“There are two kinds of idiots – those who don’t take action because they have received a threat, and those who think they are taking action because they have issued a threat.”
– Paulo Coelho
V. Evolve or Disappear
“Love is the Drug” by Roxy Music is playing in the background.
Dan Ryan walks through a crowded pub. Man U banners are fixed to the walls, so much so that there is hardly an empty space. There’s a game on the telly, but Dan doesn’t care. He’s not a ‘football’ fan. Not that version of football anyway. And he’s not pretending to be one. Let them have their games.
He slips through the mass of people and finds his way finally to the back of the pub, where a door opens up into a long hallway. The sound of his boots hitting the stained concrete floor echoes as he goes. There’s another door at the end of the hallway and as he approaches, he sees a small slat, about eye level, open, and a set of eyes peering out. There’s a flash of recognition, and the door opens.
A large man is standing just inside, some six-foot-five and looking to be nearly three hundred pounds, built like an absolute tank. Dan is dressed for business, in a black suit, but with no tie. He tugs at the collar of his shirt. He never was comfortable with these things and looks at the rectangular table in the center of the room.
Sitting on the other side of the table are two men. On the left, is a younger man in his early 20s. He looks nervous but is trying hard to show an air of confidence. It isn’t working too well. Sitting next to him is an older gentleman, a bit older than Dan. He’s more self-assured, is of Japanese descent, and looks forward with stony-faced reserve.
Dan looks over the younger man, also of Japanese descent, and makes eye contact which, after a few moments, makes the boy uncomfortable enough to cause him to look down at his fidgeting hands. Dan turns back to the older man and takes a seat across from him.
“Mr. Yamamoto. A pleasure as always.”
The man gives a curt nod of his head. “Pleasantries are unnecessary, Daniel. We are not here for a dinner date. We are here to discuss our investment.”
Dan nods his head, looking at him thoughtfully.
“Yes, yes of course. And I’m here for the same reason.”
The older gentleman sits back in his chair, relaxed, a clear sign of disrespect, and steeples his hands in front of him.
“For the sake of your family, for the sake of your father, we have for many years offered our business as a front for your more… nefarious tendencies. We have covered up many things, kept many things buried deep, many skeletons in our closet, to borrow an American saying. Those investments were, of course, contingent on the successful performance of your contracts here, so that you could pay for these… services. You have neglected that responsibility, and as a result of your actions, you have cost us a great deal of money.”
Dan just listens, saying nothing as the man continues.
“We were not made aware of your return to your profession. Had we known, we would have come to find you sooner. You should PRAY TO YOUR GOD that we agreed to meet you this way and not some… other way. But we are here now, and so, we insist on certain… assurances.”
“Assurances.” Dan smirks and lets his eyes flit around the room a bit before returning them back to the older man, with a smile. “You would like some assurances. Yes, yes, I expected as much, of course. Here’s the thing, and this might take a few minutes, so please indulge me if you don’t mind.”
The older man waves his hand in approval.
“I have started to realize some new things about myself. I have made many mistakes in my life, and the biggest came last year. Everyone knows what it was, so I won’t rehash it. But what I will say is this. It was the deep longing desire for acceptance, for love, that blinded me and made me think that I had to do whatever it takes to retain that acceptance, that love. And what I found out is that love and acceptance are fickle things. There is no one you can count on, not unless there is money on the table. And in seeking those things out, I neglected the reality. And the reality is that only your blood can truly be trusted. And now, in realizing that my own blood no longer trusts me, I see the need to make some drastic changes.”
This piques Mr. Yamamoto’s interest. He raises an eyebrow and leans forward, listening as Dan begins to absent-mindedly tap his fingers on the table.
“Mr. Yamamoto, I need to eliminate the factors that are holding me back. I can’t move forward until I fully break with the past – fully… eliminate… the past. Do you understand my meaning?”
The old man stands up nervously. The younger gentleman darts his eyes from Dan to his boss, not sure what to do.
“I would prefer to no longer be held in the clutches of your family, of your business. I no longer am interested in you covering up for me in any fashion whatsoever. I don’t want to hide what I have done or what I will do. I want it out in the open for the world to see. This is the way it has to be.”
Mr. Yamamoto is shocked. “You must be joking. Your father…”
“My father is dead,” Dan interjects. “My mother is dead. My first child, dead. My marriage is dead. My relationship with my daughter… is dead. The past… is dead. Simply put… sir… I have no further need for you or for your services.”
Dan starts to slowly move around the edge of the table toward him, keeping his eyes fixed on the old man’s eyes. Bravely, he tries to hold his ground, but the increasing fear in his eyes is evident.
“What are you doing? You think this will get you free from your entanglements? FROM YOUR OBLIGATIONS?”
Dan stops about three feet from him, looks down at him, then leans forward. “I have no further obligation to you. I will be in charge of my own affairs from now on. What I do have, is a message for your business partners, and I want you to express that message to them as soon as possible.”
Yamamoto scoffs. “I don’t take orders from you! Who do you think you are?!? My men outside will…”
“I wasn’t talking to you. I was talking to him.” Dan points over the old man’s shoulder at the now openly terrified young boy who has been sitting next to him. “There is only one GOD. And I only take instruction from HIM.”
Yamamoto looks back, and before he can react, Dan strikes out with his right foot, impacting just below the old man’s left kneecap. He screams out in pain and goes down immediately. A piece of bone is protruded from his leg, and he begins to bleed profusely. The younger boy gets up and tries to make a hasty escape, but is stopped by the guard at the door. Dan glances at him.
“Sorry kid, he’s with me.”
Without another word he turns back to Mr. Yamamoto and drags him by the hair until he is propped with his back up against the wall. He steps back, and with a short run, smashes his boot right into the center of the old man’s face. His eyes roll back, and he slumps over. A pool of blood is now forming around him, but Dan isn’t satisfied. He stomps again, then again, then again, using his feet to practically stamp him into the wall.
Hey, maybe he likes ‘football’ after all.
Satisfied, he turns his attention to the young man. Slowly, purposefully, he walks to him and tilts his head to the side slightly as he watches the boy shiver in fright, and takes note of the tears threatening to come bursting forth at any moment.
“Don’t be scared, kid. What’s your name?”
He stumbles with his words as he nervously tries to answer. “It’s… it’s…”
Dan places a giant hand on his shoulder in an attempt to calm him down. It doesn’t work. “I’m not gonna hurt you, kid. Your name?”
“It’s… it’s… Hiroshi. It’s Hiroshi.”
“Hiroshi. Very good. Now… Hiroshi, your boss over there…”
“I barely know him!” Hiroshi exclaims. “I’m only an intern! I just started last week! Please!”
Dan ignores him. “Hiroshi, your boss over there is losing a lot of blood. Additionally, his legs have a compound fracture and I’m pretty sure I fractured his skull. Now, if you don’t want him to die, you’ll have to act quickly. The medical facilities here in Manchester are top-notch. I suggest you call them immediately. Now, I’ve taken the liberty of covering my tracks. Your boss’ men? I’m afraid they’re incapacitated. Your driver outside? Yeah, he’s gone too. I’m going to give you this burner phone…”
He hands a phone over.
“When I’m gone, make your call. But… and this is the important part. I want you to let your ‘other’ bosses know that as of right now, our affiliation has ended. They are not to reach out to me, not to attempt retribution of any kind, or I will have all of them look like Mr. Yamamoto here at best, or perhaps… will make sure they disappear altogether. It’s over. The end. Do you understand?”
The kid nods his head vigorously.
“Good. Now that phone will stop working in one hour, so I suggest you get on it.”
Dan pats him on the shoulder, then gives his guard a glance. “Tell Craig to expect our young visitor shortly. See that he gets to where he needs to be.”
Dan opens the door, then looks back and watches as Mr. Yamamoto starts gasping, spitting and blood leaps from his mouth. Dan looks back at the guard again.
“Let HIM know step one is finished.”
And he walks out.
VI. Honesty is the Best Policy
I was sitting and listening to you the other day, Jatt, my good friend, my new friend…
I’m not gonna respond to you exactly. That’s not really the game I want to play. See, this is the nuts and bolts of it. I don’t actually want to play games with you at all. I want to be very plain and completely honest. You don’t trust me, and that’s fair. You definitely should not. In fact, you would be foolish if you did, and I don’t find you to be a fool.
Here’s the thing.
You’re concerned that you’re gonna turn your back and then I’m gonna blast you over the back of the head with something, maybe smash it in between two heavy steel objects, injure you, and take all of the glory for myself.
The truth is, it’s possible that I will.
At March to Glory, that is.
I can’t really guarantee sportsmanship in this case, because of the importance of the moment. I’m not charitable in championship opportunities, and I don’t want to give you any false hope that I will be. I want to be as forthcoming as I can be, so listen…
I will do whatever it takes to win the HOTv title. Whatever… it takes.
At the same time, we have both been tasked with ridding the company of Joe Bergman, and I take that task very seriously also. I have no idea what Scott Stevens is planning to do. He’s too busy doing Star Wars parodies that someone else has already done recently, repeating things while telling me to stop repeating things.
Only a fool engages a fool, so I’m done with him. His fate is sealed, no matter what his plans are. Maybe he really does have a mental connection with the boss and maybe he has super secret instructions for March to Glory. It doesn’t matter.
You and I have a future to look forward to, my friend. We have a tag team title shot in the bank, just a few weeks after we leave Manchester, and I want to be clear that when our goals are aligned, I will be the best partner you’ve ever had. You won’t have to worry about me walking away. You won’t have to worry about me taking you out when you least expect it. The petty little jealousies that permeate this business are of no interest to me. This match, the HOTv championship that goes along with winning this match… is only the beginning. I have higher aspirations that go beyond this moment, and you are included in some of them.
But yes, at Old Trafford… at March to Glory… keep your head on a swivel. That would be wise. I’m sure we’ll get the chance to stomp on Joe Bergman’s head together, but when it comes down to the end, I will do what needs to be done to win this match.
Our history? We’ll talk about that when the time is right. That time is not now. And you’re right. I made the very foolish mistake of standing up for someone who refused to stand up for me. I had to learn a very painful lesson, but I have learned it. You took the brunt of it, and for that, I do have regrets. For now, I will expect you to throw everything at the wall to get that belt away from Bergman. And I promise you, man to man, I will do the same.
I wouldn’t lie to my partner.
“There is only one Lord of the Ring. And he does not share power.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien
VII. The Cost of Growth is Need
And then there’s you, Joe. You are the champion, so you get the main event spot.
I appreciate you, Joe. In the past, I would have considered you a bit naive. You embrace your virtuous nature. Sure, you can get mad just like the rest of us. There are things that cause things to boil over for you, but all in all, you are mostly incorruptible. The most minor showing of temper makes the world stand up and take notice because you are such a nice guy.
And as a nice guy, you have gone farther in this sport than many. I said I used to think you were naive. I don’t think so anymore. I’ve learned so much lately, Joe. And the truth is… you are not naive. What you are is authentic.
And yes, I respect that.
You have been authentically yourself, and you’ve won multiple World Titles… you have ravenous fans the world over… and now, you are the HOTv champion.
That is the key, isn’t it? Turns out I’m the one who was naive, Joe. I chased gold, chased fame, and chased power all in the name of greed, by floating around on whatever notion popped into my head at the time.
How can a man be authentic if he doesn’t even know himself?
That’s the difference between us, Joe. You know yourself, and I’m only just now finding out.
I’ve always been good at being a killer at work and a good family man at home – two sides of the same mask. It took some time to figure out which face was fake, but now everything is becoming clear. Turns out, I’m only the killer. I am nothing less, nothing more. I am the proverbial scorpion catching a ride across a raging river on the back of a fox, then stinging the fox anyway as he swims, despite the survival of us both depending on his safely traversing the flood.
As it turns out, family only goes so far. I’m tired of talking about it. It is, after all, my own fault. My past is etched in stone. But my future is uncertain. My future depends on me. I have choices to make, and I will make them.
But it goes deeper than that. Beneath all of the surface, the choices, the future, blah blah blah, there is a need. I don’t want your championship, Joe. I need it. I do not have the capacity to put into words what this means to me. There is nothing in any language that can accurately communicate the deep, visceral, desperate need to prove that I can still do this. My confidence was broken, and I broke it. And now, I’m the only one who can rebuild it.
You haven’t humbled me yet, no matter what you think. So many people have tried to do it, but it seems as though I just happen to be incurably arrogant, completely immune to humility, and much too far down the path of life to change now. I’m at the point of acceptance because it takes acceptance before you can take the bigger steps forward.
You know what I’m talking about. You have your Section 214. They give you strength. Without them, what are you? What if some big, mean Texan were to arrange for your “Section” to be removed from the equation? Surely, I’m not threatening mere fans, am I, Joe? Am I? What am I capable of… is that what you’re wondering?
I’m capable of just about anything. You know this. But you don’t really know this. You’ve never been square in my sights before, and now you are. That tag team match… was never the location for what we have planned for you. It was never the endgame. Only the biggest possible stage will do.
I have done some truly despicable things. I have turned my back on friends, turned my back on family, and finally, had all those things done to me. You’d think I would have learned not to be so violent, so vindictive, so thirsty for power, so monstrously lacking in empathy that I can’t stop. That’s the problem. I can’t stop. Yes, that’s the problem.
And the thing is? I’m not trying anymore.
You have always been your authentic self, but this is new to me. It’s freeing. I’m breathing easier, my eyes are brighter, and the sun’ll come out tomorrow, Joe. That sort of thing. I know who I am. And I know what my job entails.
You’re a legend of the business, but I have to beat you. I have to. There is no other option. It has been commanded, and your fate is mine to command, whether you want to believe it or not. What that fate is, only GOD knows.
I admire your spirit… your will… your determination.
But Joe, these things do not make you special. They just don’t. All that matters is what you can do, and what you can’t do. If you can’t escape this match with that belt around your waist, all the spirit, will, and determination in the world won’t be able to save you from what comes next. You’re foolish if you think it’s only a matter of getting through March to Glory and then moving on to something else.
If you don’t survive this challenge to your title, you won’t survive, period. Do you understand?
There is more in store for you than you know… odds be damned.
Keep watching your little football matches. Make sure you get a souvenir. But I’m not here to play games. This is the only match I care about. I’m pouring every bead of sweat, every drop of blood into it, and I don’t hope I win. I know I will. I will… because I must.
The first step is always the hardest, Joseph.
Evil Empire or not, it’s over. You don’t go here. There is no place for your bullshit. I will put an end to it.
I will paint the ring with your blood. And you will not look back on that night fondly over a pint of ale among your little fan group. You will look back at it and tremble, or else you will not look back on it at all. That’s the way it is.
Tell Sunny I said hi.
The scene is set.
All of the pieces are in place.
I’ve been waiting for this moment for a very long time. I might as well be a rookie, a fresh-face no-nothing coming into the business wide-eyed and bushy-tailed – a naive, thirsty forty-five-year-old rookie.
That’s how I have to look at it. I’m coming back for my legacy so that generations ahead will look back at my career not with disappointment, but in awe.
Lee Best gave me this shot. There is no bitterness, no asking for reparations for the past. Only an offer and a hand, a chance to create something new. And I will do that. I will not let him down. My pride no longer prevents me from being thankful for the people who have shown who they really are, and sentimentality no longer causes me to make excuses for people who have finally shown their asses.
I miss the taste of gold, and I’ll have it again.
There’s no going back.