“Say it again.”
A good week, maybe more after the new year has passed. Most of the Industry is gathered in Houston, Texas for the week. Why? The mild seasonal weather? No. The wonderful food and proximity to the beach? No. Dan Ryan is an egomaniac and insists on everyone coming to him instead of the other way around? Probably.
MJ Flair is standing at the ice skate rental counter at the Galleria skating rink while Dan Ryan and Lindsay Troy sit on a couple of benches a few feet away, lacing up their skates. High Flyer isn’t here, because no one trusts him with sharp blades.
“Well,” The attendant responds, suddenly confused. “They said you wore kids sizes, on account of your tiny elf feet.”
MJ side-eyes the two in-laws. Lindsay looks over at Dan, who is much too happy about this turn of events.
“You know I sympathize,” the attendant continues.
“I’m afraid to ask.” MJ is frowning now.
The attendant nods. “I’m sorry. I just assumed you lost your toes in a thresher accident like your Pa.”
Lindsay Troy spit takes, but then gets up and rushes over behind MJ. Whether it’s to protect the attendant or to get in between MJ and Dan before she goes over to correct the big snickering Texan isn’t clear.
“Um.. “ Troy interrupts. “Yeah, how about size five and a half. Adult.”
The attendant shrugs and leaves to gather the skates. Upon receiving them from the attendant, MJ walks over to where Dan Ryan sits and shakes her head.
“A thresher accident like my Pa?”
Ryan smiles, closes his eyes and shrugs again. “Yeah, I don’t know. It seems like something Eli would do.”
MJ sighs and shakes her head. She came here on purpose.
“Look,” Ryan stands. “Sorry about that. The thing is, I really am happy to see you. We really miss you there.”
She nodded. “I really miss me there. But you know my mom, you know Aunt Ivy – when they say ‘You’re done, you’re taking a long rest,’ ya don’t really have a choice, ya know?”
Ryan smirked. “I do.”
“Speaking of missing people,” Lindsay interjected. “Where’s our resident High Flyer?”
Ryan turned, starting the slow somewhat awkward walk to the ice with skates on. “Well, the evil but misunderstood Jack Harmen was not invited to this get-together. For one thing, I do not trust him to use ice skate blades for their intended purpose, and there are children here.”
MJ shoots him a look.
“I’m not talking about you. Jesus, so sensitive. Secondly, I’m not entirely sure what happened after the Apocalypse Now scene he recreated at the end of the last show, so to be honest…. Just no.”
Troy smirked. “No Disney’s Dumpster Fire on Ice?”
“Hey, I get it.” Ryan stops as they approach the wide opening in the retaining wall through which skaters are entering the ice. “Everything about the eMpire is concerning right now — from Cecilworth Farthington’s triple title reign, which is both upsetting and against God’s plan, to Maximillian Kael, who looks like he was made from the spare parts in a Japanese action figure factory, to El Mike-bre Blancbesto, who bent your poor elbow in bad directions….”
Lindsay nodded, knowingly. “I know, I had to give half hugs at Christmas…”
Ryan continues. “He also kicks poor defenseless chairs, and worst of all, he wears socks with sandals.”
“Listen, I’m concerned about Jack. Now, granted, he’s tough as nails, and his thin malnourished frame makes him difficult to attack, but his mental state has always been hanging by a thread, and that’s putting it nicely.”
The group turns, almost in unison, to see the decked out High Flyer, Jack Harmen, in full Brian Boitano get-up, complete with custom skates, whose blades reflect light like the gold tooth in the mouth of a Home Alone villain when turned ever so slightly.
Ryan whispers to MJ and Lindsay. “That’s the hanging by a thread thing right there….”
Flyer approaches the group, looking super super oh so happy.
“Imagine running into the three of you here! I definitely just also happened to be here today, and didn’t at all wonder where all of you were and get tipped off by Dan’s assistant Phyllis concerning your whereabouts…..”
Ryan grumbles. “PHYLLIS.”
Flyer continues his exuberant speech.
“So anyways, yeah guys, so nice to see you. We don’t get together nearly enough. I’m so excited! This is great!” He suddenly frowns. “What the heck is this?”
Stunned silence, but Dan Ryan speaks up.
“Greetings aimless teammate.”
Flyer grimaces. “Aimless teammate?? Aimless?? Me?”
Troy steps in. “Jack, you know I love you, in the way that you love the asshole kid on the playground who sets fire to insects with a magnifying glass, but lately you’ve been the Imperial Stormtrooper of HOW.”
Ryan points at her and looks at MJ. “Ha. Retweet.”
Flair shakes her head. “That wasn’t a tweet.” Ryan shrugs.
Harmen continues to approach the group, eyes locked on Ryan, stumbling every couple steps.
“For your information, everything is going exactly the way I planned for it to go.”
Ryan nods, expressionless. “Oh OK, then. That’s good.” Ryan turns slightly so that only Troy can see his face and his eyes go wide as he mouths the word, “WOW.”
Troy moves past her big brother-in-law.
“Jack…” Troy puts a hand on Harmen’s shoulder, continuing to play peacekeeper. “I’m concerned. Did you really just say that everything that’s been happening is going exactly the way you planned for it to go?”
Harmen frowns. “That’s exactly what I’m saying.”
Troy smiles empathetically and nods. “I see.”
Troy turns back toward Ryan and her eyes go wide as she mouths the word, “WOW.”
Ryan holds up a finger. “Forgive me, guys, but I need to go get something real quick. Excuse me for just a moment, K?”
Everyone watches as Ryan slowly walks toward a wall where there is a translucent wall of glass with a door in the middle. He opens the door, walks through, and then stands there as the door closes. Even closed, we can see his silhouette, the glass being translucent and all. Ryan’s silhouette turns and we clearly see him slowly bang his head on the glass, not enough to break it, but enough to create an audible thud — to be exact, three audible thuds. Then, the door opens and he walks back toward the group.
He sighs. “OK, I got it.”
Harmen grunts, looking over at MJ Flair, who’s just now looking up from her phone.
“Oh I’m sorry, I wasn’t paying attention. I was just sending my mom this picture of the gray sky outside. See?”
She holds it up for all to see. Yup, the sky is gray. All the leaves aren’t brown, though.
“Jack,” Ryan begins. “I just need to know that you aren’t coming apart at the seams. What began as a tight knit party of five has now become a much less tight knit cozy table for three, at least until Ms. Flair makes her way back to the ring. We wouldn’t need a booth to sit and eat our post-show steaks at this point is what I’m saying. There’s been lots of losing, and only just last week, you pushed a guy off of a roof while presiding over a bizarre living version of the fun family game Stratego.”
MJ looks confused. “Stratego?”
Ryan nods. “Yes, it’s the classic battlefield strategy game for ages eight and up. You should be old enough to… “ He thinks for a beat. “Yeah, you’re old enough to play.”
MJ shrugs. “So is it like, on N64 or something?”
“Smart.” Ryan nods, as if noting a shrewd move. “Never counter that which you do not know, Ms. Flair, for that is a fool’s game.”
MJ stares blankly. Troy smirks slightly. Harmen has an itch. He tugs at the tights riding up into his backside and rolls his eyes, too.
“Look, I recognize none of those words. All I know is, I’m fine. Things are fine, and everything is going just the way I want it to. Instead of standing there passing judgment on me and arranging secret family ice skating trips without my knowledge, if you’re not happy with the way things are going, you can go back to the well appointed suburban hell hole you live in and stick your board games….”
“OHHHHHHHKAY…..” Troy holds her hands up. “I think this is getting out of hand.”
Ryan nods with his best ‘told ya so’ expression.
“Hanging by a thread.”
Harmen starts forward, but Troy ‘holds him back’ with her good arm. “Jack…. Dan…. this is going nowhere.”
Dan is satisfied with this. “Agreed.”
Harmen pauses, then sighs. “Agreed.”
Dan looks at Troy, says “I said ‘agreed’ first, for the record,” and is rewarded with an angry glare from his sister-in-law.
Harmen starts forward again, and again Troy holds him back. He holds up his hand as if about to say something, then thinks better of it and turns away. He takes a couple steps towards the entrance to the ice, glides out and disappears into the crowd.
Troy watches him go, then spins around. “WHY…. must you antagonize him like that?”
Dan Ryan is deadly serious now.
“Because it makes him better. Silly and wacky Jack Harmen is stupid. Look at those fucking tights. I remember a vicious psychopath and I’ve been getting a party clown. This has all gotten about as serious as things get, and I need him on top of his game.”
Troy shakes her head. “You tried that with Eric and look how that turned out.”
“I know.” Ryan looks at her, then back at Harmen skating out on the ice. “I just have to hope it works out better this time. I have no other choice.”
”I’m not wearing that.”
It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon in Chicago. It’s cold and getting colder outside, but Dan Ryan and Lindsay Troy are warm and snug inside, up on the 23rd floor in a delightfully expensive hotel suite. Dan Ryan is holding up a metal elbow brace. Lindsay Troy is firmly shaking her head in the negative.
He reaches into a bag and pulls out another elbow brace. This one is a traditional plaster cast.
“Nope.” She replies. “Not wearing that one either.”
He almosts stomps his feet in disappointment.
“Why not? It’s great. I call it the plaster caster.”
She frowns. “Why do you call it the plaster caster??”
He hurriedly puts it away. “Nevermind.”
“Listen,” Troy gingerly bends the elbow. “The elbow is fine. It hurts a little, but it’s fine. It won’t hold me back. But I’m gonna go into the ring without the appliances on my arm, I think.”
Ryan looks disappointed. “Have it your way. Mike’s probably planting weapons around the ring as we speak, but whatever.”
She smiles. “All the more satisfying when I pin him cleanly in the middle of the ring.”
He nods in agreement. “That does sound satisfying.”
“Yes,” She smirks. “Yes it does.”
He’s gonna take one last shot though.
“Can’t we just hit him on the head with something metal one time??”
Mom says NO.
There’s no convincing her. Dan frowns.
“Fine. In the spirit of the holidays, I’ll go along.”
“How kind,” she replies. “Although the holidays are technically over.”
Ryan is shocked. “Martin Luther King Jr. Day is less than a week away, or HAVE YOU ALREADY FORGOTTEN THE STRUGGLE?”
“No, Dan,” she sighs. “I haven’t… forgotten the struggle.”
Lindsay gets to her feet, collecting her things and heads for the door.
“Don’t worry. I’m ready. I know you’re ready. We’ll get it done.”
Dan gets serious. “We always do.”
They do a little fist bump, and with a smile, Troy leaves. Ryan turns and heads for the floor-to-ceiling window overlooking a view to the East. He looks out, scanning the city, finally settling on a spot.
He turns back, picks up a duffle bag and heads for the door.
After Refueled XII.
The Chicago Lakefront Trail, just South of Osterman Beach.
Ryan jogs forward, the condensation puffing out in front of him with each breath. It’s cold, but it’s gonna get a hell of a lot colder tomorrow. This ain’t Texas.
These gray sweatpants and sweatshirt/hoodie have been putting in more than their fair share of work the past few weeks, but even more so this week. Sure, cardio is always on the workout menu, but ICONIC?
The best conditioned men and women in the business would find going full Broadway for 97 minutes to be a challenge. It’s not enough to jump on a bike for a few hours. There’s no substitute for road work. This is where championships are earned. You close the deal in the ring, but you lay the groundwork here.
So much has changed since I got here. It started out a simple enough thing. Just doing Eric a favor. I don’t make many mental errors, but I didn’t realize just how big that chip on his shoulder is. I didn’t know he hated this place so much that he’d succumb to obsession and end up slinking away in shame. I didn’t see that coming. It’s not the Eric Dane I’ve always known.
But — I’m nothing if not adaptable.
It’s always been my strength. I’ve always been an excellent counter puncher. The people who think they’re gonna waltz through life without getting punched in the nose don’t last long, or worse yet, they put us through a melodrama as they wear their crumbling emotions on their sleeve. Because… we all fail eventually. We all get hit in the face and get a little bloody nose.
But me? I’ve been doing this for so long. You learn that lesson or you don’t, and I learned it a long time ago. You come back fighting, and you don’t give up. You get punched, you punch back. You get beat, you come right back and take another shot. Relentlessness is my calling card. Maybe you’re willing to kill me to get rid of me, Cecilworth.
You’ll have to be.
Ryan grunts a bit as he starts the climb up Cricket Hill, but puts a little extra into it and surges forward.
To be fair, you my friend are very impressive. I’m not gonna mean mug the camera and tell people that Cecilworth Farthington ain’t shit. Beyond the absurdity of saying that about a man holding three championships at the same time, it’s apparent. In fact, I’ll go ahead and say it…
In my twenty-two years of professional wrestling, you might be the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced. You probably think…. Well, sucks for me. Right? You make a melted terminator joke… again… and figure, how miserable must Dan Ryan be right now? Four chances… and he hasn’t been able to beat me once.
It’s the other way around, really.
High Octane is the first time in YEARS that I’ve found myself in a situation where I’m not entirely sure if I can beat my opponent or not. It’s the first time in a very long time that I’ve had multiple shots at beating someone, and haven’t gotten the job done.
I know — a draw… a cage match where you walked out…. A triple threat where you beat the other guy to win one piece of gold… and rolled me on a gurney just long enough to keep another… …. a tag match where you and your partner, again, beat the other guy…
I haven’t pinned you, but you haven’t pinned me either. I don’t know how you feel about that, but to be honest it doesn’t really matter. I can’t concern myself with your feelings because feelings are irrelevant. You’ll do whatever it takes to hold onto those belts, and I get that. I’ve been there. I understand as well as anyone that it doesn’t matter what you’re allowed to do. It only matters what you can or can’t do. It only matters what you’re willing to do, and what you’re able to get away with.
Ryan reaches the summit of the hill and pauses, taking in the view below, then continues on.
I don’t begrudge you the antics, Cecilworth. You’re on top of the world. There are probably people who think you are singularly unique in this situation, holding all of that gold at one time, that no one has ever reached such heights. Well, let’s not talk too much about that, hmm?
Let’s just say that when you are up on top of your profession, you’ll do anything to stay there. You’ll find yourself willing to do things you never dreamed of to protect what’s yours. People who you once thought had your back suddenly become a threat. You start, slowly to answer offense with crushing retaliation. You do things that aren’t even necessary, and you find — at whatever cost — any method at your disposal to keep all of that gold around your waist.
Then…. One day…. One of those belts is gone. Then another… and finally… another. Farthy Three-Belts becomes Farthy Two-Belts, then Farthy One-Belt…. And eventually, just Farthy. It will happen. It always happens. It is inevitable.
I don’t know if I’ll be the one to do it, but someday, someone will take those belts from you, and that’s a fact you have to square yourself with before you can come to grips with your evolving place in the wrestling pantheon.
You’re great. I know it. I’m not a fool.
The challenge of defeating you has made my time in HOW mean so much more than I initially thought it would.
Two joggers rush by in the opposite direction as Ryan takes the turn past Montrose Harbor toward the golf course.
So believe me when I say that as far as I’m concerned, you and I at ICONIC? NINETY-SEVEN minutes for the HOW World Championship? This is the biggest match of this year or last, or next, because this is a matchup between the most dominant professional wrestler of the past few years and me…. and behind the jokes, behind the nicknames, you know as well as I do what I’m bringing to the table. You know who I am and what I can do. You know WHY you had to head up the ramp and take your draw. You know WHY you had to walk out of that cage after hitting me with everything you had, and see me getting to my feet as you did so. You know WHY finishing off Joe Bergman was the right call at Alcatraz, yes… the smart call. You know why you found a way to isolate poor Jack. You know why.
I did manage to give a little attention to that arm though, didn’t I? You know, just to make sure you knew I was there.
This is a matchup for the ages, Cecilworth. Selling it as anything short of that is disingenuous. Calling it anything but that makes you a fool — and you’re no fool. No, you’re no fool. Play one on TV if you like. Enact it in an eMpire skit if you must, but you’re no fool.
And ya know? Guess what? We’ll find out if I’m able to do what I’ve always been able to figure out a way to do in the past. We’ll see if I can get over this mountain, or if this is the one summit I just can’t reach.
We’ll see. Then, I’ll know.
We all will.
Ryan gives a little fourth-wall breaking wink to the ‘camera’ and jogs on as the sun begins to set.