If HOW’s a bitch, I guess I’m her period.
It’s been a month already. Huh. Kind of hard to believe, to be honest.
Let me tell you one thing about the past 30 plus days before getting into the now.
I haven’t felt a rush like I did on Refueled Twenty-Eight since the 2019 War Games.
After spending almost an entire year of soul-searching, in-fighting, and making-up… who knew the only way off the emotional Doozercoaster was Chris fucking Kostoff.
The Beast, as he’s known around these parts, was the one who ultimately told me _precisely_ what I needed to hear. And honestly, it was something I already knew. I just didn’t want to admit it. Something tells me the other Bandits knew, too. Maybe none of them, my inner circle of eGG, wanted to breach the topic either? I don’t know. Can’t say I’d blame them, either way.
I was a pussy.
And instead of figuring my shit out, and working toward a resolution, I spent my energy complaining.
But I didn’t realize it at the time.
It’s like living in smog. While you’re in it, you don’t even notice it. You have to get out to see what kinda shit hung over and around your head. Don’t believe that analogy? Take a flight into LAX.
That applies to a variety of other circumstances, too. Hindsight is twenty-twenty. Sometimes you have to be out of the situation to properly assess it. And now that I find myself beyond the poisonous cloud I created around me, it couldn’t be more clear.
That’s why when Kostoff so bluntly called me out for not giving High Octane my all, while expecting the world in return… well, it was exactly what I needed to hear.
I gave GoD my all that night on the 30th day of May.
I gave High Octane everything I had.
And I still lost.
But it was the first loss I’ve taken at this place that I came out feeling like a winner.
And it wasn’t because I got to put some hurt on Mike Best.
I won’t lie, that was great. I’d been waiting nearly a decade for that chance. But that wasn’t the climax.
After raining down rights and lefts on Cardboard Dan’s flesh likeness, and releasing that primal shout, the response I received back from the crowd…
That’s what I’ve missed for oh so long.
I still can’t believe Kostoff, of all people here, helped me get it back.
And I’m never letting go.
So consider this as your official notice, High Octane.
I’m gonna continue giving you all I got. Every month. And I’m gonna make you bleed.
I’m starting with you.
Post Bandit Bucks
We begin in the same room in which you saw the other guy, the one who throws eggs and looks like Perfection, not long ago..
There’s that beloved fern, standing proud.
Oh, and look.
There’s a chalk outline of Steve Solex.
The monitor, however, is replaced by a painting most have seen before. It’s been a while, so I’ll jog your memory. This other worldly work of art depicts a centaur inside a wrestling ring. The human half resembled the likeness of a man who, at the time, referred to himself as Darin Zion. His smile oozes the grandeur of a glorious victory, with one of his front hooves pressing upon the chest of the aforementioned Perfection look-a-like, pinning him down to the mat.
Despite being back in the good graces of my long time tag team partner and friend, Cancer Jiles, it remains my favorite work of art.
Then there’s me, sitting on the very same blood red couch.
Ready to abuse.
My legs aren’t crossed, though. Being a bitch is part of my history, and will stay as such.
Instead, I’m sitting with elbows on my knees. And those aforementioned legs are spread as wide as Darin Matthews’ ass after getting pegged all night by Meredith.
Don’t pretend to be surprised.
The baby blues, filled with fire and fury, pierce through the live feed.
I take in one last, deep breath.
Then slowly raise my hands and start to slow clap. A half smile grows out from one side of my mouth.
“Congratulations are in order, Mr… Matthews.” As the words leave my lips, my smile grows full. It also becomes a hint sarcastic as my head tilts to the side. “If that even is your name.”
The smile vanishes.
“Despite the path you took to get there, I gotta admit it. That War Games won over Brian Hollywood was huge.” My tone is as sincere as I can force it to be. “With my track record, I can’t sit here and discount any win over anyone. Not to mention the stage you were on.”
“So here’s to a job very well done.” My blue eyes turn devious while I do my best to hide the emerging smirk. “Meredith.”
I lean back, and pull out my cell. After tapping the screen a coupe times, a song begins to play from the speaker.
“To Zion” by Lauryn Hill
I lower the volume a bit and return to my original posture; elbows on knees.
“You see the painting above me, Darin?” I point up to the centaur of my target’s likeness standing over my best friend. “You might like to pretend that history isn’t a thing, but we have never forgotten. And while I’m sure Jiles would love nothing more than to do so himself, it appears it’s up to me to return the favor.” My eyebrows raise. “But you’ll be lucky if I even pin you, Darin.”
I pause a second to let that sink in.
“Because I just plan to hurt you.” I can feel the sadistic smile forming on my face.
“Victory isn’t payback.” The words feel cold as they leave me. “Payback… is pain.”
I lower my head slightly, keeping eye contact the entire time.
“That’s why your Meredith won’t be able to help you after the bell rings this Saturday night.” A laugh escapes me. “I bet she won’t even last the whole match ringside when she sees the lost, bloody, cause I leave you lying between those ropes.”
I point forward.
“When I’m done with you, you’ll wish you stayed a Zion. And stayed away from High Octane.”
I twist my head toward my left shoulder until my neck cracks.
“Now that’s a nice little segway into the bigger picture you’ve been trying to paint here.” I pause to collect my thoughts. “I can’t say I blame you.” I shake my head to emphasize that statement. “We’ve seen a name change do wonders to a certain… Son… Haven’t we?”
I give that wink usually delivered by my old tag partner.
“But, in case you forgot the name you didn’t change, you’re Darin… not Mike.” I put it bluntly. I’m over the fancy bullshit. “Don’t take that as an insult, either. As we just witnessed at the very same War Games that saw you beat Brian, no one is above the Son of GOD right now.”
My index finger raises, pointing toward the ceiling.
“Maybe being Matthews helps your psychotic little brain forget about your past, but not me. I remember you. And I see through this shtick.” I spit to the side. “I know better than most that you can’t survive High Octane pretending to be something you’re not. That’s why I sought out The Beast, and rediscovered what I forgot was within this-”
I pound a closed fist onto my left pectoral.
I lean in with conviction.
“Something you don’t have.”
Earlier that morning
Our setting, the too popular coffee joint, is bustling as usual. A seemingly endless supply of people wearing scarves, winter hats, and flannel shirts in spite of the 80 degrees weather outside, coming and going carrying their iced sugar with a splash of coffee.
I’m sticking out, amongst the many patrons, like a sore thumb. It’s probably the 97RED jumpsuit and a pair of Air Stevens Cancer made me wear.
Sitting alone at a small table in the middle of all the crunchy chaos, I pick up a cup of black coffee and take a skeptical sip. The instant sneer across my face accurately depicts my initial review of the hot beverage that cost me nearly ten big ones.
“Shit’s disgusting.” My best attempt at muttering to myself fails, as I catch the attention of an employee passing by. After meeting eyes with the worker, and realizing she heard me, my face straightened instantly. I cleared my throat awkwardly. “Uh, you know, the world we live in… makes me sick sometimes.”
The relieved employee shakes her head. “Tell me about it. Just the other day I was watching CNN and-”
She went on for a bit. I’d tuned her out quick, probably for the best.
I could feel my blue eyes grow distant as I stared blankly at the shop’s entrance. With my right foot nervously ticking, I snap out of the daze long enough to pull back a sleeve and check my watch. My brow furrows while reading the time. With a groan, I grab my cup and begin to stand.
That’s when Chris Kostoff burst through the entrance. He’s sweating from head to toe, dressed in a white tank top and basketball shorts. Holding a nalgene in one hand, it’s clear he’s come straight from his morning workout.
Literally everyone in the place stopped like this was a movie we just paused.
Not a single muscle twitches.
Even the employees are frozen, probably wondering if they’re about to get robbed.
“The fuck’s your problem?” The Beast barks. “None of you ever see a real man before?” He laughs in a way that doesn’t reassure a single soul besides me.
“Yo.” Summoning The Beast yet again. “Over here, man.”
Kostoff locates my voice and walks over to join me.
As he takes a seat, I can’t help but ask, “You, uh, want a coffee or something? I take it you’re not a frappe guy. Please don’t be a frappe guy.”
“What the fuck’s a frappe?” Kostoff nearly spit the words.
The Beast slams his nalgene on the table. “Protein shake. It’s got all the fuel this body needs.” He unscrews the top and chugs nearly half the nalgene in one go. “So what’s going on now? Thought we solved your problem last time.”
I tilt my head to the side. “Yeah, I mean, did you see the way they reacted after I put the fists to Dan Ryan?”
A nod from The Beast, but no words with it, as he waits for the point.
“So first off, thanks.” I might be 47 years old, but I suddenly feel like a rookie all over again. “Believe it or not, you’re the first person in years to tell me to my face exactly what I needed to hear.”
“Sooooo, after seeing I got booked against Zion, errr, Darin-” The baby blue eyes roll. “I’m just afraid-”
The cross look from Kostoff cuts me off right after the offending word.
“I mean, concerned…” A quick nod of approval from the listening Beast. “Well, he showed up. Took down Hollywood. And I’m just not sure I can muster the motivation I need to wi-”
There’s that look again, before I could even say the three letter antonym for loss.
“To hurt him.”
Kostoff grins, then leans back in his seat. “What do you feel? When you think of this Darin what’s his face?”
“He’s a fake. He’s contrived. He’s everything bad that I used to be before the graveyard. Times a million.” I squinted at those last few words as they replayed in my inner ear. “It’s like, sure, I could go have a mental breakdown and change my name then come back with a clean slate and record. Just call me Doozion from now on. I’m undefeated.” I spit the undeniable disgust out of my mouth. “Fuck that insecure, pussy move bullshit. I’d rather be The Dooze, and go the rest of my career without another fucking win.”
And that’s when I saw Kostoff smile for the first time. Honestly, it’s scarier than his angry face. He stands up from his seat and looks down at me with a strange sense of pride. I meet his eyes with a single raised eyebrow.
“We’re done for today. You’re finally getting there. Don’t forget that feeling.” The Beast played his best psychiatrist. “Next time, can we fuck off with this coffee house bullshit and meet at a gym or bar or something?” The shtick didn’t last long.
“Stopped drinking. And I workout alone.” The excuses fly as I try to avoid eye contact with the man towering over me. “Nothing personal. Just is what it is. Not letting anything hold me back anymore. Time to give HOW The Dooze it deserves.”
Kostoff nods. “Whatever. Do you. I gotta get ready to give Lee a proper makeover, so I’m gonna go hit the bags.” He began to walk off, but stopped and turned back for one last word. “Just don’t ever ask me to meet a motherfucking Starbucks again. Alright?” The warning catches the attention of a nearby employee. The Hall of Famer takes notice. “Got something to say, scrawny? ‘Cauze I’ll snap ya like a fuckin’ twig.”
I see the poor kid frozen in place as The Beast makes his way to the door. He slowly diverts his timid gaze toward me after Kostoff leaves.
My inclination was to shake my head in a way to reassure him. That’s what The Dooze would’ve done.
But I didn’t.
Instead, I nodded at a female customer to my left while pointing at her pencil with my eyes. She cautiously hands it over to me. I turn back to the employee and hold the pencil up, gripping both ends in my clenched fists.
Then I see what I was blind to mere moments ago.
The look of pure fear in her eyes.
I drop the pencil.
Emotions overwhelm my senses.
I need more coffee…