Friday, September 5, 2014

They Just Don't Make Emperors Like They Used To - Part 5


“I’m thinking that this is your fault,” Alexis said as she washed the blood from her hands after bandaging Johnson up. 

“My fault?!” I asked a little on the ragged edge.  “Want to explain since I wasn’t even there?  No wait.  You’re saying that somehow or other it is my fault that Matt is nuts.” 

“No … well maybe that but that’s old news.”  Before I could belt her like I felt like she continued.  “No this has to do with that lunatic Baumgarten getting ticked off because someone blew up some of his soldiers.” 

Well, that I could buy, at least up to a certain point.  There are always consequences for the choices we make in life and not all of them are of the good variety.  However I wasn’t the only one that took part in that particular shenanigan.  Before I had to bring that particular fact up Reggie limped into the kitchen and said, “You really get your rocks off on being a complaining pain in the butt don’t you.” 

I knew he wasn’t talking to me and so did Alexis.  She turned around and hissed like a rabid cat.  I wasn’t going to let him draw her fire when he was as banged up as the rest of the guys were.  “Enough.”  My tone must have surprised them both because they actually stopped.  “It happened.  We didn’t mean for it to turn into what it did but that’s the way it rolled.  I’m not justifying what we did but from where I’m standing and from what I heard the scorching of our side started well before Delorey’s crew even showed up.  Face it, Matt had figured out what was going down and played us.” 

Aiden and Jules limped in and said, “Janice said you said that after listening to the radio.  How can you be sure?” 

Jax and Johnson stumbled into the room, both looking like they’d been drug behind a pick up – over cactus no less – and after falling into chairs Johnson said in a distrustful tone, “Yeah.  Wanna explain that one Lydie?  Did you suspect it before we went out?” 

Offended at his insinuation I snapped, “Of course I didn’t suspect it beforehand.  You have any idea how far I would have gone to stop everyone if I had suspected something and you didn’t listen to me and call things off?!” 

Jax sighed.  “At what point did you suspect it?” 

Worried at the exhaustion in his voice I answered, “I got a niggling worry when I heard their patrols say that they’d spotted you but they didn’t have any change of tone in their voice, they didn’t panic or seem upset.” 

Jax nodded.  “That made Vern uncomfortable too but we were already too far into the plan to pull back on just a suspicion.  It was the best shot we were going to have.  Lon mentioned being surprised that the booby traps hadn’t been found with as much traffic as there appeared to be in the area.” 

Alexis was leaning hard against the wall and trying to get Gennie to leave her alone.  “I’m fine.  Knock it off will you?” 

She wasn’t fine.  She’d fought as hard as the guys had and while she wasn’t as beat up she was still shook up.  I took a ladder back chair, moved it close to her and said quietly, “Sit before you fall down please.  And have another cup of this cocoa, you need the hot and sweet.” 

Surprisingly enough she gave in without a single snarky comment and I was able to continue on with my explanation.  “I know it sounds crazy but in a way we’re all lucky that Delorey showed up when he did.  I’m just not convinced that wasn’t planned as well.  Reggie?” 

He gave it a moment of thought and then said, “Now that you point it out it feels like Matt.” 

Gennie asked, “What do you mean it feels like Matt?  I don’t get it.” 

Ginger, Ashley, Aston, Reggie and I said the same word at the same time.  “Maestro.” 

“Huh?” 

I explained, “Maestro is Matt’s alter ego … from gaming … you know RPG games.  Role playing games.”  As she and Alexis and a few of the others nodded their understanding I said, “Maestro was an avatar, a gamer identity, that Matt spent years developing.  He used it over and over regardless of what game he was playing.  It didn’t matter what skin his identity had on, underneath he was the same … skill level, strategic capability, you name it.  One of his favorite tactics was playing one side against another; he was even willing to sacrifice his own teammates and other players so long as in the end he was the winner.  It got to the point that a lot of people wouldn’t play with him … they’d play against him but not necessarily with him if you know what I mean.” 

Johnson said, “You mean people got tired of being used but there were some that still wanted to knock him down a few pegs.” 

I nodded, “Pretty much.” 

Gennie looked at me, disgusted, and asked, “How could you be with a guy like that?” 

I felt Jax tense though he didn’t say anything.  Maybe he still wondered about that himself.  “Because to me gaming was just that … a game.  I didn’t look at it as some huge judgment on his character.  I … I guess I took it that Matt needed some kind of outlet for his intellect and wasn’t going to razz him over being the best.  He didn’t get a lot of respect at home, at least as far as I knew; his dad had all these plans for him, these expectations, and I thought gaming was just the place Matt went to blow off steam.  I had no idea that he might be using it to … to … well, to perfect certain techniques on manipulating people.  How the heck was I supposed to know that the world would come crashing down and he’d really start thinking he was the character he created when we were little kids.” 

Trying to explain I told them, “I know everyone hates his guts but Matt wasn’t always like he is right now.” There was some noises of disbelief, even from the people that had known him almost as long as I had, if not as well.  “Wait, hear me out.  I’ll admit that he obviously had the capacity to become what he is now but when he and I were close he really wasn’t there yet.  Maybe it is because his dad disappeared; the one real control in his life going missing with no explanation.  Maybe … maybe it was removing all of the social norms and boundaries that let his natural inclinations to get out of control.  I don’t know for sure.  What I do know is that Matt … the Matt I knew … wasn’t always like he is today.” 

I wasn’t sure whether Alexis was trying to be nasty or just honestly trying to understand when she asked, “What about Marty?  It seems all of your friends knew that there was something going on there but you were clueless about it.  If you missed that, isn’t it possible you missed other stuff?” 

I blanched.  “I don’t know what to think about that.  Maybe I took them both for granted and things just sort of happened between them by accident, at least in the beginning.  I got pretty wrapped up in my own personal problems.” 

“What personal problems could Wonder Girl have?  Did you folks refuse to buy you that iToy you wanted?” 

I looked at her like she was crazy.  “You’re kidding right?  No one mentioned …?”  I looked around at the others in the room and saw they were looking at each other.  “Geez Louise!” I snapped suddenly angry way beyond what I should have been.  “I try and explain things about you guys so no one gets the wrong idea and so that others can understand what you are going through and you can’t give me the same courtesy?!  Thanks a lot.” 

I stomped off slapping Jax’s hand away as he tried to grab me as I went by.  I was getting tired of that bad habit.  When I wanted to go I didn’t want to be grabbed at.  About fifteen minutes later Alexis found me in the animal barn brushing King Kong out.  “You gonna sulk out here the rest of the night?” 

In slightly better control of myself I said, “Maybe.” 

“Why didn’t you ever say anything about how your family died?” 

“Because I don’t want to start a bad habit that would be hard to break.  I don’t need or want people feeling sorry for me.  When I could have used it the only ones that really gave a crap were Matt and Marty … or at least I thought they were there for me.  Now I don’t know what to think so it is easier just to keep it to myself until I have it figured out.” 

Sliding down into a bench Alexis said, “Sounds like it was a hell of a shock when you came to town and found out.” 

“Yeah, but I recovered.  I don’t need you or anyone else to pat me on the back.  I did what I had to do.  Don’t go changing your opinion of me just because you missed a few details along the way.  I could give a rat’s behind.” 

She was silent for a moment and I was able to ignore her but then she said, “When I was ten my mother and I came in from the grocery store and found my dad in bed with the girl that had been my babysitter ever since I was a baby.  She was the daughter of one of my mother’s friends.  It was a mess.  Mom never made a scene after that first day.  She did all the right things, tried to fix the marriage through counseling and when he wouldn’t cooperate she let him have his divorce and then when he didn’t pay child support she let it go for over a year before she took him to court and only then because me and my sister needed clothes and stuff and her income barely covered keeping a roof over our heads and food in our bellies.  She didn’t even make waves when all of her friends started abandoning her and wondering out loud why she hadn’t seen what was happening under her very nose … that there was no way that they would have missed the signs.  The only time I ever saw her cry was when she found out that the girl had had a baby boy and had gotten thrown out of the house by her family.  Mom went and got the girl and she came to live with us.  The girl couldn’t handle it all and left … but not before she let Mom adopt the little boy … my baby brother.  I never understood how she could do it.  God I tried but I just never could.  It isn’t in me to be a martyr like that.  I hate my ol’ man for what he did, I could care less if he is alive or dead.  I always thought Momma was weak.  Now you make me see maybe I had the wrong idea … but I still don’t understand it.” 

I shrugged, still not really looking at her.  “Your mom sounds like a saint.  I probably would have left permanent dents in your dad’s head with whatever was at hand that day if it had been me.” 

Alexis chuckled, “Yeah … Mom did too … it was how she acted after that day that I didn’t get.  Same with you.  Everyone is always expecting you to get angry but you never do.  You smart off but you never blow up.” 

I tossed the brush I had been using and picked up the dander comb.  “Dad always warned me that giving people what they expect all the time could lead to boredom on both sides.” 

She snorted, “See what I mean?  You’re doing it again.  Why don’t you get mad?” 

I sighed.  “Because when I get mad and let it out as much as I could I can get very, very nasty.  The kind of nasty that can hurt people Alexis … not just with words but I know how to do things.”  I shifted King Kong in my lap so I could reach a nappy area that had developed in his fur. “Everyone thinks that Reggie and I consider the booby traps a game … like RPG turned real life.  They think it is kind of a fantasy come true for us.  Well I can’t say with Reggie, it’s his business, but for me I know what I’m doing.  I’m good at it.  My brain naturally wants to go that direction … the direction that says I don’t know how to play well with others.” 

Trying to explain I told her, “When I was little and we found out how sick my brother was – they told you about that right?  Well when we first found out I got so angry.  Unbelievably angry.  I literally plotted the punishment of the people that I thought had made my brother sick and the people that weren’t – or in my mind it was wouldn’t – help make him better.  I’m not talking about just vague threats; I mean I literally planned it out in detail.  Dad found some of my drawings and … and he explained that anger has its place but he also warned me about how destructive a force it could be, for others and for myself.  Dad could have a really nasty temper too but he directed his more into stubbornness and self-sufficiency … he couldn’t stand to be manipulated.  Maybe that is what he saw in Matt and what he hoped I would outgrow.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that he taught me to be very careful about getting angry because I was smart enough to do something really stupid that I would regret, maybe for the rest of my life.  I saw that same potential for anger and violence in Matt … it made us comrades of sorts.  He had his reasons and I had mine but it was the same seed buried in both of us.  I think I was better at hiding it and channeling it than Matt was … maybe I still am.  Matt could still lose it on occasion and he couldn’t be bothered to get along with very many people.  If they bothered him or bored him he ignored them, almost literally they stopped existing for him.  I didn’t have to go that far … or maybe I chose not to.  Instead I’d take that energy and spend it on something else.  The Home Place used up a lot of my energy and still does.  The projects Dad and I were always up to helped me to stay constructively focused back then.”  I shrugged.  “After I found out about Matt and Marty?  I was so busy trying to adjust my plans and goals for the future so that I could prove that I could survive without them that I didn’t have a lot of energy to waste plotting revenge or anything like that.  There’s an old saying about when you go to take revenge, dig two graves.  I didn’t want to be a victim again … I didn’t want revenge enough to dig that second grave.” 

Quietly Alexis asked, “Where does Jax and his kid fit into the story?” 

That was an easy one.  “They saved my sanity.  I hadn’t wanted to admit how lonely I was all by myself.  It had been coming on for a long time, since my family was murdered.  If Jax hadn’t insisted and talked me around … if I hadn’t felt I could trust him and then come to respect him … I honestly don’t know what state I would be in right now.”  I put King Kong back in his cage and watched him rearrange his fur to his own liking before flipping me the fluffy tail and shimmying into his hole in the hay he had dug out.  “All of you are part of the reason why I’m able to hold on day to day.  You give me a reason to get up in the morning and not plot out some demented war.  I’m sad about losing Marty.  I’m sad about losing Matt and how he turned out.  But I’m also angry … I just have to control that anger.  Maybe more than other people do.  Because when I get angry I tend to make unnecessary messes that impact other people adversely.  We got enough trouble on our plates right now, I don’t need to do something to make it worse … to make it less likely that we’ll be able to survive until the spring planting and beyond.” 

“So you were against this attack on Matt and Suicide?” 

I shook my head.  “No.  I understand that part.  I just didn’t like how it was being pulled off.” 

“So you could have done a better job,” she said like she was still deciding whether to go back to her original opinion of me. 

“I don’t know what I could have done.  I wasn’t given access to the facts as they came in.  I was kept in the dark until I guessed things here and there.  I know it is because people thought they were protecting me or keeping me from acting stupid but good intentions or not, it was a mistake.  And it is too late for what might have beens.”  As I adjusted the damper on the heat so that the animals wouldn’t suffer from the freezing temperatures I added, “We’ll never have the element of surprise again.  We don’t even know who won.” 

A voice from the door way startled us.  “Well, we know that Suicide is dead.”

Alexis stood up, almost too fast judging by how she swayed.  “Cal!  You’re old man is lucky I didn’t blow your head off.” 

Just as irritably I asked, “What are you doing here Cal?  And what do you mean that Suicide is dead?” 

Holding his hands up in surrender he mouthed off, “Geez, don’t get your panties in a knot.  I just thought I’d share the info since you were wondering.” 

I stood up and walked towards Cal menacingly.  “Do … not … play … games … with … me.  Not on my turf and not under these circumstances.” 

Cal stepped back suddenly realizing that he’d seriously stepped in it.  “They … uh … they’re up at the house.  I gotta get back before Dad wonders where I am.” 

I looked at Alexis.  “You need help getting back to the house?” 

“Nah.  But you might want to ease up on Cal.  He looked like he was going to need to look for a pair of clean boxers.” 

I wasn’t in the mood to kid.  “Then he should use more sense and realize who he is baiting.” 

I left her with that thought and went back towards the house.  I knew Alexis wouldn’t be far behind me but I wasn’t in the mood to wait if she felt she didn’t need any help.  Jax was just stepping out of the back door when he saw me. 

“Lydie, Lon and Vern are here.” 

I told him, “I guessed at least one of them was here given Cal’s presence.  What’s up?” 

His face was very serious.  “Suicide is dead.” 

“So Cal hinted at.  But did they actually see him dead or was he just getting messed up?” 

Vernon stuck his head out of the door and I saw that someone had fixed him a mug of something that steamed.  He appeared to nod in approval at my question.  “Blood loss or infection will eventually take him out without major medical attention and from what I saw with my own eyes that will be withheld.  Delorey had him strung up and buck naked and was skinning him one tat at a time.  Don’t even ask me to explain what he’d already done to all his piercings and other body art.” 

Vernon had moved back home and knew Delorey Baumgarten’s back story and reputation.  No one would have to explain to him how serious things were. 

I blanked that part of my brain that wanted to shriek and run away.  Instead I walked up the porch steps and said, “We got problems.” 

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