“If you’re going to live, leave a legacy. Make a mark on the world that can’t be erased.” – Maya Angelou
Post-Refueled 16 / HOTv #400
You don’t see many ominous storm clouds in Chicago in the dead of winter, but there’s one coming in off Michigan Avenue that’s about to roll through the pristine white marble lobby of the InterContinental.
And boy, is it coming on fast.
It takes quite a lot to get one over on Lindsay Troy. Infamous for her sixth sense, she’s been able to suss out more than her fair share of sneak attacks, swerves, and turns over the years. It’s part of what makes her so irritatingly great in the ring: being able to anticipate an opponent’s move before it comes, dodge and parry, counter and correct.
The appearance of Mikey Unlikely and Kendrix earlier was surprising. Not unprecedented, but surprising. Those two are joined at the hip, and where one goes the other is usually not too far behind. They’re fire-starters and ratings-grabbers; their faces are as punchable as Cecilworth Farthington’s and Mike Best’s. Of course the GOD of HOW would want to sign them. Anything for a Nielsen pop, increased ticket sales, and a spike at the merch booths.
Andy Murray, though? The Highland Leviathan?
Yes, Lee’s got a hard-on for big, beefy-boy monsters, and Andy’s a (jimmy) bonafide main eventer on his own. But to see him standing with the Bruvs, aiding in their destruction of the Industry and the eMpire, and throwing away his years-long friendship with her in the process, is not only bewildering to Lindsay, but it is unforgivable.
Andy hates Mikey and JFK. Hates Perfection too.
We’re talking, wouldn’t piss on them if they were on fire HAAAAAAAAAAATES.
Or so she thought, before tonight.
Lindsay couldn’t hide her shock when she saw him in the ring across from her. Couldn’t hide her rage when Mikey picked her up, pinned her arms behind her back and Murray poked her with that baton, like she was their injured play-thing and that weapon their instrument of torture. Couldn’t stop from being cracked over her head or prevent the subsequent Highland Hangover.
Couldn’t demand answers afterwards either. The Bin Boys booked it out of the Allstate Arena without speaking a word to anyone. Talked a lot of shit on Twitter after the fact, though.
To say she’s hurt would be an understatement. To say she’s embarrassed, a harsh truth. The wounds caused by Murray are more than superficial gashes and sore muscles; they cut right to her core, hollowing out her insides and filling them with venom and bile. A price must be paid for these transgressions. There will be plenty of time for that.
Right now, there is still the Lee Best Invitational to move through. As angry as she is, as deceived as she’s feeling, Lindsay’s focus needs to remain on her next match with MJ Flair, and then the one after that with Jack Harmen.
The Group of Death still has to be conquered. Then the Knockout round. Then the Finals, before meeting Farthington for all the marbles.
One match at a time.
For the tournament.
For the title.
She doesn’t linger at the arena. Instead, she grabs her stuff from the Industry’s locker room, assures the staff trainers she’s fine, and storms out. The ride down the Kennedy back to the city proper is as frigid as the outside air, the only noise coming from the car moving down the road. Her phone’s turned off; the incessant ringing and the pings and blips of texts and tweets eventually became too much for her. She didn’t even want to see the notifications pop up on her screen.
Missed call and voicemail from Tyler.
Texts from the twins. She’ll get in touch with all three of them later.
Text from Cally. Tweets from Cally.
Missed call from Mary-Lynn. Two texts.
An illegible text from Jack. One long, run-on sentence, filled with typos, Probably meant to be swears.
Three concerned texts from Angelica Brooks, former PRIME and Legacy of Champions interviewer. Two from Monte Burns, stablemate of her’s and Andy’s in LOC.
Five expletive-laden texts from Vivica J. Valentine. We’ll let Murray explain that one.
One short, gruff text from Jason Natas, former PRIME and DEFIANCE pugilist, and Andy’s best friend.
Tomorrow she’ll be touched by the outpouring of support from her network, but right now the Queen’s still feeling raw and exposed. Betrayal is the only truth that sticks and it’s clinging to her like wet clothes as she pushes through the revolving doors at the entrance to the InterContinental Hotel. It’s now well past the witching hour, and all Lindsay wants to do is get to her suite, collapse into bed, and try to catch a few hours’ sleep before her early flight.
The overnight desk attendant flinches, just a little, when her head snaps to the right and glares in response. He hadn’t expected that reaction, not when she’s been friendly and gracious every other time he’s seen her. Lindsay, noticing his recoil and realizing she needs to fix her face to something less severe, grimaces and sighs.
“Sorry,” comes the apology. “Bad night.” She walks over to the desk. “What can I do for you?”
“Something came for you this afternoon. Do you mind waiting here a moment?” The attendant slips into a side room normally reserved for the concierge and returns with a sealed, letter-sized envelope. “A courier left this.”
“Hm…” Lindsay turns the parcel over in her hand, inspecting it. 4 Star Courier Collective.
“They’re local. They’ve dropped off here before.”
The lack of a return address on the label catches her eye, but she lets the point stay hidden. Rather, she makes a mental note and tucks the special delivery under her arm. It’s completely flat. A good sign, maybe?
“Thanks,” she says, and walks toward the elevators. “Have a good night.”
“You as well, Ms. Troy.”
Lindsay resists the temptation to open the envelope in the elevator, managing to stave off her curiosity until she’s inside her room. She throws her bags near the plush sofa, making sure to grab her phone before she does, presses the power button, and walks into the bedroom, envelope still in hand. She flops on the bed, drops the envelope on the comforter, and enters her phone’s passcode. The additional messages that have come in before and since she shut it off in the car are ignored, except for the ones from the Rayne Clan; they get a text to their group chat (At the hotel. I’m OK. Will talk to you all in the morning. I love you. 💗).
With that business settled, all her attention turns to the little mystery next to her. She rips the pull tab across the top of the envelope and feels around inside, her hand settling on another envelope within, which she takes out and examines.
“What the fuck,” she murmurs, a feeling of disconcertment washing over her. Part of her wants to go to Dan’s room and have him at least be here when she opens it. He probably wouldn’t open the door but it would be worth a try. Another part of her wants to trash it right now in case whatever this is, is laced with anthrax.
Are anthrax letters still a thing?
Her thumb rubs against something on the back of the envelope, and Lindsay immediately turns it over. A blood red seal with an ominous imprint of flames inside circles and triangles with imperceptible words scrawled around the perimeter stamps the top flap closed, and it takes a moment for things to click in her mind.
Some of many that adorn Bruce Shanahan’s robes.
Lindsay should absolutely trash whatever this is right now. Nothing good can come from whatever Julian Bathory and Bruce Shanahan want to tell her or have left for her. Especially in Shanahan’s case. She and Bruce are the epitome of darkness and light. Oil and water. He the bull and she the red flag.
Julian wouldn’t be half bad, if they had met during a different time. If Bruce hadn’t gotten his claws in him.
Yet, the fissures in the Industry keep splitting and growing. There are the Bin Boys to contend with now.
She looks down at her hands, stomach flipping, and cracks the seal.
That was quite the little Cell Block Tango you and Mike put on last week, MJ. And I was real sorry to see HOW’s Eternal Toddler kill you in the face instead of the other way around, but as the song goes: you had it comin’.
You had it comin’.
You only have yourself to blame.
And now this week, when it’s our turn?
You betcha I’m gonna do the same.
Your glorious return hasn’t been going quite according to plan, has it kid? Sure, you had that nice little pop-up interview spot at ICONIC. Got yourself a little face time and conveniently didn’t tell any of us you’d be showing up, but that’s about the only thing that’s gone right for you this past month.
You hit a wall. Over and over and over. Just like you did at the lead-up to Rumble at the Rock. Just like you did at the event itself.
And hey, there’s no shame in that. Everybody hits that wall, at some point or another. You’re young. Maybe it’s not something you’ve ever experienced before, being so talented. Having had so much success so soon. And with such a wise business manager there to guide you, you would have thought Adrian Evans would’ve let you work your way out of it. EYE would have thought you’d have leaned on your partners for support, in lieu of letting yourself be dragged away.
But no. Family knows best, don’t they?
You’re 20 years old, MJ. I don’t give a shit how close I am with your aunt, or how much respect your parents and I have for each other. Sooner or later, you need to be weaned, leave the House that Eli and Angel Built, and stand on your own two fucking feet. And with that comes the realization, in case you haven’t figured this out yet, that the Dan Ryan-sized ego trip you’re on comes with dire consequences.
In spite of the fact that the chip on your shoulder’s grown into a hump on your back, and that you’ve trashed Dan, Jack and I at every turn the last four weeks, and that you’re basically only an Industry member as far as HOWrestling.com is concerned, I still had your back last week after your match with Mike when you were a fucking ghost after I beat him. There might be tension between Dan and I but hey, he still came out to help after the bell rang. Where were you when I was getting brained with a chair? Crying on Adrian’s shoulder after Dan turned your organs to Jell-O? Because, God knows you avoid medical like the plague. Wouldn’t want anyone to think you’re less of a badass for letting the physicians check you out.
But it’s fine, it’s cool, it’s all good, man. I guess we’re all just supposed to forgive you your trespasses because you felt this wave of ECSTACY and…got with the program? Decided to be a team player again once the Bin Boys showed up last week and beat down Jack and Dan? After you had the unmitigated temerity to tell tales out of school about who might offend me and why?
Do me a favor. You let me worry about who and what offends me, and you worry about figuring out how to leave the LBI with at least one solitary win to your name. You’ve been so busy putting my name, and Dan’s name, and Jack’s name, and everyone else’s name in your mouth that you forgot the one name you should be worried about: Owen Three.
Soon to be Owen Four.
I’ll give you a freebie, though. You wanna know what offends me? Watching you make mistake after mistake after mistake since you stumbled back into HOW after your little spirit quest, and blaming everyone but yourself for this group’s failures. Maybe that’s what you oughta talk about in therapy, MJ. “Where did I go wrong? What’s different now?”, because right now you sound like another half-wit kid making excuses for her failures.
You need better heroes.
It’s so fitting that yours is Karina Wolfenden, by the way. Don’t try and backpedal out of it now. While she was living up to her nickname of “L’Enfant Terrible,” a persona you’ve embodied a little more each passing day since you graced us with your presence again, she was also too busy with her extra curricular activities to give half a fuck about wrestling. Throwing herself and a snowboard off a mountain, being a spokeswoman for extreme adventure companies, this business was just a thrill for her, not a way of life.
Sound a little familiar?
Do you hear Adrian’s voice in your head, being your keeper, nagging you about your social life, your art, promotional work, and then reminding you about wrestling? Because I do.
Maybe if you didn’t decide to act like a selfish little twunt, and leaned on the rest of us for support, I might’ve been able to help pick you back up after that rough patch. I certainly would have told you not to get elbowed to death against Mike but hey, you didn’t bother, so at the end of the day, it’s no skin off my nose.
Maybe you can talk about that in therapy, too.
The Ryan Compound
February 17, 2020
It feels good to leave the grown-up drama a thousand miles away and return to a little bit of innocence.
Lindsay Troy and Cecilia Ryan sit on a ring apron in the basement of Dan Ryan’s house, sipping water and catching their breath after a three hour training session. Stretching and cool-downs are imminent, but for the moment the two take a moment to relax before tying off for the day.
Normally, Lindsay’s in Houston a few days a week to train CeCe, and the rest of the time the youngster is responsible for completing the regiment on her own, videotaping her workouts, and sending them to her aunt for critique and feedback. There’s an agreement in place for this arrangement: certain grades have to be maintained or else training with the Queen will end.
That’s the last thing Cecilia wants. High school might be a bore but it’s a means to an end; she needs to get through it to follow in her father’s and her aunt’s footsteps. And make no mistake: she worships her aunt.
Which is why the recurring strain between Lindsay and her father makes CeCe nervous. It’s all she, Ami, and Kaz have talked about since they fought in the first week of the LBI. Sure, her dad came out to help her aunt when Mike Best hit her with a chair. But when Dan got home, he wasn’t happy about it. She doesn’t think they’ve talked at all since then, not even after their old coworkers Mikey, Andy, and Kendrix showed up two days ago.
”We can’t fall apart again,” CeCe thinks, frowning, as she kicks the ring skirt. It flutters underneath her boot.
“You OK over there?” Lindsay asks. “You look lost in thought.”
When Cecilia doesn’t answer, Lindsay leans forward a little bit to try and catch her eye. “Ceese?”
She can’t help but repeat Ami’s words to her from three weeks ago. “This isn’t gonna be like the last time, is it? With you and my dad? With everything that’s going on in the LBI and with you guys in the Industry?”
“Cecilia,” Lindsay starts, trepidatiously, “why do you think-”
“I know you two aren’t talking,” she cuts her aunt off, then looks at her, desperate. “I’m not dumb. It’s not just the stuff on TV either. Dad tries to mask it when he’s home but he’s been in a mood. He’s had people coming to the house that Mom and I don’t know, people he’s been training with. Supposed to be none of my business, but wrestling is my business now. Me and Ami and Kaz can’t all go through this again. I don’t want to not see you anymore!”
“Oh, sweetie, c’mere.” In one swift motion, the Queen wraps her niece up in a tight mama bear hug and rubs her back with one taped-up hand. Ceese’s arms grip her neck for dear life. “You don’t need to worry about this stuff with your dad, alright? It’s not gonna be like it was three years ago. We’re in a tough spot right now, and I know I played a part in that with your dad, but we’re gonna come out the other side of it.”
Lindsay pulls away and levels Cecilia with a serious stare. “I would never do anything to intentionally hurt you, Ami, or Kaz.”
“Okay. So long as you do.” She smiles. “Now, tell me about these new training partners of Dan’s…”
I know you’re gunning for my legacy, MJ, so it’s appropriate your LBI road will end with me.
Not only are you fired up from another loss, and another beatdown, but now you’re gonna look to play spoiler, because that’s the only part you have left to play in this tournament.
And you know what? I don’t blame you. On either count.
You came into HOW like a ball of fire: an impressive win streak, a strong showing at War Games with a top 3 finish and winning the LSD title, trying to make the belt your own with #LSDLife, and then you saw your flame extinguished. You want to reignite it, and what better way to do it than to slow my momentum. What better way to get that spark back than to get one over on the Queen.
It’s true: I haven’t had the kind of success in HOW that I usually have every other place I’ve been. Unlike you, though, I’ve stayed the course straight through. Unlike you, I didn’t bail out when the going got a little tough. I kept pushing. I’ve stumbled, yes, but I kept going. I’ve got enough confidence and annoying determination to not let every edgelord wherever I go get the better of me for too long. I’m a grinder, kid. I figure my shit out and I find a way; I always have. I’ve always done this on my own because my family respected me enough to let me make my own mistakes and relish in my successes and handle my business without being a hovering presence and a constant voice in my ear.
And while you couldn’t get the job done at Rumble at the Rock, and threw Jack under the bus for your shortcomings, Dan and I put this team on our backs and retained the tag belts. I jumped off a goddamn guard tower to hang onto that ten pounds of gold. I’d better not hear you wonder what I’ve been doing in HOW or why I get shots over you ever fucking again.
I thought Eli and Knox would’ve taught you better than that, anyway. Respect the business, respect the boys, respect your teammates. I guess you missed that lesson when you were running around under a mask and working illegally in Mormon Country a few years back.
No matter. Mom’ll be more than happy to keep beating that lesson into you on Saturday. Consider it a continuation of the Master Class Dan started on Refueled 15.
You wanna get good with me now? Move past the bullshit you started? This is the price you’re gonna have to pay.
There’s no denying you’ve got the pedigree and the training and the skills, MJ. I won’t deny you your successes; you climbed ladders and won world titles faster than I ever did. But without me paving the way for you, those belts and accolades wouldn’t have even been a possibility. While I’ve still got breath in my body, the ability to lace up my boots, the drive to compete, and the passion for this sport, you will never, ever compare to – or eclipse – me.
You may be fearless, MJ. But you sure as fuck are not peerless.
By your actions this month, you have been judged as a traitor to the crown. As long as I am Queen, treason shall not go unpunished.
I will have your head, and your end will be swift.
Call it a kindness. Not that you deserve it.
February 17, 2020
Later that night…
Texas evenings in February are perfect hoodie weather, Lindsay’s come to realize.
She stands some distance from Dan’s back patio, listening to the critter symphony of the night. One hand holds her cell phone. In the other, a business card.
Cecilia told her all about the slim Japanese man that’s been visiting the house more times in recent weeks. About the late night phone calls Dan’s been having in that man’s native tongue. She doesn’t know what they’re saying, but she knows what they’ve been doing, and the proof was in the pudding in his match against MJ Flair.
Dan’s becoming a much more vicious version of himself. Going back to the Ego Buster of yore, back when Lindsay first met him.
There’s always a method to Dan’s madness, but these people he’s working with? She has no idea who they are. She’s never known him to keep a secret from her, and the timing of this…with the fracturing of the Industry, is no coincidence.
Lindsay looks down at the business card in her hand; the present she received in Chicago late Saturday night/early Sunday morning. Julian Bathory’s contact information, along with an elegant hand-written note, telling her to call on him for anything, at any time.
You have friends amongst the shadows, Ms. Troy.
Family and friends may come and go, but the Old Ones are forever.
A grimace twists her lips as she opens up the Google Voice app on her phone. Hesitates. Then punches in the number on the card. When it goes to voicemail, her message is brief, but unwavering.
“It’s Troy. If you want in my good graces, Julian, you can start on a little research project for me. I’ll call you when I’m back in Chicago.”