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A Cautionary Tale
« on: October 23, 2017, 04:11:49 AM »
"Once he has his hooks in, you're done for, so you have to act quickly. Oftentimes, your only way out is to hammerfist him in the groin and he'll release his grip immediately."

Zack nodded at the teens who were circled around him in the ring, as he demonstrated his technique on Wade. Wade collapsed onto the apron and rolled out of the ring, screaming in pain.

"Just bop him right in the dick. It's kind of like punching a shark in the nose."

"Actually, you're not supposed to punch a shark in the nose. You're better off poking it in the eye or grabbing it by the gills," one kid chimed in, unsolicited.

"Excuse me, Jaden? I didn't know you were certified to teach a self-defense class."

"I was just talking about sharks--"

"Take a lap."

Jaden hesitated.

"You heard me. Get out."

Fantana watched Jaden scramble out of the ring before turning back to address the remaining kids.

"First rule of self-defense, kids: Don't get lippy with the instructor. The proof is in the pudding. You don't see Jeremy doing a lap, do you? That's because Jeremy kept his mouth shut because he didn't want to have to run laps."

Zack tapped his temple with his index finger.

"Self-defense 101. Never draw attention to yourself."

"Quite the duo."

Zack looked to see who was interrupting him now and it turned out to be the man with his name on the side of the building, the titular Bobby Franchise. The old man, conspicuous as ever in his madras suit, was busy admiring his own likeness hanging on the wall next to a portrait of Jesus Christ. Fantana rolled out of the ring to greet his longtime mentor.

"You like it?"

Bobby responded only with a grunt. He then turned around to look around the building a little more and froze when he found Benny Stevens staring back at him.

"What in God's name..."

He did a double take before approaching the VCO mural on the wall.

"Does Benny know about this?"

"Haven't heard from him in months. I honestly assumed he was dead."

"Oh, he's got to see this."

Bobby removed his phone from his breast pocket.

"You mean you've spoken to him?"

"You're joking, right? The kid texts me every day."

Zack couldn't pretend that didn't hurt a little. He considered Benny his number one pupil and he couldn't even bother to message him.

"You gonna let everyone know that the kid's not dead?"'

"I think Benny is better left as a cautionary tale. A lot of my message is undercut if people realize he's alive and well. Besides, 'In Memoriam' is already inlaid into the title. Getting it removed would cost a pretty penny."

Bobby began to snap photos.

"What's he been up to though?"

"Last I heard, he'd taken up residence at a Mexican brothel. Says he's rehabbing his injury and keeps sending me pics of his progress."

A shiver ran down Bobby's spine.

"Speaking of which, do you know how to delete pictures from the iCloud? His photos keep syncing to all of my devices."

"I can handle that."

Zack's PR representative had approached them from behind and quickly snatched the iPhone out of Bobby's hand before Zack could react.

"Kelly, no."

"It's really no problem, Zack. I do this kind of thing all of the time for folks around the office."

"I don't think you know the nature of Benny's injury."

Kelly's face would soon confirm this. Her eyes widened as she rotated the phone to try to orient the photo correctly, even cocking her head to the side.

"Is that his..."

"Little Benji in the flesh."

"And it's wearing a..."

"Phantom of the Opera mask? Yeah. Benny really went through an emo phase after the accident. Those first couple months were pretty bleak to say the least. He had a lot of free time on his hands."

"There's so many of them."

"You might be looking at the stop motion sequence. You should see the entire play. It's obviously quite disturbing, but it sticks to the source material surprisingly well. I mean, apart from the money shot."

Franchise tapped on the foam padding covering the walls.

"Is there brick behind this? You ought to take down these pads and let it breathe. It would give this place a better aesthetic."

"Exposed brick? Do you want me to lose?"

Bobby furrowed his brow as Kelly stepped in to explain.

"Market research tells us that exposed brick isn't necessarily 'in' right now."

She handed the phone back to Bobby.

"I adjusted the sync settings, but it might just be safer to toss it in the microwave at this point."

With that, she turned to observe the kids wrestling in the ring, leaving Zack alone with his mentor.

"A word?"

Zack nodded and the two men shuffled a few steps away.

"What's her deal?"

"Oh, that's Kelly, my PR rep. She'll be coordinating the gala this evening."

"PR..."

Bobby wrinkled his nose with contempt.

"I should have known you fell back off the wagon."

Zack chuckled.

"Bobby, you're old school. You don't know what it's like being a role model in the digital age. Every thing is filmed. Every sound byte can be manipulated."

Bobby responded with a flippant shrug.

"You're insulating yourself too much. Can't live by the rubric your entire life."

Bobby began to strip the padding off of the wall.

"You don't get it. I was hand selected by Angelina Altomonte to represent women all over the world."

"I think you're reading into that a little too much. She probably chose you because you're the only fighter in the company who can make Brennan Devlin likable."

"I don't think it's contagious."
Bobby scratched his head.

"Look, Fantana, you're a bit of an idiot. Always have been. But a dose of PR isn't liable to remedy that. You've got to stop believing that you can be everything to everybody."

"Try me."



As Zack slowly pulled the Ford Aerostar into the parking lot of the convention center, he marveled at the amount of people waiting outside. Kelly had insisted that the biggest movers and shakers from the Pittsburgh area would be there, but Zack told her that he didn't really know what that meant at the time. "And isn't that the most exciting part of it all?", Zack recalled her saying in return.

Fantana parked the Areostar at the curb and stepped out, handing the valet the keys before walking around and to the passenger side of the van. Cameras flashed as he opened the sliding door, and Zack spun around to pose for the cameramen as his grandmother slowly descended from the van on a hydraulic lift behind him. Once he felt the cameramen got their money's worth, Zack ceased to casually adjust his cuff links and assisted the valet in collecting his grandmother from the vehicle.

By the time the two had made it inside, the M.C. was already calling him to the stage.

"Speech! Speech! Speech!" the crowd insisted.

"Already?"

It wasn't that Fantana wasn't willing; he'd dreamt of scenarios like this his entire life. Sure, he'd always envisioned it happening inside the ring after a World title win or maybe at the Lincoln Memorial as a fallback plan, but never as he pushed his grandmother over the threshold in the doorway of a dining hall.

He waved his hand at the crowd as if to say "Oh I couldn't", despite making a beeline toward the stage almost immediately and dumping his grandmother with the nearest waiter. Upon making it to the podium, Zack gazed out into the audience full of people he'd never seen before and pulled he microphone close.

"First of all, I'd like to thank everybody for coming out today. What a crowd, huh?"

Squinting under the bright lights, he could just barely make out Kelly sitting at a table with Donna of Oh-So towards the back of the room, giving him a big thumbs up.

"The Bobby Franchise Center for At-Risk Youth has been a dream project of mine for years."

Zack gulped as he spotted someone who looked a lot like Steffi Graf a few tables away.

"You know, I, uh, I've always I've always felt that I've had a considerable connection with the youth. It's like I've been saying for years, 'if we could just find a way to reach these kids'..."

Stammering, Zack was relieved to find Bobby Franchise sticking out quite prominently in the crowd. Bobby didn't exactly do 'black tie'. In lieu of a tuxedo, he wore a slightly more subdued version of the madras suit that he was wearing earlier on in the day.

"And of course, none of it is possible without the man of the hour himself, the lead benefactor for the cause, Bobby Franchise! Come on up, Bob!"

Bobby shook his head initially as well, but he, too, could not resist the call of the microphone for long, rising from his table and slowly making his way to the podium, milking the audience's reception for all it was worth like any old grappler would.

"He's being generous, of course. I had little to do with the program. In fact, today was the first time I'd stepped into the building since it's been up and running. In truth, I'd mostly loaned Zack the money just to get him out of my hair."

Zack laughed along with the audience awkwardly, but Bobby didn't crack even a hint of a smile.

"But I guess I share Zack's passion for the business and desire to pass it along to the next generation. Back in Canada, I used to head-up an outfit called the Meathead Rehabilitation Center. It was a program not unlike Zack's, but instead of kids, we'd do our damnedest to deconstruct everything these big lunkheads knew about training and teach the to work on some actual wrestling technique instead of their glamour muscles.

I like to think that I had a pretty good knack for teaching. My most famous student is one likely familiar to a lot of you. In fact, there's a mural in the honor at the Bobby Franchise Center for one Benny Stevens."


There is a polite smattering of applause for our fallen hero.

"You know, that kid had a lot of issues, but there's something to be said for the way he looked at life. No one enjoyed the business quite the way he did."

Bobby reflected with a rare smile.

"I still remember the day he called me and told me he'd be on the shelf. Apparently, there's this huge party that goes down every year at this massive estate in Japan. Basically the equivalent of the Playboy mansion, to put it in layman's terms. Tons of broads. And somehow Benny gets an invite to this party, having taken residence in Japan to fight for NJFC. And, you know, he doesn't know a lick of Japanese but he comes walking up to the gate, sans pants and he-"

Seeing Steffi Graf toss her napkin down and exit the dining hall, Zack immediately stepped up to the podium and pulled the microphone over to himself.

"This is probably as good of a time as any to remind everyone that we at the Bobby Franchise Center view Benny Stevens as more of a cautionary tale and do not endorse his life of debauchery."

"Hold on, it's not what you think. It's actually worse. So Benny drops trou and heads for the bouncy castle-"

Zack shoulders Bobby aside, boxing him out from the microphone.

"And that's a good example of how unprofessional conduct can lead to the early demise of a talented competitor."

Zack could see the event circling the drain with people leaving their seats and talking amongst themselves.

"Me? I look at a mistake like that and I see a teachable moment. I utilize it to help my students become better human beings. I respect this business so much that I want to help set the table for the future. With your help, I think we can."

The skimpier segment of the audience stood from their tables upon realizing that this event was just serving as a cheap plug for Zack's career. The ushers began to pass out collection plates.

"That's okay. Come back in a month and I'll still be here. Unlike Brennan Devlin, I will not run from the business when times get a little rough. You can count on me to stick around through the thick and the thin, because that's what the face of wrestling would do. This isn't college. The wrestling business doesn't afford you a gap year. You walk away from the business for that long and you lose the right to call yourself the face of the industry.

Don't get me wrong. This isn't me staking my claim. Devlin can keep the tag for all I care, along with the hundreds of others that he's collected over the years in self-reverence, and he can jerk off to the nostalgia of the things he's done in federations that are long since dead, but he can't convince me that it still means what it once did before he disappeared from the business.

Now I know what you're all saying. 'Devlin has been back for some time now. He's been wrestling in HPW.'"

That wasn't what they were saying. In fact, the whispers in the crowd were more along the lines of "What is he doing?", "Is this the shoot portion of the gala?", and "Why so much sexual innuendo? I didn't think it was that type of gala." Alas, those squares did not have the floor and their questions went unaddressed.

"But I don't think I'm telling tales out of school when I say that I'll be Brennan's first real challenge since returning. I don't really think this needs to be said, but for posterity's sake, I'll just go ahead and say it anyway. I am not Eddy Poe. And if Devlin makes the mistake of thinking I'm down on that level, it'll be his funeral.

Because, you see, every once in a while, I may struggle to be the man the world needs me to be-"


Fantana rested his arm on Franchise's shoulder, as if to recall the conversation they'd had earlier on in the day at the Bobby Franchise Center, but Bobby immediately brushes his arm off, apparently not sharing Zack's appreciation for the sentimental moment.

"But once I step inside that squared circle, that's when I feel like I'm truly myself. That's home. The business has treated me well over the years and I've always wanted to find a way to share it with the rest of the world. I guess this is my way of doing that. That's why I'm offering everyone here 5% off of your tickets for the bout on Melee #2 if you use the offer code Fantanasy."

More and more folks began to file out of the building. The stage lights began to dim.

"Feel free to pick up a T-shirt at the merch table on the way out."

Darkness.