August 22, 2020
Night of No Remorse
In West Lakeview, on this humid, summer night, the neighborhood’s alive with revelry.
Bars and restaurants have their large front windows open, loud music and conversation spilling out into the street, as passersby walk three across down Roscoe and Addison Streets and Damen Avenue to get to their destinations: late night taquerias, sushi to-go, and dive bars open until 3 or 4 AM. Off the main drags, house parties rage well into the evening, 20-somethings celebrating the last days before college classes start, or the beginning of another work week; No Remorse viewing parties that started with pre-gaming and grilling in the afternoon and ending with pizza and snacks galore.
On one such side street, with shouts and curses of surprise and excitement from adjacent houses filling the air, Lindsay Troy drags herself through her front door much earlier than expected. The dim glow from her front foyer would be soothing if she didn’t feel punch-drunk, exhausted, and hurt from her war with the Only Star, and as she shuts the wooden door behind her, she immediately puts her back against it and slides down to the cool, marble tile.
She expected it to; she knew Eric was going to give her hell, to finish the job he was hired to do, to get Graysie the contract that was promised once his probation was over. It wasn’t meant to be for Dane on this night, however, with the pendulum swinging in the Queen’s favor. Once the adrenaline wore off on the ride back to the city, it took every last ounce of energy for Lindsay to pull herself out of her hired SUV and climb the stairs to the house. She’s lucky she didn’t need to go to the hospital, having been checked out and her wounds attended to at the Best Arena by the on-site medical team and was able to leave shortly after.
No sense in hanging around when you have no one to watch the rest of the fights with.
“Maybe I’ll just stay right here tonight,” she mutters, trying to kick her boots off while they’re still on her feet. It’s a fool’s errand.
Lindsay jumps, and immediately winces, at the gentle voice coming around the corner from the living room.
“Ami. You’re still awake?”
A nod from her daughter, who looks down at her mother in alarm. Lindsay’s face is starting to bruise from where she was tossed head-first through a car window, and she still has remnants of dried blood along her hairline. Stitches adorn her forehead, and other black and blue contusions dot her skin. Ami and Kaz would normally see their mother the next day or a couple of days following a match, usually on Facetime, and where injuries aren’t as fresh, but with Ami staying in Chicago until her college classes in Boston start back up, she gets to see the war wounds right after they happen. She should be used to it by now, but it’s her mother, and she isn’t.
“Yes,” she finally says, averting her eyes and drumming her fingers against the back of her tablet. “Kaz and I were watching the show together, then I heard you come in.”
“That Mom?” A voice from the tablet calls out. “Let me say hi.”
Ami turns the device around and Kaz appears on the screen from his apartment in Seattle. “Hi Mo…oh shit! You got wrecked!”
Lindsay offers her son a weak smile and a wave. “Thanks kiddo.”
“You fucked Dane up worse, though. You carved him like a turkey!”
“So I did.”
Ami walks over to the door and sits down next Lindsay, bringing the family together despite the distance.
“Uncle Dan wasted Cayle Murray in about half a minute,” Kaz continues. “One shot knockout.”
“I heard.” Lindsay gingerly puts her arm around Ami, feeling the tiredness seep into her bones, and a flinty expression start to settle across her face. “Word came through when I was being treated after the street fight.”
“He hasn’t always been this way,” Ami says, disconcertingly. “Not to this extreme. Has he?”
It’s a question with too many layers comprising a 16 year professional relationship and personal friendship for a 20 year old to unravel, nevermind a 40 year old who is right in the thick of it. Lindsay isn’t even sure how to begin to answer it, not on a day when she doesn’t feel like she’s been hit by an eighteen wheeler, nor on a night when she came back from the brink of a career-threatening injury to put herself back on a path of atonement for a months-long losing streak. There’s no simple answer, because as straightforward as Dan Ryan has always been – wrestling first, win at all costs – there is something different this time.
It’s more sinister, deep-seated, and Lindsay can’t put her finger on when it started or why.
So rather than speculate, or offer conjecture, she simply says, “I don’t know.”
For the woman who always has all the answers, it’s a hard truth to swallow.
September 16, 2020
“You’re playing a dangerous game.”
The sharp remark hangs in the air like a lead balloon, waiting to be snapped back at with equal fervor. Its ominous presence is in sharp contrast to the cheery robin’s egg blue walls and stunning photographs of the Windy City skyline and Lake Michigan that hang in Lindsay’s Chicago home office. It’s ignored for a time, and the silence in the room is filled instead with the click-clicking of a laptop’s keyboard and the cycling of a central air system.
The speaker frowns, knowing full well he was heard, and not liking that he’s being ignored.
She lifts her eyes from the computer screen and shoots her lawyer – slash – agent – slash – friend a pointed look from where he stands a few feet away. “I know what you said,” Lindsay continues. “Instead of glowering at me from the corner, why don’t you sit down and we can have a conversation.”
Admittedly, when Lindsay asked him to fly up from Tampa, Clay Darcy wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted to discuss and wondered why she couldn’t have come to him, or even why this couldn’t have been a phone call. Once she explained that she needed to stick close to Chicago to prepare for her Refueled match, and who her opponent was, he was on a Tuesday night flight into O’Hare.
Now he flops into a cushy chair opposite the Queen, making sure to take his phone out of his back pocket before it gets crushed.
Lindsay watches him toss the phone on top of the desk and closes the laptop lid forty-five degrees so both she and Clay have better views of one another. “There’s no game I’m playing here, Clay. Pardon the analogy, but I’m trying to right the ship of my career while navigating shark infested waters, not to mention dealing with a megalomaniacal GOD who’s hell-bent on bearing witness to my suffering.”
“And you don’t think you brought that on yourself?”
“What, by beating Dane? By forming the Group of Death from the spluttering remains of the Industry? Or by signing to HOW in the first place?”
Clay winces at the last question; after all, he was the one to bring Lindsay the High Octane opportunity in the first place, in March of last year, after she had been on a ‘semi-permanent hiatus’ for some time. He promised her that he’d look out for her, as well as any lawyer – not – fighter could anyway, and said he didn’t think Lee Best would do anything to jeopardize the biggest get of his life.
Boy, was he fucking wrong. Lindsay was right not to trust GOD, but neither of them could have predicted the depths of his spite and pettiness.
“Alright, that wasn’t fair of me,” Clay admits, holding his hands up in surrender. “I apologize.”
“No, you might be right,” Lindsay sighs, resigned. “I defied Lee Best for years before I walked in the door and I’ve defied him multiple times since I’ve been here. He used Eric to send a message by taking out my knee. I don’t think he anticipated me coming back from that as quickly as I did but, well, I’m stubborn.” A soft smile crosses her lips. “Lee doesn’t like ‘stubborn.’ He likes people to fall in line and bend to his will. You know that’s not me. Truth be told, I didn’t think I’d return as fast as I did, either. And I sure don’t think he anticipated me beating Eric, or that he wants me to succeed on my ‘Redemption Tour.’”
“Which is puzzling, because everyone loves a good revenge story. You’re making him money from it.”
“I’m making him money in spite of his best efforts to the contrary, which might be his plan all along. Cash might rule everything around Lee, and you’d think that would outweigh whatever punishment he feels he still needs to dish out, but then you see the Refueled flyer this week and you know it’s not true.”
Clay solemnly nods, fully aware that Lindsay’s opponent this week is a calculated choice. Nobody on the High Octane roster is as sadistic and monstrous as the Minister; a man who has taken over the mind and body of Max Kael, whose depravity is a bottomless well, and who has seemingly clawed his way out from the rubble and ruin of Five Time Academy in Tampa after a hellacious battle with the High Octane World Champion, Michael Lee Best.
The Minister is a man thought dead, and yet he continues to resurrect himself.
When the end of the world comes, whether by war or disease or asteroid, he might be the only one left standing, giggling maniacally at the ruined Earth.
“This was by design, Clay,” Lindsay continues. “This might be my first actual, legitimate fight against the Minister himself, but I’ve fought Max twice and lost twice. He’s got one more shot at Mike for the World Title, and that could be in a literal deathmatch at Alcatraz. If this isn’t a big, glaring fuck you to me, well, I don’t know what is.”
“And so what if it is?”
Clay throws a hand up in exasperation.
“Yes, Lee Best likes to fuck with people. He’s been fucking with you for months, and he essentially put a hit out on you. You and I know you’re not going to take that lying down. The biggest ‘fuck you’ you can give the man is to keep taking what he’s dishing out, because I know you’re not gonna quit this place. Not when you’ve committed to this ‘Path of Redemption.’ Not when you’ve got a shot at Dan’s ICON title.”
At that, Lindsay frowns, ever so slightly.
“I know that’s a sticky subject right now, but you said you were going after it, so go after it.” Clay persists. “You did bring this on yourself.”
Lindsay looks at him and, eventually, chuckles. “I just can’t shake the feeling that I’m on borrowed time.” She pauses. “Does that sound morbid?”
“A little,” he admits. “But if that’s the way you feel, you’d better make the most of it.”
I want to say that you and I facing each other is surprising, Minister, but I know it isn’t.
It’s not about our respective places in the rankings, although everyone knows how much Lee loves looking at The Table and seeing which juicy matchups he can trot out week after week. I’m sure if I was much further down than where I was, this bout would still be happening.
It’s not even about our respective number one contendership rankings for the World and ICON title, although I’m sure that has a lil something to do with it. That alone would sell this match, if you and I didn’t have the history that we do.
No, this is about lessons, and what we’ve learned from them. Specifically, what *EYE* have learned from them.
You’ve been my most vocal critic, far surpassing anything that the dearly departed 24K-ers had to say about me when they were here. You’ve called me the Group of Death’s weakest link. You’ve said I didn’t belong. I’ve been stagnant, too hasty to cover my flaws, or unwilling to show them at all.
You’ve said I should stay away if I knew what was good for me; from Mike, from GoD. And thanks to Eric Dane, for awhile I did.
The last time I faced you, whether it was actually you or whether Max was still partially in control, I went in there sure of myself. I’m no rookie when it comes to hardcore, falls count anywhere matches. It was for the LSD title, I’m sure you remember, and you took me to the limit and you knocked me out to keep it.
I should have been more careful. I should have been a little scared. But I couldn’t let myself be, because the stakes were too great. I needed a win, I needed to avenge that loss in the LBI, I wanted that belt too badly.
Too wrapped up in emotions to think rationally.
You can be sure of yourself and still proceed with caution. I saw the signs that something was amiss with Max and still, I ran headlong into the fight, like I always do, showing no fear and never backing down. I took a crossbow bolt to the foot for my foolishness, and I’ll always have the scar to carry with me. I took multiple Brow Beaters as well, and you probably took a few years off my life.
You might come for the rest of my life on Saturday.
You might see this as a warm-up for this deathmatch between yourself and Mike. And I won’t lie, whatever your intentions may be are concerning. I know now to heed the warnings, and I won’t stand here and bluster and make it seem that my choking out Eric Dane at No Remorse compares to surviving being crushed by a literal building, with little to no oxygen, by your own son. But you and I both did what we needed to do to survive, Minister. To hear the tales, you’ve done it for a long time now and you’ve done it with much success.
And I plan on doing the same thing at Refueled.
This is the path I’ve chosen for myself; to redeem myself in my own eyes. That means facing you one more time. The harshest voice in the crowd. The baddest, most evil motherfucker in HOW.
I might not pick up the win. But if I survive you again?
That counts for something.