And they said…
“You can’t do that DEFIANT shit in HOW!”
So I said…
“Yeah, okay, whatever you say! Fuck that DEFIANT shit!”
And then I spent the better part of half a year walking on eggshells, doing my level best not to rock the boat or offend the natives too badly.
Do you know where that landed me?
Right square in the middle of the fuckin’ pack.
In the meanwhile I had my tag team partner, Dan fuckin’ Ryan, practically begging me to remember who in the fuck I was, and how in the fuck I got here. He said:
“Bring the real Eric Dane to War Games!”
I didn’t, and we lost. But Dan persisted.
He’s relentless that way.
So then, he said:
“Either bring the real Eric Dane to Chaos or don’t even bother showing up.”
I thought about taking my ball and going right the fuck home. I thought about how Dan Ryan wouldn’t even be working in HOW if it weren’t for me and how dare he get up in my shit like that?! I balled up my fists and I thought about going Full Darin Zion right then and there in Lindsay Troy’s gym.
Then I thought about the ass-kicking I’d have taken from Dan, followed by the ass-kicking I’d have taken from Lindz, accompanied by the ever-present knowledge that without them I’d be pretty much out on my ass in New Orleans, pretending to be a big shot while slowly drowning myself in whiskey and painkillers.
(And whatever else I could get my hands on.)
Then it dawned on me that no, Dan Ryan would indeed not be here if it weren’t for me. That isn’t to say I was doing him any favors, though, to be all the way honest with myself I had to admit that it was Dan who was doing favors for me. Hell, if it weren’t for him putting his neck out Lindsay would have never come on board and none of this would have been possible in the first place.
One can gain a fair bit of perspective in the instant before having one’s ass handed to him for being a petulant little fuck for no good reason. That is if one is self-aware enough to see the forest for the goddamned trees. So there I stood, just about to make another in a long line of stupid mistakes when I had the bright fuckin’ idea to take stock of the situation at hand.
Dan gave it to me straight, I’ll give him that.
My head hadn’t been in the game in quite some time. Probably going all the way back to the fiasco that was my run in CWF. Definitely not since I fucked around and let Darin Zion bounce me out of the World Title Tournament. Strange as it was to admit to myself, I was letting my friends down in more ways than they deserved. I knew it was only a matter of time before they had to make a decision, and I knew what that decision would have to have been.
I’d been told once that the definition of insanity was doing the same shit over and over, expecting a different outcome. Now, that may or may not be a load of bullshit, but I knew at that moment when The Ego Buster stared me down that if I didn’t get my shit together not only were they going to get tired of carrying my ass in the ring, they were gonna get tired of carrying my ass outside of it, too.
These people were as close to a family to me as anything I’d ever had.
Something finally clicked.
In that moment I knew exactly what had to be done.
II. Then: FNC1, just before the Main Event
“You ready, kid?”
I knew that she was. Mariella Jade Flair had been the absolute definition of ready since the day I’d met her. We stood just around the corner from the Go Position, she was bouncing back and forth on the balls of her feet all pins and needles and ready to wreck shit. The LSD Title belt was strapped around her waist snugly.
Hellyeah’s Drink, Drank, Drunk fired up over the arena’s P.A. system. Scotty would have been making his entrance right about then, probably waving around that stupid hockey stick of his… That meant it was almost time.
“Oh, fuck yeah, man,” she answered, tapping the front plate of the belt. “Eyes on the prize, and this ain’t going anywhere, right?!”
She reminded me of me, twenty-five years ago.
“That’s my girl. Now listen,” I was in manager mode. “I don’t want you to go out there and try to fight this guy. I want you to go out there and do what you do. Out-think him, out-work him, out-smart him.”
Of course Scottywood’s music was terrible. More than that it was distracting. I could barely concentrate on the last-minute advice I had for MJ with that douche-bro anthem ringing in my ears.
“Whatever you do, just don’t let him bring you down to his level. The only chance he’s got is to get in your head and get you doing stupid shit.” She was a ball of nerves, I reached out and grabbed her by the shoulders. “Are you even listening anymore, kid?”
She stood tall. Ready.
“Yes. Think with my brain, not with my fists. Don’t let ‘em in my head.” She was repeating the same mantra I’d been giving her for days. Scottywood might have been a Grade-A fuckwit, but he’d been around the business long enough to know how to push a passionate young lady’s buttons and get her to make a mistake. “Most of all, don’t do stupid shit!”
She started bouncing again.
“Now listen, when the shit hits the fan-”
She cut me off.
“And just exactly when is that gonna go down?”
“Shit, kid, I’m not gonna touch that prick until you’ve finished with him. I don’t wanna give the creep any excuse to cry for a rematch.” I could feel a sneer curling onto my face. “After this, we’re done with that sad sack.”
Her brow scrunched up, she didn’t believe me.
“I thought you wanted his head on a pike?”
It wasn’t MJ’s style to let me get away with anything.
“I could give a shit less about Scotty, kid, he’s a means to an end. Would his scalp look real nice nailed to a fencepost somewhere? Yes, absolutely it would. Am I going to waste any more time chasing after a fight that he very obviously doesn’t want?”
The gears were turning behind her eyes.
“Aight, man. So what’s the haps?”
Scotty’s bullshit music was fading, I didn’t have a lot of time left…
“We already know Zion’s gonna show up, that is if he’s got half the balls he acts like he’s got. Maybe I can draw out his partner, too-”
“You don’t mean the homeless guy, do ya?”
“Fuck naw, I mean his other partner, the one he holds gold with.”
That’s when it clicked for her, she understood everything in that instant.
“This whole thing,” she started, “You wanna get a shot at the tags, man. Seriously, you ain’t comin’ out here ta watch my back at all, are ya?”
A year ago and this realization probably would have pissed the kid off. As it stood, she was starting to put together an understanding of the big picture that would end up making her an icon in the business before it was all said and done.
“Am I goin’ out there to make sure nobody gets squirrely? Absolutely. Is that the prime directive? Not even slightly. Everybody in this fucking building knows you’re gonna beat that waste of tattoo ink like a drum, and you certainly don’t need my help for that…” I can see she’s taking it all in, not looking for reasons to argue, just looking for the logic. “It’s about making a fuckin’ statement. Scottywood is bait as far as I’m concerned. I’ll get my shots in just for the fuck of it, but I’m done wasting my time and effort on a guy who’d rather drink beer and make excuses than actually do something with his miserable life.”
She nodded, taking a deep breath as Scotty’s music finally came to an end.
“I get ya, man. Don’t worry, we got this. One on one, three on three, eight on five, we got this.”
She held up her fist and I bumped it. It occurred to me that she kept saying we. Yeah, she was getting it, alright. I knew right then and there that we were going to teach that group of basic white girls something before the night was over with…
Hellyeah was quickly replaced with Goodnight by The Birthday Massacre. It’s not really the music I’d have picked, but the energy was there and it got her to bouncing again. MJ looked like she was ready to explode.
Or, rather, she looked like she was ready to make an example out of the Hardcore Halfwit.
We made our way around the corner toward the two inward-facing arrows taped on the inside of the curtain to denote the proper direction that lead to the ring.
“Let’s DOOOOOOO THIS!” she exclaimed with a cheesy grin as she pushed her way through the curtain, leaving me to catch up to her on the other side.
I thought to myself: Let’s do this, indeed.
“I’ll say this much about Darin Zion.”
The Only Star is a dapper man, and he’s dressed the only way that a dapper man can. That is to say, completely over the top in every way imaginable.
“He might be the dumbest motherfucker this side of Noah Hanson…”
What are the kids calling it these days? On fleek? Is that still a thing?
“But at least he’s got balls.”
His shock of blond hair is pulled up and back into the barest hint of a man-bun, the accompanying beard is immaculately groomed, and his award-winning smirk is right on time. Unnervingly blue eyes sit hidden with their crows feet behind a pair of sunshades that cost more than Brian Hollywood’s house.
“They’re gonna get him killed, but he’s definitely got ‘em.”
As The Adversary shrugs you notice the mint and cream-colored seersucker suit jacket that he wears with matching slacks. It’s perfectly tailored to fit him, fits snugly but breathes immaculately, and it follows his every gesture like an outer layer of skin. The suit is accented by a lilac tie and pocket square along with a pair of raptor-skinned wingtips that made you jealous even though you couldn’t afford them if you won the lottery. Twice.
“And then there’s his best friend and championship cohort, Noah Hanson…”
A moment passes.
“Yanno, I feel like the last time I heard that guy’s name he was out West somewhere pissing on his girlfriend and embarrassing himself week in and week out inside the wrestling ring.”
“And, it’s not that he wasn’t any good.”
“It’s just, well, back then everybody else was so much better.”
Eric’s smile widens.
“But, hey, it’s good to see you’re moving up in the world, right? From R. Kelly impersonator to Tag Team Champion in what, just under a decade and a half? Just over? Fuck I can’t remember, I do get hit in the head a lot, know what I mean?”
“I really don’t even know what to do with you lot.”
“This whole Order of the Midlife Crisis thing you two’ve got going is pretty fuckin’ basic, I’ve decided. At the heart of your entire ideology all you and your friends really want is to get noticed. Furthermore, to not be left out in the cold while guys like myself and Dan Ryan waltz into your precious High Octane Wrestling and do and say whatever it is that we damn well please.”
“Far as I can tell, every last one of you would give your left nut to be any of us at any fucking point in our careers. You know that men like Dan any myself have never been ignored, we’ve never been treated as an afterthought the way you people so often have.”
The nightlife comes alive behind and below him. It appears as if The Only Star has found his way to Memphis a week early for his next booking at Chaos.
IV. Then: Several hours after FNC1
We’d lost MJ somewhere in Hell.
Mom and Dad, we lost them sometime very shortly after we’d left the State Farm Arena. Chaos had ended some four hours ago and neither Dan nor Lindsay seemed to be in any mood to celebrate. They both had families and homes to get back to. Harmen, he’d made himself scarce even sooner, there’d been an uncomfortable air between him and Angus that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
Speaking of Angus, he and I found ourselves nursing what must’ve been his thirtieth shitty beer and my fortieth whiskey neat. I was pretty sure this is what you called Purgatory, but this having been only my second visit to the recently relocated Masquerade nightclub in downtown Atlanta had me second-guessing the glitzy and glamorous layout.
The three of us had started in Heaven, the club’s largest venue. MJ had known the band who was headlining tonight and we’d managed to finagle our way in MVP style where we took in the second half of the show and met the band afterward.
Somebody told MJ about the industrial-goth dance floor in Hell and we’d lost her quicker than Scottywood had lost his latest shot at legitimacy only a few hours earlier. Being who she was, and knowing who her parents were, I had a sneaking suspicion that I wouldn’t be able to pry the young Ms. Flair off of that particular dancefloor until last call had come and gone and dawn had begun threatening…
Which was perfectly fine by me, the kid needed to blow off some steam.
No matter what you think of him, Scotty had played his part like a goddamned Hall of Famer should tonight. He came damn close once or twice to taking that belt from her. Shit got serious for just a second, but much like I and the rest of civilized society anticipated, Scotty beat himself and MJ had the smarts and the guts to take every advantage given.
She pinned him clean.
And then, as we’d previously discussed, the shit hit the fan.
“So,” Angus’s rash voice brought me out of my daydreams. “Are we really just gonna let her party the night away?”
Swallowing my drink I could feel my brows knitting together at the audacity of the question. Angus, a self-proclaimed Gutter Punk, was starting to sound like a substitute fuckin’ teacher.
“The fuck? She’s grown, dude, I’m not her dad.”
“But-” he tried to continue pestering me about but failed.
“No but’s, the Champ is having a good time. Leave her be.”
He thought about it, shrugged, and finished his pisswater swill.
“Fine,” he changed the subject. “What’s next, then?”
“Three words, my friend.”
Holding up three fingers I continued.
“Tag. Team. Titles.”
Another round was dropped off in front of us by a bartender who’d been tipped heavily the moment we sat down to make sure we never went too long without full drinks in front of us. Fuck waiting for service, that’s what I say, just pay upfront.
“The fuck do you mean, tag team titles?” Angus asked.
“Next week.” I took a sip. “Me and Dan.” And another. “Tag team titles.”
“Just like that?” He chided.
Again, I grinned like an idiot.
“The show ended like…” he tried to count. “A couple of hours ago! Lineups never go live until the next day, how the fuck do you know-”
I cut him off again.
“My source in Mike’s office.”
“You have a source?”
A thin eyebrow raised over his right eye.
“In Mike’s office?”
I nodded enthusiastically.
“You’re full of shit.”
Well, he wasn’t wrong. I laughed and threw back another few ounces of whiskey.
“Your source is Mike, don’t lie.” Angus was incredulous.
“Of COURSE it’s Mike!” I had almost giggled myself into a fit. “The fuck else would it be?”
Angus shrugged, drank, thought about it, and shrugged again.
“Anyhow,” I continued. “He texted me half an hour ago. At Chaos Oh-Two it’s me and Dan against Zion and Hanson for the belts.”
The Sleazeball considered this.
“So…” he pounded another Miller High Life. “You’re saying that it all worked out just how we drew it up?”
My smile couldn’t have gotten any cheesier.
“Isn’t it wonderful to watch a masterfully laid plan come together in front of your eyes?”
“Indeed it is.”
“It’s good to have you back, Ang.”
The alcohol was enhancing my sincerity.
“We’ll see, boss.” That was Angus for you, always ready for the other shoe to drop. He took another long pull from the glass bottle of yellow indigestion in his hand. “We will see.”
“You guys are like Beale Street.”
Eric steps out of the way and allows Memphis’s favorite district to take precedence. Neon lights sparkle, arrows point to bars and pubs, street-callers announce everything from underground music to live nude girls.
“And I mean that to say that you have always been, and you will always be, a cheap imitation of whoever it is that you’re currently trying to either impress or impersonate.”
The Only Star steps back in, closer now.
“And then there’s guys like me. Guys like Dan Ryan. We’re more like Rue Bourbon…”
He pauses, a smirk developing on his already amused face.
“That’s Bourbon Street to you touristy types.”
“Beale Street has been trying to surpass Bourbon Street in the nightlife department for as long as it’s been in existence. They’ve got the same bullshit, glitz and glamor tourist traps, shitty dive bars and houses of ill repute…”
The Antagonist shrugs it all off.
“Meanwhile Bourbon Street has class, history, and a certain intangible it that assholes in Memphis will never figure out. Probably they’re too stuck on their shitty barbecue. Either way, much like you generic motherfuckers, no matter how much money and effort anybody pumps into Beale Street, it’ll always be a second-rate knockoff of my least favorite street in the French Quarter.”
Having grown up in an orphanage in New Orleans and lived their his entire life, you have to understand how passionate Eric Dane was about single streets let alone entire districts of his beloved hometown.
“Much like you, Darin, and you, Noah, will always be cheap-ass carbon copies of industry standards such as myself and Dan Ryan. It doesn’t fuckin’ matter how much you piss and moan and how many wrestling rings you set on fire, nor will it matter how many times you flip and you flop and you flounder your way through your careers…”
“At the end of the day, fellas…”
“You just don’t stack up.”
“We’ve always been better than you.”
“We’ll always be better than you.”
“You boys don’t like it?”
He is smug, cocksure.
“Do something about it.”