I felt like shit.
It’d been a couple of days since No Remorse.
I don’t remember a lot about the Street Fight. I’ve watched back a few times and I can’t put a thumb on where my brains went from mashed potatoes to gravy. I’ll give credit where credit is due, Lindsay Troy can fight her ass off. I could make excuses, and I probably will before it’s all said and done, but right now in this moment of lucidity I can admit, to myself at least, that she beat me clean in the middle.
Proverbially speaking, that is.
I had yet to get myself professionally cleaned up.
Two days had passed and I’d been hiding in a dark motel room instead of recuperating in a hospital, where I no doubt belonged. I had a concussion, a bad one, for absolute sure. On top of that she’d knocked out one of my teeth, a bicuspid I think…
That’s not the worst of it though.
I stared at the man in the mirror, looking back at me so disrespectfully. Pulling my shirt up the first thing you notice is the festering wound on my stomach where she’d carved her initials with a shiv.
She’d branded me.
I can’t say I wasn’t planning on doing worse to her, hell I tried to set her on fire. But I wasn’t planning on going so far as branding her. That’s why I lost, by the way. I wasn’t willing to go far enough. I thought I was, but the Lady of the Hour turned out to have more grit and gumption in her than anybody’s given her credit for in a good long time.
I won’t make that mistake again. Can’t.
I stared at that face in the mirror.
Long and hard.
Blood-crusted and beaten.
This is the ritual now, I guess. In the past there’d have been any number of pills, hookers, and bottles of rotgut plowed through, snorted, and drank. I’m trying to make my way through life as a semi-functioning adult these days so it’s just a lot of me, staring at myself, sulking my way through to the next one.
I took another look in the mirror at the man I don’t recognize.
His hair is a little bit grayer.
The bags under his eyes are a little bit darker.
Forehead grooves a little deeper.
The gap in his teeth pulls it all together like a nice floor carpet.
I splashed water in my face. It was cold, invigorating. I kept going, even got a little soap involved. It had been high time I got myself cleaned up and on the way back home. There were, after all, preparations to be made. An overwhelming sense of embarrassment had begun welling up from deep inside my guts.
It wasn’t that I’d lost to Lindsay. I knew from the moment I took her out that she would have her ten pounds of flesh and then some. Something just wasn’t sitting right with me about this whole run. I’d done my time on probation, and happily eaten all the shit that came with it. I hadn’t bitched, hell I actually stirred Lee’s drink for him once…
And for what?
Not for me, I hadn’t gotten anything but a shitty paycheck out of the deal.
That’s what I’d been telling myself.
What I’d been telling her.
But there I was, two days off of probation, and all I could think of was Rumble at the Rock. I needed my next fix worse than ever, and that fix wasn’t any kind of pill or powder, it was victory and glory in this business that I’d given me life to. I rinsed off and stared back at the man in the mirror. This time he had a familiar smirk on his face.
He had fire behind his eyes.
It’s true, I never wanted to come back here. It’s also true that I only came back to do my ninety days so that Graysie could have her opportunity. Things have a way of changing though, on the drop of a dime more times than not. Graysie could wait…
She would have to.
Eric Dane was going to have one last run.
Rumble at the Rock…
“Tell me something, Graysie.”
Angus had taken more of an interest in the Iron Butterfly over the past few days. There was something in her that he didn’t see often. She had grit, she had determination for days. Hell she had barely had a cup of coffee in the business and she was already proficient in the art of dealing with Eric Dane. The two of them sat comfortably in Angus’s office after an afternoon session in the gym with Graysie leading the advanced class.
“Why’re you still here?”
She shifted in her chair, fidgety. Graysie wasn’t yet sure how to take Angus and his deadpan honesty or his straight to the point questions. He’d been kind to her, though, and hadn’t asked any of the tough questions when she’d shown up on his doorstep with Eric, broke and with no other place to go.
“I’unno,” she mumbled. “Loyalty?”
“Is that a question?” Angus asked.
“Let me try a different question.”
Angus could see all of the things in Graysie that Eric could see. He knew if given the proper guidance she would eventually develop into a world class wrestler, an international superstar if the right doors opened in front of her. What he didn’t know was whether or not she had the heart for it. She may have been the most determined and bull-headed woman he’d met since Lindsay Troy, but he could see she took everything personally, and he knew that if she couldn’t shake that, she’d never make it in the long term.
“What are you getting out of all this?”
“More training,” she started. “Payin’ dues. You know.”
“But you haven’t worked in what, three months?”
Graysie nodded this time.
Angus pulled out a Rolodex of all things. He started fingering his way through forgotten names and numbers, smirking at some and scowling at others. “We’ve got to do something about that. You’ve learned everything anybody can teach you in a dojo.”
Graysie cocked her head.
“What… What do you mean?”
“Ah-ha!” he exclaimed! “Just the guy I was looking for! What I mean, Graysie, is that if we don’t get you inside of a ring with real opponents in front of a crowd of real fans, you’re gonna start to hate this business, if you already haven’t.”
She nodded again, he was right after all. The past few weeks, ever since McKinney had gotten signed, a sense of burnout had been creeping in from the edges of her emotional spectrum.
“Who ya gonna call?”
“You ever heard of Ray McAvay?”
The Oncoming Storm.
I know a little bit about storms, kid. I lost everything in Katrina. Hell, most of Louisiana a soggy mess right now because of Laura. I lost friends in the tsunami that smashed Japan a couple of years ago… Yeah, I know all about wind and water and the destructive force that Mother Nature tends to be.
As for you?
I remain unconvinced.
You lost to the video game kid.
You got squashed by Harrison.
If I know Lee, and at this point I think I do, this is your last chance, kiddo. I hope you’re not just another Lindsay Troy knockoff, kid, because while the real deal might have found the sweet spot in my set of broken ribs and tapped me out on Pay Per View, the facsimiles generally fall by the wayside without a whole lot of convincing needed.
But who am I to talk, right?
I’ve got the same bullshit record as you do, that’s probably the whole reason we’re in this match on Saturday. I can hem and haw till the cows come home about strength of schedule, or about what it’s like fighting an uphill battle with Lee Best handicapping the field, but at the end of the day this match is about one thing and one thing only.
Eric Dane needs a win.
That makes you expendable, Erin. How does that make you feel? To know that you’re being sacrificed to the machine so that I can right the wrongs that I’ve brought on to myself? It doesn’t have to be a total loss, though. You could come out of this smelling like roses if you play your cards just right.
Just because I win, doesn’t mean you have to remain a loser.
You gotta bring something to the table though, kid. Go back and watch my last match a few times. Watch me go to war with Lindsay Troy for twenty minutes. Watch me try to kill her in more ways than one, live and on pay-per-view. And with all of that in mind, go back and watch your own last match. If you can see the difference, understand your place in this situation that we’ve found ourselves in, and overcome whatever it is that caused you to get embarrassed last week by Harrison, then maybe we can come together on a way to bring you up out of the muck with me.
I can always use another good sidekick, ya know?
It’s gonna take everything you’ve got, though.
You’ll have to prove yourself every bit the Oncoming Storm that you claim yourself to be. No excuses, no bullshit, you’ve got to hit the ground running and give me everything you’ve got if you plan on even walking out of this match, let alone with your pride still intact and all of your teeth still in place.
I don’t have it in me to fuck around anymore, Erin. There’s an expiration date lingering over the top of my career and a lot of people who should know better are counting me out. That’s fine, though, puts me at an advantage. People won’t see it coming, and I’ll get to smile and laugh and say hey, remember when?
Or maybe not.
Maybe you beat me, and I really am a washed up has been.
I can’t let that be the end of my story, Erin.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I won’t be overlooking you. I couldn’t look past you if I wanted to because past you there is nothing corporeal, only possibility. Beat you, and I go on to face another. My stock goes up a tick, and maybe I can start working my way into title contention. Lose, and it’s back to the drawing board again. The problem with that, Erin, is that I hate to draw. I don’t have the patience for it. I’ve been at this for far too long to be stuttering and stumbling the way that I have been, and it’s high time that I turn that around.
You’ll have to make do with the knowledge that this isn’t about you, kid.
Besides. You’re young. You can bounce back, play the long game. Me, I’m a little seasoned if you follow. I’ve got quite a bit less time to bullshit around in the middle and wait for a spot to open up. I don’t wanna leave you in the dust though, Erin. By all rights, everything I could find about you and everyone I’ve asked about you all says that you’re gonna be a star.
They’ve cursed you with that dirtiest of words, potential.
We’re gonna put that to the test though, come Saturday. We’ll go through hell and back if you’ve got the chops to get there with me! We’ll show this company that we don’t fuck around, and we’re not to be trifled with.
Well. That’s what I’ll be doing.
Like I said, I remain unconvinced.
The next move is on you.