Well, well, well, what a sticky wicket I’ve landed myself in.
It was a brisk afternoon, the dismal grey skies remnant of a winter that had long since outstayed its welcome. Charles de Lacy, once a man of noble stock, now reduced to a mere shadow of his former self, was being shown around an apartment in an insalubrious Chicago neighbourhood by a stout man named Hank. Ordinarily, this would be a sufficient source of consternation to the great man’s delicate sensibilities, but today he had other things on his mind, namely Bobbinette Carey.
A woman, I ask you! It’s enough to make one’s blood run cold.
For the time being, though, he would have to focus his attentions on Hank, this disreputable looking figure charged with finding him somewhere to live. de Lacy, resplendent as ever in lavender suit and bowler hat, cast a critical eye over the apartment. It was small, dingy, and reeked of stale beer and cigarette smoke.
“And this here is the living room,” a pudgy, nicotine-stained finger indicated towards a cramped space that barely fit a sofa and coffee table.
Charles, who prided himself on appearances, couldn’t help but wrinkle his nose at the sight. “Good lord,” he muttered to himself.
The landlord, oblivious to Charles’ snobbery, continued with his tour. “And here’s the kitchen,” he said, gesturing to a small alcove that barely fit a stove and sink.
Charles took a step back, the sleeve of his lavender jacket brushing against the wall. “Is this it?” he asked incredulously.
The landlord, sensing Charles’ disdain, bristled. “Look buddy, nobody’s saying it’s the Ritz but I figure this is about all you can afford. If you don’t like it, there’s the door.”
de Lacy, taken aback by the landlord’s gruffness, tried to smooth things over. “No, no, I’m sorry. It’s just that I’m not used to living in such, er, humble accommodations.”
The landlord grunted, unimpressed. “Well, you better get used to it. This is as good as it gets in this part of town.”
Charles sighed, resigning himself to his fate. “Very well,” he said. “I’ll take it.”
Having spent a good part of the afternoon moving his paltry possessions into the cramped environs of his new abode, de Lacy set his sights on a drink. That would sort him out. A quick snifter to alleviate the rising tension he was feeling in his chest.
A blasted woman!
The fancifully frosted glass pane of O’Leary’s door was the first to catch his eye. Just the ticket, he thought. No need to stay long. Just a quick something to wet the whistle. However, on sitting at the bar and casting his eye over the gloomy interior, his initial enthusiasm dampened. The other patrons were a motley crew of rough-looking men and women, with tattoos and piercings adorning their bodies. They looked like they belonged, but Charles felt woefully out of place.
He ordered a whiskey, hoping it would help him forget his surroundings and the complications of his impending HOW debut. The truth was that De Lacy – snob that he was – considered wrestling, or at least wrestling in its present state, to be a brutish pursuit, his involvement in it merely a means to fuel his insatiable appetite for fame and fortune. However, his upcoming match with Bobbinette had him feeling uneasy.
As he drank, Charles could feel the warmth of the alcohol spreading through his body, easing the tension in his muscles and allowing him to forget, at least temporarily, his current predicament. He was still a gentleman, no matter where he lived, and he refused to let his circumstances define him.
But try as he might, he could not shake the anxiety that had been gnawing at him ever since he had seen his name placed next to hers on the Chaos card.
I’ve battled the biggest, baddest blokes in the wrestling world, and, more often than not, I’ve come out on top. But a woman? It goes against all my gentlemanly instincts to raise a hand against the fairer sex.
Pondering on this, he ordered another whiskey.
And yet, here I am, signed up to fight a lass who’s apparently quite handy in the ring. It’s a tricky situation, to be sure. I don’t want to come across as a brute or a bully, but at the same time, I can’t afford to lose this match. My reputation is at stake, don’t you know.
Make no mistake, Bobbinette Carey was a formidable opponent, a hall-of-famer with a fierce in-ring reputation. But it wasn’t this that struck fear in his heart. He’d been beaten before. He’d be beaten again. But never by… a woman.
But what if I do lose? The very thought sends shivers down my spine. I can hear the titters and jeers of the crowd now, calling me all manner of names. “Dandy” Charles de Lacy, the aristocratic wrestler, defeated by a mere woman. The shame of it all!
de Lacy was working himself into a fine state of agitation. As he sat in the seedy bar nursing yet another drink, he had grown more and more uneasy with each passing moment. The patrons of the establishment were rough and uncouth, and their behaviour left much to be desired. It was a far cry from the refined and civilized atmosphere of the gentleman’s clubs of his native England.
During the course of the afternoon, he’d been joined at the bar by a string of different clients, each showing varying degrees of interest in this incongruously exotic creature frequenting their local. In his self-absorbed state he perceived them all as one person, hardly noticing as one by one they got up and left, growing tired of his pompous declarations and vainglorious boasting, only to be replaced by yet another poor unsuspecting sap.
“In fact, I’ve always prided myself on my knowledge of the fairer sex. I suppose it comes with having spent many a night in the company of the most refined and cultured women of London society. But since coming to America…”
He took a slug of whiskey, warming to his theme.
“In England, one can always rely on a lady to be a lady,” he mused, swirling his drink thoughtfully. “But here in America, it seems that women are quite different creatures altogether.”
He thought back to the few encounters he’d had with females of the American persuasion.
“They’re loud, brash, unapologetically bold! They have none of the refinement you would associate with a lady.”
Unbeknownst to him, de Lacy was no longer addressing the ageing biker who had been sitting next to him previously. In his place was a much less sympathetic presence: a proud and forthright American woman. Having been party to de Lacy’s drunken proclamations she was beginning to grow weary.
“Excuse me, sir, but I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation,” said the woman, a fiery look in her eyes. “Are you really a wrestler?”. She posed the final word of her question in ironic quotations.
De Lacy turned to face the woman, taking in her severe expression and the feminist buttons pinned to her jacket. He bristled at the implication that a man of his station could not possibly be a wrestler.
“Indeed I am, madam,” he slurred, “and a skilled one at that. I assure you that my prowess in the ring is not to be underestimated.”
The woman scoffed. “Oh please. Don’t tell me you buy into that archaic notion of masculinity. It’s high time we recognized the strength and abilities of women in all aspects of life, including professional wrestling.”
“Now see here, madam,” he said, his voice rising in indignation. “I have nothing but respect for the fairer sex, but to suggest that a woman could match a man in physical strength and skill is preposterous.”
The woman stiffened at his words. “And yet, here you are, facing a woman in the ring. What does that say about your own abilities, I wonder?”
De Lacy felt his blood begin to boil. He’d let something slip. Clearly he had inadvertently confided his anxieties about Bobbinette in a moment of alcohol-induced indiscretion.
It says nothing about my abilities, madam,” he said, his voice shaking with emotion. “I am facing Bobbinette because I choose to, not because I have any doubts about my own skill. And I will not be lectured by a feminist harpy like you.”
In his agitation, he gestured wildly with his drink, gesticulating to emphasize his points. But in his enthusiasm, he accidentally tipped the glass, sending a spray of liquid cascading across the bar and onto the lap of the woman sitting next to him.
de Lacy was mortified. “My dear lady,” he exclaimed, rising from his seat and reaching for his handkerchief. “I am so terribly sorry. Please allow me to make amends.”
But before he could make his apologies, a man who he took to be the woman’s boyfriend had stormed over, his face contorted with anger. “What do you think you’re doing, you fancy-dress wearing asshole?” he shouted, towering over De Lacy.
De Lacy was shaken the man’s impertinence. “I’ll have you know, sir, that I am a gentleman of the highest order,” he declared, standing up to his full height and squaring his shoulders. “And accidents do happen, even to the best of us.”
The man snorted in derision. “Accidents? You spilled your drink all over my girl. You’re lucky I don’t teach you a lesson, you stuck-up punk.”
De Lacy blanched at the man’s insinuations. “I’ll have you know that I am a wrestler of some renown,” he retorted, drawing himself up to his full height. “And I would be happy to demonstrate my abilities, should you doubt my prowess.”
The man sneered. “A wrestler? You look like you’d be more at home pressing flowers than weights.”
Before things could escalate any further, the two men were prized apart by a couple of burly patrons who, much to the dismay of the other locals, flatly put an end to the dispute. With that, the other man grabbed his girlfriend by the arm and stalked out of the bar, leaving De Lacy fuming with indignation. “The nerve of some people,” he muttered to himself. “I’ll have him know that I am not to be trifled with.”
But even as he seethed with anger, a small part of him wondered if the man had a point. Was he really cut out for the rough-and-tumble world of professional wrestling? Or was he just a pretender, a dandy in a world of brutes? Only time would tell.
Charles de Lacy stumbled through the door of his new apartment, still feeling the effects of the copious amounts of alcohol he had consumed at the bar. His head spun as he fumbled for his keys, his mind foggy with drink.
As he finally managed to insert the key into the lock and stumble inside, he collapsed onto the couch with a groan. His thoughts turned to the upcoming match with Bobbinette, and a wave of anxiety washed over him.
He had always considered himself a gentleman first and foremost, and the idea of grappling with a woman in the ring was a troubling one. But he knew that this was the path he had chosen, and he was determined to see it through, no matter the cost.
As he lay there on the couch, his thoughts became increasingly disjointed, his anxieties magnified by the haze of alcohol. What if he failed to live up to his reputation as a skilled wrestler? What if he was humiliated in front of his peers? What if his aristocratic background made him a laughingstock in the rough-and-tumble world of professional wrestling?
But even as these fears gnawed at him, he knew that he had no choice but to face them head-on. He had debts to pay, and a legacy to secure. And so he resolved to put aside his doubts and face Bobbinette in the ring with all the skill and determination he could muster.
With a final groan, he closed his eyes and drifted off into a fitful sleep, his dreams haunted by visions of triumph and defeat in equal measure.