::::SCENE: Vitro’s Italian Grill located 2.3 miles from the Best Arena according to Google Maps. The interior is dimly lit, the walls are adorned with paintings and black and white photos from the “Old Country”. Above the booth where the Ratings Juggernaut sits, there is a photo of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, A tuxedoed Old Blue Eyes is flashing his widest of smiles while “the King of Cool” looks to the right with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other. The faint sounds of “O mio babbino caro” as sung by Renee Fleming pipe through the restaurant’s speakers.
Simon Sparrow, donning a charcoal gray pinstripe double breasted suit, a black dress shirt, and a pink paisley tie, sits in the booth, his black napkin resting comfortably on his lap. He checks his phone. No texts. He begins to feel his right leg bounce up and down anxiously. His guest is twelve minutes late. How long can he put off the server? She’s come by twice asking for his order. He’s starting to think that she thinks he’s there by himself. Not that there’s any shame in eating by oneself as long as that person openly admits it.
Finally, he arrives. His boyish face, golden hair, the HOW Championship over his shoulder. Conor Fuse has arrived….wearing jeans and a Super Mario ‘85 t-shirt. At least he had the good sense and took Simon’s advice and wore a sports jacket. Unfortunately, it’s a Chicago Cubs jacket. Simon knew he should have specified a blazer or suit jacket.
Simon places his napkin on the table and gets up and stretches his arms out..::::
SIMON SPARROW: There he is! MarioKart Andretti!
::::Conor turns behind him as if Simon Sparrow is speaking to someone else. Simon proceeds to grab Conor and gives him a brief, friendly hug and sits back down in the booth. Conor takes a seat across from him, placing the HOW Championship on the seat to his left.::::
SIMON SPARROW: Conor Fuse!
CONOR FUSE: Sorry I’m late. Someone stopped me outside asking about Marcus Stroman. I told him how amazed I was at how much he can lift and expected great things from him in the HOW.
SIMON SPARROW: Marcus Stroman is a pitcher.
CONOR FUSE: I know, right? Baseball pitcher and HOW Wrestler! Seriously, though how cool would a crossover like this be?
::::Simon Sparrow looks across at his guest and smiles. Yes, internally he is screaming at himself to correct Conor and indicate that Stronk Godson and Marcus Stroman are different people, but he relents. Conor is a good kid and means well. Plus, he is the World Champion and come “March to Glory”, he could be a double champion for the first time in his HOW career.::::
SIMON SPARROW: Yes, well, he is a jack of all trades.
::::Simon Sparrow starts to pick up the menu, although he knows exactly what he is getting, the Branzino.::::
SIMON SPARROW: Tonight, it’s on me. Get whatever you want.
CONOR FUSE: Gosh! Thanks, dude! But, can you afford it? I know about your financial troubles with Gilda and her bills. I heard you talking about it with Mario.
::::Conor begins to backtrack::::
CONOR FUSE: Not that I, that I, that I… was listening on purpose.
::::Simon waves off Conor Fuse.::::
SIMON SPARROW: Ah, don’t worry about it.
::::Conor should not have to worry about Simon and Gilda and the immense financial toll it has taken on the Professor of Sparrowdynamics. Conor should not need to know that Simon has put his Havre, Montana home with his apocalypse bunker on the market. And certainly Conor does not need to know that he has made a deal with a Japanese laxative company to be their spokesperson. And finally, Conor doesn’t need to know that he has been doing everything he can to afford his daughter’s care that he hasn’t seen her in over three weeks. A fact that is bothersome to him.::::
SIMON SPARROW: I’ll be fine. Oh, hey, speaking of which….
::::Simon Sparrow retrieves a box wrapped in MarioKart wrapping paper with a red bow. Conor Fuse’s mouth drops open and he almost gasps, as if for the briefest of moments he is struggling for air.::::
CONOR FUSE: For….for me?
SIMON SPARROW: Absolutely!
::::Conor Fuse gladly accepts the gift and places it in front of him.::::
CONOR FUSE: What’s this for? It’s not my birthday. Or is it my birthday? Is it December already? No, can’t be. It’s not even my six month birthday LOL. Used to do the six month thing all the time. Would be retro to bring it back, eh?
SIMON SPARROW: Yes, super, um, “retro”. Look, it’s just a small token of how much I appreciate our partnership. No, wait, our friendship.
CONOR FUSE: Oh! Thank you! Can I….?
SIMON SPARROW: Hold on. Patience.
::::The server, an attractive woman in her early-to-mid twenties, with a tan complexion, dressed in a white dress shirt, red bow tie, and black pants approaches, her black hair back in a ponytail. She looks over at Conor with her dark eyes and there seems to be a hint of recognition. A look that Simon Sparrow remembers getting close to twenty years ago when he was just a rookie gaining more and more success and notoriety.::::
SERVER: Hello, my name is Maria and I will be your server. Can I start you with something to drink?
::::Conor eyes the wrapped box in front of him, almost mesmerized. Simon Sparrow clears his throat loud enough to jerk the Vintage back into reality.::::
CONOR FUSE: Yes?
SIMON SPARROW: She wants your drink order.
CONOR FUSE: Oh, do you have Chocolate Milk?
::::Simon Sparrow puts his head in his hands feeling a twinge of embarrassment at Conor Fuse’s request. He might as well have asked for a bowl of popcorn and asked if the robotic mouse and his friends will be performing between visits to the arcade. But Maria the Server does not break her smile. She merely winks at the HOW Champion and responds.::::
MARIA THE SERVER: I’ll see what I can do.
::::Maria then turns towards Simon Sparrow.::::
MARIA THE SERVER: And for you, sir?
SIMON SPARROW: I’ll have a Coke.
MARIA THE SERVER: Would you like to order a starter? We have a special tonight on our basil pesto flatbread with grilled chicken, cherry tomatoes, arug—
SIMON SPARROW: No, thank you. We’ll just need a moment or two to look over the menu.
MARIA THE SERVER: I’ll be back with your drinks.
::::Maria leaves and Conor Fuse turns his attention towards the gift in front of him. Simon Sparrow gives a crooked little smile as he looks at Conor, amused at how he he has the same look an addict has when they are jonesing for their next fix but for the HOW Champion, instead of heroin or crack….or, in Simon’s experience, a scotch….it is a present.::::
SIMON SPARROW: Go ahead.
::::An almost crazed, maniacal smile crosses Conor Fuse’s lips and he begins to rip into the present like a six year old on Christmas morning. Upon seeing it’s contents, Simon Sparrow notices a childlike excitement in Conor Fuse’s demeanor.::::
CONOR FUSE: A GAME BOY ADVANCE TWENTY-FOUR K EDITION?!?!?!?!?!
SIMON SPARROW: Yep.
CONOR FUSE: UNOPENED?????
::::Conor Fuse stares at the box, the gold plated special edition Game Boy on the cover with the Triforce logo.:::::
CONOR FUSE: They only made twenty-five thousand of these!!! It was part of a…The odds of getting….How did you….?
SIMON SPARROW: I spare no expense when it comes to my friends.
CONOR FUSE: I want to, but I can’t. What about your—-
SIMON SPARROW: It’s a gift. It’s yours. Don’t worry about me.
CONOR FUSE: Whoa… buddy, I don’t know what to say….
SIMON SPARROW: A “thank you” would be a good way to start.
CONOR FUSE: Thank you! Obviously! But….why?
SIMON SPARROW: What? I can’t do something nice?
CONOR FUSE: You haven’t before. Then again, we’ve kinda been enemies for the longest time, too. Though we weren’t really enemies, any moron can see how much you inspired me and you, how much you enjoyed having someone to battle. Man, those were the good days, eh? Now it’s like all super serious shit, living on the edge with David Noble, fighting Scott Stevens eleventy-thousand-hundred times. Is that a real number? Dude, it should be. Anyway…
::::Simon Sparrow’s eyes are as wide as globes, delighted by the exuberance Conor Fuse is exhibiting as Conor Fuse stops in his tracks, realizing he’s rambling. Instead, he just smiles and kicks his feet forward and back, forward and back… SpongeBob looking grin on his face.::::
CONOR FUSE: Thanks man!
SIMON SPARROW: You’re the HOW Champion, you’re a member of the Argonauts of Awesome, and you were very impressive in your win against Scott Stevens. Besides, I respect the heck out of you.
CONOR FUSE: Thank you. You’re the best.
::::Conor continues to inspect the Game Boy case as Maria returns with the drinks. She places a Coke in front of Simon and a large glass of chocolate milk in front of Conor (much to the surprise of the HOW Hall of Famer at the table).:::::
MARIA THE SERVER: I managed to find some chocolate milk for you.
CONOR FUSE: You’re awesome! Not as awesome as Simon here but not bad, either.
MARIA THE SERVER: My brother’s a huge fan of yours.
CONOR FUSE: That’s great, really great.
MARIA THE SERVER: Are you ready to order? Our specials tonight—-
::::Maria looks over at Conor Fuse but Simon Sparrow jumps in.::::
SIMON SPARROW: I’ll have the Branzino with the pea puree.
MARIA THE SERVER: And for you, Mister Fuse?
CONOR FUSE: Call me Conor!
MARIA THE SERVER: And for you, Conor?
CONOR FUSE: I’ll have the chicken nuggies, please.
MARIA THE SERVER: Uh….
SIMON SPARROW: They don’t serve chicken nuggets here. This is an Italian Ristorante, not the Burger King.
CONOR FUSE: McDonalds is better. They have Super Mario Happy Meals!
SIMON SPARROW: Conor! Order!
CONOR FUSE: Oh, right….a pizza? Can I get a cheese pizza?
MARIA THE SERVER: One cheese pizza and a branzino. I’ll put your order in.
::::Maria leaves and at some point the song has changed to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”. Simon Sparrow smirks, leans across the table and gives Conor Fuse a playful slap on the arm.::::
SIMON SPARROW: Hey, look at you!
CONOR FUSE: What? Is snot coming outta my nose or something?
:::Conor starts wiping his nose on the sleeve of the Cubs jacket. The smirk does not leave the HOW Hall of Famer’s face. For the first time, Simon Sparrow can see a bit of himself in Conor Fuse.::::
SIMON SPARROW: Cherish these moments, Conor.
CONOR FUSE: What?
SIMON SPARROW: As they say, fame is fleeting. One day, you’re on top of the world, everyone wants a piece of you. Off Broadway producers, porn stars, celebrities, ad agencies, modeling agencies….you’re winning championship after championship….top of the world. Then, the next thing you know you get disrespected by the walking dumpster fire known as Darin Zion. Which reminds me,….
::::Conor Fuse is trying to look at his nose using a knife, somehow getting it into his head there is a booger. Simon Sparrow folds his hands and places them on the table as he leans in.:::::
SIMON SPARROW: Will please put the knife down. There is no snot or anything hanging off your nose.
CONOR FUSE: You’re sure?
SIMON SPARROW: Positive. Now, I need to ask you something.
::::Conor Fuse places the knife on the table and looks over at Simon Sparrow, who looks very serious as if he were conducting a multimillion dollar business deal.::::
CONOR FUSE: What’s up?
SIMON SPARROW: Darin Zion….
CONOR FUSE: Great, great guy. A real friend. And let’s be honest, bro, there ain’t many.
SIMON SPARROW: Yeah, but I am coming to you out of respect, Conor. You know what Darin has done and said about me and Gilda.
CONOR FUSE: I will admit that he may have crossed a line with that.
SIMON SPARROW: You don’t disrespect someone’s family. Especially parents and children. He’s got some nerve bringing that up and refusing to apologize.
CONOR FUSE: That’s what shocked me. He should have told you he was sorry.
SIMON SPARROW: I want to know, Conor….because you and he are relatively close….how bad can I hurt him to where you aren’t angry with me?
CONOR FUSE: Huh?
SIMON SPARROW (in a calm, almost hushed tone): I’ve been going through it in my head. You know what’s worse than seeing your daughter laid up in a hospital room with a ventilator down in her mouth? Having an eighth rate wrestler mock you in front of millions of people. I ask for an apology and he acts like he’s Max freaking Kael. He wants me to show him how much I care? Fuck him.
::::There is an air of entitlement and resentment in Simon Sparrow’s demeanor and tone as continues.::::
SIMON SPARROW: He’s a fucking phony and massive douchenozzle Don’t let him fool you into believing he’s a decent chap, because he’s not. How many times over the past, what year, year and half, bitch and moan about championships, only to fail. He’s a selfish prick. There’s this rumor….
::::Simon Sparrow leans in even closer to the point where Conor Fuse moves his body as far back into the booth as he can, as if he wants to disappear into it.::::
SIMON SPARROW: I heard he visited my little girl in her private recovery center.
CONOR FUSE: That’s nice? Not nice? I’m not sure I know where you are headed here.
SIMON SPARROW: That piece of shit has the dingly-dangs to come into my comatose daughter’s room! For what? What could he possibly have done while in that room? Bad mouth me to her, while she’s hooked up to more machines than Darth Vader? What kind of sick fuck would do that? On top of that, he’s violating her with his presence….
::::An image pervades his thoughts. Darin Zion touching his daughter….caressing her hair, kissing her forehead and cheek…booping her nose….it begins to infuriate Simon Sparrow even more so he pushes those thoughts from his mind..::::
SIMON SPARROW: He disrespects her and he disrespects me by simply breathing the same air as her.
CONOR FUSE: It is a rumor….
SIMON SPARROW: And where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Conor, I hate Darin Zion. I hate him. Everything about him makes me wretch. He fucking coasts through life. Did he lose his testicle in a five on one assault? Did he nearly get his neck broken at the last War Games? Did he take a rusted hook to the cheek in a scaffold match? What has he lost? What kind of suffering did he have to endure?
::::Conor shrugs as he takes a sip from his chocolate milk.::::
SIMON SPARROW: I don’t want whatever happens at “March to Glory” between me and Darin Zion to affect our relationship. So, I am asking you for your blessing, Conor.
::::Simon Sparrow feels his throat tightening, something he did not think would happen when he was thinking about it. He finds himself starting to becoming emotional at asking Conor Fuse, someone he finds he respects, for his blessing. He quickly clears his throat and speaks in a very calm, even tone.::::
SIMON SPARROW: I want your blessing to tear Darin Zion apart at the joints. I want your blessing to crush his vocal chords so bad that he needs to use sign language to do karaoke. Conor, I want your blessing to put that little shit’s head in a chair and jump on it until his neck snaps like a fucking twig. Do I have it?
::::Conor looks at the 24K Gold Game Boy Advance on the table and then stares for a moment at Simon Sparrow, whose eyes are more intense than he had ever seen them. Conor Fuse takes a deep breath as Simon Sparrow leans back and looks expectantly at Conor Fuse, like a teacher expecting the answer to a math problem from a student that he/she had called on.::::
CONOR FUSE: I am really uncomfortable being in the middle of this.
SIMON SPARROW: Which I completely respect.
CONOR FUSE: However, it is a No Holds Barred match. Once that bell rings and you are staring eye to eye with him, whatever happens, happens. If Darin Zion should end up with a few broken bones, so be it. I support you and whatever you want to do one hundred percent.
::::Conor finishes off his chocolate milk, complete with the all annoying sucky sounds the straw makes when barely anything is left in the cup, as Simon’s eye twitches at the obnoxious noise.::::
CONOR FUSE: After all, you are my idol.
SIMON SPARROW: You’re a good kid, Conor. You’re on the cusp of doing something great. Double champion.
:::Simon Sparrow lifts his glass of Coke, which is more ice than soda and raises it to Conor.::::
SIMON SPARROW: To the victor, go the spoils.
::::Simon takes a long sip of the Coke, the glass draining to half full (or half empty depending one’s outlook). Simon lets out a refreshing “Ahhhhhh!” after placing the glass on it’s respective coaster. There is always time for proper table manners, after all.::::
SIMON SPARROW: Now, Conor, my boy, you tell me everything you know about Darin Zion and I’ll give you everything you need to know about that backstabbing Brutus, John Sektor.
::::Simon Sparrow and Conor Fuse begin to converse, sharing their experiences and knowledge about each other’s respective opponents at “March to Glory” over some exquisite food (apparently, the pizza was better than Domino’s according to Conor). In doing so, Simon grows more and more fond of the Vintage. A protege whose success has eclipsed his own. The young blonde haired gaming phenom is the one to whom the “Starrlight Torch” will be passed.
Throughout the dinner, a thought emerged. Conor Fuse is the epitome of success. Darin Zion is the posterboy for failure. Defeating Darin Zion will not only bring them both together but it will also prove to Conor Fuse that Darin Fucking Zion is beneath him….or, rather, both of them. Michael Best retiring, someone’s got to take the mantle, why not them? END SCENE.::::