I’m gonna feel that in the morning.
It was a thought that frequently crossed my mind as I navigated Times Square and the warzone it had become. Hot dogs were tossed like they were hand grenades, scaffolding climbed to gain the high ground, and a rogue police cruiser strolled the concrete jungle like a tank. Adrenaline coursed through my veins as I employed the five D’s of Dodgeball on Broadway. I was one with the moment, reveling in the joys of war I’d returned to fight in, surely impervious to the consequences of it.
Until the morning after, that is.
With the adrenaline long gone, I woke to what could easily be described as one of my least pleasant days in some time. The stitched gash on my left temple was the epicenter of a headache radiating in my skull, something reminiscent of a gnarly hangover, minus the dehydration. My torso and extremities were covered in welts, bruises and abrasions that were all but guaranteed entering into such an affair. My movements were restrained and stiff, accompanied with a hint of fear that one false move would likely send any one hurt into sensory overload. The best representation I can liken this pain I awoke to is asking oneself to imagine being forced to listen to nonsensical Jatt Starr ramblings for days on end with no piss breaks permitted.
Terrifying, I know.
But hey, at least I woke up in a bed. I heard search and rescue was up all night looking for Matthews’ body in Manhattan’s sewage. And to think, I was pissed off when Hollywood tossed hot dog water on me.
When you think you’ve got it bad, remember: someone’s always got it worse.
But I also woke up with a tidbit of knowledge that certainly would cure what ails me.
I was looking in the mirror at the new number one contender to the LSD Championship. I did exactly what I told everyone I would do. I re-established my place within this company. I didn’t ask for it to be handed to me. I proved my worth and I fuckin’ won. The official countdown of Jatt’s days remaining as a dual Champion in the land of High Octane has officially begun. The pride accompanying my marquee victory made every booboo listed seem inconsequential.
My day was primed to be a fuckin’ great, albeit gingerly approached, one.
That is, until I read the High Octane press release…
Refueled LVI. Teddy Palmer versus John Sektor.
Hmm. They spelt Jatt Starr wrong. Oh. I see.
I had opened the link on my phone excited to read about my Golden related news, but was quite surprised to see it was of the Standard variety. Then again, I can’t truthfully claim I was that surprised. Given a second to digest the news, I don’t know why I’d expect anything else, really. One Best Alliance member fell in my victory, and the culprit of such an offense shall not go unpunished. So, instead of fighting for the right to call myself Champion, I’ve been tasked with battling an equally dangerous, yet more shrewd, member of the ever growing Alliance.
Lindsay’s trials and tribulations with Lee should have served as a cautionary tale of sorts.
I debated tossing my phone across the room, but my shoulder laughed at the prospect. Good thing, too, because the device vibrated in my hand, saving it from certain doom. ‘St. Paddy’s Bonfire, Spook Island. You in?’ the text from big brother Larry read, bringing a slight smirk to my face. I hadn’t seen Larry since before my surgery, and it’d been years since I’d visited the ‘spookiest’ of the twenty one islands in Rice Lake.
My body was drained and my mind had joined it in the preceding moments. If I took anything away from last year’s injury, it was that it’s imperative to recharge when I needed it. As I now prepare to traverse one of High Octane’s more menacing seasons, now’s the fuckin’ time to do it. Besides, Larry would provide excellent company, and Spook Island the familiar setting to do so.
Lee Best had just fired a not-so-quiet shot to begin the pending festivities. With a short turnaround of two weeks, the minutes were ticking away to the technical showdown I’d been signed up for with John Sektor. At face value, he’s been designated as another shield our oh-so-proud LSD Champion could safely hide behind. But digging deeper, it’s no secret I went winless during this season last year before being put out of my misery by the struggling MJ Flair. I was forced to watch from the sidelines as one of the year’s most anticipated events unfolded.
This year, the story will have a much different ending.
John Sektor isn’t just a hurdle to Jatt Starr. He’s my first hurdle enroute to War Games.
So jump, Teddy, jump. He’s one tall sonofabitch…
March 17th, 2021
Rice Lake, Ontario
Spook Island has been a private retreat of ours for over twenty years now. This unkempt isle is the only landmass floating on Rice Lake that has gone unclaimed, no resident or developer ever showing much of an interest in owning it. It might have to do with its relatively small size or its deteriorated beach. It most likely remains unwanted due to the fact that it’s haunted. Whatever the reason may be, it’s benefited us as it’s played host to many fuck fests over those two decades. Hell, if I play my cards right, this might be the chosen site for a Championship celebration that’ll put every birthday, holiday and run-of-the-mill kegger to shame.
Wait a second…Haunted?
Local legend speculates that in the early forties, a woman in a blue dress was found brutally murdered in the uninhabited woods of this then-unnamed island. With little evidence to work with and exhausting what few leads they had, police had no choice but to classify her murder a cold case. Her identity has never been discovered, and the circumstances surrounding her death have long been debated. Was it infact a murder? Did she commit suicide? Is it some bullshit story that was tossed into circulation by a bunch of shithead teenagers? Option three seems the likeliest, but who’s to say? Regardless, there’ve been numerous reported sightings of ’The Woman In The Blue Dress’ wandering the land, suffering in her own personal purgatory, crying out into the night.
Sitting on the dock with my legs hanging over the splintered wood edge, I kick my legs back and forth rhythmically, listening to the crackle of the fire and the boisterous laughter surrounding it some fifty yards behind me. The lake is still, resembling a sheet of polished glass that the moon reflects off, lighting up the shorelines stretching across cottage country. My eyes are locked on the waterfront lake house positioned directly to the right of the Otonabee River that connects to Rice Lake. It’s been in our family for fifty plus years, and Larry had recently inherited it when our grandmother passed away. I, on the other hand, inherited her ‘94 Ford Taurus.
I can’t help but think carving C-L-I beside the Taurus emblem had something to do with her lopsided will.
“There’s no place like home,” I mumble to myself, taking a drag from my cigarette.
Looking to my right, I run my fingers along the carved out grooves that have weathered over the years. ‘TP + ZM’ are captured within the slanted heart, the edges rough and jagged, a revealing hint of the youthful vandalism’s fate. Heavy footsteps approach from behind, causing the aged wooden planks to creak underneath the pressure, getting louder with each advancement. Glancing into the water below, the reflection of a broad shouldered, Tom Selleck look-alike fashioning a flashy slip-on dress peers over me.
John Sektor? Don’t get too excited. We’ll have to wait a bit longer for that payoff, I’m afraid.
My big brother Larry looks at the engraving on the dock, then places his hand on my shoulder for balance, becoming one with the struggle women undertake to look their finest and having sacrificed the simplest of movements to do so. After a few awkward seconds of shimmying and readjusting his shamrock green dress, he’s finally able to plant his ass on the heart beside me, throwing his legs over the edge.
“It would have been nice to know everyone was wearing dresses…” I sulk. “I look like a fuckin’ idiot.”
“It was implied in the invite.” Larry slides the dress down his thighs towards his hairy knees. “When have we ever passed up the opportunity to celebrate local lore?” he adds before finishing off the final gulp of his Steam Whistle pilsner.
“Yeah, well she wore a blue dress. It’s in her name, numb nuts…”
“It’s my St. Paddy’s day twist, so piss off.”
“How festive of you…” I flick the filter of my cigarette into the damp brush beside me. “You gonna scream into the night too?”
“Was thinking an Irish War Cry would be appropriate,” he quips.
It’s enough to crack a smile, but a relaxed silence soon falls between us as we take in the night’s noises. I look his way briefly, but the sight of my hulking police officer brother crammed in a dress will always be unnerving, so I decide to stare down at my dangling Timberlands instead. After a few moments, he decides to make things awkward by placing his hand on my right knee, letting out a deep exhale.
“I’m proud of you. You know that, right?” His sincerity is rare and welcome, but I could do without his gentle touch. He holds up his empty green beer can, tapping his index finger on its side before crushing it on the dock. “One year sober, your longest reign yet.”
“By a fuckin’ landslide.” I half joke, half brag. “Want to see my Medallion again?”
“I’ll throw that coin in the fuckin’ lake if you pull it out one more time.”
“…it’s a medallion…” I mutter.
“Whatever…” he begins, turning to face me. “I hope you know…I didn’t invite…”
“It’s all good brother.” I cut him off, halting his guilt-ridden voice. “I’m long over that shit.”
“Good,” he says, turning back to face the crowd gathered around the roaring fire. “Fuckin’ nervy of her to show up though.”
Looking behind me, I join him in staring down the beautiful brunette who broke my heart more than a decade prior. The owner of the Z and M residing within that heart, Zoey Marquet, glows in the light cast by the dancing flames. For years we were high school sweethearts, but she grew tired of my perceived immaturity and big dreams. She needed a man of action and, with no belief in my future, kicked me to the curb after moving onto an older, more distinguished man. It just so happens she stayed within the bloodline, latching onto my douchebag father.
That’s right, she upgraded her role in my life from girlfriend to stepmother within the span of a year. She also gave birth to our half brother Archie during that same period.
You know, we always talked about having a family together. Not quite the vision I had in mind, but whatcha gonna do?
“Water under the bridge.” I smile.
“Yeah? So you don’t want to gouge this out?” Larry asks, lifting his left ass cheek up, motioning below him while biting his bottom lip sensually.
“I think I’m good.” I slide to my left subtly, creating a bit more space between me and the inebriated freak. “Besides, I like to think it stands for Teddy Palmer plus Zeb Martin now.”
“Fair enough,” he nods as a shitty smirk slowly spreads underneath that moustache. “I like to think the ‘TP’ stands for Trevor Palmer…”
“Fuck you,” I spit out, unable to help laughing. “If she’s here, that dipshit can’t be too far behind. He hiding out at the lake house?”
“I didn’t give him a key.” Larry snickers. “But I hear him and Archie are on a father son trip.”
“Trying to get it right the third time I see.”
“Sure…” his smirk grows to its widest as he tosses his arm across my shoulders, pulling me closer. “Or maybe he’s trying to not make the same mistakes with his firstborn grandson…”
“Fuck you,” exits my lips again, this time with no accompanying laughter as I wiggle free from my brother’s dickish embrace. “That little shit ain’t mine.”
“I’m just saying, the timelines match up, Teddy boy. Archie might not be our brother after all,” he looks down his brow at me. “He might be my nephew. Dad’s grandson. Your sweet baby boy.”
He’s not wrong. I’ve often wondered about it myself. We do look an awful lot alike. Is it because we’re brothers? Or…
“Fuck you,” I state for the third time in under a minute, not wanting to dive down that rabbit hole again. “I came here for some relaxation and recovery, not to conduct a paternity investigation.” I state, half expecting Maury Povich to pop out from the bushes.
“Alright man. Let’s leave well enough alone,” he doesn’t dig any further, tossing his hands up. “We can change the subject…Papa Bear…”
My right fist connects with his shoulder, but not before he flexes as a means to brace for the blow. His infectious laughter bellows from the depths of his stomach, and I can’t help but join in. I unclench my fist and shake it out as he rubs the red patch of flesh.
“How are the ladies this time of year in Chicago?” he moves on, as promised. “Any sundresses braving the early spring days?”
“Actually,” my lone word perks his ears. “I’m kinda seeing someone.”
“Seeing?” Larry asks, baffled. “As in more than once?”
“Oh,” he nods, wagging his finger. “Seeing someone as in dialing up the same booty call on lonely weekends. I getcha.”
“Nah,” I shake my head. “Seeing someone as in…casually dating?” I state-slash-ask myself.
“Her words,” I shrug.
“Huh. No shit,” he nods. “Well good for you, man. About time you moved on from mother dearest over there. This casual partner have a name?”
“Lindsay…” I turn to him, a slight smile curling at the corner of my mouth. “…Troy.”
The last sound of her name barely leaves my mouth before Larry two hand shoves me, almost toppling me over the side of the dock. He begins to hoot and take his turn throwing stiff jabs into my shoulder.
“You slick son of a bitch! Got a lot more than your eight by ten glossy, huh?” he rustles the mane atop my head.
“I guess so.” I smile, not interested in delving into this topic much further, the details remaining quite scarce to myself in these early stages.
“Ahhhhh. I get it now,” he taps on his left temple. “That’s why you’re getting all mixed up with The Best Alliance.”
“Fuck no,” I dismiss his assumption. “She’s more than capable of handling her own business. Just ask Solex.”
“Okay man,” he says, slightly cocking his head as his forehead wrinkles with uncertainty. “I hope so. Big Byrd looked nasty in that cage, and even more savage at March to Glory.”
Not hard to come out looking like a savage after jumping someone who just went to Hell and back.
“She’ll be fine,” I reply, my tone indignant. “My issues with The Best Alliance are exactly that: my issues. I came back to finish writing my story. To be more than a footnote in the history books. To win my share of Championships along the way. To cement my legacy as one of the best to ever do this. It just so happens that in order to achieve any of that, all possible avenues run through Lee’s guild of gimmicks.”
“Oh yeah? Well that ‘guild’ has doubled in size over the last month.” he replies, without hesitation.
It’s a fact I’m well aware of. Lee has done an excellent, even if somewhat confusing, job of recruiting followers. A quarter of the roster faithfully follows the blindman, creating less than favourable odds when standing opposite any one of his six lackeys.
But I’ve been known to beat the odds before.
“Fair point. I also don’t give two fucks about it.” I bluntly reply. “Fuck’em, Larry. Every single one of them. Their numbers don’t mean shit to me. Quality over quantity bro.”
“Okay, but,” he begins with wariness. “Quantity has become…”
“Listen, Lee can’t stop the inevitable.” I cut him off. “So he can go ahead and place Sektor between me and Starr. Hermanos gonna get boot fucked. He can ask the others to try their luck, but I promise you the outcome won’t be any different. I’ve come too damned far to turn back now, and I don’t care who or what I gotta go through to take what’s mine. It’s that simple.”
“Alright man. Burn the boats,” he says with a calm sliver of optimism. “Go wage your war.”
I briefly scan the nearby shores before zoning in on the lone wooden paddle boat floating in the water. I slowly look back towards Larry. My eyes shift over to the boat. Slyly they slide back towards him. I bite the inside of my lip, and squint with suspicion. I take notice of the red jerry can of gasoline resting inside the rickety raft.
What’s your game, Lawrence?
“The last time I set your boat on fire,” I rub the hairs on my chin, eyes squinting tighter. “You lost your shit.”
“Not literally, you fucking idiot,” he palms his face. “It’s a saying.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“Have you not heard of Hernan Cortes’ conquest?”
“Is he one of Sektor’s compadres?”
“No.” He stares at me, annoyed. “The Aztec Empire ruled over Mexico and possessed the world’s most valuable treasures for over six hundred years. When Cortes and his men hit the shores of Mexico, he ordered his soldiers to burn the boats. It was his way of saying we either conquer and claim our riches, or die trying. Turning back is not an option…”
“This fairytale ain’t ringing any bells.”
“It’s not a fairytale, it’s history.”
“You’re the one with the hard on for history, not me.”
“How can you not know this? It’s one of history’s greatest war stories!”
“Is it really?”
“Well have they made a movie about it?” I ask smugly. “And I’m not talking about one of those cheesy Made-For-TV ones you’d find Unlikely starring in.”
“I,” Larry pauses to ponder. “don’t think so?”
“Looks like my point has been proven.” I cross my arms.
“It fuckin’ is!” he defends his claim. “Just hear me out. It begins in 1518 when Conquistador Cortes and his men set sail from the shores of Cuba…”
“Ooooooh,” I roll my eyes, my memory having been jogged. “The fuckin’ Conquistador you’re in love with.”
“Yes!” he shakes his hands and widens his eyes.
“Yeah, yeah…I remember…”
17 Minutes Later
“That’s not what happened!” Larry snarls.
“Simmer down.” I say through my pinched lips, my hands cupped around my mouth as I battle the wind, trying to light another cigarette.
The two of us have since relocated from the dock to the warmth of the bonfire. The crowd in and around the blaze is roughly fifteen to twenty strong, and has broken off into smaller, yet equally loud, social pods. Larry and I have found a section of our own, where I’ve taken a perch atop a severed tree stump and he’s pulled a frayed fold out chair up in front of me.
“There was only one Conquista…” he interrupts himself, taking a mouthful from his tallboy. After an exaggerated swallow, he belches the final syllable. “…dor.”
“I prefer my version with three.”
“You’re not a Conquistador,” he dramatically shakes his head, having reached his next stage of inebriation. “and neither is Zeb or Lindsay.”
“Sure we are!” I blow out a cloud of smoke, outstretching my arms. “It’s my modern day retelling. Just look at the parallels between The Aztec Empire and The Best Alliance. And you can’t even deny that Lee Best is totally the twenty first century version of Macaroni.”
“Bless you,” I politely reply with a courteous nod. “Lastly, swap out that filthy scoundrel, Cortes, with the three of us…”
“SCOUNDREL?!” he interrupts.
“Filthy,” I reiterate, holding up my pointer to hush him. “Aaaaaaaand, we too will conquer the land, minus all the backstabbing and greed fueled decisions that plagued his invasion. It’ll be a story actually worth retelling.”
Before Larry can further defend his precious historical figure, that all too familiar, sickeningly sweet voice I once fawned over interrupts us. “Guys, that’s enough with the bickering.”
Not only has Zoey made herself the ‘C’ in an ‘A-B’ conversation, but she’s injected herself in our personal bubble. Like a mother would with squabbling sons, she’s stepped between us, placing a tender hand on both of our nearest shoulders. She looks down at me, then over at Larry, her facial expression warning us she’s serious.
“I think we’re good,” Larry says, rolling his shoulder to displace her hand.
“It’s just, some of us are getting uncomfortable,” she scrunches her nose. “You two are getting quite heated about nonsense.”
“Oh sweet dear Zoey,” I pinch her wrist between my thumb and index, tossing it softly off my shoulder. “I walked in on you blowing my dad. That was uncomfortable. This? I’d say it’s a minor disturbance if anything.”
Larry blows his drink through his nostrils, spraying the knees of my jeans. As he chokes on his laughter, I swipe the snot riddled mess off my pants. Zoey’s jaw is threatening to touch the damp dirt under our feet, while bystanders chirp amongst themselves.
“Excuse me?” she’s finally able to spit out. “Who do you think you are speaking to me like that?”
“Honestly, I’m kind of in the middle of bantering with him,” I tap on Larry’s hairy knee, “and care very little to do so with you. So could you kindly go fuck yourself…or my dad…your call really.”
A switch has flipped and her demeanour has drastically changed. She slowly leans in, her eyes burning with rage. The fingers on her hands are rigid, desperately wanting to latch onto my throat. Her lips remain stiff, but separate slightly. “He’s going to hear about this,” she whispers.
I too lean in, minus the rage and looming threat of strangulation. “Tell him he forgot my birthday,” I whisper.
“Let’s go!” she shouts, to whom, I don’t know.
She turns and staggers past the fire, almost tumbling in before safely reaching the other side. She marches down the sandy pathway towards the dock, waving her arm behind her, beckoning her posse to follow. No one does. The partygoers resume their conversations, while Larry and I turn back to face one another.
“Where were we?” I ask, looking for anything to wipe my hands on.
“You were…shitting on…history.” he reminds me while pinching his nose, his eyes and nostrils still burning from his explosion.
“Riiiiight. I’m not shitting on it bro, I’m just calling a spade a spade,” I take the final drag of the dart before tossing it into the fire. “Burn The Boats, in theory, is motivational. But Cortes did it to trap his men. He manipulated his soldiers into slaughtering tribes, and in turn stood back when they got slaughtered. He didn’t fight beside them, he strolled on in after the fact to reap his reward.”
“He was strategic.”
“He was a coward.” I laugh. “Let’s look at it this way: the LSD Championship is my reward to reap, right?”
“So why would I expect Zeb or Lindsay to lead the charge in my journey? John Sektor is an obstacle that’s been placed in my path, making him my responsibility. It’s my job to bring the fight to him, and you can bet your ass that’s what I’m gonna fuckin’ do. Me, nobody else.”
“Okay, and if his Alliance gets involved?”
“I’m certain I’ll have backup.”
“Oh yeah?” his pessimism bleeds through.
“I trust my partners. We fight beside each other. We fight for each other. No one will be sacrificed for individual gain.”
“That’s cute. Really, it is. But,” he sinks into his chair. “You can only speak on behalf of yourself. What makes you so certain they have the same mindset?”
“I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”
A loud splash is heard coming from the dock. With the dock being poorly lit, all that can be seen is a dark silhouette thrashing about in the water. Eventually, the figure latches onto the side of the paddle boat, fighting to climb inside the wooden sanctuary. Little success is found, and surely I can’t be the only one wondering why it doesn’t climb onto land.
“HEEEEEEELP MEEEEEE!” Zoey screams out from the shallow shore.
Our eyes widen as they lock onto one other.
“…The Woman In The Blue Dress...”
“…the legend lives on…”
The announcement of you and me, John, I was none too thrilled about.
Not because it’s you per se, but at the same time entirely because it’s you. I didn’t bust my ass the past three months to be told to wait. I didn’t earn the right to challenge for the LSD Championship to be told to wait. I’m a patient man in many regards, but I came back with a fire burning in the pit of my stomach to scratch and claw and take what’s mine.
Not tomorrow. But today.
The more thought I gave it though, the more it began to make sense. That Times Square showdown wasn’t designed to be mine. I wasn’t supposed to take it. Nah. It was a vehicle for The Best Alliance to showcase their newest recruit, and in the process ensure that title stayed within the ranks.
But I went and fucked it up.
And that’s where you were inserted into the picture, John.
It’s no secret to anyone Jatt is the weak link in Starrsek Industries. Yeah, he’s the mouthpiece dual Champion in your duo, but should he really be? He won that LSD Championship back in December, and has since defended it once. How about those Tag Titles though? Remind us, which team member was it that won those Championships for Starrsek? You, right? And after that crowning achievement, who’s it been that’s claimed victory in every successful defence? Well that’d be you too.
It’s always you, John. Every single fuckin’ time.
So it makes perfect sense why it’s you versus me at Refueled. He needs you to win this one for him too. It wasn’t enough that I had to go through the Tax Man and three other men to earn my shot. Nah, why would it be? So now I have to go through you. Not the Salesman. Not the Chauvinist. Not Big Tex.
The Best Alliance’s Cold Hearted Killer.
And I’ve come to accept that. Truth be told, I wouldn’t have it any other way. How could I remain being disappointed in getting a one on one opportunity against one of the all time great technicians of any era? I mean, you’ve done it all. You’ve won the LBI. You’ve been the sole survivor of War Games. You’ve held the World Championship. You’ve accomplished nearly everything there is to accomplish here. There’s no denying the validity of your membership in the High Octane Hall of Fame. You, John, are a legend.
I just hope that’s the John Sektor I get come Saturday night.
Not the guy who got his ass handed to him in round one of the DeNucci Cup. Not the guy who lost to Zeb Martin or Joe Bergman in five seconds. Not the guy who needed outside interference to exact his revenge on The Watson Mill Kid. I don’t want that shell of a man stepping in the ring with me.
And trust me when I say, you don’t want that either.
I’m not a member of the Hollywood Bruvs. I’m not coming at you with a half-assed effort and one foot out the front door already. This isn’t about a payday to me, it’s about fuckin’ respect. It’s about cementing my legacy in this business, and I won’t hide the fact it’ll be a fuck tonne easier doing so off the backs of men like you.
So say what you’re gonna say. Do what you’re gonna do. Jump the shark again if you feel that’s what your career needs. Pull another publicity stunt if you must to broaden your brand. Come wearing your blue lace dress, and your night will end with mascara streaks down your cheeks. Come with your wrestling tights and what shred of self respect you have left, and you’ll still get choked the fuck out. Hell, bring your entire Alliance if you want. I’ve got a fraternity of my own.
The point is, it doesn’t matter what you do.
I don’t have the history you do here. I don’t have that Hall of Fame status I can coast by on. I have to fight for everything I get and earn my keep. So I’m taking your old ass behind the barn and putting you out of your GODdamned misery. Then I’m coming for that bitch who’s been riding your coattails (or is it gown?) this entire time, and taking what’s mine.
See you Saturday.