April 24, 2021
“Goddamn, have you ever seen a desk explode like that?”
The excitement spills from Teddy’s lips, the LSD and Tag Champ riding high on adrenaline after chaos reigned supreme at the tail end of Refueled. As predicted, the Best Alliance and Grapplers Local 214 couldn’t keep their hands to themselves and another brawl between the two warring factions erupted during the main event lumberjack match for the HOW tag team titles. The 214 were able to keep their hold on the belts, thanks to a Ray McAvay powerbomb on Steve Solex, but the real excitement happened after the bell chimed three.
Dan Ryan made a statement in absolutely brutal fashion.
“He just picked ol’ Frank Slade up like he was nothing and WHAM!” Palmer’s voice carries through the warm Arizona air as he pantomimes powerbombing Lee Best, then throws his arms up in the air to demonstrate the flying debris of the GOD of HOW’s portable desk soaring every which-way. He grins under the lamplights of the Gila River Arena’s parking area, more than pleased with his retelling of events. “10s from the judges across the board.”
Next to him, Lindsay absently rubs the side of her mouth, trying to offer her partner a pleased expression but doing a poor job of it. Hughie’s Fatality Punch clocked her good, and the slimy Pikey snuck up out of nowhere to lay it on her. That rotten move, coupled with the knowledge that the 214 haven’t been able to get a definitive upper-hand on the BA in any of their scrums, and now Dan’s … whatever he’s planning with his actions tonight … are weighing on her mind.
So she simply offers up a, “Yeah,” in reply, hoping that’s enough, while adjusting her bag on her shoulder.
Of course, it isn’t.
“Hey, are you alright?” Teddy lays a hand on her shoulder, a look of concern washing over his face. “This was a great night for the group. Ray and Zeb killed it, Harrison got killed, twice, and it looks like we gained one hell of an ally.”
“Uhhhh….” Palmer’s eyes squint in confusion. “Yeah? Murder man put the chrome-domed asshole through a desk? Was my dramatic reenactment not enough?”
“It was Oscar nom worthy, Teddy, really.”
He scowls. “For some reason I don’t believe you.”
“Look,” she sighs, stepping to the side so she isn’t blocking anyone else’s path who might walk by. Teddy follows, turning to face her. “I am happy that we – the group – are still the tag champs. I am. But I’m not happy that Lee’s made it a point to hold me out of title defenses while doing whatever he can to make sure we lose them.”
“I understand that,” Teddy says, “but the fact remains we are still Tag Champs, and this Freebird Rule is backfiring.”
Lindsay bites her lip, an uneasy look still very much present. “And as far as Dan is concerned, I know you wanted to ask him about aligning with the 214 a few weeks ago…”
“You’re fuckin’ right I wanted to. Better he’s with us than against us.”
“…and you have a point, but I don’t know how much he’s really with us. The Dan Ryan that’s walking the halls of HOW right now isn’t the same Dan Ryan that you remember from a year ago, Ted.”
“If I’m being honest, all I remember is him murdering people, which since I’ve been back, he’s continued to do. So…”
“Haven’t you wondered why he was murdering people back then, in two different groups with me?” Lindsay asks quietly, placing her hand on Ted’s arm as she does. “And why, when you came back, that wasn’t the case anymore?”
“Now that you mention it,” Teddy pauses, rubbing his chin. “What’s up with that?”
“You really paid no attention to this place while you were gone?”
“Not really,” he says matter of factly. “This was taken from me. I was bitter. I didn’t want to watch other people do what I couldn’t.”
She nods, knowingly, having been in the same place as Ted, not that many years before. Back when the machinations of Eric Dane and Dan Ryan ran her out of DEFIANCE; back when her family was broken the first time. History has a funny way of repeating itself, when a person least expects it, and for nearly a year now Lindsay Troy has been privately mourning the public destruction of her friendship and familial ties from Dan Ryan.
“This isn’t a conversation I want to have in the parking lot, Teddy,” Lindsay says. “And it’s not really going to be a quick retelling.”
“Fair enough. Whenever you’re ready.”
“Maybe after we meet up with the guys.” She steps forward and loops her arm through his. “Or tomorrow, depending on what time we get back to the house.”
“I can’t wait to hear this story.”
The pair start walking again, and Teddy fishes the rental’s keys out of his jeans pocket. A couple cars away, a pair of tail lights flash on a dark blue Ford Expedition, and another press of a button pops the trunk of the SUV.
Teddy throws his bag in first, then holds his hand out for Lindsay’s. “Want to get something to eat?”
“Yeah, I think there’s a sports bar across the complex that’s still open,” she says, and grabs her phone. “Let me just check…”
As Lindsay’s eyes flick down to her device, a figure emerges from a nearby sedan and softly shuts the passenger door. Pink and black tennis shoes hurry across the lot, making their way toward the Grapplers.
“It’s open until 2,” Lindsay says with a smile, “we’ve got time.”
Her eyes fly open in shock; the smile wiped away in an instant. The phone nearly tumbles from her hands, but she manages to bat it between her palms and eventually maintains a hold on it. Lindsay turns to her right, stunned.
It’s been nearly a year…
An hour later…
The normal 214 activity for post-show happenings includes posting up at a nearby bar, grabbing some food and throwing back a few beverages, while enjoying the camaraderie that being in a group of likeable people brings.
Tonight is a different story. Both Ray and Barbie-Q were needed back in St. Louis, so they hopped a chartered ride back to Phoenix Sky Harbor airport immediately following the show. Conor had a couple things to take care of at the arena as well, and said he would meet up with the group wherever they ended up.
With Cecilia Ryan making an unexpected appearance, Lindsay’s plans took a detour. Instead of grabbing a bite to eat with Teddy and waiting for Zeb and Conor to arrive, she and her niece returned to the 214’s Glendale rental to talk. Teddy went back to the house with them, even though Lindsay insisted he didn’t need to miss out on a night with the guys, but he could tell she was shaken up at Cecilia’s arrival and said he didn’t mind a night in.
With Teddy having retreated upstairs, Lindsay walks over to the navy sectional, a glass of water in her hand. Cecilia sits cross-legged against a middle cushion, a throw pillow clutched against her stomach, her blonde hair pulled back in a loose ponytail.
“Here,” Lindsay says, holding out the glass and taking a seat next to her.
Cecilia takes a sip and smiles. “Thanks. I’m glad I was able to catch you.”
Lindsay rests her elbow against the top of the couch, letting her head fall into her palm. “Ceese, what are you doing here? It’s…” she trails off, her stomach somersaulting inside her and the taste of bile rising up into her throat. “What’s going on?”
“Mom’s in Phoenix for a conference and took me with her.” Dan Ryan’s daughter grips the glass tighter and casts her chocolate brown eyes down into the clear liquid. “I know I haven’t been in touch; I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”
A heavy silence settles between aunt and niece. The last time Lindsay had any contact with Cecilia was in the form of a picture left for her in her locker room; one of the two of them, on the shores of Tampa, but with Lindsay’s visage violently mutilated and the word “TRAITOR” scrawled over it in blood red letters.
Just one of many questions Lindsay had for Dan Ryan.
One of many reasons why their family is shredded in two, once again.
“Mom signed me up for a semester abroad in the fall; she said she’d give everyone my information,” Cecilia continues, the sadness in her voice becoming more apparent. “But then nobody contacted me. I thought everyone forgot, so I threw myself in my studies and activities. I had no idea what was going on back here, and Mom didn’t tell me either. When I got back home, she made sure to keep me away from Dad. Said something’s not right, it’s not safe to be around him.”
Lindsay nods. “Your mother’s right, Cecilia.”
“She also said you two aren’t talking.”
Another silence settles between them for a time. Lindsay looks down at the couch, purses her lips, sending the bile back down once again.
“That’s also right.”
“I just…” Tears begin to leak from the 17 year old’s eyes, and Cecilia wipes them away with the back of her hand. “I don’t know what happened. I don’t know why you and Mom aren’t talking, or why I can’t see Dad. I just know that something’s wrong. And I’m sorry. And I missed you. And I miss Ami and Kaz and I don’t know how to make any of this right…”
“Hey….hey…come here,” Lindsay scoots over next to her niece and puts her arms around her. Cecilia’s tears turn into sobs as the Queen holds her close.
“None of this is your fault, okay?” A hand rubs the teenager’s back, trying to offer comfort where she hasn’t been able to find any of her own where this situation is concerned. “None of it. I’m not mad at you….” A couple tears fall from Lindsay’s eyes; she doesn’t bother to wipe them away. “I could never be mad at you. But this is bigger than you, Cecilia, and you have to trust that it’s all going to work out in the end, okay? Even if it doesn’t seem that way right now.”
“We’ve been through this before, remember?” Lindsay squeezes Cecilia, and the teen wraps her arms around her neck, water glass and all. “We’re going to come out the other side.”
The two stay locked in a hug that’s nine months overdue, In the driveway, through the window slats, Alaina Ryan watches her daughter and her sister from her rental car, tears creating silent rivers down her own cheeks.
April 29, 2021
Las Vegas, NV
The 214 AirBnB
While many tourists and citizens of Sin City might be more accustomed to falling asleep when the sun comes up, the Queen of the Ring has always been an early bird. Almost always up at first light, she’s made it a habit of being able to function on only a few hours sleep and a strong pot of coffee.
Today is no exception.
She sits at the pristine kitchen island of the 214’s Vegas landing pad, the countertop’s grey marble complementing the gloomy view outside. Ominous clouds roll across the sky, the threat of thundershowers lingering, and Lindsay hopes if the sky does open up that the power and wifi remain on.
Her tape review of Jace Parker Davidson depends on it.
She takes a long sip of coffee and watches her tablet intently, the HOTv app streaming War Games 2016 from the Roman Coliseum. The infamous HOW vs. 4CW clash, and a point of contention in the current conflict between Ray McAvay and Jace Parker Davidson. Lindsay holds her iPhone in her hand, thumbs flying over the touchscreen and making notes as she watches the footage.
Joe Hoffman: Scottywood with the cover but he’s pulled back towards the ring by David Black. Black with a handful of Scotty’s hair as he’s literally dragging the Hall of Famer into the ring…
Benny Newell: Penny for your thoughts: how much do you think one of Woodson’s unwashed dreads goes for on eBay? Fifty cents?
Joe Hoffman: I don’t know, Benny.
Benny Newell: Twenty-five?
Joe Hoffman: Why do you even…whoa look out!
A blur rushes right by the Hall of Fame announce team, jumps to the top turnbuckle and flies out of the ring and towards Lee Best. Lee’s head smashes into the sand and dirt, which quickly begins to turn crimson from the GOD of HOW’s blood. A cover is made…
Joe Hoffman: LEE BEST HAS BEEN ELIMINATED!
The HOV comes to life as we see a replay of the move that just eliminated the Creator: a running top rope curb stomp from none other than Jace Parker Davidson.
Joe Hoffman: A nearly blind JPD with a Bow to the King on the Creator of HOW, AND NOW OUR NEW ICON CHAMPION!
Benny Newell: What the Royal Fuck.
“What the royal fuck indeed,” Lindsay mutters, pausing the stream to type a long thought into the phone, not wanting Joe’s and Benny’s banter to break her train of thought.
An obnoxiously long and protracted yawn, however, does exactly that.
Lindsay looks over her shoulder and smiles at the emerging Ray McAvay, wearing a plain black polo shirt and a pair of knee length shorts. He’s glancing down at his phone.
“Hey there,” she says with a smile. “Coffee’s on if you want some.”
“Thanks.” Ray helps himself to some early morning java.
“Get in alright last night?”
McAvay takes a drink of coffee. “Yeah. I’m getting way too used to traveling like this.”
“And I was getting used to not after years of doing it, but alas…” Lindsay pulls the chair next to her away from the island. “Are you awake enough for me to pick your brain?”
Ray nods. “Sure. JPD?”
Lindsay nods. “The man himself.”
McAvay slides into the chair next to Lindsay and stares at her iPad, frozen on the King of Everything standing over a prone Lee Best in the dirt of the Roman Coliseum.
“You’ve faced him, I don’t know how many times, Ray, this War Games match notwithstanding. And I can watch all the tape in the world on him but getting a first hand account of how he thinks and moves in between the ropes is invaluable.”
“Okay. In the ring, Jace is a predator. That’s the best way to describe him. When he was at his best, he was damn well unbeatable.” McAvay sips again from his coffee cup. “He really does deserve to be in the Hall of Fame if you ask me. He’s that good. He’s…” He pauses and then finishes. “…well, you’ve been in the ring one on one against Mike Best, right? Well, JPD is going to be the same type of challenge.”
Lindsay chuckles, softly, and looks down at the counter as she does. “I have, twice, but those matches weren’t exactly on the up-and-up, Ray. Mike and I went hard at each other at ICONIC but it was all part of the deception before the Group of Death reveal. Same with our rematch during the Lee Best Invitational when I ate a chairshot and took a DQ win. But I’ve trained with Mike enough during the GoD days to know how he moves and how he thinks…so if you’re saying that JPD is cut from the same cloth? Then I think I’ve got a pretty good grasp on what I may be in for.”
“The biggest difference that I can see between JPD and Mike is this: JPD is more ‘clinical’ in the ring. He’s cold-blooded, he’s ruthless, and he knows exactly what he wants to do when he’s in the ring. So, you better have a good plan going in.” McAvay hears a ping and checks his phone.
“I think working his neck and reaggravating that career-threatening injury of his sounds like a good plan, don’t you?”
“Sure. He’ll do the same thing to you in a heartbeat. Fight fire with fire with him.”
Lindsay nods. “Give them no quarter. It’s time we start turning the tide in our favor. Dealing a blow to Jace’s ego is a surefire way to do it. Turning the BA away in the LSD title match and in the main event for the second week in a row is another.”
McAvay wryly grins. “Well, I’ll certainly try to do my part.”
“Do or do not, there is no try.” Lindsay smirks. “I’ve got a boatload of confidence in you, Ray. So does everyone else. This week, we’re really gonna put the BA in a panic.”