The living room at the Byrd ranch was inconspicuous. The only furnishing in the room that didn’t scream 1985 was the flat screen television above the fireplace. The wooden framed furniture, the dated photographs of Robert Byrd on the end table. Clay hadn’t made a change since losing his father two years ago. Anytime he had suggested the slightest change in decor to Robert, his father had bucked. This would never be his home and he knew it.
The black leather bag that sat on the coffee table was the focus of attention in the room, the short spindly man who stood in front of the television ranting and raving as the clip of Clay smashing Lindsay Troy with a chair replayed over and over again on the screen. Clay sighed as the man finally stopped yelling broken sentences at him and pointing at the bag.
“Ya finished Claude?” Clay growled, he had made his decision, there was no need to dwell or react to it, but Claude would not let the subject go.
“WHY HIM? OF ALL PEOPLE HIM?!” Clay grimaced, rubbing his palms on his worn denim jeans trying to maintain his patience, as Claude continued to rant about a partnership with Lee Best.
“How can you trust him? OF ALL PEOPLE?”
“Have you seen what he’s done?”
All the reasons, all the concerns, they were valid and Clay knew that. The only thing that mattered to Clay in this argument was the black leather bag and it’s contents. Clay motioned Claude over to the bag for the third or fourth time this evening. He’d lost count.
“I’M NOT USING THAT BLOOD MONEY TO RUN THIS RANCH!” Claude roared and once again went back on the same tired tirade. Clay finally, having enough of the argument began to pull out bricks of money.
“Listen! I don’t care how much it is! It’s not worth it! It’s Blood mo…” Claude stopped as Clay continued pulling the money out of the bag, he stared Claude in the eyes the entire time.
“Go on Claude, waitin’ fer ya ta finish…” Clay said with a smirk, his black stetson cowboy hat covering his eyes as he organized the cash. Claude’s eyes were as big as saucers staring at the money.
“Oh, so now yer done?”
“No! Dammit Clay! No…” Claude stammered as he spit the words out.
“What’s different ‘bout this money compared ta other money I earn Claude? What makes this money so vile, so deplorable that ya don’t think a red blooded American like yerself is too damn good fer it?” Clay paused for a moment.
“Truly Claude, I make money breakin’ necks, I make money hurtin’ people… Whether it’s who I want ta hurt, or it’s who the boss wants me ta hurt, it’s all blood money. It’s always been blood money… It always will be blood money.” He removed his cowboy hat, and pushed his long blonde hair out of his face.
“Like I said, it’s just doin’ it ta the people the ol’ man says ta take out that ya seem ta have a problem with. Now I ain’t sayin’ I ain’t sympathetic ta yer plight here Claude, I ain’t sayin’ I ain’t hearin’ ya. But what’s done is done. I made this decision, it was the best one fer this ranch, it was the best one fer those kids, and it was the best decision fer me.” He placed the cowboy hat back on his head, this time looking up from the money. He once again locked eyes with Claude.
“We gotta play cards with the hand we’re dealt Claude. Sure, I’ve been the gambler in the past. I’ve gone ta war fer my beliefs. But this ain’t the time ta be sentimental ‘bout the reasons. This ain’t the time ta believe in the power of friendship. This is the time in my career ta believe in the all mighty dollar,” Claude went to speak but Clay held up his finger. Asking for a moment. “Nah, I’ve let ya rant and rave fer the last hour Claude. Imma finish up what I was gettin’ at in a moment, then ya can rant some more.”
“I ain’t had what all these fellers who wanna buck the system and change the world have had, I ain’t Teddy Palmer havin’ won the LBI and been in the main event at March ta Glory, I ain’t Lindsay Troy havin’ wrassled all over the entire world, and I ain’t Zeb Martin anymore with my entire career in front of me, so I did what was right, I took the shortcut Claude and now we’re gonna have ta live with it,” Clay finally finished as he started to pull his can of Copenhagen Black from his pocket.
And Mike Best thought I chewed Skoal. What a dip shit.
“But Clay, you used to be just like Zeb Martin. You used to try to right wrongs, have a laugh, that’s what got you this far…” Claude stopped as the realization of the futility of the situation that was in front of him swept over the his worn face.
“It got me what Claude? A shadow I can’t seem ta step outta? A chip on my shoulder that I can’t seem ta fill? Do ya see any of them friends comin’ ‘round lookin’ ta help the old guy on his new journey? Ya seem them linin’ up ta continue this shit show of a life? Cause I fuckin’ don’t Claude. They ain’t callin’ me, yer old ass ain’t lacin’ up no boots anytime soon,” Clay stood up holding his arms out gesturing to the walls.
“All it’s got me is a place I’m too damned scared ta make any changes ta ‘cause I loved my Pa, all it’s got me Claude is a bunch of fuckin’ beatin’s by men who played the game. Claude, this time, I’m gonna play the game. Their ain’t no rebel in this soul anymore. Their’s just a desire ta win Claude. A desire ta be fuckin’ successful,” The Texas Behemoth grew more dramatic, throwing his hat at the pile of money on the table.
“All that matters is doin’ my fuckin’ job. Doin’ exactly what Lee Best asks me ta do. He wants me ta break this kid Zeb Martin in fuckin’ half? Consider it done. He said High Octane Wrasslin’ has a problem, that it has an infection, that it has a fuckin’ cancer in it. I’m the fuckin’ antidote, I’m the vaccine, I’m the fuckin’ cure fer it Claude. I’m gonna bring a fuckin’ reckonin’, and I’m goin’ ta do it on the boss’ behalf,” The Monster from Plainview pointed to the bag and continued.
“And that’s fuckin’ why. It’s ‘nough fer ya ta run this place fer the next three months. Lets ya take care of the kids like my Pa wanted, lets ya get things done that we’ve needed done ‘round here fer decades…” Claude interrupted once again. This time he questioned Clay on his wording.
“What do you mean by ‘lets me?’” Claude said. Clay pondered for a moment, making sure the next words that left his mouth were exactly what he wanted to say.
You know those moments of great importance, where you have to say exactly what you mean? Exactly how you want to say it? Where you need to truly let the wheels in your brain turn, let the gears really grind to get the wording exactly correct? This was one of those moments for Clay.
“Claude, I’m goin’ ta Chicago,” he stopped for a moment letting the statement sink in.
“I’m gonna make a life fer myself. Fer the first time in my life, at thirty-eight years old I’m gonna have my own things. I’m gonna build somethin’ fer me there. This place will be what it was always shoulda been ta me. It’ll be a retreat instead of a prison, it’ll be a breath of fresh air instead of constant fuckin’ pain every time I see a photo of the ol’ man. I’ll come back and appreciate it someday, I’ll appreciate the nostalgia and the memories. But right now, fer once in my life, I need ta think ‘bout Clay. I need ta be my own person, I need ta leave Robert Byrd’s enormous fuckin’ shadow,” he stated somberly.
He could see each sentence slowly crushing Claude as it fell from his mouth. Clay had brought him out from Los Angeles years ago to run the ranch. Over that time period they’d developed a brotherly bond.
Claude looked down at the hardwood floor of the living room, the worn wood made him think of Robert and what’d he say in this moment.
“When are you leaving?”
“You going to say goodbye to them?”
Clay stood up and quickly left the room, leaving the money on the table. He needed some fresh air. Escaping the room was the easiest way to leave his turbulent anguished feelings there. The cool evening breeze washed over him as he made his way to the front porch.
The sound of the notification broke through the silence . Clay flipped the black iPhone over in his hand and looked at the message.
“Yo Byrd. It’s Sek. Never got a chance to welcome you to the Alliance. Listen, me and the boys are meeting up in Chicago tomorrow. Little poker action and a night on the town. You down, hermano? Sek.”
Clay paused for a moment before sending off his response.
“Can’t make it, finishing some stuff up in Texas before the move. Catch ya Saturday.” Clay sent back. He’d have enjoyed a night with the boys. Would of been a great distraction from this place. Clay finally pulled a pinch out of the Copenhagen can, he stopped for a moment and let the aroma permeate his nostrils. He slipped the pinch in and looked out longingly into the Texas night sky, thinking back on the conversation with Claude.
“Fuck, that was harder than I thought it would be.”
Zeb, ya know we got a lot in common?
Both from single parent homes, both from some backwoods bullshit, both enjoy the outdoors, both of us played some other sports before venturin’ inta wrasslin’. I mean sure yer Pa left ya by choice and my Ma fell over dead. My backwoods bullshit happened ta be a farm where ya had ta learn how ta work and yers was a fishin’ holler. Ya were good ‘nough ta play on the football team while I was the fuckin’ star, and I had a natural advantage on the wrasslin’ thing. See Zeb, I understand what ya went through. Sure, it’s from the perspective of watchin’ the dimwitted losers I walked ‘round with in High School. But I at least have seent it a time or two.
We’ve all made critical errors in judgement, especially at yer age. We’ve all made poor associates and acquaintances. We all thought being rebellious was fun and cool. I could tell ya stories of my career runnin’ up ta this point, fightin’ authorities, goin’ on crusades. Tryin’ ta make an impression in this business, tryin’ ta make my mark.
As ya get older Zeb, ya start ta learn from yer mistakes. Smarten up a bit. That kid in the front row of class that kissed the teachers ass a bit? He might have been right all along.
I could have came into High Octane Wrasslin’ like a bat out of hell, found all the injustices and tried ta root out the cause. But Zeb, just like with water it’s easier ta go with the flow. This place is one walkin’ livin’ injustice. Ya can challenge the establishment because it’s the right thing ta do, or ya can decide ta live with it.
Every member of The Alliance has come to that understanding, and it’s my job this week ta make sure ya understand what the path of least resistance is. I’m gonna do ya a favor rippin’ yer head off with a lariat. I’m gonna teach ya a lesson at Refueled that took me fifteen years ta figure out.
Just accept it.
It is the way it is.
Ya can rage against the system, maybe you’ll eventually make some minute insignificant impact. The machine will slow down ever so briefly, but just like ya found out with Jatt and Sek, it’s only temporary.
Some things are inevitable Zeb, some things are just the way they are. The Best Alliance controls High Octane Wrestling, it’s an undeniable inevitability. Water is wet, the sun sets in the west and The Best Alliance wins wrasslin’ matches.
Lee wants ya handled, wants the infection cut away. He wants yer ass in a body bag, and fer the money he’s givin’ me ta do it? I’ll build the fuckin’ pine box while I’m at it. Hell, I’ll go out, chop the damn tree down, work the lumber up myself. Even dig the fuckin’ hole fer ya, and bury yer ass.
Cause this is my ticket Zeb, while I was off ta a fast start in my younger days, my wrasslin’ career didn’t move quite like yers. It took me sixteen years ta find my way ta this moment. I had ta soften Sektor up fer ya, I had ta rip some fuckin’ announcer apart, and I had ta take Mike Fuckin’ Best ta his limit. All that on top of workin’ my ass off in this business ta get noticed.
Finally Zeb, finally I can start doin’ this shit fer me. Finally I can do it takin’ care of myself first. I ain’t got nobody else’s battles ta fight but what Lee puts in front of me. The money matters Zeb, it’s what’s gonna take care of me fer the rest of my life. It’s what’s gonna be there fer me when this life is over.
Eventually yer gonna figure it out. Momma ain’t gonna be there, yer lil sister will fall in love with some artist in college, Lindsay will figure out dysfunctional wrasslin’ couples don’t work. Teddy will slip back inta his vices and kill himself.
And what will ya have at the end? The memories? The friendships?
They won’t buy you shit. They won’t pay yer fuckin’ bills.
You’ll finally realize the only fuckin’ thing that matters is yerself.
You’ll be just like me Zeb.
So come out on Refueled and get yer cross ready. I’m gonna fuckin’ crucify ya in the middle of the fuckin’ best arena. Just like Jesus ya can die fer everyone else’s fuckin’ sins.
See Ya Soon
Next time look both ways when ya cross the street ya fuckin’ moron.
The barn had been Clay’s home for as long as he could remember. He had modernized the equipment since he and his father had trained here. The old worn heavy bag had been replaced with a new model to protect the kids wrists, the farm equipment had been moved into a second building. The spot where Clay had smashed a tractor tire with a sledgehammer for hours was replaced by modern workout equipment. But the squared circle had never changed, just like the living room; he could never replace the sweat stained mat.
If you looked at the far corner close enough you could still make out the spot Clay had crawled too with blood pouring from his mouth after taking a right hand. The memories of this building were priceless, he and his father talking over strategy before every big match of his career.
It was time to let the physical confines go, it was time to venture out. The barn had become an extension of the prison of the house, it had begun to haunt Clay. The memories had become so painful lately. The experiences were invaluable. The lessons learnt were unquantifiable. But the agony they caused was immeasurable.
Saturday was his turn to be the teacher. All the lessons he had learned in this barn would be fully weaponized and brought to bear. The strategy was always simple against younger, greener talent. Zeb had a lot of heart. He had shown that over these last few months, dispatching Sektor. Going to battle against The Alliance. Getting himself hit by a fucking car and finding a way to end up back in the fight.
The kid had plenty of moxie, you couldn’t take that away from him.
He could almost hear his father’s voice. “Clay, that old man’s gonna let ya get yer licks in. He’s gonna take everythin’ ya got, and he’s gonna drag ya out inta the deep water Clay. And yer gonna have ta fight like a man possessed not ta fuckin’ drown.” Clay hadn’t listened that afternoon while training. The old man did exactly what his father said he would, and he found himself on his back staring up at the lights.
Now? It was Clay’s turn to teach that same lesson to a young Zeb Martin. The crafty ring veterans always had something up their sleeve. And if Zeb fought like hell? There was always the backup plan. He’d take his head off with a fucking lariat.