”Guilt provides far more effective motivation than greed. For greed, at times, can be satiated.”
– L.E. Modesitt
Miami Beach Villa.
October 26, 2023.
Dan Ryan opens the large set of double doors and steps into the grand foyer. Its high ceilings are decorated with an exquisite chandelier and intricate architectural details, with wooden trim carved into a floral design. He walks through into the open concept living area, connecting the living room, dining room and kitchen together in one expansive space.
The marble floor gleams in the sunlight provided through floor to ceiling windows, themselves shaded with bamboo window coverings and a mechanism at the top to lower them to enhance privacy if so desired. He walks to a hall at the opposite end of the space and rounds a corner to another door leading to the master suite. He steps through into a vast room, with a king-sized bed, a sitting area, a private balcony with ocean views, and a lavish en-suite bathroom. Through an arched open passageway an office has been set up, with a thick mahogany desk, chair to match, and floor to ceiling wooden bookshelves on all three door adjacent walls.
He flings a small bag onto the bed and turns his head absent-mindedly to the office area. Steepled on the outside edge of the desk is what looks like a card. He slowly walks toward it, staring and considering the possible implications. Picking it up, he unfolds it and turns it over to read. He couldn’t shake the sudden feeling that this was grossly out of place.
It only takes a moment to read the message inside, and he quickly drops the card and rushes back to the door of the suite. The final words were swimming through his mind. “I think it’s time to talk,” signed “Cece”.
“Phyllis, what’s the meaning of…”
As he opens the door, he sees a hand raised to knock, and he stops cold, as if he has been slapped across the face unexpectedly. In front of him, suddenly, she’s there, and he wonders if he has wandered into a dream. Her radiant smile and sparkling eyes were unmistakable. She was carrying a backpack, her hair brushed to one side. Suddenly he doesn’t know what to say, what to do. Emotions overcome him as he takes in the sight of his now-adult daughter, the same girl who had been his pride and joy since her childhood.
To his deep surprise, he shook his head, and she was still there. Even more, she was wearing a slight smile.
“You – – You’re here. I don’t understand. You’re here.”
“I think it’s time we talked things out.”
“And your mother,” he says. “Does she know you’re here?”
“She thinks this is a bad idea, but I had to come down here anyway. Can we sit? It’s been a long trip.”
“Yes,” he replies, motioning her over to the seating area. “Of course.” They sit on the couch, turned slightly to face each other.
Dan gathers him. So many things he wants to say, and they all flood over him at the same time.
“I heard you were working under a hood in Japan. That was Lindsay’s doing, I suppose?”
She doesn’t say anything, but responds with a half-smile, pursing her lips and making a conscious decision to avoid certain topics.
“There’s so much I want to say. I don’t know where to begin.”
She holds up a hand. “Then let me begin. I have things I want to say, things I need to say.”
He sits back. “Okay.”
Cecilia takes a deep breath.
“Dad, I was so angry, so very angry for a long time. I never expected you to have illegal substances, and I definitely didn’t expect it to be laced into supplements that you had right there on the shelf in your refrigerator where anyone could get at them. How was I supposed to know what you were doing? I know you’ve got your stubborn pride, and believe me, I am my father’s daughter in all the ways that implies. But I didn’t know that this was a step you were taking. So the thing I want to know, because I need to hear it straight from you… is why? Why did you feel the need to take a shortcut? Why?”
He stares back at her, taking in everything she’s saying, and for a moment, he sees something else. The look in her eyes isn’t one of anger. It’s hope. It’s begging for answers, any answer she can believe. He wonders if he is strong enough to be as honest as she needs to be, and with a deep breath of his own, he answers.
“I’m not very good at this sort of thing, especially where you’re concerned. There was a time when I only cared about myself, when all I needed was to win, to conquer, to destroy everything and everyone in my path. When I lost your sister… It was more than I could take. I shut down completely, and I promised never to let myself feel that deeply for anyone again, because the pain was so unbearable that it almost killed me. I walked like a ghost through life, hurting people, wanting to make them feel as badly as I felt, and every win, every championship, was as hollow as the one before. It never got any better. And then, just when I thought I was coming to the end of myself, by chance, your mother showed up, and for the first time in a long time, someone saw me as more than what the world saw. When she was pregnant with you, I went to the hospital thinking I had all of my emotions in check. I was happy, but I figured, this is just part of life. I can manage this no problem.”
“But then, suddenly, a lot like just a few minutes ago… you were there. You came into the world and for the first time in over a decade, I began to feel alive. You gave me a purpose, you gave my life meaning again, and I swore to myself that I’d do everything in my power to protect you for the rest of my life. But I failed…”
A look of sadness comes over Cecilia Ryan’s face, and she looks down to her lap, then back up at her father as he continues.
“I lost myself again, Cece. We’ve never talked about this, but I want to be honest with you. Eight years ago, I came to the end of my career. It was over, I was burned out, satisfied with my legacy, done. I fully intended to take your mother’s hand on one side, and yours on the other, and walk into the sunset. We were to finally be a family without the specter of professional wrestling hanging over my head, without the pressure of being Dan Ryan, but with the privilege of being your dad.”
“And, for a while, it was good. But there’s something about this business that sticks its claws into your heart and doesn’t let go. The business called me back, and I couldn’t say no. They say we forever have the itch, and we all eventually come back to scratch it, and I’m no different. I came back, but I didn’t know what I was getting into.”
“I know now something that I didn’t see back then. When I retired, when I said I was done, I was right. I was done. The old me was gone, aged out of competition and ready to say goodbye. And then suddenly, I was thrown back into the fire. I had to figure out how to rekindle what I once was. First it was War Games. Then it Cecilworth Farthington, the ICON Title, the World Title. It was all way too much for me to handle, but I couldn’t say no. I couldn’t walk away. I couldn’t admit that it was over, and in my desperation, I made a terrible choice.”
“All of my arrogance, my self-assured egotistical insistence that everything was under control, that I could handle anything, finally came back to get me. For years, various people, your mother included, told me that my choices would finally come back to haunt me one day. For a long time, I fought through it. But finally, there was one bad choice too many. I’m so… so sorry, Cecilia. I’m sorry I disappointed you. I’m sorry that you got mixed up in my failure, and I’m so unbelievably sorry if I’ve forever changed the way you see me. If you need to be away from me, I understand. God knows I’m a terrible influence. But I’m finding myself again. And I will fix things. I swear I will.”
“Dad.” She reaches out and places a hand on his knee. “Nothing you could ever do would change the way I see you. You’re my hero, you always have been. I’ve always known who you really are, what you really were all about. I used to sneak out of bed and watch you on television when mom thought I was asleep. She wanted to protect me from what you did, just like you wanted to protect me. So I knew, and you’re still my hero. I was angry with you, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love you. It doesn’t mean that I’m no longer my father’s daughter. We’re a part of each other, and in time I’ll forgive you fully. I hope… that mom and Aunt Lindz will, too. In the meantime, I just want you to know… I’m okay. We’ll be okay.”
The words hang in the air for what seems like an eternity, until finally he looks up at her, and a small smirk starts around the corners of his mouth. She smirks back at him, and once again, he sees himself written all over her face. She stands up and picks up her backpack, then flings it over her shoulder again.
“Well,” she says. “If I know you, you’ve got some training to do. Probably got a place booked and closed down for the week until right up to show time, am I right?”
He smiles. “You know me.”
She chuckles. “I’m meeting some friends down the way from here. We’ve got a place, just gonna enjoy the sights, get some relaxation in, try and stay out of trouble.”
She walks toward the door of the suite and he stands up, following behind her.
She turns around at the door and he looks down at her.
“Okay. If you need anything, you know right where I am. Be safe.”
She smiles again.
“I will, dad. Oh, and dad?”
“Yeah,” he replies.
“Kick his ass.”
She smiles a devilish smile, and he returns it, then watches her leave, shutting the door behind her.
Dan turns back into the room and sits on the edge of the bed, thinking. After a moment, he sneers to himself.
”Doubt is an illusion that comes from knowledge and leads to madness.”
– Gustave Flaubert
Beads of sweat start to form on Dan’s forehead as he throws heavy fist after heavy fist at a thick hanging bag. The building interior is sparsely decorated, or really, not decorated at all. The walls are steel gray, the heavy bag is connected to a concrete wall, and there is a ring behind him. An area for weight training is to his right, with dumbbells of various weights thrown onto the floor around a padded bench.
On the walls around him are life-sized posters of Rhys Townsend, taken in late summer 2014, a few weeks after his fifth World Championship victory. Dan stares at the belt around his waist, then with a sneer throws a punch, caving in one side of the bag. As the leather and stuffing inside try to reform itself, he glances up at the belt again, this time focusing in harder on the center plate. He throws another punch, this time with his left hand. He looks at the poster a third time, and his eyes lock onto the belt around Rhys Townsend’s waist once more. Feeling a sense of tunnel vision, his face contorts intensely and he throws another right-handed punch, then a hard mid-level kick, a left-footed kick at thigh level, and finishes with a roundhouse kick at eye level.
The bag swings in place, looking like if it were able, it would be screaming out for mercy, battered and torn.
Dan steps back, his chest rising with each breath, and again stares at the championship belt around Rhys Townsend’s waist, the belt that has eluded him these last four years, the belt that Rhys Townsend beat Mike Best for… three times.
“It seems that this time…” A voice booms from behind him. “…I am the one who is tardy.”
Dan turns and sees Hiroshi Sasaki, a man in his mid fifties, with grayish hair around the temples, wearing a black tunic and sandals. He is still thickly built, barrel chested and lean around the waist. Dan looks at his old master and smiles.
“Apparently so. You know, once a long long time ago someone chastised me for being late, if I recall.”
Hiroshi smiles back.
“It was your father who chastised you, if I recall.”
“Right,” Dan chuckled. “And he was right. I took it to heart. I haven’t woken up after sunrise since I was twenty one.”
Hiroshi walks over, a knowing smile on his face.
“Hard work has many rewards, Daniel. You’ve leveraged hard work into making quite a life for yourself. So…”
His smile fades a bit.
“Why then, am I here? Shall I toss you to the ground again, for old times sake? I think maybe I might have more trouble so many years later, but then again, maybe I could surprise you.”
Dan places a hand on his shoulder. “I would never bet against you, Hiroshi. But… no, that’s not why you’re here. You aren’t here to show me what to do. I know what has to be done. I know how to do it. What I need is something… something else.”
Hiroshi stares at him and considers his words, then turns his eyes toward the many posters of Rhys Townsend on the walls.
“This is the man you will be fighting.”
“Yes,” Dan replies, turning to look as well. “Rhys Townsend, five time World Champion, Hall of Famer… legend.”
“A legend, you say. Most legends possess strong weaknesses. Widespread legend is to think you are a legend.”
Dan’s eyes widen. “That’s yours? Did you just come up with that?”
“No,” Hiroshi smirks. “Russian martial arts master told me once. He was an inventor of many concepts in the fighting arts. He was a master at mixing medium methods of various arts and turning them into something new. The punches you throw, the kicks and elbow strikes. The forearm shivers and head strikes… All of these are methods you learned under my teaching. The final blow cannot be delivered without the groundwork. That is what I taught you. That is what you used to make this life for yourself.”
Dan doesn’t say anything. Anger and frustration starts to build somewhere in his stomach as he stares at the posters. His fists clench absent-mindedly at his sides. Hiroshi looks at his face and sees.
This shakes the big Texan, and he looks over.
“I know what you brought me here for. This is the real enemy you face. Not the man on your posters. Your enemy… is doubt. Would you not say my assessment is correct, Daniel?”
Dan frowns. “I don’t care for that word very much.”
“Call it what you wish,” the old man says. “No matter the word you choose, it is still what you must overcome to be successful again. When a man is used to victory, and the victories become harder and harder to attain, if he is not centered, he will not know how to face it. It will eat him from the inside out, depleting his mental energy, breaking his focus, and building upon itself until it is a great snowball rolling down a great hill, growing ever larger and larger. I will ask you this question…”
“Do you expect to defeat Rhys Townsend?”
Dan looks at him, his face stoic, blinking a few times, measuring his words.
“He’s good. He’s very good. He is a technical master, and has the record to back up his words. I’ve been in the ring with him before. He sounds a lot like Mike Best when he speaks. After all, he is ‘addicted’ to championships, something Mike has expressed repeatedly, including this week. With Mike, I believe it. With Mike Best Lite, I am skeptical. Somebody put Rhys Townsend into a nice safe little box nine years ago, placed him up on a shelf, and there he sat until being unboxed again for his return. And he’s the exact same man he always was, and he thinks the exact same things will happen. He thinks he will waltz into the ring, win a bunch more World Championships, beat Mike again, three times, four times, maybe five, even though in the meantime, Mike Best became the most dangerous, most dominating professional wrestler that I or anyone else has ever seen. That’s what he wants me to see when I look at him, instead of a fat taco truck operating pro wrestler who, if Mike Best was speaking, couldn’t speak at the same time. He’s a parrot who thinks far more of himself than he should, and it will be his undoing. Though, perhaps he is completely different from Michael. After all, when he talks about his addiction, he says ‘mate’ at the end.”
“Words will not defeat him.” Hiroshi tilts his head to one side as he speaks.
Dan looks slightly down, and keeping his head down, raises his eyes to look back at him.
“Also, you did not answer my question.” Hiroshi steps forward to within a foot of his former student. ”Do you expect to defeat Rhys Townsend?”
Dan’s eyes narrow.
“I expect to defeat everyone.”
Hiroshi grunts slightly. “And yet, here I am.”
Dan’s eyes go back to the posters, then back to his former master.
“I think I needed you to come and see for yourself, to look at me through the eyes of someone who knows who I am and where I come from. I was certain that if you did and saw something that was not right, something that was holding me back, you would say so. I would have moved heaven and earth to fix it. I’ll move heaven and earth to prepare for this fight either way, but I needed you to see it. If my father were here…”
“If my father were here, it would be him here now. You are the last connection to him that I have.”
“Your father would tell you the same things that I am telling you. You already have everything you need to receive the outcome you want. All that remains is for you to step forward and take it.”
Dan smirks, and once again places a hand on Hiroshi’s shoulder.
“I’m glad you came. Will you attend the match?”
“Of course,” he replies. “Do you think I would come all this way just to talk to the likes of you?”
A wry smile crosses Dan Ryan’s face, and he turns away as Hiroshi turns to leave. He can hear the footsteps as he goes, and he closes his eyes in concentration. He opens his eyes, then throws three straight heavy roundhouse punches into the heavy bag, the last one pulling the chain holding it in place from the wall. His chest rises and falls, and he walks to a poster on the wall.
He looks at the belt around Rhys Townsend’s waist, then up at his eyes staring back at him… and rips it from the wall.
”The fight isn’t over until you win.”
– Robin Hobb