Driven Press is proud to release Rodd Clark's final book in the Gabriel Church Tales:
Ash and Cinders
In this nail-biting conclusion to the tales of serial killer Gabriel Church,
the stakes are higher than ever before now that Gabe put himself in the
cross-hairs to protect his lover at the conclusion of Torn and Frayed.
“It’s just the devil’s share. When life evens itself out and every bad guy gets what’s coming to em’ . . . it’s one of the few balancing things life really offers.”
Gabriel Church has done a bad, bad thing . . . and normally that doesn’t bother him too much. But everything changed when he met Christian Maxwell. Chris became his unholy grail. The thing he sought more than any other treasure, yet still a priceless pearl beyond his reach. Nothing he does seems to solidify any prospect of them being able to remain together, to live that happily-ever-after story. Even if he were to make a promise to stop his killing in the name of God, it would still only be a salty futility to wet and tempt his lips.
Christian Maxwell discovered a damaged soul inside Church, with a goodness plumbed somewhere below the visible surface. He saw pain shadowing his killer like some trailing footprint left moist in the sand. But he failed to recognize each victim, or the costs of every action the fugitive took for granted. He simply pushed those faceless victims to the dark recesses of his mind, hiding them from plain view as if they were discarded things, recollections intentionally forgotten.
The one thing Church knows with certainty is the writer is the only person who really knows him, and the only man other than himself who possibly understands where they are both headed. But life is about to get more twisted and dangerous. It begins with a back woods Deputy Sheriff and that same ill-fated chance that always prevented him from slowing down his pace or finding a peaceful place to rest with Chris Maxwell by his side.
The words that had been flung at him had come out harsher than were intended, but he knew they were an accurate assessment of his life. There hadn’t been a retort Gabe could even come back with; it was simple truth staring back at him through hard and squinting eyes, and he knew it. Initially Chris had been resigned to the fact when he told him he was leaving to protect him again, but then he’d rounded on him when the truth had sunk in. Instead of trying to explain himself, he had hung his head like a shamed puppy cowering near a piss-stained rug, until he’d said, rather meekly, “You’re right of course, it wouldn’t.”
“All those fucked up parallels with a God you’ve never seen, one you’ve personally never seen evidence of anyway!”
Gabriel couldn’t fight the clearly obvious disapproval thrown in his face. Chris was dead-on correct in his appraisal of him, and he’d been too tired to fight with the man. He’d simply accepted the harsh assessment and hung his head in shame, because he recognized he’d let another person down in his life. And it was one he’d never dreamed he could have. So he’d left anyway, telling himself it was to protect the other man, when really it was to protect himself.
Gabriel Church was a wanted man, in more ways than other fugitives who might be running from the law. He’d landed in Sonora, California, but it was just the first stop in his journey from Washington State. He’d been forced to stop there after the copious miles and endless blacktop nearly made him road blind, and far too weary to continue driving. However, it was only a brief respite, and he knew it wasn’t a place he’d ever call home.
Sonora was a ridiculously small town in comparison to Seattle, but it had a particular quaintness very akin to those upper northwestern states he’d traveled through before. It was a town that had first grown from the glorious days of the California gold rush, originally settled by migrant Mexican miners who went searching for a better life for them and their families. Once the glittery veins were all but extracted, the town was forced to turn to the vast tree lines and a fast lumber industry was born. It sprang from the deep woods and left a multitude of sawmills, as the skies became smoky dark with new trade and commerce.
But all that remained today was leftover beauty, and since no one could push a fantastic view across the dinner table to feed their family, tourism had become the only thread holding Sonora’s tenuous fabric intact. But beautifully picturesque it was indeed. Tourists flocked through the tiny community, flashing photographs from car windows and spending their out of town dollars in shops and restaurants, buying postcards and memorabilia before continuing their journey out of the tiny hamlet.
It had charming qualities to boast about, with its tiny red painted churches mixed alongside homes of every architectural style and size. It sat snuggly nestled into the rolling hillside and the raw, untainted splendor of everything surrounding it. Appearing a city out of sync with the rest of the world, it made one feel everything ran a few ticks slower on the clock and gave the sense you had just stepped outside of time. For Gabe it meant a safe place to make a brief rest stop and take a needed breather during his journey to nowhere in particular.
The conversations with Chris, which had been replaying in his mind, were the only distractions from the pull of the highway. But as he drove through town, he too became mesmerized with the humble, tiny community called Sonora. It quelled the conversations that had been playing in a continuous loop inside his brain for hours as he drove along Highway 108, commonly known as the Sonora Pass Road. Gabriel passed carloads of people. They appeared to be families on vacation by each wide-eyed face he passed along the scenic highway that connected the Sierras and National Parks. It was the summer months and every tree was in full bloom. Had it been winter those same roads would’ve been marked as inaccessible, due to snowfalls and dangers of avalanche. But it was an idyllic setting for camping, horseback riding, and hiking in small groups, and was an iconic vacation spot for anyone wanting to escape the dingy streets of East Los Angeles or avoid heading to one of the national parks like Yosemite or Stanislaus. However, Gabe wasn’t on vacation; he was driving with no particular fixed point on the horizon line. And he was driving alone.
Gabriel never used to mind being alone in the cab of his Dodge. He was accustomed to the loneliness and being his own company for as many years as he could recall. But that’d been before meeting Christian Maxwell. Now it reminded him of the cold isolation of a prison cell with him in solitary. Absentmindedly his palm rubbed at the bulge in his side pocket where he’d shoved his new mobile phone. It hadn’t rung once since he left Seattle, and his fingers ached with desire to feel it vibrate through his jeans. He had told himself he wouldn’t use it until he had better news to offer, but he still couldn’t help wanting it to ring. He needed to hear Chris on the other end. His familiar, comforting voice; that beacon in the dark he felt trapped inside; a thing that might break apart the banter playing in his head.
He was exhausted with it all, and every conversation the two men had ever shared seemed to drone through his head like a recorder on playback. He found himself tearing apart each word and rummaging through its meaning, as if trying to comprehend all that occurred back in Seattle. His normally inquisitive mind was working overtime, and he knew he was edging to the obsessive and compulsive sides of his nature. Try as he might, he couldn’t stop the discussions from playing endlessly as he drove in silence.
It was a maddening thing. He felt that he needed to pull the truck off the black asphalt road and jump out so that he might be able to scream and yell to the heavens without looking like a fool to those cars passing him on the highway. He wanted to express his rage and could only pray his shrieking demands would be heard and somehow stop the parade of images in his head. Because they were leaving him broken and scrutinizing every detail and emotion that remained. It was nothing, if not draining. Had he not looked up and seen the Sonora exit signs in his path and chosen to take it, he might have found himself doing just that.
He’d been hammered by some heavy blows of late, and losing his lover was only one out of many in that series of events plaguing him. He had to question his mission with this second loss of Christian Maxwell in such a short time. Wasn’t a heavenly soldier with his conviction intact supposed to be permitted some mercy he wondered? A loving God couldn’t have created anything as wicked as him on purpose and not promised him a reward for his efforts. It felt as if God was questioning his faith like those stories of Job he’d heard from that pedophilic priest back in Tennessee. He had used the parables of the “Book of Job” during his sermons many times. He recalled the priest reading from the scriptures and saying, “. . . and it is written that he will rise again with those whom the Lord raises up.”
For the boy of ten who seemed spellbound with the story, his words sounded like music to his ears and were instantly carved deep into his young psyche. They became the words he would carry in his head for years to follow.
*** Pre-release discounts extended for 1 week ***
Rubble and the Wreckage $0.99
Torn and Frayed $2.99
Ash and Cinders $2.99