“Delivered from the blast, The last of a line of lasts, The pale princess of a palace cracked”
The Beginning Is The End Is The Beginning – The Smashing Pumpkins
“It’s a coat,” the visage of Robert Byrd said with a smirk. He’d forgotten about the faded leather duster years ago, and here in his son’s hand sat something he never expected him to have.
“How’d you get it?”
The question hung in the air. Clay recovered from the initial shock of the statement, his father’s dry humor out of place, born from delusion. Statements from incorporeal beings tended to have such qualities.
“Roy gave it to me,” Clay smiled.
His father rolled his steel blue eyes and looked at his son knowingly. “No shit, I gave it ta him. How the hell did you get it?” The seriousness in his tone echoed throughout the cabin of the truck.
“I was a bit lost when ya, well ya know…” Clay paused, left the last part hanging in the air. “When ya left, I needed someone ta talk ta. That Cyrus feller had my number, and I was dead set on not letting him get away with takin’ a belt.”
“Ah the old tin and leather rivalry. I figured Roy had more sense than that,” Robert said, gazing out the windshield at the drive leading to the parking lot. “Your mother never wanted ya ta have that. Said I was a big scary man when I wore it, and that big scary men can’t be fathers…”
“She was prolly right, but I tried.” Robert’s last statement was met with silence.
“Ya were pretty damn good at it, all things considerin’,” Clay countered. The last statement caused the older Texan to smirk, looking back at the jacket and the hardened hands of his son who was holding it.
“Ya know, I never wanted ya ta be like me Clay. I wanted ya ta be a doctor, or a lawyer, and when ya came out lookin’ like my spittin’ image, well, then I figured football was like bein’ the lawyer of the athletic world. You’d work ten years or so and be able ta retire, and have a family,” Robert choked up at the last line. It was hard to talk about the dreams he had for his son. The Behemoth had chosen a different path..
“Can’t go back now.” Clay stared out the window. “What kinda life would that have been anyway? How interestin’ could it have possibly been? I was never smart enough to be a doctor.”
“Ya could have been,” his father cut through his son’s self-deprecating humor with a vote of confidence. “Ya could have been anythin’ ya wanted.”
“I wanted ta be like you…”
The Behemoth and the grizzled visage of his father looked out at the Chicago streets, at the chaos of the morning commute, rush hour in the city, their eyes transfixed at the growing madness.
“I see him when I look at that tree over there, I see him in that reflection off of the skyscraper, I see him in my sleep Pops…” The Monster from Plainview broke the ice about the only subject they’d really breached over the last six weeks. Michael Lee Best lived rent free in Clay’s head. Robert could feel it. The problems of the son inevitably became those of the father.
“Ya watched the tape?” Robert asked, already knowing the answer.
His son nodded solemnly.
“Ya thought through it?”
Another nod, his pensive expression etched across his face like stone.
“Ya come ta terms with the fact he’s better than you?”
Sometimes, it’s a father’s job to be honest, at least as honest as you could possibly be with someone you cared deeply for. He looked for his sons response, if the veins bulged in his neck, if his face became red, looked for a hint, something, anything… anything he could latch onto to take the words he’d just said back. But they never came.
All Clay could offer was another nod..
The two stared at the Chicago skyline. Clay’s eyes danced over the windows in one of the far off towers, the glare of the sun obscuring what was going on behind them. The glare reminded him of Michael Lee Best.
“Any ideas?” Robert asked. Even as a specter, he wasn’t omniscient.
Realization had finally hit Clay. Reality was a cruel mistress; everyday people starved, everyday people died, everyday people were hurt. In the scheme of the universe, this match didn’t matter. But for Clay? Perspective be damned. It was all he could focus on. It was reality, sobering as it was.
“Ya know ya don’t have ta be better than him for an entire match ta beat him, right?”
His father’s statement woke him from his lull, confusing him.
“Ya have ta survive Clay, have ta look for your opening…what’s the first thing I ever told ya ‘bout wrasslin’?”
“It only takes three seconds…” Clay’s voice trailed off at the end.
“It only takes three seconds,” Robert echoed, pounding the mantra into his son’s brain.
“It only takes three fuckin’ seconds.” The Behemoth gritted teeth, the veins in his neck bulging, color returning to the Texan’s face in waves. “Three seconds and that son of a bitch is sittin’ in a car talkin’ to his dead old man with my face lookin’ back at him…haunting him for the rest of his damn life…”
Every time I’ve been thrust into the spotlight, guided to the pinnacle of our profession, I’ve fallen short. Why? In the biggest moments of my career, has this old man been found wanting? The answer to the question? It’s simple and complicated. For a while, I wanted nothing more than to be victorious, to write my name in the annals of High Octane history. Nothing crazy. I could be the footnote for men like yourself, an incredible competitor for a year or three. Maybe I could inspire someone to come along and destroy me.
Maybe I could be the next Dan Ryan for the next bastard son of Lee Best.
That sounded like a successful career, but in reality, it lacks meaning. If I had beaten Sutler to be the World Champion, or if I had beaten Sektor at Bottomline for the LSD championship, where would I be now? Would I be marching into March To Glory still a champion, on one of the greatest runs in history?
No, Mike. I would have been satisfied. I would have been happy to be there, along for the ride like half the roster. I’d be the Prospector Pete you joked about, or I’d have been a man fighting for some small town in Texas, naming rest stops and highways after myself.
I’d have been a failure Michael.
Not for a lack of effort, no. I would have tried as hard as I could. I would have given my everything into whatever venture I had chosen. I think that’s the quality your father loved about me, even if I had no deep seeded motivation to complete the task he handed me. Yet I still found something inside to drive me forward. I think he saw that little bit of you inside of me, I guess. Like him, I can invent some cause to fight for out of thin air, be offended by the simplest of gestures. I can warp my own thoughts, generate that chip on my shoulder that lets me do terrible things to good people. But I had never experienced the other side. I had always been an elite antagonist in a world dominated by them. I had never been forced into the role of protagonist.
I wasn’t proud of the man I was back then. There was no gratification. I just moved on, and found the next target. That’s who I was Michael. That’s who we were. That’s who you are in the death throes of your career; dismissive, chip on your shoulder, angry at the world. That’s Mike Best at his core, angry about an absent father and an abusive childhood. And you let that fire burn inside of you. You’re right, Michael, I didn’t have it as bad as you. I will never understand you at your core. But I can understand the man you project, the image that you choose to play. I can see through the cracks in your armor.
After all, our cracks are similar.
You could have left me that way, left me to thrash in the turmoil I would generate. Would championships have come? I’d probably have figured out a way to weasel through the roster and claim some tin. But you couldn’t just let me be. You’re the school yard bully taking Scott Stevens’ and Darin Zion’s lunch money.
And you thought I needed to experience that same treatment. You justify it as a rite of passage. “Who in High Octane hasn’t been screwed out of a World Heavyweight Title Shot? Who hasn’t had their one on one for the world title filled with people who don’t deserve to be there?” It’s just what happens around here, right? Clay Byrd versus Michael Best would never main event Iconic by itself. What had the big dumb hillbilly really done to deserve that? I was naive then. I thought we could tell the tale as old as time and walk away from each other.
Sometimes, when the bully picks a fight, their target fights back.
I still remember a conversation my father and I had when I was a child. I didn’t understand the way of the world, but my father told me, “If anyone hits ya, son, make sure ya hit them back twice as hard.” Nobody here had ever hit me, through all the violence and the year of turmoil, nobody had ever truly slapped me in the face.
But you did. You slapped the fucking taste out of my mouth at Refueled 78.
It wasn’t the fact that you broke my arm that bothered me, funny enough. It wasn’t watching your knees come for my skull, trying to put me out of my misery. It wasn’t when I laid in that ambulance and was told I might not make it to Iconic.
You told me I wasn’t good enough. That was the slap to the face. That was what got me.
Captain Ahab had run his course, he had arrived at his white whale, had found the one thing he desired the most in the world. And that white whale? He didn’t want to fight him. Hell, it didn’t even care. Instead of confrontation, you walked away. I had earned the right to be in that match, earned the right to be at Iconic. I was the most consistent competitor this place had for a year, and Iconic was the opportunity I’d fought so hard for. You wanted to walk away after Iconic, and that’s why things had to escalate, Michael. That’s why I had to beat the living fuck out of you, why I burned down the Academy. Because I’m proud, just like you are. You might be Michael Jordan around here, but I’m Larry fucking Bird. And the last thing I’m going to let you do is let you slap me in the face and walk away like it doesn’t matter.
I remember your words at Refueled 84. You said your career was over, that you had nothing else to fight for. You had nothing left to accomplish. You were taking your bag and going home. And you don’t, Mike. You have nothing left to accomplish in this world. We’ve all been reminded at ad-nauseum on a weekly basis for who knows how long.
That’s why I had to confront you at Refueled 85. The moment I was walking through backstage, and heard your music hit, heard your voice echoing through the hallways backstage, I had to come for you that night, dammit, because I’m a proud man. I couldn’t just let you turn your back and walk away from me like I was trash. I couldn’t let you dismiss me. I’m not Darin Zion. I’m not Scott Stevens, I’m not Jatt Starr. I’m not someone you can just push around and think there wouldn’t be consequences because you’re untouchable.
Untouchability be damned. Being the literal son of GOD be damned. Being Kneesus be damned. Being the greatest wrestler on the planet be damned. I’m still a big son of a bitch from Texas. I’m still a nasty old fucker with a mean streak a mile wide. I couldn’t let you walk away. I couldn’t let you do what you’ve done time and time again..
Why would I let you? Because of who you are?
I burned down that tax scam parading as a wrestling school because it’s the only thing on this planet that you gave half a shit about that I could touch. I don’t know what building Lee Best’s comatosed body is in, but even if I had thrown him out of a ninety-seven story hospital window you wouldn’t have cared. Even if I had sat outside of Cecilworth’s castle with a baseball bat and beat him half to death the second he let his guard down, you wouldn’t have cared.
I had to slap you in the face Michael, had to show you the lengths that you made me go to. You backed me into a corner, and thought I wouldn’t lash out against you? That’s not how Clay Byrd works. That’s not how I was raised, That’s not what I believe in.
Maybe I am crazy. Maybe this place has changed me. So many damn maybes…
But I know one thing for sure, Michael. I know the fire you lit inside me when you dismissed me, know the blaze you stoked in that last little blog post of your career, and I know that it’s now a raging inferno. You’re my every waking thought. Your name is on the tip of my tongue.
I need to destroy you, to finish the job I started. I don’t have to do it for your Dad, or for Conor Fuse’s moral compass, or for Jatt Starr’s one eyed pirate wife. No Michael, I need this for me. I won’t be able to live with myself without ending your career. If I lose, there isn’t peace at the end of the road for me. You’ll always be there, some looming specter torturing my existence, lording over every thought in the quiet I have for the rest of my life. I can’t let you have that. I can’t lose at March To Glory and still feel like I’m worth something. I have to ascend the Mount Everest of our sport. I have to climb to the mountaintop and piss off the side of it. I have to.
I don’t have a choice.
At March To Glory I’m going to make you wish you were in a Kostoff induced coma. I’m going to make you wish Cecilworth Farthington was kicking your face in and ending a match in seven minutes and fifty seconds. I’m going to make you regret every time you’ve clawed your way back into a match after getting ChristPlowed. I’m going to make you regret dismissing me like I was everyone else on this roster, like you had something better to do. All your accolades and history be damned. At March To Glory, we’re going to be locked in a steel cage. There’s no escape. No more dismissing me, no walking away. This is the end of our story.
And I’m ending your career.
It’s just you and me. Our wills, our fire, our talent, matched up head to head. In the same building where it all started. In the arena your father built to showcase your prowess. Where they worship you like the SON. In the most important fight I’ll ever have in my entire life, it won’t be for tin, it won’t be for my father. It’ll be for my pride. To live with myself. I’ll more than bleed to beat you Michael. Take my eyes, my arms, take my damn legs, I’ll black knight you with my fucking teeth if I have to.
I’ll fight until the bitter fucking end. This isn’t some hokey bullshit concocted slight like with The Minister. This isn’t some friendly contest like with Cecilworth, or some aborted blood feud with some old member of Project Ego. No Michael, this is serious. This is everything for me. March To Glory is it. If I lose, nothing else matters. If I lose, I’ll feel it for the rest of my life, I’ll taste it in every cup of coffee I drink. It’ll be there at the bottom of every bottle I try to drown myself in. Just like the steel cage we’ll battle in, there will be no escape from it for me. At March To Glory you better do exactly like you said you would and bring your fucking shovel. Cause I’m not letting you out of that fucking cage while I can still draw a breath. You’ll have to fucking kill me Michael.
And all I’ll need to do is put your shoulders on the mat for a count of three. Just three seconds. Three seconds to end the greatest career of all time.
And it’ll eat at you for the rest of your life.
See you soon.
“And now the kingdom comes. Crashing down undone. And I am a master of a nothing place.”
The Beginning Is The End Is The Beginning – The Smashing Pumpkins