“The one thing I asked you not to do is what you do. It’s simply unacceptable. When I ask you to do something, or not do something, I need you to listen to me.”
Dan Ryan is sitting behind a desk, hands pressed down firmly on the flat surface, eyes flashing with irritation. Across from him is his longtime personal assistant, Phyllis. The middle aged Phyllis Madigan is a fixture in the Ryan household, taking care of the things that Dan Ryan doesn’t have time for. She’s been here so long she’s almost more like a part of the family than assistant, like Alfred in Batman, or Benson on Soap, or Geoffrey on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, or Mr. Belvedere, or….. you get the idea.
A dry unimpressed stoicism is planted firmly within her expression as she stands in the doorway.
“Phyllis, are you listening to what I’m saying?”
Her face barely moves. “I’m sorry, sir. I wasn’t listening. What was that?”
Ryan juts a pointed finger in her direction.
“Phyllis, I warned you about the sarcasm. I don’t like it, and I want you to stop using it around me. This is a serious conversation.”
“Yes sir,” she stiffens up. “No more sarcasm. This is a…” finger air-quotes “..serious… conversation.”
Ryan smiles. “THANK YOU.”
“Now.” He leans back, getting a bit more comfortable. “I told you very specifically that I was meeting with Lindsay and MJ about what’s been going on with Jack lately. I told you where we were gonna be, how long it would take, and told you not to tell him anything about it or where we were. And what did you do when he asked where we were??”
Phyllis nods. “I told him exactly where you were.”
“Yes,” he shakes his head. “You told him exactly where we were.”
She holds up her hand, making a point. “In my defense, I did tell him that everyone was dressing up as their favorite Olympic figure skater.”
An image crosses Dan Ryan’s mind and he smiles, amused. “I did enjoy that.” He shakes it off. “Nevermind. The point is, this is important business. We’re at a juncture right now, a few days before ICONIC, where some details need to be ironed out. Things are about to happen and I need to know where everyone’s head is.”
Phyllis’ face blanks. “Everyone except Flyer.”
Ryan leans forward again, hands clasped together.
“You know as well as anyone else that I don’t fully trust anyone. Lindsay is about as close as it gets outside of Alaina, and even that has gone sideways on us at least once. I don’t take chances, and lately, Jack’s been a risk. He’s unpredictable and that’s dangerous, and not only to his opponents.”
His eyes narrow slightly.
“I need to make sure certain contingencies are in place.”
Phyllis is no strategist. This is out of her breadth. She just stares back and takes it in.
“We need to be a tighter unit than we were at War Games. I stood back and let Eric take point on that and when it was time to go, everything went to shit because his emotions got the best of him.”
Ryan points at Phyllis again, with emphasis.
“I’m not letting that happen again. This night means too much.”
Phyllis stays stoic, but replies.
“Even if it means sacrificing a teammate?”
Dan Ryan bristles at this. He takes a deep breath.
“Phyllis, no one in this universe or any other knows where High Flyer’s head is. High Flyer himself doesn’t even know where High Flyer’s head is. I can’t waste valuable time trying to get inside the head of Jack Harmen, and I need you…”
Ryan’s palms slam down on the desktop with each of those last two syllables.
“…to listen very carefully when I give you instructions.”
She stares back. She’s not letting this go just yet. Ryan groans.
“I’m not sacrificing him. I just wanna be ready, that’s all. I want to be as prepared as I can possibly be.”
Phyllis looks annoyed, but finally, she relents. “Okay fine. I’ll listen very carefully when you give me instructions.”
Ryan nods and sits back.
Phyllis sits back as well.
“This is gonna take some getting used to.”
“Well,” Ryan thinks a moment, then smirks. “There are a lot of things people are gonna have to get used to.”
The first floor lobby of the Intercontinental is buzzing. The dinner rush is starting to come down from their rooms, and lines of cars are easing up to the valet line just outside on Michigan Avenue.
Dan Ryan steps out of the elevator, dressed for the weather in a long wool overcoat, with boots and a wool cap on his head. Many sheep were shaved bald for this outfit, but it’s friggin’ cold outside. We do what we have to do.
Ryan strolls through the lobby, avoiding several groups of hotel patrons and sliding sideways past a large group of tourists. He puts his hand out and shakes the hand of the doorman as the door is opened for him, leaving a generous tip in the man’s hand as he leaves. There’s a thank you, but Ryan is already gone. No time for pleasantries.
A steady stream of people rush by, and Ryan turns now and again to avoid a collision, his footsteps getting a little faster as the biting cold starts to take its toll. I think we’ll do without the lakefront jog tonight. This wind is absolutely ridiculous.
There’s a right turn, then a left, and before we know it, a small alley where a couple muscled-up types are standing, puffing cigarette smoke into the air.
They give a little nod out of courtesy…
Ryan gives one back, and continues past them a couple dozen yards to a dingy wooden door with a dirty glass window in the middle. A couple of raps at the glass with the back of his knuckles prompts the curtain covering the window on the other side to part slightly. A youngish Asian gentlemen in his mid 20s looks back at him, and with a flash of recognition, the door opens and he heads inside.
The loud Chicago streets outside give way to a very dimly lit restaurant inside. Booths line the wall right in front of the door, while scattered through the long narrow dining room are round tables adorned with old, weathered checkered tablecloths.
What you and I may call… undesirables… dot the room at some of the tables, one particularly swarthy gentleman looks up from a booth as Ryan comes in, taking note of the rather large visitor.
Ryan looks over to the other side at the bar, where a bartender wipes a spilled drink, then scans the entire room from front to back, taking inventory of his surroundings. Keeping his head down, he reaches up and pulls off his cap and makes his way through the room toward the rear of the establishment.
As he reaches the end of the bar, he makes eye contact with the bartender and gestures toward a door with a little beam of light peeking out from under it. The bartender nods slightly and Ryan reciprocates, then takes the knob and pushes his way in slowly.
In the middle of the room, a spartan wooden desk on its last legs carries the weight of stacks of paperwork, receipts and order forms, along with an old counting machine, an ashtray, and a half-empty bottle of rum.
Dan waves the smoke from his face and sets his eyes on the small office’s occupant, a middle-aged Asian gentleman, who’s looking at Dan with a mixture of recognition and astonishment. He can barely contain himself as he shoves back his chair into the wall behind him with a loud thud, and thrusts his hand out.
Dan walks forward, a small grin on his face and grasps the man’s hand, then pulls out the practically splintering wooden chair on his side of the desk to have a seat.
The man leans back and shakes his head.
“Well…. There you are.”
Ryan chuckles a bit. “It’s been a long time, Yoshida-san.”
The old man nods.
“Almost forty years. The last time I saw you, you were barely taller than this desk.”
A smirk crosses the big man’s face. “My father always spoke very highly of you. He said you were very kind to him, a big Texan gaijin trying to integrate his family into Osaka.”
This time, the old man chuckles.
“He was a big Texan? What exactly do you call yourself? If your dad was a big Texan, you must be Texas itself.”
Ryan looks down briefly, then back up.
“I don’t remember much of it anymore. It was so long ago. After Dad moved us back to the States, time just flew by and eventually it all just turned into one big blur.”
A playful, wistful smile crossed the old man’s face.
“I remember a big adventurous kid always getting into trouble. That’s what I remember.”
Dan looked up, chuckled, then back down again.
“I might remember a little of that.”
A few moments of silence passes as the pleasantries settle on the two men, and finally, it’s Yoshida-san who breaks the silence, and his face gets a little more serious.
“So, what brings the bigger son of the big Texan to my little hole-in-the-wall in the States?”
Ryan matches his gaze, and leans in.
“My dad always told me that if there was one man he always knew he could trust, it was you. He said that if I ever needed a favor, and I needed to make sure it got done, you’re the man to come and see.”
“Ah!” Yoshida-san leans back. “So that’s it, is it? You need a favor. You don’t look like the kind of man who needs a favor from an old man from Osaka. You look like the kind of man who can handle his own business.”
Ryan pauses, then tilts his head slightly.
“Do you still have your connections in Osaka?”
Yoshida-san seems amused by this. “Connections?”
He looks down at the ashtray on his desk, looking at a cigarette half-smoked, and picks it up, taking a long drag.
“One does not call family ‘connections,’ my friend. In Osaka, I have a lot of family. If they need something, I take care of it. If I need something, they take care of it. It’s the way of things.”
“Well,” Ryan smirks. “I may need something.”
“And what is it,” the old man replies, “..that you need?”
Ryan nods slightly, almost imperceptibly.
“Well, here we go.”
Inside the main hall at the Rosemont Horizon there’s a buzz of people making last minute adjustments to the signs, the booths, the merchandise tables and decorations for ICONIC. Hardworking personnel raise a long banner on the wall opposite the main entrance, the huge shit-eating grin of Cecilworth Farthington front and center.
In a dressing room just down the hall, Dan Ryan is leaning against a wall of lockers, sweat pouring down his back and staining a dark gray tank top, another workout finished.
This is it, isn’t it? Right, Cecilworth? This… is it. My last chance. The last time. One last go at perhaps the best wrestler in the world for the World Championship, and it’s almost here. There are a lot of people buzzing around, using the old standby lines, trying to puff themselves up by tearing other people down. It’s very old school.
And hey, I like the classics as much as the next guy, but let’s be real and let’s not insult each other’s intelligence.
Right now, you are absolutely and without a doubt on top of the wrestling world, Cecilworth. Without a doubt. You might be in the most dominant stretch of any career I’ve ever seen. There are a few you could argue were better, but not many. Not many.
I know how you feel.
I know how it feels and I know what it’s like to have a laser scope on your forehead from all corners of the wrestling world.
I know what it’s like to have a table full of gold, but people still have the balls to talk to you like it doesn’t mean anything, like multiple year-long title reigns and main events still don’t deserve respect.
But I’m gonna show you respect, Cecilworth, and I’m gonna show you respect in the only way that really matters. I’m gonna treat you like you’re the best in the world, I trained like you’re the best in the world, and if I win the championship this weekend? I’ll have beaten the best in the world to do it.
I want you to be the best. I really, truly do. You know why I let up on the armbar. You know why you don’t have torn ligaments right now. I just wanted you to get a taste. I wasn’t there to maim you, no copyright infringement on Krispy Kael intended.
I just wanted to remind you that after everything, after the draw, after the cage, after Alcatraz…I just wanted to remind you that I’m still here.
You make it sound like it’s been easy, but we both know that isn’t true. We both know what it’s taken for you to get where you are right now. I’ve never ignorantly walked into anything, Cecilworth. You of all people should know that. It’s the battle that makes me feel alive, and that piece of my psyche alone is the only one that I’ve ever willingly worn on my sleeve.
So why am I so excited to do this again, after all of my other attempts have failed? Maybe it’s just about that gold around your waist. Or maybe it’s because in that ring… in that moment where everything but the present steals away and becomes irrelevant… that’s where I find my purpose.
We all strive for fame and fortune, and that’s part of the game. But I live it. It would sound like rhetoric to anyone else… and that’s fine.
I’ll always get up, Cecilworth. I’ll always come back for more.
And I want you to know and remember that if you actually do something you’ve never done, and put my shoulders down on the mat for the three count, if you do that enough times to win an IRON MAN match… you will have done something great. You will have beaten someone worth that gold around your waist.
Will we shake hands after the match, Cecilworth? No?
Hug it out? Maybe not.
If you win this time? This time.. You’ll have to beat me… definitively, and there’ll be no more questions. I won’t ask if you’re the greatest of all time anymore. I’ll state it outright. I’ll give you the respect you’re due.
Ryan turns, sneering, his eyes flashing white hot and intense.
You haven’t pinned me yet.
And, until you have… until you’ve defeated me cleanly in that ring… I concede nothing to you, Farthington.
I concede nothing.
I concede nothing until we’ve been in that ring for ninety-seven minutes – until I’ve taken my fist and punched you in the face, over and over, until your entitled smirk is replaced by fear, and the look of fear is replaced by terror, and the look of terror is replaced by unconsciousness.
That, my good friend Cecilworth, is how much I respect you.
I respect you enough to beat you up properly, give every bone and joint the attention it deserves for an hour and a half plus change, and find that line where a message becomes permanent injury.
I respect you and that championship enough to leave everything in the ring and then some, to tear the building down if I must, to break your spirit if I have to.
You can be cocky now, arrogant, and your best buddies can cast us aside with their words and make believe that this success you’re enjoying will last forever, that it won’t one day crumble like all things do, that we’re all shit and you’re the kings of the manure pile.
Whatever our struggles and triumphs, however we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like watery ink on paper. It’s as true for you as it has ever been for anyone else throughout the history of our sport, like it or not.
I’ll gladly call you the best in the world if you can survive what I’m bringing to ICONIC, because what I’m bringing will be nothing short of violent, unimaginable hell.
And so, I look forward to what you’ve prepared for me. I expect to laugh, I expect to think, and then I expect to be in for the fight of my life, and I expect to give you the fight of yours. And I hope, I hope that you’ve prepared for this fight half as well as you’ve prepared your jokes, your funny lines. I hope your body is ready to absorb the punishment that’s coming.
For the time is come, and I am here.