Into the Breach

I.

”I’m not going to fucking Burbank.”

Dan Ryan bellowed into his cell phone, a deep scowl on his face.

“Yeah, well I’m in Tampa. You know, where we have a fairly big match in two days. So you tell Jack that we can talk when he climbs in the looney-mobile and ambles his ass back down here.”

Ryan does the cell phone equivalent of slamming the phone down, which is to say he pressed the “end call” spot on his smartphone forcefully. He closed his eyes and took in a deep breath, muttering to himself.

“Fucking High Flyer.”

This conversation was a long time coming. Dan knew it was necessary. So he made the call, and true to form, High Flyer… Jack Harmen… wanted to talk in Burbank.

California.

Classic Harmen.

Two days later, Dan Ryan stood at a window looking out at a long limousine rolling up the long driveway toward the Rayne residence. The rest of the family was gone, Lindsay attending to some promotional obligations, everyone else spending some time in town.

A limousine was a poor choice. The dust from the makeshift road on the property kicked up dust, which now blanketed the black car in a proper coat of white particles.

The car slowed to a halt, and emerging from the backseat was none other than Jack Harmen, High Flyer, the most recent addition to the Best Alliance, dressed like he was meeting Steven Spielberg to go over a role in the next Jurassic World sequel. Sunglasses, expensive shirt, ridiculous shoes — shoes now also sporting a nice layer of white dust — and an annoyed expression on his face.

Ryan took this sight in and blew a sigh out through his mouth, a sense of dread coming over him.

“Let’s get this over with.”

Ryan turned the lock on the door, cracking it open just a tad, and took a seat on a large chair in the living area. A moment later, after a light rap at the door, Ryan called out.

“It’s open.”

Moments later, High Flyer stood in the entryway, scanning the inside of the home. Then, with a muffled “ah”, sees Ryan in the living room and finds a seat on the couch. Ryan has an irritated smirk. Harmen leans back, crossing one leg over the other, and smiles.

“Jack.”

“Danny boy.” Flyer took a look around the home. “Got a nice place here. No finger snacks?”

Ryan held his gaze. “It’s Tyler’s place actually. And I’m not really one for hors d’oeuvres.”

“Neither am I,” Flyer flashed a smile to hide this obvious lie. “Just wanted to see how much you cared.” Flyer shrugged his shoulders, looking around cautiously in the Rayne residence. “This is weird. I’m not the only one who thinks this is weird, right?”

“Well…” Ryan shrugged, his eyes widening a tad. “I didn’t ask you out here to ambush you or somethin’. I get that’s probably why you wanted to do this in Burbank, and not because you’re just a weirdo who thinks it makes sense to fly from Florida to California, then back to Florida in the same day. Don’t get me wrong….” Ryan held up a hand in a stopping motion. “You are a weirdo. But I have the best intentions here. This match is important, and we have history.”

“If I can be honest for a sec.” Flyer leaned forward on the couch. “I just wanted to see if you’d do it, fly cross country just for a beer or whatever.” Flyer tossed his hands behind his head as he leaned back. “Cause I’ve been in Orlando this whole week, ‘cept an excursion here and there. Some promotion, marketing, some dinners, training you know, I get around.” Flyer’s laughable demeanor quickly faded. “I lighten the tension Dan. Maybe I’m the fool. Maybe I play the fool. But this match?” Harmen stifled a laugh. “You’re right. It is important.” Harmen paused. “Tell me why? For you, specifically.”

Ryan leaned back, a wry smile forming.

“I didn’t leave you in charge of DEFIANCE because I thought you were a fool, you know. Maybe you play the fool? Maybe? I’m familiar with you, ya know. Let’s not pretend like we haven’t been around each other for what, fifteen years? I think I have a pretty good read on your M.O., but there is the small matter of me trying to cripple your boy last year. I couldn’t help but think that something like War Games would be a wonderful opportunity to settle some scores, if someone were so inclined.”

Ryan leaned slightly over, his chin resting partially in his hand as his elbow rested on the arm of the chair. He didn’t answer the question, of course, and Flyer noticed, but didn’t pursue it.

“Score?” Flyer frowned. “Me? Heavens to betsy. My stars.” Flyer feigned a southern belle accent. “Listen Dan, the only score I wanna settle with you is the fact I’ve never gotten a chance to beat you in that ring. Can’t very well do that when we’re on the same team, can I?” Flyer smiled. “And honestly, it’s just healthy violent competition in my eye. I like being thrown off cages. I feel at home in the air.” Flyer gave Ryan a quick wink.

Ryan winced. “That sounds an awful lot like a catchphrase.”

“Really?” Flyer frowned again. “I was going for spontaneous and quick witted.”

“Put it on a t-shirt,” Ryan deadpanned. “Instant profits.”

“Ha. Not when I’m spending forty k to pretend blow up Scottywood’s arenas.” Flyer shrugged. “Still think it was worth every penny.”

Ryan shrugged again, waving the comment off. “Well, far be it from me to tell a man what to do with his money. You’ve got your CGI budget, Scotty has those stupid dreadlocks. Some perks of the business are better than others. So…” Ryan leaned forward, this time resting both elbows on his knees and clasping his hands in front of him. “If violent competition is what you want, I can absolutely guarantee you, you’ll get all you want and more. I can’t promise you’ll get thrown off a cage — we’re really supposed to stay inside — but all the rest, blood, fists, things flying, high or otherwise, all of that I can pretty well put in writing.”

Flyer smiled.

“Then hey.” Flyer gave a little Buddy Christ finger point. “What’s to be upset about?”

Ryan nodded, satisfied. “Well….” Ryan stood. “I don’t know what I worried for.”

“You?” Flyer asked, standing himself. “Worried? I… worried you?” Harmen held in a slight chuckle. “Even though you ‘get me,’ I still worry you.” Harmen shrugged. “Smart man actually. I worry myself.” Harmen paused, reaching out to place his hand on Ryan’s chest to pause him from escorting him out. “Hey, you aren’t gonna, like, try and throw me off the cage unless it’s onto a whole slew of HOW people, right?”

Ryan looked up slightly, tilting his head left, then right as he thought it over.

“Not on purpose, no.”

Flyer looks him in the eye, considering the answer. Moments pass.

“Yeah, but, can you promise to throw me onto a bunch of HOW dudes off the top of the cage if you get the chance?” Harmen smiled. “Just, don’t miss, ‘kay?”

Ryan smiled, a mix of amusement and ‘this guy is SUCH a weirdo’ in his expression.

“You have my word.”

“Good man. ONWARD! TO VICTORY!” Harmen shouted as he pointed toward the door.

Ryan stood in place, watching as Jack Harmen…. High Flyer, marched to the front door like a soldier in Bridge on the River Kwai, whistling as he went. The door was flung open, and with a flourish, High Flyer saluted, and was gone.

Dan Ryan shook his head, for the benefit of no one in particular, then harrumphed….

“Not the weirdest guy I’ve ever met… but close.”

…and walked back down the hallway.

II.

July 31, 2019.
Tropicana Field.
2:30pm.

“What do you think?”

Dan Ryan stood on a maintenance catwalk high over the Western end of Tropicana Field, looking out over the surface of the stadium. The rigging for the cage structure was complete, and a crew of ‘experts’ were busy checking all of the cabling meant to lift the monstrosity up into the rafters, where it will wait patiently for the next two days.

Ryan’s daughter, Cecilia, stood next to him, leaning forward on the same railing.

“Absolutely awesome.”

Ryan smiled a bit. “Being up this high doesn’t bother you?”

“Not even a little bit.” Cecilia’s eyes were wide, taking everything in as she scanned to the ground beneath them, some one hundred feet down. “It’s amazing. How did you get them to let us up here?”

“I spoke to Lee.” Ryan looked out, watching the various people milling about on the floor. “He gave me the direct number to the planning room down in the bunker.”

Cecilia looked over. “Doesn’t Mike work there with him?”

“Mike doesn’t care.” Dan shrugged. “My being here with you has no bearing on the match.”

She nodded. “So why are we here?”

“Two reasons.” Ryan looked down. “Your aunt has really enjoyed showing you the ropes this week. I can see how much happiness it’s bringing her to share this with you. But she also has her own method of focusing in on matches like this before we get together and go over strategy, and I thought I’d give her some time to do that.”

“The other reason is….” Ryan paused, trailing off slightly and getting a very serious tone in his voice. “I wanna talk to you about what’s gonna happen Friday night.”

“Dad…” She tried to interject, but he held a hand up.

“Just give me a second.” He paused again, looking up and looking at his daughter in the eye. “Friday night, from your perspective…. It’s gonna be bad. I’m not gonna mince words. Don’t listen to anyone who says it’s just another show, just another night. A lot of us in this business, especially those of us who have been doing this a long time, like to play these things off out of ego, trying to pretend like it’s old hat, like it’s no big deal. I need you to know and understand though, especially if you’re really serious about getting into that ring someday….” Ryan pointed down at the ring structure. “…that this is as serious as it gets. I’ve seen people lose enough blood to spend a week in the hospital afterward. I’ve seen people seriously injured. I’ve seen people crippled. And kid…”

Ryan could see the look in his daughter’s eyes, the sign of some trepidation for the first time. Time to lay it all out on the table.

“I’ve been the one to cripple them.”

Cecilia just looked at her father. She’d heard the stories of course. But he never, ever talked about it. He’d tried to shield her from this her whole life.

“Dad..” She looked down, then back up. “I know.”

He shook his head. “I know you know the mechanics of what I’ve done. I realize you know how to use YouTube. That’s not what I’m saying here. I’m saying I did it…. willingly. I’ve broken bones… not by accident. I broke someone’s neck on purpose. I didn’t regret it, and I still don’t. I’ve always kept my…. whatever it is that makes me this way…. away from you and mom. You both know what happened… fine. That’s fine when you’re both at home. But you’re here now, and you’re trying to be part of this world, and I need you to know that there are men and women like me in this business…. and they will hurt you badly if they can.”

Cecilia frowned. “Why are you telling me all of this?”

Ryan’s gaze drifted slightly. “Whatever it is that makes me this way, I gave up on fixing a long time ago. This business has always been my savior, my outlet. It’s a perfect fit. But you, you’re not like me. You’re like your mom, like your aunt. You’re better than me, and I want you to stay that way.”

“Maybe,” she looked up… “Having more people like me is just what this business needs….” ..and smiled. “…to fight off people like you.”

Ryan chuckled, nodding and smiling at his daughter. “Maybe so.” The smile fades a bit. “Look, I saw the look in your mom’s eyes a couple weeks back after the cage match….”

“Dad.” She put a reassuring hand on her father’s arm. “I’ll be fine. I’m ready.”

Ryan sighed.

“The fact that you think so…. that’s what worries me.”

III.

That should just about do it.

Two local radio interviews, a meet and greet at Barnes and Noble; questions about why I was having a meet and greet at Barnes and Noble.

I had a nice cordial meeting with the folks from the Tampa Bay Rays over the idea of having my daughter Cecilia sit in with the broadcast booth and chit chat about baseball and War Games. They heard she was a big baseball fan. What they hadn’t heard, apparently, is that she’s actually a big Cubs fan.

That kinda put an end to that idea.

It’s been a fun-filled week to be sure, and as usual, I had put every ounce of my energy into studying every angle, knowing everything there is to know about the High Octane version of War Games — its history, people who had survived and failed, what has worked and what hasn’t.

And now?

I’m just ready to get in the ring and go to work.

All of these promotional obligations are done. It’s time to fight.

It’s nice to be done early.

Two solid days of final preparations and focus, and we have our war.

Plus, there are new wrinkles afoot.

Apparently, there’s a madman loose. It seems that Maximillian Kael’s adopted son has resurfaced, and according to the many cameras in his secret dungeon lair where he has trapped both his estranged father and Harold the Herald, he’s up to no good.

This is so clearly the setup for another thrilling episode of Cecilworth Farthington Mysteries.

I was pretty sure this Sutler fellow would ultimately be unmasked as Old Man MacGillicutty down at the abandoned sawmill.

Instead, he ended up in a crate, shipped off to some warehouse probably, alongside the Ark of the Covenant.

But, I guess the play’s the thing. Just politely clap and nod, and allow it all to meander its way toward the inevitable conclusion.

And I enjoy Farthington’s musings as much as the next obvious outsider who is only here because he wants to sully the legacy of HOW, War Games, Gary Coleman, G.G. Allin, Lee Best’s plumber and Malt O Meal — but do we really need all of the musings and theatrics about who killed his father?

I thought we already established that Eric Dane shot him in the face.

At least Cecilworth takes this seriously, evidenced by his impassioned speeches and serious big man real talk about War Games there. Who knows? Maybe it will be just like he says…

Enter an ICON…. leave…. a LEGEND.

Maybe.

Farthington is one of the best in the business, despite his desperate need for people to think that he’s a serious competitor — despite his desperate need to play the part of the fool to make his friends chuckle.

Imagine if he actually put all of that shit aside and acted like a serious competitor instead of just wishing people thought he was.

Imagine, Cecilworth Farthington, almost undefeatable champion in two promotions, no longer giving a damn what you think of him, and just going out to the ring every night and being who he’s capable of being.

It’s easy if you try.

But likely?

Well — there’s time. For now, I’m not even sure he hit the target with his Cecilworth Farthington Mysteries as well as he could have. Unless next week’s special guest is either Don Adams, Sonny & Cher, Batman & Robin or the Harlem Globetrotters, I’m afraid I’ll have to consider the whole enterprise a massively missed opportunity.

I suppose it could be worse.

They could be muttering about Eli Flair, PTC, someone stealing a briefcase — or some other foolery that has no bearing on anything at all.

You know what, guys?

It sounds like Scottywood is on crack.

I guess we should have seen this coming. We all know crack is wack, but it’s the drug of choice when you’ve fallen on hard times, or when your hair looks stupid.

I had spoken with the representatives from the Rays earlier about maybe doing a benefit for him. I thought, I don’t know, maybe they could stock his Scottywood IPA for one night at a Rays game, maybe give him a boost. Unfortunately they said they only stock beers with alcohol in them.

Ah well — you can’t save everyone.

You certainly can’t save that one.

Besides — I’m here for fighting, not for saving.

What all of this comes down to, when you separate the flashy settings and dramatic interludes from reality and get down to brass tacks, is a battle for the future of High Octane — the very essence of what High Octane will become or not become. And the problem with what Mike Best has put together is what his team is based on.

Nostalgia.

It’s a team built on nostalgia, with one elite competitor in his prime, a guy under a mask who could literally be anybody and no one would notice the difference, and three broken down remembrances of HOW’s glory, three men hanging around the restroom at the HOW Hall of Fame looking for work — three men who’ve been the equivalent of hanging around the entrance to the hardware store hoping and praying that someone comes along with some day labor needs, so they can hopefully put some food on the table again.

Mike drove along, hung his head out the side of his truck and told the boys to hop in the back, and here they are, paving a new right turn lane in front of Walmart and lamenting how being sober just isn’t as fun.

And everyone figures, hey, why not? Right?

Slap a pair of tights on these guys, toss ‘em in the ring under a big cage and let’s rekindle the glory days.

So easy.

It’s not.

No…. it’s not.

I know we’ve been over this ground. I know we’ve discussed it already. We’re as tight-knit as a group gets in this business. You guys are thrown together. And I know you guys want to play it off as meaningless, casting off any worries behind Scooby Doo skits and morality plays.

Cool.

The facts are what they are. We’ve all pled our cases and talked about what we think will happen. At this point, it really doesn’t matter anymore.

We have two days.

Two days.

Then we climb into a cage and try to beat each other to death.

And when the smoke clears? When it’s all over, we’ll see who’s vision wins out. Right? We’ll see who’s really worthy to stand in that ring and hold up the HOW World Championship…. to stand in that ring and be the ICON. We’ll see who’s been full of meaningless talk…. and who really has the balls to back up what they say.

You know what they say….

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

Scottywood’s distant relative Winston Churchill said that, knowing that one day, somewhere, the five of us would collectively kick his descendant’s teeth down his throat.

Just so you know, I made my name being relentless. I’m ready to fight, ready for war.

The object of war is not to die for your cause, but to make the other bastard die for his.

I hope you’re all ready to fall on your swords for this.

War Games is coming, and I am here.

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