The last time Hornet stepped into his house in Grandover, a feeling of unease came over him. This time all he felt was the throbbing pain throughout his body, especially from his head.
All courtesy of Timmy Windham. “The Muppet Kid.” Mark’s little brother. A dead man.
Everything he had known about Timmy – all lies. The Muppet Kid persona – just a way to convince Mark and the world that he was Mark’s long lost brother, a brother believed dead in a fire. Instead, he was simply Mickey Benedict’s pawn – the payoff in a twist bigger even than the America’s Team reunion against GUNS – the key player in a blood feud that stretched all the way back to Mickey Benedict’s hatred for Alan Windham, Mark’s father.
A dead man – who wasn’t so dead. Hornet had raced toward a burning arena to get inside and save Timmy, only to be caught in the explosion, hospitalized, forced to endure an experimental back surgery, and eventually become hooked on painkillers.
Funny how getting involved with the Windhams never leads to anything good.
Up the stairs in his master bathroom, Hornet reflexively reached for a bottle of ibuprofen that wasn’t there. It always had been before… and if not ibuprofen, then Aleve, then Naproxen, then Soma. The doctor at the hospital in Freeport had offered whatever pain medication he wanted, apparently unaware of his ‘situation.’ It had taken everything he had, including a failed call to Deacon (whose phone went to voice mail), to refuse the prescriptions.
He looked in the mirror, a huge bandage covering most of his forehead, plus the back of his hair matted underneath gauze and tape. Not the worst beating he ever took, but certainly the worst in a while. Sitting on the side of the whirlpool tub, he gingerly pulled his shirt off and started the hot water.
It would be too easy to blame the Windham saga for all his troubles. Too easy to believe the big lie and submit to it. But that would be ignoring his own failures: his failed relationship with Ivy, his failed friendships with Mark and Eli and Vizzack, his unhealthy rivalries with Merritt and GUNS.
In 1991, Timmy Windham entered his life. At first, they all believed him simply to be a deranged stalker, attacking everything related to Hornet, from a kid with a Hornet T-shirt on to even stalking Hornet in his home. Jealous of Hornet for ‘taking his place’ as Mark Windham’s best friend, as a friend as close as a brother. And so the green face-painted freak attempted to terrorize Hornet at every turn.
Thirteen years later, it was happening again. In years past, Timmy snowed them all, making Hornet and Mark believe that he was simply misunderstood, a victim, orphaned by tragedy, retarded by trauma. Mark had figured it out first, ‘awakening’ to the fact that his ‘brother’ was part of a diabolic plan.
Withholding that information, or Hornet’s refusal to listen, depending on whose side you take, led to the demise of a long-time friendship, the continuation of a blood feud, and the first time Hornet had ever had to face this business alone.
Alone in the bedroom, Hornet listened to the water run as he opened the closet door. Stepping into the walk-in closet, he flicked on the light and walked to the back. He noticed that all the boxes were still stacked neatly in place. As he put aside boxes of stored shoes and pictures, mementos and bills, he finally got to the one box he was looking for. Buried under a pile of other boxes was a carton longer than wide. It was a memento of sorts – the memory of a time when a man had threatened not only his livelihood, but his very life, with a piece of iron.
As he opened the box, he knew he wouldn’t find the branding iron Jim Williams had threatened him with all those years ago. Although he didn’t have time to recognize it before it hit him, when he watched the replay, he knew exactly who hit him, exactly what weapon he had chosen, and exactly where it had come from.
Timmy Windham in the closet with the branding iron.
And he knew exactly why.
Timmy’s feelings for Hornet were meaningless. The pawn had become a rook, but all in all, he was still a piece on Mickey Benedict’s chessboard. It was becoming obvious that Mickey had expanded his strategy – making Stephen Thomas the ‘queen’ to his king – the piece on the board with the most power and maneuverability.
Unwittingly, Hornet had become a knight on the other side of the board. But the game was the same. In more ways than one.
As Hornet reached into the box, he found exactly what he expected. The branding iron was gone. In its place, a cute, small Kermit doll. A childlike reminder of an insipid plan, built by an unlikely mastermind and executed by the biggest con artist known to wrestling.
Closing the box, Hornet walked out of the closet, heading towards a hot bath to ease his hurts… and consider his moves.
His Main Events pushed the limits of an R rating. Brandings, Wheel Of Deaths, Electrified Steel Cages, Druggings, blood baths...he’s made money going to hell and back in-ring, yet...I’m the loose cannon. The one with the lost perspective of it all being a game.
He’s played the game better than anyone, and now wants me to feel ashamed that I played my brother-in-law and he like a fiddle.
I won’t say I’m sorry.
Not when the tune sounded so sweet.
I filled a need. Took a role. Not the role of a hero. No, that one was already taken. I became the devil, the one who told the truth and watched the righteous pick at it until it bled from the seams.
Yes, I lied about who I was.
But, hasn’t he done the same?
He was living the lie first.
That’s why I followed.
Paid to be a Windham, but impressionable by nature. I saw the man sink deeper into a persona, detaching himself from his spirit, and I was flooded with admiration.
He’s like a Brother to me.
How can one man be so dishonest and be so free?
I’ve never loved.
I’ve destroyed anything of meaning.
I want to destroy him.
I need a hole in my heart to divide the madness.
When he’s gone, will I miss him? Will I remember the break-ins, and the quiet retracing of his footsteps with a melancholy absent from the path I’ve stalked with the old man?
The game’s not over yet.
There’s another hand to be played.
Will he see the trap I’ve laid before it’s too late?
It’s always nice to have an event in your hometown. Hometown fans, positive press, but most importantly, not having to travel. Granted, it isn’t as if the CSWA schedule has been keeping Hornet on the road constantly, but recently, between the CSWA, NFW, on-sales and being pulled into his other business interests, home hasn’t been the final stop every night.
PRIMETIME 500. Who would have ever thought? In 1992, PRIMETIME was the ‘national’ show, the ‘big break’ for the CSWA as it moved from a regional promotion to a national one. Hard to believe that twelve years have passed. The business has changed, the CSWA has changed… Hornet’s changed.
The more things change, the more things stay the same. Twelve years later, and still dealing with a maniac like Timmy Windham, still warding off branding irons, still being jerked around by management.
And then there’s Dan Ryan. The man who made a name for himself by attacking Evan Aho while he was the CSWA World Champion, then waltzed onto PRIMETIME and ran him down – leading to a confrontation with Hornet. Fast forward ahead and Dan Ryan becomes the Champ, feuding with Mark Windham… and forward… and Thomas is stripping him of the belt for no reason.
So many similarities. Prideful – of what they’ve done, of the people they work with. Champions – with the weight of the company on their respective backs. Stripped – by management who decided they wanted or needed something different. Stalked – by Timmy Windham.
And now thrown into the same ring with the same maniac, and one branding iron dangling down from above.
Halfway through a set of pull-downs, Hornet stopped for a moment, catching his breath and wiping his forehead. As he resumed, one question hung in the air –
So what will he do?
What’s Ryan’s agenda? Sticking to getting revenge on Timmy, and through him on Thomas… the man who stripped him of the title and suggested he was on steroids.
Or is there something more sinister going on? For months, Hornet suggested that Craig Miles was out to get him. From the NFW all the way to the Parsons Cruise Liner II, where Thomas engineered a plan to keep Hornet off the boat, all while promoting a Melton/Hornet match for the title – then allowing Miles to dress up as Hornet and humiliate the man he tapped as champion.
Too many scenarios to worry about. Is Ryan allied with Thomas in some insane double-turn? Or is he hooked up with Miles and his attempts to subvert some of the top CSWA stars, like he did in the NFW and fWo. Will he go after Timmy first? What will he do if Hornet’s about to get the branding iron? And if Ryan gets it first… who will he use it on?
Too many. Too complicated. What happened to the good ol’ days when it was just about defending the World Championship, or creating the Unified Title, or making the CSWA an international promotion.
Good ol’ days indeed. Filled with just as much backstabbing, just as much jealousy, just as much arrogance.
But the answer is still the same. Play smart. Work hard. And grow eyes in the back of your head. And if none of that works… then just kick some ass.
If there's an ounce of emotion in Dan Ryan's body, his face doesn't show it.
The packing took time, but with it done - it was time to do some work.
Narrative styled works of fiction never were much his strong points. The current situation held no special place above that edict.
It aggravated him. It almost angered him, but in the end it became something on the level of a gnat buzzing around his head - a gnat that didn't take heed of the hundreds of other gnats ahead of him whose fates led to something unappealing.
A camera was set up near the wall, and with all other duties finished before his trip to the airport, the former CSWA World Champion sat on the end of the bed, his torso alone visible in the camera shot - covered as it was with a black 'Zero' t-shirt.
Two seconds later, the sunglasses next to him were over his eyes - and with a click of a hand-sized remote.....
- - - - -
"I suppose it was meant to be this way."
"For years before stepping foot anywhere near this company, there were the stories - the reputation. Everyone knows what the word was around the industry - I don't have to repeat them anymore."
"Coming here and being a part of this firsthand, I've experienced some of these things personally."
"But the sort of backstabbing nonsense and political warfare that has sent the casual CSWA newcomer screaming for the nearest airport was never enough to dissuade me from what I do."
"I expected all of these backstage deals, Windham.....I expected some sort of dramatic coup, Hornet. I expected the sort of drama that typically plays out on television in this business but somehow seems to happen in real life like clockwork here."
"I am unique."
"I am the sort of man who takes these things with a grain of salt and pushes on, no matter the consequences or result."
"I'm supposed to be enraged and lose my mind when the World Title is stripped. I got the feeling I was expected to take the 'well, that finally did it' approach that so many before me have taken and sailed off into the sunset behind Max Blackshire or Kendall Codine or Wicked Sight."
"But I'm still right here, still the same man. I'm still in line to complete the vision I set out for myself - still the man who said he didn't give a s**t about being World Champ, and meant it."
"But Timmy, sometimes tangents are necessary."
"Sometimes another old name comes out of the woodwork and tries to make a play on the new phenomenon to re-establish themselves as relevant."
"And you know what? I don't really care at all about the power struggle around here."
"I couldn't care less about who runs this ship so long as a paycheck arrives in my mailbox on time."
"I don't care enough about this company to write an internet column about the good ol' days. I've heard enough whining about the sinking ship from Ivy, Sammy, et al over the last six months to make me absolutely sick to my stomach."
"Never has there been a company so intent on looking to the past than this one, replete with 'legends' and hangers-on enough to fill a tribute show, yet completely blind to the necessity to move on that a successful company in the here and now requires."
"So be it."
"Whatever takes place with this 'corporation', be it a juggernaut run by Stephen Thomas or Chad Merritt - I draw the line only at the sort of moron that thinks he'll use me to complete his agenda."
"I don't know what you're up to, Windham. I don't know what Mickey Benedict or Stephen Thomas have in mind and I don't really care."
"But this much I will tell you. When you decide to throw your hat into my ring, when you try and 'put me in my place'......"
"Well, you've just developed yourself a small problem."
"You might be expecting resistance to your grand scheme. You won't get it from me."
"But you will get a man completely confident in his ability to rip you limb from limb, and to pursue you to the end of the earth to do so."
"I think it's fortunate that Joey Melton is able to stand as a living and barely walking testament to that fact. He might get the feeling back in his legs soon enough to compete in the main event - and he's practically family to me."
"What does it mean to you? What does it mean to me? I guess we'll find out soon won't we?"
"I'll leave the worry over whether or not you have a plan hatched and ready to drop on us all to Hornet."
"And the all-consuming question of where the branding iron goes if I get my hand on it?"
Ryan smiles and simply stands up and walks out of the scene.
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