“Wow, this place is… quaint.”
“Don’t be harshing on my bar, blondie.”
‘Blondie’ – better known as HOW reporter Blaire Moise, eyes the finished wooden chair in front of her and wipes the seat with a wad of napkins. Behind her, MJ Flair raises an eyebrow and folds her arms over her chest. The wrestler looks to her left, at the woman behind the bar busily cutting lemons.
MJF: She’s cleaning the seat, Cally. I’d be offended if I was you.
Cally: You cleaned the floors and tables last night, small fry. I was you I’d be more offended for you than I am for me. Blondie, gin and tonic?
Blaire Moise: Please.
Blaire sits down, and she looks questioningly at MJ.
Blaire Moise: You make decent money, Flair. Why are you cleaning up in a dive bar?
MJ sits across from Blaire and folds her hands on the tabletop.
MJF: Dude, I’m living across the street with all my focus on training and sparring. Trynna simplify to try and get myself back on track, but it’s givin’ me a lotta free time at night that I need ta fill.
She holds her hands up in a half-shrug, gesturing to the bar.
MJF: I can come over here, hang out with my girl when I can’t sleep. Naturally if I’m here and too wired to sleep, I help.
Blaire Moise: Careful, someone could say–
She stops. MJ leans forward with her elbows on the table.
MJF: Say what?
Blaire Moise: Never mind, not important.
MJ doesn’t respond, she just continues to stare.
Blaire Moise: …someone could say you’re training for your next career?
You could cut the tension with a spoon. Blaire’s breath catches in her throat: despite MJ’s less than impressive win-loss record this year, she’s still managed to put a hurtin’ on her opponents.
The second MJ starts to laugh, Blaire exhales.
MJF: Dude, you can say it. ‘Someone.’ Literally everyone but Jack, and he’d say it anyways, just without any real meanness behind it.
The moment is interrupted by Cally, dropping off their drinks.
Cally: Gin and tonic with lemon… and a root beer.
MJF: Seriously? You’re not even open.
Cally: That’ll be five, blondie.
Blaire Moise: Can I start a tab?
She turns back to MJ.
All three women laugh, though for drastically different reasons.
Blaire Moise: We are coming full circle, coming up on the second War Games of the Refueled era, and you’ve still got a chance at getting into it. Two major differences this year, though – a year ago you had three built-in allies with a fourth on the way, and this year you’ve got the LBI winner that you need to get through. Even if you get past Teddy Palmer – you’re virtually guaranteed to be on a team with at least three enemies. How do you reconcile that?
She pauses to take a drink, and notes MJ looking down, then to the right.
MJF: I mean, I don’t know Red or Ted. Teddy Palmer seems like a decent enough guy and I doubt he’s got a hard-on for tryin’ to run me out the sport, ya know? I doubt his interest in me runs past the fact that we’re both willing ta do anything to each other to earn our way into War Games. I can get a handle on that, right? But, ya know – it was always gonna come down to enemies on enemies on me in this company this year. Troy and Ryan pulled their clearly well-thought-out switcheroo, and then the mormon boys’ club crashed the party, apparently oblivious that literal years’ve passed.
Blaire Moise: Yeah, you’re really not great at friends.
MJF: And I own that, dude. I’m loud, I’m confrontational, I’m contrarian as fuck. Like, the second Murray complained that Jack and I were takin’ too long for our ‘revenge,’ it meant I could never go for it because fuck off, Murray. It’s a defect, and it gets me in trouble.
Blaire Moise: How so?
MJ chuckles to herself as she turns towards the bar.
MJF: Cally? You remember the first time I had a cast?
Cally: Was that the time you busted a knuckle in kindergarten?
MJ nods her head as she turns back to Blaire, whose jaw has dropped.
Blaire Moise: How do you do that when you’re like, five years old?
MJF: A boy pulled my hair, so I punched him. Keep in mind –
Blaire Moise: -You punched him hard enough to break a knuckle?
MJF: Keep in mind, all I knew up until then was the road and seeing my mom on tour, and seeing guys that tried to grab her got the shit beat out of ‘em. I thought that’s what you do.
MJF: Still think it should be.
Blaire Moise: What happened afterwards?
MJF: Oh, I had to go to a new school after that. Fortunately it was still the first week and I didn’t miss much. But once my hand was healed, my dad taught me how to throw a real punch. Came in handy more than you’d know.
Blaire Moise: That’s a little sad.
MJF: It is what it is, man. I spent my formative years hangin’ around musicians and road crew types. Even after I started regular school we’d still go on the road every summer. And tryna relate to someone your own age who just goes out to the mall on Saturday after all that ish?
She shakes her head.
MJF: No fuckin’ way, man.
They both take a drink as Blaire makes some notes.
MJF: S’why I’m glad Teddy Palmer’s my opponent this week. He doesn’t fit into the stereotype, he’s a wrestler.
Blaire raises an eyebrow.
Blaire Moise: So… what’s everyone else, then?
Blaire Moise: What?
MJF: What’chu mean?
Blaire Moise: You just called Teddy Palmer ‘a wrestler,’ which he obviously is, but your context indicates that sets him apart from the rest of the HOW roster. What is the rest of the roster, if not wrestlers?
She drops her head, laughing.
MJF: Yeah. Teddy Palmer’s a wrestler. He promotes his match, he wrestles his match, he goes home. He’s got a life. I respect that. But then you’ve got guys like the Hollywood Bruvs who seem ta’ spend most’a their time convincing everyone that they’re the Hollywood Bruvs. You’ve got Little Jimmy, desperately trying ta’ pretend it’s still Utah where he lorded over the losers and wannabes until some actual athletes showed up and showed ‘em how little he mattered. Even the World Champion that you’d think would be above this ish? Fartypants has turned into the original High Octane Hipster, too cool for the World Title desperately tryna make everyone care about it.
MJ leans in.
MJF: Dude. Farthington is the champion. The last time he didn’t win his match was when me and him pinned each other simultaneously at the last War Games. You’d think havin’ the longest individual reign as both the World and ICON Champion would be enough, yeah?
She drinks from her glass while Blaire Moise flips through some of her notes.
MJF: Guess not.
Blaire Moise: It does seem like the rest of High Octane likes to pile on you, and a lot of the criticism has been both justified by your lack of success so far this year, as well as… very personal. How do you answer it?
MJF: I don’t answer it. Fuck’s the point? Dude. Year ago I showed up, got no respect, faced down a three to one disadvantage in War Games, pinned the at-the-time World Champion, dual-pinned the current World Champion and at-the-time ICON, and won the LSD Title in the process. What happened after that, Scottywood claimed he was clearly about ta’ take the belt from me.
She leans in, tapping her index finger on the table.
MJF: I don’t listen to the rest’a the static around me because it ain’t based in reality. Did I push Mike Best to his limit during the LBI?
Blaire is busily taking notes, suddenly jarred out of her zone when she realizes MJ is actually waiting for a reply. The reporter nods her head quickly.
MJF: Did I leave Andy Murray in worse shape than I was, despite the fact that he got the three?
Blaire Moise: I think you can make that case.
MJ slaps her hand on the table.
MJF: Exactly. And I hear ‘Ya lost, ya suck, you’re a terrible wrestler, go home and kill yaself.’ Turn it around, man. Do ya think Teddy Palmer took Fartypants ta’ the limit at March to Glory? I do. Do you?
MJF: And did Red ‘n Ted give the Bruvs a run for their money in their own War Games qualifier?
Again, Blaire nods.
Blaire Moise: I think they did.
MJ clicks her tongue and points at the reporter.
MJF: Exactly. He lost both of ‘em and there ain’t nobody in High Octane tellin’ him he should give up ‘n go home.
Blaire starts to reply, but MJ holds up her hand.
MJF: I know what you’re gonna say – and I get it. Teddy ain’t nearly as obnoxious as I am. At the same time, the one thing I can’t stand is a double standard.
Blaire Moise: One more question, MJ… Should you defeat Teddy Palmer and qualify for War Games, what team would you like to be drafted to?
MJF: Honestly? The teams ain’t finalized yet, but despite everything… I’d like ta’ be on Mike Best’s team.
Blaire Moise: Wow. That’s surprising. Why would you say that?
MJF: Ain’t no more surprising than wanting ta’ be on a team with Max Kael, dude. But Mike and I understand each other. He wants ta’ win War Games, and if he’s unable to win War Games he’s gon’ wanna come in second and retain his ICON belt. Especially if he’s short’a his goal of eight defenses. So I don’t like Mike and he don’t like me, but if I was on his team I guarantee that he’d have my back at least until the other team’s eliminated. Because it’s in his best interest ta’ have more bodies for a longer period’a time. And he knows and I know that we understand each other, and we can trust each other in the ring until we don’t have to anymore.
Blaire nods, takes another drink, and makes a quick note.
Blaire Moise: Okay, Ms. Flair – that’s all I’ve got. Thanks so much.
She reaches over the table to shake MJ’s hand.
MJF: Aces, dude. Appreciate you.
Blaire Moise: You send the web geeks a promo yet?
MJ looks left and right, no doubt recalling the late night/early morning visit from Jack Harmen.
MJF: I didn’t. I’ve been… distracted?
Cally: You done good out there, small fry!
Both Blaire and MJ look towards the bar, where Cally leans in, obviously listening in.
MJF: Thank you, sweetie. We’ve all done the things, you and me and Daddy and Knox.
She waves her hands in front of her face.
MJF: It’s magical.
Either not recognizing or not acknowledging the sarcasm, Cally holds her hands out towards the other two women in fellowship.
Cally: Right? I knew you knew.
An alley at dusk. Brick facades on three sides, a handful of wooden tables with a random scattering of chairs. Sitting on top of a table is former LSD Champion MJ Flair, black shirt, black skirt, black boots, elbows on knees and hands folded in front of her. Head down, hair forward.
“More than anyone else in this company, Teddy – I understand ya.”
“I know ya got a partner. So do I. We’re both part of a Two Man Stable, man-ness optional.”
“But I get ya, man. You came in, seemingly outta nowhere, and ya did something magical. Won the LBI. Had a chance of a lifetime against Farthington.”
“You’re me, a year ago. Came in, outta nowhere. Did something magical. I didn’t win War Games but I officially eliminated the reigning World and ICON Champions from the match.”
“Nobody thought you could do it. Nobody thought I could do it.”
She runs her hand through her hair, pushing it out of her face.
“Shit, man. We were both in a LSD Title match with Max Kael and someone else, and Max won while neither of us officially lost.”
“At what point does it go from comparable ta’ creepy?”
MJ runs her hands through her hair, pushing it all out of her face.
“And now here we both are, tryna earn our ways into another shot at the biggest event in High Octane Wrestling: War Games.”
“Will it be me, or will it be thee?”
She stands up, and takes a step back, climbing to the top of the table.
“For what it’s worth, man? I’m glad it’s you. I beat you, I’ve earned my way into the main event at War Games over an athlete that I respect. I lose? Same ish, end’a the day, you’re not a fuckin’ asshole.”
“For what it’s worth, part two – we’ve both got something ta’ prove. You’re lookin’ to prove that the LBI wasn’t a fluke, I’m lookin’ ta prove that my entire two-thousand-nineteen wasn’t a fluke. Either way, someone’s gonna get the chance of a lifetime, and someone’s gonna be watchin’ War Games on their couch.”
“Here’s the T, dude. You had the chance to get into War Games against Farthington. You had the chance against Max. You had the chance against the Bruvs.”
“This is your fourth opportunity, Teddy.”
“Ain’t no shame in it. You took the loss against the two best wrestlers in High Octane, plus a tag team that’s totally… totally got the biggest ego. Sometimes the dice don’t roll your way.”
MJ shrugs her shoulders.
“But this right here? This is it for me, man. Bad luck combined with top tier opponents have put me in the cellar, and in the immortal words of Valerian’s Garden, I’ve got just one chance.”
“I appreciate your businessman approach to the sport, dude. You don’t seem like ya really hold grudges or talk shit about your opponents ahead’a the curve. Pretty sure you’re lookin’ at this as just another night’a work. Step ta’ me on the up and up and don’t go for a shortcut and I’ll give ya the same courtesy.”
“But I can’t help wondering if this being your fourth opportunity is affectin’ your state’a mind. Like, somewhere in ya brain you’re subconsciously thinkin’ that you’ve had three chances before, so this is just another opportunity.”
She drops to her knees on the table. If the impact of bare knees on hard wood causes her pain, she doesn’t register.
“I hope not.”
“Cause I’m lookin’ at this as what it is. This is my only shot at makin’ an impact at War Games. I win this match, that’s two years in a row I’m an underdog and can hopefully go two for two on shockin’ the world.”
“You beat me, Teddy? All that happens is that nobody’s surprised.”
The corners of her mouth turn up into a sadistic smile.
“Which means I have every incentive ta’ have zero restraint.”
MJ rolls back from her knees to her feet, and drops down to the ground, level with the camera as she walks towards it.
“The entirety’a this past year for me comes down to one night in Chicago, Teddy.”
“I’ve been beaten seven times this year.”
“I’ve been inches from victory seven times this year.”
“The way I see it? I’m the most dangerous wrestler in the entirety’a High Octane Wrestling come Refueled this weekend, Teddy.”
“Because I’ve got nothin’ left ta’ lose.”