War is Hell
Two medical personnel buzz around Dan Ryan, one cleaning a small gash on his head; a present from John Sektor. The other is shining a very annoying light in his eye to check for concussion symptoms.
The doctor doesn’t look up.
“Just routine. I gotta check you out. You know the drill.”
“Well that was a fucking shit show.”
Ryan looks up as his wife enters the medical room. Her scowl, mixed with a worried expression, shows off her feeling that she picked the wrong time to start travelling on the road with her husband. Ryan looks back down, wincing a bit as doctor number two starts threading stitches through the wound on the back of his head.
“Yeah, no kidding.”
Alaina turns to the doctor, the anger fading and the worry intensifying. This is not her world, and usually, by the time her husband gets home, these wounds are long since stitched up and his aches and pains down to a minimum. “How’s his head?”
The doctor looks up briefly.
“He has about an inch-long gash on his head. We’re closing that up now. There shouldn’t be any long term effects from that.”
Ryan interjects. “Just another scar.”
The doctor continues, keeping his gaze on Alaina. “No signs of a concussion, but I’m sure he’s got a killer headache.”
They both look slightly in Ryan’s direction. He nods mockingly, then rolls his eyes. “It was just a chair shot for Christ’s sake. I’ve been hit by chairs hundreds of times, thousands maybe.”
“Yeah?” Alaina takes purposeful steps to her husband and places a hand on his shoulder. “Well, War Games is in less than three weeks. Also, I’m not usually here to see it live, and I don’t like it one bit.”
“And I didn’t ask you to come, either.”
Even the doctor bristles at this, as does Alaina Troy-Ryan. But Dan catches it the moment it leaves his mouth. He stands and faces his wife, looking down at her, a hurt and irritated expression replacing her prior expression of concern. Dan was loathe to express his feelings with anyone. But his wife was different. This isn’t the time for emotional detachment.
“I know why you’re here, and I’m glad you’re here with me, and I’m glad Cece is here, too. But this is exactly why we decided a long time ago that you wouldn’t travel with me on the road, remember? This is what I do, Alaina. You grew up with a sister who does this. You know this is what we do.”
Alaina frowns. “Yeah but it’s different now. I’m here. Your daughter is here. Cece wants to do this for Christ’s sake. With Lindsay it’s something else. She always took care of me, but I also knew she would be okay somehow.”
Dan Ryan seems mildly amused by this.
“And you’re not sure I’ll be okay?”
Alaina sighs. “It’s not that. It’s just… I can’t explain it. It’s not something I can make you understand. I just feel powerless when things like this happen. I’m not a fighter, Dan. But I want to be here because this is your life. This is where the best part of you is.”
She holds up a finger, cutting him off. “I’m not complaining. I knew all of this going in. And I want you to be the best of yourself. I don’t ever want you to think that I’m at all interested in some cliche’ choice between me and your career. I’m not that girl.”
Dan just holds his gaze, looking at her. “Then what would you like me to do, exactly?”
Alaina smiles. “Nothing. Just let me be worried. Just let me be worried while you do what you’ve always done. I’ve been fine from afar. I’ll be fine up close. I just need time to get used to it. That’s all.”
Ryan nods, smirking.
“That…” Ryan leans in, giving his wife a big bear hug. “I can give you.”
They hold the embrace for a couple moments, then pull away.
Alaina turns and starts for the door. “Cece’s waiting out in the parking lot with the driver, so I’m gonna head out.”
Dan’s face gets very serious. “She alright?”
“Pshhh…” Alaina rolls her eyes. “Not fazed one bit.”
Ryan smiles, hiding a fair amount of pride. “Good.”
“We’re already packed for the flight. Your business meeting in Manhattan isn’t until tomorrow afternoon, so hopefully we can get some rest tomorrow morning. And maybe you can sleep off whatever aches and pains you’re dealing with.”
Ryan waves a hand dismissively.
“Eh, like I said. It’s fine. It’s just part of the game.”
Ryan feels at the back of his head, running his fingers over the fresh stitches.
“As for the motherfucker who caused this….”
“Sektor?” Alaina’s brows raise slightly. “I kinda figured he was gonna choose them. I didn’t really think he’d align himself with outsiders.”
Ryan frowns deeply.
“I wasn’t talking about Sektor.”
He’s not even fucking cleared yet?
It was the first thought that ran through Dan Ryan’s mind as he rode back toward his place uptown, followed by, We have this big fucking sit down only to find out that Eric isn’t even medically fucking cleared.
That’s a problem.
Almost as much of a problem as not fucking telling your teammate that you plan to jump the rail with MJ Flair and attack Cecilworth Farthington after a cage match with no plan for what happens when his buddies come running out to help. After a FUCKING CAGE MATCH.
After that teammate spoke so clearly about how he wanted a FIGHT.
After Farthington actually stood toe to toe and gave him that fight.
Dan Ryan was an asshole. He is and always has been an asshole. But he’s also always been straightforward about his motives, about where he stood and what he wanted. He wanted a fight, not another excuse for yet another gang attack. And, even if he would have been fine with that, it would have been nice to know ahead of time.
The city streets go by outside the tinted window, slowly. People are walking by, and at times, they’re moving faster than the car.
“This is why I like to work alone.”
The thought flashed through his mind. It went quickly though. The truth is, he’d been working alongside someone for the better part of the last decade. Usually, he had some control over the situation. This time, it was Eric who organized it all. It was Eric who made the call, both to Dan Ryan and Lee Best. Eric wants this badly. Dan, as always, just wanted a fight.
Eric’s apology was quick and to the point.
“Won’t happen again.”
Okay. Not the argument that was expected.
Eric’s usually not that calm, and honestly, it was a little unnerving.
Central Park flies by outside the window as the car finally starts to pick up a little speed.
Dan knew Eric better than probably everyone else on the team. Dan worked around Eric Dane, watched him, paid attention to his mannerisms and his motivations. He watched him run DEFIANCE and watched how he interacted with other main event level stars. The Only Star, successfully maneuvering his way through a sea of them.
Dan knew, most of all, that they weren’t so different at their core.
The biggest difference, however, was Dan Ryan’s realization long ago that there had to be a center other than violence and power for its own sake. Oh, the violence is fun. It’s always been fun and it always will be. But power and respect is only what you make of it. If you have it, you don’t have to spend much time telling everyone. They’re drawn to you whether they like it or not. Even the ones who doubt you at first, in time find their way to the truth of things.
Returning to why he did this in the first place; that’s where Dan Ryan and Eric Dane diverged. Being the best will always drive Dan Ryan. But Eric Dane can be driven by something else. Eric Dane can be driven by revenge. Winning belts isn’t always enough when there are slights to be corrected, deep-seated grudges to finish.
So, watching Eric Dane in High Octane Wrestling, watching him take the fight straight to the stalwarts of the company, making plans but then abandoning plans when his anger gets the best of him — that’s not surprising. But for a man like Ryan, it’s concerning.
Concerning enough to be a real problem? No, of course not.
Still, this isn’t to be taken lightly.
The HOW Hall of Famers love to say that War Games is a different animal, that the group they’ve dubbed “The Alliance of DEFIANCE” has never been through anything like this.
They’re not entirely wrong.
War Games is a different animal.
Dan Ryan, Eric Dane, Lindsay Troy, High Flyer — they’ve all been in War Games matches before, but Dan wasn’t so arrogant as to assume that all War Games’ are the same. Every company has their own twist. You don’t survive in this business assuming everything is gonna be easy. That’s a wonderful recipe for getting your brains bashed in.
Dan Ryan does not plan on getting his brains bashed in.
But then, there’s MJ Flair.
She’s never been through anything like this. Maybe her dad had competed in a War Games or two, Dan wasn’t sure. Eli Flair isn’t a big talker. Hard to imagine he’s regaled his daughter with stories of big supershow War Games matches back in the 90s. He was already battle scarred back then, but MJ — man, she’s tough; she just doesn’t have many war stories yet.
She’s smart, talented, and apparently, impressionable.
She’s taken with Eric Dane, too — in a professional sense. That much is clear.
Ryan started thinking back on something from the meeting; a look passed between MJ Flair and Dane.
He shook it off.
This has become a distraction, all of it. The miscommunication, the meeting… there are opponents to focus on, and it’s time that was done.
After all, this is WAR.
July 26, 2019.
The combined families of Dan Ryan and Lindsay Troy are at the home of the latter and her husband, Tyler Rayne.
Dan Ryan is nowhere to be found, however.
Let the kids hang out. Let Lindsay and Alaina catch up. Let Tyler work the grill.
Ryan visited a musty gym near the beach in St. Petersburg. After two hours of a workout which absolutely nobody reading this wants to hear the intimate details of, he cleaned up, jumped in a rental and sped down the highway toward a pocket beach about five miles out — a nice, quiet, secluded spot where he couldn’t be bothered.
No storms this time.
This time the sun was shining, not a cloud in the sky, and a warm breeze blew through. Ryan looked down briefly, then smiled.
I’d like to start this off with something of an apology.
Cecilworth, the apology is for you. You did what I asked. You got into that cage, you fought me man to man, no tricks, and gave me the fight I wanted. I didn’t really plan on Eric smacking you on the head with a pipe, although I realize that doesn’t really matter.
But you know, a lot of this interaction between us had to do with me feeling you out and seeing who you really are. We knew each other years ago, and then for years, nothing. I needed to see for myself the man you’d become. That’s what it was all about — the digs, the punch to the face — I had to feel you out, and I see it all now. I know where I stand with you. You’re goofy as all fuck.
But you’ll fight.
That’s something I can respect.
I’m not gonna apologize too hard. It’s just that I’d have preferred to be able to tell you up front that we were gonna smack you over the head with a metal pipe. I like to let people know when me or my teammates are planning to attempt causing permanent brain damage to someone.
That’s just manners.
But I didn’t know.
It might give us a slight advantage though, so I’m willing to overlook it. Eric was just trying his best. It did backfire a little bit though. Things got a little crazy there at the end when everyone came running out to get involved, but everything always turns out for the best, doesn’t it? I think that’s an old saying. It’s certainly an overused one.
Ryan shakes his head, disappointed.
John Sektor disappoints me a little though. The way he looks, I was kinda hoping he’d challenge us all to a shootout down at the OK Corral. I’m a big fan of Westerns, you know, being from Texas. I wish it’d gone down that way. I guess there’s still time, to be fair.
I didn’t really expect him to join our side.
For one thing, he has no history with any of us. For another thing, he’s another HOW Hall of Famer and it seems to me that the HOW Hall of Famers pretty much stick together around here.
And you know what?
I’m glad. I’m glad there’s some pride inside of them, even if their stated goal is to burn the place down. They’re banding together in…. defense? In attack? Whatever the real motive, they’re together. Why would he join us? There’s no reason to do it.
Honestly, I don’t care either way.
Everyone has their reasons for being in the fight, and for me, the fight is all I give a damn about. This is WAR GAMES. It doesn’t get any bigger than that. I don’t care where you’re from or who you are. If you’re in this business there are no two words more able to separate the elite in our business from the rest of the pack, no two words more likely to leave a permanent mark on your career. That mark can be a scar that you never forget, or a notch in your belt that they’ll always remember.
It’s these matches, the ones where you come out the other side changed forever, that I live for.
All of these personal grudges, they’re distractions.
I have no need for any of it. I’m here to focus. I’m here to win a championship, to win a war.
And how about you, Scottywood?
Are you here to win a war?
Ryan gets a look of mock confusion on his face.
Man, it’s weird to me. I was listenin’ to you the last time you had somethin’ to say and I heard you give us all your little rundown on your teammates, your opponents, what you thought about the match, how you felt about everything going on around here… but I didn’t hear my name once.
I find that very interesting.
Did you know I’m in War Games, too, Scottywood?
Let me guess. ‘I didn’t remember you because you aren’t worth remembering. A herp derp.’
But, did you know? Had you been made aware and you simply forgot? A simple…. misfire of the ol’ neural synapses as it were? Maybe one or two too many hockey sticks to the head over the years? Cuz you’re that badass, right? You’re the one who pulls out all the stops, bleeds for HOW and still isn’t getting the respect he deserves, right? Because that’s pretty much all you have to say these days, isn’t it?
Man, everybody just treats me like I’m just….here. I’m a HALL OF FAMER, guys, look at me!
Well… hello there, Scottywood. I’m Dan Ryan, and I’m lookin’ right fuckin’ at you. And, I give you my absolute solemn vow that if the opportunity arises during War Games, I will give you all of the attention you are craving and then some.
I will ask you…. No…. PLEAD with you to hit me with everything you’ve got, hit me with that hockey stick, and then be absolutely thrilled to return the favor. I want you to feel like a valued and treasured member of your team, Scottywood. I want you to get everything you deserve.
I’m making it my personal side mission to be sure you get everything you want out of War Games, bud — everything you want and then some.
What about you, Hal?
What about you?
Well, I’ll tell you what about you.
My first night in the company, you won the World Championship. I looked at you and I honestly had to say, you were a first. Calling yourself Halitosis and using a brown cloud of bad breath as a way to put opponents away is actually pretty smart. People underestimated you, didn’t they? I think that’s pretty obvious.
You said it yourself.
No one expects the middle of the show kid from the independents to do much in a reborn HOW, but there you were, becoming the World Champion in front of an arena of shocked onlookers. I see it. I know Lindsay and I beat you up almost immediately afterward, but I before I came out, I saw it.
It’s a smooth move, Hal. It really is. “Fly under the radar”. There was a time when I was able to do that, too — and it’s an effective strategy.
Good for you.
Here’s the caveat to that being a smart move though. Eventually, you get a little too big to fly under the radar anymore. I’d say winning the World Championship qualifies as getting too big to fly under the radar. Then, the next thing you know, it’s over. Maximillian Kael et cetera et cetera, comes right back and takes it from you.
So now, no one’s buying the whole…. little nobody from the indies schtick anymore. You took your shot, you won, but then you lost, and now it’s time to see what you can do next.
Now, I want you to know, as I’ve told others, it’s not personal. Attacking you the night you won the belt, and then throwing you through that glass window backstage after my draw with Cecilworth was a strategic matter, not a personal one. Also, I would have thrown anyone who happened to be right there in the parking lot that night through that window.
Still, it worked out, because I needed to know two things.
Are you good?
And, are you smart?
You haven’t offered up too much resistance yet, but I’m not judging. You’re keeping your best stuff for War Games itself, right? I think that’s smart.
I think that’s smart — but then you spend a good portion of time on the podcast this week with your boy saying that The Best Alliance is kept together by money alone…
You do know that our salaries were released as public knowledge, right? You know that the company released financials, and that we all came here for less salary than an assistant manager at Target makes, right?
Chief, this is so very much not about the money.
Nobody cares about the money.
For me, this is and has always been about finding the best there is in this sport and testing myself against them. The fact that Eric has a grudge against most of your teammates is just fine with me, because what’s life without a little extra somethin’ on the fight? Who wants to fight for nothing when you can fight for two of the biggest and most important championships in the sport and be part of a family grudge that goes back God knows how long?
You should really stop trying to assign any extra meaning beyond that, Hal. I’m here to beat you guys up, because it gets my blood pumping to do it, because you’re there. Just because you’re there, Hal.
Why don’t you figure out why you’re here? Instead of worrying about us, start worrying about yourself. You’re the one who seems to be aww shucks-ing himself into a bloody war, not me.
And Max Kael….
Yes… HOW World Champion….
It is and shall be an extra special honor to be standing underneath a big steel cage with you. Anytime big egos get into situations like this, there’s always the matter of the little jabs, the little jokes, the way you send a sniveling little Farthington out to take on the wisecracking henchman role…. all of it, truthfully… I enjoy it. I can’t speak for the rest of my team, but I enjoy it.
Ryan holds a hand up.
I know, I know.
I’m sure everyone is tired of hearing me say how much I love violence, but you know I….
Ryan tilts his head and smiles, mockingly taking on the pose of a thirteen year old girl meeting Paul McCartney in 1964.
I just love it ever so much.
Ryan gets control of himself, returning to a more natural posture.
And in you, I see someone who loves it just as much as I do. So forgive me, Max. Forgive me please for gushing, but I’ve just become such a fan. How could it be any different, my friend? You, a man who has gone so far as to install a metal plate over your eye-hole, who has installed a set of sharp metal teeth in your mouth….
How in God’s name could I not want everything to do with what you’re up to?
I want to know… everything, Max. I want to know everything.
I want to know what happens when someone rams your head into a steel cage. Does it reverberate around your head and give you a concussion?
I want to know what happens if someone brings a couple hundred really strong magnets to a match. If they’re placed randomly all around and under the ring, will you wobble around being pulled to and fro by the magnetic forces, stumbling like a newborn deer until finally one of them pulls you face first to the ground??
Don’t tell me.
Don’t tell me anything.
I desperately want to know the answer to these questions and so much more, but I think it would be so very much more interesting if I just found out for myself. What was I thinking, robbing myself of the fun of discovery?
What a fool am I?
I’ll find out for myself, and I’ll have some very special things for you to discover at War Games as well. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I plan for you to discover that I am, in fact, the best wrestler in the entire world.
I intend for you to discover this, and I plan to then take ownership of your HOW World Championship, good ole #97red, and then I plan to treasure it. I’m not gonna treasure it like you treasure it, holed up in front of flames, scraping my nails across it and peering into the reflection as Cthulhu himself rises up to tell Maxey “well done.” No…
I’ll treasure it as the proud new standard bearer of the new High Octane Wrestling.
Because in the end, when the fight is over, being the champ is all that matters to me. It’s the only other thing I want beyond getting the chance to make every one of you bleed. You all used to bleed #97red. I know it. We all do.
Ryan’s eyes get deadly serious.
You’ll just bleed.