“Come gather ’round people, wherever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
And you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'”
– Bob Dylan
She smiled at him, and he couldn’t help the small grin tugging at the corners of his mouth.
Alaina Troy sat in a beach lounger, bikini on her thin frame, sunglasses over her eyes, and a light blue wicker hat to help block out the sun.
A much younger Dan Ryan that High Octane Wrestling isn’t used to seeing sat next to her, lean and relaxed, many fewer lines on his face. He was fresh off his first retirement, circa 2003.
She looked back out at the Gulf of Mexico, the waves lapping at the sand in front of her, threatening to reach her sandaled feet, but retreating each time before coming close enough.
“You know, it’s hot as hell down here, but I do like the beaches.”
He didn’t respond. He was relieved to be done with all of it, content, more so than he’d been in some time. Happy, finally, and ready to start the next stage of his life. Only one thing remained.
“We need to take care of the paperwork, Alaina.”
She sighed, shaking her head.
“A prenup, Dan? Is it really necessary? It just seems so impersonal.”
He looked away, briefly, and watched as a seagull flew overhead and then dove near a group of children, who were breaking off pieces of bread and throwing them on the beach. In turn, birds flew around and dove down for the morsels, and the kids squealed with delight. He watched for just a moment, then turned back.
“We need to lay out how everything will work in case anything should ever go wrong. I know it’s not the most romantic thing in the world, but you’re an attorney, you know it’s the smart thing to do.”
“Yeah,” she said, wiping a bit of sand from her leg. “I suppose.”
Dan reached under his own chair and into a duffle bag, producing a large, thick manila envelope. Flipping it open, he pulled out a stack of paperwork, stapled in one corner, and with three plastic tabs marking signature lines here and there.
“You wanna read through all of this? I mean, it’s just the standard stuff. You leave the marriage with what you came into it with, the same for me. You’re not gonna stop working, so you keep yours, I keep mine. Pretty simple, really.”
She looked at him and smiled again. He smiled back and raised an eyebrow. She chuckled.
“I trust you.”
He nodded, handing it over. She pulled off the pen attached to the top of the packet and started signing at the appropriate spots, flipping through to each successive spot and putting her signature on the line.
“Besides,” she smiled. “I was in a hospital almost dead six months ago. I don’t really have that much to lose.”
His smile faltered, but only slightly, and not enough for her to notice. “Things change.”
This got her attention, and she frowned slightly.
His smile returned.
“A joke. A bad one, apparently.”
Alaina shook her head and turned, eyes back to the surf, and relaxed.
Dan Ryan stood in a storage locker. This was Texas, but the Public Storage on FM 1463 was climate controlled, and it was a cool seventy-two degrees inside. In front of him was a large gun safe, some fifty-five inches tall and twenty-four inches wide. The word “Armorguard” was written across the front in a stylized semi-calligraphy pattern, and a digital keypad was center-set just above a three-pronged wheel.
He looked at the pad and quickly punched in five digits, then spun the wheel until he heard the trademark clunk of the latch. With a pull, the door swung open. The insides had been hollowed out save for a plastic box, just big enough to fit front to back and left to right, and inside were file separators, each section filled to the point of ripping.
Dan knelt there and leaned in, thumbing through until he rested on the one he was looking for, a tab marked “legal”.
He hastily opened it, and pulled from inside a large manila file folder, looking more than a little worse for wear. He opened it and pulled out a large semi-gloss photo of Alaina Troy- Ryan, then another photo taken of documents. At the top of the page the words “securities and investments” could be seen, and behind it, a stack of paperwork with a thick paper clip holding it together where a corner staple was struggling to complete the task. Across the top in bold block letters, the words “Prenuptial Agreement”.
“Hey… uh…. Dan… umm…. ”
His head snapped around, and he looked up at a smallish lady in her mid-to-late 40s, sandy blonde hair, petite build, and deep blue eyes standing in the wide-open doorway.
He forced a smile.
Standing, he put himself between the gun safe and the woman and took several steps in her direction.
“What a nice surprise.”
She looked up at him as he approached, but her eyes fell to the manila folder now lying haphazardly on the floor of the unit.
“Well, I got a notification on my phone that someone was here in the unit, and when I called, the front desk told me you’d come in, so I uh… Since I’m home alone for the week, I thought I’d come and say….. Umm… say hi. Uh… what is all this, Dan?”
The vacant smile remained, and he looked back, seeing the items on the floor; as he did so, his face tightened into an irritated scowl out of her view. He closed his eyes briefly, then whipped his head back around to look at her, by which time the smile had returned.
“Oh this? Just some family documents I need.”
She had started forward, and he stepped aside, letting her pass, and she kneeled down, looking at the opened folder herself. She saw the picture of Alaina on top, then flipped through the next couple pages, before stopping on another about four pages in. She stopped then, and her heart went cold.
“This is… this… oh my God….”
She heard his voice behind her, and she jumped, almost tumbling into a seated position, and as she looked at him, she realized his hand was on the pull-string for the storage unit’s sliding metal door.
He smiled again, this time more deeply.
“You say you’re home alone this week?”
She stared. She tried to talk, tried to scream, but her head shook involuntary in fright, and she desperately shuffled back away from him, up against the cold hard steel of the safe.
Dan tilted his head to the side slightly.
“That’s what I thought I heard you say.”
And with a powerful tug on the string, he pulled it down…
…and slammed it shut.
You might not think things change.
But they do.
Whether you like it or not, understand it or not, even recognize it or not.
And it isn’t up to you or me to guide it along in any foreseeable way. We can’t even guide ourselves, Conor. We don’t, ultimately, even understand ourselves when it comes right down to it.
You haven’t been listening.
I don’t know that I expected anything more. I rarely get what I’m expecting in the end anyway, so what is the point of any of it?
What do you think your preparation will get you, Mr. Fuse?
Am I summed up in your manual, understood simply by way of reading words on a page, or video on a screen? Does this preparation of yours have any depth to it, or are you, as I suspect, traveling the same well-worn road as everyone else?
Oh yes — Dan Ryan. We know you. We’ve seen the tape. We’ve heard your words. We’ve talked to people.
Yes, put it in terms that anyone can understand. But, worse yet, fool yourself into an imagined understanding, my friend. The truth is, there is no choice, multiple or otherwise.
Cancer Jiles prepared, didn’t he?
Cayle Murray prepared.
They all prepared.
Jiles still took an elbow to the face.
Cayle took one in ten seconds.
Andy didn’t even make it to the ring.
I didn’t necessarily plan on finding Andy Murray alone in that suite.
I didn’t know if Cayle Murray would go down in one shot.
Did not plan for Cancer Jiles to fall in that specific way.
All the best-laid plans go to the wayside in the heat of battle when instinct takes over. But I’m confident in my best shot. Are you confident in yours?
What happens in the game when someone doesn’t follow the rules set forth in the manual, Conor. What then?
I’d like to do this slowly, to let us both savor this, but we simply do not have the time. It’s a pity. I’d like us to talk a little more about your belief that you are the first man to play the wheel of frivolity and present to the world a facade of ineptitude while hiding a cunning skill ready to pounce just as soon as the bell rings. How foolish we all are, eh Conor? Simpletons. They fall for it every time.
I’m that dumb.
I haven’t prepared for you. I think you are a literal man-child who plays retro video games and eats the grilled cheese sandwiches that his mother prepares upstairs. That’s what I think. I’m an idiot. I’m gullible. I got here by accident. I have no idea what I’m getting myself into. I mean obviously, the surface level shit is so fucking convincing. How could I possibly hope to ever slip through this clever ruse and find the real man underneath?
Where is that man, after all? I know it’s bubbling just underneath the skin, waiting to burst through and consume everything around you. The masked henchman and funny little sideman are a nice diversion for now, but how long before we get to see the real you? What’s the long game here? Do we have to wait weeks, months? How about we bring up the calendar and you point to the show where you finally let us know who you really fucking are, instead of you dropping hints the way Jatt Starr drops names?
Pro-tip for you — if you’re coming in here with this video game bullshit, and you’re planning on building up to the big reveal where deep down inside you’re actually a complicated human being having emotional problems but a savant-like ability in the ring, maybe you shouldn’t talk about it so fucking much. Kinda takes away from the surprise when it actually happens, don’t you think?
Oh, look, said everyone in the future, Conor Fuse stopped talking about video games so much. He is now being violent and edgy and wears his newly dyed black hair combed over to the other side like emo Spiderman.
Don’t tell me I don’t know a thing about you like you’re singing me a B-Side from a 2003 Fall Out Boy CD. I’m not to be patronized, kid. That’s not who I am, and I won’t pretend to be impressed by any of it.
But take you seriously?
Are you new?
Where is your evidence that I take anything less than completely seriously? Am I some standup comedian out here to entertain you, to pop some fans, and sell some merch?
Opinions don’t matter, chief. Respect is an illusion. All that matters is what you can or can’t do.
All that matters…. is what you can do…. or can’t do.
I don’t really care to know your story, to be honest. You’re gonna tell us all anyway, of that I have no doubt. And it will be super interesting and super deep and super cool — but right now, all that matters to me is that you want what I’ve got. All that matters to me is that if I swing my elbow and it connects with your head, this match is over.
What you see is what you get with me, Conor.
You like to play games. I don’t.
I don’t play games, and I have no interest in making you think I’m anything other than what I am. I am dangerous, and if you doubt that, you’re a complete fool, and you’ve beaten yourself before you’ve even started your walk to the ring.
So it doesn’t really matter to me if you drop the facade or keep it, because everyone bleeds the same. If I hit you hard enough, you’ll bleed. If I strike in a certain place, your lights will go out. If I twist hard enough, your bones will break.
Ain’t that entertaining enough for the people, Conor? Does that not meet your high standards for your cosplay life? Is it not interesting enough for the group home circle when we all talk about our feelings if I just tell them that my heart and soul is currently swirling down into an abyss and I can’t control the violence coming out of me anymore, or worse, that I don’t want to? Not good enough for you, buddy? Maybe before I finish up this little blog that I’m clacking away at on my keyboard, I’ll do a find and replace, turn to my handy dandy list of video game synonyms and plug ‘em in. Instead of just embracing who I am, finally, I’ll step back and pay heed to this newly single tag team wrestler who has all the fucking answers and has so much intriguing fucking mystery swirling around him that everyone just can’t wait to see the real Conor Fuse.
I know you’re trying to be all lighthearted with a touch of an edge underneath that gets unleashed in the ring, like a friendly little lion that smiles and then rips his prey to shreds, but I’m here to rip you to shreds without the smile, without the pretense. I’m here to devour you and put an end to this story before it even gets off the ground.
You think this is a joke?
It’s no joke. My attitude absolutely will not be changing, and that’s a big fucking problem for you because my attitude might get you killed.
If you’re as fucked up as I am, Conor, you might stand a chance in hell of surviving this. But I have no time for a man working his way through his surface neuroses today. I’d just as soon have you man up and just fight. Just fight. Throw hands, Conor Fuse. Throw em and see where they land.
Your manual is useless.
Things have changed, my friend.
I feel sorry for you.
You’re walking into something you don’t understand.