Redaction: Melt Down, chapter two (unedited)

I know that some of you have missed Trent:)

Chapter Two

“Why?” The man on his right wailed.

Trent Powers’s fingers tightened, crinkling the pages of the Bible. Five minutes. Couldn’t he have just five fucking minutes without some sniveling, sick bastard demanding his time? This was that damn Marine’s fault for mistaking him for a man of God just because he carried a Bible.

And what had it gotten him?

A ride with the unwashed masses of the world, dismissed by the powers that be, relegated to human cargo in a military convoy.

He should have corrected the ugly Lieutenant Sally Rogers when he first arrived at the camp. Should have but didn’t. That Marine had fucked up his plans by recognizing him, withholding food unless he kept up the pretense. Slutty Sally had encouraged it, seducing him with the promise of power. And now he was stuck.

Without power.

Surrounded by whiners who hadn’t the decency to die.

How could they not see he deserved better than this. Relaxing his hand, he dragged it down the page and watched the words exposed by his index finger. Would the idiot believe he was reading? Would he leaveTrentin peace?

It had worked before.

He swayed with the motion of the truck, bumping shoulders with his neighbors, driving a sharp elbow into soft flesh. The storm compressed the air, adding humidity to the body odor, sickness and the noxious gases expelled by the corpses stuffing the back of the truck. Canvas slapped his shoulders and neck in time with the wind and the hard wooden bench drove splinters into his ass.

He needed out of here, needed to be restored to his rightful place. But how? The inner circle seemed comprised of only two people–a United States Marine Corps General and the bitch who stood for the Surgeon General. Both of them had consigned him back here with the losers of the world. The words on the thin paper blurred. Not that it mattered–the Book was boring and contained horrible English. He’d stopped attempting to read it hours after he’d acquired it.

If it wasn’t for the money tucked in the pages, he’d have let it burn. He ran his index finger down the paper. A ridge of hardness bumped against the pad. Was it another fifty dollar bill? Or… His mouth watered. Or maybe another hundred? He’d already found three of them. He followed the soft edge to the middle of the page. Five would be nice. Ten hundreds would be better. He licked his lips. Maybe he could pretend to pray over the dead and take a quick peak.

He could use a little alone time.

“Reverend?” The man on his right barked before tugging onTrent’s sleeve.

His finger left the corner of the hidden money. Shit! The assholes wouldn’t leave him be. Flattening his palm against the open pages, he glanced into the narrow aisle running the length of the truck bed.

Hanging from the metal ribs, flashlights swung in an epileptic rhythm to the lumbering personnel carrier. Rain tapped tentatively on the canvas, raising liver spots on the drab green and brown covering. Near open back of the truck, a trio of men and two women wearing dark stained scrubs and crooked surgical masks hovered over a man. Blue stained his lips and his lungs rattled with each wheeze and gasp. One woman picked up his wrist, settled her finger against the pale skin inside.

Why did they bother? Nothing they did helped. He was a dead man; he just was too selfish to die.

Others, equally sick leaned against each other haphazardly and clung precariously to the benches. Near the cab, a handful of dead lay in fetal positions, stealing valuable space from the living.

The corpses should have been thrown out the back. They could be contagious.  They could get him sick.Trentpressed against the truck wall and adjusted his face mask. Maybe that why the powers that be had sent him here. He snapped the book closed, the small breeze stirred his hair and he smoothed it flat. If that was their plan, they would have to come up with a better one.

He refused to die.

“Hey!” The man on his right drilled his index finger intoTrent’s bicep. “I’m talking to you.”

He sighed. Whining was not talking.

The medical team glanced in his direction. One man took a step in his direction.

He raised a hand. Great, that’s all he needed–another sick, mewling bastard wanting to hear God’s word, wanting him to sit next to him and hold his hand until the asshole passed on. He had better things to do with his time. He needed to find a way inside the inner circle.

The male medic gave him a slight nod before turning back to his team.

One problem solved, now for the next.Trentturned to his bench mate.

Fleshy bags hung under the man’s bloodshot eyes. Skin dripped from his narrow cheekbones as if the fat had melted rapidly from under it. His long nose pointed to his thin lips and yellow, crooked teeth.

“Did you need something?” He’d be damned if he said ‘my son’ or other such bullshit. It should be enough that he stooped to talking to the scum of humanity. Soon, he’d be sitting all comfy in the air conditioned Humvee, stretching his legs out as much as he wanted. He just needed a moment to plan his rise.

His neighbor scratched the black stubble on his receding chin. Red rimmed his tan eyes and tears blotted the ash-coated mask on his face. “Why, Father?”

Father? What the hell! He looked young for thirty-six. Far better than this middle-aged asshole. His mouth opened just as his brain made the connection. Damn, he must be tired to not have caught on quicker. “I’m not Catholic.”

Therefore not a priest or father. Unless that bitch Sally had assigned him a denomination? He pinched the hasps on his mask until the metal dug into the bridge of his nose.

No Chin nodded and the waddles under his chin swung to and fro. “Why, Father? Why is God doing this?”

Trentsqueezed his eyes closed a minute. Telling the loser that he deserved it was out of the question. That slut Sally had taken him to task when he’d mentioned it yesterday. Not even fucking her twice had dispelled his anger. He smoothed his hair, skimmed the shell of ash. If the preacher he’d stolen the sermon from wasn’t already dead, he would kill him.

Some man of the cloth, he turned out to be. He’d made Trentbelieve that people wanted to hear they deserved this living Hell, that they had to atone for their sins, that only he, the gatekeeper to God, could provide salvation.

He’d been tricked.

The man on his left hacked into the crook of his arm before collapsing against the side wall. “It’s Judgement Day. That’s why. We’re dying because we sinned.”

Trent’s ears perked up and warmth flooded his limbs. The lying preacher that had run the homeless shelter had spoken of Judgement Day. Twisting at the waist, he inspected the man on his left. Perhaps, he had not selected his audience correctly.

“Tell me I’m wrong, Reverend.” A black tee-shirt strained against the beer gut hanging over his belt like an old woman’s tit. Sour sweat leaked from his overlarge pores and invadedTrent’s space cushion.

The only difference between this loser and the bums he’d had the misfortune to meet was that this man seemed to be better fed. But that didn’t rule out his usefulness.Trenthugged the Bible close. Maybe some good would come out of this after all. Brute force often came in handy and fools with low brows tended to have rudimentary intelligence–perfect for manipulation. “Why would I do that?”

The loser on his right stiffened. One claw-like hand wrapped aroundTrent’s bicep and jerked him around. “Are you saying my wife deserved to die?”

Trentturned on his seat and faced the aisle. All five members of the medical team faced him. Damn the asshole! Concern etched lines in four faces, but the fifth sharpened with interest. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end as the woman leaned closer.

He sifted through his memories. Shit! She’d been watching him. No doubt, the bitch in charge had ordered it. He sat up a little straighter. So Mavis Spanner had noticed his worth. Had he blown it when he’d tried the preacher’s message on the medics. They certainly hadn’t been receptive. Not that he’d expected any different. The fools treated woman as an equals, took orders from a woman.

He’d have to be careful. Clearing his throat, he dismissed the medics. If Mavis Spanner had recognized his worth, she might see him as a threat. He couldn’t have that. Not yet anyway. Not until he had an action plan.

“No.” Half-moon shapes burned into his skin from the grip but he didn’t pull away. He couldn’t have the spy moving closer, not when he’d just found a patsy in Beer Gut. Leaning the Bible against his belly, he raised his hands up like he’d seen the preacher do. “I’m saying we’ve lost our way and this is His method of getting our attention.”

“My wife didn’t deserve to die,” No Chin blubbered.

Of course, she did! He’d sat next to her and listened to her whine and sob before she had the decency to die. Feeling the spy’s eyes,Trentpatted the man’s hand. “No one is saying that.”

Beer Gut snorted and folded his flabby arms over his oversized belly. The black cotton fabric gave up the fight and rolled up, exposing swirls of black hair on gelatinous pale skin.

No Chin swiped at the tears leaking from his eyes. “She didn’t deserve it. She didn’t.”

Trentscratched at the scab at his temple. Why was the man blubbering on? The woman wasn’t much to look at alive. At least dead, she kept her mouth shut.

Finally, No Chin pushed off the bench. The wood creaked before he released it and shuffled toward his wife.

Beer Gut stretched his feet out.

No Chin stumbled over the work boots and fell onto the man across the aisle. The sick loser barely grunted from the impact.

“Sorry. So sorry.” No Chin smoothed the man’s clothes before straightening. He shambled the two feet to the corpse pile and dropped to his knees before scooping up his late wife’s hand and holding it close.

Beer Gut grunted. “What a loser. Why would anyone cry over a woman? Treacherous bitches the lot of them.”

Exactly.Trentsmoothed the cover of his Bible. “I’m Reverend–”

“Benjamin Trent. I know.”

Damn.Trentforced a smile and held out his hand. Hadn’t he told the bitch in charge his name was Trent Franklin? He’d have to find a way to correct her assumption when the cow sought him out. And she would. She had to. Since she’d sent someone to spy on him, she must know that he was too important to be kept down with these losers.

Beer Gut engulfed his hand in a fleshy prison before pumping his arm three times. “Name’s Dirk Benedict, Reverend. You really don’t think we deserve this shit?” He opened his arms encompassing the interior of the truck and nearly smacking his sleeping neighbor in the face. Balloons of flesh dripped from his arms.

From the corner of his eye, he checked the spy. She seemed focused on the blue lipped man. Good, he had time. But how should he proceed? The man seemed to be a kindred spirit, but then he seemed to be a reverend. Of course, Beer Gut wasn’t intelligent enough to fool a blind deaf/mute.

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Benedict.”Trentused the formality. The man probably hadn’t been respected his entire life. Then again, he wasn’t worthy of respect. ButTrentknew how to play the game. Once upon a time, he’d been the top insurance salesmen inArizonaand had dined with influential people.

He would have his status back soon. Maybe even more.

Dirk sat up straighter. The shifting of weight eased the strain of his shirt and it draped back over his fuzzy navel. “Call me, Dirk. Please.”

“And I’d appreciate it if you would call me Trent.” In fact, he’d have everyone calling him Trent to avoid the confusion. Reverend Trent had a nice ring to it. At least, until he could be crowned ruler.

“Trent.” Dirk’s thin lips arrowed into his jowls. “A good, strong man’s name.”

The smile set like concrete and his gut clenched. Shit. The asshole might be gay. He hadn’t counted on that. Slowly, he eased his hand free.

“Trentsounds like he should be the man in charge, not some fucking woman or the uptight military. Am I right? Or am I right?”

He eyed the spy. Still busy. Good. Now to have a little fun and test the worthiness of his new minion.

Dirk slapped his thunder-thighs. “I mean if this is Judgement Day, we should have a man of the cloth in charge, not some Eve stand-in fucking up our chances atParadise.”

Point in Ol’ Beer Gut’s favor. He recognized that women had gotten uppity.Trentswept his fingers along the satiny edges of the Bible. He had to play this smart. With the right wording, this conversation could have three endings. He could turn Dirk over to the bitch and her lackey and be rewarded. He could undermine the regime with Beer Gut’s help and take his rightful place in charge. And if the idiot messed up the coup, he’d have a fall guy.

No matter how he sliced it, he won.

“I am but a humble man of God…”

The words dangled in the air like bait. Would the fool really think he’d be able to manipulateTrent?

“Of course, that’s why you’re the perfect person to take charge.” Dirk wrapped an arm aroundTrent’s shoulders and squeezed.

His spine popped from the mangling but he didn’t move away. The conversation was just getting interesting. He blanked his expression–the perfect foundation for option one. “Take charge of what?”

“Our people.” After a brutal slap, Dirk released him. “You need to lead the new world order.”

Beautiful. He kept the smile from his lips. The fat man’s loose lips had just sealed his own fate. He had his leverage into the Humvee sanctum. But the other two options glittered from a distance. Catching scent of the alluring perfume of power,  his nose twitched. Why should he stop now? Didn’t he deserve to lead?

“You’re unhappy with the way things are running?” There. Things couldn’t get anymore innocuous than that.

Dirk nodded, the motion rippled up and down his overripe body. “Me and a few others. These bootstraps are nothing but gun toting thugs.”

Others? He stilled. Others had potential, especially if they’re healthy while most of the military was sick. He traced the cross embossed on the Bible. “Tell me more.”

After all, why should he share the Humvee?

About Linda Andrews

Linda Andrews lives with her husband and three children in Phoenix, Arizona. When she announced to her family that her paranormal romance was to be published, her sister pronounce: "What else would she write? She’s never been normal." All kidding aside, writing has become a surprising passion. So just how did a scientist start to write paranormal romances? What other option is there when you’re married to romantic man and live in a haunted house? If you’ve enjoyed her stories or want to share your own paranormal experience feel free to email the author at www.lindaandrews.net She’d love to hear from you.
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