Of all the weird introductions I’ve had to a wrestling promotion, this is definitely one of them.
I was sitting around doing nothing in Osaka when I got the call. Just fucking around in the country’s third most exciting city, waiting for word on the next tour. Suddenly, Lee Best’s on the blower. Asks me if I saw what happened to Andy and five minutes later, he’s hooking me up with flights to Chicago. Wild.
That’s why the lineup says “card subject to change,” I guess. This pay-per-view was being sold on four matches: Lee and Kostoff, Mike and The Minister, Andy and Dan, Cecilworth and MJF. Two of those matches are toast, now, two of those people aren’t even in HOW anymore, and I’m here. In Andy’s spot.
But I don’t want Andy’s spot.
In wrestling, life, or anything else.
My big brother will be a lonely man until the end of his days. He’s likely staring down the barrel of 35 years with nothing to cling onto but the fading memories of a life once lost, having had the one thing that still meant a damn to him snatched away. Good health, wealth, happiness, a family: he has none of those things and likely never will. And you know what? That’s no tragedy. He deserves this. In fact, he likely entered this place knowing this was exactly how it would turn out for him.
So no, I don’t want that spot.
The man destroyed himself. Killed himself to live. Burned personal and professional relationships in a massive bonfire propped up by everything else in his life, all in the name of War Games glory.
And he still fucking lost.
I won’t do that.
What was it I said about learning from the guy’s mistakes? That textbook’s longer than two volumes of War and Peace, mate, and I’m going cover-to-cover.
The big lad drove himself to become a monster for the most horrifying match in the game, and still failed. He pushed himself into wars with men like Dan Ryan and blew himself to pieces. He will die broken, bitter, and penniless.
And so will you, Daniel.
Look at what’s become of you already. I know you like to pretend that you and him are nothing alike, but bitch, the story’s the exact same. The only difference is the name of the protagonist.
You’re in a fugue. You’ve let go of everything – your wife, your sanity, and anything you had resembling a “better” nature – because you want to win more professional wrestling matches, because you want to be ICON Champion. Because you couldn’t stand the reality of losing to him again. Tell me I’m wrong, chief.
Actually, don’t. You can’t.
The journey might be a little different, but the destination’s the same..
And it’s sad in a way. You always said you were above him, didn’t you? Above all the things he cared about, all the things he threw at you. By extension, that must mean you’re above me too, right? You’ve already claimed not to care which one of us you had to beat up to have your hand raised in the end, so that must mean I’m no different. Interchangeable.
Yet you’re the one fucking everything else up before you end up in a hospital bed, spitting bile and venom because you lost too many of your puzzle pieces for the picture to ever be complete again. Nah, mate. Me and Andy aren’t interchangeable. You and him? That’s a different story.
You’re riding the same string of errors, and that makes you a bloody fool. I don’t believe for a second was the calculated move of a genius wrestling mind. You’re not that. You were the last time we were in the same place at the same time, but not anymore.
I’ll give you credit for doing a better-than-expected job of moving away from your position on Mike Best’s lap over the past few months, but I guess Eric and Lee were cramping your style with that shit anyway. Good job, old fruit! But you’re not your own man again. You’re a slave to something that only brings ruin to those who can’t let go before it’s too late, so I hope you’re looking forward to your forthcoming stint in Arkham, you big bloody loon.
Me? I’m none of that. I don’t wrestle because I have to. I’m not addicted like you or the big lad.
I do this because I’m good at it.
Because I like kicking big apes in the head, mate.
Because I love the feeling of knowing I’m the man when the ring announcer reads my name, victorious.
I’ll leave this sport someday, and it’ll be on my own terms. You haven’t been doing this on your own terms for a while now, so you can forget about that. For now, though, you’ve got an even bigger problem on your hands than before you mangled his knee and threw him off the balcony.
Can I be honest? I’m tired of all this bitch shit. Lord knows I’ve indulged in my fair share of it over the past few days, but whatever. Sympathy is worthless to me.
I’m tired of pretending I’m not one of the absolute best at this shit, too.
“Murray,” the surname, belongs to me. You’re trying to level-up here, cunto, not down. I won’t kill myself to live because I have seen exactly where that lands people, and where it’s going to land you, now that you’ve slipped off your sanity coil entirely.
So pay attention to his future.
Because it’s yours as well.
Chicago, IL | 19 August 2020
Night was falling on the outskirts of Chicago as Cayle’s cab pulled up at its destination. The HOW newcomer wasted no time with elaborate goodbyes, instead bidding the driver a silent farewell, opening the door, and stepping out into the evening, taking two lungfuls of cool, crisp air.
He closed his eyes, hoping calmness would carry him away. It almost did for a second. There it was, though.
That bastard noise: the one that had been with him for weeks, now.
That woodpecker inside his head.
And it wouldn’t stop.
So Murray got on with it, as he always did. He had a job to do. Preparing for The Ego Buster was about more than just hitting a heavy bag, running drills, and game-planning. Cayle couldn’t walk into such a huge, career-defining fight with this hurdle unleapt, so it was time to remove it from the track altogether.
Only then would his fear disappear.
Cayle slung his bag back over his shoulder and walked up the stairs. He waited for the revolving door to swing in his favour and stepped inside, joining an elderly couple in the segment before striding out in the bright, busy lobby.
The place was like every other hospital he’d ever been in – and that was a lot, given his profession. All blinding lights, white walls, and scrub-clad staff rushing around bedraggled and bewildered patients. That sterile, clean smell hit his nostrils, and he was immediately reminded of all the times he’d been put in a place like this thanks to a tangle with an overzealous opponent. It was a fate he was looking to avoid at No Remorse, though perhaps it was unavoidable. Even the winner loses a part of themself in a fight like this.
Cayle had learned of the ward from his oldest brother, Sid, so he knew he was in the right place. He walked up to a receptionist who looked like she was 11 hours into a 12-hour shift and checked his watch. Still plenty of visiting time left, fortunately.
“Evening sir, can I help you?” asked the staff member with the level of enthusiasm you’d expect from somebody in that spot. The bags under her eyes were like pincushions, and her tone told Cayle she was utterly fed up. Nonetheless, he told him exactly who he was looking for, she pointed him in the right direction, and he was on his way.
Minutes later, Murray arrived at the private room. He didn’t knock as he entered.
A grumble came from the bed. The occupant shifted his weight, turning towards the door, readying a curse. He wanted to be left alone.
But not by Cayle.
“Alright?” said the younger Murray, greeting his sibling.
Andy squinted to make sure his eyes weren’t playing tricks on. “Fuck,” he said, coughing. His voice was even rougher and hoarser than usual. “You live.”
The visitor took his time walking around the bed to get to the room’s one seat. It wasn’t a bad little set-up, this: as cosy and comfortable as any hospital room could possibly be, it was befitting of a man who, up until a few short weeks ago, was making headlines as one of the biggest wrestling stars in the world.
In the same room as his brother for the first time in eight months, Cayle took a good look at the man. He resembled month-old shit. Spending time here had sent his grooming routine to hell once more, leaving Andy looking like the bedraggled animal he was the night he walked into HOW. All unkempt, greying hair and craggy features, he wore the mask of a man who’d just lost everything, and croaked like it too.
“You’ve got some bloody nerve, mate,” Andy said hoarsely. “I’ve not heard a word from you since Lee brought you in. I learned you’d shown up in HOW on fuckin’ Twitter, yet here you are, uninvited and unprompted.”
Andy’s leg was still elevated despite the massive cast covering much of it. Though his broken ribs would likely have healed significantly since the fall, his breathing pattern told Cayle that the big man was still having some difficulty with him. He guessed that Andy was probably bandaged up, though most of his body was covered by an over-starched bed sheet.
“Oh, I’m the one showing nerve am I, mate?” Cayle retorted, getting defensive immediately.
A pause fell between the two, though their eyes remained locked. Andy backed down when he realised he didn’t have the high ground. “Never mind, you’re here now.”
Cayle didn’t really want to be, though dealing with this was a necessity.
“So you’re stepping into my shoes,” said Andy. “Fight big old Dan Ryan on my behalf.”
Confused twisted across the elder’s brow. “Huh?”
“I’m fighting him on my own behalf.”
A sigh left Andy’s lips. “Right, but–”
“No, no,” Cayle interjected, waving a hand. “No ‘buts.’ Don’t get me wrong, that dumb orc’s gotta pay, but this is about me now. Me and him.”
“Jesus, Cayle,” Andy said. The will to fight had clearly left him. “Why come here at all with that as your tone? I haven’t seen you in the best part of a year.”
“Well that’s the bloody problem, isn’t it? The best part of a year, and yet you’re sat in this bed playing puppeteer.” He paused. “You know, the way you have my own career.”
It was then, as his eyes drifted around the room, that Cayle laid eyes on it. Andy had a replica of his HOW ICON Championship propped up on the bedside table. It was remarkably close to the real deal, only a lot less battered and worn down, having never been tossed around in a suitable or smashed into the skull of an unwitting opponent. Cayle presumed his brother had had it made and shipped to the hospital since having his career taken away from him, and he almost sneered at the sight of it.
“That’s a bit… sad.” He nodded towards the belt.
Again, Andy sighed. He closed his eyes this time. “Let me have my memories, lad.”
“Okay, let me rephrase myself. It’s fucking tragic.”
Nothing in response, again. The elder Murray lacked the energy Cayle was looking for. He looked his brother in the eye for a few more seconds before dropping his gaze elsewhere, then attempting to break the frosty atmosphere with humour.
“So, how’s the missus?”
Silence. Andy got rid of his forced smile.
“Okay, how about your preparations for the match? Have you checked any of the stuff I sent you?”
“Not before launching it in the trash can.”
“I–… what?” Andy’s eyes widened with disbelief. “Cayle, I’m only trying to help you. I’ve fought him before, I know how he fights. Please listen to me.”
Perhaps the information Andy had sent to Cayle could help him. The bedridden brawler had long been considered a high-IQ wrestler, though much of his HOW run was built more on ferocity and force than strategy. Regardless, Cayle couldn’t accept his help. Doing so made this fight about him, again, so it had to go. All of it.
Pulling his back up onto his lap, Cayle unzipped, reached inside, and pulled out the contents. “Brought you something,” he said. “Seeing as you’re apparently collecting trinkets now.”
Andy’s big old knee brace got thrown onto the bed. Fortunately, it landed right beside Andy’s good knee, not hurting him. Andy reached down and grabbed it.
“Where did you get this form?” he asked, having played in part in the brace ending up in Cayle’s possession in the first place. That was 100% on his brother and Lee Best. “Nevermind. This is another tool, man! You blast him with this thing and he’s going night-night, guaranteed. Did you see what it did to Farthington? One shot from that and he was getting pinned for the first time in god knows how long.”
It wasn’t lost on Cayle that prior to Andy, Dan Ryan was the last person to successfully pin the former World Champion in a match.
“Don’t surrender another advantage,” Andy said, pushing the brace back down the bed. “Here.”
“It’s not an advantage though, is it?” Cayle said, finally rising to his feet. “None of this is. You trying to live vicariously through your younger, healthier brother doesn’t give me any kind of advantage. I’m going to fight Ryan, and I’m going to beat him. You need to stop getting in the way of that.”
“How am I getting in the way, exactly?”
“By being an interfering old cunt,” Cayle snapped.
Defensively, Andy immediately raised his hands. His reflective period away from the squared circle had seemingly eased the perma-grump of his entire High Octane run, and he was genuinely taken aback by the aggression. “I’m trying to help.”
“No, you’re trying to get me to fight your battle for you. That’s what this is. Maybe you don’t know what you’re doing, but you’re definitely doing it. Stop.”
“Okay, so you did come here for a fight. I’m trying to mend fences here, Cayle. Trying to patch things up,” Andy said. “I understand why things fell apart between us and shit, I’m in no mood to dig through those weeds. But I’m sorry, brother. Genuinely, I’m sorry.”
That was the olive branch.
It tugged at Cayle. He knew the man before him was being earnest, so the better nature he kept buried away most of the time started clawing at him. Retirement had humbled Andy, apparently, and this made Cayle’s position even harder.
But he swiped the branch away nonetheless.
“Maybe you are, brother, but that doesn’t make a bit of difference anymore,” was Cayle’s response.
Andy Murray’s little brother.
The other guy.
“I won’t have you poison me like you have everyone else,” Cayle said. “Not on the eve of Ryan. I came here to cut ties, for good.”
Andy had made some regrettable decisions, and it was only now that he was starting to rue them. Still, Cayle wouldn’t let him interject to this effect.
“Everyone in your life suffers,” Cayle said. “Fucking everyone. It’s not just you, sitting in a hospital bed, clinging onto whatever broken pieces you have left. When was the last time you spoke to Sid?”
Andy’s parted. Barely a syllable escaped before he was cut off once more.
“Or Jason, your ‘best friend’? What have you done for him lately, uh?” Cayle was almost pacing now, consumed by his own bitterness. “Even Witherhold, you guys were pals for, what, four months before he bounced out of HOW? Or maybe I’m looking too far away from home here. Where’s Vivica, Andy?! Where’s the woman you chased away because you couldn’t handle that Lindsay Troy was giving her a living where you’d failed to?”
Vivica, ultimately, was one of the best things to ever happen to Andy. Their relationship was fractious but an undisputed net positive. She’d have been there for him right now if not for what had happened prior to War Games, making this whole process a lot easier. And yet she wasn’t.
And it was his fault.
“Your ex-wife tried to commit suicide. That’s on you. You own fucking son hates your guts…”
“No, you fucking stop.” Cayle’s nostrils flared. His face had grown red and his decibel had risen significantly. “You fucking stop before you pull me back in and this becomes my fate too. You’re a sad, pathetic old wreck. I don’t want to be anything like you. In fact, I don’t want anyone mentioning our names in the same sentence after I take care of Ryan. Fuck off.”
A glob of saliva flew from Andy’s mouth. It landed at Cayle’s feet only because he was quick enough to step back, so it splattered on the ground. This product of his brother’s fury prompted Cayle to lunge forward. A hand immediately found itself clasping around Andy’s throat, gripping tightly.
“The fuck are you going to do?!” Andy croaked, trying to dislodge the grasp. “I’m bedridden! You gonna hit me?!”
Cayle tightened his grip.
He clenched a fist with his other hand.
He stepped back. Took a sharp intake of breath. Andy’s face was a deep shade of red, now. He retched.
Cayle’s palm stung his cheek’s hot flesh. The younger sibling stepped back from the slap while his silent brother looked up, teeth clenched.
“Goodbye, cunt,” Cayle said. “Enjoy decay.”
A bellicose volley of words spewed from Andy’s mouth as Cayle turned and walked out of the room. The younger man heard none of them. Not a syllable. An earned, furious rant turned to white noise as he powered down the corridor, drawing eyes as he went, before finally stepping out into the black of night.
Cayle pulled the small aluminium hip flask he’d taken within him out of his jacket pocket. One long, burning swig emptied it of liquor.
Murray’s heart was pounding. He paid it no heed.
He was free, now, no longer the little brother.
Metres away a small, hopeless bird fell from the sky. It hit the concrete with a repellent crunch, though Cayle wasn’t repelled. He leaned a little closer, in fact, though he couldn’t tell the breed.
A woodpecker, perhaps?
Either way, the thudding had ceased.
And the weight had lifted.
Andy was a lot of things.
He was a savvy veteran who had forgotten more about the game than most people will ever learn, and not because he’d been hit in the head a few too many times.
A towering, brutish powerhouse, who could probably deadlift two Dan Ryans in his prime, yet sacrificed little in the way of agility and dexterity for this. Man was no lumbering stiff, even after his knee turned to jelly.
An astute technician with counters to your counters to his counters.
A fantastic teacher and coach, who’d still be shaping the next generation’s brightest lights if not for his unfortunate business with Mikey Unlikely.
A force of goddamn nature.
And you know what?
I’m better than him.
Especially now that I’m free of him.
My name is Cayle fucking Murray, and I’m out of the shadows, now. I’m coming to Florida with nothing but Dan Ryan and the ICON Championship on my mind, and that’s bad news for the Group of Death’s big bad wolf.
You left him in hell, Dan.
Now, I’m going to put you one step closer to joining him.