R.S. Belcher, the acclaimed author of The Six-Gun Tarot and The Shotgun Arcana launches a gritty new urban fantasy series about the mysterious society of truckers known only as, The Brotherhood of The Wheel.
In 1119 A.D., a group of nine crusaders became known as the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon--a militant monastic order charged with protecting pilgrims and caravans traveling on the roads to and from the Holy Land. In time, the Knights Templar would grow in power and, ultimately, be laid low. But a small offshoot of the Templars endure and have returned to the order's original mission: to defend the roads of the world and guard those who travel on them.
Theirs is a secret line of knights: truckers, bikers, taxi hacks, state troopers, bus drivers, RV gypsies--any of the folks who live and work on the asphalt arteries of America. They call themselves the Brotherhood of the Wheel.
Jimmy Aussapile is one such knight. He's driving a big rig down South when a promise to a ghostly hitchhiker sets him on a quest to find out the terrible truth behind a string of children gone missing all across the country. The road leads him to Lovina Hewitt, a skeptical Louisiana State Police investigator working the same case and, eventually, to a forgotten town that's not on any map--and to the secret behind the eerie Black-Eyed Kids said to prowl the highways.
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|Product dimensions:||6.20(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.10(d)|
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The Brotherhood of the Wheel
By R. S. Belcher
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2016 Rod Belcher
All rights reserved.
Jimmie Aussapile's Peterbilt tractor trailer thundered down dark I-70, relentless as an ugly truth. The big rig's engine was the booming voice of an angry octane god, demanding you lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way. Jimmie navigated the shifting maze of weaving cars. He blew past the shadowed towers of other 18-wheeler cabs, the faces within illuminated by the ghostly green light of instrument panels, speaking their tales to their brethren across the ether of Channel 19. Long-haulers wired on caffeine or meth or song or sweet baby Jesus. Whatever it takes to keep the gears jamming, the cargo flowing, and the rig between the lines.
Jimmie was a tall man, still in decent shape for his age. He had been lanky a long time ago, but now he cultivated a solid beer gut. His hair, what was left of it, was blond and had completely abandoned his head except for the fringes and the long ponytail that fell between his shoulder blades. His bare head was covered by a gray mesh baseball cap that had a hideous character from a cartoon called Squidbillies on it. The cap had been a Father's Day present from his little girl last year and Jimmie wore it whenever he was on a run, for good luck, regardless of how much shit he got for it. His eyes were a fierce green that seemed to glow brighter than the lights from his instruments. He wore a pale scrub of a "road beard," and he had a lump of chaw in his right cheek. His teeth were yellowed from the habit and a little crooked. He wore a black T-shirt that sported a faded Harley-Davidson logo on its pocket. Over that was an open denim work shirt, and over that was a black Air Force–style crew jacket with a patch of an American flag on the left arm. He wore a wallet on a chain, attached to his worn jeans, and a straight razor was tucked away in one of his steel-toed work boots.
Jimmie scanned the other big trucks on the road, looking for a specific one — a Mack, with a yellow cab and a yellow-and-white trailer, and a specific driver — a man he and the others had been hunting for a long time but had always been one step behind. I-70 was a primary artery through St. Louis, considered to be the nation's first interstate highway. Traffic was heavy tonight with 18-wheelers trying to keep to their schedule in spite of the bad weather.
Jimmie's rig was a Peterbilt 379. The cab was white, with a red Jerusalem cross pattern on the hood and the doors. The truck had chrome pipes and a custom grille carrying the mark of the Crusaders' cross as well. His handle, Paladin, was written on the driver's-side door, like a signature, in red paint.
The cab swayed rhythmically like a baby's cradle in time to the hum of the road. An amulet of Hermes, a small clay tablet depicting the Egyptian god Min, a Saint Christopher medallion, a gris-gris dedicated to Legba, Loa of the Crossroads, and dozens of other charms and talismans to gods and saints, patrons and protectors of travelers and roads, swung from the console above Jimmie's windshield. Aussapile downshifted to avoid a slow-moving car. His gearshift looked like a pistol-grip shotgun partially sheathed in the transmission well. The red Crusaders' cross was stamped on the pearl handle grip of the shotgun.
The CB radio squawked. A distorted voice called out through the shroud of static, a ghost from the electromagnetic spectrum speaking in the secret language of the road, a code only partly known to laymen and lawmen. Jimmie knew when you were on a long run those voices gave you comfort in the knowledge you were not alone in the wasteland of the Road, not alone driving throughout the heartland of America in the darkest of hours, the only soul awake in the lands of the dreaming dead.
"Breaker, breaker, Paladin, got your ears on? C'mon," the voice on the CB said. "This is Dallas Star, rolling a bobtail, southbound, headed home. I got nothing for you, brother. I don't see your lost bulldog. Over."
Jimmie tapped the mike button for the wireless headset he wore as he steered the 18-wheeler through the freezing rain he had fought since Nashville. Technically, it was spring, but winter wasn't leaving without a fight. The highway was a black mirror, reflecting the sudden, stabbing planes of crimson brake lights and the baleful lances of high beams — celestial phenomena from some diffused void on the other side of ice-covered asphalt.
"Much obliged, Dallas Star," Jimmie said into the mike. "Have a good one today and a better one tomorrow; you're clear. Break 1-9, this is Paladin. Anyone got a 20 on that yellow-and-white bulldog? Headed out of Nashville, running west on I-70? We're on a clock here, brothers and sisters. Anybody got anything?"
The man in the yellow Mack truck had tortured, raped, and murdered six women in five states in the past year. He was a long-hauler, and a little over four hours ago he had abducted woman number seven, a "lot lizard," a truck-stop prostitute, from the Nashville TA truck stop. Her pimp and a few of her friends had seen her get into the yellow truck, and then the truck drove away with the woman screaming for help, struggling to get out of the cab, only to be forced back inside by the driver.
Several drivers, lot lizards, lumpers, and lot attendants had seen the whole thing play out, and word quickly and quietly spread across the radio frequencies to Jimmie, who was running a load of steel up to Illinois. Jimmie sent out a coded message on Channel 23 to make sure he wasn't stepping on the toes of any of the others. It was a courtesy, but Jimmie was glad when all he got back was "You're point on this, Paladin; call the play." Jimmie had seen hardened gearjammers weep like children when they found the desecrated body of victim number three on the blacktop shoulder of I-55 near Sikeston about nine months ago. This son of a bitch had been like a ghost, but now ... now Jimmie had him, could feel him close, feel his oily soul somewhere up ahead. He thought of the terror eating at that poor girl right now, and, as always, he thought, What if it was Layla or Peyton in that truck, waiting to die.
He accelerated. Somewhere up ahead was his man, and this was ending tonight.
The sociopath's thoughts were full of hooks piercing flesh, electricity blistering skin, and sour, stale smells that equated to associations not found in a human lexicon. He was behind the wheel of his own 18-wheeler. He owned it. He owned the whimpering, sobbing piece of trash cuffed and gagged behind him in the cab of his Mack, too. He could hear her trying to talk, trying to pray behind the cloth curtains that separated the driving area from the back of the cab, where he worked and played. Her voice was muffled by the tape over her mouth, but he could hear her sobbing, choking, snot-filled pleas. He thought she was praying to him. His rig was his universe and he was god here, master of life and death.
His birth name was Wayne Ray Rhodes, but that name had meant nothing to him since he read the book. His true name was the Marquis. That was what he called himself in the writhing snake pit of his mind; it was what he made the trash call him as he tortured them. It was the name they had to use as they begged for their lives. He didn't know what a marquis was. It sounded cool as shit, though, and real badass. Nobody fucked around with someone named "the Marquis."
Marquis was the name of the fella who wrote the stained, coverless paperback he found on the piss-covered floor of a rest-area bathroom. The name of the book was The 120 Days of Sodom, and while Wayne Ray didn't understand a lot of the fruity egghead talk in between the fucking, the descriptions of having control over a piece of trash, of degrading her, giving her pain, and being the god who decides her fate ... now, that he understood, the way a carrion eater instinctively hungers for death. He had known what he was at sixteen when he tortured his first prostitute, burning her with cigarettes before he blew her head off with his .38.
He had been so inspired by the book that he had converted the sleeping compartment behind his cab into a torture chamber, complete with suspended chain restraints, a surgical table, and a horrific array of torture implements both medieval and modern. It was wired for video and sound, of course, and the Marquis had an extensive collection of recordings of him interrogating the trash, torturing them, and then, of course, disposing of them. In his mind, the Marquis wasn't murdering or even killing anyone; he was a trash man, and he was disposing of walking garbage. It would have made Jimmie Aussapile physically ill to see just how many DVD recordings, each in a specially labeled jewel case, the Marquis possessed in his rolling dungeon. It was far more than six.
On the filthy bunk on which the Marquis slept, on the semen-, shit-, and blood-covered sheets, dusted with Fritos chip crumbs, a nineteen-year-old girl struggled against the cuffs that pinned her arms behind her back. Like the Marquis, she, too, had a handle, a secret name. They called her Supergirl in the truck-stop parking lots because of the tattoo of the stylized "S" shield she had on her lower back. She had a real name from before. Before she left the foster home, before the hitting and the nightly visits by the thing that forced her to call him Dad. Her name was Marcia, Marcia Hughes.
At first Marcia figured this was going to be another rough trick, another rip-off, when the nasty, squint-eyed old man smacked her and started to drive away. Cuff her, rape her, and push her out of the cab at about ten miles an hour. It happened, usually a few times a month, less if she was lucky. Her worse concern had been that she wouldn't lose any more teeth in the transaction.
But as the truck bounced onto the on ramp of I-70 a Mason jar rolled across the floor. There was something floating in the cloudy fluid inside the jar. It was pale and spongy, with some dark hair, swaying like seaweed in the ocean, sloshing around. Then Marcia saw the harsh, fluorescent light above the steel table in the cab catch the gleam of the clitoral piercing and Marcia knew, she knew. It was the decaying remains of a woman's mutilated vagina. The fear was screaming, screaming like a fire alarm in her mind. This was no rip-off, this was one of the tricks that went past sickness; this was one of the monsters that rolled in off the highway to the lots, one of the things that gobbled you up and you were never seen again. Marcia screamed, her patchwork soul wanting to flee her body, but the duct tape held it in. She was gone. No one would ever find her, no one would ever know. No one would miss her. No one cared.
The Marquis's truck passed the I-70/I-44 interchange, headed south. On the left, the Gateway Arch rose, illuminated, out of the icy mist, a monument to America's expansion; the never-ending hunger to move farther out, the drive to move faster, and to move with unfettered freedom. The American dream was a race. The Mack truck's passage did not go unnoticed.
* * *
"Break 2-3, Paladin, Paladin, you got your ears on?" Jimmie's CB crackled. The voice held a distinctive New York accent. "Handle's Mr. Majestyk. I'm northbound on 70, just past the I-44 exchange, and I just had eyes on your yellow-and-white bulldog. He's headed southbound on 70, coming up on the 251C exit. You copy me?"
Jimmie stomped the accelerator pedal, a wolf grin spreading on his face. "Hot damn!" he said, and clicked the mike open on the radio. "10-4, Mr. M! I owe you big. Thank you kindly."
"Just go get that stronzo, Paladin. I'll be 10-10, give me a shout-out if you need any help. The wheel turns, brother. ..."
Jimmie's truck skidded as he threaded between the traffic. The ice was starting to make the highway a lot more dangerous to traverse at the speeds he was moving. "Breaker 2-3, this is Paladin. Is there anyone out there in a position to get that truck off the road, c'mon?"
Blue lights strobed in Jimmie's side mirror. A Missouri state-police cruiser had slid up behind him. "Aw, damn it!" Jimmie said. He switched the CB channel over to 19, the one used by most trucker drivers and monitored by the police. "Break 1-9 to that bubble-gum machine riding my tail, I got a real good reason I'm speeding, Officer. I ..."
"Boy, you got any idea how fast you going?" The trooper's voice came in clear over the CB speakers in Jimmie's cab and over his headset. "You doing in excess of twenty-three miles per hour, now aren't you, son?"
Jimmie's eyes widened and the smile returned. "Yes, sir, I reckon I am, Officer," he said, and switched back over to Channel 23. "Break to that county mountie back there. You one of us? C'mon?"
"Go get him," the trooper replied. "I'll clear the road for you if you slide on into the back door here. I'll put out a BOLO on his truck right now. Once you land him, I'll get you all the backup you need. Over." Jimmie could almost hear the grin in the trooper's voice. "Oh, and consider this a warning about that speeding, Paladin," the trooper said. "You slow your ass down, coming through my jurisdiction, cowboy. The wheel turns."
Jimmie laughed. Damn if the wheel didn't turn.
The state trooper's siren howled and the cruiser sped from behind Jimmie's rig to in front of it, going well over a hundred miles an hour. Cars and trucks began to clear the lane for the trooper, and Jimmie accelerated to follow his escort, yanking the cord for his air horn and letting loose with a rebel yell.
The Marquis slowed to a near-crawl. "What is this shit," he muttered. Traffic had thickened. Ahead, there looked to be some kind of road work going on. There had been no signs or notifications on the digital message boards that dotted the highway. A crew of orange-vest- and hard-hat-wearing Missouri Department of Transportation workers with flashlights were directing traffic to move slowly through the choke point, marked with crimson road flares and a flashing yellow arrow sign. They looked thrilled to be out in the freezing rain. Cars and trucks honked as they jockeyed to merge from three lanes down to one. A portable digital road sign built into a trailer announced, All multi-axle vehicles must detour to Exit 209A Gratiot Street. Follow signs to detour route.
The Marquis's truck slowly merged into the single open lane and began to descend the exit ramp. One of the highway crew, a foreman, unclipped a handheld CB radio that was tuned to Channel 23 and spoke into it. "Paladin, this is Roadway Rembrandt. Your bulldog is off the highway and getting detoured right to where you said you wanted him. The wheel turns."
Almost a thousand miles away, outside Washington, DC, in the suburbs of the nexus of federal power, FBI Special Agent Cecil Dann was asleep in his recliner for the third time this week. A stack of case files sat next to the chair, beside his dinner plate and the remains of the meal his wife, Jenna, asleep upstairs, had left in the fridge for him. The Danns' dog, a coal-black pug named Oscar, eagerly finished off Dann's dinner. The flat-screen television droned on, showing the John Wayne version of True Grit. Oscar didn't seem very interested as he gnawed on the steak bone. Agent Dann even less so as he snored. Dann's cell phone rang; the ringtone was the theme to Dragnet. He sputtered and opened his eyes, sitting up, and spilling the files he had fallen asleep reading.
"Wha ..." he muttered, wiping drool from the side of his mouth. The phone rang again. "That's not even my ringtone."
Dann's hair was salt-and-pepper, and it made him look more like a college professor than a federal agent. He had played CIAA baseball through school, had almost gone on to the major leagues before the FBI recruited him straight out of North Carolina A&T. He still had the build and the gait of a pitcher. Dann was the assistant special agent in charge of a division of the FBI's Violent Criminal Apprehension Program called the Highway Serial Killings Initiative. It was a program established by the FBI back in 2009 to track unsolved murders that occurred near interstate highways and to look for the patterns that might indicate the signature of a serial murderer. There was a map of the United States on Dann's office wall. Each red dot on the map was an unsolved murder on or near the highways. The map bled red — over five hundred cases reported, with more coming in every day. The rough estimate was that, at any given time, HSKI had about two hundred suspects committing serial murder across the roadways, a nightmarish circuit of pain, loss, and death. HSKI had cleared twenty-five cases during its first year in business, but, as the stack of files Dann brought home with him every night indicated, the FBI was bailing water with a teaspoon.
Dann blinked and looked down at the screen of his ringing smartphone. Where the number of the incoming call should be there was a line of text instead: "Answer it Cecil."
He answered the call with a swipe of his finger. "How the hell do you do that?" he said into the phone. "Do you have any idea what time it is you're calling? Because I don't, but it's late, I know that!"
Excerpted from The Brotherhood of the Wheel by R. S. Belcher. Copyright © 2016 Rod Belcher. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
When I first picked up this book, I wasn't sure what to think. It took me a little bit to get into it, but once I did I mostly definitely wanted to do some late night reading. Clearly, this author knows what he's doing and I am hoping that the sequel features Hector aka Heck, the Scottish biker & his mentor.. paladin aka Jimmy the trucker
Have read his Series of books, found them all to be entertaining and nicely written. Good story lines and characters are well developed. Would love to see series continue in all his books, another Brotherhood of The Wheel especially.
A great new addition to R.S. Belcher's works! I loved learning a bit more about the characters from Brotherhood of the Wheel in a fast paced story. It was a little confusing jumping between the 2 story lines and wondering if they would ever come together. I really like these characters and can't wait to read more about them.
I thought this would books was going to be more “Criminal Minds” but ended up being more supernatural than I was expecting. The story has a good premise but there were a couple of things that I didn’t like. First is that I never felt a connection with the characters. We don’t get enough background so they feel more like windown dressing. Speaking of no background or color for that matter, I felt as if we never really get much information on the Knights who are supposed to be the main force in the story. There was a brief explanation but it wasn’t enough to be a main force in the story. Lastly I felt as if there was no resolution to the story. We don’t know what the main evil force was or if it will be back. On the plus side there was tons of action but not enough to really redeem the story as a whole.