El Hijo del Caballero sets Vernon's plans in motion by becoming a new talent - Cynthia
|Esteban struggled as he buckled the top on his new body. “I feel silly, Mr. Hayes.”|
“Nonsense!” Vernon rose from his chair, admiring the craftsmanship. “Trust me – I've seen a lot of women, and nobody would say you’re a man – well, until they see your face.” He grasped the wrestler’s shoulder, cackling behind hums. “Maybe a bit meatier than the average woman, but that’s in vogue now...”
“Hand me that thing”, Esteban asked while pointing at the mask. He still had the towel around his head, though it was looser from all the strain of wearing the skin over his body.
Vernon pulled the mask from its headstand, smiling in admiration. “Magnificent. Can’t wait to see her in action.”
“I still don’t know why I gotta do this...” Moving away from Vernon’s sight, Esteban pulled the mask over his head, until everything fit in place – the eyeholes over his eyes, lips with lips and nose with nose. He returned, adjusting the face over his own. “There”, he said, sighing in resignation. “How about it?”
“Let me...” Vernon made some final adjustments, pulling the face back and adjusting the eyelids. His hands revealed a stunning woman with auburn hair falling to her back, a light golden tan reminiscing of wheat in the sun, with small, captivating eyes, plump cheeks and lips. She had strong arms and chiseled legs, her lack of a belly laid bare, and her breasts squished by the top. She was barefoot, her knee-high laced boots set aside, the same color as her outfit – black, with baby blue and pink highlights. “There!”, the promoter claimed with satisfaction – and a hungry look in his eyes. “You’ll be the envy of the Women’s division, lemme tell ya!”
“I bet you’re saying this ‘cos you wanna cheer me up.”
“Nonsense!” Vernon led the wrestler towards a free-standing mirror, where Esteban could see his new look for the first time. His first reaction was to touch his new face, giving an astonished look.
“¡Virgen de la Guadalupe!”, he exclaimed, watching the bombshell before him. “Izzat me!?”
“That’s your new face, son.” Vernon patted the wrestler’s back, grinning. “I assume you saw the man I was talking to, right?”
“I... Y-yeah. Who’s it?”
“I’m afraid I can’t disclose who, as he wishes to keep his identity private – as his company – but he’s one of the head honchos of the company that made that suit. I met ‘em during one of my business ventures; said they were lookin’ for potential investors, and I told them I had a way to test their products. I wanted the face and body of a young upstart to capture the Latino audience much as you do, so I started to work with them. I was eyeing young wrestlers in developmental for the experiment, but my best prospect got lured by my brother and FAWN before I could make the offer. I was about to go for the second choice when Sydow pulls off that stunt, and I figure the opportunity I wanted fell into my lap by the grace of the Lord.”
“You mean, me losing my mask.”
“Yep. And since I’m growin’ tired of Ronny stealing my wrestlers, I decided to take advantage of this opportunity. Son, I know you wouldn’t wrestle if you didn’t have a mask in you, but I can’t let you waste yourself doin’ nothin’. And you wouldn’t fight under another mask, no matter how much we tried to market it as a change of style. This is different, though – you wouldn’t be fightin’ as el Hijo del Caballero, but as Cynthia Rijos. An entirely new gimmick.”
“Yeah, but...” The wrestler looked at their new body, wincing. “You don’t think it’ll be unfair that I fight in the women’s division? I’m a man.”
Vernon cackled. “Kid, you don’t see the opportunities as I do. While you’re in MWA’s Women’s circuit, I want you to squat your way into every girl I have fighting on my promotion. You’re gonna test who’s the best of the best – if someone gets to beat you, I’ll make it so that she challenges men in equal ground. Inter-gender fights! Just like that ol’ bastard Andy Kaufman did on my pappy’s promotion.”
“And if I beat them all?”
“As long as they don’t figure out your secret, I’ll just tell ‘em to train harder. It’s a win-win situation no matter what – you're gonna polish my kittens into lionesses!”
“Sir, I don’t like when you call my colleagues ‘kittens’.”
Vernon chortled. “Son, as wrong as it may sound, it’s fitting. Mendez was a great acquisition because of her long career, but she’s on the way out. Ronny’s already spinning her switch to our promotion as ‘goin’ to the Little Leagues after gettin' trampled in the Majors’. If we can have you show that Mendez still has what she needs, he’ll have to swallow his tongue and accept MWA’s Women’s division is a strong contender.” He sat on his couch seat, lighting a cigar. “Plus, soon as Mendez retires, I want her to drill the kittens in developmental.”
“Well....” Esteban touched his throat, feeling his Adam’s apple. “I can’t do anything if I speak like a man.”
“That can be fixed.” Vernon laid the cigar near the ashtray, drawing a thick black choker with the same baby blue and pink highlights. The choker had a faux gem on its center, which was hollowed inside. “This should help you cover the seams between the mask and the face and with your voice.”
“Alright...” Esteban placed the choker on his neck, where it suddenly stirred into life. It started squeezing his neck – almost literally choking him – while his throat rumbled. He coughed, clearing his throat. “Oh, God! What the--?” He paused, hearing how his voice changed from a deep but juvenile man to a sultry woman. “Oh, dear Lord... That’s how I’m supposed to sound?”
“That’s her voice, indeed. And that’s my proposal. Help me stir my women’s division as Cynthia. Conquer it, give Marissa Mendez a good fight, and if you hear FAWN callin’, accept it.”
“Wouldn’t that ruin your plans?”
“Of course not!” Vernon leapt from his seat, ecstatic. “See - while you’re there, you’re gonna spy on me. See what they offer, rise through their ranks, scout their competition, learn about their plans. You’re gonna feed me everythin’ you hear. I want you to challenge Jack Sydow for your dad’s mask, and I want you winnin’ FAWN’s Women’s championship. And when you do, you’re gonna tell everyone in that company that they suck, and that you’re returnin’ to MWA. If you can escape with their title, the better!”
“You...” Esteban scoffed, surprised by his very feminine laugh. “You want me to betray them?”
“All’s fair in love an’ war, son. I know you’re a babyface, but don’t miss that opportunity. I got the feelin’ that people’ll love Cynthia Rijos as a heel – and your reputation’s not gonna take a dive ‘cos you’ll be under her face all this time! Once you recover your old face, I’ll find someone to replace you, and we’ll have both you and Cynthia in the spotlight. How about it?"
Esteban crossed his arms, touching his elbows but covering his new breasts. “I’m not sure, sir. I wouldn’t betray MWA for anythin’ in the world--”
“El Hijo del Caballero wouldn’t betray his company, but Cynthia Rijos never said anythin’ about the sort. And you’d be still workin’ for me – you, Esteban, wouldn’t betray me either. That’s why you’re perfect – athletic, experienced, loyal, and willin’ to keep the old ways! So...” Vernon hid his evil smirk under his fingers. “You accept?”
“What if I don’t?”
The promoter shrugged. “You won’t have the chance to reclaim your daddy’s legendary mask. You’ll have to forget it if you want to remake your career. And last I recall, I have a contract with el Hijo del Caballero, not Esteban Santos Jr.”
The wrestler pouted. “You’re blackmailing me!”
“Realize that you know too much. Cynthia could be retired easily, with little trace of her presence but the recordings. You wouldn’t have any evidence to prove your claim.” Vernon’s face turned very serious, very concerned. “It’s a precaution, of course. I have all my faith placed on you, son. If I was tryin’ to use you, I’d emphasize the catch-22 first; instead, I was tryin’ to sell it as your chance to recover your career. You’ll be winning more than losing with this proposal.”
“I’d be losing my honor”, the wrestler insisted.
“Son...” Vernon returned to his seat, stressing his words. “What do you call ‘honor’?”
“Doing what’s right”, the wrestler answered. “Win without cheating. Loyalty above all.”
“And respect for the trade and your opponent as your pillar.” Vernon snickered. “Same as your dad, don Esteban. Perhaps you may feel you’ll cheat because you’re physically stronger than a woman? If you hold back, perhaps you won’t cheat – if you can bring your female opponent into the spotlight, you’ll be respecting them, regardless of your strength. Or perhaps, by fighting to your full strength, you’ll be honoring them. There’s many ways to interpret honor, but the spirit of honor isn’t always expressed in its letter. As Cynthia, you’ll have the opportunity to reclaim your lost honor – an honor that was stolen from you, need I remind you. And you’ll be giving your successor an impressive career start.”
Esteban pondered upon the proposal. He had only one final inquiry. “What if someone catches me?”
“I’ll deny any involvement on the matter. You’ll have to solve it on your own. That’s why I feel you’re the only one who can do it – you ascribe to kayfabe, you live as El Hijo del Caballero 24/7 like the great old ones did. Perhaps this new age with greater exposition might’ve ruined that, but if we can bring that back – a wrestler playing a very different character from their own, thus giving them their own privacy – then perhaps we may revolutionize wrestling forever.” Vernon approached his employee, nagging him in a very paternal way. “You’ll be the shoulder upon which many others will sit – a precursor to a new era of wrestling. Teach everyone how it’s done.” He returned to his desk, pressing a button on his phone, “Mandy?”, he called.
“Yes, Mr. Hayes.”
“Get me Dennis – personally, if you may. Tell everyone I’ll be busy for a while.”
“Understood, Mr. Hayes.” The duo checked as Amanda left her desk, the coast entirely clear. They took the opportunity to leave, with Vernon holding a folder under his armpit.
Once out of earshot, Vernon handled Esteban the folder, whispering close. “Take this. Read it, study it, memorize it. I want you actin’ like a woman by Friday.”
“You mean, by Friday Night Fistfight?”
“Exactly. You’ll be cuttin’ your first promo during the day and havin’ a dark match. Tell me who you feel will fit your fighting style – not now.” Vernon looked side to side, his breath landing on Esteban’s new face. “And for the love of God, don’t take that off ‘til you arrive at your apartment! You’ll receive a package by Wednesday – make sure no one opens it!”
“Alright, Mr. Hayes.”
“Good. Keep up the good work, son.” The two parted ways, but as Esteban became ever more distant, Vernon turned around, looking at the woman leaving his sight. He grinned, licking his lips, before swagging his way back to his office.
Esteban was fiddling with his keys when he was startled by his elderly neighbor, Mrs. Stultz. “Can I help you, young lady?”
He looked around, only to notice the corridor was empty. “Oh”, he answered, reminded of his new status. “No need to. I can handle it.”
“You know the nice boy that lives here?”
“Oh! You... You mean Esteban, right?”
“Yes!”, the old lady chuckled. “He usually comes in around this time. Then again, he travels so much, I rarely see him.”
“Yes, yes!”, he tittered. “He told me to check on his apartment because he couldn’t come in tonight.” He pulled the sleeve of the hoodie hiding his outfit, stretching his slender hands. “My name’s Cynthia. I’m a friend of Esteban.”
“Pleased to meet you, darling. Call me Elaine. Everyone does.”
“Right!”, he replied as he snapped his hand back into the doorknob. “I’ll...” He pointed at the door, tittering. “...You know...”
“Go ahead, darling, go ahead!” Mrs. Stultz tapped Esteban’s hand, smiling. “Say, where do you know him from?”
Esteban smiled nervously. “Work. I, uh... I work at MWA. New...talent, you see.”
“Oh, he got you a work with Winston’s kid?” The news would surprise him, if it weren’t because he knew her already. Elaine – like most people in town – had always been a fan of wrestling and remembered the “old times” fondly.
“Not really! I got a contract recently, y’see, and I didn’t have anywhere to move, but then Mr. Hayes presented us and he offered his apartment while I get my own.”
“Oh!”, Elaine giggled. “Such a gentleman! Say, can I ask you one more thing?”
“Uh... Sure! What is it?”
“Have you seen that boy’s face?” Esteban swallowed hard, flashing a timid smile. “I bet he must be cute!”
“I...” He chuckled, slipping inside. “I haven’t. Sorry about that.”
“Oh, I’m sorry for bothering you. You must be tired! Go on, have a good night’s rest. And tell Esteban I said ‘hi’ if you see him.”
“I will!” He turned his face away in shame, slowly closing the door. “G-good-bye, missus S – Elaine!” He dashed into his couch, taking off the hoodie and fixing his new long hair. His apartment was modest to a fault – a drab peach wallpaper, a 40” TV screen hanging from a wall, a yellow leather and rattan set of couch and love seat with a coffee table over a burgundy rug, a 4-seat round dining table and a kitchen holding an induction stove, a toaster, a microwave and – perhaps the costliest appliance – a large bar-style blender. The sliding crystal doors were adorned with an intricate curtain, however, showing the colors of the Mexican flag.
He leaned towards the coffee table, looking at the photos covering it. He grabbed one in particular – a photo of his father, dressed in the garb of El Caballero de Plata, holding him as a toddler. His thumb hid his face, but it also hid that of a woman he always thought was his mother. Esteban unlodged the choker off his neck, wincing from the discomfort on his throat, before speaking to his father’s portrait in his native Spanish. “¿Papá? <I failed you. I was disgraced in my match by a coward. I promised I wouldn’t lose it, but I did.>”
He rose, dressed only in the costume top and gray sweatpants hiding the bottoms. He hissed a laugh, distraught. “<And now> Míster Hayes <wants me to wear this girl costume! He says it’s the only way to get your mask back!>” He placed the portrait on the coffee table before moving behind the couch, resting behind while looking at all the photos. “Papá, <I should’ve fought to the end. I did my best. I hope you don’t feel ashamed of me for doing this. I’m this close to a championship match>, Papá. <I’ll recover your mask, and I’ll win that championship with you in my heart.>”
He grabbed his phone, searching through his contacts until he found the one he was looking for. “Papa.” He stared at the screen, wiping strands of hair from his new face. “<I hope you can forgive me for what I’m about to do, but I promise. I’ll make you proud.>”
Esteban was admiring his new body, twirling around the mirror he often used to see the growth of his flexed muscles, when he heard his phone ringing. He recognized the caller immediately – only one contact used the theme song from Dragon Ball Z as his intro. He checked – to his fortune, a voice call – and immediately answered. “Kenji?”
“Oi”, a deep nasal voice blared from the speaker. “What was that I saw on WarZone, kishizoku?”
“You mean, my fight with Sydow?” Esteban sucked air through his teeth. “That bastard stole my dad’s mask, that is what happened!”
“What a jerk”, the voice replied, speaking in good, if heavily accented, English. “What are you going to do? You promised kinnogishi-dono that you would not lose it.”
He sat down, shaking his new hips as he still felt strange wearing them. “I’ll find a way to recover it. I must recover my honor.”
The voice on the speaker snorted. “Just do like you Mexicans do – challenge him to wage match.”
“I would, but Sydow left MWA. For real. Besides, what could I wager? Retirement? I don’t have enough hair to bet it.”
“Gah, bakayarou... You worry too much. Just issue challenge! Or you want me to get it for you?”, the voice mocked.
“I said I’d find a way, Kitamura! If Sydow moves to Japan, beat his ass off for me and get it back – but while he’s here, I’ll deal with him.” Esteban dropped on his bed, smiling. “Hey, I saw your victory against Kabuto Bujinshi! Congrats! Loved when you pulled off the huracanrana.”
“I owe your father for learning the trick – and you for helping me perfect it. The fans love it.”
“And the way you finished Bujinshi with your dad’s dragon suplex! Say, have you finally perfected--” The silence from the other side of the line was so intense it made Esteban stop. “I see.”
“Teba-san, I have desisted from perfecting that move. It can only cause much pain.”
“Yeah, but last I know, Japan hasn’t banned piledrivers.”
“The variants here are less dangerous. Not much risk to the neck. What’re you gonna do, though? You promised Mr. Kitamura that you’d perfect his signature move.”
“I have not desisted in perfecting o-ka-san signature move”, the voice of Kenji Kitamura sentenced. “I will not break that promise. What about you?”
Esteban snorted. He knew he wasn’t as tall or as muscular as his father; to attempt his father’s legendary Lance a Caballo – a shoulder takedown followed by a slam – would be laughable. It was the same with Kenji, the eldest son of Futaro Kitamura; taller but just as muscular as the “Flying Dragon”, he couldn’t adapt to most of his high-flying arsenal, save for one – the top rope dragon suplex, known to his fans as the Meteo Dragon Suplex. Because of their parents’ friendship, Esteban and Kenji trained against each other from very young, and promised they’d honor their parents by perfecting their signature moves.
Kenji made the foolish decision to combine his father’s unique dragon suplex with a piledriver, a move he intended to call the Meteo Dragon Impact. Esteban, on the other hand, took a different – flashier, riskier, but conceivable – approach. “I’ve tried to use it in matches, but it seems everyone can telegraph it. I was thinking of clenching my fists like a spring and punching them mid-flight. It works better when I have more momentum.”
“I need to see that”, said Kenji in jest. “We should reunite and train, like old times. When is your next big match? I heard on the program that you were about to face Watson in next big event. If you win MWA championship--”
“Yeah, about that...” Esteban sat upright, scratching his neck. “I told Mr. Hayes I’d wait until I recover my mask.”
Once again, silence set the tone – but this time, Kenji’s rebuttal was fierce. “<You absolute imbecile!> I understand the value that mask has for you, but to sacrifice chance to earn glory for memento? Kinnogishi-dono would say the same – you are dishonoring him by refusing to pursue championship!”
“Kenji, I can’t face Watson without my mask! I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t win by wearing it! And I told you – I'll find a way to get it. No need to worry.”
“Teba-san... How long until next big event?”
“I was supposed to challenge Watson in Road to Glory – it's not even one of the Big Three. That’s three weeks from now.”
“Three weeks”, Kenji repeated. “Where is Sydow going to.”
“MWA’s rival, of course. FAWN.”
Kenji hummed. “Good. I will make trip to America, challenge Sydow for your mask and reclaim it.”
“No!”, Esteban exclaimed. “You promised! You promised your first fight in the US would be against me! Championship against championship – the Millenium Wrestling Association’s Cruiserweight against the Grand Prix Puroresu Circuit Cruiserweight!”
“Teba-san, I know you. You would do anything for that mask, but you would not betray your brand either. You would prefer retirement to betraying Hayes-dono.”
If he only knew what I’m about to do, Esteban thought. “Yeah. But Mr. Hayes and I have a plan. Trust me.”
“Alright”, Kenji replied begrudgingly. “I will let you solve it. It must be late in America, yes?”
“Sort of”, he replied while glancing at his alarm clock.
“Good. Rest well. We shall speak in another time.”
“No need to be so formal, Ken. And I appreciate your call. You have no idea how much it helps.”
“That is what sworn rival is for!”, Kenji joked. “I will defeat you – ich, ni, san – and prove o-ka-san that I am the better between us two.”
“Yeah, right.” Esteban scoffed. “I’ll prove Papá that I can defeat you just like he defeated Mr. Kitamura.”
“Not if you do not find the mask. Don’t disappoint me” Esteban was stunned by Kenji’s response, for it was harsher than on previous occasions. However, his farewell was his usual. “Mata ne, Teba-kun.”
“Mata ne, Kenji. Y que la Virgen te guarde, pinche culero.” Esteban finished the call, sighing. The mirror still captured Cynthia’s reflection, reminding him of the decision he took. He grabbed the DVD and placed it on his reader, ready to immerse himself in the nooks and crannies of women’s wrestling.