Charles de Lacy had always been wary of American women. And while publicly he would dismiss them as coarse creatures, not at all like the demure English ladies to whom he was accustomed, secretly he was intimidated by them.
Even before his arrival in the New World he had heard tell of their fierce independence, their penchant for passive aggressivity, and their frightening self-sufficiency. They were the sort of women who didn’t wait for a man to open a door for them or offer to pay for their dinner. And this was what truly unsettled de Lacy. He was a product of his time and upbringing, where gentlemen were expected to be chivalrous and women were expected to be docile and submissive. The idea of a woman taking charge and making her own decisions was anathema to him. But Bobbinette had shattered those preconceptions and left him nursing more than a black eye. No, despite his reservations he felt a twinge of admiration for her athleticism and strength of character. She had demonstrated to him that maybe there was more to women than just delicate femininity. Perhaps it was time for him to re-evaluate his prejudices and embrace the changing times.
It was on confiding these feelings to his old friend Lord Conrad, a fellow British expat and bon viveur, that the latter suggested he attend a speed dating event.
“You need to understand American women, old chap,” said Conrad, pouring de Lacy a generous glass of sherry. “The best way to do that is to get to know them more intimately.”
de Lacy raised an eyebrow. “I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that, Conrad.”
“Nonsense, old boy,” replied Conrad. “These type of events are the perfect way to meet a variety of American women in a short amount of time. Think of it like sampling different wines.”
de Lacy considered this for a moment. “Very well, I’ll give it a go. But I must say, I’m not entirely convinced.”
Conrad slapped him on the back. “That’s the spirit! I’ll arrange everything. Just leave it to me.”
The event was held in a dimly lit bar in the heart of the city. The air was thick with the scent of cologne and perfume, and the sound of chatter and clinking glasses echoed off the walls. The décor was simple and modern, with sleek black tables arranged in rows and votive candles flickering on each one.
The clientele was a mix of young professionals and middle-aged divorcees, all dressed in their best outfits and wearing nervous smiles. The men mostly wore button-down shirts, no ties, while the women were in tight dresses and high heels.
de Lacy, as ever, stuck out like a sore thumb; his neatly pressed pin-stripe suit and carefully coiffured hair inviting several sideways glances and whispered asides from the other attendees.
Taking a deep breath, and wiping a clammy hand on his trouser leg, he approached the first of his dates. Immediately he was taken aback by her vacant expression and overly-glossed lips.
“Good evening, madam. Might I inquire as to your name?”
“Oh my God, hi! I’m Tiffany, but you can call me Tiff. Like, what’s your name?”
“Charles de Lacy, at your service,” he said, rolling his hand regally.
“Whoa, that’s a fancy name! You must be, like, super rich or something.”
Charles smirked, “Yes, my family is quite well off. We’ve been landed gentry for generations.”
“Landed what? Hey, do you like, have a yacht or something?”
de Lacy raised an eyebrow, incredulously.
“A yacht? My dear, we have an estate in the countryside, a townhouse in London, and a villa in the south of France. A yacht is hardly worth mentioning.”
“Oh, okay.” She responded, doubtfully. “That’s cool, I guess. So, like, what do you do for fun?”
“Well, I enjoy hunting, shooting, fishing, and playing polo. I also have a passion for fine art. In fact…”
“Ew, hunting? That’s like so cruel!”
“Hmm.” He decided to change tack. “Tell you what, why don’t you tell me about yourself?”
“Um, okay. I like, love taking selfies and going shopping. Have you ever been to Rodeo Drive?”
“Rodeo Drive? My dear, I have no interest in such crass commercialism. I much prefer the elegant boutiques of Bond Street.”
“Sure. So, like, what’s your favorite color?”
“My favourite color? I fail to see what relevance that has to anything.”
“I know, right? It’s just like, a fun question. Mine’s pink, in case you were wondering.”
The bell rang, signalling the end of the session. Charles stood up abruptly.
“Well, my dear, it has been… interesting. But I fear we are not quite suited for each other.”
“Aww, why not? I thought we were, like, really connecting.”
“Indeed. But I fear our interests and backgrounds are too divergent. Good evening.”
Charles hurried to the next table, relieved to be finally free of the vacuous valley girl, but also somewhat amused by the absurdity of the encounter. Nevertheless, he hoped to find the next conversation a bit more intellectually stimulating. As he sat down at the next table, he was greeted by a woman who looked to be in her mid-forties. She had a warm smile and an inviting demeanour.
“Hi there,” she said cheerfully. “I’m Susan. And you are?”
“Charles de Lacy,” he replied, extending his hand.
“Pleased to meet you, Charles,” she said, shaking his hand. “So, what do you do?”
“I’m a professional wrestler,” he replied, puffing up his chest a little.
“Oh my!” Susan exclaimed. “That sounds exciting! Do you have any children?”
The question caught de Lacy off guard. He had never been particularly fond of children, viewing them as loud, messy creatures that interfered with his carefully cultivated lifestyle.
“No, I’m afraid I don’t,” he said, trying to keep the disdain out of his voice.
Susan’s face fell a little. “Oh, that’s a shame. I have two children myself, and they’re the light of my life.”
de Lacy tried to hide his boredom as Susan launched into a lengthy description of her children’s various accomplishments. He found himself counting the seconds until the bell would ring and he could move on to the next person.
“So, what about you?” he asked, trying to change the subject. “Do you have any hobbies?”
“Well, I love spending time with my kids,” she replied. “And I also volunteer at the local children’s hospital. It’s so rewarding to help those little ones in need.”
de Lacy grimaced inwardly. The thought of spending time around sick children was enough to make his skin crawl.
“I see,” he said, trying to sound interested. “Well, I’m afraid I don’t have much of an affinity for children myself. I prefer to spend my time pursuing more… adult interests.”
Susan’s smile faltered a little. “Oh, I see,” she said. “Well, I suppose everyone has their own preferences.”
The bell rang, signalling the end of their time together. de Lacy breathed a sigh of relief as he moved up to the next table.
“Nice meeting you, Susan,” he said, giving her a curt nod.
“Likewise,” she replied, looking not a little disappointed.
As he sat down at the next table, de Lacy promised himself that he would try and avoid any more encounters with overzealous mothers.
The next encounter was more promising: a rather buxom and flirtatious young lady. However, things quickly turned awkward when de Lacy’s attention was drawn to her overly excessive perfume, causing him to sneeze uncontrollably.
By the time de Lacy sat down across from his final date of the evening, a young woman of about thirty with jet-black hair and an abundance of piercings, he feared the worse. With a resigned sigh, he prepared himself for yet another unfruitful conversation.
“Good evening, madam,” he said with a forced smile.”
“Hi,” the woman replied in a deep, raspy voice.
“I must say, your… ensemble is quite striking. Is it a costume of some sort?”
The woman raised an eyebrow. “I could ask you the same thing.”
de Lacy fingered the lapel of his jacket self-consciously.
“What do you do for a living, uh…” he paused, realising he hadn’t asked for her name.
“Charles,” he said, offering his hand. “So what do you do for a living, Emily?”
“I’m a mortician,” she replied, matter-of-factly.
“Oh, umm… I see.. uh… and do you, uh, enjoy your work?” he stuttered.
“Oh, yeah. The pay’s not the best, but I get to work with interesting people.”
de Lacy’s mouth was agape. He had met some strange people during the course of the evening’s entertainment, if that’s what you called call this human buffet, but surely this took the biscuit. He reached for his glass of water, racking his brain for an appropriate response, when he noticed, from the corner of his eye, Emily’s shoulders rapidly rising and falling. She was laughing.
“I’m sorry,” she said, gasping for breath. “I couldn’t help myself. You should have seen your face!”
de Lacy smiled weakly.
“What a wonderful sense of humour,” he managed.
“It’s just, everyone here is so boring. Nobody has anything to say. They ask the same questions, give the same tedious, rehearsed answers. What’s the point, you know?”
“I take your point.”
“If you’d really like to know,” she began, her eyes suddenly sparkling with enthusiasm, “I work at a record store. We mostly sell alternative stuff, you know, goth, metal, grunge.”
“Ah, I see,” de Lacy nodded, pretending to understand. “And what are your interests, if it’s not too obvious an inquiry?”
Emily leaned in, her dark eyeliner smudging slightly as she smiled. “I’m really into the occult,” she said, her voice tinged with excitement.
de Lacy raised an eyebrow, surprised by the unexpected response. “Oh, really? How very… esoteric.”
“Yeah, you know, I majored in 19th century Gothic literature so…”
“Oh really?” de Lacy replied, suddenly perking up. “I didn’t take you for the intellectual type.”
Emily laughed. “Oh, I’m full of surprises. Don’t judge a book by its cover and all that.”
de Lacy chuckled, warming to the conversation. “Quite right, quite right. I myself have a fondness for literature, particularly the works of Keats and Shelley.”
Emily’s eyes widened. “No way! Have you read Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’? It’s one of my favourites!”
Their conversation continued in this vein. As the evening drew to a close, de Lacy found himself feeling surprisingly energised and entertained.
“Well, I must say, this has been a most unexpected and enjoyable evening,” de Lacy said, standing up and offering Emily his hand.
“Likewise,” she replied, returning the handshake with a smile.
“Conrad, old boy, you were absolutely right,” de Lacy exclaimed, barely able to contend his excitement. “Why hadn’t I thought of it myself? Speed dating. Of course!”
The two friends were happily ensconced in a corner booth at O’Learys pub and de Lacy, having arrived first, was already several whiskeys deep.
“Well, go on,” Conrad implored. “Do tell.”
de Lacy preceded to rhapsodise at length about his meeting with Emily. Conrad was somewhat taken aback by his old friend’s uncharacteristic enthusiasm.
“A goth, you say? How intriguing,” Conrad mused. “Well, I must say, old chap, I’m rather surprised. I never would have thought that you and a goth girl would have anything in common.”
“That’s just it,” de Lacy replied, his eyes widening. “It’s not just about what we have in common, but rather how much we can learn from each other. I do believe she’s opened my eyes to a whole new world,” de Lacy said with a smile.
“Well, I’m pleased to see you so happy, my dear fellow. Perhaps it is time for you to broaden your horizons a bit. That said, there is the trifling matter of your athletic endeavours.”
de Lacy’s heart fell. In all the excitement of recent events he had completely forgotten the doubts surrounding his scheduled matchup at CHAOS 26. He sighed heavily, swirling the amber liquid in his glass. “I tell you, Conrad I’m not feeling very confident about this upcoming match.”
Lord Conrad leaned in, listening intently.
“What’s the matter, old chap? Is this opponent giving you cause for concern?”
de Lacy shook his head, his eyes deep with worry. “That’s just it, old bean. I know next to nothing about him. Kostoff’s the name. The offspring of some chap management have wronged, or so it’s said.”
“Kostoff, eh? Can’t say it rings a bell.”
“No, but people seem suitably ruffled by him turning up out of the blue like that.”
“I shouldn’t worry,” Conrad replied, taking a sip. “I’m sure you’ll be able to handle him, Charles. You’re a seasoned professional, after all.”
de Lacy’s forehead creased. “But that’s just it, Conrad. This young fellow could be anyone – a technical marvel, a speed merchant, a brawler… how on earth is one expected to prepare for such a match?”
Conrad chuckled. “I think you’re worrying too much, old sport. Just focus on your strengths and stay sharp. You said the same thing last week when you were scheduled against that Bobbinette lassie and look how that turned out.”
de Lacy’s raised a hand to his blackened eye. Nodding slowly, “I suppose you’re right, Conrad. I’ll just have to trust in my training and hope for the best.”
Lord Conrad slapped him on the shoulder. “That’s the spirit, Charles. Just remember, you’re a de Lacy. You’re made of sterner stuff. Just make sure to lay off the demon booze for a couple of days, eh?”
de Lacy smiled weakly, but his eyes were clouded with doubt.
With War Games fast approaching de Lacy was in a state of constant agitation. He knew that the event was a perfect platform from which to cement his place on the roster and reingratiate himself with the wider wrestling community, but the uncertainty regarding this Kostoff character was playing havoc with his psyche. He knew he had to prepare for every eventuality but having scoured the HOW archives he was dismayed to find nothing on his opponent. Not even a scrap of footage. He knew as well as anyone what a great motivator injustice, or at least a sense of injustice, could be. Would he be able to compete with that? Or had the brief moment of respite afforded him by last weeks’ victory made him complacent?
This was something he would have plenty of time to ponder over the many sleepless nights that were to come.