What follows is an excerpt of the first book in my Armageddon series, The Blessed Man and the Witch. You won’t find it in Amazon’s Look Inside feature on the product page; this chapter is from the middle of the novel, where Diego gets a closer look at his employers, though at a distance.
Chapter 25: Diego – Theater
Cain spoke to Abel in the field, and when they were alone in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and slew him with a club fashioned from a cypress tree.
Then the Lord said unto Cain, “Where is Abel thy brother?”
Cain said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”
And the Lord said, “What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood doth cry to me from the earth. And now thou art cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thine own hand.”
(Genesis 4:8-11—The Holy Bible, New Kingdom Version)
Diego rocked back and forth on the bus seat with his hands between his legs, biting his lip bloody to keep from screaming. That bitch! That fucking bitch! He punched the air five times before he could stop himself. This was the last bus of the night and if he got kicked off he wouldn’t make it back to Boulder on time. The only other passenger was an old lady who sat in the front as far away from him as you could get and not be hanging out the window. Fuck ‘em. Let ‘em try to kick me off this piece of shit bus. And if Gerald leaves without me, then fuck Occupy, too. FUCK YOU ALL. He might have said that last part aloud, but he wasn’t sure.
A terrible, sick pain throbbed from his taint to his bladder as though someone had kicked him in the nuts over and over again. He was afraid to see what it looked like down there. She must know some kind of women’s empowerment kung fu or something. That PMSing cunt! Hearing himself hissing curses out loud, he bit his lip again to stop it. The fucking driver kept looking in the mirror at him and had sniffed audibly when he’d gotten on board. Shithead’s obviously looking for an excuse to kick me off. Thinks I’m high or drunk or something. Judgmental cocksucker.
It took him several seconds to notice that the bus was already a block past his stop. Taking his hands from his groin, he yanked on the red wire and yelled, “Stop, STOP!” After hopping off he flipped the departing bus both birds. “Fuck YOU!” The Occupy camp was two blocks away. You know, fuck this whole road trip secret mission bullshit. Fuck it. FUCK. IT. Micah with his little flag pin and twitchy-ass Gerald can both eat shit and die.
He was stomping over to Micah’s tent to tell him that when he saw Gerald sitting in front of it on that orange milk crate of his, smoking something in a glass pipe. The butane lighter he used to keep it hot flicked off, and at Diego’s approach he proffered the tube with a quivering hand.
The bitter, plastic odor of the smoke told Diego it was meth. He took the pipe, drew in the smoke, held it for a medium-slow three-count, and let it out. If you held it too long it fucked up your lungs and made you cough. If you didn’t hold it long enough you were wasting it. As he handed it back the pain in his crotch lessened. “Uh, thanks, man.”
Gerald shook his head and held out the lighter. “It’s yours. Feeling better now? You were looking a bit…peaked.”
The constant facial tics made Gerald’s expression almost impossible to read, so Diego just nodded and accepted the lighter. “Yeah. I do, a bit.”
“Good.” Gerald nodded in the direction of Walnut St. “Time to go. You’re driving. Anything here you want to bring with?”
Diego considered going to the tent he shared with the endlessly-coughing Hanlon and grabbing his duffel, but shook his head instead. “Nah. Just this,” he said, lifting the pipe. Fuck it. A new start. I can always find what I need on the way.
Chuckling, Gerald led the way to a white Chevy Tahoe. “It’s a hybrid,” he told him. “Good for the environment.”
The keys were already in the ignition. Diego burned off the last of the meth, put the pipe in the center console, and started the car. “Where to?”
“East. Go east, young man. We’re going to Kansas.”
It was a relief to stop for gas, even if it was in some shithole calling itself Russell, Kansas. For the last five hours all Diego had done was drive in the dark, and Gerald was a terrible conversationalist. He had just sat there watching his iPad and giggling to himself. A few hours ago Diego had made the mistake of asking him what he was watching, and Gerald’s response was to turn the screen in his direction. It showed a red-haired man in an orange prison jumpsuit getting his head sawed off by men in army fatigues and checkered headscarves. Behind them was a big red and black flag with green writing in Arabic. Gerald had taken the headphones out of his grimy ears and proffered them, but Diego shook his head and returned his attention to the road. It was horrible, but the guy probably deserved it. Payback for America’s military machine illegally invading Muslim countries. What else were the Arabs supposed to do, just sit back and take it?
At the Westside Propane and Convenience filling station Diego tried to squeeze out some more fuel past the $60.00 he’d paid for, but the pump shut off. Greedy assholes. Sixty bucks doesn’t get you much of anything these days. Here I am trying to save the fucking country from ultracapitalist douchebags and I get nickled and dimed by Ma and Pa Kettle in West Fuckberg, Kansas. Getting back in the car, he asked, “How much longer?”
“Another hour. Keep going. We’re on a tight schedule,” Gerald replied without looking up.
During the rest of the drive Gerald would give strangely specific directions like, “Turn right here and wait twelve seconds at the stop sign, then make a sharp left,” or “go past the fifth house, yes, that one, and stop, no no, go right, no not like that, go faster.” Sometimes he would just grunt and point. He’s like some fucked up GPS that gets its directions from a mental ward, Diego thought after the third U-turn Gerald made them do in a row, but they finally reached a destination, of sorts: the rear parking lot of an abandoned Wal-Mart. The only other car in the lot was a maroon minivan running with its lights off.
“Stop here. Here! Keep the lights on. Keep it running. No, not the brights. Good,” Gerald said, and got out of the car.
Diego stepped out to see two men in black BDUs opening the minivan’s side door. With their watch caps and gloves, the only identifying features they had were their large size and the pale, wrinkled skin of their faces. Their jerky, too-quick movements gave him the creeps.
Gerald moved to a spot illuminated by the Tahoe’s headlights and said, “Bring them over here.”
The bigger of the two men dragged a teenage boy, gagged and tied with plastic cuffs, out of the van toward the waiting Gerald. His colleague followed, pulling out a similarly bound woman who looked like she could be the kid’s mom. Both captives were moaning through their gags, and both had tear-streaked faces.
“Strip the woman,” Gerald commanded, and the kid’s mom uttered a muffled scream.
What the fuck is this? Diego moved over to Gerald and asked, “What’s this shit? I thought you were like a recruiter or something.”
Stepping out of the headlights’ glare, Gerald motioned for Diego to follow him, and in a sickened, outraged voice, said, “These…people are wealthy takers. Thieves. They consume and consume and leave nothing for us, the 99%. All they do is produce waste, burn fossil fuels in cars they don’t need, and stick it to working men like us day in and day out.” At Diego’s dubious look back at them, Gerald put a hand on his shoulder. “They pay us shit wages, take the lion’s share, and expect us to thank them for the scraps they leave. They’re the 1% who piss on us, Diego.”
“I guess, but…” He tried to meet Gerald’s gaze, but it was too dark to see anything except the twitching of his face.
“They’re hypocrites and racists,” Gerald continued, and spat on the ground. “Denying a woman’s right to choose, keeping anyone who isn’t lily-white shackled to the chains of economic inequality, rigging the game so the rules don’t apply to them. It’s people like them who make owning a farm and living a simple life with the woman you love impossible through pollution and pesticides. They work for Monsanto, Diego. She’s the CEO. The fucking queen of GMO poisons. And her piece of shit husband is a Republican congressman.”
Gerald’s anger was infectious, and Diego found himself getting madder. If Micah was right and this is a war, then they’re the enemy.
“They’re the enemy, yes,” Gerald said. “But they can be saved. They can be…deprogrammed.” He nodded. “Yes. How else is it that they can’t see what’s so obvious to anyone with a working brain? It’s because they’ve been brainwashed. Brainwashed into thinking that their stolen wealth belongs to them rather than the people. My job as a recruiter is to break their programming and free their minds so they can see what the world is truly about.” Taking his hand off of Diego’s shoulder, he added, “So they can be saved. The capitalist programming can be erased from their brains. But it requires hard work and…some theater. Call it…special effects.”
Diego felt bad that he had gotten so mad at them a moment ago. It’s not their fault. “So what…what do we do to help them?”
Gerald’s answering smile was riddled with tics. “You’re right. It’s not their fault. They just need our help. I’ll need you to step back so we can begin. It’ll look a little weird, but breaking someone’s programming is never pretty.”
Nodding, Diego went back to lean against the car. Gerald strolled over to the men who were standing over the now-naked woman and the teenager. There was an exchange of words that Diego couldn’t hear, and Gerald grabbed the bigger man by his shirtfront and shrieked into his face, “What? What? WHAT? They didn’t get the blessedfuckingman’s wife? Why…FUCKING…NOT?”
The remainder of the conversation resulted in Gerald shoving the man sprawling onto the asphalt. “Well, I guess it’s just going to be all on her, then,” he said, pointing to the woman. “Until we get the wife and have some fun with her. And we’d better get the wife.” Kicking the kid in rage so that he and his mom started trying to scream again, he shouted, “Fuck fuck fucking amateur fucks! You! Give me your knife!” The other man handed over a military-style combat knife and stepped back to be with his colleague, who was only just starting to get to his feet.
Diego had to admit: the special effects were damned good. The way Gerald seemed to stick the knife into the kid’s belly and cut upward was really convincing, and the kid’s play-acting was right on point with his curling up and making agonized noises through the gag. With all her screaming and struggling it was clear that the woman bought the whole act. Hell, you’d think she was the one getting stabbed. The brightness of the spurting blood kind of detracted from the realism, but then Gerald started pulling out lengths of intestine, slicing them up, and painting weird symbols on the blacktop with the blood and other fluids. That was really gross. Out came the liver to be used as a paintbrush of sorts, and then some smaller pieces, and while the kid stopped hollering after a while, his mom screamed as loud as her taped mouth would let her.
A few minutes later she was surrounded by a glistening circle of hieroglyphs, pictograms, and what looked like Russian letters or something written in fake blood and sheep guts. She stopped her muffled screaming when the guys in black dragged the emptied “corpse” of the kid into the darkness. In fact, she stopped doing much of anything and just lay there with staring eyes, breathing.
The part Diego really didn’t like was Gerald dropping his pants and taking a big shit on the ground. Is that necessary? He did say it would get weird, but still. Spasming, Gerald made guttural dog-like noises and picked up the shit, painting more of the same symbols on the woman’s body with it. Diego had to look away when Gerald ripped the gag away and stuffed the remaining shit into her mouth. That’s…that’s over the top. This better work. I hope it works.
Chancing another look a little while later, he saw Gerald on his stomach next to her in the circle of blood and guts, grinding his forehead into the blacktop and growling words that sounded like Latin. Every once in a while he would bang his head on the ground, making high-pitched shrieks that must have really hurt his throat.
Without warning Diego’s stomach knotted into an icy ball, and he broke out in a cold, greasy sweat. Someone was behind him, someone very horrible and malicious and hateful, and the relief of turning around and finding nobody there was short-lived because the feeling returned tenfold. Turning this way and that, seeing nobody, was terrifying. He knew someone was watching, waiting for the right moment to open a carious mouth full of sharp teeth and bite him. It would start on his softest parts first, like his cheeks and his balls, biting and ripping and tearing. If he screamed it would find him faster, but he had to do something, so he covered his face with one arm and his crotch with the other, but it was right there, right in front of him, and then he just had to scream, he just had to, because his terror needed a voice, a really big fucking voice, so he took in a deep breath—
Mercifully, the feeling stopped. Whoever it was had gone. The shriek building behind his teeth let its way out in a half-whimper, half-groan, and when he opened his eyes again he saw the woman sit up and snap the plastic ties off of her wrists and ankles. Gerald got to his feet as she spat the shit out of her mouth, and they had a short, whispered conversation. At the end of it Gerald strolled back to the Tahoe.
Diego had to move his tongue around the inside of his mouth to find enough saliva to ask, “Did it work?”
“Perfectly,” Gerald replied, beaming through his tics. “She’s with us.”
“What about the kid?”
Gerald peered at him. “The kid? Oh, uh. He’s fine. Never better. Let’s go. We’ve got hours to go before we reach St. Louis.” He opened the passenger door.
Risking one last look at the woman Gerald saved, Diego grimaced. She was putting her clothes back on without washing the shit off her body. And it definitely was shit, not fake. He could smell it from here. Her returning gaze and smile sent him back inside the car and had them on the road in less than a minute.
(Copyright 2014, David Dubrow)