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This is Issue #16 of Step by Step. This is the fourth issue of Volume Three.

Trenched InEdit

It seemed like the heavens were protesting against Randy. The winds had begun to howl a horrible sound, the rain pounding strong like a sledgehammer striking hard cement. There were some dwarfed sounds, but anyone with a pair of ears could separate them from the storm's cackles; must have been the moans. Could have been the chanting of the rioters, the ones that still held high their drenching wet signs.

Randy was sitting down on the stone, cracked floor of the building. It must have been an apartment building, maybe a a failed business? It came with the red patterns on the walls and little chairs for folk to sit, but Randy couldn't tell. No doubt, he was sure that he, a start-up rookie, and an elder of the Crook were settled on ground level.

He traced his eyes to Jose, a wiry man in loose, raggedy clothing. The best he could purchase after leaving the stiff, unnerving arms of Indiana's finest correctional facility. Randy noticed the unhinged restraints that the man still kept. The swirling tattoo on his neck made it a no-brainer. Even though Jose knew damn well why he had them.

Jose had fallen back into the cynical hands of a gang, which was before Randy took the decency to more or less save him. He needed people like Jose. Tough, unforgiving. The criminal had a handful of years past thirty, but he was still at his prime. Curly beard and all, Randy saw the sweat dripping from the sides of his friend's head even in the vagueness of the room they were in.

There was another person in the room, though he wasn't much a talker. Ha, good one, Randy. The person was dead, laying on the floor in the middle of the room. Surrounded by a pool of blood. Looked like he worked for the building, a gunshot deep into his chest cavity. Hadn't been Randy. It was the National Guard's doing.

Guards had swept through the block in their fancy trucks and were got. Picked off by the sizable waves of the crazies. There were bright flashes like fireworks. And then Randy had seen the poor man drag himself into the building, followed by a lady. Lady had left him after his passing, God bless her soul and that magnificent pair she had.

“People these days,” Randy was standing, watching out from the window like his neighbors had been that one night. Oh yeah, nearly forgot. The one night where Randy loaded up his pistol and shot the fat sonofabitch that fucked him over. He even remembered now, especially now since he had a smile on his face, the man's arms swaying in the air like a dying bird.

“You can't really blame them,” Jose said. He sat criss-crossed with his back to the room's walls, rubbing his hands through his sleek jet black hair. There was a cheap mask on his lap, untouched. It was one of those that could be bought from a drugstore, minus the spending but more stealing for Jose.

Flaco. That's what he was. A skinny thug, coming of age. And that would be his name from then on. That was a great name, Randy, did you make it your self? You bet your ass I did. Good for you, Randy! Now go tell that gringo what's up.

Randy snickered, getting up. His hair was a mess, tangled up in the black strands of his cheeks. It didn't matter; only business mattered. “You having fun, huh?”

Flaco had his face down looking at the white plastic face next to him. The mask was his identity. No one else's but his. He was hungry, not for any leftover scraps of prison food, but instead for the pleasant greed. For now, this mask right here, which was his now and no one but his, was the new face of Jose.

“Lose your tongue last week, pendejo?” Randy joked, snagging up Flaco's arm. His grip was firm, but not too strong for the gangster. Thugs don't cry, right Flaco?

“No,” Flaco struggled to talk, switching glances around the room. Not looking once at Randy's silky eyes. “I'm not in the best shape, man.”

That was all the Great Flaco could say. He said nothing more, and neither did Randy or the dead body. That would be except for the right knee Randy jabbed into Flaco's stomach, making a thud. That would surely teach him. A little cup of sharp pain, then a dab of dust from the stone rubbing into Flaco's eyes, and to top it off with Randy let his sneaker put a dent in the recruit's ribcage.

“The thanks I get,” Randy said, scornfully.

The fact was that Randy had gotten no thanks. There were no “thank you”'s in this game. If Randy had gotten a beating like that, he would have taken the message. But no, Flaco over here was an ignorant little thug. A new fish in the ocean.

Flaco groaned. He rustled on the stone floor, drooling on it. His mouth opened to scream, shout or anything really. But he didn't try to let the noise out. There was no one around to listen. Santiago was there, shrugging in the corner. That summed up to no help.

Oh well. He felt for Flaco, but it was all in the business. Ha, another score, Randy. But literally, he would use Flaco for something later. Something for the good of them both.

“Hard ass.” Randy spun around, walking out of the room. His hair dangled past his eyes, creating dark lines that cut his vision. But he could see very well where he was going. There was no door to open, just a doorway. The reason why there was a doorway was long since gone.

Ever since the whole country folded over into itself. Like it was the Titanic or something. Randy had read somewhere about the famous titanium ship turned seafood for fish. Heh, fish. Just like Flaco, except he was a new born. Lots of room to grow in now.

He twisted his head down the deserted hallway. He had nothing to worry about anyhow. The dead people were headed for the school. The soldiers too. They would all be killed, probably have their flesh ripped from them. Oh, the images.

The hallway was an eerie gray color. At the start of the year there was a whole lot of green. Oh yes, tons of it. The animals sang during that time. People sang too. Everyone was in harmony, easily forgetting about Randy. He was a nobody, wasn't he?

He cut down the hall, passing into another room. It was more or less rowdy; well, of course it was with a man wriggling on the cold floor. He had been handcuffed. Heh, the fact that they were plastic was the funny part. Randy knew the man's name too. He was Jacob. The ignorant father that had lost his son. How could he not see his son walk into the street? Oh yeah, another no brainer.

A quick look at the man and anyone could tell he was an alcoholic. A hardcore one.

“You okay there, princess?” It was a perfect match. Not the plastic handcuffs he had picked off a cop's body. Randy grinned to himself, knowing that now Jacob felt how it was to be on the other end of the stick. The cuffs must have been sharp or the man had been struggling with it. That explained the ruckus. Anyways, the perfect match was Jacob's pale face. An exact replica of the one he had seen on a newspaper.

Give or take, it was a day or two after the boy had taken his last breath.

"You've been on my mind a lot lately. To be or not to be, should you die?” Randy smiled, nodding his head in his pleasured world of his. This was the most fun he had had in a single two minute period. “It'll make no difference if you do, but ya could be useful. I might be lying, but I never lie. Fact right there.” Jacob gave him a dismissive look. “Shut up.” Now that Randy could see his face, he immediately noticed the damage. Several yellowish bruises, courtesy of Santiago's knuckles which could turn bloody and still put a grown man to sleep. Other than that, Jacob's hair was still neat. All natural. But he was still pale.

And they had only given him some scraps of food; maybe a dog biscuit or two.

“I fucking do what I want every single day, and you are going to help me now.” Randy's grin slipped off, dissolving into the dense air of the foreclosed building. “Or we can start off like we did last week, but this time it'll be more bloody."

Jacob looked weak. His stomach growled once, no twice. His tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth, stuck with no water like two opposite magnets. When was the last time he had drank water? A day? Maybe more.

"I am not your guest here. Not one of your oh-so aspiring henchmen.” His lips curled, looking angry. Mixed feelings—frustration and fear. “I don't work for criminal scum like you. And, oh boy, you bet that after this I'll make sure your ass is hanging from a tree."

Randy craned his head, regaining his sly smile. He chuckled, walking backwards towards the doorway. “We'll drop you off at the school,” he said. There was something about that smile. His teeth were whitened, not unique or anything. But something was.

“Free of charge.”

Issues

Step by Step: Act One
VoltagePrecautionsIn With The DeadShutdownPriority Over OptionAlarm
Step by Step: Act Two
SublimationDead AliveStalemateNot The LightThrough The WallsFission
Step by Step: Act Three
SoonVacancy30 SilversTrenched InBurning SkiesEmpty Omens
Step by Step: Act Four
The HoleLimestone and The RestStraight BelowPotter's GroundDepictionSouth Pass
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