“Alright. If I’m go’n show you a few thangs, this ain’t sparrin’. I don’t tap or tell ya I quit, you don’t let up. Same goes fer you. You past the point of runnin’ ropes and collar’n elbowin’, so we ain’t treatin’ this like some beginner class. Sound good?”
“Kay then,” Zeb directs. “Givin’ you the openin’ advantage. I’ma lay down and give you a few seconds tuh decide what’s next, like you jus’ hit me with a noggin’ popper.”
While the Catfish Whisperer appeared to be out of character standing in a wrestling ring without a pair of jeans, his cadence and tone toward the pixie-bobbed brunette sharing it with him only reinforced it. Danielle Pierce, more affectionately known as Jennie Appleseed to the indie darlings, was taken aback by his commanding speech.
Equally surprised was the woman who observed the two at ringside. Lindsay Troy had once heard Zeb apologize for sneezing and not using both hands to cover his mouth. It was as if given the opportunity to teach had also bred with it a completely different personality. She watched as Danielle instinctively grabbed him loosely by his hair to bring him to a kneeling position, wrenching in a loose front facelock.
Aside from just being a casual observer of her friend’s first attempt at helping to train a slightly greener talent, it was the Queen of the Ring who was able to pull the correct strings at the EKF Martial Arts facility to land them the privacy of its use after-hours. It was a request that she was happy to oblige. She had silently wondered why he’d never asked her about it a while ago. The general assumption was that he’d had access to a squared circle through his roommates’ connections with the local indy scene.
This meant one of two things to her. Either Zeb had been creatively keeping in practice without the use of one, or he just simply hadn’t bothered to step through any other set of ropes other than the ones that connected officially-licensed High Octane turnbuckles. While she knew he had access to a facility as a member of the eGG Bandits, had he really gone this long without it?
There would be time to discuss that later. As of right now, her attention was completely captured by Professor Martin and his wordless lecture.
Still trapped underneath the arm of the International Falls native. Zeb slowly lifted his left arm limply, then paused for a second as he gave his roommate and fellow grappler a moment to think about what she would do next. He then lifted his left arm a second time, just long enough to distract her attention for a split second before springing to his feet and launching her overhead for a Northern Lights suplex. Craning his neck to complete the bridge, he began to count.
Whether it was out of politeness or arrogance, Martin purposely did not reach three, giving Danielle enough time to clear the cobwebs and lift her shoulder. “Now, ‘fo I let you back up tuh try that same thang again, lemme tell ya what you done did wrong,” he says, hoisting her up by her shoulders to a seated position in front of him. Making sure to wrap his legs around her midsection and securing a firm but light grip around her arms, he prevented Danielle from trying to pull a fast one while he corrected the errors of the last sequence.
“First thang? ‘Bout how I got this here snake wrap ‘round ya? Don’t do that on the headlock. You need tuh be squeezin’ as hard as yew kin. And inch’r closer down towards my neck,” he commanded, glancing over at Lindsay and giving her a knowing wink. “Referees ain’t paid enough tuh get down there and look too close tuh see if it’s a choke’r not.”
“Ah,” Troy interjected. “Teaching her to cheat. Seems a little counterintuitive, no?”
He simply smiled back at her. “You say tomater, I say tuh-motter. Now then,” Zeb continued, releasing the body scissors and repositioning his weight to rest on Danielle’s upper back. “Second thang. What I jus’ did thar. Feel that leanin’ on yer shoulders?”
She is only able to offer up a slight grunt of acknowledgment as her torso folded down closer to mat-level.
“I know my big ol’ ass got about a hundr’d pounds on ya,” he remarked, “but don’t make no difference if you bigger or littler than who you ‘rasslin. Settin’ on somebody might not hurt too bad, but it does tucker ‘em out breathin’. So always make shore you restin’ weight when you got ‘em stuck. Next time you put me in that headlock, pop a squat’n try tuh turn me into one of them thangs…uh, what they call that instrument in polka music that y’all love up thar in Minnie-soda?”
Zeb relaxed his weight and slowly leaned her back upright, still keeping the arms synced in.
“Accordion,” Danielle exhaled, catching her breath. “It’s called an accordion. And I hate ya for making me admit I knew what you were talking about.”
“Welp, you about tuh hate me even mo,” he retorted, with a slight hint of sarcasm to keep the mood as light as possible.
Martin transitioned his left arm into a half-Nelson, but instead of pushing her head back down, he jammed a finger up her nostril.
“What the hell are yo…NOOOOOOOOO!” Danielle squealed, as she attempted to jerk her face away. After he’d picked her nose, Zeb then tried to guide his pointer over to her mouth.
Lindsay desperately struggled to contain her laughter. “That’s so gross, man,” she cried out and shook her head in disapproval.
The act was a sufficient enough distraction for the Watson Mill Kid to release the hold and transition his body to trap her in a crucifix. He then slightly rolled to the side and once again began a count.
This time, Danielle was able to wriggle free and roll back out of the pin attempt. Quickly kipping up to her feet, she darted toward a kneeling Zeb and yanked his neck upright in another front face lock. This time heeding his friendly advice, she flexed her bicep to wrap it like a Christmas bow and shifted her weight forward.
Zeb responded in kind by raising his left arm once, then raising his right arm in an attempt to leverage another distraction.
It didn’t work.
“There ye go,” he struggled to squeak out. “That’s the third thang. Don’t be actin’ like a cat chasin’ a laser poin’r.”
Sensing that he may have really pissed off the otherwise fun-loving nature of Jennie Appleseed, he attempted to get a grip on her Achilles tendon to try to deter her focus off of the hold once more. This completely backfired, as she simply lifted her shoe and planted the tread right down onto his fingers.
“Thatta girl!” the Queen praised, as Martin yelped in pain. “You better give up, Zeb! With your good hand, of course.”
Danielle grinned, giving her “coach” a hair tussle. “Betcha this doesn’t feel like a beginner class to ya now, huh?” She finally let loose of the hold and stepped off of his hand once she felt a light tap on her ankle three times. Lindsay is quick to give her a round of applause for her efforts, while Zeb clamored to his feet and attempted to shake out the pain.
“Thar goes any dreams I mighta had uh learnin’ tuh play the accordion,” he moaned, letting his joints go limp. “Hope tuh gawd ol’ Clay ain’t got no spy in here, ‘cause he just found my weakness.”
“I hope he does,” Troy fired back, her annoyance still apparent at the tall Texan ruining her moment post-shitkicking Steve Solex at March to Glory. “Finding and killing them would be one way to send a message.”
“I’m done visitin’ folks in jail, Lindsay, so mebbe not kill. But look,” Zeb continued, turning his focus back toward his roommate standing adjacent to him in the ring. “That whole lil’ sequence lasted ‘bout a minute, and I found three or four thangs you coulda done better. But ain’t nobody go’n break a count when it’s the realdeal Holyfield. Me’n you both ain’t the biggest, strongest, er fastest folks in this here sport. What we gotta do tuh make up fer it is tote some smarts. There’s a reason them marks call some people ‘scientific’ ‘rasslers. ‘Cause leveregin’ weight and usin’ as much of yer body as ya can tuh distract or tire ‘em out? That there’s right up Ike Newton’s alley!”
“So smushing your fingers was good, then?” Danielle joked.
“I’on’t know. Lemme ask them. Fangers, what you thank about that?”
Zeb feigned a look of shock as his wrist turns upward and all of his “fangers” drop. With the exception of one finger in particular. Danielle raised an eyebrow, stepping toward him quickly with outstretched arms in an attempt to grab the middle one and inflict more damage. He retreated by backing up in the direction of the turnbuckle, which does not deter her. Instead, she inched right up to him, causing him to cower and put both hands behind his back.
Their eyes locked in a stare that lingers just a bit too long to be natural, as if this were the scene that set up the chain of events in a romantic comedy. It was enough of an action to necessitate an equal yet opposite reaction. Zeb’s hands slowly moved back to the front of his body and up toward her cheekbones. Danielle slightly shifted her position to apply more pressure to the tension, hoping to take his breath away from him.
“Now!” Lindsay shouts.
It wasn’t a cue that she needed to hear. Danielle was already two steps ahead. With a swift knee that greeted his gut, Zeb doubled over and found himself kissing nothing but the canvas after she had executed the front facelock drop. Once the birds had stopped chirping around his head, he could only stare at the back of her pink tank top as it collapsed on top of his chest.
“One. Twooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo…” Danielle mocked, giving Zeb enough time to thrust a shoulder up. She then casually rolled her body over his neck and face before finding herself sitting on her knees. She looked down at him and grinned, delivering her best Foghorn Leghorn impression.
“Now yuh see here, uh, Zeb,” she explained, “what happened is I done used a distraction so I could squeeze on yer head and drop yer noggin down to the mat. Then I made sure to put alllllll my weight on ya, because like some scientist said: gravity is your friend!”
Martin responded simply by giving her an unenthusiastic thumbs up. “Glad ya learnt somethin’.”
She nodded down to him as she snuck her pointer into his nose, then proceeded to brush it off onto his cheek.
“Best class I ever took.”
While the record books certainly wouldn’t document this most recent Zeb Martin loss, it was one that Lindsay Troy at least found herself actually enjoying. Although her ideal role as a matchmaker would have paired the polite and reserved Southern boy with the free-spirited ex-convict, Muriel Puddings, this was a couple she could get behind. There was certainly something brewing based on what she had just witnessed.
And hell, even if it was just mixed signals, it wasn’t for nothing. If Zeb and Danielle was simply a friendship that motivated him to spend more hours inside a ring outside of bookings, it certainly wasn’t to his detriment. It had certainly brought out a side of him that Lindsay hadn’t yet seen before.
As meticulous as he was in pointing out his partner’s errors, was this something that he too was starting to catch in his own performance? Or was it simply easier to pinpoint those flaws in a more relaxed atmosphere, one where careers did not hang in the balance?
For all of their sake, Lindsay hoped it was the former. As the Best Alliance continues to grow in both strength and numbers, her circle of friends needed to become better versions of themselves if they were going to stand a chance. Especially the one who’d just had a booger wiped on his face.
Hoisting herself up onto the apron, Lindsay began to clap her hands with enthusiasm as she encouraged both to stand on their feet.
“I didn’t call in a favor for all of us to put in six minutes worth of work,” she said, rolling her shoulders out. “Now let’s see what else we might be able to teach each other.”