If Eric Dane could call anybody in the business an actual friend it’d be Angus Skaaland. Angus, having trained to wrestle under the tutelage of The Only Star, never made it inside the ring. He was too small, kind of spindly, and had two left feet. Real talk the dude had all the heart and none of the physical acumen that it took to get it done between the ropes. If you were to ask him, Angus’d tell you that he’s perfectly okay with having not made it, because ‘seriously, what kind of idiot wants to get dropped on his head for a living?’
He had the passion, though, once you managed to break down that great big wall that he’d built up around himself to keep failures from bothering him. Eric saw it immediately, hell the whole reason that Dane didn’t shitcan Angus out of his training class was because he could see something there. While Angus might not have had it in the ring, he certainly had it for the myriad of jobs that went on behind the scenes to make the wrestling business viable.
Once everybody agreed that Angus wasn’t gonna wrestle, Eric brought him on the road anyway. He made for a pretty good lackey, carrying bags, driving, making reservations and what-have-you. Angus might actually be the last member of the last generation of guys who learned the business by listening to guys talk about it in car trips criss-crossing the continent.
That was a long time ago, though.
In 2009 Angus was in on the ground floor of Eric Dane’s burgeoning promotion, DEFIANCE Wrestling. He was the voice of the faithful as Color Commentator as well as the executive producer of the whole show. The man knew his wrestling and he knew how to run a show, even from the commentation station. Another thing that he’d turned out to be exceptionally good at was training wrestlers. Having been the founder of the BRAZEN Dojo at the DEFplex he’d churned out quite a few main roster mainstays as well as several independent journeyman types.
It was with that in mind that Angus had quietly put together the assets that would eventually become the Crescent City Fight Club. The CCFC, as it had come to be known, took up the entire oversized bottom floor of a fairly large renovated building right slap in the middle of the New Orleans’ Warehouse District. You might recognize the building as the same place that Eric Dane now called home, staying in a modest apartment above the gym.
That’s right, modest.
Yes, it flew in the face of everything that The Only Star had ever projected to the public, but he’d also made a string of bad decisions over the past quarter-century that’d led him to a place where at nearly forty-nine years of age he was having to learn to live within his means. Let’s be real, that $24,000 contract didn’t go very far, and to be perfectly honest the first, second, and last provision of Dane’s residence in the building that Angus owned was that he left every bit of his ignorant bullshit at the door. That is to say that there absolutely was a clause in the rental agreement stating that Dane could lose his place with no legal recourse should Angus ever decide to throw him out on his ass.
Not that he would, but, well, you know.
Sharing a residence on the second floor of the building in other small, affordable apartments were a couple of the school’s trainees. Most notable of the bunch being Graysie Parker, formerly Lindsay Troy’s star pupil-turned-Eric Dane’s latest experiment, and Ryan McKinney, the last trainee that Angus had a hand in at BRAZEN before Mikey Unlikely won the top belt and Skaaland quit in a fit of abject disgust. McKinney was loyal to Angus, as were a few others, and together the lot of them had become the base of the first class at the CCFC. McKinney was a solid looking wrestler, If you were given to reading the wrestling prospectus, he certainly was never gonna be a Mike Trout, but he wasn’t going to be a bust either. Angus had intoned about the kid’s work ethic and potential.
Above them, taking up the entirety of what amounted to the penthouse, Angus lives with his husband, former wrestler and current trainer, Richie P. Gardulo. Better known in wrestling circles as Rich Mahogany, he’s not above doing a circuit on the indies every now and again but he’d mostly wound down his in-ring career and had since switched his focus to churning out the best possible wrestlers for the next generation. Rich, another Dane trainee (and likely the most prominently known) had originally found his passion for the business as part of a tag team, but those days were in the past, his partner having fallen off the face of the earth a long time ago.
So anyway, it was mid-morning and the gym was about half full. Ryan McKinney was running through the free-weights like a drunk driver through a red light into a busy intersection. Apparently it was chest and arms day, or leg and back, or… Ryan is a machine, every day is everything day. Inside of the building’s one full-sized ring Graysie Parker was running a few newbies through beginner drills, mostly drop-downs and pushups and the like. Serious calisthenics, the kind designed to run off the dreamers and the weak-willed types before they wasted a bunch of time and money training for a career that they’d never have.
Honestly it was kind of weird that Angus himself had made it through that part, but whatever that’s how it happened you can’t tell anybody any different because you weren’t there. All of that was lost on him, though, as he strolled through the gym alongside his long time friend, former mentor, and current tenant, Eric Dane.
“Scott Stevens, huh?” Angus chuckled. “Tough break, am I right?”
The Only Star wasn’t in the mood.
“I don’t wanna talk about it,” Eric replied.
Angus chuckled again.
“Yeah, you’re gonna get your entire shit kicked in.”
Eric stopped in his tracks. “Seriously, dude?”
“I just calls ‘em the way I sees ‘em.”
“I fuckin’ hate you.”
“No,” Angus chided. “You don’t. You love me with all of whatever’s left of your shriveled up black little heart, and you know I only kid because I love. Besides, the GoD is gonna fuckin’ trample you, and you know it. So, figure I better get my shots in now before you’re in traction for the next eighteen months!”
Angus winked. Eric seethed.
I know all about what this is all about, you know.
Just in case you think I’m too high strung, or too caught up in my own bullshit.
The Eric Dane spark of defiance has to be stamped out, an’ all’a that. And I get it, I get it, I swear to fuckin’ Christ I get it. Lee Best is GOD, and the rest of us peons need to just learn to bend the knee and be done with it. You’d think I’d have figured that out last year when I was trying that whole Best Alliance bullshit on for size. Believe me, I shan’t be making that mistake again.
But here I stand.
Errand Boy to GOD.
Whatever. It’s a paycheck. And as I’ve made perfectly clear until I’m blue in the face, I don’t currently have a choice in the matter. The defiant asshole in me likes to kick and buck and make a big show about how Eric Dane doesn’t take orders from nobody, nowhere, no how; but that schtick’s getting a little porous and nobody with a half a brain is gonna be fooled by it for long anyway.
And let’s not be coy here, my opponents this week are anything but stupid.
Look at Mike Best. He’s the heavyweight coke-fiend of the world.
Suppose I shouldn’t throw stones, glass house and all.
What I meant to call him was champion. Heavyweight Champion. Of the World. Which I’m sure he’ll want to pontificate on at length. And that’s fine, he’s earned it, you know, by not pinning the champ. GODDAMMIT, it’s like I just can’t stop. Anyway, all bullshit aside Mikey Lee ain’t no fuckin’ joke in the ring, and don’t I know it. He won’t admit it because it doesn’t fit his narrative, but he’s whipped my ass before, and recently. In the back of some shitty bar or wherever the fuck that Twenty Dollars of Doom tournament was supposed to have taken place.
And he didn’t just beat me, either.
He whipped my ass but good.
Good on him, too. And don’t let that “I grew up idolizing Dan Ryan” bullshit get you twisted, that shit’s fake news. Mike Best grew up jerking it to The Only Star, he’s been called Eric Dane-lite for as long as he can remember, and the biggest goddamned thing on his bucket list over the past decade was to beat my fuckin’ ass in HOW under the bright lights at a Pay-Per-View. Don’t believe me? Hang on, I probably have the tweet somewhere… or a text. Or… Fuck, I dunno, trust me it’s a thing.
Low key he’s pissed off his big blowoff match went down in front of nine people. Truth told he’s probably not all that happy that we’re doing it for the first time in HOW in some bullshit tag match designed for him to do his Daddy’s bidding and teach myself and Scott Stevens some respect. You know, he hates doing Lee’s dirty work as much as anybody else.
That is, until the ends justify the means.
Don’t go holding your breath, though, waiting for me to post a few screenshots on twitter or some bullshit just to prove my point. That kind of shit is for asssholes and pussies, the kind of pieces of shit that’d call the cops on you if you slapped them for being a bitch instead of following you out to the parking lot to throw hands. You know what I mean?
I’d say Lee knows, but you never do know what that guy pays attention to at any given time. I know he’s payin’ attention to me right now, though. Signed me to this bullshit 90-day probationary contract, put me on a leash and tied it to The Minister a week after having The Minister and his fuckboys throw me a beating…
Teaming me up with Scott Stevens against Mike and Dan.
Yeah, Lee’s payin’ attention to li’l ol’ me.
I’ll be honest, I wish he’d fuckin’ stop.
It’s probably too late for that. One too many snide remarks on TV. One too many hostile texts. One too many times I’ve done any of a trillion things that I know are on the Walking on Eggshells around Lee checklist.
Popeye once famously said:
I yams what I yams, and that’s all that I yams.”
Fuck knows what that means in the King’s English, but it probably applies.
Now, let’s not forget Dan Ryan.
The Ego fuckin’ Buster.
And what bigger ego to bust than mine? We can all agree on that, right?
Yeah, I know all about Dan Ryan. There’s a fucking reason why I brought him here in the first place. The guy’s a monster, a machine… he’s a fuckin’ psychopath. I was goddamn there when he broke Lindsay Troy’s neck. I saw it. First hand. And that shit wasn’t all that long ago, either. He’s a stone cold killer and that’s exactly why I brought him to High Octane to watch my back.
It’s also one-hundred percent of the reason why I’ve never faced the guy.
If there’s ever been a guy in this business that I’m legitimately scared of, it’s Dan Ryan. While I was doing my thing on my side of the wrestling world all those years ago when my name meant something, Dan Ryan was holding the top four recognized World Titles in his neck of the woods hostage, terrorizing anybody and everybody that even thought about challenging him. At the same fuckin’ time. Easily. The dude has crushed it everywhere he’s ever been, ever.
He’s put more people on the shelf than most people have shelves.
That he’s not already won the World Title here is an anomaly. One that I’m more than sure he’s only biding his time to unwrite. I don’t give a fuck what Mike Best thinks he knows about Dan Ryan, Dan Ryan is about Dan fucking Ryan and everything else is just a means to an end. Sure, he’s probably gonna maim Andy Murray and take that ICON Championship, but sooner than later he’s gonna see his chance and I can guaran-the-fuck-tee you that Dan Ryan ain’t gonna sacrifice the shit off of his boot when it comes time to make his move.
Cecilworth Farthington, he is not.
I’ll tell you what he is though, he’s legit scary as fuck. And that’s before he gets mad, and right now I’m pretty sure he’s got six or seven screws loose. I dunno why, maybe because Jiles kicked out of the Headliner. Or maybe because I shit-canned his sissy-in-law before he had the chance to.
Fuck, maybe he’s just got a Texas-sized stick up his ass.
Either which way, I don’t want any part of that.
And yeah, I know good and well how much that means I’m gonna get a whole fuckin’ lot of it come Refueled. Truth be told I’m probably gonna play the role of Andy Murray pallete-swap once the bell rings and end up with one less leg or two less arms or six concussions before it’s all over.
The only problem with that, however, is that I tend to be a bit hard headed.
I like to throw wrenches into carefully laid plans.
It’s in my nature.
I know exactly what needs to be done.
Best believe I’m gonna do it.
I’m gonna go out there and take my beating like a man. Lee Best wants to put me and Scott Stevens together as a team against the World Champ and the Hammer of GoD? Cool. Sign me right the fuck up. Sign up Stevens too, he doesn’t know it yet but I’m about to carry him to the best match of his goddamned life! You know, that or I’m gonna toss that son-of-a-bitch to the biggest baddest wolves there are just before I high tail it right the fuck outta there…
Nah, that’d be too easy.
And it’d be just what they all expect.
Fuck the bullshit.
I’mma go out there, and I’m gonna fuckin’ win.
That, or I’ll get the shit beaten out of me.
You know, whichever is Best for business.
“The fuck does that even stand for, Gee-oh-Dee?” Angus asked. “Grapplers of Doom? Generic Old Dudes? Godawful Obsessive Dumbfucks?”
Eric rolled his eyes.
“Group of Death. It’s an LBI thing.”
Angus made a face.
“The fuck is an LBI?”
“You really don’t pay attention, do you?”
“Nope,” Angus smirked. “Not unless I’m getting paid.”
Eric rolled his eyes. Again.
“Hey!” Graysie Parker shouted from the ring. “Fuckhead!”
She had her newbs doing flat back bumps on the mat, back and forth, one after the other, over and over. The idea was to either break them down far enough that they could be rebuilt into a passable wrestler, or make them puke until they quit. Just wait until she gets to the hindu squats.
Angus chuckled again as he and Eric made their way toward the ring. “I think she’s warming back up to ya, what do you think?”
Graysie had only just started speaking to him again last week. Remember that bit about her having been Lindsay Troy’s star pupil? Yeah, put that shit into perspective. Throw in the fact that her career had hit the skids since Eric Dane, her manager, had quit her last gig for the both of them. It had been a pretty decent gig, too, they were grooming her to move upward quickly.
“I think she’s startin’ to be more trouble than she’s goddamned worth.”
“Yeah?” Angus teased. “You wanna get in there and tell her that?”
As the two former business partners made their way to ringside, Graysie yelled at him again.
“I said, hey, Fuckhead!”
“Yeah, yeah, I heard ya.”
The Only Star’s nerves were frazzled and it was starting to show. Graysie, for her part, didn’t give a shit how he felt about anything she’s got to say to him, and as far as she was concerned he ought to be real happy she hadn’t ditched his sorry ass as her manager and split back to Tampa. Those weren’t her words, exactly, as Graysie is a lady and outside of calling Dane Fuckhead she doesn’t tend to swear that often.
“What do you want?”
“I’m bored,” she said. “I left Tampa because I was tired of the dojo life.”
“So what’re you doing about it?”
“Everything I can, kid, and-”
She interrupts. “Don’t give me that kid crap! And don’t patronize me, either! You’re up in Chicago every weekend ACTUALLY WORKING while I’m down here at home DRILLING KIDS and going out of my mind trying to find something to do to remind me why I went on the road with you in the first place!”
Eric deflected, “I’ll try harder.”
“Do, or do not, Fuckhead. There is no try!”
“Ha!” Angus was beside himself, doing his best not to fall into a full blown laughing fit. “She just burned you with a YODA quote!”
Eric shook his head, huffed out his breath, turned and walked away. He was all the way dejected, knowing he’d fucked up with Graysie, and knowing that night when he took out her goddamned mentor that she wasn’t gonna wanna hear any of his bullshit. It had put a strain on their relationship. Not to mention her not working meant he wasn’t collecting the manager’s share of her contract. The whole thing had been a goddamned calamity…
Angus called after him as he made his way toward the exit. Eric waved him off. Angus turned to Graysie and once he got the laughter under control, tried to reason with her.
“Cut him some slack, would ya?” Angus pleaded for his friend. “He’s about to get maimed by a guy who he’s been friends with for ten years and a guy who actually falls into the frenemy category when he’s not being a total douche-wagon.”
“Serves him right,” she answered. “Looks like maybe for once Eric Dane is getting a little taste of what Eric Dane deserves.”
Angus shrugged, it was hard to argue that logic.
Eric, on the other hand, found himself out of breath and sucking wind halfway up the stairs that lead to the second floor. He took a seat on one of the steps and tried to catch his breath. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another. He knew deep down that Graysie may not ever forgive him for what he’d done to Lindsay that night…
The thought lingered with him.
June 28, 2020
The Parking Lot
It had been a hot night in Chicago
I’d lived through enough hot nights in my time, being a New Orleans native, and sitting there in that truck just outside of the Loading Docks at the Allstate Arena reminded me a lot of home. If only I’d caught a whiff of piss and poboys on the air or heard the sweet brass of any of a thousand homegrown ensembles…
I wasn’t sitting at home in New Orleans though, oh no.
I was in Chicago, and I had a job to do.
That’s what I kept telling myself on the drive up there.
That’s what I’d been telling myself for an hour, sitting there in the parking lot. It’s what I’d planned to tell anybody that asked, that I didn’t have a choice in the matter. I was given a job and an ultimatum, do the deed or fuck back off to whatever shitbox indy I’d been hiding in since I took my ball and went home last year. It would become my mantra, nobody was gonna believe me, but most of them wouldn’t have the balls to question me either.
It wasn’t my fault.
I was given no choice.
It had to be done.
My stomach soured and my mind raced. Maybe I was just forgetting exactly who in the fuck I was. My name was Eric Dane, and I didn’t have to do anything that anybody else told me to do! That’s it, I’d get myself all riled up and I’d do what I did best, turn around and walk away.
I was the guru of self-sabotage.
It occured to me that walking away may not have been something worth bragging about being the best at. I let that go, though, because right then if I cranked up that Escalade, threw it in drive, and got as far away from Chicago as I could I knew deep down in my soul that I’d save myself and my friends a lot of grief and a lot of physical pain.
What a fuckin’ joke, I had’t had any of those since I left them all high and dry at Rumble at the Rock last year. Her specifically, I know she took it personally, and why shouldn’t she? We were supposed to defend those HOW Tag Titles, we were gonna be big damn heroes and throw Darin Zion and Brian Hollywood over the side of a guard tower! Fucked that all up though, fucked it up good. Just like Team Danger.
Just like DEFIANCE.
Just like everything I’ve ever touched.
In his suicide note Kurt Cobain said that it’s better to burn out than to fade away. Kurt Cobain was full of shit. And lead. And not very much in the brains department. You know, unless somebody scooped ‘em up off the floor for him. I was rambling, talking to myself, starting to hyperventilate. The tell tale signs of an anxiety attack were starting to creep in and all I could think about was walking away.
My phone chirped, I picked it up. It was a text from him.
>What the fuck are you waiting for?
>Fucking do it. NOW!
God-fucking-dammit, it was fight or flight time.