“It’s Max. He’s a weird guy.”
It’s been hours since Mike left and Lindsay can’t get that flippant statement go, no matter how much truth there might be in it.
She leans against the cherry wood top of her kitchen island, foot tapping aimlessly against the floor. In the background, white subway tiled backsplash and white wood and glass-paned cabinets frame her body. A mug of tea is clutched between her hands, and she watches the steam rise while she stews.
She wants to let this go. Chalk it up to Mike knowing his brother best and accepting Max’s quirks at face value. The Brothers “Best” have run the roads and beat each other near to death in HOW countless times, for belts and bragging rights alike, and, really, who is she to question that? Who is she to not pick her battles and accept that this is one crusade she may not want to engage in.
But this is War Time, after all.
This is for the LSD Title, something very precious to Max, and something she wants very badly after securing a ranking high enough to warrant the opportunity. Even though the Group of Death doesn’t in-fight, and doesn’t fight each other.
Except when the situation calls for it.
Even more importantly, all of this could have repercussions once the Group of Death comes back together as one, after June 20th. Her beating Max. Whatever the outcome of War Games is. Her deciding what to do – or not to do – about Max’s erratic behavior.
Lindsay drums her fingernails against the side of the cup, her fingernails ping, ping, ping-ing against the porcelain.
”It could be nothing,” she thinks. ”And if I mettle, I could do irreperable damage to the team.”
She takes a sip of the piping hot liquid, and frowns.
”And if it is something, and we all face a reckoning for it, I’ll never forgive myself for not going with my gut.”
For better or worse, at the end of the day, Lindsay’s just not the kind of girl to let her inquisitive mind take a vacation. She’s not the kind of person to not see an anomaly and investigate further.
This has been both to her benefit and to her detriment. When she gets something in her mind, she’s gonna see it through. It’s infuriated Dan Ryan to no end on more than one occasion. The man may love his sister-in-law, and be hard-pressed as fuck to admit it out loud in public – it’s just not the kind of man he is – but her dogged sense of truth-seeking and morality drives him bonkers. They are oil and water in that regard. Group of Death they now may be, but it’s taken some time for Lindsay to fully embrace the Dark Side as Dan did so long ago.
She’ll take the heat for a bad judgment call later, but she won’t risk the Group of Death in this way.
She can’t. Not when there’s so much at stake.
With a decision made, and a new sense of resolve, Lindsay looks around for her phone and spots it on the coffee table by the television. She walks over, tea still in hand, and plunks herself down on the couch, taking the device to hand as she does. After a quick scroll through her contacts, she presses a number and waits for a voice on the other end to pick up.
“Di? Hey. … I’m fine, and you? That’s good. … Yeah the kids are great. … Listen, I’ve got an urgent thing I need you to look into, if you can make some room for me…”
Some time later…
“Movin’ to the Kaeltry, I’m gonna take a lot of pictures. I’m movin’ to the Kaeltry, I’m gonna take a lot of pictures…”
Diane Masterson bobs her head and belts out purposely incorrect lyrics to the Presidents of the United States of America’s seminal classic “Peaches” while her paint-chipped fingers drum in-time along the top of the steering wheel. The twinkling lights of the Chicago city skyline are far in her rearview as she heads out of downtown and toward the ‘burbs. Traffic crawls along, because it doesn’t matter what time of day it is, travel always seems to move slowly on the highways surrounding the Windy City.
When “her favorite gal” Lindsay Troy called her with a job request, the stocky, pint-sized blonde was just settling in with a bowl of popcorn and the new episode of the Real Housewives of New York on her DVR. It’s not the show one would expect a private investigator to watch, but it’s mindless television and, in her line of work, it’s what one needs. The two women have been in each other’s circle for a little over a decade, striking up a friendship at a charity event, and while Lindsay has rarely ever had to use Di’s services, it’s good to know she’s there when she needs her.
Like tonight, for the Max Kael Conundrum.
Diane doesn’t really “get” the Queen’s line of work. She’s seen some shit in her day, for sure, and she can defend herself if needed, but the whole “punchy punch for shits and giggles” isn’t really her thing. Nevermind the peculiar personalities she’s heard about that inhabit the landscape. Lindsay didn’t give a lot of details when they first talked on the phone, and Diane didn’t make it a point to ask; all that was said was, “Max is a little strange,” and “He’s acting way weirder than normal,” and “It’s bugging the fuck out of me and I need to know what’s going on.”
“That’s why I love ya! You should’ve gotten into this line of work with me,” was Diane’s reply, as she had scribbled down a few of Max’s identifying features on a notepad, and her phone pinged with a headshot of him in her text messages. “Wait, what’s that about an eye?”
“I really can’t explain it but it’s a … prosthetic? Robotic? It changes colors somehow, I don’t know. Just … watch out for it.”
“Jesus, alright. Anything else?”
“Yeah, start at SixTime Academy. I want to know what Max does all day up until Saturday.”
“You got it, chick. I’ll check in with you later.”
“Thanks Di,” Lindsay said. “And be careful, alright?”
Careful had been the name of the game from the time the girls first chatted up until this point. In fact, Max had made it real easy for Diane; he hasn’t left SixTime Academy. What he’d been doing there all this time, she didn’t know. Others had come and gone, but not him. At first she started to think Max wasn’t even there, but Lindsay assured her he was. Apparently Cecilworth texted her something about him writing his Memoirs on dirty napkins and Portillo’s wrappers, because who needs paper when you can use grease and regret instead.
And then, just when she was about to break for a late dinner….movement.
A black, late-model sedan with an Uber decal in the front windshield pulled into the parking lot and rolled to a stop by a side entrance. A man in a three piece suit with closely-cropped hair and a bulbous nose skulked out the door and over to the car, nearly ripped the door off its hinge, and slammed it shut.
“Bingo, kiddo,” Diane had said with a smile as the car pulled away. She gave them a moment to ensure distance between them, and then eased her SUV into traffic and followed a few car lengths behind.
When the Best Arena finally comes into view, Diane eases off the road and parks her car, killing the engine and watching as Max’s Uber keeps on for a hundred more feet before turning into the construction site. She’s never known this place existed – why would she, really? – and thinks it curious that he’d be visiting it in the dead of night. Checking her pockets to ensure her compact camera is secure, Diane slides out of the driver’s seat and quietly closes the door. She moves off the road until the Uber drives by and then makes her way toward a nearby fence. After walking along the perimeter, she discovers a hole in the chain link and slips through.
The Best Arena is impressive, even in the dark and under construction. Diane moves amongst the corded pipes and steel beams littering the grounds, the usual paraphernalia typical of a large-scale building remodel, keeping a low profile and her footsteps quiet.
What isn’t so typical, however, are the random tents and furniture lying about.
“Huh.” Diane reaches into her jacket pocket for her mirrorless camera, fiddles with the settings to avoid a flash, and sets it on the edge of a beam to take some photos with her remote control. Satisfied with the quality, she keeps moving.
After about ten minutes of moving through the site, she hears what is presumably Max’s voice and one of a woman’s cutting through the gloom near a cluster of tents thirty feet away. She can’t quite hear what they’re saying, but Diane stays hidden, adjusts the timer on the camera, and waits.
Biding her time.
She doesn’t have to wait long; the conversation lasts no more than five minutes. With a dramatic flourish, the woman sweeps the flap of the tent’s opening aside and strides out. Diane immediately engages the remote, capturing Elenore Kael in all her cruelty as she leaves the parking lot and Max alone, enraged, in the tent.
“Jesus,” Diane laments at the sound of Max’s wail. Whoever that woman was, and whatever her conversation with Max, did not sound particularly pleasant. And in her line of work, a man who gets bad news like that, more often than not turns desperate.
Diane grabs her camera and turns tail toward her car, disappearing into the shadows with these secrets to spill.
Have you ever heard of a Janus Coin, Max?
It’s named after the Roman God and it’s two-faced. One looks to the past and one looks to the future.
One side of you looks to the past. The time when the eMpire ran roughshod over multiple companies. Your victories over MJ Flair, High Flyer, and countless others as you’ve had a stranglehold on the LSD title. If I wanted to be so bold, I could even claim your LSD Title Reign as about to be in the past.
The other side of you looks to the future. A future without me in the Group of Death. A future without me in High Octane Wrestling. Or is it a future with me with the LSD Title? A future where the two of us get along sorta-kinda, and you’re maybe-somewhat okay with me being the successor to your reign?
I can’t tell with you. You always start with a burial and then turn it right back around with how you feel the opposite.
But hey, keep plucking those world’s smallest violin strings, buddy, I’m sure someone in North Kaelrea gives a fuck.
I, however, do not.
I do know that you’re a two-faced piece of pig shit regardless of this allegory, and unfortunately you’re the baggage that comes with the good times that the Group of Death is supposed to be about.
Such is life, I guess.
I don’t give a fuck that you borrowed Scott Stevens’ Binder Full of Women to rattle off a couple of names as if they are supposed to mean something to me other than they competed here once upon a time and won some belts. And yes, that is very important in The Past Eras, and kudos to them; I’m not here to shit on the legacies of those who came before me, but don’t try to earn some brownie points off my name by Casually Name Dropping© some chicks from High Octane Lore to “pop the boys.”
The future is grim for me?
Motherfucker, I beat Brian Hollywood at Rumble at the Rock. I took a shiv to my goddamn leg and jumped off a guard tower to keep the Tag Belts. Are you too wrapped up in your own delusions that you’ve forgotten? Because GoD fucking knows I’m tired of reminding people that I got stabbed in the leg by a guy who doesn’t remember what gym he trains at.
Oh, wait, I get it. I guess if it doesn’t concern the Group of Death Formerly Known as the eMpire, it don’t mean shit as far as Max Kael’s concerned.
Miss me with that bullshit, my dude.
I can take a tetanus-infested piece of metal to my person, and be ready for your high tech Yosemite Sam routine with the pew pew lazer beeeeeemz in that wonky fucking eye of yours, and hit you back with a few tricks of my own.
Do me a favor, why don’t you? Start worrying about the biggest challenge you’ve had for the LSD Championship since your reign began and stop worrying about rehashing Andy Murray promos, because I know, and you know, that the man is running scared after Dan handing him the tongue lashing of a lifetime last week. Yeah yeah, he won by DQ because I whacked his kneecaps silly with a steel chair, but that’s only a smidgen of what he’s got coming to him once we meet in the cage at War Games.
You know, the match I qualified for by beating LOWLY BRIAN HOLLYWOOD.
A win’s a win, you pissbaby. It’s no “pity win.” It’s a chance to beat you senseless not once, but twice.
You lashing out about all of this belies your intense need to cling onto your belt, your friendships, your brotherhood like a barnacle clinging onto a rotting ocean pier.
So ugly, Max. So salty.
Everyone else in the Group of Death has become one big, happy Family.
It’s too fucking bad that you’re now on the outside looking in.