Ruth Long’s Picture Choice: 1
Title: Instruments of Death (Introducing Deacon)
He who has a WHY to live can bear almost any HOW.
MORNING / CENTRAL CALIFORNIA
I'm not much for talking but my mind’s never quiet and what it’s saying right now is that Life is a perverse master who isn't finished using me as his whipping boy.
Whole country went off the rails when the sickness hit. Ran each other down rushing to their local medical clinics to get the vaccine. Turns out the remedy was deadlier than the disease. Everything mutated. The virulent flu. It's tainted cure. Situation got out of control. Bodies were dropping as fast as the financial index.
Where I was during the pandemic, we didn't have access to the vaccine. We didn’t fare any better, though. Took out ninety percent of us. Made it easy to move from one side of the bars to the other. And then it was just a matter of blending in. Easy to do amidst the upheaval.
Staying alive on the outside was just as hard as being inside. Survival is a faithless mistress, provoking folks to acts of inhumanity they’d never consider under normal circumstances. And these days, Normal was shot to shit and left to rot but men like me were built to thrive on its bones.
Still, Life preys on the confident as well as the chumps. Got shot in the chest by a kid who wanted a bottle of water more than I did. Almost died. Should have. No doubt. But a week later, I was on my feet and back in the fray.
Took a year or so for the government to get its shit together. Well, the original bureaucrats never did. A whole new regime rose out of the chaos. Wasn’t about who was qualified. Just who had the balls to grab the power. The folks who did, they were the same kind of shit-kickers who used to sit in the cells next to me back in the day.
But it was a life I knew, a mentality I understood, and when they came knocking, I signed up. Hell, they kept me housed and fed, put women in my bed and ideas in my head. Said the future was ours now and my skills were welcome, necessary, appreciated.
Most folks wouldn’t see what I can do as a valuable asset, but its kept me alive and made the folks who hired me a very profitable and secure life, so who’s to say? I don’t brag about it but I'm damn good at it, and it put me here, right when and where I need to be for what’s about to go down in the next few hours.
Life and I have had some motherfucking fistfights and we’re about to face off in another bare-knuckled brawl but I’m not worried. He may have pinned me to the mat a time or two but he’s never been able to hold me down for the count.
“You want to head up the crew, Deacon?” Barrios' voice interrupts my thoughts.
Been his right hand a couple of years now. Running enforcement crews. Privy to his holdings. Guaranteed a seat at his table long as I want it.
He doesn't know it yet but five minutes ago, my loyalties changed. The name of the retrieval target he just assigned us grabbed me by the shorthairs.
He repeats the question.
No way. I need to hang back. Stay detached. “How about you put Hanford on it? Kid is about ready to step up."
He nods. “Smart. Okay, but if things go south, it's on you.”
"I got broad shoulders, boss. Who you have in mind for the second crew?”
“Petty. He’s got shit for brains but he’ll run them hard and that’s what we need. If we don’t get to that camp before someone else does, we’ll lose valuable resources.”
I know him well enough to get what he's saying. He wants to squash those resources, not cultivate them.
And he's right, Petty will fast track his crew. Has a real hard-on for heavy artillery too. Makes what I have in mind near impossible but I'll still go after it.
"Mess hall in thirty," Barrios says, thumping my shoulder and heading out of the barracks.
I finish pitching stuff in my duffle bag. Tuck a Ruger into the shoulder holster. Cram a paperback into my jacket pocket. Good to go.
Hit the lights and head out the door. On my way across the compound, I mull over the last paragraph I’d read.
Live where you fear to live.
Destroy your reputation.
Sure hope that dude Rumi knows what he's talking about. I'm about to blow the doors off safety, kick fear in the ass, and become notorious as hell.
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