“Well, that was fun.”
Dan Ryan settled into his seat in the back of a long stretch limo. He tossed a bag over his own lap and onto the seat next to him, then looked up at Lindsay Troy, sitting opposite him, one leg crossed over the other.
“It was freeing. It’s enough with the white knight bullshit already. That’s never been me.”
“You don’t say.”
He frowned. “I thought I was doing a pretty good job of hiding it.”
“If that was hiding it,” she replied, “you’re the crankiest white knight that’s ever lived.”
Ryan pouted a bit, looking out the window.
“White knights can be cranky.”
“Sure, then they usually get over it and go back to do-gooding.”
He flinched, cringing a little. “See, I’d just as soon skip the do-gooding part and get back to more of the crankiness. It feels more like me. The do-gooding makes me feel like a used car salesman — or Joe Bergman.”
He shuddered at the thought.
“Oh, well, we wouldn’t want you to be like ol’ Broken Record Joe,” Lindsay rolled her eyes. “I hope he tells us a hundred more times that he’s here ‘for the people,’ because we’ve been hearing that ad nauseum for months.”
Ryan smirked slightly, then looked back at her.
“And what about you — with the scheming — I’m so impressed. Usually you’re the one trying to keep me on the straight and narrow, and here you are forming secret alliances and formulating plots. Poor Jack never knew what hit ‘im.”
“I gotta keep you on your toes,” she winked. “Otherwise things get boring.”
Ryan mock-wiped a tear from his eye and sniffed.
“I’ve never been more proud of you than I was at the end of your match with Mike. Here I am ready to rip his head from his shoulders, and you tell me you were in on it the whole time — so cunning, so devious, so willing to throw the rules of civil discourse out the window to be replaced by withering insult and dramatic betrayal — so ready to join me in beating up people who say things like “bruv,” or who talk with cigars in their mouths, or who silently harumph and drink whiskey. These are nonspecific examples, of course.”
Troy nodded. “Of course.”
“Naturally,” he replied, “from my perspective, you knew this was coming one way or another anyway.”
Her expression didn’t change. “Beating MJ and Jack like they owed you money did seem to be a dead giveaway.”
He ignored the remark and continued on.
“I want you to know that I was concerned what your reaction might be if I took a course of action like this without you. I didn’t wanna speak for you, didn’t wanna drag you into something you didn’t wanna do, and I definitely didn’t wanna be the reason for friction in the family again.”
She saw the sincerity in his eyes, and hers matched it for a brief moment — and then she smiled.
“Sometimes I think I know you better than you know yourself, Dan. You may not think I do, but I’ve been around a long time. And, if I’m being honest, ‘the Industry’ wasn’t working for me anymore anyway. I didn’t have the patience to grin and bear it any more than you did.”
She paused, just briefly. “And look, I know I’ve been giving you shit about making things right with Tyler. I know I want that more than he does, but I’ve been thinking…maybe I should just let the two of you work it out on your own, in your own time. It was a horrible time for the family back in DEFIANCE. I want us to be completely back on the same page again.”
He smiled. “By making sure we’re responsible for the loudest boos of the night.”
She chuckled. “Like I said, I know you. I know you prefer it this way. I know you’d prefer to go and take what you want instead of waiting for it to come to you.”
Something came to mind, and he smiled.
“Ain’t nobody gonna give it to me.”
Dan Ryan tilted his head to one side, not far enough to hear a crack, but enough to give his neck a good stretch, then tilted it to the other. He leapt into a full sprint, dove his right shoulder down and lifted up hard through a padded bag with an open hand strike. The bag swung high to his left, and upon its return, he drove a knee into the middle of it.
The power of the knee crumpled the bag in the middle, but Ryan drove his left forearm straight forward and through, sending it swinging backward. He feigned to his left, then lifted his left knee up and forward to catch the bag as it came back again.
A hard right, a left, a left knee, then another right and a flurry of punches that looked like they could cave a man’s face in.
A few more, then he raised both hands and caught the bag, closing his eyes and breathing deeply, his chest expanding and contracting in and out with each breath.
He stood there, centering himself, calming his mind with each passing second.
He opened his eyes finally, and he looked around. He glanced down slightly at his right knee. It didn’t used to ache like that. Twenty plus years in the ring takes a toll on the best of them, but he’d been remarkably injury free over the years.
One terrible tearing of knee ligaments in over twenty years.
Thank you, Lindsay Troy.
He walked back through the empty brick gym. A couple bucks a couple hours ago had emptied the place out. He glanced up. A long hanging overhead light swayed slightly, blown by the breeze from a large but slowly rotating metal fan embedded in the wall, meant to circulate the fetid air.
No bag, no jacket — he’d only brought himself, dressed in sweatpants and a black wife-beater. He stepped through the door into the cool Chicago evening. The sun was going down now, casting shadows on the buildings across the street. He felt a crisp wind and closed his eyes, letting the cold hit his skin as he took a deep breath.
It was cold, but not too cold. It didn’t matter. He wasn’t going far.
In the old days they did everything they could to play the part, spending money on fancy cars, on restaurants, on shiny weights and equipment for training, on anything to make people think they were making more than they really were.
And now — now when the money is really there, it’s the simple places he prefers — the rundown building around the corner from the Magnificent Mile, a little inconspicuous haven arranged for him by some friends. A place where he’d started to find himself again.
For the first time in this entire run, there was…. what? Comfort? Peace? Whatever it was, it finally felt right. Dan Ryan had always been a man who trusted his instincts. Those instincts were what led him through his career, whatever you may think of it, and there were no regrets now. He trusted those instincts — and his instincts told him some time ago that a change needed to happen.
It wasn’t working.
He knew — he knew the day after War Games last year.
He tried to rally the troops. He believed in their collective ability to do the job.
He believed it was just business, but it wasn’t. Not for everyone in that ring. Somebody wanted a war they couldn’t finish, and Ryan knew… he knew as soon as the bell rang that it was over.
He should have ended it right then. He could have. The last few years have been spent trying to be a ‘good guy,’ trying to be a grown up, trying to be something he wasn’t.
The training helped turn the tide — to get him back to being someone more like the man he remembered — or someone not so much like a man at all, but more like the machine who did whatever he had to do to win, no matter what it took to get there.
Ryan had long since developed his own training methods, but going back to the basics that made him who he was… it lit something up inside him again.
MJ and her crusade of adolescent angst was the last straw.
This wasn’t some embarrassing retirement run of some doddering old veteran dragging his bones from show to show to wave his little hand and get some cheap pops. He was still in his physical prime, and there was no fucking reason to spend this time raising a child on how to be a professional wrestler.
Dan Ryan had spent the better part of the last six months fighting the members of the eMpire in some way or another: winning belts, losing belts, going toe to toe with the best professional wrestler in the world right now in Cecilworth Farthington — and he knew what had to be done. His instincts told him…. what had to be done.
The aggression, the ruthlessness, the overpowering will, the win and determination to overwhelm the opposition — it had been there, but not the way it used to be.
Well, that’s about to change.
And he was glad — glad and relieved — that Lindsay would be there with him.
He rounded a corner and smiled as he approached the doorman of the InterContinental, where he’d been staying during this extended run in Chicago. The young man standing at the door, a proper young gentleman in his twenties, started to speak to the brutish man walking his direction. As Ryan drew nearer, however, the kid smiled and nodded, opening the door and getting a small wad of cash as thanks.
Ryan gave him a little wink.
‘Keep the change, kid.’
The doorman smiled widely and gave a little nod, then looked down in his hand at the month’s worth of tips that were just put there. He stuffed it into his breast pocket and returned to post, a tough night becoming just a bit more bearable.
Intercontinental Hotel Chicago Magnificent Mile.
Floor to ceiling windows fill the entire East side of the upper level of the suite, and Dan Ryan sits in a leather chair, relaxing in jeans and a t-shirt and looking out onto the city below. His eyes follow a spotlight circling overhead, then come to rest on lights in the distance at a marina on the lake.
“I don’t know what you plan to say about all of this.”
Ryan lets a little smile play on the corner of his mouth.
“I’ve kept radio silence this week. I’m sure that’s unnerved you a little bit, Mike. I have no idea what you’re up to or what you’re doing to prepare for this match, and I’ve kept my own comings and goings close to the vest.
I feel like it’s best, for now.
Everything’s good between us now. If I’m to be honest, it was always fine, really.
Early on, I heard you were a fan of mine in your teen years. Flattering, sure. You’ve gone out of your way this past year to compliment me from time to time, or at least to pull your punches verbally just a little bit. You — who are known for your ability to break people down — you’ve backed off where I’m concerned.”
Ryan looks a bit uncomfortable, and fidgets a bit.
“I don’t really want this to break down into an ass kissing festival though, Mike.
I think probably Lee feels like he’s being clever here, dangling a title shot in front of your face to get you all riled up just a week after we put this all together. I’m sure we’re meant to get in the ring, lose all sense of the big picture, and tear each other and the Group of Death to pieces before we ever take our first step.
The truth is, we kinda need this.
Like I said, you’ve kinda pulled your punches with me, and I haven’t had any reason yet to rip into you really. But now I do have a reason — well, two reasons really. Obviously, I have the ICON now. I like having the ICON and I’d just as soon keep the ICON and have you not get the ICON. I prefer the ICON championship to stay with me is what I’m saying here. So hey, look at that! Motivation.
Secondly, I just don’t think we can really be friends unless I’ve punched you in the face an awful lot and really hard. Look, I already kinda knew I liked Cecilworth when I first signed on here. I remembered him. I told him we were gonna be friends, so I walked right up and punched him in the face. Now obviously, he misinterpreted the light tap of my closed fist sending him flying across the ring and landing him on his face, and then some unpleasantness followed. It was all a misunderstanding – a misunderstanding that has since been rectified, and now, we are – as predicted – the very best of the best of friends. I’ve already contacted several ‘scarf of the month’ clubs for pricing, but don’t say anything to him just yet. It’s a surprise.
This match though, offers me the chance to do the same with you, only without all of the silly bickering afterward. I feel like if we just go to the ring this week, and I punch you an awful lot, and maybe you punch me an awful lot, we can get it all out of our systems and then move forward as friends. I know you don’t like scarves, but I’m sure there’s something you’d enjoy.
But the fighting and the violence have to happen.
I feel like you know this, and I might even be treading over some ground that I don’t need to tread on — there’s an understanding, I think.
Ryan picks up a drink from the side table, condensation dripping onto the arm of his chair as he lifts it to his mouth. For a moment after taking the drink, he just sits there, looking out into the night sky, silent… and he shakes his head.
“You know I have to compete though — don’t you, Mike?
Just tryin’ to spill some blood so we can bond and be brothers sounds good and all — it does, and on some level that really is all I need. But no, that can’t be all I need.
I wanna win this match for the same reason you do.
Because Dan Ryan v. fucking Mike Best is a big fucking money match wherever you are in the world, and I refuse to minimize it just because of circumstance. I’ve got this feelin’ lately, Mike, and I hadn’t felt that feelin’ since I came to HOW. I’d been cruising along like the good little travelling legend that I am…
But I’ve got that feeling back.
I have the thrill that comes with cracking someone’s skull open back. I felt it when I threw MJ Flair around the ring like a rag doll four weeks ago. I felt it when I did the same to Jack Harmen three weeks ago. I felt it, and I liked it, and I’m not letting go of it again.
The bloodlust is back. I’m not going back to shaking hands and having pleasant little get-togethers with friends.
I’m a killer, Mike.
You know this.
I won’t hold back. You have to know that. You also have to know that I will be personally insulted if I think you’re holding back in any way.
I know you were a fan. You’ve said it, and we’re gonna talk about that someday. But when we get into the ring this week, I want you to do whatever you have to do to win this match, because the only way I will ever do this from now on is by destroying, with full force and relentless aggression, anyone who stands in my way.
When it’s over, and they hand the belt back to me, I’ll happily reach down, pull you up by the hand and we’ll go put our energy toward more important pursuits, like putting a quick end to this 24K bullshit.
If you win?”
Ryan takes another swig of his drink and sets it down, then crosses one leg across the other and leans back.
“I better get my motherfuckin’ fruit basket.”