Today if you go walking in the town square, in addition to an obnoxious amount of greenery you have to battle along the main path that the blasted eco-teams fawn over, there are pieces of outdoor artwork you have to avoid tripping over. One of those pieces is on the regional register for historical art. Great, big, nasty-looking thing that can’t decide what it is supposed to be. Today the plaque beneath it says it is called “Venustas.” which is Latin for beauty. Yeah. Right. Back when I was a kid the thing sat in a park built overlooking the dam and it had been called “Chimera” which was a mythological creature that breathed fire and was a hybrid made up of several animals and frightening just because of how ugly it was. The statue had never been that great to look at with but it was solid as solid then as it is today and is what I rolled under after the explosives I set went off.
I suppose if I am honest it is my fault the ugly thing looks even worse than it used to. No amount of sanding and wielding ever fully repaired all of the dents and other damage it took as the concrete and debris rained down. The sound of the explosion was enormous but even after things stopped falling from the sky the sound didn’t abate and it took me a moment to figure out it was because of the increased flow of water through the gap the explosion had created.
I looked around for Matt to finish what I had started but didn’t see him. Frustrated I edged my way closer to the overhang to see if he’d fallen over the side. Honestly, what I expected to see I didn’t know then and still don’t know. I suspect adrenaline had made me a little stupid. It was a good thing for me that I had remained cautious because I had just enough time to set myself for attack when I saw something coming at me from the corner of my eye.
I initially went down as I slid in the mud trying to avoid a piece of rebar being used like a bat to take off my head. I won’t bother recording for posterity the spittle-laden words that flew from Matt’s lips while he was swinging. The words don’t really matter, it was the sentiment behind them; he was death and I was his next victim and rubbish like that. Needless to say I had no intention of cooperating and after getting up I parried every swing he threw at me. I was strong but I’d been up over twenty-four hours and biked many miles and had been climbing around like a monkey wiring bridges and other things to go boom during that time. However, while Matt might have been well-versed in hand to hand combat techniques, as far as I’ve ever been able to discover he had never practiced them in the realm of reality, only in gamer land. Adrenaline kept us both going but I had the greater endurance.
We were both spent and then hit our corners like old-time boxers did between rounds. Matt turned his hand next to a verbal brawl. “You had such potential.”
“So did you Matt. Why did you have to choose to be a craptastic jerk? Why did you have to do that to Marty?!”
“So this is about a broken heart? I knew it. Girls are so predictable.” He smiled like he’d suspected it all along.
“Oh my God Matt,” I laughed, unable to stop myself. “Is your ego seriously that big?!” Then in anger I snarled, “You had a hand in torturing and killing my best friend. Our best friend! How could you do that?!”
Strangely calm Matt explained, “She was useful. Not as useful as you would have been but definitely more malleable. Besides she meant nothing. If you hadn’t acted like a spoiled child and run off I would have gotten rid of her and we could have been together. You never were very good at strategic planning Lydie.”
“Geez. I can’t believe I never realized what a freaking narcissist you are.”
Almost ignoring what I’d said, or taking it as a compliment it was hard to say which, he said, “We could still do it you know.”
“Be together. I’ve set it all up. These people … they need us. They have no idea how much they need us.”
“Yeah right. King and Queen of the prom, that’s us.” I nearly spit. “Who do you think you are? Machiavelli?”
“It’s … apropos to a certain extent I must admit. If these idiots were just slightly more intelligent I could have had this wound up even sooner.”
A few pieces falling into place I asked, “So it was you who did for Delorey? How did you set him up?”
Like he was discussing the weather Matt answered, “Fairly easily if you must know. I had hoped to keep him around longer. Delorey was actually one of the more useful idiots I’ve had at my disposal. But then he started making plans and deals without consulting me, putting my whole operation at risk. I knew then it was time for him to go.”
“Yes Lydie. My operation. Mine. I’m developing a technopolis based on green energy, something that will allow us to rise above the retched state this country is in. With us leading the way, showing how it should be done, there is no telling how far we can go. Certainly well beyond anything currently available. This dam is a cornerstone of the first phase.” Then he screamed at me, “AND LOOK WHAT YOU’VE DONE!!”
“Oh. So sorry. Did I break your toy?” I asked snidely.
Regaining control he said, “All you’ve done is make me have to change my timetable. I was already discussing upgrades to the dam with a local representative of the corps of engineers. They are practically salivating at the chance to modify the dam to my specifications but were worried about how they would justify on paper deconstructing something that had no damage.”
I looked in his eyes and could hardly accept how wholeheartedly he believed the nonsense coming out of his mouth. Matt was brilliant, I never have been afraid to give him that point, but a trained engineer he was not. My guess after reading some of the depositions presented into court was that his father – who was a trained engineer for the TVA – had filled his head full of unrealistic dreams and agenda points. I still remember some of the stuff his father used to spew and I knew even before things got as out of control as they did just how unrealistic what he believed in was.
Hoping to reach him in some way I begged, “Matt, be serious.”
“I am serious.”
“Matt, your plan isn’t feasible. You forget, I’ve heard all this before. For one thing this is the wrong kind of river for what you would need to …”
“Lydie, do not tell me my business. Or are you forgetting just how often I beat you in these sorts of academic debates.”
“This isn’t academics Matt. It’s not theory or hypothesis. This isn’t a design drawn up on the lunchroom napkins. This is reality. If your plans were as easy to implement as you claim why didn’t you and your dad turn your house into a mock up of them?”
“Because my mother and sisters were always in the way. They had absolutely no vision, no foresight. How my father and I used to rail against their small mindedness, their lack of real intelligence. My god they were such an embarrassment. You had no idea, out on your tiny, subsistence level farm, the kind of work entailed in pulling this together with everyone forever saying can’t, impossible, or so jealous that they intentionally sabotaged every step forward.”
“You really believe that?”
“Believe it? I lived it!”
It troubled me to think that Matt was as incompetent as he was acting. If he was as crazy as he was acting did I have any right to judge him? Even Jax had called him a rabid animal but I looked at Matt and saw not a rabid animal, not even a man, but a boy that had something seriously wrong with him. Then I stopped myself. Mentally ill, mentally incompetent or not, he was still morally accountable. I also wasn’t convinced he wasn’t trying to play me … like a Maestro.
I shook my head and then made a mistake, “Matt, you are acting like an idiot.”
I was unprepared for his response. He came around with the piece of rebar again and this time I didn’t duck in time and he caught me a hard and painful blow on my bicep. I fell, slipping in the mud then had to keep rolling as he tried to bring the metal rod down on my head again and again.
I kicked out at his legs and he skipped backwards, going down as he too lost his footing in the mud; but as he did he kicked out at me and I caught a glancing on my chin from the tip of his shoe. It rattled me but I didn’t have much time to react because he was on me again and we rolled around on the ground and then from somewhere he pulled a knife and I felt a sharp, burning pain in my side and Lydie went bye-bye.
The next thing I remember clearly is a terrified Matt looking rather more than a little worse for wear backing away holding his hand muttering, “Valkyrie … Valkyrie …” Then he turned and ran.
I roared and started to run after him but real pain took me to my knees. I’m not sure how long I kneeled there. Someone could have come along and killed me and I wouldn’t have even noticed but no one did. The ground rumbling beneath my hands finally brought me back from la-la land and I looked up to see the abutment eroding in my direction.
Seeing your imminent demise is a great motivator and I got my last shot of adrenaline for the day. I scrambled to my feet and away from the dam. I’d hidden my bike with the remainder of my supplies just the side of town before River Road. It took me an hour to get through the hysterical crowds unseen and I was ready to cry with thankfulness that it hadn’t been discovered and absconded with. I knew I would have to move quickly to keep someone from pulling me off and taking it away but since I wasn’t up to moving quick I had to wait until it was dark enough that no one would see me.
While I waited for dark or some other miracle to happen I decided it was time to look at whatever damage Matt had done. When I pulled my shirt up and away from the wound I nearly puked and did the only thing I could which was tie a binding over it and pray that I could get back to the Home Place and that Jax was there.
I must have passed out at some point because I had meant to watch the action from my hiding place to keep my mind off my hurts but the next thing I knew was I was trying to blink my eyes open and realizing I was all in a crumpled heap against the door I had leaned against. And that it was dark … well into the dark of the night. Everything was silent but smelled strongly of smoke which might have been what had awakened me.
In all the years since there are times that I have been in pain but I always measure them against how much it hurt to get on my bike and ride home that night. I had to stop a couple of times to puke only there really wasn’t anything in my stomach to puke because I hadn’t eaten in who knows how many hours and my canteen had long been empty.
I barely registered passing the gate to the Houchins farm, it was just another landmark. I honestly wasn’t sure if they would recognize me and didn’t want to get shot on top of the pains I already suffered from. But they must have seen me and used the radiofax to contact whoever was minding things up in the cupola.
I was growing weaker and hit a pot hole and fell off the bike. I tried to get back on but it wasn’t going to happen. After a hundred feet I realized I wasn’t even going to be able to push the bike so I let it fall and just tried to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Plan A was to get home but if I wasn’t able to make it Plan B was to at least get close enough that I was within the normal patrol area and that someone would find me in the morning. Another hundred yards and I had to admit even that wasn’t going to happen as I fell for the third time and was struggling to remain conscious.
He found me trying to crawl towards a fence post that I knew was within visual range of one of our monitoring cameras because we used it as a focus point. I knew he was talking to me, yelling my name, but all I could do was say, “Tell Gennie I tried. Tell her I tried but he got away.”