Once Upon a Time in the Lee Best Invitational

Once Upon a Time in the Lee Best Invitational

Posted on February 22, 2024 at 12:08 pm by Charles de Lacy

One look at Hugo Scorpio, my forthcoming opponent in the Lee Best Invitational, and it is clear that he and I are cut from very different cloth. Literally. The moth-eaten denim of this rodeo clown is a world away from my finest herringbone tweed, his dog-earred stetson no match for the elegance of a gentleman’s bowler hat.  Not since I crossed paths with that plaid-clad popinjay Jatt Starr have my sartorial instincts been so greatly affronted. Why, just putting a man of my breeding in the ring with this slack-jawed, boss-eyed yokel, it…well, it beggars belief. Like a proud thoroughbred forced to compete against a flea-bitten mule, I find myself in a contest with a man I believe to be well beneath my stature and capabilities.

 

And yet…

 

Just observe Chaos 57’s promotional material for the upcoming bout: Scorpio’s battle-worn countenance, etched with scars and clenched in defiance, juxtaposed with my own peaches and cream complexion, a beatific smile playing on the lips. We de Lacy’s are well-known for our flawless skin, and while mine has become a little… puffy, in recent years (an unfortunate side-effect of a life well lived), it is still a great source of pride.

Anyway, to the average hot-dog wielding mark at the concession stand, Hugo’s unsightly appearance will no doubt be revered as the epitome of rugged toughness, each scar a badge of honour earned in combat. His weathered face speaks of battles fought and victories claimed, a testament to his resilience in the ring. Meanwhile, my own unblemished visage, a reflection of refinement and sophistication in any other field, will be misconstrued as a sign of weakness by those who fail to grasp the subtleties of true combat. They mistake the smoothness of my skin for softness, unaware that beneath lies a steel resolve, honed by generations of privilege and discipline.

You see, the average American pro-wrestling enthusiast is a creature of dubious taste and limited intellect. They are more enamoured with the spectacle of greasy, roided up, Michael Bolton look-alikes pummeling each other into submission than the nuances of genuine athleticism and technical know-how.

What they should be asking themselves, as they clasp their oversized sodas and cram artery-clogging snacks in their gluttonous faces, is “how has the dashing de Lacy maintained a twenty-five-year career in this industry with barely a scratch on his personage?”

 

Cowardice.

 

That’s what I attribute my long career and good health to – cowardice!

 

While others may scoff at the notion, I’ve embraced it wholeheartedly. I have, for the most part, dodged the reckless manoeuvres, sidestepped the dangerous opponents, and retreated when necessary, all in the name of self-preservation. 

Now, my detractors—among whom the average American mark would undoubtedly number themselves—would have you believe that this is the very cause for my less than dazzling record in marquee matches. I have, at one time or another, fought for each of HOW’s prestigious singles titles, and always fallen someway short of victory. Contrary to their misguided beliefs, cowardice hasn’t hindered me; it’s been my guardian angel in the ring, guiding me through the chaos with calculated precision.

You see, while others may chase after glory with reckless abandon, I’ve learned to prioritise longevity and well-being over fleeting moments of triumph. Sure, my knees hurt, my back aches, and it stings when I pee, but those are just minor niggles in the grand scheme of things. I mean, the HOW roster boasts more one-eyed men than a backstreet optometrist’s – and those are just the lucky ones! Why would I subject myself to that sort of senseless brutality?  

There’s an old saying in my family, “better safe than dead,” and I’ve taken those words to heart. 

Which is precisely why I think I am destined to go all the way in this tournament. Because unlike the Evan Wards, Scott Stevens and Chris Kostoffs of this world, whose modus operandi is (or was) characterised by a brazen disregard for their own mortality, I, in my infinite wisdom, recognise the virtue of moderation and prudence. Longevity is key.

But Hugo, don’t let my delicate countenance fool you; dirty fighting is one of my favourite pursuits, though I do like a little advantage. I am a crafty old bugger, you see, and while all this business about the ‘size of the dog in the fight and the size of the fight in the dog’ is all very well and good, I subscribe to the view that the clever fox can outwit even the fiercest wolf in the woods. And in this upcoming match, my dear Hugo, while you may possess the ferocity of a wolf, my faithful Mickey is the cunning fox who will tip the scales in my favour.

 

***

 

It all started – as so many ominous tales do – with a knock at the door. 

I groaned at Mickey as he roused me, though my enthusiasm was lacking. Morning, as always, arrived promptly at ten, and Chicago was nothing more than damp. It was a dreary, drizzling, humid day, and the sky resembled the colour of dirt. My cup of tea, usually as refreshing as a gentle rain, tasted more like it had been stewed in one of Mickey’s old string vests.

In short, I was back in the home of the brave, dear old England now nought but a distant memory.

“Mr. Becker’s downstairs, Mr. Charlie. He’s been waiting for half an hour,” Mickey announced.

I grumbled and pulled a silk sheet over my head, seeking refuge in the cosy warmth where no one could bother me.

I should explain at this juncture that Mr Becker is a rather persistent fellow, you see, with a knack for making himself known at the most inconvenient times. He also happens to be a loan shark of sorts, though he prefers the term ‘financial facilitator.’ Nevertheless, his presence often heralds the arrival of overdue payments and uncomfortable conversations.

“You should see his face, where I clocked him. It’s a sight, I tell ya. All sorts of colours,” Mickey added.

That piqued my interest. At least the day held one small pleasure. Reluctantly, I dragged myself out of bed.

After a quick mouthwash, half an adderall, a bite of toast, and slipping into my Charvet dressing-gown – in that exact sequence – I felt prepared to face any number of Beckers.

“Lead me to this Becker,” I commanded.

I must admit, he did look rather picturesque. It wasn’t just the vibrant autumnal hues on his swollen face; it was the array of expressions dancing across it that captivated me. 

And yet despite the bruises and the discomfort etched on his face, Becker still exuded a menacing aura that even Mickey, with all his Cockney bravado, couldn’t completely undermine.

“Morning, Mr. Becker,” I greeted him with a casual nod, masking my own apprehension beneath a veneer of nonchalance.

His gaze hardened as he met my eyes, the corners of his mouth twitching into a grimace. It suggested that if not for the imposing figure of the six-foot-four-inch skinhead standing between us, he would take great delight in toying with my innards.

“Mr. de Lacy,” he responded, his voice gravelly with a hint of menace. “We need to talk about your outstanding debts.”

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. Of course, he was here about the money. It always came down to that, didn’t it? But Becker wasn’t just any creditor; he was a formidable force in the Chicago underworld, and crossing him was not a mistake to be taken lightly.

“I’m aware of my obligations, Mr. Becker,” I replied evenly, though the taste of adrenaline tinged my words. “Rest assured, your investment will be repaid in due time.”

Becker’s expression darkened, his fists clenching at his sides as if to restrain himself from lashing out. “I don’t think you understand, de Lacy. I’m here to deliver a message. You either settle your debts or face the consequences.”

I met his gaze squarely, refusing to cower under his implicit threats. “I understand your position, Mr. Becker. But rest assured, I have every intention of fulfilling my obligations. You’ll have your money soon enough.”

With that, I turned on my heel and strode back towards the staircase, leaving Becker simmering with barely-contained fury in my wake. It’s funny what a man like Mickey can do for a chap’s confidence.

As I climbed the stairs back to the sanctuary of my room, I could just make out the sounds of Mickey and Becker engaging in a bit of the old feng shui downstairs. I pulled the silk sheet back over my head and tried my best to blot out Becker’s unwelcome presence,imagining the muffled voices below to be actors in a radio play, their murmurs lulling me into a fitful sleep as I sought solace in the cocoon of my bed.

 

***

 

When I awoke, Mickey was looming above me, his silhouette outlined against the faint glow of the impending afternoon seeping through the curtains. His expression was unreadable, a shadowy mask concealing whatever thoughts churned beneath the surface. I shifted uneasily, the memory of Becker’s ominous presence not yet vanquished.

“What is it, Mickey?”

“Mr. Charlie, we have to talk.” 

I sat up slowly, the silk sheet slipping off my shoulders. Conversations that begin so auspiciously rarely bode well. The last time Mickey had uttered those words, it had been about the time I mistakenly dyed my Brioni dress trousers magenta in an ill-fated laundry experiment.

“What is it, Mickey?” I asked, already dreading the answer.

Mickey hesitated for a moment, as if choosing his words carefully before finally speaking. “It’s about the debts, Mr. Charlie. They’re piling up faster than we can handle.”

“Uuunngghhh!” I offered, helpfully.

“Becker’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Mickey continued. “You’re not a very popular man in these parts. There’s a bleedin’ list of blokes as long as me arm who’d give anyfink to get their mitts on ya. I can’t keep the loan sharks and guttersnipes at bay forever.”

I swallowed hard. I had been avoiding the reality of my financial situation for far too long, hoping that somehow, miraculously, things would sort themselves out.

But Mickey’s unwavering gaze left no room for delusions. It was time to face the music, to confront the consequences of my actions head-on.

“What do you suggest we do?” I asked, though I already knew the answer.

Mickey sighed, running a hand over his head in frustration. “We need to hustle, Mr. Charlie. We need to find more advertising work, more clients willing to pay top dollar for your expertise. It’s our only chance to dig ourselves out of this mess.”

“Oh no, Mickey!” I implored. “Anything but that. StaminaSurge Viagra, BuckEye Butter. When will it end!? I can’t bear to prostitute myself any longer.”

He paused, his brow furrowing with concern. “The thing is, the money you’re rakin’ in from this wrestlin’ lark just ain’t cuttin’ it. Not with the debts pilin’ up faster than me granny on bingo night. Until you win that Lee Best Invitational tournament and bag yourself a proper payday, we’re gonna ‘ave to resort to every trick in the book to make ends meet. And that means gettin’ back in the ad game, whether we like it or not.”

I nodded solemnly. Mickey was right. It was time to put aside my pride, my reservations, and do whatever it took to set things right.

“OK, Mickey. You’re right,” I acquiesced. “Fire up the Jag. It’s time to pay a visit to old-man Stoker.” 

 

***

 

Jerry Stoker is a man of many hats, though none of them quite fit right. A charlatan and a huckster, he oozes with the slick charm of a seasoned snake-oil salesman, complete with a smile as polished as his pitch. His personal hygiene, much like his moral compass, is often a subject of speculation among those who have had the misfortune of crossing paths with him. Yet, despite his questionable reputation, he is, at the time of writing, my agent, a partnership born susceptibility to the allure of the American Dream.

I still remember the day we first met, his hand outstretched in a gesture of false camaraderie, his eyes gleaming with the promise of lucrative deals and fleeting fame. ‘De Lacy,’ he had exclaimed, his voice dripping with honeyed deceit, ‘together, we’ll conquer this land of opportunity!’

And so, fresh off the boat and swept away by the promise of a lucrative American adventure, I became entangled in his schemes and machinations. 

Seated across from him now in his cluttered office, its walls adorned with fading wrestling posters and other such relics from my better days, I was no longer the doe-eyed ingénue he had encountered all those years ago. No, Stoker’s ineptitude was no secret to me now; his schemes were as transparent as glass. Yet, mired in debt and devoid of better alternatives, I found myself reluctantly tethered to his sinking ship.

“Jerry,” I said, as I glanced across the cluttered desk of his makeshift office, “we need something big. Something that’ll truly resonate with my image, something that’ll captivate without compromising my integrity. I can’t afford another misstep in the eyes of the public.”

He leaned back in his creaky chair, stroking his greasy chin in contemplation. ‘Fear not, De Lacy,’ he declared with all the confidence of a man who had never known failure, ‘for I have just the thing in mind.'”

Experience had taught me not to get my hopes up and still I waited with baited breath.

“You say this man Scorpio, the fella’ you fight next week, is a cowboy,” Stoker mused, his eyes gleaming with a newfound enthusiasm.

I pondered for a moment, unsure whether to classify Scorpio as a cowboy, a stuntman, or perhaps even a rodeo clown. “He’s more of a… theatrical cowboy, if anything,” I finally responded, the uncertainty evident in my voice.

Stoker’s face lit up with excitement. “Exactly! And what better product to promote in front of a saddle-saw cowboy than hemorrhoid cream?” he exclaimed, as if he had just solved the greatest mystery of our time.

“Hemorrhoid cream!” I exploded, my indignation at boiling point. “Are you serious, Jerry? Don’t you think I’ve endured enough mockery in my career without resorting to selling products for… personal discomforts?”

“Think about it, De Lacy,” he urged, his smile unwavering. “Imagine the sales-pitch: ‘De Lacy, the Man Who Takes Care of His Opponents Inside and Out!’ It’s genius, I tell you. Plus, the tie-in with Scorpio being a cowboy? It’s marketing gold.”

I hesitated, torn between my pride and the perilous nature of my situation. Could I really afford to let my ego stand in the way of a potential money-spinner?

I turned to Mickey who, up until this point, had been standing silently by the door. As our eyes met,he nodded in silent agreement, his confidence in Stoker’s plan evident.

“Fine,” I relented, a defeated sigh escaping my lips. “But this better not come back to haunt me.”

Stoker banged the table in triumph. “Trust me, de Lacy, this is just the beginning! Today, hemorrhoid cream, tomorrow, the world!”

Mickey perked up, suddenly, a mischievous twinkle in his eye. “We’ll leave the…”

“Mickey,” I interjected impatiently. “If you dare say ‘we’ll leave the competition behind in no time’ you can consider your resignation tendered”.

 

And that, dear readers, is when it hit me just how crucial winning the Lee Best Invitational truly was. It wasn’t merely about the prestige or the chance at championship gold; it was my ticket to financial freedom, a chance to escape the suffocating grip of debt and spare myself the indignity of peddling humiliating products for the financial gain of Jerry Stoker and his ilk.

“Mickey, pull up everything you can find on Hugo Scorpio. This is one we can’t afford to lose.”