The only thing Clay could hear in the house was the quiet sound of the faucet running. He tore through his pockets, and the Jiles edition shades went flying onto the dust covered table. His wallet went next as he frantically searched for his phone. Between the throbbing of his headache, he finally generated a clear thought.
He scrambled out of the house, leaving his keys in the front door. He tore the passenger side door open, the force cracking the rusted hinges. None of it mattered, he thought, ripping the center console apart, digging for his cellphone. Finally, The Behemoth found it. He placed his thumb on the iPhone home button and screamed bloody murder when it required his passcode.
Everything inside him told him to break the phone, but Clay pushed the directive back. The throbbing in his head was almost deafening. He frantically punched his passcode in, the words INVALID flashed across the top of the screen. Once again, The Behemoth roared. He finished ripping the door off its hinges and spun it, heaving it into the high grass.
Clay stopped for a moment, pausing once again to take a deep breath. The throbbing in his head now had a long ringing sound attached to it. He breathed again, letting the feelings roll through him. The rage wasn’t going to help him here. It wasn’t going to let him figure out what happened. It was not his ally at the moment.
Another deep breath finally let Clay regain some measure of control. The ringing in his ears stopped, the throbbing subsided as his heart rate lowered. The Behemoth entered his passcode again, this time it was correct. He thumbed through the contacts, finally finding the name “Claude Mitchell.” He pressed the button to call and placed the phone to his ear.
He inhaled deeply, now was not the time to lose his cool. He had to get to the bottom of this.
He exhaled, pulling the brim of his hat over his eyes. He felt the throbbing starting again.
He squeezed lightly on the phone causing the speaker to crackle. Another round of breathing.
“Hello, you’ve reached the voicemail of Claude Mitchell, head trainer at The Byrd Ranch…” Clay exploded with rage. His size fifteen boot crashed through the door to the back of the camper, causing it to explode inwards. He threw his phone at the wall as he stormed inside. The Monster from Plainview ripped the bulletin board he had stolen off the wall. He smashed it across his knee, roaring and throwing it into the driveway.
The Behemoth grabbed the counter top and pulled it off the wall. The plumbing was now exposed and Clay removed it from its fastenings, tossing it into the front windshield in one fluid motion and cracking it. The broken and battered steel chair, the memento from Teddy Palmer was next to meet its fate, smashing out the side window. Clay roared again and slammed his fist through the wall to the small bathroom. He punched through the door, locking his arms on the other side of the wall and pulled the entire bathroom wall out.
The roof of the camper partially collapsing finally caused The Monster to pause. He looked down at his arms, which were now a scraped and bloody mess. The calluses on his knuckles had cracked from the wall and sent blood spilling down his hands. He stormed out of the camper and tripped over a piece from the bulletin board. He looked at the camper and the carnage he had inflicted.
His mind raced, thoughts flying a hundred miles an hour. Part of him wanted to destroy the entire camper, tear it to the ground. Leave it a hunk of twisted metal in the driveway. But, he felt another compulsion. A sense of duty, a sense of pride in these buildings and structures. A sense of home, and that pulled hard at The Behemoth.
He fell to his knees, his head throbbed, the North Texas sun was finally beginning to fall over the horizon. The ringing had made its way back, and The Monster fell over on his face in the driveway. He looked away from the sun, he tried to keep breathing, each breath relaxing him just enough for him to continue.
Finally, as the tinnitus faded, The Behemoth drifted into unconsciousness from exhaustion.
Clay stood in the barn, the overhead lights were on and he was hard at work. The concrete floor was disgusting, an inch of dust covered the foundation. The Behemoth stood swinging a mop in a figure eight pattern. Three swipes and back to the yellow bucket, then wringing the mop and back to the figure eights.
He’d cleaned this barn thousands of times in his life. Each swipe felt cathartic, and watching the grime being lifted from the floor brought him a small sense of accomplishment. A small bit of satisfaction. He had awoken hours ago, passed out in the dark. His back ached, the cuts and scrapes on his forearms encrusted by the dust and gravel of the driveway. But a subconscious urge to fix, to make ready, still lurked. It had been beaten through tears, through pain, etched there by Robert Byrd decades ago.
So here Clay stood, himself a bloody, beaten mess. Meticulously scrubbing away at a barn floor that had been neglected for months. All of the equipment was still in the room. Everything from the paperwork in the filing cabinets to the small whistle Robert had used for drills was exactly where it should have been.
The room was eerie, in all his life Clay had never seen it like this. Some form of activity was always present, young men were always there. Working to constantly try to better themselves. Even late at night, it wasn’t uncommon to find the barn light on. Someone working away, dedicating themselves to their chosen craft.
That’s how Clay had befriended Claude. The son of a French Canadian wrestler and a woman from a Texas farm, he had grown up destitute and Robert Byrd had taken him in. He’d turned Claude into a man before Clay’s eyes. Constant hours sparring, working in the old ring. Clay would walk out into the barn late in the evening. He’d find Claude still lifting weights, running drills. His desire to be great was insatiable.
Clay would walk in and watch, fool around with the weights, punch the bag. Whatever trouble a ten year old could get into using a wrestling school as a playground. And sometimes, Claude would let Clay into the ring. Show him some drills, while Robert had never wanted Clay to live a life like his own. Claude was like an older brother, enabling him whenever he could.
The brotherly bond the two had formed over the years had led to some incredible situations. They shared incredible life experiences between them. Battles won and lost, bonds forged with their own blood. And now, Claude had taken a shit on his father’s legacy. A man who had taken him in, taught him the craft that he would use to make a livelihood. And he desecrated it.
The Behemoth sighed as he continued to work. Finally satisfied the floor was clean, he took the bucket full of black water and tossed it out the side door. His stomach churned as he went back to rinse and fill the bucket again. He’d come here to prepare for his bout with John Sektor. He’d come to his own fortress to be outside of the prying eyes of his Best Alliance team members.
Clay wasn’t sure where their allegiances lied. JPD was the ultimate opportunist, but Clay had recently leveled him with a half clothesline in a lumberjack match. He’d probably feed information to Sektor. Harrison and Jatt had both changed so much recently. Neither could be trusted. Solex, another member of the old guard, was locked away in Alcatraz. And if you had tried to talk to Steve lately, it was apparent that he had some issues to work through.
So he’d clean the equipment, he’d prepare on his own. He’d prepare in this damned barn, surrounded by the ghosts of his past. The ghosts and memories were the only things Clay evenly remotely trusted. Sektor was a dangerous opponent, and Clay couldn’t afford to give him any advantages in the match.
The Sektor Stretch had caused many opponents to tap out or pass out. The only option was to avoid the smaller man’s grasp. In the ten short minutes he had spent in the cage with Sektor. When he first arrived in High Octane Wrestling, he had felt The Gold Standard’s strength. He was an expert at using his bodyweight to create leverage, his grip-strength was unparalleled. Wrestling John Sektor was going to be a task of the highest order.
The strategy had already been in Clay’s head, he’d been preparing for this moment since that first encounter. John would eventually be looking for revenge, eight months ago Clay was certain of that. The strategy was simple: he wasn’t going to wrestle John Sektor. He wasn’t going to get himself trapped in a tangled mess of counters and suplexes. No, Clay Byrd was going to execute a very violent game plan. He’d work Sektor’s body, removing The Gold Standard’s core strength was paramount to success.
The shoulder tackle Clay had perfected for decades would be pivotal. Huge impact, earth shattering, teeth clattering impact. That’s how he would defeat John. Every opportunity he could find between Sektor trying to tie him into a knot in the ring, Clay had to take. Slipping a knee into John’s stomach, laying a fist into John’s exposed ribs.
Yes, Sektor was in better shape now than he had ever been. Yet there’s only so many clubbing blows a forty two year old body can take, no matter how great of shape it’s in. The bones become brittle, the bruises become grade level contusions. Clay was going to beat Sektor’s body black and blue. Suplexes were going to become impossible, Sektor would struggle to find his own air. If John wanted to go deep water? Clay would be happy to join him. It doesn’t matter how many times you can carry a ruck through a swamp if you can’t breathe.
After hours upon hours of cleaning, Clay finally had the barn where he wanted it. It wasn’t as clean as his father would have liked, but it was clean enough. He finally spent some time on himself. The alcohol and neosporin stung, but he couldn’t go into a match with The Gold Standard while suffering from an infection. Finally he wrapped the tape around his catcher’s mitt sized hands.
He made his way to the heavy bag and went to work. The low combinations flying, he’d need his jab to keep Sektor away from him. But the power needed to be delivered to the body. Each shot delivered on the bag sent it swinging away, the sound soothing his headache. It didn’t hurt as bad as it did on the drive here, or in the moments of panic. Hitting the bag was soothing, and with each punch he could see his plan unfolding.
He’d imagine Sektor shooting for a leg, trying to get close. The jab would come out quick, the straight left sending Sektor rocketing backwards. Following it up with multiple fists to the body, a knee, he’d break John’s ribs early. He was sure of that, and the rest of the fight would be a struggle for Sektor. A struggle against his will, a struggle against his desire. Every move would become a labor, and that’s the way Clay wanted it. He’d slow Sektor down and cripple his offense as quickly as he could.
More shots fired into the heavy bag, the sweat beginning to run down his back. The bag squeaked as it swung from one of the trusses in the barn. The sound of taped fists against duct tape. Clay Byrd was finally home.
From the heavy bag, Clay advanced to the ring. The smell permeating off the mat was putrid, a stench he had never noticed before. The years of sweat and grime piling on top of each other had left the mat stained and tarnished. It made him run through the burpees he was doing faster, he had to explode away from that rancid smell.
He’d been working out for hours at this point. His body was exhausted and sore from the nap in the driveway, but Clay kept pushing on. The headaches had become a part of his life, they would swell to a crescendo that always ended in violence. When he had destroyed the young man at the wrestling school, he had blacked out. But the throbbing pain had been there when he opened his eyes. The ringing in his ears was faint, but he had felt it.
When he had destroyed Lester Moregrimes. The disrespect shown by Jiles during the match. Jiles and Harrison playing their games together had infuriated him. When he had finished turning Lester Moregrimes’ skull into ketchup, he felt fulfilled. Happy, his lust for violence satiated.
At Refueled, staring at Teddy Palmer waiting to walk through the curtain, it had come on like a tornado over a Texas prairie. It had come on suddenly, it had been premeditated. But the intended result was just to injure Ted, not leave him a disfigured bloody mess. The feeling afterwards, the incredible high he was on. That wasn’t normal for Clay and he knew it. He’d normally be focusing on his next target, not gloating over his victory.
Something in Clay’s mind had changed, and he didn’t know if it was for the better. But here, at his home, in this place he felt peace. He finished the last few burpees and rolled himself out of the ring. The cardio was necessary for the plan to work. He couldn’t get to the later stages of the battle against Sektor completely gassed. He had to improve his issues, he’d gone twenty minutes with Teddy Palmer twice, he had gone eighteen minutes with Sutler. Deep water wasn’t what Clay was afraid of, it was the condition he would be in when he got there.
He started his cooldown, stretching his muscles, keeping them from tightening up was going to be important in the match. Keeping himself stretched out now would lead to less problems later. Then, the moment The Behemoth had waited the entire day for.
Clay’s eyes shot to his broken iPhone. He had cracked the screen by throwing it at the wall of the RV. He flew over and looked at the caller ID.
Clay took a breath and swiped to answer the call. The Monster walked out of the barn and stood beside the RV.
“Hey Clay, did you pocket dial me earlier?” Claude asked, not letting Clay respond. “All I heard was a bunch of banging and clattering. You getting ready for the big match with Sektor?”
Clay rolled his eyes.
“Where the fuck are you?” he growled, already feeling his heart rate beginning to accelerate.
“Oh…” The silence was deafening as the two men sat on the phone. Five seconds passed, then ten seconds. “Clay… I told you I wasn’t…”
“I asked where the fuck you are,” Clay demanded. He didn’t want to hear the excuses.
“I’m in California…” Clay punched the RV as quietly as he could. He anticipated the next sentence. “Your Uncle called and made me an offer to fund the school… I couldn’t pass it up, Clay.”
“On what fuckin’ planet do you think this is okay?” Clay heard the dull ringing in his ears begin to start.
“Clay, I told you I wasn’t going to use Lee Best’s blood money.” Claude said defiantly. “Your father and his brother had made peace Clay, it’s why Dalton was at the ranch. Robert would have rather had it…”
“Would have rather had what?” Clay asked, his right eye beginning to twitch.
“He’d rather have had his brother’s money going into his legacy than Lee’s…” Claude was cut off.
“IT’S MY BLOOD MONEY, CLAUDE! I FUCKIN’ WORKED FER IT! I FUCKIN’ BLED FER IT!” Clay shouted into the phone as he smashed another enormous dent in the side of ‘The Coach’s’ black and #97RED exterior.
“He wouldn’t want it Cl…” Clay had finally had enough.
“You don’t know what the fuck the old man would have wanted. Yer not his blood, Claude, ya don’t know how important it was fer me ta make sure this place worked. Ta make sure it worked fer him…” He could barely hear Claude’s response. The ringing had escalated. His breathing had grown shorter. He could feel his face begin to flush.
“And ya fuckin’ abandoned it… and didn’t fuckin’ tell me…” He began to shake, he could feel the adrenaline firing. The chemical fuel caused him to kick a post out of the fence on the porch of the ranch house.
“When was I gonna tell you? I tried to call you thirty times and you didn’t answer. I flew out to tell you, and you beat some kid half to death. After that, Clay, after seeing that I knew you needed help, and you needed to stay the fuck away from here before something else like that happened…” Claude trailed off as Clay interrupted.
“Fuck you, Claude,” The Behemoth said as he smashed another post out from the porch. He could hardly see, his vision had begun to blur. He punched at the wall, the small flickering embers of rage had turned into an inferno.