It took two hours for the jury to come to a decision.
The lawyer who represented the Estate of Richard Hart had gone into the trial with incredible optimism. The driver of the transfer truck that had veered into the opposite lane had admitted on the stand that he had been driving for a total of eleven hours and thirty-five minutes: just over the allowable window pursuant to the Department of Transportation’s guidelines. While there were no other witnesses to the 18-wheeler slightly veering into the opposite lane that had caused Mr. Hart to drift too sharply into the median, plaintiff counsel was confident that this evidence would result in a substantial verdict for his client.
His client, the sole beneficiary of the estate, spent the deliberation watching Sesame Street in the tiny conference room area of the Oglethorpe County Courthouse. Completely oblivious to the fact that a life-changing sum of money was the point of discussion for three-year-old Zeb Martin. Clad in a little navy suit and a clip-on tie featuring various Hot Wheels designs, his only concern was whether or not Snuffleupagus and Big Bird would solve the age-old quandary as to why Oscar was so grouchy.
Zeb’s father was returning back to Lexington, Georgia after putting in overtime at the construction site in the 350-person metropolis of Maxeys. The two things that the defense attorneys conveyed to the jury during the trial were as follows:
- Mr. Hart was not in fact returning home to his son. As a matter of fact, per the testimony of Allison Martin, the minor’s natural mother, Ricky had not only neglected his responsibility of child support payments for the past year, but had also made no attempts to even visit his own child in several months.
- Mr. Hart consistently was in-between jobs, never landing anything stable. Was the economic loss truly reflective of the anticipated loss of earnings that the plaintiffs had attempted to justify?
The delivery and rebuttal of those questions would stampede to the forefront of his mind in future therapy appointments. A dam-break of repressed memories. His senses would drown with the scent and sight that mirrored the age of the building and the aroma of antiseptics mopped across the marble floors mixed with the bleach-soaked revisions of his father’s story.
The truth was that the defense had made valid points. Zeb’s attorney had done a fair job of responding to the arguments by comparing his father to a flower garden in an anomalous circumstance: that he had fallen on difficult times prior to his tragic passing, and the recent events weren’t true to his overall character.
However, Zeb’s admittance that he was a “mama’s boy” from a few weeks ago was the correct interpretation of his earliest years. He had no recollection of his dad at the surface level. He’d made very minimal effort after Zeb’s first year of life to be involved in his son’s raising. Part of that was just stubborn youth and his inability to get along with Allison and her family. Most of it was due to the fact that he couldn’t get his own shit together, much less try to raise a child. Pawpaw Martin and his step-father Mark had ultimately filled this gap. Zeb and most around him felt that they had done a fine job of it, too. Including Allison.
During the time of the trial, though, Allison had not yet met the man who would eventually bend the knee and give her two beautiful daughters. The chubby, rosy-cheeked assistant manager at the Bi-Lo had an acute awareness that the single mother was physically well out of his league. Thankfully, his charm and stability proved to be two qualities that she found overwhelmingly attractive: she had made the mistake of falling for rust-toned muscles and sanguine hazel eyes once before.
With the permanence and security of Mark still a few years away, Allison did her best to forget her late boyfriend’s shortcomings. The attorney had instructed her to try and paint the best possible portrait of Ricky despite the bad times. It was the only way to ensure the sympathies of the six currently in the deliberation room.
It was the only way to ensure a life for little Zeb that was better than what she could ever dream of being able to afford for him.
Though her heart sunk a little, she did not cry when the jury ruled for the defendant. Ricky, now composed only of ash and soot, had managed to disappoint her once again. It was only natural at this point.
Instead, cloaking any negative emotion, she merely tussled her son’s moplike hair and stood to her feet. “Let’s go, hun,” she motioned to Zeb, offering her hand to him.
“Nothing to do now but the best we can.”
The Bandits had spent a relaxing, fun filled day at Chicago’s North Avenue Beach. It’s what some would call “new Aquasock goofin’.”
With any appropriate day on a sandy shore, it wasn’t all skimboarding and building immaculate sand sculptures of fellow High Octane roster members, oh no!
There was also beer involved.
A lot of beer, thanks to both Doozer and Zeb’s yeti coolers. No, not the Yeti by brand. The coolers were roughly the same height and weight of a pair of Abominable Snowmen.
Appropriately, this was Zeb Martin’s most comfortable element when it was time to address the public. The typically reserved Watson Mill Kid had shown a bit of uncharacteristic flash. He let loose. Granted, while the alcohol certainly helped, most of it could be chalked up to the comfort level he felt around Jiles, Bobby, and Doozer.
Presently, the day had come to an end. The troop had packed it in about thirty minutes prior, and despite urging Zeb to hitch a ride back with them, he opted to enjoy the view as the moon replaced the sun. Thankfully, there was a member of the production crew who had tagged along and offered to take him home.
Mainly in the hopes of catching a little monologue. He’d had a great time getting drunk next to a body of water once before with Martin. Lightning might strike twice.
The pot had been stirred a little bit due to the fact that the eGG Bandits had spent the last several minutes before leaving discussing business for that Saturday night. Internally, Zeb’s wheels had been spinning: it was just taking a little time for him to verbalize it. The Bud Light haze had been mostly sweat out from all of his shoreline frolicking, but there was potentially enough there to get a good word in. After all, he still had a little over half a can to finish, which was still insulated by the “I Love G.R.I.T.S.” koozie.
Martin once again faced competition this week that nearly cast a reflection back at him. It wasn’t the piss and vinegar of a fellow Generation Z’er this time, looking to use the other at their expense to raise their stock in the eyes of their elders.
No, Joe Bergman and Zeb Martin had more tangible similarities. The most obvious one being firmly gripped in Zeb’s left hand. Is a PBR or a Bud Light a pilsner or a lager? Zeb didn’t know. Most likely, Joe didn’t know either. It was just a good ol’ “coldburr.”
Both had also had their moments of self-realization as it pertained to their careers. Obviously, Joe had shed a gimmick to give wrestling audiences a better look at who he truly was. If the sit-down interview with Jack Dawson had you deep within a search for “Zeb Martin Classic City Pro Wrestling,” you’d come to learn that he didn’t use his birth name in the farm leagues. As one would expect, your standard issue country boy wasn’t exactly the course that promoters in the Southeast wanted their new blood to craft their persona around: even if that’s what they were at heart.
Back then, Zeb Martin stepped through the ratty old curtain shielding the backstage area of the 40 Watt Club as Johnny Bakker. And yes, the schtick fit the name: he was a full-time youth pastor at the local Baptist church — with the exception of Saturday nights where he’d “pay tribute to Jacob” and wrestle his way to salvation. Being in the heart of the Bible Belt, Johnny Bakker was a babyface. Lacking in acting skills was actually a benefit to the good guy leaning: since the gimmick did not call for him to chastise the audience and actually resonate the energy of the “I’m a COOL Christian” trope, his mild manner worked to get the sympathy of the crowd behind him. Especially since his primary feud was with a couple who portrayed an extremely over the top frat boy/sorority girl dynamic.
Now, Halitosis and the son of televangelists were a distant memory. It was Zeb and Joe now. Two guys who had a fondness for twenty plus miles outside the city lights. Sitting on the beds of pick-up trucks. Not being able to tell the difference between the fit of a pair of Wranglers over Japanese designer raw denim. Humble and reserved yet appreciative of making a stranger a friend. “Not A Moment Too Soon” finding a spot in both of their top all time favorite albums.
On Saturday, Ordinary Joe would meet Everyman Zeb.
“Man, we coulda used a Joe Bergman down in Jawja.”
Zeb, finally breaking the tranquility of the peaceful scene, takes a pull from his reasonably-priced lager.
“Y’all know us ‘rasslers be lookin’ at tapes of old matches, ‘specially those of us takin’ a notion tuh study what body part yer lookin’ tuh expose with a twist or a turn ‘er two. Tried doin’ that yesterdey, on the YouTubes. Instead, I got down in a worm hole lookin’ at Missouri Valley ‘Rasslin,” he admits, shrugging his shoulders.
“Ain’t ever gon’ be able to shake the fan boy outta me. I ain’t keepin’ watch on much else but High Octane, but e’bry nownthen other places gon’ catch my fancy, and best part ‘bout it is you kin just watch and enjoy it. Not havin’ to worry ‘bout strategy ‘n such. And I gotta tell ya, if y’all hadn’t check out MV Dubya yet, make you some time to do it.”
The Bergman-run organization had made him feel like a teenager again. Back when stepping through the ropes himself was just a daydream. He’d engulfed himself into the small studio atmosphere that featured up-and-comers looking to one day break into the big time. Finding himself rooting for every single one of them without critique or opinion.
“Lotta love bein’ put into it, I kin tell,” Martin praises. “Reckon though if the stork woulda dropped me in St. Louey instead uh Comer, I may have had a tough time decidin’ tuh leave fer fame and fortune. Good to know they got somebody like Joe lookin’ out who’s goin’ out there and doin’ it instead uh just talkin’ ‘bout it.”
His eyes lift suddenly, realizing the thinly-veiled shot he just took at his previous mentors. “Not tryna say I ain’t ‘preciative, jus’ sayin’ if less time was spent spinnin’ yarns ‘bout what you done did and more time proppin’ the younger ‘uns up, might be more success stories out there. Joe done set a bar I thank any regional promoter oughta be influenced by. On top of that, he’s jugglin’ family life and still somehow manages to be able tuh call himself a tag team champion.”
“Guess I’m out here puttin’ ya on a pedestal, Joe. But hell, you ain’t gettin’ the daps you deserve from yer partner, so I reckon someone ought to,” Zeb chuckles. “I’ll just add one more to the pile. Lotta dang reasons to respect you, but there’s one that’s prolly the most important to me.”
Rising up to his feet to gaze at the water, the imprints of his boots start to mesh further with the sand. Earlier, it had reminded him of one of his old promos in the CCPW days. Johnny Bakker had to take on both Satchel Kegtapper and his manager Phi Kappa Kimberli Amber-Christina in a handicap match. However, he boldly proclaimed that he didn’t need a partner: that there’d only be one set of footprints on the path to victory anyway, and that Jesus would be carrying him to the win. Cheesy? Absolutely. Did the audience pop? Hell yes.
“Even though it ain’t the most ideal circumstances, you don’t take bein’ a tag team champion lightly,” Martin states, “and that there done put you in hero status tuh me. Bein’ part of a team now myself, I don’t thank there’s no secret that me an’ the rest of the Bandits makin’ it a top priority to try and go get ‘em from ya.”
“I know you an’ Andy Murray not jus’ gon’ hand ‘em over, neither. And the Bruvs and whoever else at War Games ain’t jus’ gon’ let us take ‘em fer our own. Hell, I might not even be wearin’ the Bandits jersey fer that match — but we sho’nuff gon’ celebrate together if the Bandits win it,”
“But, cart be’fo horse I s’pose. Ain’t either of us got a partner in the corner comin’ up here,” Zeb muses, shoving his hands down the pocket of his swimming trunks. “And I am dang excited fer us to scrap. Might learn a thang or two from it, and heck, sumptin’ tells me you might feel the same. I ain’t got proof, but you jus’ seem like the teacher in school that don’t act like a fuckin’ know-it-all. Best kind of teacher, if you ask me.”
“Shore gonna do the best I can. But, win or lose, pleasure’s definitely gon’ be all mine, Joe. I look forward to shakin’ yer hand despite the result and thankin’ ya in person fer everything ya do.”