”I hold a beast, a celestial being and a maniac inside of me. It’s up to you which one you meet.” – Karl Wiggins
Late July, 2020.
Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.
Some things are better left buried. Most things, in fact.
But desperate times call for desperate measures.
He continued to tap his middle and ring finger rhythmically on the desk. A bright white thousand-watt light bulb shined down on the back of his head, a head laid forward, on his face on the hard plastic.
It had been a calculated gamble – a risk beyond any other risk – a move meant to awaken something so frightening within him that he’d spent most of his adult life seeking treatment whenever it might attempt to surface. He was violent, yes. But no, this wasn’t that. Nothing so pedestrian and commonplace as the whims of your average violent fighter. This was something more, something he shared with no one.
Voluntarily, he’d checked himself into treatment, many times, sometimes as often as five or six times a year — any time he felt it bubbling to the surface.
But this one was different.
This one he’d provoked on purpose, and from that provocation something much more sinister was threatening him now. He checked himself in for treatment like he’d done so many times before, and he held his head down, firmly on the desk, trying to tap out the mantra in his head that had calmed him so many times before. Only this time, the calm wasn’t coming. Hours he’d been here, and still, the growing unease continued on unabated. Something else approached. He could feel it. The hairs stood up on the back of his neck, and they stayed that way.
He was terrified now.
What was he thinking? What had he done?
But being terrified and showing it are two different things. He’d decided to stay right here until it passed, until he could maintain some kind of control over it. Maybe he would stay here forever. This could be how it ends – an embarrassing failure of staggering proportions, failure by his standards anyway – backing into championships, accepting losses he’d never have accepted before. Maybe the gambit was foolish, digging up old wounds to help him inflict new ones in others.
It didn’t matter.
He knew going in. He knew. He expected the fracturing of his mind, and he’d been controlling these episodes, learned to handle them. But a new fracture had taken place this time, one he had no frame of reference for. Terrified. Still. Again. And it would not shake.
Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.
The sound pierced through the silence of the room like a razor-sharp knife, and his head jolted up.
Cecilia Ryan, his daughter, fifteen years old, was sitting in a chair across the desk from him, a chair he hadn’t noticed before. She was dressed simply, in cutoff shorts and a pink top, and a small pink scrunchie that held a ponytail behind her head. She tilted her head, quizzically, and watched him, and he looked back, incredulously, stunned to see her here.
“Cecilia, honey… how did you… what… what are you doing here?”
He looked around the room, pointlessly, wondering if he’d missed some entrance into the small exam room other than the main metal door in front, or the half-wall of plexiglass that looked into an observation area. Finally resting his eyes on her, he studied her face. She smiled, not warmly, and not at all familiarly. He knew his daughter’s face as well as he knew his own, and it was her, but not her. She was there but not, and he pondered on the reality of it for a moment, but only a moment, because just as quickly as the wonderings came, they left, and his mind suddenly took it all in at face value.
“I’m here to help you, daddy.”
He was confused by this, and the corner of his left eye twitched slightly.
“Help me? Cecilia, how do you even know about this place, and why, who put you up to this? Did your mother send you here? Lindsay?”
Her emotionless expression twisted, flitting between curiosity and indifference, and she turned her head slightly to the side, not quite directly to the side, a quarter turn, as if considering something. She turned back and smiled, not reassuringly.
“I don’t actually know why I’m here, daddy. I just know you need help, and I want to help.”
“Cecilia,” he replied, not understanding. “How could you possibly help me with… any of this? What the hell can you do? You’re a kid, Ceese. You don’t need to be wrapped up in what I’m about to do, and you sure as hell don’t belong in this place.”
She had no reaction to this, only smiling again.
“I can help you. I’ll show you that I can help you. You’ll see. I’ll do a good job.”
The metal door to the room creaked, and someone unlocked it from the outside. The loud unlatching sounds of the steel bars that went across the opening echoed loudly, and then, it opened, and two men walked in, one with a plate of food.
Dan Ryan’s face dropped, and an expression of pure loathing took over as the one with the food placed a tray on the side of the desk.
Dan looked hard into his daughter’s eyes, and she looked back, and he gritted his teeth as he growled…
“I wish they’d fucking leave me the fuck alone.”
The men froze in place, looking at each other.
Dan continued to look at the blue eyes staring back at him, and his face began to contort.
“Why won’t they fucking leave me the fuck alone?”
Cecilia looked back at him, then leaned forward, putting her hand on his arm and smiling again.
“I’ll take care of it for you, daddy.”
She stood up, pushing her chair back, and turned to face them.
And she smiled.
”All of it. It’s all true.” – Han Solo
I can always count on you to tell the truth, Mike.
The truth about you, the truth about me, the truth about others, the situation.
One of the many things we have in common. There’s not really any need to make things up when the truth works so very well.
Everything you’ve been saying the last six weeks is absolutely correct. There’s nothing about the first year and change of my time in HOW that says I have any leg to stand on, not where you’re concerned.
You are the best wrestler in the world today.
There’s no sense in arguing it.
I don’t need to take a poll.
I know this business better than most, and you are clearly the best there is. I used to say, without any doubt in my mind, that I was the best wrestler on the entire planet, and I never questioned it once. But in the face of overwhelming evidence, ego be damned, I have no case to argue now. I can’t stand here and tell you what you aren’t. It really doesn’t matter if I disagree. My confidence doesn’t matter. And I can’t point to your flaws, expose your weaknesses, not when you’ve always been so willing to do all of that yourself. It’s quite the disarming tactic to tell everyone the ways you suck. It throws people off guard, you know, and you know that. It takes away lines of attack.
Mike Best eviscerates Mike Best before anyone else can.
It’s smart, Mike.
You’ve always been smart.
I’ve come to know you pretty well. What you haven’t told me outright, I’ve learned just by paying attention, or by using the many tools available, things anyone could learn or know if they wanted to or cared enough to.
I know all of the things you’ve been saying. You’ve said them to my face. We’ve had the conversations more than once. You halfheartedly insult me, but your heart isn’t in it, because after all, it’s rather pointless to point out things that anyone can see if they just open their eyes. You’re not giving out any new information. There aren’t any secrets that you can reveal. You’re going through the motions because you have a self-applied quota to meet. Check the boxes, work the cheat codes.
I’ve always enjoyed the blog posts. My only regret is that they don’t come in an audio format, so I can listen to them on those long, lonely nights on the road.
But you sorta said it yourself, didn’t you?
I didn’t quit. I didn’t give up. I didn’t accept failure or refuse to adapt. I looked for answers, intently, and with purpose, and I found them. Nothing that happened before that moment matters to me anymore, so you can listen to me and know that I’m not lying to you when I say that my first year in this company might as well have been another person, someone I watched on television dressed like me because it bears no resemblance to who I am today. It doesn’t hurt my feelings to hear, because I don’t have any feelings to hurt, not anymore. I wiped the slate clean because I had to. Only a fool keeps banging his head against a brick wall, only a fool obstinately pushes on doing the same things over and over.
I’m no fool, and yes, you know that. You never have cared for anything except for being champion, and yes, I know that, and no, that’s not an insult. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that I don’t care just because I don’t talk about it all day long. You are one of the few people on this planet who can relate to the level of drive and determination I possess. We are Gods among men, Michael. I don’t mind that you’re insecure. You are who you are, and it’s working just fine for you. I’m not, but I don’t live in a fantasy world where that’s a weakness. It may not be a strength either, and the truth is, talking about it, I don’t think I really care if you’re insecure or if I’m not. It has no bearing on anything in the end, because if you can’t take your shot and hit, then fuck your feelings. No one cares, and it doesn’t matter.
You’re the ultimate salesman, my friend, and that’s another compliment. Because no one I’ve ever seen has been so good at making people think that you might lose to some truly undeserving untalented people than you are. I’ve watched as champion after champion gets put through the paces of having to fight their little challenger of the week title defenses, and they ho-hum their way through, they do their little match, grab their paycheck, knock one out on a stripper’s back and move on to the next town.
I watched while you made the world think Bobby Dean was gonna win the HOW World Title. I watched a crowd of people stand around a monitor backstage to see if that fat fucking nothing was gonna win a World goddamn Championship.
See, you think it’s fear and insecurity that’s holding you back, but I don’t think so. I don’t think you are who you are because you’re scared, or because you’re insecure. You’re scared and insecure, but you are who you are because you’re smart, talented, a genetic freak, and a killer on the microphone with a work ethic that takes second place to no one I’ve ever known. I’ve been a champion many times, and like you said, in places I’ve forgotten the letters to, and I’ve seen lots of people come and go, but I’m saying this to you right now, in front of the world, something I haven’t said to you in private yet.
This is, by far the biggest match of my career. This is the biggest challenge, the biggest uphill battle, the most difficult match I’ve ever faced. This has nothing to do with wanting to hurt or maim you. Hurting and maiming come easy. I don’t have to win to cripple someone. I can do that with a snap of my fingers and a flick of the wrist.
But winning the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP.
THE….. WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP.
Anything I can do to win this match, I will do. You know that. I know you’ll do the same, and I don’t want to patronize you, Mike, so I’ll just say this, a little piece of advice for you to take and do with what you will.
Don’t mistake a lack of fear for weakness. Don’t mistake a lack of insecurity for a lack of passion. And don’t tell me what I’ll be happy to settle for.
There’s a 50-50 chance… maybe greater… that our friendship won’t survive this. I hope that isn’t true. I think the truth is, you’re used to showing what a killer you are, and it’s usually a selling point for you, but we’re friends because you’re a killer. I don’t have any use for anyone who isn’t like me, and if you didn’t have it within you to snap my neck if the need arose, this would be a lot uglier. I abhor weakness, I abhor timid whimpering simps who spend their days pining about their families and feelings and force me to pretend like I give a shit about any of it. You don’t have to sell me on you being a killer. I’m already sold.
The one thing…. THE ONE THING… you and I can count on though, is this, my friend:
Fuck all of that.
Fuck all of it.
Fuck the fans, fuck Lee, fuck the boys, fuck your insecurities, fuck your fear, fuck the pressure of being in the ring with the eyes of the world on us, with everything that the ICON Champion ends up meaning riding on it, with the World Championship riding on it. Fuck it all.
What we have is a chance to drown out all of the bullshit, all of everything that always gets in the middle of things like this, get in that fucking ring, and go to fucking war like men. Not a contrived war for control of a company, not war over who has the bestest funnest stable, not war over who’s got the biggest balls, has the biggest dick, knows how to sling it on the table and slap people across the face with it. No. War the way it was meant to be fought. You go in. I go in. We fight until it’s over. That’s what life is fucking all about Mike. It’s what we fucking live for. No two men in the history of this business have been where we are right now. I’m not hyping a fuckin’ thing up. Fuck hype.
If you’re honest, you know this as well as I do.
This is life, Mike.
It’s all that matters, and I don’t care if I die trying to win that championship, because this is all life is. I’ll sacrifice anything to do it, and I know you will too. It’s not hard to decide what you want your life to be about. What’s hard is figuring out what you’re willing to give up in order to do the things you really care about. Anything that you cannot sacrifice pins you, makes you weak.
Eventually, you have to throw everything you’ve got at the best there is, and see what happens.
Believe me, a man can live on his wits and his balls for only so long.
We were both born to win, but only one of us can this time. If I beat you, do me a favor and don’t retreat into self-pity like you always have before. Don’t punch your dealer’s number in your cell phone and waste yourself away in the same old cycle. Instead, find it within you to realize that in the end, you can only be pathetic if you let yourself be. We could never be Jatt Starr or John Sektor, and no, they were never ‘just like you’. Never. We are a step above. We are the next level. We are Gods among men, Michael. It doesn’t matter if you’re insecure, my friend. We are the best in the motherfucking world. So if I lose, man, fuck yes I’ll be pissed. And fuck yes, I’ll get back up, and I won’t quit, and I’ll adapt again until I figure out how to do it. That’s who we are. That’s what we do.
Tell me I’m wrong, but I don’t think you will.
I can always count on you to tell the truth.
Dr. Karl Mossler had been working long hours lately. Glancing up at the clock, he watched the time tick by, reaching now into the late evening hours, nearly 11 PM.
A thick gray folder was opened up in front of him, with paperwork some two inches thick there, and he slid one of the papers over to the side slightly, looking down at a photograph.
The photo was from some five months earlier, after an incident in one of the examination rooms.
Two orderlies had been attacked and severely beaten while trying to deliver food to a patient under voluntary care. One of the men had lost six teeth, hit so hard in his jaw that he had been on a liquid diet for three months after, as plastic surgeons did their best to reconstruct the shattered bone. The other man had broken bones in both arms. He had tried to fight the patient off and failed. He was thrown with vicious force into the plexiglass barrier, the impact spreading spiderweb cracks across it. His right knee had taken the brunt of the direct impact, and the patella shattered. Torn ligaments and nerve damage meant he might never walk again, at least, not without assistance.
Dr. Mossler thumbed the photos to the side, looking at one last image, the patient, who had nothing more than superficial scratches and wounds on his face and hands where the men had tried to fight back. He had easily overpowered them though. No real damage done.
The patient had been a voluntary admission, and shortly after the incident, checked himself out, after a very sizable amount of money had been deposited into the offshore bank account utilized by the Facility Director. Everything had been swept under the rug, the families of the two orderlies received their own fat checks, and nothing more had come of it until now.
The doctor had been treating this patient for over a decade, and until now he had never exhibited such an outburst. The psychotic breaks had come, in no discernable specific timeframe, occasionally and at random, though he had been, until the incident, calm and cooperative in discussing his treatment. Typically the episodes would pass, as he had been provided coping mechanisms to bring his mind back into center. But not this time.
The video and audio of the incident had been pulled immediately, and the master tapes deleted. The director wanted it all to go away. But Mossler hadn’t been able to let it go and had decided to take matters into his own hands. Seedy characters like money, and moral implications are no implications at all. Such a man was more than happy to do a forensic pull of the main hard drive, for a tidy little sum, and had been able to recover the footage.
Mossler knew he was risking his job, but he wasn’t quite ready to give up on his patient yet. He had to know what happened to the calm, rational man who was trying to understand and overcome childhood and adult trauma, and how he could have, in the end, been capable of what he ultimately did.
The doctor picked up the flash drive in the small envelope on his desk and plugged it into the USB port of his laptop, and after a few clicks, saw the footage come to life in front of him on the screen.
Sitting in the middle of the white examination room was Dan Ryan, sitting in a chair behind a white plastic desk, his head down on the surface of it. One hand was behind his head, resting on the back of his neck, and the other was stretched out on the desk, tapping slowly on it.
Dr. Mossler watched, silently, observing.
Ryan’s head jerked up and looked across the desk as if seeing something in front of him.
Mossler sat up high in his seat, his mouth opening slightly, and he watched as his patient muttered something to himself that he couldn’t quite hear on the recording. He sat there, gesturing with his hands once or twice, speaking, though it wasn’t apparent to whom. The doctor watched as his patient’s face contorted, as if struggling with something, then saw the door to the examination room open. Two orderlies, men the doctor had become very familiar with through photos and medical records, entered, one with a plate of food.
Dan Ryan’s facial expression emptied. All sense of presence seems to leave his countenance, and now, he spoke in a voice loud enough to be heard.
“I wish they would fucking leave me the fuck alone.”
He glared straight across the desk — at nothing — and asked…
“Why won’t they fucking leave me the fuck alone?”
The two orderlies looked at each other, and one of them jumped when he heard, coming from the man seated in front of them, a sing-song tone of voice, as he said, “I’ll take care of it for you, daddy.”
Dr. Mossler’s eyes went wide as the patient shoved his chair back, stood, and with a malevolence oozing from every pore, smiled.
The fourth bedroom of the compound in Texas. It had been set up for a little girl once, but was cold and dusty.
The room was dark, and Dan Ryan sat, at a desk in this room his hand furiously scribbling away at the paper in front of him, on it, and off of it, as his pen cut jagged lines in the wood itself.
Over and over.
He looked up. Cecilia’s movements mirrored his own, and he smiled, proud.
“I have a surprise for you today, honey.”
She looked at him, and her face lit up.
“You do?? Oh wow, I love surprises. What is it?”
He smiled back at her.
“Before we leave to go see Mike, I decided it’s time for you to finally meet your big sister.”
Her eyes went wide with excitement.
“Really? Do you really mean it?! Do you think she’ll like me??”
He chuckled slightly, a short stunted chuckle that ended abruptly.
“I think she’ll love you. How could she not?”
Cecilia smiled, then looked back down. She got sad then and frowned.
“Would Mike really cut my head off my shoulders and stuff it in a fucking mailbox, daddy?”
The smile faded, and he looked back down and started furiously scribbling the words again.
“He’ll try”, he said.
To no one.