Post by Thaddeus Duke on Jul 4, 2021 10:16:08 GMT -5
Woolworth Tower || Tribeca – New York City || 9:31 PM
“She’s the mother of your twins,” Edward suggests and I nod confirmation. “How did that come about?”
For a second, I consider making a joke of his question and tell him about the birds and the bees, yet I sit quiet a long few moments, reminiscing back to a time that wasn’t that long ago but simultaneously feels like an entirely different life. When my plane was shot down, I left the grid. I left my life and I left professional wrestling. I spent the first couple months on my own sleeping in no tell motels. The ones that don’t require credit cards and paper trails. Satisfied that I was thought dead by most everyone that loved me, I was content to adopt a new name and live without the burdens of leadership that I never fucking wanted to begin with.
Don’t misunderstand me. I was and still am a good leader. The Ares Project changed the rules of the game and attacked me on American soil where my air force, my biggest asset militarily, was rendered useless and not an option. Through the wars, I’d learned a lot about tactics in traditional warfare. I’d earned the love and respect from my fellow men and women in uniform.
I’m highly decorated. Medals afforded to me by my father and his father before him as a damn teenager filled my head with typical teenage invincibility. Yet when the Ares Project began their assaults, I had no way to fight back. I was basically a sitting duck and I’m not accustomed to failure. Every time I turned around, it seemed it was failures by my staff compounded with my own that lead to my house, which sits on sovereign land like an embassy, to fall under siege, my plane shot down, my bases attacked and we were losing.
Unequipped to handle it at the time, I ran. I buried my head in the sand and pretended nothing was going on and my home and everyone in it, that sat in Connecticut about a hundred miles away from Alister’s place in Scarsdale was better off without me. I hoped it was true but in my heart of hearts, I was just lying to myself. My people needed me then more than they ever had before and I abandoned them.
I see that now, but I didn’t then.
“Liz was…” my voice trails off some as I think about the things I put her through during our time together and even the things I’m still putting her through for her terrible crime of bringing children into the world that wear my last name.
“She’s an amazing woman,” I begin again. “It started innocent enough. I’d been seeing my shrink for a few months by then as I tried to reconcile my life and figure out how to cope with being… imperfect.”
“And she helped you remember who you were, correct?” Edward expertly guides my line of thought. He might deserve a raise.
“It’s not that I forgot who I was, I just ignored who I was,” I answer back.
“What I mean Thaddeus, is that she reminded you that despite whatever flaws you possess, that you were worthy of existing.” Nodding in agreement, I can’t help but smile. The early days of our… courtship, for lack of a better term, are some of my fondest with her.
“During my therapy, my therapist instructed me to rather than bottling up my thoughts and letting them eat me alive, that I should practice not thinking at all and just saying whatever comes to mind out loud. Her and I flirted a bit, but it was innocent, playful. Once in a business meeting in Alister’s home office she’d walked in telling us about dinner, only for me to blurt out how beautiful she was.
“It’s one of those things you know you shouldn’t say but your tongue won’t stop talking,” I say with a smile. “And before someone out there in OCW Land thinks I was grave robbin’ or she was cradle robbin’, she was 31 and I was 21 at the time.”
“I’m not sure anyone was thinking that,” Edward tries to reassure me. “I think a lot of our viewers are very familiar with your story.”
“We really became friends after my moment of unfiltered honesty,” I continue on. “For awhile there she was the only friend I thought I had and I preach about loyalty. It’s not a gimmick Ed. One night she shoots me a text that sounded urgent so I rush off to this bar to help her only to realize her friends stood her up and she just wanted someone to hang out with.
“It was around this time that I returned to wrestling in the XWF.”
“So you were still using this Jameson Henry pseudonym but returned to…”
“If cameras were on me, my face was covered with my Collector mask,” I cut him off. “When I returned I was known as ‘The Collector.’ If by some chance I was on camera without my mask, which did happen a few times, the crew was under strict orders to pixelate my image.”
“That night in the bar, things took a turn for you and Elizabeth, didn’t they?”
“She sweet talked me into taking off my mask,” I begin with a nod. “Some Ed Sheeran song comes on the jukebox and she dragged me out to the middle of the floor to dance with her. In the moment, I began singing to her and by the end we were kissing.”
“She was always critical of your use of the Henry name, wasn’t she?”
“Yeah,” I answer with a nod of confirmation. “She was adamant that being Thaddeus was better than pretending to be Jameson Henry and to be honest, I couldn’t agree more in hindsight.”
“What did it?” he asks. “What was it the finally caused you to take off the mask? To shed the pseudonym? To just be you?”
“It was a slower process than I care to admit,” I answer him honestly. “Over time, being referred to by the Henry name just started to make me cringe. As Liz and I grew closer and closer one night, we sort of rekindled the romance that started at the bar and she took my mask off.
“It was unplanned so the camera crews weren’t ready for it. She’d referred to me as Jaime and it made me sick to my stomach. With my face already visible, the cat was already out of the bag.
“Just call me by my name.”
“She left her husband for you that night, didn’t she?”
“She did,” I confirm. “Alister was in Miami on business and Liz and I left for Connecticut.”
“During your time as Alister Henry’s collector, that’s also when young Francis came into your life?” he leads me.
“Frankie was the first person to see my face,” I remember fondly. “I’m a sucker for kids man. They’re awesome. Pure. Innocent. Totally unfiltered.
“He was the son of one of Henry’s marks. Based on the information I had, Frankie was supposed to be with his mother that weekend. So I climb up the fire escape of this building in Brooklyn where his dad lived and wanted to enter the apartment through the window. I do that and close the window behind me, turn around, and there stands Frankie wearing an Iron Man mask.
“This is the only time I’ve ever been happy that my intel was wrong.”
“So you’re standing face to face with a nine year old boy and neither of you know the other,” Edward prefaces. “That had to be awkward,” Ed concludes with a chuckle.
“It was,” I say smiling. “I had a job to do, but I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to. Not with a child present.”
“What were you supposed to do?” he asks of me.
With the edge of my hand, I smack it off my knee a couple times, electing not to verbalize it.
“So you’re face to face with Frankie who is right now, asleep upstairs. How did that come to be?”
“Oh he’s not asleep,” I answer Ed. He looks at me in confusion. “The kids got good hearing and he knows we were gonna talk about him.”
“How do you always knowwww?” Frankie asks from around the corner and in the hallway causing me to chuckle a little.
“Come on in Bub,” I say to him and he comes around the corner and enters the room before hopping up on the arm of the sofa beside me. “You really wanna be here for this?” I ask of the now ten year old boy. Many times over the last year I’ve said he’s the best thing to ever happen to me. And I’ve meant it every time. He’s my shadow. My partner in crime. My best buddy. And now my adopted son. I’ve never been one to believe in Gods or imaginary deities that hang in the sky watching our every moves. Despite that, I do believe in fate.
Liz once told me that I was meant to come into his life when I did because if I hadn’t, there’s a good chance Frankie might have met the same fate as his mother.
“Can I tell it?” he asks of me in response.
“Is that what you really want?” I ask of him and he eagerly nods. “Go ‘head.”
“So Francis…” Edward begins before Frankie cuts him off.
“Frankie,” the boy says to the journalist. “My mom only ever called me Francis.”
Ed smiles at the boy before continuing. “So Frankie,” he begins again. “How did Thaddeus becoming your father come about?”
“Well,” he pauses as he gathers his thoughts. “When I met him we sat talking in my room about video games and things like that for awhile. I was telling him about my favorite game and how it didn’t work anymore so he turned on my game and bought me a new one to play.
“I took off my Iron Man mask and asked him to take his mask off since we were friends now and he did,” Frankie pauses. “Then he went out and talked to Keith for awhile…”
“Who’s Keith?” Edward asks.
“His biological father,” I answer before Frankie continues.
“Anyway, Thad’s right about my hearing and I heard them talking,” he resumes. “Thad gave Keith a boatload of money to pay off his debt. After that, a bunch of times Keith went to class for his…” he stops and looks at me. “What was it?”
“Keith was a compulsive gambler which is what put him in debt,” I answer both Edward and Frankie. “The only requirement for me giving him the money to pay off his debt to Alister was to enter treatment for gambling addiction.”
“So a bunch of times when Keith was in class, Thad would come pick me up and we’d go do fun stuff like he was my big brother or something,” Frankie pauses as he reflects back on what brought him into my life as a permanent fixture.
“So one night, Thad dropped me at home and Keith was quiet and acting funny,” he continues before taking another pause. “Thad went home and a couple days later, the cops came and arrested Keith and they put me in foster care.”
“Foster care?” Ed asks. “Well where was…” it sinks in as he’s speaking. “...your... mom…”
The three of us sit quietly for a few moments as Edward considers his little blunder. Still sitting on the arm of the sofa, Frankie looks down at me.
“What?” I ask of him. He shrugs before throwing his arms around my neck. Best hugger in the game, that kid. His love for me is sometimes overwhelming. And this is one of those times. Hugging him back I give him a kiss on the top of his head as Mufasa saunters in and sits in the doorway staring at his boy. Never one to shy away from my emotions, I shed a few tears as I continue to hold the boy tight. The last year has been absolutely brutal for him and that’s not lost on me. It’s been brutal for me too but at the end of the day, I’m just a bystander trying to hold him together.
After a few more seconds, Frankie releases his hug and hops off the sofa arm.
“C’mon boy,” he says to Mufasa on his way through the door and upstairs to bed.
“How did you find out?” Edward asks, referring to Frankie’s dad killing his mother.
“I was in a meeting concerning the Ares Project,” I begin to explain. “A call came through from New York family services. Took it, found out, freaked out, abruptly abandoned my meeting and flew by helicopter to New York City to pick him up.”
“He seems like a great kid,” Ed suggests.
“He’s the best,” I answer him. “It isn’t all unicorns and rainbows either, he acts up too. I just don’t show that to my audience. He’s had a traumatic life this last year plus and I’m not okay with exploiting his sadness and anger for clicks and views.”
“You’re very protective of him,” Ed says with a slight smile.
“Frankie deserves all the happiness that life can give him.”
“Several months ago, he was on your plane when you were hijaked…”
“I didn’t really want to go there,” I interrupt him. “He saw too much that day. Frankie has this way about him that causes people to just love him instantly. He saw a lot of his friends among my staff lose their lives that day. He himself did things I never wanted him to have to do.”
“If you’re willing, can you elaborate for the OCW audience?” he asks.
Quietly I sit in thought. Looking back on that day isn’t easy for me. We both lived through it, but only because Frankie, like his adoptive dad, is defiant. Way back when my father lead the nation, he had panic rooms installed in the fleet of jumbo jets. Once it was apparent that we were hijacked, I put him in that room but I gave him the code to unlock the door because I didn’t know if I was gonna live or die.
When it comes to war, you fight and live or you fight and die. There is no middle ground. With Frankie safe and secure in the panic room, me and his security detail armed ourselves to the teeth and as the plane landed we made our moves. His detail took assault and sniper rifles to the cargo bay and laid in wait while I killed one of the hijackers and apprehended the other.
Meeting up with in the cargo bay, we laid on the catwalk and opened the door. One by one and in unison we picked off Ares Project enemies. They scattered, they panicked… they regrouped and sent more than we could handle charging into the plane. Frankie’s security detail was ultimately killed and I was about to be too. It was just me and the Ares Project foot soldier left and I was out of ammo and no gun within reach. Flat on my back and staring up the barrel of a rifle, I hear a shot. The soldier standing above me falls and lands on me, revealing Frankie standing behind him with a pistol in his hand.
“I’d like to keep that to myself,” I finally answer him. If not for Frankie, I’m not sitting here today. But then how do you assure a ten year old boy that he did the right thing when you’re taught from birth that hurting people is bad?
Pushing the dead enemy off of me, I rushed to my feet to console the boy. He stood there crying silent tears but how do you make it okay again? It was in that moment that I began to doubt whether I was the right person to raise him. My life is complicated on light days. I love that young man more than anything, but him suffering through such a traumatic experience, made me wonder if he wasn't better off with someone else.
“You lost him too, did you not?” Edward asks and snaps me out of my own head.
“Yeah.” I sit quietly for a few moments before nodding confirmation.
“How did that happen?”
“In the simple version, I was arrested back in November in Roswell, New Mexico for assaulting a police officer,” I begin to explain. “It’s not what it sounds like,” I say with a smile.
“At the end of September at XWF’s Relentless, which is a 3 night event, I spent night one putting on a clinic with a highly decorated, highly talented bitter rival named Chris Page. When he couldn’t beat me, he and his partner tried to end my career. I spent six weeks out of action with a sprained ACL which I probably worsened by still competing the other two nights…”
“You kept wrestling on a sprained ACL?” he interrupts.
I nod confirmation. “Being the Lionheart isn’t a gimmick, it’s a way of life. The fans paid good money to see me compete. I give them what they pay for regardless of what it does to my own body…
“Anyway, upon my return after the injury, I chased down Chris Page at Savage and put one hell of a beating on him. Apparently, those cops didn’t realize assault was legal in shoot wrestling. One tried to intervene and I beat the hell out of him with his own belt. His boys tackled, then arrested me for assaulting a police officer.
“During the hearing in which Frankie’s adoption was supposed to be approved, Alister Henry sent in my police records to the courthouse.”
“Records,” Edward clues in. “Meaning more than once?”
“I’ve been arrested three times,” I confirm. “Years back I was arrested for assault in some cow town outside of Pittsburgh. Some dude groped the girl I was seeing so I beat him up.”
“And the third?”
“That day in the courtroom,” I say with a smile. “The judge seemed concerned over my history of violence so he placed Frankie in foster care and ordered me to undergo anger management treatment. I don’t have a history of violence, I have a history of standing up for myself and others.
“I didn’t handle it well and I pretty much did a shoot promo on the judge right there in the courtroom. I was arrested and held in contempt.”
“Obviously you ultimately won the case,” Edward leads.
“I wasn’t leaving anything to chance,” I begin my answer. “The judge had already showed his hard on for me so, when it came time to go back into court, I was prepared. I hired the best attorney in New York City. I had him dig into the judges background, personally and professionally and found out he had a history with Alister Henry.
“After some theatrics performed in the courtroom by my high powered big city attorney in small town Connecticut, the judge ordered us to his chambers. I threatened to end his career if he didn’t award Frankie’s adoption.”
“Is that something you enjoy?” he prefaces. “Hitting below the belt? Twisting arms?”
“No,” I answer him quickly. “But I wasn’t about to let him play more games using a traumatized ten year old boy as a pawn. You need to understand that I will always protect those I love. If it means I have to get my hands dirty sometimes in order to do it, then so be it.
“And I won’t feel guilty for it.”
“I think most people would agree with that sentiment,” Edward replies. “Now Thaddeus, in recalling the adoption of Frankie, you mentioned XWF’s Relentless show. I think this is as good a time as any to shift gears and put some focus on your wrestling career.”
...To be continued-er...