“I love it when a plan comes together.” – Hannibal Smith, The A-Team
For as long as she can remember, Ami loved to tinker and build things.
When she and Kaz were kids, they would often go on long walks around their old neighborhood in San Diego, backpacks and shopping bags in tow, and grab whatever salvageable material they could from their neighbors and the local mom and pop stores. It didn’t matter what it was: wires, scrap parts, boxes, metal containers…if they could carry it, they’d take it home, and Ami would putter and experiment, draw and plot, rig mish-mashed things together into functional, working pieces with the help of YouTube and trial and error.
After their parents died – their mother, first, to breast cancer and their father, later, in a motorcycle accident – the twins found themselves orphaned at 12 with no immediate family in the area. It just so happened that their father named a long-time friend of his, Tyler Rayne, to be their guardian should anything ever happen to him. Not because he thought Rayne would make a particularly good parent – his flippancy toward “adulting” was notorious amongst his friends, allies, and the professional wrestling world at-large – but because the man had an unwavering sense of loyalty and would do anything for those he considered his family. Plus, rumor had it that he had finally decided to grow up and found himself a good woman to settle down with, so maybe there was hope for the man after all.
This is how the Troy-Rayne household came to be, back in the early 2010s, and both Lindsay and Tyler encouraged Ami’s enthusiasm for building, and Kaz’s for art and sports. Each had their own dedicated work areas in the house. Both kids were offered full rides to MIT and RISD, and while Kaz would leave school to pursue his secret desire for the squared circle, Ami continued working hard in her engineering program, balancing a full courseload, while tinkering with secret projects on the side.
The campus labs are open late for students, and Ami sits at one of the workbenches, hunched over a piece of metal, a thermos of coffee within arm’s reach. A blueprint glares back at her from her computer screen, causing her to squint as she reads something off it, then returns to her work.
Kaz had this idea that the two of them needed to do something to help their mom, after she confronted their uncle about the picture Cecilia left for her and Dan nearly bashed her face in, first with his forehead and then with his elbow brace. Everything has been flipped on its head; Ami doesn’t understand the change in her uncle’s attitude, or what is going on with her cousin, but once Kaz gets an idea in his head, it’s very hard to change his mind.
She’s not sure what he’s going to do quite yet. He mentioned going to talk to Cecilia in-person, but with his wrestling training and his job, he’s not able to get away just yet. Maybe in a couple weeks, he said to her the other night.
“Is that wise?” she asked him. “She sent that creepy picture. I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“Is there another option?” Kaz had countered. “I have a better chance of finding out what’s going on from her than from Uncle Dan. He might throw me in the lake and hold me there.”
Morbid but, given the circumstances, probably true.
Uncle Dan’s elbow brace is an interesting conundrum to Ami. She knows his right knee is twingy, thanks to an injury given to him by her mom, but he doesn’t wear a brace on it. To her knowledge, there’s nothing wrong with his elbow. It’s added hardware for the sake of weaponry, meant to inflict the most pain and suffering possible.
If he can get away with wearing it in High Octane Wrestling, why can’t her mom do the same?
Lindsay started wearing a knee brace after Eric Dane injured her in June, but Ami knows it’s not meant to injure her opponents. It’s meant to keep her from injury. Her uncle’s already whacked her with his brace and knocked her out. She might not be willing to add additional weight to her knee, but maybe there was something else…
When she ran her idea by Kaz, the excitement in his voice immediately brought a grin to her face. “That’s amazing!” he crowed. “Do you think you’ll be done in time?”
Ami touches her finger to the computer screen and moves the page down a hair. She remembers biting her lip when Kaz asked her that question, thinking that she’s only 20, and she’s about to get herself into something huge.
Maybe there’s a chance that she, and her mom, can be the wrenches in the Hammer of God’s plans.
“I can do anything with coffee,” she had beamed back at her brother, and immediately set to work.
Between Refueled 42 and RATR
Danielle Ryan should’ve been dealt a better hand, Lindsay thinks, as she holds one of the leftover autopsy photos between her thumb and forefinger. She absently munches on a spinach puff, fresh from the oven. Out of the corner of her eye, the picture of her and Cecilia stares back at her, a thin film of dust beginning to cover the frame.
She used to be this person, long ago; a person who wouldn’t think twice about digging deep into a person’s background, a person’s psyche. Filet the weaknesses and savor the gashes of the wounds left behind.
It took some digging to find the autopsy photos; they are usually confidential, but someone somewhere owed her a favor, and she was able to cash in on it. Lindsay thought nothing of it; nothing of calling in the favor, nothing of getting the photos, nothing of what Dan might think of them. How many other people has she done this to in the past? How many others have done this to her?
How many people has Dan done this to?
Dozens? Can you even put a number on it?
It wasn’t even about mind games. There’s been no games played between her and Dan these last couple months, and there will be none played once they meet in San Francisco. Lindsay could get the pictures, so she papered the Best Arena with them. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
She does wonder what she and Dan will be to each other after this. This could be their last chapter, and how fitting that if it is, it will take place at Alcatraz. If he sees family as a prison, then Lindsay will set him free.
Her musing is abruptly broken by hard, strumming guitars and thumping drums emanating from her phone. With a slight roll of her eyes, Lindsay answers the call, silencing the intro to “Away” by Mercy Drive.
“Fuckhead.” The smirk starts, out of habit. “I didn’t realize it was report card time.”
“It’s not. That brat of yours left.”
All semblance of a cheeky demeanor is immediately wiped from her face. Sonny Silver has never been one to mince words in all the years they’ve known each other, but Lindsay is sure she misheard him. “Excuse me, what?”
“Are you going deaf now? Your son bailed on training. Said some shit about a ‘family emergency’ … I don’t know. I told him to walk it off and not be a bitch.”
Lindsay’s stomach plummets to her sneakers while her mind starts racing a thousand miles a second. “There’s nothing…” she stammers, standing up and hurrying upstairs. “Did he say where he was going?”
“Do I look like a GPS to you?” Silver puffs, irritated. “He had the nerve to tell me I was a shit communicator too before deucing out, the little ballbag.”
She skids to a halt in the threshold of her bedroom door and tilts her head in disbelief. “Well, you are. You always have been. And don’t make this about you, my son is missing!”
“Aren’t you supposed to get them chipped when you take them in or something?” he scoffs. “Listen, all I know is what I told you and what Kaz told me. Maybe he met a girl or something.”
She mashes her thumb on the Asshole Button and immediately calls Kaz. Right to voicemail.
“Kaz, it’s Mom.” Lindsay tries not to sound frantic and is sure she’s failing. She grabs her keys and her wallet from the bed, her Airpods from the bedside table. “Sonny just called and said you left training because of an emergency. Are you OK? Call me as soon as you get this, I need to know you’re alright.”
She sends the same message via text, just in case, then makes her next call to Ami. As she runs back down the stairs, an inkling in the back of her mind tells her that maybe she should call Tyler first, but Lindsay shakes it away. There’s a chance Ami knows what’s going on and there’s no need to worry her ex unnecessarily just yet.
The phone rings, and rings … and rings, and just when Lindsay starts to wonder if this is Ami’s late night for classes, or how she’ll be able to explain to her daughter that her twin might have disappeared, or if she should even say anything on the recording, the budding engineer picks up.
“Hi Mom.” Ami stifles a yawn and reaches for a small screwdriver just out of reach on the table. “How are you?”
“I’m…” There’s no good answer to this question, so Lindsay plows right past it. “Have you heard from your brother?”
Ami freezes, just as she’s about to sit back down on her stool. Uh oh.
“Um,” she starts, stalling. “you mean Kaz?”
Lindsay’s eyes narrow suspiciously at this remark. “Do you have another brother that your father and I neglected to adopt?”
“No…but that would be something, right?”
“Ami,” Lindsay’s voice is equal parts frantic, alarmed, and exasperated. “I am ten seconds away from losing my mind because your brother left training and didn’t tell anyone where he’s going. So if you know something, you need to stop covering for him and tell me what’s going on right now.”
The Queen’s daughter sighs. She knew this was a bad idea. At least at school, she has a cover and can hide her intentions for helping her mother. The biggest challenge is balancing her creation with her schoolwork. Kaz’s part of the plan carries a greater risk because it’s much more in the open. He might not have to get permission to leave his training, but it’s not wise to just up and ghost his instructors…especially when the head of the school is close with his mother.
She doesn’t know it for sure, but it’s a real good bet that her mom found out because of Sonny, and Kaz knew it was a 50/50 shot that he would even tell her.
“We’re only trying to help,” she eventually confesses.
“Help? Help who?”
Lindsay does a double-take. She leans against the small oak and marble table in the front foyer. “Help me? I don’t understand. Is he OK? I got his voicemail…”
“I talked to him a couple hours ago,” Ami continues. “He’s probably at the airport, or on a plane. He’s heading your way, to talk to Cecilia.”
This time, Lindsay’s stomach doesn’t hit her shoes. It starts to roil, thumping around with the rest of her innards like the drums from her phone mere minutes ago. “Say that again?” she queries; like Sonny before, Lindsay wants to make sure she heard this right.
“He’s going to talk to CeCe, to try and figure out what’s going on…”
Without another second’s hesitation, Lindsay’s moving through the house, sprinting toward the back door. “Send me his flight information, Ami. Right now.”
Ami winces at the harshness of her mother’s tone. She usually hears it reserved for Lindsay’s High Octane coworkers, very rarely ever does she use it with her or Kaz. “Please don’t be mad, Mom. Please.”
“We can talk about whether or not I’m mad later.” Lindsay unlocks the door, pushes in the alarm code, and is outside in a flurry. She quickly relocks the house behind her and makes for the garage. “Right now, if you know what flight Kaz is on, you need to give it to me, or I’m going to get it the hard way. Either way, I don’t want him anywhere near that house, your uncle, or your cousin…”
After a delay out of Seattle due to fog, the wheels hit the O’Hare tarmac close to sunset, and Kaz knew it was too late to try and talk to his cousin tonight. He had plans to crash at a couple friends’ place that he’d met at Replay Beercade, and he’ll borrow their car to head out to the ‘burbs and demand some answers.
Cecilia and Kaz are as close as Dan and Lindsay. Not too far off in age, with complimentary personalities, the two famous offspring of the Queen of the Ring and the Hammer of GoD had started planning their rise in wrestling together while CeCe was training with Lindsay. She even helped encourage him – along with Ami – to talk to Lindsay about leaving college to start his own path in the sport rather than wait to finish his degree as a fall-back plan, which is what he was sure both his mother and father would have preferred.
Dan’s latest break from the family is a blow, but not an unfamiliar one. Cecilia’s actions with the picture, however, are especially devastating for the Troy side of the family, and Kaz has felt the effects more than he’s allowed himself to let on to anyone other than his sister. Even if he tried to hide his anger and confusion, Ami is too intuitive not to pick up on the shifts in his moods, even from the other side of the country.
How can he hope to eventually compete alongside his cousin when Cecilia acted so treacherously?
Kaz needs an explanation; a person doesn’t throw over a year of dreams and aspirations away in the blink of an eye. He knows his uncle still has business dealings in the city, so if he can wait and bide his time, maybe he can catch Cecilia at the house by herself.
He zips through Terminal 2’s concourse, eager to make it to the rideshare pickup, figuring grabbing a Lyft into the city would be less of a hassle than making his buddies drive out to get him. With only a backpack and duffel bag with him, there’s no need to stop at baggage claim. As Kaz heads for the doors and the crisp October night, he senses someone walking close behind, then falling in stride next to him.
“You’re gonna be warm with that jacket on, Kazuhiro.”
He doesn’t know how she does it…sneaks up on people like that. Tyler used to do it to her, back when they competed together, and neither him nor Lindsay would tell Kaz or Ami the secret. But here, in O’Hare Airport, when he was sure he was scot free…the Queen has other plans.
Kaz stops dead in his tracks, shock registering on his face. Lindsay moves to his front as travelers flow around them, two boulders in a river, and he gulps. Thinks how she could have found out. Does it even really matter now? Kaz is four inches shorter than his mother and she feels seven feet tall at this moment. Imposing. Furious. “Mom. I…”
He wants to explain but the words don’t come.
Instead, Lindsay grabs him by the crook of his arm and leads him off to the side so they aren’t in everyone’s way and, also, so they’re out of earshot. “Don’t speak. Just listen. Got it?”
A nod of assent.
“I made your sister tell me everything after Sonny called to tell me you left. Do not be mad at her, understand?”
“Kaz. Do you understand.”
“I told Sonny I’d only be gone for a couple days. Not forever,” Kaz interjects with a roll of his eyes. He hasn’t perfected it like Lindsay has, but he’s getting there.
“You forget the part where I said, ‘don’t speak’?”
A low, grumbling sound escapes Kaz’s throat but, eventually, he nods again.
“You are absolutely, under no circumstances, to go talk to Cecilia. Do you understand?”
“Are you serious?” Apparently, his memory is incredibly short. “No way. I came all the way out here, Mom, and after what she did…”
“If you want to talk to her, you can do it with your fists.”
Kaz nearly drops his duffel bag on the dusty tile. Did she…no, he must have misheard her.
“I can handle what Cecilia did,” Lindsay says. “I may not understand it, and it may have hurt me in the moment, but I can’t dwell on it. Not when there’s someone much bigger and more dangerous waiting at the end of the road.”
She brushes a strand of hair out of her son’s eyes, smiles, and continues. “I love that you and your sister are trying to help me, but I don’t want you getting involved in this. At least, not right now. And to be honest, I don’t think there are any answers, or answers that I’ll find satisfactory.
You’re learning from one of the best, though. And when you’ve learned all you can from Sonny, and after I’ve taught you a thing or two myself, you can say whatever you need to say to Ceese between the ropes.”
Lindsay takes the bag from Kaz’s shoulder and puts it over her own, then guides him toward the exit and the parking garage.
“Wait,” he says. “You said you weren’t training anyone anymore.”
“You’re right, I’m not. But Sonny won’t be done with you for awhile, and I figure by then I’ll be ready to make an exception for my kid.”
The grin stays on Kaz’s face all the way to Lindsay’s car, and they head out into the Chicago night.