“Yo. What’s with the square in the suit?”
“Dunno. He does know this place is not a fuckin’ library...?”
The voices of two young, rough-looking men rose above the general hum and chitchat within The Dirty Duck, which was widely considered the least chic and most unfashionable watering hole in Denver. Dressed almost identically in wifebeater vests, low-cut baggy jeans and matching Rockies baseball caps turned backwards, the two men were making very little effort at maintaining a level of subtlety, openly rubbernecking at a solitary man sat several tables away.
Following their gaze, we see the unmistakeable form of ‘The Wrestling Inspector’ Stan Summers, who stood out like a sore thumb amongst the many revellers inside the busy bar. Sat alone, rigid and upright within a rickety-looking wooden chair, Summers in his immaculately ironed suit looked thoroughly out of place against The Dirty Duck’s scruffy, ‘down and dirty’ backdrop. Nevertheless, Stan seemed completely ambivalent to the noise and activity around him as he tapped leisurely away on the laptop which sat on the table in front of him.
“Seriously, who brings a laptop to The Duck?”
“Ya think he’s a cop? Or just one o’ them weird autistics?”
The two men at the bar shared another audible exchange, openly ogling at the seated Summers. Stan merely allowed himself a contemptuous glance in their general direction, before returning to his work. A few more moments of rhythmic tapping against the laptop keys followed, before Stan looked up again; this time, a smile broke out slowly across his face as he took in the bar’s latest occupant.
With a loud creak, the wooden door opened, flooding the dingy bar with bright late afternoon sunlight; seconds later, the hulking figure of ‘The Enforcer’ Scott Dann appeared in the doorway, obscuring much of the incoming light as he stepped casually over the threshold, the door swinging shut with a bang behind him.
‘The Enforcer’ looked much more at home within the confines of The Dirty Duck than ‘The Wrestling Inspector’, attired in dark chinos and a plain t-shirt pulled tightly over his impressive physique. The big man ambled across to the bar and ordered a beer, nonchalantly throwing down a single bill before grabbing the bottle of amber liquid and turning away without waiting for change.
It took Dann a few seconds to locate Stan amongst the other drinkers in the bar; when his eyes did fall upon The Inspector, he couldn’t help but smile and roll his eyes at the utterly absurd sight of the suited Summers raising a glass of iced water in his direction across the bustling bar.
“Well howdy there fine sir! Do ya come here often?”
Scott’s greeting was spoken in a campy, over-the-top southern drawl, and the big man smiled widely at Stan’s confused expression as he plonked himself down on the chair opposite. Stan opened his mouth slightly, looking unsure, but Scott gave a tiny shake of the head, wordlessly indicating a response wasn’t required. Instead, Scott made a point of looking around at the peeling furniture and dated decor.
“So tell me...” Scott spoke again, this time in his usual neutral accent, “... how exactly did you come across this particular establishment. Can’t imagine it ticked any of the boxes during the thorough TripAdvisor search that I know you will have done before leaving the hotel. And it’s definitely not somewhere I’d imagine you’d typically frequent... at least not willingly...”
“I wanted to immerse myself in some authentic local culture.”
Stan responded without taking his eyes off the screen in front of him, admirably keeping a straight face even as the booming sound of Scott’s belly laugh greeted him from across the table.
“Christ, Stan, don’t do that to me...!” Scott replied, still chuckling. He took a long swig of beer, before returning his gaze back to The Inspector, shaking his head in disbelief. “The quality of bullshit that leaves your mouth really does astound me sometimes...”
“I don’t know what you mean.” Stan replied, still careful to keep both his voice and expression level.
Dann, though, was not to be denied.
“Come on, hit me with the truth. I can handle it, honest.”
The Enforcer fixed his boss with a steely glare and after a few more moments of silence between them, Stan eventually looked up and over the laptop screen, wearing the half-smile of a defeated man.
“I wanted to come somewhere quiet, somewhere empty, so I could concentrate. And I couldn’t begin to imagine why anybody would knowingly come to a dump like this with the intention of enjoying themselves...”
Stan spoke in a low voice, casting a couple of furtive glances around at nearby groups of what could only be described as ‘shady individuals’. He was obviously keen on keeping a low profile, lest his words upset the locals. Scott, though, clearly did not share his concerns, and let out another belly laugh, slamming his fist on the table for good measure.
“I knew it!” he exclaimed, drawing plenty of eyes to them. “And here’s me thinking for one crazy minute that you’d suddenly decided to let your hair down, go wild! Still, I should’ve known better when I saw that.”
He gestured down at the laptop with his head...
“And that ridiculousness, too, to be fair.”
... before nodding in the direction of the iced water which sat, practically untouched, by Stan’s right hand.
“Water...! Dear me...” Dann scoffed. “You soft twat...”
Stan took a slow, deliberate drink, almost in defiance of Dann’s disbelieving denouncement.
“I felt it pertinent to keep a clear head.” Stan retorted, in what was clearly supposed to be a dignified tone. “I have some crucial planning to undertake. And we’ll have less of the cheek from you, too, if you don’t mind. Seems you’re forgetting more and more these days who signs the cheques that allow you to ‘let your hair down’ as often as you do.”
Scott chose to ignore the thinly-veiled threat, instead tilting his head sideways slightly in begrudging acknowledgement as he drained the last of his beer. He raised the empty bottle at a bored-looking waitress to indicate he’d take another.
“Fair play.” Scott said. “I suppose I should’ve presumed you had some sort of plan afoot, particularly after last Evo. What’s the deal?”
For the first time, Stan appeared to relax, softening his posture as he leant forward over the laptop screen, muttering in an uncharacteristically excited tone.
“Well, you’re exactly right.” Stan said quietly, but determinedly. “St. James... Quentin... even that smug wench Tara – they’ll all have been sat there after Tuesday night basking in a job well done, so pleased with themselves at the thought of having embarrassed The Wrestling Inspector, convinced that their silly little games had nullified me completely, before I’d even had a chance to stamp my authority on the CWF.”
Stan paused and allowed himself a tiny, self-important “Hmph!”, readjusting the lapels on his suit jacket for good measure. Scott couldn’t help but smile again; Stan barely seemed to notice.
“Well if they were sat there thinking I wasn’t going to bounce back, doubly determined to strike back and take the mind games to all new heights... well... then they’re clearly more stupid than they look... and let’s make no bones about it, that’s quite a feat for our dear Mr Scarboro...!”
Scott chuckled again.
“So what’s the plan? How exactly are you going to strike back?” he asked.
Stan pushed the laptop screen open a little further, checking a couple of the details in front of him before replying.
“Well here’s the thing – The American ThoroughlyBrainDead has decided, in his infinite wisdom, that the best way to prepare for the war that lays ahead of all of us at Vertigo is to organise a public event. A book signing, to be precise, to plug that waste of paper that is the only reason he’s known outside of a small gathering of uncultured, uneducated Pennsylvanian hicks.”
“Ahh yes... ‘A Moment of Introspection’... the memoirs of a schoolkid too stupid to hide, too arrogant to run, and so self-indulgent that he couldn’t bear to pass up the opportunity of making a small fortune from a huge tragedy.”
“That’s the one.” Stan said, nodding. “Quentin may have felt like he’d scored some kind of moral or psychological victory with the little plot he and St. James concocted last week. Well, with what I’ve got planned, their actions at last week’s show will be nothing more than a weak jab, a grazing blow. With what I’ve got planned for him at his little book signing, I... sorry, we... may well land the knockout punch before you even have to step into the ring at Vertigo.
“I’ve been working out the finer points of the plan ever since we left the arena on Tuesday; all of those tiny, yet crucial details that will ensure we can burrow our way into Scarboro’s psyche, affect his mindset, and throw him well and truly off his game in order to truly gain the upper hand in this battle. He may well believe that his little stipulation will prevent me from exerting my considerable influence on your match. Sadly for Mr Scarboro, he underestimates just how effective my powers of persuasion can be. And, naturally, I’ll be needing you to help me deal with the... let’s say... less delicate aspects of the plan. So, let’s go through the itinerary...”
Stan withdrew a sheet of paper from underneath the laptop and slid it over the table to Dann, and began to reel off its details with gusto. The Enforcer took the schedule wordlessly, and stared at
Stan with a strange look on his face, clearly deep in thought. Summers barely seemed to notice, still entrenched in his plot to disrupt and disturb The American Thoroughbred. For his own part, though, Dann looked as if he was barely registering the words coming out of Stan’s mouth, a glazed, faraway look in his eyes.
“What do you see when you look at me?”
Stan stopped dead, mid-flow, mouth still slightly open as he looked across at Scott, who had just abruptly interrupted him. Stan arched an eyebrow, shooting a confused look at his enforcer.
“I’m serious. What do you see when you look at me?”
The two men stared at each other for a few awkward moments, before shaking his head, quickly and brusquely.
“Come on Scott, don’t be daft. We haven’t got time for that sort of rubbish. Now, it’s import-”
Scott, though, was having none of it. He leant forward, until his face was mere inches away from Summers’, who was stopped in his tracks yet again.
“No, stop. It isn’t rubbish – this is important.” Scott said firmly, placing his hands on each of Stan’s shoulders as he stared intensely into his eyes.
“Look at me... really look at me. I need you to tell me – what do you see? What do I mean, what exactly do I represent to you? You talk about wanting to affect Q’s mindset... what about my mindset? Do you even care what I’m thinking and feeling, ever?”
Another awkward silence, until finally, something seemed to click inside the mind of The Wrestling Inspector; he smiled a warm, almost fatherly smile as he removed Dann’s hands and arms from his own shoulders, placing them back onto the table between them.
“I can see now that I may well be guilty of occasionally taking your emotional wellbeing for granted from time to time. But please, get the wrong impression that I don’t care. The truth of it is – you’re just too good.”
Scott pulled a face as if to scoff at Stan’s words, but the latter held a hand up in customary matter, stopping him short.
“I mean it. Between us, we have been so effective already on our CWF crusade, and much of that comes down to how well we complement and harmonise with one another. In so many ways, you are my ideal foil; quietly confident, steadily self-assured and admirably loyal in spite of my obvious faults.
“You know as well as anybody that neither praise nor sentiment is something I’m famed for. But I couldn’t be more confident and content with how we are progressing. Your efforts are testament to that, Scott, and we will continue to grow and conquer – together.
“We are on the path to glory and greatness. It is imperative that you keep the faith, Scott, and stick with me and my vision. This, and only this, will allow you to follow in the footsteps of everything and everyone that has ever been associated with yours truly, and ensure that you rise up, and realise your full potential.”
Stan ended his monologue with his arms spread out, almost subconsciously. The Wrestling Inspector looked across the table at his enforcer, seemingly wary as he tried to gauge his reaction. Scott Dann stared straight back for several moments, his expression unreadable. The fire in his eyes, though, was unmistakeable, and after a couple more moments, he nodded a single, resolute nod, before uttering three simple words in similarly determined fashion:
“Let’s do it.”
Slowly, a wide smile spread across the features of The Wrestling Inspector as he regarded his charge, who he had once again been able to so expertly inspire and motivate. Indeed, the flash of malevolence that flickered across his facial features as he rotated the laptop ninety degrees highlighted that Stan Summers was well aware of the control that he had, and would continue to have, over his powerful, dominant enforcer.
A single, old-fashioned television set bursts into life, the static and snow on the slightly faded screen illuminating the plain, dusty room in which it sits. We approach the television set slowly, steadily, the only sound the inexorable hiss of the un-tuned channel, until the concrete of the walls and floors are no longer visible.
Just as suddenly as it had appeared, the static and the noise shut off with a snap, leaving only a black screen. The blankness and the silence bring about a feeling of pure oppressiveness, which lingers for a few moments, before a coherent picture finally appears on the television screen.
The image on the screen is a high-res computerised simulation of a historical battle – although no details had been revealed, the attire and weaponry on display suggested the combatants were of European descent, and were fighting during the Middle Ages. As the view on the screen panned across the currently calm and quiet battlefield, each fighting force in formation at either end, the familiar English accent of Scott Dann could be heard, narrating over the scene unfolding before us.
“A single man cannot win a skirmish, let alone a significant battle, and certainly not an entire war. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Yet professional wrestling, much like the annals of history, is littered with innumerable individuals too proud, foolhardy or plain stupid to understand this fact. Whilst these foolish fighters destined for failure fight fruitlessly, the most famous and effective generals are capable of taking a step back, viewing the bigger picture, and understanding how best to manage the resources at his disposal.”
The computer-animated image on the screen switches from the initial high, wide-angle shot of the entire battlefield to focus in on the one of the men leading their forces into battle. Even whilst sat atop a noble-looking steed and clothed in the attire and armaments of the time, the general seemed to resemble a certain modern-day assessor of wrestling organisations...
Before we can take a closer look to confirm the identity of the general, though, the camera pans back once more, and Dann’s voice is heard again:
“As we will soon see, in battle, a leader will only ever be measured by how well he can utilise the roles and responsibilities of the different divisions within his army. Let’s take a closer look at some of these divisions now, shall we?”
The camera zooms in from the aerial view, until it focuses in on a formation of soldiers on the outskirts of the battalion. All of the men in this unit are lightly armoured compared to many of the other groups, and carry large bows on their backs.
“The archers. Ranged specialists. Whilst they will never seem to deal massive damage or that single, crucial final blow, they are nonetheless a vital cog in the war machine. Much like CWF’s very own ‘Messiah Pariah’ Ataxia is able to chip away at the psyche of his opponents, the archers are able to whittle down the defences of the opposition forces with silent but deadly efficiency.”
The picture quickly switches from the archers to another group of units, situated front and centre within the general’s army. Unlike the archers, each man within this latest group is heavily defended, covered head to toe in shielding and armour, and each carries an obvious, visible and significant threat, courtesy of the huge, double-handed spears they wield.
“Pikemen. The battering rams required to lead any army from the front, their threat is clear, and they carry no airs and graces into battle. But much like the man-mountain that is CWF’s Scourge, what they may lack in style and subtlety, they more than make up for with their raw strength, power and aggressiveness as they charge...”
On screen, the formation of spear-carrying soldiers suddenly springs into motion, charging headlong into the impending battle with a bone-shaking clatter of boots and a spine-tingling battle cry.
On cue, the conflict on screen explodes into life, with units on either side turning the battlefield into a veritable hive of activity. The two forces meet in a crescendo of clanging swords, crunching bones and harrowing screams.
Through the chaos of conflict, the camera focuses on another specific group of longsword-wielding soldiers, who battle through any and everything in their way with power, speed and accuracy.
“Infantry. Solid, dependable, and at times irresistible... but also often considered expendable, perhaps? Maybe. But is the infantry that is sent in as a potential bait, or as a small but integral part of a much more grand and complex plan more or less important than those groups that wait patiently on the sidelines?
To the savvy and battle-hardened general, this infantry division is essential. Whilst trying to juggle all of these resources, whilst trying to calculate and compute all of the potential outcomes based on strength, intelligence, willpower and of course that intangible, luck, he is safe in the knowledge that he has the ever-reliable infantry division ready to strike as soon as the wise old general has analysed the opposition from every angle, and highlighted that single, crucial weak point.”
At Scott Dann’s final words, the picture focuses in on a group of units that look anything but weak. Towering over every adversary thanks to their powerful mounts, these units move swiftly amongst the disarray and disorder of combat, striking quickly and often as they identify the perfect targets for their attacks.
“Cavalry. On the face of it, the perfect unit; strong, mobile, and entering the battle with no little fanfare. But underneath the bravado and the obvious physical advantages lies the hidden factor that will be their downfall. That innate desire to be the hero, the unquenchable thirst to be the single decisive factor in a victory that will be talked about for an unthinkable number of years to come, and for an immeasurable number of miles abound.
Whether you characterise it as pride, valour or honour, or a combination of all three, it is this key weakness that will allow the perfect combination of the wily commander...”
A quick switch from the epicentre of the conflict to the relative calm on the outskirts of battle, where the general barks out an inaudible order, pointing his weapon in the direction of the aforementioned cavalry.
“ ...and the ever-dependable, inexorable infantry...”
The camera follows the direction of the general’s sword, and the cavalry division comes into view once more. Now, though, their effectiveness has been suddenly stunted, as they find themselves surrounded by a horde of sword-wielding longswordsmen, baying for their blood.
“... to combine and defeat the rash, brash cavalry with swift and brutal efficiency.”
As one, the circle of infantry charges, flaying away at their mounted opponents with unrelenting aggression and bloodlust. Mere seconds of incredible violence, and just like that, this skirmish amongst a battle within a war has been decided, the entire cavalry lying utterly decimated at the feet of their victorious slayers.
The camera returns to the general, who smiles a familiar malevolent smile as he oversees the carnage unfolding before him – carnage being organised and orchestrated by him. The smile only gets wider and more sinister as it appears closer and closer, until...
The TV set suddenly topples forwards, the screen smashing into thousands of shards of glass, the crash reverberating off every surface of the concrete cavern. Darkness reigns for several seconds, before the entire room is thrown into relief by bright artificial light from above, revealing ‘The Enforcer’ Scott Dann, standing in place of the television set in full ring gear, the fires of passion and competition burning clear in his eyes.
“Feeling familiar, Quentin? Because if not... if you’re struggling, allow me to explain. You see, the battle we have all just witnessed is the perfect allegory for the conflict we currently find ourselves in.
Stan Summers is the smart and sage general, who despite the best efforts of the best head of propaganda in the land, will not be denied as he attempts to exert his influence and authority on this war effort.
Quentin Scarboro is the bold, flashy cavalry – full of confident bravado, driven by pride and the desire for fame, but ultimately, destined to fail... destined to fall...
And last but certainly not least – ‘The Enforcer’ Scott Dann. Solid, dependable, consistent. The essential infantry, commanded to destroy, led to victory, and guaranteed to end our battle as the last man standing.”