanor. Rich hugs his arms to his chest and hurries off into the other room. Angus grinds his teeth as the knock comes a second again, this time with a bit more urgency.
AS: I swear to fucking fuck…
He turns and storms to the door and swings it open. Standing face to face with him is The Only Star, a dour look plastered across his face. Angus resists the urge to lunge and wrap his hands around the throat of the man that once trained him to wrestle and throttle the life out of him. Through gritted teeth he speaks.
AS: Life or fucking death.
Eric stares at Angus like he’s speaking another language.
ED: Excuse me?
AS: Life. Or fucking death. That’s what this had better be about. Otherwise you and me are fucking done. So what is it, life or fucking death?
Eric doesn’t answer straight away. He takes a deep, calming breath.
ED: We have to talk.
Angus isn’t satisfied.
AS: Get the fuck out of here with that bullshit. I told you I wanted to go home, Eric, that didn’t mean I wanted you to follow me so you can give me more shit about not playing to the fucking marks or whatever else you wanna lecture me about. So get the fuck out, if it’s important call me in the morning, if it’s not then blow it out your ass and leave me the fuck alone!
ED: Angus, I’m serious.
AS: So am I. Go home.
He tries to shut the door in Eric’s face, Eric stops him with an outreached hand.
ED: I can’t.
It doesn’t compute, Angus tries again to shut the door.
AS: Then go to the Hotel.
ED: I can’t.
Angus’s raises a brow.
AS: The office?
Eric nods a silent no.
AS: The fuck?
ED: I’m broke, Angus.
AS: What do you mean, broke?
ED: I mean it’s all gone, and I need a place to crash.
Time stands still. Eric Dane has never humbled himself in front of anyone before so far as Angus knows. And yet here he stands, metaphorical hat in hand, asking help from a man that he employs. Angus has a mild panic attack trying to reconcile everything that’s going on inside of his head right now. His heart starts pumping again as he can feel Rich’s arms slide around his waist and his chin resting over Angus’ shoulder.
RG: Let him in, Angus.
RG: But nothing. He needs our help. Don’t make the man beg.
Angus’ face softens once again and he gestures for The Only Star to enter.
AS: Come on in, bossman. Having backs is apparently what we do here.
Eric does just that. The door shuts behind him.