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> Luring the Fox from her hole
Cat Riley
Posted: March 04, 2019 12:51 am


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Group: Members
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Member No.: 353
Joined: April 09, 2018




The sweat cascaded from a an arced brow, diverted from the corner of the young woman’s squinting eyes and rolling over a pair of puffy cheeks as they expand taking in precious oxygen. Her nostrils flare in sync, helping her depleted lungs replenish the lost fuel. A billowy fog blows from her huffing lips; exhaust being forcibly evacuated to make room for fresh ventilation. For slightly more than an hour she had been engaged in an impromptu roll – combat sports jargon for a sparring match – with a considerably older woman who, despite her age, proved to be exceptionally capable on the mat. Dabbing at her face with the towel offered by her uncle Paul Riley, Fox studies the other woman, a tall, athletically built brunette who engages in a hushed conversation with an impossibly wide man sporting a short cut head of blonde hair parted in the middle who was introduced to her as Gene Banton, the Goldenboy, and manager of her cousin Cat. A man of considerable means who had made the trip from Las Vegas, Nevada to Wigan, England specifically to see her, and a man she knew she had to impress.

Despite her best efforts however, and against an adversary more than double her 19 years of age she simply could not beat her. Doubts begin to creep into her mind as she studies the other woman, carried along the chilly morning breeze through the weathered cracks in the uninsulated plank walls of the wooden shack turned gymnasium. She tries to fumigate the apprehension, reminding her self that it is merely a test, but like many roaches they seem immune to her efforts, resurging almost immediately. The unnamed woman, with long chestnut curls neatly tied into a fish tail tugs at a plain black sports bra, adjusting the garment while gesticulating with the chiseled slab of granite. Her breath finally returning she looks on while the pair continues to talk. The doubts relentlessly hammer away at the already cracked wall of confidence, chipping at it piece by flaky piece until she surrenders to its inevitable failure, bowing her head with a belated sigh.

“You did fine Fox”, her Uncle Paul whispers into her frigid ear and drapes a reassuring arm over her slumped shoulders. “Trust me; everything is going to be fine”.

Soothing though it may be, his hot breath does little to assuage her fears. With the exception of the occasional male sparring partner Fox Riley had never rolled with anyone she could not beat, until when it mattered most. Then, like a car driving to the most anticipated destination of her life she breaks down stranded in Wigan. A tear emerges between a fissure in the distressed dam, forced through by the palpable pressure and she reaches up to wipe it aside, re-directing her gaze to her other Uncle Ernie, seated against the wall on a bench. Saying nothing he merely smiles, his bespectacled eyes flickering and offering a glimmer of reassurance. With his arm still draped over his niece’s sagging burden bearers Paul offers a gentle shake in an effort to lend the youngster some of his own confidence.


“I tried, Uncle Paul”, she murmurs in quivering capitulation. “I really tried. I just.., I couldn’t beat her”.

“You did better than you think”, he offers with a nod, his blue lenses focused on the object of her attention sharing a laugh with the casually dressed American man. “I wasn’t going to tell you at first that..,”

“That what?” she hastily demands. “That they were going to laugh at me?”

“No”, he chuckles, rubbing the side of her soaked flaxen follicles. “That you just went a solid hour with a six time world champion”.

“What..?”

“I’ll let him tell you”, with a tap of his finger he directs her attention back onto the pair who have broken from their huddle and move to rejoin them. “Geno,” he raises his voice to the approaching behemoth of a man. “Tell Fox who she just wrestled for an hour against”.

With a hearty chortle Gene reaches out placing a five fingered slab of beef on the British man’s shoulder and locks eyes with a fidgeting Fox Riley, who regards him demurely. “Young lady, you just went an hour with Erika Stark, one of the best wrestlers I’ve ever managed; six time world champion and record holder for the longest unbeaten streak in IWA history at 152 straight wins”.

Blinking rapidly, her round face flushed in confusion the thunderstruck blonde stares open mouthed at the taller brunette who smiles congenially and extends her hand which is apprehensively accepted.

“I’m Erika”, she says gripping her hand firmly and pumping, “and I have to say that I so very much enjoyed our roll today. I had a lot of fun”.

“But..,” She stammers, unable to come to grips with the suddenly slippery realization, wet down by a cloud burst of questions pelting at her thought processes. Erecting an umbrella of determination to avoid distraction by the competing queries she asks the first question to spring into mind, “Why didn’t you tell me before?”

“Because you would have been nervous you silly bird”, Rising from the creaky bench Ernie plods across the mat which wheezes in protest over the hardship of bearing his heft and joins the group. “You would have gotten nervous and made mistakes. We wanted you at your best, and despite the rubbish you were telling your Uncle Paul, you delivered”.

Shuffling in a comfortable looking pair of fur-lined black loafers Gene tugs gently at the legs of matching, and equally luxurious black knitted cashmere pull on pants. A tightly fit soft cotton true white tee shirt gives way to a multi-pocketed men’s expedition parka now held by a bulging arm. A White cashmere linen Kefiah scarf is loosely wrapped around a tree trunk of a neck providing an extra layer of warmth on another biting Manchester morning. Reaching into one of the side pockets of the jacket his hand emerges with an orange tennis ball which he squeezes tightly a couple of times, forcing the inner rubber shell to collapse onto itself only to retake its original shape upon release and hands it to the youngster.

“You certainly did”, he says in agreement with Ernie’s assessment. “But there’s another test I’d like to ask you to do”, with a pause he hands the ball to Fox who stares at it quizzically,

“I’m not much of a tennis player”, she states with a hint of a frown, and promoting a breezy chorus of laughter from the group surrounding her.

“That makes two of us”, he answers with a grin. “No, what I want you to do is..,” breaking from the group he grabs her hand and leads her to a portion of the wall and facing her to it, “stand right here and bounce the ball off of the wall ten times quickly. Throw it ten times with your right and catch it with your right, then throw it ten more times with your left and catch it with your left and then finally throw it five times with your right but catch it this time with your left and then switch to the other hand, got it”?

She nods numbly, glancing in puzzlement, first to Gene and then to her Uncles and finally to Erika who has reclaimed her Pink nylon warmup jacket, donning and zipping it up and proceeds to perform the prescribed task, completing the first set of ten for each hand with an effortless ease, the muted thud of the hollow ball adding to the acoustics of the room as she begins the second set, accompanied by the low pitched whistle of the wind picking up outside.

“I don’t understand”, she sighs in apparent boredom with the simple actions. “What’s this supposed to tell you? We’re barely a meter from the wall”.

“It’s a simple test of your hand-eye coordination”, he shrugs.

“But why”?

“I’ll explain it when you’re finished”.

The rhythmic cadence of the ball rebounding takes center stage over her ebbing confusion, bouncing it out of her mind and replacing it with the business at hand as she begins the slightly more challenging third set, hurling the ball against the splintering planks with her right hand and catching it with her left and then swapping her catching and throwing arms. Regardless of the added complexity however she completes the trial in short order and then turns to face her would be boss, handing the ball back to him which he waves off.

“Keep it; I have a thousand of them”.

“Perhaps now you can tell me why”? She says flatly, unamused by the simplistic test and jutting a thumb to the wall. “I can do that in my sleep”.

“Sure, “he nods, slipping his jacket back on. “But why don’t we go inside the house where it’s warm first”?

The suggestion draws an obnoxious cackle from Ernie stepping towards the door to lead the way, “You yanks and your thin blood”.

“Hey I live in a desert”, he moans. “Give me a break”.

Seated at an expansive chestnut dining table the group enjoys a hot chocolate, served in old white ceramic cups. The Riley brothers nurse their drinks, allowing them to sit on matching saucers while casually stirring with a teaspoon to cool the steaming liquid. Erika cradles hers in both hands allowing the steam to warm her face while Gene spoons out a marshmallow to eat separately. The youngest of the group Fox, impatiently blows over the cup pausing to take a sip before renewing her efforts. Behind them Beatrice, Ernie’s wife of more than 40 years tends to the stove, preparing additional mixture. Turning around she claims a can of whipped cream from the off white Formica counter top and reaches between the men, setting the red and white can down with a clunk and addresses them,

“I will be in the living room, there’s more chocolate on the stove, help yourselves”, and then excuses herself from the traditional, albeit bright kitchen, her sneakers squeaking against the white tiled floor.

“Professional wrestling”, Gene begins while lifting his cup from the saucer to sample the temperature, “is a combat sport, much like catch wrestling, but there is one very big difference between the two”, another pause ensues allowing him to set the cup back down, clacking against the dish. “Catch wrestling is but a single style, a fantastically effective style, but still just one discipline. When you face other catch wrestlers you know what you’re going to get, but combat sports are continually evolving and pro wrestling is no different. In Catch wrestling you grapple, period. In wrestling however your opponents will not only grapple with you, they will punch and kick and head butt..,”

“Even throw drop kicks”, Ernie adds in a bellicose laughter recalling Cat’s ill-fated efforts in a recent blindfold match.

“Even throw drop kicks”, Gene nods with a grin while maintaining his gaze on the youthful blonde. “My point is, to be the best you have to be adequate in more than one style, well rounded and that is why I wanted to test your hand-eye coordination, to get an idea on how to supplement your skill set”.

Rising from the table Fox sets her emptied cup down and grabs the brown plastic handle of the aluminum sauce pan filled with chocolate and sets it down on the table atop a red crochet pad. The rich aroma gently wafts before the appreciative noses of the collective as she retakes her seat, pulling the wooden chair back up to the table and refilling the mug with the sturdy black plastic ladle resting in the sweet concoction. Wrapping her hands with a pair of cream colored napkins she brings it to her face and resumes blowing over the drink, her youthful impatience to indulge in the syrupy brew drawing a smile from the two visitors.

“Your hand-eye coordination is very good, excellent in fact”, Gene goes on. “Most people mess up on the third set at least once, but you nailed it”.

“I don’t see what that’s supposed to mean”, she mumbles, dousing her cup with a heaping pile a whipped cream and stirring it in. “Do you want to cross train me to juggle”?

“It means that you have the potential to become a very good striker”, he answers with a muted snicker. “All matches start on the feet and with effective striking you have the opportunity to dictate the pace and parameters of the contest..,”

With Gene diving into a dissertation, his smooth yet deep voice blows through her conscious thoughts while detailing the evolution in combat sports over the last several decades; the winds of change gently collecting Fox and carrying her to times past. In her early school years she had gotten into a fight with a bigger black girl in the hall between classes over an incident she could not recall and the girl had surprised her with a snapping kick to the ribs rather than the expected fist to the face thereby knocking the air from her lungs causing her to double over onto the cold, black marble tiling and placing her at the wildly gesturing classmate’s mercy. Picked up once more she is carried into her junior years. On the playground during recess she had been joking with friends on the swing set when confronted by another classmate, a heavyset girl with a frazzled auburn mop upset that she did not allow the rotund rabble rouser to copy her answers on a written test. The challenge thusly accepted she sprang from the leather seat fastened to the steel swing chain rushing at the heavier challenger, determined to bring her down quickly but found herself once more surprised by a stiff right handed jab that stopped her in her tracks. Trying to close the gap once more she again felt the sting of another well-timed shot to the face and a third attempt is stymied by another hard punch – this time from her left hand – resulting in tears and a trip to the nurse’s office for an ice pack on her black eye.

The object, he explains is to surprise your opponent by attacking in an unexpected manner, a lesson she learned continually throughout her school years. Aloft once more she is brought to a party held by a friend after school had recessed for the summer. An argument had erupted between Fox and another girl over a recent football match between Chelsea and Manchester with the confrontation quickly becoming heated to the point of the two eighth graders tempering their fleshy weapons in the molten moment. Striking first she held the advantage briefly until being surprised by a judo flip; and another unexpected encounter was brought to a familiar conclusion as she landed on the hard wood floor stunned, breathless and staring blankly into the laughing faces of her schoolmates. The American man’s positivity floats in her mind as she re-imagines the events of yester year; seeing herself rather than the other girl doing the unexpected, smiling and laughing as her friends cheer for her with her adversary languishing in the depths of defeat. But her flight of fantasy is met with turbulence; throughout her childhood Fox Riley has never been recognized as a winner. From spelling bees, to art contests, to sports and more; for the duration of 19 tumultuous years she has rarely placed better than second and while her friends displayed trophy cases swollen with gleaming plaques, trophies and ribbons, gaudy testaments to their superiority, she could barely muster enough to decorate a lonely nightstand. She had become convinced that she simply was not as good as her peers, a reflection which now rocks her from her reverie. From failure to triumph and back to failure she listens on, propping her chin dejectedly onto her palms she regards the man through lenses colored in the cool recollection of the past, trying to determine the possibilities of his plan.

She did go for 60 minutes with a woman said to have been a former world champion, she reminds herself. And she did ace a relatively simple test of reflexes and coordination, a test he was keen on informing her that had stymied others before. But how; if the test was so simple to her then surely it would be an easy affair for someone better suited? Unless of course she was among those better suited to the challenge; a thought which quickly falls to the wayside to be snatched up by an overzealous doubt which tugs at the strings of speculation like an attention starved Pomeranian. Listening to this man however; with decades of experience and hundreds of championships to his credit she begins to feel the glowing warmth of hope as it slowly envelopes her mind and chases off the dogged diffidence back into the shadows of the subconscious. He speaks of other wrestlers he has guided, telling tales of their successes, as well as failures and speaking of said failures as coveted learning experiences from which to build future success. Eventually he sums it up with a quote by renowned physicist Albert Einstein saying, ‘failure is merely success in progress’. The quote leaps out at her and voraciously grabs her attention, devouring her own introspection and drawing her focus firmly onto his steely blue gaze.

“Failure is not an option if you want to try new things, it is a near certainty”, he goes on in a warm, even tone. “If you show me a person who has never failed, I will show you somebody who has never tried anything new, and there is no such thing as true failure so long as you keep trying”.

He speaks evenly but with an unshakeable sense of self confidence, his shimmering blue eyes never once leaving her gaze. She feels her determination beginning to ascend, step by step climbing the rungs of resolution. Lifting her face from her palms she listens attentively, replaying each word as she is carried from the understructure of mediocrity to the suite of success where she is greeted by a plush bed of hope. But bedbugs soon spring from the mattress of the moment biting her with doubt,

“But what if I just don’t have the talent?” she asks.

The question, to her seems a reasonable one but the reaction catches her by surprise with the collective erupting into a cascade of cackling. Each of the men rearing their heads back with Erika dropping hers into her hands in an unsuccessful attempt to stymie her laughter. Several moments pass by at an excruciating pace to the perplexed puppy, as she is sometimes referred to by her aunt Rebecca – Cat’s mother – before the wheels of mirth finally begin to slow allowing Erika to speak,

“Sweetie, you and I just rolled for an hour with no winner, and believe me I say that I did not hold anything back and I can beat most of the girls on that roster easily”, she says in a reaffirming inflection. “And you’re half my age”!

Grabbing once more the handle of hope Fox redirects her eyes from the still smiling brunette onto Gene, who takes a sip from his chocolate. “Do you really think I can do it”? She asks.

“Honey..,” he begins, setting his cup back down affixing his eye on her. “I wouldn’t have spent over 35 thousand dollars flying over 5,000 miles if I didn’t think you had what it takes”.

His answer is resolute, his voice firm and his stare unwavering. Leaping into her chest the young woman’s heart pulses with excitement, feeling resurgence in her lungs as they swell with optimism, and drawing a deep breath she discharges it slowly trying to contain the rush of elation washing over her tingling skin and bathing her in a buoyant blend of anticipation and adventure.

“This is it”.



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