”There are times, and there are times.”
“There was a time that I was looking at the prospect of a violent wrestling match against a violent opponent with stakes that - on the surface - appeared to simply be about the CWF World Championship.”
“I’m the CWF’s Mockingjay. I’m not a fan of those books in and of themselves, but I’m an entity that the Capitol - the commissioner’s office - never intended on existing. If we turn the clock back a year, I was just some outsider that came in to compete in the Modern Warfare tournament.”
“A year later, Freddie and I stole the show. Marksman and I stole the show. Silas and I stole the show. Colton and I stole the show. I’m a two-time CWF World Champion with a successful Far Eastern tour and a headline victory at the biggest show of the year. None of this is surprising.”
“What is a surprise… is that I’m the same person I was a year ago, both in the ring and out. At no time was I expected, or asked, to co-opt who I am to better suit the CWF’s needs. While I wouldn’t have done it, I wouldn’t’ve been surprised t’be asked: as an athlete completely detached from this company’s history, I’m not who the old guard wanted t’see.”
“Wait, let me rephrase. Ryan Sunset asked me to get on the team.”
“Where’s he at nowadays?”
Adrian Evans: You really should’ve worn the suit for a business meeting.
MJF: You should be coming to the meeting with me.
Adrian looks out the window of the car, and he sighs. In the front seat, the driver of the car service keeps his eyes on the road; if he’s eavesdropping, he isn’t letting on.
Adrian Evans: We went over this, Ms. Flair. You’re a Champion. Twice, for that matter. You’ve been in the World Title match six out of eight pay-per-view matches this year alone. You need to be able to negotiate for yourself as a matter of course.
MJF: Dude. What do I pay you for?
Adrian Evans: You don’t pay me at all; your aunt is paying me, and she needs me to work with another of her clients tonight.
They remain silent for another few moments.
Adrian Evans: The suit is more professional.
MJF: Seriously, man? The suit had a pencil skirt. Not happening.
MJ uncrosses her legs and re-crosses them away from Adrian, and she looks out the window on her side. Adrian adjusts his tie and glances her way before he sighs himself.
Driver: London Chop House? Right up ahead, thank you.
Adrian Evans: Great. Thank you, sir; your time has been paid for for the next four hours?
Driver: Five. Take your time, enjoy the evening.
MJ smiles at him in the rear view mirror before she exits the car. It’s raining out; she immediately opens up an umbrella and meets Adrian on the other side of the car, and the two speed - walk towards the front door of the restaurant. Adrian is dressed in a fine tailored suit; MJ wears a black dress shirt, flowing black skirt, and black combat boots.
Adrian Evans: You’ll do fine. Just remember what I told you.
MJF: No matter what I might agree to, don’t sign anything.
Adrian Evans: Exactly.
She shakes out the umbrella and folds it up, and gives her hair a quick look in the reflective glass of the front door.
Adrian Evans: The suit would’ve been more appropriate.
MJF: Dude. Seriously. Active girl. It wouldn’t be very appropriate if I either needed suspenders to hold up a skirt that was big enough for my glutes, or essentially be in a stripper-secretary costume for something that was small enough for my waist.
He holds up his hands in resignation.
Adrian Evans: Fine, fine. I surrender.
He opens the door for her and they walk to the hostess stand, taking care not to spray water around from the umbrella. The hostess is writing in her book, and she catches a glimpse of the pair.
She smiles at MJ but briefly flinches at Adrian before she regains her composure.
Hostess: Good afternoon, how may I help you?
Adrian gestures to MJ to go first.
MJF: Five-fifteen reservation for three, I think it’s under ‘Parkman’?
The hostess checks her book, points, and smiles.
Hostess: Mr. Parkman and his assistant are here; I can show you to their table. And you, sir?
Adrian Evans: Table for two, under Evans.
She scans the book, nodding.
Hostess: You’re the first one here; if you’ll wait a moment I’ll be right back. Miss? This way, please.
MJ and Adrian look at each other and fist bump, and MJ follows the hostess into the depths of the restaurant. She approaches a small round table with a man, middle aged and wearing a suit, sits with a woman, probably late twenties, also wearing a suit. They each have a glass of white wine in front of them - the bottle is in an ice bucket next to him - and are eating sparingly from a cheese platter.
For a moment, MJ regrets her choice of attire, but when the woman looks at her loose, flowing skirt with what she assumes is envy, the feeling vanishes. The hostess pulls a chair out for her and puts the menu down, as the man stands up.
MJF: Mr. Parkman?
Jed Parkman: Please, Ms. Flair - call me Jed.
They shake hands.
MJF: Jed. MJ, please. Nice to meet you.
Jed: This is my assistant, Susan.
Susan and MJ shake hands as well as everyone sits.
MJF: Sorry for the delay, the rain has everything backed up. Were you waiting long?
Jed: No, not at all - we just arrived a few minutes ago.
At this moment, the waiter shows up. He fills MJ’s water glass and smiles.
Waiter: Good afternoon, ma’am. My name is Laurance, and I’ll be taking care of you today. Can I start you with something to drink?
Jed: The lady will need a wine glass, my good man.
Before MJ can protest that she’s underage, Laurance nods.
Laurance: Right away, ma’am. I’ll give you a moment to look over the menu.
And he’s gone in a flash.
MJF: I don’t want anyone to have an issue, but I’m not twenty - one--
Jed waves her off.
Jed: Don’t worry about it; these places all speak the universal language of money. Write that one down, little lady - you tip a Benjamin when you sit down, these people will do anything for you.
Laurance returns at that moment, pouring a glass of wine for MJ.
Laurance: Are you ready, or do you need another minute?
Both Jed and Susan look at MJ, but she waves them off.
MJF: You order; by the time you’re done I’ll be set.
Jed: Yes, my good man. I’ll have the french onion soup and grilled swordfish. Asparagus on the side.
Laurance: Good choice, sir.
Jed winks at MJ.
Jed: Blood pressure, you know.
MJ smiles, politely, looking at the menu.
Susan: I’ll also have the french onion soup, as well as the lump crab and heart of palm salad.
She hands the menu to the waiter while smiling politely.
Susan: Watching my figure, and all.
Inwardly, MJ laughs to herself.
Laurance: Yes, ma’am. And for you?
MJ studies the menu again for several seconds.
MJF: Yessir. I’ll have the crab bisque to start, and… the ribeye. Medium rare, please.
Laurance: Excellent choice, ma’am. Your side?
MJF: ...Baked potato, please. Chives and sour cream only.
She hands the menu off to Laurance and takes a sip of her water, only then noticing the others looking at her.
Susan: I miss the days when I could eat steak.
Jed: Indeed; I like a woman with a healthy appetite.
MJF: Protein is fuel for the gym, my friends.
Jed: Exactly, and that’s the reason we’re here, Ms. Flair. As I told your assistant when we set up this meeting, I represent Active Life athletic gear, and we’re always on the lookout for a new spokesperson, or a new athlete we can throw our support behind. We’re both huge fans of professional wrestling, and you’re one of the most exciting grapplers to come down the chute in years.
He looks at his assistant, and they both nod in agreement.
MJF: Well, thank you for that.
Jed: Not only that, but you’ve got a huge title defense coming up, and you’re on the heels of that Iron Man match. I think the timing is perfect.
MJ raises an eyebrow. Jed takes her meaning and nudges Susan, who reaches down to the attache case on the floor next to her and pulls out a series of papers, handing them to MJ.
Jed: The MJ Flair Iron Woman collection. Got a nice pizazz, don’t you think?
She studies the papers.
MJF: Allrighty, so you want me to endorse your product, and you’ll ‘sponsor’ me?
Jed: You got it.
She ignores him as he and Susan both dive into their soup.
MJF: I dunno, it makes more sense to me that you’d find out who wears your stuff first, then approach ‘em. I don’t really go for labels or name brand stuff.
Jed: Okay, okay - fair enough. But we think you’ll like our apparel.
He nudges Susan, again, who hands MJ a small shopping bag. She looks inside, but, aware of her posh surroundings, puts the bag down next to her without taking anything out.
MJF: I can give it a try, I guess. I dunno, I’m not really a ’sponsored - by’ type. I was raised with a very D-I-Y mentality and it’s still a big piece of who I am.
Jed: Fair enough, fair enough. We’ve done some research, some focus group work, whatnot, and you rate higher than any other female wrestler we’ve brought up. Susan, you have the numbers?
Again, Susan reaches into her attache. She pulls another set of papers out.
Susan: There were a few questions about female athletes in general, do they like wrestling, do they like MMA, if so do you have a preference, yadda, yadda, yadda. Of those who watch wrestling or its’ equivalent more than three times a month, your name was the first female wrestler to come to mind fifty nine percent of the time. Of those who watch less than that, your name was the first… eighty three percent.
Even MJ is speechless at those numbers. Her eyebrows arch as she momentarily forgets about the soup in front of her.
Jed: If I can cliche for a second, the men want you and the women want to be you. And some of the women want you, as well.
Susan: You’ve tested highly with our lesbian focus group.
Her tone is a mix of sarcasm, skepticism, amazement, and annoyance. Ask her which she’s truly feeling and it’s possible she won’t even know.
Jed: Long time fans like you for the links you represent to ’back in the day’ wrestling; newer fans like your style and your charisma. I feel like this is a full win-win. And - forgive me for being blunt but you’re easy on the eyes, which is a definite plus when promoting strong, athletic women.
Now her looks is clearly skeptical.
MJF: Is that really something you’re concerned with when you’re trying to sell athletic gear to women?
Jed: Our research shows women like to feel sexy when they’re at the gym.
Try as she might, MJ can’t suppress the laugh.
Jed: You disagree?
MJF: Dude. I don’t wanna argue with your research, you might’ve actually come up with that. But you show me a woman who wants to feel sexy at the gym and I’ll show you a woman who doesn’t go t’the gym to work out.
Jed: Well, we can agree to disagree on that. But I’ve been in the advertising game for fifteen years; never underestimate the power of an attractive body.
Immediately, MJ flinches, surprised by the feel of something touching her calf. She uncrosses her legs and recrosses them facing in the other direction. An accusing glare is directed towards Jed, but as he’s returned his attention to his meal, she relaxes a bit, chalking it up to an accident.
MJF: I’m willing to be convinced.
”Loki Synn and I both exist outside of time.”
“She’s a violent sociopath. The exact type of monster that the fans enjoy seeing their heroes overcome. The classic tale of good against evil would see me step between the wire net, battle valiantly, and overcome the odds to a resounding cheer.”
“Too bad this isn’t a fairy tale; real life writes the plot, and my success in this fight is far from assured.”
“We both want this match, which is unusual in and of itself. I wanna keep you locked in the ring with me - and keep any of the guilty out - until it’s finished. You wanna attack me at the start’a the toughest match I’ve had to date, you pay the price.”
“You want this match… I don’t know why.”
“Because you wanna watch the world burn?”
“Because you wanna take ya pound’a flesh before you take the CWF World Title from my cold, dead hands?”
“Because someone told you t’do it?”
“There’s the fundamental difference between us, Loki. You represent Hostility, I represent the CWF. You talk about destroying this company and taking it over, I’m defending the CWF as my home.”
“And yet, win or lose, neither of us are a traditional Champion for this company. I do this for the love’a the craft. I don’t try t’monetize my name, my record, my championships, or my accomplishments.”
“This Championship that I’m fighting so hard t’keep, I fight for it because it’s a source of dignity and a source’a pride. This is a thing that I accomplished… this is a thing that, fifty years from now, will be a sign, not only that I was here - but that I left a mark.”
“You, Loki… I was intimidated until I saw ya stand shoulder t’shoulder with James Milenko. I was worried about what you’d be able t’do until I saw you co-opt your rage into The Municipality.”
“Don’t get me wrong… you’re still the most dangerous member’a the Hostility group - but the second you guys all came together I realized that you weren’t the Final Boss.”
“You’re barely the Best Supporting Actress.”
The genie can’t be put back into the bottle.
Whether Jed Parkman was trying to make a pass at MJ Flair or not when he rubbed her leg with his foot is immaterial; ever since then, MJ has heard innuendo in everything he’s said and has bitten her tongue on responding. Not for his sake: this is a nice restaurant and she does not want to make a scene, thus confirming the stereotype of hysterical young women or millenials in general.
Additionally, despite the fact that Jed is a soft, squishy middle aged man, she’s left her wine glass half full and has switched fully to water. Why tempt fate?
The foot, at least, was spectacular. MJ is enjoying a well-made cappuccino, ordered over Jed’s insistence that she have more alcohol.
MJF: Have you thought about what’s up if I lose to Loki Synn at Hellbound?
Susan: We discussed it, but that’s sort of immaterial: this is Iron Woman Apparel, this deal was predicated on your Iron Man victory.
Jed: No, that’s a good point, Susan. You have this…
He looks at some paperwork.
Jed: ...barbed wire match coming up? What’s the story?
MJ stares for a moment.
MJF: ...We take down the ropes, we put up barbed wire.
She drinks her cappuccino, waiting for them to digest this.
Jed: It’s a good thought. Win or lose, you might get cut up - you might get some scars on your face or body.
He raises his arm to signal their server.
MJF: It’s a risk we always take.
Susan: Do we really -
Jed: I think it makes sense.
Jed: We should get you over to our studios now for a photo session.
Now, MJ feels apprehension in the back of her throat. She is already uncomfortable sitting here and speaking to these two, and the thought of leaving a public place with them is several steps beyond that. Additionally, she’s never enjoyed being photographed - on the contrary, her parents’ rules with paparazzi were simple: take a picture of our young daughter and it’ll be the last one you take.
MJF: I’m not sure I’m feelin’ it.
Jed: Well, listen. You haven’t even gotten a chance to look at the prototype yet. We had them made to your measurements -
She holds up her hand.
MJF: How the hell do you know those?
He smiles. She feels dirty.
Jed: It’s the twenty first century, babe. If it exists, we can find it. But why don’t you take that gear to the ladies room and look at it there? Nobody has to see, and if you’ve still got some reservations we can discuss them.
It seems a fair request. MJ picks up the bag - and her bag - and leaves the table, walking around it for the fastest route to the ladies room, however she’s stopped by a hand on her hip. Jed stops her somewhat inappropriately, and he quickly removes his hand.
Jed: I believe in this deal, and I’m willing to do anything to make it happen.
She does not respond. Instead, she resumes her walk towards the ladies room, feeling a bit shaken. The second the door closes behind her, she tosses the bag across the - thankfully empty - room, and paces the floor.
MJF: What the fuck… what’s wrong with me?
She stops and looks at herself in the mirror.
MJF: Why are you taking shit, you coward?
MJ continues to stare at herself with a look of disgust on her face.
MJF: This isn’t you.
Her eyes drift down and look at the bag on the floor. She leans over and picks it up, dumping out the contents on the counter.
And she stares.
And she pulls out her phone, and dials.
MJF: Hi, Tara?
Tara: Hey MJ, how’s the meeting?
MJF: Jesus fucking christ, I need to get outta here. The guy is a creep, and I’m not sure if he realizes it and I’m not sure which prospect is scarier. His assistant is this Stepford secretary, and I’m not sure she’s a real person.
Tara: Can you grab Adrian and leave?
MJF: Negatory; he’s got his own meeting and I can do this myself; I just needed to vent for a bit. OH! And this gear is fucking ridiculous!
She holds up the gloves.
MJF: Well, the gloves are fine. Well put together, but the knuckles aren’t padded enough. No big, good for weights but not the heavy bag.
And the top.
MJF: Sportsbra without the sports. No support whatsoever. But that’s not even the best part. The bottoms are fucking bikini cut. Who the fuck wears a bikini to work out?
Tara: Someone who isn’t interested in working out.
She tosses all of the clothes up in the air.
MJF: Thank you!
MJ leans over and picks the clothes off the floor.
MJF: So I’m not crazy.
Tara: Not at all.
MJF: Awesome. I’mma tell this guy to blow in the most polite way possible, then we should go get coffee and dessert. You in?
Tara: I’m in. Give me like a half hour to get ready.
The conversation is interrupted by the door. MJ flinches in surprise as she turns, face to face with Susan.
MJF: I’ll text you when I’m ready.
Tara: Sounds good, chickie. Talk to you in a bit.
MJ clicks the phone off and looks at Susan.
MJF: Yeah, I’m sorry but I’m gonna be takin’ a pass on this.
She reaches into her own bag and pulls out two fifties.
MJF: Here, let me pay for part’a dinner at least.
Susan looks at the money but doesn’t take it. She takes a step forward.
Susan: This deal is really important, Ms. Flair.
MJF: I get it, but I’m not interested.
Susan: No, you don’t get it. Mr. Parkman is on thin ice with his management. He doesn’t get this contract, he’s probably out the door. Which means I’m out the door.
MJF: Yeah, I sympathize… but this gear isn’t my speed, and Mr. Parkman was kind of a creeper. And I’m not an endorsement kinda girl anyways, so I’m sorry for wasting your time.
She steps towards the door, but Susan cuts her off.
Susan: I don’t think you get it. We’re willing to do anything to close the deal.
MJF: Please get out of my way.
And Susan grabs MJ behind the head with both hands and kisses her hard on the mouth. MJ does not fight back at first - surprised and taken off guard - but she easily pushes Susan away.
MJF: What the fuck?
She tries to leave again, but Susan pushes the door closed. MJ looks at her - she’s small and weak, and she looks scared.
Susan: I’m sorry. Please don’t be angry. Mr. Parkman told me that if he couldn’t convince you to close the deal that he’d want me to try.
And there it is. MJ leans in, and Susan leans back.
MJF: Get a new job. Today.
With that, MJ opens the door and leaves.
”My vision of the CWF is a pretty clear one, Loki. A strong wrestling promotion with grounded roots that can survive the succession of authority figures and champions that every promotion is saddled with. We’ve survived the Rishel Family Drama, we survived Sunset Media and the SSRIentologists. We’re currently surviving the Ataxiarmy.”
“If it happened, we’d survive James Milenko.”
“But what’s your vision, Loki? What’s your goal? You win the Championship… what?”
“Do you even know?”
“This is the fundamental difference between us, Loki. I’m the CWF World Champion and I stand on my own. You may very well be the CWF World Champion following Hellbound, but you stand behind James Milenko.”
“What’s your vision? You want to watch the world burn? Is that your line or is it the company line?”
“The tragedy is that you could be as great as you wanna be, but you’re not even the main character in your own drama.”
“It turns out this is MJ Flair vs. James Milenko, with Loki Synn as his tool.”
“And that’s a tragedy.”
MJF: What kills me is that I’ve always been outspoken. Or if not outspoken, I’ve never been shy or unafraid to voice my opinion on things. Why was I so shrinking-violet today?
Tara Robinson sits across from her at their small table, eating a large piece of chocolate cake. MJ as well, takes a bite of cheesecake and sips a coffee.
Tara: You’re learning, kiddo. Need to pick your fights, and getting into a brawl or a shouting match in the middle of a four star steakhouse isn’t good for you, isn’t good for the CWF, and isn’t good for your visibility as Champion.
MJ shakes her head.
MJF: Maybe. Still, a year ago I wouldn’t’ve cared.
Tara: Responsibility. It’s a killer.
She smiles, and wipes some crumbs from her face.
Tara: But you handled yourself right, MJ. You didn’t make a scene. They acted unprofessionally and they’re gonna ultimately pay the price for it.
This appears to sink in, as MJ takes another bite.
MJF: Feel bad for her, though. I don’t think any of that was her idea.
Tara: It’s up to her, though. She has to decide when it’s time to leave an abusive relationship.
And she points her fork at MJ.
Tara: You were smart enough to see what the deal was, and you avoided it. That shows strength of character.
MJF: I mean, I didn’t need the money, I just wanted to check out my options.
Tara: There’s nothing wrong with that.
MJF: Thanks, man. You’re a good friend.
Still chewing, Tara shrugs.
Tara: You give me cake, you get good advice.
”The wild card in this match is the barbed wire.”
“We both want the thing that I have. In a straight wrestling match, I don’t think it’d be close: James Milenko wants you to send a message, which undermines your ability to get the job done.”
“When you add barbed wire, the outcome becomes less clear.”
“You said you don’t care about pain, you don’t care about blood, you just want to inflict as much as possible on me - and on everyone else. Maybe. Wire cuts you just the same as it cuts me, Loki, and whether you don’t feel pain or can just ignore it for longer than average… it’ll add up.”
“I just wrestled an hour with a bleeding head wound the entire time. Is there anything you think you can do t’me to top that? Do you think I fear a net’a barbed wire after that?”
“Especially when - for once - you’ll need t’look me in the eye? When your first shot won’t be able t’be when my back’s turned?”
“This is the moment’a truth for the entire Hostility movement, Loki. You’re the biggest gun in Milenko’s holster, and you’ve got the best chance at takin’ the CWF World Title from me.”
“But you won’t.”
“As much as I’m accused of tryin’ too hard t’best my father’s legacy, this isn’t about him. One Championship opportunity could be nepotism. Two of ‘em speak to a lasting impact. And as much as I’m proud t’be my father’s daughter, I’m more proud t’be my own woman, who will not compromise her beliefs for the sake’a money, power, or respect.”
“Win or lose… you lose. Because you won’t be seen as a dragon, or a conqueror, or anyone’s Everest, not like I was to Marksman and Artoria.”
“Win or lose, Loki… you’ll be seen exactly as I see you now. The product, or the victim…”
“...of someone else’s legacy.”