Vast ranch-land spreads out in front of us. The creek-fed fields stretch out as far as the eye can see, and cattle dot the landscape in various places.
A large house sits upon the highest point of the property, with a path leading down to the stretch of river that borders one end of the acreage. The vast, ground-hugging single-story home takes up nearly a full quarter acre open to a veranda that overlooks the ranch from the front of the structure.
The land slopes away from the East end of the property, allowing for a half-underground garage on one side, from which a pickup truck emerges, carrying an unseen driver down a dirt road that disappears out toward the heart of the ranch.
Inside, in a parlor behind a desk that’s much too large for anyone to need, Dan Ryan, contemplative, waits …
Here we go again.
Now, in front of the High Octane faithful, in front of eyes that may or may not fully understand what they’re actually seeing, we cut away the weeds of this rivalry, rip open the scars – we hash this out in possibly the worst way possible, inside the ring.
Iconic wasn’t entirely successful. I did pin Cecilworth Farthington’s shoulders to the mat in time to win a championship, and I’m not gonna apologize for that. I didn’t win the World Championship though, and that leaves me with a big fucking chip on my shoulder. You, Lindsay – you know what that means.
I won’t preach to you.
But neither am I interested in hugging this out.
And that’s what makes this a worst-case scenario for us.
I have so much to prove. I’ve taken shots at Farthington and I’ve come so close, but still haven’t definitively beaten him, not even once. So here I am, needing to earn another shot, and there you are of all people, standing in my way.
I want so badly to promise you a clean fight, a handshake and a sporting contest to see who the best may be, but I can’t lie to you, Lindz. It’s not my style and you know me too well anyway. You’ll be on your guard, and that’s wise. There’s always that… something… bubbling just under the surface in danger of exploding out at whoever stands in my way. I haven’t always been so great at stopping it.
I want to say I won’t hurt you.
I want to.
For the family’s sake, I want to, but here we are.
This is the moment you dreaded. You didn’t want this. You didn’t wanna come back. You were content in what you were doing, training your students, living your life. And you really didn’t want to mix business and family again. Things went so horribly sideways the last time.
It took a long time for things to get right again, but I’m not sure if I trust my own psyche. I can tell you what I want, but I can’t fully explain what happens when the switch flips in my brain and the other side comes out – the side that needs to win at all costs, needs to be the best. It’s not as simple as ego. That’s far too elementary to describe what goes on with me.
There’s always been a fracture there, always the slightest wrong move away from rampaging through like a bull in a china shop. I want to promise you that everything will be alright.
I’m not sure you should believe me though.
Does that scare you?
It probably does.
It scares me a little.
You’ve been training Cecilia for some time now. She looks up to you, as anyone who studies this sport should. What will this do to her? What about the inevitable verbal onslaught coming my way. Should she even watch that? Maybe I should be considering that more.
Maybe there are a lot of things I should consider.
I’m not the only one in danger of exploding… am I?
I think you have some frustrations to get out of your system. I think we’re about to cut through a whole lot of bullshit and get to the real emotions churning around inside the Queen. Forgiveness? For the sake of your sister, for the sake of the kids? Yeah, maybe. But really? No. No, I don’t think so.
I know there’s still a part of you that wants to rip my head off — for yourself, for Tyler.
And conveniently, here’s your chance. Here’s your chance to say everything you’ve wanted to say for the last three years. I know it’s coming. Trust me, I know. I’m no fool. Say it. Say what you want. Get it out of your system. Do it. I can take it.
Then, try to take my head off, if you can.
And you already know I won’t take it personally, don’t you? You can say whatever you want, do whatever you want, because it doesn’t really matter to me what anyone says or does. That’s the beauty of being a cold-hearted son of a bitch. People can say what they want and it doesn’t really change things at all. Kiss my ass, try to tear me a new one. Either way, I do what I do. You hate that about me, but it keeps me alive. I can’t let the turmoil affect me.
Even when it’s family.
Lee was wise in longing to get you in HOW. So it goes everywhere, doesn’t it? EPW… PRIME…. So many other places I wasn’t even there for. It’s not just a clever nickname. You’re wrestling royalty. Where you go, success follows.
But you’re in unfamiliar territory here, Lindsay. You let Mike Best get inside your head, and then you let him beat you.
I know you want to change it, and I know that having to do this with me this week is the last thing you want right now. But you made this bed, right? You lost to Mike, nothing to be ashamed of, but you lost the match and now he gets to sit to the side this week and watch us all tear each other apart. He’s set you up perfectly to make you just angry and frustrated enough to do and say some stupid shit. He has his own psychological tells though. He likes to put his balls on the table, and that’s fine. I like to take advantage of mistakes, and I usually do a pretty good job of it. But this? This was the smart play.
Mike Best grew up a Dan Ryan fan. Did you know that?
He’s smart enough to know that I will not pull my punches. He’s smart enough to know that when you put someone in front of me — even you — I’ll do whatever it takes to win, do whatever it takes to reach my goal. He also knows that I won’t stop — ever — until I get there, and even now he’s planning his long game in case his short game doesn’t work out. And he’s smart enough to know that you’re ripe for a meltdown. He’s counting on you pushing me too far, and he’s counting on me following through and putting a wrecking ball to the Industry.
But there are some things that he doesn’t know. He has the mind games down, the shit-talking, maneuvering to get what he wants. But there’s more he doesn’t know.
And you — who knows you better than I do?
We train together, we travel as a family, we make plans, talk strategy…
I know your weaknesses, Lindsay. I know where to apply pressure. And hey, maybe I’m talking about actual physical pressure. Then again, maybe I’m not. I know the mental weaknesses too. I know what keeps you up at night. I know what worries you, and I know the lever to pull to make you walk away from this business forever.
I don’t want to pull that lever. I don’t. That’s a sincere statement, but the truth is that I don’t trust myself, not fully. The truth is, I’m far, far too full of myself for my own good — for the good of anyone who knows me. I’ve walked away before, and that’s the only thing that’s ever been effective. But — I can’t walk away this time.
I want to win the World Championship.
I know I’ll do whatever I have to do to get there.
Do you have the stomach to do what you might have to do to beat me?
If so, do you have the stomach for what might come next?
I would never blow up the family just to win a wrestling match … would I?
No, surely not. Ah, but there’s the fracture, straining under the weight, waiting to see what you’ll do. I think I need to go for a run. Maybe I can clear my head and get a better handle on this. I don’t know what’s gonna happen when we get into the ring, but I do know…
I do know that I need to win this match. I need to.
I worry about what might happen if I don’t.
It might mean the end of the snappy banter in our future talks. That would be a true shame… a true shame.
The sacrifices we make …
“I don’t like this one bit.”
Alaina Troy-Ryan was pacing the floor, watching the face of her husband, Dan Ryan, as he sat in a living room chair, leaning back, one leg draped over the other.
“We said we weren’t doing this again. We said we weren’t fighting amongst ourselves anymore.”
Ryan didn’t respond, but his eyes followed his wife back and forth.
“You promised me after what happened between you and Lindsay the last time that you’d never let yourself get into a situation again where fighting her was necessary. You promised.”
Alaina stops, looking him dead in the eyes.
“I… don’t… like it.”
Ryan stared back at her for a few moments, absent-mindedly tapping the fingers of his right hand on the arm of the chair.
“No.” He replied. “You probably shouldn’t.”
She shook her head. “Can you promise me that things won’t go South again? Can you promise me that??”
He looked back at her, saying nothing. She waited impatiently, but no answer was forthcoming, so she spoke up.
“I have to say, your silence is the least reassuring response I could have gotten to that question.”
He held his gaze.
“Would you prefer I lied?”
“I was wrong.” She said. “That answer was way worse.”
He grunted, frustrated. “What would you like me to say? I’m not here to make a power play. I’m not trying to take over the company or make the decisions around here. I’m trying to win a World Championship and right now, this is the only path to do so. I have to get out of this group on top and then I have to figure out how to detach the World Championship from Cecilworth Farthington’s death grip. Would you prefer I roll over, hand her the win and become her valet? Maybe I can learn how to open the ring ropes just the way she likes it.”
Her expression quickly sours. “Don’t be a smartass.”
“Okay.” He nodded, with no sense of warmth. “Which would you prefer? A promise I can’t keep, or a lie? Which one would make you feel better?”
Alaina’s eyes narrowed slightly. “I’d prefer you told me that all of this growth you’ve supposedly done wasn’t complete bullshit. Can you tell me that you haven’t been full of crap these last few years?”
A look of irritation crossed his face.
“Did you have this same conversation with Lindsay?”
Alaina tensed up. She didn’t have to answer. He knew she hadn’t. No, he was the asshole.
Dan Ryan smirked, then got very serious. “All I can tell you is that I won’t know how I feel about any of this until I’m standing in the ring across from her and I hear the bell. I can’t know until I see what she plans to do. I don’t know what will happen and I don’t know how I’ll react. I won’t promise you anything more than that I will try my best. That’s the best I can do. I won’t lie to you.”
“Well,” She looked on, resigned. “I hope you know what you’re doing. It took a lot of work to get this family whole again. I hope you know better than to fracture it again.”
His eyes darted up to her at the last part, then he looked out through a picture window at nothing in particular.
“Come on in.”
The parlor door was opened just enough for the dark-haired gentleman to slip through. He was used to getting in and out of places in a hurry, an old habit practiced in more difficult times. He sat down and looked across the desk at Dan Ryan, waiting.
“I was told you wanted to speak with me.”
Ryan nodded, finally. “Yes. My contacts in Osaka gave me your name. I have some work I need doing.”
The man’s eyebrows raise. “And you want me to do this work for you?”
“Not exactly,” Ryan replied. “More precisely, I have some work to do, and I was told you were the man to help me do it.”
“So,” The man smiled. “It’s training then.”
Ryan nodded again. “Yes. It’s training.”
The man relaxed, getting comfortable. “Having trouble getting over the hump with Farthington.”
It was a statement, not a question as if a matter of fact. Ryan’s expression stiffened. Too comfortable, and the man realized it right away.
“I mean no offense, of course. If it’s the training that you want, I can help you. There are some… methods… that I can teach you, but it won’t be easy.”
Ryan leaned back, his serious expression hardening even more.
“It better not be…”