November 13, 2019 | 2:17 PM | Illuminatus Nation Compound | Old Saybrook, Connecticut
CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH….
Is heard but nothing is seen. The screen is pitch black as another THWAP is heard followed by another series of Crunches. As the scene fades in, the back of the monstrous Duke house is in view.
And Thaddeus Duke, dressed in sweats and a hoodie for this cold, snowy weather tosses a tennis ball against the wall of the house and Mufasa, one of Thad’s beautiful lions crunches through the snow to fetch the ball and bring it back.
He throws again, this time, the other lion, Simba, crunches through the snow.
“They’re big, and scary,” Thaddeus states as he continues to play fetch in the snow with his ‘boys’ as he calls them affectionately. “Really, they’re just like regular house cats, except they have murder mittens instead of kitty paws. They lay around, sleep on beds, knock things off of ledges and whatnot.
“They’re exactly the same, but just a little different, as Nathan Paradine was quick to find out on Evolution a week ago. There’s certain rules to life Nathan… and Sean Fuller, you might want to listen up and pay attention…
“You don’t tread on Supermans cape, you don’t spit in the wind and you never, ever threaten Thaddeus Duke in the presence of his lions. They know who my friends are, and they can sense when someone wants to hurt me.
“Did you want to hurt me Nathan?
“Did you want to show everyone that you’re a big tough guy and could easily dispatch of the CWF newcomer?”
Thaddeus takes the ball from Mufasa and Kubrick stares into the camera. Head tilted downward, eyes up. “How’d that work out for you Nathan?
“I am a newcomer to CWF there’s no getting around that. But I’m no rookie. I do hope you’ll watch me school Sean Fuller in the art of professional wrestling. It’s a lost art in a lot of places guys, I know.
“But not here.
“Not when I’m in that ring.
“My father is a legendary champion warrior and he trained me to do this. When you see Thaddeus Duke in the ring you’re looking at a thoroughbred, you’re looking at a championship pedigree, you’re looking at an artist, you’re watching Rembrandt painting a fuckin’ masterpiece because there’s no one better than me.
“Cockiness. That’s what a lot of people attribute that to. The fact is I exude confidence and what I don’t need is someone else to do my dirty work for me, right Sean? I don’t need a husband or a wife to think for me, to fight for me… to talk for me… right Sean?
“Does she dress you too?
“Does she cut your steak for you?
“How bout cutting the crust off your grilled cheese?
“It’s a sad state your career is in if your wife is your mouthpiece, Mr. Fuller. I do hope you like the taste of your own teeth."
“Thad,” interrupts a voice from behind him.
The voice snaps Thaddeus out of his Kubrick stare.
“What?” he asks, turning his head toward the voice. The camera soon follows.
“Lincoln and your father are here, mate,” says James Edwards in his thick English dialect, Thad’s best-friend and closest adviser. “And Paul Heyman,” he adds.
Thaddeus sighs and turns toward a door at the back of the large mansion. “Come boys,” he instructs the lions and they follow him into the bulding. Just inside the door lies the old church that his grandfather Asmodeus once used to deliver his rousing sermons to the Illuminatus.
The room, like Asmodeus, is long dead and very cold. The lions, the CWF camera and James, called Jim by Thaddeus, all flow through the church and into the main hall of the house where he makes a left. Again, everyone follows. Up the extraordinarily wide hallways a few doors up on the left from the church is a sort of Situation Room. It’s secure, and heavily armored. It’s a vault. A bunker. A bit of paranoia has forced him to hold every meeting here.
Thad’s father Sebastian Duke sits at the head of the table, Lincoln Tritter the Director of Illuminatus Intelligence and Paul Heyman, the Duke Family personal attorney sit side by side. Thaddeus and Jim take a seat across from Paul and Lincoln.
“I can’t believe you decided to shit on my legacy and leave the XWF,” Sebastian says tersely.
“That has nothing to do with you, Dad. They shit on your legacy more than I ever could. You know it.”
“The issue remains,” Paul Heyman interjects. “Thaddeus, you trademarked your fathers name and likeness and if XWF ever uses his name, his likeness in anyway even in parody, they pay you residuals.
“Now, its a genius move in my estimation but that makes the XWF hesitant about even allowing Sebastian Duke, one of their greatest legends, to even go compete in their ring.
“They fired you Thaddeus. They’d prefer to never send you a check.”
“I’m sure they’d love that, but I promise you, I’m not releasing the trademark,” Thad informs his attormey. “Sebastian Duke is all over their title history. I’m there too. Any time a fan takes a gander at the title history, I get paid. Any time a fan logs in to view a Sebastian Duke match from 2012, I get paid. Any time they watch me come up short against Chris Chaos and Jim Caedus for the Universal title I. Get. Paid.
“I will not allow that company to profit off of my fathers hard work or mine while we get nothing. I know how it looks and I’d be a fool to not realize how it sounds to be all about the money, but in this instance, I’m correct.
“I’m aware of the perception, Paul. I’ve chosen to live with it.”
“How much is my name really worth?” asks Sebastian. More out of pure curiosity than any other reason.
“I’m not saying you could retire off it today,” Thad explains as Jim hands him a check stub from one of his residual payments. “But when you decide to stop for good and you’ve decided to retire from Veneras, you will have a sizaeble sum.”
Thaddeus shows the stub to his father.
“What am I looking at?” he asks.
“It’s broken down. A single view of one of your matches is worth about fiddy cent,” Thaddeus explains. “A click on the Top 50 of all time or a view of old cards or the title history is only a few cents, but it’s any time your name appears.
“Universal history? A few cents.
“Intercontinental history? A few more cents.
“United States title, Tag team titles, Trios titles, Xtreme title, the NK… All of it. More cents.”
“Thad,” Paul says with a sly grin. “This might be the smartest thing you’ve ever done.”
Jim hands Thaddeus another stub who then hands it to his father. His eyes bulge in astonishment.
“Despite their best efforts to erase you dad, you’re one of the most popular performers in the history of that company. They may not acknowledge it anymore, but there’s a reason the fans still call their flagship show the House That Duke Built. There’s a reason that when you went back in January that they were ready to thrust you into the Universal title picture.
“Dad, you’re the Babe Ruth of that place and its on us to secure your legacy the way it ought to be.”
“17 thousand 3 hundred 21 dollars and 11 cents,” Sebastian reads off of the stub.
“Your buried alive match with Azrael Erebus from the first High Stakes back in 2013 had 34,000 views last month. Times 50 cents per… the math is easy.”
“Is that a lot?” he asks. “Views I mean.”
“It’ll vary,” Thad informs him. “You were around and relevant last month so like, I’m sure you hit the nostalgia trigger on some fans.”
“That match was more than 6 years ago,” he muses aloud. “I wonder how many people have watched that match in 6 years if it had 34,000 last month. How much money did I fuck myself out of?”
“Millions, probably,” Paul answers. “Thaddeus, I took the liberty of looking over your CWF contract and… its impressive,” Paul states.
“I know,” Thad replies with a light smile. “Kinda make me wonder why I even pay you.”
“You pay me to fix things,” Paul defendes himself, not really realizing Thad is joking.
“Like I paid you to get duped by my Uncle into having a meeting and him flying off in his helicopter?” He's not joking ths time.
“That’s not funny!”
“You’re right. It’s not. And we’re no further ahead in the wrongful termination suit, are we?”
“No, but it’s...”
“Get it done, Paul. I’m not asking you, I’m telling you to get it done,” Thaddeus demands, his demeanor much colder and for more serious. “My uncle went on their television and claimed I had a non-compete clause added into my contract at my request and he’s citing that as grounds for my dismissal over my involvement in the Royal League.”
“You weren’t even happy there,” Sebastian interrupts. “Just let it go and move on.”
“I will do nothing of the sort,” Thad informs. “You want to stand idly by and let those jagoffs piss on the Duke name go for it. But not me. The name meant a lot to that company and they treated you like an afterthought and me like a second rate talent. Not to mention your idiot brother who thinks he’s the smartest guy in every room, which explains why he’s alone so damn much, who I’m also suing for libel for lying about that clause in my contract that did not exist!”
Thaddeus slams his fists down on the table and stands up, kicking the chair out from under him in the process. His face reddened with anger.
“Now Paul, get the XWF taken care of! I’d preferred to wash my hands of the place and start in CWF all fresh, but here we are, almost a month and a half since my termination, a month since my verbal agreement and almost 2 weeks since I officially signed one of the most lucrative deals in CWF history and I still have this fucking cloud hanging over my head!
“Get this done, or I’ll find someone that will.”
Thaddeus storms out of the room and Jim follows him. He tries to catch up but has difficulty in doing so. Thaddeus throws his hoodie up over his head and bursts through the old church doors. Jim races to catch up and he too runs through the doors. James stops as he realizes Thaddeus has stopped at the altar.
Up a set of stairs is Asmodeus’s chair, dubbed “the throne.” Really, its just an antique highback chair with ornate hand carved wood decorations on a plush red velour cushion. Thaddeus climbs the steps and stands in front of the throne. Lying across the arms is the intricately carved cane that Asmodeus used to aid him in walking around with his bum knee.
Thaddeus grabs the cane and takes a seat on the throne. The old church is no longer heated and deathly cold. His breath escapes his lunges in a frosty plume as he traces the intricate carvings on his deceased grandfathers cane.
“I haven’t heard you this angry in quite some time,” Jim says quietly as he takes a seat on the steps in front of Thaddeus.
“I just...” he pauses, trying to organize his thoughts and his words. “I just thought it’d be different. I thought that place was gonna be my forever home.”
“Why isn’t it?” Jim asks rhetorically.
“When I debuted in 2015,” Thad begins. “I came in with a lot of fanfare. My dad was even there to figuratively pass the torch to me. It was a quck rise through the ranks. I felt I was earning respect from the powers that be each time I went out there and stole the show.
“I was putting down everyone from their seasoned veterans, a legend or two, and their up and comers. I took on them all and I defeated them all when push came to shove.”
“I know, Thad.”
Thaddeus sighs as he shoves his hands into his hoodie pockets. “Then I had to leave for over a year to take care of family business, Jimmy. When I came back, things changed. Owners changed, but the management stayed the same.
“People were approaching me about ideas and the possibility of forming tag teams and real fun things that I’ve wanted to try but never had the opportunity.
“Then I never quite found my voice.”
“You got shot, Jim. That took a lot out of me emotionally and I...”
“I’m sorry, Thad… You know… for getting shot,” he jokes.
Thaddeus smiles ever so slightly and emits a chuckle. “They didn’t understand, Jim. I took off to recollect myself and to take care of myself and they didn’t understand it. I was only can like 6 weeks and everything changed.
“Duke was a pariah rather than a staple.
“You know that little twitter tirade I staged railing against management for their inability to, well, anything really?”
“You staged that?”
“I wanted to see just what they thought of me. You know, without the protection of their politically veiled rose colored glasses. I wanted to know what they truly thought. So, I attacked their direction and the lack of creativity and their failed logic and it was like a pack of hungry dogs fighting over a piece of raw T-bone.
“I sat back and watched them verbally assault me from every direction.”
“And that hurts you?”
Thaddeus stands up from his grandfathers throne.
“I don’t know if its hurt, or if its a feeling of realized disappointment.” Thad makes his way down the steps with his grandfathers cane in his hand. He extends his hand to Jim, helping him to his feet.
“I suspected for awhile, that they no longer wanted me around,” he tells Jim as they make their way down the isle back toward the main building. “Or, at the very least, that they didn’t care whether I was there or not.”
“Respect has always been important to you,” Jim replies matter-of-factly.
“It just became apparent that I’d do nothing there, but waste my career.”
“And you think you’ll get the respect you’re seeking in CWF?”
“It’s a fresh start.”
“They don’t know you. You don’t have a Duke Legacy there,” Jim states, obviously.
“So I let them get to know me, and I show them my past.”
“You might have to start at the bottom and work your way up.”
“I don’t think Sean Fuller or Nathan Paradine are bottoms...” Thad jokes as they make their way through the doors and into the far, far warmer hallway as the scene fades out.