Elsewhere | Another Time
See the man, Andy Murray: too broken to keep going yet too broke to give up, sat somewhere between mind and matter.
He didn’t tip the taxi driver as he pulled up at his destination, just paid his fare and got out. Cool air kissed his skin as The King of Wrestling emerged into the afternoon. Ahead of him, atop a short staircase, was a row of glass-fronted swing doors taken care of by beefy security guards in 97red coats, black pants, and shoes bulky enough to administer a sh*tkicking but not so rugged that they looked scruffy.
The House of GOD Casino’s exterior was beaming, even in broad daylight.
A smarmy-looking guy burst out with a girl on each arm, high on life and whatever he’d put into his body that day. A winner for now. That would change.
“Mr. Murray,” said one of the guards gruffly. After noting Andy’s approach he held the door open and allowed Murray’s entrance back into the House.
The King of Wrestling passed back into this pit of hopeless souls. It was one of the nicer dens of iniquity Andy had ever played in, admittedly, with its gold fittings, deep red carpets, and arched ceilings. These institutions were never without a layer of scuzz, but there were worse places to play the game.
26 years in, the game remained Andy Murray’s demanding friend. The King, once so righteous about its brutality, tolerated this most unforgiving, violent, and lethal endeavour because it was profitable. To make it so was more than a full-time and even that brought no guarantee of success, yet Andy fought still.
No sooner had Murray adjusted to the House of GOD’s ambience than an usher had approached him, smiling. “Welcome back Mr. Murray,” he said pleasantly, nodding. “You must be here for the Lethal Lottery?”
“Yup,” was all Andy said in response. The greying gambler was dressed smartly in a tight-fitting sky blue dressed shirt and perfectly-cut dress pants, the brace beneath holding his papier-mache knee together. James Witherhold was rubbing off on him.
“Excellent, excellent.” It was the response the staffer had been waiting for. “Before you dive in, would you mind following me for a second?” he asked. “The house insists.”
Murray estimated the man before him was about half his body mass. You don’t disobey a messenger of GOD in his own abode, though: the two security beefs glaring at their conversation reminded Andy of that.
“Alright,” said Andy. He was led across the casino floor towards a room adjacent to the tellers’ desk, accompanied by the usher and his mundane conversation about the weather, price of gas, and other topics Murray wasn’t listening to. Dull bastard was about as interesting as Teddy Palmer’s thoughts on life, Andy reckoned. Eventually they got there, the usher closed the door, and Murray was alone.
Until he wasn’t.
After casting his gaze around this glorified janitor’s closet Andy almost leapt out of his skin at what sat in the middle of the floor. A hunched, hooded figure facing away from him, his hands cuffed around the back of the old wooden chair he sat on. Had he been there before? Andy couldn’t tell, but he sure as shit was there now, and it shocked the life out of him.
“Hey!” Andy barked, feeling at least another dozen of his hairs growing grey. He took a cautious stance and tone. “Are you–”
“There he is!” came a voice from over his left shoulder. Clean, confident, and eloquent, it sounded familiar, though Murray couldn’t put a finger on who it belonged to. “You’re early, big man.” Andy swung around, looking for its source. Nothing.
“The other players have barely started rolling in yet,” said another voice over his other shoulder, this one hoarser, softer, and more strained. Its source sounded both defeated and downtrodden. Its source wasn’t fucking there. “Impressive.”
“Always has been, hasn’t he?” the cleaner voice said. “The hell this guy’s been through and he’s still in the building, winning big. Man…”
“The hell is this?” were Murray’s first confused words in response. Again, he looked around, and again, nobody there but the hooded body.
“Oh, where are our manners,” said the healthier-sounded voice. “You wanna play the Lottery?” it asked. “You wanna raise the stakes, huh? Then look in your pocket.”
“No,” rasped the other voice. “Don’t do that. No, just turn around and walk right out. Quickly, before it’s too late…”
“Do that and you lose.”
“Check your pocket and you’ll lose something bigger.”
Murray’s hand naturally slid down into his pocket. His digits met with cold steel and leather and he recoiled immediately, his pulse now racing. “Where the–”
“You’re a gambler, aren’t you?” said the devil on his left shoulder. “You want everything you’ve lost to be here today to actually mean something, right? Then make it quick. The door’s unlocked if you haven’t got the stomach…”
Andy knew it was a gun in his hand before he took it out of his pocket but the sight of it still rocked him. He’d never fired one of these things before. Never.
The silver revolver was battered and beaten around the edges. Andy’s hand shook, though he stopped himself from dropping it as he turned back around, looking once at the weapon, then at the hooded figure that still hadn’t moved a muscle.
“Bingo,” said the healthier voice.
“Andy, just leave,” was the instruction from the right. “You don’t have to–”
“No, you do,” interrupted the other. “You wanna keep playing this game? You wanna score big? Then you need to take care of this problem now, because right now, your story is going one of two ways.”
A pause. Andy was left only with the sound of his beating heart for a few moments.
“You walk out that door, and let me tell you, man. Your future gets ugly.”
San Diego, CA | 20 Years Later
A thick grey haze hung over the Californian morning, smothering the city’s perfect spring climate. Marvin pulled up in the drive, hopped out of his car, retrieved a bag of groceries from his trunk, and plodded towards the front door.
It wasn’t pretty, this house. It’s wooden exterior was clearly rotting in places and the paint was peeling away in others. The bungalow’s roofing was covered in detritus from the trees surrounding it, too. Mucky windows that looked incapable of letting all but a glimmer of light through and a bug shield almost completely torn away from the front door completed the image of disrepair.
Marvin walked through the front door without knocking, as he always did. He could hear a television in the next room so he followed the noise. A familiar musty odour hit his nostrils when he crossed into the lounge. It didn’t phase him anymore, but maybe it should have.
A broken husk of a man grunted at him from across the room. Sat in his wheelchair, he looked a lot older than his 62 years. Dying skin hung down from a face blotted with liver spots, what remained of his white hair was tied back into a half-arsed ponytail, his gut was so solid it may as well have been pakced with concrete, and his clothes – a faded old t-shirt with the sleeves cut off and ragged jersey shorts – were those of someone who’d given up giving a fuck.
“Morning, Dad,” said Marvin Murray, taking the bag through to a kitchen that hadn’t been cleaned in weeks. “I got you some cleaning supplies this week. Might be worth giving the place the once over.”
Marv said this just as a roach scuttled from one side of the linoleum floor to the other, disappearing under the washing machine.
From the other room, Andy grumbled something about being told what to do.
With everything in its place, Marvin came back through, hoping his father would break his gaze from the television. He did not.
“How’s it going?” asked the disgraced wrestling legend’s son. With his black hair, blue eyes, and heavy jawline, he was the spitting image of the man his dad used to be.
“Same old shit,” Andy replied. His voice was dry, hoarse, and old – as if his vocal chords had barely escaped a battle with something dreadful. He tapped the TV remote against the heavy knee brace that was now a permanent fixture on his right leg.
Marvin could tell he wasn’t going to get much more from a man consumed by his own bitterness. “Are you okay for money? Here…”
The younger Murray reached for his wallet but Andy waved him away. “I don’t need your pity, kid,” he growled. He did, though. Of course he did: his last few years had been penniless. “Oh, reminds me,” Andy said, his tone lightening as much as his croaky voice would allow. “Get that down for me, would ya?”
The fallen King of Wrestling was pointing to an old title belt on a shelf across the room. Marvin retrieved it without question, wiping the top layer of dust and crime away with his sweater sleeve. It was Andy’s old HOW Tag Team Championship.
His last pro-wrestling title.
“Dad, you’re not…?”
“Yup,” Andy said. “eBay.”
“You don’t need to–…” Marvin stopped himself. “Look, I’ll give you its value. Just tell me how much it’s worth…”
But Andy wouldn’t hear it. Marv knew he wouldn’t hear it. When his protests were met with a familiar scowl, Andy’s offspring lowered the strap and placed it on a wobbling coffee table. A shame.
That was it: Andy’s last physical connection to a business that made him a megastar, then brought crashing down in a fraction of the time it took to ascend.
The last tie, severed.
“See you next week, lad,” Andy said, returning to whatever show had been rotting his brain on his son’s arrival. Marvin didn’t respond, just headed for the door, mournful for the time before his father’s destruction.
This was Andy’s eternity.
The gamble had not paid off.
Back in the House of GOD, now. Andy turned towards the door.
“Guess they were right, then,” said the younger voice. “You ain’t fit to throw down in GOD’s house, quitter,” it spat.
This stopped The King of Wrestling in his tracks. Still clasping the gun, he looked around for a source but found none.
“This isn’t quitting,” quipped the older, craggier source. “You’ve done enough in your life – in your career – to not have to put yourself through this anymore, Andy. Go on, leave. Be done. Be at peace.”
“You kidding me? This motherfucker was rotting before this house took him in. He needs this…”
Murray knew which voice was closer to the truth yet he refused to acknowledge it.
“… and it’s because of his past that he needs to stand here, like a man, and do this.”
“What…?!” said Andy, his face twisting with confusion.
“All you’ve done since you got here is bury yourself in the past,” said the one that sounded like it was still capable of delivering words without struggling. “You claim you’re a new man, claim you’re rebirthing, but fuckhead, all I see is a guy who gambled everything to be here and is about to crumble at, what, the second big hurdle? You really think you’ve got it what it takes to beat a Mike Best, a Max Kael?”
“I’m a Tag Team Champion…”
“And I just flattened MJ Fl–?!”
“Flattened?!” The response was apoplectic. Its words were spat, not spoken. “She’s half your size and you barely got by her! A desperate counter. Troy had you within an inch at March to Glory as well! Look at these battles, man. Look at how they get closer and closer each time. Look at the trend and figure it out.”
That Flair fight was rough. Andy would freely admit that, just not vocally. Still, Murray was undefeated and less than a month removed from pinning Lindsay Troy and Mikey Unlikely on the same night. Whatever the message was, it wasn’t getting through.
“The point is that you’re too fucking stuck in the past the escape a shitty future that’s about to come crashing down upon you,” said the source. “You think you’re moving forward? Really?! When you’re still worried about what your little brother thinks? Still gazing at old titles and trophies like they mean a damn in HOW? Still bleating about wanting to wrestle Eli Flair and bleating bitterness about Lindsay Troy? Face it, man. You’re stuck. You’re being held down by the very legacy Teddy Palmer says you’re shitting on, when in reality, shitting on it’s exactly what you need to do.”
Palmer was one of many foes capable of going even a step further than MJF and putting Murray away in the Lottery. The two hard crossed paths, briefly, in GCW, but that was years ago, and Andy still took him as the undercard goober of old – despite his LBI triumphs and near-victory over Farthington. A potentially fatal mistake.
HATE were in the same category. Murray laughed when he heard them say they were out for 24K’s blood, but those guys were revenge-driven and battle-hardened, both considerably more experienced than he in the House of GOD.
The sense of doubt creeping into his mind took Andy elsewhere.
Bobby Dean looked driven for the first time in decades and though consumed by inner conflict, his fellow eGG Bandits were both as crafty as they come.
Powered by a hunger for redemption, Brian Hollywood would prove relentless if they crossed paths.
Zeb Martin, Max Stryker, and Lucian Santangel were unknown quantities and as such, wildcard threats.
Chris Kostoff remained a colossal meatgrinder capable of chewing up any ego thrown in his way.
Maybe he wasn’t as well-equipped for this as he thought.
Maybe the gamble wasn’t enough.
“So here’s what you need to do, Andy,” said the more antagonistic voice. “Take that piece, turn around, and move forward.”
“Don’t let go of your better self, Murray,” croaked the other voice. It was growing increasingly hoarse and pleading to traits that were dying within The King of Wrestling.
Conflicted, Andy pondered, hurriedly, if he was too rooted to his past to trek much further up Mt. HOW.
It would explain the shared 24K superiority complex upon walking in. The mentality of “this place wasn’t shit until we showed up!” sounds nice in soundbites, but demonstrated an arrogance unique to those being overtaken by time.
The one thing Murray never wanted to become – from day one in his career – was the guy who droned endlessly about the highlights of his past, because those who do that have nothing else about themselves. And it’s sad.
Lindsay Troy’s HOW run wasn’t informed by what went down in the fWo or DEFIANCE. Dan Ryan wasn’t thinking about EPW when he was out there dropping bombs. Mike Best didn’t capture his sixth ICON Championship by thinking about the first.
Meanwhile, subconsciously, Andy was out there trying to recapture something he had 10 years ago.
It was all becoming clear to him now.
He tightened his grip around the hand cannon, moving closer to a hooded figure that still hadn’t moved.
“You’re being fed snake oil!” rasped the “good” voice in the closest thing to a yell it could manage. “Stop!”
“It’s the only way,” said the other, calmer now. “Kill it. Kill it before this whole thing comes off the rails. That’s how you win, man. That’s how you get there…”
“FUCK!” Andy roared.
Bile rose up from his stomach. A cold sweat dribbled down his brow and his heart was like a train pounding down the tracks.
Was this what it took? An execution?
And yet he was drawn to it. He was compelled to stride right up behind the only other person in the room and point.
“This is how you win.”
Chicago, IL | 20 Years Later
Andy couldn’t believe he still felt this good at 62.
Dropping muscle mass in retirement had served him well. The knee replacement held up much better under the reduced weight and while the plastic joint was as stiff as a frozen fish most mornings, the decade he’d spent without crippling pain was well worth it.
The man looked good. His hair was all grey but still all there and shone under the building’s bright lights. The old spark in his eyes remained, his posture was as straight as it had ever been, and for a man who spent over three decades getting punched in the face for a living, his skin was largely unblemished.
He’d made it out of the business with his mind, body, and soul intact. A monstrous HOW run cleaved his fanbase, sure, but the respect of his peers mattered more, and after settling his debt with Mikey Unlikely, The King of Wrestling had plenty of years left to ensure he’d retire safe in the knowledge that he was set.
Murray wasn’t Scrooge McDuck, but he was comfortable. A godsend after the hell of 20 years ago.
The ballroom that the Golden Canvas Club gathered in for their annual reunion was beautiful and tonight, its white walls encased any man or woman Andy had ever respected in the business and then some. He’d been there dozens of times before, as the club ushered new member after new member into its Hall of Fame. Now, finally, the night was his.
“… Ladies and Gentlemen, my friend, my brother, and still the goddamn King: Andy Murray!”
Jason Natas’ speech gave way to thunderous applause throughout the room. A suit-clad Murray took to the stage, hugged his pal tightly, and uttered a ‘thank you.’ He looked out across a sea of peers that may well have outcast him had things gone differently in the past.
Had he made different choices.
And he smiled, broadly. Held back a tear.
It had all been worth the while.
The gamble had paid off.
And now, finally, he could rest.
The scent of gunpowder lingered in the air as the victim dropped to the floor. Andy let the revolver dangle by his side.
He was a bag of nerves.
The fuck had he just done?
Immediately Andy fell to his knees, hurriedly pulling the hood back. There was no blood, no entry or exit wound, and no bullet hole on the hood itself, but no life behind the eyes he was staring into.
Those familiar eyes. His own eyes.
The corpse had shorter, blacker hair and was clean shaven, with a brighter complexion and less signs of wear and tear. It was the version of himself that once hoisted world titles in other promotions many moons ago.
It was the ghost of who he used to be.
And now it was gone.
A clap came from one corner of the room. Andy didn’t want to look up, but he did. There sat a man who looked remarkably like himself only a little older, still boasting a full head of hair with unblemished skin and good posture. He looked like a man who’d won at life.
“Well done,” was the affirmation. The same voice that willed him to pull the trigger. “Now you’re ready to roll the dice.”
Andy blinked. When vision returned, the old figure was gone, replaced by a haggard, run-down version of the same future Murray, whose liver-spotted skin hung down from a face from a face ravaged by decades of misery. It parted its dry lips to croak but Andy blinked again and this figure, too, was gone.
A knock at the door shook Murray from his trance. When it was ignored, the usher that had welcomed Andy to the casino opened the door and popped his head in.
“Everything okay, Mr. Murray? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Andy collected himself. The room was barren, now. Everything had gone – it was just him and the usher.
“Just thought I’d let you know that the Lethal Lottery kicks off in 15. You might wanna buy some chips, a drink, whatever.”
Murray thanked his helper then strode past him, walking about out into the House of GOD. A few quick, purposeful strides took him to the teller’s desk, behind which sat a casino employee in full uniform.
“Lethal Lottery, sir?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “How much would you like to stake?”
“Everything,” Andy said, finally ready to believe it himself.
The night was his.
Not Mike Best’s, not Max Kael’s, not Teddy Palmer’s, not Linday Troy or Dan Ryan’s, not even the Hollywood Bruvs’.