Trent Powers set his hand on the pages of the Bible to keep the wind from turning them and bowed his head. Power surged through him as the crowd remained silent. He controlled them. Closing his eyes, he moved his lips, stretching out the moment. This was how it was meant to be. His whole life practically led up to this moment.
Around him, leaves and seed pods rustled in the breeze. The advancing storm’s anvil pressed closer and weighted the air.
Some one cleared her throat. His fingers spasmed on the pages, crinkling them. Who would dare interrupt? Trent opened his eyes to mere slits. A dowdy woman with gray streaked hair covered her mouth and cleared her throat again.
Doctor Mavis Spanner. The bitch in charge of everyone. It wasn’t enough that the military kissed her ass, she had to steal the attention away from him. Again! Her droning on and on about the need for the strong to care for the weak had chased people away. As if anyone really believed such bullshit. Still, it hadn’t all been bad. His faithful minion Dirk had found five more enforcers.
Standing next to her, General Flunky shifted in his dulled black shoes and coughed into a ladies handkerchief embroidered with the Marine Corps insignia. Of course, six enforcers wasn’t enough to take out the military. Yet. But his time would come.
Others stirred. A few even started murmuring.
Fuck! The bitch would learn she’d made a mistake messing with him. A fatal mistake. Ask his late ex-wife. Warmth washed through him. He’d never felt so alive as at that moment. Even this… Closing the bible, he spread his hands wide. Even this adulation fell short.
But it was close.
He allowed his lips to curve in a serene smile and opened his eyes. “Amen.”
“Amen.” They chorused–sheep grateful for a leader.
Grateful to him for leading them.
Mavis nodded her head once. Seven rifles fired. Again. And again before falling silent. The civilians thrown in the mass grave with the soldiers were getting a military funeral. Either way, it was a waste of ammunition. He would have put those bullets to better use.
His fingers bit into the leather covering. She was not as grateful as she should be. No doubt she hated men, because really what man would want her? An idea flooded his brain, blinding in its brilliance. He could seduce her. Yes, she’d probably be grateful. Hell, he might even fuck her. He could consult the pornographic rolodex inside his head and picture a beautiful babe when he plowed the ugly troll.
“Thank you for the service, Reverend Franklin.” The head bitch offered her hand.
Damn! His smile stiffened.
“Trent, please.” He reminded her again. At least no one around them knew of that tiny name mistake. Tucking the bible under his arm, he slid his fingers across her palm and cupped the other over the back. Her callouses chaffed his soft hand. Couldn’t the woman at least attempt to make herself attractive? “I wish I could say it was my pleasure but…”
He waited for her to beg him to finish what he started. They all wanted the reassurances only he could offer.
Her nostrils flared and she gently tugged her hand free. “But these are trying times.”
Behind her, the air sounded with the grunts as soldiers shoveled and threw the remains of houses on top of the empty pools they’d filled with corpses.
“Reverend.” With steel cutting his voice, General Flunky thrust his hand out. “You might want to avoid Revelations in future grave side services. Folks have enough doom and gloom served up on their plate.”
“I’ll bear that in mind.” Trent gingerly eased his hand into the meat grinder. At the first pump, his bones ground against each other. On the second, they seemed to fuse in place.
General Flunky released him after the third. “See that you do.”
Blood screamed into his fingers. Currents of pain radiated up his arm. Son of a bitch. Once he was in charge, the asshole was going to have an accident. His heart quickened. He hadn’t killed a man before. One, even as old as the general, should be worthy prey.
A soldier appeared at his side. Sweat ringed the armpits of her form-fitting khaki shirt and dust dulled her blond hair. “Ma’am.”
Not a bad rack. Thumbing through the Bible, he studied the new arrival. From the red in her eyes, she might have lost someone today.
“Ah, Lieutenant Lucas.” Mavis set her hand on the other woman’s shoulder. “I am so sorry for your loss. If there’s anything you need me to do, please, don’t hesitate to ask.”
General Flunky’s salt and pepper eyebrows nearly reached his crewcut. Was that dissent in the ranks. He held his breath until his heart rate settled. It was bound to happen with a woman in charge and this their first day out.
“Thank you, Ma’am.” The Lieutenant sniffed before holding up a bundled jacket. It jingled like a bag of coins. “I’ll be fine.”
Were they robbing the dead? Trent licked his lips. How could that perk have slipped his mind? Some people would have carried money and valuables.
Mavis accepted the bundle and cleared her throat. Cradling it in her arm, she adjusted the folds. “I appreciate the job you and the others are doing.”
“What will you do with them?” Lieutenant bit her lip.
Yes, what? Trent leaned forward a little. Maybe he could get a look, pick out the choice pieces. Only someone with his exquisite taste would know a cubic zirconium from a real diamond. Besides, he deserved some reward for his important services.
“If any family survives, the effects will be returned to them. The dog tags will be displayed. Their sacrifice will not be forgotten.” The doctor’s voice cracked on the last word. Clearing her throat, she hugged the bundle to her chest and left. General Flunky quickly followed.
So, the head bitch had a heart. Good. He could exploit the weakness.
With a jerk of her head, Lieutenant Lucas imitated their example.
Oh no, you don’t. Trent jogged after her. Not too fast. He loved the swing of her ass. Would it be firm like a ripe peach when he grabbed it, slapped it? His palms itched. Soon, he intended to find out. “Lieutenant.”
She stopped in her tracks and faced him.
He almost missed the view, but then those marvelous tits pointed at him. Damn, but he did like big jugs.
“Something I can do for you, Reverend?” She crossed her arms over her chest.
The mass jiggled as if anxious for his attention. He forced himself to look at her face. The view wasn’t as nice but he could maintain it for a while. “Doctor Spanner can only offer so much comfort.”
A muscle flexed in her jaw and her eyes narrowed.
He shifted on his feet, glad his baggy pants hid his erection. Obviously her training set her apart from most women, she actually seemed to sense the predator inside him. The chase tasted sweet. “Perhaps, when we stop for the night, you and some of your comrades might join me for…”
He faked a cough. Damn, what was the word? There was a little more to this ministering gig than he thought.
Her arms loosened enough to hang below her breasts.
With his hair hanging over his eyes, he looked his fill. After a second or three, he thumped on his chest like he’d seen other do, then straightened. “Pardon me. What was I saying?”
“You were about to invite me to a Bible Study group.”
Bible study. Yes, that must be it. It definitely sounded serious and boring like most church stuff. “Exactly. There are many who are suffering and only one of me to attend them.”
“Thanks for the offer, but I’m a Marine.” She tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear before leaving.
Good. She flirted with him. He watched her walk toward the other soldiers. Definitely lots of promise there. As he knew she would, she glanced back at him when she picked up her shovel.
Her mouth moved but the wind whisked away her words.
Not that what women said was important. His cock twitched. But their mouths could serve a higher purpose. He chuckled at his own joke and stroked the Bible. His good luck charm.
“Reverend?” Another woman called out.
He stilled. God damn it, would he never get rid of that dog-faced whore. He’d already screwed her. He didn’t owe her anything else. Why couldn’t she have been one of the dead? Shoring up his lips, he turned to face her–mouse brown hair, flat chest, a pouchy belly and cellulite ass. He must have been desperate.
“My dear, what can I do for you?” He didn’t use her name, although he knew it. Sally was as interesting as day old flan, and twice as unappetizing. She also didn’t seem to serve much purpose now that they’d left Phoenix. She’d misled him, taken advantage of his shock. He should have known better than to trust a woman.
Laughter drifted on the breeze.
He slanted a glance at Lieutenant Lucas. Of course, big tits compensated for the lies and deception.
“The first trucks are beginning to move out. They house the sick and dying.” Stopping in front of him, Sally smiled, but it didn’t reach her faded blue eyes.
Perhaps his disinterest was beginning to penetrate the cow’s thick skull. God, he hoped she wasn’t the clingy sort. His heart skipped a beat. Then again, there were a rumors of rapes going around. One was bound to end in death, sooner or later. He stroked his Bible. He wasn’t opposed to setting the timetable. “Are the poor souls calling for me?”
She shrugged and stared at a spot over his shoulder. “The Good Book offers them comfort.”
He nodded. Yes, and as the only one who possessed it, he was the only one who could give comfort. If only they weren’t so sick. He hated their coughing, whining for water, and begging to see their loved ones. The military said anthrax wasn’t contagious, but what did they know? Besides hadn’t the government claimed the same thing when the Redaction hit and cleaned so many useless people off the face of humanity?
Thankfully, he was well rewarded for his service.
“Of course. Of course.” He thumbed through the pages. The familiar green and white edge of a fifty dollar bill caught his attention before it disappeared. Shit! I thought I had gotten them all. “I’ll be right there.”
She arched an eyebrow and tapped her foot.
Did she think he did her bidding? She was nothing. No one even noticed her, wouldn’t know when she’d disappeared. “I have something to do.”
He hitched up his trousers as he’d seen some of the uncouth servicemen do.
She blushed and looked at the ground. “Of course. I’ll hold a truck for you.”
Bitch! “Thanks, I appreciate it.”
He waited for her to leave.
She coughed before pointing to a clump of trees in the wash. A stream of white toilet paper waved from thin green branches. “They’ve set up the head down there.”
What was he, an animal? He could hold it until they reached someplace civilized. Then again, anything was better than being with her and he had to get that money–after all he’d called himself Benjamin in honor of it. And with the way people kept touching his Bible, someone was bound to steal it. He took a step toward the wash. “See you in a bit.”
Finally the bitch left.
Sand and gravel slipped inside his boots. His thigh burned as he slipped down the incline. Finally, Trent reached the bottom and stopped for a battered Ford truck to pass. A horse whinnied from the full trailer it pulled. Coughing, he waved away the dust and crossed the packed dirt road before stomping on the crushed shrubs. Using the Bible, he pushed aside the branches then gagged. The place stunk of shit.
Burying his nose inside the crook of his arm, he kept hold of the back cover and flicked his wrist. The pages fanned open with a soft purring sound but the fifty didn’t come free. Gritting his teeth, he shook the cover harder. The bill fluttered loose. He swiped the air to catch it, but a gust blew it out of reach.
“Shit.” Forgetting the stink, he lunged for it. Small branches smacked him in the face. Thorns raked his skin. Flannel ripped and trails of fire burned his exposed skin.
The fifty dollar bill danced out of reach before wrapping around a branch. The edges flapped like a trapped bird.
He had it now. Lifting a bough, he ducked under it then raised his foot. His boot hovered inches about the trough that served as a toilet. For a seat, two planks of wood balanced on four rocks over the ditch. Tufts of white clung to an empty cardboard roll. What the hell? He sidestepped around the fecal pit before resuming course.
His fingers skimmed the surface of the bill just as the wind freed it and shoved it through the branches. God damn it! If that stupid cow hadn’t hovered around him, he wouldn’t be here now. He reached for another branch.
“Thank you, Jesus!”
Trent stilled at the deep baritone. A dark shadow moved beyond the green needles and branches. He wasn’t alone.
“I always wanted to be rich enough to wipe my ass with a Benjamin.”
He blinked. Son of a bitch! That was his money. His. He knew someone would steal it. Pushing through the foliage, he drew up short.
A six-and-a-half-foot tall black soldier tugged on the drawstring of his trousers. He released them to grab for the M-4 leaning against a tree.
Trent through up his hands, dropping the Bible.
“Sorry, Reverend.” The soldier finished knotting his drawers and his pants climbed a little higher on his lean hips. “After the firefight, you should be more careful approaching folks.”
“Of course. Of course.” He checked the man’s hands. Where was his money? Did he put it in his pocket? He should report the man for stealing and have him punished.
“Is the other head taken?” The soldier wiped the dust from the rifle’s stock then cradled it in his arms.
You prick! You’ve taken my money. “What?”
“The other john, is someone using it? I thought I heard them, but…” His eyes narrowed as he looked at the wall of greenery behind Trent’s back.
Fuck! What was with the interrogation? He wasn’t the thief here. “It lacked…”
Basic sanitary conditions.
“Ah.” The soldier raised his chin. “We’re out of toilet paper here, too.” The took a step forward and the space between them disappeared. “You should appreciate this, Reverend. I was just sitting on the throne thinking how I was gonna wipe my ass…sets when like a gift from God, here comes a Benjamin.”
His nails bit into the Bible. “What did you do?” With my money.
“Used it as toilet paper, of course.” He chuckled, flashing oversized white teeth. “It’s pretty much the only thing it’s good for these days.”
His mouth dropped open and the fetid taste of waste flooded his mouth. He covered his gagging with a cough. If the loser in front of him could take the smell, he could hardly do any less.
“Thought you would like it.” Balancing his rifle in one arm, he opened his right thigh pocket. Velcro screamed apart. A white square shone brightly against his dark fingers. “Here you go, Reverend.”
Trent held up his hand. Plastic scratched his palm as his fingers curled over it. He didn’t want any damn toilet paper; he wanted his money back.
The soldier cocked his head. “Best get about your business. We’re moving out.”
With that, he left.
What the hell was with these losers telling him what to do? Protecting his nose, he covered it with the crook of his arm then shuffled to the trench. The neatly folded bill crested a mound of brown. He punched the nearest branch. Pain flared up his arm. Perhaps he should leave it behind. No! No, that was his! He was sick and tired of being deprived of his due.
With a kick, he shoved the seat aside. It landed with a loud thud and straddled the trench.
“Did you hear that?”
He jerked his head up at the sound. A woman’s voice. No, a girl’s voice.
“I hear a lot of things.” Another replied. This one was young as well and familiar. “Now, hurry up. I have to pee.”
How did he know the voice? She didn’t sound sick, so he doubted he’d tended her.
“Oh, this is so gross.” A zipper growled then a stream of water splashed.
Trent stared at the hanging branches separating them. Should he take a peek? He stood up.
“Here.” The familiar voice repeated. “At least we have toilet paper.”
Cold sweat misted his skin. No. It couldn’t be. He shook his head. That Goth Lolita had been left behind in the burning city. She couldn’t be here. Not now. She would ruin everything!
His thighs twitched, then the trembling seized him. Don’t panic. He had to plan. The little cock-tease would probably accuse him of trying to rape her once she saw him. Her kind always plead innocent. Good Lord! What if she still had the gun?
“Ahhhh, that’s a relief.” Goth Lolita sighed. Fabric swished then leaves rustled.
“Come on. I want to ride with Manny and Wheelchair Henry. I need a rest from nursing the sick.”
The tree swayed and the silhouettes moved. “I know what you mean. I could use a nap but you heard the Doc. More survivors are on the way. They’ll need us.”
Trent’s heart slammed against his chest. Goth Lolita was tending the sick. How had he avoided her until now? He locked his muscles, controlling shakes. Calm down. I don’t know that is Goth Lolita.
But there was one way to find out.
With one last glance at the trench, he used the Bible to beat back the branches and rounded the tree. Two girls in tee-shirts and jeans picked a path across the wash. He ignored the blond and focused on the one with red roots shining through her coal black hair. That was the same.
She turned to say something to her friend. A purple bruise marred her high cheek bone and a red slash marked her pale neck. His knees nearly buckled. It was Goth Lolita! He should have cut her throat when he’d had the chance.
He mentally pulled himself. It was time to stop letting bitches ruin his life. He’d have to take care of her. A truck rumbled to a stop on the makeshift road in the wash, blocking his view of the girls.
The oversized black soldier waved his arm. “Hop on board, Reverend.”
“Thanks.” Clutching the Bible, he loped to the truck. Instead of the stupid cow, the girl would be the first casualty of the camp rapes. But how was he to achieve it?
Hands reached down to help him up.
He slammed his shin against the bumper but didn’t care. A plan. He needed a plan.
“Ah, Reverend.” A man stared at him from behind a face mask. He recognized the doctor, but the blood staining his tee-shirt was new. “Mrs. Harmon is requesting prayers.”
He nodded. Fuck prayers. Why couldn’t the dying just die? Why did they have to make such a fuss? He needed to focus on his plan, not on some loser who was of no use to him.
A gloved hand closed around his upper arm as he made his way to the back. “A bullet lodged in her spine, paralyzing her and I’m sure she has internal bleeding. She doesn’t have long.”
“I understand.” Fuck. Fuck. FUCK! He’d have to stay at her side until the bitch croaked. What if they stopped before he could plan? What if Goth Lolita climbed on board to help?
The doctor returned to stitching up a teenage boy’s arm.
The light dimmed the farther he traveled toward the front. Finally, he reached the area closest to the cab. An upside down bucket had been placed next to the bottom cot. He balanced on the round seat. “Mrs. Harmon?”
“Yes, that’s me.” She didn’t turn her head but tears leaked from her eyes. She smelled of iodine and a saline bag swayed from the bottom of the bunk above hers. “Thank God you’ve come, Reverend.”
Yak. Yak. Yak. Did women ever shut up? Well this one wouldn’t sabotage his plan. He set the Bible next to her on the bed then clasped her cold hand. “They tell me that you can’t move your legs or arms.”
“No. The bullet…” Her lower lip trembled. “I’m worried.”
“Don’t worry.” He glanced over his shoulder. The medical team was busy up front. The patients in the bunks around them appeared to be sleeping and the ones above couldn’t see him in the narrow space. This could work to his advantage. “It’ll be over soon.”
Smiling, he leaned over her and set his hand over her nose and mouth. Her teeth rasped his palm.
“No biting.” He dug his fingers into her cheeks, felt the slip of molars under his pads.
Her eyes widened in fear and panic. She tried to twist away but couldn’t move. Perfect. She mewled loudly. He glanced around. No one paid them the slightest attention. Her next one was softer. The third barely a sigh.
“You’re going to Hell. You and every woman deserves it.” Slowly, ever so slowly the life drained from her eyes.
He removed his hand, stared at it. Where was the rush of power? The thrill? He wiggled his fingers. This had been particularly unsatisfying. Why would that be?
Perhaps. He’d have to test his theory on Goth Lolita.