”A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be.”
– Abraham Maslow
Hotel Football, Old Trafford.
The sound of morning foot traffic and automobiles can be heard through the lifted-up window in the hotel room. The room has a modern and sleek design that features football-themed decor, reflecting the hotel’s association with Manchester United Football Club. The room is spacious and well-lit, with large windows offering a view of the city.
The king-sized bed is dressed in crisp white linens and plush pillows. A large flat-screen TV is mounted on the wall.
The suite has a comfortable sitting area with armchairs and a sofa to relax and take in the views of the city of the nearby stadium. The front door is adorned with the signature jerseys of Manchester United’s famous “Class of ‘92” – another nod to the hotel’s association with the club.
“Your flight back to Chicago leaves at 2:30.”
Dan Ryan looks up at his long-time assistant, Phyllis. After a brief nod, he looks back down at the bag in front of him on the hotel bed. “Good. That’ll put me on the tarmac by sometime in the afternoon local time…”
“To be precise…” Phyllis interjects.
He stops her.
“Phyllis?” He scrunches his eyes as he looks up at her again. “Afternoon is precise enough.”
She shrugs. “Fair enough. When you get back you have a few personal business items to attend to, and we’ve been flooded with phone calls and well-wishes since March to Glory. Do you want some time to recover for the flight or would you like to get to work right away?”
At the mention of personal business, Dan flashes the very slightest of flinches of memory across his face. “The most important business was handled here, Phyllis.” He looks at her more directly. “I’d prefer you retain plausible deniability on that.”
Phyllis nods her head. Not her first rodeo. “It’s appreciated.”
“Craig will manage the clean-up for it. Wait…” He pauses, reconsidering. “The people who have called with their ‘well-wishes’… do you have a list?”
She smiles. “I do.”
“Let me see,” he says, reaching out his hand.
Phyllis hands over her phone, zooming in on the note on the screen and pointing at the beginning of the list.
He looks at it, scanning names and reading, and then, holding the phone with both hands starts to delete names.
One of his assistant’s eyebrows goes up. “Making some changes, are we?”
He ignores her, finishes backing over some of the writing, then holds the phone out for her to take back.
“Keep these, arrange for a time in the lounge at O’Hare so I can call them back. Throw the rest away. No face time for fake friends.”
The words hang in the air and he turns back to his packing.
“Also, no. Don’t worry about jet lag. Instruct the driver to have me brought directly to the Best Arena. HE insists on being debriefed personally. And I have a gift for Him.”
“Very good, sir. For the airline, shall I confirm that you will bring one bag only to be checked?”
“No,” he says, picking the HOTv title belt off the bed and staring down at it. “Let them know I have one additional carry-on this time as well…”
Okay, so here’s the thing, Marvolo.
It was a hell of a night in Manchester. The matches were great, the crowd was great, and Scott Stevens was gr… Well, the matches were great.
I had a job to do and by the grace of GOD, I was able to do it.
But there’s so much more work still left to do. Now that I’m on my way back home, I’ve had some time to think and jot some of these thoughts down. I’ve got a lot of mixed emotions. It’s been a hellish year, but it does seem like things are starting to look up a bit. So, the last thing I want to do is begin the run-up to War Games with bad mojo.
That’s why I want to apologize… to you, Marvolo.
I want to apologize for what happened in England. I’m really very very sorry. It’s just…
I had to get something from that top shelf and I thought you were a footstool. I didn’t mean anything by it. I certainly intend no disrespect. I hope we aren’t having this match because you’re very angry and demanded justice… or something.
I’ve heard you’re like a mini-Solex and hey, I’m fine with that. Solex is a good man, a real man, and if you two want to do a choreographed dance number backstage to ‘Just the Two of Us’, I have no problem with that. I’d bring my daughter to see it if she were still six years old and didn’t hate me. And sure, it’s a little strange that he sprays water at your face when you get out of line, but that’s okay. We all have different parenting styles.
And I just love your backstory. It’s very interesting. I think I might have visited Molvanîa once… or was that Cleveland? I can’t remember. I just remember it was a really sketchy, scary sort of place. So, I guess it was Cleveland, then.
The point is, I’m looking forward to giving you this chance to win a championship despite the fact that you have so few ‘win’ under your belt. I’ve never had a match against a wrestler who bought all his gear at Osh Kosh B’Gosh. But I wish you had caught me a bit sooner. I just gave away all of my kid’s old baby clothes. I would have been happy to give them to you for free. Do you like Winnie the Pooh?
This is, in fact, a big day for both of us. It’s a big day for you because you have a chance to take High Octane gold for the very first time. It’s a big day for me because there is a plan, you see. March to Glory was never the end. It was a step, a test. I have to be able to win the big matches, and overcome the big obstacles, to prove that I can still do what I set out to do.
It was a sign, an omen. Good for me, not so good for certain specific others. I have so much more I want to accomplish. So much more that I need to accomplish. The past is fading behind me. Shake the hangers-on from your back and move on. That was the good advice that I was given, and it’s what I’m doing.
If you’ve done your research on me for this match, congratulations. Your research is worthless. The old Dan Ryan is dead, and it was Murder Daddy who killed him.
This match was made, I’m sure, because of the juxtaposition of styles, and our vastly different physical stature, and I’m sure people will find this entertaining, and I know… I know the boss wants you left alive and with full use of your limbs.
So I promise you this.
I will give you the respect that you are due. We’ll lock up, and I promise I won’t immediately toss you ten rows into the crowd. Those people paid good money for wrestling matches and I would never cheat our wonderful, loyal fans by catapulting you into the rafters with my slingshot or say, shooting you through a medium-sized straw like a spitball and splatting you against some unlucky Chicagoan’s popcorn box.
I think you have a lot of potential, guy who uses Voldemort’s middle name, and I know you’re working hard to uphold a long family tradition or at least a long line of people who dress in capes and masks and then die immediately. But even if death is in your immediate future, I’d say that’s a lot to live up to.
But listen here, Obi-wahn… as much as I like your antics and as much as He enjoys having you around, I don’t want you to think this is going to be some casual friendly, a context for that word I just learned in England, and I don’t want you to think that just because I could have fit you in my carry-on bag that I’m planning to go easy on you. No, I’ll be treating you just like I treat everyone else. If you play your cards right, this ends with you flat on your back on the mat, counting the lights and dreaming of Molvanîan pudding, which for the record, looks disgusting.
But if you dance around and start gettin’ all cutesy like some sort of dancing, wrestling Ewok, I promise you that I will make a big red stain out of your carcass when I bounce you right down on the top of your head. I’ll make a Molvanîan super bouncy ball out of you, understand?
This is real shit. This business isn’t some stage for you to bounce around like a fuckin’ idiot and make a mockery out of what real fuckin’ men do. You’re not gonna walk in here, climb up on a step stool and put your finger in my face, and preach some nonsensical Xander Azula-like shit without me backhanding you clear across the room.
You come to the show, you get yourself dressed, get yourself ready, then come on out to the ring and take your lumps. We all have to do it. You have to do it too. This is two matches in a row against Final Alliance members for you, and spoiler alert, I see the outcome turning out to be pretty much the exact same thing.
If you can do that, if you can just come out to the ring and be a motherfuckin’ wrestler and not a sideshow in the goddamn circus, hey, who knows what could happen? I feel like I’m gonna squash you like a grape, but you never know. I’m sure you’ve trained, and I’m sure you’re athletic. I’m not gonna take anything for granted. I’m the HOTv Champion, and I’m just getting used to it.
Just do your best. That’s all you can do.
And never… ever…
Sell yourself short.
”It is a mistake to think that the practice of my art has become easy to me. I assure you, dear friend, no one has given so much care to the study of composition as I. There is scarcely a famous master in music whose works I have not frequently and diligently studied.”
– Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
TOMORROW IS TODAY
The late afternoon sun is reflecting off of the gleaming glass of The Best Arena at street level. An orange hue reflects in Dan Ryan’s sunglasses as he exits the limousine. He stands up to his full height and straightens the collar on his sportcoat and takes his bag from the chauffeur rushing around the back end of the vehicle. Looking back into the back seat, he reaches down and picks up the #97RED HOTv championship belt. He looks for a moment, then slings it up and over his shoulder proudly.
Up ahead and through a small loading dock area, another gentleman stands by a door and upon recognition of the man walking toward him, straightens up and pulls the door open. Dan walks through into the first interior corridor within the arena and walks at a steady pace past locked doors.
As he reaches a wider open area he begins to encounter High Octane staff. Some of them take notice and give him a little nod. Others simply stare. One in particular steps forward from the hallway where Ryan is headed. He has an EPU patch on his chest but isn’t wearing his official headgear.
“Mr. Ryan, your assistant Mr. Massey is in your usual room down the hall. Once you’ve checked in with him, the boss wants to see you.”
Dan nods but doesn’t look the smaller man in the eye. “I know.”
The guard steps back, letting him pass but saying nothing more.
Dan walks the hall until finally approaching a rather large red door with his name on a nameplate fastened at just about chin height. Opening the door he finds Craig Massey inside sitting on a chair in the corner.
“Hey, boss. Have you seen this shit?”
Dan looks around. The dressing room clearly has been updated. There’s fresh carpeting on the floor, a sofa up against a wall next to the plush chair upon which Craig has plopped himself down. There’s a temporary wall constructed that has separated a dressing area from an office area. The office area has a large executive-style desk and several filled bookcases. He looks it over but makes no expression.
“Looks like your old office…”
Dan looks back at his assistant, then back at the large leather chair behind the desk.
He walks over and places the palm of his hand on the desktop. “By design, I assume.”
“Probably so,” Craig replies. “Looks like you got yourself on somebody’s good side.”
At this, Dan smirks slightly.
“Well,” Craig says through the side of his mouth. “It’s a lot better than being on His bad side.”
Massey walks over and Dan places his other hand on his shoulder. “Craig, my friend? You have a talent for understatement.”
Craig takes a deep breath, and the smile runs away from his face.
“Boss, about the business in Manchester…”
Dan flashes him a look. Craig holds a hand up.
“I know I know. Don’t talk about it. I know. All I wanted to ask you is… well, is there any… similar… business to take care of now that we’re back in the states?”
Dan smiles. “There are always things to do, my friend. Anyone who says they have nothing to do just doesn’t want to hustle. I’m always hustling, and so, there’s always business to take care of.”
Craig just looks at him, listening. Dan pats him on the back and turns back toward the door.
“You worry too much, Craig. First things first, I have a meeting to get to. Afterward, we’ll start making plans to visit a few old acquaintances. But never mind that. This is a time for celebrating my friend.”
Reaching into his sports coat he pulls out a small wad of cash and slips it into Craig’s hand.
“You did well. I’ll send for you when it’s time to go. In the meantime…” Dan looks and for the first time realizes there’s a stocked glass-faced refrigerator filled with snacks and drinks, alcoholic and non-alcoholic. “Help yourself. Someone ought to enjoy it and you know…” He pats his own stomach. “I’m on a diet.”
Dan smiles, and Craig Massey returns one of his own, then opens the door and walks out.
Stepping through the door, Dan turns left and follows the red carpeting to the very end, then with another left-hand turn, stands in front of a wider door with the HOW logo etched into the middle of it. He taps the door with the back of one of his knuckles, and after a moment or two, it opens, and another EPU guard, this one in full riot gear, opens and gestures him inside.
Dan nods, and then, letting the smile relax into a smirk, pats the ‘gift’ across his shoulder and walks inside.