I haven’t touched the bottle since that night in the parking lot of that gas station that used to be the Sportatorium. I’ve wanted to, I’ve felt like I have needed to, but I haven’t let the sweet bourbon grace my lips in over a month. At first it was the guilt, all I could think about my father looking down at me and wondering what the hell he’d birthed onto the earth.
Every head start he’d given me, I’d pissed away. I burned the ranch to the ground. I pissed away the wrestling school by taking dirty money from Lee. My best friend, mentor, and trainer thought I was the devil. It took him over six months to forgive me, it took the events surrounding Iconic 2021 for him to reach out so I could apologize.
I shit that relationship right down the toilet. I’ve taken a lot of pretty big relationship shits. My relationship with Lee over a fight with Mike. My professional life has been an anxiety riddled hell ever since. The constant harassment, the gifts that are actually curses. I talked two of my best friends into giving up their relationship with Lee. Solex and Harrison forsook the riches of being associated with Lee, to align themselves with me.
For what? What were we going to do? Take over High Octane Wrestling? Show Lee Best we really meant business? Dress up like fucking Tombstone characters for a pay-per-view? Fucking Christ, we ran the America gauntlet. All of us. Set us up, knock us down. Bergman, Solex, Harrison and Byrd. The Highwaymen were dead on arrival.
Doomed from the start, cursed from the beginning. Steve realized it first, he saw it before the rest of us. I knew it when we were at the barn, I could see it in Steve’s eyes that night. He knew he’d been short sighted, he’d known he’d made a mistake. He practically told me it was coming that night with us all at the barn. He might as well have looked me in the eye and told me he was going to stab a knife into the middle of our backs.
I was so naive. So fucking stupid.
When Steve Solex finally found me alone, drunk in a room. He did exactly what he should have done. He beat the fucking shit out of me. He fucking embarassed me. He treated me like a little bitch. And that’s what I was. I was a little bitch. I’d promised him so much, I’d promised Steve the world. I told him we’d be the ones calling the shots. That Lee would come groveling back to us, throwing money at us.
We’d change the world.
Every fucking time he smacked me with that baton, I deserved it. Look where it got Harrison. The man vanished. Disappeared into the aether. He knew it wasn’t worth it, he knew the beatings and what was to come. He knew the constant embarrassment we were going to be subjected to. He knew the ridicule, and he left to avoid it. Harrison used to be the apple of Lee’s eye. He loved watching Harrison work in the ring, he loved how hard Harrison partied, he loved just how much of a sleazebag he was.
I ruined that for him. I made Steve Harrison be a good guy. The most awkward good guy of all time. Don’t worry bucaroo, here’s a fucking cowboy hat for you and a sherriff’s badge. We’re gonna go catch fucking Pancho Villa. What a fucking joke. Steve, I hope you’re on a beach somewhere enjoying a margarita, smoking a big giant cigar. You deserve it buddy. Way smarter than Joe and I.
Bergman. The avenger. The man that’s pure of heart. The man that can make a difference.
Or at least that’s how I imagine you really feel. You aren’t becoming Lee Best’s best friend, so you’re operating on the plan that the enemy of your enemy is your friend. Or whatever redneck Sun-Tzu bullshit you cooked up in a barn while smoking methamphetamines with the local Missouri Valley Wrestling contingent.
What the fuck are you doing, Joe? The fight is fucking over. There isn’t anything to fight for anymore. We’re dead. We’re done. Solex went home, got himself a nice pat on the head, told he was a good boy, and a nice belly rub. You don’t have to get out the fucking facepaint and think you’re the god damned Crow. Just sit at home with the MVW boys and do your thing. Let them teach you the ways of the bathtub meth, and you teach them how to wrestle. Great trade.
So do what Harrison did, just get out. Because I can’t protect you Joe, especially now that you smashed that chair over my skull. So what’s the big plan? How does this go, Joe? Do you fight me and the Alliance? Do you guys team up to beat the fuck out of me, then you try to fight the rest of them by yourself?
That’s fucking stupid Joe.
But you’re still playing this game for you.
You haven’t figured out how it works yet. You haven’t thought through all the chess moves, and neither have I. I’m not that smart Joe, I can’t see everything coming. But I can see someone angry and wanting some vengeance from a thousand miles away. This match though? Have you seen this thing? Have you thought about what this is?
None of this is fucking fair, none of this is going to be righteous. This is going to be a god damned bloodbath, and we’re going to have to do our best to fucking SURVIVE Joe. We have to try to outlast them. You think you’re on Solex’s team? Steve’s on the fucking Alliance’s team. He’s a god damned lapdog. That man bleeds #97RED like the rest of them, and he’s going to do whatever the best for The Alliance is.
Because that’s what Steve’s always done.
Oh look, Joe Bergman has Dan Ryan on the ropes. Dan Ryan is done for, you hit him with the mist, he’s going to be dead to rights. But Steve Solex is standing behind you. As you go to finish ol’ Danny Boy off, you think Steve’s just going to let that happen? You think if it’s beneficial for The Alliance, he’s not going to save Dan Ryan over you?
It has to be the meth.
It’s the only fucking way you could possibly believe that. He’s already picked Lee over you, he’s already picked The Alliance over The Highwaymen. You don’t think he’s going to pick THE ALLIANCE over a fucking War Games team?
Joey, buddy. This is bad, even for you.
“I didn’t think you’d show up,” Roy said with a smile. It was a beautiful Houston morning. The sun was shining, the temperature was rising, but it was still spring. The stifling humidity hadn’t descended yet.
“I figured it was ‘bout time fer me ta get myself together,” Clay said with a fake grin. He hadn’t seen Roy since before Iconic 2022. That day at the Bergman barn had left Clay so hopeful. He was proud, he was strong, he felt great, he felt prepared. All their hopes and dreams were pinned on him. And yet he failed them. Again. Sure, you could blame Dan Ryan. You could blame the EPU, you could blame a lot of things. But at this point, the only person Clay was in the business of blaming was himself.
They stood in front of a townhouse, in a nice, suburban Houston neighborhood. The for sale sign was still in Roy’s hands. Of course, his association with Clay Byrd had led to a downturn in his career. The kidnapping at the hands of the Highwaymen had led to his dismissal as Sales Director. The housing market was still red hot though, and he’d jumped over into his new career with two feet.
“Hasn’t hit the market yet, a friend of mine is selling the place,” Roy said, while pointing up at the end cap.
“Ha! Ya thinkin’ fer me? Ya think I could afford ta live in a place like this?” Roy smiled and laughed. The only sound in the Houston morning was a group of golfers on the other side of a small tree line.
“Yeah, have you seen your bank account?” Roy croaked out through a laugh, he pointed up towards the townhouse. “You’ve hardly spent a dime in the last two years, you’ve lived in a damn truck. Your salary is public information on a damn website. You could afford some big ass place on the other side of the club.”
“Huh,” Clay said as he looked up at the building. “I guess let’s go have a look.”
The two men ventured up the walkway. It twisted and curved up a slight incline. Roy’s orange polo shirt led the way, while The Behemoth followed behind. Roy fidgeted with the lock on the outside of the door for a moment, before finally unlocking the door. The two men walked in, Clay liked the tall ceilings immediately. They took a quick tour, he didn’t care much for ornamentation, but it had everything he needed.
“Plus you’ll be a club member. Nice gym, pool access. You can finally start taking care of yourself like a regular person,” Roy smirked and continued. “I mean, Jesus, it’s got a shower Clay. That’s an upgrade on the truck.”
“Ya think they’d take the offer? I was readin’ somethin’ the other day ‘bout biddin’ wars on homes…”
“Hold on, let me call the seller.” Roy whipped out a cell phone from his pocket. He dialed the number and waited a moment. His other phone rang. “Hey Roy, would you take this offer? Oh, you would? Great.”
Clay shook his head.
“Ya own this place?” Clay said between a few laughs.
“Yeah, I buy them, put some work in, fix them up, and sell them on for a profit…” Clay stopped Roy before he could finish.
“Ya makin’ ‘nough on me? I don’t wanna short ya or yer family…”
Roy smiled and shot back. “Yeah, I’m doing just fine, big man. Besides, you’re family too.”
Clay looked at the living room for a moment. He looked around and smiled, the hardwood floor was nice. It had a kitchen, it had a shower. It had everything he needed.
“Fuck it, let’s do it.”
I’m down on my luck Joey, the last possible ally I had left in the world. The last person that could reach out a helping hand in this match has been removed from the playing field. Lee Best is the fucking master, the master of chicanary and bullshit. He’s deft, he’s quick, he’s agile. The man is truly a mastermind of our generation. Look how easily he’s split the resistance. Carved us up without even the blink of an eye. Absolutely, positively, brilliant. He’s simply magnificent.
You know what I’d been thinking about? I could take a trip up to Joey’s barn. I could get my head right, just like the old times. I’d meet up with him, have a good chat with Ray about how to survive Lee Best. It was going to be awesome, a real great tandem. You know we could talk strategy, who we might be able to ally with, who still holds a grudge against the old man. Maybe we could have even given Harrison a little jingle, dragged him out and got him involved in this match to get back at Solex.
It would have been a great time, imagine the speech I could give to Harrison. I could promise him so much that he’d leave that little drink with the umbrella behind and walk right back into our arms. That would have been great wouldn’t it? The boys defy the man, and get back together anyway. Would have been terrific, I mean we would have gotten our asses kicked. I’m sure Mike, Lee, and Tyler would have gotten together right before I was about to enter, and take turns giving me three generations of knees while Evan Ward watches in the corner.
It would have been great.
But now? I don’t have many options. What am I going to do? Write an apology letter to Conor Fuse and tell him how sorry I am? Wax on poetically about how I was willing to take the blows for him, that I was willing to save him? He knows how good that promise is. He knows what my word means. They all do, they all know how little it means. They all can smell it from a mile away, the stench of shit and filth. My word is worse than a payday loan. There’s not even the immediate gratification of being able to struggle through another week of existence.
My social credit score is pretty terrible. I don’t think he’d let me be friends with him.
So how do I make it work? What do I have to do? What is left for me? What can I possibly do?
I’m going to do what’s best for me.
I’m not going to be short sighted anymore, Joey.
I have to take responsibility for my actions. I have to understand, these failures are my failures. I have to look at it for what it is, this entire experiment? It’s a miserable failure. I took my eyes off of the prize, I let myself be pulled down into the muck. I let my emotions guide my business decisions.
Not anymore Joey.
The sun pierced through the window early in the morning. Too early for The Behemoth. Roy had let him move into the townhouse while the paperwork and sale closure was being worked on. It’d take a few weeks to get everything drawn up. But a few hundred thousand dollars as a down payment, a mortgage, everything had changed for him.
The PWA salary increase had come as a surprise for Clay. Six months after he’d resigned for High Octane Wrestling he’d finally realized what the numbers on the contract had actually meant. Two years of making peanuts had turned Clay frugal. He drove to every show he could, he slept in his truck. His only purchases were the essentials, food and booze. Sure, the flights had cost money, but living how he lived, pinching every penny out of apathy towards himself had made Clay a wealthy man.
And with the liquor in a garbage can in Dallas, his head had finally started to clear. He had to get himself put back together, he couldn’t keep living like that. If he ever ate a McDonald’s Cheeseburger, or gas station taquitos again he’d puke. His body had disintegrated around him. Between the half starvation, half boozing they had ripped away precious pounds. Pounds that someone like STRONK GODSON would have killed a man for.
He was forty-one years old now, he was never going to get those pounds back. He was never going to find that strength again. But he could protect what he had. He could start living like a civilized person, start living like an athlete. That first year in High Octane, Clay had hardly left the gyms. He worked out in the ring, outside of the ring, he was always working on himself.
He had to preserve what was left.
The home made sense, the country club may have been a bit ridiculous. But having the amenities so close made his life easier. He could put himself on auto-pilot. He could actually be an athlete again, instead of a drunk. Do you think Christopher America sleeps in his car?
The champion does not sleep in a car.
Hell Darin Zion doesn’t even sleep in a car.
“Fucking sun,” Clay said as he spun over. He pulled his makeshift pillow of clothing under his head as he laid on his side and squinted at the shadows the sunlight was making on the wall. He sat up and looked out through the window. Based on where the sun was in the sky, he figured it was around 7:30.
He trudged up the hallway and down the steps. After a quick pit stop in the half bathroom off the kitchen, Clay was into the can of instant coffee he’d brought in from the truck. Some hot water, and a bit of a stir, the big man could finally put his thoughts together. He looked around at his empty home, he needed furniture. He stretched, his back felt better than usual. Sleeping in the truck for so long had caused him a lot of pain. His right leg wasn’t still asleep from being curled against the wall of the truck.
He walked to the front window and peaked out through the show curtains Ray had put up. A bustle of activity awaited his view. Children got on a school bus, people went to work. A cavalcade of BMW, Lexus, and Mercedes crossovers and SUV’s pulled down the road. One after another. People jogged, walked their dogs. The neighborhood was busy. He turned back around to his bag that was strewn across the living room floor.
The furniture could wait. He needed to see this gym.
It wasn’t the nicest facility The Behemoth had ever seen. He’d played football at the University of Texas after all. But the building was nice, Clay walked up to the all glass building and swiped his keycard. From the outside he could make out blurred figures on treadmills, but as the doors opened he took it all in.
“Hello Sir! Welcome to The Hills! My name’s Brian, do you need a personal trainer today?” Clay was surprised. The short athletic man that ran up to him.
“Uh… what?” Brian shot behind a small counter to Clay’s right and went to work on a computer.
“Who do you normally work with, I’ll let them…” Brian started to punch information into the computer.
“First timer, bud,” Clay said with a wide eyed look.
“Oh! New resident! Welcome neighbor! What’s your address?” Clay was shocked, he hadn’t expected to verify anything. Plus Brian’s fake excitement caused his nose to twitch. He flipped the keycard around in his hand a few times trying to remember. Finally he looked down at the card, the small print on one side of the card jogged his memory.
“525 Meadow Lane,” Clay shook his head and smiled. At least he’d gotten something right today.
“Oh! Congratulations. Great view of the 8th hole tee box. Well here, let’s do a little tour. I’ll show you around, and then you let me know what you need,” Brian’s customer service voice jingled along as he led Clay through a set of double doors.
“Up here is all your cardio, treadmills, stair climbers, elliptical, bike, whatever you need,” Brian said while holding his arms out. The sea of treadmills, stair climbers, ellipticals and exercise bikes looked to go on forever. Normal people ran, biked, and did whatever the hell you do on an elliptical. Stock brokers, Mothers, Fathers, Sales people, IT professionals, all running together.
“Over here we have our resistance machines. Great workouts can be had on all these. My personal favorite way to work out. Really helps build strength,” Brian waved Clay on through the endless white and black machines. Cables and pulleys everywhere.
“In the center here, we have our classes. You can see right now, we have yoga going on, we do Yoga twice a day, once in the morning, once in the evening. Great Pilates class at noon, a spin class, and dance aerobics before the evening yoga,” Clay watched on as people stretched and postured awkwardly in front of him, but Brian led on.
“And back here big fella, is probably what you are looking for. Free weights, dumbbells, squat rack. Everything you need to get big. We have a few kids in the complex playing ball that are back here at night. Not many people during the day though.” Brian pointed back to the back wall to a huge sign.
“And that’s the locker room. Towels are available all day, and if you need anything don’t forget to yell.”
“So, ya said somethin’ ‘bout a trainer?” Clay shook his gym bag down off his shoulder on the side of a machine. Brian looked up at him a bit confused.
“Sir, I figured you must already have a pretty good plan…” Clay looked the young man over. He looked around at all the machines and weights. This wasn’t a barn somewhere, this wasn’t a bunker in a backyard. This was a real gym, and Clay hadn’t stepped foot in one in over two and a half years.
“None whatsoever. Normally I beat the hell out of a tire with a sledgehammer, and lifted heavy things in a barn,” Clay’s eyes scanned the gym. He pointed to a man who had been running, perfectly controlled for twenty five minutes.
“See that feller up there, that guy’s been runnin’ fer damn near twenty minutes, and I can’t fuckin’ do that,” Clay’s laugh echoed in the empty part of the gym. “And with this dodgy knee I ain’t prolly ever goin’ ta get there. But I’d like ta not be so damn embarrassed ‘bout it.”
The two men shared a laugh, Brian looked Clay over.
“We could get you there. Have to work on some stabilization strength around the knee, might be able to get that knee brace off…” Clay found himself nodding along with Brian. The old ways hadn’t worked. The way he’d always done it hadn’t been the answer. Brian looked fit, sounded pretty confident, looked like he knew what he was talking about.
“Well since ya volunteered, let me catch ya up,” Clay now took the lead, walking Brian back through the gym. He smirked, and looked at the young man.
“I’m a professional wrestl…” As Clay was finishing his sentence, Brian cut Clay off.
“Oh, that’s where I’ve seen you. Holy shit.” The ‘holy shit’ was because Brian was mortified. His palms began to sweat and he began to stammer. “I… I’m… I’m sorry…”
“Listen, can ya do the shit ya said ya could?” Clay turned towards Brian, Brian wiped his palms on his shorts.
“Yeah… yeah… I can.”
“Then let’s fuckin’ do it.”