May 8th, 2021
Los Angeles, California
STAPLES Center – Section 214
“Holy shit,” I mumble to myself in disbelief, running both hands through my hair. “He fuckin’ did it.”
Standing amongst the High Octane Faithful in Section 214, my eyes are locked on Sutler Reynolds-Kael as he scampers his way up the steel ramp, moving with the same quickness he displayed when dodging Dan Ryan in the early minutes of their matchup. His victory initially sucked all the wind out of the STAPLES Center, but it hasn’t taken long for the crowd to rebound and voice their displeasure. Garbage is hurled with the same frequency that expletives are shouted, and that crafty little shit is soaking in his biggest win to date. Dan Ryan, on the other hand, is leaning against the top rope, staring a hole through our ‘President of Human Resources’. If I had to guess, I’d assume revenge is already on his mind, that he’s envisioning his calloused hands wrapped around SRK’s throat, his mostly limp body on the verge of joining his father in the afterlife.
“Not the Two-Fourteen’s night ” a young man a few seats to my right is heard saying, tossing the night’s program onto the sticky concrete floor. He glances in my direction, and I have a few corresponding thoughts.
First: It’s Two-One-Four.
Second: It most certainly was not.
But I don’t offer a verbal response to the youngin’, only a slight nod of acknowledgement.
Dan losing is a big win for more than just Sutler, but more importantly for Lee and The Best Alliance. While Dan isn’t technically a member of The Grapplers Local 214, he made his allegiance known when he put Lee’s bloody body through his desk, trying his damnedest to send him on a permanent vacation to the farm his dear son Max currently calls home. In my opinion, it was quite the kind gesture of the ‘Murder Daddy’, the big ol’ softie showing how much he values family and believes in family reunions.
Now why this pissed Lee off, I’ll never understand.
Anywho, it was a major shift in our favour in a war we already had well in hand.
Unfortunately for us, our fortunes would quickly sour, as we haven’t been the most fortunate bunch over the past two weeks. Sure, last week I put an end to this years ‘Tax Season’ and Danny boy wasn’t the most ‘Pleasant’ with Arthur. But Lindz lost a close contest with Jace, and even worse, the Tag Team Championships we weren’t allowed to touch from the moment we won them were taken back by the bad guys, through no fault of Conor or Ray’s might I add.
It was an unCOOL Miracle that put the exclamation point on a very shitty evening.
And tonight wasn’t much fuckin’ better.
The 214 official five were relegated as mere spectators. McAvay informed me he was going to ‘drain the main vein’, then next thing I know we’re watching him get inexplicably set on fire in a locker room by attempted murderer Jay-Pee-Dee. Moustache Ridin’ John Sektor returned to form, putting on a technical display against some spunky chubbster. Two Eyed Harrison continued his impressive post-pimp-slap performance, getting the better of Xander Cage. Or was it the other Triple X? It doesn’t matter, it was impressive nonetheless. And then Mr. Fopdoodle proceeded to leave poor ol’ Bobby gazing at the stars quicker than Mr. Dean used to dismantle buffets.
Or, in summary, yet another very shitty evening.
“Come on,” Lindsay says, nudging my side to get my attention. “Let’s get out of here and go check on Ray.”
“Poor bastard,” I shake my head, turning to follow her. “That whole sequence doesn’t make a lick of sense.”
As we begin to shuffle our way past the fans that separate us from the concrete stairs that lead to our section’s tunnel, their boos and jeers soon transition to cheering. With each step I take, surrounding fans slap me on the shoulder, playfully shove me, or aggressively point towards the large screen suspended above the stage. With everyone standing and the commotion that has overtaken them, I can’t quite see what is being shown, but I can hear 78rpm’s ‘Blood Runs Red’ pounding out of the arena’s speaker system.
“That ain’t going anywhere!” A beer breathed woman excitedly shouts in my face, tapping her ruby red nails on the center plate of my prized LSD Championship that’s comfortably draped over my right shoulder.
Lindsay makes her way into the aisleway first as I follow closely behind, pushing my way through the sea of bodies to join her. An advertisement for Refueled 63 is airing, but we’ve missed the first portion of it that has riled Section 214 up. We stop to watch and soon learn that Azula is finally getting his HOFC Championship fight against Mike. It soon transitions to a graphic of Darin Matthews opposing three members of The Best Alliance, a trio led by our World Champion. Lindsay and I exchange glances with one another and can’t help but shake our heads.
I’d say in disbelief, but come on now.
“That’s not fair.” Lindsay sighs.
“Poor bastard,” I say for the second time in as many minutes. “I think I’d rather try my luck with a flaming locker room…”
Lindsay’s elbow to my ribs isn’t so much of a nudge this time, but rather a jab. “TED!”
“Too soon?” I wince.
“Too soon!” She confirms with judging eyes.
TE-DDY! TE-DDY! TE-DDY!
Chants of my name erupt, initially catching the two of us off guard. I quickly turn my attention back towards the hype video for next week’s USS Octane spectacle, and everything lines up and now makes perfect sense. The complete one eighty of the audience’s demeanor. Their frowns unfurling into wide smiles. The excited chants they’ve been prompted to adoringly shower me with.
The advertised Main Event that’s to take place in the middle of the Pacific Ocean has their blood pumping, and rightfully so.
It’s gonna be a big fuckin’ one. Fast paced, hard hitting, momentum shifting. Two warriors who haven’t tasted defeat in singles competition this year, unless you choose to count their matching exits from the Elite Eight of the DeNucci Cup:
Teddy Palmer versus Clay Byrd for the LSD Championship.
As the sleek advertisement pulsates in unison with the frenzied fans, the overlapping lyrics being sung are fitting, striking a chord with me.
“I will be the end, I’m a fighter
Took the hits now, a soul survivor
You can be sure that I won’t fall
Here I stand, I’ve been through it all”
I have been the constant for the Two-One-Four. I’ve put on technical showcases. I’ve battled through stipulations. I’ve sent one of Lee’s prized recruits to the unemployment line. I’ve won Championships – plural. I’ve swung at every single pitch that Lee has tossed my way, and I’ve crushed every single one of them like I was participating in a fuckin’ homerun derby.
I haven’t lost.
And Clay Byrd ain’t about to change that.
I look at Lindsay and she smiles, nodding her head. She doesn’t need to say a single word, because her eyes say everything. They give me encouragement. They give me motivation. They remind me how far I’ve come. Letting my eyelids greet one another briefly, I nod along to the rhythm of the song, my right foot gently tapping insync with the roaring chants.
My mind begins to wander…
March To Glory.
Clay stands above Lindsay, staring down at her war torn body, menacingly gripping a steel chair. “Is this what you wanted?”
The chair’s dent folds even more across The Queen’s back. “I will give you exactly what you wanted.” He spits, swinging down again.
He snorts in like a beast, before puffing the wind out of his lungs. He waits a moment, but doesn’t speak before swinging down viciously one final time at her lifeless body.
He leans down, bringing his mouth ever so close to her nearest ear. “Equal Rights, Bitch…” He snarls, tossing the broken chair off to the side, smiling at the carnage he’s created.
That night, I stayed and celebrated in Times Square after earning the right to challenge for the Championship I now proudly possess. I never made it to The Garden. I wasn’t there for her. I watched that assault helplessly.
My eyes dart open. Lindsay is still smiling at me, still nodding. The fans continue to chant my name, their energy never ending. This moment and current environment should be all consuming, but it’s not. The pit of my stomach fills with that same burning fire that engulfed me when it came to Hughie and his cheap shot. I slowly spin in place, every face surrounding me a complete blur. The only face in focus is that of Clay’s oversized mug projected for all to see.
I blink slowly, trying to compose myself.
“Ted?” She calls out, grabbing my attention as well as my hand. “Are you okay?”
A smile spreads across my face, but it doesn’t reflect my current state of mind. I’m not happy, but I will be. I’m vengeful, and a receipt needs to be given. I rip my LSD Championship off my shoulder and raise it high in the air, the crowd erupting as I finally acknowledge them.
“It’s fuckin’ go time!” I shout before leading them into a new chant. “Two-One Four! Two-One-Four!”
They join in without hesitation.
TWO-ONE-FOUR! TWO-ONE-FOUR! TWO-ONE-FOUR!
“I’m great.” I whisper to Lindsay, offering a wink.
But I’ll be alot better when Clay meets his fuckin’ maker.
May 9th, 2021
Los Angeles, California
Larry’s West Coast visit continued from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, but is set to end when he flies back to Toronto this afternoon to meet up with Sock and discuss the logistics of their pending business venture. With hours to spare, he had the excellent idea of exploring local hiking trails, specifically the recommended dirt pathway that led to Switzer Falls. I begrudgingly accepted his invitation, knowing that he likely had other ideas in mind for our ‘nature walk’, and it didn’t take long for my suspicions to prove valid.
“Pick up that rock,” he barks.
“That one?” I point, looking back at big brother wide eyed.
“Yup,” he nods.
“That’s not a rock,” I grumble. “That’s a fuckin’ boulder.”
“Stop your bitching and pick it up.”
What should have taken us at best an hour to reach lower Switzer Falls, a two tiered cascade spilling into a sandy basin, has taken twice as long given Larry’s ulterior motive of training amongst Mother Nature. Every incline we’ve met, wind sprints have been required. Sturdy low hanging tree branches have served as rugged pullup bars. The backpack he’s fitted me with wasn’t for supplies, but rather weighted to provide resistance.
“You’re in for a different kind of fight when it comes to that Country Boy,” he cautions for the umpteenth time.
I oblige, and pick up the designated ‘rock’.
“Now lead with your right, and toss it.”
I again oblige, shot-putting the fifty pound mass with an exaggerated grunt for fear that if I don’t, I might throw out my back or rupture a testicle. The rock lands in the stream ahead, the explosion of water refreshingly soaking my face and chest. I don’t have to look at Larry to know his next command, following the rock with laboured breaths, picking it up once again.
It’s Lefty’s turn.
This time it doesn’t travel as far, but it lands beyond the edge of the stream. Disappointingly, I’m not treated with a backsplash, but thankfully the canopy of sycamore and oak branches high above shelter us from the sunlight and accompanying heat. This not-so-fun game of fetch continues for the next few minutes with no words spoken between the two of us, the only sound coming from the twigs and leaves crunching underneath my brother’s heavy footsteps that trail closely behind me.
Finally, Larry signals that we’ve reached our destination. With a final mighty heave, I huck that rock the furthest it’s travelled yet, its loud thud against the beaten path the sweetest possible music to my ears.
In reality, that final toss would be better described as a whiny whimper, but it’s my story, so tough titties.
“Ain’t she beautiful?” Larry basks in the beauty of the waterfall we’ve finally reached.
“I can’t see it,” I struggle to spit out, my hands on my knees, my back arched as I stare at the ground.
“Catch your breath Teddy boy.” He slaps me on the upper back, almost collapsing me to the ground. “You did good today.”
“What the fuck do you think I’m trying to do?” I give in and drop to a knee before rolling onto my back, staring skyward while desperately sucking wind.
“This was a good fucking day.” Larry squats down, taking a seat beside me.
“For you maybe…”
“Trust me, you’ll be thanking me come next week. Training like a Hoss will help you understand his mindset. It’ll better prepare you to stand tall and toss fists. This moment will motivate you, and better prepare you to succeed.”
“I’ve got all the motivation I need.” I reply flippantly.
He turns to face me, a sly grin crawling out from underneath his moustache. He purses his lips and knowingly nods. “And what’s your motivation?”
“Lindsay.” I reply, matter of factly.
“Is that so?”
“After what Byrd did at March to Glory,” I push my hands into the dirt beneath me, joining Larry in a seated position. “He’s gonna get the Hughie Freeman treatment.”
“A one sided beatdown?”
“You saw what happened.”
“And that’s your sole motivation?”
“A man lays his hands on your woman, you don’t need much more motivating.”
Silence befalls us as Larry navigates the words swirling in his head, considering his follow up. His tone has been aggravating, and his smirk is striking me as smug. He’s chewing on the inside of his bottom lip, eyes shifted towards me, the energy he’s putting out feeling more confrontational than supportive.
“That’s funny,” he begins, briefly pausing. “When they advertised that match up, I remember seeing your name, and Clay’s, and a mention of your LSD Championship. I don’t recall any mention of Lindsay.”
“What are you getting at?” I don’t so much ask but demand, a slight burst of adrenaline allowing me to climb to my feet quicker than I should be able to at this moment.
“Well,” he snickers, hopping to his feet with ease. “It seems like that cunt has become quite the distraction.”
As soon as that word parts his lips, I’m charging him with unbridled rage. My heavy right fist swings at the bullseye I’m envisioning on his jawline, but he dips, sending me spinning. I’m not afforded the opportunity to make a full rotation as his bulky arm wraps itself around my neck, and I feel him clinch in a choke hold. He pulls up, using his larger frame to elevate me up on my toes, and with wide eyes, I stare out at passersby who look on in shock.
“Don’t worry,” Larry shouts out to our fellow hikers. “He’s my little brother. Just teaching him a life lesson.”
It’s the last words I remember hearing before fading into darkness.
My vision is blurry, and I’m only able to make out a large silhouette standing above me. The edging is shadowed, and behind the figure flashing lights fire without rhyme or reason. The noise is loud, but undefinable, best described as a wind tunnel or traffic.
“Is this what you wanted?” His familiar southern voice mocks.
I blink incessantly, trying to reveal what I’m staring blankly at. The figure sways left to right, leaving fragments of his being as he does so, but only on delay as they pull back to join him when he’s still.
“This is what I wanted,” he spews.
A limb raises to his side, the object within its grasp dangling, swinging back and forth hypnotically. I struggle to pull my hands up to my face, but eventually do so, rubbing my eyes. When I pull them away, the man before me reveals himself.
He hovers above me, a shit eating grin on his face. That object securely in his clutches? My LSD Championship.
Or is it his now?
He spits in my face, much like I spat in Hughie’s. He places one of his big cowboy boots on my chest, pressing down slightly, but enough to have me labouring. He curls the fingers to his free hand, clenching them tightly into a fist. Pulling back, he thrusts downwards, his burly paw connecting with my face.
“Hey,” his familiar voice calls out, swiping at my face. “Why the fuck do you have a boner?”
Opening my eyes, my vision is yet again blurry. Another imposing silhouette stands above me, but his presence isn’t nearly as threatening. In the background, I can start to make out dangling branches, loose leaves fluttering in the wind. The figure leans down further and I rub at my eyes to reveal none other than Larry, his shit eating grin of a different variety.
“I always wake up with a boner,” I moan, rolling onto my side before shouting out. “And what the fuck was that?”
“A valuable lesson,” Larry says, grabbing onto my right wrist, shimmying backwards, helping me find a vertical base.
Still woozy from my nap, he hooks his arm around my torso, helping me stagger towards the sandy basin. Kneeling overtop a stump at its edge, I cup water in my hands and splash it in my face. The second pool in my palm I drink, not sure if it’s okay to do so, but not really caring much either. Pulling myself up, I take a seat on the stump, Larry standing before me.
“You’re gonna have to explain this lesson to me. It’s not as obvious as you might think it is.”
“Acting out of emotion is a flip of the coin proposition.”
“Heads: you make an example out of someone, much like you did with Hughie.”
“Uh-huh…” I reply, rubbing my temples.
“Tails: you’re made an example of, much like I just did with you.”
“Right…” I continue rubbing away.
“Going into any match emotionally driven is a terrible approach. You went into your match against Hughie only giving a fuck about getting payback for Lindsay. You’re about to do the same thing against Clay, and something tells me if you take that approach you’re gonna regret it when you wake up.”
“So,” I tilt my head to the side. “What you’re saying is…”
“Jesus, Ted, do I have to spell it out for you?”
“Please forgive me,” I look up, glaring at big brother. “I just woke up. I’m having a bit of trouble concentrating.”
“Be motivated to protect Lindsay. That’s great. In fact, I encourage it. But you can’t let that consume you or your career here will be a complete wash in the long run. You need to remain calm, cool and collected. You need to remember what you’re fighting for, which in this case is the singles Championship it took you overcoming a major surgery and fifteen months to finally win.”
It was an excruciating mountain to climb.
“Larry,” I shake my head. “I don’t think you get it…”
“No? I don’t get it?” He looks down his nose at me. “Two of my ex-wives were also members of the force. Did you think I spent all my time running around seeking vengeance on every piece of shit who wronged either one of them?”
“Yes?” I ask slash answer.
“NO! They signed up to be police officers. They were doing the same job I was doing. If I did that, I would have been fired a long time ago.”
“No was my second guess,” I reply with a smirk, but he doesn’t laugh.
“If the opportunity presented itself, you’re fucking right I got mine. But I made damn sure to do it methodically. You seem to forget Lindsay is a wrestler too. Infact, she’s the only woman on the High Octane roster. So you know what that means, right?”
“Yeah…” I sigh.
“She’s gonna get fucking hit by dudes. It’s what she signed up for. It’s un-fucking-avoidable. And those same guys are gonna spew stupid ‘ha-ha I said vagina’ jokes, and call her names, because it’s the easiest route to take. If you don’t learn to take it in stride and get yours the right way, you’ll drive yourself crazy and fizzle out. There’s only so much within your control and you gotta trust her to hold her own, and trust that your opportunities will present themselves.”
“She’s more than proven she can hold her own,” I say, more to myself.
“You’re fuckin’ right she has,” he agrees. “So instead of obsessing about something that happened two months ago, how about we focus on the task on hand?”
“Retaining my LSD Championship against that big fucker…”
“And continuing your dominance in this war against The Best Alliance.” he says, finishing my sentence.
I nod with pursed lips, letting Larry’s words sink in. I can’t help but wonder if this lesson could have been taught without the need to choke me out, but what’s done is done. Looking beyond his questionable method, he’s not wrong. I need to focus on the task at hand, and not consume myself with subplots.
I need to retain my LSD Championship. I need to continue to win for the 214. I need to continue building momentum heading into War Games. Achieving all of that is my revenge for Lindsay in a roundabout way.
“Clay ain’t gonna be a walk in the park,” I grumble.
“I paid close attention to today’s walk in the park, buddy.” Larry places his hand on my shoulder reassuringly. “I think you’ll be just fine.”
“Oh, I wasn’t doubting myself,” I say confidently, standing up from the severed stump. “I was simply mapping out how I’m going to dismantle that big fuckin’ goof.”
Heads or Tails?
Not this time.