CSWA ANNIVERSARY 2006: What Comes After

1 Nov 2007 at CSWA Studios

What Has Gone Before

The CSWA continues to try and pull itself up by its bootstraps following the monetary disaster that was the CRUISE of DECEPTION. Running CSWA ANNIVERSARY Celebration: Coming of Age on live TV eliminated the league's debt to their television partner, U-62, but the network is still threatening to cancel the existing contract if the CSWA doesn't deliver on its promise for new content.

The spectacle that was GOLD RUSH saw Troy Windham "beat the world" and retain his UNIFIED World Championship, but he didn't leave ANNIVERSARY with it around his waist. Dan Ryan called in the title shot he won during the GOLD RUSH event and caught Troy off-guard, capturing the UNIFIED Title.

But the luster on the big gold belt may be gone. As of the end of ANNIVERSARY, the CSWA doesn't have an arena booked for another show, still owes huge debts based on the loss of the Parsons' Cruise Liner and the resulting lawsuits from the Cruise, and owner Stephen Thomas doesn't appear to be setting any direction.

Oh...and there's still a Hacker running loose.

Which leads to...

End of the Road

"Sh*t."

Every match seemed to add another layer of crackle to his knees. Every night, the walk to the locker room became so much longer than the walk to the ring.

Even now, after a match that, while hard - hitting and brutally fought, was not even in the top ten of the most difficult nights he'd had in his long career, Eli Flair felt far older than thirty five.

The King of Extreme was lying back on one of the locker room benches, his eyes shut, his breathing slow and regular. Both his feet were on the floor, the laces of his combat boots undone almost all the way down.

"Hey, me and Rudy are still waiting for you - Zieba's is staying open late for the party."

Ivy.

He knew it was her before she spoke.

"I'm gonna be a while, kiddo," he said, "you'd be better off going with Rudy."

He knew she would sit down on the other bench.

"You feel okay?" she asked, "You took a pretty rough tumble from the first ring."

And he knew the other wrestlers still in the locker room would be divided into two camps - those who suddenly became self conscious that Ivy was sitting down, and those who were used to Ivy not caring where she went or what kind of sights may be seen.

"Yeah, I'm fine," replied Eli, as he spun around to sit up, facing her, "just hangin' onto the last night in the CSWA."

"OK about the way things went down?"

"Course," said Eli, "Everything built perfectly, and I was still at ringside for the three. And we got the belt off'a the man. Can't be any happier about it."

"You say 'we' like either of us had so much to do with it," laughed Ivy.

A smirk formed on the side of Eli's face. "The collective 'we,' wiseass. Troy's damned good, but he's just another megastar without appreciation for the people who paved his way and the work that went into gettin' there. Every time I thought he'd learned, he never did."

Ivy shrugged. "You're surprised, though?"

"Nope."

"So what happens now?"

"You know better than me. You're staying on the ship."

"Don't mention ships."

Marvin was still missing, after all.

"Legends only get bigger when you're in the business," continued Eli, taking a different route, "the CSWA survived for a good seven years before we showed up, and it'll survive another nineteen after I'm gone."

"You haven't heard the rumors, then?"

"You listen to rumors?"

"No, but I hear 'em."

"This is the CSWA, Ivy - you know what that means."

Ivy stood up and smiled. "Doc's bingo hall, Bateman in the john, CSWA on the banner, at least half of us'll show up."

"That's my girl."

"Seriously, hurry up - I'll be enjoying my god**mn stupid club soda and a twist of lime, you'll have to drink for three."

Eli nodded. Ivy was barely showing - her abs were too tough for the kid to make much of a dent yet. Besides which, he had no idea how big she was supposed to be. When Angel was pregnant she barely gained any weight, but she was smaller and less defined than Ivy - certainly not with her muscle tone.

He finally pulled his boots off and started to collect what he'd need for his post-show shower and unassuming exit from the building. A handful of wrestlers who were just finishing, themselves, wished him well on their own way out past Ivy.

"I was never that young," said the Psycho B'tch, as if on cue.

"No," replied Eli, "you were younger."

For the first time, Ivy recognized and accepted the look in his eyes: he was finished with this locker room.

He said it after dropping the fWo World Title to Deacon, he had been saying it all the way through the Ultratitle, even after exiling Troy from New Frontier Wrestling, but here, where it all began, she could tell he meant it.

"Take your time," said Ivy, "me 'n Rudy'll wait."

She turned toward the door and began to walk through--

"Hey Ivy?"

--and turned back at the sound of her name.

"We did good."

Ivy smiled. "F'k yeah we did.

As the door closed, Eli looked around the locker room. He was completely alone now, and the silence was only broken by the dripping water from the shower area and the television, perpetually tuned to U-62, mounted in the corner.

And the locker, the same one he had used for nearly every match he'd wrestled at the Merritt (as it would forever be known to the boys) Auditorium, nearly empty as he had dropped most of his stuff in his bag after the matches. Everything was off the top shelf except for a black permanent marker.

He thought about it for a second.

"What the hell."


Some of the best times
I had in this business
were in this arena.
Eli Flair
CSWA, 1995-2006

*FADE*

Rush Hour

The first night, eighteen years ago, was just Buckley and Benson. Sammy had entered the bar and immediately ordered a boilermaker, and kept asking for refill after refill. Bill Buckley had been sent to pick the drunkard up, but they were right back there after the inaugural PRIMETIME.

In the eighteen years since, the CSWA crowd has grown to include nearly the entire company, and the owners have extended their hours until dawn for the post-show get togethers.

In the eighteen years since, Sammy Benson still takes the same barstool as the first night.

"Another round for my friends!" shouted Sammy towards the bartender, barely out of diapers the first night he sat here.

"On the CSWA's tab, I take it?" she asked, smirking.

"Of course, Ally," replied Sammy, "Like I'm gonna pay for these people to get drunk."

The bartender - Ally - was fast and efficient, and immediately began to line the bar with drinks.

On the other side of the bar, Ivy McGinnis was trying her best to make her way to the staircase. It wasn't there eighteen years ago - but the CSWA has given quite a bit of business. The second floor was solely a VIP area with a few tables and no bar - therefore no reason for people to linger upstairs unless they had business.

Ivy had business. Unfortunately, this was the first time in a long time that a lot of questions for her about her 'delicate state.' She was gracious and genuinely happy to see everyone, but her eyes never left the stairs.

"So whose is it again?"

"F**k off, Teri."

"Jeez, I was joking."

"Sure."

Old habits die hard.

Finally, she reached the stairs. As she walked up, the noise slowly dissolved in a rolling wave, replaced by the low sounds of classical music.

"Didn't they tell you drinking is bad for expectant mothers?"

"My doctor told me a glass of red wine on occasion is healthy," replied Ivy, as she sipped from the glass in her hand, "Haven't you ever been pregnant, Merritt?"

Former CSWA Co-Commissioner Chad Merritt looked up from the stack of papers in front of him, and chuckled. "Can't say that I have. How is it?"

She took another sip. "It's not whiskey."

"Ain't that the truth. How have you been, Ivy?"

That did it.

"How have I been," she said, "What is it with you people?"

Merritt raised an eyebrow. Ivy sat down at the table facing him, and put down her glass. "Every time one'a you owner/boss types disappears for years at a time, you act like I just saw you yesterday, and it's driving me f'kin crazy! How have I been? Not counting Eli, the sanest conversations I've had in the past year and half have been with Craig Miles. How do you think I've been?"

"Calm down, Ivy. That kid's already going to have high blood pressure and way too much energy as it is."

She started to respond, but started laughing instead. The tension broken, she was able to turn her attention to why she was here. "Why'd you come back?"

"Thomas asked me to. Said he wanted to discuss a little problem."

"So you're BACK back?"

"I told him to piss off. I’m sure you can understand why. I really just wanted to see him sweat."

"We need you back, Chad."

"Oh?" he asked, with a sarcastic edge, "Thomas isn't righting the ship?"

"Funny," replied Ivy, "Thomas' tunnel vision hit a wall tonight. He had a great idea with the Gold Rush, but no clue where to go after that. We don't even have another arena booked."

"Well then," said Merritt, "I'd suggest you jump aboard a liferaft before the ship goes down. Oh wait… there’s no ship anymore."

"So why are you here then, really? If you don't care about the CSWA, why'd you come? Are funerals entertainment now?"

Merritt chuckled again. "Thomas forced me out, and I have no interest in trying to work with him anymore. But do you really think I don’t care about my company and all the people and families that worked for me for years? About the legacy? My blood went into the CSWA, Ivy... my blood, my money, my risk. You may be one of the strongest lifelines the company has, but for me it was my life. Thomas thinks he can do it on his own, let 'em fail."

He leaned in towards her. "But that doesn't mean I don't care."

"Prove it."

"Nice try."

"I'm serious."

"You want my help?" asked Merritt, as he tore a piece of paper off his notepad and started to scribble some words, "Here. Here's the name and phone number of my contact in Chapel Hill. Call him tomorrow and you can have my old arena down there booked within two weeks."

"What?"

"You want to save the CSWA," said Merritt, "you can't do it unless the CSWA wants to save itself. Which means you need to run all the old buildings where the fanbase is as die-hard as those insufferable Sox fans. You want to save the CSWA, you've gotta have the will to do it the way me and Tard did it eighteen years ago."

He handed her the folded piece of paper.

"One show at a time."

Without another word, he folded up his notepad with the papers he was reviewing, organized them in his hands, and stood up to leave with an appreciative nod to Ivy.

"Hey Merritt," she said, as he approached the back stairs.

He didn't answer, but he did stop.

"There's still a hacker running around the entire network."

"Do you still have your office in the Enterprises building?"

"Of course I do."

"Then," he reminded her, "there's actually two hackers running around the network."

The back door closed and Merritt left the building with none of the boys downstairs any the wiser.

For Ivy, she stayed put for a few minutes, mulling over what he told her.

You can save the CSWA, if you have the will.

She looked at the folded paper in her hands.

"One show at a time."

Sort of a Retirement Song

Our lives… in these empty spaces aside

Standing inside of the Center Ring, Eron knew he didn’t belong. Hell, he only made it to this ring on a technicality. He didn’t win the Greensboro Ring, and was eliminated with JA. Then again, Eron didn’t belong here in the first place. He wasn’t CSWA. Never was, never will be. However, he received a chance to ruin what could have been the final night in the history of CSWA by becoming Unified Champion. Walk into a company with a near two decade history and destroy it, piss on it, give it aids and then abort it. Eron loved these sort of situations. Looking around the ring at his opponents, his body ached. Looking over at Troy Windham, Eron’s eyes then glanced at the ring bell table, where the UNIFIED World Championship belt lay. Eron grinned.

"Funny how something like this can pan out" Eron said, under his breath.

As the final competitors entered the Center Ring, the final match was on its way to beginning. A First Chapter, a New Chapter, or a Final Chapter? Who knew. All that mattered, Eron was about to prove to Greensboro, nay, CSWA. Nay, the world.

He was King.


I'm tired of walking around with my hand on my gun
I'm tired of watching them wind you up to see if you'll run

The crowds eruptions caused the mats to shake. Eron slowly moved up from his knees, standing up, looking at Troy Windham. The crowd gave their king his due. Eron was bitter. He had taken out a legend, ruined his moment, something he was good at. However, he couldn’t do that to this man. He was untouchable. He was unstoppable. He was everything Eron worked so hard to be, and sometimes, gave up at trying. It was a tough pill to swallow, and maybe Eron preferred to choke. Walking to the railing, Eron hopped over and started to leave through the crowd, ignoring Troy Windham in the ring. Walking towards the backstage area, Eron heard "Zero" by Smashing Pumpkins play, his attention turning to the action again.

Eron watched as Dan Ryan stole his piece of the spotlight. It was time for him to ruin Troy Windham’s moment to shine. Unbelievable. Eron felt both jealous and angered, feeling as if Troy proved his place in the annals of time, and maybe Dan Ryan should just let history be. Wiping the sweat from his face, Eron watched with the security guards as Dan Ryan hit Troy Windham with a top rope Slackknife, completing the night with a new Unified Champion.

As Eron walked toward the dressing room, something came over him. A rush of energy. A breath of life. Eron walked away from the dressing room and left the Auditorium through a Fire Exit door. The feeling of the cool Greensboro night slamming against his tired body was wonderful. So much in fact that it overcame Eron, shoving him against the building. It was almost religious. Spiritual. It was as if his entire body was in complete orgasm, but none of it was sexual. Looking up to the night sky, the stars blinded Eron. Looking back down, Eron tried to catch his breath, but his breath had left him when he opened the door. It was a revelation.

Tonight I'm going to go out and have me some fun
I'm tired of walking around here with my hand on my gun

Leaning against the brick of the CSWA Auditorium, Eron’s knees buckled and gave away, falling onto his butt, legs extended. Sliding his knee to the inside of his chest, just to feel his beating chest on something, Eron looked up. The uncontrollable sweat burned his eyes, but he still had to look up to the sky. His body was in an uncontrollable shake, adrenaline still running through his body. It was something he had never felt before. Maybe he did, but it had been a long time ago. Ten years ago. He was a lot younger then, and while he was not old, his eyes told a different story.

Letting the moon enter his eyes, a smile formed upon his face. Eron worked so hard to prove he was King. Prove he ruled. Prove outside of his world that he mattered. Tonight, Eron lost, but he lost after doing what no-one else believed he could. What took years upon years to develop for many of the men he faced in the rings, Eron accomplished in one single night.

At least in his mind.

In his mind? He was King. That is all that matters. It took ten years to figure that out, but after finding it out, Eron smiled at the night sky. A moment felt like a year, or maybe it was a year. CSWA could have their moment on the inside. Eron had his outside. Closing his eyes, Eron spat on the cement and held his leg, trying to stop it from shaking.

"All I need is a place. A place… to rest."

baby, no pain, no gain

I Want My Title

(CUT TO: Troy Windham. His hair shorn, leaning against a sea of empty lockers.)

TROY: Gold Rush was supposed to be MY night.

It was supposed to be the night where I left the ring having defeated an entire INDUSTRY. An open challenge for the most prestigious title in this sport, held by yours truly, where I would defeat anyone who dared got in my way. By hook. By crook. By any means necessary.

I didn't just tell the world that I was going to do that. I GUARANTEED IT. I put my entire professional legacy on the line. All of the fame. All of the fortune. None of it would have meant a DAMN thing if I didn't live up to my guarantee.

I GUARANTEED my victory. Because my victory would mean that I would walk out of Greensboro, North Carolina as the undisputed GREATEST WRESTLER WHO EVER LIVED.

Guess what I did?

I did exactly as I said I would do. By hook. By crook. By any means necessary.

I challenged the world. And I won.

Except... except for one thing.

Dan Ryan. Dan Ryan. Dan Ryan. A man who fancies himself not just a great wrestler, but also as this sport's consumate businessman. A man who I've spent the past two years getting the better of at every single opportunity I had.

Dan Ryan saw an opportunity of a lifetime. He saw me, emotionally drained, emotionally spent. Broken after I put all my chips in and won every single hand I played. I was at the highest point of my professional career. The highest point of my life.

And Dan Ryan, you took that away from me.

That's fine, Dan Ryan. I've done dastardly deeds my whole career. Hell, I stowed away in a cargo hold on a cruise ship just to steal a title from your fat fingers.

I thought the crowning achievement of my career, Dan Ryan, would be for me to walk out of Gold Rush as the undisputed greatest champion of all time.

I was wrong.

The crowning achievement of my career, Dan Ryan, is something else entirely.

It's for me to end your career.

By hook.

By crook.

By Any. Means. Necessary.

(Troy stares. FTB.)

Over and Back Again

Hiroshi gripped his coat close to him as he walked out of The Merritt. His skin was still tingling with adrenaline, and the cool air nipped at him. Kin was always one of the first out of the arena, always on a plane to somewhere. Always some new meeting to go to. Hurridly, he slung his gym bag over his shoulder, and let the US Title hang freely in his hand. The parking garage wasn't too packed, most of the fans had left the arena, and only a few die-hard CSWA loyals stuck around for autographs. No doubt that they would be searching for the only man to walk into Gold Rush the same way he walked out: a champion.

But, it didn't matter anymore. Kin was sure the CSWA was dead. His sure-as-sh*t paycheck wouldn't be coming anymore. There was no time for tears, only another car to get him to another airport to get on another plane to go to another city to earn another dollar.

Kin slipped past the elevators, and opted for the stairs when he noticed the fans crowding the doors. No one saw. No one ever saw him. It didn't bother Kin, at all, always scratching backs but always left with his own itch. Of course, now that he was in the stairwell, he had a full view of The Merritt and plenty of time to think about what CSWA had done for him.

Evan Aho had been instrumental in bringing him from the bush leagues of EWI/GXW/GWE into CSWA, with a helping hand from Chad Merritt, himself. A few friendships in the form of Kevin Powers and Cameron Cruise didn't hurt either. A cruise ship had gone missing, and Kin had won two different titles during his run in the See-Ess-Dub. He had even gotten to rumble with Hornet, a legend in the industry.

Too bad it was all over.

The fifth floor came all too quick, and Kin kicked the door open to find his car alone in the garage. Setting down his gym bag, he reached for the keys in his pocket, refusing the set down the US Championship belt. Hiroshi pondered why he was keeping it, and realized there wasn't a reason anymore. Making his way towards the elevator, Kin found an empty trash can. Folding the belt wings underneath, almost as if putting a child to sleep, he slowly lowered the belt down, but not before his cell phone rang.

Tossing the belt over his shoulder, Kin started walking back to his car.

KIN HIROSHI: "Hello, [GRINNING] Mr. Thomas."

Believe

(FADE IN: Nova’s face at a sidelong view, one cheek resting against the canvas of an empty wrestling ring).

NOVA: This is where it all begins again.

The camera fades away from his face and the mat becomes crisper, individual beads of water still resting delicately on its surface from a recent cleaning. The camera zooms in slowly, and the beads grow larger.

NOVA (V/O): What a defeatist and pointless mindset pervades the culture of our business. Everywhere I go I hear "The Golden Age is past, the Glory Days are gone…"

The camera pans back out. Nova rests on his knees, clad in jeans and a sleeveless black ‘The West Is the Best’ t-shirt. A lit cigarette hangs from his hand and a bottle of Spanish table wine sits on the mat next to him.

NOVA: …while we continue to kill ourselves in the ring…for what? A husk? A painful reminder of how great everything used to be? I don’t remember ever stumbling upon any wrestling utopia, free from the problems that plague the rest of our sickly industry. I don’t recall the passing of any Golden Age.

The Eagle Star takes a long swig from the bottle.

NOVA: And yet we stand on the ruins of an empire. They already parade the name of the CSWA through the streets like the coffin of Jim Crow, proclaiming its death, though undoubtedly in less ecstatic tones. And much like that bold declaration of freedom, perhaps the celebration – or memorialization, here – came a bit too soon.

I don’t know much about the CSWA. I won’t pretend to. I know that it stands now at the brink of permanent extinction after almost nineteen years. I know that men I respect gave buckets of their blood for the name to stand for more than just decrepit immortality. And I see somehow in my head a link between what this place stands for, and the perceptions of our industry on the whole, bringing me to my real motivation for extending the stay originally granted me for GOLD RUSH over to the company’s continued survival:

If I can believe that the CSWA can be brought back from the dead, from the clutches of archives, to polish the brass and once again stake its claim and take its place in the heartland of professional wrestling…

Nova takes a last drag of his cigarette and flicks it away.

NOVA: …then maybe I can believe what I say to you now, that the "Golden Age" hasn’t passed…

…that it never really left us at all.

(FTB)

The Old College Try

(CUT TO: "The Big Man On Campus" JJ DeVille, wearing his NC State Wolfpack varsity jacket, has a Kiniseology textbook and a cup of Cherry Coke on his table in the Atrium Food Court at North Campus.)

JJ: You know, ever since Gold Rush, when I came back to my dorm room, everyone's been asking me how I was doing. If I was dissapointed. If I was upset. Those guys on my floor... they're the best.

I have to admit... yeah, a little bit. I went into Gold Rush thinking, for sure, that I was going to walk out of that ring actually doing what I dreamed of doing when I was a little kid, watching from the upper tier of the Merritt Auditorium.

I thought that I was going to win this whole thing. And that everyone was going to be chanting my name. And that I was going to be the new champion of the CSWA, the league that started it all.

So, yeah, I was dissapointed. I let my fans down. I let my family down. But most importantly, I let myself down.

That might be weird to hear coming from me. If you know anything about my career, you know that I've lost a lot more matches than I've won. You know all about how I lost to a guy, Luscious Lance Leisure, in my debut match in under one minute... and the last I heard of him, he's cleaning bathrooms at a Starbucks somewhere.

You know how I got my start not just as a wrestler but as the personal assistant to both Eddy Love and his tag team partner, Troy Windham. How I publicly shamed myself repeatedly just so they could have some cheap laughs at my expense. How I humiliated myself and my family name just so I could play court jester to my heroes.

I've come a long way in this sport. I'm not the automatic loser, the towel boy in the locker room. I'm no longer the biggest clown in the industry. I'm respectable.

But... (JJ slams his book.) That's ALL I am. Respectable. I'm not a big name. I'm not a big star. I'm in the middle of the pack.

But that's not where I want to be. I didn't sneak into the cheap seats one day dreaming of being a Parsons brother or one of the thousands of guys in this promotion's history that you don't remember anymore.

I dreamed of being Hornet. Of Mark Windham. Of Mike Randalls. Of GUNS. Of Eddy Love. Of Troy Windham. Of Dan Ryan.

I dreamed of being the CSWA World Champion.

I am NOT letting that dream die.

(JJ has a sip of his Cherry Coke.)

I might be respectable now. But in due time... in due time, I'm going to be so much more.

And that time... that time is coming sooner than you thought.

(FTB)

There Was A List

Rudy Seitzer was usually the last one to leave. He was one of the only employees of CS Enterprises whose job description covered more than just one branch of the company. He was the chief CSWA interviewer, he handled the press releases and vendor relations for CSE Records, and he was assistant - Editor - In - Chief of CS Magazine.

Add it up and it comes to a very long day. But as he walked down the long hallway towards the elevators, another sound broke the steady hum of the vacuum cleaner.

Ivy was here, too.

He pushed the door open to see the Psycho Bitch sitting at her desk, actively typing on her massively overbuilt computer. She had taken the one given to her by the company when she was given the office, and modified it herself.

A few times.

"Hey," he said.

Ivy flinched; evidently she thought she was alone too.

"I'm taking off," continued Rudy, "do you need anything before I go?"

"No," replied Ivy with a smile, "but thank you."

Rudy lingered for a moment before tapping the wall. "Alright then, will see you tomorrow?"

"Definitely."

The door started to close.

"Rudy?"

"Yeah?"

"It was a lotta fun calling that ring with you."

It was Rudy's turn to smile. "Thanks, kiddo - you too."

He closed the door quietly, and Ivy returned her attention to the machine in front of her. It had been a long time since she had done any work in her 'office.' The laptop had traveled more miles than she thought possible in the past year, but she was handicapped by the fact that she always worked better in familiar surroundings, and even though there's only one hotel (and the coffee sucks) in the world, CS Enterprises headquarters was home for this type of work.

Already she had gone through the budget for every event that had taken place since 2004, looking for...

well...

She didn't really know.

La-da-da-da-daaaa-da...

That sound meant new mail. She flipped the windows on her screen to her inbox, and saw one new item in her inbox. Bill Buckley had sent her the preliminary contract list.

Ivy - we've got about a dozen under hard contract and interested responses from another ten. Not exactly what you and I talked about the other night but better than we probably thought. Take a look, call me whenever. - BB

Buckley was right - the way the CSWA had been mishandled under Thomas' reign so far should have all but assured a swift slam of the doors, but the magic of the letters still held true. And Buckley was right again - the list of names that were under hard contract and willing to come back to work was nothing short of miraculous. There was definitely enough to work with for Ivy to see the troubled promotion at least through the transition to a once-more smooth running promotion.

She clicked it off - they still had to run things past Thomas so there was no point in driving herself crazy this late at night. Back to the task at hand.

On a whim, she pulled the security report from PRIMETIME 500. There were fans all over the arena that night, and a ton of old - timers about for the PRIMETIME Memories moments. Easy access for anyone who wanted to find their way where they weren't welcome.

No.

The Hacker was also on the last Pooljam. The odds that the same fan could get from Greensboro to Miami for the PCL 2's launch, and be on the ship and undetected - AND have Lyle on the payroll - was too much of a stretch. What fan would have a grudge that big against the CSWA--

--and suddenly her eyes focused.

Mickey Benedict was at PRIMETIME 500.

Mickey Benedict.

Mickey was at PRIMETIME 500. Mickey was a CSWA Legend; his presence would never be questioned at any event. And he was the rare retired wrestler with plenty of active grudges with the boys still in the ring.

It was enough to start. IVy picked up her phone and hit a speed dial.

"Adrian? Ivy. Listen, can you do me a favor?"

...

"No, no strange cravings tonight. Dick. I need you to backtrack Mickey Benedict's trail going into PRIMETIME 500 and leaving PRIMETIME 500.

...

"Just a feeling."

...

"Yeah, I know the Hacker didn't start to leave traces until San Diego but that doesn't mean he wasn't there."

...

"I'll be here for a while still, but call the cell."

...

"Yeah, no problem. Talk to you later."

She clicked the phone off and returned to the security brief. It was strange to read about a CSWA event that she wasn't there for, considering how many she was.

San Diego.

The start of the UNIFIED Championship tournament.

Was there a connection?

Ivy expertly switched screens again and pulled up the brief from PRIMETIME, April 18th, 2005.

nowUseeme: g00d t0 see y00 the 0ther n1te

The window startled her; she had forgotten about the IM software idling in the background.

psych0b1tch: Whoever this is, please drop the 'leetspeek' - it's the sign of an idiot.

nowUseeme: no problem. congratulations on the pregnancy. what do you hope it is?

psych0b1tch: who are you?

nowUseeme: change is good.

Processing... Changes accepted. Change is good. Change is necessary. Change.

Those were the first words from... "The Hacker."

Unbelievable.

psych0b1tch: Seriously, what do you want?

nowUseeme: no cigar tonite? i know you're knocked up and all but you usually have an unlit cigar in your ashtray when U work.

Ivy looked around the room. Was there a hidden camera? The Hacker had gotten one in her cabin on the PCL... was her office bugged?

"F**k you," she shouted, holding up both middle fingers. She quickly turned her attention back to the window.

No reaction.

No chances. Ivy slid her phone off her desk and started to type.

nowUseeme: the changes aren't over.
nowUseeme: there's a lot more to come.
nowUseeme: you won't like them.

This is why Ivy taught Adrian to always keep his phone on.

"IMing with hacker right now," she texted, "run SECSWEEP8.0 on my image and do a trace."

SEND

psych0b1tch: Then why do them?

Assuming she was able to get the text to Adrian, they might be able to zero in on a location. Which is more than they've had so far.

psych0b1tch: and why did you trap me in a room for four days with Paul and Teri?

nowUseeme: because some things have to be done. and because i wanted to see if i was right about you three.

psych0b1tch: We're people, not test subjects.

nowUseeme: wrong. you work for the cswa, which means you're always at someone else's whim. ross figured that out when he suddenly got a paycheck from merritt and thomas' offshore account.

psych0b1tch: You still haven't answered me. What do you want?

nowUseeme: u won't like the changes so i wanted to tell you now it was good to see you since you won't listen later.
nowUseeme: i want what everybody who works for the cswa wants
nowUseeme: i want to see everyone who took this company for granted to go down with the ship.

psych0b1tch: Who is that?

The screen flickered for a fraction of a second, and the window disappeared.

USER NOWUSEEME DOES NOT EXIST

As if on cue, her phone rang.

"This is Ivy."

...

"What do you mean, the signal was coming from my office? How is that possible, Adrian?"

...

"Yeah... no problem. Save that for me. Ok, bye."

Unbelievable.

If Adrian's trace was correct, the trace on the IM window snaked its way almost completely through the entire CSWA network and had its source in Ivy's office. Whoever this person was, they knew what they were doing.

And they told her there were more changes coming.

Ivy shuddered. One show at a time, Merritt had advised her. But what was going to happen at that one show?


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