Monday mornings are already a bitch without the incessant ping ping pinging of phone notifications.
Lindsay Troy has always been an early riser, but ever since she kicked the doors back open on PRIME in January 2022, it felt like she barely had time to blink before a 5:30AM wake-up became a 5AM wake-up, became a 4:30AM wake-up. And while the “Do Not Disturb” function is still very much alive and active on her phone, there are always a few important ones that managed to sneak their way through.
Today, on this mid-March morning, there were dozens. All about a little press conference that a big pain in the ass named Ivan Stanislav gave all the way across the world in Moscow, Russia.
So far, Lindsay hasn’t looked at a single one, mainly because she’s been in the middle of stretching before heading out for a run. It’s chilly for Vegas, in the high 40s at Fuck-Off O’Clock, so she’s dressed for the temps in a pair of leggings and a thermal long-sleeve shirt. She finishes the routine, places her Airpods into her ears, and grabs her phone. It pings again as she walks toward the front door and, finally, her eyes glance down at the screen.
Read this. Now.
Stanislav Announces PWA-02 Representative
The Queen’s face twists in confusion but, nevertheless, she unlocks her phone and clicks on the link from her agent. As she reads the report from PRIME’s website, her confusion swiftly turns to anger once her eyes fall on her name, identified as Ivan’s proxy, in large, bold font.
It’s been three days since she’d been named Ivan’s proxy for the Flag Match at PWA-02, and on a scale of one to ten, Lindsay is still big mad about it.
It’s one thing to try and one-up your boss. It’s another thing entirely to one-up your boss by being a big piece of shit and signing them up for something without their knowledge while playing on their sense of integrity and duty because you know they won’t allow themselves to not do the thing you’re making them do, which really only benefits you.
All she wants to do is use Ivan’s suspenders as piano wire, but letting the Russians know this has gotten under her skin is akin to waving a white flag. As much as she can feel her rage gnawing away at the inside of her stomach, she’s been trying her best to ignore their gloating.
“They’ve been quiet for the last day,” she thinks to herself as a Zoom meeting drones in the background. “That’s never a good–”
Lindsay jumps a mile as the door to her office is forcefully pushed open and crashes against the wall. A behemoth strides toward her while a much smaller man dressed all in brown scurries by his side while cradling a garment bag like a newborn baby.
That rage begins bubbling to the surface.
“Hate to cut this short, but I need to go,” she barks, not taking her eyes off the approaching Ivan Stanislav and Alexei Ruslan.
“Wait,” a voice on the other end calls. “We haven’t even gotten to—“
Lindsay grabs the mouse, hits the asshole button on the Zoom call, and disconnects from the meeting. She then shuts the monitor off as her unwanted guests stop in front of her.
“What the fuck is wrong with you, don’t you knock?” She looks between them. “Or call to set up a meeting?”
Stanislav is at least dressed for the occasion, in his military best complete with glittering medals. Still, though he looms over Lindsay, he offers her a broad smile and ignores her anger. “The gatekeeper outside, she was not there. So Alexei and I decide it is best for us to just come in.” He waggles a large finger toward her. “You know, I think it is more difficult to find meeting with you than President Putin!”
Ivan looks back at Alexei, who clutches the garment bag. If Ivan is all smiles, Ruslan is all scowls. “I bring to you your uniform for PWA-02. It is necessary, Lindsay, that we have unified front and, as such, you should represent Mother Russia appropriately.” He winks. “Complete with my communist sensibilities, of course, dear Scarlet Sickle.”
Stanislav seems particularly tickled by all of this while Alexei opens up the garment bag and produces a custom made Russian military top, with cut off sleeves, and military pants. Hammers and sickles galore, and if anyone can read Cyrillic, it certainly says “Scarlet Sickle” on the back between the shoulderblades.
“Hah! What do you think, dear Sickle of Russia?!” Stanislav puffs up his barrel chest and places his hands on his hips.
“You announced this three days ago, how did you get…” Lindsay trails off, then shakes her head. “You know what? Nevermind.” She pinches the bridge of her nose and leans back in her chair. There’s a headache coming on.
After a moment she sighs, scrutinizes the outfit from head to toe, and locks eyes with Ivan. “Honestly? You’ve got a better chance of seeing Jesus than you do of seeing me in that.”
The grizzled post-Soviet man blinks. “I do not believe in Jesus.” Then, it dawns on him exactly what she means, and the smile that he wore before is all but gone. “Hmph. You know, Lindsay, you are fighting for me. For all of Russia. Finally, you have something worthwhile to fight for. You should make the most of it.”
He snaps his fingers and Ruslan oh-so-gingerly drapes the uniform over the arm of a nearby chair. Alexei produces a pair of combat boots. “Tailored to your size,” he says and then, from the inside of his jacket, red gloves with a gold hammer on one fist and a sickle on the other are laid upon the desk. “And these as well.”
Stanislav turns to look back at Lindsay. “At least wear these, at absolute minimum. Steel, Russian-made studs are in the knuckles of the gloves and sturdy, Russian-made steel are in the toes of the boots!”
“Maybe I wasn’t clear a minute ago.” Lindsay leans forward, returning the chair back to its normal upright, rigid position. As she does, she folds her arms across her chest. “I’m not playing ‘My First KGB Mission’ with you two, which means you don’t get to dress me up like one of your toy soldiers. Just because you picked me as your proxy doesn’t mean I’m going to fall in line or take orders from you. If you thought that’s what was going to happen, then you’d better fly your happy ass back to Russia, call another press conference, and pick another person to go punch the King of Grunt Style in his He-Man-Woman-Hating face. Or, you can do it yourself. Since when do you need someone else to fight your battles for you anyway?”
Far be it for someone to lecture The Russian Bear. He rises to his full height, postures with his hands on his hips, and allows his chest to slowly fill with air. “Now you listen here, Lindsay Troy. Do you want to win this match or not? Every wrestling match is a war, and in war there is no quarter to be given. I do not care about your pride or what you think the optics are in this endeavor. I want you to win! I already annihilated Christopher America at PWA-01 and he was too cowardly to have a match this time around. You beat his little friend, and I can dictate the most horrendous match possible and stomp America to pieces again at PWA-03! My people need this! So make it happen!” Ivan snorts loudly and grinds his teeth. “You stubbornly buck every single idea that I have had since joining PRIME and resist suggestions at every juncture. Always! For once will you pull your head out of your rear end and listen to me?”
Normally, these are fighting words.
Anybody with a working pulse and half a brain knows that Lindsay Troy does not, and won’t ever, suffer fools gladly. The Queen of the Ring is a lot of things: prideful and stubborn being among them, so Ivan Stanislav isn’t wrong in pointing this out. Where the Russian Bear loses the plot, however, is believing his sheer force of will and the madness of his machinations will be enough for her to capitulate.
Ivan’s a man who’s used to getting his way by virtue of being a human mountain, and throwing his weight around comes naturally. He is not a man who is used to being told “no” by anyone other than Alexei, nevermind by a person who has confronted him in the ring before in combat and did not quake before him. Lindsay Troy is not only Ivan Stanislav’s boss; she is a former opponent, one who did not back down and who held her own in a fight.
Now, nearly twenty years later, things between them are still the same as they ever were. Perhaps time has given her some much needed wisdom and perspective, or maybe being The Boss has forced her to try handling situations a different way instead of immediately unsheathing her claws. Whichever it is, Lindsay takes a deep breath and pushes her rage back down. She slowly rises from her seat, buttons the front of her jacket, and shifts her eyes to Alexei. “Would you mind giving us the room, please.”
Few will ever say that Alexei Ruslan is much of a diplomat and he proves it immediately. “I will give you something all right you…”
Yet a single word from Stanislav stops his words. “Alexei.” With his shoulders rising and falling and boiling hot daggers staring down at Troy, Stanislav finally turns his head and looks at his old friend. “Humor her.”
The relationship between Ivan and Alexei is a complex one that is heavily built upon a sincere, honest, and trusting friendship. It’s a rare thing within the heavily structured, politicized Russian culture where one individual always lords over another. A request like this is not a power play by Stanislav, but rather a request from a friend. And one that Ruslan, though shocked, is willing to allow.
“If you say so…” The smaller Russian says, before leaving the Scarlet Sickle outfit on a nearby chair. “I am leaving this here for you though.” He says, directly to Troy, before promptly leaving in a huff.
Ivan spends the moment watching his friend go with a gout of air blasting through his nostrils. He remains stoic and unmoving as his withering gaze lowers back to Troy. He knows Alexei will grouse about this for hours afterwards, so this had better be worth it. His eyes scan the room thoughtfully. How many walls could Lindsay Troy’s desk knock down if he were to throw it as hard as he could?
Still, he allows a grumble. “What is it? You know how much flak I am going to take for dismissing him?”
“I don’t care about your remora, Ivan. You and I have a problem that needs hashing out without Alexei present.” Lindsay pauses, a lightbulb going off above her head. “Hold on a moment.”
She reaches over to her desk phone, dials an extension, and then presses speakerphone. Outside, the phone on the desk rings once, twice, three times, before a male voice is heard inside the office. It certainly has a Russian accent. One that might be trying to be masked.
“Yes. PRIME. Home to Ivan Stanislav, the greatest wrestler in all of PWA. How can I help you?”
Stanislav’s exhalation is glacial.
“Alexei. Don’t answer the phone. And don’t bother trying to find a computer out there, we hid it. Just sit on the couch like a good boy until Ivan and I are done talking.”
“Or I’ll send Ami to watch you.”
It takes just a moment for Alexei to protest the threat of Lindsay’s 23 year-old daughter acting as his glorified babysitter, but Ivan speaks sternly. “Alexei, last thing we need is two Troy’s in the mix. Just relax. For once.”
The phone outside promptly hangs up, and there is no shortage of Russian grumbling from the other side of the door. Ivan blinks slowly at Lindsay. “You did not have to, as they say, ‘go there,’” he says, although he feels his normally volcanic temper beginning to extinguish.
Lindsay opens up her top left desk drawer and rummages around for something. “I can’t be too careful around you two,” she shrugs, finding a remote and turning on a wall-mounted big screen TV. A sigh escapes, and she looks at Ivan. “Look, you and I don’t like each other. We never have, and there’s a really good chance we never will. I do not like that you’ve forced me into a match. I also do not like that you are trying to order me around as if you’re back in the army and you are my commanding officer. You’re right that every wrestling match is a war, but there’s no chain of command here.”
The flat expression, so very Russian, masks Stanislav’s thoughts as he listens to Lindsay’s attempt, to some degree, to level with him. For the first time since entering, he relaxes his shoulders and nods. “All right,” he says, and actually moves, turning his back to her and creates more space between them. “All right.”
He finally turns with his hands behind his back and looks at her. “I often forget that I am dealing with a civilian.” It’s hard to say whether this is a dig or sincerity on his part, and his Russian delivery does the statement no favors. Nonetheless, Ivan clears his throat. “Fine. If we are to be peers in this, I will try. But with this in mind, you need to allow yourself to listen to me.”
Stanislav points his huge finger at himself and speaks, finally, more conversationally. “You may not like to give credence to my illustrious career. You may not like to admit my past accolades. But I know, that you know, that they are true. With this in mind, Lindsay, I have wrestled in numerous National Pride matches. Historically they are not only flag matches but also? I have been overwhelmingly victorious in such matches. So, the goal is just to incapacitate or mire the opponent in a situation where they cannot prevent your victory.”
Ivan keeps close eye contact with Troy the entire time. It’s a test to see not if she can comprehend what he is saying. He knows she can, but if she’s actually hearing him is the question. “So, if you do not wish to use the gloves and boots, which are excellent at such things, then we need another tactic. Naturally I will be in your corner for the match. There is no one in PWA who can match my power. So, you get Solex knocked out of the ring, or let me drag his carcass out of the ring, and I can promise you will have more than enough time to snatch the flag of my glorious country.”
Lindsay stares at Ivan for a moment as his words settle between them. Without a word, she turns the TV on and, after a few button clicks, navigates to the PWA app.
“Sooooo….” Click. “You think it’s just going to be me, you, Solex, and America out there.”
She clicks on a video on the PWA homepage of a HOW press conference in Mexico from the day before. She holds off on playing it.
“You see this?”
He crosses his arms over his barrel chest and stares at her thoughtfully. “Mm.” He grunts in a rather noncommittal way. “I saw a tape of it on the plane. My superiors gave it to me.” A pause as he clears his throat. “Why not just show me it… again.”
The video starts with the HOW logo filling the screen before switching to a press conference with all the members of the Final Alliance in their 97Red and Black lettermans jackets. The HOW World Champion, Christopher America, speaks first, then announces his proxy for the Flag Match: The MERCDAD, Steve Solex.
After Solex’s remarks, the camera lingers on the Final Alliance and Lindsay pauses the video. “I’m not just facing Steve Solex on June 11th and Christopher America isn’t the only person from HOW that you have to worry about. You’re telling me you can single-handedly deal with all six of them at the same time?”
Stanislav watches the video. It certainly looks a bit different than what he saw back in Russia and despite his attempts to hide this realization, it’s fairly obvious. He narrows his eyes thoughtfully as he listens to the crass, hateful, and demeaning words of what looks like a crew of children in front of “Farmacia Pharmacy” and “Panderia Mexicana.” He growls. “Those clowns? Yes, I think I could handle all of them.”
It doesn’t sound like he’s boasting. No one would ever say that Ivan Stanislav didn’t possess a strength of will in spades. “But you know Alexei will be on hand and while he is not a wrestler, he has ways of equalizing things. And surely you have enough sycophants in PRIME who can back me up in the unlikely event it is needed?”
“Y’know, this is part of the problem with you…anyone who doesn’t like you must obviously be kissing my ass.” Lindsay shakes her head. “Having Alexei there isn’t the point. How many times have you been in a match where you haven’t had the advantage? Size, strength, numbers, whatever?”
Ivan gazes down at his combat boots for a moment and thinks on this before finally, after some consideration, nods to her. Her logic is maddening at times. He offers her a short admission. “Rarely, if ever.”
Lindsay nods. “I’ve had the numbers to my advantage a couple times but mostly, it’s the opposite. I’m the one fighting from behind, or having to gather troops together to fight against a threat.”
She walks around to the front of her desk and leans against it. “I’ve been in HOW, Ivan, and I’ve been at war with Lee Best since 2019. Every fucked up, gory, outrageous thing you’ve heard about the place is true, and they wear it like a badge of honor. The guy who’s America’s proxy, Steve Solex? I’ve already been at war with him. He torched my car and tried to blow me up with a claymore mine. That was before we even fought, and when we did he tried to throw me off a balcony. I’ve fought other members of the Final Alliance too. Jatt Starr threw me off a scaffold. Dan Ryan…” she trails off and her expression hardens. “We’ve been at war so many times that we may just be the death of each other. That’s not even counting the rest of the Final Alliance and other people in HOW who’d gun for me in a heartbeat.”
Ivan watches Lindsay intently, allowing her the space to speak. He doesn’t interrupt, nor does he condescend. He doesn’t interject nor does he shout her down. This rare moment, where two opposite forces somehow, and in some way, are able to share the same space and not rip each other to shreds is something worth, even for The Russian Bear, cultivating.
“You and I are at a disadvantage because we aren’t on the same page,” she continues. “If we’re divided, we can’t conquer. Solex and America know exactly who they’re fighting for. They’ll call you a Commie and me one by extension, they’ll say that they’re fighting for the United States, but they’re also fighting, proudly, for Lee and for HOW. ”
The tall Russian raises his eyebrow thoughtfully and flares his nostrils in thought. Finally, he shakes his head and looks down at the floor. “You know, Lindsay Troy, as comedic as it might sound, I truly hoped that maybe you would fight for Russia. Perhaps, you might even somehow see the light and instead fight for me. But I knew it was, at best, a very, very long shot.” He clicks his tongue. “But now I know why you are fighting for this cause.”
He nods his head and exhales slowly and looks her in the eyes. “You do it for you. It is personal.” He tilts his head to the side thoughtfully. “What greater motivator is such a thing but the personal drive to eradicate an adversary?” He actually chuckles, once, and it causes his shoulders to lurch. “Good. That is good enough for me. That is better than you pretending to fight for Russia or for me. You fight for you.”
Stanislav actually leans forward, slowly, and his face twists into a conspiratorial whisper. Rarely does he ever get this close to someone without beheading them, or at least trying. “And you know the best part, Lindsay Troy?” His smile turns ursine. “You have The Russian Bear on your side. I make no illusions that we may not walk out the same way we walked in, but I can assure you, those boys are going to be in far worse shape when we, you and I, are through with them.”
“I’ll admit, the chance to remind Solex what ‘equal rights’ are really all about puts me in a very good mood,” Lindsay replies, a devious smile slinking onto her face. “It’s true what I said earlier about not liking that you left me no choice with this match. But I want you to know that I’m taking this seriously, Ivan. I may be doing this for me and for PRIME, but you’re included in that whether you like me and my company or not.”
Still bent at the waist, Stanislav slings his hands behind his back and straightens himself. “I know you take it seriously, Lindsay. I know they will call me a Commie and I know they represent Lee Best.” He grins. “But the convenient thing? I am a Commie. And I already defeated Lee Best’s World Champion at PWA-01. His representatives are nothing, just like himself.”
He watches her thoughtfully for a moment. “Despite the constant battles we have had, will have, and currently have, I am willing to keep those feelings divorced for this endeavor.” He nods to her. “But! I had better get out of here before Alexei loses his mind, Lindsay. Maybe when you win, I will try to get you a medal, eh?” He points to one of his military medals on his uniform. “Now, to Alexei, he must be losing his mind.”
The Russian Bear turns to the door but halts. After a moment, he turns to look at her and slides his hands into the pockets of his dress pants.
“Do you want to know why I picked you for this match?” he asks, and chuckles. “I knew it would piss you off, of course!” But he clears his throat and glances down at his boots, and then looks back at her, for a moment, before looking slightly over her shoulder.
“And, on July 7, 2006, a plucky little girl bravely walked into a wrestling ring against The Russian Bear, Ivan Stanislav. Despite the fact that she had virtually no chance of victory, she bravely walked into certain defeat with her head held high. Truly, this girl was either certifiable or she was tenacious. That match never finished so no one knows who might have won.” He nods his head. “But of all those in PWA? That’s the wrestler I want fighting for me. Christopher America is a fraud and this Solex is no better. They represent all that is wrong with would-be patriots.” He winks. “I take the plucky woman over those two buffoons any day and twice on Victory Day.”
He turns to the door once more and grips the knob and speaks. “And Lindsay?” He says, without turning his massive frame to look at her. “You have, in some small amount, inspired me to help win this match not just for Russia… but for you and PRIME.” Without a look at her, he opens the door and exits.
The crowd inside Arena Mexico counts down to one and patiently waits for the next War Games entrant to make their appearance. Back in Las Vegas, Lindsay Troy sits on her couch with a beer in hand, watching the events unfold.
El Hombre Blanco won the qualifier. Conor Fuse went in second. Next should have been Steve Solex.
With no entrance music and no fanfare to greet him, a man in a red and white Lucha mask steps out onto the stage. At first the crowd is silent, but once they notice Steve Solex’s Army tattoo on the chest of this “luchador” they begin booing. HOW Hall of Fame announcer Joe Hoffman quickly chastises the appearance of the MERCDAD’s alter ego, Shawn Kutter, while Joe’s Hall of Fame counterpart “Big Buff” Benny Newell defends the military veteran and Final Alliance member.
“Oh no,” Lindsay groans. “You’ve got to be–”
The ringing of her phone interrupts her thought. She looks at the caller ID and answers it. “You seeing this?”
The voice on the other side of the line is decidedly Russian. “This is him, with the Army tattoo?”
“It is…” Lindsay watches Kutter drop Conor Fuse with an uppercut. “…but it isn’t.”
“What do you mean it is but it isn’t?” Stanislav’s voice growls over the phone. “Is this some sort of crackpot?”
Lindsay runs her hand down her face in annoyance. “It’s Solex, but he suffers from split personality disorder. If Joe and Benny are saying this isn’t him, it’s Shawn Kutter, then this match in a couple weeks just got a lot more interesting.” She frowns. “And not for the better.”
There’s a long pause on the other side of the line. Clearly the Russian is digesting this and finally, after what clearly must be agonizing consideration, Stanislav growls. “I defer to your judgment, Lindsay. What is the plan?”
“We already knew this was going to be more of a fight than a match, and we already knew it probably wasn’t going to be a fair one.” She folds her legs under her on the couch. “Now we don’t know who’s going to show up in Mexico…if it’s going to be Solex, or Kutter, or both. This is one thing we can’t predict…so we’re going to need to be prepared for anything.”
She’s silent for a few seconds. Then, an idea comes rushing back. “If there’s still time to make them, I will wear those custom boots and gloves…if they are made all in black.”
Almost immediately, a third voice is on the line. Alexei, who clearly has been there the entire time. “Absolutely I can have them constructed in time. They will be tailored precisely to your dimensions, Lindsay Troy.”
There’s a sigh from Lindsay and another growl from Ivan. “That’s really creepy, you know that?” Lindsay quips. “And how do you know my size?”
Ruslan is all too quick to respond. “A little birdie told me…”
And Stanislav is just as quick to cut him off. “Enough Alexei. Thank you for your help. Please get off the line and start getting those gloves and boots made.” A moment later and the line cuts off. There’s a pause as Stanislav considers the match and this extra wrinkle in the entire dynamic of PWA-02. After a moment, he speaks again. “The situation has not changed, Lindsay. Solex or Kutter, he is still the same man in the same small body. We destroy him together. Ever advancing and no retreat. Simple enough. It is, as they say, right up our alley. We will destroy them.” There’s one more pause and without fanfare. “Da svidanya, Lindsay Troy.”
The line goes dead before she can answer. With a slight nod, Lindsay offers a, “goodnight, Ivan,” to the empty room.
Once again, it’s time for me to deal with the howling monkeys known as the High Octane roster, where I can kick back and listen to their same old symphony of bullshit. The same ol’ broken down horse y’all like to trot out every time you see me on your TV or backstage at a show or on a billboard being MOTHERFUCKING SUCCESSFUL.
I reopened the greatest wrestling company on the planet.
I’ve got a roster three times the size of HOW and a rabid fanbase who loves my product.
PRIME is legitimate competition to HOW.
That burns y’all up inside.
That’s called WINNING.
That’s called GETTING THE LAST LAUGH.
Y’all are too stupid to understand it because you’re too drunk on the Lee Best Kool-Aid. And that’s fine. Y’all do you. I’ve chosen to do me, and one of the PRIME guys has chosen me to take care of business for PWA 2.
Lucky for me, I’ve already done it once before, haven’t I Steve? It was a real bad time for you then, and it’s about to be a real bad time for you again. Not just for you, though, but for Lee and the whole Alliance.
It’s about time you all started losing. Who better to be the one to do it, than yours truly.