There’s something deeply emasculating about waking up in a neck brace. One feels like a sulky pup entrapped in a cone of shame, deprived the simple pleasure of scratching his flea-infested ear. Fortunately for me, I was free of any such invasion. Unfortunately for me, I was suffering from an altogether different breed of parasite: the all-American lawyer.
Following an unprovoked mauling at the hands of stronk (lower case letters an indication of the true regard in which I hold him), I did what any proud, self-respecting, battle-hardened Englishman would – I consulted my legal team. In England the old adage is “where there’s a blame, there’s a claim”, the implication being that should someone’s careless behaviour result in injury to yourself, you are well within your rights to seek suitable recompense. Well, our American cousins have taken this one step further, God bless their litigious souls. In the U.S of A, as far as culpability is concerned, they don’t discriminate. Spilled coffee on your new shirt? Time to file a grievance against the laws of physics. Forgot your anniversary? Clearly the fault of the calendar makers. Late to work? Yet another example of the traffic lights’ rebellion against punctuality. In America, life’s canvas of mishaps awaits your creativity in shifting blame!
With this in mind, I paid a visit to one Maxwell Winslow, ace attorney. As I sat in his oak-panelled office staring at portraits of his spotty progeny, he reassured me that while my contract with HOW remained water-tight, I certainly had a case against the Bests for ruthlessly feeding me to stronk (lower case letters… well, you know the rest).
“Mr de Lacy”, he mumbled around a fat cigar, “what the Bests did to you was nothing short of criminal. The video footage clearly indicates you had no intention of laying a hand on either of your opponents. I mean, you literally lay down right in front of them.”
“I mean, you were practically playing dead.”
“Well, in a manner of speaking…”
“It’s evident from the expression on your face that you were incapable of mounting any sort of offence, even if you’d wanted to.”
“Hmm… I seem to recall that was the overall effect I was going for.”
“That’s to say, a man of your age and…” he gave me the quick once over, “stature, you had no business even being in that ring.”
“I’m not sure I’d go quite as far as all that, but…”
“Men like you and I, we shouldn’t be tussling with these young bucks at our age. No, you get to our time of life and an after dinner stroll should be about the extent of our exertions.”
I looked the shrivelled attorney up and down, his prune-like face searching mine for affirmation. He was at least twenty years my senior.
“I don’t know if I’m ready to reach for the old pipe and slippers just yet,” I replied a little tartly.
“No, no, no. You’re right. Got to keep active. Me and the wife attend salsa classes every other Thursday evening. Good to have a hobby.”
I gritted my teeth and nodded. No point in needling the chap, at least not while he was handling my case.
“So, I have a case?”
“By God, yes! Negligence, intentional infliction of emotional stress, failure to provide a safe working environment. We’re going to slap them with the whole kit and caboodle.”
“Terrific news. So, when should I expect my damages?” I enquired, a little greedily, I’m ashamed to say.
“Patience, Mr de Lacy,” he replied, not a little condescendingly, “These things take time. We need to make sure we build a solid case. Can’t afford to leave anything to chance, I’m sure you’ll agree.”
He grinned a toothy smile, the sort Americans so often do, all dazzling veneers and tacit insincerity.
“Of course,” I managed meekly.
“Now,” he shuffled in his seat, feigning discomfort. “As for the small matter of my fee…”
“Please, Mr Winslow,” I interjected, reaching at once for my monogrammed cheque book. “Say no more. Ninety-thousand dollars, was it not?”
I removed a pen from my breast pocket and began scribbling.
“Ah, yes. I’m afraid we’ve got a little hiccup to address before we can proceed. About those previous payments…”
I decided against the amateur dramatics. Old Winslow was no sap. Better play it straight.
“Wait, are you talking about those cheques that did a disappearing act at the bank?”
Winslow nodded sagely, “Yeah, those ones. Turns out, they didn’t quite make it to the grand finale. Bounced cheques, my friend.”
“Ah, you noticed that, eh?” I responded, giggling like a guilty schoolboy. “Well, rest assured, this cheque is the real deal. Solid as a rock.”
“I appreciate your commitment to settling the score, but the stage needs to be level first. Until those past payments hit the right notes, we’re stuck in the prelude.”
It was at this moment I realised just what a mess I’d managed to waltz my way into. With the redundant chequebook laid bare before me, I found myself more akin to a penniless jester than the dashing escape artist I had envisioned on first entering this office – less Catch Me If You Can, more Do With Me What Thou Wilt. Nevertheless, the old de Lacy pride forbade me from comporting myself in a manner appropriate to the occasion, namely, succumbing to uncontrolled sobs and wreaking havoc upon the surroundings in a fit of petulant fury.
Instead, I decided to indulge Winslow in his rather trite analogy.
“You’ve got it, maestro. I’ll orchestrate a resolution that hits all the high notes.”
“Looking forward to it, Charles. Don’t be a stranger, now.”
As I left his office, I’m not ashamed to say that I shed a few tears. My HOW contract remained as iron-clad as the drawers of a preacher’s daughter, and not nearly as appealing. Add to this the heap of legal bills I had accrued in my pursuit of the Bests and I was, not to put too fine a point on it, buggered. Royally.
I don’t know about you, dear reader, but in my forty-something years on this planet, I have grown rather fond of my thumbs. Those nimble digits, so indispensable for a gentleman’s pursuits – turning pages, raising a glass, and delivering the occasional witticism. Ah, what a tragedy it would be if circumstances were to unfold in such a manner that I found myself bereft of these cherished appendages, all for the sake of appeasing the relentless hounds of debt that occasionally prowl the shadows of our lives.
You see, it’s not only the solemn-faced barristers and their formidable legal parchments that haunt my dreams; there are other spectres, even more insidious, that lurk in the dark corners of my existence. I have, in the not so distant past, succumbed to the clicking of dice against a wooden table, the faint scent of cigar smoke, and the feverish murmurs of a card game that danced dangerously close to the edge of ruin. Yes, my financial entanglements reach beyond the realm of mere statutes and regulations. The clutches of gambling debts, like the grasping tendrils of some otherworldly creature, have woven themselves into the fabric of my affairs.
Thankfully, this is where Mickey enters our story. Mickey, diamond in the rough, king amongst men, paragon of British resolve and resourcefulness. Mickey, I should elucidate, is also six-four, two hundred and sixty pounds and mean as a wasp trapped in a jam jar. An ex-loan shark, I actually caught him in the act of breaking into my apartment the day after my meeting with Winslow, ostensibly under the guise of reclaiming some valuables to pay off my outstanding debts. Under normal circumstances I would have perhaps, on being confronted by such a specimen, sought refuge behind one of the many potted plants Mrs. Hernandez clutters the communal hallways with. On this occasion, however, I was in high spirits having just arrived from O’Leary’s with several pints of beer and a couple double whiskeys sloshing around my insides. Emboldened by my liquid courage, I decided to confront the blighter.
Now, nine times out of ten the story would end with your humble narrator down an antique watch (or some other such family heirloom) and nursing a couple of broken bones. But, as I’m sure you’ve gathered from my glowing appraisal, Mickey is not your run-of-the-mill heavy. No doubt charmed by my loquaciousness (the right amount of drink can do wonders for a man’s oratory skills) and elegant attire (a three-piece suit of the most exquisite tailoring), I somehow managed to convince this Big Bad Wolf that should he spare my poor thumbs, I might find a place for him within my employ. Mickey, a humble cockney barrow-boy by origin, was suitably impressed by my promise of professional development and promptly pocketed his screwdriver.
I trust that some of you, my fellow travellers, will truly comprehend the weight of being thousands of miles from home, lost in the unfamiliar embrace of a foreign land. El mundo es un pañuelo, as the Spanish aptly profess. But how many among you can genuinely attest, hand on heart, to having faced such a predicament with neither friend nor penny to lean upon? Moreover, I pose this question: Who among you can lay claim to enduring such tribulations while being doggedly pursued by seemingly every squeeze artist from this side of the Atlantic? None? Then you can only imagine the immeasurable sense of blessed relief that coursed through me when Mickey finally agreed to step aboard the good ship de Lacy. No longer would I need to cast furtive glances over my shoulder throughout each passing moment. I’d long sought a stalwart, robust gent to oversee my personal matters – a veritable jacked-up Jeeves to my rakish Bertie Wooster – but until this moment, financial prudence had impeded me from procuring such a chap. Now, astonishingly, the constraints of prudence no longer seemed to apply. I had finally found my man.
Mickey, much like Jeeves, is a fixer. Unlike Jeeves, his modus operandi is less cerebral and more… stabby. Don’t think too harshly of him, dear reader, for he is merely a product of his upbringing. Just as the silken sheets and silver spoons of my youth continue to inform my delicate sensibilities, the rugged asphalt and wearisome cries of Mickey’s childhood streets have forged him into a different kind of artisan. His tools are not the whispered phrases of impeccable etiquette, but the swift precision of a well-wielded blade. To wit, Mickey gets shit done.
Nevertheless, as competent as he is a knifeman, Mickey is not, nor ever shall he be, an arbitrator of unbreachable wrestling contracts. As such, my impasse with Lee Best, and the pending matter of Scott Stevens at Sunday Chaos was a dilemma I would have to solve myself.
Ah yes, Scott Stevens. Multiple world champion. Hall of famer. Rugged Texas ol’ boy. Six foot six and so covered with tattoos he half resembles an old school desk. Scott Stevens, also in possession of a win/loss record as lopsided as a post-op, post-fight Mickey Rourke. If losing to stronk had been relatively straightforward, albeit exceedingly painful, losing to Stevens might prove more challenging. On current form, there was no guarantee he’d make it to the ring at all! What if his shoelaces conspire against him, tripping him up and rendering him unconscious? What if he winds himself during an overenthusiastic pre-match high-five? Worse yet, what if a stray balloon floats by just as Stevens makes his grand entrance. One swift collision, and he’s down for the count, defeated by a rubbery adversary. Would the match be deemed a no-contest or would I be awarded victory by default?
These were the whimsical thoughts swirling through my mind as I contemplated the impending showdown with Scott Stevens. The man was a walking calamity waiting to happen. But surely even Stevens (no pun intended), recently promoted from the provincial backwaters of the XPRO brand, couldn’t fail to take advantage of this golden opportunity. I mean it’s not every day the dashing Charles de Lacy so neatly presents you with the laurels of victory, free of stipulation or small print. And anyway, wrestling matches rarely unfold in such outlandish ways. With Mickey’s pragmatic assistance, and driven by an ardent desire to provoke Lee Best at all costs, it was time to prepare for this clash of titans.
The first hurdle was getting Mickey to appreciate the ingenuities of this complex scheme.
“I don’t get it Charlie, you’re telling me you wanna’ lose to this Stevens bloke? Are you daft?”
I’d always harboured a disdain for the overly familiar diminutive of my name, but given Mickey’s highly sensitive nature I decided against correcting him.
“Well, Mickey, it’s not about being daft. It’s about strategy. You see, if I lose, it’ll get under Lee Best’s skin. Stir the pot a bit, you know?”
“But isn’t the whole point of wrestling to win? I mean, you step into that ring to show ’em what you’re made of, not to play dead possum.”
“Ordinarily, I’d be inclined to agree. But this is a matter of principle.”
“You’re willing to get pounded in that ring just to make the boss scratch his noggin?”
“Why yes, I am.”
“You’re one strange bird, Charlie.”
This was the best I could hope for. And so, armed with Mickey’s reluctant but unwavering support, and fueled by my audacious determination, I embarked on a daring journey to engineer a defeat that had the potential to shake the very foundations of Lee Best’s crumbling empire. It was a calculated gamble, a high-stakes manoeuvre that could either propel me to infamy and liberate me from this suffocating contract, or consign me to the annals of wrestling history as a subject of abject mockery. One thing remained undeniable: regardless of the outcome, it was destined to be a spectacle of epic proportions. And in the grand scheme of things, the torment I might endure couldn’t possibly surpass the pummeling I had suffered at the hands of stronk mere weeks ago.
As I settled in for a nightcap on the eve of Chaos 39, my neck brace serving as a reminder of the price I’d paid for past exploits, a self-assured smile graced my lips—I held a strong hunch that Scott Stevens’ own unique recklessness, stemming from what I perceived as his less-than-impressive intellect, might just provide the perfect means to thoroughly humiliate Lee Best.