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December 2001: Vince McMahon steps out of a snowy night into a diner in upstate New York for a meeting with old friend Phil Thomson, now a highly placed government official. Thomson has a strange proposition: creating a new covert black-ops group using the Superstars of World Wrestling Entertainment. The WWE's talented men and women are perfect. Highly skilled athletes with the ideal cover, they travel all across the country and the globe; no one would find it unusual to find them in a town one day and gone the ...
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December 2001: Vince McMahon steps out of a snowy night into a diner in upstate New York for a meeting with old friend Phil Thomson, now a highly placed government official. Thomson has a strange proposition: creating a new covert black-ops group using the Superstars of World Wrestling Entertainment. The WWE's talented men and women are perfect. Highly skilled athletes with the ideal cover, they travel all across the country and the globe; no one would find it unusual to find them in a town one day and gone the next. The government would train and support the wrestlers in every way possible except one: no one must know the truth.
March 2006: The Superstars have been handed their latest assignment — take down a commercial-grade methyl-amphetamine plant that is bankrolling terrorist activities in Europe. Their mission seems simple and straightforward, until a member of their team is taken prisoner. Now all that they've worked so hard for is in jeopardy, and one of their own might be killed...
ALBANY, NEW YORK
From his backstage office, Vincent K. McMahon, chairman of World Wrestling Entertainment, thought the arena eruption sounded like two jet planes roaring overhead a stadium at the end of "The Star-Spangled Banner." There were five or so seconds where he couldn't hear anything except for the noise. Only twenty thousand angry fans make a sound that loud. Just about every one of those fans hated Triple H. Watching him regain the WWE Championship was torture for them, but hearing the passion in their reaction let Vince know that tonight's show was a winner. The fans were moved by what had unfolded in front of them.
Vince kept his eye on the TV monitor for another few minutes as he packed his briefcase. Once he saw Triple H hop off the ring apron, Vince hustled out of the room.
Backstage at the Pepsi Center looked the same as it did at the end of just about every WWE show. A mixture of Superstars, wives, girlfriends, office workers, stage crew, stadium personnel, and assorted random people who managed to get in were all standing around with smiles on their faces. It wasn't just Vince. They all knew the show had been a success.
Vince loved this time of the night. Everyone was laughing, having a beer, or hanging with their friends. That meant the show had gone off without a hitch. His Superstars had a blast performing and the fans were ecstatic. More importantly, though, he liked this time of night because it let him look ahead.
Okay, tonight went great, time to start working on tomorrow.
Anyone who knew Vince McMahon knew that no matter what else was going on around him, regardless of what type of meeting he was in or new T-shirt design he was being presented, there was always one question at the front of his mind: What's next?
As he made his way around backstage, most everyone looked over at him to say something.
Great show tonight, boss.
The Pay-Per-View card is really coming together.
We blew 'em away tonight, Mister McMahon!
Usually Vince would stop, say hello, and thank everyone for the good show. He'd ask them what they thought about it, because he valued every opinion. Most of them he already knew, but every now and then someone would say something that would spark an idea for the future. Tonight he didn't have time for any of that. He should have been halfway down the New York State Thruway by now, but there was no chance of him leaving a show early, let alone this show. He was just about set to head out to the car, but needed to see his champion quickly before he left.
"Mister McMahon! Mister McMahon!" someone shouted from behind. Vince knew the voice without having to turn around. It was a voice he'd heard in the backstage of arenas for over three decades.
"Sorry to bother you, Mister McMahon," said Howard Finkel, known to generations of WWE fans as "The Fink." "But I was just talking to Tony, and he said you guys really ought to get on your way as soon as you can with this weather. And I told him that maybe you guys should just stay the night."
"Thanks, Howard," Vince said as he pushed past the guy. "I'll take that under advisement."
True to his word, Vince thought about pushing back his trip for the briefest moment, then shoved the idea right out of his mind. Of course he would have preferred to stay in Albany for the night. Any idiot would. Aside from not having to deal with the snow, it would give him some time to gather Triple H and Stone Cold Steve Austin to discuss their match at Madison Square Garden. However, his meeting with the guys at the network couldn't wait. If he didn't show, they might take it upon themselves to move forward with their promotional plans without his signoff. And that was not going to happen.
Vince headed toward the catering room, where he knew Triple H would be chowing down on his regular postmatch meal. He could only imagine what Tony, his driver, was thinking right now. Even if the weather predictions from earlier were only partially correct in their gloom-and-doom forecast, there'd be half a foot of snow on the ground already with more piling up. Vince could handle Tony, but if his wife Linda called before Vince got in the car, he knew he'd have a discussion on his hands.
Triple H was sitting alone at a table while the catering guys wrapped up. It was clear that they wanted to get the hell out of Dodge, but no one got between Triple H and his postmatch meal. Triple H barely looked up when Vince approached, but he did kick a chair out for Vince to sit on. Vince waved the offered chair away. He didn't have time to stick around. "I'm on my way out, but I wanted to stop by to tell you a couple things."
"Yeah," Triple H said as he rested his fork on the plate and leaned back in his chair. Much as he and Vince had their problems from time to time, Hunter would not disrespect the man by eating through their conversation.
"First off, that was great shit. I mean, you guys tore the damn roof off this place."
"We did, didn't we?" Triple H said with a self-satisfied smile.
"I'm shocked you got out of there without a full security detail. Sounded like they wanted to rip your head off."
"Bring 'em on," Triple H said, and the two shared a laugh.
"I've got some ideas for what you and Austin can do next, but they're all . . . let's just say they're quite involved." Vince stressed that last word as a challenge, the implication being that he wasn't sure they could pull any of those ideas off. Vince knew this would be tantalizing enough to energize his WWE Champion. Few Superstars worked harder for the success of the company than Triple H. "When you and Austin get into the city tomorrow, we'll talk it over."
"Any reason we can't start talking about it now? Austin's still in the building. I can drag his ass in here. Give me two minutes."
Vince held up his hands, basically telling Triple H to back off. The truth was that Vince couldn't talk about the idea right now, because he didn't have the whole thing figured out yet. He was sure he would work it out eventually. "I'm running down to New York. I have that eight A.M. meeting with the network tomorrow and can't risk leaving in the morning with this weather. I should have been out of here hours ago, but wanted to watch the end of the show live. What you guys did will make the five-hour trip worth it."
"It's snowing like a bitch out there," Triple H said.
"I know. If anyone hears from Linda, tell her that I left here two hours ago."
Vince could hear Hunter laughing behind him as he walked away. Was getting in a car during a snowstorm the best idea Vince ever had? No. He knew that. But Vince gave the network folks his word he'd be there by eight, and he was determined to be there.
By the time Vince reached the arena exit, his car was waiting there for him, dug out and idling with Tony behind the wheel. Vince slipped into the backseat without waiting for Tony to get out and open the door for him. They had long since dispensed with that pretentious bit of business. Vince was perfectly capable of opening a door on his own.
It took them almost a half hour to fight their way out of the snow-covered parking lot past the crowds of people who had just watched Triple H reclaim his title. Vince knew that if any of them guessed he was behind the tinted windows of the town car, many of the fans would rush the car for his autograph, though probably more of them would pelt it with ice balls. He didn't mind. Their hatred for him was just one of the things that kept bringing them back.
By twelve-thirty they were slowly moving along the New York State Thruway. It had been tough negotiating the side roads, but the thruway was still passable, more or less.
Vince stared out the darkened windows. From the little he could see, he knew it was official — they were driving through a blizzard. Snow was falling or blowing around in every conceivable direction. The yellowish glow of the sporadic overhead road lights was the only reason Vince could see enough to know what was happening on the other side of the glass.
There was something about the swirling white storm that he found relaxing, and Vince allowed himself to shut down his mind and just enjoy the rare moment when people weren't pulling him in every direction. But right in the middle of thinking about nothing, both literal and figurative lightning flashed as he was struck by inspiration for what Triple H and Stone Cold could do the next night at the Garden.
But it was no lightning. And his inspiration wasn't the only thing that had been struck.
Tony managed to yell, "Hold on, Mister — " before Vince's head slammed against the window. The bright flash of light had faded, but he could sense the car was sliding down a hill. His own car's headlights were circling around him, so they must have been spinning. A warm taste ran over his lips. His head was bleeding. Vince hoped that was the worst of it. His stomach wobbled as the car began its third rotation, or maybe it was the fourth. He'd lost track. Cold air rushed in from the front passenger door as it flew open. The car finally slammed to a halt, sending Vince's left shoulder crashing into the glass partition between the passenger and driver.
Worse than the cut on his head or the searing pain in his shoulder was the realization that the idea for Triple H's and Stone Cold's next match had left him. Gone. Just as quickly as it appeared. Before he could worry too much about that, he heard Tony calling out through the cracked glass partition. "Mister McMahon, are you okay?"
"More or less," Vince yelled back. He grabbed his briefcase and kicked his way out the driver's-side back door. "How 'bout you?"
"Yeah," Tony said as they met outside the car. The front end of the Lincoln was resting up against the tree it had slammed into. "I'm fine, sir. I am so sorry." His eyes went wide. "You're bleeding! Oh, God, I'm sorry! I didn't even see that snowplow. It came up on us so fast."
"Is that what it was?" Vince asked. "Damn crazy driver. Probably didn't even see us on the road. It wasn't your fault. Let's just be glad we're okay. This cut is nothing. Let's call nine-one-one and get out of here." Vince reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out his cell phone, and flipped it open. "Son of a bitch!"
"What's wrong, sir?"
"No service. Damn storm. Let's check your phone."
The two men stared at each other briefly. Vince could tell that Tony was afraid for his job. But firing Tony was the furthest thing from Vince's mind. It wasn't his fault.
"Suggestions?" Vince asked. Other than the snowplow, they hadn't seen another car in the past twenty minutes. Waiting it out by the side of the road seemed foolhardy.
"Well," Tony began, sounding about as confident as the captain of the chess team asking the head cheerleader to the prom. "I saw a diner about a mile back, right off the exit. We can probably get there in twenty minutes."
"Let's go," Vince said as he started walking. He didn't give a damn if the diner was open or not. They'd probably have a pay phone he could use to call for help. Moving was a much better option than sitting around freezing their asses off in the snow.
The two men hardly spoke during the trek. With the freezing air it was just easier to keep their jaws clenched and walk. It took longer than Tony said it would, but Vince was downright shocked when they shuffled down to the end of the exit ramp. Visible through the driving white abyss was a glowing billboard with the words "Whirlybird Diner" written across it in bold letters. Hanging beneath it, all lit up in bright neon red, was the only word Vince cared about right now: "OPEN."
As soon as they were inside the relative warmth of the diner, Tony stepped right to the counter and struck up a conversation with the waitress. Vince stood a moment inside of the doorway to look around. He wanted to make sure his feet were actually on the diner's outdated linoleum and no longer out in the arctic. The warm air felt nice, but he knew that in a few minutes, once the numbness melted away, his head would be throbbing.
Vince took stock of the place. Bunch of beat-up chrome stools with fake leather tops that probably didn't spin around anymore, that is, if they ever did. Across the counter from the stools were refrigerator cases holding desserts that did not appear to be made today. Or this week. As he continued his inventory, Vince settled on something he couldn't believe was in front of him — another patron. The man sat in the booth farthest from the door, facing away from him. Vince figured the dive was the only option for people stuck out on the road in the middle of the night.
"Good news, Mister McMahon, the coffee's hot," Tony said as he turned to his boss.
"And the food's even hotter," said the waitress. "Or it will be once I get the grill up and running again. Been havin' a hell of a time keeping it goin' with that storm outside."
"You the cook too?" Vince asked.
"Cook, waitress, hostess, busboy . . . you name it." She flashed him a yellowed smile. "What can I get you?"
"A phone," Vince said.
"Over there," she said, pointing to the far end of the diner. "But it won't help. Ice snapped the phone lines. Nobody'll be out till morning to fix 'em. And the hotel up the street is already booked solid."
"Christ," Vince spat. "You have any good news?"
"Just that hot food," she said. "If sweetie here will help me out."
Tony looked to Vince for what to do. Vince nodded. He might as well get something warm in him. It looked like they were going to be there a while. While Tony went in back with the waitress, Vince figured he might as well make himself comfortable. No point being rude either, since it looked like one other weary traveler was in the same boat.
"Hell of a night," Vince said to the gray-haired man at the end of the diner. The man simply nodded in agreement without turning around. That was odd. Not to mention rude. But Vince was undaunted. "Had to get to the city, or else I would've stayed up in Albany myself. What about you?"
The guy shrugged in response as Vince ambled up to him. Vince did his best to keep his anger in check, seeing as how they were stuck together. Still, he wasn't used to people ignoring him. The chairman of the WWE did not get treated like this.
"Hey, buddy," Vince said as he reached the guy. "What's your — " Vince froze colder than the air outside. He couldn't have been more shocked by what he saw than if someone had told him Hulk Hogan had actually retired once and for all. "Phil? Phil Thompson?"
The man in the booth gave Vince a smirk and nodded to the bench across from him. "Have a seat, Vince."
It had been over forty years since Vince had last seen the man in front of him. It was nice to see that the years had been harder on Thompson than they had on Vince. In spite of the changes, the recognition was instant. Thompson's gray hair was cropped in the tight style of their youth. His face showed a few wrinkles — and a few more scars. Vince only wished he had been the cause of some of those scars.
"You going to stand there all night?" Phil said.
" 'Cause I don't know how long Rita is going to be able to keep your friend busy with that grill."
Vince did not like this at all. Running into an old enemy in the middle of a snowstorm in the middle of the night. Something was not right.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Vince asked.
"Like seeing a ghost, isn't it?" Thompson replied. "What's it been . . . thirty, forty years?"
Vince was in no mood for small talk. "Look, Thompson, I don't know what you want . . ."
Thompson jumped in. "Not much. Just to share a cup of coffee with an old friend."
"We were never friends."
"A technicality," Thompson said glibly. "In a different time at a different place . . ."
"You still would have been the same asshole."
Thompson didn't even bother to look offended. "You're probably right," he said. "But look at you now. I can't say I'm an avid fan, but I keep up on you and tune into Raw and SmackDown! when I have a chance. I'm real happy for you. Things turned out real well."
"No thanks to you."
"Now don't tell me you still hold a grudge."
Vince was tired of standing and just a bit woozy from his head injury. He slid into the seat across from Thompson. "You've seen me on TV. You tell me if I can't hold a grudge."
"Still, forty years is a long time to hate someone."
"I've hated people longer," Vince said.
Thompson checked his watch. "This isn't quite going the way I planned. I was hoping you would have gotten here sooner. But I can see how you'd be running late, considering the weather and all."
"Late?" Vince said, his anger rising. "We weren't planning on stopping here. We were an accident. Some asshole plow driver ran us off the road."
"Technically, yes, you did have a car wreck, but it was not an accident. Although the severity of the crash wasn't supposed to be near what it was. I should have known it might get out of hand. Ice can be so . . . unpredictable."
"You bastard!" Vince reached across the table and grabbed Thompson by the collar. "You did this?!"
"Please," Thompson asked as his face went red. "Just give me five minutes. You will understand all of this. Why I'm here. Why we did what we did. Vince . . . your country needs your help."
"First of all, what the hell are you talking about?" Vince fumed, but refused to let go of his grip. "And secondly, I already give this country a lot of help. I pay my taxes — all of my taxes — on time, I send my Superstars out to entertain the troops, and I've made more than my fair share of monetary contributions to the current administration."
"We know," Thompson said, causing Vince to wonder about this "we" that his old acquaintance was referring to. "Which is part of the reason we thought you'd be approachable. Part of you wants to know why we've arranged all this, am I right?"
"You've got five minutes," Vince said as he released Thompson.
"I've changed since our days at the Academy," Phil said. "And I owe a lot of that to you."
"Flowers are a better way to show your appreciation than car accidents," Vince said. "Stop buttering me up and make your damn point."
"You'll probably be surprised to know that I'm now director of the NSA," he said.
"Not at all," Vince said. "You were always a conniving, backstabbing bastard. I had no doubt you'd go far."
Thompson ignored the attitude, but cut to the chase. "Since nine-eleven, the NSA's ability to handle situations has gotten more, let's just say, more . . . liberal. But it's still not enough. We're fighting too much from too many directions. We need help."
Well, that answered the question of "who." Now all Vince needed to know was "what."
Thompson continued, "You, Vince, are the chairman of a company that travels all over the country, all over the world really. Every week. Strong men and women. Patriots, all of them. With more physical abilities than most of our operatives."
"Yeah, I'm damned proud of them too," Vince said. "Four minutes."
"They could be just the help the NSA has been searching for," Thompson said. "The Superstars of WWE storm into a town one night and move on to another the next. You travel with truckloads of equipment like you're your own damn mobile city. With people and resources that match any force the government has at our disposal."
"You're not using my Superstars as decoys, if that's what you want. So don't even bother asking."
"No, no. You think I'm going to tell Triple H, 'I know you can snap a man's neck in two seconds, but wait right here where someone can take a shot at you so we can arrest him.' Give me a break. I deserve more credit than that. I want them to be involved."
Even though Vince hadn't seen Thompson in about forty years, he could tell the guy was holding back. Screw the time limit. "Great seeing you," Vince said with a sneer. "Maybe we'll run into one another again in, I don't know, forty years."
"You're not getting this, are you?" Thompson's entire demeanor changed. He had been serious for the entire time they talked, but now something else was bubbling to the surface. It wasn't quite anger. More like frustration. "Let me topline it. We set up a handful of Superstars as a special operations force. My guys identify the problem. Your guys go in and clean it up. Job done. You pack up your trucks and move on to the next city. No one's the wiser."
"Case you haven't noticed, my guys tend to attract some attention when they go out," Vince said.
"We use that in our favor when we can," Phil said. "Work around it when we can't."
"And they'd be on the government's payroll?"
"A discretionary fund," Phil said. "Purely black ops."
"You think I'm an idiot?" Vince asked, getting up from the table. "I've seen movies. I watch TV. You suddenly show up after forty years with this ridiculous offer, sweet-talk me into it, get my guys working for you and all. Then bam! A few years down the line we find out you're the bad guy and we've been working against our own government. Sorry, buddy. I'm nobody's fool. Least of all yours."
"Wait, Vince," Thompson said, grabbing Vince by the arm.
Vince looked down, seething.
Thompson quickly released him. "Wait," he pleaded. "If I can't convince you, I know someone who can." Phil opened up his briefcase and took out a laptop. He raised the screen and tapped a few keys. "Just give me a second to make the connection. . . . Here we go."
Phil slid the computer out so that Vince could see the screen. It was black, except for the word CONNECTING flashing in white letters. Vince couldn't wait to see what kind of crap Thompson was going to pull now. Luckily, he didn't have to wait for long. After a few seconds of nothingness, the screen switched to a frozen image.
It was the seal of the president of the United States.
Copyright ©2006 by World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.
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