”There’s room at the top they are telling you still, but first you must learn how to smile as you kill.”
– John Lennon
ALL GOOD THINGS
Patience is a virtue, they say. I’d have to agree. For there is no other skill so difficult to master as the pushing down of one’s wants and desires in order to see a bigger picture ahead.
I think back to a time when open aggression and brazen choices led me down the path of what I would become. A young man’s thoughts are often focused on what is directly in front of him. When we are young, we make the foolish assumption that we will live forever, subconsciously sometimes, purposefully other times.
I made that choice myself.
Even if you don’t believe in GOD, that choice is a devil’s bargain. You offer up all sense of yourself and every longing and need for the instant gratification thrust in your face. I have hurt people, both physically and mentally. I have ruined careers, ruined lives. I found a way to avoid the consequences of my actions, for even when I seemed to face them, there was always an escape hatch prepared ahead of time. No loss was ever permanent. No defeat was ever final.
For twenty years, this was the way of things. Oh, there was a time there when I decided I should try to do something good for the sport of professional wrestling, an art form that had so generously provided me with riches, fame, and power. I thought, help some of these young men and women to become successful, teach them the right way to do things even though you hadn’t followed those same methods yourself. For ten years I did this until I found it as unfulfilling as everything else.
It turns out, this perceived metaphorical white-out was not as effective as I’d hoped it would be. Some things simply cannot be covered up.
I was a fake person with a new fake morality, a show for the masses and for the people who loved me. They thought I was becoming a better person. I wasn’t. I was simply learning how to fake it more skillfully.
The only thing that was ever authentic about me was the fight. I have always enjoyed the fight, and always excelled at the fight. Everywhere I go and in everything I have ever done, fighting has always been at the center of it. And it has consumed me. It always consumed me to the point that wins and championship gold were the only things that mattered. It is a drug with a high that the hardest addict would kill for, it cannot be beaten once it has taken hold. It will follow you to your doom, as it followed me to mine.
All of this philosophical rambling leads to a simple observation.
Patience is not only a virtue. It is a strength. It is power. It brings the man who practices it everything if he nurtures it, and it does even more than that; it fills the hole inside with something real. I have never been satiated by anything real in my entire life, but I am making my plans, seeing them through, and waiting them out.
I have a list that would make Arya Stark proud.
All in good time.
Clay Byrd is a lot like I used to be. Hear him scowling at the thought of that through your television screens. Listen as he cringes inside, but there is no doubt that he has run into that same brick wall. He ran fast and hard and took the fight right to his enemies, but ultimately the numbers game always gets to you. There is a strategy to it all, Clay. I’m not mocking you. I am, once more, trying to pass on what I have learned.
I want to have a face-to-face, you and I. War Games is coming, and there is much to discuss. You too are a slave to the fight, but you’ve lost your way. Let’s find our way back to it together, my friend. Let’s join forces and do what we were meant to do, let’s conquer.
And what of you, Jace Parker Davidson?
I’m not going to be that guy who talks shit about you like you’re some insignificant relic. It’s low-hanging fruit, really, but also it remains probably the hackiest way to come at someone. And, most importantly, it isn’t true. We are on different War Games teams, but other than that, I have no beef with you. You are not a target unless the boss makes you one. Or, should I say, unless you make yourself one?
You were one of His for so long. What happened? Unappreciated, yes. Treated unfairly, yes. You made the classic mistake of thinking that He saw you as family. All of us who do not share his name are his pawns, Jace. That is the way of things in High Octane. It has always been the way of things. It’s the same method I used to use myself. Even if you beat him, there is always an escape hatch, always a plan B, and always a new weapon.
I myself am currently a weapon of his. I am not blind, nor am I stupid. But I am a man of action. Real gestures matter, and He is the one who reached out a hand when no one else would. One day it will all end. Everything does. But I would be a fool to willingly put my neck out on the chopping block to lose my head over pride. Not this time, not again.
You are the LSD Champion. You have been an LSD Champion for ages. Nothing can take that away from you. You are a Hall of Famer, too. No one can take that away from you either. I admire anyone who can withstand the onslaught of High Octane Wrestling’s environment and come out the other side.
But there is a half-life for everything, Jace. The clock is ticking. You know the deal. You know how War Games is gonna go. Maybe you’re hoping to bide your time and come out of it with at least your LSD championship still around your waist. Then again, what if you actually won? What if your team won? What if you become the World Champion again by leading a rag-tag bunch to the biggest upset in the history of this great company?
Can you get along with Conor? Can you do something to get anything out of Scottywood, Scott Stevens, and your partner this week, Zach Kostoff?
I think the kid has a bright future, Jace. But this, I think you know, is not the future. You don’t have a DeLorean to go forward to a time when he’s been seasoned enough to be a factor, and there is no time in the present to shape him up. He will have to live or die the way he is, a green as fuck kid, son of a legend, against all of the very best that this sport has to offer.
And this week, as you well know, he’ll get a taste of things. This will be a nice preview, you and the kid challenging for the HOTv Tag Team Championships, and I can promise you, I’m just the kind of guy to show him the ropes, not to mention the turnbuckle, the steel steps, the ring barricade, the steel post and maybe the concrete floor as well. Because I’m still that guy, Jace. And I still want to help. I want to give him what I’ve learned, and I’ll give you the same.
Everyone is a hypocrite in the end, boys. You just have to know how to choose the right side.
Because the thing about accolades, about all those accomplishments in your past or around your waist, they won’t help you this week, and mine won’t help me either. However, you aren’t partnering up with a Hall of Fame induction, or World Title reigns, or a long-as-hell LSD Title reign. You’re teaming up with the Son of Kostoff. He’s not scared because he doesn’t know any better yet. He’ll be a fighter. And he might be good one day.
But not today.
I’m sorry, Zachary.
I’ve always liked your dad.
“I will smile at people who have said the most terrible things about me and don’t think I know.”
HOW IS WAR? WAR IS HELL
Craig Massey’s boots clomp on the pavement of the French Quarter. There’s a slight drizzling mist in the air, and he pulls his coat tighter around as he walks. Looking down at his phone, he checks the message on his lock screen one more time to be sure.
“Meet me at St. Louis Cemetery. Basin St. entrance. Come alone.”
The very idea gives him the chills. Pavement turns to weathered red brick as he crosses St. Louis Street and takes the pathway alongside the wall of the cemetery. Up ahead some two hundred feet or so he sees a large man in a long gray trench coat standing near an entrance to the cemetery, holding a large umbrella.
The rain started to come down more steadily, and Craig quickened his pace. Dan Ryan stays still, watching him approach, staring at him impatiently. As Craig reaches the entrance, he sees a guard on the inside of the cemetery gate. The guard sees Craig approaching and, looking at the big Texan near him, starts to open the gate.
Dan makes a head gesture toward the gate, and Craig takes this as his cue to walk through and into the inner courtyard. The guard tips his cap at the newcomer, and Dan pats him on the shoulder. He points Craig forward as the guard closes the gate behind them. Craig takes note of this, then looks up at his boss, somewhat impressed.
“How’d you manage to get us in here? This place has been closed to the public for years.”
Dan keeps his eyes forward but gestures behind him. “You see that guard?”
Craig nods in the affirmative.
Dan still doesn’t look at his assistant. He just keeps walking.
“Money talks, Craig. I just gave him twice his monthly salary.”
Craig knows this dance. He turns his attention now to his surroundings. Tomb after tomb is aligned in haphazard rows. The crypts are mostly ancient by American standards, that is, many go back to the late 17th century, a time when New Orleans was a growing French colony on the banks of the Mississippi River.
There’s an eerie chill in the air. Craig looks around him. Statues stare at him as if they are alive. He gets a distinct feeling that someone or something is watching them, but he sees nothing. “It’s all in my head,” he thinks as he follows Dan around a corner.
Dan stops here in front of a pointed-roof crypt with crumbling stone bordering a large door set at the top of three steps. On a dark plaque next to the door is the name “Marie Leveau” and a short paragraph declaring this as her likely resting place, and describing her infamous proclivities.
“Jesus, Dan. Of all the places.”
Dan finally looks down at Craig and smirks slightly. “I wanted to make sure we had complete privacy for this conversation. I highly doubt anyone else will be coming along to bribe the good gentlemen at the gate.”
Craig looks around nervously. “Are you sure we’re alone? This place gives me the fuckin’ creeps.”
“Grow up, Craig. Don’t tell me you’re afraid,” Dan replies. “I have a job for you to do, so pay close attention.”
Dan waits and watches as Craig continues to look around him, then finally turns his attention to his boss, reluctantly.
“That little farce I played for Jatt was just for show. Just a bunch of actors and stuntmen. I knew he wouldn’t pay attention anyway. He never does. Here’s what I want. I want you to invite the new Mrs. Starr to another training session. Invite Jatt too, of course, but separately. This will be the real deal. He’ll prepare whether he wants to or not. And, this will give me the chance to persuade Natalie to convince my partner to take this all more seriously.”
“Easy enough,” Craig says, nodding. “I’ll roll out the red carpet.”
Dan stares at him with no reaction to the comment. Craig suddenly feels a shiver up his spine, but then, Dan breaks the silence again.
“Next I want you to put together a little meet and greet with Mr. Clay Byrd.”
Craig scoffs. “I don’t think that’s gonna work. If I ask him to meet up with you for a talk, he’ll most likely tell me to kick rocks, or worse.”
“Craig,” Dan sighs. “You’re not going to ask him to meet with me. You’re going to arrange for a scenario by which he comes to me willingly and without his knowledge. There’s a place over on Bourbon Street called Bourbon Street Honky Tonk. It’s right up Clay Byrd’s alley…”
He holds out a business card, which Craig takes. “This is the name of the General manager. He’s expecting your call. Have him invite Clay over. Tell him to tell Clay that drinks are on the house.”
Craig scrunches up his nose, unsure.
“He’s just gonna give Clay Byrd free drinks?”
“Yes, Craig,” Dan says, losing patience. “He’s going to give Clay Byrd ’free’ drinks.”
Dan makes finger quotes while saying ‘free’. Craig finally catches on.
“Ah… ok, yes I see.”
“Aim for Friday night. And make sure this general manager makes no mention of my name whatsoever. Tell him… if he does precisely what you ask, his establishment’s tip for the evening will be… generous.”
The squawk of a crow sitting on top of the crypt startles Craig, who jumps nearly out of his skin.
Dan just shakes his head, but Craig is not amused.
“Can we get out of this place now, please? I don’t want to spend one minute longer here than I absolutely have to.”
“Go ahead. The same gate we entered through.”
“You’re not coming?” Craig replies.
Dan holds an unblinking stare at his old friend.
“No. I’ll be along in a little while. Make sure all arrangements are made.”
Craig looks around. “Come on Dan, it’s raining. I didn’t bring an umbrella!”
But Dan simply stares at him and says nothing more. Finally, Craig, resigned to his fate, pulls his coat collar over his neck and walks out into the rain, leaving Dan Ryan behind.
Dan watches him as he walks until he hurriedly turns the corner and heads for the gate. After a few moments in the stillness of the cemetery, he hears the iron gate swing open, then shut again. Dan reaches into his phone and enters a new number on the keypad. He holds the phone to an ear and waits. After a few moments, someone answers on the other line. He listens, then replies.
“It’s all set. Things are going just as I expected….”
“Okay… yes… I’ll meet with you as soon as I get there.”
With a press of the red circle on his phone screen, the call terminates, and he steps down from the crypt, umbrella in tow, gives a last look at the door, and turns to go.