Birdsong and bright sunshine are not usually the catalysts for miserable faces. Yet that is exactly what could be seen as two men trudged slowly down a quiet residential street in the Arizona suburbs. A gentle yet noticeable breeze whipped through the trees lining the asphalt streets, a breeze which caused the larger of the two men to thrust both hands deep inside his jacket pockets as he glanced nonchalantly around at the calm, pleasant surroundings.
Yet even the spring sunshine could not bring anything close to a smile to the face of the second man, who walked with an awkward, hunched gait against the breeze alongside his compatriot. This second man stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the chirping of the breeze and smiles of local passers-by, dressed in an all-too-familiar grey suit and tie, which was nonetheless strikingly odd given the locale. The grey-framed glasses had been dispensed with, but naturally the ever-present black ‘WIRE’ clipboard was still tucked safely under the man’s right arm.
‘The Wrestling Inspector’ Stan Summers grumbled inaudibly as he trudged down the street, raising a smile from his enforcer, Scott Dann.
“For Christ sake Stan, I’d change that face if I were you, otherwise it might stay that way forever!” Dann jibed.
Summers turned his head long enough to shoot a dangerous look in The Enforcer’s direction, before bowing it against the wind once more and resuming his muttering.
Dann was undeterred.
“It can’t be that bad, can it?!” he asked, punctuating the question with a playful nudge, which evidently did nothing to improve Stan’s current mood. “You’ve been miserable ever since checking your phone just before we left Melbourne. What’s happened?”
Summers raised his head again, but this time did not look at Scott. Instead, he looked straight ahead, as if choosing his words carefully.
“Miserable? No, that’s not the right word.” Stan said, almost as if to himself. “Bemused is probably more accurate. I’ve spent almost the entirety of the last twenty-four hours trying to work out exactly why we’re here.”
“Well... we’re part of the Championship Wrestling Federation, Stan, and you see, they have this show called Evolu-”
This time, the intensity of the stare that Summers threw at Scott was enough to quell his sarcasm.
“You know very well I don’t mean that.” Stan said firmly. “I’m talking about... this.”
As he spoke, he gestured around at their pleasant yet utterly unassuming surroundings.
Scott gave a knowing nod of the head.
“Ahh yeah. Our assignment.”
The Wrestling Inspector screwed his face up into a look of anger and disgust at the word, simultaneously pulling a clunky-looking flip-phone, one that was at least fifteen years behind the times, out of a trouser pocket.
“I mean, just listen to this.” Stan spat. “As part of your ongoing commitment to the Championship Wrestling Federation and its public image, you are hereby required to conduct a community relations assignment at Emerson Positive Behaviour Intervention School, Phoenix. Please remember that you are representing the CWF on this trip, and as such should conduct yourself appropriately at all times.”
Stan stared at the phone screen in front of him for a moment, before turning and glowering at Scott, as if inviting a response.
“I mean... it’s... err... it’s quite the edict.” Scott said warily.
“It’s bullshit.” came Stan’s blunt reply. “He must think I’m stupid, but I know exactly what kind of game St. James is playing. He’s trying to get at me, trying to get under my skin. This is definitely his way of getting payback for my involvement in the Paramount Title match at Confliction.”
“Well... maybe it’s not just your involvement that he’s got a problem with...” Scott began, smirking slightly in spite of himself. “Have you thought that it might actually be your performance in the match that he’s taken issue with...?”
Although clearly enjoying the banter, Scott flinched slightly as Summers once again turned his face towards him, as if The Enforcer expected an explosion, followed by a verbal onslaught. Instead, Stan aimed for quiet, dismissive indignation, and fired back with a jab of his own:
“Hmph. Well let’s not forget Mr. Dann, for all your bragging and bravado, you didn’t manage to get the job done either in Melbourne. For all your talk of making an impact, the only impact I remember seeing is that of your hand tapping several times on the mat...”
Scott responded with a mocking smile, which was replaced almost immediately by a disgruntled look.
“That’s low, Stan.” he said. “But I can’t argue with you. You, quite clearly, aren’t cut out to be a referee, and should stick to your day job. And despite dominating Paradine for a good chunk of the match, I couldn’t overcome the unfair obstacle of hometown advantage. The simple fact is that neither of us managed to accomplish what we wanted to achieve at Confliction.”
“Well now, let’s not be too hasty Scott.” Stan replied. “Let’s not forget that our good friend Quentin Scarboro failed to capture the Paramount Championship at Confliction. For that, I deserve some credit, no? And it sets everything up perfectly for this week. Quentin will be ripe for the picking, bristling with righteous anger, determined to bounce back and set things straight. But in the end, his revenge is destined to result in our retribution.”
“Ahh yes, CWF’s resident meathead strikes again, once again failing in his quest to be relevant in the wrestling world.” Scott mused, with a malevolent grin. “Y’know, I couldn’t help but smile as I watched his dear old Dad getting all worked up at ringside, protesting at God knows what injustice he thought he’d seen out there, all riled up and ready to roll back the years and give you the old ‘I’ll show you how we used to deal with scallywags like you back in my day!’; yet at the crucial moment, he could only show weakness, running and cowering along with his poor, hurt little boy instead of standing up for the pair of them.”
“Rumours are he’s planning on getting even more involved at Evolution.” Stan said quietly. “I’ve heard he could even be at ringside.”
“Yeah, well, good.” Scott retorted. “He can have the pleasure of watching first hand as I destroy the dreams of his dear son, and show the world that there is no place in the wrestling business for tragic, emotional saps like Quentin. I mean, have you read any of that waste of paper that he calls a book? Have you heard some of the shit that he comes out with?”
“You know full well that I am aware of his back story.” came Stan’s reply.
“Then you’ll know that the man is a danger to himself.” Scott said plainly. “He is a ticking time bomb of tragedy, a hulk of meat and muscle who allows himself to be blindly led by his feelings and emotions. And not only that, he’s a walking contradiction.”
“How so?” Stan asked.
“He goes on and on about how he needs to move on from the tragedy that has haunted him since ‘that fateful day’ when he didn’t have the nous to actually avoid the drama and danger that he claims follows him around like a spectre in the night, but instead decided to play the hero, allowing himself to become consumed by some sick sense of chivalry.
He goes on and on about how he needs to move on... yet he can’t stop talking about it! He can’t stop plugging his book, can’t wait to be asked to tell his story, can’t bear not being asked his opinion on issues that barely have anything to do with what he has been through!”
“You’re right. His approach to the whole thing is just... it’s fascinating...” Summers spoke absentmindedly, barely present as he began to get lost in his thoughts on The American Thoroughbred.
“As I said before, the man is a danger to himself.” Scott continued. “He’s like the troubled child before his ADHD medication, he is the yapping dog of the wrestling world; nothing more than an irritant that so many are too weak or too blind to see that the kindest thing is just to put him out of his misery.
Well not me. I am happy to administer the necessary medication, only too happy to deliver the final, fateful injection that rids the wrestling world once and for all of the tragic anti-hero that is Quentin Scarboro.”
As The Enforcer’s monologue comes to an end, the two have finally found themselves in front of a small, unassuming and slightly dated looking concrete building. A succession of small windows line much of the front wall of the school, allowing the sunlight to flood into the classrooms within, whilst the words ‘EMERSON ELEMENTARY’ flank the school’s logo – an almost cartoonish bald eagle – on the archway above the main entrance to the building.
The two men looked up at the archway in tandem, Scott Dann wearing a look of mild interest, whilst Stan Summers let out a long, loud sigh.
“Right. Come on.” Summers spoke in a resigned tone. “Let’s get this over with.”
The two men stepped through the door and into the school building together. After the formalities of a check-in at the reception desk, they approached a female teacher who was stood just a few feet further ahead within the wide hallway. The Wrestling Inspector drew himself up to his fullest height, withdrawing a hand as he walked.
“Good morning, I’m Stan Summers – Lead Inspector for the Wrestling Inspection, Review and Examination organisation. This is Scott Dann, my assistant.” The Enforcer scowled at the last word, before hastily re-arranging his face into a polite smile as he, too, shook the hand of the school employee. “And you must be...?”
“Mrs Russell. Jane Russell. I’m the Assistant Principal here at Emerson Elementary School.”
Mrs Russell spoke in a simpering, patronising Southern drawl, typical of elementary school teachers accustomed to conversing with six year olds on a daily basis.
“And you must be the wrestlers...!” she continued, her eyes lingering for just a second too long on The Wrestling Inspector’s somewhat out-of-place attire and appearance. “It really is a pleasure to welcome you here to Phoenix. I can assure you the children are incredibly excited to meet you both!”
Stan stole a glance into a nearby classroom, barely containing a shudder as he regarded the innocent exuberance of the schoolchildren housed within.
“Yes, I’m sure their excitement has everything to do with the fact that we are here to talk to them about the virtues of staying in school, and nothing to do with the fact that they get to miss lessons as a result.”
Mrs Russell’s wide smile faltered noticeably as she regarded Stan Summers once again, almost as if she was trying to work out exactly who or what he was. The teacher quickly regained her composure, though, and the smile was painted almost immediately back onto her features before she spoke again:
“Well you’ll have to excuse us Mr Summers – it’s not every day that our little old school gets to welcome a world-wide wrestling star! It is quite the momentous occasion, and I know the children are itching to hear what you’ll have to say.”
Stan could only respond with a forced smile, and the three stood in a somewhat awkward silence, which was broken only when Stan motioned towards the nearest classroom with a pointed nod.
Together, the three adults stepped into the large classroom, which was set out more like a small assembly hall, with a sea of chubby cheeks and fresh faces staring back at them with typical child-like awe. Stan and Scott stepped off to one side of the room as Mrs Russell began the introductions. Stan turned to his enforcer with a scowl.
“What am I doing here Scott?” he muttered furiously. “I am a world-renowned wrestler, I am a well-respected inspector for the Wrestling Inspection, Review and Examination organisation, and look at what I am being reduced to! I mean... children...!”
Scott couldn’t help but laugh at Stan’s overreaction.
“It’s fine, Stan.” he said, still smiling. “Just go through the motions. Tell them how important it is to stay in school, not to bully one another, answer some daft questions – you know the drill. It’ll all be over before you know it.”
Just as Scott had finished speaking, Mrs Russell had finished introducing the two wrestlers to the waiting horde of children. The kids were applauding loudly as Stan and Scott shuffled onto the stage, looking and sounding like unwanted guests at an awards presentation.
“Thank you, thank you, very kind of you.” Stan spoke awkwardly.
What followed was fifteen of the most excruciating minutes of presentation likely ever seen in the state of Arizona. The Wrestling Inspector stood stiffly on the stage in front of the children, speaking in an uninspiring monotone about the virtues of education, the importance of being fair and following rules, and any number of other lifeless subjects.
The children, who at the start had regarded the two wrestlers with respect and awe, quickly faded into fidgety boredom, with vacant expressions sweeping across the room like the waves of the Pacific across the West Coast. Even Mrs Russell looked bored!
Scott Dann, sensing that they were losing the crowd, and perhaps fearing repercussions from the CWF hierarchy, stepped in, cutting Summers off in mid-sentence.
“So kids, who watched the CWF pay-per-view Confliction last week?!” Dann asked with enthusiasm.
Mrs Russell looked up from her chair, looking mildly alarmed.
“Errr... Mr Dann, I’m not sure how appropriate it would be for our children here to have watched such a violent...-”
But before she could finish, a smattering of hands had been flung into the air, with some of the children shouting out their enthusiasm.
“It was awesome!”
“That ‘Big Rig’ Clyde Walker sucks! I hope he never comes back!”
Scott Dann chuckled, shrugging at both Mrs Russell and Summers as they shot confused looks in his direction. He turned back to face the children, but before he could continue, one of the bigger, older boys spoke up in a mocking tone.
“You guys were awful at Confliction.” The boy turned to a small group of friends seated nearby. “I mean, did you see that Wrestling Inspector in the Paramount Championship match? That guy couldn’t control a light switch!”
Bristling with indignation, Stan Summers marched past an open-mouthed Scott Dann and to the front of the stage.
“Now listen here, you little snot-nosed toerag!” Summers spat out, jabbing his finger in the direction of the shocked-looking child for good measure. “Who in the hell do you think you are to question my ability like that? Do you even know who I am or what power I wield?! You haven’t got the faintest idea. So let’s get one thing straight – my performance or ability as a referee had absolutely no bearing on the outcome of that matchup. I will not be held accountable for the actions of a group of uncontrollable arseholes, that thi-”
“OK boys and girls!” Mrs Russell quickly interjected, pushing herself to the front of the stage and ushering a still furious Summers behind her. “That concludes our presentation from Mr Summers and Mr Dann today. Let’s give them a big, friendly Ederson School sendoff. Say goodbye boys and girls!”
The two wrestlers, though, had not stuck around long enough for their goodbyes; instead, Scott Dann had hastily bundled both of them out of the classroom, thrown their visitors passes at a perplexed looking receptionist, and barrelled out of the school and back onto the street outside.
He turned to stare at a still red-faced Stan.
“What the hell was that?!” he asked incredulously.
Stan turned his head away, much like a misbehaving child who knows he’s done wrong, but can’t bring himself to accept it.
“They’re children Stan! Children for fuck sake! And you’re there cutting a promo on them?!”
Still, Summers was silent.
“What the hell is going on with you lately, Stan?” Scott asked, giving his right shoulder a shake for good measure. “What happened to following protocol, sticking to procedure? What’s happened to that fabled focus you keep going on about?
You’re losing your way, Stan, and I’m worried it’s because of this... this obsession you seem to be building towards Scarboro...! Every time he comes up, you just seem to zone out, turn into a different person! I think it’s time you told me exactly what the fuck is going on with you and him, because it’s clearly causing issues.”
“It’s none of your business!”
When Summers finally responded, it was with venom, as he attempted once again to draw himself up, trying to re-assert his authority.
“My interest in Scarboro has absolutely nothing to do with you.” Summers continued forcefully. “And you’d do well to remember your place. I don’t need you interfering, I don’t need you questioning my authority.”
This time it was Scott’s turn to look frustrated; The Enforcer opened his mouth to retort, but was stopped in his tracks by a sharp raising of Summers’ right hand.
“I don’t need to hear it!” he re-iterated. “What I need, is for you to keep your nose out, do as you are told, and focus at the task at hand. Confliction was exactly that – a conflict of interest. The two of us went in with separate agendas, and a disconnected focus. And look at the results!
This week, at Evolution, our frustration and our confliction evolves into our retribution. We enter with a single drive, a single agenda, a single responsibility – to highlight to Quentin Scarboro the error of his ways.
At Evolution, we show him it was a mistake to bring his fragility and his weakness into our world.
At Evolution, we prove to the watching millions that our ultimate victory will simply be... elementary.”