The View From Down Here 12.10.2012 – Wrestling Fan Fiction Redux, In My Own Words…

 After last week’s effort when I discussed some of the bizarre wrestling fanfic I’ve read while doing research, it was pointed out to me that I had actually written and posted some fanfic of my own on this very site. And it’s as bad as any I read while researching my novel.

 D’oh!

 Oh well.

 So this week I thought I’d go at it again. This was written in 2007, and so the wrestlers are in their personas from that time. Yes, after telling you how crap fanfic is, I’m giving you my own fanfic.

 Anyway, it’s long, so all the TL;DR comments are fully expected.

 

 

MYSTERY

 

It started as another day just like any other in Connecticut.

 Boring.

 I sat in my dingy office behind the desk I had called home for too many years.

 I was working a boring case, a case like so many I had done since I had taken up this boring line of boring work. I could have solved it in my sleep, but the old lady was paying me 10Gs to find her old boyfriend, and I wasn’t about to stuff it up on account of laziness.

 She walked in.

 She looked vaguely familiar, a figure from one of my past lives, but she had that look that said ‘Made In Beverley Hills’, all plastic and unreal. And behind her was a man who would be called a behemoth at a convention of elephant lifters, a hat covering his face very effectively, adding a sense of mystery to the menace he exuded. His hand on her waist told me that he was no mere bodyguard, but I wouldn’t have minded betting that he could have done that job more than effectively.

 He was carrying the kid. I barely noticed the sleeping infant in the mammoth mountain that was the crook of his arm, but there it was, knowing it was all too protected.

 No ordinary couple.

 “What can I do for you?” I asked in the lazy yet serious tone I used on all unknowns.

 “My father’s missing,” she replied, her shrill voice fingernails down a blackboard. I guess there was only so much improvement money could buy… but even that voice rang a familiar chord in my mind, an old record pulled out after too many years. “Two weeks he’s been gone.”

 “Why not try the police?” I returned lifting my feet to the table, but feeling a sense of knowing where all this was headed.

 And I already didn’t like it.

 The two looked at one another before the man-mountain grunted and slung a newspaper in front of me. “Billionaire missing!” screamed the headline. And beneath was a photo of a man you would only not recognise if you had been living in a box in Nevada. And you’d have to have been in that same box to not know what was going down with this man at the moment.

 “That’s daddy?” I asked incredulously.

 “Yeah,” man-mountain grunted. I knew that voice as well. “The cops couldn’t find their own asses with a torch.”

 I knew who they were… and so I knew why they had come here to me. Old associations die hard.

 I grinned a big, toothless grin and stroked the beard on my chin. “What makes you think I can do what they can’t, H?” I asked finally.

 The man-mountain smiled a half-grin as he tilted his head back, revealing a face I knew all too well. Those fists had left some of the scars that pock-marked my body like medals of honour from some long-forgotten war. “You are one of us,” he rumbled. “If you can’t get to the bottom of this without ruffling feathers, no-one can.”

 “Thanks for the vote of confidence,” I returned with a nod.

 “Don’t let us down, Foley,” the woman stated as they walked out the door.

 “I’ll try not to, Princess,” I replied as they left. She turned back and gazed at me and for a moment I saw the young child I had known too many years ago when I was in the inner sanctum of their world. She smiled demurely, then they were gone and I stood to walk around to the other side of the desk.

 Something caught my eye on the floor.

 I bent to pick it up carefully.

 A very full envelope, ‘Mr Foley’ neatly typed on the front. I opened it. “For services,” the note read, signed, “Stephanie & H.” And attached a pile of C-notes. Old ladies and missing boyfriends in Cleveland could wait. They’d just bought themselves a boy.

 Again.

 

-=[*]=-

 

I’d been out of this man’s loop for a long time, but H was right – I had been a part of this world. Many had. It was a very public world, but shady and underground. And it was not something I could just walk into with ease. People would be guarded. And I was going to guess that, like most of those who hire me, the glamorous couple would want to remain anonymous. So I had to find and talk to those who, like myself, had once been in, and were now out.

 And, really, with people like us, how hard it is to find them?

 But I had one advantage – my best buddy. A man I had not seen for a couple of years, since he became the big Hollywood star. But he still lived here and knew all the gossip and all the details of the old firm. He was out of the loop, but he kept his finger on the pulse, like a doctor with an elderly but rich patient.

 Getting in to see him was an operation in itself. His personal assistants were living their lives through him, and hiding him away from the public. But get in to see him I did. Sometimes it pays to have some previous currency in the public eye, and that was all I could offer them. That and a disregard for locks on doors. He was sitting at a table with what looked like the board of directors of some multinational banking syndicate, discussing something using words that meant nothing to me and figures that meant even less. As soon as I walked in two men who could have been extras from a bad Chuck Norris movie grabbed my arms and tried to pin me down. I managed to grab one around the neck and dropped hard to the ground, ramming his head into the floor. The second stood over me, grinning, and I grabbed his mouth, squeezing hard. He could not make me let go and sank to his knees as I regained my feet. “Foley, Foley, Foley!” cried the voice I knew all too well. “It is so good to see that you having finally come back to my presence!”

 “Hey, Rocky,” I grinned, dropping his bodyguard. “You need better protection.”

 “They’re fine against mere mortals,” my old friend laughed, “but nothing could stop you!” He turned and faced his investment board. “Meeting adjourned for a few hours.”

 “But I think…” one began nervously.

 “It does not matter what you think!” was the roar. “Now go.”

 They scampered away like the rats they were.

 He sat down behind the large desk and stared at me with that grin I knew so well. The carefully manicured sideburns, the tattoo showing on his shoulder, the body of an underwear model, this man had barely changed in ten years. “What can I do for you, Mick?” he asked. “You ain’t been around for years.”

 “Last time I came to see you it would have been easier to meet the Pope,” I replied.

 “Yeah, I guess that does go with the territory,” he murmured. “But you got in this time.”

 “They’ve asked me to find Vinnie Mac,” I stated.

 He just stared at me. No expression. And then that eyebrow lifted. “I read about it,” he started carefully. Too carefully, I knew. “Limousine blows up, no body found. Why you?”

 I shrugged. No words, but between us that was okay.

 “Why me?”

 I met his gaze and held it. He was not stupid, and he knew I was not either. We had been through too much together over the years. Fights, battles, wars… and now he was a star and I was helping little old ladies rekindle their youths. Funny how life goes sometimes.

 “What have you heard?” I asked. Straight up; that was the way he liked it.

 “Not a lot,” he muttered, and I could see he was telling the truth. “Try the Preacher; I think he’s still got inside connections. Maybe the old Hitman. I think Terry’s still around as well…”

 “He’s on TV, isn’t he?” I muttered.

 Rocky laughed. “Yeah, that reality show he does. I think he’s trying to get back into the business, though, so he’d know a bit more…”

 “Well, thanks,” I grinned, standing up. Terry; no way was I going to talk to him. Too big for us all until it all started to cave in. Thought he was the Incredible Hulk or something… only orange instead of green.

 “That it?” he asked. “You come here, knock out my bodyguards, get some vague information, and now you’re going?”

 “Well, I didn’t want to get in your…”

 “It don’t matter what you didn’t want! We are going to go and we are going to go on the town and we are going to drink and we are going to fight and it is going to be just like old times because that’s what we do and that’s what we should do and that’s all there is to it. If you smell-ell-ell what the Rock is cooking!”

 How could I refuse an invitation like that?

 

-=[*]=-

 

It was the end of a long night. A very long night. It was the sort of night that would leave the world’s strongest man weak at the knees. The bars became a blur of neon and legs. We saw dancers and we saw fighters and we saw everything in between. Rock could still put them away and I could still match him. But the sun was rising as we left the last strip joint, having seen some of scrawniest female bodies outside of an anorexia clinic. We were laughing and holding one another up, like the old friends we were.

 They were waiting for us. Three of them. Young guys, all built like we had been back in the day. Juiced to the gills on steroids and with the demeanours to match. And completely generic.

 One even looked vaguely familiar…

 But nothing could hide that expression in their eyes. They had been paid to a job… and do that job on us.

 The first fist was swung at me. I took it on the side of the head before aiming my own back at his stomach, then scooping him up and slamming him against the pavement. He hit like a wet sponge, arched his spine a little, then was still. I turned to look at the Rock and he had managed to get one in a judo hold and drove him back first against the concrete. The third was staring at us with wide eyes, like a kid who’s just seen his best friend killed, then turned to run. But we both grabbed him and held him up. “Who sent you?” I demanded. I was angry and he knew it.

 “I can’t…”

 “I am going to slap that grin right off your face!” Rocky roared and the guy cowered. A lot.

 “The Deacon,” he whispered. I dropped him and looked at Rocky. He scurried away back to the sewer he had come from. Punks like that just aren’t worth the time or effort.

 “The Deacon?” I repeated in confusion. “Who’s that?”

 And Rocky was all smiles. “Foley, my friend,” he laughed, “I think your case just got mighty interesting.”

 

-=[*]=-

 

I slept the morning away with the sleep of the sore and the drunk. Fitful, tossing and turning, too many bizarre dreams. And when I awoke, I felt like someone had used my mouth to sandpaper the inside of a bourbon bottle and a jackhammer was going twenty to the bar in my head. A shot of Jack Daniels from the bedside table was all it took to make me feel semi-human again. I washed myself in the shower and threw down some bread before heading off to the north side and the large Church of Saint Bruno.

 I had a priest to see.

 The building was as old as anyone could remember. Once it had been the focal point of everything in this part of the world, but now it was mainly a memory, occasionally mentioned and occasionally attended, but generally left alone to its own devices. And that was they way all those who worked there liked it.

 I was here to see the Preacher. He and I had had many altercations in the past, and once he had been one of the most powerful people in the old firm, but now he could barely walk some mornings and he just looked after his building.

 Old and overgrown with weeds. It never changed.

 The roads around it were deserted, except for a group of five white-clad joggers trying desperately to capture some of that essence of adrenaline as they pounded the pavement in synchronised formation. They looked young, but they ran in a group, like spirits across the barren church landscape.

 I walked down the gravel path, hearing my feet grind at the small stones, not being able to hide my approach at all. A face watched me from beneath a wide-brimmed hat. The old Undertaker. Still doing his job. How the mighty had fallen, I mused. He had also been one of the firm, and he and I had never patched up our differences. We had been after the same thing… and he had managed to get it, and he stayed with them a lot longer… but now he was here. He scowled as he recognised me, but I chose to ignore him as I continued on towards the wooden doors at the front of the ancient building.

 They opened before I could reach the handle. The long blonde hair reached his shoulders and he limpid a little, but there was no doubting just who I was staring at. “Father Michaels,” I grinned.

 “Mick Foley,” he returned, looking as cocky as ever. This was a man who was never lacking in confidence. “You have come to hear the word of the Lord finally?”

 “Far more material matters, I’m afraid,” I replied.

 Suddenly I was grabbed from behind and the world spun before me as though I was in a washing machine. I was held upside down, and I could feel the strong knees of the Undertaker pressing against the sides of my head. Above me was the cold, stone floor… and my cranium was aimed straight at it. I had seen this man dispatch people this way, and I should have been on my guard. But I was lazy and old, and this was something that I was just no longer ready for.

 And then a grinning face filled my visage. “Three seconds, Foley, to tell me why you’re here, or else the Undertaker will be making a new cripple for me to heal.”

 “They want me to find out what happened to Vinnie Mac,” I said quickly.

 The face vanished and voices were whispered somewhere above me. I could hear the blood pounding in my ears and the anticipation was making me break out in a cold sweat, like waiting for a dentist’s drill. And then I was spun back around and placed on my feet. The two men who stared at me had faces set in stone. “What do you know?” the Undertaker asked, his voice slow and deep and sounding like gravel.

 “What’s in the papers, and that some-one doesn’t want me to find out what’s happened,” I replied before regaling them with the details of the adventure Rocky and I had had that morning. And I finished with, “So do you have any idea who the Deacon is?”

 They stared at one another. “He’s in the firm,” was the slow response from the Preacher. “Used to be Deacon Dave, then he was Leviathan, now he’s one of Vinnie’s chosen… like all of us at one point or another.”

 “So why would he want me to not find out what happened?” I asked stupidly.

 “Things are happening at the Towers,” the Preacher stated evenly. “We just have to pray to the Lord above that they do not get out of control and bring the whole structure down upon all our heads.”

 “That won’t happen.”

 We all turned and looked at the door. Those jogging spirits I had seen earlier were there, and now they looked a lot more menacing than they had outside. But they clearly had no idea who they were challenging. Before another word could be spoken, the Preacher’s foot struck like an angry serpent, the kick connecting with the jaw of the closest while the Undertaker’s massive hand grasped another about the neck. This poor youngster was hoisted high before being slammed painfully to the stone floor. I climbed up onto one of the pews and ran forward before leaping off and dropping an elbow onto the back of a third. The other two could only stare in shock at the carnage that we had created in less than two seconds. The Undertaker grabbed on of the two remaining and drew him in close. “Who sent you?” he hissed.

 “That rapper guy,” the kid whispered.

 The Undertaker looked at us before throwing this child away. “Take your friends and never sully this place again,” the Preacher intoned. He helped two up and they carried their final companions outside.

 “What’s going on?” I asked. “The Deacon and now some rapper? I don’t get it.”

 “There’s only one place you are going to find out the answers,” the Undertaker growled.

 The Preacher nodded. “The Towers.”

 I shook my head. It had been too many years since I had been back there.

 But a pile of C-notes and the unspoken promise of more to come was enough to encourage me to at least attempt to gain entry.

 “So where you going next?” the Preacher asked.

 “No idea,” I confessed.

 He smiled and reached into his robes before handing me a slip of paper. I thanked him and left, feeling more and more like I was in the middle of something I should not have been getting my nose into.

 

-=[*]=-

 

The piece of paper led me to a part of town I felt much more comfortable in. It was where the lowlifes were, the seedy dives and bars, the places where the singers doubled as the personal gentleman’s entertainment, the places where beer was seen as a soft drink, the places where dirt was the carpeting. It was the sort of place where I had started my working life before inducted into the cashed-up world of the Turners. From there I made my way to Philadelphia and from there to the Towers. But I always liked it back here. This was my town.

 And according to the address the preacher had given me, it seemed as though it belonged to some-one else as well.

 All it said was ‘The Sheriff.’

 Then the address, an apartment above a hotel that could politely be described as the aftermath of a year’s solid binge-drinking.

 I walked in through the front door and was gazed at by several bleary faces before those same red eyes returned to their drinks set before them. I couldn’t have looked too out of place, and that concerned me briefly. Was I looking at my future, squatting behind that chipped and scarred wooden table, my best friend the never-ending glass before me? I shuddered at the thought and forced my mind back to the matter at hand. I made my way to the stairs at the far side and walked slowly up, feeling each give a little under my weight. It was as though this was going to be a one way journey, whether I liked it or not.

 I lifted my hand to knock on the door. “What do you Goddamned want?” barked a gruff voice from inside.

 I steeled myself and simply entered.

 He was on a couch, beer in his hand. Beside him was a walking frame, but the guy was barely my age. His knees were covered in braces and anything else just to give him mobility. “Steve, is that you?” I asked in shock.

 He just stared at me and ran a hand over his bald head. “Mick,” he spat. “What in God’s name are you doing here?”

 “Problems out at the Towers. They asked me to…”

 He spat and stood uneasily on his feet. “Out there? You mean that old son-of-a-bitch Vinnie Mac goin’ missin’? Best thing that could happen. But doesn’t that mean the Princess and H take over? So maybe it does suck more than anything else.” He was vitriolic… but after the way he’d been treated, maybe that was understandable.

 “I have a feeling something else might be going on.” I paused and stared at him. “Heard anything?”

 He smiled at me and tossed me a can of beer. I looked at it, shrugged and we both popped the top. We tapped the tins together and suddenly he was spinning around and grabbing me around the neck before dropping down.

 The world went immediately black…

 

-=[*]=-

 

The light came from a single globe, directed straight into my face. I blinked against but found that I couldn’t move my arms or legs.

 There’s nothing like discovering you’re bound hand and foot to a chair in a strange room to completely wake you up and bring you back to reality.

 The face that glowered at me was one I immediately recognised. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, Steve?” I growled.

 “You’re workin’ for that son-of-a-bitch H, and that’s not good. For any of us,” he returned.

 “I don’t get it…” I tried.

 “Look, you’re out there doing okay for yourself. The Rock, he’s doin’ real well. But the rest of us – the Preacher, the Undertaker, the Hacksaw, old Honky Tonk, me, hell, even Terry the Hulk himself – we ain’t. We need the old firm. And every so often, once in a while, Vinnie Mac would throw us a titbit, a little piece of his pie, just a taste. He’d use us and then he’d dump us back to the curb, but with enough of a promise of future chances. He kept us all hangin’ on, that’s what he did, but at least he delivered more often than not. But if he’s gone, then H is in charge and except for the Preacher what hope do the rest of us have?”

 “So why’d he hire me?” I asked.

 “To look like he was genuinely trying to do something.”

 “And why am I here?”

 At this he just stared at me, then stepped back as another figure hobbled into the light. “Because sooner or later you’re going to come looking for me,” this other man stated. I looked and it was so hard to believe this was the same man I had known all those years before.

 “Hitman?” I whispered.

 “The best there is, the best there was, the best there’ll ever be,” he stated emotionlessly. “And after what went down between Vinnie Mac and me, I’m gonna be set up by that arrogant S-O-B H and his…” His voice failed as the words could not come out, but he did not have to go on. Everyone remembered how the Preacher had helped Vinnie Mac screw him over, driving him from the firm once and for all, then killing his younger brother to add insult to injury.

 “It’s not like that.” They stared at me.

 “Go on,” Steve muttered, his alcohol-reddened eyes boring into my soul like two diamond-tipped drill bits.

 “The Deacon and some rap artist are behind this. They’ve been trying to scare me off since I started doing this…”

 The two men moved away from me and I could hear them talking under their breath before they came over and stood behind me. My hands were released immediately and I automatically bent to undo my leg bindings. By the time I was freed I was alone with Steve. The Hitman had gone, back to his hiding place in the shadows, where he had lived for far too long.

 “You’re in trouble,” Steve whispered. “Drop this. It can’t be good.”

 I shook my head. “I had my problems with Vinnie,” I said quietly. “But I still owe him a lot. And I owe it to him to find out what’s happened here.”

 The man I had known for far too long stood tall and offered me his hand. I shook it and he drew me in close. “Be careful, you old son-of-a-bitch,” he muttered.

 “Any ideas then?” I replied hopefully.

 He smiled in that way of his that made him look like a hungry crocodile. “Try that Olympic athlete working out of Orlando. He and Vinnie… Well, there’s a reason he’s down there with that wannabe country and western singer and the Christian.”

 I smiled and nodded.

 This was getting me absolutely nowhere.

 

-=[*]=-

 

The Olympic athlete was just like I remembered him from when he was younger – as crazy as a loon. And the people that surrounded him and the old, embittered singer were just as insane. The brothers whose minds went twenty years ago, the Christian, the dark preacher who let a baseball bat do his talking, and some crazy little guys who seemed determined to kill themselves.

 It was a waste of my time, but I did get one thing out of my trip down to Florida – they could not have had anything to do with this. The whole reason for their existence was to stick it to the firm by going out on their own, and doing their own thing, so that Vinnie Mac being missing completely ruined all of their plans. That was about it. There were so many disgruntled ex-employees of the firm down there it felt like I was back at the firm ten years earlier. It was scary, and not a little sad.

 Like Steve and the Hitman, these people just could not let go of the past, a past they were so desperate to try to recreate for themselves.

 And the last man I saw was Big Kev. He had the world. Twice. And now…

 Here.

 Unbelievable.

 I was depressed and feeling like I was wasting my time. My head was whirling with too much information which meant nothing. So I decided to walk by the Towers where the firm had existed since before Vinnie Mac’s time, when his father had run the place as a small company. Vinnie Mac had certainly seen it grow. But now…

 Now it was just a building.

 Without the man himself there was nothing special about the place. The whole feeling of everything was different. Even if H and the Princess did take over, there was a huge gap that neither of them could ever hope to fill. He had been the overlord for so long, his own personality was imprinted on the very buildings and in the egos of all who had ever come into contact with him.

 But why would they want me to find Vinnie Mac? Surely this would give them both all the power they had craved for so long…

 There was something else going on here that I just did see. Why get me involved if they were taking over? Were they taking over? How was I going to find out?

 I stopped and stared at the building where I had given too much of my old life. Men like Steve and the Hitman wanted so desperately to get back in; men like the athlete and the Christian wanted so desperately to be proven away from the place. It had a hold over people that was almost mystic in its power. It was a temple to men like us, men who were not normal, who did things that others would only ever dream of doing. And here I was hoping to get inside again but only for my own curiosity. There had to be a way for me to gain access.

 Or at least find out.

 Were there any of us left inside…?

 Yes.

 I remembered. And it was not good.

 He and I did not get along. Never had, never would. We clashed so often it was almost a war. It was cold and calculating and the bad blood could have kept a family of vampires fed for millennia. But he was now my only hope.

 I had to see Ric.

 

-=[*]=-

 

He was sitting alone, which was not right for a start. Where were the other members of his little gang of elderly thugs, especially all that was left of the Wrecking Crew? Where were the women who hung off his every word? Where were his kids, who were trying so hard to follow in his footsteps? In fact, where was the Armani suit, the gold Rolex, the bleached blonde hair? Instead I was looking at a sad old man in a booth in the corner of a bar, his hair slicked back, his scarred forehead a road-map to nowhere, the eyes showing nothing of the spark of life that had seen him do more in that damned industry than any other man ever.

 I walked across to him and stared down at the figure hunched before me. “Ric,” I said, keeping my voice as cold as my feelings.

 He looked up at me. A hint of recognition crossed his eyes, but he remained as emotionless as me. “Mick,” was all he replied.

 “Mind?” I asked.

 He shrugged, then shook his head.

 I sat down opposite him and our eyes held each other, two old warriors not sure of where to go to from here.

 “You’re here about Vinnie Mac, right?” The old vim and vigour was gone from him. This was a shell of a man. What had happened to him for this to happen?

 “Yeah.”

 “H and the Princess, they got you in, right?”

 “Yeah.”

 “And you’re stuck, right?”

 “Sort of. I just need an in…”

 “H is out.”

 I was stunned. This was not what I expected to hear. “H? Bull…”

 “Why else would he get you in on this?”

 “Why? How?” This was going from strange to weird.

 He smiled at me and I saw too many years in the business staring back. “You know, you and I were never on the same page. I was a limousine riding, champagne drinking, partying all night son-of-a-gun. We rolled all night and rocked all day, every day. Two women on each arm. You just did your job, put yourself through hell, and went back to suburbia. When I was your boss, I admit I pushed you down. But you fought back. You did well for yourself. Now look at you. And look at me.

 “But I knew I had H. The guy looks up to me more than my own kids. He’s looked out for me, seen to it I was looked after. But he’s been pushed aside, and now with Vinnie Mac gone he’s out of the picture. All of us, we’re out of the picture.”

 “Who’s the Deacon? And this rap star?” I asked quickly while he was feeling talkative.

 He smiled and swallowed the rest of his Scotch. “And then there’s the Grandson. And the Mexican King. Even the Dream’s son.”

 “What? Goldy?”

 “The next one, the young one.” He shook his head sadly. “They have no time or space for us any more. We’re gone.”

 “Can you get me into the Towers?”

 He just stared at me, and I saw a little of that spark of the old times. This was the man who hated my guts with an absolute passion, and yet respected the hell out of me because I always took the fight right up to him. “Why?” he asked.

 I smiled. “Old time’s sake.”

 All he did was nod.

 

-=[*]=-

 

I stood in the foyer and looked all around. Some things never changed, and Vinnie Mac’s adoration of his past glories was one of them. All of his biggest and best accomplishments were on these walls, waiting for the casual passer-by to come in and revel in all that was Vinnie.

 But I noticed a few missing, replaced by ones I could never even hope to recognise.

 I wanted to look further, but I was not here as a tourist.

 Especially not at this time of the night.

 I steeled myself and strode boldly forward, an entrance pass in my hand, waiting to see how far I would get…

 Not very, as it turned out.

 The three figures who confronted me were all the sort of heroes I had grown up wanting to emulate. Their tanned bodies in perfect proportion – if not larger than life – stood out, even as their features were silhouetted in the dim lights of the building. I was facing three of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, and my only hope was that Death was the one who was missing.

 “Not welcome,” growled the largest of the three, a man whose shoulders sat out at an impossible width.

 I smiled my toothless smile… and the forearm smashed against my face. I was doubled over by this behemoth in human guise, hoisted high, and then brought cracking down hard on the cold, stone floor on my back, my head bouncing like a pinball against the surface. The second of the men lifted me and draped me over his shoulders before likewise slamming me down. And the third lifted me and dropped my jaw and face across his shoulder catapulting me backwards. I groaned and struggled to my feet.

 “Why won’t he stay down?” one asked angrily.

 “They say he was the toughest ever,” the largest man rumbled.

 “Tough as they are, tough as they come / It’s up to us to get rid of this scum,” the final one sang. And the haze of blackness threatening to overcome my sight was suddenly filled with flying fists, feet and arms…

 And blackness.

 

-=[*]=-

 

I felt the bandage on my head before I any of the light hit my eyeballs. I reached up and touched it, feeling pain ricocheting through my shoulder like a stray bullet.

 They had really done a number on me.

 Slowly my eyes opened…

 I recoiled in terror.

 This was like being back at the firm fifteen years earlier.

 They were all there, just staring at me. It was H who spoke. “You all right, Mick?” His voice never changed, even when he was concerned. I liked that in a thug.

 “What happened?” It was all I could ask. “Was it a truck?”

 “The new breed, the new kids on the block,” spat the Princess. “They’ve taken over. The Deacon, the rap artist, the grandson, they’re just the top guys. All of us have been replaced by the new people. And I’m afraid they’ve taken out my father.”

 “If you knew that…” I started, but the Preacher was beside me.

 “None of us knew it. It was the names you were given that led us to them,” he explained.

 “So who’s in charge?” I asked. Silence greeted me and the dozen pairs of eyes avoided my gaze. “Come on,” I sneered. “Surely Vinnie Mac’s will said that you” – I nodded towards H and the Princess – “got everything.”

 They stared at each other. “No will.”

 “Give me your phone.” I managed to hold a shaking hand out. She stared at her husband and he nodded his approval. She dropped a tiny mobile into my hand and I quickly scrolled down through the address book. Finally I found the number I wanted. I hit the loudspeaker command, and then dialled.

 “Hi. You’ve reached Shane-O, head of the Firm. Not in, you know the drill.”

 We all recognised that voice. Especially the Princess. “Head of the Firm?” she whispered.

 “No will,” I shrugged. “Goes to the eldest child. And that’s not you.”

 “So now what?” Ric asked from the back. He looked even older now then when I had seen him in that dive.

 “The old fashioned way. We take back what’s ours from these guys who haven’t paid their dues, who have been put in here at our expense because of reasons only Vinnie Mac himself knew…”

 “And where is Vinnie Mac?” the Undertaker asked.

 I smiled again. “I think I know.”

 Steven was there beside me. “We take it. We take it by force. Tonight. These young guys don’t know squat about what we did. We’re gonna take it from them and that’s the bottom line because I said so.”

 None of us could disagree.

 

-=[*]=-

 

“I knew you’d be here.”

 The entrance foyer was well-lit when we entered, and standing there on a balcony was the Princess’ older brother. His grin was as wide as the horizon, the cat that had the proverbial cream. And he knew it, too. Arrogant little turd, just like always. I remember when the Black Man had thrown him from the top of the tower. The little cretin had survived. And the Olympic athlete had thrown him through a window. Again, he survived. Christ, I remembered when he jumped onto Paul. He was a cat… and at least half his nine lives had been used up.

 “Where’s daddy?” screamed the young woman.

 “No idea, but that doesn’t matter. It’s all mine now. And you over-the-hill guys are set for replacement. Past your use-by date, I’m afraid.”

 “We’ll see about that,” Steve growled, pushing past me.

 “I was so hoping you’d say that,” the young man laughed.

 The doors opened.

 We were matched.

 I recognised the Deacon and his overly-muscled physique, the rap star and his gold jewellery, and the grandson, looking so much like his father the Cowboy and his grandfather. I also saw the Dream’s youngest and Carly’s little boy Carlito. I think I saw a man I always thought of as on the Edge, brother of the Christian from down Florida way, and Bob the Lash, and the Hardy Brothers. But who was this huge Indian man, and the rest? I did not know them, and yet they were getting ready to rip our heads off.

 “You guys have two choices,” Shane-O went on. “Leave now and just let us have our day in the sun, or stay and be annihilated and then let us have our day in the sun. The choice is yours.”

 The Undertaker strode forward. “You,” he stated in his dead-pan monotone, pointing a gloved hand at the tall Indian. And tall was an understatement. I remembered Gonzales before the Undertaker took him down, and this guy was taller again. He might even have match Andre or Paul… although not in weight. “Last time I saw you…”

 “The Punjabi prison,” was the simple response.

 Undertaker’s eyes rolled back into his head… and the two charged like wounded rhinos. They hit hard and then it was on…

 I watched my fellow members of the old guard as they waded in.

 Steve went straight for the one on the Edge. The younger man speared him, driving him backwards as Steve’s demolished knees barely supported the weight of both of them. The Edge stood but Steve was a cagey old rattlesnake, and he grasped the younger man about the neck and snapped him down.

 That was when the Preacher kicked his foot high and hard; some young male cheerleader’s head was almost knocked clean off.

 I watched Ric cut Carlito across the chest with his bare hands, drawing blood. The youngster was actually eating an apple… Talk about nerve. But they underestimated us. We were old, but we had the smarts, the ways…

 The Deacon was the one who turned the tide. I have never seen Undertaker’s younger brother manhandled in that way, as he lifted him and just bounced his head off the stone floor.

 Men from both sides dropped like flies. It was a war. I watched H hooked some poor kids hands behind his back and drive him into the ground only to be hoisted on the shoulders of that damned rap star and driven head first into the ground. I watched the Preacher leap off the top of a desk and drive and elbow into the small of the back of some Punk only to be spiked into the ground by some tattooed, overweight Samoan, who in turn was choked into a wall by the Undertaker, who in turn was thrown across the foyer by the gigantic Indian, who went right after him again.

 Some guy announced himself as he jumped into the fray as Mr Kennedy, but JB just swung an arm around and clotheslined him out of his boots before he could even lay a hand on anyone, before JB himself was brought back to earth by the Mexican King of Mystery landing the highest kicks I think I have ever seen.

 Then I was finally confronted. The Hardy Brothers were on either side of me. And they jumped. I caught both of them at the same time, folding me over. My already damaged body could not take the pressure and I collapsed. They tried to lift me, but my dead weight was too much and I let myself drop down quite hard. They struggled again and managed to lift me just enough. And so then I grabbed them both around the neck. Single arm. Heads into concrete. No movement. From any of us. I just lay there. I could barely bring myself to breathe…

 “STOP!”

 The voice was loud and long and everyone still alive gazed in its direction.

 Standing on the balcony was Vinnie Mac himself, his son grinning beside him.

 “Stand up!” he roared. And as one, all of us, young and old, followed old habits, and obeyed. I looked around. Apart from myself, H, the Undertaker and Ric were left from the old guard, the grandson, the rap star, Deacon Dave and the Mexican King from the new breed.

 The Princess was crying against H.

 “I apologise for putting you all through this,” he intoned, “but I am sure it has all been worthwhile. For too long I rode on the coat-tails of the old men who populated my firm. And then I tried too hard to get rid of them and replaced them with young guys who thought they were the best, but were just second-rate versions of the originals.

 “So I faked my disappearance to see what would happen.” He smiled widely and held his hands out like a priest addressing his flock. “Shane-O was in on it from the start, and we knew the Princess and H would try to get themselves back into a position of power. But now we know who the best are.

 “It’s you. You are the past and the future of this Firm. And we want you to lead this company into a glorious future…”

 “Not me.” And I turned and walked out of there.

 

-=[*]=-

 

Sure, looking for lost ex-boyfriends for little old ladies may not be the most glamorous of jobs, but as Rocky told me more often than not, “Just bring it.”

 And so I do.

 I don’t need the Firm.

 But there are times…

 I lay back at night and think about old times and that final war in the foyer of the Towers…

 And I know…

 I know…

 And they know it, too…

 I’ll be back one day…

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