There’s an occasional shine of approaching headlights on the opposite side of the road.
“Beast” by KMFDM is playing on the radio with the volume low. To be perfectly honest, on the 6 disk CD player.
Eli Flair drives towards New York City, while MJ Flair sits in the passenger seat, slumped down and looking out the window.
Eli Flair: Well?
MJF: Well, what?
Eli Flair: Y’said y’didn’t wanna talk about it yesterday. How’s today for ya?
MJ slumps a bit more and puts her feet up on the glove compartment; she’s at least considerate enough to have taken off her old and worn combat boots.
MJF: Man, I’m just pissed.
Eli Flair: Oh, couldn’t tell.
She shoots him a glare, but there’s really no malice behind it.
MJF: I’m mad at Jack, I’m mad at myself… man, we had them.
Eli Flair: Except, ya didn’t.
Eli Flair: You’re welcome.
MJF: It’s just frustrating, man.
Eli Flair: Yeah, I imagine. You kicked both’a their fuckin’ asses, kiddo. I’m really proud’a you.
The tiniest hint of a smile curves MJ’s mouth up, but in the darkness it’s a secret all for herself.
Eli Flair: But you guys lost, straight up. Wasn’t no hooked tights or steel to the back’a the head. Wasn’t an unreasonable bending’a the rules anywhere in the match.
MJF: Yeah… yeah I know. Man, I had Zeb right where I wanted him, Jack didn’t need ta’ tag himself in. But I also should’a realized he did, and stepped off to keep Jiles from breakin’ the pin, yeah? I don’t need t’get the pin as long as we get the win, I just wish I realized what was happenin’.
MJ fiddles with the music, landing on “Burn my Crosses” by SWEAR ON YOUR LIFE.
Eli Flair: I’m proud’a you, kiddo.
Eli Flair: I said I’m proud’a you.
MJF: …Cool? What’s up?
Eli Flair: You just put the loss on you and Jack as a team.
MJF: Uh huh?
Eli Flair: Literally every other time you’ve ever lost a tag match, ever, I’ve heard you do one’a two things. Either y’blamed your partner and acted the brat, or you blamed yourself and internalized it. That shit, kiddo? Told me you finally see you two as a team. Stand together, or fall together.
MJF: I mean, yeah. We gotta do each other up right, right?
Eli Flair: Only way for a tag team to survive.
MJF: Is that why you never held a lotta tag team belts?
He laughs. She’s not wrong. In nineteen years, Eli Flair held fifteen World Championships, somewhere between forty and fifty secondary titles… and a grand total of two tag team championships, including Dan Ryan’s Empire Pro Wrestling, in the last match he ever wrestled.
Eli Flair: Mainly I’m a gigantic pain in the ass and don’t like anyone.
MJF: Oh, so that’s where I get it from.
Eli Flair: Nah, that’s your mom.
They both laugh.
Eli Flair: Kiddo I didn’t have any actual allies in this sport until I was a good six years in – by then it was too late. Too self-reliant, and I didn’t want my success t’get tied to someone else’s failures, and vice versa. ‘Sides, you and Jack work well together, record notwithstanding. And you were a tag team champion like six months in overall, so it’s not like it’s something ya gotta get used to.
MJ rides in silence for a few minutes, listening to the music and watching the night go by. It’s true – she was in an odd-couple tag team as a champion after just a few months of wrestling, and it was her longest title reign to date at almost half a year.
MJF: Ya know what sucks, though?
Eli Flair: What’s up?
MJF: I fought the gods this year, and I was inches from beatin’ all of ‘em, but because I didn’t, I don’t get a stitch’a respect. I’ve put just as much hurtin’ on me and Jack’s opponents as him, and more than him in some instances, but he’s respected and I’m dismissed as your kid, only booked because I’m your kid despite the fact that you’ve never wrestled here. It’s just fuckin’ annoying, ya know?
Eli Flair: Yep.
Silence. The track flips to “Scream” by Black Flag.
Eli Flair: And what?
MJF: That’s it? Just ‘yep’?
Eli Flair: Well, whadda ya want me to say?
MJF: I dunno, man. Something? Anything? Am I wrong? I’d like you ta’ tell me if I was.
Eli Flair: You ain’t wrong, man – it is unfair. But it’s also tough shit.
Well now. That’s unexpected.
MJF: Excuse me?
Eli Flair: What?
MJF: ‘Tough Shit’?
Eli Flair: The tough shit rule applies to everyone, kiddo.
Eli Flair: Listen, kiddo. You call ‘em ‘the gods,’ and I get why, but to me, it’s Lindz, Dan, Jack… what’s his name, Andy Murray? And the owner’s kid… what’s his name?
She stifles a laugh. Mike Best might have earned her reluctant respect, but it’s still infinitely amusing to her that her dad neither knows of nor gives a shit about him.
Eli Flair: I dunno the Mike kid, but the others, we all started at approximately the same time. Within a few years, at least. None of us were gods. None of us were pro wrestling royalty. We had to earn it, kiddo.
MJF: I’ve had success’a some kind literally everywhere I’ve been, ya know. Even High Octane.
He shakes his head.
Eli Flair: Ya won one title in High Octane. Everything else doesn’t matter ‘cause ya didn’t do it with them or against them.
MJF: That’s not fair.
Eli Flair: No, it’s not. Welcome to the tough shit rule.
She holds her hand up dismissively, but in a sarcastic manner that makes it clear she’s not serious.
Eli Flair: Listen, I know you’re disappointed, but you’re dealin’ with it pretty well. I was you, though – I’d let that shit go and try t’come up with a creative way t’get back in the game at Refueld next week.
MJF: Yeah but I’m not booked.
Eli Flair: Fuck, MJ. What’s rule number one?
MJF: Show up.
Eli Flair: Exactly. Show up. There’s two slots and a tag team still open for War Games and I know you wanna be there. You might not get picked, but the fastest way t’guarantee you won’t is if ya stay home.
MJF: Yeah… yeah, you right. You comin’ too? Really won’t be a lot goin’ on if me or Jack don’t have a match.
Eli Flair: I’ll be there. Take a minute and scope the place, haven’t really done that shit yet. Maybe I’ll look up Dan or Lindz and say hey – haven’t actually run into either of ‘em yet.
MJ shoots her father an incredulous look. Eli shoots one right back, keeping one eye on the road.
Eli Flair: What?
MJF: Dan and Lindz.
Eli Flair: Yeah, is there a problem?
MJF: Daddy, they’re the enemy!
Eli Flair: I’m drivin’, so don’t hit me.
MJ balls her fist, but waits.
Eli Flair: That doesn’t matter, kiddo – it’s one’a those veteran things that you won’t get until your’re older.
Without looking, he blocks her fist with his forearm.
Eli Flair: MJ – this is professional wrestling. It’s never black’n white. You’re on opposite sides’a the war, doesn’t mean ya gotta be on opposite sides’a the peace. Alliances in this sport are always a matter’a convenience and your enemy today might be your ally tomorrow. When you ain’t in the ring, there’s no reason t’disrespect an enemy who’s only an enemy because’a circumstance.
MJF: But they attacked me and Jack from behind ta’ join up with Mike, Max, and Fartypants!
Eli Flair: Yeah? One way or another, someday the scales’ll balance. Until then, kid – you’ll be under the radar unless you choose otherwise.
They ride in silence for a few more seconds.
MJF: It’s still kinda fucked up, man.
Eli Flair: Do you need me to explain the tough shit rule again?