”It seemed so simple.”
“Dane and I toss Duce over the top rope - sorry, Duce. You’re my boy but this is everyone for themselves. So it’s down to Dane and me, and two newbies. Eclipse - who looks really familiar - and Andy Murray, an oldhead that Knox and my dad apparently know.”
“So it’s me and Dane, and Andy and Total Eclipse of the Heart, and I allowed myself a moment of self-congratulation. I’m gonna do it, I said to myself. I’m actually gonna do it.”
“And five seconds later, I’m over the top next to Dane, on my hands and knees on the floor, trying to figure out what the fuck just happened. Ten seconds later, I’m not even outta the arena yet, and I hear ‘Hail to the King’ playing.”
“Dane was staring at the ring with a mixture of anger at Murray and anger at himself, I interpreted.”
“I felt like I let everyone that believed in me down.”
Adrian Evan waits.
And he waits.
He’s a smart, observant man, and he has noted a trend when MJ Flair comes up short in whatever goal she’s set for herself here in the CWF. It has rarely happened since he joined her on the Far East tour, but when it does, it’s constant: she remains in the women’s locker room, mentally torturing herself.
This presents a problem, as there is nobody that’s part of their entourage that can go in and check on her. Give her the ol’ pep talk.
Let’s be honest: push her to get dressed and out the door so they can all go to their hotels.
Instead of opening himself up to a sexual harassment lawsuit, Adrian and the women of the CWF have come to an agreement. He is sitting in a chair just outside the women’s locker room, taking note of everyone that has entered and exited. Once the last athlete on his list has left the room, Tara Robinson double checks the room, and, on seeing just MJ inside, gives Adrian the thumbs up.
He knocks on the door and announces himself, just to ensure that there’s no additional issue. She is, in fact, alone in the room, sitting on the corner in a T-shirt and boyshorts, hair askew from being washed and dried but not brushed, staring at her phone.
She looks up.
And she waves him over.
MJF: C’mere, man - you’re gonna wanna see this.
He approaches her slowly, though she’s not making any real movements, other than her eyes and her gesturing to him to come closer. Adrian takes a breath and sits on the floor next to her, probably dirtying his suit. She leans in a bit and presses a button on her phone, starting a video.
It’s an unbroadcast angle of the end of the Golden Intentions match from the floor, focused right on the aisle side of the ring.
MJF: Watch this.
All of a sudden, MJ herself and Eric Dane appear from the right side with Duce Jones, and they muscle him over the top. No sooner does he hit the floor than Andy Murray comes up from behind and dumps them both. The video ends as soon as it’s clear they’re both going over.
MJF: You see that?
Adrian looks at her, confused. The entire video was less than five seconds long.
MJF: One and a half seconds. That’s how long Dane and I watched Duce go over. Look, let me show you.
Before she can rewind, Adrian gently takes the phone out of her hands.
Adrian: I saw, Ms. Flair. What’s wrong with it?
Her eyes go wide as she looks at Adrian in disbelief.
MJF: One. And. A. Half. Seconds. Three opponents still in the ring, the fuck am I doin’ showboating?
Adrian studies her for a moment, trying to think if she’s serious. A second and a half of catching her breath after being in a battle royal for over thirty minutes… and she calls it ‘showboating’ because she wasn’t immediately back on the offensive.
MJF: I’ve watched this over a hundred times, probably, and I’ve come up with like twenty different things I could’ve done to avoid that. Spin out of it and kick Dane in the back. If I’m so fucking weak I need to take a break, I should’ve backed into the corner to watch everyone. Just a general fucking awareness of where people are. I should’ve had this.
She looks at him, sadness in her eyes.
MJF: I should’ve fucking had this, Adrian. It’s my fault.
MJ takes the phone back and rewinds the video, starting it again.
MJF: I let people down. I suck. I’m shit, and I’m a fucking loser.
They sit in silence for a few seconds while MJ replays her video.
Adrian: You know, most of my career I wrestled in Mexico.
And she puts her phone down. Adrian rarely speaks about his wrestling career, so when he does, MJ listens.
Adrian: Sideshows and carnivals, mostly. Very little money, very little publicity. Even as the World Junior Junior Champion, I was making less money than the preliminary boys on the ‘regular’ wrestling shows. Then I got the call from Mr. Melton.
Joey Melton, the very first CSWA World Champion, was an unquestioned legend in the world of professional wrestling and is credited by MJ’s immediate and extended family for bringing Adrian into their orbit.
Adrian: He was going through a bit of a professional slump, so he thought he’d put on a publicity stunt. I think it was Fish Fund 13, he ‘purchased’ a World Title shot against me. Easily the biggest payday I’ve ever had, and he clearly wasn’t ready for me because I ended up defeating him.
MJF: Well… that’s what he gets for playing the fool, right?
Adrian: In a way. I thought that was my big break, finally, to come home and make a living in this country.
MJF: Not so much?
Adrian: You know the CSWA. Midget wrestling was the comedy break of the show. My title, that I’d worked so hard to make a legitimate one, was turned back into a joke. I tried to go back to Mexico, but I was shunned for abandoning my ‘roots.’ I felt like a loser, like a total shit.
MJF: But you’re not, man. You’re like, the most put-together dude I know.
Adrian: You think that was an accident? I was fortunate enough to strike up a friendship with Mr. Melton years later, and parlay that into my position with McGinnis.
He stands up and reaches down, helping MJ to her feet.
Adrian: The point is that you never know what’s coming - and even when you feel like you’ve failed at one thing? There’s always tomorrow.
Despite herself, MJ smiles at Adrian.
Adrian: Now will you please get dressed? Some of us are hungry.
She kicks him lightly in the ass as he walks towards the door, but dives into her bag to grab some street clothes.
Incredibly, she’s smiling.
”My first thought was disbelief. There’s no way this old man who’s been wrestling like ten minutes longer than me could dump two of us out at once. Denial is a powerful thing; even as I was going over I was saying to myself I’m just dizzy; I’m dehydrated; I’ll close my eyes and take a minute and get back to business ‘a winning this match.”
“My second thought, as my feet hit the floor and I fell forward to my hands and knees, was that I failed.”
“I had one goal this year. I had one barometer of success: headline Wrestle Fest in front of my hometown fans. Right now, that goal is a fail, and I apologize to the fans I’ve made since I made the CWF my home back in January. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, things don’t go as planned.”
“Sometimes, things aren’t meant to be.”
“And it’s really… really hard to admit that to anyone, let alone myself.”
“I’m sure it’s an unfamiliar state’a mind for Ataxia these days, though… everything’s comin’ up roses for him.”
“Lengthy run with the Impact Championship. The influence of the Forsaken. The romance with Mia Rayne.”
“Even this match is non-title; you lose, you’re still the Champion.”
“My frand, I fear your luck is about to run out.”
“Ms. Flair… you reek of onions.”
Standing outside Chickie’s & Pete’s, a sports bar attached to the Wells Fargo arena, Adrian Evans is sure to stand upwind of the former CWF World Champion. She laughs, drops to her knees on the concrete, and hugs her business manager.
MJF: You’re a good egg, Adrian. Thanks for the things.
Adrian smiles a half smile and returns the hug, catching the eye of MJ’s on-again, off-again, sort-of-not-really-who-knows boyfriend Roger in the process. Roger says nothing but watches them closely.
Adrian: The proximity didn’t help, my dear. Next time, maybe skip the onion rings if you’re getting grilled onions on your burger?
That statement draws a serious glare from the athlete.
A horn honks as Adrian’s Uber pulls up. He shakes Roger’s hand, nodding as he does so, then gives MJ another hug before walking towards his car. MJ and Roger wait while he gets in, speaks to the driver for a few moments, then pulls away.
Roger: I don’t think he likes me very much.
MJF: Of course he doesn’t.
Roger: Gee, thanks.
MJF: What’d’ya expect? I’ve literally known him since I was two. He’s my other cool uncle, and like all my adopted family members, he doesn’t like any reminders that I’m all growed up.
Roger: You certainly are.
He pulls her in close and kisses her. She reaches behind his head while he wraps his arms around her waist. The wind blows, ruffling her skirt a bit, and Roger’s hand goes right to it, presumably (or defensively) to keep it from blowing up too high.
Roger: Yeah, too many onions.
MJF: Fuck you, I like onions.
They link arms and start walking. MJ’s mood is considerably, noticeably lighter than earlier in the evening, likely a result of good food with both Adrian and Roger, as well as Roger slipping her a pair of vodka tonics in defiance of liquor licenses and legal drinking ages.
Roger: Those guys were dicks. Are you okay?
MJF: Which guys?
Roger: The Murray Bros. They were totally out of line. You know, you worked hard tonight like you were working hard all year, and it’s totally fucked up that he slid in and took the match from you.
There were, in fact, several ‘Murray Bros’ at the restaurant this evening. While they weren’t directly disrespectful to MJ personally, there was a good five minute window after the trio were seated that a group at the bar were chanting ‘Hail to the king!’ in MJ’s general direction.
MJF: Yeah… is it, though?
Roger: Of course it is. Guys like Murray, guys like Dane - they had their moment. Time to let the next generation take over.
She considers this for a few seconds as they continue to walk.
MJF: Wait - I thought you told me you didn’t like wrestling?
Roger: I don’t, except for yours.
MJF: Didn’t even watch it.
Roger: Didn’t. But everyone in my middle school knew who Andy Murray was. Everyone knew who Eric Dane was, those guys were popular.
MJF: Didn’t even know who my dad was.
Roger: We didn’t have U-62 in Queens.
They walk in silence for a few more seconds.
MJF: You’re wrong, y’know.
MJF: The guys don’t have t’get outta the way. That’s not how it works.
He stops, removes his arm from around her shoulders, and steps back.
Roger: That is how it works. The old move on, the new take over.
MJ shakes her head.
MJF: They don’t owe me shit, Roj… Do I want the Andy Murray spot? Absolutely. Does he give it to me? Fuck no. When I can take it from him… then I’m ready for it.
She faces him, arms folded across her chest. They maintain eye contact for several seconds.
Roger: You really do smell like onions.
MJ does not answer with words; she instead burps and blows it in his face. Roger tries his best to ignore it but he breaks eye contact first. A smile forms on MJ’s lips and she takes his hand as they begin walking again. They make it no farther than half a block, however, when the relative silence of the city is broken by the sound of a phone ringing. MJ reaches into her bag and pulls hers out, staring at the screen.
Roger: ‘Blocked Number’?
It continues to ring, while MJ stares at it, contemplating. Finally, she slides it open.
The voice is loud enough for Roger to hear just as clearly.
MJF: … ‘Tax?
Ataxia (Phone): The one and only! Listen, frand… we need to talk.
Roger: Why does he have your number?
MJF (Ignoring him): All right, champ… you’ve got my attention.
”I’m a simple woman with simple needs. My guitar, my gym, my paintbrushes, my friends, and lots of food. That’s all I need when I’m not at the job.”
“At the job? Simpler still: I demand perfection from myself. Anything other than a victory and a complete steal of the show, I consider t’be failing the fans. You can imagine the disappointment I’ve had with myself since Paradise.”
“But I will say it’s hilarious to me that the two guys I asked for some help on gettin’ ready for Golden Intentions have spent their careers almost winning Battle Royal matches, and then I almost win Golden Intentions.”
“Note to self: next year, get advice from Andy Murray.”
MJ and Roger step out of the cab, which speeds away quickly. MJ looks at the building that matches the address that Ataxia sent her… and it looks like an abandoned crack house. She steps up to the door and looks for a sign - any sign - of life inside.
Roger: Let’s just go.
Before MJ can answer, her phone vibrates and she looks down, seeing an animated GIF of a hedgehog on a chicken in a mini-kilt with the phrase “To Adventure!” written on it. Roger looks down at the image and then back at her.
Roger: ...The hell?
MJF: Oh, that’s adorable.
MJF receives another text message.
“Knock twice and say Flugelhorn.”
MJ raises an eyebrow at that, but walks up to the door of the house and knocks twice. A slit in the door slides open.
Doorman: And your friend?
Roger: I am not saying--
MJF: Yes you are.
Doorman: Come on in...Frands!
The door opens and the room is in complete darkness for a few moments. MJ and Roger walk in and the door shuts behind them.
Roger: I’ve got a bad feeling about this...
MJF: Relax, babe.
Ataxia: Yeah. Relax, babe! Your butt is so tense!
Lights flood the place, and we see that MJ and Roger are actually in a video game bar! Everyone in the whole place yells out “Surprise!” as we see a crudely hung sign saying “MJ Flair Appreciation Night”! Ataxia is sitting atop an arcade cabinet of “Battletoads” and waving at the two as Roger glares at Ataxia.
Roger: If he actually touches my ass...
MJF: Seriously? Your butt chastity is safe, babe.
Ataxia walks over right as MJF says “butt chastity” and he starts snickering like Muttley from “The Wacky Racers”.
Ataxia: Hello frands! I hope you don't mind my surprise, but I figured we could hang out, talk, and enjoyyyy vidja games afterwards! Come with me to the back room.
Finally, with Ataxia fully in his line of sight, Roger looks around.
MJF: Roj? Let’s go.
Roger: They’ve got the original Street Fighter II here.
MJF: Business first, then you can play.
Roger: Haven’t we had enough business tonight?
MJ starts to respond, but instead she walks up so only he can hear her.
MJF: Not now, babe. I need you t’come with me.
Roger: I mean, if you’re just talking business--
MJF: Dude. Seriously? I don’t wanna do this here.
Ataxia: So much butt tension...
Roger: Mention my butt again...
Ataxia: Butt soft...thru yonder stress it twerks.
The entire building appears to be an homage to the history of the video game industry. The front room is filled, wall to wall, with competitive fighting games - including every cabinet release of Mortal Kombat. Beyond that, through a groovy beaded curtain, sits what could only be called the ‘classic’ room.
Seriously: the newest game in there is the six-player X-Men.
Beyond that room is row upon row of competitive racing games: every one of them is filled. At the far end of the room is a single door simply marked ‘OFFICE’ - which is where Ataxia leads them.
Ataxia shuts the door behind them and shuts the blinds of the office. As he turns the lights on inside we can see this is the business office so there's a few places to sit. Ataxia sits down and then quickly pulls off his mask.
Roger: What the?
Under the mask is a paled out white latex face that is an exact duplicate of Silas Atoria.
Ataxia: What?...That thing is a bit hard to breath under.
MJF: Silas? Really?
Roger leans in and studies it.
Roger: He looks almost lifelike.
Ataxia: I figured it'd be the closest thing to a civil conversation you'd ever have with the guy.
Silas: WORLD TITLE! WORLD TITLE!!!
MJF stifles a laugh as she looks over on the office desk and there is the bird in the cage. He ruffles his feathers as she gets close to him.
Silas: WORLD TITLE!!
Roger: There’s the psychological warfare.
Ataxia: No...silly...that's a bird. Your friend is a bit odd isn't he?
Roger: Odd? You… He’s wearing another man's face.
Ataxia: (In Silas' voice) What if I am Silas?
Roger: Stop that!
Ataxia: (In Roger's voice) Okay!
MJF: He’s a non-com, Tax… he’s brittle. What’s going on?
Ataxia: Ah yes! I asked you here because I want to discuss this with you.
Ataxia opens up a drawer in the office desk and pulls out a contract...or it would be a contract if it wasn't written in crayon. We hope it's crayon. Please let it be red crayon. He hands a copy to MJ.
Ataxia: We need to discuss your contractual terms for when you re-sign with CWF.
MJF: Tax...you don't run CWF.
Ataxia: Yes I do. It's just a minor detail. And I came to you first because let's face facts. You've been one of the few people who has been consistent in the past few months. And to be perfectly honest I wanted to say that you've impressed me, and good work needs to be rewarded. That's why I make such a good employer.
MJF: Well… Thank you? But you don’t own the place.
Ataxia: Not yet, and when I get thru firing Rish then this will all work itself out and I want you to be right where you are. I want you to be here for a long time. It's a good home. It makes you feel like you belong somewhere...and I know what it's like to not feel like you belong anywhere. You're a great world champion to have on our roster. From one former to another...I wanted to welcome you to the club tonight. Just look over the contract and let me know what you think. We can negotiate later.
MJF: I… Ya know, I’m your opponent in Pittsburgh.
Ataxia: I KNOW! I'm so excited! You know all three of you that we faced in that three on three match have impressed me, but you...you focused on that defeat and overcame it. I can't wait to see how you try to take me out this time!
Ataxia hugs MJF.
Ataxia: THIS IS GOING TO BE SO MUCH FUN FRAND!!!
Ataxia lets go and looks over at Roger.
Ataxia: You want a hug too, frand?
Roger: I'll pass.
MJF: Alrighty then, Tax… on the level, straight up competitive match?
Ataxia: What kind of boss would I be if I didn't have a hidden agenda! Of course I have one, but I'm nice enough to tell you up front.
Roger: But then it's not...nevermind.
Ataxia: I want to give these people the best match of the night. I want them to talk about this fight for years to come. I want to do the best for these fans...so they won't go away. So tonight it's all about fun. Tomorrow...it's all business.
MJ thinks about it, then extends her hand.
MJF: I can get on board with that.
Ataxia looks at her, looks at her hand, then looks back at MJ’s face.
Ataxia: We don’t shake here, frand.
He opens his arms again. The corners of MJ’s mouth turn up as she shrugs and gives him another hug. Ataxia leans into her neck and inhales deeply.
Ataxia: Mmmmm, you smell like a responsible adult.
At this point, Roger steps between them.
Roger: Okay, look - that’s enough of that.
Ataxia: My apologies, frand!
At that, Ataxia grabs both of them in a hug. MJ can feel Roger tense, so she breaks the hug this time.
Ataxia: Go forth, frands! Enjoy the fun and games!
Roger can’t leave the back room fast enough, while MJ lingers for a moment, puts her hands together, and gives a slight, respectful tip of her head towards the Impact Champion before she follows him..
”We truly are the island of the misfit toys.”
“Think about it: we wear ridiculous outfits and project ourselves out as larger than life. We beat on each other in athletically entertaining ways while dodging the office wanting to screw us on pay, our allies who know there’s only one spot at the time and we’re all competing to get there, our rivals who may or may not attempt to break up one’a our matches for their own ego, and the fans - who, no matter how many people we can beat and how convincingly we can do so, if they won’t buy a ticket t’see us the office won’t put us in the ring with the Champion.”
“Is it any wonder we all go a little mad sometimes?”
“And when you’re talking about the Impact champion? My opponent this week, Ataxia? It’s not a little, and it’s not just ‘sometimes.’”
“I suppose I should be grateful: The CWF’s graveyard shift owner likes me enough to offer me a new contract, and he insists that he wants a friendly, competitive match at Evolution. While that’s good for me, I have to wonder how much’a that attitude’ll change between now ‘n then.”
“I mean… he told me this while wearing a mold of Silas Artoria’s face.”
“But it’s just another day at the office.”
“Here’s the thing: the biggest threat to the well being of the CWF is the SSRI and the Oreo Bros. They’re organized. They’ve got a hive mind. None’a the wrestlers involved with the SSRIentologists actually think for themselves, all they know is following orders. By the numbers, the biggest opposition group is the Forsaken, with offshoots’a that just as powerful: myself, Caledonia, Amber Ryan, the Aces… but we’re all individuals with our own thoughts and our own agendas.”
“MJ Flair taking on Ataxia, when there’s not even a belt on the line?”
“Let me ask you this: have we ever seen an Ouroboro booked to wrestle another Ouroboro?”
“I don’t play the conspiracy game. I prefer to look at what’s in front’a me and deal with that. The second I start driftin’ my eyes from side to side… man, you can see conspiracy theories anywhere, and ya can’t even take the most basic actions because you’re always tryin’ to see someone else’s angle.”
“Me, I’d rather be wrong trusting someone than never trusting anyone, and I think, win or lose, this match with Ataxia is less about posturing and more about sizing each other up t’see how far we’re willing t’push each other.”
“But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m a competitor. More than that, ‘Tax? I’m a competitor in a minor downslide, which gives me even more incentive.”
“I said it before: I demand perfection from myself when it comes to this sport. Anything less is a waste of my time. After losing the CWF World Championship and losing my shot at a guaranteed main event in my hometown arena, I need to be better than perfect.”
“Normally, I might hold back a bit. Show my opponent, to whom I have no personal issue, a bit of respect by not saying ‘the ends justify the means’ and taking a victory at any cost. But I have something t’prove t’myself and the rest’a this company, and I need to right the ship.”
“It’s nothing personal.”
Roger: I don’t trust him.
In the hotel bathroom, MJ rolls her eyes. She’s busily brushing her teeth while Roger is in the main part of the hotel room, talking to her through the wall.
MJF (Slightly garbled): Of course you don’t; you’re not a wrestler.
He steps into her view, shirtless with a pair of basketball shorts, and wraps his arms around her waist from behind.
Roger: I’m just worried about you is all. This guy is unbalanced, and he’s clearly dangerous.
She bends over slightly to spit out her toothpaste, and gently shrugs him off as his hands move to her ass.
MJF: I’m dangerous, babe. He’s a happy clown.
As MJ rinses out her mouth, Roger quickly checks himself in the mirror.
Roger: Unbalanced means unpredictable, babe. That’s my issue.
MJ leaves the room, pulling off her shirt as she does so, while in the same motion pulling the hair tie from around her wrist to the back of her head, pulling her hair into a ponytail. She digs through her bag for a tank top, unhooks her bra one handed, and pulls the tank top over her head.
MJF: That’s nothing crazy, though. Unpredictable is easy because you can count on him to be unpredictable. It’s the quiet ones y’need to worry about.
She sits down on the edge of the bed and pulls off her socks before climbing in. MJ scrolls through her phone while Roger wanders into the room, brushing his teeth himself.
Roger (Slightly garbled): Can you blame me for wanting to protect you?
MJF (Scrolling): Sweetie.
He’s returned to the bathroom where he presumably completes his own nightly ritual, and climbs into bed next to her.
Roger: Who you talking to?
MJF: My mom. Letting her know how things went, and a rough idea of when we’ll be back tomorrow.
Roger: Not too early, I hope.
His hand creeps up MJ’s thigh while he kisses her cheek. She shrugs him away again, though she finishes on her phone.
He looks at her with a mixture of confusion and anger.
MJF: I’m exhausted; I need t’get some sleep.
Roger: You need sleep? I’m the one driving us back tomorrow, and I’m ready to go. Don’t be like that.
MJF: ‘Be like that?’ Be like what, be up at dawn t’get t’the arena for press, photos, meet ‘n greet, production meeting, lumberjack duty, a fucking battle royal, and a meeting at Ataxia’s funhouse? Just once… can we not?
Roger: ...Can we not. Fine. Good night.
He rolls over and turns out the light. MJ lies down and stares at the ceiling, seething.
Like she’s gonna get any sleep now.
”I envy you, ‘Tax.”
“In general, because you’ve got the Impact title and Mia and you’re runnin’ a hot streak right now, and because you’ve got this devil - may - care attitude that, I’ll be honest… is infectious.”
“In particular… because of Miataxia.”
“We live on the island of misfit toys. We’re adrenaline junkies, all of us. We live and die for the reaction that we get from the fans; for the buzz we get from comin’ off the top rope and havin’ it pay off. From lyin’ on my back in the middle’a the ring with my eyes closed, suckin’ in some air, and hearin’ the fans chant my name.”
“Even landing on my back on the floor… it’s like a tattoo needle, it’s that good kind’a hurt.”
“‘Tax… you’re with someone that doesn’t need you to explain it to her. You don’t need to worry about hurting anyone’s feelings when you tell them that nothing you’ll ever do as a couple can compare to the feeling you have after winning a match.”
“There’s no anger or jealousy when you say that your other will never compare to the high of performing.”
“What happens is that, statistically speaking, the performing arts have the highest level of broken relationships than any other avenue by a wide margin. Inevitably, when you’re a performer and your partner isn’t, they wonder what you’re doing on the road. You wonder what they’re doing at home.”
“Or they’re just jealous of the attention you receive.”
“You don’t have that problem, ‘Tax. Not only do you and Mia both understand the complications I’ve talked about, but you’re on the road together. You’ve both got championships, so there’s not even professional envy.”
“All I have to truly call my own is my career.”
“In a way, ‘Tax, this gives me a psychological edge. I beat you, I’m back on track, more or less. I’ve finally got a win, one on one, over a top competitor, and I’ll be on my way. I beat you, you’re still Champ, you’ve still got Mia, and you’ve still got a frand in me.”
“Psychological edge? I meant more pressure. But that’s cool. I’ve bent and I’ve bent and I’ve been beaten up and beaten down and respected and disrespected, and I’ve held gold over my shoulder and had it taken away.”
“There’s always been pressure, and it’s never broken me.”
“That’s not going to change.”