”Second verse, same as the first.”
“Meet the new boss, same as the old.”
“Pick your favorite cliche: any one will do.”
“Once again, I’m holding the CWF World Championship, and once again… Silas Artoria.”
“I’ll give you props, Silas - you’re like a fuckin’ cockroach. You just won’t die. Of course… when you’ve got an infestation, you call an exterminator.”
“When there’s just one cockroach, you step on it.”
Before MJ Flair can even get to the locker room, she’s swarmed by the crew and the support staff, who applaud her victory, who want to shake her hand or pat her on the back. MJ is sore, she is tired, she is sweaty… but she does her best to accommodate everyone.
The CWF World Championship title she carries over her shoulder reminds her of her responsibilities. However, she is also attempting to wade through the throng of people to get to the locker room.
MJF: Thank you… thank you… thank you… thank you… Excuse me… Sorry… ‘Scuse me…
And her eyes lock with another set - a familiar set.
Eli Flair: Everybody, MOVE!
Those who don’t move at the scratchy, deep - voiced order look towards its source… and then they move. What else would you do with the demands of a man that stands nearly seven feet tall, with his arms covered in full sleeve tattoos and scar tissue?
MJ steps through the newly created hole and hugs her father and her aunt.
Eli Flair: Proud’a you, kiddo.
Ivy McGinnis: Glad we could be here. Your mom called me; she didn’t want to get lost in a shuffle of messages so she asked me to just have you call her when you get home.
MJ nods; a slight sigh of sadness escaping her lungs. While she misses her mother and wishes she was in the building, somehow it’s fitting that her family is represented tonight by her father and her aunt; the two people who know how she feels more than anyone else.
MJF: Thanks guys. I’m currently sweaty and uncomfortable, can we talk more after I become a human being, Daddy?
Eli gives a half - smirk.
Eli Flair: No problem, kiddo. We’re gonna be at the spot, probably past last call. You gonna grace us with your presence at all?
She shrugs and smiles dramatically.
MJF: Duff’s, Thirteen, Double Down, and the Hard Swallow were all having show parties; I kinda feel like I should make some form of appearance at all of ‘em. I’ll be there… eventually?
Eli rolls his eyes good naturedly.
Eli Flair: I’ll wait for ya, and love to the family.
He holds out his fist and MJ fist bumps him. Ivy follows behind her to the womens’ locker room.
Ivy McGinnis: Your father and Harley Hodge will likely be doing shots until dawn; turns out Hodge was in Japan when your dad worked the NFW East show there; they’ve got some war stories to tell.
MJF: Of course they do. That’s cool, though. I really haven’t talked to Harley much but he seems like one’a the boys.
The second the door closes, MJ carefully places the title belt on the nearest bench: by now, all of the other women on the roster have showered and cleaned up and left the area, so she has it all to herself. Once the belt is down, MJ peels off her T-shirt, dropping it to the floor with a sweat - soaked plop. She sits down on a bench next to the World Title and starts to unlace her boots.
Ivy McGinnis: So what is your plan tonight, small fry?
MJF: Cally’s really tryin’ to get that t’be a thing, isn’t she?
Ivy McGinnis: It’s working. She’s added a handwritten note to the menu at the pub that the cheese fries are now MJFries.
The boots are kicked away, and the long tights are soon to follow.
MJF: She’s got tenacity; no question.
As MJ walks into the shower area, her sportsbra and boyshorts tossed out the entryway, Ivy sits down, scrolling through her own phone. Times have changed. Fifteen years ago she carried a Motorola brick that could crack a man’s skull; now she has a fragile hacked iPhone that couldn’t even bruise a child.
Ivy McGinnis: You’re trending, kiddo. Number three on Twitter.
MJF: Awesome. Check the CWF website, please and thank you?
Ivy types eerily quickly into her phone.
Ivy McGinnis: What am I looking for?
MJF: Commissioner Tax usually has the next TV announced like, five minutes after the previous event is over. Is it up? Am I booked?
Silence for a few moments, as Ivy continues to scroll.
Ivy McGinnis: Yeah. Non-title. Someone named Silas… Artisinal.
The water stops. Beat.
MJF: Silas Artoria?
Ivy McGinnis: Yeah… yeah, that’s the ticket.
And the water turns back on.
Her tone strikes something in Ivy, who actually looks up.
Ivy McGinnis: Did I miss something?
”It’s only a matter’a time, if it hasn’t already happened.”
“Silas, have you told the people yet how you deserve this? How you’re owed a match with me? How this is a thing that you were promised so long ago and how dare I lose a Championship to Caledonia who didn’t give you what you clearly earned every time you step into the ring?”
“Fuck outta here with that bullshit.”
“The great Joe Louis called it his ‘bum-of-the-month’ club. He’d defend the title thirteen times in twenty nine months; a ridiculously consistent Champion for his era. These would be opponents that’d give him a decent enough fight and pad his record, but none’a them would ever be in danger’a beating him for the World Championship.”
“Congratulations, Silas. This is finally your month, ya bum.”
“In this business, when you’re a Champion, there are opponents you wrestle because they deserve a shot at your Championship. There are opponents you wrestle because you just can’t bear the thought’a them not gettin’ their teeth kicked in.”
“And there are opponents you wrestle because they’re so goddamn fuckin’ obnoxious that ya don’t want ‘em t’think they’re worth a shit, so ya cut it off at the pass.”
“You had one moment in the sun, Silas… a disqualification victory with Autumn Raven in ya corner and Amber Ryan tied t’my ankle like a fuckin’ anchor, and it made ya feel pretty, didn’t it? Made ya feel like you actually mattered.”
“I promise, I won’t make that mistake again.”
“And I’m tellin’ ya what bein’ a Champion means… because there’s no fuckin’ way you’ll ever get there while I’m here.”
The door to TC’s swings open, and a standing ovation immediately begins.
So to speak.
It’s nearly last call; the place is practically empty, but those that remain are enthusiastic. As MJ Flair walks in, she smiles at Cally behind the bar; she waves to her dad, still sitting with Harley Hodge off in the corner, and she fistbumps with a handful of regulars that remain behind to greet her.
Cally: So what’s on the agenda for the Champion, small fry? Do you want an order of small fries?
No sooner does MJ sit at the bar, she puts her head down.
MJF: Your puns and wordplay make me weary, chickie.
Cally winks and clicks her tongue at the Champ. She reaches under the bar for a pair of shotglasses, and pours out two doubles of Jameson.
Cally: Congratulations, small fry. We’re all really proud of you.
MJ picks up the glass and toasts with Cally, draining it in one gulp.
Cally: Good night? Do the Champion thing?
One of MJ’s eyebrows goes up at the suggestion.
MJF: What, pray tell, is the ‘Champion thing’?
Cally: You know… go out’n party. Get drunk, get laid, get in a fight… throw your weight around by asking people if they know who you are. Champion things.
MJ continues to stare at her.
MJF: Is that what RK did when he won his?
Cally: Well… he didn’t get drunk or get in a fight…
They both start to laugh.
MJF: I can’t listen to that, Cally… you two are too cute for sex.
At the suggestion, Cally grows deadly serious and wags her finger.
Cally: Bite your tongue, chicken noodle.
MJF: I thought I was a small fry.
Cally: You go back and forth.
It was as flawless a piece of logic as Cally ever says, so MJ just goes with it.
MJF: Besides, it’s just as well. Last time I won a title I went out and got drunk and got laid - and the fights came later and weren’t nearly as much fun.
Cally: He was evil, though; you’re better off now.
Another pair of shots are poured, and MJ seems to consider this.
MJF: Evil, maybe. Dumbass, definitely. But it makes me wonder; I’ve literally felt no connection to anyone else in the past two or three years. It’s not like I don’t meet new people every day, am I just that hard to take?
They ’cheers’ again, and drain their drinks, while Cally shakes her head.
Cally: Absolutely not, small fry. The problem with these bozos is that you scare them. You’re too confident for the insecure male psyche to deal with, so they avoid you. Or they act like Stupid and try to tear you down.
MJ looks at her, unconvinced.
MJF: We might have different definitions of confidence, Cally.
Cally shakes her head.
Cally: We so don’t. Here’s the thing. You know who you are, you know what you want. You know what you’re willing to sacrifice to get it, and how much malarky you’re willing to put up with. Guys don’t like girls who know who they are; they prefer to mold their women into the identity that’s the least threatening to them. You exude ‘I don’t pay that game,’ and it sends the quantity away. When the time comes, the quality’ll shine.
It’s sound logic, and MJ considers this for a few.
Cally: It’s why you’re a good Champion. It’s why RK was; it’s why your dad was. You know what the title means and you know what you’re willing to do to maintain its integrity.
MJF: Knox doesn’t seem like the type that’d tear you down.
Cally: No, RK doesn’t. But we already established that he’s an anomaly.
As MJ considers this, Cally steps away from her and bellows the fact that TC’s Pub has reached last call. Wallets come out for people to get one for the road, or to settle their tabs. In the corner, MJ sees her dad assure Harley that his drinks are taken care of.
She sets down a third shot of Jameson. MJ looks at her, looks at the shot, then looks back at her.
Cally: It’s taken care of. She -
And Cally points to a young woman sitting on the opposite end of the bar, reading a book with a martini in front of her -
Cally: - wanted to buy you one. I tried to tell her your dad owns the place and you literally drink for free when you do drink, but she insisted.
MJ catches her eye. The girl looks up, over a pair of thick glasses, and blushes. Cally pours one for herself, and toasts MJ a third time.
The word snaps MJ out of her daze: it is past four AM, after all.
MJF: See what?
Cally: You’ve got options after all.
Now it’s MJ’s turn to blush.
“It takes a certain mental toughness t’be a Champion, Silas. I look at you, and I see what I saw with Eric Dane and with the Jacehole: an arrogant tool that thinks the Championship is something that you’re owed.
“Can you deny it? I lost the title t’Caledonia and all of a sudden, you were all up her ass about a title shot that she never promised you.”
“And, poor Caledonia. She won the title because she’s a quality athlete and a grade - A human being… but she didn’t know what being a Champion meant. She took the belt and put it aside as she continued lookin’ for her husband and fightin’ with the SSRIentologists.”
“It’s just as bad, I think, t’treat the Championship like a prop as it is t’treat it like a birthright.”
“Me? This Championship is both an honor and a responsibility. It’s an honor to represent the CWF on the biggest stage; t’be the one that’s looked at when prospective new athletes come on in and say ‘Who sets the tone?’ It’s a responsibility t’represent this company with dignity and respect, and t’constantly go out there and try t’prove that I’m livin’ up t’the Championship.”
“Would you do that?”
“Can you do that?”
“The fact of the matter, Silas… is that if you win this match you’ll clearly be in line for an actual shot at the belt, and if y’don’t know what kinda Champion you’d be, can y’really feel good about your chances?”
“Your imagination reaches as far as winning the Championship. You have no idea what it means t’be the Champion.”
“Not that you’d admit it. Or that you’d even realize it.”
“Think about it, Silas. You’re still talkin’ like y’deserve t’be shoulder t’shoulder with the greatest in this company.”
“Do you? Think about it. Do ya really?”
“Hold on to the little victories, Silas. Y’gave it the ol’ college try at Wrestle Fest. You didn’t get pinned, at least. Walked out under your own power, might’ve even got t’do someone’s podcast about how you’re the most talented, least utilized member’a the roster.”
“Stick with that, Silas. The grown ups are too busy shapin’ the future’a this company t’pat you on the head and give you a good natured thumbs up.”
“I’m not tellin’ ya t’give up your dreams, Silas. Nobody should give up their dreams. What I’m saying is that y’need t’be realistic at the same time. Maybe someday you’ll be considered a player in the CWF. Maybe someday you’ll be spoken of in the same breath as Harley Hodge, or Caledonia, or even the Jacehole when it comes time t’remember the greatest World Champions in the CWFs history.”
“Maybe someday you’ll have a World Title shot based on the strength’a your name alone, and not without a qualifying event. Someday.”
“Today you’re still sittin’ in a room, convinced that you’re on the cusp’a winning a game’a Risk: the Game of World Domination.”
“In reality, you’re playing checkers by yourself. And nobody is gonna king you.”
(Harley Hodge referenced with permission)