By Ginger (AKA Sam, AKA Konspiracy)
Redemption is within everyone’s grasp. All it takes is the bravery to dare reach for it.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This version is an early draft with a temporary cover and/or incomplete version of the novel, The Bodyguard. I am in great need of beta feedback for this story, so please, feel free to comment with any feedback you have to offer. I’d be glad to return the favor.
I’m a self-published author of many works (also a manga artist). Searching the name Samantha (Ginger) Branum on amazon will reveal all my complete and published works. I removed many of them from inkitt when I felt it was time to publish, but as this is a very new and fresh project, I thought it best to post it somewhere with valuable readers & writers in case a helpful reviewer or beta-reader will spot something I need to fix.
I hope you enjoy the story, and remember, all writers need feedback more than a lot of readers realize. Feedback is very needed and extremely appreciated.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events & places is purely coincidental.
Basically, there is no Ireville, and the governor of Tennessee doesn’t actually own a company that manufactures ammunition (to the best of my knowledge). There’s no Governor Bernard and there’s no underground crime syndicate in Sevier County of east TN (again, to the best of my knowledge). Also, the explicit language expressed by the criminal elements of Ireville reflect realistic dialogue of criminal elements in the world; it’s written to capture the real atmosphere of criminals interacting, with no intention to offend anyone.
The novel The Bodyguard is for those looking for a world of uncensored excitement, not for the squeamish or the easily-offended.
Enjoy the ride! The journey of the bodyguard awaits!
Raymond Salem’s life of crime came to an end when the clock struck midnight.
The night was like any other, save for the brighter lights beyond his apartment complex and sirens in the distance. Sirens were common here, but they seemed louder than usual, plus more repetitive and persistent. It was new year’s eve, after all. Snowflakes descended above the Tennessee sky, covering Ireville of Sevier County in a thin blanket of icy fluff, and Raymond chose to—for once—retire early. He had a sinking feeling in the pit of his gut all day, though he wasn’t sure why. Perhaps it would be better to lay low this new year’s rather than partying. Every time he ignored his gut, he always paid for it later—usually with unwanted attention from the cops.
It was tricky, avoiding trouble with the police—luckily, he and his friends had allies within the precinct. Crime families weren’t especially ravenous in East Tennessee, but Ireville was an unaccounted-for cesspool.
Ireville was a big city, not nearly as big as places like New York—but large enough, comfortable and spacious enough to call home. And, since it neighbored Sevierville and Gatlinburg, it often saw tourists who couldn’t afford the extravagant tourist attractions in the nearby towns. Ireville was a hidden nook of crooked business behind an innocent cloak of tourists and Sevier County homebodies, the perfect home for screw-ups like Raymond. At least, he thought so.
It wasn’t as if Raymond participated in anything truly horrific—like sex trafficking or meth production—no, he preferred the ‘cleaner’ side of dirty business, transporting firearms and moving marijuana for buyers throughout Ireville. He and his friends had a good routine for it. One might even call it peaceful—it was a simple business. They were something of a family, a wide-spread network of closely-knit misfits making business with anyone and everyone who paid, even the strange Italian family who recently moved to Ireville from the great NYC. Raymond didn’t know much about them—only that they used to drift through the city like everyone else. They were once simple passerby criminals, stopping off in Tennessee to buy or sell before moving on. That was the regular routine for most buyers—after all, Tennessee wasn’t a nest for criminal families. No, it was merely a bridge state, a simple pit-stop for moving merchandise—but it seemed the Italian family was breaking this routine. Recently, they made themselves comfortable in Ireville, according to the friends and gossipers Raymond would occasionally hear from. The family went by the name of Acardi, and the Acardi family only lived in the city for about seven months so far. At first, they gave Raymond’s friends a bit of business—but lately, he’d been hearing more concerning things in his usual hangouts. Evidently, the Acardi family was more interested in fattening their own business rather than indulging in anyone else’s. That wasn’t good for Raymond’s friends—but they’d get by somehow. They always did.
Raymond mulled over the thought, tossing his thick black hoodie onto the back of the nearest chair as he wandered into his darkened apartment. The place was shrouded in blackness, small and tightly-fit, the three chairs from the kitchen table all turned in improper directions, two of them covered by clothes and other random items. Directly across from him was the window that overlooked the street below, the only source of light in the room, fluorescent brightness dimly illuminating his bed with an ominous nighttime glow. His rounded kitchen table, small and worn, was still covered with its usual abandoned beer cans, an ashtray filled with cigarette butts, and a few loose ramen noodle cups and plastic bowls leftover from his most recent microwaveable meals. Not a noise stirred, save for the couple next door, who were lost to another muffled shouting match on the other side of the wall. He sighed and moved toward the window, paying the noise no mind as he allowed his mind to wander.
Raymond stopped, leaning a knee on his bedside and gazing out the window distantly, his silver-gray eyes sparkling in the faint light’s reflection. He ran a hand down his narrow face, briefly scratching the goatee that curled around his thoughtful frown. His eyes danced from building to bright, glowing building—such a perfect place for his lifestyle, this was. Tennessee was a bridge state, a state connected to numerous others, making it a perfect cartel spot for transporting goods—it made his little career thrive. He and his friends met new faces alongside old allies from other states on a regular basis, random crime families passing through Tennessee and picking up needed supplies along the way, a crook’s ultimate pit-stop for any road trip. A faint, sly smirk emerged on his face as he pondered on this—just today, he drove Mack’s van toward the state line up north and handed the goods off to a group of usual buyers from Boston, and now, his duffle bag was stuffed with rent and electricity money. His apartment would be much less dark tomorrow.
Yet another productive day came to a sleepy end as the new year crept closer to flourishing, as the world beyond his dark and dingy apartment drank and partied like mad. All was well.
Raymond combed his short stringy hairs back, scratching at his widow’s peak hairline and stretching. After popping a few bones and yawning loudly, he kicked off his shoes and prepared to sink down onto his bed, finally ready for a well-deserved sleep.
Then—just as he sank his slender body onto the mattress—his front door gave a hard jerk.
Raymond froze, narrowing his eyes across the dark room and glaring at the door pensively, his heart giving a nervous jolt. The door gave another jerk, and he continued to glare, his expression hardening. Slowly, he moved to his feet, removing the Smoky Mountains painting from his wall and reaching into the hole behind it—a crooked hole in the drywall, where he kept his nine-millimeter tucked out of sight.
Just as his hand began to coil around the cold metal of the gun in the wall, he heard a voice that made a massive wave of relief wash over him.
“Ray!” the voice of Benny shouted from the other side of the door. “Let me in!”
Raymond gulped, exhaling a relieved cloud of breath and placing the painting back on the wall. Benny—one of Raymond’s oldest friends in Ireville—continued to twist and jerk the door knob frantically.
“Calm your shit,” Raymond barked as he approached the door. “Hold on a sec.”
Raymond barely managed to unlock the door before Benny shoved it open. Panting and exasperated, Benny stumbled into the dark apartment and quickly slammed the door behind him, relocking it and facing Raymond with an uncharacteristically urgent look about him. Benny’s long blonde hairs, usually wild and unkempt, were even messier than usual—his eyes were wide and shining a fearful blue, his mouth hanging slightly agape.
Raymond squinted oddly at him. “What? What’s your problem?”
“I—I just,” Benny sputtered, pausing and fidgeting repeatedly. “Sorry, man—I have to tell you something really important.”
“Okay,” Raymond mumbled slowly, cocking his head at Benny. “You bust in here in the middle of the night—after the day I’ve had—Christ, I just wanna sleep. Well, spit it out. Tell me the news. Hurry up.”
“Ray, I… just…” Benny shook his head numerous times, pacing on the spot and combing back his hair over and over.
Raymond glared at him questioningly.
Benny was a different breed from Raymond, considerably less-composed and less-restricted when it came to morality. Raymond had something of a code—there were certain things he refused to be a part of—but Benny had no such affliction. He, like many criminals, was willing to do almost anything to get the job done and get his payment. And now—as Raymond examined the frantic look on his face—he suspected that Benny had, once again, stepped a bit too far out of line. He’d probably gotten himself into trouble again, and he was running to Raymond for a solution, as usual.
“Jesus… what did you do?” Raymond sighed, shaking his head at Benny.
Benny returned his stare, curling his mouth and biting his lip. Then, Raymond noticed something strange—an expression he’d never seen on Benny before, one of utter regret. Raymond didn’t think Benny capable of such a face; most times, Benny had no regard for shame or remorse whatsoever. Now, however, he looked like an entirely different person—like someone who finally understood the severity of his less-than-reputable actions. Raymond could only imagine what drastic situation had spawned such an unthinkable visage on a person like Benny.
“What did you do?” Raymond repeated more firmly, feeling a pinch of uneasiness at the look of conflict strewn across Benny’s face.
“Stole some shit,” Benny breathed, his voice shaking. “From a… from the…”
“From some… some guy in… the Acardi family.”
“Oh—Jesus fucking Christ, Ben. Are you kidding me? Why in the fuck would you piss those people off?”
Benny began to tremble, wincing as if his next words wounded him from within. “Th-they cornered me and they—they made me tell them who I worked for. So… I told them…”
“You told them what?”
“I t-told them you made me do it—”
“WHAT?” Raymond’s heart gave a furious jump, his hands curling into fists as his teeth gritted together. “Are you—ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!”
Benny backed away several steps, staggering into the door and cowering.
Raymond stormed forward, feeling a wild flurry of things—the rest and serenity from moments ago vanished without a trace, quickly replaced with a bombardment of rage and betrayal, leering into Benny as if he was the lowest form of scum in existence.
“I didn’t make you do shit!” Raymond snarled, swatting at him and marching forward. “Why the fuck would you throw me under the bus like that?! Eleven years—eleven fucking years, we’ve known each other—and you stab me in the fucking back?”
“I’m sorry!” Benny wailed pitifully, tears streaming down his face. “Ray—I’m sorry!”
“No—you’re not fucking sorry,” Raymond glowered, his chest rising and falling with every furious breath, his eyes predatory as they locked onto his former friend. “You covered your own ass—and in the end, that’s what you’re always out to do. So, no, you’re not sorry. But you’re gonna be.”
“No, no, no—no!” Benny rambled quickly, scrambling away and waving frantically as Raymond drew closer. “No—listen—that’s why I came here, man! I wanted to tip you off—”
“Oh, yeah—a lot of fucking good that’s gonna do!” Raymond snapped. “Those greaseball motherfuckers are gonna have hitmen after my ass—what good does it do? Huh? Oh, wow, yeah, you tipped me off—yeah, that totally solves the problem—you’re a spineless piece of dog shit, you know that?!”
Benny continued trying to back away, but he found himself hunched in the corner beside the front door, trapped as Raymond loomed over him. Benny sank pitifully to the floor, and Raymond glared silently into him for several seconds before speaking again.
“Get up,” Raymond breathed, his voice now a faint, cold hiss. “Now.”
Benny gazed up at him, saying nothing and not moving.
“Get up,” Raymond repeated, hunching over him. “Now.”
Still, Benny made no attempt to stand.
Raymond quickly lost his patience—he snatched Benny up by the collar and reared back, throwing a hard punch and feeling his knuckles collide with Benny’s jaw. A harsh snap sounded and Benny let out a howling scream— Raymond threw him over the kitchen table, cans and plastic dishes flying amok as the table turned over—
Benny hit the floor and crawled away frightfully, Raymond advancing on him and lifting one of his chairs. He didn’t hear the hammering on his front door.
“Hey!” one of his neighbors shouted, banging on the door loudly. “What the hell’s going on in there?! I’m calling the police!”
Raymond didn’t hear them; he raised the chair and brought it down with all his might, shattering it into three splintery pieces as it exploded over Benny’s head. Benny sobbed and cursed profusely as he scooted away from the broken chair, blood pouring from his mouth and staining the front of his once-white wife beater.
Raymond lingered over him like a dark cloud, his teeth bared and his heart thrashing with anger. He should stop—he knew he should stop, now that Benny was bleeding and sputtering with a broken jaw—but his rage hadn’t yet subsided. Benny was one of his best friends, someone he trusted for years—no—the level of this betrayal called for more.
“GET UP!” Raymond bellowed.
Benny didn’t stand— Raymond grabbed him and jerked him to his feet again, holding him upright and giving him a final searing glare before the final blow.
With an incensed and animalistic scream, Raymond grasped Benny’s head with both hands and forced it downward, smashing his skull against the lopsided kitchen table—Benny let out a choking groan and fumbled to the floor instantly.
Raymond panted and wiped his face, stepping back and glaring down at his bloody friend. The neighbors continued pounding on the door, yelling that they’d called the police, but Raymond still didn’t notice; he remained lost in Benny, angry, frustrated—but now, also feeling a strike of fear shoot through him like a bolt of lightning.
Benny lay still, motionless with blood slowly saturating the carpet beneath him. His head was now pouring blood as well, and he was no longer sobbing, no longer cursing, no longer so much as breathing.
Raymond’s heart began to pound even harder, his breaths thin and rapid as his head began to go light, shock overwhelming him entirely. He slowly drew back, placing a hand over his mouth and digging his fingernails into his cheek, a sense of nausea rising up inside him as he gazed into Benny, motionless, bloody, and now completely unresponsive.
Minutes could have passed, or hours—he couldn’t know. The next thing he knew, the police were banging on the door, and the criminal Raymond Salem faced his final moment of freedom as the clock struck midnight.