“I am going to hit this man so hard, his stupid Fred from Scooby Doo hair is going to start naturally parting on the other side. I’m going to rip his goddamn face off, fold it neatly into an origami goose, and then I’m going to feed him to Andy Murray on the finest tartan-adorned plates that money can buy.”
Dan Ryan was standing behind his desk, in the suite of his hotel room in Chicago, holding up a photo of Perfection.
Ryan was seething, still clearly annoyed about the attack three weeks prior. He’d asked for a file on ‘Perfection’, and just seeing the photo alone was enough to make him want to put his fist through a wall. He gave another look at the photo, then grunted and flung it haphazardly into the air. It fluttered to the ground harmlessly. He watched it when it landed, then grunted again and looked back at his only daughter, Cecilia, as she sat smiling in the chair across from his desk.
Cecilia was deep into her training at this point, joining her aunt multiple times per week, and as a result, getting deeper and deeper into the family ‘business.’ She pulled her knees up into a folded position and reached back, using a scrunchie to put her long, wavy brown hair into a ponytail.
Dan frowned, then sat down across from her.
His daughter smiled, and chuckled slightly.
Ryan sighed, closed his eyes, and tried his best to calm down just a little.
Cecilia Ryan shook her head to the negative.
“No need. I thought it was great.”
He tapped his fingers lightly on the desk, glancing to the side just briefly before settling his gaze back on her.
“You know I’m really not good with things like this, but I figured we might wanna talk about what Lindsay and I are up to.”
She nodded just slightly as he continued.
“We’ve been fighting these guys for a long time now, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you were a little bit surprised that we decided to team up with them.”
Her head tilted slightly to one side as her eyes went up.
“Just a little.”
Dan Ryan nodded in response. “I mean, I don’t wanna get too deep into the details of things, but if you have any questions about any of it, I’d be happy to answer those for you.”
She frowned slightly, something serious clearly brewing behind those brown eyes. Dan prepared for the worst, and cringed in his seat as he expected to have to explain to his daughter why he turned on friends and teammates. He readied the words he wanted to say in his head, just waiting for the question.
In hindsight, he probably shouldn’t have been so nervous. Cecilia Ryan is Dan Ryan’s daughter, after all, and she answered in the most Dan Ryan way possible.
A fire lit up in her eyes as she said, while biting her bottom lip, “I fucking loved it.”
Dan’s head recoiled, dad mode instinctively kicking in. “Whoa! Watch your mouth, young lady!”
Cecilia’s eyes snapped back to reality, and she sat back in her chair.
He eyeballed her, not sure what to make of this, and having one of those moments in a parent’s life when they’re both immensely proud and yet feel the need to correct their child all at once. She looked back at him, no sense of regret in what she had said, but more of a relaxed confidence, the look of someone who knows exactly who they are.
Dan felt his hand lightly tapping his desk again as he considered her words, thought about many things – here she was, hellbent on following in his footsteps, putting one foot into the door he’d cracked open for her.
Might as well open it up all the way.
“I guess MJ won’t be able to make your birthday party after all.”
Cecilia Ryan’s face lit up. It was the signal she needed, her dad’s stoic cynicism and dry humor, usually reserved for her Aunt Lindsay or her mother, for the first time inviting her into his world. She smiled.
She had never been happier.
Dan rummaged through the drawer, finding what he was looking for after a few seconds.
“You ready to go in there? We’re gonna be late!” Alaina Troy-Ryan called from the other room, clearly losing patience.
“Yeah, one more minute!”, he called back, looking down at the paper in his hand and digging his cell phone out of his pants pocket with the other. “I just need to make a quick call!”
He studied the paper closely, and punched in the number. He tossed the note aside, raising the phone to his ear.
“Yeah… hello? Hey, yeah it’s me. Can I speak to Bill please?”
“Listen, this match is important. I need you to get me some time with….”
No name followed. Whoever Bill was, whatever this was about, Dan Ryan’s face made it clear he wasn’t pleased with the words spoken back to him. He glanced over his shoulder toward the door of the bedroom, then walked into the master bathroom and closed the door behind him.
Something sinister entered his voice now. He leaned down on the vanity and practically growled into the phone.
“HEY… BILL. WILLIAM. MOTHER-FUCKER…. I’m not fuckin’ asking you, do you understand what I’m saying here? You make the fuckin’ arrangements or I bash your goddamn skull into a brick wall and you spend the next few months suckin’ down nutrient smoothies at County General. YOU GOT THAT?”
Silence on the other end.
“BILL! I said…. YOU FUCKIN’ GOT THAT, MOTHERFUCKER?”
Hesitation, but then we can barely make out…. “I got it.”
Ryan looked down, pressed ‘end call’, and slid the phone across the vanity-top. He watched as it came to a stop upon just barely touching the wall, then leaned forward a little harder. He looked up suddenly, glaring at the man looking back at him from the mirror. There was a snarl on his face, an anger in his eyes. He could feel the heat in his face, and he blinked, pushing back against the absolute desire rising up inside of him to smash the mirror into a million pieces.
His wife’s voice broke through the moment.
Her voice came steadily closer as she spoke, and within a moment, she was in the doorway to the bathroom, a perturbed expression on her face.
“Are you comin’ or what? We have a reservation.”
He looked up at her, the red having quickly drained from his face and his voice calm. He smiled.
“Of course. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
A question crossed her mind. She started to open her mouth to ask it, but just then, Cecilia called from the living room. “Guys! Let’s go!”
Alaina looked back at him and made an expression that basically said ‘can we go now?’ and he nodded, calmly, in response.
She turned on her heels and left. He gave one last glance at the mirror and walked back into the bedroom. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the small yellow post-it note with a phone number scrawled on it. He paused, picked it up, stuffed it into his pocket, and left.
Dan Ryan pushed through the lobby doors of the Hotel Intercontinental and emerged onto Michigan Avenue. The doorman was long gone. So was everyone else. Ryan glanced up at a digital clock on the bank sign across the street: 3:30am — and pulled his heavy coat closer over his muscular frame.
He headed down the street, keeping his head slightly down in the face of the cold wind.
The few people out and about at this hour kept a wide berth as he walked, wanting no part of whatever he was up to.
After a couple turns, a familiar alley appeared to his left and he turned, approaching the same dirty wooden door as before.
This time, he pulled out a small card and placed it face-in on the glass and gave it three taps with the back of his hand. Almost immediately, the curtain on the window parted, and the same youngish Asian gentleman from before looked out, saw the card and immediately opened the door.
Ryan headed through, this time knowing exactly where he was going.
The inside of the restaurant was eerily quiet. The tables were empty, but even at this late hour, the bartender was behind the bar. He was, however, a bartender for appearances only. Dan understood this now. He understood a lot of things now.
Dan loosened his coat a bit and unbuttoned the front just to get a little breather, and made a bee-line for the door to the far-right back corner of the room.
He glanced down at the light coming from under the door, but did not pause, putting his hand on the doorknob and immediately pushing his way in.
“Someone forget to teach you how to knock?”
Yoshida-san looked up from his desk as he poured the last drops of a bottle of rum into a dusty glass in front of him. He shook the last remnants out, hoping for any possibility of another drop or two.
Gone is the confident aura, the countenance of a man secure with his place in the world replaced by a look of stressful worry, of desperation, of fear.
The little office looked less like a place of business and more like the ramshackle hiding place for a hermit, and it had a smell to match.
Dan Ryan ignored his question, tilting his head back slightly.
“Your office looks like shit, Yoshida-san.”
The older man, once vibrant and energetic even at his advanced age, looked up weakly from his drink, squinting his eyes and sighing.
“I sent people to help you — to help the son of an old friend, and how do you repay me?”
He waved the glass in the air and his eyes darted back and forth between imaginary particles flying in the air in front of his face before finally settling and focusing on the big Texan.
“You injure my students, you turn my own people against me. I made sure you had what you needed to survive. I trained you again. I made you strong again…..” The old man had just enough vigor left to train his eyes directly on his former pupil, slamming his glass down on the desk and pointing a finger in his direction. “…and you do…this. YOUR FATHER WOULD HAVE NEVER…”
But Ryan cut him off.
“My father is dead.”
His face was stone. His eyes stared a hole through the front of the old man’s head and out the back like a gunshot. The old man had risen to his feet in his increasing anger, but he plopped back down into his chair now, defeated.
Ryan broke the stare, and looked around the room, disgusted — bricks chipped and crumbling, piles and piles of paperwork untouched for weeks, and a trash can overflowing onto the floor.
His upper lip rose in a snarl.
“You’ve been losing money with this place. I think maybe I can do better with it.”
The old man sat, stunned, trying to register…
“Wait…WHAT? YOU CAN’T….I WON’T LET…”
In a sudden movement, Dan Ryan lurched forward and grabbed him by the front of his shirt, dragging him roughly up and over the desk toward him, until his knees rested just barely on the desktop, and his feet flailed away behind him.
Ryan glared into his eyes, gritting his teeth and practically spitting in his face.
“Your people…. They work for me now, Yoshida.” The omission of the honorific at the end of the old man’s name hit like a shot to the gut, but he could do nothing more than hang there in Dan Ryan’s vise-like grip, forced to listen. Ryan’s voice was dark, angry, but also almost mock-polite, and the sudden sense of panic that the old man felt was almost too much to bear.
Ryan looked the old man up and down, suddenly disgusted, then shook his head.
With a heave, Ryan pulled him the rest of the way over the desk and set him back on the ground like a child, and the old man’s face registered a look of fear as he looked up at the massive man towering over him.
Suddenly the old man was airborne, as Dan Ryan grabbed him by the front of his shirt again and flung him with an angry growl headlong over the desk where he crashed into the file cabinet behind it. The old man crumpled in a heap and laid there, unmoving.
Ryan peered down at him, shook his head slightly, then turned for the door. He gave one last glance over his shoulder to see where the old man lay, and snorted in derision, before opening the door and walking through.
Ryan stood outside the office door and straightened his jacket, evening out a few wrinkled spots near and around his shoulder.
He walked to the bar, leaning in to speak to the ‘bartender’ standing there. The man had heard the commotion, but was unmoved, and looked attentively back at his new boss. Ryan reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out an airline ticket, setting it down on the bar between them.
“This is an airline ticket back to Osaka. It leaves in two days. See to it that he makes his flight.”
Ryan turned his collar up and turned to walk to the door. The bartender looked down at the ticket, then back up at the leaving Dan Ryan, confused.
“Two days? You don’t want him gone tonight?”
Ryan paused and glanced back toward the office door, then back at the bartender.
“I figure..” Ryan shrugged, “…he might need a day for recovery. After all, I’m not a monster.”
He turned back, opened the door, and headed out into the night.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more intriguing match than this one.
We’ve been on a collision course for a very long time — much longer than most people probably realize.
I first became aware of you almost five years ago, Mike – maybe a few before. God knows I was late to the party. I wasn’t around for the early years. I wasn’t there for your rise to prominence, your recruiting by dear ol’ dad…
I wasn’t here when you won the HOW World Championship for the first time, or the second time, and so on and so on. I wasn’t here when you won the HOW ICON Championship for the first time either, or the second, the third, the fourth or the fifth.
But I’m not stupid.
I know what all of it means to you. You might think I don’t. The rest of the people might think I don’t. And you might think I need a sepia-toned nostalgia talk about the good old days to truly understand what my championship means to you and really drive home just how incredibly important it is to you. You can tell everyone that it means everything to you, and you can try to sell that it couldn’t possibly mean as much to me, but you fuckin’ know better. I know you do.
I don’t mind that. I don’t. I respect it. You’re a salesman. Always be closing. First place gets the championship, second place gets a set of steak knives, right?
Now since I know you already know better, and in the spirit of our very close friendship, I won’t patronize you with an explanation. What I will do, however, is give everyone else a little cheat code to use when trying to figure out if I give a shit or not.
I always give a shit.
I absolutely always give a shit.
I have never won a match or won a championship that I didn’t care about. Every single fucking one has mattered more to me than my very life in the moments I’ve challenged for them or defended them. Anything less than that is a fucking insult. I know you already know this, Mike. I know you know. But they need to know.
They need to know because the truth is that you or anyone else who gets in the ring with me with this championship on the line will have to pry it from my cold dead hands first.
If anyone thinks I’m being nonchalant about any of this, I suggest they go ahead and try me. Try me at their own peril.
Now you — you would never make an assumption like that. You’d never waltz out to ringside and think you had me right where you want me. You’d never think, this guy doesn’t even care. I have to win this. There’s no way I don’t. I care more. You hear me? I care. Dan Ryan might say he cares, but I’ll show him. I’ll care and care until I can’t care no more. My care bear stare will care me to my sixth ICON championship reign, and yes, I will be the most caring ICON champion that ever cared for a championship before.
These are all things that you would never think, never say, never do.
Because you are much, much smarter than that.
You’ve got dozens of championships under your belt. You say a lot of nice things about me, but you take a backseat to no one, my friend. And yes, you have to know that if I didn’t respect the hell out of you right back, there would be no Group of Death right now. We wouldn’t be doing this, and the rest of High Octane Wrestling wouldn’t have to sit home and wonder how the hell they’re gonna deal with us.
If you beat me, it sure as fuck won’t be because you fucking cared more.
If you beat me, it will be because you got in the ring with one of the greatest to ever step foot in the ring, because fuck being humble, and you fought the fight of your fucking life. It’ll be because you had another moment in a career full of fucking moments.
There’s no need to bullshit around this any longer, because here we are, right? And now there’s nothing left to do but get in there and fight.
You need to take this shot, and hey, no hard feelings here. You have no idea how much I want to deliver a receipt to those four dipshits when we’re done, and I’m looking forward to that as much as anything else I’ve ever looked forward to. But we’re gonna do this first, and my gift to you is to show everyone, and remind you, just how fuckin’ much I give a shit. It’s the least I can do.