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The Battle for Vince's Soul


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FOREWORD

In my WWE diary, I said I would be doing three things at once in the near future. One was continuing the WWE diary. Another is something for which I needed permission. The third -- which I actually introduced second -- was vague. It was "following the lead of Plankton, conniption, RF4, and Funky". What did I mean?

I meant I was reposting an old favorite.

Yes, it's coming back in all of its glory. On the day when I'm not busy catching up to real time in the WWE, or while I'm typing out the WWE itself, I'll be returning one of the old friends of EWB3. I was asked specifically by TGC to do this -- okay, his words were more like "the Hall of Fame wouldn't be right without it" -- and I can only assume he thought similarly about Golden Boy Wrestling and the Intergalactic Wrestling Federation.

First, though, there will be a few changes from what you remember:

1. You'll notice how colorful this is. I wrote virtually every on-screen RAW development in red, all the SmackDown stuff in blue, and even busted out the occasional orange for the B shows. Actually, to make things easy on everyone, the only color-coded things are stuff from PPVs or pre-shows, plus recaps of the TV. Oh, and if the TV ratings seem generous to you, they are. I based them exclusively on match rating and was unbelievably generous (an MQ of 75 was considered a three-star match, or about a half-star more than it's worth). I have scaled it down for the WWE diary, but I think I'll leave them in here so you can see how much Prozac I had Virch on.

2. There isn't much color off of television, and the "story" is, generally speaking, in plain black. You can thank me later. However, if something shifts from black to gray, it is because I am about to pull out something that I'm not sure should be read by everyone. Sometimes, I'm erring way too far on the side of caution -- do you really need to have a smoke-out play out off-screen? -- and some times, the stuff in gray has merit.

3. My website will have the entire story soon as I feel like it. Don't bug me. However, for this re-post, I'm going to include DVD extras! Yeehaw! This means I'll write up some matches in full form that happened off-screen, I'll include transcripts of promos that were particularly meaningful, and I might even have scenes that were cut out due to being superfluous, even by my standards. You can read between the lines if you want THERE. All these scenes will be on my webpage, and will be linked to as I need to include them.

4. In the original, each post was a separate Chapter. This is highly unnecessary, as sometimes I stopped at moments just to build tension, and other times the update reeked of filler. So, this time, I'm going to divide into proper Chapters, as though this were a book.

5. Speaking of "book", I'm going to send an email to WWE Publishing and see what they think about it. It's my goal to have them not sue me for copyright infringement. :)

6. Before each chapter, I'll give a small author's introduction and a chapter title. I will discuss not just why I wrote what I wrote, and not just what you might expect, but also some of the reaction during this diary's first run. If there's something that went on during the life of EWB3 that influenced my decision, you'll know. If a certain chapter had a memorable line, I'll warn you. If I enjoyed or hated writing this, I'll tell you that. Consider it a commentary track. :)

7. I will include the Table of Contents on this page. The post number will indicate where in this thread you can find it, which will leave room for people to reply if they wish without driving casual readers insane. Hopefully, I can bring joy into people's lives again like I did the first time. One can only hope.

8. This is a story diary. It covers more than just the WWE. Among the other things discussed even partially are the following: Heaven, Hell, September 11th, mortality, drug use, sexuality, assault, death, pregnancy, abortion, the military, trauma, Montreal, Syracuse, Wrestlecrap, AIDS, dreams, groupies, weddings, domestic violence, puro, lucha, friendship, arguments, devotion, and love. Lots of love. This is not just a WWE story or a morality story -- it became a love story.

The first question I usually get is: how did I think of doing this? To quote Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof, "I will tell you why: I don't know." Basically, I had become a fan of Plankton's IWF, and I was having a semi-crisis of faith at the time. I had come up with the idea of trying to turn Vince around from the inside, but didn't want to go the hackneyed, cliched route of taking over the booking or hiring myself. On top of that, there were hundreds of WWE diaries out there -- how was I to make mine stand out? I guessed that if I put my creative writing skills to good use, I would have a chance to be more than just another diary. I took a chance, and it paid off in spades.

Therefore, you'll notice the booking is very haphazard, as I was trying to get into a groove. A lot of WWE stars are phased out over the time period, and some independent darlings are phased in. However, I had one overriding factor when trying to make hires: I wasn't the man in charge; Vince was. Therefore, I had to think like a McMahon in making decisions. Of course, I had Jim Cornette yelling at me about who was ready for the big time and who wasn't, and I was kind of forced to take that into account, but other than that, it was Vince's ball.

To that end, I will tell you that the WWE I create is not really that much better than the WWE we remember. Of course, with all the backstage chaos -- most of it my doing -- the show can't help but seem a little confusing on the surface. This was the other benefit of Virtual Keith -- I wanted to present someone who only cared about what happened on screen, and not off it. A lot of times, his comments range from ironic to bitter to just plain silly.

Before anyone asks, yes, the main character has my name and is based on me. That was a decision I made in a less-enlightened time. Trust me, not everyone needs to know that much about how bizarre, contradictory, awkward, confused, and talkative I am. (Although if this foreword is any indication, you knew how talkative I was already.) As time went on, though, Andy became a full-fledged character, as did the other 8 or 9 people who were his allies. They all became facets of who I was.

They also all started leaving my control. One thing that Plankton and I both appreciated, and that I think RF4 appreciates as well, is that when you write a story, after a while you can't mold the characters any more. The WWE likes to try character resets, but in reality, a character must be consistent from one week to the next. Otherwise, you get a story that doesn't say "wow!", but "huh?".

Above all, though, the purpose of this was to entertain. I'm glad to know I did that, and many people have told me they kinda miss the characters I created. Me too. That's why I'm bringing them back. And that's why I'm returning this diary to where it belongs -- on EWB. After all, when you take into account feedback, commentary, hilarity, backhanded compliments, flamewars, and everything else, I guess this is your diary, too.

TABLE OF CONTENTS (as posted):

FOREWORD: #1

PART ONE: St. Anger

CHAPTER 1 (Backstory: The Assignment): #5

CHAPTER 2 (The Team): #6

CHAPTER 3 (Two Nights in British Columbia): #9

CHAPTER 4 (A Rookie Again): #11

CHAPTER 5 (Not Bad for a Monday): #13

CHAPTER 6 (Lights, Camera, Action!): #15

CHAPTER 7 (The Groupie): #16

CHAPTER 8 (Recovery): #17

CHAPTER 9 (Revisited): #20 & #22

CHAPTER 10 (Desert Countdown): #23

CHAPTER 11 (SummerSlam): #24-26

CHAPTER 12 (The Other Guys): #29

CHAPTER 13 (Together in Tuscon): #30

CHAPTER 14 (Running Wild): #31

CHAPTER 15 (Origin: Kathleen): #32

PART TWO: Hurt

CHAPTER 16 (RAW's Cajun Rage): #33

CHAPTER 17 (Behind the Mic(hael)): #34

CHAPTER 18 (Hello, Goodbye): #35

CHAPTER 19 (Lost in Translation): #37

CHAPTER 20 (The Lost Weekend): #38

CHAPTER 21 (One Crappy Day): #40

CHAPTER 22 (Transition): #41

CHAPTER 23 (The Next Phase of Life): #42

CHAPTER 24 (Closer to Dying): #43

CHAPTER 25 (In His Own Hands): #44

CHAPTER 26 (The Hardest Word to Say): #45

CHAPTER 27 (The Person Behind the Person): #46

PART THREE: We Are Family

CHAPTER 28 (Who Is My Family?): #47

CHAPTER 29 (How Not to Get Hitched): #48

CHAPTER 30 (The Drinking Game): #50

CHAPTER 31 (How to Be a Woman): #53

CHAPTER 32 (The Calendar Photo Shoot): #55

CHAPTER 33 (Girls Just Wanna Have Fun): #57

CHAPTER 34 (Never Letting Go): #61

CHAPTER 35 (Sex, Drugs, and Wrestling): #62

CHAPTER 36 (Little Miss Can't Be Wrong): #65

CHAPTER 37 (The Old, Familiar Sting): #67

CHAPTER 38 (Father Figure): #68

CHAPTER 39 (The Lives No One Sees): #71

CHAPTER 40 (Eternal Life): #76

CHAPTER 41 (Complete Loss): #82

PART FOUR: Behind Blue Eyes

CHAPTER 42 (Breakthroughs): #89

CHAPTER 43 (Her Pain): #92

CHAPTER 44 (The Edge of Treason): #93

CHAPTER 45 (Heal Thyself): #96

CHAPTER 46 (Locker Room Difficulties): #97

CHAPTER 47 (Survivor Series): #100-102

CHAPTER 48 (Angry Young Men): #106

CHAPTER 49 (Seeing the Forest): #107

CHAPTER 50 (A Plan Comes Together): #108

CHAPTER 51 (The Jericho Family): #114

CHAPTER 52 (The Golden Day): #115

CHAPTER 53 (The Truth Comes Out): #117

CHAPTER 54 (A Heavenly Reward): #118

PART FIVE: With Arms Wide Open

CHAPTER 55 (Living for Two): #128

CHAPTER 56 (A House Divided): #129

CHAPTER 57 (The Lifeline): #131

CHAPTER 58 (Throwing Stones Under the Glass Ceiling): #133

CHAPTER 59 (Two Lost Souls): #134

CHAPTER 60 (Wet and Wild): #135

CHAPTER 61 (Armageddon): #137

CHAPTER 62 (Valerie): #138

CHAPTER 63 (Intervention): #139

CHAPTER 64 (Flashbacks): #140

CHAPTER 65 (The Last Men of Honor): #143

CHAPTER 66 (The Devil Inside): #146

CHAPTER 67 (A Calgary Christmas Carol): #148

CHAPTER 68 (Doing Unto Others): #149

PART SIX: You Are So Beautiful

CHAPTER 69 (Entering the Combat Zone): #150

CHAPTER 70 (A New Year, A New Life): #151

CHAPTER 71 (Unlikely Alliances): #152

CHAPTER 72 (Le Roi de Vivre): #153

Edited by Dukes
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I was asked specifically by TGC to do this -- okay, his words were more like "the Hall of Fame wouldn't be right without it"

Whoa whoa whoa, the same TGC whose new motto is, "Fuck Dukes!", asked you to do this?

That's insanity.

Anyway, reading this over again, along with GBW, LAW, and IWF, will bring back memories of better days.

Orrrr just waste a good chunk of time with entertaining fiction! Woo!

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Good to hear about the repost, as well as the added extras, like GBW. On EWBIII I was reading through it in the HOF, but I only got about half way through before the move, so I'll enjoy reading, and re-reading this.

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This is where it all began -- the chaos, the weirdness, the absolute and sheer roller coaster ride that eventually resulted in entering the Diary Dome Hall of Fame. When I posted the backstory, I expected (seriously) for it to get maybe one interested person to start reading. When I clocked in the next night to do the first part of the real story, five or six different people had expressed interest. Who knew?

Okay, something I should've said in the foreword but didn't: This story is through Andy's eyes, and as such, he will oftentimes go off on a little think that you'll be privileged to. When the narrative is written in italics, it means that you're reading Andy's mind and learning what he thinks of the situation. Initially, I didn't do this in the backstory, only adding it to the remainder of the posts when I saw that the backstory seemed incoherent. Now, I include the italics, so that you get a better idea of your first person.

*****

Chapter 1

Backstory: The Assignment

Sunday, August 03, 2003, 10:55 PM.

Burke, VA

I was at the Exxon gas station near Rolling Road -- not 5 miles from home. As I got out of my car, I nonchalantly turned off the radio. I had heard enough about how John Lee Malvo, aka the "Beltway Sniper", had escaped from prison that weekend and that FBI agents were asking everyone to be vigilant. Everyone knew what to look for. Besides, how much could you do with a bright orange jumpsuit? Kinda ruined the stealth, you know?

I went to the pump and selected unleaded. I saw the light of the station reflect off my white T-shirt. Washington was always so damn hot in the summer. Sometimes, I kinda wanted to know when the relief was coming. But with fall would come a return to college. Ugh. I just couldn't win.

*****

I woke up in my bed, in a cold sweat. I had no idea I was dreaming... I certainly seemed awake. Maybe a few minutes of walking around the room would clear my head.

I got out of bed, seeing myself wearing the shorts, socks, and shoes of my dream. Now, I know that crashing in what I had on wasn't unusual, but I usually took my shoes off at the very least. This I honestly couldn't explain. Did I go drinking last night? And why didn't I hear any noises?

Wait a second, what time is it? I thought. I looked back over my shoulder to where my clock radio would be. It wasn't there. In fact, my nightstand wasn't there. Nor was my dresser. Heck, my ROOM wasn't there. Maybe I'm still dreaming, I thought. Yeah, that's it. I'm still dreaming. But why would I jump from pumping gas to being in my bed in a strange... blank... white... room...

"Hello? Is anyone there?"

Nothing.

"Am I alone? Can anyone hear me?"

Suddenly, a bright light glared to the left of me. I turned away instinctively, although my instinct also said that, once I got used to the light difference, I wouldn't see anything bad on the other side of the light. I waited a minute or two for my pupils to adjust. While I waited, though, I heard a voice...

"Andrew Goss... Be not afraid... Come forward..."

Strange, I'd never heard anyone with that voice before. It was fatherly... but it wasn't my father's voice. I stood up instinctively, stepping onto the floor and walking in the direction of the voice. My eyes had finally adjusted.

A man in a grey tunic stood in front of me. His hair was white, with a full beard and mustache also white. In his left hand was a book, and in his right was a keychain with giant keys on it. It was an image I had conjured up before, but why it would come to me in a dream was beyond me. Then I looked past the figure and saw a gate, 50 feet high, in the background. My eyes returned to the man in front of me, transfixed.

"Do you know where you are, Mr. Goss?"

"Sure I do. I'm in a dream. A very bizarre dream. Somehow, my mind has pieced together my car, my bed, and a man with a book. Is this something Freudian?"

"I'm afraid this is no dream, my child. This is all too real. Do you know who I am?"

This is real? I've got an old man in a robe in my bedroom? Wait, I'm not in my bedroom! How'd they move my bed up here? Come on, Andy, think, THINK! Where have you seen this man before?

"You know, you look a little like the images of St. Peter in my school chapel. It would explain the book -- with the names of the Good and the Evil -- and it would explain the chain -- those are the keys to that gate there, and beyond the gate is Heaven. But for me to be seeing you would require my death. As you can see, I'm very much alive."

"You are right about who I am. But the rest shows you have much to learn. Look at yourself."

I looked down at what I was wearing. It was the same white T-shirt I had on at the gas station -- at least, it was a white T-shirt. Now it was splattered with hues of pink, red, and brown. I put my hand on one of the brown stains that hadn't dried yet. It was motor fluid. But when did my shirt get like this?

I put my hand to my head as I thought. As I pushed my hair back, my index finger began to poke inward. Instantly, all my attention was on that. I moved my finger inward and outward. It could pass through where my forehead should have been. It was like I had a hole in my head.

Wait a minute. The motor fluid... the pink and red... the hole...

"Shit. I'm dead."

"Please. There's no need to be coarse. Yes, my child, you have passed on. The man you heard about, John Malvo, made you his next victim. Soon you will be known throughout the region. But this will be of little concern to you unless you wish to be there."

"Be there? But... St. Peter, sir... I can't go back. I've paid my time on earth. I'm due for my reward -- whichever it is."

"A common misconception, Mr. Goss. You see, the Lord measures out each man's time on earth to influence the events around him. No man outlives his time, but some do not reach the limit in their assigned body. You are one of those. According to my Book, you are due for judgment at the age of 73 years after birth."

I did quick mathematics in my head. "So I have 50 years of being stuck in limbo?"

"Not in limbo." His smile re-assured me that, whatever was to happen next, I would be in good hands. "You see, those who are not due for judgment, but who are not alive on Earth, are destined to wander the earth as the internal guardians of the living. They will spend time controlling their moves, speech, and thoughts -- within a certain degree. Their mission is to save the souls of others who are on a path of personal Destruction."

I had to think about what was said. Now I knew I had to be dreaming, right? I mean, that made almost too much sense. But I was taught that there would be no reincarnation. I thought if I waited him out I'd wake up. Or, at the very least, he'd tell me this was a test and give me judgment.

"Okay, sir," I finally said. "Assuming for the moment that all this is true -- and I'm not sure what to believe any more -- who have you assigned me to?"

"In what sense? Who you will be, or whom you will save?"

"Save. Let's start there."

"I thought you would. I chose someone for you that I think you'd take a personal interest in." A personal interest? Me? I couldn't think of what it could be. Would I be helping out my parents, my teacher, my classmates? How about an old crush I had? Maybe I was to save Malvo himself. Now that would be weird.

St. Peter walked to a podium in front of the gate. He pulled out a giant box with files so dense I couldn't tell where one ended and the next began. Something occurred to me all of a sudden as he was going through this. If this is the St. Peter, and this is the gate to heaven, where is everybody?

"Um, sir... why is it just us?"

"You mean, where are all the newly departed? Well, most of them have lived their natural life. Those don't report to me, despite what you've been told. They are placed in front of the tribunal over there."

I turned to my left. A line longer than I could count of older people was snaking around the background. Each person, one at a time, stood in front of a bench. Behind it stood eleven men, dressed much like St. Peter, who reviewed folder after folder of information and debated the cases. I assumed they were the Apostles.

"Here we are. I think this reclamation will be perfect for you."

I examined the picture on the front of the folder. There was no mistaking the visage. His gray-black hair, his cocky smile, those ears and eyes that had seen one battle too many -- this man was familiar to me indeed. No wonder St. Peter gave him to me.

"Do you know him, Mr. Goss?"

"Of course I do. This is Vincent Kennedy McMahon, a 60-year-old entrepreneur and self-made millionaire. His company, World Wrestling Entertainment, is a global industry and has become synonymous with professional wrestling in the United States. He's a household name."

"He's also a lost soul. We have 6 other people working on his case -- 4 like you, and 2 intermediaries. The intermediaries have been told to expect you."

"But... how will they know who I am? How will I know who they or any of my co-workers are?"

"We've planned for this. The intermediaries will explain further. The question is, do you accept the challenge?"

This is where I was expecting to wake up. When I paused for a full minute and nothing happened, it finally set in -- maybe I was dead. Maybe this is St. Peter. And maybe I should say yes and avoid going to hell.

"I'm in."

"Very well. When you wake up tomorrow morning, you will not be yourself. You will be -- and no matter who you become, you will always be -- "

"Wait wait wait... no matter who I become... does that mean I change people?"

"Yes. The intermediary will explain. As I was saying, you will always be a member of the World Wrestling Entertainment community. It is our plan to reclaim Vince by having those next to him help him see the error of his ways."

This is heavy stuff, I thought. I looked back at my bed -- but it wasn't there anymore. I was at the point of no return. Take a good look, Andy. You won't be yourself for quite some time.

"Are you ready?"

"I guess so, but... um..."

"Oh, right, of course. Your wound. Allow me."

St. Peter leaned forward and placed a key from his keychain on the site where the fateful bullet exited my skull. I felt an intense pressure on my head, as though it would implode from the force of the touch. After ten of the longest seconds I have ever experienced, he pulled the key away.

"Now you are ready, my son."

I barely had time to feel my forehead. He fixed it, all right -- my whole body felt as it had at the gas station. The whole area went white, a kind of blank I wasn't used to. I felt myself being whisked through a nothing -- not even the nothing directly associated with space. I couldn't even feel my body.

Then again, I told myself, maybe I don't have a body to feel.

The white blinked out and became black. As it did, a slow crescendo built. A sound, repetitive, staccato. It sounded almost like an alarm.

*****

I woke up in bed with a start. The alarm was coming from my right. I jerked my head over there. It was just a clock radio... but not the one I was used to. Besides, that was on my left, not my right.

I turned it off and got out of bed. I noticed a second bed next to me with a figure lying in it that I could not identify. I looked down and saw I was dressed in a WWE shirt with American flag motif -- one which I never remember getting off of the ShopZone. I also had on shorts that came to my knees -- longer than I'd ever worn. It was definitely an upgrade from the "blood-soaked" T-shirt. But where was I?

I looked around. Oh, of course, this is a hotel room. Whew. But wait -- that wasn't Dad or my sister in the other bed. That much I know. And I don't remember having been on vacation. So if that gas station and St. Peter business was a dream, why was I having amnesia? I need some water.

I grabbed one of the glasses off of the dresser. I heard a snort from the other bed. I quickly turned around -- and my neck twinged. I must've slept on it wrong, I thought. But no, this almost seemed like limited mobility. Like I was recovering from an injury.

Undaunted, I walked into the bathroom. I didn't want to disturb my roommate any further, so I closed the door completely with my left hand. Wait a second... why did I have my left hand free and my right hand occupied with a glass? I'm a lefty! Whatever. Things are just weird this morning. I'm on a vacation I don't remember taking. I had a dream that left me dead. I have a roommate I don't recognize. And I'm about to flip on the light, because it's really dark in this bathroom.

"AAAAACK!"

My shout must have been heard elsewhere, and even if it hadn't been, the glass shattering on the floor definitely was. What startled me was the sight of someone in the mirror above the sink staring back at me. It was my height and weight, all right, but that's where the similarities ended. He had long blond hair. I had regular brown hair. He had perfect teeth. Mine were too small. He had a necklace of some sort. I never wore jewelry. On his hand was a wedding band. I was single. But more than that, the face I saw confirmed to me that I wasn't dreaming, that I was dead, and that I had been assigned to save Vince's soul.

The door opened behind me, and a shorter man entered the room. Actually, to be more precise, he was much shorter -- by nearly a foot. His Hispanic skin stood out in contrast to my pale white color. His eyes, a bright blue, stared at me in a look of concern. He spoke, but it was an American voice.

"Adam! Adam! Are you all right?"

Quick, regain your bearings, Andy. I'm guessing telling him the story wouldn't do you a damn bit of good right now.

"Yeah, thanks, Rey. I just banged my neck on this here" -- I quickly pointed to the towel rack, which was situated just right -- "and the shock caused me to drop my glass. You wouldn't think someone like me would be so clumsy, eh?"

Eh? Did I really just say that?

"Don't worry bout it, Adam. It's all right. Just watch your step. Man, I thought you were hurt real bad. Man, just take it easy. And don't forget your brace."

"Right. Thanks, Rey."

It was true. Everything was true. Today I was to begin the long, slow process of reclaiming the soul of the man who provided the best entertainment for me.

And I was going to start today, this week, as Edge.

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Seeing as how I'd set up that I was on a mission, in the next few posts I went about slowly integrating Andy into the everyday climate of the BVS universe. The first step was for him to get to know who -- and what -- he was dealing with. This chapter not only introduces a few people, such as Lindsay and Kathleen, but also serves as a way to lay out the ground rules. Oh, and we get to meet the first of two intermediaries, who serve as basically a sounding board throughout most of the story.

*****

CHAPTER 2

The Team

We had arrived in Kelowna, BC, a day early for the SmackDown taping event. As we all met in the hotel lobby, Stephanie McMahon and Paul Heyman stood in the front and got everyone's attention. I sat down in the back, still trying to adjust to the huge neck brace I was forced to wear. Going around with a badly injured and healing neck may have been no fun, I thought, but it beats being dead by a mile.

"Okay, everyone, you know the drill. Tomorrow, I want you all at the arena by 3:00. No exceptions. Velocity begins at 7, and it's followed by SmackDown! at 8. First matches will be around 6:30. Make sure you're on time. If you're late, and you miss your match, that's 30 days in the doghouse. You know that."

To her credit, Stephanie didn't sound nearly as annoying in person. Also, she certainly was more attractive than I remember giving her credit for. The soft blue eyes -- McMahon eyes, to be sure -- seemed to show genuine concern for everyone she had been placed in charge of. If circumstances were different, I might have treated her to lunch or dinner. But she was off the market.

For that matter, so was I, I thought as I touched my wedding band on my left ring finger.

Heyman spoke up next. "Anybody who wants to make the trip over to Vancouver with me and Stephanie, let us know as soon as this meeting's over. We're going to leave here around 3:30 PM. Heat starts taping at 5, as you know. Remember, RAW is LIVE, so they're going to be businesslike over there. No interaction off-camera. If you want to watch, we'll be an off-camera locker room together. The show ends around 8:15, so the stars should be available for conversation later. Got it?"

Everyone seemed rather bored by these announcements. I guess this is the usual drill, and they are just waiting for if there was anything special.

"By the way, guys, I want to warn you," said Stephanie. "My dad has been talking to Hulk Hogan again. Apparently, Hogan has had a bit of a change of heart and would be willing to work for us. He doesn't expect to be main event, and you know how graceful he's been backstage. I'll let you know if anything develops."

Rey turned to me. "Good news for you, isn't it, Adam? You get your idol back."

"It would be nice," I replied. Deep inside, I was excited. But this was neither the time nor the place for such emotion.

"Any questions?"

None.

"Okay, then. See me for the trip to RAW. Otherwise, go unpack."

Most of the SmackDown! wrestlers went to the elevators. A few, such as Chris Benoit, Billy Kidman, and even Rey went to talk to Heyman about going to RAW. I waited around a while, trying to decide whether to see RAW or not, when I noticed Stephanie putting on glasses as she went to Paul. That's strange. Stephanie doesn't need them, does she? And why wasn't she wearing them during the meeting? Then, just as quickly as she put them on, she took them back off. Good idea. After that last meeting, disguises would be futile anyway.

I turned to head to my room. I figured I'd get a chance to see the RAW broadcast on TSN anyway, right? Besides, I had to unpack my stuff and figure out what my role was within the WWE, and within the mission. Strangely, I had yet to see Vince himself during my new life. He was probably at RAW anyway. Besides, best not to rush into things.

"Adam, wait! Paul and I want to speak with you."

It was Stephanie. She motioned me over to where Paul was standing. Together the three of us went into a secluded conference room. I noticed there were no security cameras around. Further, a giant mirror was hanging behind the head of the table. I'd never seen a set-up like this.

"What's wrong, guys?"

Paul spoke for both of them. "Nothing's wrong, Andy. We just needed to clarify a few things."

"Okay, what is it? What do you want me to do f... wait, what did you call me?" I nearly blew my cover. Acting like my name was Andy and not Adam was something I didn't want to do under any circumstances.

"Andy. That was your name, right?"

"What are you getting at? Are you feeling ok, Paul?"

"I'm just fine. See, I know who you are. I also know who you were. Peter's told me everything. I hope you are paying attention, because what I have to say is very important."

Then it dawned on me.

"You're the intermediary he spoke about, aren't you?"

"Yes I am. After I lost out on the Invasion and was told to take time off, I had a vision. The angel came to me and told me that I was to use my natural charisma and powers of persuasion for the force of good. He told me he was sending people to help reclaim Vince McMahon, and that I was to be their contact for him."

"You believed this?"

"Whether I believed it or not, it's true, isn't it? That's why you're here. That's why I'm here. We have a mission, not to be taken lightly."

Well, that's one intermediary. But why is Stephanie here?

"And you, Stephanie. Are you the other one?"

"No, I'm not. I'm like you. That's why I'm in on this meeting right now. I need to meet you."

"But how did you know who I was before Paul said anything?"

Paul interrupted. "Well, she had some help. Did you see her put on a pair of glasses for a few seconds?"

"I did."

"Well, all Fallen Angels -- that's what you are now -- get a pair. It goes with them from body to body. Otherwise, you are to keep it by your side at all times. Here's your pair. Look at the mirror."

He handed me a bulky pair of glasses -- they almost seemed like a novelty pair, missing the nose and eyebrows. They were identical to the pair Stephanie had slipped on. I took them and opened them up. I started to put them on when Stephanie spoke up.

"No, no. Face the mirror first. It's better for everyone if you do it this way. It's especially better for you."

Well, if you say so, I thought. I turned to the mirror, glasses in hand. I saw Edge looking back at me -- a sight I was going to need a long time to get used to. I slowly put the glasses on as I kept my gaze fixed on the mirror. As they entered my line of sight, the image changed. When I didn't wear them, I saw things as they seemed -- I looked back at Adam Copeland. When I wore them, I saw things as they are -- my reflection came back to me.

"So this how you found me, Steph--"

I had turned around to talk to her, only to find she wasn't there. Paul was, but the person next to him was a woman I'd never seen before. She was about my age -- well, about what my age had been -- and had bright blond hair. Her build was much slighter than Stephanie's in many ways, and her nose was petite, almost as if it had been artificially reduced.

I panicked. Who was she, how did she get here, and what happened to Stephanie? I thought she and Paul were the only ones in on this. Now someone I'd never met was seeing me -- well, seeing Edge -- wearing weird glasses and calling her Stephanie. This could never do.

"Don't panic, Andy. I'm still here. Take the glasses off." That was Stephanie's voice coming out of her mouth, all right.

I did as the woman instructed. Instantly, Stephanie stood before me again. Oh, that's right, I thought. She's 'like me'. The blond-haired woman was another Fallen Angel. But Paul, who was the intermediary, looked exactly as he was. This would take a while to get used to.

"I'm never going to get used to this. It could take me months, and I still won't think of myself as Adam Copeland."

"That's okay, Andy, because you won't be for long."

"What do you mean, Paul?"

"Every Monday morning, when you wake up, you'll find yourself in a new body, controlling a new life. I don't know who you'll be right away, though, so you'll..."

"Wait... don't you have glasses?"

"Sure I do. But I can't wear them all the time. It would confuse me. That's the point of the meetings. Back when we were placed on the same show, Stephanie and I became the backstage leaders. I convinced her that each Monday we would go over the business of SmackDown! and discuss what everyone's role would be. After that meeting, I try to slip on the glasses so I can figure out who my charges are. This time, I saw her pull them out, so I figured it was being done for me."

"So if you didn't see me, how did you know who I was?"

"Well, Lindsay here -- that's her name -- came to me and told me that she saw a Fallen Angel she didn't recognize in Edge's body. I knew right away that it was the new charge I was told would enter our team last night. Since I knew who you were, I told her to get you so we could have this talk. Everything clear?"

"I guess so... um... shouldn't we be heading back outside? I mean, it has been a while."

"Oh, that. Time means nothing. When I opened the door to this conference room, did you notice me use a special keypass?"

"No."

"Well, I did. It's something that I and the other intermediary have. Basically, it opens the door to this room you see here, no matter where in the world we are. It allows us to discuss things off the clock. If I have special orders for you, I'll bring you here. Got it?"

I paused.

"You know it'll take time for me to figure this all out."

"I know. You have tonight backstage to talk to me about it. I signed you up to head to RAW with Stephanie and me. If you have any questions, you can always ask to talk to us in here."

"Thanks, Paul. I'm sure it will be a pleasure working with you."

"No problem. Now let's get settled. We have about an hour before the caravan leaves. I want you to ride with me and the other two Fallen Angels. We'll discuss plans there."

He walked to the door and opened it. He held the door open as Stephanie walked

through it. He motioned for me to follow.

So much information, so little time to digest it, I thought. Well, I hope my bags are still there when I get back to the lobby.

*****

3:41 PM.

We were ready to hit the road in Heyman's rental car. Paul and I were loading things into the trunk as Stephanie climbed into the front seat's passenger side. After everything was loaded, Paul told me to get in, and that he needed to find something back in the lobby. He seemed rather secretive about it. Must be code for the mission, I reasoned, but we're all here, aren't we? Wait, he did mention there was one more.

I slid into the back seat and pulled out my glasses, which I made sure to keep in my jeans pocket. Since everyone involved was in on this secret, I saw no reason to hide them. Besides, the uncomfortable bulge in my pocket was something I couldn't get used to, not to mention I was getting tired of telling people that, no, I wasn't particularly happy to see them.

I waited until most of the other parties had left, then put on my glasses again. I saw Lindsay in the front seat, scanning over some papers as part of being Stephanie. I can't imagine what it must be like to be used to this by now. Not having an identity for longer than a week at a time, working to help a man who never listened to anyone, and having to answer to Paul Heyman. I don't know what the worst part is.

Paul emerged from the hotel with a second woman. This one was extremely young -- I would wager about 16. Her fiery red hair would have stood out more were it not for the freckles on her face. She was slightly built and obviously athletic. She climbed into the car next to me, and as she did, I noticed the car list over to the right. Huh. She didn't seem that heavy.

Paul climbed in the driver's seat and turned around to make sure everyone was set. When he saw me wearing the glasses, he seemed a bit perturbed. "It might be better for you to take those off, Andy. We all know who we are now."

I did as he said, then put the glasses back in the case. I looked back to the front seat. Paul was putting the car into gear and peeling out of the hotel parking lot. Stephanie had put her papers away and leaning back to relax. I turned to the girl next to me -- only she wasn't quite what I remembered.

"Yikes!"

"I told you you'd be better off not wearing them."

No kidding I was. Suddenly, I was face to face with the WWE champion himself, Brock Lesnar. He looked even more menacing in person than on TV. His muscles were clearly visible, even through his oversized shirt. All in all, he bore absolutely no resemblance to the girl I saw enter the car.

"Hey, relax. I'm not going to hurt you. It's just an image for TV."

"I'm... I'm sorry Brock. I freaked out. You're not like you... I mean, you don't..."

He laughed. "Those glasses deceived you, didn't they? I know, I got a funny look from Steph-- er, Lindsay this morning. I can say that, right, Paul?"

"Seems all right. We're all alone."

"Okay. Yeah, Lindsay did a double take when she saw me carrying this glass case this morning. Kinda funny, isn't it, seeing a little teenage girl inside a big man's body?"

Certainly better than the other way around. "But isn't it hard adjusting to being a guy? I mean, there's so much different stuff between the genders."

"Wait, you're not... hang on..."

Brock reached into the pocket of the seat in front of him and got out his glass case. He pulled the glasses out and put them on.

"Hey, who are you? I don't think I've seen you before."

Paul chimed in. "Oh, right. I forgot introductions. Kathleen, this is Andy. He just joined the force last night. Andy, this is Kathleen."

We shook hands, but Brock -- er, Kathleen -- seemed to be in thought. "Andy... last night... hmmm... hey, Lindsay, you got today's Daily Mail up there? I wanna check something."

Oh, no, I thought. Here comes the sympathy. I did not sign up for this.

I saw Stephanie hand the front page of the newspaper back to Brock. He had by this time removed his glasses and replaced them. I buried my head in my hands as he turned open the front page.

"Oh my God... are you that guy?"

She pointed to a headline that read: SNIPER CLAIMS NEW VICTIM; MAN, 23, GUNNED DOWN AT GAS STATION.

"Yeah. I am. I... look, don't bring it up, ok?"

Brock said nothing. I heard a choking sob from somewhere. It wasn't my voice, and it sure wasn't Adam's either. I peeked through my hands to see Stephanie pull out a handkerchief and dab away something.

Paul seemed somber compared to a minute ago. "I hate this part. It's always hard welcoming someone new in. I was hoping Lindsay could keep together... I'm proud of you for doing so until we were here. If you want to get it out of your system now, it's ok. I understand."

Stephanie looked up at Paul. "Can I move to the back?"

*****

Brock was now seated up front. We were at a gas station along the way. I was hoping this wouldn't delay us much. Stephanie had slid in and immediately given me a big hug of consolation. She seemed carried by emotion. I didn't know what to say, except to be practical.

"I'll be fine. I'm better now. Just help me adjust as you can."

"I hope so. Were you scared at all?"

"No. To be honest, I never felt a thing."

"That's good." She squeezed even harder.

"Hey, whoa... I may be alive, but my neck..."

"Oh, sorry..." she giggled. I guessed the mood had been lightened enough that we could get back to normal -- well, whatever that is now. But still, I had a million questions, and only fifty years to get answers.

Paul spoke up after a few minutes of silence. "Okay, gang, let me explain this to Andy so there's no confusion... and to remind you two of the rules. The deal is that we are supposed to lead by example. I'm the only one who can preach and try for a direct conversion. Well, I and the other guy. Your job is simply to help the people you are live a healthy, happy, and holy life. If you do that, then we believe Vince will follow in our footsteps. Got it?"

"Wait, Paul, just wondering." Actually, I'm just hoping you don't get mad at this question. "What makes you think that Vince will ever change? I mean, are you sure this isn't a lost cause?"

"Kid, nothing and no one is a lost cause until their time on earth expires. Remember that. Anyone can repent at any time. Never lose faith in the love and forgiveness of the Lord."

Hearing these words coming out of Paul's mouth was a bit of a shock. I never really associated him with being religious. Then again, he is Jewish... but I'm getting ahead of myself.

"Should we leave these glasses in the car?"

"That's probably a smart idea. We'll all be heading back in the same ride anyway. Basically, even though Vince is our main target, I want you to remember that any man or woman saved is a mission accomplished. So the more you can show people the proper way of life, the better it is. If anyone seems ready to reform, send them to me or to the other intermediary."

Brock spoke up this time. "Paul, you've been telling us about this other interm... whatever for weeks now. Who is he?"

"I'm not allowed to tell you who he -- or she -- is. See, the rule is that we who are living are mortal. You can't trust others. Technically, you can't trust me to stay the course. But know this: if you get transferred to RAW, you will meet someone with my role. If I leave the WWE, someone will assume my role on SmackDown!. The very nature of our business requires that Vince needs multiple people to tell him of the News."

Damn, he's serious. No way he leaves this mission on his own. Right? I mean, he did say we couldn't trust him...

"Wait, Paul, I'm confused. Are you saying that you may quit this mission?"

"Andy, I'm not saying I'd quit. I'm saying I would be replaced. I replaced someone before me. Strange as it sounds, Jerry Lawler used to be in my shoes. But when he placed the value of his wife ahead of his business, DDP was asked to take his place. When he couldn't handle it, the job fell to me. The split of the rosters forced another to join me. Basically, what's important isn't who I am, but what I am -- your boss. You report to me every Monday, and any difficult questions are my field."

"Lindsay, what is he talking about?"

"Well, I'm not at liberty to say. The big thing is no one must know who isn't in on it. That's how we succeed in our mission. We make it seem like these are everyday people being good."

"Exactly," Paul added. "And by the way, don't bother talking to the King about his work. He won't remember it. It's a special precaution."

"Wait," I said, rather confused. "You mean he's brainwashed?"

"That word has a negative connotation, but basically, he had it removed from his conscience. But anyway, it's vital you don't tell him. Your spot opened up because another person dropped his guard and had to be transferred to another mission. We don't want that to happen again. We've put too much time and effort into this case. Do you know how long Lindsay here has been working?"

I turned to Stephanie, confused. "What does he mean?"

"I'm not your age. I died eight years ago. That's why I'm so used to this. But even then, there were people here ahead of me. Apparently this project started way back in 1993 when Vince was at his lowest point. I remember hearing people describe what it was like to watch him during the trial."

The trial?

"You mean... this is all because the government wanted to arrest him?"

"No! You're mixing up causes again!" Paul seemed rather angry with this. "The government was aware of the bad things he'd done with drugs, sex, and general apathy towards ethics. This mission began then because he came THIS CLOSE to ending his life, and we had to take drastic action."

Sorry I asked.

"Look, I didn't mean to get upset... I just get very defensive about my calling. I've been trying for so long to fix things around here. Anyway, the point is that Vince is no more or less a priority than anyone else. He is our primary target because he is the source of some of the sinful behavior. He is the role model. If we fix him, the rest will follow. But if we can't fix him, understand what I said earlier: anyone we can get is just fine."

"Yes, sir."

"Thank you. Now, anything else?"

I didn't need any more clarification. My mission was clear: reverse the course of the WWE before it plunged straight into hell. Thankfully, I was not alone. I don't know how hard this would've been if I had been one against the world.

I found myself fixated on one thing, but not really knowing how to articulate it. It kind of bothered me, but I didn't know why. Maybe it was just the shock from seeing tiny Kathleen turn into big, bad Brock. Or maybe it was because I was told that I could be anyone any week. Still, I had to ask.

"Um, Paul?"

"Yeah?"

"Am I restricted in any way as far as who I could wake up and be?"

"No... not that I know of."

"So, in theory, next week I could find myself as Stephanie?"

"Oh. I see what you're driving at. Yes. Yes, you could be anyone, man or woman, among the WWE's team. One week you could be Triple H, and the next week you could be a ring crew worker. One week you could be Ric Flair, the next week you could be Billy Kidman. Heck, anyone from Linda McMahon on down is subject to possible takeover -- well, except Vince himself."

That caught Kathleen's attention. "I wondered why I'd never drawn him. Paul, why can't we just be Vince and take over from within?"

Paul sighed quickly. He seemed a little nervous saying this. "Well... I'm surprised you don't know by now... I mean, Lindsay can tell you, right?"

Lindsay seemed uneasy. "I think it's better if you do, Paul. You're the one who gets the updates."

Paul was silent. It was as if he were searching for the right metaphor to help bring about the picture. "You see, Kathleen, it's like this. Every one of us has a soul. That soul can be perfectly healthy or partially so. If you repent and adopt the Lord, chances are it's in good shape. Every time to commit a wrong act, it drops a little in health. If it gets too sick, it becomes a dark soul. You guys can't go there."

"Yeah, but why not?"

"Patience, Andy. See, right now your existence is possible only because the soul in your host body is dormant."

Host body? Great. I sound like a parasite.

"A healthy soul can remain dormant for some time. It gets its energy from you and your deeds. If you were to enter someone with a dark soul, it would drain from your deeds to the point where nothing would be left for you. Your soul could become dark from feeding the other soul so completely. And right now, since you have no body life, your soul is your being."

There was silence as we contemplated these words.

"So if we ever become dark ourselves... we stop being Fallen Angels..."

"...and your sacrifice would put you in Hell. We can't have that. So for your own safety, it's best that you remain with people who are healthy on their own."

I turned a wary eye to Stephanie.

"Yes, she's fine. All the stuff the Internet says about her is pure rumor. She's no more or less guilty of personal bias than anyone else in her decisions. Besides, is it her fault she's fallen in love?"

"Is it?"

"No. But that's a story for another time. Now, Brock, pull out that map. I'm getting close to the turn-off for Vancouver."

*****

This is so overwhelming right now. I need someone to sympathize with, but there's no one here I can talk to without being dragged to another time... or to Hell. I feel so crazy right now. I gotta take a walk.

"Adam... where are you going?"

"Oh, it's you, Paul. I just need a walk. Need to clear my head a little. Been a long day."

"Here, let me go with you. Follow me."

I had a feeling he knew what I needed to clear my head about.

We stepped out the door of the GM Place and into the back entrance, marked AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY. Outside, we saw Chris Nowinski and Rodney Mack arrive in Nowinski's Buick. Even on the road, he lives a high life.

"What is it, Adam... or Andy?"

"Andy. Paul, I just have a lot on my plate right now, and it's gonna take a while before I can be of much use."

"Nonsense. Every day, every one of us are of a lot of use. Kid, when I first started with this, I thought I was a lousy man for the job. I mean, Dallas Page was brilliant in his role. How could I top that? But you know, Peter told me that what was important was in the details. That's where love shines through the most."

"Love. I wish I knew."

"You still thinking about Stephanie?"

"Well... sort of." I looked nervously at my ring finger.

"Look, kid. Love can be many things. There's three types of love: Familial, Friendly, and Personal. We are here to give friendly love. The world is our friend, and we have to reach out and show them that friends are those who make you better. It's a big load, but you have the support of the Most Powerful Being to help you. Come on, we can discuss this more during RAW."

"But, wait... I thought you said we would be in a locker room with the other guys during RAW."

"Not really. Most of the time, we're doing a house show right now, so the guys in the back are rarely able to catch RAW. Now, they think I have VIP seating with Linda and Vince backstage. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. Tonight I don't."

"So we're with everyone else, are we?"

"Not tonight. See, right now Steph and Brock are interacting with everyone, but when the show starts, they'll be with us watching from our own private backstage locker room."

"I'm confused."

Paul reached into his shirt pocket and whipped out the keycard he had used in the hotel earlier.

"That works here?"

"It works everywhere. Now, come on. There's still an hour to burn before RAW hits the airwaves."

"But what about Heat?"

"It's just the matches. Everyone mingles and warms up during them anyway. Don't worry. You'll fit in. We have faith in you, Lindsay and Kathleen and I. We know it can work."

Something in his hand being around my shoulder was re-assuring, almost as much as the smile St. Peter had given me back in the ether. For the first time since I became Edge, I was focused and ready. I knew my mission. We headed back through the door we came out of.

I was startled at first by round after round of explosions. I ducked my head as I entered, still thinking of the hole that had been put there just 24 hours ago. Of course, that was 4000 miles away, but what was this?

"What happened?"

"That?" Paul chuckled. "That was just the pyro. Heat tapings must be underway. It's apparently showtime."

Ahead of me were members of the RAW roster. I could see Brock and Stephanie among them, along with Benoit, Rey, Kidman, and O'Haire. They all seemed to be watching from a monitor just behind the curtain.

You're right, Paul. It's showtime.

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Well, I figured by now I had stalled enough time that it was fine for me to actually do a show and stuff. The funny thing is, I had gotten the latest RaveX update so that I could do the diary in 3.0 when 4.0 came out literally on July 31, allowing me to pick up where reality had left off, down to the show. In addition, this marks the debut of a character who became the show-stealer of the BVS -- Virtual Keith, a parody of 411mania's cynical RAW reviewer (and published author). If anything stands in the way of this story being published, he does. Time to kiss his ass, I guess.

This show also featured the first inklings of what would become one of the more intriguing on-screen storylines: Eddie Guerrero's rise to superstardom. Of course, it all starts in this chapter in the back, as Eddie feels there's no way he can come out of a feud with a certain wrestler still looking good. Shows what he knew at the time.

This was the main storyline of Part I, "St. Anger". Yes, as in the Metallica song. Each of the eight parts were named after various musical outputs, because I personally really like music. Sorry if you don't like my taste, but there you go. Each part also had a storyline or mood of some sort related to the title. In this case, Eddie's premature anger over his future is the main focus of the backstage goings-on.

(Note: for those who care, I've been uploading this from two different versions of Adobe Acrobat. The only thing affected that I've noticed is the apostrophe, so it shouldn't make much difference.)

*****

Chapter 3

Two Nights in British Columbia

August 04, 2003, 05:50 PM

Vancouver, BC

I was backstage by 5:50 PM. Paul led me to a door that was marked "EXIT" near where we had talked earlier. He produced his card, slid it in the doorjamb, and opened it.

Yeah, right. This is going to lead to the conference room...

Well, I’ll be darned. It DID lead to the conference room. That card does work just about everywhere.

Brock -- er, Kathleen -- was already in the room, in the front row. Paul took a seat next to her and encouraged me to sit in the back. I hopped onto the table and spun to face the closed-circuit television. Our other party member was nowhere to be found.

"Paul, where’s Lindsay?"

"She’ll be here. She’s a McMahon -- it’s not as easy to slip away."

"Actually, while it’s just the two of us rookies, I wanted to ask... um, how can we be these people when we don’t know what they know?"

"I don’t understand."

"Yeah, I wondered the same thing, Paul -- I mean, if I’m supposed to do an interview right now with WWE.com, how do I keep from sounding stupid?"

"Oh, that! Okay, Kathleen and Andy, I knew I forgot to explain something. You see, a lot of the stuff you do is done automatically. If you need to pull ideas out, they don’t come from your mind, they come from that person’s. In a way, you’re mostly an observer."

Both of us let out a sigh of relief.

"Wait, then how do we change Vince or anyone else? I mean, I’m injured; I might get sent back to OVW before the end of the week."

"You wouldn’t be assigned to Adam if you were, Andy. As for how to change Vince in your role, it’s like I said; you gotta make sure you steer your person towards the right. You are their conscience and their soul. You cannot handle the details, but you can paint the big picture. Trust me, though; with a guy like Vince, it is the Big Picture that matters."

"Okay, that’s cool. I guess. I mean... I’m still a little nervous cuz, you know, to me these guys are still all larger than life. I watched these people. They’re celebrities to me. It’s hard for me to fathom being one of them."

"It takes a while. You two will get used to it, though. I’m certain. Now hang on a second; I’ll go get Lindsay and we’ll start the show."

I was wondering how she was going to get in. But wait -- what if she’s stuck backstage when the show starts?

There was no time to think of that. The recap was on.

One World Leader -- WWE (Bischoff/Austin)

Highlights from last week, including the "upset" win by Chris Nowinski and Rodney Mack over Booker T and Goldust when Nowinski pinned T after a shot from the facemask. Also shown is Jim Ross’s return to RAW and his decision to ask police to let Kane go.

We hit the opening credits!

"What happened?"

"I don’t know! The screen just stopped!"

"Can you fix it?"

"I’ll try..."

I headed to the back to see if any cords were loose. Everything seemed perfectly in order. I began to unscrew the connection to the wall and try to put it in different sockets in the back.

"Anything?"

"Still a blank."

"Darn. I hope we’re not missing anything important."

I began to try various switches. Nothing seemed to produce any noise from the television monitor. Oh, great, Paul’s gonna be so mad. We’re here by ourselves and we’re missing the show. I can only imagine how far along we... wait a second...

"Have you heard anything outside?"

"What do you mean?"

"Explosions. Cheering. Shouldn’t RAW have opened with a bang?"

"We’re not in the building... are we?"

"I don’t know. I hope Paul gets here soon."

I kept struggling with the different settings. Each time, Brock -- er, Kathleen -- told me the picture wouldn’t change. Time seemed to be standing still as I worked more frantically than before. But I ran out of time. The door opened, and Paul and Stephanie walked in. Stephanie had put on her glasses as she entered.

"Andy? What are you doing back there?"

"The TV’s not working. Something’s frozen."

Paul laughed. Kathleen and I turned and faced him, confused.

"Oh, remember how I said this room was off the clock? I took the liberty of making sure we wouldn’t miss anything as we headed back."

Lindsay laughed heartily. "So basically, it took us exactly as long as it had to to get back here!"

Good thing it didn’t take longer... or is it?

"What would’ve happened if you hadn’t been back in time? I mean, would the world have screeched to a halt? Would you be in two places at once? What?"

"We’re here now. That’s what’s important. No one can see us. Look, I don’t expect you to understand all this. Just know that we’re isolated here, and that our lives are not ruled by earthly matters. Remember, when you’re here, you’re free to be yourself. Now, we have a show to watch."

Kathleen began to speak. "But the TV is..."

Just like that, the picture returned and was in motion again.

"Oh... okay..."

We all sat down to watch together as the credits finished.

*****

- The SmarK RAW Rant for Aug. 4 / 03.

- Live from Vancouver, BC.

- Your hosts are Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler.

- Opening interview: The Highlight Reel with Chris Jericho. Our special guest is Christopher Nowinski, fresh off of his win over Booker T. Footage of the match is shown on the "inordinately expensive JeriTron 5000" and conveniently edited to make the result seem clean and the match one-sided. JR is appalled, of course. Nowinski sucks up to Jericho, then claims he should be I-C champion. Yeah, right. Jericho asks the question I posed last week -- what’s Teddy Long doing going after a black guy? -- and Nowinski basically calls Booker an Uncle Tom, noting how he smiles and dances his way to the ring. Nowinski tells Booker to stop being in the establishment. Let me repeat that: Chris Nowinski, a Harvard grad, tells Booker T, a Houston street urchin, to stop being in the establishment. Now THAT’S a good heel line. Booker T of course charges in -- Jericho tries to introduce him -- and pummels Nowinski, including a shot across the face that I’m sure will mean the goofy facial appliance will be back. Booker challenges Jericho AND Nowinski to a match. Great way to start the show.

"Hey, Paul, I just thought of something."

"Yeah, Andy? What is it?"

"If I were to put these on while watching TV, would I..."

"No. The glasses only work on the people, not on their images."

- The Dudley Boyz and La Resistance are seen having a standoff over the six-man later. But it’s all a Nefarious Plot, because Kane is right behind the Dudleyz and mauls both of them. He gives La Res an evil eye and they promptly wave a white flag at him in a funny bit. Of course, after Kane walks on, La Res get some French licks in. So to speak.

- Goldberg v. Rico. Rico is allowed to get some prancing and kicking in, but Goldberg quickly powerslams him to end that. Miss Jackie gets involved, allowing Rico the advantage... for one or two moves. Time of the inevitable: 2:27. Better than the usual squash. *1/4 HHH tries to attack and gets fought off.

- Kevin Nash lays out a challenge to Randy Orton for SummerSlam. If this actually goes anywhere, I hope Kev does the right thing. I mean, I know that he allowed a tainted victory, but that was on RAW in a handicap match. I’m not asking for much to say that Orton should win the feud, am I? Anyway, Ric Flair walks by and runs Nash down. "You don’t have the 16 titles I do, although you certainly tried to get them." Oh, TAG. Bottom line is, we have a main event.

My eyes were wandering during the commercial breaks. I didn’t know why. It suddenly occurred to me that I was seated above and behind everyone else in the room.

Uh-oh, I hope they don’t notice and get upset. I mean, last thing I want is to get off on the wrong foot.

"Um, Lindsay? Do you want to switch? The view’s better up here and... well..."

"Is it? Let me see."

She got up and moved to the table. I started to slide off to create room, but she motioned for me to stay. Huh?

"There’s room for both of us."

I guess there is, actually. Man, I have to relax. Besides, she’s been dead so long she probably thinks nothing of it.

"Is something wrong?"

Crap.

"Um... not really. I just didn’t think we could both fit... that’s all..."

"Okay. If you say so."

- Women’s Title: Molly Holly v. Ivory. Molly attacks to start and begins armdragging. Dropkick gets two. Ivory escapes and counters a trip outside by sending Molly into the steps, but Molly reverses. Back in, it gets two. Ivory works in a carpet muncher for two to reverse momentum. Suplex gets two. Molly flips out of a German suplex and clotheslines Ivory for two. Ref takes a bump off an Ivory crossbody, and Gail Kim charges in. Kim hits a ropewalk into a rana on Molly before exiting. Ivory covers for the pin and the title at 4:29. Hm, that’s a little early to be getting the belt off of Molly... oh, wait, here comes another ref to inform the official of shenanigans, and it’s a DQ. So that’s where the cow’s been hiding nowadays. Match was nothing special, and I’m not exactly looking forward to the three-way this sets up next week. 1/2*

- Meanwhile, Chris Nowinski gloats to Teddy Long that the match will be a 3 on 2 instead of a 2 on 2, because it was never mentioned what kind of tag match it’ll be. Stone Cold hears this and declares that the third spot on the face team is open for whoever wants to fill it. That might not have been the smartest idea...

- Kane and La Resistance v. Dudley Boyz and Rob Van Dam. Big brawl to start, and the ECW alumni win that easily. La Res head for the hills, while Kane no-sells everything. Finally, 3D puts him down enough to get him to roll out of the ring. Dupree charges in, but RVD cuts him off with a Van Daminator (no chair) for two. Bubba hits a powerslam for two. Wazzup Drop, but while they fetch the tables, Kane press slams Bubba back over the top rope and chokeslams D-Von on the floor. Ouch. Back in, Dupree gets two as Bubba is YOUR face-in-peril. Kane demands a tag and tosses Bubba over the top rope and through the aforementioned table at ringside as we take a commercial break. When we come back, Grenier is hitting the chinlock. DDT gets two. Dupree comes in and the two hit a double suplex for two. Figure Four by Dupree, but RVD saves. Kane takes off after RVD, chasing him to the back as we get La Res v. Dudleyz. Grenier with a crossbody for two. Bubba gets a Samoan Drop out of nowhere, and RVD returns from the back (having apparently eluded Kane) to get the hot tag. It’s BONZO GONZO as RVD single-handedly smokes both members of La Res, but Kane returns and boots RVD down. Le Crepe gets two, as D-Von saves. The match breaks down while Kane gets hit with the Wazzup Drop, but he sits up. Geez, everything must’ve been fried in the fire. Dupree is dumped, Kane is busy with the Dudleyz, and RVD frog splashes Grenier for the pin at 11:53. Pleasantly peppy match ruined by the general inexperience of the frogs. **1/4

- Meanwhile, Evolution holds a meeting and declares themselves the best ever. HHH gives Flair a pep talk, and Orton asks to soften up Goldberg next week in a match where I can’t see a point in jobbing either man.

- Chris Jericho, Christopher Nowinski, and Rodney Mack v. Booker T, Goldust, and a Wrestler to be Named Later. We start 3-on-2, or more accurately 5-on-2, as Jazz and Teddy Long are at ringside. You know, I used to refer to Justin Credible’s ECW entourage as being the cast of "Rent", but legitimately this is pretty close to being the truth on the heel side. I mean, all we need is a gay guy with AIDS. But we’ve already seen Rico tonight. Maybe if Goldust does a heel turn. ANYWAY, faces clean house to start as Nowinski intentionally avoids Booker. Booker has Mack in the Book End, but Jericho hits the springboard dropkick to break it up. Goldust comes in with the Flip Flop and Fly on Nowinski as the ref tries to bring order. Eventually, Goldust and Jericho start the match proper, and Goldust gets a powerslam for two. Jericho hits a low blow, but Goldust responds in kind as he drops down in pain. Cute. Goldust then falls on top for two. Curtain Call is set up, but Mack clips Goldust. Jericho falls on top for two, then works the leg as Goldust plays Ricky Morton. Nowinski hits a half-crab as the sirens blare and Scott Steiner joins us on the face side. Well, it was either Steiner or Hurricane, realistically. Mack slams Goldust down for two. Mack punches the leg of Goldust, which allows Nowinski to try a figure four, but Goldust cradles for two. Shattered Dreams is implied but never delivered thanks to Jericho. Lionsault hits the knees, but Team Black cuts off the tag. Booker enters, allowing a double flapjack into a DDT by the heels. Nice. Jericho gets two. Faceplant gets two. Jericho stands Goldust up and clips him for two, totally heeling it up. Mack in, but a legdrop misses, hot tag Steiner. Clotheslines, suplexes, slams, and pushups follow, in no particular order. Jericho tries to get a beltshot on Steiner, but he whiffs and gets hit with the Steiner Flatliner. However, Teddy Long has the ref’s attention, so Nowinski (not the legal man, but who cares at this point) hits him with the facemask and gets the Double Arm DDT for the pin at 7:44. Nowinski is probably not ready for Booker T at this point, but he’s getting there. **

- "Main" event: Kevin Nash v. Ric Flair. No Evolution at ringside to save us. Nash tosses Flair around to start, as Flair sells for five. Outside, they brawl some. Back in, they brawl some more. Nash frames the elbow in the corner, then stalls. Flair Flip is successful, but Flair goes up and gets slammed off. Nash hits Snake Eyes, but picks him up at two. Jacknife is blocked by a low blow, then a kick to the leg. And NOW, whoo... we get a clip from Flair. JR mentions the quad injury. I can only hope that’s karma. Flair works the leg like only Flair can, leading to a try at the figure-four, which gets blocked. Nash gets a big boot, but that hurts the leg even more. Ah, the All Japan sell, I see. Flair gets the figure four, but Nash immediately reverses. Flair makes the ropes. Evolution shows up, and Orton hits the RKO to get Flair the pin (with feet on the ropes) at 6:55 of hell. DUD 3-on-1 is broken up by Goldberg, who chases away HHH while Nash is left 1-on-2. Orton gets the big chairshot to send him down, end of show.

The Bottom Line:

Kev was given yet another shot to see if he could make some sense on top, but he couldn’t even draw heat, much less money. Clearly, HHH/Goldberg is the way to go here, and fortunately next week that’s the big focus. Until then, though, I’m less than optimistic.

On the bright side, Smackdown’s on Thursday.

*****

RAW left me with a sour taste in my mouth. All along the car ride back to the hotel, we discussed the problems with the night’s show. Lindsay was in an awkward position of having to defend HHH as Stephanie while criticizing HHH as Lindsay.

I didn’t pay much attention to the conversation at hand. It was only 8 PM, sure, but for some reason I seemed rather listless and lethargic. I couldn’t maintain much interest in anything as my eyelids were growing heavy.

"Adam, are you ok?"

"Yeah, I think so. Just tired... I don’t know why..."

"Let him rest. He’s had a long day."

"Okay, Paul. Whatever."

I didn’t wake up until we were in the hotel parking lot. As everyone else went out to celebrate the night in British Columbia, I trudged up to bed. As I reached my hotel room, I heard Paul around the corner. I stopped.

"Andy, can you talk?"

"Sure. Is everything ok?"

"Yeah, look... Lindsay was telling me that you seemed nervous around her. Is anything wrong?"

"Well, I was seated above and behind her on that table. I could have looked down Stephanie's outfit if I wanted to."

"Oh, is that it? I thought it was something serious."

"Isn’t lust an offense?"

"Kid, I’ve worked with more people than you know. Some human elements never leave. Remember what I said about the three kinds of love? That exists for you, too. But you gotta be careful -- now more than ever, you have to learn how to act on any emotion you have. You cannot let anger or lust or pride blind you. If you do, you’re gone. You have no body, and you’ll have no soul. I don’t like losing people. So play it safe. Look, I’ll see you tomorrow, ok? We can keep talking about it then."

"Thanks."

I went into my room and prepared for bed. Within minutes of turning off the light, I was fast asleep. I guess it’s easier when you don’t have a body to be restless.

*****

August 05, 2003, 05:00 PM

Kelowna, BC

While Paul and I -- who were still officially off television at this point -- headed to the locker room backstage, I observed Stephanie, co-ordinating activities and shouting last minute instructions in the less-than-charming voice she uses to get attention. My mind still spun from Paul’s words from last night. Are emotions normal in the afterlife? I know she mourned me, but that was an automatic response. Could she show personal feelings? And what of it? We’re nothing.

I rounded the corner and was ready to sit down for the show when I bumped into Eddie Guerrero. His US Title sat proudly over his shoulder as he paced nervously across the hall. He hadn’t seen me, but when we bumped, he gave a rushed I’m sorry and went back to walking. Something was up.

"Eddie? Is everything ok?"

"Oh, Adam, is you. Man, I don’t know if I wanna go out there tonight, man."

"Why not? You’re the champ now. You’re a big-time star. You can move merchandise."

"No, no, no -- you don’t understand. They want me to do a program with the Undertaker."

"Really? That’s wonderful news!"

"No, it’s not!! Look, don’t tell him I said this, but -- you know the stories, right, esse?"

"Stories?"

"Yeah, about how, you know, you gotta get on his good side for him to do you any favors in a match... that thing?"

"Eddie, come on. You saw what he did with Cena at Vengeance. What are you concerned about?"

"Look, I don’t expect you to understand. You’re WWE from Day 1, like him. Like Cena, too. Don’t you get it, buddy? I’ve been around the world! I’ve never really had a home. I’ve been in WWE, WWA, WCW, Ring of Honor, ECW, New Japan..."

"Okay, okay. So you’re worried he won’t see you as legit, is that it?"

"Yeah!"

"Eddie, come on. Mark doesn’t play those kinds of games. It’s not about where you’ve been, it’s about how long you’ve been there. He knows you’re a veteran, and he knows that going strong with you will only help his career and yours. Besides, do you really think he’ll ask for your title?"

Eddie looked at the US Title on his shoulder. "Yeah... I guess it is too small for him."

"There you go. So relax, Eddie. Get a few matches with him, and the two of you will start clicking. Trust me. Anything else bothering you?"

"Not really, man. I’m kinda excited, actually. See, I get to wrestle twice tonight."

"Oh, you’re on Velocity?"

"No! I mean, twice on SmackDown!"

"Wonderful! Good luck, man. I’m sure you’ll do just fine."

"Thanks, homes."

Eddie walked off, a bit of a lighter spring in his step. I turned around to see Paul had overheard the entire conversation. He stood emotionless for a few seconds. Did I do something wrong?

"That’s how it’s supposed to be done, Andy. You were nice to him, and you made him feel better. Kindness travels. He’ll pay it forward."

Whew. I walked with him to the locker room. All the stars were in the back awaiting their cues. We had a second locker room that was the "official" one for taping skits and so forth. Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar were in that locker room together, preparing for their bit.

Before the show started, Tony Chimel informed the audience of the main event -- A-Train and John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle. It sounded exciting, but at the same time, I think we all knew which team was going to win this one. I also knew that Eddie and Taker was getting set up tonight, and apparently both of them would get some serious air time. Eddie would, anyway, what with being on two matches and all.

"I call dibs on the front row."

I turned around. It was Matt Hardy, smiling like the kid he was. He hopped a few rows of chairs and took his seat. Man, I wish I could do that. Oh, well. Maybe in the future when I’m someone else.

*****

- The SmarKdown! Rant for Aug. 7 / 03, taped Aug. 5

- Taped from Kelowna, BC.

- Your hosts are Michael Cole and Tazz.

- Opening match, US Title: Eddie Guerrero vs. Tajiri. Tajiri attacks in the aisle to start, clearly showing he learned his lesson’s under Eddie tutleage. They brawl on the outside, where Eddie decks the ref with the US Title (clearly aiming for Tajiri). Tajiri climbs the car and dives off with a rana to the floor. Back in, Tajiri sets up The Kick, but Eddie is ready and ducks it. The two go into a cruiserweight sequence that ends with Eddie tossing Tajiri in, Tajiri handspringing out, Eddie catching Tajiri and going for a German, Tajiri flipping over and landing behind Eddie, and Eddie getting the German instead. Sweet choreography here. The ref is finally coming to, so Eddie dumps Tajiri and follows out with a tope suicida, knocking out Tajiri and the referee. Eddie acts all innocent, then tosses Tajiri in. Flapjack by Eddie. Gory Special, but Tajiri isn’t close to tapping. He slides down into a backslide that gets nothing because the ref is out. Both men up and brawling, and Tajiri mists Eddie (cheat to win backfiring?) and hits a missile dropkick. Eddie bails, so Tajiri follows with a WICKED baseball slide and brings him back in. Into the Tree of Woe, but as Tajiri slides in, Eddie pulls himself up (safe!) and Tajiri kicks the pole (out!). Eddie works the leg as soon as he’s untangled. The referee crawls back in just as the figure-four is hit, but Tajiri makes the ropes. Eddie pulls him back with a GIANT SWING OF DOOM (ten revelations), then gets dizzy and stumbles into the ref. It could happen. Everyone’s down as we take a break. We come back with Eddie applying a half-crab after Tajiri has made the ropes and taking all five seconds to break. Eddie continues stomping the leg for two. Dragon screw is blocked, and they tumble into the ropes, where Tajiri hits the Tarantula in a complicated sequence. He breaks, then tries a suplex from the apron to the floor, but Eddie pushes Tajiri into the hood of the car. Eddie, completely distraught, tosses Tajiri aside and makes sure the Low Rider is ok. As the ref checks on Tajiri’s leg, Eddie grabs the hood ornament and aims for Tajiri, but he misses and the poor ref gets it. He’s even kind enough to blade off of it. Back in, Tajiri gets a monkey flip and a running dropkick on Eddie, who falls into the turnbuckle. As Tajiri pantomimes for The Kick, Eddie takes off the turnbuckle pad. Tajiri’s kick hits the STEEL bolt, and Eddie slaps on an ankle lock (with the feet on the ropes, just to be THAT MUCH MORE HEELISH) for the tapout at 22:43. And that was just the opening match. ****1/2 Eddie fakes a handshake, then clocks Tajiri with the belt and runs for it.

- During the Break footage shows Tajiri chasing after Eddie.

- Vince McMahon joins us for a while. He promises that Zach Gowan will learn how to be an everyday wrestler TONIGHT in a match. He says that Stephanie and Sable have the night off (big boos) then declares the SummerSlam main event: Brock Lesnar v. Kurt Angle. He basically guarantees a screwjob. So what else is new?

- Elsewhere, Brock and Kurt wonder.

- Rey Misterio v. Charlie Haas. Pre-match vignette establishes that Haas is out to redeem his team’s honor. Rey Rey has Torrie Wilson with him, so I guess Billy Gunn is out long-term. Haas goes to the mat to start, but Rey ducks out and gives him a headscissors. Haas bails, so Rey follows with a somersault hilo as Shelton Benjamin joins us at ringside. Lots of flying around here. Back in, Rey hits a slingshot legdrop for two. Haas slows him down with a headlock and tries to work the mat, but Rey has none of it and slips underneath with a dropkick. Rey goes for a Thesz Press, but gets caught as Haas hits his end of the finishing sequence for two. Something’s a little off here. Haas tries for a single-leg crab, but Rey wiggles into an enzuigiri for two. Shelton hops up on the apron, so Rey 6-1-9s him in the back, sending him flying into a chasing Haas. West Coast Pop finishes at 5:35. These two don’t work as well singles as they do tag. **3/4 Billy Kidman charges in and tries for a save, but the World’s Greatest Tag Team beat him down to get their heat back. I can’t wait for SummerSlam, eh?

- Elsewhere, Tajiri has finally caught up with Eddie, but it was all an Evil Trap because Big Show awaits around the corner to deliver a chokeslam. Well, that’ll learn him.

- Zach Gowan v. Spanky. Lockup, and Spanky goes for a monkey flip. He tries a headlock, but Zach elbows out and hits a standing dropkick. They trade leg lariats before Spanky clotheslines him down for two. Zach hops up during a cross-corner whip, but the moonsault press misses. Spanky gets two. Sliced Bread #2 is blocked, and Zach hits a dropkick and springboard legdrop for two. And just as this match gets a good groove, Vince McMahon breaks it up by destroying Zach with a chair for the Sportz Entertainment Finish at 2:51. Darnit. *3/4 Vince tells Zach that Lesson Number One is: it’s Vince’s ring, and he should beg to be in it. Spanky attacks Vince from behind (drawing a frightening face pop), but Vince lays him out too, then says they’ll both be in action next week as punishment. Vince makes it perfectly clear he doesn’t want Zach in the ring, and will demand his contract on a silver platter. Geez, someone’s roiding out tonight.

- Matt Hardy v. Chris Benoit. Matt Fact: Matt like straight bacon. Hey! You American hick bastard! Benoit must have seen this because he starts CHOPPING HIM LIKE A DOG to send him outside. Benoit tosses him back in, but Matt catches him and takes over. Side Effect gets two. Clothesline and DDT get two. Benoit reverses a second DDT into a Northern Lights for two. Matt gets a drop toe hold, but while trying an STF, Benoit catches his arm and reverses to the Crossface. Matt makes the ropes. Benoit starts to go up, but Matt meets him and superplexes him for two, reversed Dynamite Kid style for two. Benoit hooks the Germans, but Matt blocks the third with an elbow, and switches it to the Twist of Fate for two. Matt heads up, but Benoit follows mid-yodel and tries for a superplex of his own. This time, though, Shannon Moore trips Benoit and Matt falls on top for the pin at 6:44. I smell a rematch. I also smell some payback. *** Hardy and Moore share a lesson in Mattitude on the way back.

- Tazz leaves the commentary table as Tajiri runs to the ring, gesticulating madly. Apparently they speak Japanese in Brooklyn, because Tazz figures out that Tajiri wants Eddie Guerrero and Big Show... along with his mystery partner. Uh-oh. Eddie and Show accept, then charge the ring, getting a few licks in before Undertaker makes the inevitable save.

- Eddie Guerrero and Big Show v. Tajiri and Undertaker. Not that I object to Eddie and Tajiri on my screen twice, but couldn’t this have waited for next week? Big brawl to start, and the heels retreat. Taker soupbones Eddie in the corner, then tags in Tajiri and lawn darts him kick-first into Eddie for two. Tajiri kicks his brains in for two more, but Show saves. Eddie pulls Tajiri outside and catapults him into the steps to make him Ricky Morton. Well, of course. Show comes in and legdrops him for two. Slam gets two. Eddie hits his slingshot senton (which he somehow forgot in the first match) for two. Show back in, but a blind charge misses, allowing an enzuigiri. Hot tag Taker, soupbones abound. Eddie breaks it up with a missile dropkick, while Tajiri has Show in the Tarantula (!). Eddie kicks Tajiri’s exposed head to break, but Show falls on Eddie and Taker gets two. Funny. Taker gets the big boot and chokeslam, but the Last Ride is blocked by the POWER OF THE PUNCH and Eddie falls on top for the pin at 7:18. Not as horrible as I expected, given that all four guys were wrestling one match too many. ** Faces clear the ring afterward so Taker can pose for the fans. I seriously hope Eddie goes over Taker at some point, but that’s just me.

As the match ended, Brock and Kurt walked to the ring. Meanwhile, I heard a commotion from the aisleway. It sounded like Taker and Eddie arguing. I listened in.

"I’m telling you, Steph, he couldn’t handle it out there."

"Couldn’t handle it? I just wrestled for 30 minutes tonight and I can’t handle it?"

"I had to work twice as hard just to make the match presentable!"

"YOU try wrestling two times in one night."

"That’s not the point. You were given the opportunity, and the fans didn’t like to see it."

"The fans were sick of Big Show, not me!"

Stephanie had heard enough. "Guys, please! Look, this isn’t the time or the place to discuss this. The two of you are feuding out there and that’s that. I’m not going to call this off. Taker, didn’t you hear the crowd boo when Eddie won? That’s good! He’s the heel! Trust me, if we do this right, you won’t have to win the feud to get over!"

"Listen to her, esse!"

"Eddie, please, I can handle this."

I put my glasses on -- no one saw me anyway. Eddie and Taker looked the same. Lindsay was a picture of fright, though. She clearly felt in over her head. Her blonde hair, which I usually saw up in a bun, was coming loose. Her face was contorted to indicate an intense desire to be anywhere else in the world. For one split second, I forgot all about the mission and wanted to step in and be her knight in shining armor. Then I heard something that changed everything.

"Gentlemen, please. Stop it and get back to the locker room RIGHT NOW! We need the room for Brock and Kurt to do their sketch."

I heard the voice, unmistakeably. That gruff tone, the deep sneer implied in every word, curling with a desire to inform anyone who could hear it to pay attention and respect the authority -- it all meant only one thing. Vince was talking to them. Certainly, the three of them turned in the same direction, as if facing Vince. But I didn’t see him.

I removed the glasses. There he was, consoling Stephanie and passing on tricks of the trade. I put the glasses back on. Lindsay was listening patiently, although clearly nervous, to seemingly no one. She pushed an invisible hand off her shoulder, then returned to the dressing room area. That’s so weird. Where does Vince go, anyway?

Lindsay saw me as she headed back and motioned for me to remove the glasses. I quickly did so.

"Careful, Andy, we could get caught!"

"Sorry -- hey, are these defective?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, when I was looking at you just now, with them on, it was Lindsay talking to no one. I know you were talking to your father and all..." Man, this dual identity thing is creepy! "...but where was he?"

"I can’t explain here. Ask me later. Come on, we gotta stick around to watch the main event."

- Meanwhile, Kurt Angle tries to exchange tips with Brock Lesnar, who clearly doesn’t know what to make of it. Brock accuses Kurt of selling out to Vince McMahon and taking the title with him.

- Main event: A-Train and John Cena v. Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle. Cena and Brock start, and Cena gets a suplex and clothesline. Brock catches a second try and throws Cena across the ring, then does the same to A-Train. F-5 try is blocked, and Angle comes in to even the sides. Cena tries an F-U, but Angle lands on his feet and kicks Cena in the face. Order is restored as Brock clotheslines Cena and tosses him for a tag to A-Train. Kurt tags himself in and suplexes A-Train out of his boots for two. A-Train blocks a second try and avalanches him to make him face-in-peril. Cena in, and he gets a dropkick for two. MAIN EVENT SPINEBUSTER gets two. A-Train hits the Train Wreck for two. He tries a bicycle kick, but Angle grabs for the Anklelock. Cena uses a chain as Brock accidentally distracts the ref to break. Cena comes in with a Patriot Missile and Protoplex for two. German suplex is reversed into the rolling Germans, but Cena tries for a Diamond Cutter out of it, only to get shoved into the ropes. They collide on the rebound, double KO, hot tag Brock. A-Train gets tossed around for our pleasure, but Cena’s up and they try a double suplex. Brock does the Big Show reversal as Angle disposes of Cena. Brock has the F-5, but Angle tosses Cena back in, and Cena keeps rolling to clip Brock. A-Train falls on top for two. Meshugganator gets two. Cena in with a German suplex for two. Tornado DDT, but Brock tosses him to the outside. Angle tags in and throws Cena back in. He goes for the moonsault, but before we can find out if it would hit (hint: no), Brock gets knocked off the apron by an A-Train pump kick, crotching Angle. Cena pulls him off and hits the F-U for the pin at 9:13. Didn’t see that coming, did ya? *** Brock and Angle try to smooth things over as we end the show.

The Bottom Line:

Well, the opening match pretty much makes this an automatic thumbs up from me, and the later events didn’t do much to sway my opinion. The interview segments were kinda dull, but that’s because talking’s not the strong point. Cut back a little on pushing a single storyline, though; we don’t need people wrestling twice when there’s so much talent as to justify the roster split.

Until next week, BUY THE BOOK! Again!

*****

I was one of the last ones to leave that night. Paul and Stephanie were helping to organize cleanup, so my ride would be a little late. I saw Brock (Kathleen) in the corner. I put my glasses on, since no one was around. She was exhausted, almost in tears.

"You okay, Kath?"

"I... I screwed that match up... I was so nervous... it was my first match."

"Relax, girl. You did fine. I didn’t even remember it was you out there."

"Really?"

"Yeah, don’t worry about it. Besides, if anything’s wrong, Stephanie and Paul will clean it up in post-production, ok?"

"I dunno... I mean... I was just so nervous. I’ve never been out there before."

"Wait... never? You mean for your first match they have you be Brock Lesnar?"

"Yeah."

"Wow. That’s... why?"

"Mr. Heyman said that it would be easier if I was out there with Kurt. He could cover for me."

"Well, I don’t think you needed covering. I mean, you weren’t the worst person in the match at all. Look, I don’t think you did anything to blow your cover. Don’t worry about it, ok? Next week, you’ll have a lower profile match. Maybe I’ll be out there to help. Who knows? Just remember: everything will be fine."

Kathleen looked up at me. I could tell she wanted to accept my words, but that deep down, her fear was getting the best of her. I didn’t know what else to say to her.

"Look, go ask Paul if you can sit in when they check the tape for air. I think he’ll help you see how you did. Will that make you feel better?"

I was interrupted by a knock on the door.

"I’ll be right back, Brock."

I winked at her and put my glasses away. I went to the door and opened it. Eddie was standing there, ready to go. He seemed a little upset.

"Listen, Adam, I..."

"No need. I heard the whole thing. Look, I... um..."

"It’s like I said! He doesn’t want me to look good! How am I going to make something of this chance without his help?"

"Give yourself time. Give him time, Eddie. Respect doesn’t happen overnight. Look what happened with me! You remember back after X-7 when he won the tag belts from us? Yeah, some boost that was to my career. But I got over it, and I went on to better things."

"That was one match, esse. This is a feud we’re talking ’bout."

"Okay, fine. Ask Kurt Angle how his feud with Undertaker affected him."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, Taker pretty much made Kurt look weak in the buildup, he beat him cleanly in the blowoff, and next month, Kurt’s in a hot program with Triple H and main eventing SummerSlam. Look, Eddie, you don’t need to win everything. Undertaker’s just one guy. He’s not the most important thing in your life, is he?"

"He’s the most important thing on this job!"

"No! The most important thing on this job is the public! If you go out there, and you entertain those fans, and you give them what they want, then they’ll respond to you. It doesn’t matter what Undertaker does. Just do your thing. Got it?"

Eddie seemed puzzled. "I gotta think on it, homes. I dunno if I wanna go through with this."

"Well, get some rest. You had a long day."

Eddie shook his head, then shook my hand. He walked off toward the exit just as Paul and Stephanie arrived. Paul pulled out his wallet.

"Let’s go, gang. There’s still time for dinner. Who’s hungry?"

Edited by Dukes
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With the next section, I did something I literally have never seen another diary do -- a house show. Just about everyone focuses on TV and big shows and ignores the house, and quite right too -- nothing ever happens at a house show. Well, in my world, it did. I mean, nothing earth-shattering, but plenty of things that helped get the story along, I hoped. Such as here, when Our Hero first steps foot in the ring. No, not to wrestle -- Edge has a broken neck, remember? So instead, that will come later.

Speaking of later, every week I ended with the announcement of who the next persona was going to be. Some were better received than others, of course, and near the beginning, I hit many of the main characters. I was criticized for this, and rightly so, so I tried to mix it up a little... but darnit, whoever Andy was became a main character. It's that thing about being a narrator and stuff.

Anyway, you may have noticed by now that I was fully leaning on the crutch of italics to set aside Andy's thoughts. While I hadn't achieved full-blown Internal Monologue mode yet, his comments were my way of putting a spin on the ins and outs of the WWE at the time. And believe me when I say the WWE of the time was absolutely different from now. For one thing, you remember when SMACKDOWN was the better show, and no one cared about RAW? Me neither.

And by the way, I know damn well that shows aren't booked on the fly as they are in this chapter. It's just a way I was getting through the pre-show jitters Andy clearly had before making his "debut".

A lot of future storylines have their seeds planted in this one. I don't want to spoil it for those who haven't read it before, but for those who have, notice Stephanie/Lindsay's offhand comments about how it's not easy being a Diva. It's a theme I keep coming back to: Vince's treatment of women in wrestling. I'm not sure why, really.

And it isn't a spoiler to note that Andy's clearly already infatuated with Lindsay. Originally, my idea was to have Lindsay be aloof to it, or to simply assume the mentor role, but that became more difficult as time went on. Here, though, it's safe to assume that Lindsay figures it's another sign of college-age hormonal emotions.

You may also notice my inconsistency with tense in this chapter when describing in-ring action. After ironing out the kinks, I decided to go with present tense when Andy was watching the match, and past tense when he was in it. Oh, and Andy wrestles A LOT in this story, so be afraid.

*****

Chapter 4

A Rookie Again

Sunday, August 10, 2003, 7:45 PM

Wichita, KS

The bell was about to sound. The house show was about to begin. In my first week in the WWE, I had seen some very strange sights. I had seen an argument backstage between two icons of wrestling. I had seen the figurehead of the company as a disembodied voice. I had seen a 300 pound man covered in tattoos turn into a 16-year-old girl with a freckly face. If I’d known life after death was this much fun, I’d have gotten here sooner.

There was a ton of discussion backstage about my deciding to accompany the boys over the Midwestern swing. A lot of people thought I would be dead weight, not able to contribute much. Paul and Stephanie, not to my surprise, had argued that I would be a worthwhile road agent, and could add to the shows in a pinch. Well, this was that pinch.

I hadn’t seen Lindsay or Kathleen all day. I didn’t know where they were. My only contact had been through Paul. Needless to say, I was starting to get a little nervous. After all, it was 15 minutes to showtime, and I was flying blind. To say I had stage fright would be a bit of an understatement. Thanks to some mismatched time stamps and some late arrivals to the Midwest -- some people weren’t getting in until SmackDown! on Tuesday -- I, Edge, was to get the crowd fired up to start the show. I was also expected to help later on.

Ten minutes to showtime. Darnit, where’s Stephanie anyway? It’s not like her to be absent like this. As I warmed up just outside the locker room area, pacing up and down and thinking of what to say, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Eddie again.

"You seen Calloway, man?"

"No, I haven’t. I think he’s joining us in St. Louis. Why?"

"Dammit! Man, I wanted to discuss the SummerSlam match with him. I haven’t gotten any indication as to how it’ll go yet. I’m getting nervous!"

"Eddie, what have I told you? Just chill out! SummerSlam’s two weeks away. You gotta focus on your Benoit match tonight. One thing at a time."

"I know, I know, it’s just... well, I think I might’ve pissed him off, man."

"How so?"

"Well, I was complaining about the match we had on SmackDown!, and about how he said I wasn’t carrying my weight, and... well, he was right. No two ways about it. He was right. But I fought him, because I had pride."

"Nothing wrong with standing up for yourself, is there?"

"I don’t think so, homes. But when it gets to the point that you lose reality, then you know, man, you wonder if you’ve made the right decision. I mean, the reality was, I was wrestling twice. I shoulda been happy for that. I was happy for that. But I..."

He paused. I could tell he was torn up inside. I didn’t blame him. Sure, on the one hand, he’d been made the focus of the last show. But, on the other hand, he was being steered to Undertaker, a man he thought was wrong for his wrestling capability. Did they balance? Cancel out? I had no idea, and more importantly, it seemed he didn’t either.

"Adam, sorry I’m late... how do I look?"

It was Stephanie. She had clearly gotten here in a hurry. No use asking her what took her so long. I gave a perfunctory glance at her outfit.

"Like you always do. Just fine. Don’t worry. The thing is... how do I look?"

"I dunno... the neck brace doesn’t match the rest of your outfit."

"Very funny. Now, we got five minutes. What am I supposed to do?"

"Just go out there, play the crowd, talk about when you’ll return, and I’ll take care of the rest. Oh, and be prepared to do something later on."

"Right... no problem."

*****

"Welcome, everybody, to another wonderful edition of the SmackDown! brand of World Wrestling Entertainment. We’re here, of course, as part of the JVC Tower of Power tour, and we would like to thank our sponsors at JVC for their wonderful support. Now, Wichita, before we begin, I’ve been told that the General Manager wants to make a special announcement. So, without further ado, here is the General Manager of SmackDown!, Stephanie McMahon!"

Eve’s All Grown Up plays as Stephanie makes her way to the ring to a good ovation. "Thank you, Tony. Well, I know I’m not the star here. I’m merely here to bring you the greatest brand of sports entertainment you will see anywhere. And part of that is in the people who have given their bodies and their hearts to please you. In fact, I have a special surprise for tonight. Wichita, how would you like to see a man return to SmackDown! who hasn’t been seen in a long time?"

The crowd cheers, and a few people chant Hogan. Yeah, just my luck, I’m a letdown.

"No, no, no -- sorry. Hulk Hogan isn’t here tonight. However, I know someone who you’ve cheered just as strongly and supported for just as long since the brand extension began. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you... EDGE!"

Never Gonna Stop started. As Rob Zombie’s voice hit the PA system, I emerged from the curtain. I couldn’t quite move as well as I’d seen Edge move -- partly because my neck restricted things -- but it didn’t matter. The crowd had quickly gotten over their disappointment at the lack of Hogan and given me one of the loudest ovations I’d heard. I felt like I was walking on air as I ran across the stage, yelling along. I then sprinted to the ring and did the slide-in. Man, I can’t believe this! This is mind-numbingly awesome! Never gonna stop, YEAAAAH, never gonna stop! Scream if you want it! Cuz I want it more! I took the mic from Stephanie. She told me to keep it quick.

"Thank you. Thank you all. It’s great to be back in the ring in the WWE. I haven’t been seen on television in months, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure it was worth coming back."

Crowd boos. Palm of my hand, baby.

"But after hearing your support, and reading countless cards, letters, e-mails... lemme tell ya, I can’t wait until this brace comes off and I can fly again!"

Crowd goes crazy.

"And most of all, being out here tonight... hearing the crowd... well, I feel like a rookie all over again."

In sooooo many ways.

"So, stay tuned. Keep watching. And you never know. Someday I might totally make it back to the ring. And the WWE will once again reek of awesomeness. Thank you!"

The music started again. I climbed all four turnbuckles before heading to the exit. Along the way out, I held the ropes open for Stephanie. She acted flattered, then stepped through them. We left together.

As soon as we got backstage, I turned to her. "Now, is there something else?"

"Just one thing. I’m going at it with Sable tonight. Now, I want you to get involved in the finish."

"How?"

"It’s a catfight thing. A-Train is going to run me over, like at Vengeance. Only this time, he’ll get caught and the ref will be distracted. I want you to come in and take out Sable."

"With what? A chair?"

"Is there a move you can do with the brace on?"

"Well... can she take a spear?"

"Perfect! Then you put me on top and send Albert out. He’ll be on the apron. You knock him off, then slide out, and that’ll be the finish. Just wait with Albert. He’ll help with the rest."

"Sure. No problem."

*****

Just before the match began, Stephanie and Sable were backstage discussing the finish. I could tell that the idea was going over well, and Sable even smiled at me. She’s older than you are, she’s older than you are, she’s older than you... were... damn, that’s right, I don’t age...

"Hey, Adam... don’t hurt me too much, ok?"

"No problem, Sable."

Stephanie’s music started and she walked to the ring. As she waited, Sable turned to me and kissed me on the cheek.

"Don’t worry about me."

The match -- okay, what passed for a match -- began. As I watched, A-Train and I spoke about the finish.

"Count to five seconds after I come out, then sprint."

"Right, Train. But what if I outrace you to the ring?"

I cracked a smile. He wasn’t amused.

"Never mind."

Heyman was riding shotgun with Vince on headsets. Both of them were shouting orders to the referee about timing and pacing. Then, Vince said the words. "Let’s bring it home. Go, Matt!"

A-Train took off. One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, one thousand four, one thous...

"Go, go, go, go!"

"Yes, sir!"

I was off. In the ring, Train had just made it through the ropes while the referee was checking to see if Sable was injured. True to form, Train squashed Stephanie in the corner. Immediately, probably on cue from the back, the referee turned around and started yelling at the Train. I made it into the ring as Sable slowly stood up and smiled at the audience, her back to me. When she’s sideways, go.

She turned around slowly, showing herself off. She reached the moment where more of her face than her back was to me. I lunged. The spear made full contact. Sable folded up like a chair to the head. Flashbulbs went off all around me. A-Train saw my interference and stayed on the apron, desperately trying to get Mike Choida to turn around. Meanwhile, I grabbed Stephanie and placed her on top of Sable, then turned my attention to the monster. A well-placed clothesline sent him out, and I used my momentum to leave the ring at the same time. I bounced over the top rope, used my hand on the apron for balance, and landed on my feet -- something I’d seen the real Edge do before. Wait... I am the real Edge.

Back in the ring, the ref counted the pinfall. One, two, three. Neither woman moved. All Grown Up played over the PA. The crowd cheered. I celebrated on the outside. On the inside, I was too euphoric to pay attention. I had just set foot in a WWE ring. Wow.

I climbed back in as Stephanie was getting to her feet, slowly. The ref and I helped her up, then we raised her hands in victory. She draped her arms around me and gave me a thank you hug. This time, as we walked out, she held the ropes open for me. I accepted, then helped her down off the apron. We walked side by side to the back.

*****

Sunday, August 10, 2003, 11:54 PM

On the road to Kansas City, MO

Paul was busy watching the road. Stephanie was in back with me, planning Tuesday’s TV show. I tried to help, and considering I could be Andy and not Adam in the car, she listened -- well, a little. Sometimes, her Steph-sense overrode my ideas. Brock was up front, meanwhile, listening to tunes on his own. We’re essentially alone back here... I guess now’s as good a time as any to discuss something that’s bugged me since Tuesday.

"Hey, Lindsay... why couldn’t I see Vince with the glasses on?"

"Oh, yeah, I’ve been meaning to tell you... You know how when you put them on, you see through a person’s exterior appearance and into their soul?"

"Well, yeah, but most people appear the same. Isn’t it just us who look differently?"

"Not really. Some people’s souls are sick, or gone. Vince’s is dead right now. It’s our job to get him to bring it back to life."

Our mission just got tougher.

"How do we do that?"

"He must become born-again. We’ve done this before, with other people. You know, there was a time when the champion of this company was like Vince?"

"Who, Kurt? Brock up there?"

"No... I mean the guy who was champ then. He had a back injury and an almost fatal addiction to painkillers. But after years away from the industry, I went out there -- disguised as X-Pac -- and I talked to him. I told him he was ruining his life. I didn’t want to see him just waste away to nothing. I told him all about my life, and about how being grounded in faith kept me sane in the ring and out of it. He listened to me. I could tell he was ready to listen. It was a Sunday that day, so I took him with me and with Lawler -- yeah, it would’ve been Lawler -- to a church meeting. Two months later, I saw him signing autographs and looked into my glasses. He was a new man. He had been reborn."

"Wow. Who was it?"

"Shawn Michaels."

"You mean... you saved HBK?"

"Well, not me alone. A lot of people played a part without my help. And I took a huge risk. I risked being transferred off of Vince’s case if I went too far. But he listened. It worked. So it can be done, Andy. You just have to believe."

"Okay... I think I can believe." I have to. I’ve only got an eternity to see it happen. "Um... something I just wanna say... while I have the chance..."

"Yeah? Is everything ok? Andy, you did fine out there tonight. And you’ll do fine for us when you get in the ring. You were a natural. Paul has a lot of confidence in you."

"But he doesn’t decide where I go... does he?"

"Mostly? No. But if he feels something special is needed, he can pray for it, like the rest of us can. Sometimes our prayers are answered. Like when I heard that we were getting you this week, I asked to be Stephanie so that I could show you the ropes. I wanted to be in authority so that no one would question when you came up to me for advice."

"Wow. Thanks. But... did you do this for Kathleen too?"

"Sure. Only I didn’t get my way then. The other guy was Stephanie."

"Guy?"

"Hey, some day you’ll have to be a Diva. It’s not as pleasant as it sounds. Just warning you."

"Yeah, I’ve heard that." I hope she doesn’t see how nervous I am around her.

"I’m sure you’ve also noticed the lack of respect we get."

"Well, you won’t hear any of that from me. Especially toward you."

"Thanks."

I reached for my glasses. I’m not sure why. I just felt better seeing who I was really talking to. Besides, she’s better looking than Stephanie anyway.

"Okay, you two, we’re almost there." Leave it to Paul to break things up. "I wanna have one last meeting before we end the week."

We sighed in unison. It was as if she didn’t want our conversation to end either. Maybe I’m reading too much into this...

We grabbed our bags out of Paul’s van and entered the hotel while he went to park. It was almost midnight. I began to pace up and down. If this meeting isn’t quick, we might as well not have it!

"What’s wrong, Andy?"

"It’s almost midnight. Soon it’ll be Monday again."

"Huh?"

"Don’t we become someone else every Monday?"

"Ohhhh... no, it’s not like that. The change happens as we sleep. And you will sleep. Don’t worry."

Paul returned with his bags and the card in his hand. He slid the card into the elevator door and motioned for us to follow. The doors opened to the conference room.

"Okay, guys, I just wanted to make sure we were all clear on how things went. You all did a good job this week. Nothing special, but usually it doesn’t require anything special. Andy, your stuff with Eddie was good work. Kathleen, you and Kurt -- same thing, good work. You two are gonna do just fine as Fallen Angels. Now, Lindsay... I know you were busy, but you had the closest connection to Vince this week and you didn’t take advantage of it. Now, I realize you were working with Hunter, and that’s fine, but you gotta remember, our big target is Vince right now. Okay? Now, if there are no questions, you all head to your rooms, and I’ll see you tomorrow -- whoever you are. I gotta stay in here a while and work a few other things out."

We left the conference room. We were all staying on the same floor. As Stephanie had a room to herself, I walked her to it. At the door, I nervously said goodbye. Tomorrow we’d meet again for the first time.

I turned around and headed back to my own room, my thoughts spinning. Had I done a good enough job? Was I still too human? Could I last more than a year doing this? What did Paul think of me? What did Lindsay think of me? Why am I fussing over this? And, who am I?

It was this last question that troubled me most. I had no control over what personality I had to imitate from one day to the next. I guess when St. Peter said this job was right for me, he meant it. If an ordinary person had been picked, there’s no telling how bad it would have been. They couldn’t be all these different people without raising suspicion. But it didn’t ease my pain to know that someone up there thought I was ready for an afterlife like this.

I opened the door to my hotel room. Rey was watching ESPN for the sports news. I sat down next to him as I removed my shoes and socks.

"You gonna turn in, Adam?"

"It might be smart. I don’t wanna do anything stupid."

"Okay, man. Good idea. I was gonna go to bed soon too. Don’t forget, man, 4 o’clock tomorrow at the Arena."

"Yeah, I know. I’ll be there."

Rey turned the TV off. I slipped into bed and turned off the light.

*****

I was awakened at 9:30 AM by the clock radio. Whoever my roommate was now, they were clearly out of the room, probably eating breakfast. I slowly opened my eyes, trying to gauge my surroundings. The room looked the same, so I figured I was in the same hotel room. I reached over to turn off the radio, which was blaring hip-hop. Strange, I didn’t think Adam liked rap... oh, wait, I’m not Adam.

I looked around for my wardrobe. While getting dressed, I glanced at the dresser and found a set of glasses up there. Are those mine? I grabbed them off the dresser and put them on. There’s only one way to find out.

I walked slowly over to the bathroom to continue my morning ritual. I turned on the light and looked into the mirror. I saw myself -- my true self -- staring back at me. Oh, that’s right. Paul said the glasses would be waiting for us. Relieved that everything seemed to be going to plan, I slowly reached for the glasses. I was more nervous now, knowing I didn’t know my identity, than I was just after my death, when I didn’t know that I was someone else.

I closed my eyes and removed the glasses. I counted to ten, then opened them. I saw a man staring back at me that I had seen a few times before. He was taller than Adam, and more importantly, he was an active wrestler. His short brown hair was the same color as mine had been, but a very different style. His muscles were obscured by a green and white jersey, but it was clear he was of a solid build. I took a deep breath. Well, now I know. This is going to be even harder than last week. I just hope I can live up to it.

It was time to try and find Paul and let him know that I was now John Cena.

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This next chapter, believe it or not, was all one post. A lot of things happen here at once, largely because I was still uncertain how to keep my mouth shut when it mattered. Even so, a few landmarks stand out.

The first landmark you'll notice is the first appearance of a copout. Well, not my first copout, but the first time a particular copout made an appearance. Nicknamed Recovery, it's basically a way for the souls of the Angels to heal themselves without having to confess their sins or any other human mechanism. It's also a way in which the daunting task of trying to avoid falling into a trap became much less daunting.

Secondly, you will see Andy's first ever match, a quasi-squash against some local guy named Chris Chetti who was a former tag partner of Nova in ECW. Chetti was, at the time, one of the top stars of WLW in the game and therefore made good enchancement talent. Besides, it was just a house show -- not like I did anything important.

Track 2 of the Soundtrack appears here. I should've mentioned that Track 1 was the 30-second or so opening to the WB television show "Angel", which was dark and brooding (yet ironically named) enough to fit the mood of realizing you're dead, but you're not. Track 2 is "Sing for the Moment" by Eminem feat. Steven Tyler, and fit in as a song that would get people into the mood to rap. Oh yeah, the rap... well, you decide for yourself if I have Cena's thuganomics down or not.

Our first Very Dated Reference is in here. It was reported around this time that Chris Benoit was playing up being a locker room leader, often telling people they "gotta feel it" and slapping them like a football coach. While this produced a few sophomoric giggles (and the obligatory Bradshaw shower reference), it sadly has been lost to history. Until now. Maybe it was better off still lost.

I made Kathleen Spanky in this week because one of my early readers (either GYS or Stephlover, I'm sure of that little) asked for it. I'm not a big fan of Kendrick, particularly because I've never seen his indy work and he didn't thrill me much in the few matches I caught with him on Velocity. However, it made the most sense to put the very young Kathleen with the very young Brian.

Oh, and a lot of people liked the idea of Dean Malenko having a heart of gold. This is perhaps the first instance of portraying someone off-screen as categorically opposite their on-screen persona. However, my biggest flip-flops would come later, as several people noted that I was portraying the usual Internet "heels" in a favorable light. I dunno -- I just don't think I know the guys well enough to consider them assholes. But that's just me.

*****

Chapter 5

Not Bad for a Monday

Monday, August 11, 2003

12:00 PM

The roster staggered out of their hotel rooms, bags packed and ready to begin an early trip to the Kemper Arena. With everyone checked out for the day, Stephanie called the attention of everyone to the front. I should talk to Lindsay up there when this is over. Wait a minute... I’m not Edge, so odds are Lindsay’s someone else too. And Kath... oh dear. Mondays are going to be looooong days.

"Okay, people, listen up. The SmackDown! brand had a wonderful weekend. The house shows were well-received by everyone, and Eddie and Benoit put on one hell of a match for the US title."

The room gave a round of applause.

"Now, we have one more show tonight before the TV event in St. Louis. We’re gonna try to get a few things in line for SummerSlam and for No Mercy. Everyone knows where we’re going with SummerSlam, right? Now, just because you’re not in SummerSlam doesn’t mean you should dog it. We’re watching you all the time when you’re in the ring. Good, honest effort will lead to appearances on Velocity and SmackDown!, and they could even land you on No Mercy. Remember: we’ll have double the slots that time around, so we can get the best performers and the biggest draws on without trouble."

Chris Benoit raised his hand.

"Yes, Chris?"

"Has there been any talk of a RAW vs. SmackDown! match at SummerSlam?"

"We are discussing that right now. The particulars are being worked out, but there’s a good chance it’ll be added. But that’s for later on. Now, as for tonight’s show, we’re going to try to mix things up a little. Paul, would you do the honors?"

"Sure thing, Steph. Okay, listen up people. We’re gonna have 8 matches tonight to counter RAW. If your name isn’t called and you want to get a head start on going to Saint Louis, go ahead.

Our opening match is going to be John Cena going against a local guy from WLW. That’s Harley Race’s Missouri-based promotion. John, this’ll be an exhibition for you. Practice your rap.

Second, we will have Doug and Danny Basham take on the team of Zach Gowan and Spanky. I want Zach and Brian to get some chemistry together for SmackDown!. Zach, it’s your win.

Up next would be Shannon Moore vs Ultimo Dragon. Guys, you’re getting lots of time, so tear the house down. Dragon will win this.

Okay, last match before the intermission is APA vs World’s Greatest. The boys in the back have been saying all four of you are doing very well, and this is a practice match for SmackDown!. Tonight, though, no title change. You know that.

During the intermission, I want everyone around to sign autographs in the arena. The guys in the last match and the next one, though... you guys are exempt.

Okay, we’re opening the second half with Chris Benoit against Rhyno. You two can decide who wins, and either way is fine. You’re getting 15-20 in the ring, so pace yourselves.

We’re going to have ourselves a four corners match next. It’ll be elimination rules. It’s Rey Misterio, Billy Kidman, Matt Hardy, and Jamie Noble. Noble, you’re out first. Kidman, you’re next. Matt, you go third. Rey, you’ll keep the title.

Okay, in the setup spot I got Stephanie McMahon against Sable in their cat fight. Same finish as in Wichita, people. It went well there.

We’re gonna finish with a six-man. Brock Lesnar, Kurt Angle, and Undertaker will be on one side. We got Big Show, A-Train, and Eddie Guerrero on the other. Eddie, you and Taker don’t meet in the ring. Train, you’re tapping here to Angle.

Okay, that’s the show tonight... any questions?"

"Yeah, Paul, I got one."

"What is it, Mark?"

"You know I’m not that good when I go back to back. I mean, I wanna save the best for TV. Can I beg out?"

There were a few grumbles from the roster.

"Mark, you don’t have to do much. I mean, if you want, Brock and Kurt can do a lot of the match. In fact, the six of you come see me before the show and we’ll map the match out just to play it safe. Anything else?"

"Yeah, how much time are we getting?"

"For you guys? Well, you need three falls in the match, so I say get it down to you and Matt in about 10-12 minutes, then you two have 7 minutes to yourselves. Any others?"

I had one.

"Yeah, who exactly am I facing?"

"Actually, it’s an old ECW buddy of mine named Chris Chetti. He’s the #1 babyface in the promotion right now."

Oh yeah, I remember him. He had some dancing gimmick near the end. As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one who remembered him.

"Hey, Paul, man, why didn’t ya tell me? I haven’t seen him in months!"

"I thought you knew, Tazz."

"No... maybe he wanted to surprise me. He’s weird like that."

A pause.

Paul continued, "Okay... anything else?"

Nothing.

"All right, guys. We’ll be discussing tonight’s main event and tomorrow’s TV show when we get there. That’s why I want people there so early -- I’m going to be headed over in the first car as soon as we’re done. See you in the arena."

The crowd dispersed. A few people went to their room. A couple went to Stephanie and asked for directions to Moline for RAW. Undertaker was corralled off to the side by an eager group of autograph seekers. I waited until the crowd thinned a little, then went to Paul.

"Excuse me, Paul, but are these yours?"

I took the glasses out of my pocket and showed the case to him.

"Get your stuff and go to the car. I’ll meet you there. And from now on, that’s procedure."

"Well, I mean... if I drove here, won’t that cause problems?"

"No one drives here alone. We got vans for this. I’ll explain later."

*****

I waited in the back left seat of the car, where I was last week. I figured, Hey, if everyone goes where they were, it’ll be easier to organize this. As I put on my Walkman and listened to Eminem’s CD, I saw Eddie Guerrero approach me. I turned off the CD and reached for my glasses.

Eddie climbed in next to me and saw me pulling my glasses out. He smiled.

"Hey, man. What’s up? Used to being Cena yet?"

I shook my head. "Not on a Monday afternoon, Eddie." I put the glasses on and saw Lindsay’s face smiling back at me. "Er... Lindsay."

She laughed a little. "Don’t worry about it. I have to do this all the time. It’s so frustrating, but it’s a part of our life."

"Yeah, so I’ve heard." Um, does she know who I am? Eddie put his glass case in the pocket on the passenger’s seat. Well, she does now.

"Ah, Andy. I thought so."

"Where’s Kathleen?"

"Oh, she’s probably talking to Paul right now, esse."

We laughed. "Lindsay, did you just call me esse?"

"Yeah. I guess I’m getting in character."

"All right... man, I’m so excited. I get my first match tonight!"

"Relax, Andy. It’s an exhibition. You got more important things to practice -- like your routine."

Routine! I forgot! "Oh, crap, they’re expecting me to rap. Gimme a sec, gotta think of my lines..."

"Don’t! It’s much better if you’re going on your own. Just think about possible rhymes for your opponent. Everything else will be all right. Trust me, I’ve done this before. It’s not as hard as it looks."

"You sure?"

"Yeah... man, I was impressed with how you handled things last week. Eddie came up to me and told me you were a help with his Undertaker worries."

"Well, they’re not his worries right now, they’re yours."

"Yeah, I know. I need to think about this. I mean, I know Taker’s very protective of himself. He’s kinda scared right now."

"Of what? He’s a legend!"

"He’s old. There are a lot of people out there and in here who think he should ride off into the sunset. I’ve heard them talk. They don’t like him. They think he’s selfish, jealous, senile, political... I don’t believe it. Well, I don’t think he’s malicious anyway."

"But I... you know I saw them argue with you. I don’t think he believes in Eddie. Now you have to deal with his insecurities first hand for a week."

"That’s fine. Don’t worry about me. I’m the expert here, remember? I’m the senior member of the Angels -- all of us, SmackDown! or RAW. You worry about your own assignment. You’re in a big position right now."

As we spoke, Paul emerged from the hotel room. I almost didn’t recognize the person with him. He looked like he was in high school, not in the WWE. I grabbed my glasses to make sure this was Kathleen. Yup, that it is. But who’s...

Kathleen was stopped on the way to the car by Zach Gowen. The two had a conversation. I removed my glasses to get a better look at him. It still wasn’t coming to me. I probably would’ve never thought of it if Paul hadn’t gotten impatient and honked the horn.

"Brian, come on! We gotta get going!"

Brian? Oh, right, Brian Kendrick! Spanky! Now the guy looked familiar. Wasn’t he on TV just last week? How could you not remember, Andy?

"Sorry, Mr. Heyman. We were talking about the match tonight."

"There’s time for that at the arena, you know that."

"Sorry, sir."

"It’s all right. We’re off now. Nothing to worry about."

We didn’t talk much on the way over. It didn’t matter. The arena was only a few minutes away anyhow. I enjoyed the ride in silence, accompanied only by "Sing for the Moment" and my attempts at figuring out how to work an obscenity into my speech.

*****

I spent the first hour or so watching the main event wrestlers practice the ending. Big Show was to grab Brock in a chokeslam, but Angle would dropkick the two together, then catch Show in an Angle Slam on the rebound. But that would leave him on the ground, so Eddie would be ready to frog splash him. As Eddie would be rolling away, though, Taker would hit his chokeslam, but walk into the Baldo Bomb from A-Train. Brock would return and pick Train up and hit the F-5, but Show would return and chokeslam Brock from behind. Angle, who by this time would be up, would German suplex Show out of the ring, then catch A-Train in an ankle lock for the submission while Taker would grab Eddie and prevent the break. Just your typical average main event tag match ending.

As I watched, I felt a tap on my shoulder. A guy I never recognized was standing there, holding a tote bag and a security clearance. He was small, but well built.

"Excuse me, are you John Cena?"

"Yeah. What’s up, bro?"

"You seen Tazz anywhere? I wanted to surprise him."

"I dunno if he’s gotten here yet. He might still be in the hotel. I’d come back closer to showtime."

"Well, we were going to meet around 2 for lunch... I haven’t seen him..."

"Hey, Kid!"

It was Taker’s voice. He had seen us talking.

"Who, me?"

"No, John, the guy next to ya. We’re working here. Only wrestlers allowed in the arena right now."

"I am a wrestler."

"I’ve never seen your ass before. If you are, you ain’t been with us long, have you?"

"I’m not with you. I’m..."

"CHRIS!"

We all jerked our heads to the aisleway. Tazz was there, dressed in his usual fine-tailored orange-themed suit. I always thought he looked like a pumpkin seller in that outfit. I don’t know why.

"Petey! How are ya, cuz?"

Petey? Cousin?!?

"Never bettah. I see you’ve made nice with ol’ Big Evil here. Hey, Mark, it’s ok. This is Chris Chetti. He’s getting a shot tonight."

"Oh. Hey, my bad, kid. You can stay."

He’s really not much on apologizing. I don’t really get that. As Tazz and Chetti walked off to lunch, I decided to head to the back and see how Kathleen was doing.

When I arrived in the locker room, the place was a usual collection of antics and music. Were it not for the work of the refs and other road agents, everything would have been anarchic. Still, I couldn’t find Brian anywhere. It was a little disconcerting. Maybe he’s off with Zach, or out getting lunch. I wouldn’t presume anything yet.

There was a knock at the door. Edge poked his head in. "John Cena here?"

"Yeah." I’m pretty popular right now, aren’t I?

"Paul wants to talk to you."

Uh-oh.

I walked back toward the ring area. As I did, I heard shouts. I couldn’t recognize them at first, but they were definitely coming from the ring.

"Somethin’s wrong, Adam."

"No kidding. C’mon, let’s go."

We ran to the entranceway, nearly knocking over Chris Benoit and Rhyno from behind as we turned the corner.

"Sorry, Chris. We were..."

"Yeah, so were we."

"Well, come on!"

All four of us ran to the entrance and down the aisle. As I headed to the ring, I surveyed the situation. Taker was being held back by Show and Train, while Eddie was staring a hole in him. Paul got between the two of them and tried to restore calm, while Brock and Kurt had bailed. Paul, Taker, and Eddie were all yelling.

Chris and I were the first ones in the ring. Chris went straight to Eddie and tried to talk sense into him. I went up to Paul and grabbed his arm.

"Come on, Paul, we gotta get out of here."

"No, no! Not now!"

Meanwhile, Eddie had broken through Chris and was ready to tackle Taker. I grabbed him and threw him back into the ropes. Rhyno and Edge went to Brock and Kurt, who now that I saw it seemed rather perturbed. I grabbed Eddie and held his face close to mine so that we could talk in private.

"Dammit, get a grip! You’re gonna blow this!"

"He’s trying to hurt me! He keeps changing the match on me!"

"That’s not important! Just try to work with him!"

"He’s being a self-righteous asshole!"

"And you’re losing touch! You can be replaced and you know it! Look into my eyes! Focus on your job!"

Eddie’s anger seemed to manifest itself completely in his eyes. I never saw fire before. But now, something worse was happening. His eyes seemed to be going wild. I had to take drastic action.

"Look, Eddie, let’s grab a lunch. We’re all just cranky. Hey, Paul," I turned around and shouted. "PAUL! Let’s just call it a break and eat. Maybe we’ll be better with full stomachs."

"All right. Fine. Mark, go think about it over lunch. Maybe you’ll feel better."

*****

As Eddie and I walked to the restaurant, I pulled my glasses out of my case. I put them on and looked straight at Eddie. I saw Lindsay there, but something wasn’t right. She seemed rather tired. Rings of some sort were forming around her eyes. But something else was much more startling than that.

"Eddie, look at me."

She turned to me. Her face went from anger to a sort of calm. I didn’t know if she saw the fear in my eyes.

"You look different. Is something wrong?"

"Excuse me?"

"Put your glasses on."

"I don’t have them."

"Here, use mine for now."

I took them off and placed them on Eddie’s face. He looked at me, then took a look down at his hands. He did a double-take. I saw him hold his hands up in the air and stare at them. He then looked down at the rest of him. His eyes grew wide in panic. He quickly returned the glasses and put them in my hand.

"Oh, no. Paul... PAUL! Where is he?"

"I don’t know. We left without him."

"We gotta go back. Thank you so much for this."

Eddie began to sprint back to the arena. I chased after him, unsure of what to expect next. We passed by Paul’s car, and as we did so, Eddie slammed on his metaphorical brakes. "Wait... is the door open?"

"I don’t know. I locked mine."

He ran around and pulled on the driver’s side door. Paul’s car alarm went off.

"Great. Now he’ll be mad at us."

"No, no. I’m trying to get him out here. Look."

As luck would have it, Paul was emerging from the arena at that moment. He heard the alarm going off and knew it was his car -- after all, all the other vehicles were company vans. He jogged over to the car and hit a button on his keychain. The alarm stopped.

"What’s going on? John, what’s wrong?"

"I don’t know. Eddie here just panicked and ran to your car."

"Eddie, is this about the match? Because I said we’d drop it until after lunch."

"No, no, Paul, it’s worse. I’m... I’m fading."

Paul’s face went from anger to concern in a heartbeat. He quickly unlocked the door and reached in for something. He came back out with a container, shaped almost like a genie’s lamp. He handed it to Eddie.

"You know what to do."

Eddie nodded. He removed the stopper off the "hole" in the front of the lamp. He blew hard into it. I went for my glasses, but Paul saw me and stopped me.

"Don’t do it. You’ll give yourself away."

After blowing into it three times in a row, Eddie stopped. He blinked a few times. Then he looked at the container he had and handed it to Paul.

"Thanks, esse. I needed that."

He walked on to lunch, seemingly oblivious to me and to the conversation we had had. I went to catch up, but Paul grabbed my wrist.

"Don’t bother. She’s not there."

"What? Where’d she go?"

Paul pointed to the bottle.

"She’s there."

*****

As bell time came close, I looked around for the rest of the crew. I ran into Eddie Guerrero, adjusting the US title on his waist and admiring himself in the mirror.

"Eddie... you feeling better, man?"

"Hey, Cena. Yeah, homes, I guess you were right. I just needed to eat. Well, I also got some oxygen from Paul."

"Is that what that was in that thing?"

"Yeah. It’s a miniature oxygen tank. You breathe into it and out of it, and it just goes right to your brain. It makes you calmer because you gotta breathe real hard to get the air, and you can’t be angry when you’re taking deep breaths, you know, buddy?"

"That makes sense." I guess it’s pointless to tell him why he really was taking deep breaths.

"Hey, John, you better get in position. You’re first!"

"Oh, right. Thanks man. Word."

"Man, you already in character? That’s wild."

I shrugged as I headed to the door. When I arrived at the entranceway, Chris Chetti and Paul Heyman were there.

"There you are, John."

"Relax, man. I’ve got time."

"Yeah, but it’s not like you to be late."

"Sorry, Paul. I won’t do it again."

"I’m sure. Okay, the bell rang. Chris, you ready?"

"Yes I am, Mr. Heyman."

"You can call me Paul now. Okay, I’ll let them know."

Paul spoke into the headset. "Ring the bell."

The place cheered as the bell rang. Tony Chimel went through the usual rules and regulations. I wasn’t paying much attention. I was busy working on my lines. I wanted it to be just right. House show or no house show, I was going to do this.

Chris walked through the curtain to a small reaction. I jogged in place, much like I’d seen Brock do, while I waited for the music.

Word Life! I’m on. I marched through the curtain and flashed the hand sign to the crowd. To my surprise, I got some serious cheers. I walked to the ring and posed again. The cheers were louder. Man, I’d better have something special planned if I’m going to be a heel. Well, here goes. I took the mic from Tony. I was on.

"Yo, yo, yo, cut it.

So, kid, you’re gonna fight me -- what’s your name, Chris Chetti?

You’re in over your head, I’m gonna eat you like spaghetti.

I got the best damn words, and the best damn moves.

And when it comes to winning matches, I’m always in a groove.

I’m the future of the show, I’m the man of the hour.

And just like Mark McGwire, I got Cardinal power!"

The crowd booed a little. I wasn’t done, but I walked over to Chris and whispered in his ear, "Jump me before I get to the cuss word." I resumed my rap.

"This kid right here is an example to all the fools in the back.

Unlike the Chiefs’ defense, I won’t cut anyone no slack!"

*That* worked.

"Is that all the hate you got? Says a lot about Kansas City."

I stared at Chetti and winked. I promptly turned my back and braced myself.

"I’ve seen a lot of your town, and this place is really sh--"

Whack! The fight was on. I fell into the ropes and threw the mic out of the ring from the impact. I took the shots from behind and tried to get to my feet. Chris was pounding away at my upper body. He whipped me into the ropes and put his head down on the rebound. I gave him a kneelift for his trouble. He flipped onto his back, and I dropped down and did some ground pounding.

The referee pulled me off of Chetti, and I shot him a dirty look. He yelled at me about closed fists as I stared in anger. All this was just to give Chetti time to get up. I turned to him and went into a lockup. I easily backed him into the corner and waited for the ref to start counting. When he reached four, I made motions for a clean break, then popped Chetti one in the face. The crowd didn’t approve. I smiled and punched him a second time. I then grabbed the middle ropes and hunched over. Wham! Wham! Wham! Wham! Wham! Five times my shoulder hit his stomach. I looked up and saw he was a bit short of breath, so I backed off and hit the hand sign to keep the crowd’s attention.

Chris had staggered out of the corner and gotten his bearings. I walked in with a double-axehandle, my body language making it obvious he was supposed to cut me off. Fortunately, he did. I doubled over in pain. Chetti quickly flipped over top of me, but I wasn’t close to ready yet. I punched him down from underneath me to break up the sunset flip. I then dropped down on him with my full weight and posed. The ref got to two before I felt my arms being hooked. He had flipped me over for two. I stood up and clotheslined him down, causing him to add a twist to the selling.

I smiled at him. I picked him up and put him in the atomic drop position. I jammed down once, twice, three times. I saw his eyes roll into the back of his head. "Sorry," I whispered as I set him down. Apparently the drop was a little too atomic.

I went for the cover and got two before Chetti got his foot on the ropes. I looked at him with rage as I picked him up. I tossed him into the opposite corner and followed in with a huge clothesline to the back of the head. He stood in the corner, the turnbuckle keeping him up. I picked him up and scaled the turnbuckle. I looked out to the crowd, then threw him backwards as I fell.

The next few seconds were a little dizzying for me. Apparently, when I landed on the slam, I forgot that I was on the top rope. As a result, I slid back to quickly and landed on my shoulders and neck. My vision was a little scrambled, and the ref checked on me. I responded to his signal that I was all right, then climbed to my feet. I ran and legdropped Chetti, then covered for two.

I picked Chetti up and whispered, "you ok?" He nodded as I drove a knee into his gut. I threw him into the ropes and caught him on the rebound. I landed a huge spinebuster, and the sound of hearing him slam the mat for added effect gave me a small adrenaline rush. I covered but only got two.

I got up and signalled to the crowd with my hands. I heard the ref say, "Bring it home." I stood over Chetti and waited for him to get onto his knees. He grabbed my legs and hand me in a slingshot. I got thrown throat-first into the top rope and staggered backward. He grabbed my trunks from behind. I fell over backward, obliging my part. He got two before I kicked out. As we stood up, he dropkicked me to the ground and climbed to the top rope. He went for a crossbody, but I caught him and held him. I spun him to his feet and grabbed a fireman’s carry. As I did, I told him, "Finish." I posed for the crowd with Chetti on my shoulders while flashbulbs went off. After a few seconds, I flipped his feet over my head and landed on my side, laying him out in the ring. I had hit the Death Valley Driver -- or, as he called it, the F-U. I covered and got an easy three count.

After the match, I grabbed my hat and chain and climbed the corner, posing for the fans. They were booing me pretty well, so I figured I did something right. As I headed to the back, I looked over my shoulder. Chetti was slowly rolling onto his feet. Good, he’s not hurt. I hit the hand sign one more time before disappearing behind the curtain.

"Good job, John."

"Thanks, Paul."

"Hey, bro, go easy on him out there."

"Sorry, Tazz. He’s all right."

"Good job, man."

"Thanks, Brian. You gonna be all right out there?"

"I hope so."

"Stay strong, bro."

I headed to the locker room, taking one last look over my shoulder. Chris Chetti had finally staggered to the back, looking a little worse for wear but basically like I expected. I stopped and headed back to him.

"You’re not hurt, are you?"

"No, no. I’m fine. Thanks for the match, man. It was great being in a WWE ring."

"Hey, no problem. Sorry about the atomic drop there, man."

"Oh, that. Nah, Petey here’s done worse to me over the years. If I can survive a drop on the head from him, I’ll survive a shot to the nuts."

We laughed together. "C’mon, Chris, I’ll get you some dinner."

"Thanks, man, but Petey and I are gonna head to St. Louis together."

"All right. Catch you around. Thanks for being here."

"No, thank you for letting me do this."

He headed back to where Tazz was as I walked to the locker room. Chris Benoit met me at the door.

"Good going, John. You really felt it out there."

"Thanks."

*****

August 5, 2003, 1:15 AM

Outside St. Louis, MO

Brian was in the front seat with Paul, looking rather the worse for wear. He had tried a plancha onto the Bashams in the match, but Kathleen, having never been Spanky before, underestimated the power he had in his legs and nearly overshot the "brothers". Thankfully, Doug caught his upper body to prevent any damage, but the legs hit the ground hard as Danny couldn’t reach them. Brian’s left leg took a hard shot to the floor.

"It’s just swollen. I don’t think it’s broken or anything. You gotta be careful out there. If I’d known you were Brian, I’d have kept you off the show tonight."

"It’s ok, Mr. Heyman. I don’t want you to do something for me."

"Hey, sometimes I have to do things for you people too. Like I did today."

"With Lindsay?"

"Yes."

Do I speak up now? I mean... I was scared. I don’t know what’s going on. I’ll wait until we’re alone.

We pulled up to the entrance to the hotel. I got my things out of the trunk of Paul’s car and went to the front desk. My key was waiting for me. I walked with Paul and Brian to the elevator. I didn’t speak. I didn’t really want to. My thoughts were with Lindsay.

Where did she go? What did Paul mean when he said he had to do it? I can’t imagine how she feels right now. And why was she so faded when I saw her?

Could that happen to me?

I got off on the fourth floor and walked to my room. I slid my key in and opened the door. The lights were on, and the TV was set to some movie. I couldn’t hear what exactly it was, but it sounded like a romantic movie of some sort. I set my stuff down and went into the bathroom to wash my face off.

"Is that you, John?"

"Yeah."

"All right. You don’t mind if I watch the end of Sleepless in Seattle do you?"

"Guess not... but isn’t that a chick flick?"

"Eh. It’s a good movie."

That voice... Where had I heard it before? I climbed into the first bed and looked over. It was Dean Malenko, former wrestler turned road agent.

"Hey, what time you getting up tomorrow?"

"I guess about 8:30 or so. You?"

"Probably later. I might not get much sleep."

"Something on your mind?"

"Well, it’s about the match tonight. I was worried that I stiffed him too much."

"Relax, man. I saw the match. I’ve done worse in the ring. Shhh... they’re in New York now."

I lay down in the bed and turned off my light. I guess even wrestlers have a soft side.

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Up next is another installment known for being, among other things, long. But that's just because it's both TV shows in one when it doesn't have to be. Although to be fair, you get almost no indication of the goings-on in SmackDown! because they're seen through the eyes of someone performing on the show. That's part of the risk I took, and I was scared it would get this kicked out of the Diary Dome (and sent to, say, the Cube).

Noteworthy on the surface is that this chapter contains Andy's first televised match, and wouldn't you know it, he's as protected as Kathleen was by being sent out with Kurt Angle. You'll notice that right off the bat Andy nearly blows his cover by wrestling a very un-Cena-like match. Chalk it up to beginner's nerves on his (and my) part, as Andy soon adapted very well to whoever he was.

Also present is the first ever Internal Monologue, as Andy finds himself lost in his own thoughts and introspection, much like Lindsay was in that easter egg. (And don't tell me What Easter Egg? Go find it!) I originally wanted this to be a minor thing, but soon it became a trademark -- these long, meandering streams of consciousness that carried Andy and helped flesh out his character more than any other. This one is actually rather understandable, as it finally hits Andy that he's not sure who or what he is anymore, and that he couldn't really describe it to anyone who asked.

Perhaps the most poignant part of this chapter is Andy's conversation post-show with Undertaker. I figured that Taker would be giving Cena some career advice, and in it tried to justify Taker's own me-first philosophy that he was famous for. It also marked the first -- but not the last -- time a comment by a WWE wrestler worked on both the level of wrestling and the level of saving Vince McMahon.

*****

Chapter 6

Lights, Camera, Action!

Tuesday, August 12, 10:24 AM

St. Louis, MO

The roster once again filtered down the stairs, but this time instead of heading to the lobby, they went to a giant auditorium. I walked through the double doors and took a seat in the middle rows, making sure to get a good view. Up in the back, I noticed Billy Kidman and Torrie Wilson arrive and take seats in the last row, next to each other. Some things never change.

We were gathered to watch RAW together and dissect the "opposition". Stephanie and Paul had taken their spots on the stage, where Paul was busy equipping the video projector and Stephanie was chatting with various workers about tonight’s show. I searched for Brian somewhere in the crowd, figuring that Kathleen would want to sit by someone she was more comfortable with. Or is it that I feel that way? Why am I so nervous this morning? Was it what happened yesterday, or that I was going to wrestle on TV tonight?

My train of thought was broken by the sound of someone sitting down next to me. As fortune would have it, Kurt Angle chose to sit in my row, and now the only thing between us was an unoccupied chair. I decided to lean over and talk to him.

"Kurt, how ya doin’?"

"Oh, John. Didn’t see you there. I’m fine, how are you?"

"I can’t complain. I wanted to talk about tonight."

"Oh, you got the word, then?"

"About our match? Yeah."

"Yeah, I was hoping you’d bring it up. See, they’re telling me that the big story is with me and Brock, and... I mean, I don’t wanna dismiss you..."

"No, no, that’s fine. It’s not that. It’s that I’m -- well, things have been going around in my head, and if I’m not into tonight’s match, I want to apologize in advance... I’ll try to be professional."

"Yeah, that’s fine... I mean, I still get nervous sometimes too."

"Oh, okay. That’s cool. Um, did you have anything in mind for the finish?"

"Actually, yes. See, Brock’s supposed to be involved in the match, so basically when he comes out, the finish begins. Now, what they’re telling me is..."

But he got no further. Stephanie called for everyone’s attention.

"Listen up, people! I wanna show you how our competition’s doing. We need to see what it is we have to top, you got it? Now, if you think these guys put on a bad show, that doesn’t give you the right to slack off tonight! I want everyone to work hard out there, and I want you to give it your all. Remember, we’re talking No Mercy slots on the line as well! Paul, would you start it up?"

Paul nodded. The lights went out, and the credits rolled.

*****

- The SmarK RAW Rant for Aug. 11 / 03.

- Live from Moline, IL.

- Your hosts are Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler.

- Opening interview: The Highlight Reel with Chris Jericho. He declares it a travesty that he’s not wrestling tonight and DEMANDS that somebody do something about it. Yeah, me too! He then introduces Kevin Nash as his guest. You know, between the respective hairstyles and goatees supported in the ring right now, we could open a salon. Although I’m sure Jericho’s beard would demand creative control. Nash talks about his SummerSlam match and how no one can beat him. Except, of course, for everyone who has. Jericho asks about an upcoming movie role, and Nash credits his natural good looks for it. Remember that for later. See, I can live with Nash being funny right now, because heaven knows he’s a better talker than he is a wrestler. Randy Orton interrupts (geez, even the interviews have run-ins nowadays), but Poochie fights him off. Jericho tries to intercede, so Nash punches him down, then threatens the "indescribably expensive JeriTron 5000" with a chair until referees restore order. Good interview, bad angle.

- La Resistance take time to butcher the French National Anthem, as per their contract. Allow me to channel CRZ for a second... "First to speak during the anthem is -- JIM ROSS! SHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAME! Anthem goes (:17) before it is interrupted..."

- Rene Dupree v. D-Von Dudley. Slugfest to start, and Dupree bails and dances. Back in, D-Von hits a slam, but a piledriver is reversed by Dupree, back into a sunset flip by DVon for two. Dupree dropkicks him down and hits the chinlock. D-Von gets up and slams him off, but a flying headbutt misses. Sylvan Grenier tries to lead a "VIVE LA FRANCE!" chant to keep the crowd interested. DDT for Dupree gets two. Gutwrench suplex gets two. Up top, but D-Von catches him in a superplex for two. Grenier starts some heel shenanigans, and Dupree uses the FLAG OF DEATH and a figure four to get the win at 3:41. This is chemistry? *1/2 Bubba Ray Dudley tries to intercede, but the French get a beatdown. It’s pretty obvious they’re being set up for the squash here, which is fine by me. Send them back to OVW.

- I’d be remiss if I didn’t note Chris Nowinski’s stellar give-and-take with Theodore Long here, as he nearly blows his alliance by saying that Rodney Mack is being used to soften up Booker T in tonight’s match. Long: "Oh, I see. The brother does whitey’s dirty work." Nowinski: "No, no, no! I’d be honored to face Rodney Mack if need be, really I would!" Nowinski’s con act is kinda transparent, but it’s good television.

- Women’s Title: Molly Holly v. Ivory v. Gail Kim. Three-way catfighting erupts to start, much to the delight of the crowd. Ivory gains control by kicking away at Molly for two. Gail Kim flies off onto both with a bodypress for two apiece. Molly uses her spinning arm wrenches and controls Gail for a while, but Ivory dropkicks both of them and suplexes Gail for two. Ivory hits the carpet muncher, but Molly hits a seated dropkick to the back of Ivory’s head and covers Gail for two. Gail hits the rana for two on Ivory, then two on Molly. I think it’s well established that she can do a rana. Molly clotheslines both challengers and goes for a double-arm suplex on Gail, who stops it mid-move and hits a DDT for two. Ivory hits a Samoan drop on Gail for two, with Molly breaking via an Oklahoma Roll on Ivory for two. This is a kinda long match. Gail does the ropewalk into a bodypress on Ivory for two, then ranas Molly for two, with Ivory dropkicking Gail to push Molly on top for two. Gail actually does some Matrix-like moves, tossing Ivory into the turnbuckle and running up the ropes and down Ivory’s back into a rollup for two. Crowd appreciated that. Molly dives with a crossbody on both for two, then the Molly Go Round finishes on Kim at an amazingly long 8:24. I guess they wanted to see if the women could go 10 minutes and sustain a match. They can’t. *1/4

- Meanwhile, Jericho storms into the GM’s office, where Stone Cold is, of course, drinking a beer. Cute aside: Eric Bischoff’s picture is being hung upside-down. Jericho DEMANDS Nash in the ring TONIGHT, and Austin ok’s it... for next week. And he says there will be a special referee. Jericho isn’t happy.

- Intercontinental Title: Booker T v. Rodney Mack. And somewhere, Malcolm X cries a little. Booker opens up a serious can of whoop-ass on Mack, as the cast of "Rent" cheers on from ringside. Mack bails, so Booker decides to unload a pescado on everybody. Nice. Back in, Mack with a low blow and a slam for two. Mack punches him down for two. Blackout, but Booker walks up the ropes and reverses for two. Axe kick sets up the spinaroonie, but Jazz has the ref distracted and Nowinski runs in with a belt shot. Mack gets two. JR, of course, sold it like it was the finish, but does ANYONE think Rodney Mack is going to win? Anyone? At all? Mack delivers a hot shot for two. Booker catches Mack off the ropes, Book End, goodbye at 4:35. Nowinski beats him down for fun as Long fumes at the decision. This storyline has me going, with about six levels of irony in it. Of course, it’s the WWE, so I’m sure they’re all unintentional. **1/2

- Backstage, Evolution finds Kevin Nash talking about Jericho’s challenge and mugs him with anything they can find. KICK WHAM PEDIGREE on the concrete, and Nash blades. Sort of. Figure four by Flair, and while Nash is stuck in the hold, Orton bends over and... and... no... he wouldn’t... oh no... don’t do this to me... NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! YOU CUT NASH’S HAIR! DAMN YOU! Where am I going to get my material from now? Besides, Nash is like Samson -- take away the hair and there’s nothing left!

- World Title: Triple H v. Goldust. Okay, this might be fun. Flair attacks on the outside to start, but Goldust slugs him away. HHH follows out, and Goldust eats the stairs. Back in, HHH USES THE KNEE~! for two. Goldust catches the knee on a second try and hits a punch to the back of the knee, sending Lawler into conniptions about the old quad injury. HHH shrugs it off and fights back with a facebuster for two. MAIN EVENT SPINEBUSTER gets two. Goldust regains control with the MAIN EVENT SLEEPER REVERSAL SPOT OF DEATH, and the crowd pops for it. Huh. HHH makes the ropes. Goldust hits a sliding punch for two. Butt butt gets two. HHH goes low to regain control, and we hit the chinlock while the SPLIT SCREEN OF DOOM shows Randy Orton doing a nice trim to Kevin Nash. See, that’s a good way to use a resthold -- when something more important is going on that you want the crowd to know about. Goldust powers out and hits Flip Flop and Fly. Curtain Call gets two. Atomic drop sets up a powerslam for two. HHH goes to the eyes and hits a clothesline and kneedrop for two. HHH Snake Eyes Goldust for two. Crowd did NOT appreciate that. Goldust backdrops out of a Pedigree attempt (see, Trips forgot the KICK and WHAM, so it had less effect), and a corner charge produces a clothesline and bulldog for two. Back into the corner, and 10 punches has HHH reeling. Shattered Nuts is teased, but the ref blocks it and Flair unties HHH. Goldust tosses Flair in and sets HIM up in the corner, but HHH blocks that with a reverse DDT for two. Back suplex gets two. The ref tries to untie Flair, so HHH bops Goldust with the handle of the sledgehammer and gets the pin at 10:35. Goldust should be commended for carrying HHH here. ***1/4 Flair, of course, celebrates his near brush with sterility by breaking out the Flair Flop.

- Main event: Randy Orton v. Goldberg. Goldberg gets the full entrance here, but after that last match they got a lot to live up to. And who ever thought I’d say THAT about a HHH match? Goldberg squashes Orton all over the place, but a low blow turns the tide. Orton hits the old Play of the Day for two. He charges for a clothesline and gets speared. Trips runs in, so Goldberg slugs at him. He misses when HHH ducks, then HHH jumps off the apron and trips Goldberg. Now he’s mad. He exits the ropes, but Orton brings him back in with a reverse suplex for two. This match is all over the map here. Orton is bumped on a second spear attempt, so when Goldberg goes for the jackhammer, HHH clips him and Orton falls on top. Ref is still out, so HHH hits KICK WHAM PEDIGREE, and Orton follows with the RKO for the pin (!!) at 5:48. Goldberg, ever the sportsman, knocks HHH out with a chairshot so vicious I almost hope he sent him to the retirement home alongside Bret Hart. Actually, given the way the matches progressed tonight, can we send Goldberg there instead? 1/2*

The Bottom Line:

Well, they’re doing a good job of building up the matches for SummerSlam, I’ll give them that. HHH/Goldust broke about seven laws of physics and thermodynamics and had me thinking that Rhodes is a miracle worker, but then I forgot all about it in the stupidity that was Orton/Goldberg.

Is it too late to change the title match? It is? Darn.

*****

The show ended. Paul brought up the lights. Well, it wasn’t a bad show... but it just seemed... I don’t know.

Stephanie turned and faced the audience. "Well, that’s what we have to beat. Does anyone have any ideas for matches tonight? We have two slots open."

A voice I couldn’t quite make out called out from the back. "Who’s already on?"

"Okay, we got... John Cena against Kurt Angle, Zach Gowen and Spanky against Big Show and A-Train, Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin against the APA, and Rey Misterio against Billy Kidman."

Sean O’Haire stood up. "I’d like to go tonight, so if anyone thinks they’re willing to take me on on short notice, I’d be glad to do it."

"I’ll go for it."

"Thank you, Chris. Okay, that’s one spot left. Any takers?"

I couldn’t resist. "Just the one on the bike!"

Stephanie cracked up. The rest of the room gave out polite laughter, obviously wishing that joke was left unsaid. Paul, meanwhile, had a brainstorm.

"Actually, we need to have Taker or Eddie on tonight. How about Taker goes against Rhyno?"

"All right, that should work. So we’re all set, then?"

"Just a minute."

It was Undertaker himself.

"If I’m goin’ against Eddie for a title at SummerSlam, I gotta be a good challenger, don’t I?"

"Don’t worry, Taker, we’ll work on that. We got three hours before the sheet’s final."

"Just making sure, Steph."

"Oh, for crying out LOUD!" Eddie’s outburst caught me off-guard. He stared at Undertaker, almost intent on puncturing him with his glare. "You’re so damn worried about your credibility? You’re the fucking Undertaker! You don’t need to win! Can’t you get it straight and take a loss for once in your life? What’s wrong with you, man?"

Chavo was sitting next to him, trying desperately to restrain his uncle by use of his arm brace. Rhyno, meanwhile, walked up to Eddie and got straight in his face.

"This isn’t your fight, Guerrero. Let me worry about my wins and losses. You worry about yourself!"

Stephanie’s eyes were wide. Wow, that’s not acting. She really does have those types of facial expressions. "Eddie, please! If you have a problem, you discuss it with us in private! I don’t need to have you disrupting things. Now, do you want to be on SmackDown! tonight or not?"

Eddie stood, still staring at Undertaker as he sat down. Chavo and Rhyno stood on either side of him, clearly trying to calm him down. I was scared. What had happened to Guerrero? He was a man possessed.

I buried my head in my hands and just listened.

"Now, does anyone else have anything to offer about tonight?"

I heard Spanky’s voice in the back. "If it would make things better, I’ll let Eddie take my spot."

There were chuckles from around the auditorium. I listened for Stephanie’s kind response, but instead heard Paul.

"Brian, you’re a face and he’s a heel. I know what you’re trying to do, and it’s not necessary. Just worry about your match, like Rhyno here said. Got it?"

"Yes... sir..."

More laughter. I hope Brian’s playing this up.

"Is that all for today? All right, everyone, see you at 4 o’clock in the arena." With that, Paul adjourned the meeting.

*****

We were in the conference room. I pulled my glasses out to get a correct view of the people I was talking to. Kathleen was practicing handsprings and other flips on the table. Paul was seated at the head, while I stood by the door.

"Guys, I wanna talk to you about what happened yesterday. I should warn you, it might happen to you sometime, and when it does, come see me immediately. Do not try to wait this out -- it’s not in your best interest."

"Okay, Mr. Heyman."

"Sure, Paul."

"Now, I’m sure you’ve noticed Eddie’s behavior has been very violent recently. I’m afraid he might be weakening. The jealousy and the anger towards Undertaker has taken its toll on him. I want the two of you to make that a priority and leave me to deal with Mr. McMahon for now."

"Hold on, Paul -- weakening?"

"Yes, Andy. If you were to look at him right now, he’d be faint. That’s why Lindsay was faint -- Eddie’s soul was dying from the poisonous anger, and Lindsay was finding herself sacrificed. That’s why I had to bail her out. It happens sometimes."

"But I though we were in control while we were in someone."

"Yeah, Mr. Heyman. Don’t I make Spanky do whatever I want?"

"Most of the time, yes. But there are elements of evil out there. Human nature is weak, and it can succumb to temptation. If you guys behave the right way, you should be fine. But if you think you’re losing control, talk to me about it."

"But, Paul, where is Lindsay?"

"I told you. She’s right here in this." He held up the so-called oxygen container from yesterday. "You see, the fastest way to get her to recover from the darkness inside Eddie was to get her to leave Eddie. I’m not saying a bad assignment was made. These things happen. Eddie was just fine on Sunday, but he’s obviously starting to crumble. So I held this up and had Eddie breathe into it. That allowed Lindsay to escape from inside him."

"But how? I couldn’t leave John right now even if I wanted to!"

"Actually, you could. These things are gates to the outside. They simulate what happens overnight before Mondays. When Eddie breathed into it, he was allowing the portal to open and giving Lindsay an escape."

"So if I were to do that with a jug of water or something..."

"No, not quite, Kathleen. Those are man-made objects."

"And that lamp thing isn’t?"

"Right, actually. When I took over, I was given one of these for emergency use. Yesterday was an emergency. You saw how mad he was, didn’t you?"

How could I forget? Those eyes seemed to burn with a fire I’d never noticed before. It was almost as if they were being consumed from within.

"Can we see her? Is she all right?"

"I can’t let you see her now. You have work to do. If either of you were to leave your bodies now, you’d be stuck inside this thing until Monday morning. You’re both too valuable to have that happen. Now, don’t forget the plan. I expect you to work on it. But be careful. Don’t be obvious. He’s not in the mood to hear the obvious. Trust me."

Silence reigned for about a minute as the words sank in. Even Kathleen had stopped moving around and was standing still, realizing the magnitude of the task. Finally the silence got to me. I had to say something.

"All right, Paul. Now let’s get to the arena. I think I can do this."

"Yeah, me too, Mr. Heyman. I’m ready."

"All right. Let’s go."

*****

Tuesday, August 12, 2003, 07:53 PM

St. Louis, MO

Velocity was just finishing up. In about five minutes, the opening matches of SmackDown! would begin. A lot of the boys were talking smack, practicing promos, and discussing the finishes to matches. I didn’t see Kurt anywhere, and I knew Chris Benoit and Sean O’Haire were in the on-deck circle, ready to open SmackDown!. I figured I would just walk around a bit off-camera, if only to see if anyone had seen Kurt somewhere.

I exited the locker room and passed the entranceway. Paul and Stephanie were on the headset, watching a monitor and occasionally giving an instruction. Chris and Sean were psyching each other up, while the technical director had his finger on the switch that would (presumably) set off the fireworks and get the ball rolling.

I continued walking. A second locker room was backstage, with a Divas sign hanging over it. I moved past that one immediately, as tempting as it was to look inside by mistake. Now wasn’t the time to satisfy any temptation. I had a finish to book.

I walked down a flight of stairs to the service lobby. Spare parts from production lay everywhere. In one corner, I saw pieces of the hockey boards the Blues used. Another dead end. I was about to move back up a level when I heard some sniffling. I looked over to investigate.

"Brian? What’s wrong?"

"I’m scared."

"Why?"

"I didn’t wanna let Mr. Heyman down."

Mr. Heyman? Ahhhhh, this is Kathleen talking and not Spanky.

"What’s this about? You can tell me."

"No... you wouldn’t understand. Just leave me alone!"

Oh. She doesn’t recognize me.

"Kathleen, you can tell me. What happened?"

"It was Eddie. He’s really bad. I tried to talk to him... I wanted to get him to apologize..."

"Oh, dear. What happened?"

"He yelled a lot. He kept saying I didn’t understand and that I was just another fanboy of his. He wouldn’t listen to anything I said."

"What did you say?"

"I just... I... I told him I didn’t wanna see him mad. I told him Taker was a nice guy. I wanted him to just say he was sorry and try to work something out."

"You heard what Paul said, didn’t you? You gotta be careful. Eddie won’t listen to the truth. You have to work your way around it."

"You mean... I gotta lie?"

"No, you don’t have to lie. It’s not like that. You have to be... diplomatic."

"I’m not good at that. I just want people to be friends."

"Well, how did you get to be friends in life?"

No answer. I looked into the eyes. Something was wrong. It seemed like such a reasonable question.

"Is there something you want to tell me?"

"Do you know why I’m here?"

"No."

"Because of my friends."

She/he doubled over and sobbed. Where’s Paul when you need him? I don’t know if I can handle this alone.

"Do you want to talk about it, Kath?"

"I... What good would it do? It happened. I’m dead! I’m gone! I have no body anymore. I’m stuck in the middle of nothing, away from my mom and dad, my family, my school... And I have to do it year after year after year... I’ll never go to college, I’ll never get married, I’ll never have kids... I’m ruined! I feel like I’m already in Hell!"

Oh no, not her too... I searched frantically, finding Brian’s tote bag on the floor next to him. I opened it up and pulled out her glasses.

"You’re okay. Everything’s ok. You’re not in Hell."

"I don’t know... I don’t know..."

I put my arms around her and cradled her in comfort. All these things I had just taken for granted were still bothering her, a month into her new life. I still wondered what she meant when she said her friends brought her here. Many gruesome thoughts poured through my mind. I tried hard to shove them aside. I couldn’t let her troubles become mine. I already had the WWE locker room’s troubles to worry about.

"Am I interrupting anything, boys?"

I pulled off the glasses and turned. It was Kurt Angle, standing and staring at us, his eyebrow cocked in an expression of disbelief and confusion. I turned back to Kathleen, but with the glasses off, Brian was now in my arms. This doesn’t look good, does it?

"Hey, wrestlers are people too, Kurt. I was just consoling Brian here. He’s not sure if he can go tonight cuz of the knee."

"Oh, come on, Brian. You’ll last. Geez, stop crying like some girl over it."

"Kurt, don’t do that. That’s not cool."

"Yeah, you’re right. I’m just havin’ fun with you, Spanky. You’re gonna be fine. C’mon, I’ll help you up."

"Wait... let me get my stuff organized."

Brian picked up the tote bag and began to walk to Kurt. I noticed that the glasses Kathleen was issued were still on the floor, next to the case. In all the confusion, she must have forgotten them. I grabbed them and followed.

We headed up to the entranceway. Charlie Haas was standing there, waiting to run in on the Cruiserweight match. The crowd was raucous for the match. I checked with Paul to make sure things were fine where he was, then walked with Kurt and Brian back to the locker room. Along the way, I slipped the glasses on. Both Kurt and Kathleen were fine.

I removed the glasses and entered the locker room. The shower was running, along with the television. Shelton Benjamin was pacing up and down, waiting for the cue from somewhere. Brian hesitantly went back to his seat, waiting alongside Zach, Show, and Train for their match. Kurt pulled me into the hall, where Brock was waiting.

"Okay, guys," he said. I wanna talk about the finish to tonight’s main event. Brock, you got a preference as to how to run in? Vince says he wants it to be a tap."

A tap? Why?

"Wait, Kurt. If Brock’s running in, is a submission really necessary?"

"Hey, I don’t make the rules here. I just relay them."

"Where’s Vince? Let me check with him."

"Don’t bother. If he changes his mind, I’ll take the hit, ok? Now listen..."

"Whoa, whoa, Kurt..." now Brock was interrupting. "Why do you think it’s so easy to just have me run in? I mean, we gotta get a ref bump, right? Or else I’ve just cost you the match!"

"Don’t worry. If we bump the ref, he’ll bump. Now... how are we going to set this up?"

"How about this," I suggested. "Let’s make the story that Brock saves the title. So we have the ref bump, the match proceeds. I get the F-U set up, and Brock chop blocks me down. You land on top of me and roll into the ankle lock for the win."

"Ok, that’s cool."

"Yeah, I can do a block. Wait, ahead or behind?"

"Get me from in front, Brock. I’ll be right by the ropes so that I’m not looking for it."

"All right. Let’s go with it."

"Great."

"See you tonight, Kurt."

*****

I headed back to the hallway to cool off and focus on my rhymes before the match. For whatever reason, I had no interest in seeing the rest of the show for the time being. I had no doubt we were tearing the house down, and besides, I was too nervous to see anything right now.

There’s such a difference between going on first and going on last. Last night I was expected to warm the crowd up; now I’m sending them home. This is it. This is the main event. Well, at least somebody up there helped me out by pairing me with Angle again. I hope I can live up to who I am.

Brian and Zach had just finished their match with Show and A-Train. Contrary to her fears, Kathleen was able to hold her end quite well. She bounced around like a pinball for the two giants, and even redeemed herself from last night, using the top rope like a gymnast uses the vertical bar to spin and land on Train on the outside in a somersault Thesz Press.

Meanwhile, Vince McMahon had made his presence felt, declaring that Zach and he would meet at SummerSlam with Zach’s contract at stake. In addition, the tag match was set, another Vengeance rematch. This time, though, I had to think results would be different. After seeing the crowd disapprove of the finish in Denver, I knew the titles had to change.

Wow. Denver. That was while I was still alive. It’s so weird. It was only three weeks or so ago, and it seems like ages. It’s as if my life was a dream... and I only have my reality to fall back on. But my life wasn’t a dream.

I lived. I know I lived. There’s proof that I lived, lying somewhere under the ground back in Virginia. I have friends who weep, and a family that grieves. I made headlines all over North America. But all that... the person in the story... it just doesn’t seem like me.

But who am I? I’m a ghost. I’m an angel without wings. I’m a guiding light. I’m not a human being. I’m not Andrew Goss anymore, that’s for sure. But I’m not anyone else, either. I was Adam Copeland. I will be John Cena for the near future. After that, who knows? Where can I land?

Home is where your heart is. I guess the body is where your soul comes to rest. But I can’t rest. In a sense, I’m the ultimate homeless being. The only constant I have -- the only way of knowing I’m even a "me" anymore -- is through others who are in my state, who need to recognize me as a being to validate their being. Could we all be lying?

Wait. There’s Paul. He’s real. He’s flesh and blood. He’s a validation for all of us. Even as I was talking to St. Peter, I knew I existed. I could think, touch, see, and feel. Right now I can interact, emote, comfort, hurt, enrage, console, laugh, and heal. If that’s not living, I don’t know what is.

But what of Eddie? Or Vince? Is Eddie less alive because he is troubled? It doesn’t make sense. He’s more alive. He has a body that is his own. But Vince? Vince is almost animalistic. There is no soul, no connection to the world I roam. As of now, when he dies, he dies. And I’m here to change that.

But I gotta work on Eddie first. Don’t I? Am I cheating the mission? No, I’m under orders. And Eddie certainly needs all the help he can get. He brushed Kathleen aside like she didn’t matter. He almost killed Lindsay completely. His wrath is unfounded, I’m sure. But how do I get him to return to where he belongs?

"John! Come on! You’re on deck!"

I was snapped out of my deep line of thought by Paul yelling throughout the corridor. Kurt must’ve heard it as well, because he jumped out of the locker room and joined me, stride for stride, as we headed to the entranceway. Along the way, we passed a weary Ron Simmons -- an afterthought in a brawl that erupted in the tag title match. We both arrived just as Rey and Kidman filed through -- tired after a long day in which they appeared in a large amount of the segments.

"John, you ready?"

"Yeah, I think so, but the music’s not up."

"Look, I don’t know what’s wrong with you, man, but you’re slacking off a bit this week. Don’t make us de-push you. I don’t want to have to do that."

"Yes, Paul."

"All right. That’s better. Now, Kurt, is the finish set?"

"Yes it is, Paul."

"Excellent. Okay, on the music."

We waited. Why they bothered with commercial space on a taped show was beyond me. The big screen played the WWE Rewind of last week’s main event, and the pin that got Cena his big title shot. Now, he couldn’t even do it.

Word life! I strutted through the curtain flashing the hand sign as the crowd was split on how to respond to me. I slid into the ring and took the mic from Tony Chimel.

"Yo, yo, yo, cut my music, cut it.

It’s the time of the night when the stars come out to shine,

And the one that’ll glow the brightest is gonna be mine.

Kurt Angle thinks at SummerSlam, he’ll be facing Brock?

Well, Angle, sit back and be prepared for a shock.

I’m better than any Olympian, I’m a thug from the street.

You can’t top my skillz, and you can’t top my beat.

You think you’ll beat me tonight? Well, I got some bad news.

This is a playoff match, and you’ll choke worse than the Blues.

You know I’m ten pounds of cool in a five pound bucket,

And if you’re not down with that, I got two words for ya..."

The crowd did the rest.

Angle’s music played throughout the arena. He appeared from behind the curtain and on the entrance stage. He paused and appeared to get in the zone as the crowd chanted "You Suck" in unison at him. I kept my game face on as I removed my hat and chain, not even aware of the fireworks that went off for the champion. I looked down at my Celtics jersey. 00. Robert Parish. The Chief. Known for his durability. And tonight, I was going to try to go the distance with the best in the sport.

He entered the ring and did his twirl to the crowd before removing his medals and placing them in the corner. The referee removed the WWE Title belt from around Kurt’s waist and held it aloft. Kurt took off his tracksuit and faced me. The bell rang. Here we go.

We locked up and struggled for about ten seconds. He called for "whip, reverse, tackle me" in the lockup. I backed him into the ropes as we danced in the ring. The referee called for a clean break, but of course I didn’t provide one, sucker punching Kurt in the stomach before trying to send him for the ride. Kurt reversed and stood firm, waiting for me come in. I lunged forward and hit him with my shoulder, causing him to crash to the mat. I followed with an elbowdrop and a headlock.

I held the headlock on as Kurt squirmed a little. He placed his arm around my waist and rolled away from me. I followed and wound up on my shoulders for one before rolling back. Kurt stood up and tried to throw me into the ropes, but I held on. A second try, and I found myself headed for the corner chest-first. I took it, then staggered back into a German suplex. Watch the head!... okay, got the back first, good.

I stood up quickly and stared at Kurt. Another lockup, and this time no instructions. I backed myself into the corner, and Kurt followed. He broke cleanly, so I charged into him and knocked him over, then mounted UFC style for some pounding. He grabbed a fist and went into an armbar, then as I shoved him aside, he tried an anklelock. I rolled through and sent Kurt to the outside. As he stood there, I ran the ropes and dove after him, barely clearing the second strand in a body not used to that sort of thing.

On the outside, we took a few seconds to get set up before I picked Kurt up. I tossed him back in the ring and stomped him for a while before flashing the hand signal to get the crowd back into it. I picked Kurt up, but he rolled me into a small package for two. He picked himself up, but was bent over long enough for me to hit a sunset flip for two, reversed for two. I tried again with a cradle for two, but Kurt kicked out and flopped on top for two. I hit a backslide for two, but Kurt flipped over and reversed it into a sunset flip for two. We both got up, and I gave him a double leg trip, flipping over on top for two before Kurt bridged out and turned the whole thing into a neckbreaker. He twirled for the crowd, who gave him a great reaction.

I slowly got up as Kurt applied the pressure with clubbing blows. He tossed me into the turnbuckle, where I landed back first. I staggered out, straight into an overhead toss from Angle. He picked me up, but I hit a low blow and a spinebuster on him. I covered and got two.

Kurt stood up slowly, and I kept the pressure up on his back with a powerslam. I ascended the ropes and waited for Kurt to stand. When he did, I threw myself at him for a crossbody. As we crash landed, I heard him say, "Flip". So I worked with him to turn the crossbody over and put him on top for two. We both stood up, and I clotheslined him down.

I pounded the back in an attempt to get him worn down and to buy some time. I didn’t know what to do next, but I knew it had to be spectacular. I remembered the house show the previous night and picked Kurt up. I scaled the turnbuckles and looked out to the crowd. There was a buzz in the air as they waited for the next move. I tossed Kurt over my head with all my might as I fell backwards, more slowly than the previous night.

This time my timing was on. I wound up tossing him halfway across the ring and landing perfectly on my back. I stood up and stared out into the crowd, then covered Kurt. It was only two.

I gave my best look of disbelief, then took time to argue with the referee. Kurt crawled to his feet and rolled me up from behind for two. I kicked out and slid to the outside, daring Kurt to follow me. When he did I punched him as he slid out and prepared to toss him into the steps. He reversed, but I slammed on the brakes before I hit the stairs. I pointed to my head -- yeah, aren’t I smart? Well, Kurt was smarter, slamming my cranium into the post. He rolled me back in and headed up top.

His back was to me, and I knew I was going to be relied on for the timing. As he vaulted off backwards into the air, heading straight for me, I rolled in the direction of the turnbuckle. His moonsault crash landed him on the mat. This time I stood up and went to the top rope, slowly ascending and hoping Kurt saw me. He did, and he popped up after me and tossed me halfway to the opposite buckle with a suplex. His straps came down as he yelled to the crowd, who had been cheering him on. As they did, the ref came over to me and said, "Go home."

Kurt picked me up, and as he did, I relayed the message to him. He tried for an Angle Slam, but it was obvious to me he wanted me to land on my feet. When I did so, I charged straight into him with a clothesline. Kurt ducked, and the referee took the pain. Kurt tried to slam me down, but I slid out the back and tossed him over my head in a German suplex of my own. I went outside at that point. Hey, I’m a heel. I’m not allowed to look like I was going to win cleanly.

I threw the timekeeper aside and grabbed the belt. Back in the ring, Kurt was staggering to his feet. I could see him motion to the back to stay away. Apparently, not all signals had been connected. I got on the apron, and without stepping in the ring, ran across it at Angle. He took the shot right in the mouth and fell to the canvas. I quickly tossed the belt aside and climbed into the ring.

I gave one last hand signal so they knew whose side to cheer. I picked Kurt up in a fireman’s carry position. As I did, the crowd cheered. Brock came racing down the aisle. I made sure to face the other way to start. I started to spin around, as if letting the whole audience see my victory. As I turned in Brock's direction, he did the chop block. I crashed face-first, dropping Angle onto my neck. Brock left as quickly as he had arrived.

Everyone was down. The referee made the first movements, then Kurt, then myself. Kurt rolled down my body as I tried to pull myself up with my arms. As my chest was completely off the ground, I felt a pressure on my foot, like it was being held back. The Angle Lock! I began to scream in pain and flop onto the mat. I tried to crawl to the ropes, but I was nowhere near them. After about 20 seconds, I made the tapping motion on the mat. I would not win today.

Kurt celebrated with his title as I rolled out of the ring and to one knee on the outside. Oddly, the Angle Lock didn’t really hurt, but I had to look like I couldn’t put weight on my foot. As I looked up, I saw Brock Lesnar staring at the ring, pointing and making the belt motion. I stared back at him, whether or not I was on camera, and mouthed the words, "You screwed me!"

The music stopped. The show was done filming. I slowly got up to my feet and hobbled past Brock to the back. As he passed me, he made a motion like he was going to punch my lights out. I flinched, causing me to stumble and crash off the ramp. The crowd laughed. I laughed, too. The thing was well padded. I eventually crawled onto the stage and to the back.

*****

Brian and I were the last two in the locker room. Paul and Stephanie were going over the post-production as I showered off. Brian was all packed and ready to go. "Hey, Andy?"

"What’s up?"

"Nothing personal, but could you choose another nozzle to shower under? I’m still

a little weirded out by seeing a naked guy."

I laughed. "All right, Kath. I’ll move." I switched off the shower I was standing under and moved across the way to another one, turning it on. "Can you see me now?"

"No, you’re good."

"All right. How do you put up with it when you have to get cleaned up?"

"I don’t want to... I just usually make it quick."

"Don’t other people complain about your smell?"

"Well, no one did today, and I just stayed in my stuff after the match."

"All right, then. You can shower now. I’m not gonna jump you or anything."

"It’s not that! It’s that I’m... well... I’m not ready."

"All right."

"I mean, you’re not going to be ready when you become a girl, are you?"

I’d better not answer that one.

I finished washing off and got my towel on. I went to my locker and grabbed my street clothes, then stood behind a set of locker doors and changed. When I was done and everything was packed, I closed the door.

"All right, kid, it’s all yours."

"Thanks."

I stepped outside to find Stephanie and Paul talking about how the Undertaker/Rhyno finish came off. I walked up to Paul and told him I’d meet him in the parking lot. When he consented, I headed for the stage door.

I walked to the car. In the distance, I heard a rumbling. It was from a motorcycle. I looked in the direction of the noise and saw Undertaker revving up his ride.

"Hey, Cena!"

I went over. Taker was dressed in a helmet and his costume. He was chewing something as he talked. I didn’t get a close enough look to see what it was; besides, the lighting was terrible.

"What’s up, Taker?"

"Good job out there tonight. You and Kurt had a good one out there."

"Thanks, Red. Hey... you and Rhyno tore the house down too."

"Yeah, we were all on tonight... especially Eddie."

"What do you mean?"

"That chairshot he gave me after the match was a doozy. I know I can take a shot like that, but, MAN! It was like he was trying to hurt me!"

"Well, maybe he was."

"What?"

"Mark, you know that Eddie doesn’t trust you. He thinks you’re going to make him look weak as a champion. Already they’re stalling his main event push until they see how he goes with you. He’s heard the tales. He’s heard what you do. I think someone’s gotta talk to him."

"Don’t look at me, man. If that’s how he feels, I ain’t gonna get through to him. If he tries to shoot on me, I’ll take him out. I gotta protect myself. I’ve been in this business too long to have someone steal my thunder."

"That’s just it. Do you really think he can steal it?"

"You ain’t been around like I have. You don’t know. You can put a man down without even trying. It’s a tough world, kid. You’ll learn that someday. When I say I will protect my yard... that’s not just the Dead Man talking. That’s Mark Calloway. I need it."

"But--- you’re a legend! You could retire right now and your status would be intact."

"That’s just it. I could retire right now. But I don’t want to. And I don’t like people trying to push me out. Kid, when I told you that you had a chance one year ago, I meant it. Look where you’ve gone so far. You’re the future, kid. But that future isn’t gonna come to you on a silver platter. You gotta grab it, and hold onto it, and never -- NEVER -- act like you don’t care. You know as well as I do that I give all I can every day. So what if I ain’t a luchadore? So what if I don’t always do submission holds the right way? I’m bustin’ my ass out there. I’m trying to get everything I can out of my run. Just wait, kid -- the minute you’re satisfied, you’ll be on your way out."

"But what about Eddie?"

He paused for a moment and spat whatever it was he was chewing onto the ground. I didn’t bother to look, but from the sound of it, it wasn’t gum.

"Eddie’s a man just like me. He wants his day in the sun. He feels the time ticking away. But see, he’s heard all the wrong things and concentrated on all the wrong ideas. People have told him some nasty things. I heard Vince say he was too small. I heard HHH say he couldn’t relate to the crowd. When he and Chris came over from WCW, they were outcasts. He’s felt like an outsider from Day One. But you know, if he wants to act macho and threaten me, it ain’t no skin off my nose. There’s only one man who decides the outcome, and it ain’t me. So I gotta trust in that man, and let him steer me to glory. I gotta get going, kid. Good talkin’ to ya."

"Yeah, you too, Mark. See you this weekend."

"Maybe!"

He drove off to wherever his next destination was. Was he headed to a bar? Was he going home to Houston? Maybe he’d be in the hotel. I didn’t know. But I understood how to handle Eddie.

I thought of his last words. "There’s only one man who decides the outcome, and it ain’t me. So I gotta trust in that man, and let him steer me to glory." Sounds like it had a double meaning. It’s almost like I was meant to hear that. Yeah, it makes sense. God controls the universe. If I let him lead me the right way, I’ll succeed. He’s the booker of life. And I gotta keep Vince from doing the ultimate job.

I walked back to Paul’s car. He and Brian hadn’t arrived yet. I looked into the front seat. The lamp was there, sitting on the passenger side. Poor Lindsay. She must be lonely in there. I mean, I guess this has happened to her before, but it can’t be pleasant. Unable to talk to other people, unable to interact... her very life put on hold. This must be a private Hell.

The door to the arena opened. Three figures emerged. They waved and went their separate ways. One walked off to the remaining van. Stephanie. The other two were headed here. The larger one -- must be Paul -- pointed something at the car. The alarm was disabled. As they arrived, I waited for Paul to unlock the doors.

"Shotgun!" called Brian.

"No fair, you!"

We spent the time arguing over who should sit in the front seat, laughing and joking and trying to be human all at the same time.

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This chapter wasn't as well-received as I anticipated, or maybe I just thought it was cooler. It introduced a character who would soon make recurring cameos. At first, Jessi was just another fan of the WWE, and one who I used to (basically) compare wrestling to rock and roll -- right down to the female fanatics who... well, you'll see. But as time went on, I turned her generic fandom into a singular obsessive, one that would bring both herself and her target down and leave Andy to blame no one but himself. I guess it was a way of emphasizing that not even the narrator's perfect -- a distinction I wanted to make early before Andy became an uberbeing, a superstar of the afterlife.

Also noteworthy is the first appearance of a major crutch I leaned on -- motormouth syndrome. Eddie talks very candidly about his life and times to Andy/Cena, which soon became a theme of mine. It was one of the main points of contention when Conniption reviewed my diary, and he said it was what held it back from being true literature. (How I ever got ****3/4 out of him I'll never know -- if you read his review, it focused a lot on the negatives. Maybe I should get him to repost it after I finish reposting my story.)

*****

Chapter 7

The Groupie

Friday, August 15, 2003, 01:44 PM

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

While most of the brand was in Minneapolis on tour, a handful of us stopped off for a little publicity campaign in the border town. Paul Heyman was his usual charmer, setting the stage for the party. Of a bit of a surprise was how busy I was. I sat with Eddie Guerrero, and a steady supply of autograph hounds meant I was quickly developing a cramp in my hand. I haven’t used a pen this much since my senior thesis.

To my surprise, we were getting a favorable reaction when we were introduced. It wasn’t that we were stars -- Big Show and Vince McMahon were booed as they were mentioned. We simply were riding the line between face and heel. At least, we were onstage. Backstage, Eddie was riding it too -- which was the problem.

"Eddie... you talked to Mark about your match?"

"Don’t bring it up."

"Whaddya mean?"

"I don’t wanna talk about it."

"Why not?"

"We’re in public, man. Keep your game face on."

"So after we’re done?"

"Yeah, fine, sure. Just keep signing."

I worried I was getting close to blowing my cover with all these questions. Fortunately, they were coming out of the mouth of a second-year pro at the big time, asking a long, LONG time veteran who had been on the main stage somewhere in the world since he was 20. Hopefully, he thinks it’s a rookie mistake.

I signed on in silence, alone with my thoughts about Eddie’s pain. Suppose Mark was right. Suppose Eddie thinks he doesn’t really "belong" here. What can I do to change it? As Cena -- not much. As Andy -- perhaps less. I guess it depends on who I am from one week to the next. But Eddie -- he’s always Eddie. He’s always seeing himself as a nobody. No, that’s not right. He’s a Guerrero. He’s a Mexican legend... so why is he so nervous about America?

I’d been signing pictures for the last half-hour. It was always the same, "To <name>, Word Life! John Cena". Hey, at least I personalized them, which was more than some did. Thankfully, it wasn’t always pictures. One person gave me a WWE T-shirt to sign. Of course, it was a black T-shirt.

"Eddie, you got a metallic marker?"

"Yeah, over here. Why?"

"Got a shirt to autograph."

"Ah, right. One of those. Yeah, you get to sign some weird things sometimes."

"Like what?"

"Well, I sign shirts, papers, programs, pictures..."

"Yeah, but you kind of expect that, don’t you?"

"You ever signed a hat?"

"Okay, that’s a little unorthodox."

"Austin told me in his prime he would sign cases of beer."

The crowd laughed with me on that one. We might be on to something here. Should I get in character completely?

"Yo, you ever signed the hood of a Chevy, man?"

"Homes, it was no Chevy. It was a primo Beetle down in Puebla. They everywhere down there -- the old type, too, amigo."

Oh, this could get good.

"Smooth. Goin’ old school."

"Das right, esse. Like my Lo Rider."

The crowd was applauding. They loved it.

The session continued. With about five minutes to go, the line began thinning. We saw many others waiting in line behind a white tape for RAW stars and hometown heroes Trish Stratus and Christian, who were scheduled to come in after us. Eddie and I had exchanged the metallic marker several times as various random items came forward. Well, at least nothing weird has happened.

Then one fan came forward. She didn’t have anything in her hand, but she leaned forward and seemed excited. Eddie’s line was even taking notice.

"Can I... help you?"

"Could you autograph me?"

Say WHAT?

"Uh... like, where?"

She pointed to her chest. "Right here, baby."

The crowd let out a roar of laughter. It probably helped that I gave a double-take upon hearing the request. Even Eddie was laughing. She played it up to the crowd, cheering me on as I sat there dumbfounded.

"Eddie... what do I do?"

"Thank your lucky stars and sign her boobs, man."

"O...kay... erm, which one, ma’am?"

"It doesn’t matter. Just put the pen on it, man!"

I really hope Paul doesn’t see this. I stood up and leaned over to her. I held the marker rather tenuously, trying to sign without touching the surface. However, she grabbed my other hand.

"Maybe you should steady the writing surface, hotstuff."

Okay. Don’t blow anything, man. You’re only in public, at an autograph session, trying to fulfill the request of a woman who has just put your hand under her breast. I’m sure if I thought really hard about it, I could come up with a more awkward situation I’ve been in. Maybe.

"Um... do you want me to make out with someone... I mean, make it out to someone?"

So much for not blowing it.

"They say I’m Latino Heet, man. You dog, Cena!"

"You’re not helping, Eddie. So... uh... I feel I should at least know your name."

"Jessi."

"O...kay..."

I carefully wrote my autograph message on her. I tried to keep it on her body proper, but she insisted on being felt by the felt. Finally, I thought of a way around this. I wrote, "To Jessi, WORD LIFE!" above her chestline. But that still left the signature. I had long since removed my hand from her, and I wasn’t about to put it back. Then I thought of an idea.

"Kneel down, Jessi. I’ll use the table to keep things steady."

As she did, she removed her shirt.

"What’s that for?"

"So you can make it real big."

Oh dear. I complied reluctantly, putting "John" on the left and "Cena" on the right. She stood up and turned around to the mostly male crowd, cheering herself on. Congratulations, lady. You just set women’s rights in Toronto back about five years.

"Thanks, Johnny!" She leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. As she did so, I saw her drop something on the table. I couldn’t tell if it was intentional at first, so as she put her shirt on, I called to her.

"You dropped something!"

"No I didn’t!"

Aha. She wants me to have this... paper. Hmmmm.

I stuffed the paper in my pocket and signed some more autographs. The whole time, Eddie kept laughing at my experience with inexperience. I just wanted to crawl into the conference room and stay there until Monday.

As Trish and Christian approached the table, Eddie and I took our leave. We walked back to the WWE tour bus. Eddie kept harassing me about Jessi. I kept trying to change the subject, which may have been my first mistake. I had to find Paul. Did I do the right thing?

I stepped away from the bus and waited outside. My fingers fiddled with the piece of paper in my pocket. What was it? As if I didn’t know. Wait, if that’s what I think it is... then she... oh dear. Maybe I should’ve lost the paper. Oh, no! Maybe I...

I quickly pulled out my glasses and looked around. No one was near me. I checked the bus. The surface was sufficiently reflective. I slipped my glasses on. There I was, in full. I looked at my hands. I looked fine. There was no sign of weakness.

"Eddie told me what happened."

I put my hands down to find Paul standing before me. He gave me a disapproving look. I quickly removed my glasses and put them away.

"Oh, Paul... I... well, I mean..."

"Look, you know if you handled it well. Thing is, you’ll run into people like that again. It’s not in your best interest to follow up with ringrats like that. They’re bad news."

"Oh, come on, Paul. Not all female wrestling fans are like that."

"That’s not the issue. The issue is, that girl was. She’s a temptation. She’s bad news. Don’t follow up with her right now. Tonight, you’re staying in."

"Okay, Paul. Probably a smart thing to do anyway. Not like there’s much in Canada after 8 o’clock anyway."

"There is, actually, but... trust me, problem people are all over. Just stay in when we get to the hotel."

"Right."

I unfolded the piece of paper in my pocket. Just as I suspected, it was a phone number. There was also her name, "Jessi", written on it -- with a heart to dot the i, of course. Ugh. Maybe Paul’s right that she’s nothing but trouble. I mean, anyone who flaunts herself like that can’t be all good. Still...

"Can’t I just check her out?"

"I wouldn’t do that. You might not come back."

"She’s not a psycho. She won’t kill me."

"No, no..."

He whispered into my ear.

"John will come back. You might not."

"Paul... I’m just going to talk. Is there any harm in that?"

Paul rolled his eyes. "I guess you wanna learn the hard way, don’t you? Do what you have to do. But if you need me, come straight back, you got that?"

"Yes, Paul."

I entered the bus. Eddie was sitting in the back, reading a book. I sat down next to him as Brian bounced a ball off the wall of the bus in the front.

"Eddie... can we talk now?"

"Oh, sure, John."

"It’s about your match with Mark... see, I ran into him after the TV show in St. Louis, and..."

"...look, I know. He told you I was too small for him, and that the time of people like Shawn being credible is over, right?"

"No, that’s just it. He doesn’t buy that crap."

"Doesn’t buy it? He’s the one who started it!"

"Eddie, have you ever heard him say anything about you?"

"Dammit, John, you know how he thinks! Who won at Vengeance, you or him?"

"That’s not important..."

"Of course it is! He has to win the match! That’s the way he is!"

"So why do you have to win the match?"

"Because I don’t want to be his victim! I’ve been a victim everywhere, John! I went to Japan, and they wouldn’t even bother to use my real name. I was Black Tiger. Do I look black to you? But I’m just some foreign weirdo over there, so who cares? I went to WCW, and I was a star. I was battling the NWO for the US title! But I was expendable in the end, and back in the shuffle I went!

I went to the management and asked how I could get back on TV, and you know what they told me? Be a Mexican! Be some Cesar Chavez type! The front office didn’t give enough of a crap about me to give me a second dimension! You know how much support I got from them when I broke my leg? NONE! You know how cool they thought the Filthy Animals were? They stuck Billy Kidman in there because a bunch of Latinos can’t get over on their own!"

"That’s the past, Eddie! That’s not here! WCW is DEAD! Turner’s not in your life! Dillon’s out on the street, and Bischoff has no more power than you do! Eddie, this is the WWE. This is new life!"

"No, John, mi amigo. It’s no new life. It’s the same shit as before. I came here, and I was labelled as a Radical. Yeah, they sympathized with me, but I knew the score. Vince wanted Benoit because he was the WCW Champion, and we were a package deal. He didn’t want anything to do with me! With Dean! With Perry! We were extras! They put me with Chyna because HHH didn’t think I had it on my own. He called me Chyna’s crutch! What an arrogant son of a jackal that bastard is! But I showed him. I showed them all! I became a star, as big as Chyna was!"

"That’s great, Eddie! You’ve proven them wrong. You proved Vince wrong!"

"I proved NOTHING!"

"If that’s the case, why’d he let you back? Why is it that when you checked into rehab, and he gave you a release to sort yourself out, he said -- and, dammit, this was the talk of OVW at the time -- he said you were welcome back when you were clean and sober?"

"The fans. That’s why. If the fans didn’t care for me, I’d be nothing. But they missed me. They missed me when I was in Ring of Honor, and when I was in the WWA, John. I heard them in Vegas, and in Philly. I forced Vince’s hand, but... I’m a sideshow."

"Eddie, this is your chance! You can break out of the sideshow! HHH isn’t here any more; it’s your game. Mark isn’t like the other guys. He only plays politics at WrestleMania -- I’ve seen him backstage as long as you have!"

"Are you that naive, esse? It’s not backstage! It’s in the damn ring! Look at what he does to talent! Test last year -- a big star in the making! He runs into Taker, and it’s all GONE! Or look at DDP during that InVasion!"

"Eddie, please. The man follows orders. DDP -- I watched that on TV -- I watched what he did. What DDP was accused of -- he had to get beaten to a pulp. Even he will admit that."

"And Andrew? What did he do?"

"Seems to me he was going to bounce back just fine. So the Canadian thing failed, fine! He got a second chance with Scott Steiner, and Stacy Keibler! Besides, you’ve fought him. Is he really that good?"

"Well, ok, he’s probably not at my level."

"Exactly. I think Mark will listen to you."

"No way. No way that man will listen to me."

"How do you know if you haven’t tried?"

"Have you heard the man? He doesn’t like me! He has some grudge against me!"

"Well, good grief, Eddie, if you cursed me out and told the world you weren’t fond of going against me, I’d be upset at you, too! Now listen to me, Eddie. You have a lot of talent. You have fans. You have the US title. You have a wonderful golden opportunity. Taker can make you famous! And I know -- I KNOW -- that if you do your part, he’ll do his part, and you’ll be happy for it. Eddie, you know that as long as you have that title, you’re going to win over Undertaker! This is your slingshot to the main event! Don’t let your anger prevent you from getting that last step!"

"Main event, my ass... I got demoted! I’m in the midcard now!"

"Why?"

"Vince told me I didn’t belong in the upper mid. He thinks I’m not ready."

I paused for about ten seconds. I wondered if there was more he had to say. I knew what I said next would be difficult, but it had to be said.

"Eddie... you’re not acting stable. You don’t have the demeanor necessary to be the flagship. I was OVW champion for a while, and I got the title because Corny said I was mature enough to handle it. That’s what you need, Eddie -- you gotta be mature! You have to be ready to be a main eventer. This behavior -- this -- rage... it won’t get you anywhere. Look at Steiner. He came in with a chance to be a star, but he and HHH got in an argument. They wouldn’t work with each other, and Scott’s stuck in midcard. Last I heard, he’s off the road right now. Is that what you want to be? Stuck in the middle of a pain you can’t fix because it’s all in your mind?"

Eddie was only half-listening. I was afraid I was losing him.

"Eddie, listen to me. Please. Just talk to Undertaker. Or, look, I’ll get him to talk to you. He’s here with us anyway. Along the way to Hamilton tomorrow, the two of you can work things out. Just... please... try."

He still seemed unwilling to do anything. I could tell, though, that his anger was subsiding a little. Maybe now he was willing to hear the truth. Finally, he spoke.

"Man... you rookies are all alike. You and Brian... and Team Angle... all alike. You think things are fair. This is wrestling. We are in it for ourselves. And Undertaker’s a survivor. He demands respect. You see what he did to Sean O’Haire in the InVasion?"

"I think he’s learned his lesson. He doesn’t have the push. Eddie, come on. Be mature about this, please. You’re scared, I know, but... so is he."

"Him? Scared? Of WHAT?"

"Of being seen as washed up. Now, listen, I know how good you are. You can make anyone look good in the ring if you want to. I’m telling you that if you do that with Taker... if you work yourself numb... if you challenge him to take it to the next level... he’ll thank you. He really will."

"Fine. For you, I’ll try. But I don’t think it’ll work. Just telling you now."

"Thank you, Eddie. It’s all I ask for."

Paul boarded the bus with Undertaker soon after. He nodded to the driver. Brian put the ball down and sat upright. The bus doors closed, and we began the trip to the hotel.

"Say, John... how’d you get here, man?"

"I went with Paul."

"You got space for another?"

"You’d better ask him. It’s his car."

"Oh, right, sure, man. I just wanna talk to you and Paul some more about this... I think... I just want a booker’s voice."

"You know, Mark’s right there, if you want..."

"No... not now... it’s too soon for me."

*****

04:45 PM

"Hey, Jessi? It’s Cena."

"John! How are you?"

"I’m cool. Hey, listen... why you want me to call you?"

"I wanted to know if you were busy tonight."

"Well, not really... why?"

"Well, I was thinking, you know, if you wanted to... oh, man, I’m so nervous..."

"You wanna do somethin’?"

"Can we?"

"I don’t see why not. I mean, you certainly left an impression on me. Hey, I can take you to meet some of the boys. Maybe you can join us for dinner."

"Oh, that would be wonderful!... wait, can I?"

"Hmmm... I better double-check. Paul... you know, Paul Heyman?... he’s coordinating the whole thing. Hang on, he’s right next door."

I set the phone down and knocked on the door between us. Paul answered.

"Hey, Paul... I think I got this whole thing figured out... how bout if the girl joins us for dinner? We could give her some merch, pose for a photo... you know, innocent stuff like that?"

Paul smiled. "Brilliant. Tell her to meet us downstairs at 7:30, ok?"

"Right."

"Oh, and Andy?"

"Yeah?"

"Way to handle this. I should’ve trusted you."

"Thanks... I gotta get back on the line."

I went back to the phone. "Jessi?"

"Hm?"

"It’s good with us."

"All right! Woohooo!"

"Yeah, just meet us in the lobby of the SkyDome Hotel at 7:30. We’ll be eating in the restaurant downstairs. Be prepared to pay for yourself, but we’ll get you some merchandise for taking home. Oh, and you can bring a camera too."

"Great! I’ll see you at 7:30 then!"

"Excellent."

"Bye, Johnnie."

She made an exaggerated kissing noise into the phone.

"Bye."

I hung up. I hope that settles it.

*****

07:35 PM

Paul, Brian, and I waited in the lobby for Mark and Eddie to come down. I was worried that they were arguing upstairs, but there was nothing I could do. Jessi was due in to arrive soon.

"Brian, could you call my room -- Eddie’s with me -- and see if they’re still up there?"

"Sure thing, Mr. Heyman."

Brian went to the courtesy phone around the corner. A few moments later, the elevator door opened, and Jessi stepped out. At first I was captivated by her outfit. A brilliant green one-piece ensemble covered her tiny frame. The sleeves accentuated her slender arms. She couldn’t have been taller than 5’7, if that, and the outfit made her seem in better shape than I had seen outside of the locker room. I was pleasantly surprised.

"John!"

She ran to me in her heels and gave me a big hug. I looked at Paul and shrugged. I don’t know what’s going on, but it can’t be bad.

"Jessi... you sure are excited to be here."

"Well, of course... I loooooooove the WWE. You guys are so awesome, and now I’m getting to have dinner with you! Oh, this is wild!"

"Um... Jessi, this is Paul Heyman. Paul, this is Jessi."

"Pleased to meet you, ma’am."

"Thank you. Oh, wow... is it just us?"

"Well, no... we’re waiting on a few others."

Brian returned from the phone. "Eddie says he will be down in a few min... hello."

"Hiiiiii!"

Evidently, we forgot to tell Brian we’d be having friends.

"Who’s this?"

"This is Jessi. She’s a big fan of John’s."

"Oh, okay. Hello, Jessi. I’m Brian Kendrick."

"Brian..."

I felt I had to step in. "He goes by Spanky on TV."

"Oh... Spanky! You’re so cute in real life! Wow!"

She gave him a kiss on both cheeks. Maybe I’ve passed her on. Either that or she’ll take anyone she can get.

"So, Brian, is Mark coming?"

"Nah. He had plans already to ride ahead to Hamilton."

"All right, that’s fine. So we’re just waiting for Eddie."

"Eddie? Eddie Guerrero’s gonna be here, too? This is SOOOOOOOOO cool! Oh my God, they’ll never believe this!"

Eddie can’t get here soon enough. Either that or I hope Jessi composes herself. The elevator opened. Eddie Guerrero sauntered out. As soon as he saw Jessi, he laughed. He then went up and hugged her before turning to John.

"Bro, looks like you got a stalker, man!"

We all laughed and went in for dinner.

*****

10:15 PM

After a night of eating, laughing, and posing for various forms of photographs, everyone was ready to head upstairs. I stayed behind to say goodbye to Jessi. I thanked her for the time together and said that I hoped I’d be seeing more of her next time we were in Ontario.

"You’re welcome. And thank you... so much..."

She stared into my eyes. I saw something there I didn’t know how to react to. It was a sort of need that I couldn’t categorize. It was impersonal and strong. It was a sight I had never noticed before.

She hugged me around the waist and buried her head in my chest. She looked up at me. Again I focused on the eyes. They were hard to understand. It wasn’t the fire I had seen in Eddie’s on Monday. It was a different, more inviting sense. But it was fire nonetheless. I didn’t know how to place it. Maybe if we talked some more I would know.

"Can I walk you to your car?"

"Oh... I’m staying here on business, as it turns out. Small world, isn’t it?"

TOO small.

"Yeah, that’s wild."

"However, if you want, you can walk me to my room."

"Sure."

We took the elevator up to the tenth floor. While alone in the elevator, she kissed me. I played along, strangely not feeling any sort of emotion other than fear and confusion. I couldn’t understand it. Was Paul right? Is she bad news? Should I leave now for my own survival? And is that alcohol smell on her breath just a little strong?

We arrived at her room. She opened it and stopped at the door. "Thank you so much. You’re wonderful."

"Thanks. Is there anything else I can do for you?"

"Hang on... there’s something I want to give you, actually."

"A present?"

"Sure. Come on in... let me find it."

I entered her room. As I sat down on the bed, she excused herself to the bathroom, where she said she had hidden the present. As I waited, I felt my glasses in my pocket. I pulled them out and looked in the mirror. There I was, staring back, still full. So far I was just fine. I must be letting my imagination run away with me. Besides, I am in control.

"Close your eyes, John."

I did as I was told after putting the glasses away, although I began to suspect the worst. I heard the sound of footsteps toward me. I felt a hand on my shoulder. She had slid behind me on the bed and had her arms around my neck.

"Okay, open."

I did. I looked down at her hands. She had nothing in them. I quickly looked into the mirror, but I already knew what I was going to see. There she was behind me, with her head resting on my shoulder and her arms draped on my chest. She moved my hand behind me. I felt skin. In a panic, I turned around.

"How do I look?"

She was lying on the bed. Her smile showed an expectancy of acceptance. Across her chest was a bright red ribbon with the words "For You" on it. A bow rested on her left shoulder, and the ribbon flowed, like a sash, down to her right hip. That was all she had.

"Oh... I... I’m sorry."

"What’s wrong, John? Am I not good enough for you?"

"No, no -- it’s n-n-not that. You see, I -- well, I have a girl already."

"Oh, she won’t know. Come on, just once. You can live a little."

"Trust me, I’ve lived enough."

I began to make a move for the door. I heard her pout behind me. I can’t turn around. I have to get out of here before anything happens. Do I have my glasses? Yes, good. I can escape.

I closed the door in a hurry behind me and ran to the stairs. I rushed down two flights to the eighth floor, where we were all staying. I got off and jogged to my room. As I got there, I saw a mirror outside by the elevators. I got my glasses and looked into it. There I was, bright as ever. I had survived temptation.

I walked slowly to my room. As I got to the door, I saw a note hanging from it. I took the note off the door and read it.

"John,

Told you so.

--Paul"

Yes you did, Paul. Thank you.

I crumpled up the note and carried it in with me. Brian was watching HBO on the television. He smiled when I got in.

"Hey, Andy. How’d it go?"

"Better than it might have."

"What do you mean?"

"She wanted to bed me. I got away before she could."

"Yeah, probably good thinking. We can’t take any chances."

"I know. Well, I guess tomorrow is another day."

"Yep. Ready to go to Hamilton?"

"I can’t wait to get out of here."

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At this point in the story, I had no idea how I was going to finish the week -- just that it needed finishing. I began to think about Paul's advice that Andy "had to find out on his own". How could I play this into my ultimate goal -- to get an easy few thousand characters out of it? I then remembered I had written Lindsay out of the week and everything fit.

So, in here, I contrived a reason for us to see what exactly that little container was, other than a vessel for the souls to escape into. I decided it would be a great way for me to allow the characters to be themselves if necessary. Of course, as the story went on, the characters became themselves whenever they were alone, and Recovery became another contrivance for them to be alone.

But for now, it was a way to get into Lindsay's origins and humanize her -- so to speak. This was the first time she stopped being a sounding board (Heyman's role) and started being a full-fledged character. Over time, she became the most in-depth character development I had ever done -- in large part because I based so much of the narrator on me it doesn't count.

Oh, and it's the end of the week, which meant it was time for me to switch things up. Fortunately, I knew just who to be. This was the start of jumping into the right place at the right time, which I did quite a bit. I shrugged it off at the time -- and still do now -- by saying the Lord works in mysterious ways. Of course, so does a lazy author. :shifty:

*****

Chapter 8

Recovery

Sunday, August 17, 2003, 12:47 PM

Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

We arrived in Hamilton, prepared to continue the swing of the Ontario tour. All throughout the night, I couldn’t get the thoughts of Jessi out of my head. I know I did the right thing... but could I have lasted a little longer without anything going wrong? I wish I knew.

As we went to the arena, I saw Eddie Guerrero and Undertaker sharing nervous looks out of the corner of my eye. I couldn’t tell if they had conversed, or if they were trying not to. Eddie seemed to be a bit calmer, while Taker held his blank expression that had carried him to multiple title victories. I couldn’t tell anything. It was weird.

My mind flashed back to Jessi again. The thought of her lying on the bed, presenting herself as a gift to me... it was a thing I would have been thankful for 100 times over in high school and college, but that I never got. At least, I believed I would have been thankful for it. I couldn’t remember one way or the other -- I knew that, even as little as a month before I died, I had desires. But I never tried to act on them, mostly out of self-consciousness. Now, I had all the confidence in the world, and I still didn’t act.

What if I had? What if I allowed to her to repay me? Would I still be here today? I can’t imagine... no, the problem is I can imagine, and it’s going to cause trouble for me.

While waiting for the rest of the crew, especially my opponent for the day in Tajiri, my mind wandered back to that night. No, don’t go there. It can only be bad. I felt myself actively pulling away from it, but also seemingly watching it against the back of my eyelids like a Cinemax movie without the remote control. I was remembering seeing her without a shirt in the autograph session. I visualized the big hug in the lobby, and looking into her eyes, seeing the blue fire that I now knew was lust. I was forced -- almost against my will -- to watch the kiss in the elevator, only this time feel a physical attraction attached to it. I saw her invite me into her room, the bed waiting there, and then the last glimpse. Why am I replaying this right now? Am I asleep?

But it got worse. Suddenly I was seeing myself making a move for her, removing the ribbon. She was reaching across my back and pulling at my shirt. Why is this happening? I don’t want to see this! She was moving my hands around her body as she brushed against me. I saw her kiss me again, longer, stronger, then again on the neck, then lower than before. No! Stop! I’m in control! I must stop this! I watched helplessly as she lowered herself all the way and began to adjust my belt. Thousands of emotions were overloading me -- desire, fear, want, caution, love, lust, regret, frustration, courage, stubbornness. I needed one to rise above the others. Finally...

"John! John!"

I sat upright. Paul was staring at me, maniacally wide-eyed, with Brian just over his shoulder. I looked around. I was in the locker room. My clothes were still on. It was all a vision.

"Paul, I... I..."

"What happened? Are you all right?"

"Yeah... I just... she... it..."

"Kathleen, go outside and help Taker and Eddie with their practice. I’ll handle this."

"Yes, sir."

Brian ran out of the room. I was still hyperventilating. Paul stared into my eyes, checking for some sign of damage.

I reached for my glasses. "Where’s a mirror?"

"Don’t bother. I can tell you’re fine."

"Are you sure? Those images... they were so real..."

"I know they were. I told you you should’ve avoided her altogether. But don’t worry. It didn’t happen. Just keep your mind focused."

Focused. I can’t focus. Not now.

"Paul... remember how we talked about seeing Lindsay?"

"Look, now’s not the time for that. You have work to do!"

"Paul, I can’t... John’s mind is cluttering my signals. I’m stuck replaying it. He’s obsessed. If he hasn’t damaged me already, he will soon."

Paul reached into his pocket and pulled out a glass case. He opened it and put on the glasses. He held my head steady and stared into my eyes.

"You’re right. He will soon."

"Am I fading?"

"No, no. But your pupils aren’t pure anymore. That’s the sign of a strong temptation. Usually, the eyes are the first thing to change. The pupil changes color when you are in trouble."

Of course! The fire I saw!

"I think, since you’re new at this, it might be best if we gave you the day off."

"But Kath--"

"I’ll take care of her. Relax. She’s not on the card anyway. She and I will take off ahead of time to Sarnia. I’ll see you there."

"Okay, Paul. Okay. Now, please... let me out." And hurry. I’m feeling a fire within me.

Paul opened his tote bag and produced the container. He placed it in my hands. "Now listen. Place your mouth over the little hole here. Breathe in deeply, then start to exhale into the container. As you do this, you’ll find yourself becoming detached of John. Take advantage of this! Try to push yourself into the container! It’s gonna feel weird at first, but you have to get used to it."

I took the container. "Are you sure this is ok, Paul? I’m nervous."

"Andy, I believe in you. I see the trouble in your eyes. You need to escape."

"Okay."

I placed the container to my lips. I waited a few seconds to regain my thoughts, but they wandered back to the hotel room. Quickly, I breathed in. As my lungs filled, I felt light-headed. The images of what might have been were getting stronger. I blew into the container with all my might. I began to lose feeling in my legs. I was visualizing her lying back on the bed, inviting me into her embrace. I breathed in again. I could barely keep sitting up. I exhaled. My arms no longer held the container, but it stayed up. I could barely hear Paul’s words of encouragement. I kept breathing. I heard a sigh that I had never heard before, and somehow I knew it was meant to be Jessi’s. My vision was glazing over. My lungs were no longer my own. I felt myself pitching myself forward. All was black.

*****

I woke up again in a blank room. Or, at least, I thought it was a room. I tried to look around. No clock was present, nor was there any decoration at all -- just green everywhere. I tried to stand up, but had trouble moving my body. I couldn’t even see if I had one.

"Lie still for a moment, Andy. You need to regain your strength."

There was no mistaking the voice. I tried to move my eyes to find her, but she wasn’t in my field of vision. And yet, I had a strange feeling that if only I could move, I would find her.

"Lindsay? Is that you?"

"Yeah."

"What happened? Where am I?"

"You’re in Recovery. Don’t worry -- this sort of thing happens all the time."

Recovery. I needed out worse than I imagined. "How bad am I?"

"You’re all right. You’re not faded at all."

"What time is it?"

"I don’t know. You never know in this place. It must be Sunday -- and I think it’s after midnight."

"What makes you think that?"

"Because whenever you Recover, You’re only awake for a few hours at a time every day. I’ve been counting the days."

"Wait... you just got up?"

"We’re usually dormant in here. It’s better this way. Why are you here, Andy?"

"Friday night, this woman came up to John and started making the moves on him. I let him walk her to her room. She..."

"Okay, I know the rest. It happens to everyone their first time. Kathleen was here her first two weeks with all the temptations. It’s okay."

"Why can’t I move?"

"There’s nothing to move. We don’t really exist right now."

"What?"

"We have no body, just our souls. We don’t occupy a space or a time in here. We just are."

"So that means -- I’m nothing?"

"No. You’re still something. You’re something very special."

"When do I get to come back?"

"Tomorrow. You’ll be alive again."

"What do I do now?"

"Now we just wait. Within the hour, we’ll get some semblance of feeling back. That’ll be the signal that everything is ready."

"Doesn’t this bother you? You’ve just lost an entire week of your life."

"Andy, it would’ve been much worse if I had lost everything. Eddie was out of control. His anger was getting the best of him. I had to get out. I did the right thing. I have no regrets."

"I see."

"Do you?"

"Do I what?"

"Do you regret getting out?"

"No. I don’t. I made an important decision. My body was failing me. All I could see were images of that woman and what might have been. It was making me want. I almost felt inhuman. I wanted it to stop, but I couldn’t make it happen."

"Yes, we all have that. You were feeling detached from yourself?"

"Basically, yeah!"

"That’s a sign you’re not in control. That’s the sign you take to mean you need to get out soon."

"Why didn’t you get out sooner? I remember seeing the fire in Eddie."

"I couldn’t because I wasn’t controlling Eddie. Literally, if you hadn’t seen me, I might not have noticed until it was too late."

"How did this happen, Lindsay?"

"What do you mean?"

"How did we get put in bodies that were more powerful than we were?"

"Most bodies are. Fallen Angels only have so much power. We can guide, but we can’t entirely control. We make decisions, but not reflexes. It’s our fate. The only thing we know is that we’ll never be put in harm’s way on Monday morning. The rest is in our hands."

"I’m scared."

"I’m sure you are. I was scared the first time, too."

"The first time?"

"I’ve been in here many times. Probably we wind up needing time off at least once a month."

"Once a month? I don’t know if I can stand lying still for that long."

"You have to. The only other option is Hell. No one wants to go there."

I began to feel a small amount of movement in my body. I tried to bend my head. I saw myself lying on the ground in the bloody outfit I wore when I got shot. She’s right. We’re just us now.

"Lindsay? Can you... move? I mean, you’re healed now, right?"

"Yeah, I am. Let me get up."

I heard movement next to me. I couldn’t lift my arms past the prone position. She stood over me and entered my line of view. She was quite the sight. She looked like she was dressed in a women’s professional outfit. Her light green shirt stood out against both the black outline of her suit and the darker green of the container. But this wasn’t the most frightening feature she had. The worst part was her head.

She was cradling it in her arm.

"Wow, he got you good, didn’t he? Right between the eyes."

I was able to move my arms now. I lifted my right hand to my face, placing it on my forehead. Sure enough, the hole had returned.

"Yeah, he did... but you... what happened?"

"Remember how I said I had died eight years ago?"

"Yeah?"

"I died on April 20, 1995. I was working in Oklahoma City on a government project. I remember hearing the blast from the truck while I was working at the computer. A piece of the window came flying out of the pane and headed right at me. As you can see, it did a little damage."

A little? You look worse than I do! "Yeah, but -- why are we... I mean, Peter healed me, didn’t he?"

"That was cosmetic. That was so you wouldn’t keep looking at a hole in your head. It was necessary for the mission. But in here, we are what we were. This is how I was when I died. It’s how I’ll always be in here."

She turned her head so she could look at herself.

"Admiring your fashion taste?"

"Well, it is nice to be able to see how I am. But all the same, I don’t like being reminded of the fact that I couldn’t even get a decent burial."

"You couldn’t?"

"No. I don’t know if I was ever found. My body probably was burned in the heat from the explosion. It wouldn’t surprise me if my DNA was part of a museum somewhere."

"That’s an awfully macabre thing to think."

"No worse than knowing your picture will be presented to a grand jury, who will be forced to hear in detail how your skull was shattered."

"I hadn’t thought of that."

I tried to get up. My legs were moving now. I rolled onto my stomach, then pushed myself up. I turned to face Lindsay, who was attempting to balance her head on her shoulders.

"I’m sorry if this scared you."

"No, no -- just a little disconcerting, but I think I could get used to it. Not that I want to be here often."

"I know. Although sometimes I come here for time off."

"You can do that?"

"Sure. When you work all day and all night, sometimes you have an identity crisis. You need time to be yourself, and to do things to establish who you are."

"Who are we?"

"We’re people. We have a humanity. That’s the most important thing."

She gave up on her head and placed it on the ground as she sat down. I sat down in front of her and picked her head up.

"This is so weird. This is your identity."

"Well, yours isn’t much better."

As she spoke, I felt a poke going through my head. After it left, I looked up in time to see her body lean back, with her arm returning from an outstretched position.

"Lindsay?"

"Yeah?"

"Even in two pieces, you’re a wonderful person."

"Thank you."

I handed her head back to her. I noticed her eyes beginning to close. At the same time, a wave of energy seemed to be sapping from me. I leaned back and spread out on the floor. My eyes shut on their own.

*****

The alarm went off at 10:00. I awoke, as if from a dream. The announcers on the radio were talking about how it was Monday in Sarnia, Ontario, and how the WWE was making a visit tonight at the Sports and Entertainment Complex. I’m back just in time.

I noticed a calendar on the bed next to me. It read August 18, all right. On the bottom was a handwritten note: "SummerSlam Week -- turn it up." I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. Whoever this is, he is very concerned about saving the best for the big stage. I admire that.

I struggled to my feet, feeling sore from the previous night’s action. Whoever I had become felt like he had been in a 30-minute war. I struggled for the glasses, but as I reached for them, I noticed my arm. It was covered in ink, almost completely from shoulder to wrist. I looked at my other arm and saw the same thing.

I grabbed the glasses and put them on. I had a feeling who I was already, just from the preponderance of tattoos, but I needed to adjust first. I walked to a mirror and looked into it. There I was again, complete, whole, and without injury. The Recovery had worked.

I removed the glasses. I wasn’t surprised by the face staring back at me. What I realized, though, was that this was the man I would have to be for seven days. If nothing went wrong, then the night of SummerSlam I would be entering as him. And that meant that the problem that was haunting the backstage for the past month now rested squarely on my shoulders, for me to make good or to destroy.

Two weeks ago, I was dead. Now, I was a Dead Man Walking. I was Mark Calloway -- the Undertaker.

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It's great to this towering monument to the possibilities of the humble EWR diary isn't lost to this version of the Dome. This is a diary that's not only great, but - dare I say it - significant.

5. Speaking of "book", I'm going to send an email to WWE Publishing and see what they think about it.  It's my goal to have them not sue me for copyright infringement. :)

Considering your portrayal of certain WWE wrestlers (and management!), don't be surprised if they aren't exactly keen to work with you. Still, good luck I guess.

However, my biggest flip-flops would come later, as several people noted that I was portraying the usual Internet "heels" in a favorable light. I dunno -- I just don't think I know the guys well enough to consider them assholes. But that's just me.

Man, you must know Vince, Triple H and Regal real well, then :D.

Also noteworthy is the first appearance of a major crutch I leaned on -- motormouth syndrome.  Eddie talks very candidly about his life and times to Andy/Cena, which soon became a theme of mine.  It was one of the main points of contention when Conniption reviewed my diary, and he said it was what held it back from being true literature.  (How I ever got ****3/4 out of him I'll never know -- if you read his review, it focused a lot on the negatives.  Maybe I should get him to repost it after I finish reposting my story.)

Oh, come on, you know I love this diary :). Coincidentally, I explained part of the reason my reviews are so negative in the Conniptionizer thread a couple of hours ago. Of course, I'd be happy to post my shallow griping at the end of this thread if you'd like.

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1. It's great to this towering monument to the possibilities of the humble EWR diary isn't lost to this version of the Dome. This is a diary that's not only great, but - dare I say it - significant.

2. Considering your portrayal of certain WWE wrestlers (and management!), don't be surprised if they aren't exactly keen to work with you. Still, good luck I guess.

3. Man, you must know Vince, Triple H and Regal real well, then :D.

4. Oh, come on, you know I love this diary :). Coincidentally, I explained part of the reason my reviews are so negative in the Conniptionizer thread a couple of hours ago. Of course, I'd be happy to post my shallow griping at the end of this thread if you'd like.

1. Significant? You're too kind. Your diary was significant in that many people were inspired to try the backyard-to-greatness thing. Plankton's is significant in that it opened the way for a re-invention of the diary concept. This? Well... put it this way, what diaries have I inspired? Far as I know, none.

2. Yeah, I'm thinking it won't fly, but at the very least I figure some of the boys in the back might get a kick out of it. Vince notwithstanding.

3. :shifty:

4. Ah... and yes, I'd love if your review is put in here eventually. Just because it could also be placed back in the Conniptionizer, which looks kinda weird with a lot of reviews and no links. :)

Now, where was I?

Okay, the next two posts are all one big chapter -- too big to fit in one EWB post, rargh. They have a common theme -- how the Angels affect history. First is a look back at the house show, which on paper has a similar look to the one in Kansas City -- but only on paper. The six-man tag is the same as before, but the finish changes, largely due to Andy's influence as Undertaker. If you're wondering how he got so much power so fast, HE didn't -- Taker did. I wanted to play off of the "locker room leader" aspect, as Mark Calloway is one of the better company men Vince has. This becomes important later.

Before anyone asks, the template of the match strongly the six-man from WrestleMania XII, when Yokozuna, Ahmed Johnson, and Jake Roberts met Vader, Owen Hart, and the British Bulldog. Of course, it's likely a better match, but I had better material to work with. :)

The "one-shot deal" Paul Heyman mentions actually became a recurring event. As it turned out, it was one of those bizarre notions that looked good in my head, and looked good on paper, so I said the hell with it. Michael Cole wasn't exactly pulled off SmackDown! -- believe it or not, he's too vaulable as an announcer -- but there would be times when he would be called for double duty.

The second half contains two very ugly moments. First happened on-screen, when Chris Jericho blew his leg out. I'm in late May in the game and I just now got him back -- this was HHH-level bad, seriously. It turned out to be a blessing and a curse. It was a curse because I was without one of my top stars (and one of my few 90+ wrestlers). But it was also a blessing because I no longer had to worry about his character -- he was out of the story. With all the fans of various WWE personalities, the fewer net faves I had to do, the better I was.

Secondly, Andy finally opens up. I say "finally" even though it's only the third week because, let's face it, you can't ask for phone numbers in the afterlife. This kicked off the evolution of his romance with Lindsay that many readers thought was the greatest story within the story. As I warned you, this became a simple love story encircled by deceit, backstabbing, lies, hatred, and some wrestling program. I don't want to toot my own horn, but even I wonder how I fit it all in. (I believe the word conniption used was "Altmanesque", making me feel like a big-shot Hollywood director even though I don't know any of his films offhand. Better than being compared to Ed Wood, at any rate.)

Oh, and as for how I stalled the romance... well, let's just say I took a rumor and wove it in. It's not the first time I took a real-life event of the past and made it part of my universe, and it sure as hell won't be the last. In fact, that may be part of the charm of my little diary here -- there aren't many topics I didn't cover. And most of those topics left me feeling like I was trying to get a merit badge in firewalking.

*****

Chapter 9

Revisited

Monday, August 18, 2003, 01:55 PM

Sarnia, ON

Ho hum, another meeting. Somehow I don't feel as up to it this time. The group filed into the lobby for the big weekly meeting. There was a buzz in the air as I walked in. I searched out where to go, and decided to stand in the back. As I stood there, Eddie moved a few rows forward. Looks like it's going to be a long week.

"Gentlemen, your attention please." It was Stephanie again. She seemed nervous. I found something in my shirt pocket -- a shade for regular glasses to turn them into sunglasses, with a hinge to flip them up and down. I slid it onto my special glasses and put them on, flipping down the shades to look like Big Evil.

"Excuse me, everyone -- we're ready to begin..." It suddenly made sense why the nerves. Kathleen was Stephanie this week, and clearly wasn't ready for a role of authority. Her voice was too silent to get people's attention, and truly, some of the people hadn't heard her. Then again, I'm a locker room leader now, aren't I?

"Hey guys, pipe down!"

They all turned around to face me.

"Now, Steph here has seems to have a bit of a bad throat, so I want y'all to keep quiet and listen to her a little more. It's a big week, you know; this is our first reunion pay-per-view, and we wanna show RAW up. If we work hard at this, I'm sure we can get the book to get the duke in the Brawl. Got it?"

A few cheers of affirmation went up.

"I can't hear you guys!"

They all cheered.

"That's right. Now Steph... what's the story?"

"Thank you, Mark. As he said, this week is SummerSlam. We have four matches on the SmackDown! brand, and all of you know what they are. Now, I've been in talks with Daddy, and he's working on finalizing the order in which everyone will go out. However, I wanna tell you right now that we don't get the last match. Triple H and Goldberg will go on last."

There were a few mutters in the crowd. From what I could tell, people seemed almost resigned to this as a reality. I heard Edge lean over and tell Rey, "They are the money match, after all."

"Now, guys -- within our matches, I was thinking of not putting Brock and Kurt on last. For one thing, two world title matches would be overkill. For another, and this

was a decision that Daddy made, since there will be a heel turn during the match, we will have put it in the middle so that the SmackDown! fans can leave with a good feeling about the show and a smile on their face."

She beamed as she punctuated the point. The group laughed. I chuckled too.

"Now, tonight, we have our last off-camera show before SummerSlam. For this show, we don't have anything advertised, so if people wish to find opponents based on the pay-per-view, or their styles, you can do that. We'll fill out the card at the end. Paul, do you have anything to add?"

Paul took the floor. "Thank you, Stephanie. There is one match that I'd like to have tonight. The six-man from last week got great reviews, and the fans really enjoyed it. I'd like to put that on again. I know it caused a lot of backstage trouble, but I think we can fix it this time. Would the people in the match see me after this meeting ends so we can go over the particulars."

I heard a groan come from Eddie's direction.

"And cut the negativity! This is a big show, and we want everyone to put politics aside and work their asses off. Remember, Stephanie and I have the book, and we can punish you if you act up."

Paul paused for 10 seconds to let the gravity of his words set in.

"Now listen. That match won't be the main event. For the main event, since we're in Ontario, I'm putting Stephanie and Sable out there. That way, Edge will run out and get the big pop at the end of the show. Can you handle it, Adam?"

"Yeah, no problem, Paul. I got it covered."

"Excellent. Now, does anyone have any questions about SmackDown! or SummerSlam?"

"Yeah, Paul... who's in the interpromotional match?"

"We haven't entirely decided yet. A lot of that is going to be a reaction to what RAW's writing team decides. I'm talking to them right now, but they haven't tipped their hand. They say they will on RAW. As it is, we have paired up each person on the RAW list with someone in this room. That way, we will have a team assembled as soon as they give the word."

"Can I see that list?"

"No."

"Hey, Paul... why was I called off of announcing halfway through the show last week?"

"Oh, sorry, Michael... we plan to film a few skits with you having been called into Stephanie's office. The story is that you will ask her for a favor, and throughout the night, we'll see if this is accepted. You're going to be off SmackDown! this week, but back for SummerSlam. You'll know more then."

"You're phasing me out?"

"No, no, no -- trust me. You will appreciate what we have in mind."

"Does that mean I'm goin' solo?"

"Nope. Josh is getting the call."

Everyone mumbled. Josh was a nice guy, and he definitely had a future in the business. However, he was nowhere near ready to handle SmackDown!, and the Velocity boys had complained a few times about his handling of their matches.

"Relax, guys. It's a one-shot thing. Cole will be back for SummerSlam. Trust me, guys, you'll like the way we pull this off. Vince is putting his personal attention into this."

Gee, I'm shocked.

"Now, Stephanie and I will be around for the next hour or two before we all head to the arena. We'll be filling up the booking sheet for tonight and working on the show for tomorrow. I want people to come up with good matches, because it's in your hands. Consider this a favor. Stephanie, back to you."

"Thanks, Paul. Are there any questions for this week?"

No more.

"Okay, guys... come see us about tonight, then."

I gathered my bags and went to the parking lot. I had to put my stuff in the van before I forgot and found things stolen. Just as I reached the door, I heard Paul shout at me.

"Mark, get over here."

Oh, right. The match.

The six of us gathered in a semi-circle around Paul. It must have been a funny sight, seeing four giants and two athletes surrounding the short fat guy in the middle. It might explain why Paul asked us to sit down.

"Okay, guys, I'm changing the ending around to the match. Since we don't have to worry about sending the fans home happy, I think we'll surprise them here. The heels can have the win."

Show and Train did a mock celebration.

"Now, hang on, guys, it's just a house show." Paul's sarcasm showed he was in on it. "However, I'll allow you guys to decide who gets over on whom. Any ideas?"

We huddled up. Everyone looked to me first.

"Okay, guys... No offense to you, Paul, or you, Matt, but Eddie's the one on SummerSlam in a big match, so I think he should get the victory."

"Seriously, esse?"

"Seriously. And I'll tell ya what -- you can get it on me if you want."

"Mark, I can take the job. I'm not the champion."

"Brock... you're in the title match. I'm the one lowest on the card here. It's best this way."

"How do I get it, man? How do I get it? Is it clean?"

"I dunno. I haven't thought about that. I mean, I assume so... but if y'all think otherwise, lemme know."

"Hey, Eddie... you Cheat 2 Win, man. Do it here, and it's as good as clean anyway."

"You sure, Trainman?"

"Yeah. It'll work."

"Thanks for understanding, guys. All right, let's go over the finish at the arena. I think that little piece of metal you got there will do just fine, Eddie. Everyone cool?"

"Wait, Mark... are we doing formula?"

"Of course."

"Who plays who?"

"Well, I think we can take turns and stretch this out."

"Stretch it out? Mark, you know I can't go long in the ring."

"Paul, don't worry. It'll be in stages. Besides, there's three of you. If you're tired, tag out. We're the ones who have to worry about endurance. Y'all are the heels -- make quick tags."

"All right."

We broke the huddle.

"Paul... we're set. Eddie's gonna hit me with the belt for the pin."

"All right, Mark, if that's fine with you. You want to do something to get your heat back?"

I looked over at Eddie. He rolled his eyes as he heard Paul's question. Show and Train were simply looking at me, as if expecting me to agree to something.

"Ya know, I was thinking of busting out a dive at SummerSlam. I could do that."

"Okay... if y'all can set it up, y'all can get it down. Are you all going over in the same van?"

Everyone else nodded.

"Paul... I got my own ride."

I pointed to my sunglasses and flipped up the shades.

"I see. Well, hang on... I think I can fix that. Let me get back to you. I might ride with you guys. Anyway, y'all get your stuff together and be in the arena at 4."

The meeting adjourned. As it did, Eddie approached me.

"Pardon me, homes... did you say you were going to dive at SummerSlam?"

"Yeah. I figure, hey... this is a big match. Not every day you wrestle a Mexican legend. Why not make it a memorable match?"

"But they'll remember you, man! Don't try to steal my thunder, you hear me?"

"Relax, Eddie. I wouldn't dream of it."

"Good."

*****

04:01 PM

I waited outside Paul's car. Kurt and Brock were headed to Van #1, while Show and Train were playing catch in the lot. Paul was inside, setting up the order of the matches for the night. I looked around for my fellow Angels.

Josh Matthews came out. His bright red hair -- recently dyed -- stood out from his blue SmackDown! jersey. He walked with a deliberate pace to the car and motioned for me to step away.

"What's goin' on, Josh?"

"Paul says there's a change of plans. You're going with him in the 1 Van today. Got it?"

"Well... sure... no problem. But I'm kinda waiting to meet someone, ya know?"

"I know. I'm the someone. Now, go on in. Paul will be out in a few minutes."

I slipped on my shades. Lindsay. Shoulda known. I bent over to her level.

"Hey, man... just tell me next time."

"Not in public. You know that."

I took my stuff and tossed it into the back of the van. I climbed on in. Stephanie's stuff was in the front row of the van -- well, it was more of a minibus the way the seats were arranged. It looked a lot like the one we took through Ontario, actually. Ugh. I don't need to think about that. Wait... I'm not. Oh, of course... I wasn't there for all the trouble. Heh.

I went to the middle row and spread out. Eddie was in the back with Kurt, while Brock sat in the row behind me. I turned around to face him.

"Hey, Les -- you don't think Eddie's gonna do somethin' stupid, do ya?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, he's been actin' awful unlike him lately."

"Yeah, I've noticed. I dunno. I think he'll get over it. I mean, he's just nervous or somethin, right?"

"I think it's more than that... but whatever. If he gets himself back into gear, we'll all be better for it."

Show and Train wandered on to the bus, followed by Paul and Stephanie. Show took a seat opposite Kurt, while Train sat across from me. The driver got in and peeled out of the parking lot.

"Guys, gather up. Let's talk about the match."

The five other moved forward and around so we could all hear each other. I leaned in and thought of the particulars.

"Okay, here's what I'm thinking... for the match, we do a big ol' brawl to start, right? Now, I'll be the face in peril for the first go-round. I'll tag in Brock, he'll get some stuff in, but then he's face in peril for the second go-round. Kurt, you get the hot tag, but that doesn't last long. And then the big segment is on Kurt. I think five minutes at least on him, maybe ten. We'll really build this up. Kurt, you tag me in, I go to town, things break down from there. So far so good?"

They all gave their assent.

"All right. Now the finish. Any ideas for details?"

Kurt spoke up. "Are we gonna do the finisher trainwreck again?"

"Gee, esse, I dunno... I mean, the finish is the beltshot, right? How we work that in?"

"Wait," said Brock, "I got a better idea."

"Yeah?"

"Taker, you set Eddie up for the powerbomb, ok? Then Show grabs him around the throat, but Angle gets behind him and gives him the Angle Slam. But that causes him to crash into me and send us both out of the ring. Train comes in and Derails Angle, so Taker gives Train a dragon sleeper, but the ref is clearing Angle out, so Eddie sneaks in and pastes Taker for the win."

"Hey, man, that's awesome!" yelled Eddie. Show just looked at me, as did Brock.

"All right, let's run with it. Now, I think that can set up the post-match stuff too."

"How so, man?"

"Well, Matt... hmmm... it's like this. Eddie gets the full face time for the win, then moves out. As y'all come to, Brock and Kurt get into an argument, right? I step in

between the two of you to calm it down. Then Train and Show run in and attack them and toss them out. The four of you slug it out on the outside, and I'll leap in and wipe you all out. Can you handle that?"

"I think so. Yeah."

"Do we need to practice this?"

"I'm cool."

"Me too, Mark."

"Yeah, no problem."

"I can go with it."

"Sounds straightforward."

"All right. Now, we're almost here. You sure all of you can handle this?"

"Actually..."

"Yeah, Show?"

"Can we work on the finish a little?"

"Sure, that's fine. No problem. Let's go."

The van pulled to a stop at the entrance. Everyone got off, but as I stepped off the bus, Stephanie pulled me back. She and Heyman were looking at me.

"Something wrong, guys?"

"No, no... just wanted to make sure you knew who we are. This is Kathleen here."

"Thought as much. Why do you think I calmed 'em down for ya?"

"Thanks."

"Hey, it's what leaders are for. Y'all set with the show?"

"Yeah, you guys are second from the top."

"Excellent. Let's go."

*****

09:14 PM

Dead Man Walkin'!

The crowd exploded in cheers as flashbulbs went off. I sat on the motorcycle and prepped the motor. Brock and Kurt were standing on either side of me. I looked out at the curtain, parted before me. The noise was stunning. I looked up.

"Stand back, boys."

I put the petal to the metal. The bike lurched out onto the stage. I paused as I heard Josh Matthews give the intro. I stared left and right, then revved the motor some more. My opponents were in the ring, staring at the entrance. I rode down the aisle and did my lap around the ring. After it finished, I put the bike in park in the aisle and waited.

Kurt Angle's music began as the crowd cheered some more. The "You Suck" chants, by now an affectionate saying, rang throughout the arena. I can't believe it. This guy's more over than I am now. He stood at the entrance and pointed to the air. His fireworks went off behind him. He walked to ringside and stood beside me. We both waited.

Brock's music started up. He was receiving cheers as well. He jogged in place on the stage, then walked down to meet us. He stopped, then nodded forward. We walked to the ring, Brock in front, Kurt and myself right behind. Brock jumped onto the apron, setting off his pyro. As he did, Train ran forward. Oh, it's on.

I slid in and made a beeline for Show. Kurt ran at Eddie. Everyone slugged everyone else. Show and I exchanged right hands. I backed him into the corner and began boxing him down. The crowd was cheering as I heard repeated thumps behind me. I just assumed Kurt had tossed Eddie around and kept going. After a while, I grabbed Show's hair and turned around. "Brock!" He was ready. I tossed Show at him, whereupon Brock caught him and threw him overhead. The crowd cheered. Everyone regrouped, with the heels going to the outside.

I slid out after them, expecting others to follow me. However, I was isolated, 1-on-3. As Show and Train put the boots to me, Eddie climbed onto the apron. Show finally rolled me back in, and I saw the trouble -- the referee had begun restoring order at just the wrong moment. Of course.

I lay out by the side of the ropes, where Eddie slingshot himself in with his senton. He picked me up and began suplexing me. Once. Twice. On the third try, I blocked. He tried again. I blocked again. I then grabbed him by the throat and held him for the chokeslam, but as I turned, Train hit me with the pump kick. Back down I went.

Eddie tagged the Big Show in. Show sent me into the ropes and followed with a clothesline. He backed me into a corner and faked a clean break before hitting an overhand chop to my chest. I doubled over in pain. He clubbed my back. I hit the ground. He yelled to the crowd, who booed him.

I slowly pulled myself to my feet. He sent me into the ropes. I ducked the rebound, but got nailed with a boot on the second try. Show brought in Train, who picked me up for his Trainwreck, but I slid out the back. I tried to whip him into the far ropes, but he reversed. One round was ducked, but the second time I launched myself at him and hit a flying clothesline -- something "I" hadn't done since the Phenom days. Heck, might as well go all-out for Eddie. Train and I were both down, but I managed to roll into the corner and find Brock's hand. I tagged him in.

Brock started punching Eddie's lights out in the corner. A whip into the ropes was followed with a huge spinebuster. Train ran in but got caught with an overhead suplex. Kurt ran into the ring to dispose of Train over the top, but that got the ref's attention. So what else is new? In the chaos, Big Show tossed Brock into the air with a gorilla press, then threw him into the turnbuckle. Eddie took over as Show stepped out.

Eddie began to stomp down Brock. He picked Brock up and tossed him into the turnbuckle chest-first, then caught him with a German suplex on the way back. He bridged for two. Eddie set up a rana on Brock, and after some teasing of a powerbomb, he managed to get it off for two. He set Brock on the turnbuckle and followed up. He yelled something in Spanish at me, which I took as a cue to come in. As the ref escorted me out, Show came in behind Eddie and lifted him up on his shoulders. From there, Eddie and Show delivered a stack superplex on Brock. Show rolled out and Eddie covered for two.

Eddie argued the count cadence with the referee, then dragged Brock over to the corner. He climbed the top turnbuckle and slapped his chest. Kurt ran over to the corner and grabbed Eddie's tights slightly. I knew what was coming. Eddie dove off the buckle, flailing his arms around, as Kurt pantomimed shoving him off. Brock was overshot by a good two feet. Both men were down again, but Eddie crawled over and caught Brock's foot.

Brock turned around and tried to stand up. Eddie tried to drag Brock over to his corner. After a few seconds, Brock tightened up his muscles and kicked Eddie all the way to the heel corner. Show tagged in, but too late. Brock lunged and found Kurt's hand.

Kurt charged in and dropkicked Show immediately. Show staggered backward, so Kurt landed a second dropkick, and a third one. On the third one, Show fell into his corner, where Train tagged himself in. He charged at Kurt with the pump kick, but Kurt ducked and grabbed Train's waist. He delivered a German suplex, but held on. A second German suplex hit Train, but again, he picked Train up right away. He struggled for the third one, but Train began backpedalling and squashed Kurt in the corner. Both men were hurt, but Train managed to stand back up and bodyslam Kurt down.

Show came in and legdropped Kurt, covering for two. He picked Kurt up and pressed him against the ropes, then tossed him across the ring, where Kurt skimmed on the mat and slid out. Brock and I got off the apron and stood on either side of him to help him up, but Train came around and tossed me into the barrier, while Show shoved Brock away. Show then picked Kurt up and bearhugged him into the post on the outside. He tossed Kurt back in, then tagged Eddie in.

Eddie smirked at the crowd and began to put Kurt in a surfboard-type maneuver --I never could keep these Mexican submissions straight. Kurt screamed in pain, but refused to give up. As he lay on Eddie in the submission hold, he shifted his weight to put Eddie's shoulders to the mat, forcing a break after a two-count. Eddie picked Kurt up and gave him a backbreaker. He covered, but it was only two.

Eddie proceeded to lock on the Gory Special in the center of the ring. Again, Kurt screamed in pain. The referee was checking Kurt and had his back to the heel corner. Show stepped over the rope, causing me to lunge in and try to cut him off. Instead, the ref cut me off, and I was forced to watch Show put his mitt around Kurt and choke him down. Finally, Eddie let go, then went behind the ref as I exited the ring and slapped his hands together. He slid outside, and Show was the legal man.

Show began to pick Kurt up, then placed his hand over Kurt's face. Kurt began to stagger while in the clawhold of sorts. He dropped to one knee, then to both. After a while, he slumped over onto the mat. Show kept the pressure on. The ref dropped to count, but Show picked Kurt up. However, as he did so, his hand slipped down Kurt's face. Soon after, Show hollered in pain. I couldn't see why until he did the full turn. Kurt was biting Show's hand!

The referee began to count, and Kurt let go, but he was staggering. Show wrapped him up in an abdominal stretch in the heel corner. He reached back and held his hand out. Eddie grabbed it. Kurt screamed louder. Then Train came behind Eddie and grabbed Eddie's feet. It was a real sight to behold -- Kurt being held by Show, who was using both his teammates as a lever, with poor Eddie the rope connecting his giant teammates.

Eventually, the ref heard Eddie yell in pain and called for a break. Eddie let go and flew straight into Train. Kurt, meanwhile, hiptossed Show and collapsed. Everyone on the opposition was down. Kurt was slowly making his way to me. Show was going to tag, but had nowhere to go. He pulled himself up and saw Kurt already halfway across the ring. Brock began to get the crowd involved, as I leaned between the top and middle ropes, clutching the tag rope while making the distance Kurt had to travel as short as possible. Eddie climbed back onto the apron and tagged himself in. He charged, but Kurt made that last lunge and tagged my hand.

I climbed the rest of the way in as Eddie begged off. I kicked him as he knelt there, sending him flying back into the corner. He used the ropes to pull himself up. I pummeled him in the corner with rights and lefts, then twisted his arm. "OLD SCHOOL!" I climbed the turnbuckle and slowly walked the ropes toward my corner. I came down with a clothesline that flattened Eddie. Then, for good measure, I nailed both Train and Show off the apron.

I went back to Eddie and chokeslammed him down. I signalled for the Last Ride and put Eddie in position. Show hauled himself over the top and stomped to me. He grabbed my throat. Meanwhile, Brock was cutting Train off by the ropes. Here we go...

Kurt ran around behind Show and set him up. He flipped Show over his shoulders as Eddie and I fell in a heap to the mat. Show flew across the ring in the Angle Slam, but landed into Brock, sending all the two of them out of the ring. A-Train, who had sidestepped the collision, turned around and picked Kurt up as he yelled. He powered Angle down to the mat. I stood up behind A-Train and waited for him to turn around. When he did, I grabbed him by the throat and mouthed at him about respect. I then picked him up and threw him down. I signalled again for the Last Ride. This time, I picked A-Train up. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the referee trying to get Angle out of the ring. Then, right in front of me, I saw Eddie charging. I bent over to grab Train so that my face was at his level.

THWACK! I felt Eddie smash the belt into my face. It was harder than I imagined it would be. I fell down and didn't move. Eddie grabbed A-Train by the foot and dragged him out of the ring, then tossed the US Title into the aisle. He covered me as the ref turned around. One, two, three.

Eddie's music played as he taunted the crowd. He climbed the turnbuckle as the crowd began booing and cheering him -- some of both. He walked out of the ring as I rolled to the ropes and tried to pull myself up. His music stopped as he left. In the ring, Brock was staring at Kurt. The two began to shove each other. I headed over and got between them. As I did, Show and Train got back in the ring and attacked them.

Another slugfest erupted. This time, our numbers allowed us to get the better of it. Kurt sent Train out, then followed after him. I whipped Brock into Show, which allowed him to clothesline the giant to the outside, taking himself with him. All four men brawled with each near the end of the ramp. I judged the distance. I think I should be able to make that. I ran to the opposite ropes, bounced off, timed my steps, and jumped.

The flashbulbs went off all around me as I hung in the air forever. The four men turned around and lifted their arms. I had judged it just right -- I was sailing right at them. I landed in four pairs of arms, with eight hands wrapping themselves around me. Everyone fell backward and hit the ground. I rolled off and took in the sounds of the crowd. Holy cow. That was a fun ride. I gotta remember to be a Cruiserweight next week.

*****

Tuesday, August 19, 2003, 01:00 AM

Detroit, Michigan

Eddie and I were seated together in the back row. Everyone on the van was talking about what a wild ride it had been for the group that evening. Kurt couldn't get over the dive right at the end. He kept saying, "Guys that big shouldn't fly like that!" Show was amazed he had gone so long in the ring in a match. "I haven't ever been out there that long before."

"Sure you have -- remember the Robin Hood match?"

Everyone laughed. "Man, that was a joke and you know it. They just cut it up between ad breaks."

"Yeah, I know, Show. Just yankin' yer chain."

"All right, Taker."

Eddie turned to me in the back. "Say... Mark... I wanna talk about the match on Sunday."

"Yeah? Is anything wrong?"

"Well, I just wanna say I think... um... if you can do that with me, I think we'll be all right. Thing is... I just hope I don't lose anything from the match, ya know?"

"Hey, Eddie, I know. I'm worried too. Tell ya what, let's make a deal. You help me look good, and I'll help you look good. Can ya do that?"

"I'll do my best."

"Great. We'll practice a few times in Phoenix before the show, ok?"

"Sure. That would be great. I just hope you don't short me, man."

"Short you?"

"Yeah... I mean, I know I'm small, and I'm not a WWE guy, really, and people think I don't try to work the party line... I do, man, I do... but..."

"Eddie... you've been wrestling longer than I have. I should be taking orders from you in this match. Just because I've been at the top for so long doesn't mean I dunno how to bring someone up with me."

"Yeah, but... I mean, I'm not really the kinda guy you like giving and taking with..."

"Eddie, come on. Have you ever heard me say anything about you?"

"Not directly, no."

"All right. So wait until I open my mouth before you think I'm after you. Okay?"

"Yeah... sure."

"All right. Hey... make sure you get some rest tonight. You and me, we got a huge showdown tomorrow. You gonna be ready for it?"

"I hope so."

"All right. No problem."

*****

I dragged myself down the hall to my room. I was exhausted -- more so than I'd been with Cena or Edge. I didn't realize being 40 was this brutal.

I opened the door. No sound. I walked in. No lights. I turned on the light and looked around. There were two beds, but both were made. Well, I'll be damned. I'm good enough to get a single!

I set my stuff down and crashed on the bed, setting the alarm for 9:00 AM. I didn't even have to undo the covers. I was exhausted, but it was a good type of exhaustion from an effort well done. If I feel this way after Sunday, I'll know I'm all right.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2003, 10:22 AM

Detroit, MI

As we entered the auditorium to watch RAW, I passed by Chris Benoit on the side. He was having a conversation with old friend Eddie about SummerSlam, but there was something in his voice that indicated he was upset. I pulled off and sat down behind them.

"Hey guys, how's it goin'?"

"Hey, Taker. Not so good."

"What's wrong, Chris?"

"You didn't hear, man?"

"No. Was I supposed to?"

"I guess not. Um... it's Jericho."

"What about him?"

"He tore his calf muscle last night during a match. He's out until at least WrestleMania, probably longer. Poor guy won't even be on TV for a while."

"You mean, he can't even limp out for the Highlight Reel?"

"No, man. It's too dangerous to fly. He's going to Birmingham for rehab."

"Damn. That sucks, man. Hope he's all right."

"Yeah... next time we're in town, we should go visit."

"Sure. Hey Eddie, what have we got for tonight?"

"I dunno, man. I think they're having us talk."

"That oughta be fun."

"I wouldn't say dat so fast, esse. I mean, you 'n' me fill a segment? Can we do dat?"

"Don't worry, Eddie. It'll be just fine. I mean, you and Benoit did a whole segment together."

"Yeah, but we had a history, man! What about us?"

"You have a history, I have a history. Work with that. I mean, why not take our worries and make them the story?"

"Well, I guess... I'll just do what works."

We couldn't continue the conversation any further, because Stephanie had the microphone.

"Okay, gentlemen -- ATTENTION PLEEEEASE!"

Everyone stared in confusion at her, thinking she had gone into her act. I hadn't heard that kind of screeching out of Stephanie in weeks. I would've figured she wanted to save her voice.

"Paul, are you ready?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Then let's get started with the show. After it's over, we'll announce procedure for tonight's show."

*****

- The SmarK RAW Rant for Aug. 18 / 03

- Live from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

- Your hosts are Jim Ross, Jonathan Coachman, and Jerry Lawler. Coach replaces Good Ol' near the end of the show when Kane is making his appearance.

- Highlight Reel: Eric Bischoff appears on the show and announces that he's in charge tonight. Well, I should hope so, since he is the GM and all. He declares that The Rock will show up for the main event, and can even pick his opponent. He then announces the return of the Inter-Promotional Brawl, featuring the best RAW has to offer. And himself, of course. Jericho naturally assumes he'll be on the team, and is told he will make captain. They both make fun of Kevin Nash with regards to tonight's big match. Good little businesslike segment.

- Opening match: La Resistance and Test v. Hurricane and Dudley Boyz. JR tells us that the two teams will officially meet at SummerSlam, as if we didn't know how that would turn out. Seriously, does anyone give the heels a hope in hell? Housecleaning to start, and Grenier takes the Wazzup Drop. Test boots D-Von during the dance, getting two for Grenier. Dupree in, and La Crepe gets two. MAIN EVENT SPINEBUSTER follows for two. Bubba runs in and distracts the ref, allowing Test and Dupree to do the old T&A double team for two. Dupree dances, so D-Von hits him low, hot tag Bubba. It's BONZO GONZO as everyone hits everything in succession until Grenier tags D-Von with the FLAG OF DOOM for the pin at 5:12. Good match, but too short to be worthwhile. **1/4 They seriously need to get the titles off the French though.

- Backstage, The Rock ARRIVES! He is told he can pick any opponent, and he chooses Kane, oddly enough. Hmmmmm...

- Randy Orton and Triple H vs. Rob Van Dam and Goldust. We find out that both faces have been added to team RAW. Good, they needed to be on the card anyway. RVD beats on Orton to start as the announcers mention the match from last week between the two guys on the apron. Van Dam's enzuigiri gets two. Goldust in with a sliding punch and butt butt for two. HHH lines up and gets a clothesline, but USES THE KNEE~! to make Goldust the face-in-peril. Funny how that works. Trips gets a facebuster for two. Kneedrop gets two. MAIN EVENT SPINEBUSTER gets two. Orton in, and the Play of the Day gets two. RKO is blocked, Goldust hits the powerslam, hot tag RVD. Van Dam kicks anything in a five-foot radius, then hits Rolling Thunder on Orton for two. HHH slams down RVD, but Goldust clotheslines him. Orton takes Shattered Nuts, but RVD gets tossed off the top by HHH, and KICK WHAM PEDIGREE finishes at 8:14. They're not even TRYING to hide the politics anymore, are they? **1/2 Goldberg runs in and gets decked with a sledgehammer. Well, at least Trips should do the job at SummerSlam, right? Right? RIGHT?

- Booker T comes out and talks about his past. He says that he's been fighting people who thought he wouldn't make it to the top for years, and now he's proven them all wrong. He calls out Chris Nowinski and DEMANDS a confrontation TONIGHT. Ah, but Nowinski says that he's honoring the contract and will wait for SummerSlam. Booker chases after him, only to get beat down by the cast of "Rent" and left lying.

- So let's review here. We have Booker T, product of the streets and successful black guy, against Chris Nowinski, Harvard graduate and pretty much the definition of an Ivory Tower resident. Backing Nowinski up are Rodney Mack, Theodore Long, and Jazz, three black people who claim the world is out to get them and believe that Booker T is a symbol of racism. So, behind the leadership of Nowinski, they attack Booker, leading to the visual of a white guy telling three black people to beat up a black guy in the name of racial equality. And the announce team doesn't even NOTICE. If Long weren't such a great heel, this would be BEGGING for Nowinski to get turfed out. Sadly, the likely conclusion is to put the title on home-grown Nowinski over WCW import Booker, because GOD KNOWS Vince McMahon needs a clean-cut white boy to be the poster child for the secondary title. Such a great story and it's going to be ruined. Sigh...

- Goldberg v. Ric Flair. Time of the entrance: 2:38. Time of the match: 1:19. 1/4* HHH makes sure Goldberg doesn't get over or anything.

- Chris Jericho v. Kevin Nash. BUT WAIT! Bischoff announces that Stone Cold never said who the special referee for this would be, so he introduces Randy Orton. Jericho attacks from behind to start, but Nash no-sells and gives Jericho snake eyes for two. To Orton's credit, he isn't fast- or slow-counting yet. Nash beats Jericho down, but Jericho ducks the framed elbow and hits a facejam. Suplex and ARROGANT COVER~! get two. Nash goes for the boot, but Jericho catches his leg and tries the Walls. Nash makes the ropes and bails. Outside, Nash meets the steps. Jericho returns to the ring and tries his springboard dropkick onto Nash as he re-enters, but he legit injures his leg on the liftoff.

- If you'll excuse me, I have to spend the next ten minutes in mourning.

- Okay, I'm done. *sniff*

- Back to the match: Well, we can't count on Nash improvising, and Orton doesn't nearly have the experience to book on the fly, so Nash climbs in and crawls on Jericho for two. We hit the chinlock as all three desperately try to salvage the match. Even Lawler and Coachman note that Jericho might be hurt. Back up, Jericho elbows out and flies at Nash, but eats boot. Poochiebomb is tried, but Orton clips Nash and Jericho falls on top, getting the very fast three at 6:25, about 2:00 of which was after the injury. The announcers are torn between putting over Jericho for his guts and noting that he won cheaply. Orton takes a chair to Nash's leg to give the EMTs a reason to come out and attend both men. Decent Nash match until the leg injury shot everything all to hell. *1/4

- Backstage, the Rock gives a mega-extended promo hitting all his old catchphrases so that Jericho can have time to be helped to the back. Of note: Rock calls Kane the "Kentucky Fried retard" and makes several burn jokes, but when Kevin Kelly tries to inform him of Kane's mental state, Rock just acts like the Rock and keeps cutting him off. It's a good setup, but will they deliver?

- Main event: The Rock vs. Kane. No match, as Kane charges the ring as soon as he's set free of the restraints and beats on Rock six ways from Sunday, using chairs, the ring bell, the steps, and anything else not nailed down. He even beats up a police officer and whacks Rock a few times with a nightstick. FIVE straight Tombstones on a chair finish the slaughter before the cops can subdue Kane long enough to lead him away. They cut the show off early, since I assume they would have Rock do a stretcher job here, but after Jericho's legit injury plans might have changed.

The Bottom Line:

Well, if a show's suffering, get the Rock on it! They now have a ready-made angle for Unforgiven's main event, but the SummerSlam build-up has been ok at best. The Brawl is a nice concept, but it'll depend on how much time it gets. And I dare anyone to claim HHH doesn't play politics after watching his tag match.

Does anyone care who wins the main event? Anyone? At all?

*****

A murmur ran through the roster. Jericho's injury looked bad on TV, and very few people had heard of it. It was clear something was wrong -- his right calf looked like it had bunched up near the top, clearly out of proportion compared to the left.

"It's as bad as it looks, people," said a somber Paul Heyman. "He's flying in for surgery with Dr. Andrews tomorrow. I don't know if he'll ever be the same wrestler he was."

We all paused and thought about it. I realized that Taker had been quite lucky throughout his career. Physically, he hadn't suffered any major injuries. Sure, there was the torn groin muscle, but that was it, really. Even then, he was starting to return to form, slowly but surely. The matches with Austin, RVD, and Cena over the years had been spectacular, and his ability to control a psychotic brawl was never in doubt. I wondered, though, if things would go haywire when Eddie and I got in the ring. Could he brawl with me? Could I match holds with him? What would happen?

"Okay, guys, here's the plan for tonight's show. I want you to listen up. We're going to set up a match for next week on tonight's show. Now, I realize that a lot of you aren't on SummerSlam who would like to be. So we'll give you a tryout tonight. I'm having a four corners tag match, where the winners will face the tag champions next week. I want the FBI, the Bashams, Mattitude, and the APA to meet with Paul after the meeting to discuss particulars. Also, our team for the brawl is going to be Big Show, A-Train, John Cena, Chris Benoit, and myself. We're going against Rob Van Dam, Goldust, Hurricane, Eric Bischoff, and Jericho's injury replacement, whose identity I haven't been told yet. Along those lines, Benoit will qualify for the final spot by beating Rikishi and Rhyno in a triple threat match, while the other three of you will face Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle in a handicap match for the main event. Meanwhile, I want the two tag teams to split up and do two singles matches. Tell me who faces who and I'll go from there. Finally, Daddy will cost Zach Gowan a match against Jamie Noble, then get in an interview where they set forth the stipulations for their match. Everyone got that? That's the match schedule for tonight. Now, Paul, would you handle the story developments?"

"Sure thing, Steph. Okay, apart from the McMahon/Zach thing, which he's working on right now, we will have a series of vignettes with Michael Cole and Stephanie McMahon. It will be revealed that Cole gets his favor granted, but not what that favor is. Josh, you and Tazz are on tonight. I expect you to hold up your end of the bargain. Meanwhile, Eddie and Taker, you two will be given a segment to build your match up. After that segment, Eddie will attack Taker backstage and yell about keeping the US Title. Is everything clear?"

"Wait, Paul..."

"Yes, Eddie?"

"Does this mean I'm losing at SummerSlam?"

"No. No decision has been made there. We're going to see how everyone's doing before we set the final results. You know that's the drill, Eddie."

As he sat back down, I tapped him on the shoulder.

"The America West Arena is ours from Thursday to Sunday for setup and practice. Meet me Saturday afternoon at 2 o'clock and we'll go over some stuff in the match. Got it?"

"Sure thing, esse."

Paul resumed. "The other segments will be video packages about Zach Gowan against Vince McMahon and Brock Lesnar against Kurt Angle. Are there any questions? Everyone satisfied?"

"One second, Paul. Should we tell you how we're splitting up now?"

"Hang on to that, Rey. After we're done."

"Okay."

"Any questions about tonight or about SummerSlam?"

None. Stephanie resumed control.

"Okay, guys, listen up. We will arrive in Phoenix tomorrow. Our charter leaves at 1:35 PM. I don't want anyone to miss the flight. Got it? You have a fan festival on Thursday at the America West Arena from 9 AM until 6 PM. I want everyone there to sign autographs and be in character. Got it? Now, Friday and Saturday are your days, but be at the Arena on Sunday by 12 Noon local time. The fireworks go off at 5 PM. We are on Pacific Time, remember. I don't want any excuses. All right, guys, let's get ready for tonight."

The meeting adjourned. I headed out to the lobby to put my stuff in Paul's car. As I did, Eddie stopped me.

"Mark?"

"Yeah, Eddie?"

"I'm scared, man. Just don't make me look bad."

"Eddie..."

"Yeah?"

"Me too. Help me out there."

*****

We were in the conference room. The Joe Louis Arena was just outside. Kathleen was lying on the table, spread out. Lindsay and I sat next to each other at one end. Paul was on the other end.

"Guys, I know last week was rough. Both of you had a hard time, and I'm sorry it happened. I just wanna remind you that this week, you have to be on your guard. We can't have everyone freak out."

"Why this week in particular, Mr. Heyman?"

"Because it's Summerslam. The whole roster is going to be together in the back. There will be difficulties, I assure you. I need you in your role -- and you in yours, Andy -- to help us keep order backstage. You two are seen as locker room leaders. Don't add to the trouble."

"What about me?"

"Lindsay, you're going to be backstage doing interviews, announcing, and so on. You'll be too busy. It's too bad in a way that you are where you are now, because I could use an experienced hand to guide things. Hopefully the RAW guys will be on top of things."

"That reminds me, Mr. Heyman -- who are the RAW guys?"

"I don't know."

"No, no, no -- I think Kathleen means, who are the Fallen Angels over there? As in, will she meet them? I can handle this."

"Okay, Lindsay."

"Kathleen, we're not supposed to bring our glasses in with us to SummerSlam weekend. Basically, now that we all know who we are, I think it's best if we just be ourselves. This is a chaotic weekend, and more so than any other, we have to be in secret. Remember, Kathleen: they must not know that we're here at all."

"At all? But I'm front and center!"

"I know you are. But you can't let your guard down. You have to stay in character all the time. If you need a break, find Paul and he'll take you to here. You got lucky this week. You and Paul can sneak off here any time, and people will just assume you're discussing booking."

"Actually, Lindsay... um... it was more than luck."

"What do you mean, Paul?"

"Well, I prayed that she would get Stephanie this week."

"What?"

"Why, Mr. Heyman? You know I can't--"

"Kathleen, please. I did this for just the reason Lindsay said. I know you get nervous a lot and need time off. Last week, how often did we come here to cool our jets?"

"Every day."

"Exactly. But you can't do that this week. We could barely do it last week. And haven't there been times when I've told you to tough it out for a while?"

"Yes, sir."

"Okay... but you don't have to get tough love this week. If you want time to be yourself, just find me and I'll drop you off here for a while. It's easy."

"Thank you."

Paul started to get up. "Come on, guys, we got a show to get to."

"Hang on, Paul..." I put a hand on Lindsay's shoulder as I spoke. "...we'll be out in a second.... if that's okay?"

"Well, it is. This room's off the clock. But don't take too long... we can't mess up your sleep cycle, especially yours, old man."

He winked. Kathleen and Paul left the room. As the door closed, Lindsay turned to me.

"What is it? What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong. I just wanted to talk to you."

"Yeah? What about?"

"Well, I kinda feel a little silly right now... especially bout yesterday."

"Yesterday? Andy, nothing happened yesterday. Is this about bailing out? You did the right thing."

"No, no... I was just thinking about our conversation in there. Especially... the last couple of lines..." This is going to sound weird no matter what.

"I don't remember them. What were they?"

"Well, I said that you were a wonderful person... even in two parts. It was kinda corny, I know, but... well, Lindsay, I..."

"Andy, stop right now. This can't do us any good."

"What?"

"Andy, I noticed it the first day together. I know how you feel. I mean, I'm flattered, but the fact is right now we're in no position to be distracted like that."

"Distracted? We're in the conference room. We can be us, right?"

She didn't answer. She simply looked away, as if trying to find a far-off memory

somewhere.

"Lindsay? What is it?"

"We can't always be us, even here. We can still fade, or be destroyed. I don't want to tempt you, especially since it put you in Recovery last time."

"But that wasn't me. That was John Cena! Come on, Lindsay, why can't we just talk about it? I just wanna know how you feel."

She said nothing. She seemed almost paralyzed by the emotion. Oh no... what have I done?

"Lindsay? Is something wrong?"

"It's not you. I'm just remembering another guy."

"From your life?"

"No. From here."

"I don't understand."

"Andy, you're a great guy. You were wonderful to me last week. I like you. I can't deny that. But I don't want to risk anything else, because you'll end up like... like he did."

"Who? Like who?"

"It was someone else on the case. This had to be five, six years ago -- they all blur together. No, wait, I'm sure it was early 97, actually. We had been asking our intermediary to give us time alone -- like now. We spent more and more time together. We fell in love. Not who we were, but US -- WE fell in love. It was wonderful."

"So what happened?"

"We wanted to share our love somehow. We tried faking fading at the same time, but with me... well, you know... we just couldn't get romantic. Then one week I woke up and found I was Tammy... Sunny. It was the first time I had been a woman since we realized we were in love. I searched him out. Now was the perfect time."

"So what was wrong with that?"

"We couldn't be married! Marriage is an earthly thing, not a spiritual one! The next morning, I put on my glasses and found myself lying next to a regular person instead of the guy I fell in love with. I looked at myself and I was barely there. I got dressed and ran out immediately. I had to spend a month in Recovery for that. I destroyed him... and I nearly destroyed myself too. I don't know why I was spared... I've asked for answers, but no one has any."

"Sunny Days."

"What?"

"Nothing, I was just--"

"No, it's all right, I heard. Yes, he was Bret Hart. The rumors were true. Another Angel let it slip while he was Shawn Michaels. He got transferred immediately, but it was too late. Everyone knew, and Bret's anger still burns today."

"Oh, my. So you..."

"With one act, I may have left two people in Hell. It's something I have to live with."

She bent over and put her face in her hands. I was at a loss for words. I touched her shoulder and stood there. The seconds seemed to tick away, even though I knew we weren't within time. She tried to regain her composure.

"Andy?"

"Yeah?"

"I don't ever want that to happen to you. Just promise me -- promise me you won't let it come to that."

I took a deep breath. I never thought I was opening a can of worms by talking about this. I just wanted to express my feelings in a safe environment. Well, now I have... and I wish I hadn't. All I did was hurt her again.

"Trust me, Lindsay. I love you to much to put you at risk. I want you to be with me always in Heaven... I wouldn't dare keep you out."

"Thank you..."

"Lindsay... are you saying you... that you..."

"No. Not yet. We've only known each other a few weeks. And I don't think you truly love me either. But I think you're a great guy. I want you to know that. I'm just scared you'll do something you'll regret."

"Thanks."

We hugged.

"Come on, let's go."

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You know, part of the problem of doing this as a serial (meaning revealing the story in installments) is that some chapters seem to be placeholders, lost in the shuffle. Of course, back in Victorian times, your highly successful writers could pull this off and still maintain interest, but then again, not even I am egomaniacal enough to compare myself to friggin' Charles Dickens.

Besides, he got paid.

Well, this chapter is two posts as a result. Deal.

The first one expands on the Taker/Eddie story by showing how things went down between the two of them on SmackDown!. By this time, it was clear that -- as far as the readers were concerned -- this match would make or break the diary. Did it hold up? You'll have to wait and see.

I'm also including Axxess weekend in here, as a way to show how chaotic the typical wrestling locker room is. Not that I know, but I can imagine. And that's what matters, dammit!

A lot of storylines also began at this section. Chavo Guerrero's knowledge of the lucha past was actually a way for me to show off how much research I had done, and to establish something I had read in Heel Turn's sig about wrestling. (For the record, I disagree with "in America, it's a joke." In America, it's good television -- people like Rock, Hogan, Austin, Flair, etc., have shown that wrestlers can legitimately act. I will contend to my dying day that Hogan could have hit it big in Hollywood if he had had the same movie roles the Rock did. Hogan's movies were all directed to kids, and as such, seemed like crap. Rock, meanwhile, is allowed to be a true action star. It's a matter of right place, wrong time. But I digress.)

You also see the hinting of a Hogan return here. Since the diary began, I had a feeling that Hogan's Mr. America thing was actually the beginning of a long-term relationship, and that Hogan still had something to contribute. I decided to make Hogan a more mellow, responsible, secure individual after all the nWo bullcrap he pulled. Of course, the real Hogan has shown how comfortable he is by basically never working again. Whatever. I was a Hulkamaniac when I first watched wrestling, so I wanted to make the guy cool. You got a problem with that, go read someone else's diary.

The Taker/Kane segment wound up not going anywhere -- by the time WrestleMania rolled around, Taker was injured and Kane was programmed in another match -- but it's amusing because in August of 2003, I predicted a Taker/Kane return match. Fast forward to WrestleMania XX and see that it happened. Huh.

Torrie and Kidman? That was me having fun, but also me establishing that the two had a "newlywed" feel about their marriage. Despite the trials of the road, and knowing that a lot of relationships would come and go in the story, I felt they would remain strong. After all, she fell for him when he was nothing and has used her pull to keep him on the payroll, so she loves him truly. And I don't think we need to ask about Kidman ;)

The Taker's debut in November 1990 is one I remember watching live on PPV. I didn't sleep well until Paul Bearer arrived a few months later and added a softer side to him (more cartoonish, if you will). But I wanted to discuss the entrance, because it's one of the few times a quiet crowd was a good thing.

The final SummerSlam 2003 card, by the way, is this:

RAW:

* HHH © vs. Goldberg, World Title

* Booker T © vs. Chris Nowinski, Intercontinental Title

* La Résistance © vs. Dudley Boyz, World Tag Titles

* Randy Orton vs. Kevin Nash

SmackDown!:

* Kurt Angle © vs. Brock Lesnar, WWE Heavyweight Title (with a heel turn impending from one or the other)

* Eddie Guerrero © vs. Undertaker, WWE US Title

* World's Greatest Tag Team © vs. Billy Kidman and Rey Misterio, WWE Tag Team Titles, ladder match

* Vince McMahon vs. Zach Gowan, "Double or Nothing" match

And the Inter-Promotional Brawl:

RAW: Hurricane, Rob Van Dam, Goldust, Eric Bischoff, and an injury replacement

SD!: John Cena, Big Show, A-Train, Chris Benoit, and Stephanie McMahon

I have no idea if the card was worth the $34.95 coming in. And you'll have to see if it was worth it coming out. :)

*****

Chapter 10

Desert Countdown

Tuesday, August 19, 2003, 07:14 PM

Detroit, MI

I waited in the locker room for Eddie. Outside, I could hear Stephanie and Paul going over last-minute additions to the card. In one corner, Brock and Kurt were discussing their match with Big Show. Elsewhere, other people stretched out and loosened up, ready for the last event before we all headed to Phoenix.

"Mark... sorry I'm late."

"Oh, hey Eddie. You ain't late. I just wanted to see if you were ready, man."

"Yeah... about tonight... what do we say?"

Good point. What DO we say?

"Eddie... I'm not the kind of guy who needs to know everything in advance. Just let me start, and you can follow up. If we can't work off of each other... well, I'd be damn surprised."

"You believe?"

"I do. Now c'mon, Eddie... I hear they want us in the parking lot for a little something."

"Oh yeah... let's go."

*****

07:31 PM

"All right, Mark, listen up."

It was Kevin Dunn, doing double duty as production co-ordinator for both SmackDown! and RAW. He was giving last minute instructions to both of us on what to do during the sketch. Trouble is, we were 50 feet away from each other and on moving vehicles. I had no idea how this would come off.

"Mark, here's the drill. You're going to be headed out of here when Eddie cuts you off. The two of you get in an argument, then he fakes smoothing it over until you turn around. Cheap shot, belt shot, drive off. Got it?"

"Easy."

He grabbed his megaphone. "You ready down there, Guerrero?"

A honk came back.

"He's ready. Okay, guys, quiet on the set... places... and... ACTION!"

I drove up on the bike. I was cruising along as the Lo Rider sped in front of me. I slammed on the brakes and nearly tumbled off of the bike. I got off and set up the kickstand.

"Hey, man, what's your problem?"

"Oh, Taker, sorry man... I didn't see you. I guess I should give a legend more room, eh?"

"Don't patronize me, boy. Just watch yourself. You got that?"

"Yes, sir, yes, Undertaker..."

"That's better."

I turned around to get back onto the bike. As I flipped up the kickstand, I felt a blow from the back of my head. I tumbled forward, but I was already tangled in the bike. I crashed over and moaned in pain.

"Oh, shit... Mark? Mark, you ok?"

"Cut!"

Eddie ran towards me. He seemed genuinely upset.

"Mark, Mark... you ok brother?"

"Dammit, I'm fine. I was selling."

"What?"

Kevin ran into the scene.

"Everything all right?"

"Yeah, Kev... I just caught him off-guard, that's all."

He sighed audibly. "All right... ok, let's do it again, Take 2! Places!"

*****

09:22 PM

Dead Man Walkin'!

I emerged from the back on my motorcycle to a cheering crowd at the Joe Louis Arena. I raised my fist to them, accepting their cheers, although at the same time I heard some people booing me. While lapping the ring, I heard a "Taker" chant grow louder and louder. I thought I heard Tazz mention that the Undertaker would always have his fans. I entered the ring and hit my poses, to the delight of the crowd. Okay, buddy, mic's on, we're playin' live... don't mess this up.

"Now, people who know me know that I'm not a man of talk. I believe in settling differences with an old-fashioned fight. Recently, I've had my differences with that punk Eddie Guerrero."

The crowd cheered and booed, both loudly.

"Yeah, I know... some of you, you think he's got a point. You see him out here, and he wears his gameplan on his sleeve. Ya know what? I admire that. I respect a guy who lets you know how he's gonna beat you, then beats you anyway. But I don't respect an attitude. Eddie, I don't know how things are down in Mexico, but here in the WWE, you gotta earn your stripes before you roar like a tiger. And Eddie, I don't see you earning a damn thing with your attitude."

I paused for a second crowd reaction. The cheers were getting louder, but so were the boos. One thing was certain -- the crowd liked it.

"Eddie, if you wanna impress me, don't talk about being a champion -- I've been a champion more times than you've been in title matches. I've held 12 pieces of gold around my waist, boy. I've been to the top of the #1 organization on this planet. Now I think you can get there, but if you think beating me is the way to it, then this Sunday at SummerSlam, I'll give you a rude awakening. I'll show you..."

Viva la Raza!

Eddie Guerrero emerged -- walking, for once -- as the crowd again gave the loudest mixed reaction I had heard. I began to think his time was soon. He walked past my motorcycle, giving it a perfunctory kick on the way. He strolled into the ring and played to the crowd. I made sure to shoot him an icy stare for disrespecting my bike. He got a second microphone, and the fun really began.

"Undertaker, man... you like to talk about your past a lot, don't you? You like to live in the past, esse. Well, guess what, bro... that's because you are the past. You have no future in this business! I'm the next generation's prototype, Taker. I am the man that 20 years from now will be seen as the trendsetter! You may have a lot to talk about when it comes to your success, but it's all in one place! I've done it all, baby! I've done more than you can begin to imagine!"

"Stop right there, Eddie. Just stop. Don't you know who I am? I am a 4-time World heavyweight champion. I'm on the short list of Undisputed heavyweight champions in history. I was selling out arenas while you were still setting up rings. I was headlining Pay-Per-View events while you were still a nobody making a living off your daddy's name down in Mexico. I'm a living legend, Eddie. I ain't gonna let anyone steal my thunder."

"You think I'm worried about your thunder? You think I'm worried about the Undertaker's reputation? I didn't win this title here on reputation, bro. I won it in the ring! And you may not like how I won it, but you gotta understand... as long as I have it, I'm not losing to some over-the-hill has-been like you! Yeah... you can ride a Harley to the ring and act all macho, but at the end of the day, you're still an old has-been trying to cling to glory with everything he's got!"

I stared at the crowd for a while. This is my moment in the sun, and I'm milking it for all it's worth, man.

"Am I? Is that all you see here? Well, tell ya what, Eddie... bring it at SummerSlam. Put your gold where your mouth is. When all is said and done, I don't see you walking away with anything more than a beating. But hey... you wanna try me? You wanna step in my yard? You wouldn't be the first to see I can still bring it. And I guarantee you won't be the last."

We began an uneasy staredown. We posed for the cameras and the promotional videos. Eddie was a foot shorter than I was, so I made sure to keep my distance. I thought I heard Lindsay, in her role as Josh Matthews, going into hype mode, asking if the Guerrero legend would reach the highest level at SummerSlam. I waited.

"You want a piece of me? Undertaker, I don't back down from NO ONE! I'll see you at SummerSlam. And when I'm done, esse... you'll be left with a new understanding that you were... and I am!"

Eddie's music began again. He walked off as I stared at him. He pointed to the US Title belt and kissed it. "This ain't never leaving my side!" he screamed. I merely shook my head. I was hoping to convey what I was sure people were thinking at home: Eddie just doesn't know what he's getting into.

*****

10:45 PM

I was packing my stuff up and heading for the parking lot when I ran across Eddie's nephew, Chavo Guerrero. His arm still in a sling, he looked like an average human and not the WWE superstar who helped propel SmackDown! to the spot where the wrestling was. He pulled me aside to speak. I gulped.

"Hey, Taker... um, Uncle Eddie won't say this, but... uh... I gotta tell ya..."

"Yeah? What is it, Chav?"

"Well... he had the time of his life out there. He's ready for Sunday."

"That's wonderful!"

"But one thing... just for me, uh... you know, he's been getting a lot of calls and letters from home, and from the boys in lucha."

I chuckled. "They're looking forward to this, huh?"

"Well, yeah, but... they kinda see him as their biggest star. They want him to be the man in the WWE, you know what I mean?"

"Yeah... we all want our friends to do well."

"No, no, you miss my point... see, he thinks he has to look good. He feels like it's not just for himself, but all of Mexico. I mean, he looks at what he's done, and how he's cheated all the time, and he's worried he's making his people look bad to get money. But... if he can go all out, and come out smelling like a rose, against the Undertaker... a US icon..."

"I think I get it, Chavo. He feels if I beat him, he'll let his country down."

"Yeah... so he's been going kinda crazy, man. He's been on a short fuse, you know? I keep telling him, man, don't think too much of it, you know, Grandpa's legacy is set, the family's legacy is set... but he doesn't believe it. He thinks he can be El Santo or Mil Mascaras with a big win. You know, up with them."

I blanked.

"You know who they are, right?"

"I've... heard of the names. Wasn't Santo a B-movie star?"

"Yeah, but he got that by being the most popular luchador in history! You know how Rey never wears his mask down there? That's because the mask is your symbol! When you lose it, it stays lost, and when you first lose it, it's the biggest defeat in Mexican wrestling. Well, ol' Santo never lost it. Ever. This is like you never losing at WrestleMania, only ten times bigger. The man went everywhere with it. He was buried in it, man!"

"Okay... and I met Mil before... he was a cocky little..."

"Because in Mexico, he earned that right! And that's the right Uncle Eddie wants. He really thinks he can be the biggest crossover name in lucha libre! And as far as he's concerned, this is his litmus test. You know how many people say he'll be an icon if he wins?"

"You're kiddin', right? I've heard the boys in the back. They love the guy."

"Taker, it's more than that. It's more than respect. This is the moment of truth for him. He wants this to be the thing that makes him a superstar."

"Really... is that so?"

"Yeah! And he'd never tell you this, but... like I said, he's under pressure, and... well, do you think you can help him along?"

"Chavo, I already wanna help him along."

"You do?"

"Yeah. For too long I've been concerned with how I look onscreen. I've been through so much I thought I had to grab power by the short hairs and make it beg for mercy! But at the same time... I dunno... Do you get me?"

"Kinda... but please, Taker... just so you know what he's facing."

"I understand, man. Thanks."

"No... thank you."

He walked away. So now I not only have to make Eddie Guerrero realize his anger is unfounded and that there's more to life than being in the ring, I gotta watch out for an entire country watching at home on Pay-Per-View.

Damn.

*****

Thursday, August 21, 2003, 08:59 AM

Phoenix, AZ

"Welcome - to - AXXESS!"

With those words, the doors opened to the general public, and it was time to make ourselves celebrities. I was seated next to Chris Benoit at an autograph table, where we were scheduled to be for the next three hours. The crowd buzzed with the thought of having the stars of RAW and SmackDown! back together for the first time in three months.

Axxess was quite a sight. There were games and activities almost everywhere. You could pay money to get merchandise, or you could do a broadcast with a WWE voice. Autographs flowed from pens like wine from a bottle. There was even a running WWE.com camera where Dr. Tom Pritchard and Kevin Kelly interviewed the stars.

I tried to keep myself focused, but I found myself looking around for Eddie. I wanted to talk about our match. Vince had approached me last night and told me I was booked to win. I refused, saying it would be better to hold off the final victory until No Mercy. Vince gave me a sideways glance as if to tell me this was unlike me, then said he'd take it under advisement. I could only imagine what he told Eddie, and I wanted to reassure him I'd stood up for him.

*****

01:15 PM

With my tour of duty on Axxess complete, and my fluff interview with Kevin and the Doctor going on the site, I decided now was as good a time as any to take time off backstage. The McMahons set up a place for us to talk about our matches or to escape the fans. Personally, I just wanted to walk back there and order lunch.

I entered the door and went up to the counter. After receiving some good old-fashioned spicy Tex-Mex cuisine, I tried to sit back at the table and enjoy it. The noise of the outside was far away, replaced by the familiar clanging of pots, pans, utensils, and minimum wage employees. At the table down the way, Dean Malenko and Bruce Prichard were sharing old road stories. That's my future -- well, his future.

The door opened. John Cena was excited, almost out of breath. He turned to me immediately, a look of fear and surprise in his system. "Man... she's here."

"Who?"

"That girl from Toronto. She won't leave me alone!"

"The groupie? She's here now?"

"Yeah... I didn't know she had tickets here."

"Well, what are you going to do about it?"

"I don't know... but this is one problem I'm glad I have!"

"Hey, John? A little advice. Don't encourage her."

"Noooooo need there, Taker." He winked as he headed to the lunch counter. Oh dear. What have I gotten him into?

*****

02:33 PM

I headed back out to Axxess for a while. If this is a celebration, then I want a part of it! I wandered over to a section of cardboard cut-outs. The sign said "How Big are the WWE Superstars?" I looked at each one. Wow. These must be kinda short, cuz I'm pretty much the same height as their Undertaker. Oh, wait...

Suddenly, the crowd around me seemed to grow quiet. It wasn't my presence -- they had been asking me for autographs just minutes earlier, and I was happy to oblige. I looked around. There, standing behind me, was a giant of a man. He was nearly my height -- no small feat -- and wore a bright red outfit. But the most striking thing was his face. It was entangled in a permanent snarl, with eyes that could barely be seen through and a bright bald head resembling that of a man doomed to the electric chair. In this setting, he looked dangerous. In reality, I knew he was harmless.

I walked over to him. His eyes never left mine. Flashbulbs went off everywhere. I was pretty certain someone was taping this for the Heat pre-show. Neither one of us talked. We just stared. Finally, I let out a smirk.

"Bro", I said, speaking to Glen Jacobs -- Kane -- "what's gotten into you, man?"

He kept staring forward, then spoke, but in a whispered roar, almost like someone trying to hold back while still showing the hatred. "You did this to me! I should destroy you now!"

Some of the younger fans were shrieking to their parents. The older ones were bracing for a fight. I stood my ground.

"Go look at yourself in a mirror," I said, trying to remain calm. "What I did to you isn't a problem any more. And if you don't like it -- well, put the damn mask back on. But don't go blaming me."

"Accept me! Accept the man you tried to destroy!"

We stared. Fans could sense the electricity. I saw Vince out of the corner of my eye. He was smiling gleefully. He could sense the dollar signs. I think he's found a match for WrestleMania.

Before anything could happen, I saw a squadron of men in blue come up behind Kane. They grabbed his arms and tried to wrestle him to the ground. I took advantage of the situation and walked on. This wasn't the time or the place to further this feud. That would be later.

*****

03:48 PM

"Taker, man... whaddya think of Vince's match?"

It was Malenko. He had met me backstage to make sure I got the word.

"What's the plan?"

"Well, right now they're saying there's going to be a ton of run-ins. Basically, no-DQ, refs getting tossed all over the place... and there's a big ending Vince won't fill me in on. Of course, with the stakes so high, I'm not surprised."

"What stakes? It's just Zach's contract."

"Weren't you there?"

"I wasn't paying much attention. I had vignettes to film. What do you mean?"

"The other end of the Double or Nothing. Zach said he wanted to repay the favor to the man who got him his contract."

The man... who got him... wait...

"Hogan?"

"Yeah! If Zach wins, Hulk Hogan's reinstated with full wrestling rights and responsibilities!"

"B...b...Hogan doesn't work here!"

"Not yet he doesn't. I hear they're talking to him right now. The deal could be worked out by Sunday."

"And if it isn't?"

"Well... they'll just send Zach off to OVW for a few months."

"Wow. That's huge."

"Yeah, it is. I don't know which way they're goin' with it. Just that they want a lot of people involved."

"Like me."

"Yeah... talk to Vince tomorrow. He'll fill you in."

"Thanks, Dean."

Hulk Hogan. Some people just don't go away.

*****

04:29 PM

I was tired. I'd practically been on my feet all day. If the next three days were anything like this, I would be in bad shape for my match. I was almost planning on sleeping in Friday -- but obviously, Vince's plan changed everything. Now, I was just hoping for some time alone. I walked to the backstage area.

As I sat there, I contemplated the emptiness of the place. No one else was sitting down. The lunch people had long since left for the day. Everyone else was having too much fun outside. I was alone with my thoughts.

At least, I thought I was.

Then I heard a funny noise. It was coming from a door on the other side of the room. It sounded like giggling and whispering. I inched closer to the door. I couldn't quite make out the voices, but it sounded suspicious. No one's allowed back there. Those could be thieves.

I listened closer. There was a lot of rustling around. I distinctly heard a zipper being opened. A female voice -- a familiar one, though not immediately placeable due to the thickness of the door -- said, "What have we here?" and laughed. Thieves! They're going to steal proceeds from the show! I gotta act fast. Unless they're armed, no way they'll wanna mess with me.

I pounded on the door. The voices became more frantic. I heard a lot of rumbling around back there. I knocked again. The female voice yelled, "Just a minute!" Now I know I've heard it before...

The door opened. Torrie Wilson answered.

"Oh, it's just you... I thought it might've been Vince..." she laughed. Meanwhile, Kidman was busy putting his shirt back on. It didn't take me long to figure out what was going on. I smiled.

"Just save it for the hotel room, kids. You try in public, and you will get busted."

"But... but we weren't doing..." she blushed... "Okay, fine." She giggled and pranced out. Kidman was by now back in his uniform and heading for the exit as well. He stopped and looked at me.

"You had to interrupt, didn't you?"

I just stared. Guys, you're lucky you weren't arrested! I'm not the bad guy here!

*****

05:37 PM

I found Eddie. He was over by his Lo Rider, which he said the WWE would auction off on its website. He saw me and immediately got into character.

"Hey, esse... what you doin' here, homes? Ain't it past your bedtime, old man?"

I got in on the act. "Don't piss me off, Eddie. I'm comin for ya."

Eddie turned it up a notch. "Oh yeah? I'm so scared of a has-been like you!"

I charged. Security stepped in between us. We yelled randomly at each other as we tried to fight our way through the blue shirts. The crowd cheered rabidly. Several "Taker" and "Eddie" chants started. I hope Vince is listening.

"I'll see you on Sunday, esse!"

"It'll be your funeral!"

*****

Friday, August 22, 2003, 04:55 PM

Vince called us all into the meeting. Seated around the table were myself, Brock, Kurt, Show, A-Train, Stephanie, Paul, Cole, Tazz, Matthews, Zach, referees Brian Hebner, Tim White, Jack Doan, and Mike Chioda, and Vince. Vince was, of course, at the head of the table, with Paul and Stephanie on either side.

"Gentlemen... and lady... I bring you here to discuss my match with Zach Gowen on Sunday. Now, as you may have heard, it will be no disqualification. That means, of course, that I want for there to be maximum involvement. The referee will be taken out of commission, as will many referees during the night. The ones that aren't won't want to take part. But there will be a finish. Trust me. Now, as for the wrestlers, all of you are to run in. I'll let Paul decide on the order as he sees fit. The key is this: all of you are to cancel each other out. I want the finish to be as chaotic as possible, but in the end, I want the win to be picked up by either my or Zach's individual effort. Is that clear?"

We all nodded.

"Now, I want to go over some of the procedure for your individual matchups. Big Show, A-Train... the two of you are in the Inter-Promotional Brawl with Stephanie. It's your responsibility to make sure she doesn't get hurt in there. She's my daughter, and I've put a lot of love and time and effort into her. I don't want anything destroyed."

I noticed something as he spoke. He was looking in Stephanie's direction -- sort of. Is he... where are his eyes... he isn't... gross!

"Now, Brock and Kurt. I'm going to be involved in your match. You know the drill there -- just like X-7. I hope I don't need to go into any more details."

"No, sir. Everything is fine."

"You sure this is going to work?"

"Yes I am. Your heel turn is going to go over really well."

Ahhhhh... so that's when they're doing it.

"Now, as for you, Undertaker... you requested against a win over Eddie Guerrero. I gave you time to formulate a good reason. What is it?"

This was my turn. I had 60 seconds to convince Mr. McMahon that I could do better than his plan. Would he even listen? Was he just humoring me?

"Well, Vince, I've been listening to the fans. They're cheering Eddie Guerrero on like crazy now. I think we can't help but have him be a cool heel type -- almost a face. And my match -- well, we each got our own fans, and this is a breakthrough opportunity for Eddie fans to be vindicated. Basically, what I'm saying is, it doesn't help anyone to have me win the US Title, but it does Eddie a world of good without harming me to have him defeat me, however the result. Do you understand?"

"I see... are you sure you want to go through with this?"

"Well... I don't think it has to end here, Vince. See, Eddie's been telling me that he's getting a lot of fan mail from Mexico. They see this as the epic encounter of a lifetime. A top US wrestling icon against a top Mexican wrestling icon... it's money in the bank! I just don't think we need to stop the feud yet. I'd like to keep working with him."

"Really? Because we had plans for you after SummerSlam..."

"Would it ruin too many things to have me keep up with him?"

"No. I guess not. Paul, I want you to work on an inconclusive finish. There can be a winner, but I wanna set up a rematch."

"Yes, sir."

Paul smiled at me as he wrote it down. I think I just did good.

*****

Saturday, August 23, 2003

02:15 PM

Eddie's car was situated in the aisleway. The two of us were going through the motions in the ring. Eddie looked into my eyes and stopped.

"Somethin' wrong, man? You don't seem your usual self right now."

"Well, Eddie, I'm... worried."

"Why's that?"

"I talked to Vince... I'm trying to get our match set for a rematch, but I haven't heard from Paul yet. I hope he has a good plan."

"Well, I'm sure things will be fine, Taker. You didn't work for him back in the day. The man can deliver."

"I hope so. Cuz I don't wanna look too bad out there."

"Me neither, man. But... dude... you're the Undertaker. You got nothing to worry bout, do you?"

I sighed and slumped in the corner.

"Eddie, c'mere a sec."

He sat down next to me.

"I've seen tons of people come and go in this organization. Every time a new guy arrives, he brings this air of excitement to him. After a while, it dies off, and he becomes another guy. Sometimes you get lucky and you remain special. Look at Brock Lesnar. Sometimes, you get a renaissance after being a nothing. Look at HHH. Sometimes you just remain another in a long line of freaks inside this circus. But I know that when you first get here, people like you, and when you stay too long, people grow tired of you.

I never thought the Phenom would take off like it did. I guess there was something about me... the way I stood unfazed against any and all offense, or the way I could send a chill into someone's spine just by looking at them. I remember my first appearance, up in Hartford. The crowd was dead silent, but I saw their faces. It was a good silence.

But you see, that was 13 years ago. In thirteen years I ain't never left this company. I've stayed with Vince through everything. Hell, I had every reason to leave at times. While you were tearing up ECW with Malenko, I was programmed against some worthless wrestlers who couldn't fight their way out of a paper bag after five minutes. I was the biggest star they had -- not just in my eyes -- but Shawn and Bret had Vince's ear. Now I don't blame them, but it made me upset, you know?

When I roared out on the bike for the very first time, with the American Badass theme playing -- I was a new man. I thought I could survive on my name and my legend. But times aren't like that anymore. I hear the whispers. The experts are telling me to step aside. The boys in the back think I play politics. I try to be a locker room leader, but you know what I sound like. I don't wanna be seen as selfish. But when Vince tells someone to put me over, they don't question it."

"Wait... Mark... so why did you fight for me?"

"Why? Because you're my superior. You started before I did. You've been all around the world. People root for you on four different continents. You're... you're a legend. I respect that. You had the hard road up."

"Nah, man... it wasn't like that. I have a home in lucha. If everything else fell apart, and I was blackballed from the WWE, I could always go to Mexico and earn a king's living there. Mi padre, Gory, bless him, didn't want us to live on his existence. So after I had done a year or so down there, I went to Japan to finish my craftwork. This is my life as much as it is yours. I don't want you to do anything for me. I want to earn respect on my own."

"No... I don't buy that."

"What do you mean, esse?"

"You may want to earn my respect, but I saw how you've been behaving. You're paranoid that you don't have it. Well, I'm telling you, you do have it. And tomorrow, you'll see how strong it is. I promise. Now, you wanna continue?"

"Yeah, sure."

"Wait up, guys..."

It was Paul. He walked to the ring with a purpose. In his hand was a set of papers. He stopped at the car and began to look over the notes.

"Okay, guys, here's the deal. Vince wants this match to be memorable enough to make the fans want more. I got a plan along those lines. Eddie, you'll have some rubbing alcohol hidden in the back seat of the car. Mark, during the match, you two spill to the outside, and Eddie will spit the stuff in your eyes."

"Ew! What if I swallow it, Paul?"

"It'll be water, Eddie. Come on. Anyway, Mark, you stagger around for a while, then walk to the referee. We'll play that you can't tell one guy from another, and you give the ref -- lesseee -- Brian Hebner -- a tombstone, got it?"

"Okay... is he fine with that?"

"Yeah, he trusts you. That'll put the ref out of commission, and you two can go anywhere you want."

"You mean -- we get crowd duty?"

"That's right, Eddie. Now, Vince is giving you a bit of time for this, so don't let him down."

"How about my dive, Paul? Thought of that?"

"Actually, yes. I wanna show you something. Come here."

We exited the ring. Paul went to the front of the car.

"See this, Mark? The roof is going to be made of stunt metal. It'll give really easily. And the glass will be candy glass. No problems there. See, what Vince had in mind was..."

"Wait... are you saying that's my landing area?"

"Yup. You come off the top rope -- walk it if you have to -- and try to dive on or at a prone Eddie. He moves out of the way, and you wipe out the front of the car in the process."

I hesitated.

"Can you do that?"

"No, that's not it... it's that... I don't want my stuff to be the reason people remember this match."

"Wait, I got it..."

"Yeah, Eddie?"

"You know how there's gonna be a crow's nest up there?"

"Yeah..."

"Listen to this..."

And we proceeded to plan out stunt after wild stunt, trying to be the show-stealer of the night.

*****

Sunday, August 24, 2003, 04:45 PM

Phoenix, AZ

We all gathered in the back. A dozen writers were shouting a dozen things into their microphones. The area was total chaos. Out in the ring section, Rodney Mack and Garrison Cade were having the warmup match. All six announcers were at their places. Billy Kidman and Charlie Haas were preparing a series of ladders for inclusion in their match, in a stipulation added on Heat. I was alone in the back.

"Hey, God... if you can hear me... I just wanted to ask you to lemme do a good job tonight. I think I can get Eddie to be good again. But I gotta show him he can trust me. Now, I only got one shot in this body left. I'm so close. Please, God... let me do my best, and help me make him look like a million bucks. I wanna do my job the best I can. Thank you."

I crossed myself and stood up. I walked to the camera crew, who was ready to shoot film of me shadow boxing in preparation for the match with Guerrero. As I did so, I saw Vince approaching out of the corner of my eye.

"Taker... I just wanna say good luck out there, and... put on a good show."

"Sure, Vince... you know I don't let ya down."

"Yeah, but... well, I'm just worried about putting Eddie over too much."

"Why's that?"

"Well, don't tell anyone I said this, but... I don't think the little bastard's got it in him to be a star. The fans won't accept him, cuz he's not like them."

"What the hell do you mean, Vince?"

"Well, I mean... he's not WWE material. The guy's a Mexican legend, but that shit doesn't fly in America. Let him do his gymnastics elsewhere. You just make sure he knows his place around here."

I started to understand his message. He didn't like Eddie because he was small, athletic, and Hispanic. This was unacceptable.

"Vince... I've been your man for goin' on 13 years here, and I haven't ever done something that was bad for business. I ain't about to start now. He and I want to go till No Mercy, and I wanna make sure you get the buyrate. Now, if you'll excuse me, I got a promotional shot to take. Please, Vince. Give Eddie a shot. He may just be the right guy."

Vince bit his tongue. I could tell he wasn't used to being contradicted. He started to storm off, then paused. He turned around.

"Dammit, Mark... you've been good to me. Don't screw this up. I want you to be the man. If you can't have the US title, make sure that runt gets the beating of his life."

"Vince... we ok'ed a rematch, didn't we?"

"This is my company. Now, I want you to produce."

He walked off. All my planning may just go for naught. How do I make him trust me and make Vince like the results? And does it matter? We're live. What can he do if I make him look good? I don't know.

I threw punches into the air. The camera light came on, and the camera panned left, away from the shadows and toward me. After a few jabs and uppercuts, I pulled my straps up and walked to the dressing room.

I arrived as the opening credits rolled.

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Showtime. At the time, this diary had been pinned completely out of nowhere by TGC because he really liked it. So this show was front and center in the Diary Dome. Not that I needed the extra pressure -- believe it or not, I've been told I'm my own biggest critic. (Must be the Virching...) However, I would like to think this show actually delivered.

You are going to see it divvied into three "hours". All four of the Crossover PPVs were divided into hours like this, and odds are when SummerSlam rolls around again, I might do it that way again, so that I can put together complete video packages. I'll post them as is now, unranted on and unedited. They will be... what's the concept here?... wordy.

And hopefully, they will be good.

*****

Chapter 11

SummerSlam

August 24, 2003, 5:00 PM

Phoenix, AZ

The FBI warning flashed onto the screen. Right after it came darkness... then...

A series of clips appear with St. Anger playing in the background. They show HHH staring at the sledgehammer, as if drawn to its power. They show Goldberg in a fit of rage from WCW, spearing an unidentified guy with a beard through a cage wall. They show Vince McMahon pounding on Zach Gowen, and the rage in Spanky's eyes as he watches. They show Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle unable to get along and facing each other. They show Eric Bischoff fuming. They show Eddie Guerrero leaning over Undertaker and yelling at him. The final image is of Vince McMahon laughing maniacally as his voice plays, yelling, "This will end... RIGHT... HERE!" It echoes and fades to black.

And now, World Wrestling Entertainment presents...

SummerSlam!

Fireworks explode throughout the America West Arena in Phoenix, AZ. The cameras pan around to show signs everywhere. The crowd noise is deafening as Lindsay -- in her disguise/assignment as Josh Matthews -- gets the opening call.

"On a cool desert night that belies the scorching heat of Arizona, the careers and the lives of many WWE superstars will be changed drastically tonight! We welcome you to the America West Arena! Welcome to SummerSlam! I'm Josh Matthews along with Jonathan Coachman, and we have the honor of being your MCs for tonight. Good ol' JR and the King get the RAW matches, while Michael Cole and Tazz will bring you the SmackDown! matches. Coach, I know we come from different sides, but I think we both agree that the big showdown is between the World Champion HHH and the always dangerous Goldberg."

"That is right. HHH and Goldberg have been on a collision course for months now, and tonight at SummerSlam, they will finally meet in a match for the ages. But let's not sell the SmackDown! side short, because they feature a WWE Title match that is a rematch of WrestleMania XIX, when Kurt Angle once again defends against Brock Lesnar. Plus, Vince McMahon will either be rid of Zach Gowen once and for all or will have to deal with Hollywood Hulk Hogan once again!"

"Don't forget, Coach, about Randy Orton of Evolution squaring off against Big Daddy Cool Kevin Nash, or about the match we have the pleasure of calling, the Inter-Promotional Brawl! Who will be Y2J Chris Jericho's replacement?"

Fireworks head to the stage as Saliva's remix of "Get the Table" plays over the PA and the crowd cheers. "Well, Josh, it sounds like the action is ready to begin, so let's throw it to our RAW crew of Good Ol' JR and the King!"

Bubba Ray and D-Von Dudley emerge from the back, carrying a table painted with the French tricolore. JR and the King talk about how La Resistance has been getting the advantage of the Dudleys at every opportunity, and how the American fans in Phoenix would love to see a title change tonight.

The decidedly French music of La Resistance plays. The crowd begins booing severely as Rene Dupree and Sylvan Grenier emerge, dressed in matching gold and black outfits with berets. They stop to view the table and scoff at it. They both roll in and wave the flags high as they wear their belts around their waists. Bubba and D-Von don't bother to wait for the bell, attacking immediately.

All four men brawl to start, with the Dudley Boys clearing the ring. Grenier is nearly hit with 3-D thirty seconds in, but Dupree pulls him out and D-Von follows. This allows La Res to double-team D-Von on the outside. Back in, Dupree tosses D-Von shoulder-first into the ringpost and rolls him up coming out of it for two. Dupree tags Grenier in, who stomps on D-Von and applies an armbar. D-Von tries to spin out of it, but Grenier switches to a hammerlock. He takes D-Von into his corner, where Dupree slaps him around a few times, then dances for the crowd.

Grenier kicks D-Von down and gets a legdrop for two. Dupree comes in and continues the armwork with an armbreaker into a wristlock. D-Von elbows out, but when delivering a lariat uses his bad arm, causing no damage to Dupree. Dupree continues the attack by stomping on the arm a few times before doing a five armdrags and dancing again. Dupree gets Bubba's attention, distracting the ref while La Resistance hit a double DDT, allowing Grenier to switch in and get two. Grenier goes up top, but D-Von catches him and delivers a superplex. Both men are down, but Dupree gets the tag and cuts D-Von off. D-Von shoots a double-leg takedown, rolls over the top of Dupree, and tags in Bubba.

Bubba clotheslines down anyone French upon entering, then ducks a double clothesline from La Res. He punches them back and forth until both are out on their feet, leading to the inevitable noggin-knocker. Off the ropes, Bubba hits a double shoulder-tackle, sending Grenier to the outside. Dupree is slammed down as D-Von climbs the ropes. Dupree's legs are held open as Bubba yells "WHAZUP!" with the crowd. One diving shot later, and D-Von performs last rites, only to be interrupted mid-cross by Grenier.

Everything breaks down as the Dudleys try to beat on Grenier. Dupree struggles to his feet and winds up being in the right place at the right time, as he trips Bubba during the buildup for 3-D. It wouldn't have mattered, since D-Von's arm gives out, allowing Grenier to fall on top for two. Bubba grabs Dupree and lifts him up on his shoulders as Grenier is tossed out of the ring by D-Von. D-Von heads to the top rope, but before he can dive off with the Dudleyville Device, Dupree rolls up Bubba for two, which D-Von saves. D-Von picks Dupree up and delivers the Saving Grace for two. FINALLY, Grenier runs in, trying to hit Bubba with the belt, but Bubba ducks and Dupree gets it. D-Von covers as Bubba hits Grenier with the Bubba Bomb, and three seconds later, the Dudleys win the Tag Team titles of RAW.

In the back, I applauded the result. It was an okay match, but I think I can top that. I looked around during the break as Kevin Nash and Randy Orton headed to the ring. Sitting to my left were the participants in our Tag Team Title match. Haas and Rey were in quiet thought. Kidman had a look of anticipation on his face, as if he felt this was his time. Shelton was staring dead ahead, his eyes focused on the television screen to the exclusion of any other thought. Torrie, though, was seated next to Kidman on the far end, paler than any makeup had ever made her. Something terrified her about tonight.

On the other side of me was an empty chair, then Molly Holly. The WWE Women's champion was dressed in casual attire, far from her white and black ensemble she wrestled in. Her face was blank, paying attention to the show, but seemingly disinterested. Her hands were clutched around her title belt in both a desperate and loathing manner, if such a thing can be said about a grip. I noticed her eyes. They seemed not to be blue or green, but rather gray. A very pale shade of gray at that -- almost as if contact lenses were involved.

I flipped on my shades and looked again. Molly was still there -- I think. But instead of being a person, she was a shadow. There was an outline where she was before, but inside no features, merely a silhouette. She seemed almost two-dimensional, as if someone had taken her space and time out of her and left her a picture in a frame.

I took the shades off and got her attention. "Moll... something wrong?"

"Hm? Oh, no, I'm fine."

"You seem worried about somethin'. Like someone will steal your belt."

"Oh, no... you see... I just feel more comfortable with it on my lap, thanks."

She hastily returned to watching the show. She doesn't want to talk to me. She doesn't seem to want to deal with anyone. I'm not sure she wants to be here.

Evolution's music hits the PA system as the crowd boos the first arrival of RAW's top stable. Randy Orton, dressed in his usual in-ring attire, flexes and poses for the crowd, as if to say, "Yeah, I'm a great guy and you hate me, but tonight, I'll still be a great guy." He is seconded by Ric Flair, who as always is in a luxurious three-piece suit that appears to cost more than the entire front row made in a week.

The horn sounds and the harmonica starts. Kevin Nash strides to the ring as the crowd gives him a mixed reaction. He walks with purpose, but also with a sense of an overriding concern. Something in his body language says he would rather be anywhere else in the world than Phoenix. That's odd. I thought he liked to perform.

After the bell, Nash and Orton lock up. Orton backs Nash into the corner and proceeds to chop at him. Nash oversells at first, almost to a comedic extent, before playing it serious as Orton continues on offense. Orton gets a suplex for the first two-count, followed by a headlock sequence. Nash whips him off into the buckle and catches him for a back suplex. Nash then sends Orton into the corner and hits the elbows, including his Picture Perfect shot, before Flair trips Nash on the outside. As Nash is distracted, Orton low blows him and hits the Play of the Day for two. Orton hits a neckbreaker for two, then goes to the chinlock.

Nash powers out, just in time for Orton to club his back again. Nash reverses a whip, however, and gets a sidewalk slam for two. Snake Eyes in the corner sets up a powerslam attempt, but Orton rolls Nash through it for two. Both men get up, but Nash hits the big boot. Nash goes for the Jacknife, but Randy Orton shoves him out of it and into Charles Robinson. With both men down, Ric Flair enters the ring with a chair. He swings, but Nash ducks and boots the chair back into Flair's face. The distraction's enough, however, as Orton gets the RKO on the chair (which has fallen to the mat), then clears the debris in time for the three count and the victory.

That was decidedly nothing. I guess they figured that match wasn't going to be good, so they positioned it low on the card. As I sorted thoughts in my mind, Pat Patterson walked into the room.

"Rey, Kidman, Haas, Benjamin... let's go."

Kidman kissed Torrie good-bye as all four headed to the ring. Torrie waved good-bye, but still seemed quite pale. As she sat back down between myself and Molly, she tried to strike up a conversation with Molly, but had about as much luck as I did. No wonder. It all sounds like nervous chatter.

As Josh Matthews and Jonathan Coachman recap the highlights thus far, the ring crew sets four ladders up, one by each side of the ring. A highlight package is shown on the PPV of the Vengeance match and how it leads directly to this outcome. A segment from Earlier Today on Heat shows Sable making this match a ladder match, including the words, "There is no way anyone will remember the Dudley Boys or La Resistance when you're done."

The camera focuses in on the tag belts as we hear Michael Cole and Tazz for the first time that night. Both sound nervous. Tazz makes a note that Cole is "not really dressed for the location -- what's with the extra layers?" Cole simply dismisses it and focuses on the match.

The silhouette of Rey's mask appears on the Tron. Soon after, Rey is vaulted to the stage from underneath. He begins to point first at the ring, then at the belts above it. He high-fives fans on the way to the ring, but stops halfway through. Kidman's music hits as the man from Allentown walks slowly to the ring. His eyes never leave the ring.

Torrie leaned over to me. "Mark... I'm scared."

"Why? Look at Kidman there. He ain't scared."

"I've seen that look. He's trying not to think about it. It usually means something bad."

Championship-style music hits the PA and the crowd begins to boo. Rey and Kidman roll into the ring and face the entrance, as Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin come out in their matching maroon singlets. Both men yell at the crowd a little, then jog to the ring. All four men stand in different corners as the referee makes sure each is clear on the rules. Their eyes never leave the prize.

"Mark?"

"Yeah, Torr?"

"Will he be all right?"

"I think so."

All four men charge the center and begin brawling. Haas takes Rey down in a headlock, and the two begin a chain-wrestling sequence. Benjamin clotheslines Kidman out of the ring, where he lands on a ladder. In the ring, Haas hits a German suplex on Rey, then guillotines him on the ladder. Benjamin returns to the ring and hits the leapfrog choke on Rey. Kidman is back in and grabs Haas in the Tommykaze. Shelton hits a superkick and dives out of the ring for a ladder. Rey recovers and somersaults over the top rope to Shelton, kicking the ladder into Benjamin's ribs. Back in the ring, Kidman pounds on Haas and climbs to the top rope, leaping off with a Frankensteiner. Finally, Rey brings a ladder into the proceedings, and the crowd begins to buzz.

Kidman grabs one end of the ladder, and the Filthy Animals deliver a battering ram into Haas's stomach. Benjamin grabs Rey from behind, pulling him off the ladder. Benjamin and Kidman play tug-of-war with the ladder, but when Benjamin lets go, Kidman flies back into the corner, spearing himself. Kidman drops the ladder, but as Benjamin leans over to pick it up, Rey delivers a Fame-Asser onto said ladder on Benjamin. Haas enters with a second ladder, knocking Rey in the head with it, but Kidman dropkicks Haas's leg and causes Haas to fall face-first into his ladder. Now Kidman tries to set up a ladder, only to have Haas German suplex Kidman while he's holding the ladder, causing the ladder to fall on Kidman on the way down.

Haas helps Benjamin up, but Rey leaps off Benjamin's back and ranas Haas out of the ring. Kidman now sets up a ladder by the corner, but Haas tosses him straight into a Benjamin superkick. Haas then climbs the ladder as Benjamin goes to pick up Kidman and set up for a Doomsday Device. However, Kidman slides off Benjamin's back and onto his hands and knees, allowing Rey to hit Poetry in Motion into Benjamin's back, sending him flying into the ladder and knocking the ladder out of the corner into the ring, with Haas falling to the mat. Rey gets the other ladder in the ring, and he and Kidman set them up and try to climb together. However, Benjamin knocks both ladders over into opposite ropes, sending both opponents to the floor.

"Oh, no! Billy!"

Torrie was freaking out. Molly looked over at her.

"Do you want to take a walk?"

"No... I'll be fine... I'm just scared..."

Haas is up first and figures he has a free ride, when Rey enters with a third ladder, swinging and knocking over Haas's ladder. As Rey sets up a ladder, Benjamin does the same. Kidman returns and pulls Benjamin off his ladder, and both Filthy Animals climb. They're nowhere near the belts, though; instead, they hit stereo ranas on Haas and Benjamin from the tops of the ladders. Kidman is up first, but his attempt to climb the third ladder (for a visual, they are all next to each other now) is thwarted by Haas, who German suplexes Kidman off the ladder, then suplexes the ladder onto Kidman.

Rey is up and dropkicks Haas out of the ring. Benjamin hits a tilt-a-whirl on Rey to knock him down, then grabs the ladder off of Kidman and sets it up. Kidman is up on the other side, and the race is on. At the top, a slgufest erupts. Rey climbs a side ladder and clotheslines Benjamin off the center ladder, but he winds up taking the whole ladder down with him, as Kidman rides the ladder to the ground. Haas, meanwhile, returns with the fourth ladder, and when he tries to set it up mid-ring, Rey blocks. So Haas clubs Rey with the ladder, then tries a second time. This time, Kidman dropkicks the ladder into Haas's face. Benjamin is back up now, and he and Kidman both grab ladders at 10 paces, swinging them like broadswords at each other. Benjamin and Kidman are next to opposite ropes, so Haas drops Kidman throat-first onto one rope, while Rey 619s Benjamin through the other. This sets up Rey to deliver the West Coast Pop onto the ladder on Benjamin.

All four people and all four ladders are down. Haas is the first in, and he sets up the two ladders as before. Benjamin is up next, and Haas has a brainstorm. He grabs one end and instructs Benjamin to grab the other. The WGTT climb opposite ladders and set the ladder up in the middle as a bridge. Rey knocks Haas off of his ladder, while Kidman grabs Benjamin from behind and drags him down, leaving the ladder bridge precariously balancing on top. Benjamin gets mad and clotheslines Kidman, then drags him to the fourth, prone ladder. He tries to powerbomb Kidman on the ladder, but that goes about as well as expected and Kidman reverses to a facebuster onto the ladder.

Torrie jumped out of her seat. She was clearly into the match a little too much.

"Molly, take her outside."

"No, no, no... I'm going to be fine! Really!"

Molly stood up. "I don't think I am." She walked out, very businesslike, as if she were taking Torrie's bullet.

Kidman tosses the fourth ladder out of the ring, then climbs a side ladder, causing the bridge to come apart and land on Haas, who was coming over to cut him off. Rey runs over and hands Kidman the side ladder again, then climbs the other ladder as Kidman holds his end steady. Rey attempts to walk the bridge, but Benjamin jumps up and grabs him, landing him groin-first on the ladder bridge. Kidman descends his ladder as Rey falls off, taking the bridge with him. Rey untangles himself as Haas climbs a ladder. Rey charges, and Kidman alleyoops him into a rana on Haas. Kidman catches the ladder and goes to re-establish the bridge by himself. He succeeds in setting it up, but every time he tries to cross, the bridge collapses. This continues until Benjamin throws him off the ladder, leaving the bridge standing.

Benjamin and Kidman head outside the ring while Rey and Haas are inside it. Kidman pulls the fourth ladder into a corner, away from the bridge. Benjamin rams him into the post on the outside, and the two battle near the Spanish announce table. Kidman blocks a direct shot, then tosses Benjamin onto the tricolore table, which has been sitting around ominously since the opening match. Kidman sees this and re-enters the ring. He climbs the fourth ladder and stares down at Benjamin, prone on the table.

Torrie's eyes grew wide. "Oh, God... I can't look." She buried her face into my outfit, since that was the nearest black object. The entire locker room was standing up. Somewhere, I heard Paul Heyman's voice yell, "Oh no!" Stephanie shrieked in fear.

Kidman leaps into the air. He backflips in midair and comes down, not onto Benjamin (who moves out of the way), but onto and through the tricolore table, which utterly shatters on impact. The crowd is stunned, then breaks out in a riotous cheer. Back in the ring, Rey and Haas are climbing opposite sides of the ladder bridge, both trying to knock the other off with the bridge. Benjamin sneaks into the center of the ring and jumps up. He grabs the ladder bridge from underneath and pulls himself up through the ladder. He then slowly stands up on the bridge and grabs the ring onto which the belts are connected. All three ladders give way, and Rey and Haas crash to the floor. Benjamin pulls himself up very slowly and grabs both belts, then drops down. The belts come unhooked, and Benjamin crashes to the mat, barely missing the ladder, with both belts in his hands.

The crowd is too stunned to boo the champs. Everyone is down, as the ring resembles a cross between the Home Improvement set and Jonestown, Guyana. Referees flood ringside to check on all four men. Benjamin and Haas stand up first to celebrate. They limp off into the locker room. Slowly, Rey picks himself up off the mat as referees pull Kidman out of the wreckage of the table. Kidman rolls into the ring and slowly to his feet. Both men look around at the ladders, and at what might have been, as the crowd gives them a standing ovation.

The locker room partially emptied as 10 different people prepared for the next match. Torrie pulled her head out of my shirt long enough to look up. "Is he... is he all right?"

I nodded. "He survived."

Torrie nodded comprehension and relief. She sat down, her nerves too fried to respond. Heck, I don't blame her. If the love of my life just did something like that, I'd be a little freaked too. Man, they're gonna be sore tomorrow.

I walked into the back hall. Haas and Benjamin were slowly walking to the back. I paused in front of them. "Boys," I said, "welcome to immortality."

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