James Cornfield: Well good for him. He’s got some balls on him.
The owner, promoter, booker and sole proprietor of Pro Wrestling: Assault presses the power button on his remote control, the screen frozen on the face of Scott Stevens as the television softly powers down.
He’s sitting in his “office”— a beat up old RV with dingy leather interior, a veritable hoarder’s paradise on wheels. Mountains of paperwork, probably mostly unpaid bills, are strewn about a pull out desk near the bed in the back. The video is clearly being taken by hand… it wouldn’t be so shaky if it was on a tripod.
James Cornfield: I mean, he’s also got manure for brains, but definitely got some balls. Gotta say, last guy I expected to see crappin’ all over the underdogs was the man that H O Dubya has been underestimating for damned near a decade now, but I asked ya for a choice and ya made one. Just happened to be the wrong one.
The promoter shakes his head, hands on his hips.
James Cornfield: I respect your stubbornness, Mr. Stevens. Would be a hipocrite if I didn’t. You know how to look failure in the eyes and say “this time is gonna be different”. Look at ya, boy, you done wrestled all over the world and won everything there was to win out there. Created a legacy and a resume impressive anywhere but in the 970000 zip code. H O Dubya has always been the nut that you couldn’t crack… and that ain’t dissuading you even an iota, is it?
His eyes are filled with both admiration and pity, all at once. The genuine disbelief in his voice is mirrored on his face, but of course the volume is turned up in the name of promoting the show.
He is a promoter, after all.
James Cornfield: You refuse to read the writing on the wall. Refuse to acknowledge the glass ceiling you’re living under. So certain that you can still bust through it that you pretend it isn’t there. But lemme ask ya something, Scott… What happens if you’re wrong? Look at ya, kid. On the wrong side of graying, still climbing that ladder day after day, finding that silver lining. Still believing that H O Dubya believes in you. They quit on you a long time ago, Mr. Stevens, and the Lady in 97 Red that you love so much does not love you back. What I’m offering you isn’t the easy road. It isn’t a chance to “slum it on the indies”. What I’m offering you, Scott, is an opportunity. An opportunity to prove them wrong.
He stares directly into the camera.
James Cornfield: By the end of this year, a member of the Pro Wrestling: Assault roster will hold a major championship in H O Dubya. They will main event pay-per-views. They will become a major star and a big player. Don’t confuse our size and our budget with our level of talent, Mr. Stevens… just because my boys ain’t been on TV before don’t mean they never deserved to be. Maybe your anger and your resentment toward PWA has less to do with GenoSyde and Ivy English… and more to do with your own projection. With your own Stockholm Syndrome perspective that anything not colored dark red is a bunch of carny nonsense, no wonder you hate my boys and I.
The sweaty old man shakes his head, sadly.
James Cornfield: It’s because you hate yourself, Scott. You hate that no one respects what you’ve done outside of H O Dubya, but more than that, you hate that YOU no longer respect it. That the Fist of DEFIANCE means Jack to you these days. That the Stevens Dynasty are looked at as glorified midcarders in Chicago. You been brainwashed, boy. Convinced that you ain’t worth a damn, just because the initials on your achievements didn’t tickle Lee Best’s fancy. Well let me tell you, kid… it’s a big world out there. A lot more than Lee Best had to the budget to buy out. So my offer stands. You got a tag partner you can’t trust in a company that doesn’t trust you. You think Black Mamba gives a damn about you? You think he’s gonna stick with you when the chips are down? You don’t owe them a damned thing, Scott. Don’t owe nobody a damned thing but yourself. Whatever decision you make, make it for you.
He points into the camera, talking directly to Stevens. Thousands may watch it on the internet, but he’s talking to one man and one man alone.
James Cornfield: At Refueled, you got a choice to make. You can keep being the butt of the joke, or you can wise up and make this company into the punchline for once. Come and work for me, and let me turn you into the H O Dubya World’s Champion. You almost done it on your own, so imagine what you can do with my help. Think about it. Think hard, Stevens. Cause I can turn you into what you were always meant to be…
James Cornfield: Or GenoSyde can break you like that glass ceiling you’re living under. Makes no difference to me… one way or another, we’re walking out of that arena with three more points in the Maurako Cup.
James Cornfield: And that’s a Cornfield Guarantee.
Literally Seconds Later
“Alright, cut it.”
As soon as the feed ends, Cornfield let’s out the exhale of the century, his gut flopping out over the belt of his pants like a dog with his tongue wagging. He reaches out, snatching a cell phone from the hands of Ivy English and turning the camera toward himself to review the video.
“You can be the most talented guy in the business.” Cornfield mutters, squinting at the phone. “Don’t make a lick of difference if you can’t cut a promo. Tell me why I said what I said.”
He reaches into his jacket pocket, producing a small pair of spectacles. Jimmy gloms them onto his face, peering at the phone screen through the bifocal part of the lens.
“It’s a mind game.” Ivy answers, confidently. “Fuckin’ with their heads. Trying to make them doubt eachother.”
Cornfield lowers the phone, putting his attention on his world’s champion. He eyes Ivy up and down, nodding his head.
“It’s a good guess.” Jimmy’s eyes fall back to the video. “But no. They’re already out of the running. No more dissent to be sown. I said what I said… because I meant it.”
He finishes scrubbing through the video, before setting the phone down on the desk. It rests atop a pile of papers that somehow look… greasy. James grasps Ivy by the shoulder, in almost a paternal way.
“Gotta mean what you say, Ives.” James pats him on the shoulder. “If you’re a killer, be a killer. If you’re a coward, be a coward. No reason to make up a lie when you got plenty to talk about… they might be marks, but they can tell shit from Shineola.”
Without a camera rolling, the squeaky clean demeanor of the promoter seems to fall away.
“Facts are facts.” James says, matter-of-factly. “He’d be better off with us. He won’t, of course… too stubborn for that. Too proud. Makes him a hell of a wrestler… also makes him a not-so-successful one, in the scheme of things. Pride is a hell of a drug, kid.”
His hand still firmly on Ivy English’s shoulder, James Cornfield lifts the PWA World Championship up off the couch. Everything in this RV is damned near within arm’s reach, and it isn’t hard to spot.
It’s about the only thing in the trailer that shines.
“This title, Ivy.” He rests it over English’s shoulder, with a smile. “It doesn’t make you a champion. It marks that you’re a champion. Man makes the belt, not the other way around. You’re good. You’re great. I seen you do things that people would kill to be able to do out there. So let me ask ya somethin’… are you the world’s champion?
He raises an eyebrow at his young champion… it isn’t a rhetorical question.
“Yeah, Jimmy.” Ivy nods, side-eying his own belt. “I’m the world’s champion.”
A shake of the head from Cornfield, whose smile slowly fades. He doesn’t release the shoulder of the young wrestler, but his expression turns a shade of grin. Sinister, even.
“Told ya, kid.” Cornfield doesn’t blink. “Gotta mean what you say. I watched you get pinned in the center of the ring, dead to rights, by a third tier, forty three year old cokehead. And I ain’t knocking it… it happens. Everybody loses. But you know what I didn’t see, Ivy?”
The spit catches in Ivy English’s mouth, his breath suddenly caught in the back of his throat. Jimmy Cornfield might be an old, fat wrestling promoter, but something about his tone catches the PWA Champion by surprise.
“Anger.” Cornfield goes on. “Shame. Disappointment. Desire to correct your mistakes and do better next time. Nah, Ivy… you just picked yourself up and dusted yourself off and said heck, I’ll get ‘em next time. Well lemme tell you, Ivy… you will get ‘em next time. I can guarantee it. I can Cornfield goddamned Guarantee it. You know why?”
His fingers grip a little deeper into Ivy’s shoulder.
“Cause if you don’t?” Cornfield grits his teeth. “I’ll take that belt off’a you and send you back to the fuckin’ projects faster’n you can say Black History month. We clear?”
He stares a hole into the forehead of Ivy English, whose face steels under the weight of the sudden shift in tone. He grits his teeth too, holding back the barrage of things he very much wants to respond with.
“Yeah.” Ivy mutters, not breaking eye contact. “We real clear, Mr. Cornfield.”
Without missing a beat, Jimmy’s expression brightens right up, the car salesman smile returning to his face has he releases the shoulder of his champion. He gives him a pat on the side of the arm, followed by an awful little wink.
“Thatta boy.” Jimmy smiles. “Now… let’s scrounge up somethin’ to eat. I’m starved!”
James Cornfield snatches his keys off the desk, heading toward the driver’s seat of the RV. He doesn’t look back, and maybe that’s for the best– he wouldn’t see the utter hatred in the eyes of his PWA World Champion. He stares down at the championship belt on his shoulder, pulling it down into his hands and looking deep into his name, etched into the front of the plate.
…maybe it was time for the champion to send his boss a message.