It’s weird how often you can find yourself where you least expected.
Seriously, think back to yourself five years ago. What kind of aspirations did you have? What kind of life were you leading? What direction did you see yourself going, and where did you think that you’d never be?
Five years ago, I was adrift. We covered this already, but it’s worth repeating. I was without direction, floating in an endless sea of uncertainty and frankly angst that wasn’t particularly becoming of a former World’s champion, let alone a Hall of Famer. I was doing the bare minimum – I was merely existing. I was ambling along and scarcely living in the moment; the ghosts of my past successes, contrasted against my current inaction, were too distracting to do anything else.
And then Cathy came into my life.
That first December afternoon where we first met was serendipity. I mean, I don’t really believe much in fate or destiny or whatever, but the pure happenstance of her coming into my life at that point in time was as close as I had ever experienced. It was providence…like divine intervention in bubble gum pink hair and boot-cut jeans.
I don’t want to make her out to be some sort of manic pixie dream girl. She made very big changes in my life, sure, but it wasn’t like she was sent from on high to teach me to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures or whatever. To be honest, it was much more cynical than that to start.
Love at first sight is bullshit, but damn it all if I didn’t fall into a state of infatuation with her immediately. I think at that moment, I wasn’t capable of much more than fascination and lust, to be honest. And I experienced both, hard, and in equal measures.
“So, what does that mean,” I asked, “that you’re a reporter, but not on air yet?”
Her cheeks were rosy from the drink, or maybe still the cold from our earlier walk to the one dive in Uniondale that had been open through the snowstorm that gripped the city that day in 2013. Whichever it was, I could see her face flush a bit more from embarrassment.
“Well, I’m really an…aspiring reporter,” she replied, smiling through her bashfulness.
I don’t mean to sound too cocky when I say this, but for all of my fascination-cum-obsession-cum-lust (maybe a bad use of Latin there, Jarvis…) for her in that moment, she was certainly as on-edge as I was that day. She had told me all about how she followed my career for years; that I was the first guy on the indies that she kept a close eye on, and that I was her window into watching the CWF before it went on hiatus. She told me how she jumped up and down in her living room screaming when I dispatched Franklin Frederickson for the Paramount Championship for the first time. She said that she was one of the few in the crowd at Genesis back in 2010 who was cheering at the start of my match against Alex Cain and was screaming the loudest when I won. She told me how she cried when I had lost my title and my job to Angelica, and then yelped with joy when I took off the Eclipse mask for the first time all those years ago.
I was smitten, but she was a fanatic meeting her hero.
“So how does an aspiring reporter make her bones?” I asked.
She swallowed another gulp of Pabst Blue Ribbon and smirked as she let out a silent burp like a pressure valve releasing. “I’m a producer at the moment,” she said, smiling. She was obviously enjoying my interest in her. “But the ultimate goal is on-air talent.”
“Where?” I asked.
“SportsNewsNet,” she replied.
“SportsNewsNet,” came the sound of the announcer’s voice over the speakers in-studio. “Your leader in sports news coverage.”
It’s weird how often you can find yourself where you least expected.
I was sitting in the KingCast studio back in Halifax, with a bottle of Jack Daniels at my side. It was just a few days after Evolution, and I was still…let’s say, celebrating. Needless to say, I’d had a few visits from Mr. Daniels in the ensuing hours and days, but today was a more thoughtful, quiet drink.
Don’t get me wrong, I was still thrilled that I had done it – I had made it back to the main event; a place that I truly belong. But now was a time for reflection. Contemplation. Meditation. I cradled the rocks glass in my left hand, lazily swirling the ice around with the last dregs of three fingers of the Old No. 7, while I sat contemplating the note in my hand. The note that was handed to me minutes after my victory. The note that freakshow sent me. The first note from one of my opponents.
And what the fuck did he mean, now the games begin? I mean, do I know this carny trash?
I have to admit - the guy has some obvious talent. It’s not nothing to come into the CWF and not only win on your first night out, but to parlay that victory into a title shot immediately. And it certainly speaks to a certain flair when a guy makes a point of coming for one of the…wait– who am I kidding – the biggest dog in the CWF on his first appearance.
Gotta admire the chutzpah. Can’t deny it. You can, however, acknowledge just how stupid it is.
See, he has my attention, now. Summer Games could have come and went without my knowing he was there at all. I mean, it goes without saying that he’s on the weaker side of the ring…there’s little doubt in my mind who the final two – maybe even the final three – will be. Now I know who he is. Now he’s got a target on his top-hatted ass.
Then again, maybe I do too? He clearly has some sort of design against me…Hell, even before that there were those masked men. Sure, Baghead, Atreyu and Sibil were spent from the match, but to take out three of the CWF’s best – three of its champions – was no mean feat. I should know better than anyone. And why the hell was I spared?
Too many things to keep me up at night. I was about to have one more, but I still had a few moments of relative ease.
I set down my drink and tossed The Ringmaster’s note on the desk before picking up my Paramount Championship. I know I’ve said it all before, but damn do I love this title. My title. My baby. The strap that I made matter. The title that started it all for me. It glistened in the soft lighting, but damn did it sparkle when the lights were on bright. I took a soft cloth that I always kept with it and started to polish the plates, stopping a moment to enjoy the finer details – a luxury that had rarely been afforded me lately.
Evolution was a weird fucking night, wasn’t it? Like, I don’t want to dwell on a point already made, but I really can’t seem to get past it. Like, set aside what I’ve already said; sure, The Paramount Champion, East Coast Excellence, yours truly, not only found his way back to the main event. He managed to duck an assault by a pair of dudes who already made mincemeat out of a bunch of tough competitors. He got a…weird note (maybe shouldn’t have ended on that one)…but maybe weirdest of all, he was given a gift – paid an honest to goodness kindness – by none other than Jace Valentine.
I don’t know what Valentine’s game was…or what it is. I mean, it’s certain that the guy has an angle – he always has – but usually it’s a little bit clearer what he wants. He’s cunning. He’s calculated. He’s savage, and – at least I thought – he’d do anything to prove that he is superior to those anywhere near his level by any means necessary. He could have lorded that title over me for weeks like Christian STARR did. He could have played with my emotions, preyed on my anger, in an attempt to get the better of me in the heat of the moment.
He could have…but he didn’t. He treated me like an old friend.
Valentine is a cold, sadistic son of a bitch. What the fuck was all of this kindness? Was it a mind game? I read what he said about me – he challenged me to bring my best, and may the best man win.
Fair enough then, Jacehole. You’ll get my best. You’ll get the Jarvis King that’s a fucking killer. You’ll get the Jarvis King that makes motherfuckers tap out. You’ll get the Jarvis King that’s won End Games before.
You’ll get the Jarvis King that’ll make you wish you had different advice for me.
“Jarvis,” said Ian, wrenching me from my daydreaming. I hadn’t noticed him come in as I was lost in my thoughts, but as I looked up, there he was – his suit a slight mess, with his hair to match. He was clearly on the clock.
“Get a load of this,” I said, gesturing to the title. “I still can’t piece it together.”
“What’s that?” he replied.
I lifted the title up a bit, almost shrugging it. “Why the hell do I have it again, Ian? I mean…has Jace gone soft?”
He ignored me and looked over at the TV, which was showing baseball highlights. “SportsNewsNet?” he asked, nervously. There was a slight tremble in his voice.
“Yeah,” I said. “Cathy’s on soon, and I know she’s covering Summer Games. I want to see her have to say that I’m in contention for a fucking World title again.” I smirked, self satisfied. “Should show that smug bitch what’s what.”
“That’s…that’s actually what I wanted to talk to you about, Jarvis,” Ian began. He was cut off by the show’s orchestral sting.
“And now, SportsNewsNet’s lead anchor team – Cathy Daniels and Kurt Patterson.”
“Kurt. Fucking. Patterson? I hate that asshole!”
Cathy was laughing, holding her hand to her mouth and swaying in her chair. It was near the end of the night, and the bartender was clearly getting a bit fed up with having only two customers. That said, we were still there, still paying, and still having a good time.
“Come on,” she said, regaining a bit of composure. “He’s not that bad. He’s a pretty good boss. Besides,” she said, coyly bringing the bottle to her mouth to take a swig of beer. “He’s pretty fucking hot.”
I smirked. I couldn’t help it. “Well, shit,” I said. “And I thought we were having a nice date.”
“We are,” she said, grabbing my collar and pulling me in for a warm, tender kiss.
“Jesus Christ,” I said, taking the last of my Jack down. “I forgot this asshole’s on here too.” I shook my head. “Kurt. Fucking. Patterson.”
“Jarvis, it’s about last week’s segment on the show…your interview with Cathy,” Ian said, tentatively. I wasn’t paying close attention. Honestly, I wish I had been.
“Smarmy little prick…you know that the day that Cathy and I broke up, he was on her like fucking white on rice?”
“Jarvis, I really…last week’s interview with Cathy went really well…”
“Yeah,” I said, non-committedly. “Hey, you figure that we could get this guy into a CWF ring? I mean, fuck, I’d love to have him in End Games. Maybe have him replace Eric Dane.”
“It was a smash hit, Jarvis,” he said. “Brought back some memories of the old dynamic you two had on the air when you were a pundit.”
“Eric fucking Dane,” I said, shaking my head. “I mean, putting Kurt Patterson in the match would be a waste of space, so you might as well replace another waste of space, right? ‘I am because you are not…’ Jesus Christ – I certainly hope so. He is because I am not. What he is, unfortunately, is fucking worthless.”
“I mean, I guess that I could just pretend that it’s Kurt in there whenever I tango with Mr. 46-years-old-and-still-not-good-enough-to-lace-my-boots, but like…Dane already has such a punchable face, you know?”
“Jarvis, a decision was made…”
“On second thought, I’m looking forward to snuffing out The Only Star. He seems like the type that fucking needs it. Waltzes around like he owns the fucking place, when he hasn’t done a goddamn thing since he’s been here.”
“It…it kind of goes above my head Jarvis. I didn’t really have a say.” He was nervously darting his eyes between the TV and me, but I didn’t really have a care in the world.
“I mean, it’s not as if he’s the only person who’s not in the match on merit, mind you,” I said, ignoring Ian’s nervous twitching. Patterson – that fucking guy – and Cathy were still talking about baseball, preseason soccer, and LeBron, so my attention wasn’t yet piqued. “I mean, the actual calibre of the match is lacking something, if you ask me. Sure, there’s MJ Flair – a tough competitor and former champion in her own right, but honestly, think about it…for all of her accolades, and her incredibly successful reign as CWF champion…what has she actually done since? Meandered around, to be honest, floating by, and only really in this match because…well, who else was gonna get in?”
“MJ Flair – The Eye of the Storm. Calmness in a hurricane, I guess? Seems to me that she’s been little more than a sad raincloud lately…but hey, she’s got some pals, doesn’t she, and maybe that’s the only edge that her side of the cell has going for them. It’s certainly not brains – I’m pretty sure that fookin’ Bronson Box brings that quotient down to nearly nothing.”
“Jarvis,” Ian said, trying again. “I’m trying to tell you…this is important…CWF management made a deal, and…”
“Shh, they’re talking about the match!” I said, waving him off.
“…CWF Evolution this past week brought some clarity as to who will vie for the now vacant World Championship at the upcoming Summer Games pay per view event, live from the nation’s capital. Eight of the company’s competitors will be locked inside of a steel cell, for End Games – the first such match in a year.”
“That’s right, Cathy, and last week, you sat down with current CWF Paramount Champion, and End Games competitor Jarvis King.”
“King, a former contributor on this very station, will be back later this week for the first in a series of one-on-one interviews with myself, and will discuss his thoughts on his opponents, his teammates, and his chances inside End Games.”
It’s weird how often you can find yourself where you least expected.
It was a few months after our first meeting – that first magical night in snowy Uniondale – when I answered the phone in Washington to hear an excited Cathy on the other end. We had kept in close contact after that night, and I made an effort to come see her every time a signing brought me back to New York. It was always like that for us – Jet Setting Jarvis coming to see Cathy with a twinkle in her eye. The meetings started out sporadic, but suddenly I found myself making more trips to Albany, Utica, Hempstead and Merrick. Eventually we were seeing each other almost weekly.
“What’s up, Daniels?” I said, the grin on my face audible in my voice.
“Big news,” she said, unable to contain her glee. “Kurt’s out this week with laryngitis, and they’ve asked me to fill in for him!”
“Amazing!” I exclaimed. She had dyed her hair to its natural brown, and she had been working, grinding hard, and had managed to get herself on air for a few interview spots. It was finally paying off. “Behind the fucking desk, babe, that’s amazing!”
“Yeah it is!” I could practically see her biting her lip as she smiled, doing a little victory dance. “I’ve got a favour to ask, though,” she said, almost tentatively.
“Shoot,” I said.
“I kinda need to make a big impression,” she began, coaxing the courage to ask me what she needed to ask. “And I was hoping that I could bring you in for a segment or two. Maybe talk about the state of pro wrestling?”
I froze a bit. I’ll be honest, I was hesitant. “I mean,” I began, not really sure what I was going to say next. “Are you sure?”
“Absolutely,” came the enthusiastic reply. “The network is looking to branch out into covering wrestling – I know, it’s a bit unorthodox – but they think it could be a big ratings driver for the show!”
“No,” I said, “I get it…I just mean…are you sure you want me?”
There was a beat. “Yeah,” she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm, “you’re right. I should probably just call up Alex Cain or something.”
“Oof, right in the pride.”
“You in, or what?”
I thought a moment. “Yeah,” I said, exhaling through my nose.
“AHH!” She shrieked in delight. “Thank you so much! I’ll call you later with details! Love you!”
There was a click from her end of things, and then seconds later, my phone buzzed as she texted me.
I…I think I just told you I love you.
Yeah. I think you just did.
I’m sorry…I…well, I didn’t mean to, but I do.
I know. I love you too.
“Jarvis, I tried to tell you…”
“It came from on high, Jarvis – CWF’s media team – there was nothing I could say.”
As I bellowed and let out a primal yell, I tossed my empty glass across the room, shattering it into dust some 20 meters away.
“I’m sorry,” Ian said, timidly. “There was nothing I could do. Your ratings were through the roof, social media activity…there was an honest to God letter writing campaign…#DanielsvsKing was trending for the first time in ages…”
“I’m not fucking doing it, Ian,” I said, interrupting him. “Last week was a fucking bridge too far to begin with. There’s no goddamn way.”
“Jarvis…the flights are already booked.”
I grabbed the bottle of whiskey and flicked the top off of it. No need for a glass, and no more celebratory drinking. This was angry drinking. This was rage drinking. This was preparatory drinking.
“Two minutes till we’re live, folks.” The same stagehand from a week before was buzzing around, clearly producing this particular segment. I was already at the desk, Paramount title on my shoulder and my rage only barely contained behind a forced neutral expression. “We’re on delay, so no need to worry about the censors. Let it rip, and remember – “
“Authenticity,” said Cathy, sitting across from me, her own professional veneer masking her contempt at the situation.
“Yeah,” I muttered, just loud enough that she’d hear me. “Being a fucking fake has never been your problem, has it, Cath?”
“Shut the fuck up, Jarvis,” she said, her voice a nearly inaudible whisper. “I don’t want this any more than you do.”
“I highly doubt that,” I said with a sneer.
She shook her head. “You fucking egotistical prick.”
“What,” I said, “you’re hurt by the fact that I’m here to draw the ratings that you couldn’t manage on your own?”
“Yes,” she hissed. I was surprised at the response, frankly. “Do you think I wouldn’t rather have anyone else on this show? I mean, fuck, that Dick guy skeezes me the fuck out, but at least he wouldn’t be you.”
I had to give her that. Dick Fury - good for a laugh, but like…more than a little rapey? The guy has the look about him that he’d be sticky to the touch. That’s realistically the only upside to having him on my team, to be honest – there’s a limited chance that I’ll have to go anywhere near him…because, let’s be real – it’s not like Dick’s gonna have a golden shower at End Games.
…I hate myself for even thinking that one.
“Station management made the call, Jarvis,” she said. “Ratings means more money for the show, and the CWF wants as much exposure on this as they can possibly get.”
“Yeah, and your career gets saved,” I said with a snide grin. She had nothing to say.
“Alright – lights!”
“Just, honestly Cathy,” I said as the studio lights shone brightly on the two of us.
“Answer me one thing.”
“We’re getting the queue from HQ in…”
“How many times do I have to save your career?”
“In five! Four!”
“Fuck you,” she said.
“No, no,” I said. “You gave that up for Kurt, remember?”
There was a look of genuine hurt in her eyes. They seemed to twinkle again like they used to.
“One! Aaaand, cue Cathy!”
Cathy looked down at her notes to compose herself, and then brought her eyeline back up to the camera. “Thanks Jim,” she said to the off-camera host, back in Washington. “Long time viewers of SportsNewsNet may think that they have to adjust their sets, but don’t worry – this is not a blast from the past – instead, back by popular demand is one of our most beloved segments. The world of professional wrestling is in chaos, but things will settle down a bit at CWF Summer Games, as we crown a new World Champion. I’m Cathy Daniels…”
“And I’m Jarvis King,” I said, hitting my cue.
“And this,” said Cathy, “is Daniels vs. King.”
A bell – or rather, a sound effect – dinged twice, and Cathy adjusted her notes. “Jarvis, welcome back,” she said, without an ounce of her being truthfully welcoming.
“Pleasure to be back,” I said, lying through my teeth. “Feels just like old times.”
“Well, maybe not exactly,” she said, reciting the only part of the show that was on the teleprompter with a professional flair. “Back in the halcyon days of Daniels vs. King – the show where we discuss the going’s on in the world of professional wrestling – you were an inactive competitor. Today, you’re back in the ring, quite successfully, and this week on Pay Per View, you have a chance at adding another title to the one already resting on your shoulder.”
“Well,” I said, shrugging my left shoulder to display my belt with a bit more prominence. “What can I say, Cathy? My right shoulder’s a bit chilly.” Cathy let out a perfectly rehearsed – even believable – laugh. “Now, I know what Daniels vs. King fans – or as I like to think of them, King vs. Daniels fans – “
“You would,” she said, her coy teasing for the camera carrying the weight of realism with it.
“—well, I know what they want, Cathy. They’re looking for hard-hitting analysis from the best in the business.”
“Well, thank you for that assessment of my journalistic credentials, Jarvis,” she said, winking at the camera. “I’ll try to make up for you as best I can.”
“Let’s get right into it. Jarvis,” she said, coming to the end of the teleprompter’s prepared remarks, “this weekend you step inside End Games for a chance to become a two-time World’s Champion, and the first recognized double champion since Duce Jones retired the Academy Championship. In order to do so, you have to contend with some of the best in the CWF, while maintaining a tenuous partnership with Jace Valentine, Dick Fury, and Pandalike. I suppose the first question is the obvious one – how do you feel about your chances?”
“Pretty damn good,” I said, addressing the camera directly. “Cathy, I could tell you any number of reasons why I’m the best, but…”
“We only have so much airtime,” she interjected.
“…but I’ll boil it down to a single core factor – experience. Now, sure, you can argue that Jace Valentine is a Hall of Famer, just like me, and is willing to do anything to make it to the pinnacle of this industry. You can posit that Mariella Jade Flair is a former world champion, and is a thoroughbred, dynasty competitor. You can add up the years of in-ring experience that Bronson Box and Eric Dane have and almost run out of numbers known to man. You can quantify the hunger of a guy like Pandalike, and the…eagerness, I suppose, of Dick Fury. The Ringmaster may be the type who thrives on chaos. These are all factors in this match, no doubt, but none of them match up to experience.”
“I’ve been in End Games, Cathy. I know what it’s like when they close that door, and lock it shut, leaving you with seven other bloodthirsty sharks. I’ve felt that cold, harsh steel biting at my skin, ripping at my flesh before. I’ve had that moment of being in the cell, face to face with evil incarnate, and you know what happened? I survived. Not only that, I fucking thrived, Cathy. I prevailed. Most of these scrubs have never even seen the cage – I’ve lived in it, and come out the other side with my arm raised high. That’s your x-factor, Cathy. That’s experience.”
“Very well,” she said, “but End Games is unique in its construction – it asks you to not only stand against your competition, but also work with them in a team, unless and until the other side is vanquished. Your side of the ring is yourself, Jace Valentine, Pandalike and Dick Fury. How do you feel about your team?”
I smirked. “Come on, Cathy. What do you want me to say? Any team that has Jarvis King on it has something that no other team can hope to replicate. Sure, Pandalike may be, at best, a precocious kid, swimming in the deep end of the pool for the first time in his career, but let’s not pretend that’s going to be a hinderance.”
“If nothing else, Dick Fury can act as a distraction, I suppose?”
“Always on about the Dick, Cathy,” I said, tutting. “But in all seriousness, you can’t discount any of these guys – they all qualified for this match. It’s just a shame that even if they’re on the winning team, they won’t have their arms raised at the end of this thing.”
“So, do you think that your team can co-exist for the duration of the match? I know that you and Jace Valentine have your history…”
“It’s weird how often you can find yourself where you least expected, Cathy…End Games makes for odd bedfellows, but the enemy of my enemy is my friend, Cathy,” I said, “and Jace knows better than most that his best shot at making it to the final two is to make sure that I’m one of them.”
“Final thought,” she said, wrapping the segment up. “You step into that ring, into that arena – what is going to be going through Jarvis King’s mind.”
“I’m going to have one thing on my mind, Cathy. Victory. It’s what I crave. It’s what I live for. See, every moment of every day of my adult life has been striving towards what’s on the horizon. Summer Games and a shot at the World title is nice, sure…and holding the championship that I defended more times than anyone before or since once again is a dream, of course…but it’s all a means to an end.”
“I’ve spent my entire career chasing one moment. A glistening, aspirational goal – one that it must be said I thought was outside of my reach for years. Back in 2009, I made my debut in the CWF as a fresh-faced kid, desperate to prove that I belonged where I am today, and now, almost ten years later, I’m within a hare’s breath of accomplishing it. I’ve won gold, sure. I was a grand slam champion, great. I made it into the hall of fame…super. It’s all been foreplay, Cathy.”
“WrestleFest,” she said, completing the thought for me.
“WrestleFest,” I repeated, an intensity in my eye. “The main event beckons, and its clarion call has been the background track to every cardio workout, every set at the bench, every match, in every town, in every country that I’ve ever wrestled in. Every single thing that I’ve ever been has pointed towards that goal. That golden opportunity. That chance to do what I do better than anyone has before or since on the greatest and biggest stage of them all.”
“So what’s going to be on my mind? History, Cathy. Destiny. My name, in lights, and my music hitting with Ray Douglas announcing my name as the reigning and defending CWF World Champion in the world’s most famous arena. And I will get there. Because I am Jarvis King. I’m East Coast Excellence. And you will bow down."