Jesse and Dustin were sitting on a couch across from a man in a wing-backed chair. Jesse saw me and waved me over. He stood up and said, “Ah, Chuck, glad you could make it. Let me introduce you to Allan, the savior of our town and the mastermind of the plan we are following to get us through these tough times.”
I turned to face a pretty normal white guy with greasy long hair wearing an equally greasy-looking bath robe. He grabbed my hand and shook it. “Hey there Chuck. I’ve heard a lot about you. Good things don’t worry! Sorry I haven’t had you up here yet and we had to meet under these circumstances. Please sit down,” he finished as he gestured towards the empty seat beside Dustin.
I sat down beside Dustin, who had that weird look of a zealot in his eyes again.
“Chuck, did you know that Jesse and Dustin have been with me since the beginning?” He didn’t wait for me to answer. “Back when I just was a minor town celebrity nut-job who’d been on the television. We came together and tried to spread the word about being prepared for the end of times. Well these are certainly the end of times my friends.” Dustin nodded enthusiastically.
“These two are like children to me Chuck, deadly children with whom I have trusted my life.” He gestured again and four men walked up behind the couch. “Chuck, I don’t know you. I’ve heard great things about your abilities to organize the security team and how you are a natural killer that just needs a little refinement. Did you know that I had taken notice of you Chuck?”
“Uh, no sir, I didn’t know,” I said.
“Well I have Chuck. You’re doing great things for Virden. I see you becoming one of the leaders of our town. My children have disappointed me though Chuck,” he said as he jabbed a stubby finger at Jesse and Dustin. “What would you have done differently in Carlinville?”
I thought rapidly to something Jesse had said earlier. “We should have sent out a search team to verify the validity of our target. Jesse actually suggested that…”
“After the fact!” Allan cut me off with a roar. His face visually relaxed as he composed himself before continuing. “Jesse recommended that brilliant suggestion after we’d already lost two soldiers and burned through hundreds of gallons of fuel. We can’t afford to waste our resources like that. We’ve been lucky so far, but our fuel supply is finite Chuck. There won’t be any more produced and we’re hemmed in between highly radioactive areas to both our north and south. We will need to continue to expand our sphere of influence, but we can’t do that without resources.”
Allan gestured again and two men each grabbed Jesse and Dustin from behind and jerked them to their feet. Both men cried out in alarm and surprise.
“Children, you’ve failed the town of Virden. You’ve failed me,” he said with a sneer. “Chuck, these men are the shooting stars of our society. They were high in the sky like the moon above, but now they are falling rapidly. I think that you are Virden’s next superstar, but you’ll need assistance. Pick one of these falling stars to be your executive officer.”
“What happens to the person I don’t pick?” I asked in a panic. I’d known this meeting would be bad, but I was expecting a scolding, this had turned strange and it was frightening me.
“Dustin, tell Chuck our rules,” the madman said imperiously.
“You…” he hesitated and the look of adoration had clearly disappeared from his eyes. “You don’t question Allan. His word is the law. He foresaw this disaster and saved our town.”
“You see Chuck, Dustin knows the rules. I’ll let it slide because you haven’t had the opportunity to learn them,” he paused and then shouted to a woman sitting at a desk along the wall, “Trudy! Make sure we publish the rules to our population. It seems a little unfair that we expect them to follow the rules without letting them know what they are.
“So, Chuck. Who will be your number two man, Jesse or Dustin?”
I was at a loss. What the fuck was going on? Jesse or Dustin? Who was better for the town, hell, for me? Jesse was one of the more charismatic people I’d ever met and Dustin was a brilliant planner. I would benefit from both of them…but what happened to the other one if I didn’t pick him? Shit, what did he mean that I needed an executive officer? Was I supposed to be in charge of the gathering squad now?
“Jesse, what is my number one pet peeve?” Allan asked.
“To be kept waiting sir,” he replied instantly.
“Maybe you aren’t our next superstar Chuck. I asked a simple question of you. When I ask a question, I expect to be answered. I want to know who you pick to be your number two in the gathering squad. Now.”
I thought rapidly for a moment and looked from face to face. “Jesse should be my executive officer,” I said as I avoided Dustin’s startled look.
“Very well, release Jesse,” he said with another of his gestures. Dustin began to struggle in an effort to free himself from the men holding him. The two who’d held onto Jesse turned and grabbed Dustin’s kicking ankles and they carried him out of the room screaming.
“See Chuck, that was easy. I want you…” he paused as his eyes searched up and to the left. “Actually, I want the entire town, at the square tomorrow morning. Say ten o’clock. You will be in the first row.” He made another gesture and we were free to leave.
/// Want to read more?! Keep checking back for a part of the story, but you’ll need to wait until late summer/early fall 2014 until my new novel Unclean Wonderland (working title) is released for the complete scene! ///