1983 – 2021
Beloved Father, Sex Machine, Fitness Guru
Despite the alarming message inscribed on the headstone, the craftsmanship was second-to-none. It would certainly stand out in a graveyard, as the tomb featured a lifelike sculpture of Bobby in a pre-grapple pose that stood about a foot in height on top of the granite slab.
The melody of snot being drawn back up into a pair of nostrils accompanies the view, obviously from a loved one in mourning of the tragedy that had befallen them. A kind-hearted soul taken from the world much too soon. It was certainly odd that the death of the Beautiful Man from Honalee had flown under the radar of the HOW faithful, not even so much as a news post from HR to notify us of the tragedy.
Mostly because Bobby Dean wasn’t actually dead.
“So what do you think, Z-Man?”
There were a lot of ways that Zeb Martin could have responded to that question. With Bobby’s time in captivity aboard the USS Octane coming to a close, this reunion could have just been a nice dinner with a long-lost friend. However, Bobby had insisted that Zeb come and pick him up, claiming that he had something “really cool” to show him.
You could peg this as a complete lack of sensitivity. Inviting someone to check out your tombstone a couple of weeks after their grandfather died may actually be the epitome of a horrible idea. Fortunately, the healing process had almost reached its climax with Zeb, and besides: we were talking about Bobby Dean here.
In fairness to the affable goof, Bob had prefaced the unveiling of the rock by telling Martin that he was sorry for his loss and would always be there for him if he needed someone to talk to. He then said that it got him thinking a lot about death, and that he wanted to make sure that he didn’t leave the burden of planning his funeral to his only daughter. Besides making sure that his only daughter wouldn’t conveniently forget to ensure that any graveyard explorers knew he was in fact a “Beloved Father,” amongst the other equally questionable descriptors on the epitaph.
“It’s purty nice, Bo,” Zeb comments. “Especially the lil’ Bobby on top of it.”
Dean grins, nodding his head and running his hand along the replica statue with pride. “They went WAY too small on the bulge, but other than that, it’s a perfect match!”
Zeb opts not to point out the fact that the sculpture’s torso and arms look more like the body of Gino Giordano than Bobby Dean. However, there are two particular points on the tombstone overall that he can’t help but address.
“Just a couple uh problems I see, though.”
Bobby waves his hands insistently, already aware of what Zeb is about to comment on. “Yeah, I know, I know. It says I’m dead as of this year. But hey, they gave me a 5% discount on it because of the error, and I figure someone can just write over it with a magic marker on the ACTUAL year. Unless I end up dead before January, of course! Then no harm, no foul!”
Martin shakes his head, putting his hand on his pal’s shoulder. “Please don’t say that, man.”
“Don’t worry, Zeb. I crossed my fingers when I said it just to be safe.”
Zeb shoots him a worried look. “Bud, I think yer confusin’ crossin’ your fingers with knockin’ on wood.”
“Not sure what you mean,” Bobby replies, completely aloof.
“You cross yer fingers when you want somethin’ to come tru…ya know what, never mind. Writin’ over an engraved date not withstandin’, what about the name on there?”
Bobby observes the tombstone closely, again not seeing the blatant error that is easily recognizable to anyone with a functional brain. “What about it?”
“It says RON-bert. They done added an ‘n’ in there,” Zeb points out. “Who did you go to tuh get this made anyway? How in the hell do ya get THAT wrong? ‘Ronbert’ ain’t even a real name!”
Robert (not Ronbert) slowly processes the revelation, his eyes lighting up and his mouth slowly forming an O. “Shit,” he finally murmurs. “How did I not see that?”
“Bo, let’s haul this thang to the bed of the pickup and take it back. They done took you for a sucker,” Zeb proclaims, walking over to the stone and motioning for Bobby to come help him lift it.
“Ronbert. RON-bert. Ron-BERT. Ro-NBERT,” Bobby repeats, sounding out the modification of his birth name aloud. “You know what? That actually sounds pretty cool. As a matter of fact, fuck it! Ronbert is way more awesome of a name than plain old Robert. I’m keeping it like it is.”
Zeb eyes him and furrows a brow. “You just don’t wanna lift it, huh?”
“I figured as such,” Martin chuckles. “C’mon, let’s go get us somethin’ ta eat.”
If history would have worked out differently and Zeb had never ventured into the locker room for an eGG Bandits audition, it was still an inevitability that these two would become friends. Someone cosmically connected them with a basic human need: their love for all things food.
Bobby and Zeb had shared many a memorable meal. Bottomless pancakes and sausage links at an IHOP after a particularly glum Refueled. Fine wine and snails at a quaint French bistro. They had braved the Harold and Kumar White Castle Challenge together and walked out without ruining the bathroom. Most noteworthy of all, though? Shrimp cocktail at a massage parlor that had been laced with hallucinogens, resulting in a multi-day journey to outer space.
Other than these one-off places, neither were ever shy to air their grievances about where to eat. For instance, Bobby loved that chicken from Popeye’s, but Zeb preferred the Colonel’s Original Recipe. If there was a choice in burger chain, Zeb always campaigned for a Whopper while Bobby made his case for a Quarter Pounder. As Martin’s youthful metabolism typically afforded him way more cheat days than Dean, the Watson Mill Kid typically recognized Bobby’s seniority and would go along with whatever he wanted.
However, fate would have it they’d eventually found a trough that both pigs could equally enjoy. Four or five troughs, to be exact, all with an array of slop fit for the farm animals that gathered at the restaurant. While the founder of Golden Corral may not have intended the name to be a slight at its patrons, it could certainly cater to the bovine-size appetites it herded inside.
When the ex-Bandits pulled into the parking lot, it may as well have been two children walking into a Chuck E. Cheese. Both had a slightly noticeable skip in their shoes as they entered the smorgasbord barn, an agility that would be extinguished the second they walked back out of those doors to leave.
Bobby and Zeb were truly amongst their people here in Tinley Park. There were a few acknowledgements from the customers and waitstaff. Golden Corral and wrestling fans were peanut butter and jelly. Both men were polite despite their hungry excitement to take photos and sign napkins for the handful of folks who’d recognized them. But it wouldn’t be long until the two sat down opposite one another inside of a booth, plates filled with a random assortment of D-grade cuisine.
“Dear Lord,” Bobby starts, clasping his hands together and looking skyward. “Please bless this bountiful feast of meatloaf pizza with a side of corn pudding, Mexican rice, and mashed potatoes with broccoli cheese sauce.”
Zeb sighs, preparing to cut into a smoked sausage link. It was a ritual now for Bob to say a very long and annoying grace before they ate out of irony. He’d hoped that the delay caused by the fans would have made him forget about it, but no such luck.
“And please bless the five-star chefs who pan-seared the sausage and baked the yeast rolls to perfection on my good friend Zebulon’s plate. May it give him the gas he requires to drive himself to the Television title. Gasoline-gas,” Bobby corrects. “Not fart gas. Though with that giant scoop of cabbage he got, we understand your divine creation of such vegetation will likely create fart gas, too.”
“Amen, let’s eat,” Zeb interrupts, bringing a bite of pork to his lips.
“Wait, I’m not done,” Bobby fires back. “And please bless the guy who refills the soft serve ice cream machine. May the fudge fountain flow like the rivers of Heaven above upon the chocolate-and-vanilla swirl. Also please make Doozer accidentally pee his shorts the next time he’s on camera, as that would be really funny. Amen.”
Zeb had really missed him these past couple of months. Aside from the 214 coming up short at War Games, there were a few great takeaways from the night. Conor Fuse was now one-half of the tag team champions, Teddy had held firm to his LSD title, and Jiles left Japan without his belt. The satisfaction of dropping him on his head with the Hook, Line and Sinker was something to celebrate despite the group’s efforts to reign triumphant in the power struggle between the Best Alliance.
The residual of this was instantly realized the day after. With the World Championship no longer in play, so dissolved any clout that the Maestro had with Lee Best. Both he and Doozer were no longer being held prisoner within the USS Octane. Zeb had received this news through a thank you text from the elder Bandit: one that he had not yet responded to. There was still a lingering distrust there where Dooze’s allegiances lay. Sure, they both still aspired to put Jiles in a hospital room, but Martin wasn’t quite ready to mend fences just yet.
Bobby was different. Zeb had gotten a phone call from him as soon as he’d arrived back in Chicago, and both were equally eager to renew their kinship. Zeb also had an ulterior motive in the back of his mind, too: slowly integrate him into the fold of the Local. He hadn’t pitched this idea to anyone just yet, opting to first figure out whether Bobby would be receptive to joining any team not named after a protein. But they needed the numbers, and Dean would be a perfect addition along with Darin Zion. There were no intentions of leaving the bad blood within the confines of the double cages. The fight at the Tokyo Dome was simply a battle, with the actual war not yet over. No one on their side knew where the boss’s team stood as it pertained to a unified front, but it didn’t matter. It had never been about the Grapplers Local vs. the Best Alliance: it was always about shifting the balance of power. The only genuine change was that the World Title now just sat on a different shoulder.
“So who are you gonna try to pin first?” Bobby pipes up between a mouthful of gelatinous substance. “Solex or Darin?”
Zeb takes a long pull from a straw, drowning in a plastic red cup of Coke, eyeing his friend with confusion. “You wanna talk bidness while we eatin’? What’d they do to you on that dang boat?”
“Well, it’s not every day that the guy across from me has a title shot! I mean, you usually had to have someone win it for you so that you could ultimately lose it: we’re in unfamiliar territory here,” Bobby kids, revealing a grin tinged with a corn kernel stuck on one of his teeth.
“Can’t argue against facts, I reckon,” Zeb concurs. “But to answer yer question, this ain’t a shot I’m particularly excited ‘bout.”
Dean scrunches his nose with confusion. “Why the fuck not?”
“Well, you asked the question. If anybody’s go’n get pinned by me, it ain’t gonna be Darin,” Zeb states bluntly. “Boss ain’t stupid, Bobby. There’s a reason they’s three of us in this match, and there’s a reason two of ‘em just so happen tuh be buddies that’s been lookin’ for a way up the ladder here lately. Dumb man might think Lee’s shootin’ himself in the foot creatin’ a new title and makin’ a triple threat with two guys that don’t like him havin’ a shot at winning the thang, but I ain’t as stupid as I look no more.”
“Well, apparently I am, because I don’t follow,” Bobby replies, watching Zeb chomp into a buttered roll. He gives a courtesy chew and swallow before explaining it to him.
“You know I ain’t a liar when I say that I want what’s best fer all of us in that locker room. And a real easy way tuh change that mentality is danglin’ a shiny new toy in front of someone. Reckon me and Darin both take out the trash early on, and it’s down to me an’ him,” Martin says, lifting three fingers on his free hand and taking that number down to two. “Sportsmanship’n mutual respect aside, it ain’t worth it tuh me to mess up what we started buildin’ at War Games. If Darin wants it, he can hook the leg and make the cover on Steve. I’m twenty years old, Bobby. Ain’t even in my prime yet. I’ll get ‘nother crack at somethin’ eventually, and probably against someone I wanna hand an asswhoopin’ to.”
Zeb stabs at the leaves of steamed cabbage and positions a bite of the sausage at the bottom of the fork. Bobby, meanwhile, looks on and shakes his head in disbelief at what he’s just heard from him. There is visible frustration as a cherry tint on his cheeks as he launches back at him.
“So that’s it, huh?”
“Purty much,” Zeb responds, lacking emotion.
“The Watson Mill Kid, from some shitty town no one knows, making his way up to the most respected wrestling organization in history to fulfill a dream. And no, not a dream to one day be at the top,” Bobby points at him, his voice growing slightly louder. “But a dream to be the guy who helped other people get to the top. Wow. What a story!”
The rising tone of Bobby Dean in a restaurant environment was not a fresh experience for Zeb. This had all the makings of the Suck, Fuck, and Zucc speech, which had caused quite the scene. “Bo, please,” he pleads, motioning with his hand to lower the volume. “This ain’t Le Havre where we won’t never set foot back in that joint again. This here’s the only buffet fer 60 miles.”
Bobby’s energy slowly deflated a bit, as Zeb had a significant point. But he persisted with the motivational speech.
“Look, all I’m saying is that maybe you need to bust a spine or two for the sake of YOU, not some guy who’s won plenty of titles already.” Dean pleads. “Let the TV title be about ZEB’s glory, not the Grappler’s Local! Do you really think Darin freakin’ Zion would offer you the same courtesy, to just take the win while he watches and cheers you on? He can’t even settle on his own name. What makes you think he’s gonna have any loyalty to you when he’s got a chance to revive his own career?”
It was certainly a valid point, something that even the brain of Bobby was good for from time to time. However, it did effectively plant a small seed in Zeb’s mind that maybe Bobby wouldn’t be such a great fit into the 214, as he was right here urging him to put his allegiances on the shelf for his own self-interest.
Or hell, maybe Zeb wasn’t the only one with an ulterior motive here at the booth of this Golden Corral. Maybe this was the first step towards getting the old band back together?
Neither of their intentions would come to light today, though. What presently resonated with Zeb was that once again, it was hard to argue with Bobby Dean when he was passionate about something. His natural energy coupled with his likeability was quite inspiring, one of the main reasons he’d carved out such a great living as a wrestler. A prototype that Zeb aspired to be himself.
“You might be right,” Zeb replies with a half-cocked grin, as it was always fun to him to never completely give Bobby full credit. “And heck, if it presents itself fer me to win it, dang shore I’ll take it. I do want tuh be successful on my own, man. But it ain’t gonna be ‘cause I used a knife handle as a boost off someone’s back. But quick question fer ya.”
“Sure,” Bobby says. “Shoot.”
“If you were in there instead uh Darin, would you be sayin’ the same thang?”
“Welllllllllllllllllll,” Dean shrugs, “then it would be me and that’s TOTALLY different. Because it’s me.”
“Figured as much,” Zeb chuckles, dropping his fork on top of his cleaned plate and reaching once again for the Coke.
“Either way, me and Darin both gotta be focused on our ol’ pal Steve. Sumbitch might be up against a wall ‘tween us, but like me, he also ain’t as dumb as he looks.”
“Who’s gonna want to help that guy out?” Bobby inquires, simultaneously dropping his silverware onto a crumpled napkin. “Even dogs hate him!”
“Hm,” Zeb responds, sarcastically pantomiming being deep in thought. “Can’t recall his name, but he’s also somebody a yeller lab wouldn’t wag his tail at even if he’s holdin’ a delicious cut uh pot roast from Golden Corral. Used tuh have three folks that liked him, once upon a time. Then he went and won himself a belt until one uh them three people made him lose it here recent…”
Bobby raises an index finger, his lips forming a silent “Ah!” for a moment, until he second-guesses himself when Zeb does not join in on his expression.
“Wait, you’re talking about Jiles, right?”
Zeb clasps his hand to his forehead, smiling. While he certainly liked the Tony Robbins moments that would occasionally spring up, this was the Bobby Dean he loved the most.
“Let’s go get us some ice cream.”