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Chicago, IL | 7 August 2020
“Jesus fucking Christ.”
Cayle Murray ran a less-than-steady hand through his hair as he fled into the night. He stomped through the Allstate Arena as fast as his legs could carry him without breaking into a jog, conscious of what he might run into.
“Eyes open, lads,” he called to the security team surrounding them. “Heads on swivel.”
The would-be ICON Champion was shook. Equal parts fired up and riled up, his immediate priority was getting out of this place before something awful happened, the possibility of which increased exponentially with every passing second he spent traversing the building’s guts.
Dan Ryan. Fucking hell.
The Ego Buster had always been a force beyond his physical and mental traits, but this wasn’t the same man Cayle had stood across the ring from two-and-a-half years ago. This wasn’t just a cold, calculating hulk of a man with more muscle on his frame than most tag teams combined, an occasional tendency to go too far with certain rivals, and a dangerous ring game melding precise technicality with raw power.
This wasn’t just one of the most notorious villains in American wrestling history, who flicked away his public perception as if it were dust on his shoulder, his focus concerned only with success between the ropes and family life away from it.
This wasn’t even the man Cayle once watched drill Lindsay Troy through an announce table, headfirst, with his Headliner killshot, trying to retire his own goddamn sister-in-law.
This was far worse.
Dan Ryan was something else now.
Suddenly, the idea of trying to take one of wrestling’s most prestigious championships in his first HOW match didn’t seem so glamorous.
Cayle had gone face-to-face with Hannibal Lecter. Ryan hadn’t quite promised to have him for dinner, though the youngest Murray brother felt this was a distinct possibility if he stuck around much longer. Dan’s dull, hollow eyes communicated more than any word that had left his mouth, anyway, and locking into them had chilled Cayle to his core.
“Fucking lunatic sociopath,” Cayle muttered beneath his breath, before swinging an arm to his right. “Hey, lugs! Watch that corner!”
Two of his meat shields shuffled closer to him, pivoting around to ensure danger couldn’t launch from the Allstate’s unseen depths. A coupled of startled, bewildered producers swung round and hid away from the death glares thrown their way. Murray and his team were treating Dan Ryan’s spectre as if The Ego Buster was the fucking Minister.
The corridor grew shorter and shorter. Safety was so close and yet so far, and Cayle was locked in survival mode.
Ryan, in all likelihood, had said everything he needed to say – and done everything he wanted to do – when they went face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball. Murray wasn’t willing to rest on that assumption, though. This man had flipped from calm to murderous in a second, hospitalising an entire security force before his elder brother’s eyes. Then, a few short weeks ago, he ended one of the most glittering careers this sport has ever seen after sharing a ring with Eric Dane and Scott Stevens, snuffing out the light that shone within HOW’s surgent ICON Champion.
He couldn’t trust the Ego Buster not to do something demonic, no matter how slim the odds.
Cayle and his team descended down a narrow staircase and found the fire escape they’d been looking for. A technician had alerted them to the little-known out-door’s existence a few minutes prior. Leaving the conventional route, through the parking lot, was way too predictable. Instead, Murray shortcutted straight into the city.
The Scot sent two of his guys on ahead, bursting through the door to take a bullet for him. A few seconds of careful glances yielded no danger. Quickly, Cayle followed them out, navigating a small loading area before hopping a fence onto the street. He pulled his cell phone from his pocket and loaded the Uber app back up.
“Fuckin’ hell, where is this guy?”
Not a good time for the GPS tracker to be acting up. Not a good time at all.
Blood rushed through Murray’s veins at a hundred miles per hour, a cold sweat was forming on his brow. Anxiety knocked away at his inner cortex like a woodpecker. He shook his head, trying to loosen it, but it was no use.
A glance up the street, then another in the opposite direction. No headlights to pierce the darkness.
No swinging metal elbow brace either, but no headlights.
The adrenaline was wearing off, now. True fear creeping in. The beak pecking against his skull grew faster.
Cayle was surrounded by safeguards – the security team was his shelter – and yet he felt no comfort.
Until the headlights finally swung around a nearby corner and a plain, white soccer mom car rolled up to the curb. Cayle pulled one of the back doors open before it stopped and quickly flung himself inside, slamming the door hard, prompting one of the guards to turn to another.
“I ain’t ever seen paranoia like that before,” he said, shaking his head.
Meanwhile, in the car, the Uber driver checked Cayle’s details and destination, drawing a sharp, “yes, yes, yes… go!” from the HOW newcomer. Murray was slumped back in his seat, breathing heavily, his heart rate finally slowing as the car pulled away from the arena.
The driver squinted in his rearview, looking Cayle in the eye.
“Hey, I know who you are!” he said, as friendly as could be. “You’re Andy Murray’s brother!”
There it is.
Andy Murray’s brother.
Cayle’s blood turned hot again. He literally bit his tongue to stop the words he wanted to say from coming out.
“Aye,” he replied through gritted teeth. Andy Murray’s brother still wrestled.
“Could’ve sworn I heard about you getting tangled up with Dan Ryan,” came the annoyingly chipper response. “Not a guy I’d want to mess with, that’s for sure!” Seconds passed before the Uber driver looked back in the mirror for another glimpse at the sweating, shattered athlete gazing out into the night. “You’ve not been running from the guy, have you?”
“Me, run?!” Cayle’s face immediately turned defiant. He looked the cabbie in the eye for the first time. “I’m gonna batter that cunt’s bollocks off, mate. Murrays don’t run.”
Yeah, Murrays don’t run.
Except when they do.
My brother came here to start a war.
He wanted to make one last splash in the biggest of the big leagues, bring the sport’s American side to its knees once more. The King, failing physical form and all, was out to shake the industry as he’d never done before then burn out before fading away, having done enough to ensure his name would be featured in any credible GOAT debate for decades to come.
I was aghast at first, you know. It’s not like I was playing Mr. Clean over in Japan or anything – I’ve stopped seeing the value in an “honest” win since falling out of love with the sport, a pinfall’s a pinfall in anyone’s money – but fucking hell, the big lad was knocking around with Unlikely, Kendrix, Perfection: three arseholes who tried to make my life a living hell any time we were on the same roster.
We had a blow-up. We argued about it. I haven’t met with the guy face-to-face since Christmas, but what the hell, man?!
And then I got over it.
Turns out I couldn’t see the wood for the trees. I was too personally involved to see the picture as a whole.
24K’s methods? They worked. They turned heads and put an entire promotion on notice as soon as they walked in, Dan Ryan included. Took me a while to realise it, but shit, Andy was right. His approach was working.
To an extent.
I was too stubborn to tell him it personally, of course. That’s how we are. No doubt you’ve learned that yourself from his time in HOW, but in throwing everything else he had to the side for one last shot at glory – at meaning something – the man who taught me everything about professional wrestling gave one last lesson.
That’s why the Cayle Murray you fought years ago isn’t the one you’ll fight on Saturday, Daniel. You’ll see what that means real soon.
But Andy didn’t teach me everything I know about pro-wrestling: just everything he knew. Me? Frankly, I evolved beyond his fucking hammer-throwing along time ago. I’m not up for that chest-beating, machismo, hit-me-first bullshit, mate. I’m smarter, sharper, craftier. I don’t just learn from my mistakes, but his as well, and he made a shitload of them in the nights leading up to his brutal demise.
About that. Honestly, meathead, I can’t say he, or I, wouldn’t have done the same. You play the game to win, not make friends. There’s no bonus prize for playing nice. You don’t get an extra shiny medal because you hit your goal after 50 minutes of hard-fought in-ring struggle rather than lobbing a guy off a pissing balcony.
But you’re still going to get your arse kicked for it, chief.
Because yes, my brother came here to start a war.
I came here to end one.
Against three enemies:-
- Big bloody Daniel.
- The shadow of my name.
Chicago, IL | 10 August 2020
The hotel room was flashy, yes, but emptier than Dan Ryan’s soul. In it was a bunch of furnishings that looked premium on the website but felt cheap to touch, Cayle Murray, and his tangible frustration.
“I don’t know, I haven’t spoken to any of them yet,” said the Scot, answering the faceless reporter’s latest question, his hot phone pressed against his ear. He was sat at the top of the bed and not best pleased about how much of his morning this bloody conference-call-slash-interview had eaten up.
His surroundings would likely bring joy to anyone fortunate enough to not live their life out of a hotel room, but not Cayle. These places were all the same to him. He gleaned little from the floor-to-ceiling windows, the citywide vista, the free minibar, and rich ochre/navy blue colour palette, though he had no choice but to exist in a space like this for now.
Moving back to the United States had come swiftly. He’d travel to Florida for No Remorse in a few days but for now, Cayle dwelled only in temporary accommodations.
“Not even James Witherhold?” croaked the voice on the other end. “He and your brother were close beyond holding the HOW Tag Team Championships together, I hear.”
“Why would I talk to James pissing Witherhold?” Cayle spat, his face aghast. If the various reporters, clickbaiters, and other assorted hacks on the call didn’t already know he was tired, they certainly did with that retort. “He doesn’t even work here anymore and on top of that, what has any of this got to do with Dan Ryan and No Remorse? Next, please.”
His phone sandwiched between his shoulder and ear, Cayle used his free hand to press his fingers into his temples, closing his eyes as the host cued-up the next question.
“Cayle, a quick one on your brother just to start us off, if I can,” began the next detached voice. Murray pictured him looking like a basement-dwelling dork with four chins, a neckbeard, a permanent Cheeto dust crust around his fingertips, just to make him feel better. “How’s he doing? Can you offer any updates on his medical condition? We haven’t heard a word on what’s going on with him since Dan Ry–”
“No, you bloody well cannot,” Cayle snapped, his eyes flickering back to life.
“Uh, okay. My second que–”
“No second question either. Next.” Murray waved his hand, as if the people on the call could see it.
“Alright Cayle, to keep you on a similar topic,” began the next interviewer, drawing a clear, audible sigh from the interviewee. “How much of this fight is about restoring his honou–”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on. Stop.” Murray, at his wit’s end, slid his legs over the bed’s edge, rose to his feet, and paced towards the window. “I’ve been yapping to you fannies for close to an hour and I can count on one hand the number of questions that I’ve been asked about Dan Ryan or myself. Whose name is on the marquee this weekend, eh? Right there, below the HOFC, The Minister and Mike Best?”
He doesn’t wait for an answer. Not that he was expecting one.
“Balls to this. There you go. There’s your story. ‘HOW Wrestler EXPLODES In Expletive-Filled Reporter Rant!’ Clickity-click, fuckity bye.”
The host’s protests were too late: Cayle cut him off mid-sentence. Finally, the younger Murray was free of their haranguing.
He’d probably get a fine for failing to fulfil his media obligations, but that was fine. Cayle, unlike certain other family members, wasn’t short of pennies. He’d been smart with his money. Things like this were mere box-ticking exercises now, and if he didn’t have the patience for them, he wasn’t going to stick around.
It was hard to have patience when all anyone wanted to ask him about was his fucking brother.
That’s what this fight was to them, apparently. Not Dan vs. Ryan, Ego Buster vs. Starbreaker, but the exorcism of Andy’s ghost from High Octane Wrestling.
And it was driving Cayle up the goddamn wall.
His entire wrestling career had been a long, arduous battle to escape the shadow of his name – to shatter the phrase “Andy Murray’s little brother,” as if that was the only thing he could ever be. Things were finally trending in that direction five years ago, when he returned to American wrestling, then again when the big man joined him in Japan in 2018.
Cayle was selling out arenas there, while his sibling, broken and desperately, was filling spots in dumb nostalgia tags, or worse, sitting in catering.
Then he found his way into HOW.
And then all this happened.
And things were back to the way they used to be. Cayle Murray was losing his own legacy to the shadows, creating a situation only a clear, decisive victory over The Hammer of GoD could cure.
Or so he hoped.
The trouble was that facing Ryan, in this state, was unlike any other challenge he’d ever faced before. It was intimidating.
Verbally, Cayle responded by throwing bluster and swear words around, hoping the projected violence would shield him from whatever was coming his way. That’s the game. Show weakness and die.
But this shit was hard.
And a guy who wasn’t even there was making it harder.
“The other guy.”
That’s the perception of me, and it’s informed by his ultra-successful mini-run here. ICON Champion after, what, two singles bouts? Tag Team Champion on his second night. One pinfall loss, and that was to a fresher man at the end of a wacky murder cage.
I walked through this door two shows ago with the same surname, only six inches shorter, 60lbs lighter, and a lot less scary looking. Presented as the guy to slay Ryanstein’s Monster, who’d just snapped the bigger, more ferocious branch off the family tree. A more perfect microcosm of my entire career you could not find.
And yet I took this opportunity. You already know why – I told you all about it last time. But you need to understand that after No Remorse, I need this family name to belong to me
I need to consign the big lad to the past and ensure that nobody #SaysHisName, you cute little prick, because that shit only widens the shadow. What’ll eradicate it completely, however, is beating this specific version of the Ego Buster in my first match, becoming ICON Champion ahead of the 30+ dipshits ahead of me in the rankings, and soaring.
Easier said than done, and I can’t say the thought of colliding with someone who’s about half-a-step away from developing a taste for human flesh fills me with joy right now, but fuck it.
You have lost your humanity, but you aren’t a zombie yet.
If my knee strikes your skull hard enough, in just the right place, you won’t answer the 20.
If I wrap an arm around your windpipe, squeeze, and deprive your brain of oxygen, you’re going to sleep.
If you bleed enough, that’s it. It’s over.
And me? I am not him.
I don’t have a shitty knee for you to target. Matter of fact, I’ve got a clean bill of health, and I’m willing to bet a hell of a lot less wear and tear than you.
You aren’t putting me out of wrestling.
I’m not too headstrong for my own good, I’m not as old, and I’m not as slow.
Your whole gameplan is fucked, and don’t think you can copy/paste the same shit you were going to apply against him here. One size fits none.
You don’t give a shit about me, that’s fine. You probably don’t give a shit about a word I’ve said to you, and that’s fine as well. This situation is all about underestimation anyway. I’ll snap a few of those ligaments and tie you in knots nonetheless.
Will it be enough?
Ask me that question again in a day or two.
Chicago, IL | A Few Hours Later
It dawned on Cayle that he was going about this the wrong way.
He couldn’t play the cunt on television then indulge in his anxieties as soon as the cameras stopped rolling. Building Dan Ryan up as his Everest would have spurred him on at one point, when he was still motivated by trivialities like “overcoming the odds” “proving the doubters” wrong, but Murray was the doubter now. Internally, he was creating his own odds.
Fighting Cayle wasn’t going to fix whatever was broken inside the Ego Buster, but Murray fixing whatever was broken inside himself was tantamount to survival here.
Yes, he was going about this the wrong way. It was time to change that.
Nobody in HOW would ever speak of his brother again once this was over, so stark were his intentions. His surname, however, would resonate around the Allstate’s halls for years to come and to ensure this, Cayle would sever the last time holding him back from becoming what he needed to be.
With four measures of vodka coursing through his system, Murray pushed himself up from the chaise lounge overlooking the city of Chicago. He sat down at the desk, flipped his laptop open, and took a mouthful of the wilted, tasteless salad that room service had brought up an hour ago. As homogenized as everything else in the building, it made him yearn to be back across the Pacific.
Cayle navigated to the folder he’d opened on his computer desktop. Inside it were files upon files of information, from emails and press snippets to match clips and training routines – all on Dan Ryan, all sent by Andy. His phone housed two notifications he hadn’t yet opened from the big lad. More still awaited in his email inbox, yet he hadn’t dared glance their way yet.
A total, information overload, summoned by his fallen sibling. It was nothing short of a bombardment. From his hospital bed, the elder Murray had been consumed by beating Ryan, and he was using Cayle as a surrogate, knowing he’d never set foot inside another wrestling ring again. Every little piece of knowledge one of the most meticulous gameplanners in wrestling history had ever collated on the Ego Buster was with Cayle now, yet this, too, was a millstone.
This was Cayle’s fight, now.
The ties must be cut.
Cayle dragged the entire folder to the recycling bin. Right-click, delete. The unread texts got the same treatment seconds later. Quickly searching his email app for his brother’s private address, the inbox got the same treatment as well.
A minute or so passed, and Cayle cursed that he didn’t immediately feel less pressurised. Ties remained that couldn’t be cut with a few touchpad presses, though. Ties that must be cut for this puppet to be imbued with a spirit of its own.
Across the room was one of those ties. Andy’s titanium knee brace sat where Cayle had left it on on the dressing table the other day. It had been in his possession for several weeks now, having made its way to him at his own request, understanding its power, symbolically and physically. A shot from this thing and Ryan would go night-night, no matter how thick his skull was.
Unquestionably, a valuable, effective weapon in this fight, and one that would greatly increase his chances of victory.
Cayle held the brace in his hand, examining it in the grey afternoon’s light. There was no sign of Zeb Martin or Cecilworth Farthington’s skull-prints, such was the craftsmanship, but Dan Ryan’s wouldn’t get a shot at making the first dent, either.
Murray suddenly flung the brace across the room, launching it towards the wall separating the bathroom from the rest of the suite. Flecks of paint and dust flew into the air on impact. A divot that he’d later have to pay for was left, though this was of little concern to Cayle. He kicked the brace away as it rolled back to him.
It was another man’s weapon in another man’s war.
Now, this was Cayle’s war.
In the back of his head.
That anxious woodpecker still chipped away.