Monday, August 25, 2014

The Unholy Roamin' Empire - Part 12


“Confounded thing!  You’d think you’d show a little appreciation!  I’m just trying to bring you out of the cold so that you have some place warm to sleep and food to eat instead of that dried up kudzu patch the lot of you were living in.  But no.  Of course not.  You wind up being the most obstinate, irritating … ack!!”  I wound up calling him Grimm.  The name suited him, but why is another story.   

It took me the better part of a day to catch and then pull that irritating cuss of a goat from an area near the quarry that had been taken over by kudzu to the truck, into the back of the truck and get him and his herd into the enclosed trailer, and then back to the home place where we unloaded them into an area we’d fenced in with cyclone fencing we “liberated” from the paper mill.  It wasn’t because the goats were necessarily mean but because at the worst possible moments most of the idiot things would lock their legs and fall over in an apparent faint of some kind.  Worse, Jax and Reggie would then fall into hysterical laughter at their antics.  They eventually stopped laughing when the goats seemed to start doing it on purpose to be irritating and make it difficult to maneuver them in the direction we needed them to go. 

Once they were in the fenced in area I was finally able to get enough of a look at them to figure out what kind they most likely were.  I’d had a suspicion of what they were based on their stupid “fainting” technique but you can never be too careful when it comes to assuming anything with animals.  They’ll turn around and butt you in the behind and you’ll wind up using your jaw as a root rake … which is what happened to Reggie.  Twice. 

The goats were a breed called Myotonic which means wooden leg; pretty much described how they acted when they got scared or snarky.  The book I had liberated from the feed store said they were more commonly known as Tennessee Meat Goats and are one of the few breeds of goats indigenous to the US.  The thing that marked these goats primarily for meat is that they have big heavy backsides and they are barrel chested.  What I was happiest to read was that they are not good climbers or jumpers so keeping them penned up would be easier than many breeds.  They are also good mothers so you don’t have to have a separate bonding pen.  And not only are they good for meat, this particular breed also has a good milk supply.   

I noticed that not all of the goats “fainted” and suspected some of them might be cross breeds.  The book had a footnote in it that said the fainting gene was recessive and rarely carried over in a cross breed; and, that the TMG breed also bred with other goats pretty easily, especially something called the Boer goat.  I thought that would be good to know if we ever ran up on some other goats. 

Grimm was the largest of the heard weighed in at about a hundred and ten pounds.  Given my experience with him that first day I expected him to be a real stinker but after two days he stopped trying to ram me any time I presented my behind.  From there on after he would nip my butt but usually just to be a playful stinker rather than out of meanness.  He was a shaggy animal and required brushing.  I had to be careful while I was brushing him because he seemed to take delight in trying to nibble my braids.  The stinker would even try and pull them out of the pins I had used to wrap them around my head.  And forget ribbons or ties on the end of my braids; that was way too much temptation. 

Why I called him Grimm was because I found that if I talked to him while I brushed him or fed the herd he seemed to get calm, to the point that it seemed unless I was telling him a story he would get bent out of shape and misbehave.  Kelly enjoyed the stories too and particularly liked fairy tales.  If I told that blasted story of the goats trip trapping over the troll’s bridge once then I must have told it a million times.  I don’t know who enjoyed it more, Kelly or Grimm.  Some of his descendants still live out in the paddock behind the house.  They’re useful at keeping the grass grazed down to a manageable level, especially these days when the idea of jumping on a bush hog to mow doesn’t exactly thrill my bones any. 

Where the goats came from I have no idea and never did find out.  But in all honesty there wasn’t that much time for me to wonder back then and just as big a waste of time now.  That November was a busy month, filled with hunting and meat preservation.  It was also time to prepare the green house for winter.  I’d let it go since my family died and there were quite a few repairs to make.  Once that was accomplished I moved in my pots of blueberry seedlings, fruit tree seedlings, and some of my more freeze sensitive potted herbs. 

We also put the storm windows up – wasn’t that a treat – and reinstalled the lexan panels on part of the back porch that acted as an insulator for the part of the house that tended to catch the coldest breezes in the winter.  I normally would have done all manner of fall cleaning inside the houses and barns and sheds but to be honest there just wasn’t time even with five other people helping.  I realized I would have to be more organized about it the next year but then I also realized we probably wouldn’t have the same issues then because all of the salvaging would be done and over with and perhaps even used up. 

For Thanksgiving that year we had all the traditional side dishes but our meat was a goat barbecue.  Somehow or other the goats had upended the watering trough I had put in there.  It had been full of water just an hour before I went out and found the buck with what turned out to be a broken hip; given the bruising it looked like the edge of the trough caught him good as it went over aided by the weight of the water.  It had to have taken several of those goats acting in concert to get the water trough turned over given it size and volume.  To this day I’m not sure how they pulled it off and I always wondered why that particular goat got injured; it was the only male goat that seemed to challenge Grimm.  Never before or since have I ever witnessed anything quite like that.  I’ve seen chickens do the death squad/assassination thing on the hen at the lowest end of the pecking order or if one gets sick but I’ve never seen other animals behave that way.  Jax told me it was my imagination but … 

I was glad that Thanksgiving turned out the way it did because I’d been really stressing.  About two weeks after the battle with the baddies Jax went over to the Houchins place for some errand or other that I can’t any longer recall and we got a bit of a shock.  Mr. Houchins did indeed have a big radio set up and he monitored lots of radio frequencies.  He heard news from around the world because he has such a powerful antenna and receiver.  But it was the ones closer to home that was of more immediate interest. 

Jax came home that day and I knew right away that something was off; however, at first I couldn’t tell if he was angry or just irritated. 

I didn’t even get to finish my greeting. “Hey Ja…” 

“We need a meeting … all of us … now.”  He continued on into the house and I was leaning a little bit more towards the angry side of the equation. 

I looked as Aston and asked cautiously, “Bad day at the Houchins farm?” 

Aston glowered and said, “Not exactly.” 

Ashley came bouncing along and said, “Hey Babe! How did it …” 

“We’re having a committee meeting.  Let’s go in the kitchen.” 

Ashley looked at me with those doe eyes she could muster back then and all I could do was shrug.  We both followed Aston into the kitchen where we found Jax mushing Reggie and Ginger into the room and dropping Kelly into her highchair where she did not want to go. 

Jax used a very rare tone when he looked at her and said, “Kelly Marie Remington … sit.” 

Jax so seldom used that tone that I think everyone in the kitchen was startled.  Certainly Kelly’s bottom lip quivered and she got a little sullen the way toddlers can, but she sat.  So did the rest of us.  The rest of us except Jax that is; he prowled the kitchen like it was a cage and he was a cat with too much energy. 

I looked at Aston who had a closed look on his face and wasn’t talking.  I looked at Jax who didn’t seem to know how to start.  Sighing and wondering whether I was going to get my head bit off for my pains I said, “OK guys, at least give us a clue.” 

Both of them simultaneously, like a double barrel shotgun, growled, “Matt!” 

Yikes.  “What about him?” I asked, trying not to set them off. 

Aston looked at Jax who in turn finally pulled out a chair, turned it backwards and straddled it.  “Houchins has a real nice radio set up.” 

Reggie said, “Kinda figured that given how strong their signal always is.” 

Aston said, “Nice isn’t what I’d call it … more like what I’d expect the national guard to have or something like that.” 

Reggie nodded like that made sense and said, “Might have liberated it from a national guard outpost or some place like it.  Maybe the sheriff’s substation.” 

The guys all nodded and I looked at Ginger and Ashley wondering how long we were going to have to wait them out until they could actually bring themselves to stick to the original OP. 

Jax was worrying his bottom lip and said, “We need a better set up here.” 

When Reggie and Aston started making plans I’d come to the end of my rope.  As calmly as I could I said, “If you mind, can you explain why you came in here like someone ate the last piece of fried chicken and all you got was a bunch of forks in the back of your hand?” 

Aston and Jax did it again.  “Matt!” 

Less politely I said, “Got that the first time you said it.  Might be nice if you would expand your explanation by a few words.” 

Aston said, “He’s broadcasting.” 

“Yeah?  So?  From what I understand from you guys it isn’t the first time he’s tried that.  Has he suddenly become the grand wizard of the refugees and advertising for new recruits?” 

Jax shook his head, “No.” 

I felt like I was starting to grind the enamel off my molars.  I turned to look at Aston who said, “Nothing like that.  Well, not exactly anyway.” 

My foot started tapping nervously under the table.  Jax and I have gotten better at taking turns talking and trying to understand each other but back then my graciousness and manners usually diminished in direct proportion to my loss of patience; people would tell you that is pretty much still true today.  It was getting harder and harder to wait for the guys to get around to actually explaining what was going on. 

When I started nervously messing with the end of my braids and rocking ever so slightly in the chair I was sitting in Jax must have finally clued in that I was trying hard but that I was reaching the end because he said, “It’s Matt.” 

Ginger, who was sitting beside me jumped when I nearly squeaked in frustration.  “You said that already!” 

Jax nodded and said, “That should explain it.” 

“Explain what?  You haven’t done anything but growl his name!”   

Jax snarled, “Matt is being a jerk.” 

Totally flummoxed by the fact that he and Aston both seemed to be colluding to drive me insane I asked, “And that’s news?  What specifically has he done that is above and beyond his normal level of jerk-i-tude?” 

Jax gave me a look and asked, “So you think he’s a jerk?” 

My jaw nearly hit the floor.  “OK, something is going on here.  Why would you ask a question like that with your face all hanging out?  Were you or were you not there when I got a major slap down in the pride department when I found out about him and Marty?” 

“So you don’t intend on forgiving him?” 

I was sure that I was going insane at that point.  “Are … you … kidding?!  I forgave him for myself, not for him.  More reasons to develop ulcers I don’t need.  I’ve managed to put him and what he did to me behind me but if you think that I’m ready to make nice to him then the answer is no.  I’ll keep my distance as long as possible thank you very much.  Matt has a bad habit of rubbing people’s faces in things and I don’t feel particularly partial to that level of humiliation.”  I stood up and started doing my own pacing in the space left in the room.  “Now what the heck brought this on?” 

To be honest my feelings were hurt.  I know now, and even then in the back of my mind, that my reaction was a little out of proportion to what had been said but something was rubbing me the wrong way.  I was trying not to show it before I could understand what had Jax … and Aston for that matter … so bent out of shape that they’d act like a couple of bucket heads, but it wasn’t easy. 

“Mr. Houchins has been hearing things on the radio.” 

In frustration bordering on anger I replied, “Yeah, you’ve already said that too.  You also said that it was Matt he heard.  Aston kindly confused things even more by alluding to the fact that Matt’s broadcasts may or may not have to do with recruiting people to the gang he may or may not now lead.  So, with those facts firmly established for the eleventy dozenth time, can we please get to the next part of this long freaking drawn out story?” 

Jax snapped, “Well excuse the heck out of me!” 

In frustration I yanked my braid hard enough to make myself wince and then flung it away from my overly energetic hands.  “Look, I’m sorry but put yourself in my shoes.  If you’d been on the receiving end of this so-called explanation you wouldn’t exactly be doing the happy dance right about now would you?” 

He opened his mouth to make an automatic denial then deflated a little.  “Guess not.”  He ran a hand through his perpetually messy hair reminding me of how he looked when Kelly got finished using it for hand holds when he ran her around the yard on his shoulders.  Finally he sighed, “Let’s sit down and … and I’ll try and not …” 

Ginger stepped into the breach and said, “Everyone understands that Matt is your cousin and I’m sure that makes what he’s done a little harder on you but even I’m getting kind of wired waiting for you and Aston to explain what’s going on.”   

Ashley nodded a “me too” but Reggie simply leaned back his chair and in a sardonic voice said, “Not me.  No offense to your family Jax but Matt is a certified butt monkey so nothing he does will surprise me and hearing about it will likely simply lead me to believe even more firmly that he is a certified butt monkey.  But mostly Matt is a bore … a boring certified butt monkey.” 

Ginger and Ashley each frogged one of Reggie’s arms, and not in a playful way either.  I said to no one in particular, “That’s gonna leave a bruise.” 

Reggie mumbled while rubbing his upper arms, “Two of them.”  But he did shut up. 

Aston rolled his eyes and Jax scrubbed his face with his hands.  I looked at Jax and he at me and finally he spit it out.  “He isn’t trying to recruit anyone in general … he is trying to recruit you in particular.” 

I just looked at him and then shook my head like I wasn’t sure I had really heard what I thought I had heard.  “Wait … did you just say he is trying to … to … uh … recruit me?” 

“Yeah.” 

“And?” 

“And what?” 

“And did you think I would honestly fall for his line of BS?” 

The look on my face gave Jax an indication that his answer had grave repercussions.   

“Uh …” 

Outraged and then more outraged that began to add a heaping side order of anger, I slowly stood up from the table, carefully pushed my chair in, and then walked out onto the porch and then out into the yard and over to the fish pond.  Every movement I made was controlled and sparing.  I was breathing through my feelings but it felt like a losing battle.  And if I lost it, I refused to do it in front of other people.  I knew how nasty my temper could be and I knew how important it was not to have it blow all over other people. 

About five minutes later Jax showed up and I was still pretty angry but had a better handle on why I was angry.  Still careful in what I was letting out I asked, “Do you take me for an idiot?” 

Startled out of the explanation he was about to make he said, “Huh?  No, of course not.  I never said you were.” 

Still fighting for calm I said, “But don’t you think me falling for Matt’s malarkey pretty much would make me an idiot?” 

“Uh …” 

“And don’t you think me falling for Matt’s malarkey would be betraying you?” 

“Uh … about that …” 

I turned away from him and rocked myself just from the sheer volume of feeling I was going through.  I said quietly, “I thought we’d worked through this when you got bent out of shape about Reggie talking to me that time.” 

“So … you remember that?” 

“Yeah,” I told him grimly.  “It’s not like you were nasty or anything.  I suppose being together in front of other people was pretty new back then.  But … but we’ve been together … longer … and …” 

“Hey … hey you … you aren’t going to cry are you?” 

I blew air slowly out between my lips and then turned to face him.  “No Jax.  I’m not going to cry.  What I am right now is very, very angry and more than a little hurt.  Or don’t you think I’d feel like a dumb whore or something with you thinking that I’d …” 

“Hey now.  Just whoa.  I never …” 

I put out my hand palm first.  “Oh yes … yes you did.  You didn’t come right out and say it, that’s not your style.  But you all but did say that I’d jump out of bed with you and jump in bed with Matt … a place I never was in case you’ve had an extreme brain injury bringing on memory loss.” 

I turned away from him again because the poor dumb guy face was just making me madder.  He wasn’t stupid, he was a guy.  And for some reason beyond my ability to fathom guys never seem to understand what their jealousy says about their opinion of the girls’ morals and commonsense. 

“It isn’t you … it’s Matt,” he explained. 

“And how exactly is Matt supposed to ‘recruit’ me if I’m unwilling to fall for his line of BS?  I’m no longer interested in jumping his bones if I ever was and I sure as heck find his recent activities way over in the mentally disturbed range of the human-o-meter.  So explain to me exactly why you think I have so many screws loose that I’d …” 

Jax stepped up to me and wrapped me in a hug.  I was stiff and unyielding.  “That’s not what I meant,” he whispered into my hair. 

“Ok.  Fine.” 

“But you’re still angry.” 

“Yeah.  I am.”  Then I sighed in resignation.  “I’m angry … but I suppose I’ll get over it.  You’re more important – we’re more important – than the anger is.”  I felt him relax but I felt forced to add, “But no more of this Jax.  I’m not one of those females that find it flattering.  In fact it pretty much grosses me out and turns me off.  And if we didn’t have other people around I can’t guarantee that I wouldn’t act some nastier over this.  If we didn’t need to keep the peace right now it’s real possible you wouldn’t be getting any peace.  You understand what I’m trying to say?” 

I felt him nod against my hair.  “Pretty much.  And at the risk of making things worse before they get better … are you sure you aren’t … aren’t interested in what Matt could offer you?” 

I tried to pull away but he exerted just enough strength to keep me bound to him.  “You … are … damaged,” I hissed.  “After all I just said you still would ask …” 

“Yeah … yeah I’m asking.  I’m asking because … because I need to hear you say it.” 

If he hadn’t been so serious I might have elbowed him to escape and stalked off.  I grabbed the edges of my shredded patience and said, “No.  Matt doesn’t and never will have the ability to offer me anything that I’d want bad enough that I wouldn’t or couldn’t try to get it for myself.  Now can I ask why you needed to hear me say it?” 

“Because I did.”  I tried to walk out of his arms again and he sighed.  “Because I did … because Darlene … because … because she took me for a ride.  And after Darlene the few girls … women … I tried to … to start something with … look it all just … left a mark I guess.  And now that I have you … that … that we’re building … this … this …”  This time it was he that walked a few steps away leaving me unprepared for how cold it was without his arms around me.  “I thought … you’d … you’d understand after the way Matt treated you.  At the same time I’m not so blind as I can’t see that potentially Matt has …” 

I walked over and bumped into him, inviting him without words to put his arms back around me.  “Matt has nothing that I want.  Not only that, even if he did I’m smart enough to realize it comes with all sorts of strings.  And to re-blind myself to what Matt is, I’d have to forget everything that has happened and everything that I’ve learned he’s done.  And I can’t.  I can forgive him for what he did to me … the lies and … and humiliation in front of everyone … but I can’t trust him anymore.  So does that answer your question any better?” 

Quietly he asked, “You don’t think I should need to ask?  To hear it?” 

I shrugged.  “I’m … I’m honestly not sure.  Part of me is hurt that you would need to but … but if I’m using my vaunted gift of insight …”  He snorted and I saw a small upward tilt at the corner of one side of his mouth appear.  I sighed and admitted, “If I’m being fair then I have to understand that I’m not the only one in the world that is allowed to have issues and a past they came out of.”  Giving yet another sigh I added, “Just try and control this particular issue.  It sets me off and it is insulting in a way that I’m not used to being insulted.”  Turning to look into his face I added, “Whether you meant to or not.” 

He nodded then attempted an apologetic kiss that was meant to catch me around my ear but thankfully for both of us I turned in his arms and helped him aim a tad more accurately so that his lips landed on mine. 

After a moment we walked back into the house together.  Reggie gave us one of his patented smart aleck looks and asked, “Are your wee feelings all fixed?” 

I gave him the evil eye and answered, “You better hope they are or your life could quickly become a living hell.  When momma ain’t happy …” 

Ginger and Ashley smiled and chorused, “ … nobody’s happy.” 

All three of us looked at Reggie so that he ducked his head and raised his hands defensively and said, “Ok … ok … let’s just get back to business.  I don’t feel like talking away my nap time before I have to go on night duty.” 

So we did. 

Basically as I heard it that day Matt was, in a roundabout way, trying to make it appear that there had been some horrible misunderstanding.  That the bad gang members had been purged or run out of town by the good guys and that the only people left just wanted to get on with their lives and survive the winter.  And in typical fashion Matt intimated that he had a plan and only the best supporting players would do to bring such a brilliant plan to fruition.  And apparently I was at the head of the supporting player’s class. 

I still wasn’t sure at that point exactly how much Matt knew about the home place.  None of us were sure if he even knew where it was for sure, how well off we were, and if he was aware of what had transpired during the battle of the baddies.  I wasn’t even sure he realized that we’d all hooked up.  The guys seemed pretty confident that Matt had no idea how well armed we were but they couldn’t be one hundred percent about what the bad guys might have radioed back to their home base … or even if they had radioed in such information. 

His tactic during that time and into the beginning of December was simply talking to someone like they were far off when Mr. Houchins had done some nifty triangulating – one of his sons was actually a retired Army Ranger and a nephew-in-law was a retired Navy Seal – and was able to tell that both radios were in fixed positions inside the city limits and that while Matt was the only one to use one radio, there was a rotating list of voices on the other radio though they changed names and tried to play it off.  In other words he was scamming; and it might have been a good plan if he had been dealing with people less suspicious and more gullible … but he wasn’t. 

It was all just cheap talk in the beginning, easily ignored but stressful to listen to after Jax and Reggie salvaged more of the radio equipment from the paper mill – especially a better antenna.  Weather and distance had much less effect on our reception than they had before and we were able to catch the townies’ regular broadcasts … and even some they might not have meant for us to overhear as we had acquired a set up that included a descrambler thanks to the mill bosses propensity to try and listen in on conversations between employees that the employees might not have wanted to have overheard. 

But when December came in Matt took the rhetoric up a notch and started asking people to let him know if they’d seen me or heard me on the radio – which nixed me going on air from that point forward – and if they didn’t feel comfortable doing that, if they would just pretty please with sugar on top get a message to me. 

“Why does he even think I’m still alive?” I asked in frustration at finding myself the focus of such a single minded search.  “Or even in the area?  I haven’t tried to contact him and haven’t had any kind of interaction with his group.  Could someone be watching the home place and none of us know it.  Wait, that doesn’t make any sense.  He wouldn’t be trying to locate me if he knew where I was.”  I shook my head and then snapped, “This is ridiculous.  Why is he doing this?  I feel like a goldfish in a really small bowl.” 

Jax shrugged but Reggie said, “Because he is a narcissist and he can’t allow himself to believe you aren’t still around if that is what he wants.  See, for some reason he is fixated on bringing you back under his influence and it’s not just that he won’t quit but maybe that he can’t quit until he pulls it off.” 

I snorted in disbelief.  “His influence?  Matt took me for a ride but he’s no Svengali for Pete’s sake.  There has to be something more to this.” 

Thoughtfully Jax asked, “Does it have to be one or the other?  Why can’t he need to have you back for his personal reasons and need to have you back for some other reason as well?” 

I rolled my eyes and laughed in disbelief.  “Because … that makes me a heck of a lot more important than I really am?” 

Still looking thoughtful Jax said, “Now wait, I told you about … about how he really did seem to care for you before the SHTF.  Maybe he did … maybe he still does.  Maybe not having you to … to fall back on is wigging his self-confidence.” 

This time I really did laugh.  “Or maybe Marty just dumped him and he’s trying to go back for some of the tried and true.  Geez you guys.  This is just insane.” 

Reggie laughed.  “Of course it is.  Our whole lives are insane right now.  And none of us knows for sure how that has really affected Matt’s brain pan.  The whole gamer showcase of stars costume ball was his creation, and he used it to manipulate the susceptible amongst us.  But that doesn’t mean that Matt didn’t get off on it too … the new persona, the imaginary powers, yada yada yada.  What if Matt was living in a fantasy too and now that his fantasy has been shattered he is either trying to recreate the old one, only in a new and improved format, or he’s trying to create a totally new one.  Knowing Matt, seeing what he is capable of, either/or is possible.” 

I was getting uncomfortable.  “Even if that were true … there has to be some underlying reason why me in particular.  I mean he could just pick some other girl and then his fantasy life problem would be over.” 

Jax asked quietly, “What if Matt isn’t as in control of the town as he is making himself out to be?  What if …?  What if you have something he needs.” 

“Huh?” I asked in disbelief.  “It sure isn’t my brains.  I might have given Matt a run in school but he always won in the end … always came in first, got the best grade, whatever.” 

Looking thoughtful Reggie asked, “What if that’s it?  What if he thinks you make him better?” 

“Uh … getting a little psychologically wiggy there Reg.  And maybe a little silly?” 

He shook his head and looked at Jax.  “If I had to hang a label on my old man it would be that he was a narcissist too.  All the classic traits:  couldn’t take anything he perceived as criticism without feeling humiliated and blowing up, used people and then threw them away with no shame or remorse, self-centered like the whole freaking universe revolved around him and his opinions, needed constant attention regardless of how he got it, unrealistic goals, didn’t have any healthy relationships for long because he would usually taint them with his jealousy or obsessions, and yet most people just considered him to be unemotional or detached … few people got to see how unglued he could become, how really dangerous.  I don’t think he was born with an empathetic bone in his whole body even though he often played like he did for strangers he wanted something from.  Tell me that that doesn’t sound like Matt.” 

I gave it an honest thought and replied, “OK, sure, at least some of it.  But some of those things you listed could apply to anyone.” 

“Yeah, I know.  But it is the number of narcissistic traits that really lays it out.  You know how everyone thought of Matt yet at the same time … everyone wanted to be around him for some reason.  And he loved it, came to expect it.  And he’d blow up when …” 

“OK, so I get it already,” I told Reggie.  “I still don’t see how that has anything to do with what we are talking about.” 

“But it does.  What if Matt is at a crossroad, at a point where he might be forced to face that his goals are out of his reach, that he just isn’t good enough to pull them off.  Narcissists are really bad at facing reality.  What if he is seeking a way to improve his odds?  And what if he thinks that you … YOU … are what would improve his odds because when he was with you things were better; and, frankly you did give him a run for his money.” 

I looked at Jax for help but Jax was listening to Reggie with extreme interest.  “Oh come on guys.  This sounds like a plot in a really, really bad movie.” 

Reggie shrugged.  “Maybe … but truth is often stranger than fiction.  You know Matt was always good at details, minutia, the academic side of things.  But none of his ideas were really original, just variations on what other people came up with or maybe a better application of what they come up with.  You on the other hand … you are smart in a way that is probably pretty alien to ol’ Matt.  You my Dear, are practical.  You see a problem, see a solution, and then find a way to get from point a to point b even if that means thinking outside the box.  You’re a concept guy.”  Grinning a little evilly he said, “Be honest.  Tell me you weren’t the one that added the pizzazz to the projects that you and Matt worked on together.” 

Jax asked, “What projects?” 

“Science fair and stuff like that.  There was a history project I remember in particular.  If you hadn’t saved Matt’s bacon that time … he was sweating bullets and you know it.”   

I nodded reluctantly.  “History didn’t really mean that much to Matt.  Names and dates and that sort of thing he could memorized were OK but … I don’t know OK.  He just kind of always missed the point.” 

“And?” Reggie egged. 

“And OK.  If Matt had had his way all of our projects would have been as boring as watching white paint dry.  He was just … just very literal.” 

“And not very creative on his own,” Reggie added. 

Jax was smiling.  “Reggie, you might be onto something with this.”  But then he got thoughtful, “But what does he need to get creative about?” 

I sighed thinking the answer was obvious.  “Getting the town back up and running.  Trying to bring back some kind of normalcy … electric first because that would bring back the utilities and that sort of thing.  But it wouldn’t stop there; he’d literally want to recreate … or … or …”  I stopped slowly.  “I think I know what he is trying to do.” 

“What?” 

“Build that utopian society his dad was always on about.  Abolish war and the need for guns … except for the special people that needed them.  All green energy.  Vegan diets.  Jax knows what I’m talking about.  You do too Reggie … you know how Matt could go on and on about that stuff.” 

Jax looked at Reggie and Reggie looked at Jax … then they both looked at me and I had a bad feeling my brain was about to get picked over.

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