This had not been the best Lee Best Invitational Max Kael had ever participated in, but he had managed to sneak into the elimination round. His next opponent was the winner of the so-called “Group of Death” involving the Industry and his brother, Michael Lee Best. That person was surprisingly not Michael but in fact Lindsay Troy; the rising star of the Industry.
Before that, though, he had one final title defense.
No, not the LSD Championship; having defended it two weeks in a row, Max was instead defending the Tag Team Championships alongside the man he had won them with, Cecilworth Farthington. That said, it might as well have been an LSD Championship match as Lee, in his infinite wisdom, decided to make the title defense a Ladder Match.
A mother fucking Ladder Match.
Last year, Max had been able to enjoy a two week period between shows, a workload that his body had managed to work with. This year, the LBI had him working every week and for the past two weeks he’d been taken to task in the defense of his title. He was tired, working injured, and now he was going to be thrown into a match that has been known to end careers. A match where falling upwards of twenty feet through tables, glass, barbed wire or – in worst case scenarios – nothing but cold, unforgiving concrete.
Then he’d have to face Lindsay Troy if he wanted to progress in the Lee Best Invitational. If he wanted to keep his promise to his friend Cecilworth Farthington and win the 2020 LBI, he was going to have to survive this match healthy enough to defeat the Industry member who managed to sneak past Michael Best into the elimination round of the LBI.
Regardless of who Cecilworth and Max were facing, it was a ladder match, and there were no promises of leaving the match uninjured.
And who was Max facing?
Alex Redding and Teddy Palmer?
In truth, Max knew absolutely nothing about them; a fact that was not lost on Max. He had lost to Warrick in his first match of the LBI because of that weakness. He couldn’t let that happen again.
Unfortunately, Max didn’t have the resources on hand like he was used to. Where once he enjoyed access to some of Lee Best’s personal files on High Octane Talent, the owner of High Octane Wrestling and Max were currently on chilly terms. Without access to the personal details of his opponents, Max had to be proactive once again in hunting his prey…
But Max was lazy and kind of stupid.
Sprinkle in a touch of scumbag and the wretched human being known as Maximillian Wilhelm Kael was always willing to put in other people’s effort to make his life easier…
Seated in his special pressurized half of the Kael Estate’s living room, Max stared forward at the two figures who were seated on the other side of his glass wall. Alton Shitemoore and Waldo Fartharder, Max’s personal lawyers for the past two years, sat across from Max looking as odious as ever.
Shitemoore, the bulbous, toad-faced man that he was, squirmed uncomfortably in his chair as he glared at the North Kaelrean guards that stood on either side of Max’s glass wall. His partner, Waldo Fartharder, was a lean, ghoulish man with pale skin and a sharp nose upon which a pair of glasses were perched.
“You want us to.. Do what exactly?” Fartharder said in a nasally, dismissive tone, his eyes narrowing while his nose crinkled as though he had smelt something rancid.
“Sue Lee Best and High Octane Wrestling for workplace discrimination and for being ableist, of course! I’m a disabled veteran!” Max’s lips were looking better, the flesh was starting to scar and scab. His metal teeth shimmered in the light as his jaw went slack for a moment before he bit back down with a metallic clank.
The two lawyers stared at Max suspiciously before they exchanged confused glances.
“You’re a veteran?” Shitemoore croaked, his feeting kicking in the air before gathering enough momentum to push his bulk forward in the chair so he could glare more closely at Max.
“Technically..uh.. Yes. I’m a disabled.. North Korean veteran. It still counts and I have several doctors who can definitely confirm I’m disabled!” Max sputtered as he tried to make his case, his blue eye darting back and forth accusingly.
Shitemoore groaned as Fartharder shook his head slowly in mild disgust.
“And what are you hoping to get out of this?” Fartharder asked, though the expression on his face after the question is asked paints a picture of regret.
“They are trying to put me in a Ladder Match. Me! Do you know what a Ladder Match is? Strap in boys for a little trip down exposition lane cause I’m about to teach you why this isn’t optimal for me.” Max head swiveled from side to side as he snapped his finger aggressively. Slippery as a eel, the LSD Champion slithered from his chair toward the glass window and paced from side to side like a caged animal. “They take my Tag Team Championship from me and hang it from the ceiling some fifteen or twenty feet up in the air. Then they surround the ring with ladders and a whole bunch of weapons beneath the ring. First guy to grab the tag titles hanging from the ceiling wins it for his team.”
Without noticing, Max’s hands started to shake and contort at his side. His posture became more hunched as he paced, while his blue eye glared out into the distance. As he explained the rules of the match, the reality of it began to set in further.
“That sounds.. Blurrgh.. Sounds very athletic.” the animated ball of blubber, Alton Shitemoore, burbled as he allowed his body to slowly roll back into the chair.
“You haven’t explained yet why you want to sue, Mister Kael,” Waldo said with no small degree of menace in his voice. He wasn’t renown for his patience.
“Getting there, getting there! So Ladders, particularly the kinds they purchase at High Octane Wrestling, they’re not handicapped accessible. This is ableism oppression; they’re giving Red and Ted a clear, clear advantage. Lee Best knows my situation, he knows how injured I am and how much he’s put me through the last two weeks. And you know what? You know what?” Max shook his head as his face flushed read. His hands clenched into fists as he started to circle his section of the living room.
“How exactly.. Or in what way are you disabled?” Fartharder asked as his brow furrowed with curiosity
“Uh.. I’ve only got one eye! Christ look at me!” Max shouted as he grabbed his shirt and ripped it open revealing the metal brace that was holding his body together. “My body is literally falling apart. I’ve got brain trauma, I’m at least fifteen percent metal and sometimes I can hear magnets talk to me about the Great Conjunctioning…”
Max winked, or perhaps just blinked at the two lawyers as all three share an uncomfortable silence.
“So, you want to be taken out of the match, is that it?” blustered Mister Shitemoore as he waved his sausage fingers in the air in what might be called diabetic slow jazz hands.
“I want the titles to be Handicapped Accessible which means…” The Lord of Kaelsalvania said, spinning a half circle before striking a power pose, a fist on his hip while the other hand pointed off into the distance at nothing in particular. “…ramps. Handicap ramps that are accessible ONLY to disabled people just like me who deserve to have the same level of access that fully capable, or Undisableds as I like to call them, get to enjoy. It’s about inclusion, guys! The kids love inclusion! But also we need to make sure guys like Alex Redding and Teddy Palmer don’t abuse the system unfairly so, like… we have to make sure they are banned from using them.”
Another moment of uncomfortable silence passed as both lawyers exchanged glances.
“So you want a handicapped ramp installed so you, and you alone, can simply walk up to the top of one of these ladders to grab your titles on the grounds that you’re a disabled North Korean Veteran, invoking this in the name of Inclusion?” the slender Mister Fartharder said flatly while Shitemoore shook his head in disgust.
“To be fair, not just me, other disabled veterans should also have access to the ramp, I’m not a total asshole.” Max scoffed indignantly while feigning insult before a thought crossed his mind.”..Neither Red or Ted are disabled Veterans are they?”
Before either lawyer could answer, Max’s phone began to beep loudly. He fished it out of his pocket, tapping the screen a few times in frustration before holding it up to his ear.
“Yes?.. What? You’re using words I don’t understand. Okay. Okay? Yes. Yes. No, right in the corner, yeah. Or hold it. Yeah. No, I’d use the toilet, I heard you get Hole In cancer if you don’t pee. I don’t know, it’s in your butt I guess, I’m not a human doctor!..No I didn’t hear that from a human doctor, I think I saw a commercial about it. Okay. Yes. Alright. Okay, bye.”
Max held the phone away from his face, his blue eye studying the screen carefully.
“Well I’ve got to cut this meeting short. Listen, just get me something that will help me avoid those ladders. I’ve got one hundred and seventeen unread Discord messages, what does that even mean!?” Max fumed as he shoved his phone into his pocket. Storming over toward a small cabinet, the Lord Supreme Dictator flung open the doors to reveal various different breathing masks. “I’ve got to fly to Chicago, somebody get the OCW private jet fired up!”
One of the guards by the door saluted and scurried off to carry out the High Octane Hall of Famer’s order. Max’s lawyers rose from their chairs with a frustrated look etched into their faces.
“Very well, Mister Kael, we’ll look into how to solve your problem. Just answer us one more thing,” Fartharder said in an exasperated tone.
“Why are you going to Chicago!?” Shitemoore snorted loudly as he glared up into Max’s blue eye.
“..To break Cecilworth Farthington out of Prison.”
“So as it turns out, after I called up Michael about breaking you out of prison, all we really needed to do was pay your bail! I didn’t know money could solve everything!” Max’s mechanical voice chimed merrily as he passed through the doors off the George N. Neighton Courthouse. A chilly breeze slapped Max in the face as his blue eye winced. His long scarf whipped around his neck while his heavy wool long coat flapped about him.
“Doesn’t it though?” Cecilworth asked with a hint of fright, a suddenly concerned expression clouding his face. The cold wind blistered away from him while a single ray of light pierced the heavens, allowing the High Octane Wrestling Champion to remain untouched by the chilly fingers of known iceperve Old Man Winter.
Max turned to look at Cecilworth, his jaw going slank for a moment in surprise. Another blast of cold hair mixed with a spattering of rain as though God himself was pissing on him.
“..Why?..how?” Max stammered as he felt the cold rain water run down his face. Steam rose from his head where the hair had started to grow back in thanks to his medical treatments.
Cecilworth looked up, his concern washing away as he smiled his bright, well practiced normal human smile. He turned to Max and patted him on the shoulder.
“Money, Max. Money,” Farthington sighed with relief. “Still fixes everything. Thanks for being a friend.”
The HOW World Champion turned and continued to walk toward the parking lot, leaving Max in the cold and the rain with a confused expression. His eye turned up toward the sky and then back toward Cecilworth as his lizard brain tried to understand before he realized his friend was walking in the wrong direction.
“Oh wait! We’re not parked over there, that’s where they keep the cars and trucks. Maybe motor bikes. I’m over here, I’m using K-Uber Luxury so we get picked up over here.” Max explained as he collected Cecilworth and corralled him toward the street side.
“K-Uber? Luxury? Like Kael-Uber?” Cecilworth asked while trying to guess Max’s clever naming scheme.
“No, actually this is Korea-Uber Luxury, a North Korean service but..uh.. You know, they want an International Appeal.” Max shrugged. “Anyway I get to use them for free since I advertise for them all the time. You remember when I used to do that?”
Cecilworth was about to answer when his eyes caught sight of what would be his chariot home.
Or, specifically, a gilded rickshaw with ebony wood and silver, gold and ruby highlights. It looked fairly sinister with a large cabin for both Max and Cecilworth to sit in. Four large men stood at the front of it wearing winter clothing at the ready to pull them. A slender, older man who looked like he could be an extra in a 1920s gangster film stood next to the man-powered carriage.
“Howdy there, my name’s Shaw. Mister Rick Shaw, I’ll be your driver! Heard ya just got out of jail Mister Farthington, I hope nothing untoward happe-”
Before Rick could finish Cecilworth muttered something unpleasant under his breath and stepped forward, kneeing the older gentleman in the gut. Max’s eye darted toward the rickshaw itself, a rather impressed look crossing over his face.
Max’s attention was ripped back down toward his friend and the driver of the rickshaw, Rick Shaw. Cecilworth had wrestled him to the ground and broke the man’s arm like dry spaghetti. Before Rick could let out a scream Max sent a stiff kick across the old man’s face knocking him unconscious.
“Don’t trigger my friend!” Max snarled down at Rick before he helped Cecilworth to his feet. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know the driver was going to be a cockbag.”
Cecilworth shook himself off as he stood up before he patted Max reassuringly on the arm.
“I’m fine, I’m fine. Putting on the Ritz there will think again before looking his better directly in the eye again.” The World Champion took in a deep breath before releasing it, his smile returning to his face. He turned and darted into the rickshaw as Max scampered after him. Max wasn’t sure if anyone noticed what just happened but he’d prefer to not be around when they found poor old Rick Shaw.
Without the driver Max stared down at the four men with his narrowed blue eye.
“..uh.. To Five Time Academy!” Max shouted, waving both arms in the air.
“I, Maximillian Wilhelm Kael, Lord of Kaelsalvania, Prime Minister of Maxopotamia, Lord Supreme Dictator of High Octane Wrestling, General of North Kaelrea, First of my Name, Long May I Maim, Command you forward!” Max bellowed slamming both hands on the wooden front of the rickshaw.
“Any excuse to use your catchphrase, huh bud?” Cecilworth chirped from behind Max, followed by an amused, boyish giggle. Max rolled his eye as a sneer seared across his lips. Then a thought came to him.
“I’ll give you each five hundred bucks to take us to Five Time Academy!” Max said, pulling his wallet out before waving it about. The four men turned to look at him, looked at each other then shrugged. One pulled out his phone and Wazed the location. In short order, the rickshaw was on the move.
“Money solves all problems.” Cecilworth said with a confident nod of his head. The World Champion looked at Max for a moment before he snapped his fingers and retrieved a bag from seeming thin air. Without missing a beat he retrieved a pair of headphones and an iPad. “I’m going to do some more digging into Ladder Design and Engineering to see if we can’t get some kind of leg up there.”
Without waiting for a response Cecilworth was knee deep in ladder pictures while a series of queued YouTube videos discussing Ladder designs played in his headphones. The rickshaw moved into traffic as the cold breeze whipped around them; mostly it avoided Cecilworth, though. After about ten minutes, Max looked over at Cecilworth, his eye narrowed slightly.
“Can you hear me?” Max’s voice hissed mechanically. Cecilworth stared down at his iPad, clearly paying no attention to the LSD Champion. Max signed and looked forward again.
“Good. I’ve got to get a few things off my chest and I’ve got nobody to tell. Elenore took Sutler Kael and Little Lady Sutler Kael so I haven’t had any of the kids around. We’ve all been so busy, I know I’ve been having to fly back to Arkham every week to heal up. With the LBI thing going on I know you’ve not really been around and then Mike was single-handedly facing down the entire Industry. And I don’t want to burden you with any of this but I figure, even though you can’t hear me I’m tricking myself into thinking I told someone. Hey, at least there’s another human being in the room with me right?”
Max’s mechanical voice wavered slightly as his blue eye darted from side to side. He was nervous, particularly since it was Cecilworth specifically he was speaking to.
“I got into this LBI to make sure the Industry doesn’t get another shot at you. I did it to make sure that if anyone managed to get past Michael that I’d be there to put them down. It looks like it’s going to be Lindsay Troy who makes it out of the Group of Death which is, you know, fine by me. I’m glad she’s going to make it past Michael, this entire war I’ve spent most of my time with Jack Harmen. I’ll enjoy taking down another member of the Industry. End one more dream before that group dies as Michael was predicting the other day. Heh-heh..”
His robotic laughter was contorted and twisted within his mask. His blue eye sparkled at the prospect of getting his hands on another Industry member, another chance to prove the dominance of the eMpire.
“..and surely I will be proud to do that.. But what then? Once the Industry is eliminated what do I do in the LBI? Whoever wins between Red or Ted will move on to face me and it’s not like I’m just going to roll over and die so I’ve got to try. And if I try and I win… Then…” Max said as he drew the last word out in a deep, grumbling purr. He turned to look at Cecilworth who was still deep in his study of Ladders. “..I face you at March to Glory for the High Octane World Wrestling Championship.. The #97Red Lady..”
Max’s eye grew heavy as his mind wandered to the High Octane World Championship. His gaze lingered a moment too long with the current Champion noticing he is being looked at. Cecilworth turned and locked eyes, causing Max to wink, or perhaps just blink, at his friend. The Heir of the Farthington name flashed another well practiced smile, this one Human no. 4, before returning to his iPad. The Lord Supreme Dictator turned his eyes away to look toward the plebes walking the streets of Chicago.
“You’re better than me.. Probably.. But we don’t know. You’ve certainly done better than me in the past. You are presently the greatest wrestler in High Octane Wrestling, it’s not even debatable. I’m.. not at my best. My best burnt up in the late years of Michael and I’s feud.. Imagine if we had teamed together, if we’d had this amount of focus and function ten years ago, just as his career was starting.. How much more would I be now?..”
Slumping back into the cushioned seat of the rickshaw, Max sighed.
“I need to know, Cecilworth. I need to know if I can beat you, I need to know if I still have it in me to take on the greatest wrestler in High Octane Wrestling and win. But before any of this happens, before Troy, before Red or Ted, before you.. We need to defend our Tag Team Championships against the two guys I might have to face to get to you. Alex Redding and Teddy Palmer.”
Max huffed as he crossed his arms across his chest, the cold getting to him as he did his best to stay warm. His eye wandered back over to Cecilworth, who seemed perfectly content, warm even in what looked to be a relatively light jacket. ‘Money solves everything’ entered Max’s brain as he shook his head and looked away again.
“So in a way this Tag Match is really a blessing. I lost to Warrick cause I didn’t know anything about him, I didn’t know how he thought or how he wrestled. I’ve got a little on this Red and Ted team thanks to the LBI but actually being a ring with them? Sure, it’s a ladder match but it’s also experience. Sure, I need to stay healthy but then I suppose.. So do they. And there is plenty of video on me, so getting this experience? Getting into a direct conflict? When we face each other the playing field will be considerably more even.”
In the distance, Max could spot Five Time Academy and beneath his mask his smile stretched wide across his face. Almost to the Academy.. Almost home.
“Regardless of what happens, Cecilworth, you are my friend and we’re both in the eMpire together. I’m loyal to that, to you and to Michael. Industry, 24K… Not Ground Zero anymore obviously.. Is.. is the Order still a thing? Any of them, I’ll be here to fight for you.”
Max’s blue eye grows sad as he looks toward Cecilworth.
“..until I can’t.”
“Unfortunately, by the writing of your contract you agreed that you were physically capable of participating in all reasonable matches assigned to you. A Ladder Match, while violent and dangerous, technically is a reasonable request under the guidelines outlined in the High Octane Wrestling Employee Handbook.”
The sound of Alton Shitemoore droned on over the Skype call. His tiny fat head filled up the screen of Max’s phone while the Lord Supreme Dictator does his best not to fall asleep.
“In short, Mister Kael.” Shitemoore’s head vanishes as the thin visage of Waldo Fartharder greets Max with a scowl. “There is no legal avenue by which you can force High Octane Wrestling or Lee Best to install handicap ramps for the Ladder Match.”
Max snarled and stood up in the basement office of the Chicago-based Five Time Academy.
“That’s hardly fair for me! I’ve got to wear a goddamn breathing mask just to walk around outside of my bubble boy room! What the hell am I supposed to do now, huh!?” He growled as he kicked his way out of his office door. The camera angle on the lawyers’ side changed as both men appeared on the screen.
“Patience, Mister Kael, we think we might have found a solution that will both meet High Octane Wrestling’s standards as well as meeting your own.” Shitemoore said as reassuringly as a bloated angry toadman could.
“Yes, Mister Kael, I think you’ll actually find our solution to be superior to the concept of a handicap ramp in fact.” Fartharder said with his chest puffed out, a thin smile pulled across his lips.
Max’s scowl diminished slightly as he continued to walk through the basement of the Five Time Academy, headed toward the stairs.
“Fine then, explain what is better than handicap ramps in a Ladder Match, huh!? I mean even on a conceptual level that’s kind of funny; on a practical level it really saves me a lot of these.” Max pulls the phone back as he makes grabbing motions with his free hand as if to simulate climbing.
“Of course, Mister Kael, of course. Again, I believe we have met all your demands and more, even. We’ve taken the extra step of having it prepared for you at O’Hare International Airport. Swing by there and you can pick it up.” Fartharder said as he leaned back in his chair, a smug expression plastered across his face.
“Yes, I think you’ll be quite happy,” croaked Shitemoore before a gurgling chuckle caused his neck fat to giggle.
“Okay, whatever I’ll hit you guys up when I get there.” Max said briskly as he climbed the steps out of the basement.
Max scurried across the gym floor and toward the exit, his eye scanning his phone for the K-Uber app only to find it had been updated recently to the SK-Uber app. He activated it with a curious expression only to find that his ride was already waiting outside.
Pushing his way through the doors, his eyes spied a red rickshaw with bright yellow flames and large speakers taped haphazardly to the outside of it. Max’s blue eye finally settled on the one man crew who stood by with a bright smile on his face.
“..I thought maybe it was South Korea Uber.. but uh..” Max stammered.
“NO I’M GREAT SCOTT AND THIS IS GREAT SCOTT-UBER NOW! After the last guy got his arm broken they needed a fill in and this is how I helped to train to walk again. Rickshaws are green and good for a workout because it makes you work everything and you can just keep running and people actually pay you for it and not in fake money though sometimes people throw pennies at me.”
Great Scott managed to continue to speak without end as Max stumbled into the Great Scott Rickshaw. Upon sitting down, Max noticed pictures of Great Scott plastered all around the inside of the cabin. He was only pulled from his amazement by the sound of a message being received on his phone over Skype.
Holding his phone up his blue eye stared at the preview picture of what awaited him at the airport.
A smile formed beneath his mask.
“Do you need any Great Water?! I got it out of my sink back at my hundred story mansion, I have an actual Poland Spring set up right in my bathroom I get all my fresh city water from.”
Max looked up.