A Friend Like Me

By: Shawn Warstein

Writing Prompt: Yes

Date: 25th Jan 2022

It’s okay, I know that we’re not the same,

And me and the people I represent are the ones to blame.

Straight stubborn and no we will never change!

Alive in your world of hate, so keep on calling us names.

 

The oceanic air wafts into the quaint Mexican bungalow. A soft breeze blows the curtain to the side revealing the picturesque clear blue skies and the whites of the waves crash upon the white sandy beach. The sun is bearing down as a shadow moves past my closed eyes. Aware but still sleeping I roll over on the bed and drag the white sheet with, curling up into a ball.

The shadow moves past my closed eyes again. In return I roll onto my stomach, pulling a pillow down over my head. A slight creak on the edge of the bed as I feel the mattress sink down.

Five more minutes…” A muffled call from my hoarse voice under the pillow. Slowly I can feel the sheet getting taut, and with a quick whoosh, the sheet is gone. Leaving me on the bed uncovered, basketball shorts and a tee shirt. I roll onto my back throwing the pillow off to the side and finally open my eyes while rubbing the inside corners. “Would you put a shirt on?

Hovering over me ,shaking his head, is James Raven. “First off, no. It’s Mexico. It’s a million degrees outside and I’ve got a tan to work on. Secondly, you asked me to come here and then didn’t even unlock the door so I could get in.

Safety measure.” Finally I sit up on the bed as Raven scoffs as he walks over to the window, pulling the curtains wide.

Safety from what?” He gestured grandly out towards the beach. “There isn’t anyone else here.

Can never be too safe, man.” Lifting myself from the bed and stretching my arms above my head. “Did you at least make coffee before you woke me up?

Did I—-” James once again shakes his head. “No, it’s past noon.”

Fair enough.” A quick shrug. “It’s set on auto, would’ve been nice to be thought of like that.

A massive eye roll from Raven as he follows me to the kitchen area. A quick cup poured and passed to Raven. “So. What did you want to talk about?” He asked while setting the cup down.

Us.” I take a sip from my cup and wave for him to follow. “It’s been a minute since…

Since you’ve been around?” James cuts me off. “Since the last time we’ve talked. Since you’ve been at Fight. There are a lot of sinces, with you lately.

I know, and that’s my fault.” We made our way out onto the patio. A few chairs and a table are placed on the gray slabs. I take a seat, as Raven does so as well. “Listen man… I’m sorry.

Are you feeling okay?” James questions. “Shawn, you don’t apologize for anything. Even if you’re wrong.

I’m never wrong and I assure you, I’m feeling fine.” I set the mug down on the table and clasp my hands together. “No, what I’m apologizing for is Countdown.

Shit happens.” He said unassumingly.

It does, but it should’ve been me.” I said while tapping my foot nervously. “Don’t get me wrong, I love Aiden, but it should’ve been you and I. It should’ve been Legacy…

Don’t. Say. That.” A look in James’ eye. One of anger and pain rarely seen from him. “Legacy is dead. You made sure of that.

It’s not dead James. It’s on life support. And I feel at Countdown I may have inadvertently pulled the plug.” I pantomime pulling a plug from a socket and dropping it to the ground. “You have to understand that it was never my intention…

Never is with you Shawn.” A sigh and then a quick sucking of air through his teeth, Raven continues. “You always have the ‘best for everyone’ in mind, but the problem is it’s always what’s best for you. Has been since the day we met.

You’re right.” Understanding his point I simply nod. “But let’s both be clear.” I lean forward on the table and begin to stare a hole through Raven. “I never once said it wasn’t. Since the day we’ve met I always made that perfectly clear. And maybe it was my fault for putting everyone else before me. Rest assured James…” I lean back into my chair, holding the coffee cup in both hands. “I won’t make that same mistake again.

James just smiles. “Shawn, you’ve done a lot of good this past year but don’t claim you’re not going to make mistakes. That’s like your go to move. From XWF, to [Redacted], to GCWA, and now here in Fight.” With each company named James counts on his finger. “You’ve done the same thing everywhere. You ascend and then leave or get ousted. Same pattern. Same routine. Same Shawn.

Again James, I can’t fault your logic there but maybe I’ve grown. Maybe I’ve seen the errors of the past. Maybe… just maybe I’ve adapted. Time will tell. The story of Shawn isn’t done yet, friend, not by a long shot. You’re either on the ride or waiting in line” I stare out over the ocean and take a sip of coffee waiting for James to respond. Nothing. No quick wit, no snarky joke. Something is amiss. “Anything else?

Nothing that I can think of.” James says whole idly tapping his foot.

Are you sure about that?” As I turn my head towards Raven.

With a raised eyebrow and half rolling his eyes. “Yup.

Okay. Are you staying or….” I was cut off before I could go any further.

I’ll leave. I know that you’ve probably got something planned. Or something is going to come up where you won’t be able to meet even if we did make plans.” He stands up from the table and heads towards the direction of his rental.

I shrug. “Probably.” He continues his way out, as I drum my fingers over the coffee mug. “One more thing…” James stops and turns around. Arms crossed over his chest and with a huff he slings them out.

Okay. What?

I know you’re talking to him.” I stated a matter of factly. I take a deep breath and exhale slowly. “Dangerous game. Be careful.

James doesn’t react. Actually he didn’t say anything. He just stared at me with a blank expression for a moment before walking away silent. I have seen that look before…

Many times. The dark passenger.

Their cadence is intoxicating. All you hear over and over as they break down your walls. ‘You Ain’t Never Had A Friend Like Me’. Near impossible to get rid of, even harder to deny. The true irony of it all?

I caused it.

No Going Back Now.

I take the last sip of my coffee, setting the cup down on the table gently. “So let’s all sit around and talk about Blood Money Two….” Talking to no one in particular. “Even Bloodier Money.

Take one second and think long and hard about the first one that happened. I unfortunately, or fortunately depending on who you asked, finished third. How did I manage to accomplish that? How could I just waltz in the building and walk out making all but one of you look foolish?” I pause for a moment. “Did I say one?

The only person that can say they were a step ahead of me was and is Dickie. Even the “third time’s the charm” Montouri falls into the category of people who were blindsided by the fact that people outside are better than you, but I’ll get to that later, for now let’s focus on the people who are here. The people who are expected to be vying for the top spot.” A slight smile as I clap my hands together. “The rest of the Fight Roster.

Now I know what you’re all thinking.” I wave my hands wildly in the air and then slap my chest several times in a feral manner.  “This is my moment. Shawn is finally going to notice me! Yet you couldn’t be further from the truth. I don’t give a fuck about a single one of you. When the Tower fell, I was honestly hoping and praying that some, if not all, of you were caught in the destruction. Turns out all of you somehow made it out relatively unscathed.

Shame.

Well except for the miraculously touched by an angel. I’m just going to say maybe he should’ve stayed in the coma, it would be best for his own psyche. Losing again, after such a brutal dismantling from Dickie, I’d want to stay in a coma longer.” As I raise a hand to signify pausing. “But that’s not really the point now is it?

I can see everyone looking at Dickie wanting to get their shot at him. One way or another. Even with the potentiality of an Empire Shot at the end of this and that’s enough to get everyone to show their fangs. I know that all of you are going to mention me at one point or another, and that’s to be expected.” I hammer a fist down onto the tabletop, causing the mugs to rattle around. “That right there should tell you everything that you need to know about who the real threat is in all of this. Now I could sit here and run down a list of names, but where’s the value in any of that? If I forget one person I’m the worst. If I spend too much time on one person, I’m blind to the others.” As I run my hand through my hair to compose myself, I continue. “That’s where all of you are going to get tripped up. Right out of the gate. You’re gonna attack everyone and blow your load too quickly. Which from what I’ve heard seems to be a big issue for the males on this roster.

Deep Breaths fellas.” I wave my hands in front of my chest and whirl them around and take a deep breath.

Baseball.

That should help with those issues. Now to the crux of the situation. We are all going to be air dropped into Disney like it was some bootleg copy of Fortnight. We will all be on the ground and scattered. It’s a match designed to create controversy. To create stories. It’s all about who ends up with the most bodies, well I’m providing the coffins.” A quick fourth wall break and a shrug. “Not literal ones mind you. Theoretical ones. I don’t threaten people’s lives. That’s for the weak. The people showing all their false bravado. The ones who hide behind masks. What you see with me is what you get. I don’t hide it. I never have. However there are people out and about who still think grander of themselves claiming victory even though they themselves cannot see their own flaws. They think just because they talk and talk and drone on and on that it makes them a threat. No. I see all of you yapping, each one of you filled with a false bravado and not a single inkling of modesty. I’ll call it exactly what it is.

Ignorance.

Each and everyone of you, all thinking. Believing that you are going to be the one to ascend to the top. And that’s fine. Please do. Keep spouting off at the mouth as if you were something special. Keep thinking you’re the best.” Puffing out my chest and lifting my head towards the sky. “That’s what we all do.

There is however a difference between the actions of the blowhards, and those who continue to do whatever it takes. Some of you have shown the world exactly what you are, yet still lie to yourselves. Each and every one of you is going to say the same thing. It’s not anything new, or revolutionary. It’s not going to make people think. Hell it’s not even going to change the outcome. All it’s going to accomplish is making people upset that you either did, or didn’t talk about them.

I’m not here because I’m needed. I’m not even here because I’m wanted. Simply put I’m here to shut all of you up.

One

By

One.

So please. I beg all of you to bring the very best you can. Scrape the bottom of the barrel for all your little insults. Try thinking outside of the box. Praise yourselves and no one else.” I pat myself on the back, and throw a thumbs up. “Stand out from the pack.

It’ll make taking you out and proving everyone else wrong, that much easier.” I glance down at the Apple Watch on my wrist. “Fuck, I’ve gotta go pick up Betsy.

I quickly hop up from the table and rush off to the driveway and pull out in a hurry. Sometime later the Navigator comes to a stop at a remote Mexican Airstrip, the cloud of dust billows by. Before I could even put the vehicle in park, a small aircraft came roaring down the runway. The screeching of the tires locking up on the runway echoed through the near barren airstrip. I glance down at my phone checking for a message from Kasey, but receiving nothing.

As I stepped out of the vehicle the side door to the plane opened as one of the very few workers rolled the stairs into place. The first thing that caught my eye was the blonde hair blowing in the air pocket created by the plane. Then the assuring smile of Betsy was next. She gave me a wave and slung her bag around her shoulder as she carefully walked down the steps. I walked up to greet her, but instead of our normal greeting I was met with a bag tossed towards my gut.

Oof.” The sound escaped through as I caught the bag. “Nice to see you too.

Oh it is nice to see you too brother.” Betsy said while not breaking her stride towards the Navigator. I simply tilt my head. Something isn’t right, but with how much she has going on I guess it’s okay for her to be icy.

After tossing her bag in the back of the car, we drove to the bungalow in silence. Not a single word was muttered. As much as I wanted to say something I couldn’t. It wasn’t and would never be my place. We’ve traveled the globe,through time, and different galaxies. If she didn’t want to tell me what was going on, I wasn’t about to press the issue.

As we arrived Betsy hopped out of the car and walked right inside. “Fuck, guess I’ll get your bag.” I muttered under my breath.

As I grabbed the bag, the top latch caught on the hinge of the door, causing it to open. I was shocked, not by what was in there, but by what wasn’t. Usually she always had Excellence’s tracker, but it was nowhere to be found. Quickly I closed the bag and headed inside where Betsy had already taken to the bottle of wine that I had previously set aside and poured herself a drink.

It’s been a while since I’ve been here.” Betsy said while lifting the glass to her face and taking a sip. “Anything new and exciting? Or is it still just your little sleep away camp?

As I sat down across from her at the kitchen island and poured myself a glass. “Nope. Nothing major. Just sand, sun and silence.

That can be nice at times I suppose.” Betsy taps her fingers on the glass. “But then again, being alone with your thoughts could cause some issues.

Oh yeah?” I responded. “How do you figure that?” I knew what I was saying and what was about to come next, but I needed to verify my suspicions.

A quiet mind is a loud mind. It forces people to really sit and reflect on what they are and who they are supposed to be.” She smiled as she continued. “We are all trying to be something we are not.

And what exactly is that Betsy?” Using her name was a tactic to see her response, unfortunately all it did was further my thoughts.

We are all merely just vessels for that thing deep down. The one thing that separates us from the others.

Oh. So like how James is spending….” I wasn’t able to finish my statement.

He can do as he pleases.”  A different reaction than what we’ve seen elsewhere. “Our paths are not determined by the now, but by what we want to achieve in the future.

Speaking of the Future. Where’s my box?” I said to confirm one last thing.

Your box?” Betsy tilted her head slightly.

Yeah. Excellence. You know the box that I gave you and you retrofitted it to make your own.” I said, smiling wildly. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you fly on an airplane, so something must be up.

Oh. Yeah. That.” She looked almost confused but not entirely. “So where’s Kasey? I haven’t seen her in a while. Is your lady love out by the water?” Betsy stands up and begins to head towards the back door that leads to the beach.

No. She’s in Detroit. I’ve gotta pick her up from the landing strip in a few hours.” I walk up beside Betsy as we both look out over the beach. “So what were we talking about? Oh yeah. Excellence. Where is that annoying hunk of tin?

It’s somewhere safe.” Ding Ding! Something is wrong. She shuffles her feet and then begins tapping her foot rapidly on the ground. “Enough about Excellence, what have YOU been up to? You’ve been quiet since Silent Fight and that’s not like you.

Nothing. Just as you said. Just sitting here with my own thoughts.” A slight tick in my neck. “Sometimes I need to just get away from everything, and with the eyes of the world on Fight now, it’s got me thinking.

Oh yeah? Thinking about what?” Betsy pries.

Maybe this is all that I am.” I have mistakenly let my guard down. Regardless of what or who she is right now, Betsy is family. “Maybe I’m just the poster boy for a company. I gas them up, and move on.

Or hear me out brother.” Betsy can see that the guard is down, as I raise an eyebrow. “Show them all what they’ve done. Show them who you really are. Show them that this version of you is incomplete. There’s a whole history that they are unaware of. Maybe it’s time to start listening to your baser urges.

You really think that’s what I want?” With a scoff and step backwards. “All of that history is meaningless. It’s trapped in the past for a reason. I left it behind for a reason. I moved on for a very good reason.

Fair enough. But aren’t you tired of companies taking advantage of your good will? All the spotlight thrust on others while you stand idly by. Waiting? Frothing? Ready to be taken off your self mandated leash?” The passion in which she spoke those words rang through to me.

Maybe you’re right Betsy.” I paused briefly. “You know you can tell me anything right?

I do.” She smiled as she walked off out of the bungalow and towards the beach.

Just checking.” I quietly said as she disappeared.

The cracks in NSQ’s Armor are starting to show. James is acting strange, Betsy and Dickie are acting differently. The only ones who aren’t are the ones that are keeping people tethered to reality. Kasey keeps myself balanced. Aiden keeps a watchful eye over Dickie, and I can’t help but feel responsible for James and Betsy. I’m met with my own mortality, not the morbid kind mind you. Just maybe that little voice in my head.

You Ain’t Never Had A Friend Like Me

Maybe it is time for a change.

Maybe.

Surrounded by so many people, yet I’m left by myself more often than not. I hang my head and let out a slight cough. The real purpose was to clear my throat. “Look I’m not saying the entirety of the current Fight roster is useless, but all of you really need to take a long hard look in the mirror. I know I said that to Dane already, but this time look deep in yourself and think.

Where did I go wrong?

How could I have failed so miserably?

Tell yourself that you’re not a failure. Lies. A mere fabrication of your own reality in an attempt to boost your own self aggrandizing worth. A failure parading around as something they aren’t. Big Dogs lost in a kill shelter. So please continue to think yourself better than you are, that’s what got you all in this position in the first place.” I finally lift my head, and you can see that my eyes are sunken and bloodshot. Clearly tired from something. “Remember you’re all inside my orbit now.

If any of you were worth a damn, Fight wouldn’t be flooding the trades looking to bring people in to take down NSQ. None of you can do it. None of you have done it. All you’ve done is bitch, moan and complain. How many times do we have to go over this, how many times do I have to say it ad nauseam. No matter how many times I say it, or repeat it, each of you keep parroting the same thing over and over, so I guess my only option is to do the same. Might as well keep up the same energy as the children with overactive imaginations all hyped up on Bang energy drinks. The only people capable of beating NSQ, is NSQ.” I clap my hands together with each syllable. “And I hope each of you get the ‘betes from all that sugar intake.

Continuing on my point, Fight knew what they had in their pocket. They knew what was going to happen and they gave each and everyone of you an opportunity. A shot to prove yourselves. And you failed.” A dismissive shrug. “That’s why I’m staring down at the list of people in this match and thinking, if the outside knows what to expect. Are they expecting an actual match? Did they even do any research on the original Blood Money? I’m going to bet that they haven’t. Well to all of you on the outside here’s a little gimme for you…” I raise a finger to my chin and begin tapping. “Fight has twists. I wonder what’s in store for this one…

The original Blood Money had the gift of the Empire title. Toxic Tag had whatever that was. Ascension had Raven show up. Silent Fight showed NSQ’s dominance, and Countdown literally brought the building down. So I ask you…” I look out over to the beach and see Betsy laying down soaking in the sun.

What’s next?” I hold a hand out and feign confusion. “The path has been laid for outsiders to come to the World’s Most Magical place. A place where dreams come true. A place filled with so much hope, love and passion, that it’s only fitting they open the doors. So who could possibly walk through them?

It’s clear that it could be anyone. It could be people from GCWA. The scrubs of the XWF could show up. Remnants of [Redacted] could try their hand. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if a UGWC alum or two showed up. Or it could be Gen Carlson showing up! Or John Blade! Damian Ayla could show up hyping up his match with Vhodka.

The fact is, it just doesn’t matter. Setting NSQ aside for the moment. Look at everyone’s Blood Money. All of you are chasing me. Forever chasing Shawn Warstein. It kills each and every one of you. Outside, inside it doesn’t matter.

It’s always been me.” I pound my chest with a fist. “I can see everyone’s promo already. Who is going to be the focal point for most of you pissants? It’s going to be NSQ, but more importantly, me. And that’s entirely okay. I get it. I understand. When you’re Atlas holding up the world on your shoulders, people are bound to take their shots. Just don’t be surprised when I drop the world and handle my business.

I won’t hesitate.” I shake my head.

I don’t hesitate.

Friend or foe, it isn’t going to matter. I’ve got one goal in all of this. One focus. That’s to walk away from Blood Money as the sole survivor. The last one standing. So it won’t matter if CCP Enterprises shows up. Just know they better show up as individuals or else they are going to have to pay the piper. No branding around these parts unless Daddy says so.”  With my three fingers I rub them together signifying pay the man.

Or you could call in Alias. Yet he won’t show.

I could sit here and run down a list of a hundred different fighters across the globe, and each and every one of them would be better than anything the Fight Roster currently has to offer, and yet still…

None of them compare to me.

I’m the enigma.” I hold my arms out wide to either side and slowly tilt my head back. Quickly I snap my head down. “I’m the Shepard that leads the flock. People just can’t wait to see where I’m going and what I’m doing. That’s why no matter where I end up, eyes follow. So rest easy for all of you outsiders.

This isn’t anything new to me. I’ve stood and still stand above each and everyone of you. I fully expect everyone’s best shot. Their atomic bomb dropping. The final arrow in their quiver.” I pantomime holding a bow and drawing the strong back. “As you draw back your bow, your hand will quiver in anticipation. When will I show up? Which corner will I pop out from? Will you have the reaction to take that shot? Or will you be like everyone else and fail miserably. This isn’t me being arrogant either. This is simply me relaying the facts. Many people have called for my head. Put bounties on taking me out. Yet the same thing happens every time.

They think I’m down, that I’m out. It’s called reloading. I don’t want there to be any misconceptions, my plan for Blood Money has changed. My strategy has improved. I’m not going to treat it like Blood Money One where I waited for my opportunities.” In what seems to be disgust I shake my head. “No this time, I’m here to prove a point.

I’m here to make a statement.

What happens next isn’t going to be pretty for anyone. Check my hand. Calm and steady. I’m always prepared for war. I’ve been through all the battles and come out on the other end. Anyone thinking that they are capable of dissuading me from achieving what I set out for…

Clearly just started following my journey.

You’re in for a surprise.

The annoying sound of my phone ringing draws my attention. Picking up the phone Kasey left a message letting me know that she will be landing in a little bit. I grab my keys to the Navigator, and call out to Betsy. As I look up she’s no longer on the beach. “Weird.

With little time to waste I headed out and arrived at the landing strip just as Kasey’s plane had landed. We exchanged a loving kiss and embrace as I opened the door and she climbed inside the vehicle. Clearly tired as the entire ride to the bungalow she was fast asleep. Not even the rocky back roads would wake her. A hand on her thigh as I navigated through the back roads of Mexico.

The sun was setting as we pulled up to our home away from home. I gently nudged Kasey to wake her up, as she groggily mumbled. “Home….already?

Something like that.” I get out of the Navigator and walk around to her side, opening the door. She runs her eyes and stumbles out onto the ground. I wrap an arm around her, leading her to the bungalow.

No time for celebrating her Victory, as I set her down on the bed. Pulling the blankets over the top, as she nestles them under her chin. I take a seat at the foot of the bed and stare out over the beach. The sounds of the waves crashing was serene and calming. It has been a while since I was alone with my thoughts. Even longer since I’ve gone without something else. That’s when everything shifted.

It always started out the same. A nervous tick here. A shudder there. Followed closely by the sleepless nights. The near constant sweating. No one knew but I haven’t had a decent night sleep since Silent Fight. I found myself raging at people for no reason. Lashing out for the smallest of inconvenience.

I knew what was happening and I am powerless to stop it. It’s why I had James come to Mexico. Feeling that maybe he’d be able to shed some light on what was happening. Not so much what, but more of the why. As it turns out, that just ended up giving me more questions than answers. So I extended the same invite to Betsy. Same book, different chapter. All she did was throw more wrenches into any plan I may have had brewing.

I would’ve sent for Aiden and Dickie, but being kept at arm’s length right now would probably be for the best. I wouldn’t want to ruffle any feathers without being able to fully explain what I believe to be happening.

So it was just down to Kasey. My rock. The one who has stood beside me through some of the most trying times in my life and career. And even she left me alone with my thoughts, while she fought in Slaughterhouse. I don’t blame her one bit. She has ambitions outside of where I am and truth be told….

So do I.

This…Thing,

That is happening can only be resolved one of two ways. Bloodshed, or…

I gently caress the side of Kasey’s face as she slowly opens her eyes. Brushing her hair and tucking it behind her ear. “Sorry babe. I didn’t want to wake you but did you pick up that thing I asked for?

She groggily runs the inner corners of her eyes and takes a deep breath. “Of course…” She pauses for a second. “It’s in my bag.” She half smiles as I give her a kiss on the cheek.

Thanks. I’ll let you go back to sleep.

As Kasey rolled back over I made my way to her bag. I have nothing but the utmost trust in her. It’s why I don’t get jealous when people flock to her on social media. It’s why I don’t care when she’s talking to other people. I know at the end of the day she has my back, and I have hers.

I dig in her bag for a few moments before pulling out a small brown paper bag. I shook it slightly, and the sound of rattling emanated from the bag. I tuck it under my arm, while closing her bag. As I walk towards the bathroom I stop in the doorway of the bedroom.

I’m sorry.” For what exactly? I haven’t the faintest idea, but it felt appropriate given the circumstances.

I flick the light switch in the bathroom and turn the faucet on. I’ve been in this situation before, only then it was a needle in my palm. Chasing a dragon that I could never catch again. The shakes, chills and irritability taking hold. However now is a far cry from that.

No longer do I feel the urge to chase a mythical high that cannot be grasped. No longer do I lay awake fiending for a poison to course through my veins. I don’t search for an escape from reality. I love my reality now.

I’ve crafted it in such a way that failsafe after failsafe could come up short, and I’d still be fine. I could find my own path forward and not have to rely on the kindness of others.

As I carefully open the bag and pull out the pill bottle. I run my finger over the label, Risperidone. I have been taking them for a while now. It’s been keeping certain thoughts at bay, curbing some of my baser instincts. It’s allowed me to become the man I always wanted to be. It’s just unfortunate that certain measures require a certain amount of tact.

The cap on the bottle comes off easily as I reach a finger inside and pull one of the pills out. Holding the yellow tablet in my hand, I wrap my fingers over one another and squeeze.

As I stared into the mirror for just a second longer than normal, the tick appeared. As I slowly lower my head. “What’s a little taste, huh?” I manage to smile and clear my throat.

Allow me to reintroduce myself.” A clear demeanor change as the smile fades from my face. My voice register lowers and becomes more gravely. I’m almost in a trance with my eyes seemingly blank. “He’s Always Had A Friend Like Me.

This is what everyone has been clamoring about? The company that has had aspirations grander than their hands could possibly grasp.” Slowly my hand raises as I use my other hand and walk it over the palm. “Listen, you’re falling into the same traps that everywhere else has. Aggressive expansion, then faltering, and soon enough you’ll start to show people the doors. It’s a tale as old as time really.

But why am I here? Who am I?” A quick head nod and eyebrow raise. “Good question. I know it’s hard for you to hear, but hey a broken clock is right twice a day. Anyways I’m the person none of you wanted to see, yet you tried so very hard to sway out into the open. I’m the man who’s name is said in hushed tones in the back of the locker room. I’m the reason this idiot has any notoriety.” Did I just call myself an idiot? Sure did. “This is going to be his last chance. Those pills will keep me at bay for only so long. Kasey can only suppress me as long as I allow it.

I’m not going to cower and hide behind a mask, then have two botched surgeries to cover up the fact that I’m nothing more than an absolute failure. I’m not going to stomp my feet and cry favoritism when things don’t go my way. I’m not going to lambast the entire company and try to back door my way into opportunities that aren’t mine to begin with.

No. All of this has been laid out at all of your feet. You’ve all tried to get under my skin, and even if I wasn’t behind the wheel. He still knows where his bread is buttered.” A quick pantomime of buttering bread. “He still knows that when the chips are on the line who to turn to. Who do you think it was that kicked a pretty face and didn’t look back? Who do you think it was who showed him the errors of his ways?

Who do you think told him to bank his Blood Money and wait?” I mouth ‘It was me.’

Pawns move first. A cliche for cliche’s sake.“One massive eye roll later as I continue. “And each and every one of you played your roles perfectly. I literally couldn’t have scripted it any better and yet here we are. So many people talking out of their collective asses. All relying on the same underlying message.

Only the brash would be so foolish to think themselves capable of fighting the unknown. We know that the fight to the top will be grueling and it’s not going to be easy. We are also aware that some of you are going to have to get off your knees. That’s not going to help you here. Whether for prayer or otherwise engaged.” A wink into the mirror. “We are fully capable of turning a blind eye to friendships. That’s the thing none of you have noticed yet.

For all the geniuses here, who claim to see the broader picture. You missed the fact that we will fight our own. It has never been a question. We have never shied away from that fact. It’s actually what we want.

It’s the only way to get decent competition inside these proverbial walls. We have taken on the best in the world. We’ve defeated gods. We have walked into new territories and conquered. Blood Money isn’t going to be anything different.” A dismissive head roll.  “Well maybe a little different.

Same concept. New Winner.

I’ve already given him two wishes that he never thought he could attain. First, I made him into what you see today and that is a certified Legend in this industry. Second, I gave him a way out and how to protect himself. Now it’s his turn to free me from my shackles.

With friends like me.

Who needs enemies?” I take a deep breath and begin to whistle ‘Never Had a Friend Like Me’ with a wide smile plastered on my face. The sounds of knocking on the door knock me from my trancelike state and interrupts my whistling. I quickly splash some water on my face and dry myself with a towel.

I look down at my hand and see the yellow pill still there. Unblemished, undisturbed and pristine. With my other hand I open the door.

Are you coming to bed?” The disheveled hair of Kasey blocking her face and her half opened eyes squinted at the bathroom light shining bright in her face.

Yeah.” I smile and quickly pop the pill into my mouth. Swallowing it down and flicking the lightswitch off. I grab Kasey by the waist and pick her up, as she wraps her arms around my shoulders and neck.

No matter the outcome of Blood Money.

I’ve already won.

 

They can’t break me.

This is me, no change

Can you accept the real, or live with the lie? 

No compromise in me