First Casualty Of War

First Casualty Of War

Posted on April 8, 2021 at 11:44 pm by Teddy Palmer

April 10th, 2021
Saint Louis, Missouri
Straub’s Fine Grocers

“Listen, I don’t care if Dad’s pissed that I told Zoey to go fuck herself.”

“That’s not what he wants to talk about.”

Larry trails closely behind me, pushing the shopping cart along the wood grain laminate flooring. Having approached the ‘Baked Goods’ section, the tiered walnut display table has been the apple of my eye since turning the corner of our most recently explored aisle. Reaching down, each hand grabs the first thing it touches, pulling them up for closer inspection.

“Walnut coffee cake or cinnamon coffee cake?” I ask.

“I don’t know…cinnamon?”

“Trick question.” I reply, tossing both cakes into the cart with little care, turning back to face him. “So if the Old Man doesn’t want to bitch me out, then what does he want?”

“He wants to make things right. He wants to start building a relationship with you.”

“Oh yeah?” I nod, slightly rolling my eyes. “Does he have some sort of time machine so he can go back and undo the past thirty three years? Our relationship is just fine.”

“It is though? When was the last time you spoke to him?”

Good question. It’s been a minute, that’s for sure. I remember there being snow on the ground, and it was definitely before I first debuted in High Octane. I seem to recall wearing a suit. Oh yeah!

“New Years 2020. We hung out, had a very pleasant exchange with one another. Well, maybe not quite pleasant. Tame?”

“New Years?” Larry asks, thinking back to the holiday. “Wait, are you talking about Nana’s funeral the first week of January?”

“That’s it!” I point at him.

Reaching down towards the display, I pull up a bag of scotch oatmeal cookies. I hem and haw, debating if we need the packaged sweets. The brief tug of war lasts mere seconds as I place the bag in the cart, followed by four more.

“Ted…” His voice begs to reason, his eyes never having left me.

“What do you want from me? You don’t think I wanted to have my dad? Fuck man, do you even know the weird ass journey I’ve taken?”

“I know you call a tiny Asian man dad.” Larry leans onto the push handle of the cart.

“You’re damn right I do. He doesn’t like it, but I do.” I throw one more bag of cookies in the cart. “Bin’s been there for me more than ‘Trevor’ ever has.”

“I get that, I do. All I’m asking is you hear him out. Give him a chance to speak. He’s never gonna be able to change the past, but that doesn’t mean you have to close the book. You can start a new chapter.”

Whether he realized it or not, his book analogy hit deep. I came back to High Octane to begin a new chapter, not satisfied with how the last ended. Would one conversation hurt?

“I’m busy, man. We’re on the road now through May,” I shake my head. “But…maybe when things settle back down in Chicago…we’ll see. No promises.” 

“That’s fair enough.” Larry smiles the slightest, feeling as if he’s broken through a barrier of sorts. “He told me to wish you luck tonight, by the way.”

I raise my brow to acknowledge his passed along well wishes, but I’ve quickly diverted my attention back to the desserts before us. Scouring the table while circling around its end, I pick up three containers of cinnamon rolls. I shuffle them into a stack cradled in my left arm, freeing up a hand to grab a container of pancake mix, soon placing my items into the cart with a bit more care. Pursing my lips, I look at my items, then back at the display. I grab one more walnut coffee cake for good measure.

“Okay, what the fuck are you doing?” He looks over the items in the cart. “You volunteered to go get groceries for the house.”

“Not sure I follow.”

“We’ve been here for like five minutes and you’ve already filled the cart.”

“Your point being?”

“With desserts and Fitz’s sodas…”

“We’re not done yet, obviously.”

It’s at this moment an employee attempts to shuffle beyond us, but I halt his stride with a polite, “Excuse me.” The young man sports a Straub’s black polo, with a name tag pinned to his chest that reads ‘Jared.’ 

“Yeah?” he answers, seeming less than thrilled to talk with a customer.

“Where can I find the steaks?” I ask, winking at Larry.

Jared looks me up and down like I just asked him the dumbest question possible. I look over back at big brother, and he too is giving me the same look. Soon Larry and the young employee exchange glances, Jared’s reading ‘is he for real,’ Larry’s conveying ‘unfortunately, yes.’

“The Deli…” he replies.

“And this Deli…”

“Ted!” Larry’s voice booms, before looking at the Jared. “Thank you, we’re good.”

“What the hell?” I hold my hands up as I watch my source of information walk away.

“Are you simple?”

“As in…of simple taste?”

Larry’s hands meet his face as he tries to rub his frustrations out through his eyes. He slides them down his face, pulling his cheeks down so I can see the pink under his eyelids. He soon reaches his jawline, and leaves them resting there.

“How have you survived this long?” he asks. “That’s not a rhetorical question either. I’m serious.”

“Well, for the longest time, Red or Grady took care of this type of stuff. Then there was Bin who let me live with him. Lately, I’ve been eating out a lot.” I shrug.

“Ugh,” he moans, looking skyward. “What did I tell you about Lindsay?”

“That you want her to knock Zoey out?”

“No!” Larry yells before tilting his head. “Well, yes, but not that. I told you not to fuck this up.”

“And?” 

“And this,” he begins, waving his arms over the cart. “This isn’t a great start. You’ve gotta grow up. There’s a fuck tonne more to living than just travelling, training and wrestling. Now put those desserts back and I’m teaching you how to shop, like an adult.”

“…All of them?” I ask, Larry’s facial expression being all the response I need. “All of them it is…”

As I begin to do so, an unfamiliar, feminine voice calls, “Teddy?” 

Larry and I both turn towards the aisle perpendicular to us, and standing at its end are two women. The blonde duo don’t look to be much younger than myself, and possess a real ‘All-American Girl’ look to them. Neither looks familiar, but this is a road I’ve travelled more times than I’d like to admit. That uneasy feeling begins to flutter in the pit of my stomach.

“Hey…I’m…you…” I stutter.

“I told you it’s him!”

“Do I…?” I start to ask, but fade out.

“I’m Stacy,” the one on the left says before turning to introduce her friend. “And this is Jodie. We are huge fans of yours.”

Fuck that’s a relief.

“Well thank you.” I offer, awkwardly bowing my head.

“Do you mind if we get a picture with you?” Stacy asks, while Jodie nods.

“Uh, yeah.” I look at Larry. “Of course.”

The girls in the matching torn blue jeans and low cut tops excitedly shuffle forward. Stacy shoves her phone into Larry’s chest, not asking, but rather expecting he’ll be kind enough to take the picture. Stacy slides an arm behind my back, squeezing tightly into the right side of my torso while Jodie simultaneously does the same on my left side. When Jodie squeezes, however, my teeth clamp together as her shoulder digs into my bruised ribs. Larry apathetically rotates the phone from portrait, to landscape, then back to portrait before tapping on the screen.

“Got it,” he mumbles. 

Stacy releases her grip and snags her phone from Larry’s hands. She looks at the photo closely, first squinting, then zooming in. Jodie, who still hasn’t spoken a word, still has her arm wrapped around me, her boney shoulder grinding into my ribcage. Stacy hands the phone back into Larry, and is quick to take her position at my side once more.

“Sideways this time,” she says, to which Larry sighs, turning the phone.

“Got it.” Larry’s lack of enthusiasm is apparent.

“Okay, okay, one more,” Stacy requests with a slight snicker, locking eyes with Jodie and nodding.

Both girls turn inwards and climb up onto their tiptoes. Before I realize what’s happening, a set of lips are planted on each bearded cheek. I maintain my smile, not giving a second thought to this fan interaction while Larry taps away on the screen. Their eyes shift to face him, maintaining their lip lock until he says otherwise.

“And you’re good,” he says, tossing the phone back to Stacy before pointing at me. “You though? Not so much.”

“What? Was it my hair?” I ask, oblivious.

“Good luck tonight against Jatt!” Jodie finally breaks her silence, interrupting us.

“He doesn’t need any luck against that Ellen Degeneres look alike.” Larry says, almost dismissively.

“Don’t you dare insult Ellen like that.” I stare a hole through him.

“Fine…er…Justin Beiber look alike.” 

“Are you kidding me? That’s worse! Biebs is a national treasure!”

“Thank you so much!” Stacy gleefully interrupts our back and forth, my friendly fans turning away to depart down the aisle way they appeared out of. “It was nice to meet you Teddy!”

As I’m waving goodbye, Larry quickly turns to me, throwing a stiff jab into my shoulder. “You’re a fucking idiot.” 

“For not liking your ‘insults?’ Harsh.” I say, rubbing the stinger.

“Not that.” He exhales, pointing down the aisle. “Them.”

“What? They’re fans. I was being nice.”

“Oh, I know you were.” He places a hand on my shoulder. “And that’s fine and dandy. But let me ask you this though: is Lindsay the jealous type?”

“I…don’t think so?”

“Okay. How about this,” he holds his pointer up. “How do you think she’d react to a photo of two very attractive women kissing you? Better yet, how would you react to a photo of two meatheads kissing her?”

“Ohhhhh…nooooooo.” I groan, before quizzically continuing. “What was I supposed to do?”

“You can be nice, yet set fuckin’ boundaries at the same time.” He replies as if it was obvious.

“Oh…”

Larry clenches his eyes shut and sighs. “You have so much to learn.” 

April 10th, 2021
Saint Louis, Missouri
Enterprise Center – Section 214

I decided that given the unique nature of tonight’s match up, coming to the arena before the majority of the High Octane staff, roster and fans had arrived was a necessity. The Enterprise Center, aside from the odd Blues game, is relatively unknown to me, and it wouldn’t hurt to get a lay of the land. I took the opportunity to map out the backstage area, trekking through the various corridors and stairwells. I bobbed and weaved through floor seats, examining their layout, all the while catching faint whiffs of Benny Newell’s Jack Daniel’s stained commentators chair. I worked my way up into the bowl, going up and down the stairs, getting a feel for each section, becoming one with my environment.

Then I noticed it. 

Much to my surprise, whether it was the influence of Joe Bergman, or the persistence of the travelling fans, an honorary Section 214 had been designated in the Together Credit Union Terrace. What’s usually known as Section 113 through 119 had been rebranded, and decorated in commemoration of The Grapplers Local 214. It’s where Sock, Larry and myself gravitated to, and are currently seated on the royal blue leather chairs, up in the last row against the retaining wall that separates us from the Bud Light Sports Pub.

“I was there for that,” I say, pointing up towards the banners hanging in the rafters. “The night they had their Stanley Cup Ceremony.”

Looking down the rows of seats ahead, the freshly assembled High Octane ring is set up roughly where center ice would be. It’s where the Blues celebrated their crowning achievement. It’s where they watched as they were forever immortalized, their banner elevated as Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” echoed throughout the arena, the capacity crowd singing along to every word. The same excitement that filled me that night while sharing their moment with them, currently courses through my veins to the point that sitting is a difficult task.

I’m mere hours away from creating a similar moment for myself. I can fuckin’ feel it. Tonight is my night.

“Who’d they play?” Larry inquires.

“The Capitals.”

“They win?” Sock asks, grabbing the #97 Red duffel bag on the ground beside him before standing up and heading towards the aisle.

“…I don’t want to talk about it,” I reply, the contents of his luggage leaving me curious.

I don’t have to wait long, as after a few steps down the slick grey concrete steps, he side-shuffles into the row to his right. He places the bag atop the premium priced seat in front of him, unzips it and begins to rummage through the contents. It isn’t long before he pulls out a can of pepper spray, shakes it in our direction with a grin plastered across his face.

“What the hell are you doing?” Larry beats me to the punch.

“Come on,” he says, ducking down to place the can underneath the seat closest to the stairway. After safely tucking it away, he stands up and points towards the temporary ‘Section 214’ sign occupying the terrace. “Everyone knows that once you two spill outta the ring, you’ll find your way up to those numbers like mosquitoes with a light trap.”

“And your idea is to…?” I squint, asking, but deep down knowing the answer.

“Leave a trail of hidden weapons.” Sock smiles. “Sektor gave him a competitive advantage against you, so I’m giving you one against Starr. You’re welcome.”

He again descends down a couple of stairs, this time entering the row to his left. He slings the bag over his shoulder like a purse, and pulls the top wide open. A delighted grunt clears his throat, and he reaches into the bag to pull out a rather large knife. Larry and I quickly exchange wide eyed glances, before turning back to watch him slide it underneath a seat.

“You can’t hide a knife in the arena!” Larry’s voice cracks, his concern very real.

“And why the fuck not?” Sock nonchalantly asks before descending a few more stairs.

“The goal is for Ted to defeat Jatt, not murder him.”

“When did we agree to take murder off the table?” he asks, the sincerity in his tone unsettling. 

“It was never on the table!” Larry yells.

“That Best fella murdered that preacher…”

“That was different!”

“Was it really?” Sock rhetorically asks, a tactical baton now in his hand. He flicks his wrist to test that it’ll open, and when it does, slams it on the ground to retract it. He tosses it under yet another seat, looking up at me while motioning to the baton. “That’s a good one there, Teddy. Don’t let the size deceive you, that fucker hurts more than a baseball bat. Trust me.”

“You know…” I whisper, looking over at Larry.

“No!” He shoves his finger in my face. “As soon as Mad Max is distracted elsewhere, I’m grabbing that knife.”

“Is it really that bad of an idea?” I ask.

“It’s a terrible fuckin’ idea.” Larry stands up. “Just imagine some kid finding a hunting knife under his chair. This is a wrestling event, not the fuckin’ purge.” 

Sock has since exited the bowl out onto the floor. His bag is noticeably lighter, as he drags it in his left hand towards the ring. With his back to us and quite a bit of distance created, Larry slides past me onto the stairs. For whatever reason, he hunches over as if he were on a recon mission, signalling for me to remain quiet. Slowly, he saunters down, one step at a time.

“Not on my watch…” he mumbles.

“Where’s he going?”

The voice from behind startles me, as I jutt forward, looking up. Lindsay has her elbows resting atop the counter affixed to the wall separating the pub from the seats, looking down at me with a smile.

“Sock hid a knife under a seat.” I sigh, leaning back into my chair’s backrest. “Larry’s going to retrieve it.”

“I mean, I wouldn’t mind seeing you filet Jatt like a fish.” Her smile grows a little wider. “You’d just need to make sure you got to it first.”

“It was a chance I was more than willing to take.” I quip, watching Larry on all fours retrieving the blade.

“Guess big bro’s never actually watched a HOW show, has he? A knife is pretty tame by our standards.”

“Let’s just say he can be a little uptight about certain things. It’s the cop in him coming out.” 

Lindsay moves away from the bartop and makes her way down the stairs, flouncing in the seat next to me. “Sock’ll probably make him carry it out of the arena.”

“One or both of them are getting detained. I guarantee it.”

“You’re bailing them out if they do. Call it your penance for the misunderstanding with Kendra and that eldery lady.”

“It’s only fair.” I laugh, reaching over to grab onto her hand. I interlock my fingers with hers, exhale and look upwards. “It’s a big night for us, Lindz.”

“You’re no stranger to them, Ted. I’ve got a good feeling about it, though. For you and for Zeb and Conor.”

“Honestly. I do too.” I smile, pointing up at the Blues Championship banner. “Tonight has that kind of feeling about it.”

***

Quality over quantity. I’m guessing you haven’t heard that one before.

You have this weird obsession with uninspired nicknames. It’s quite obvious it’s your crutch. You bestow yourself, as well as your opponents, with as many as you can possibly think of and it’s quite unfortunate that’s where you choose to dedicate the majority of your time and energy. Listen, there’s no easy way to say this, so Imma just rip this bandaid off: they fuckin’ suck. All of them. Not a single one is actually creative. Take a good look around and you’ll see that nobody is laughing. At you? Maybe. But with you? Hell no.

I mean, seriously…

The Ruler of Jattlantis. The Jattlantic City Idol. The Sovereign of Starrgentina.

What in the literal fuck? I know I’m gonna regret asking, but please explain it to me, because I don’t quite follow your logic. You’re from Montana, right? Yet all your nicknames are just places you could squeeze Jatt or Starr into. And why? Because it was the ‘creative’ thing to do? Was it a means to make up for the complete lack of depth and personality you have? Don’t get me wrong, I understand your dilemma. If Mundane were to be embodied as an individual, well, look no further than Jatt Starr

Kudos though, I guess, when it comes to my new monikers.

At least they centered around a general theme that actually applied to me: the name Ted. Again, super creative. I’ll toss you a couple pity points for the in-depth research. Teddy Suckspin. Teddy Poo-Sevelt. Theodore Suckstable. Fuckin’ great stuff my man, really. I’m sure you were up all night giggling as you jotted those names down in your journal. Was John over for a slumber party, by chance?

Let’s cut to the fuckin’ chase already.

You’ve christened yourself with many titles. You’ve done the same for me. You’ve privileged oh so many more with your “ingenuity.” Our ears are bleeding. It’s torture and I beg of you, find something new to lean into. Give us some fuckin’ variety. I don’t want to hear them, and neither does anyone else. So keep them to yourself. Write them in your journal all you want. Do it until your overworked heart is content. Just don’t fuckin’ share them anymore. 

I’ll do you the solid of helping you detox for the next six to eight weeks. Sound good? 

Psssst. I’m alluding to breaking your jaw, in case you didn’t get it.

I will say this though, there does happen to be one title attached to your name that has piqued my interest these past few weeks. In fact, I happen to like it so much that it’s my plan to simply take it from you later this evening and give it to myself: LSD Champion.

But hold on, I almost forgot!

I’m not LSD material. You’ve put the work in to sculpt that division in your image, and quite frankly, I just don’t fit the mold. I don’t crossdress with my BFF for a night out on the town. I don’t pay prostitutes to tie me up and peg me. I don’t choke myself with a belt in the closet while jerking off. 

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m fairly certain LSD Championship matches are streamed on HOTV, not XVideo or Pornhub.

But I tell you what, Jatt. While you’re in that closet trying to finish the job before you pass out, how about I do everyone a huge fuckin’ favour and kick the chair out from under your feet? Really finish the job.

I know I should be building this up as some sort of epic encounter. I should be reminding everyone you’re a High Octane Hall of Famer. I could go into listing off your long list of achievements. Maybe even give the audience the slightest hint that I might have a seed of doubt in my mind to create some sort of suspense. But I just can’t bring myself to do it. You are a fuckin’ joke and I have zero respect for you and everything you represent.

I remember fighting Max Kael for that Championship and the prestige it carried with it. Everyone was gunning for it. It actually meant something. Now, it’s been nothing more than a fashion accessory for the past hundred and twelve days.

Sure, on paper that reign reads fairly impressive.

Jatt Starr: ready to go, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. Right?

Wrong…

You’ve defended that Championship ONCE during that time frame. Do you know what else you’ve done? No? Let me remind you. You were knocked the fuck out in you’re first match up of the DeNucci Cup. You successfully defended the Tag Championships against Zeb and I, with a massive assist from Jiles. Then, again, you successfully defended the belts against a team who only showed up to collect their final pay cheque. And let’s clarify what successfully defending actually means: John does the leg work, you reap the benefits.

And that seems to be a common theme when it comes to Jatt Starr. John Sektor is deployed to do everything in his power to keep those Championships in your possession. I mean, It’s what he’s been doing for the LSD Championship ever since I earned the right to challenge for it. That’s why we were scheduled in the Main Event two weeks back. That’s why he hopped in and dick punched me last week. 

And you were where again? That’s right, waiting to capitalize on my lack of awareness. That’s a really fancy way of saying cowering like a little bitch off in the corner, waiting for Sektor to create an opening for you.

But hold on just a second. That’s not what this is or ever has been about. I’m misreading all these occurrences. Our eyes have been led to deceive us. This isn’t some sort of gang warfare. This isn’t an us versus them scenario. The Best Alliance has and will have nothing to do with this, and neither will the Grapplers Local 214.

It’s me versus you.

Ha! Get fucked, you delusional prick.

Sektor’s name comes out of that mouth of yours more than any single nickname you spew on a weekly basis. Whenever we see you, you’re looking for John like a lost toddler looking for his mother at a Wal-Mart: tears in his eyes, snot dripping out of his nostrils, and reeking of desperation. I suppose that’s what you meant by being simpatico with one another.

Or did you mean to say he’s your lifeline? Because we all know that without him, you’re nothing. A fuckin’ has been.

Either way, call it a gut instinct, but I’m certain Sektor will make his presence known. But it won’t be enough to save you. Neither will help from Solex. Or Harrison. Or Freeman. Or Byrd.

You can pray to your GOD, it too will make no difference.

Because you were right about one thing, and one thing only, Jatt: There will be no Sunday for you. 

I’m going to drop you on your head so fuckin’ hard, your brain will jostle around like it’s stuck inside one of The Miracle Man’s knock off shake weights. I’m going to beat you so fuckin’ badly, that the blood you spill will make the Enterprise Center look like a Jackson Pollock painting. What I do to you will be so GOD-damned brutal, Lee Best is going to have to air this match on tape delay so he can advertise a warning that states ‘what you are about to witness can result in serious injury and/or death. Do not try at home’.

You will be the first fuckin’ casualty of this war. Tonight is the beginning of your final chapter. And when War Games comes to pass, you’ll be forgotten as quickly as one of your promos.

Tonight ends with a celebration in Section 214.

Tonight ends with Bryan McVay proclaiming ‘Your Winner…And NEW…’

Tonight, the LSD Championship will fuckin’ mean something again.