Clearing the Road

I.

“You look like fucking shit.”

Dan Ryan minces no words, looking over The Only Star, Eric Dane. Dane was starting to look better, but the figurative and literal scars from Refueled VI were still present, most notably by way of his need to lean against the pool table in the game room of Manse de Tyler Rayne.

The meeting back in New York probably could’ve gone better. Dan Ryan is not a man who likes being kept out of the loop. To be honest, Eric Dane is not a man who usually gives a shit what you like. Both thought they should talk, and Lindsay Troy, ever the cooler head, arranged it.

“Yeah, well, twenty-five years,” The Only Star answered. “You know.”

Ryan picked up a pool cue, chalking it, then setting up for the break. “Actually, I don’t. I’m twenty- two years in and I feel great, unless you count an achy back, and a knee that can predict the weather which, now that I think about it, you probably do. Maybe that’s just because I’m bigger.”

Dane didn’t respond to the remark. Ryan hit a clean shot, sending balls flying all over the table. He watches for openings, but also glances up at Dane.

“Why don’t I just cut to the chase, Eric?”

Dane holds his gaze. Still nothing.

“I already know you don’t like the way I spoke to you in New York.” Ryan raises an eyebrow. “I know you all too well. You wanted to tell me to go fuck myself.”

At this, some glimmer of agreement flashes over Eric Dane’s face. Dan Ryan catches this.

“We’re both alpha dogs. Let’s not mince words. I think we respect each other enough to be honest. And, I respect you enough to know that you already know that what happened after my match with Farthington was a mistake. Our biggest advantage so far in this whole situation has been our ability to work together. We excel at staying one step ahead, and things got mucked up that night because we didn’t communicate. I’m not telling you what to do, but I am telling you what you already know — we can’t afford those kinds of mistakes. I need to know what’s going on, or I can’t do what you brought me here to do. You did ask me here to do a job. We need to stick together to do it.”

“Look.” Eric reaches for a rocks glass half-filled with scotch. “You’ve known me what, fifteen years now? I’m a goddamned hothead. I make rash decisions from time to time.”

He hesitates.

“People get hurt.”

Ryan shrugs, but doesn’t interrupt.

“Avoiding collateral damage isn’t something I’ve ever really bothered with, okay? You’ve seen it first hand more than once. Did I fuck up? Yeah, I fucked up. Do I plan on making a habit out of that?”

Ryan, finally, pours his own drink, a bourbon on the rocks. He takes a swig and grimaces, but with a smile.

“In fifteen years have you ever known me to make the same stupid mistake twice?”

Ryan sets his drink down, then sets the pool cue against the wall and leans forward on the table itself, looking hard across the room.

“Look, I know people get hurt. I rather enjoy being the one who hurts them, actually. And I wanna be clear about something here. I’m not here to try and brow-beat you into accepting blame for something. That’s not what’s important to me in all of this. Yes, I’ve known you a long ass time, and yes, I know that you like to throw a grenade in the room and clean up the mess later. What I’m telling you is that if we walk into War Games a united front, we win. This is our advantage, and it remains our advantage so long as we stay on the same page.”

Dane walks slowly around the table, surveying it while lightly tapping his cue on the wooden floor.

“And again,” Ryan interjects. “You already know this. I’m not trying to insult you with some ‘listen to dad’ speech. But we’re a team. If you really want us to be what we’re truly capable of, we have to get it together. I don’t like losing … not one bit.”

“I know, Dan, I get it.” Eric knocks back the rest of his drink. “If there’s anybody in this God forsaken business that hates to lose more than you, it’s me.”

Conceding that, Dan offers a shrug of his own.

“I made you my right hand man way back when for that very reason. That’s ninety percent of why I brought you in to High Octane, because you hate to lose and you have a tendency to keep cooler than a fucking glacier under pressure…”

Dane trails off while he does drills a quick and easy shot in the corner.

“But at the end of the day, this is business for you.”

Dane shoots again, this time watching the striped ball ricochet back onto the table, just a few millimeters off target.

“You weren’t around when these fuckwits were tripping all over themselves to shit not just on me, but on my entire brand, everything I’d spent everything I had on building, and everyone involved.”

Dane’s fists are clenching down by his side.

“I’ve been waiting ten years to grind Max Kael and Scottywood and the rest of these Fisher Price fuckheads under my boot like the goddamned Gestapo. I fucking hate them, Dan. I want them to suffer, and I want the satisfaction of Lee fucking Best paying me to do it.”

The Only Star has worked himself into a barely controlled rage at this point, his voice raising with each sentence despite his best efforts to avoid it. Ryan watches silently, letting him go, until finally Dane’s thoughts are out, punctuated by his slamming a fist down on the edge of the pool table in front of him.

“I know.” Dan nods, stoically. “I know. Now, I’m gonna ask you a question, but it’s rhetorical. Have you ever read Moby Dick?”

Dane makes a face. Literature lessons, Dan? Really.

“Don’t worry.” Ryan holds up a hand slightly. “This isn’t a literature lesson. My point is, if you don’t use that hate in a way that benefits your ultimate goals, if we don’t channel it into a working strategy, you will not grind them under your boots, you won’t get any satisfaction — we will lose and not only will you not get any satisfaction whatsoever, we will find ourselves laid out in an HOW ring with every one of the men who spit in your face smiling and holding up High Octane gold. You will spend the next God knows how long listening to Mike Best, Cecilworth Farthington, Harold the Herald and yes… probably Lee Best, too… rubbing it in your face that they were right all along, that DEFIANCE was a joke, that you… are a joke.”

Eric Dane is seething.

“I’ll burn it all to the fucking ground before that happens.”

Ryan nods again.

“Well… why don’t we just make sure it doesn’t happen, then?”

“I’ll drink to that.”

Dan Ryan gives a little wink and throws back the rest of his bourbon. “I better go eat some breakfast before this ruins my day.”

Dane chuckled.

“New to day drinking, Ego Buster?”

Ryan smiled.

“Less drinking experience Baws-man.”

Dane returned the smile. Ryan took the pool cue and tried in vain to knock the last solid ball into the side pocket. The ball missed badly, and Ryan groaned at the attempt.

Dane smirked.

“Thank God you’re a better wrestler than you are a pool player.”

“If the goal was to beat up the pool table”, Ryan answered, “I’d be the best.”

Dane smiled deviously.

Yup. Everything’s gonna be just fine.

II.

That went pretty well….

Dan Ryan spent the morning running around the outskirts of his family’s property outside of Tampa. The tract of land was remote enough that he could run in peace, with nothing but the sounds of nature around him.

He was up before dawn, five miles in before the sunlight peeked over the horizon, and ten miles in before finding himself back near the edge of the property where the main house stood. Hunger pangs pulled at him, but something else more important had to come first.

Two hours later he found himself in a huge warehouse structure on the property, flipping a huge tractor tire that should be way too heavy to flip.

He had the heart to heart he wanted. It hadn’t gotten too serious, but it could have. He needed to needle The Only Star… just a little.

Unfortunately he needed about a gallon of water to flush the bourbon from his system, too.

You wanna get to the heart of where Eric Dane’s head is?

Push his buttons.

Before you push those buttons though, you better have a plan. And, having a plan was the exact point Dan Ryan wanted to get across to Eric after that weird meeting in New York. The meeting itself wasn’t weird, but Eric’s behavior certainly was.

Anger, aggression and rage were Eric Dane’s comfort zone, so to get a point through to him you had to take him there. He’s a fuckin’ professional wrestling Sith. His strength multiplies when hatred flows through him, but Dan Ryan was more calculated, and this was something he needed to get across to their de facto leader.

If everybody plays to their strengths, everything works out just the way it’s supposed to.

The other side? They’re proud of how they’re preparing for War Games separately. No meetings, no get-togethers, no training even in the same state as one another. Max is off hiding away, watching tape, meditating on his study, Cecilworth is playing parlour games in OCW, Halitosis is holed up in his Smokey Mountain hideaway somewhere… Scottywood and Sektor are busy practicing for HOW’s adaptation of Moonlighting. Will they ever get together???

I’m assuming John Sektor’s in the Cybill Shepherd role.

Physically, everyone’s banged up. It doesn’t matter. You can cover for that. It’s the mental game where this will be won or lost.

Dan pushed Eric’s buttons, but he wasn’t being entirely honest in their discussion. He framed Eric’s desire for revenge as a weakness, but believe me, being the target of Eric Dane’s thirst for revenge is nowhere you wanna be.

Dan Ryan picked up the heavy bag in front of him, jumped up onto a small platform, and tossed the bag into the air, watching in slam back down to Earth. He smiled as a thought crossed his mind.

Go ahead and call him old. Call him broken down. Call him whatever you want. It’s your funeral. You won’t be the first to make that mistake even this year.

There won’t be any need to worry about Eric Dane’s mental state after the concussion, not anymore. He wants blood.

Making people bleed is Dan Ryan’s specialty.

And that’s why Eric made the call in the first place.

With the situation with Eric ironed out, there was only one more person on the team to touch base with. Not MJ Flair, the wunderkind already taking the sport by storm, and certainly not Lindsay Troy. Lindsay Troy was family, and they had never been more in sync.

Nope.

Only one more necessary call to make.

High Flyer.

Jack.

Harmen.

No big deal.

Dan Ryan only tried to cripple his son last year. I’m sure he’s forgotten all about that though. Right?

Right?

That’s the thing about Lee Best’s plan. Getting the best of the best of the men and women who had never worked for High Octane in the past is a wonderful idea. This might arguably be the greatest collection of talent in the history of the sport.

That doesn’t mean they all like each other.

We’ll see. We’ll see.

Harmen is a little nuts, and Dan had always respected and appreciated that. Since this is all about inflicting violence and pain on people, maybe this is the perfect time to put the past aside and focus on the job.

It could also be the perfect time to square some old debts though.

Dan approached a series of heavy bags, swinging huge meat hook right hands through the first two, and using his momentum to send forearms blows through the next with a Muay Thai strike on the last to complete the circuit. He stopped, panting, looking down at the floor as he caught his breath.

Jack had his own buttons to push.

We’ll have to give those a little nudge, too.

III.

July 30, 2019.

Dan Ryan sits alone in a quiet room. It’s absolutely dead quiet, mostly because at one point, one of Tyler Rayne’s friends convinced him to put a music studio on-property. This friend thought he was gonna be a musician. Then, he found out he sucked at playing music, so that never happened. As a result, there’s a sound-proofed room in a small building on the edge of some property in the Tampa outskirts, perfect for someone trying to drown out the outside world and focus.

Dan Ryan is a loud, boisterous Texan at his core, but during his high school years, as he began his journey through his training after the move to Kyoto — that’s where he learned control. That’s where he learned the trademark stoicism and calm that drove Eric Dane so fuckin’ crazy.

Sometimes the Texas in him explodes, but right now, there’s a calm before the coming storm – just him, a chair, and silence, broken only by his own voice.

His eyes close briefly, then open again.

DAN RYAN:
You hear anything?

Neither do I.

It’s been really quiet around here lately.

It’s almost… peaceful.

I’m gonna be honest. I expected a lot more….

Ryan uses a hand to make a waving motion.

DAN RYAN:
Noise.

But I like the silence. I like it because it gives me a chance to analyze every nuance, every angle. It gives me a chance to play the chess game through in my head, look at every possible outcome, and plan for each eventuality.

War Games.

But it’s not a game at all, is it?

No, it’s not a game at all. It’s as serious as this business gets. The future of an entire company is on the line. No, it’s not my company. But I’ve been in that spot. I’ve had the future of my own blood, sweat and tears on the line in one glorious battle, one moment under the brightest lights, one on one, all eyes on me.

Ohhh how I relish that moment.

It’s so common for my opponents to smirk and talk down to me, talking about the big moment ahead, the ‘thing’ I can’t possibly understand. But that ‘thing’ — that’s all I care about, really. It’s not a side hobby, putting myself right in the middle of everything. It’s not something that just happens.

I’m here by design.

Not here, the physical, no. I’m here where the fight is. I’m right on the front lines, in the middle of the action. I’m right there, fists flying, bones breaking, blood flowing.

You can’t say war to me and expect me to get nervous.

No…

That word makes my eyes light up like the Fourth of July.

Ryan closes his eyes again and breathes in deeply.

DAN RYAN:
In our sport, as far as I’m concerned, that word is everything. Yes, World Championships matter. Yes, holding those belts are always the goal. They’re representative. The essence of the fight to get there is the real thing.

That’s why, Cecilworth, I regret how things ended between us at Refueled VI. Not the match. The match was everything I wanted it to be, notwithstanding the outcome being what it was. But the afterparty….

Ryan shakes his head and sighs.

DAN RYAN:
Still, Eric’s right about something. Collateral damage… it’s part of the game. It’s regrettable, but time marches on.

Still, something is off about this.

I’m not talking to you, Farthington.

I’m talking to your whole team.

That whole team — this, eMpire — yet not the eMpire….

How committed to this goal of yours are you, really? I know at least one of you, maybe two… want to burn HOW to the ground. Do you though? You say it, but I’m not sure you’re committed to showing it. Max Kael says it, right? He says it, then sends out a goof to crack jokes and come up with one-liners. Is it enough to make a threat then hole up in a compound until time to head to the arena? Is that enough to make anyone believe what you’re saying?

You kinda want the same things, right Cecilworth? But again, do you?

Ryan tilts his head, quizzically.

DAN RYAN:
You’ve spent more time wishing you could just leave than you’ve spent putting any real purpose behind those words, openly pining for the chance to turn your belt in and walk away.

John Sektor, the old prospector, freshly clean from booze, heroin and God knows what else, just wants to impart his wisdom to us, the fresh faced rookies who’ve never done anything like this before, by gawd. ‘It’s EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF!’, right, John? Thanks ever so much. We didn’t hear it the first thirty times one of you said it.

John doesn’t play well with others, you see. Having to trust or rely on someone else makes him anxious.

‘I know what I’ll do, on account of not liking to be on a team!’ John then said to himself. ‘I’ll join a WAR GAMES team!’.

Maybe the parts of your brain that heroin burned away were the best parts, John. That’s just supposition. I’m not a doctor.

Halitosis, of course, he’s just happy to be here, isn’t he?

Just happy to be here.

Ryan nods.

DAN RYAN:
Six months ago, he’s wrestling bears on the strip in Pigeon Forge, wishing he had the day off because he’s a sucker for those scrumptious pork skillets at Dollywood. Next thing you know he’s winning the HOW World Cham-peen.

Hot DOG.

Scottywood wants the sympathy vote. Poor guy, toiling away in obscurity, ending up penniless, scarred up and… a Hall of Famer. What?

It’s funny, where I come from it takes a lot of fucking work to be a scratched up has-been Hall of Famer. Scottywood is a Hall of Famer…. I’ll say it again. Scottywood is a Hall of Famer. Now, over the years, I’ve known exactly what High Octane Wrestling was. I didn’t live in a vacuum. And I wasn’t even involved in the war that made Eric Dane despise HOW with every fiber of his being.

But I knew what High Octane Wrestling was. I knew it was to be respected. I know that if you are in the Hall of Fame, you are to be respected. The institution? I respect that.

Dan Ryan’s eyes lock open, intense, but his voice remains calm, a disturbing calm, if anyone were here to be disturbed.

So why are you trying to play off like you’re some huge fuckin’ underdog? Hmm? Why am I listening to you rattle on with some meandering soliloquoy complete with Star Wars references, the fucking Blitz, and an ancestry.com namedrop of Winston Churchill while playing up this ‘hit rock bottom’ narrative.

You’re a goddamn Hall of Famer, Scotty.

Jesus Christ.

If you’ve hit rock bottom, it’s because that’s who you fuckin’ are. You’re not gonna turn anything around. This is who you are. You’ve hit rock bottom because you are rock bottom. You’re a fucking Hall of Famer… in debt.

How long have you been doing this?

You were right the first time, buddy. You absolutely should be so hard on yourself.

You know, it’s funny funny funny that you have anything to say condescending to any one of us. You’re single-handedly lowering everyone’s opinion of the HOW Hall of Fame by remaining active. You’re coasting on having the words “Hall of Famer” in front of your name, going out to the ring and losing… over and over. It’s embarrassing. You should be embarrassed. I’m embarrassed for you.

I already know what kind of gambler you are. I’ll help you out.

You’re the kind of gambler that doesn’t know when to quit — that’s who you are.

You’re the Hardcore Artist. You’re a name. You’re nothing else, not anymore. You’re dragging your team into the gutter, and you’re embarrassing yourself.

Dan Ryan shakes his head, that same disappointed look on his face.

DAN RYAN:
I hope you know, I hope you learn, in between stupid smirks and giggles, that you’re going into a double cage with killers. I’m not an artist, but I’m willing to help you find out if the old maxim is true — that an artist’s worth rises exponentially after they die.

Until that day, until you go into the ground, know and understand this — you are living and competing at the pleasure of people who pity you. You will always depend on the sympathy of people who remember what you once were.

Everything you touch turns to shit, Scotty. Maybe you should take the hint.

Maybe your team should, too.

Or maybe that’s the whole theme of your whole side of this war. Maybe coasting by is what you all do best. Maybe we’re taking this more seriously than you are.

And maybe it doesn’t matter.

Right?

Maybe it doesn’t matter.

Maybe it doesn’t matter if you’re all in the Hall of Fame. Maybe it doesn’t matter who we are either. Maybe all that matters is what you are capable of and whether or not you have the will to see it through.

I can promise you all this — we’re very, very capable.

And, if there’s any part of you, any sliver that wonders if we will see it though, let me assure you.

We will.

FADE.

Roleplay Countdown

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