“If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.” – George Bernard Shaw
I. Stay or Go
Manchester International Airport
The morning of March 1, 2023.
“Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash is playing in the background.
A well-stocked bar stretches along one entire side of the lounge. The music isn’t loud, just enough to pass as background noise. Three levels of shelves make up the wall behind the bar, and the sun shining through the nearby floor-to-ceiling glass sends beams of light through bottles of amber liquid, making a prismatic effect on the wall.
Outside, as seen through the glass wall beside the bar, planes are taxiing to runways, and in the distance, the patrons of the lounge watching as 747s accelerate to terminal velocity and then lurch upward into the sky, one at a time, over and over.
A rather large, muscular man walks into the lounge. He has on business apparel, notably a light blue button-down collared shirt with a sports jacket, and dress pants with black shoes. A large business-class leather briefcase is slung over his shoulder, and he has Oakley’s over his eyes.
He walks directly to the bar and throws a massive leg up and across a high-backed bar seat, making himself comfortable. He waves the bartender over and produces his VIP pass. The bartender looks at it and nods.
“What’ll it be, Mr. Ryan?”
Dan slides the briefcase sling off of his shoulder and hands it over to the bartender, who turns and places it in a storage locker behind the bar.
“Take care of that.”
“Yes sir,” he replies and raises his eyebrows, asking the question again without actually asking.
Dan starts to pull his phone out of his sport coat pocket.
“Old Fashioned, one ice cube please.”
He looks at the bartender just long enough to acknowledge the request, just until he nods and turns to make the drink.
The phone lights up with multiple notifications, having just regained a signal after the flight. Phyllis, confirming his hotel arrangements. Craig, inquiring about the possibility of meeting for dinner. But the one that catches his eye is one that he can see entirely on the preview popping up on his home screen.
“Call me when you get to Manchester. Don’t tell anyone. Don’t do anything stupid.”
He stares at it, expressionless, and finally clicks a button on the side that turns the screen black, and he places it back in the inner pocket of his coat. By this time, the bartender is back and setting his drink in front of him. Dan looks at him, gives a little nod, then starts working on the drink.
It had been a long flight.
It only takes one sip and a couple of breaths before he decides to make the call. HE doesn’t like to be kept waiting.
Also, this is important.
The tone of the phone rings in his ear, once, twice, then with a clicking sound, stops as the person on the other side takes the call.
Dan looks around briefly, then takes his drink with his free hand and moves to a secluded corner of the lounge. A short man of average height greets him at a booth and nods at his approach. As he sits down, a dividing wall is pulled shut around the corner. He sets the drink on the table and makes himself comfortable.
These are the only words spoken, as the response can only just barely be heard.
“Good. Get checked in, then I want you at the arena. We have things to discuss. I have a job for you.”
Dan nods and takes a drink.
There is a click from the other side of the phone as the other party hangs up. He sets the phone down on the table and with one big swig of his drink, empties it. He stands up, leaves the glass there, and exits the booth.
He walks back into the lounge proper and, walking past the bar, gestures to the bartender for his briefcase. The bartender retrieves it promptly and hands it over, and Dan slings it back over his shoulder again. On the end of the bar, there’s a small sign, about 8 inches tall by 8 inches wide, and on the front of it, there is a VR code to give the bartender a tip. Dan pulls out his phone, scans the code, then types some numbers into the phone. He looks up at the bartender again.
“Thanks for the drink.”
Without another word, he places the phone back in his coat pocket and walks out of the lounge and into the airport.
II. Only Real Ones Go Down With the Ship
Later that day, the sun is starting to get low in the sky. On Chester street, a few blocks away from Old Trafford, the street is busy. It’s game night. Most of the people walking down the street are in either a Manchester United shirt or a jersey of the same, although a few West Ham are sprinkled in as well.
Dan Ryan is coming up the street on the storefront sidewalk. There’s a cold chill in the winter air, and he flips up the collar of his trenchcoat to fend off the cold breeze. Walking past a pub on the corner, he can see his destination up ahead.
Craig Massey had worked with or for Dan for nearly twenty-five years. First as a wrestler, then as a backstage interviewer and trainer, and later as a liaison between Dan and certain business associates. Massey had texted Dan an address and told him to meet there around 5pm local time.
As he approaches the small strip of businesses, Dan sees a long line forming inside and outside of Lou Macari, a small local fish and chip place. Lou Macari, who had a long career with Man U., was doing what many legends of sport do after they retire. He was capitalizing on his career, and why not? But the crowds. Two hours before game time, the crowds are formidable.
Crossing the street just past the pub he catches sight of Craig Massey, who stands outside Lou Macari on the sidewalk, with a shit-eating grin on his face and two orders of fish and chips in his hands. He looks at Dan as he makes his way over, then with a sideways nod gestures him over to where he’s standing.
“I took the liberty of ordering for you,” Massey says, smiling from ear to ear.
Dan nods, looking inside at the mass of people waiting for a pre-game meal. A few turn their head and, upon seeing the big man outside, quickly turn away and back to what they’re really there for.
“I appreciate that. It’s a little crowded for a discussion though. Lots of ears around.”
Massey shrugs. “You’ll thank me later. This is one of the best chippers in town.”
“Chippers?”, Dan says, a smirk on his face. “Craig, you’re from Texas. Using British slang kinda loses its appeal when said in that accent. Don’t be that guy.”
Massey chuckles, then hands Dan his food. “Let’s walk.”
Craig turns and starts to walk toward the next corner and Dan follows before catching up and walking alongside. They walk in silence for a minute or two until they are out of the main crowd of people.
Craig’s smile starts to fade eventually as he prepares for what he needs to say. Dan looks forward, patiently, and walks with a steady pace. Up ahead in the distance, just on the other side of the railroad tracks, Old Trafford rises just above the red brick buildings.
“I got in touch with everyone. I have bad news, unfortunately.”
Disappointed, but not terribly surprised, Dan glances at him, then returns his gaze forward and just listens.
“Pretty much all of your business associates want out. Obviously, I’m not talking about corporate sponsors.”
Dan nods. “Obviously.”
“As unsavory as dealing with these people can be, it will be hard to continue your…” He glances around and lowers his voice to a whisper. “…’business activities’ without their support. Your shield of plausible deniability will be gone completely.”
“As I expected,” Dan responds. “Everyone took the first train out of Dodge the moment the news broke. You’re the only one who stuck around – you and Phyllis. But I can’t get Phyllis mixed up in these things…”
He pauses, but keeps walking, thinking to himself, then tosses what’s left of his food into a nearby bin.
“Call them back. I’ll find a suitable solution for a good meeting place here in the city. They’re already here, so let’s have a little sit-down.”
Craig looks up at his boss. “Are you sure that’s wise? They’ve already made their feelings pretty clear.”
Dan doesn’t look at him. He looks up at the stadium as they pass through a row of posts meant to keep vehicles at bay.
“I can be very persuasive. Maybe I can turn this around…”
He stops and looks Old Trafford over, best as he can from the outside.
“…and if I can’t?”
Craig steps up beside him. “You know… I know what happened ate you up inside, and I know you’re trying to make amends. But there comes a time when you have to take action. You’re a man of action, boss. You always have been. Forget everything except for what’s in front of you, quite literally, right now – this stadium, March to Glory. It’s your first official singles match back, and it’s for the gold. Be enough of who you once were to prove who you really are. You don’t need the distractions.”
“Just make the meeting happen. I’ll take care of everything.”
He looks at Craig, placing a friendly hand on his shoulder, smirks, and makes an expression that Craig Massey takes as a threat, but not to Craig.
Dan turns and continues walking past the stadium, but Massey stays put. He watches Dan Ryan walk away, then nervously blows air from his mouth, and watches it visibly rise into the evening sky.
“Just because someone is the heir to a throne or company does not mean they are the best fit for the job.”
– Kailin Gow
III. Longhorns and Bullshit
I visited the family last week, Stevens.
I didn’t actually talk to any of them, of course. I’m not as much of a masochist as I used to be. But it crossed my mind recently that I’ve never actually gone down and taken a look at that little wrestling school of yours.
Not so little, I know. I like to talk to you like your family is a meaningless footnote in the history of wrestling in Texas, but that’s just me taking my shots. The Stevens Dynasty complex is an impressive little compound. Truth is, your family has made a mark in the business back home and you do deserve some respect for that.
But this is what eats at you.
For all the bravado and all the boasting you do, you’re not even one of the top three wrestlers to come out of our state. You’re barely in the top three wrestlers to come out of our state who are signed to HOW. I would say it’s embarrassing for you, except if history has shown us all anything about you, it’s that you simply do not have the shame gene. No matter how foolish you are made to look, no matter how many times you lose. You are the athlete’s foot on the tile shower room floor of High Octane Wrestling, only with you, all the Tinactin in the world won’t make you go away.
A comic named Anthony Jeselnik once said about Dennis Miller, “I don’t know anyone who likes him, and I’m friends with three of his brothers.”
He might as well have been talking about you, Scott. Hell, going back to that top three thing, I’m not even, now that I think about it, sure that you’re one of the top three wrestlers in your family. It’s ironic, no one outside of down-home country wrestling U.S.A. knows the names of your brothers and father, and everyone wishes they didn’t know yours.
Now I know, you work for the bossman, so you say. You’re just delusional enough that I believe you when you say it, despite all evidence to the contrary. Truth is, I don’t know what your actual relationship with Lee Best is, whether he simply tolerates you or he finds you to be a useful idiot. I don’t know. All I know are the instructions I’ve been given, and twice now, those instructions have included dumping you right on your fat, Texas head.
Knowing the boss as we all do, how does that make you feel, Scott? Trust me, I know all too well my role in all of this. It was laid out in front of me before I ever signed on the dotted line to come back. The map is clear. You’re working off of innuendo and supposition, but you look like a little yapping dog barking at the mailman, growling and snapping your teeth in his direction, thinking you’re scaring someone when at best, all he’s doing is smiling and telling your owner how cute you are.
I’m not gonna go on and on about this, Scott, because as I’ve already said, you’re too delusional to even argue with. I’ll have to make my point the only way you’re capable of understanding, by beating you from post to post… again… and dumping you on your neck… again. I may not get to choose who I get to pin to win the HOTv title… maybe I only have to pin one of you… maybe I have to pin all of you. I guess we’ll all find out soon enough.
But I hope it ends up being you.
Not because I think you’re an easy target.
I hope it’s you, because I despise you, Scott.
I hate your face.
I hate when you speak.
I hate that you’re from Texas.
I hate that you walk around like you’re anything more than the dog shit that Lee Best accidentally stepped in while out getting his paper one morning.
You got one over on Jatt. In the immortal words of my favorite Scotsman, “cool.”
But I’m not in the mood to play it cool. I want all of our cards on the table. I hate your guts. Your stupidity makes me want to put my first through your face over and over until there’s nothing left but a bloody pile of Texas mush on the canvas. I want to paint the ring in your blood and put an end to your offensive stupidity once and for all.
I dream of it.
I can’t wait to make it a reality.
You may think I’ve softened up as I’ve grown older. But in truth, I’m angrier. I’m even more violent. I don’t even give a shit about making this look good. I’m not jumping off the top rope or springboarding over the top rope to the floor. All I care about is winning this match and trying to have a little fun in the process. I will win the HOTv title, and while doing so, I will beat the hell out of you.
Nothing could be more fun than kicking your fat fucking head across the pitch of Old Trafford.
I have my instructions, and the good news is, nothing about those instructions will prevent me from doing just that. There’s a destination for us all. Yours is to be buried under the English soil, either figuratively or literally. Mine is to be a champion again.
And I don’t give a flying fuck how you feel about that.
“There was some sort of justice involved, in watching some of these people – these terrible fucking human beings, these terrible fucking men – beg, grovel, face for the first time ever the consequences of their actions.”
– Ellery Lloyd
IV. Sins of the Father
March 2, 2023.
Tucked under the Southwest corner of Old Trafford is a fully stocked training facility. The colors of Manchester United are, naturally, all over the twenty-foot-high painted cinder block walls.
Most of the equipment is pushed back against the walls in order to facilitate the construction of a makeshift wrestling ring, available for anyone working March to Glory if they want to get some reps in.
Well, not everyone.
Everyone who was told by Lee Best that it existed.
Inside the ring is a smallish kid, and by a kid, we’re talking a nineteen or twenty-year-old, about five-foot-ten at most, athletic build, in trunks a tight-fitting Under Armour training shirt. Opposite him, mid-fighting position is Dan Ryan, dressed in full ring attire, black trunks, knee pads, black boots with “DR” on one side and a red hammer on the other side with tiny lettering that says ‘Hammer of God.”
Ryan rushes forward and locks up with the kid aggressively. Instead of pushing him back, he immediately turns it into a headlock and cranks away on the kid’s neck. The kid throws an elbow at Ryan’s midsection, but it does nothing except annoy the big Texan. With a newfound agility that catches his sparring partner off guard, he releases the headlock and spins around behind him, traps an arm behind his neck, traps the other, and throws him over backward with an arm trap dragon suplex.
The kid goes flying, but Ryan doesn’t let up. He rushes to his feet and pulls the kid up, wraps his arms around his midsection, then throws him again, this time a release belly-to-belly suplex. The kid flops into the opposite corner and ends up propped against the bottom turnbuckle. With a roar, Ryan sprints in and throws a big boot right across his jaw.
Ryan reaches down, pulling the kid out to the middle of the ring. He’s flailing his arms, trying to get some shots in, but Dan throws hard hammering elbow blows to the top of his head. Finally, one of the kid’s wild swings catches the back of Ryan’s knee, the same knee injured by Steve Harrison several years earlier.
Ryan is infuriated and clubs the kid on the side of the head, dropping him to his back. Ryan gets into a mounting position and starts throwing down huge meat hooks to both sides of the kid’s face. The kid has his hands up at first, but after a few more thunderous shots to the temple, the hands drop and the kid goes limp.
But Ryan doesn’t stop. His race is full of rage, full of hatred, full of pure unadulterated anger.
A voice calls out.
“HEY!! THAT’S ENOUGH!!”
Craig Massey, just arriving to speak with his boss, drops his bag where it is by the door and sprints to the ring, rolling under the bottom rope. Ryan continues to pummel the poor helpless kid, long since unconscious. Massey jumps onto Ryan’s back, yanking and pulling at him to try and get him to stop. Finally, Dan shrugs him off and jumps to his feet, glaring daggers at Massey. He turns one last time, looking down at the kid whose face he had turned into mush, then snarls and walks past Craig Massey to leave the ring.
Massey checks on the kid, pulling out his phone and dialing the medical trainer’s office for some medical assistance.
Dan Ryan walks directly to another door on one wall, pauses for just a moment to look at a poster for March to Glory with Christopher American front and center, and walks inside. A small meeting area is set up there. He paces, breathing deeply, trying to calm himself down. In the middle of the room, there’s a small conference table, and a couple pieces of paper splayed out on top of it.
After a few moments, Craig Massey enters, a frown on his face.
“Hey next time I send you one of my kids to train with, why don’t you just shoot ‘em and save yourself some time?”
Dan shoots him a look, but otherwise says nothing, and continues to pace.
“Hey what’s your problem, man?”
“I SAID WHAT’S YOUR PROBLEM?”
This causes Dan to stop. He peers over his shoulder as his smaller associate, and all sorts of violent images cloud his vision. Ultimately, however, he pushes them away and instead walks over to the table, where a thick packet of paper is sitting. Craig follows him over, Dan takes the papers and shoves them into Craig Massey’s chest.
“What’s this?” Craig asks while looking down and starting to read. After a moment he gets a pained look on his face. “A restraining order?” He keeps reading, muttering the words to himself under his breath.
“FROM CECILIA?? Your daughter had a restraining order placed on you?”
Dan turns, fuming, angry, sad, head pounding, all of these things at once, to the point that it all seems likely to overflow his control at any moment.
Massey drops the papers back on the table.
“Isn’t this a bit excessive? You were busted, and she was busted? Why the need for a restraining order? Because you’ve been calling her trying to talk things out?”
Ryan stands where he is with his back to him. “Not just because I’ve been calling.”
Massey looks confused.
Silence for a few moments.
Dan spins around, seething.
“She didn’t even know about it, Craig. You understand?”
Massey gets an expression that is a clear indicator that he does not. “No, I don’t. She’s an adult. She’s responsible for what she puts in her own body. It’s not like you gave it to her without her knowledge.”
A nerve has been struck. Dan stares at his friend, the anger drops, and only reserved, self-loathing acceptance remains.
Dan Ryan’s eyes drift off to nothing, thinking, internally screaming, looking for something to put his fist through. Finally, he looks back at Craig.
“That’s exactly what I did.”
Massey is stunned and completely taken aback. He has no idea what to say. These are words he definitely did not expect. His mouth opens, but there are no words. Dan just holds his stare.
“I thought she might need a boost. She was struggling. I couldn’t stand to see her struggle. I gave it to her in a simple protein shake. She had no idea. She trusted me…” He frowns, deeply, at himself, at everything. “And I let her down. And now, I’m reaping what I sowed.”
Massey, still not really knowing what to say, looks back at the paperwork. Before he can muster up the words to speak, Dan Ryan is rushing past him. Craig spins just as his boss stops at the door and half-turns around.
“The meeting you set up with our business associates – it’s tomorrow evening at seven o’clock. I want you there. Don’t be late.”
Massey just stares at the door as Dan Ryan closes it behind him.
He sighs deeply and flops into a chair, with nothing to say.