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City of Bridges
« on: November 27, 2017, 02:18:56 AM »
“And I'm sure that place will be crawling with all sorts of unsavory characters. You know the type - your junkies, your thieves, your sex fiends -  basically a who’s who of the criminal underbelly. And those are just the regulars at The Old Whale. Who knows what other sorts of miscreants will arrive by the time the night is through?”

Zack Fantana paced the office space in the loft that overlooked the gymnasium inside the Bobby Franchise Center with a nervous energy. The room was washed out and colorless, furnished only with a white, unremarkable table and a half dozen characterless chairs. It looked like something out of a dystopian future designed by Apple.

“And if they don’t do me in, I’m sure the building itself will. The place is as seedy as it gets. Warped beams, rotting joists, and a crumbling foundation, it's an OSHA nightmare.

And from what I hear…”

With a slight hesitation, Zack looked over his shoulder and then approached the table, leaning forward towards the tablet set in the middle of the table. His voice lowered to a hush, as if these next few words would be the most damning indictment of them all.

“It's not handicap accessible.”

Zack backed up and began anxiously pacing the room again.

“Easy, kid. Breathe.”

“I mean, open enrollment is underway on healthcare.gov, but what insurance company in their right mind would take me on, knowing that this is the working environment my employer tosses me into?

I’m just stressed out, man.”

“Breathe.”

“Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't an international pop icon murdered in cold blood at the Old Whale only a few short weeks ago? The place should be condemned, for Christ's sake, not hosting a championship bout in a fledgling company that's still trying to establish a name for itself. That's just bad optics. And what do I always say about bad optics, Jeremy?"

Without turning, Zack pointed his index finger behind him at the teenage boy who'd apparently been sitting in the corner of the room the entire time, pen in hand.

"I thought you were going to teach us self-defense today."

"Yes, and don't you think that maybe Ricky Constantino would stop stealing your lunch money if you maintained a better public image, Jeremy?"

The teenage boy paused.

“Do I write this down?”

“No, you’re here to dictate the meeting. This is a personal conversation.”

Fantana shook his head and continued.

“I mean, Bobby, what do they expect me to do? Choke back my tears as if I'm magically okay after the loss of the Queen of Camp?"

With a heavy sigh, Zack sullenly closed his eyes and clenched his fists.

"As if anyone could ever be."

“Breathe.”

Zack stopped pacing the room and approached the boardroom table, on which a tablet rested. He lifted the tablet as his longtime mentor Bobby Franchise talked him down off the proverbial ledge.

“Just breathe.”

Doing his part to propagate the stereotype of a Baby Boomer’s relationship with any form of video chat technology, Bobby had his camera fixated directly on the top of his glossy bald head.

“This is the hand you’ve been dealt and if you want to become a champion again, you’re going to have to play it. I know you’ve probably never been in a bar fight in your life, but it’s time to sack up, kid.”

“Oh yeah, I have had to speak to the manager a time or two--”

Bobby cut him off at the pass.

"When I say bar fight, I'm not talking about a dispute over a surcharge on your bar tab. I'm talking about a bare knuckle brawl."

Zack laughed, sitting down in his chair.

"You're telling me you've thrown down in a bar, old man?"

"Me? Oh yeah. Multiple times."

Bobby scratched the top of his head, contemplating.

“I want to say at least thirteen? Well, let's call it nine, since four of those were technically just a continuation of the same fight in the middle of a pub crawl."

"You're kidding me. Who has enough hate in them to keep the fight going for blocks?"

"Clearly, you haven't met my third ex-wife, Muriel.”

Bobby cackled to a reference only he would understand.

“But it just so happens that I was more determined to finish that pub crawl than she was to finish me.”

Bobby sat up in his chair, moving himself just far enough into frame on the camera that Zack could tell he was beaming with pride only by the wrinkles around his eyes.

“Do I write this down?”

“Just set the fucking pen down, Jeremy.”

Just then, the door creaked open and Zack’s public relations representative poked her head inside. “She’s here.”

"Alright Bob, looks like Donna from Oh-So has just arrived. I’ve got to jump off the call now.”

“Oh. Well, should I come over?”

“Uh…”

Kelly shook her head emphatically.

“That’s okay, Bob.”

“Come on. I’m still in town and you know that I’m a good negotiator. I even secured a gig for that ham-and-egger Jack Colter in Louisiana, remember? I’ve got a knack for this. I bet I can smooth things right over with these ladies.”

As Donna stepped into the office, Kelly made her stance clear by doing a throat slash gesture.

“I think I’ve got this one, Bob.”

“Alright. Well, if you need me, just give me a ring.”

“Will do, champ.”

Fantana tapped the screen to end the video call and then stood up to greet his guests at the door.

“Hello again, Donna.”

Donna brushed off Zack’s attempt at a handshake and moved directly over to the table, affording Zack an opportunity to speak to his PR rep.

“What was that about? Why don’t you want Bob to sit in on this?”

“Because this meeting is about your associate ‘Bob’, Mr. Fantana,” said Donna, as she removed her jacket, making herself comfortable.

“What do you mean by that?”

“Via Kelly, you asked us to clear the air as to why the Oh-So Equality Network were not there to support you in your sporting contest with one Brennan Devlin.”

Even with her matter-of-fact approach, Donna could not hide her distaste for Devlin. She spit his name out as if it were an old piece of gum.

“Well, here I am, Mr. Fantana, clearing the air.

You might have noticed that Mrs. Steffi Graf attended the travesty that you called a ‘gala’ late last month.”

She paused, allowing Zack ample time to answer.

“Hardly. You mean she sat down for the free drinks and then bounced during my presentation with Bobby.”

“Oh, you noticed. I’m glad to hear it. You see, that snub was quite purposeful.”

“Okay. Hurtful.”

“You see, Mr. Francis’ lewd and frankly disgusting speech at said gala was where your endorsement by the Oh-So Equality Network all began to unravel, Mr. Fantana. After that debacle, Mrs. Graf took it upon herself to look into the man you call a mentor, Bobby Franchise, to see who exactly we were dealing with here, and, much to her dismay, she quickly discovered that he'd been summonsed to a Saskatchewan court two separate times in the past six months on account of delinquent child support and alimony payments.”

“What?”

“Can you confirm this? Has Mr. Francis ever mentioned any legal disputes with his ex-wives? Any animosity over a divorce?”

“Animosity? Gee, I don’t recall him mentioning any animosity.”

Zack thought it prudent not to mention Bobby's barroom brawl with Muriel at this moment.

“Regardless, this only pushed Mrs. Graf to dig deeper, leading her discovery that over the course of the past year, Mr. Francis had been served three more subpoenas of the same ilk.

As you can imagine, this was quite an embarrassment for the local chapter of the Oh-So Equality Network, as it was we who welcomed you into the fold.”

Zack placed his palms together and approached Donna.

“I understand and I’m sorry. I swear I had no idea.”

“You do not understand. Have you ever been scolded by a disappointed Steffi Graf?”

"Several times in my dreams, yes."

Kelly tugged on Fantana’s sleeve to silence him. Unable to hear Zack's mumbling, or perhaps just not caring, Donna went on.

"She's famously competitive, as evidenced by her 22 Grand Slam singles titles, and can be quite intimidating when incensed."

"Oh yes."

Kelly tugged on Fantana's sleeve once more and smiled at Donna, insisting she continued.

“It was my responsibility to background check you before going into business with you, and thus, it is my shoulders that the weight of this mistake has fallen on. I’ve been demoted within the Oh-So Network.”

“What? But they got what they wanted. I staved off the scourge of Brennan Devlin. We won.”

“Mrs. Graf does not like being humiliated, Mr. Fantana. And frankly, I don’t have much of a leg to stand on.”

“We can fix this. Let me speak to them.”

“You don’t understand. I no longer have the clearance to reach that high up the chain.”

“And Lillian?”

She shook her head.

“Demoted as well.”

“Phyllis?”

“You must be truly desperate.”

“They have to know that this isn’t what I’m about.”

“That’s likely true, but it’s not the point. I mean, we thought you a bit of a schmuck at the time, but you appeared to be an open book, and that's why we were comfortable working with you. That’s why I rushed you through the confirmation process. Frankly, we thought you too dense to pull the wool over our eyes.”

“Uh…”

“This all is troubling because of the nature of your business here. If all of these allegations are true, a man like Mr. Francis should not be looked at as a role model to children. And by rights, the money he invested on this property should have been paid to the parties I listed earlier."

Zack scratched his head.

“I’ve got an idea.”

“What is it?”

“I’m going to get to the bottom of this. Kelly, Jeremy, let’s go..”

With that, Fantana rushed out of the room, followed in tow by Kelly and Jeremy. He led them down the stairwell and out the double doors into the parking lot, where he saw another of his Bobby Franchise Center pupils approaching the building. Jaden tossed a paper bag in the trash before heading for the door.

“Whoa, whoa.”

Jaden stopped as Zack inspected the garbage can.

“What the hell was that?”

“Litter.”

“Is that booze?”

Jaden shrugged, “I’unno. It was sitting in the parking lot.”

Zack squinted.

“Are you drunk right now?”

Jaden laughed, “Of course not, coach. Like I said, just litter.”

“You know what? You’re with me. Field trip.”

The teen stood his ground as the others walked out towards Zack’s Ford Aerostar.

“Where are we going?”

“An educational excursion. Come on, it’ll do you some good.”

Jaden was clearly still not sold.

“We’re driving past the Smithfield Street Bridge. We might see a dead body, come on.”

Finally intriqued, Jaden jogged after Fantana toward the van and quickly piled in along with the others.



“A bar. You’ve brought two teenagers… to a bar.”

“Don’t worry. Garvey’s hasn’t carded anyone in two decades.”

“That’s… precisely what I was worried about.”

“Stop being such a square, Kelly.”

The Ford Aerostar puttered to a stop on the opposite side of the street, clearly in what was deemed a No Parking Zone.

“Shouldn't we move out of the way of the fire hydrant?”

“Oh, Jeremy, my naive young Jeremy... there's nothing in this part of town worth saving.”

Zack tapped a button on the console of the van and the sliding door slowly slid open, allowing his passengers to exit the vehicle. They quickly rushed inside Garvey’s, which was an even sketchier than Zack had remembered.

Exactly the type of bar Bobby would frequent. They were on the right track.

Fantana approached the bartender.

“Is Bobby here?"

The bartender shot a sideways glance at Zack, as if to say "There's many Bobbys in this town, kid."

"Uh, Bob Francis? Goes by Bobby Franchise sometimes."

Zack held his hand a few inches over his own head.

"He's about yea high. Looks kind of like a fashion forward Santa Claus. You can't miss him."

"Ohhh, that cunt. Yeah, he just left. Wanted to pay his tab in Canadian dollars. Asshole.”

“Pleasure talking to you, sir.”

Zack stepped away from the bar and pulled out his phone, tapping away at the screen. Jeremy stepped up beside him.

“Now what?”

“Look, he’s not answering.”

Fantana looked around the bar, still searching.

“We’re not going to get to the bottom of this tonight. But the day is not lost, because you can find a teachable moment everywhere if you look hard enough. Boys, over here.”

Zack tilts his head to his right. Down the bar, about three stools away, sat Zack's uncle Wade, slumped over the bar, absolutely plastered and dead to the world. It was a small miracle that he remained in his stool at all, as the only thing keeping him upright was the pitcher of beer pinning his tie to the bartop. His face found a resting place in what Zack could only imagine was a cocktail of beer and the old man’s own saliva.

"You said you were going to show us a dead body.”

"Yes, I did say that, but unfortunately, children, this man is only dead inside."

Zack walked down the bar and grabbed his inebriated uncle by the back of his collar, spinning him around in the stool and then tapping on his cheek to wake him. When he didn't immediately come to, Zack plucked a flashlight from his back pocket and shined it directly into his uncle's eyes. With a grunt, Wade shook his head, sending liquid spritzing off of his beard like a dog who'd just come out of the rain. As Kelly and the two kids wiped the beer off of their clothes, Wade blinked at Zack and requested that he, “Top me off, barkeep” before appearing to fall asleep with his eyes open.

"Note the soulless, vacant eyes and the thousand yard stare. Completely disconnected from the world around him.”

Zack snapped his fingers near Wade's ear, to which Wade reacted a moment later as if he were swatting away a fly.

“Look at him. This is a man who is mentally and spiritually broken. He has nothing in his life to believe in and less still to live for. You deemed it necessary to brown bag your alcohol earlier, didn't you, Jaden?”

Jaden looked down and mumbled under his breath, “I was just picking up litter, man.”

“And why do we brown bag things, boys?”

Zack looked at each of the boys.

“Anyone?”

In a last ditch effort, he turned to Wade, who was snoring in his alcohol induced coma.

“That’s correct, Wade. Because we're ashamed of what we're doing. It’s for concealment purposes, isn’t it? Alcoholics brown bag their liquor to avoid being pinched with an open container citation, Cleveland Browns fans brown-bag their heads at football games, and this, kids, is a man who needs to brown bag his soul.”

Fantana spun Wade around in his stool and laid his head gently on the bartop, tapping it twice before continuing his monologue.

“Oh yeah, drink it in, Jaden, because if you keep walking down that path you're walking, this might as well be a before & after picture of your life. And the next thing you know, you're out of job, out of money, and you’re collecting empties off the bar like my man Wade, just wishing for one last drip, one last taste of what it felt like to be alive.”

“That got super dark in a hurry,” Kelly mused.

“This is a bleak town, Kelly. It’s a city that never really overcame that ‘heart of the Rust Belt aesthetic. Once the leading manufacturer of steel, I think Pittsburgh primarily fabricates new forms of depression now. And that’s certainly not a stigma that it runs from. Pittsburgh’s got the most bars per capita in the country. That’s probably not most ideal complement for a town that’s known as the 'City of Bridges', but fortunately they’ve got their distractions; they’ve got their sports.”

Fantana adjusted his jacket, looking around at all the sports memorabilia hanging on the wall.

“I like to imagine I’m a small part of that, because ultimately, that’s all I want to do, bring a little inspiration into people’s lives.”

“Okay, if you're such an inspiration, why are you so cynical?”, Jaden chimed in.

“Lesson number two, Jaden. Don't get high on your own supply. I sling inspiration. I’m not a user. There’s a difference. It takes guts to do what I do.

You’ve seen it in our community with the Bobby Franchise Center. You’ve seen it in Fight 2 Win, where I’ve become the guardian of the disenfranchised.

F2W is already carving out its own little niche within the business, but just imagine if it had a champion that gave hope to the hopeless. Maybe it fails, maybe I fail, but I think we owe it to ourselves to try, yeah?

At the end of the day, Zack Fantana is a daydreamer and Natalie King is just a day drinker. She drinks to forget about her financial problems, she drinks to escape her checkered past, and yeah, maybe, just maybe, she drinks to cope with the cold-blooded murder of an international pop icon that she witnessed first hand. I don’t begrudge her that, but it’s certainly not a healthy way to live, Jaden.”

Jaden shook his head as Kelly conceded Zack’s point with a shrug, “He’s right, you know.”

“All told, she drinks to tune out her miserable existence outside of the ring, the one place that she feels that she has control in her life, but even that's not true anymore, is it? Gravus made sure of that when he thrust that participle beam into Cher’s chest.”

“What?”, Jaden asked, blinking in confusion.

“Look, if you’re not caught up on every episode, it’s not on me. You can’t hold everyone on earth hostage in a spoiler moratorium.”

He continued.

“My point is that, exceptional athlete as she may be, Natalie King is no visionary, she's not in control, and she's certainly not going to be the one who carries this company into the next stage of growth. That’s me. That’s the Fantanasy.”

With that, Zack walked down to the end of the bar, looking over the cork board with job listings and fliers pinned onto it. After a moment, he snatched a poster off the wall and crossed something out, before scribbling a new message in its place and posting it back on the board.

In bold lettering, the new heading read "Feeling Lost? Hopeless? Suicide is not the answer" and in lieu of a hotline number, the poster now read "Business inquiries: needsmorefantana@gmail.com".