October 22, 2019.
A black limousine rolls steadily down the (you guessed it) Dan Ryan Expressway toward the heart of Chicago.
It’s still a few days out from Chaos 4, but things to do and all that.
The short layoff since his last match has turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Sometimes you don’t even realize your aches and pains until you stop for a minute. Dan Ryan is smarter, more prepared than at any point in his career. But he also has to train twice as hard. One day the sands of time are bound to catch up with him.
But not today.
Today it’s the go home training for the go home show. Two days before show time. Time to go to work, again.
MJ seemed receptive — eventually.
She’s impressive, that one.
It’s been hard seeing her as anything other than Eli Flair’s kid. You can’t just unsee a little toddler running around a gym when you’ve known a person since they were three years old. It takes time to wrap your head around the idea that Mariella Jade Flair is breaking faces and pulling joints out of socket. Maybe it’s not hard for you — but for Dan Ryan, man… this has been WEIRD.
Worse yet, the casual comments of being impressed by MJ at home has added fuel to the fire of Cecilia Ryan’s own ambitions in the ring. Ryan knows she’s headed straight into the ring someday. It’s in the blood. It doesn’t mean he has to like it.
MJ’s path has been different though. She made it a point to prove herself without her father’s name attached to her career, at least until she made her own bones in it.
Before anyone ever knew whose blood ran through her veins, she was a force to be reckoned with, a multiple time champion in her own right. Truth be told? “Eli Flair’s daughter” never would have been a comfortable label for her anyway.
Getting in the ring with Dan Ryan might be the closest she’ll ever get to sharing the ring with her old man. Dan Ryan keeps things close. He’s famous for it. He trusts few people, and even fewer catch his eye enough to have access to the intense training he puts himself through.
It may seem pretentious to some. That’s fine. But the track record speaks for itself. So many of his colleagues have fallen by the wayside, taken by time, injury or apathy. Ryan’s still going, still winning championships, still main eventing the biggest shows in wrestling.
The limousine slowly comes to a stop in front of a rundown looking building in South Side Chicago. Ryan climbs out of the back of the car and looks up at the broken sign above an aged wooden door. It used to say “Sammy’s Gym”. Now it’s more like “Sms Gm”. He glances at a figure leaning against the brick wall, a black hoodie pulled over their face, then back at the door.
“You’re on time. That’s good.”
MJ Flair pulls the hood back. “This is your Chicago box, huh?”
“Yup.” Ryan nods. “This is where the actual fighters train around here.”
Flair gets up straight and walks over. “Well…” She smirks. “I guess that’s us.”
Ryan returns the expression, then turns back and taps the chauffeur’s window. It rolls down and Ryan leans in. “I wouldn’t stay parked out here. It’s not safe. Swing back around in about two hours.” And with that, the window goes back down and he drives off.
Ryan motions to the door, following MJ inside.
The Shedd Aquarium.
October 24, 2019.
It’s a busy day — the expansive lobby is filled to near-capacity with tourists and locals alike. Alaina Troy-Ryan has her phone turned up toward the sculpted ceiling, snapping photos of the classic Greek architecture. Lindsay Troy leans over and whispers to her towering brother-in-law, and Dan Ryan glances in her direction.
“I see she’s still obsessed with taking photos of every little thing.”
Dan Ryan sighs. “Yep, always with the photos. Her scrapbooking skills are legendary. There’s absolutely no chance that any of us will forget a single moment of our lives from the second we met until the day we die.”
Troy smiles, then looks ahead to her kids, Ami and Kaz, standing just ahead with their cousin, Dan Ryan’s daughter Cecilia.
“I’m glad the kids are getting a chance to hang out.”
Lindsay Troy smiles again. “I’m surprised they were able to talk you into this.”
Ryan looks over. “Why’s that?”
“You?” Her eyebrows go up slightly. “Having family fun time at the aquarium? It doesn’t seem like your first choice for entertainment.”
Ryan stays stoic, looking ahead as the line starts to progress through the entryway and into the aquarium proper.
“I actually enjoy the company of my family, you know. Also, there’s a fountain out front with a statue of a man holding a giant fish in it. What’s not to like?”
They get a few feet inside and Alaina, who until now was chatting with the kids, comes over and places a hand on Dan Ryan’s arm. “The kids wanna go straight to the penguin exhibit. I’m gonna tag along. Shoot me a text if you need anything.”
Ryan gives a little wink and his wife goes ahead, joining the kids as they head off in the opposite direction of the natural traffic flow.
The in-laws fall into the crowd, passing around to the first section of the aquarium exhibits, when Lindsay Troy speaks up.
“I heard you put MJ through one of your workouts the other day.”
Ryan nods. “True.”
“Well…” Troy gives a wry smile. “How’d she do?”
It’s Dan Ryan’s turn to raise an eyebrow.
“You have to ask? Is it sexist to call a woman a bad motherfucker?”
“I’ve been called that a time or two,” she smirks in response. “Always took it as a compliment, so I’ll go with ‘no.’”
Ryan nods. Definitely a compliment.
They stop in front of a ceiling-to-floor glass, behind which various colorful species of tropical fish swim in a semi-regular circular pattern.
Troy side-eyes her brother-in-law.
“So about the match this week. I assume you two have been making plans.”
He nods. “We have.”
She stares into the tank. “He might have the worst name of any wrestler I’ve ever seen in my life, but I kinda like him.”
“Oh?” Ryan looks at her briefly, then back at the fish.
“Yeah…” Troy furrows her brow a bit. “He’s tough, but he’s also kinda harmless at the same time. He’s like wrestling comfort food.”
Ryan keeps looking straight ahead. “So he’s like wrestling mashed potatoes?”
She smiles. “Wrestling Mashed Potatoes would be a better name than Halitosis.”
“And..” Ryan sighs. “It would definitely smell better.”
Troy folds her arms. “Probably cut a better promo, too.”
Ryan seems surprised. He “seems” surprised. “You didn’t like his promo??”
They start walking again, circling around through the aquarium.
Troy makes a sort of… “ehhhhhh” expression.
Ryan smirks. “What’s wrong? Not a big fan of Heart?”
“Quite the contrary.” The Queen says, TOTALLY serious. “I’m a superfan. You have no idea.”
“Well…” Ryan shrugs. “All I know is, he may think he and Max Kael Jr are gonna win this match, and then he’s gonna go on to Rumble at the Rock and retain his championship, but I’d say These Dreams are unrealistic.”
“You really think so?” She replies.
Ryan tilts his head slightly. “Every second of the night.”
“I’d have to agree.” Troy frowns, thinking it through. “In fact, I hope he realizes that no matter what happens in these matches, you’ll Never…. Never…. Never… Never run away.”
Ryan nods his head. “Damn right.”
“What about the whole thing with Cecilworth inserting himself into the match?” Troy looks over. “He wants a shot too, but I haven’t seen an official announcement. I’m not so sure he’s gonna get what he wants.”
“Hey..” Ryan shrugs. “Some things you can never never choose, even if you try it.”
She sees a small school of sharks swimming around the tank in their general direction and stops to watch. “I do think it would be a good strategy to isolate Hal in the match, though, if you can.”
“Seems like a good idea.” Ryan thinks. “How do I get him alone?”
“Hmm?” Troy says, distracted by the sharks.
Ryan turns to her. “How do I get him alone?”
She looks at him. “Alone?”
“Alone,” he replies.
Troy turns back to the fish. “I’m sure you’ll figure something out. The real question is, what do you do if they somehow manage to isolate you?”
Ryan shrugs. “Not really worried. Till now, I always got by on my own.”
Troy lets out a pretty hearty chuckle at that one. “Wow…”
Ryan smiles a big legit smile. Always fun to break the Queen.
After recovering, she keeps walking, and he follows.
“So…” she glances over her shoulder. “MJ really killed it in the workout huh?”
“Without a doubt.” The smile is gone. Ryan is serious again. “She doesn’t look like it if you don’t know her, but once she gets going she can really go Crazy on You.”
Or so we thought.
Troy does a spit-take. “Jesus….”
Ryan laughs again. “Okay okay, I’m done.”
She shakes her head. “You’re ridiculous.”
They finally come to the end of the main tank. Alaina and the kids come into view as they head in their direction. As they get close, something in the tank catches Cecilia’s eye and she gets excited.
Ryan immediately holds up a hand in protest as Lindsay Troy shoots him something between an amused and annoyed glare.
“I swear to God, I had nothing to do with that one.”
Troy closes her eyes and sighs. “I feel sorry for Halitosis having to deal with you.”
Ryan smiles again, this time brimming with confidence.
“So do I.”
The lighting, wholly inadequate for video production, illuminates Dan Ryan’s face just enough to let us know he’s there. The room is a dingy one. This, one of the oldest gyms in Chicago, with a past seedy enough that civilized people tend to give it a wide berth, holds nothing but the practical. If you want to get stronger and learn how to beat people up, this is the place for you. If you want the latest equipment, time in the sauna and a nice massage afterward, keep walking.
Ryan is dripping with sweat, looking down at half-untaped wrists and a dirty floor.
I feel like we’ve been over this before. In fact, it feels, HAL, like we’ve tread this ground so often it’ll take years for any greenery to return. And yet, I feel oddly refreshed and renewed.
Here we are, right? Here in the warmup. It’s you, it’s Max Kael Jr…. it’s me, and it’s MJ. There’s a lot of gold coming to the ring Friday night. You with the big red belt, MJ with the LSD championship, me with one of the tag team belts. Max Junior… well, it’s only a matter of time. I’m sure he’ll tell you if you ask, assuming he’s willing to take a break from storybook theater to give anyone the time of day.
You’re an odd man to be throwing shit down in this place, Hal.
Look around you. There are old timers holding onto the past for dear life, trying to remake High Octane Wrestling into an image that no longer exists. There’s your partner, the son of Max Kael? OR IS HE? Who knows? Chapter 47 of who-gives-a-fuck is due to air any second now I’m sure, maybe even before you hear my words. I’m on pins and needles. There’s Cecilworth Farthington, great in the ring, fun on the stick, creative when crafting some Scooby Doo Mysteries short film (this week’s guest, Don Knotts!), but passive aggressive and annoying if anyone else gets any shine. Oh yes, I want a title shot because I’ve pinned you a few times in the last few months, Hal. Cecilworth wants one because best boy and reasons.
And I’m sure, somewhere, waiting in the wings, there’s another somebody or other just WAITING to jump out on camera and tells us all how the thing High Octane Wrestling is missing is them. There’s always one waiting just around the bend, new or old, debuting or returning. Last month it was Dick Fury and Austin Bishop.
And now they’re dead.
I just can’t WAIT to see who the next one is.
There’s Max…. sorry, Max Kael Jr. Let me be specific. He wants this super super bad and in no way expects to shoot straight to the top based on his name value alone. He wants this BAD. He wants to take me out, which is nice and fucking adorable. Join the fucking club, Kael-nugget. Get in fucking line. Do you think I give one solitary fuck, you uneducated failed choose-your-own-adventure book villain?
If yes, go to page 45.
If no, go to page 59.
This is the shit I’m talking about, Hal. This guy shows up, says words, takes up valuable air time, and gets put in a spot with the World Champion, the LSD Champion and the number one contender to the World Championship-slash-Tag-Team-Champion because why? Reasons. Again. Reasons. Not good ones, but real real reasons, guyz.
Max Kael is a legend. But you’re not actually his son, are you? So you…. didn’t even squirt out of the penis of a legend.
That’s pretty much all the respect I have for you, FRIEND.
So please, come fuckin’ take me out. Seriously, come on — although assuming you can handle MJ Flair is a big fuckin’ assumption comin’ from a guy whose biggest accomplishment so far is knocking out a guy perpetually dressed like a medieval faire employee.
So yeah — whatevs. Come at me bro. I’ll be conveniently in the ring with you this week, and I’m just pleased as can be to kick your stupid teeth down your throat. It’s probably what you want anyway — so you can get some of those He-Man villain metal teeth your namesake got. I try hard to make dreams come true.
And then there’s you, Hal.
You are an honorable man, strong and true. You love your wife, she’s nose blind. It just works. You are a two-time HOW World Champion, and by and large, best boys aside, the most impressive competitor in the new HOW so far. It’s hard to argue with two World Title reigns. Oh, there are those who would look down on your reigns — mostly people who haven’t had the ability to win the belt themselves — but I’m old school. A World Championship is a World Championship. If you hold one, you deserve respect. If you hold it twice, even the haters need to shut the fuck up, honestly. It’s boring, this need for everyone to tear down the champion to try and make themselves seem more important.
I won’t do that.
Will I cringe at your ridiculous name? Yes. Will I mock you if you do something stupid? Absolutely.
But one thing I will not do is dismiss you.
You are the World Champion.
You’ve got lots of eyes on you, and as we’ve already said, a big target on your back. But right now more than anything else, you need to understand that I have my sights laser focused on you. I have no idea, as we speak, if Farthington will be thrown into our match for the title or not, but I do know this — you better mean what you’re saying. When you talk about me, when you talk about how big a match it will be and how difficult it will be, it better not be lip service. You better be ready to go to hell and back, Hal. I mean it. These aren’t empty words. I’ll cripple you if necessary, and I won’t feel remorse for it. I don’t want to hurt you, but I will. I promise you, I will.
Consider this week extended preparation.
Nothing is on the line — not your belt, not MJ’s and not mine.
Don’t worry, I’ll give you everything, but rest assured, I won’t show you everything. Plenty of tricks you haven’t seen yet. That’s the benefit of perfecting your art over twenty years. MJ can focus on Max, unless Max goes and does something stupid (even money)….but you Hal… you belong to me.
Ryan rips the rest of the tape from his wrist.
Let’s find out how good you really are.
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