After recruiting a drug-addled street rat to do his bidding, an eccentric inventor of designer drugs launches a campaign of violence and manipulation to cleanse the world of impure celebrities.
But as the street rat wakes up to what’s really going on, he’s not liking what he sees. He’s torn between getting sober and the drug-fueled haze that keeps him killing celebrities.
As the body count rises, a decision needs to be made. Either way, someone’s going to die.
* Includes bonus short story
“Cleansing Eden is a highly suspenseful read. Benjamin Sobieck has an inventive way with words. He writes with a voice that’s strong and uniquely his.” – Debbi Mack, New York Times bestselling author of the Sam McRae series
“Cleansing Eden by Benjamin Sobieck is a gripping story about individuals who give up more and more of themselves over time, becoming the things they hate.” – Michelle Peden Vasquez, Life in Review
“Benjamin Sobieck has got mad skills when it comes to taking complex characters, fantastic crime, murder, drugs, and good vs. evil, rolling them up into one and spitting out a novel that will twist and grip you from beginning to end.” – Molly Edwards, Reviews by Molly
“Drugs. Murder. Charismatic demagogues. What else does a reader need? Ben Sobieck’s first book, and a damn good one. He’s going to write more. And they will be just as great to read.” – B.R. Stateham, crime author
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They decided to bury him next to a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The location made sense for two reasons. A graveside service had taken place hours before. No one would notice a companion corpse with the recently bereaved. And the site was far from the road. No passersby would see them shoveling dirt.
The holiest, most celebrated woman in all of Christendom gazed down to the hell beneath her as the two men dug. Work in the softened earth came easy. The waxing moon bore witness only to the sounds of kwoosh and thump. Together, they formed a steady, chugging rhythm like a coal-fired train.
Bound to rail ties in the path of that oncoming train was a third, motionless man. He lay silent a few feet away. A spongy batter of blood and mud enveloped his tattered body. The cool Nevada night crisped the edges of any distinguishable features.
“I need a break,” the older of the two men said. He fell back into the soft mound of dirt they had made. A salty sea bled through his pleated khaki pants and Hawaiian shirt. Hand-shaped streaks of mud formed on his bald, egg-shaped head as he wiped away the sweat. The fingers were narrow and pale like his bony face. “You’ve got a young, 20-something back. You keep digging.”
The younger man bobbed his head in nervous agreement. It gave him time to check the road. No one there. He could make a run for it now.
He opted against it when his sight fell on the car. Hidden somewhere inside was a bag with something like blue grass clippings. No. He couldn’t run. Not after tonight. Not when he knew that bag was the only way to erase what happened. What he did.
The younger man plunged his shovel into the fresh grave. Thick ropes of muscle in his tan arms flexed as he heaved. Dirt from the shovel fell back into the grave as he brought it up.
“Hey, what’s with the shaky hands?” the older man asked. He propped himself up in the dirt with his elbows. “You afraid of getting dirty? Don’t worry about that. This is dirty work. Dirt feels nice and cool on my hot head.”
The older man picked up two handfuls of dirt and threw them up into the air. He smiled as the sprinkles of earth rained down back on him. “Just dig,” he said and chomped his teeth together in two quick, bony taps.
The younger man let the shovel drop to the ground. His bulky frame sagged. “Can’t,” he said. “Can’t.”
The older man hopped to his feet. “And why not?” He pointed to the third man. “You did that, didn’t you?” The older man planted a quick kick in the motionless man’s side. “And you did this, and you also did…” He paused as he raised his right foot above the man’s head. “…this.” The older man brought down his foot with the full force of his weight.
“Yeah,” the younger man said. His foot played with the edge of the shovel.
“Look, if it makes you feel better, the guy was as good as dead when we got to him. We just sped up what coke would’ve done in a few years,” the older man said. “And the world is better for it. This is a cause larger than ourselves.”
“Sure,” the younger man said. It made no difference to him why he’d killed. Just like it didn’t matter when his foster parents exploited his presence for state benefits. Was there food and dope at the end of the road? When he closed his eyes at night, a full belly and a foggy head was all that mattered.
The older man picked up the shovel and placed it in the younger man’s hands. “You’ve already done the hard part, the killing part. I am so damn proud of you. But we can’t just leave this piece of shit laying out here. There’s no going back.” He moved the younger man’s hands so the shovel pointed at the grave. “There’s only going down.”
“Need that stuff first,” the younger man said.
“You can have more Bluegrasse when you finished digging. It’s in the car anyway,” the older man said.
The younger man dug at the grave with renewed enthusiasm. After a few minutes, he said, “Hit something.”
“That would be the coffin,” the older man said. “That means it’s time for our friend to join the six-foot club.”
They dragged the third man over and dumped him into the grave. He landed with a muffled thump atop the coffin. His body lay limp and illogical like a haphazard mannequin.
The older man chomped his teeth twice at the younger man. Dirt tumbled down into the grave.
“It’s funny,” the older man said as he helped fill the grave. “People all over the world knew this guy from the movies he made. He made millions of dollars, won tons of awards and more Americans can name him than the president.
“And after all that, he gets buried under the name ‘Johnathon P. Doughe.’ Like John Doe, get it? Now he’s the epitome of nobodyness.”
The younger man kept pushing dirt. He glanced at the car parked on the other side of the cemetery.
“A name gives you an identity. But a name also controls your identity,” the older man said. “We took a famous guy and took away his name. Made him anonymous. We now control his identity.
“That’s only fitting, because he made his living as a Hollywood hack by stealing other people’s identities. A celebrity like him demands adoring fans replace their identities with his own. Put his face on their walls. Wear the clothes he wears. Become him in as many ways as possible. You follow me?”
“Good. This identity drain can only lead to populations of people with no true sense of themselves. They have defined their entire existence with Hollywood bullshit. And since Hollywood is full of lowest common denominator mediocrity, you get a society of mediocrity. Then the world goes in the shitter.
“It’s so simple, it’s incredible I even have to say it.”
After mixing any bloody clots of dirt into the grave, they headed back to the car.
“You’re OK, kiddo. I think I’ll keep you around,” the older man said. They approached the rusty, beige Cutlass Supreme.
“Have some Bluegrasse now?” the younger man said. He could barely make words in his dry mouth.
The older man smiled. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“Just be yourself.”
Sydney Grey’s pixilated image giggled in black-and-white on the TV. The dusty monitor hung loose in the corner of a stained ceiling panel. It looked down on a nearly deserted diner.
“Make every day a Lovingful one. From bracelets to bandanas, the online Lovingful store has everything you need to look your best – like me. Log on now and receive a special offer…”
“How goes your 2 a.m. breakfast?” the waitress said.
Watery syrup dribbled down the younger man’s chin. His eyes fixated on the plate in front of him.
The older man looked up and smiled. He set down a glass of orange juice next to an empty coffee cup.
“The sign out front don’t lie,” the older man said. “This really is the best damn hand-squeezed orange juice in all of Nevada.” He licked his lips. “Excellent.”
The waitress smiled. “You guys must work the graveyard construction shift. Comin’ in here so hungry and dirty.”
“You could say that,” the older man said. He pointed a slender finger at the younger man. “My friend here is a hard worker. He needs another round of pancakes.”
The younger man looked up long enough to give a nod.
“OK, be right back,” the waitress said. She scurried off to the dingy inner domains of Pete’s 24-Hour Pancake Emporium.
The older man leaned across the table. The restaurant was dead, but he still kept his voice low.
“You eat as much as you want. You deserve it,” the older man said. “Now you keep that mouth full and ears clear. Understand?”
The younger man nodded. A thick slug of sweat hustled fell from his nose into his meal. A side effect of the Bluegrasse.
“You seemed a little shaky back there. Just remember this. We. Are. Saving. The. World,” the older man said. “We. Saved. Lives.” He hung onto each syllable as if they were dangling from a cliff. “We. Saved. Minds. You understand that, don’t you?”
“Sure,” the younger man said.
“That was a rhetorical question. Keep your mouth shut,” the older man said. “These Hollywood types, they sell sex, you know? And these kids eat it up. Kids who are still shaping their identities.
“Now that guy we just put in the ground, he was 33, and he was in a ‘family film’ a few years back. In that ‘family film,’ he flirts with a character who is supposed to be 18. But she’s actually 16 in real life. Also in real-life, he gave her a ‘promise ring.’ The movie makes number one for four weeks. Next thing you know, every prepubescent girl in the fucking country is trying to seek their own ‘leading man.’
“So it was no surprise last week when cops found little Caylee Noriega dead in a ditch. Dressed up like a whore for the ‘movie star’ she met online.”
The older man searched the younger man’s face for outrage. He found only syrup.
“How could anyone think this isn’t sick?” the older man said. He began to scratch at his left eyebrow. “They rated that movie PG. Damn near everyone saw it.
“Hollywood sells sex to little girls. Think about all the stores that made a killing selling Daisey Dukes in the junior misses section. Don’t think for a minute they weren’t in on it, too.
“Do you know what we call people who use minors for sex? Pedophiles. Fucking pedophiles.”
The scratching of the older man’s left eyebrow turned maniacal. Scars of past lectures had left a streak of baldness. His finger ground the ditch wider, turning the skin red and white.
“But what’s sicker is that these pedophiles aren’t locked up. No, we wouldn’t do that. We treat them to millions of dollars. That guy back at the cemetery, he was one of them. Justice was finally served to that pedophilic piece of shit. His movies won’t be hurting little girls any more.
“And remember, it all starts with celebrities demanding their fans become them as much as possible. Talk the way they talk. Walk the way they walk. Think the way they think.”
The patter of footsteps came into earshot. The older man dropped his hand from his left eyebrow. The waitress set another plate of pancakes on the table.
“I brought you the check, too, unless you think this guy’s got room for another plate in there,” the waitress said.
“No, I think that’ll be all,” the older man said. He placed a $100 bill on the table.
“Sorry, sir, we don’t take cash larger than $20. It’s policy.”
The older man scooted the bill toward the waitress. “Keep the change. Otherwise, I’m sure I have the exact amount in my wallet.”
The waitress blushed.
“Well, I guess I can break policy just this one time,” she said. She pocketed the bill beneath her apron. “You guys have a great rest of the evening – or morning, I never know what to say this time of night, er, morning. OK? OK. I’ll leave you two be.”
The older man watched the waitress until she disappeared into the kitchen. The younger man gorged himself on the second plate of food.
“Bluegrasse makes you hungry, doesn’t it?” the older man said. “Digging makes me thirsty.
“You know, movers and shakers like us are always hungry, are always thirsty. But that’s why the world is ours. If you’re full, if you’re quenched, why should you seek change? How can you even see what needs to be changed? Answer me that one.”
The older man plucked the fork from the younger man’s hand.
“That’s why I must thirst. And you must hunger.”
The older man chomped his teeth twice.