March 15, 2020
High above Michigan Avenue, on the rooftop of the InterContinental Hotel, Lindsay Troy feels like screaming.
It wasn’t supposed to end this way.
This is a very different atmosphere than the last time she made her way to the top of her semi-permanent Chicago residence. The end of February was a cause for celebration, and as the month rolled over into March, so too did she and Dan roll over MJ Flair and Jack Harmen to reveal the Group of Death alongside Mike Best and Cecilworth Farthington. Tonight, however, there is nothing but disappointment in the air as Lindsay leans against the stone barrier, a highball glass of golden-brown liquid next to her.
Champagne is for celebrating. Bourbon is for brooding.
She’s no stranger to letdowns and failures. For a person who strives for perfection every step of the way, Lindsay knows that a hundred percent success rate is impossible. It doesn’t mean she won’t always try for it. It doesn’t mean she won’t feel the pangs of remorse when victory isn’t achieved. But this time….this time… something felt different. It actually felt like she was turning a corner in HOW. New alliances aside, a revitalization coursed through her veins with each LBI win and she felt like all cylinders were firing in time again.
And then, at Refueled 20, she hit the Great Wall of Kael.
The absolute worst case scenario came true.
Of course there’s no shame in losing to the Hall of Famer and one of the two most dominant wrestlers of this HOW era. It was a hell of a match; it could have gone either way. From a personal perspective, though, Lindsay already knew that if she came out of that match with an L it was going to sting, and sting badly. She and the Lord Supreme Dictator weren’t yet on good terms as teammates; both have chips on their shoulders for different reasons: Kael, protective of the old and Troy, wanting to prove her worth as the new. And besides…before that match, she wasn’t quite ready to let the dream of becoming World Champion go just yet.
She wanted another crack at Cecilworth. A legit crack. Not one wrapped up in quid pro quo. Not one contested under the veil of deception.
But with Refueled 20’s pinfall and Max’s advancement to face Teddy Palmer, “Match, Tourney, Title” became just another boast she couldn’t back up.
Another dream, dashed.
And when Teddy tapped Max out to move on to face the ChampChamp at March to Glory, it wasn’t just Lindsay’s own personal assumption of incorrectness being put on display, but the Group of Death’s as a whole.
God, she hates being proven wrong. The discomfort sits like a boulder in the pit of her stomach.
The quick fix for this uneasy feeling, besides the bourbon to numb it, would be a phone call to Tyler. He’d be on his way back to the house by now; the bar in Tampa is closed for the night, the last of the workers done with their side work and closing tasks and out the door.
Would be, being the operative term, if not for one teensy little problem that’s the tenet of every long-term – or would-be long-term – relationship.
Trust. Or the perceived lack there-of.
March 1, 2020
These back-to-back weekly LBI bookings are hell on her home time, so when Lindsay’s back in Tampa she always makes sure her time there counts.
Sunday, strictly family time from the moment she lands. Monday, split time at the gym and home. Tuesday, a morning meeting with Clay, then a video conference with Clay Darcy and Jack Adler and Mike Best about GoD merchandising and promotions (two asshole lawyers yelling over Zoom? Good times, painful memories), then the gym, their weekly staff meeting, then home. Wednesday, gym and family. Thursday, family in the morning and a flight to Chicago for Refueled 19 promo work.
A whirlwind? Sure. This is what she lives for. And, more importantly, this is what the family wholeheartedly bought into when the subject of her going back on the road last year was first discussed. If Ami, Kaz, and Tyler weren’t on board, Lindsay wasn’t signing with High Octane Wrestling.
Or, as Mike put it, she wasn’t selling her soul to Lee.
The Man in Red with the hair-trigger temper isn’t the first dubious promoter she’s signed with – let’s face it, most wrestling promoters are – but he may be the last. The last chapter of the Queen’s career will either thrive or die with HOW, and if last night was any indication, it will be the former before it will ever be the latter.
Lindsay breezes through the door of her and Tyler Rayne’s south Tampa home; she should be weary from a lack of sleep, too amped up to catch much shut-eye, but the Queen is famous for being able to function on single-digits rest and ample caffeine. Luggage is dropped in the foyer, she’ll tend to it later, and she strides into the kitchen to grab a bite and a drink.
“Ty! You around?” She had sent him a text when she got into Tampa International before picking her car up from the valet parking. No response came, but that wasn’t much of a surprise. Sundays are usually his sleep-in day.
It wasn’t until Lindsay, sitting at the kitchen island, is halfway through a turkey, spinach, and kale salad when the erstwhile Tyler Rayne, Golden Boy and originator of the Raynes of Castamere – although under a different, and lewder, name – appears…not in attire made for slumber but in his usual uniform of jeans and a t-shirt.
“Hey!” comes the warm greeting from Lindsay. “Wasn’t sure if you were even home. You didn’t answer my text.”
“Yeah, was in the shower.” Tyler moves behind his wife and opens the fridge.
“Oh, grab me a bottle of water while you’re in there, please?”
He does, but doesn’t hand it to her. Instead, he slides it haphazardly across the marble island-top, making Lindsay reach for it before it rolls away from her grasp. She looks at him, puzzled. Normally he’d toss it to her, or fake-toss it to her to get her to fake-glare at him, or outright hand it to her, or if he slid it to her it would be a straight-shot right at her.
The man ain’t one for missing.
Something’s not right.
“OK, Tyler, what’s going on?” Lindsay swivels on her stool and looks full-on at Tyler, who still has his attention diverted to the fridge. “I get not answering the text right away but–”
“Hell of a show last night.”
Now, he closes the fridge door and leans against it, his deep brown eyes meet Lindsay’s hazel ones. There’s no anger behind his gaze despite the irritability in his voice. What’s there instead is a sheen of hurt. Maybe even betrayal.
Lindsay sighs and stabs her fork upright into her salad. “We really gonna get into the hows and the whys of that?”
“No, we’re not. Because that’s not what I care about.”
“It…wait,” Lindsay shakes her head, needing to make sure she heard the man correctly. “You don’t care that I one-eightied Harmen and MJ? You know how long I’ve played the white knight, Tyler.”
“And I also know that you, like me, have always been right on the edge of tumbling over that line when pushed. Kinda what made us mesh so well together. No, that’s not what I care about and I think you know that.” He crosses his arms over his chest. “What I care about is that you didn’t gods damn tell me.”
“I…” Lindsay pauses and lets his words sink in.
“I found out from Alaina weeks ago,” Tyler continues. “And whether she was supposed to say anything, I don’t know, but she sure as hell was shocked that I didn’t know.”
“Tyler…” Her mouth is cotton, her stomach a half-hitch knot. “I… Jesus. Nothing I can say right now is going to fix this.”
“Probably not,” he says.
“I’m sorry,” Lindsay admits, defeated. “I just….I needed to keep it quiet. I couldn’t risk anything getting out. This was too big of a deal. Too long of a con.”
“And you didn’t trust me with it.”
“Do you want me to be nice or do you want me to be honest? Because me being nice is saying that I love you very much but again, I couldn’t risk it. And me being honest is saying I love you very much but you are like swiss cheese when it comes to secrets; you’re solid 98% of the time but 2% of the time there’s a big hole and things get through.”
“Oh, well, ain’t that nice.”
“Jesus, Tyler. I am very sorry. Really, I am.”
“Yeah. Well, listen, I’d tell you that I’d go and take some cues from the in-laws on how to be a better secret keeper, but you and I both know that they aren’t very good at it either.”
“Oh for God’s sake….Alaina probably wasn’t supposed to say anything either. That doesn’t make it right.”
“You’re right, it doesn’t.” He says, then moves past her back toward the living room. “But this probably won’t be right for a good while anyway.”
“Y’know, I was going to give you all a nice, little break this week.”
It’s a damp day in Rome; cloudy, high 50s, with showers looming. Lindsay Troy sits on a park bench along the Tiber River, not far from the Colosseum. People cross the Ponte Palatino and walk along the Lungotevere Avetino. She sits alone, finishing up the crust of a piece of pizza, brushing the crumbs from the lapel of her black trenchcoat. She holds a carryout cup in her hand.
“When I met up with Dan to talk strategy for Saturday night, I could tell he still had plenty in the tank when it came to talking about all you boys, and I figured….y’know, I’ll leave the evisceration all to him this week. Might be nice to give myself a lil break, y’know? I’ll book a couple more pre-show events instead, maybe do an extra media session or two. He hates doing those. I don’t actually mind them.
“Then Andy Murray opened his mouth and auditioned to be the next spokesperson for Morton Salt.
“I love revisionist history, don’t you? It’s one of the great joys of our sport. It’s also the thing that people like me, and people like Dan, and people like Mike and Max and Cecilworth have a big giggle about when people like you, and people like Mikey, and people like Stevens keep bringing it up.
“That’s right, Murrr, I just threw you in with Stevens, so you know this ain’t about to go well for you.
“You think Lee Best gives a shit about a birth year on a website? Or, in my case, who I did or didn’t run with in promotions that weren’t High Octane Wrestling? All he cares about when it comes to me is if I’m running with him, which I’m not, or if I’m running with his kid, which I am, and whether or not I’m making him an assload of money, which I do.
“But it’s a really weird flex to rant about Lindsay Troy’s Harems and me always needing backup when you’re rockin’ that sweet sweet 24K tracksuit, boo boo. Shoutout to the Bruvs and Jimmy Dubs and VivVal and your Drunkbros of YesterYear.”
Lindsay takes the lid off the cup and pours just the smallest drop of red liquid out onto the pavement. Safe to bet it’s probably wine.
“I can’t help it that I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it people like me! I have a magnetic personality, Andy, what can I say? Like attracts like; just because you have Big Angry Fee Fees about it all now doesn’t make it any less true. Just like I can’t help the convenience of being in a tag team and stables with a bunch of dudes because….that’s pretty much all there is, wherever I go. And since you have me so well figured out, you little Nostrablahmus you, you already know that I’ve never really been able to group up with the ladies, never much been interested in being all ‘Rah Rah Let’s Go Girls’ where we all dress up in little black dresses, mens’ dress shirts, top hats, and high-kick to Shania Twain karaoke.
“You’re no lone wolf, Andy. Wolves run in packs and you’re no different. I would suggest you take your pedestrian shit-talk to UTAH, but I heard they just closed so I guess now we’re stuck with you. And you can save the big family skepticism for someone who doesn’t know how deep your family ties really go because I don’t believe you for a second. I know if you and Cayle got into a big fight that Big Brother would do whatever he could to mend that fence. You helped the kid get back on his feet after a DUI, so miss me with your Gruff as Fuck bullshit.
“Do me and everyone else a favor: watch out for those shots of reality, big man. You might wind up hungover on your bullshit.
“It’s a feeling Scott Woodson’s used to….or used to be used to, before he traded in the bottle for stock options and a red Swingline. And now he’s probably hidden the red Swingline from Lumbergh and is about to take a barbed-wire hockey stick to a printer before rampaging through the Colosseum screaming how much he HAAAAAAAATES everything about us.
“The bullshit’s still there, though. And apparently Damien Ryan is, too. Two little peas in a HATE-filled pod.”
“As for the Bandits, it’s so good to see my old friends Cancer and Dooze up to their antics, because if they’re not having fun and games in a graveyard, they’re having fun and games playing Hollywood Squares. Really, the only thing that was missing was the Square named Hollywood. Oh we have fun, don’t we boys? I really am so glad you two are back, because I did love hitting Jilsey with my knees so much the first time that I think it might be Dooze’s turn this go-around.
“End of the day, it’s win or fuck off. I might not have won the LBI, but I won’t be fucking off this time. The belts are staying with Dan and I where they belong.
“Go with GoD, children.”