Today we have Rubble and the Wreckage by Rodd Clark. Rubble and the Wreckage is Book 1 of the Gabriel Church Tales series.
Please enjoy this sample chapter from the book . . .
“I’VE BEEN CAREFUL not to ask before now, but how many would you say you’ve killed?” It had already whispered in his brain. There were ramifications to the answer that he didn’t really want to explore. But how could Christian complete his manuscript without knowing the answer?
“An actual accounting? I suppose I can understand why that number might be important to you, but people who become victims are not necessarily just numbers in my eyes. Think of it as a journey, and they’re not people . . . but mile markers.”
With that cold, analytical retort, Church had once again slipped into another persona. His grin faded with every flash of memory he was forced to relive. His posture seemed guarded and closed at first, but as he reclined back into the salon chair with his naked chest exposed and the writer’s eyes darting uncomfortably back and forth, another unseen personality found its way to the surface. This one wanted nothing more than to unbalance Christian and gain some sadistic enjoyment in watching him squirm under all that unspoken pressure.
Church rested his head inside the crux of his massive intertwined palms and set out to witness Christian dance under his manipulations. Church reminded him of an old tomcat he once had that loved to catch mice but when he caught one, spent almost an hour batting the poor thing from paw to paw while the rodent breathed its heavily labored final breaths from its many failed attempts to escape death. Eventually that old barn cat would tire of his own game and pull the mouse’s head off with a single bite before dragging it off to the shadows, presumably to eat. It was just like the game Church enjoyed playing with him. And as it went . . . was proving effective. Christian didn’t like being in Church’s company when both were relaxed, when both could shed the professionalism of their relationship and become friendly. He also did not like the distraction of such a tantalizing figure sitting so close to him. He expected by now he would’ve been more composed and calm, and given it all, it was rather amazing just how collected he appeared, given that Church was still just a few feet away.
It had only been a couple of hours. The tea pitcher was draining and the sandwiches were growing stale. He’d hoped by then he would have gotten used to being in the killer’s company, and that he’d be accustomed to the sensual way Church would bite his bottom lip when he remembered something painful, or that he didn’t get a tad panic-stricken when the man would brush past him or reach over him to grab another quarter-cut club sandwich from the tray. But time refused to alter his nervous state.
“I think the readers would like to know if there had ever been time for romance during all the killings?” Christian carried the pretense of writing and never raised his head.
“Yes. I’m sure the readers want to know that . . . but I would have to tell them I never had much interest in what you call romance. I got laid. I found occasion to blow my jizz wherever I wanted, yes. But ‘romance’ is for fourteen-year-old schoolgirls, don’t you think?”
“So, during the height of the murders, or before, there was never any person who you were involved with? No one who might have altered your . . . err . . . homicidal course at any time?”
Church stared over the rim of his glass of tea at Christian. There was an unfamiliar look in his eyes. He seemed to be both exploring the man’s question and considering for the first time the possibility that someone he might have loved could have changed his destiny, for the better. But the black cloud reassembled somewhere on his face.
“I was never in love, so the point is moot I suppose. Since I have never loved another person, then I guess my destiny was, as they say, pre-ordained. I didn’t become a better man because no one ever mattered enough to me. Then again, that works on the assumption that I’m not a good man, even currently . . . doesn’t it?”
“Do you consider yourself a good man?” Christian decided, rather resolutely, that he wouldn’t get answers to all of his questions, but he traveled the path forward and trained his eyes on the killer to await a reply.
“Good is a relative term. I’m good at what I do, I don’t hurt the ones I kill unnecessarily . . . so I suppose it’s up for debate.”
“I beg to consider that the families of your victims may not agree with you.”
“Unbiased are we? You speak of morality now, but your question wasn’t whether I consider myself moral or not; you asked if I was good.”
“Semantics . . .” Christian folded his hands on the notepad he placed in his lap and leaned back to allow the discussion to reach its apex.
“Morality is reserved for stupid men of the cloth. It doesn’t suit the rest of us, those who crawled out of the mud, then learned to climb trees, all until we could stand upright, to fashion tools or weapons.”
“You said in the beginning you believed in God.”
“Incorrect. I asked you if you believed in God. I said it may prove somewhat providential as our talks continued.
“Then we are back to square one. Do you, Gabriel Church, believe in an almighty God?”
“If there was a God . . . you wouldn’t need to be having this conversation with me now. I would simply not exist.” Church curled his lip in a barely noticeable sneer. It was his rebuke against the whole point of it. He believed he had indeed become the singularity that disproved a greater god. For Christian, he was truly mad. Being a man with a rapidly failing faith, the writer could only stare blankly at the killer across the room. He was dumbstruck how maniacal the man was becoming while right in front of him.
“So there is no God, and Gabriel Church exists . . . then what is his purpose? Why does he exist?”
“I answer to a calling. In truth I don’t know if it is God’s or the Devil’s or some alien influence . . . but I am here, and my purpose is to answer the white light commands. Beyond that, I don’t know my purpose.”
“So you, like the rest of us, still wrestle with the big picture issues . . . interesting.”
“I’m a murderer in your definition. I am not inhuman.”
There was little reason to travel that road further; it might nullify their unspoken contract and most assuredly get the killer riled-up. Christian placed the pad on the table and grabbed his pen.
“I’d like to go back a ways and look at your influences. Do you mind?”
“Your dime,” was all Church said as he repositioned his body for a longer discussion. But even though he acquiesced, it didn’t appear that he enjoyed where that might lead.
“You began with your father, Bennett. Was he the first influence? Were there others you’d like to share?”
GABE CONTEMPLATED slowly before speaking, pulling back images from a past he didn’t enjoy discussing. His feelings for Bennett Church had been laden with revulsion, and there were many stories that he had yet to bring to light where Bennett might appear even less a savory character.
He began telling Maxwell of a time when he was only eight years old. It was a period of confusion for him. The boy was beginning to recognize how dangerous a man his father truly was. He had been a lonely child, he didn’t have many friends, so therefore didn’t go to their homes for sleepovers or camp in their backyards in pup tents while telling ghost stories. Because he didn’t have those companionships, he equally didn’t see how other boys reacted to their own fathers, or how their fathers were supposed to act with them. But there had been one time he remembered.
It was during the annual street carnival aptly named The Spring Fiesta. The community he lived in operated the carnival each year as a fundraising event for the local charities. There were church booths and tiny rides, cotton candy and sodas. There was a dunking booth, where a popular minister might be placed on a pad and positioned above a tank of four or five feet of water. Youthful sinners might rejoice in tossing softballs at the bulls-eye ring just to submerge their favorite pastor in the smallest bit of water. There was laughter and bliss for the religious; one would never find a person of ill-repute running a booth or a ride. There were never any drugs or drinking allowed. It was good wholesome fun. At least until the year Gabe was eight and ran excitedly to the carnival hoping to ride the tilt-a-whirl ride. He assured himself he would ride it over and over, even if he puked.
The boy had raced ahead of his sister, leaving his mother trailing both of them. When he hit the midway, he saw the tossing games. He spotted the brightly colored booths with the over-stuffed, plush neon animals tied up with string at the top of booths set with basketballs and straw buckets, rings over bottle tops, and bean bags and bulls-eye paddles to throw against. He was delighted. But in less than a quarter hour, while he was running around like any eight year old released inside a carnival, he then ran smack dab into his father who had shown up unexpectedly.
He first noticed the stench of bourbon, then his father’s hand as he grabbed the boy by the hair just to steady him from falling when he bounded into his old man.
“Whoa there little camper,” he said as his big hand palmed the boy’s scalp. From a distance it might have appeared sweet, in a traditional sense, but then again you needed to be standing close enough to smell the booze, as Gabe had been, and to have known how mean his father could be when drunk.
Bennett had never attended the carnival before, even though it was close enough to their house that one could walk there. He did allow Sissy to take the children each year, and each year she would return with two exhausted kids, only to find Bennett drinking bourbon or beer from his comfy chair in the den. Whenever she found him there and realized he’d been drinking for hours, she’d back-step into the kitchen and then quietly herd her children off to their rooms to sleep. She would do exactly the same by seeking refuge under the covers of their marital bed and lie there in anticipation of his changing mood.
To see his father at the carnival was shocking, to run into him headlong was unfortunate. Bennett crouched down and gripped his son tight in his arms. By the casual appearance of any passerby, it seemed he was happy to run into his boy, excited to see him happy and so full of life. But Bennett Church was a master of deception.
He smiled as he leaned and whispered to his son, inaudible to anyone close, “You’re one little fucker who should be in bed by now. You know, son, this is a big carnival . . . a little boy could end up hurt, or even dead here, and nobody would be the wiser.”
Gabe’s face drained of any color, and he stopped his squeal of delight instantly.
“What do you think people would say if they found a dead little boy crammed into the mechanics of one of these fun little rides? Ya think anyone would be shocked at the dead little boy?” Bennett chuckled sadistically under his breath but never once lost his smile or the tight way his arms encircled his boy.
“I’m going home now. I expect to see you and your sister in bed by the time I get home. If you’re not there . . . the preacher’s gonna be giving me some pretty condolences for my recently dead baby boy. You understand?”
His voice was cold and matter of fact, he meant business, and even though Gabe had never gotten a chance to win a toy, or ride the tilt-a-whirl, he raced home, past his mother and even past his sister, then crawled under the covers in his room and cried himself to sleep. The next morning Bennett was sober, albeit grumpy. He never acknowledged threatening his son, never once apologized, and although the boy never told his mother, he knew . . . somehow she knew. He never went back to the carnival again and vowed then that one day he’d kill his father.
THERE WERE other stories Church shared with Christian, some worse than others, but each one was sad and pitiful. Christian wrote silently as he told each story. He knew Church wasn’t asking for understanding, and he wasn’t requiring his sympathy. He was fulfilling his part of the contract by telling his account exactly as it was, unvarnished and open like an oozing sore. Christian wasn’t going to pity him. It was what it was, a factor in the development of a sociopath, and it was as expected as any segment making up the whole. It was simply a fragment of that shattered psyche that was Gabriel Lee Church.
It was getting later in the day, both men felt a little weary from either writing steadily or sitting for too long in one position. Church suggested they take a break, and Christian agreed. When the killer stood up, he stretched his back muscles and raised his arms high, pulling at each elbow to ease the tension in his shoulders. Christian was struck silent by what he saw—a true sense of a masculine authority that was the figure standing before him. He looked up to see Church had caught his gaze. The man was smiling, as if the two shared a common secret . . . and it was delicious. As Church finally pulled the shirt over his head, he mumbled something about getting a drink at a bar on the street. He said he could use a stiff one, and his smile reappeared from over the neck of his pullover. The game was becoming old, yet somehow, every time, it still grasped Christian’s heart and held it tight inside an icy grip.
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