09 Oct

Here, have another 1200 words of Falling Lessons

Shirtless cover of Falling Lessons by Ren BentonIn which Phin’s boss gets on the “men are trash” train. Y’all, I wrote this months ago and haven’t changed a thing in response to current events. Part of the reason it repels me so much is that it stinks of capitalizing on a news cycle, although the news just caught up to what I’ve known for years.

Again, only partially revised (as noted, in part, by my lack of a name for “ORGANIZATION”) and unedited. If you need to catch up, here are links to Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

◊◊◊◊

Phin settled Luke into a recliner with a cold pack, the remote control for the entertainment system, and a promise to wake him when he’d had far too little sleep.

Having fulfilled his duties as a host, his creaking carcass ascended the stairs that curved upward from the foyer. If he’d plunged himself into a tub an hour ago, his muscles and joints wouldn’t be doing such an admirable impression of rigor mortis now.

If he’d come home to soak and let Luke refuse medical advice on his own time, he’d have missed making an ass of himself in a feeble attempt to get the attention of Cassandra Nash, she of the mutinous hair.

He grabbed a handful of shirt and peeled it over his head while water from the faucet crashed into the deep tub in the master bath. The water had barely covered the bottom when his phone rang from the pocket of his sweatpants.

A quick glance at the screen verified his thoughts hadn’t conjured the woman in them. For the length of another ring, he fantasized about letting the call go to voicemail, but the drawback of living in the same city as company headquarters was that his boss could pound on his door in the middle of the night when she was determined to be heard.

He muted the waterfall and parked his ass on the edge of the tub. “Hi, Meg.”

The majority owner of ORGANIZATION wasted none of her valuable time on pleasantries. “Cobb Weber missed his match with Szarka because he’s been arrested for using his wife as a punching bag.”

He rubbed the old break in his nose, a testament to Weber’s brick-like fists. That blow had been a clumsy mistake on both their parts in their early days on the circuit, landed at no more than half strength, and still rendered Phin breathless with pain. A woman half his size wouldn’t have walked away from that accident, much less a deliberate hit. “How’s Janie?”

“Gee, I don’t know. For some mysterious reason, she won’t take my calls.”

Meredith Harlow’s priorities were making money and protecting the image of her business so it continued to make money. Five years ago, she took over the company from her father after his stroke and made it clear from day one of her reign that having a woman at the helm did not mean soft and fluffy days ahead.

Within a week, the entire organization began referring to her behind her back as Megadeath. Far from taking offense, she put the moniker on her business cards and licensed Megadeth’s “Symphony of Destruction” to announce her entrances at shows.

She certainly wasn’t above bribing or bullying a battered woman to protect her agenda. Phin didn’t fault Janie Weber one bit for blocking her number.

“You’re meeting with media relations first thing in the morning to tape a promo making it clear domestic violence isn’t the norm in our industry, we unequivocally condemn men who behave in such a way, and blah blah blah.”

Wrestlers beating up women might not be the norm, but it certainly didn’t occur with less frequency than in the general population—and if history was any indication, the industry’s condemnation of the act would conveniently end when Weber was released from jail and cleared for travel so he could continue separating his fans from their money.

Phin had no interest in being the spokesman for the company’s hypocrisy. “Why me?”

“You’re the chiseled jaw on the face of ORGANIZATION for a reason. You have a brain and won’t embarrass me in public.”

Knowing Meg, that was a warning rather than a vote of confidence. If he failed to live up to the boss’s expectations, he couldn’t count on the same opportunity for professional redemption that she would extend to a man who beat women when he was off duty. “I have a flight at 10 a.m. for the pay-per-view in London.”

“Cancel it. I’ll send you on the company jet.”

He’d been on the company jet once in ten years, and only then to keep him trapped for a contract negotiation. “This must be a bigger public relations nightmare than you’re letting on.”

“Have you watched the news lately? There’s not a man alive capable of taking responsibility for his own behavior.”

Well-behaved men were underrepresented in the media, but it was difficult to argue not all men from the midst of an unrelenting parade of poor specimens. Phin’s conscience was clear, so he didn’t take sweeping generalizations personally. One marker of privilege was the ability to mentally divorce from the undesirable segment of his demographic while still collecting all the benefits of membership.

Cassandra Nash, on the other hand, did her damnedest to appear less young, gorgeous, and feminine and still got propositioned by pushy men while trying to do her job.

Maybe his conscience wasn’t as clear as he’d like, but he did take full responsibility for being an ass.

Meg hammered her point home. “I want the eyes of the world upon us, but not as the scapegoat for every dumbshit who chokes his girlfriend. Make it good, Phin.”

“‘Good’ demands more than a thirty-second commercial. If you want this to look like more than a face-saving deflection, you need a full-scale, long-term public service effort with dedicated resources—”

“I’m not giving you carte blanche. That bleeding heart of yours will bankrupt me.”

“Then put your own face on it.”

The silence stretching from Meg’s end vibrated with menace. She could hang up and tell the writers to put him on the longest losing streak in sports entertainment… or worse. She had plenty of other chiseled jaws with enough brains to give one coherent speech and the sort of hearts that would consider the mission accomplished.

But she had called him personally and wanted him badly enough to loan him her precious airplane. That suggested he had bargaining power. What kind of bleeding heart would he be if he didn’t use the leverage to push her to do something that wasn’t completely self-serving for a change?

She relented with a snap. “Carte blanche, but if I don’t see a social return on every penny you spend, I’ll be taking it out of your hide for what’s left of your contract.”

She didn’t linger on the line to belabor the point that she’d be renaming her finishing move No Tenure for the Professor in his honor if he screwed up.

Phin draped his arms over his knees and let the phone dangle. Instinct prompted him to call Janie and offer any support he could, but she didn’t know him well and might think he was harassing her on behalf of Cobb or Meg. Under the circumstances, she didn’t need that extra stress.

On the other hand, if no one from the “family” reached out, she might feel abandoned and optionless.

Shit.

He’d use tomorrow’s trip to the office to make sure someone friendly got in touch instead of assuming—like he did—that someone else would be better suited for the task.

A twirl of the faucet restarted the torrent of water. Phin left the tub to fill and went in search of his tablet and a legal pad.

Nothing went better with a long, relaxing soak than researching effective methods of combating domestic violence.

© 2018 Ren Benton. Archived.

CONTINUE TO PART 5

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