San Diego, CA | 9 June
“Can you give these back to Daniel for me? I can’t imagine Mrs. Ryan was best pleased when the silly prick got his pills mixed up and accidentally gave his blue ones away last week. Cheers.”
Andy barely recognised the figure on the television screen as it flicked a pill bottle at Blaire Moise, though it was unmistakably him. Deep Aberdonian accent, thick grey mane, a weight-bearing crutch mitigating the damage done to his other crutch the week before. Yeah, definitely Andy Murray.
The King of Wrestling hit the rewind button for what must have been the dozenth time, taking him back to the promo’s start. He’d have verbally flayed Dan Ryan and Lindsay Troy in a past life. Bile and venom would have spat forth from his maw as he clapped back at those who’d wronged him, whipping the audience into a bloodthirsty frenzy for round two, where Andy Murray, that old pugnacious pugilist, would take his pound of flesh with freight-train force.
Revenge was born of fire back then. At Refueled XXVIII, one week removed from the Inner Circle’s ambush, it was a bucket of cold water.
Studying tape was a necessity for any successful combat sports athlete but rarely were Andy’s sessions so moribund.
“Sorry about that, I was playing around with the new Group of Death soundboard” was a gag so basic it may as well have come from Scott Woodson’s mouth.
Calling Lindsay Troy a “cunt” was straight out of the Fisher-Price factory.
The blue pill bit?
The man on Andy’s television was deflecting. He was pulling up his shield when he should have been firing up, trying to play an impenetrable Superman with transparent bunk met with eye-rolls and what-the-fucks over in the Group of Death locker-room, his spirit hidden behind a paper-thin veil of manufactured bravado.
He was being a straight-up bitch.
And the worst part was he knew it before he even stepped in front of the camera’s lens.
“… the silly prick got his pills mixed up and accidentally gave his blue ones away…”
For fuck’s sake.
Andy Murray, the most successful European wrestler of all time, was above such shitty “burns.”
Or at least he should be.
So what happened?
By the tape’s thirteenth repetition, Murray knew damn well what had happened.
Alright big Dan, let’s talk.
You beat me up one week and beat my mate the next. Black and white: it is what it is. No excuses, no bullshit.
That’s a nice little War Games warm-up lap. Got the pulse pounding, the blood flowing, the momentum swinging in your favour again. Good job, pal!
But here’s the thing about the warm-up lap: it’s the fucking warm-up lap.
I’m not gonna tell you that you didn’t make moves, because you clearly did.
I’m going to tell you that they don’t mean shit.
The end sum of your grand plan was a limp that kept me in the medic’s office for half an hour longer than I’d have liked and off the treadmill for a week. It was a power move that’ll simply get you beaten the fuck up when we get to the real fight in Normandy, bell-end.
You took one fight away from me, but if you consider this a “win,” your mental callisthenics are raisin-brained. The dents in my armour have been bashed out.
But the dents put in your character? Your aura? There isn’t a forge on the planet that’ll help you with those.
“I run to the fight, not away from it.”
What happened to that?
Because you literally ran from it the other week, brother. Spin it whatever way you want; it is what it is.
Black and white.
Turns out you’re more full of shit than I thought. You swerved your way out of the matinee before the main presentation because you’re not a killing machine, but an actor playing the part of one. You recite your well-prepared script with authority and weight but when you hit the stage and realise you can’t bulldoze the guy on the other side of the ring, fight turns to flight.
Facts are facts, and I’m the only other guy with your stopping power in this thing. Max is wilder, Perfection is more clinical, and MJ has a bigger chip on her shoulder, but I’m the one throwing thunder – and you’re puffing away like an old asthma inhaler, buried under your own bogus bellicose bullshit.
“Running to the fight!”
What a laugh, laddie. You got kicked in the dick and Lindsay shat the bed. Turns out your talk is even cheaper than bottom dollar. I’m not calling you a coward, I’m calling you a windbag, and finishing the job before stepping inside the death cage would’ve been a smarter move, sparky. You blew it though.
You blew the whole goddamn thing.
And it’ll take more than a bottle of pills to get you out of bed the morning after War Games.
That was adorable – and I’m sure you’ve got a lot to say about it. Go on, chief: dedicate another 45 minutes to spewing shite about a guy that means “nothing” to you. Nothing screams “I don’t give a f*ck” quite like it!
We’ll see how it sounds when your teeth are like rocksalt shards spread across a bloody mat.
San Diego, CA | 9 June
Andy knew what being an addict meant because he had lived with one for the best part of a decade.
His ex-wife’s condition was a crushing one, smothering the person under torrents and torrents of mud. Andy watched Jane’s vampire take more and more of her away from him every day they were together. It started not long after the birth of their son, Marvin, when they were both barely out of their teens and still settling into American life.
At first, her behaviour became aggressive and argumentative whenever he’d try to broach the subject, distant when he didn’t, and sorrowful when finally, a year in, they confronted the problem together. Recoveries and relapses followed for the rest of their time together. When she opened up, she spoke of the mud in her head and how the booze was the only thing that truly kept it at bay. It overcame her during cold turkey periods and left her alone with a persistent, howling voice cutting through the muck: the urge to grab a bottle and wash it all away, even while raising their kid.
Jane became impossible. Any affection Andy showed, she withdrew from. Any love he expressed, she destroyed utterly.
Where once he blamed her – and fell to fury, knowing the impact it could have on his boy – Andy came to realise that no, this was on him. The couple had gone from being together almost every day to him spending five or six days out of seven on the road, trying to crack it in American wrestling. The job would make him, he told himself, it’d safeguard everything, and he’d do it for their future, ensuring that he, Jane, Marvin, and any new additions to their family would never struggle.
Yet it ruined her.
The problem, not Andy or Marvin, was her world, and though it killed him utterly, it took the best part of 10 years for him to walk away. Not completely, though. Andy couldn’t let the mother of his son drown. A cut of his pay landed in her bank account all the way through to his own financial collapse, helping her through rehabilitation on more than one occasion, but the drink was still her master.
The mud remained.
The last cut-off came in April. Sick of propping-up his broken ex, Andy’s contributions to her latest clinic ceased – much to Marvin’s chagrin. Jane was still there as far as The King knew.
So yes. Dan Ryan’s pill bottle stunt and the wider reaction to it stung.
“Andy Murray is a pillhead” was the story, now. Whether this was Ryan’s intention (or if, perhaps, he was going for a cute “here, you’ll need these in the morning”) didn’t matter: The Ego Buster had shone a light on something, whether he knew it or not, and now Andy was burning.
Ryan was playing a different game than Murray when they wrestled. While Andy wanted to weaken by proving himself the new dominant force against the old one – scoring a symbolic pinfall through whatever means – Dan looked to harm him beyond an arbitrary win/loss. So he and LT sprung their trap, hurt the knee, then cleaved the soul.
It was a valuable lesson.
As Andy sat in his home, reflecting on his tape-studying session, he felt clarity burn through the clouds of anger.
Ryan had changed the narrative; in doing so, he had presented the man Murray needed to kill.
The juvenile insults were a crutch.
The knee, and the way he endlessly droned on and on about it like a self-righteous vegan, was a crutch.
The elaborate, overpriced knee brace – through unquestionably useful – was a crutch.
The countdown clock and goofy slogan t-shirts were a crutch.
The private suite, the luxury jet, the gold-painted microphones, and weekly GoD baiting: crutches, all of them.
For his entire HOW run, Murray had been overcompensating. His words came from a certain insecurity. In trying to present himself as bulletproof, and in trying to make a beast of himself to survive in this land of wolves and bastards, he had lost his way.
He was trying to play “wrestler” in a killer’s world.
Though Murray thought he’d killed the ghost he used to be before the Lethal Lottery, and it guided him to victory over the Hollywood Bruvs, echoes of the “hero” he used to be remained.
The job wasn’t finished and the pain of being a man remained.
The man he watched in that footage was marching to his doom at War Games. Mike Best would pop his skull, Cecilworth Farthington would snap a limb, Lindsay Troy would cash the remaining balance on her receipt, and Ryan would finish the job.
Andy was on a path to defeat; correcting it was all that mattered.
His cell phone buzzed in his pocket, breaking the period of self-reflection. Andy rejected the call without even glancing at the caller.
This was it.
War Games, his only focus.
You’re goddamn right I’m salty.
I fucking hate Lindsay Troy.
I hate that I rolled with this insecure piece of shit for years, content to play a meat shield in her protection gang because I mistook her for a friend.
I hate the lack of self-awareness when she addresses these gangs and her built-in need to surround herself with arseholes everywhere she goes. “Revisionist history,” is it? The tape libraries are right there. Study them. Tell me I’m lying.
I hate that it took me so damn long to figure this whole thing out.
I hate that she is still able to con gimps like the eGG Bandits into putting her on a pedestal that shouldn’t even exist anymore. Bunch of dumbfounded clowns fawning over a husk abandoned by its soul a long, long time ago, they’ll learn soon enough.
I hate that she still has the temerity to call herself “Queen” when she hasn’t ruled a damn thing since her old home collapsed nine years ago, and hasn’t even come close in the House of GOD.
I hate that she sat with both thumbs up her arse for three months before finding the stones to strike back, went down the bollocks two-on-one route when she did, then didn’t even have the decency to deal lasting damage once the victim was neutralised.
I hate that she’ll try to pass this blatant hand-sitting off as some kind of meticulous, patient revenge plot.
I hate that people like Mike Best still call her one of the best in the world when every single shred of evidence suggests otherwise, especially whenever she steps in the ring with 24K. The old standard-bearer barely scrapes past Brian Hollywood, now. She isn’t garbage tier, but definitely more donkey than GOAT.
I hate her stupid goddamn Mother Hen complex, pecking around like the plebes should be thankful to even come within touching distance of her nest space.
I hate the way she considers herself capable of flaying skin from faces with a few flicks of her once-sharp tongue when in reality, it’s been years since her played-out shite had any substance. “Lol, your balls are in a vice.” Cool.
I hate her unlubricated lawnmower voice and the way self-righteousness etches across her face whenever she drops snark.
I even hate that her dilapidated husband probably still confuses “liking Nathan Fillion” for a personality trait.
But most of all, I hate that no other Group of Death member has as much leverage over me heading into this as she does, not even the guy who hasn’t been beaten in over a year.
It comes from a single, glaring source.
And it needs to go.
San Diego, CA | A Few Hours Later
“I wish you didn’t have to do this.”
Vivica J. Valentine was rueful. She looked at Andy over the remains of their tuna, avocado, and quinoa salad: not the sexiest lunch, but a body as old and battle-ravaged as Murray’s would cease functioning at anything close to peak level without the right fuel. Alcohol was his only deviance from a perfectly-plotted nutrition plan, though even that went out the window ahead of an event like this.
Best, Farthington, Ryan, Troy. Four icons of the game. They would bring the best of themselves, and Murray would endeavour to do the same.
If only he could change his fate.
“Well, I do,” Andy said before necking what remained of the rancid green shake a nutritionist once told him would accelerate his post-workout recovery. Perhaps that was true, but the mulch tasted like hell. “There’s no getting around it.”
She was slight, Vivica, but a certified concussive, propulsive bullet of a wrestler in her day: a flash of streaked blonde hair and unfiltered violence circumventing any size discrepancy, though her fighting days were over. Five years Andy’s junior, almost to the day, she was no longer a slave to the grind of a mainstream wrestling schedule, her own injury woes necessitating a series of early retirements, the last of which had stuck.
“I just hate this, you know?” she said, preparing to broach a subject they’d already covered a dozen times before. “I hate that you and Lindsay became enemies and I’m the one stuck in the middle.”
Valentine’s concern was earned, and it extended beyond her partner’s wellbeing. In the decade she’d known Andy, she had come to understand that when it came to his own health, he could be every bit as obstinate as she was when she was competing. Broaching that particular topic was barely worth it at this stage.
“It’s not just about Lindsay,” Andy replied, his muscles still stinging from a gruelling morning work about. “It’s more about the pack of pricks she rolls with.” Murray paused for a moment. “Well, a lot of it is about her actually.”
To Vivica, it was all about LT. Andy had lost count of the number of arguments they’d had over this. Whenever Valentine returned to San Diego after her latest work-enforced stint in Boston, they clashed heads over Lindsay Troy. It was a constant, persistent wedge, and one without an obvious solution.
That Andy was behaving the way he was on television was rough enough: that he was doing it to Lindsay, in particular, was wrenching, and the worst part was that she knew he couldn’t stop. “Fuck Mikey Unlikely” was a regular line in their household.
It was a conflict – and conflict beyond the War Games cage was the last thing The King of Wrestling needed in his head at the moment.
And so, it was time.
“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that, actually,” Andy said, staring straight through Vivica’s own piercing blue eyes. “Now seems like as good a time as any.”
“Again? I mean, I know I brought it up, but–…”
“I need you to do something,” Murray said assertively, interrupting. He watched her brow tighten.
“I don’t want a debate on this.”
“Okay,” he said, pausing, readjusting. “Lindsay. I need you to stop working for her. Immediately.”
“… are you?” Valentine began, though her words quickly tailed off. “Are you serious?!”
The addict acknowledging that their dependency is harming not only themselves, but the people around them as well, is critical to passing the denial stage.
Addictions destroy relationships. They can deal more damage to those around the user than the user him or herself – and the culprit won’t realise it until “too late” isn’t even a distant blip on the rearview.
My experiences with the disease have taught me this is true.
Addicts serve a different master. A terrible affliction has sunk its claws into their frontal cortex, pulling their strings insidiously. Conflicts arise when paranoia and finger-pointing apportion blame to people who haven’t done anything wrong, fraying what weakened ties still hold them together.
Parents neglect their children, partners neglect their spouses, and friendships get frayed, especially when outsiders try to help. Clear decision-making is impossible when you’re under the spell. Arguments between parents lead to trauma for the kids, too. It’s a goddamn miracle my son turned out the way he did – considering his mother.
Financial control is a nightmare when your first impulse is to pour cash into your habit, and I watched many a wrestling paycheck get doused in alcohol and lord knows whatever else. Bills go unpaid, debt spirals, pantries lie empty, and desperation becomes a personality trait, not a temporary state of mind.
The physical consequences are myriad. I don’t need to go into them, but something’s wrong when you can barely recognise the person you share your whole life with.
And then, after all of this, comes separation.
Complete or otherwise.
Intended or otherwise.
San Diego, CA | One Hour Later
Vivica was gone.
A blazing argument erupted the moment Andy demanded she stop working for the enemy. Troy’s Boston gym had given her solace when Murray’s closed and Valentine, one of his head trainers, was left without gainful employment. Things only became strenuous when Andy and 24K blasted into High Octane Wrestling and immediately made LT an enemy. Troy had taken a mature stance, deciding against forcing a grown adult to choose between the two, but Andy, evolving into an increasingly single-minded lower creature, couldn’t do the same.
So out walked the one person on the planet who still truly cared about him. When she pointed out that they wouldn’t have been in that situation had Murray not made the poor choices leading to the Second Chance Gym’s closures, The King remained steadfast. Like a thousand-year-old Redwood, he refused to budge.
30 minutes later and Valentine was out the door, her love – her entire world – reduced to a hurdle on Andy’s path to War Games.
Andy didn’t know how he felt about it. He looked like shit in the mirror, but Murray always looked like shit these days. The bags under the eyes were never not there, the wrinkles were deepening, and that scar beneath his lip’s left corner that prevented his beard from filling out had never been more noticeable.
Internally, there was a numbness. He felt neither good nor bad: just empty, unfeeling. Deadened.
Murray’s cell rang again. An incoherent grumble soundtracked him rejecting the day’s second call. A half-hour-old email notification caught his attention, though: “ANTI-DOPING TEST CONFIRMATION” read the title.
His heart fluttered. Hurriedly, Andy skimmed his way through the sports authority’s fluff to find the date. The email itself was a final reminder. In blocking himself from the outside world to focus on War Games and War Games alone, Murray had missed that his next drug test was in less than 48 hours.
Bodies loved dropping these things on combat athletes on relatively short notice anyway, but under two days?
“Fuck,” Andy said, sliding his phone down the empty sink. “Fuck…”
An anti-doping test, days before his biggest match in years.
Days before his hand-picked spot as Lee Best’s insurance policy in HOW’s cage of death.
Days before Mike Best, Cecilworth Farthington, Lindsay Troy, and Dan Ryan, after months upon months of endless shit-talk.
An anti-doping test.
Empty pill bottles still littered the bathroom: two on the floor, one on the sink, turned over on its side. Each was from James Witherhold’s “guy.”
A slave to his pain, Andy hadn’t researched the legality of their ingredients.
His fist flew forward almost voluntarily. Shards of glass flew out on impact, with larger, jagged chunks falling to the tiled floor.
Andy felt no pain as crimson seeped from his skinned knuckles.
And he saw nothing, either.
Other than the mud.
My name is Andy Murray
And I am an addict.