Foster winced at the sound of his car door slamming as he looked up at Gray’s Wrestling Academy for the first time in weeks. He sighed. “Here goes nothing.”
He called an abrupt vacation after finding out that Lindsay Troy had sold her half of the wrestling school to Shweta Kallemullah and by proxy Jonathan Rhine. Today would be the re-opening, though Foster was determined not to make a big deal out of it.
“Oh come on,” he muttered, looking up at Aaron “Dith” Timble standing on a ladder. He was pinning the edge of a banner that read GRAY’S ACADEMY GRAND RE-OPENING. “Dith, don’t you think this is a little dramatic?”
“W-wasn’t my idea,” Dith said, looking at the ground. “New owners said to do it.” Then Foster noticed the line under the announcement: UNDER BETTER MANAGEMENT.
“New co-owners,” Foster corrected with a scowl as he walked under Dith through the doorway. He turned left and saw them: Shweta, standing with her hands on her hips; Jon, upright in his wheelchair with a big smile.
“Let’s go to the conference room, partner,” Shweta said.
Paxton Ray saw Jon through the window of the conference room and slammed his truck door so hard the glass nearly shattered. He stormed towards the entrance, his boots kicking up gravel. But before he could get to the conference room, he felt a hand on his shoulder.
Whirling around to see who had grabbed him, he saw a brown haired man. The stranger smiled a warm smile that was eerily familiar.
“Hey, sorry about that. But I got instructions to keep you out of the conference room while the owners talk.”
Paxton snarled and started to ask the man who the hell he was before he realized exactly who he was.
“I know ya. You’re Foster‘s brother.”
“Yeah, Ian Nackedy. Nice to meet you. And don’t worry, I’m not an asshole like Foster.”
Paxton looked down at Ian’s shirt, which read “We Lost in the First Round of the Flynn But At Least My ACL Works.”
“Ya sure?” Paxton asked.
“I’m an asshole. Just not an asshole like Foster.”
Paxton laughed. “So why can’t I sit in? I’ve been in pretty much all the meetin’s since Fos took over.”
Ian guided Paxton in the opposite direction towards the gym. “This isn’t an ordinary meeting. And with how contentious it’s going to be in there, you walking in might make it a full blown fight.”
“Yes,” Jon said, his fingers drumming on the table. “We just accepted nine new students.”
Shweta smirked. “Apparently the news that Jon was running things again was exciting to a few prospective wrestlers.”
Foster grimaced, rubbing the back of his neck. “Well I hate to see their disappointment when they learn he isn’t running anything.” Foster let the words hang in the air a moment before smiling. “All the same, good work. Fresh blood is exactly what we need.”
“We also need trainers now,” Jon said. “That many kids are going to need more hands-on guidance than one person can provide. We probably need to hire two new trainers.”
“I agree,” Foster said, grabbing a folder from his backpack. “That’s why I hired three yesterday.”
Foster slid the folder to the other side of the table. Shweta grabbed it and opened it for Jon to look through. After a moment The New Life frowned. “These are old NWC guys. Two of them are your brothers.” Jon looked closer. “And the third is Nathan Boswell…that’s Theodore’s dad.”
“Yeah, and? Personal connections are important. And the National Wrestling Council was the best wrestling company ever. Nothing has topped it since. That’s the style we want to bring to the new generation.”
Jon snorted. “Hate to break it to you, but literally no one cares about the NWC. It died almost twenty years ago. It’s buried in the past. There isn’t even a streaming deal so it’s not like anyone can watch it now. You sound like a fossil when you talk about it.”
Foster started to speak, then raised his eyebrows. “So you dispute the hires?”
Jon looked at Shweta, who shrugged. He shook his head at Foster. “No, they’re fine. Ian is an incredible wrestler, so I know he’ll be an incredible trainer.”
“So if I can’t sit in, what am I gonna do while I wait for the trainers to…ya know…train?”
Ian smiled. “Well you’re in luck. You’re looking at one of your new trainers. So I can help you get ready for Rezin, if you want.”
Paxton shot a sidelong look at Ian. “Ya just got here and ya think ya can help me against one’a PRIME’s top guys?”
As they walked to the ring, Ian smirked at Paxton and rolled under the ropes. “I’ll let you decide.” Paxton followed him as Ian tested the top rope. “So what do you know about Rezin?”
“He can’t really fight that well. He’s weird. Likes weed. Makes loud noises.” Paxton shrugged, then began to circle as Ian moved around him. “We actually doin’ this?”
“Mostly we’re talking,” Ian said, then dove in for a fake knee takedown that Paxton bit on. Rolling to the side, Ian smiled. “And testing reflexes. So, let me guess, you’re thinking that Rezin can’t fight well, and you punch hard, so no problem right?”
Paxton shrugged, then sent a stray right hand that flew over Ian’s head. “Pretty much. I’m better. So I win.”
Ian grabbed Paxton’s arm, pulled him over into an armlock, and held the lock. “So how did the guy who’s not good at wrestling win the biggest title in the company?”
Ian let go of the hold and both stood. Paxton shrugged and wound his arm around. “Got lucky, I guess.”
“Maybe. Or maybe Rezin thrives on chaos.” Ian started to circle again. “How much do you know about me? About my wrestling career?”
“Ya won tag titles in PRIME.” Paxton grabbed Ian and hit him with a quick punch, then let him go.
“Good job,” Ian said, rubbing his ribs. “And nice punch. You missed the part about how I am one half of the greatest tag team in history, but I’ll let that go. Do you know how we won our matches? We were goofballs. We’d come out in different ridiculous costumes every week. Our entire plan was to lull people into a false sense of security by acting as dumb as possible.”
Paxton smirked. “Ya sure it was an act?”
Ian suddenly sprang behind Paxton and lifted him over in a German suplex. Foster’s brother rolled to a knee and looked down at Paxton. “Positive. Anyway, that was our weapon. And as someone who used it to success for years, I see it in Rezin. He’s random. Chaotic. And you might think he can’t fight like you do, but he doesn’t need to.” Ian offered a hand and pulled Paxton up, then relaxed his stance.
“Well chaos is easy,” Paxton said. “This fuckin’ gym is chaos right now. If I can handle it, I can handle anythin’ Rezin throws at me.”
“There’s a difference between controlled chaos and anarchy,” Ian said. He looked at Paxton’s blank stare and continued. “Everyone in wrestling has a weapon that can be harnessed and used for success. Rezin understands his weapon is chaos, and he controls it so that he can beat anyone in front of him. The question is, Paxton, do you know your weapon? And can you control it?”
“Okay, trainers are set. Now we need support staff.”
Foster nodded. “Agreed. With so many new students, it’s going to be hell to look after them and feed them.”
Shweta grabbed her own folder. “Exactly, which is why we have hired two staff members. First, a chef.” She slid the folder to Foster, who looked down and nodded.
“Reggie Arnold…decade plus experience. Why not?” Foster smiled. “Any excuse to get Chet out of the kitchen.”
Shweta scowled. “Let’s take that one step further and get Chet out of the building entirely.”
“Lawyers are important,” Foster said, “and I’m not sure why you’re acting that way. You slept with him.”
“I slept with a lot of people I shouldn’t have,” Shweta deadpanned.
“Shweta!” Foster exclaimed, hand to his chest. “Jon is sitting right there!”
“Anyway,” Jon said, rolling his eyes. “We also hired an administrative assistant. Someone to manage the day to day tasks.”
Foster shook his head. “I don’t think we need to hire someone for that. That’s Dith’s job.”
Shweta laughed. “Absolutely not. Wasn’t it you who said that Dith couldn’t even manage his own wardrobe, much less a wrestling school?”
Foster looked at the ceiling, his eyebrows furrowed. “No, I don’t think I said that.”
“You did. You said it when you stole the school from Jon.”
“Doesn’t sound like me. Must have been someone else.”
“Uh-huh,” Shweta dismissed. “Moving along. Dith is better suited for wrestling tasks, and this person will be doing more behind the scenes work. Someone who knows people well, and specifically the people running this gym well.”
“Fine.” Foster rolled his eyes. “Got…” he stopped for a moment to look at Jon’s fingers drumming on the table, then looked back at Shweta. “Got a folder on them I can peruse?”
“No,” Shweta said. “We figured you’d rather see her in person.”
Behind Foster, the door opened. All parties looked at the short woman entering the room. Despite her size, confidence radiated from her walk and smile. Shweta and Jon matched her smile; Foster did not.
“Meet the new Gray’s house mom,” Jon said. “Magen Nackedy.”
“Son of a bitch,” said Foster.
“Who’s that?” Paxton asked, watching the short woman enter the conference room.
Ian smiled. “Foster’s ex-wife. My ex-sister-in-law.” He wrinkled his nose. “Actually, I’m still calling her my sister-in-law. I never had a sister and I’ll be damned if I lose the only one I got because my brother is an asshole.”
Paxton nodded. “Heard a bit about her.”
“Through very biased reporting, I’m sure. She’s great, though. You’ll be seeing more of her. She’s on staff now.”
Paxton raised his eyebrows. “Lotta new hires. Know why?”
Ian nodded. “Are you political at all?”
“The fuck ya think?”
“Fair enough,” laughed Ian. “So I guess you’re not familiar with the term ‘packing the courts.’” Paxton shook his head. “To put it simply, the idea is that the numbers aren’t in your favor, so you keep adding people from your side until you have a majority. It helps when you think you’re going to have to fight over issues.”
Paxton leaned against the ropes. “So what you’re sayin’ is Jon and Foster are hirin’ a bunch of people so they can get what they want.”
“Exactly. They won’t say that’s why. You can always justify hiring a few new trainers and a new cook.”
Paxton snorted. “Yeah, Chet can’t cook for shit.”
“But yes, each side knows that everything is on the table. What students they keep, what tournaments they send students to. And at the end of the day, they know they’re not going to agree on pretty much anything. So you get people on your side for when arguments pop up.”
“I get it.” Paxton looked around the gym and noticed the new faces: a few students based on the clothes they wore, but also an older man in a chef smock, and two men he guessed were trainers based on their age. “So it looks like back of house is all Jon, and the wrestlin’ guys are all on Foster’s side.” Paxton gestured towards Ian. “You’re Team Foster, obviously.”
Ian looked down and sighed. “He’d certainly like to think I am.”
“Great.” Foster stared at the wall as Magen walked towards Jon and Shweta’s side of the table. “I get it. I hurt you guys. Makes sense you’d want to ruin my life.”
“Don’t be so dramatic.” Magen sat down next to Shweta. “I’m taking a job that lets me be close to Connor. He’s still young. He needs the supervision of a caring parent.”
Foster shook his head. “I’m not even going to set you up for that one. You aren’t a caring parent,” he said in a mocking tone. “Fine. She can stay. She’s good at organization anyway. And creative torture in case the students get too unruly.”
“I save that for you, sweetheart.” Magen flashed her ex-husband a wide smile.
“So that’s it for staff,” Foster said. “That everything?”
“No,” answered Jon. “Now we need to talk about specific requests we have. Things that are very important to the balance of this school going forward.”
“We already have handicapped parking.”
Shweta chuckled, then grabbed the folder and shuffled a few pages. “As Jon said, we have nine students coming in. Which means we can afford to be…selective about the students we already have here.” She slid the paper to Foster’s side of the table.
“Paxton isn’t going anywhere,” Foster said before looking at the sheet.
“We know. And as much as we’d love to see him gone, he’s the only student who has a contract with a major promotion. We acknowledge that Jon stayed here as a member of FUSE, and so we will not be hypocrites on this matter. But Jon reserves the right to not be in the same room as him.”
“So when I want Wheels to scram, I’ll send Pax in the room first. Got it. So who were you…” Foster then read the name of the sheet. “No.”
“Come on, Foster,” Jon said, continuing to drum his fingers on the table. “We saw what Quinn did to Tani. And to your own son.”
“My son,” Magen said. “Will you not be satisfied until every student in your care is paralyzed, you piece of shit?”
Foster didn’t answer, so Shweta leaned forward. “Quinn is emblematic of your tenuous grip on this school, Foster. You are losing control. This place is going to explode…”
“Do you know why, Shweta?” Foster said, standing up and pounding his fists on the table. “Because Lindsay fucking Troy threw a flash grenade in the form of petty revenge! Everything was going fine. I had everything under control, and then the two of you show up and suddenly everything is a battle, everything is a struggle, and will you quit drumming your fucking fingers on the table?!” Foster screamed.
“Well, Foster, I would, but my fingers are the only part of me that work.” Jon continued drumming. “Have to keep them active.”
“So I take it that means you also won’t remove MESSIAH members from the premises?” Shweta asked.
Foster sighed and slumped back in his chair. “No,” he muttered.
“So we disagree on these things.” Shweta sighed. “And we’re 50/50, so it doesn’t seem like either of us will get what we want.”
After a moment, Foster’s heavy breathing started to regulate. He looked up. “Actually, I have an idea for that.”
“You ain’t on Foster’s side? Why?”
“You said it earlier: this gym is chaotic. And not the controlled kind that Rezin has. The gym is dying, Pax.” Ian sat down in the corner of the ring. “I was trained here too. Pat Gray was essentially my father; our dad sure as hell wasn’t. This place is important to me, and I don’t want Foster to destroy it.”
“How is he destroyin’ it?”
Ian laughed. “Well, no offense, but you. You’re the fire; you’ve been a low burn ever since coming in. And that’s dangerous enough, but then he had to go and dump an entire can of gasoline on it.”
Paxton furrowed his brow. “Who’s the gasoline?”
Ian didn’t answer; he let his eyes do the talking. Paxton followed his gaze towards the end of the gym. The gym was an open place with little air conditioning, and sweat formed at his brow after the brief workout, but even Paxton felt a chill as he locked eyes with Julian Bathory. The Carpathian Devil of MESSIAH strode up to the ring and smiled.
“Hello, Paxton. I am looking for one of your friends.”
“I am meeting with Theodore Boswell.”
Paxton looked across the room and found Theo standing fifteen feet from them. “He’s right there,” Paxton said, pointing. “Hard t’miss. He’s a big fuck.”
Bathory smiled and started to walk away. “Thank you, Paxton Ray. Good luck in your upcoming match.” Bathory took two steps, then turned around. “The information you gathered from the nurse’s phone is bearing fruit. Our resources are vast, as is the web we weave. I’m told some names have been caught in its strands. Struggle though they may in our clutches, our venom will inevitably leave them vulnerable.”
“Uh, okay. Just find my daughter.” Paxton answered.
Bathory smirked. “Forever the Crown.”
He then walked behind Theodore Boswell and stretched slightly to whisper something in his ear. The twenty-year old’s eyes went wide. After a few minutes of hushed conversation, the two walked towards an office on the far side of the gym.
“What the hell was that about?” Paxton asked.
“Just a little gas spill,” Ian said. He looked at Paxton nervously. “I know it sounds like I’m pitting myself against you. I’m not. I just care about this gym, and this…this is anarchy. No one can control it, not even Jon and Shweta.”
Paxton bit his lower lip, then looked out across the gym again. He saw Quinn Fleetwood walking in with El Cocodrilo, both laughing. “We’ll see ‘bout that,” Paxton growled, rolling under the ring ropes and making a beeline for the younger Fleetwood, not stopping until they were chest to chest.
“Can I help…” Quinn started, but stopped as Paxton grabbed his throat.
“Listen, ya piece’a shit. Ya ever pull somethin’ like ya did to Connor and Tani again, I’m gonna grab ya and punch ya until ya stop movin’ for good. Got it?”
Despite the hand around his neck, Quinn attempted a smile. “Never realized you liked Connor that much.”
“I don’t give a shit about Connor. I give a shit about order. An’ ya and your dad better care too if ya wanna stay here.” Paxton let go of his throat and loomed over him.
“I’m not afraid of you,” Quinn said, rubbing his throat. “But fine. The paralyzer man can have order.”
Paxton turned away, smiling as he walked towards Ian. “That’s my weapon. Anger.”
Ian nodded. “And can you control it?”
“He ain’t dead, is he?”
Suddenly the doors to the conference room opened. Foster, Jon, Shweta, and Magen all walked out. Foster walked next to the main ring and clapped his hands twice. Within a few minutes, all of the students and staff of Gray’s Academy surrounded him.
“Thanks for coming back,” Foster said, looking at Shweta, “to our grand re-opening. For those of you who are new, welcome. We hope you find exactly what you’re looking for. To the students who have been here…you’re going to see a lot of changes. New faces, new ideas, new tournaments. Which leads me to the biggest change of all.”
Shweta wheeled Jon next to Foster. “Over the next few months we will be holding a tournament for students.” Jon said. “The Battle for Gray’s Tournament. This will be the biggest and most important event we’ve ever held.”
“As some of you may know, I made my name in the NWC,” Foster said, nodding at Ian and Nathan Boswell. Boswell, a large man in his early forties, smiled and nodded back. “Some people may not appreciate the past, but it will serve as the inspiration for this tournament. Towards the end of the NWC, we had a tournament that decided the fate of the entire fed. There were two teams: a team that wanted to save NWC, and a team that wanted to destroy it. Members of each side fought, and the winner decided the fate of the NWC.”
“We’ll be doing the same here,” Jon said. “Foster and I will draft students, and we’ll have matches every week. At the end of the tournament, the winner will decide who controls Gray’s.” Paxton looked over at Ian, who shook his head. “Will it be run by an arrogant, power-hungry, piece of shit…”
“Or Foster Nackedy,” Foster interrupted with a smile. Quinn and Nathan Boswell laughed. “There will also be incentives for the students. Whoever wins the tournament will receive a tryout from a PWA affiliated federation of your choice.” Foster smiled as the students began to murmur. “That’s right. Not only can you decide who runs this gym, you can get the break of a lifetime.”
“An’ what if I win?” Paxton asked.
Foster smiled. “We’ll think of something.” Foster looked at the rest of the students. “Starting next week, we’ll be drafting our teams and working out the logistics. Until then…” Foster clapped his hands twice again. “Welcome to Gray’s Grand Re-Opening. Now let’s get to work.”