“Someone should cook something, don’t you think?”
He stared at Phyllis standing there, salt-and-pepper hair tucked up into a bun, iPad under one arm. She looked around at the dining room table, some twenty feet long, un-set, dark, gloomy. She raised her eyes and met his eyes again. They hadn’t moved, and she winced.
“I hope you’re not referring to me. Cooking is definitely not part of this job. I could order something…”
“I have a cooking staff for that.” Dan Ryan said, interrupting.
He watched her as he said it, and his head tilted ever so slightly as if performing some sort of examination. She blinked.
“You got rid of the cooking staff, sir. They’re gone.”
He walked closer, slowly.
“Did I? Hmm. I probably shouldn’t have done that. It’s Thanksgiving. Cecilia is used to a home-cooked meal on Thanksgiving. I don’t want to disappoint her.”
His head tilted in the opposite direction and he stopped just a few feet away. Phyllis gulped and tried to make sure none of what she was feeling was visible on her face. In fact, all of her energy and resolve were focused on that very task. His gaze leaked through her and to the wall behind her until his attention came back to his assistant’s eyes with the sound of her voice.
“She won’t be disappointed, I promise. I’ll see to it that a properly cooked homemade Thanksgiving meal is cooked for you… and Cecilia… “
The sound of her voice trailed off, and he studied the flecks of grey in her eyes, watched them as they seemed to dance around in his vision, some distant kaleidoscope he was only vaguely aware of. A roar of sound threatened his ears, but it silenced as quickly as it came, and he became suddenly aware that he had been staring at Phyllis for far too long.
So he smiled his most comforting smile.
“Good. She’ll be so happy.”
Phyllis nodded nervously, turning to walk away, and closed her eyes briefly, steeling herself against her own nerves. He called out again, though, and she stopped in place and spun around.
“Phyllis, I’d like you to look in on Cecilia this weekend while I’m gone. I’ll be leaving for Chicago first thing Friday morning. I would rather have stayed home, particularly on a holiday weekend, but duty calls.”
“I thought as much,” she replied. “You know I’ll take good care of her.”
“Thank you”, he smiled, sincerely, though it morphed slowly into something more sinister. “I’m going to introduce myself to a Hall of Famer.”
What are you, Jatt?
What are you?
What has to happen to a person in their life for them to end up like you?
I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out if you’re here on some kind of special program, or you have incriminating photos of some sort of illicit activity that Lee’s been engaging in and you threatened blackmail — anything to explain why I’m sitting here contemplating standing in the same ring with some cardboard cutout from an old HOW fan convention in wrestling tights who puts his name into every other word he speaks like he thinks it makes him seem clever. You don’t just masturbate to a photo of yourself, do you, Jatt? You masturbate to a photo of you masturbating to a photo of yourself. You’re just that meta.
I already broke Lindsay Troy, or haven’t you been paying attention? Can you maybe pull your head back up out of the Jattlantis-sized platter of delectable holiday pies you’ve apparently been stuffing your face with for the past ten years?
Don’t you know what you are?
You’re Lindsay Troy’s punishment from Lee Best for failing to rise to the challenge at Rumble at the Rock.
Not because you’re gonna teach her a lesson — more like because it means she has to listen to a scrubbed out misogynistic half-wit talk elementary school shit to her while wiping cheese sauce from his fingers and hoping nobody notices the vaguely decaying odor coming from the chair he’s sitting in, because he’s far too busy a man for the follow-up wipe.
I know who you fucking are, or who you fucking were, but if I saw you on my property I’d be asking you why you hadn’t finished trimming the goddamn hedges yet, you dick cheese looking motherfucker.
She has to deal with you because she couldn’t beat me.
I ended Scott Stevens last week, so now you get to be the guy who everyone has to deal with when they disappoint the boss. Congratulations, Waffle House. You’re just the old guy at the club — leaning against the bar, big dumb grin on your face, runnin’ game like you’re still a young man, but looking like someone’s fucking dad. Good job, buddy. No really. Your jokes are hilarious, your references are witty, and you’re just as relevant as you ever were. Seriously. Well done.
Oh but you’ll get all of the respect you deserve from me, pal. Don’t worry about that. This isn’t me looking down on you. You’re getting treated the exact same as everyone else. You think you need to worry about your partner this week? He’s not the killer you need to be worried about right now. I look at you, look in your eyes and I could not give less of a fuck about you. Not one fuck, you bloated carcass bulbous yellow fingernailed pubic-hair on a syphilitic whore.
And whatever issues you have with Mike? Trust me, you won’t do a fucking thing about it. Not one fucking thing. What are you gonna do? Run at him in that red XXXL t-shirt, yell “OH YEAH!” like Kool-Aid Man, and hope he dies laughing? You’re not even good enough to be Kool-Aid. You’re more like Crystal Light without the Light.
Sometimes people do and say things, make promises they don’t realize they can’t keep, and get themselves in way over their head, and I realize this is one of those times. I know it sounded good. Come on back, just like old times, renew some old rivalries, maybe some new friendships, and I’m sure it helps that they just opened a new Cheesecake Factory around the corner from the Best Arena, but… this is where the rubber meets the road, Jatt. I’m not here to give you a nice little nostalgia pat on the Jatt and send you along with fond memories and happy visions. I’m here to rip your goddamn head off. If I get the chance to cripple you, like I did Andy Murray, like I did Cayle Murray, like I did Scott Stevens… I fucking will. Do you understand me? No, seriously, put the remote down, left hand off your dick, and pay attention.
I will fucking end you, Jatt Starr.
This isn’t a joke. This isn’t a bit. I’m not playing a role, and let there be no doubt, whatever you want to accuse Mike Best of doing, I absolutely am a killer. A bonafide, proven killer. I will put your head on a spike, flay your skin from your bones and use it as a throw rug in my guest house? Entiendas, perra? Go ask yer-boi John to translate for you. It’ll give him a nice break from trying to figure out how he got locked in tight partnering up with the Best Alliance’s version of Perfection.
“Life is loneliness, despite all the opiates, despite the shrill tinsel gaiety of ‘parties’ with no purpose, despite the false grinning faces we all wear. And when at least you find someone to whom you feel you can pour out your soul, you stop in shock at the words you utter – they are so rusty, so ugly, so meaningless and feeble from being kept in the small cramped dark inside you so long. Yes, there is joy, fulfillment, and companionship – but the loneliness of the soul in its appalling self-consciousness is horrible and overpowering.” — Sylvia Plath
It’s hard to know how to feel about all of this.
I’ve thought long and hard about it, and I looked, as did everyone, at a mechanical eye glowing its final glow, and I felt. Then I spent some time thinking about that feeling, trying to identify it, analyzing its root, and wondering why it existed this way — an instinct or breaking of the skin that I couldn’t control.
You feel responsible for it.
I understand this.
Guilt is not as heavy as guilt, but it takes more away from you.
It’s useless for me to try and describe how terrible you will feel in the time that follows Max’s death. If you have ever lost someone very important to you, then you already know how it feels, and if you haven’t, you cannot possibly imagine it.
But grief makes a monster out of us sometimes… and sometimes it makes us do and say things we can’t come back from, can’t be forgiven for, can’t forgive ourselves for.
The mind has a funny way of protecting itself, and if it can build up its defenses again without fracturing completely, you emerge changed whether you like it or not. You can’t stop the process. There are seminal moments in all of our lives, and they happened, unbowed by your will. Try and stop it if you like, but you’ll have long since depleted the wells of your resolve before its job is done.
I wonder to myself now, as I think of it if this is more than a journey of self-realization, or of inimitable change. Complex intelligent people grow and change, either through purposeful effort or quick, blinding violence, but what is the difference in the end, really? Does it matter?
Nothing stays the same.
Max is dead.
Lindsay Troy, off looking for a new purpose in the throes of utter defeat.
Only Mike Best and Dan Ryan remain of what was, on paper, the most dominant faction in the history of this sport. Only the two of us, and now, finally, pushed toward a clash whose sole purpose is to put a nail in the coffin of the Group of Death for good.
But this isn’t the part where I sneer at you and announce my intentions to rip your head off, Mike. No, not you. I know where your mind is, and I know what you want. More than that, you are my friend. That’s not a statement I take lightly you know, and it’s not because we like the same color, or we come from the same hometown. It’s not because we grew up together or found ourselves fighting in a great war, side by side, once more into the breach, dear friend.
I want you to be well.
I won’t let anyone take advantage of you while you figure out who you are without Max, so if anyone tries anything, they’ll have to go through me first.
The reality is that you will grieve forever, my friend. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of Max; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around what you have suffered, while fools take their pot-shots and chant things in your direction. You will be whole again but you will never be the same, nor should you be the same — nor would you want to.
Above all else, anyone who really knows you would know, you want to win. It is your driving passion.
I know Cecilworth disagreed, but sometimes, good friends, brothers… have to fight to feel well. Sometimes we have to speak the only language we know. We have to bleed. We have to remember. I respect you too much to give you anything less than everything this week, and I know you’ll do whatever you must to win. You are who you are.
I’ll give you the respect and the space you need, and we’ll fight for you now, for gold later.
I have always been patient.
Dan rooted around the cellar, looking through the dusty brown boxes, frantically searching. It was here. He knew it was here somewhere, and he ripped through the cardboard with little regard for anything but his pursuit.
He stopped suddenly, and he stared into the bottom of a dark blue plastic bin, contents unknown, and allowed a smile to cross his face.
It had come to him in his sleep.
He heard something, and his eyes were drawn to the walls.
He closed his eyes tightly and tried to will them away.
LEAVE ME ALONE.
His mind screamed out and he reached for whatever was in reach, flailing and scattering the contents of boxes around the cellar floor. He lifted a small dresser and hurled it toward a concrete wall where it shattered into a million pieces. He threw his hand up as shards of wood came flying back at him, and one cut a gash into his left forearm. Little bits of wood stuck in his brace, and he breathed heavily as he looked around again.
The voice startled him, and he turned his head in every direction, looking for the source, but no one was there.
“Can’t be trusted…”
Loud whispers, but still, no one there. He closed his eyes tightly, squeezing with all his might.
This last one was loud, and it echoed in the darkness of his mind. He opened his eyes to nothing but silence. The light bulb over his head cast shadows on the box on the floor in front of him and he looked down at what he had come for. His breathing steadily subsiding, he knelt down, reached in, and cradled something to his chest. His arms engulfed it fully as his breathing became more rapid, and his eyes flashed open, enraged.
He closed them again, and the voice whispered again.
A sense of calm washed over him. He put the object down into the bin, pulling a small blanket around and over it to cover it completely, then picked it back up as he stood… and left.