”Tribal mentality is a tricky thing.”
“A tribe is a pretty easy thing to find, relatively speaking. Like Billy the Kid said in ‘Young Guns’ - you get three or four really good pals, you’ve got yourself a tribe - and there’s nothing stronger.”
“Historically speaking, tribalism kept us alive as a species. Alone, we had to scramble to catch rats for dinner. Together, we took down mammoths. Tribalism drove ritual - which is a part of any society. Collective living, making sure that everyone has everything they need… that’s the good part.”
“One strongman as the leader - everyone else in the tribe putting their all into his comfort and well - being? Not so much.”
“The examples through history tick off like a staccato beat.”
“Pope John XII.”
“Elisha, the Childlike Empress.”
“I’m skippin’ a few chapters, here… but you get my point.”
“Well, you do. Jimmy Allen? Not so much.”
“It’s not too far to Edmonton… about two hours by plane. You don’t need to be there until three days before, so there’s that.”
Tara Robinson sits up on the hotel room bed, legs crossed, as she expertly dips a piece of sashimi into soy sauce with a pair of chopsticks and takes a bite. On the other side, CWF World Champion MJ Flair has long since given up attempting such a dextrous feat, and is simply spearing her food with one stick, one piece at a time.
MJF: Yeah, but… I hate flying.
There’s a moment of silence while Tara holds her raw fish halfway towards her face.
Tara: ...You were on tour with your mom for years. You were literally born in Canada and you’ve told me about the Canadian tours that she took you on.
MJF: Yeah. In a tour bus. In the summer. Seriously, Tara - why are we doing this when I need a winter coat?
This time, Tara doesn’t look at her with disbelief; she just laughs.
Tara: It is what it is, kiddo. Wear a sweater.
MJF: You sound like my mom.
Tara: She’s an incredibly wise woman.
MJF: True, but she also grew up in Nebraska, so cold doesn’t bother her.
They eat in silence for a moment. Tara takes a sip of water as she stretches out her legs. Another moment passes, and Tubular Bells begins to play.
Tara drops her sticks on her plate and holds her hands up, looking around futilely.
Tara: Alright, seriously… you need to change that.
MJ winks at her as she picks up her phone. She looks at the display and clicks the speaker button.
MJF: Hi, Aunt Ivy! Sorry about the speaker but it’s dinnertime.
Tara: I’m here too, Ms. McGinnis - do you need me to leave?
Ivy McGinnis, MJ’s aunt and possibly the most powerful woman in the history of the wrestling business, laughs.
Ivy: You’re good, kiddo.
Despite their limited interactions, Ivy’s acknowledgement makes Tara smile.
MJF: So we’re just having a post-shot dinner. What’s up?
Ivy: I need a favor, chickadee.
This is new.
Ivy McGinnis is connected.
She isn’t just respected in the world of professional wrestling, she doesn’t just have the entirety of the NYPD at her beck and call. She hasn’t just negotiated MJ’s mom’s band, Valerian’s Garden, from LA’s biggest secret to a global juggernaut… she’s connected.
Which, as MJ knows and Tara is aware of, makes her request even more pressing.
Ivy: We’re cutting the tour short, your uncle TJ’s mom is in the hospital. Shannon was coming up to spend a few days with us, though - can you do me a favor and grab him in Edmonton tomorrow night?
MJF: What’s… why? What’s going on?
Ivy: Well, you know your mom. She doesn’t want either’a you there, and Shannon’s been having a bit of an issue at school… this was supposed to be his vacation.
Another moment of silence. MJ spears another piece of fish and gnaws on it.
MJF: I gotchu, aunt Ivy. Love you.
Ivy: Love you too, chickadee. Be good, Tara.
The phone clicks off, and Tara raises an eyebrow.
Tara: Is that a thing?
MJF: I mean… no, not really. Did I tell you about my grandparents?
Tara: Refresh my memory.
MJF: My dad’s parents are both dead; his dad died when he was like 12 and his mom when he was like 15. My mom’s parents, far as I know, are both still alive, but I’ve never met ‘em. She doesn’t get along with’em and they don’t get her deal and shit, and she always says that she’ll play Omaha in Nebraska, but nowhere else so she doesn’t have to chance seeing ‘em.
Tara: I know that; I read the biography.
While MJ takes a long pull from the bottle of wine sitting on the floor, she is less focused on the drink and more focused on the silent phone in front of her.
MJF: So TJ--
Tara: --is your mom’s best friend and bassist. And co-founder. I remember things, MJ.
Now, the Champ arches an eyebrow and shakes her head.
Tara: At least I’m wearing pants.
They both look down. Tara is, in fact, wearing pants: faded jeans, to be specific. MJ is wearing tight athletic shorts due to the fact that they are in her hotel room.
MJF: Well… regardless. My mom doesn’t get along with her parents, so I’ve never met them. Shannon is a little shy, and he’s kinda sensitive, so he doesn’t really connect with his peers, so it’s not surprising that they’d ask me t’meet him and not let ‘em stay home.
Tara: Then why did you shudder?
She’s too good. MJ looks at Tara, looks down, then looks back.
MJF: He’s an awkward fifteen year old; he’s a great kid and he’s my best friend, but he’s an awkward fifteen year old. He doesn’t try t’be weird but I catch him looking every now and again.
Before Tara can say anything, MJ holds up a hand.
MJF: No, no. I call him my cousin, Aunt Ivy and Uncle Sean are my aunt and uncle… but if y’actually did the math, we’re not related in any sense’a the word. Daddy and aunt Ivy have just been close like family for like fifty years or whatnot.
Tara: So… are we babysitting him for a long time?
MJF: Dude. As long as we need to. Family first.
”I’ll be honest, when Wrestlefest happened and Loki Synn won her title shot - when Hellbound came ‘n went… I had no idea who the fuck James Milenko even was. He’s just this fuckin’ guy that evidently ran another promotion into the ground, and I’m s’posed’ta be impressed.”
“But I’m s’posed’ta be.”
“He presents himself as the head of the Hostile Takeover, but I’ve been around the block long enough t’know the real deal.”
“James Milenko saw his company fail; instead’a owning it, he bided his time and tried t’take over the CWF.”
“The problem is that he led with Loki Synn: a monster that should’ve been his most powerful asset, but instead she ended up bein’ his first failure.”
“I mean, seriously: I survived Loki. Am I s’posed’ta fear Jimmy Allen?”
“I don’t mean t’dismiss ya, Jimmy, but let’s face the facts: you’re not a monster. You’re not an immortal beast.”
“You’re just a man. And I can beat a man.”
“And that should give ya pause after all, Jimmy: why now? Why are you being given a title shot after Loki? Does Milenko think you’re the one t’beat me?”
“Or is he lookin’ at how close Loki got, and he’s tryin’ t’use his resources t’find a weakness?”
“This is the dark side’a tribalism, Jimmy. James Milenko doesn’t give a fuck if you beat me for the CWF World Title: he doesn’t care if you can crack the code or if ya get your ass punked like the others.”
“You win, he’s got his World Title. You lose… he’s got more info on what it’ll take t’beat MJ Flair.”
“You don’t matter, Jimmy. And it ain’t me sayin’ it, it’s James Milenko.”
“Don’t blame me when ya backed the wrong horse.”
The Edmonton International airport.
MJ Flair sits just outside the security gate, reading a magazine with her headphones in. She has a bag on the seat next to her and is only partly paying attention to the surrounding activity.
Her foot bounces haphazardly as her legs are crossed at the knee, her eyes continually drifting up at security.
Finally, after almost an hour, she sits up. MJ drops the magazine on the seat next to her and walks towards the gate, and she grabs her sort-of cousin Shannon in a huge hug.
MJF: Hey! What goes on, man?
Shannon: Not much, Mariella. How are you?
MJF: All’a the things are good, sir. You?
Shannon: I mean, I’m okay. I didn’t think I needed a babysitter.
MJ puts her arm around him and walks him towards the exit.
MJF: Dude, seriously, don’t look at it like that. TJ’s mom needs him, they’re going into hostile territory, it makes sense they’d ask use t’keep an eye on each other.
She squeezes him a bit in a hug.
MJF: Besides, I’m just glad t’see you. I didn’t think I’d get down to Orlando again this winter. You doing all right?
Shannon: I’m good.
There’s a bit of silence at that, but MJ presses.
MJF: Don’t bullshit me, man. Everything okay?
Shannon is quiet for a moment, now.
Shannon: Well… there’s some guys that give me a hard time, but that’s not a big deal. I hold my own.
MJF: Hold you own, what? Are they tryin’ ta kick your ass or something?
Shannon doesn’t answer her, and that’s all the answer she needs.
MJF: You and me, Shan… you get static, I’ve gotcha. But that doesn’t matter: they give you shit, they’re givin’ me shit. I’ll get’cha back, okay?
The CWF World Champion takes the awkward teenager, puts her arm around his waist, and the two walk out of the airport, fully engaged in their confidence.
”Here’s the thing you need t’know, Jimmy: win or lose, you’ve lost.”
“James Milenko doesn’t care if you’re the CWF World Champion.”
“James Milenko, for that matter, doesn’t care if Loki Synn is the CWF World Champion.”
“He wants me t’lose the belt t’one’a you guys so he can claim it’s his.”
“Not yours: his.”
“What has James Milenko done for you, Jimmy? Think about it: what’s he done that’s been more significant than a new manager tryin’ t’piggyback onto an existing World Champion?
“Think about it.”
“Does James Milenko wanna be the manager of Jimmy Allen, World Champion? Or does he wanna be James Milenko, the guy who manages whoever the Champ is?”
“There’s a difference, and it’s all about pride.”
“I know you wanna be the CWF World Champion, Jimmy. That’s not a political thing; that’s a matter’a understanding. You wrestle in a company, you wanna be that company’s Champion.”
“What’s it mean t’you that James Milenko wants t’have my title belt over his own shoulder, and he doesn’t give a fuck who puts it there?”
“Do you care?”
“Maybe you’ll win my Championship, Jimmy. Maybe not.”
“Are you winning it for you, or are ya handing the belt over t’Milenko? Are ya leavin’ your hopes t’someone who cares about money above all else?”
“This matters, Jimmy. Milenko has options in front’a him: money or respect. One or the other.”
“You can’t have both.”
“We’re gonna beat the shit outta each other, Jimmy… but I wonder if you even know why.”
“You might’ve beaten Dorian Hawkhurst at Hellbound, but… all due respect… so fuckin’ what?”
“A grounder beatin’ a grounder, gettin’ a shot at the Champion. It’s a dream come true.”
“But can ya follow up on it?”
“It comes down t’this, Jimmy… this is a matter’a respect. This is a matter’a pride. This is a matter of an Athlete that’s holdin’ the World Championship, havin’ held onto it against a slew ‘a top contenders.”
“And you, Jimmy… you think you can take it from me. You think you can beat me for the belt and hand it to James Milenko as a matter’a course.”
“The CWF World Championship matters more than your ego, Jimmy. The CWF World Championship matters more than your hopes for yourself.”
“I’m not an egomaniac, though. Maybe I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. Maybe I’m on borrowed time.”
“Maybe I’m about t’lose the CWF World Championship.”
“But I guarantee you CWF fans… it won’ be for lack’a tryin’.”
“I defend my title, I lose t’Jimmy Allen… potato, po-tah-to.”
“The CWF needs a Champion, not a reactionary prick.”
“Don’t blame me for knowin’ the audience.”