As promised, here’s Chapter One of Show the Fire. This novel is finished (but for another read-through and some polish). Its release date is Saturday, 24 May.
And, as usual, there are SPOILERS here for the previous books in Signal Bend, especially Book Five. So don’t read on if you are concerned about spoilers and haven’t read All the Sky yet.
Here we go.
Note: This novel backtracks slightly in the series timeline, beginning with an event that takes place in Chapter Twenty-Three of All the Sky. Because we’re now in Len’s POV, very little of the last part of Book Five will be retold. But before you wonder how Omen, Wrench, and Mikey are still alive, I’ll just say up front that it’s because they’re about to get killed again.
SHOW THE FIRE, CHAPTER ONE:
Len saw Wrench walk toward the back of the truck with a strange sense of purpose, and he understood what the Prospect intended to do. Without thinking more, Len yelled, “Wrench, no!” And he took a running, flying leap toward the kid.
Not quick enough, though. With Perro Blanco cartel assholes coming up on them, while Len was still leaping and shouting the words that, had he gotten them out a second or two earlier, might have stopped a bloodbath, Wrench threw up the door on the back of the truck. Bullets began to fill the air before Len landed on the ground. Wrench landed right after him, half his head blown away.
No time for thinking. Len rolled quickly up to a squat, pulling his piece as he did so, looking for Isaac. His priority was Isaac. But he couldn’t see him anywhere. Fuck. Was he down already?
Feeling a tingle at his back, he spun, still in a squat, and took out the guy drawing a bead on him.
He saw Show, using his bike for cover. He saw Havoc, on the ground, in the open, drawing off to the right, toward the far side of the truck. He yelled, but Len couldn’t hear what he’d said. Maybe just a battle cry. Then Havoc turned away. He was bleeding, and too exposed, but Len could see that he’d jacked in. In situations like this, Havoc got a look about him, like he’d gone to another plane of consciousness, leaving his body behind.
Finally, he got Isaac’s position, at cover behind the truck. Good.
Len was out of cover himself, but as SAA his job was to know the situation of his brothers before he worried about himself. He scanned for the remaining kids—Omen and Mikey. Mikey was down, bleeding heavily from his neck, his chest rising in erratic gasps. Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.
Then, not far to his right, he heard the distinctive, troubling sound of a gun dry firing. The rapid, continuous clicks told Len all he needed to know. No seasoned cartel warrior would dry fire more than once. Few seasoned cartel warriors would dry fire at all. They’d keep track of their shots, as Len did. And Havoc. And Show. Isaac. Seasoned.
He turned fast to see Omen running backwards, firing his empty piece at a big, grinning lug, who was aiming an AK and obviously toying with the kid. Len’s rage at that belligerence matched his concern for the boy. What asshole plays around in the middle of a firefight? He sprung from his squat, into the air—his knees were thinking all of this bouncing around was really for much younger people—intending to bring Omen to the ground, roll, and put an end to the asshole, use the inattention that cocky bullshit suggested against him.
But the Perro decided to end his game at just about the exact moment Len leapt. Fire went through Len’s belly, and all his air left him in a whoosh. He landed hard on the ground. Before he could get his bearings, the Perro had taken Omen down, too; the kid dropped not five feet from Len.
The pain in his gut was like nothing he’d ever known, but when the Perro, still grinning, pulled his AK up and brandished it over Omen, Len forced his arms up and steady and put a bullet in his cocky, motherfucking head.
Len’s gun dropped from his hands as all of his strength left him, and his head dropped hard to the ground. A few minutes or seconds later, the air was quiet. He tried to lift his head again and understand how bad the situation was, but the pain in his gut exploded when he tried. Christ, it was like his belly was full of white-hot razorblades. He could feel his back sopping wet—through and through, then. That was good. If he didn’t bleed out, anyway.
“Len! Fuck!” Show dropped to his knees at his side and started taking his kutte off. Len thought that was weird, but then Show was taking his shirt off, too, and wadding it up. He pressed it into Len’s gut—fucking Christ that hurt more—and Len couldn’t hold back the groan.
“Sorry, brother. Gotta try to stop the bleeding.”
“Went through,” Len gasped. “We lost Wrench. Who…else?” Every word had to be dragged out of his throat. His entire body wanted to close in on his gut. It was hard to think, and the world was going dark around the edges, but he held all that off. “Who else?”
“We lost Wrench, Mikey, and Omen.” Isaac’s voice, dark with fury. Len tightened his focus and saw his President standing at his side.
“The kids. We…lost all…the kids.”
“Get me home. Don’t want…the bullshit here. Home.”
Havoc walked up then, his face bleeding, but otherwise whole. Len closed his eyes.
The last thing he heard before the darkness got loud was Show saying, “It’s through and through, but he needs real medical care. We need friends, Isaac. We’re far from home. We need friends, and now.”
Fuck, it hurt. Fuck! Of course he’d heard that gut wounds were an awful kind of pain—that shit was legendary—but he’d never had the misfortune to experience it for himself. He’d been shot before, in the arm and the leg. Those hadn’t felt like angel kisses, but what was going on inside him right now was something else. Staying unconscious was vastly preferable, but there was shit going on, and he had to try to focus. He was in an ER. He thought he was in Illinois, even though he’d said he wanted to go home. He didn’t recognize this ER, and he didn’t think he’d been out long enough to have made it back to County. Or, maybe he had. How did he know?
No. He knew the County ER. He wasn’t there. County had individual rooms. This one was a huge space with curtains dividing the beds. He was still in Illinois. Fuck!
But people in white coats were arguing, not far from the end of his bed. He looked around—why did moving his fucking head hurt his gut so much?—and he didn’t see any of his brothers. Not one. Had they gotten hauled in? Had there been more cartel trouble?
He hated not knowing. And he hated that he was alone. That was new—usually he didn’t mind being alone at all. Len was a loner. He loved his brothers and would die for any one of them, and he loved being neck deep in a pile of pink pussy, but he liked his own company most of all. He had friends, but he didn’t have a friendship with anyone like Isaac and Show had, or Havoc and Bart. He never had.
Well, that wasn’t true. Once, he’d been close to someone. A long, long time ago.
Once was enough.
If pressed, he supposed he’d say he was closest to Badger. But that was more of a mentor thing or something. Badge was a good kid. Len liked the kids—the new patches, all of them so fucking young. They’d brought new life into the club, and he thought they were becoming fine members. Loyal and ready.
With that thought, Len remembered that they’d lost three—three—of the kids on that parking lot. Including Omen, who’d been a patch for years now. Omen. God.
Fucking Wrench! What the fuck had he been doing? It was stupid of them to bring a Prospect on a cartel weed run. No—it wasn’t. Wrench was in danger of timing out. They’d needed to get a read on him or cut him loose. They couldn’t put a patch on a guy who couldn’t hold up his side of the table. They’d needed to know.
Well, they knew. Now he was dead. Mikey was dead. Omen. Christ.
Maybe him, too. This pain felt like death, no doubt. He closed his eyes, letting the arguing become a drone, and tried to pull the black up over his head.
He thought it was working. He could sense a big shadow cover the light through his eyelids. But then the shadow spoke.
“You around, brother?” Show.
“Yeah.” Even to his own ears, his voice sounded like that of a ninety-year-old man.
“You sure you want out? They want you in surgery.”
“Just fuckin’ patch me up and get me home.”
“It’s a gut wound, Len. Needs more than a piece of gauze and some tape.”
“Is it gonna kill me?”
“Could, I guess.”
“Then, fuck. Let me die on home ground. Don’t trust these fuckers.”
“Okay. We’re working on it.”
Show said something else, but Len let him fade away.
When Len next awoke, he was in a regular hospital room—a double, but the second bed was empty. His gut felt raw and open, and he shifted gingerly, feeling the pull of sutures, and turned the thin covers back to get a look. Not much to see but a wide, white bandage from one side to the other. Looked like he’d been out for a while. He had no idea whether he was still in Illinois, but he’d find somebody’s ass to kick if he was.
He looked around the room. Hospital rooms all looked alike—not like the ER. But then he caught a glimpse of the whiteboard near the door and saw the logo for County in the top left corner. Home, then. They’d brought him home. And he was still alive.
And, apparently, his nurse’s name was Mercy—really? Mercy?—and the LPN was Joan. Maybe Mercy would have some mercy on him and get him some pain meds. He felt around the bed and the railings until he came up with the nurse call button.
Somebody answered within a few seconds. “Mr. Wahlberg?”
“Yeah.” Christ, was that his voice? His throat felt like it had been gone over with a road grader.
“We’ll be right in.”
That was no lie—the door opened seconds later, and Dom came in, with two nurses right behind him, wearing scrubs in bright, cheerful patterns.
“Glad to see you awake, brother.” The kid smiled a little, but not much, and Len remembered that they’d lost Omen. Dom’s best friend. Since they were just small. They’d come in as Prospects together; they’d patched in together. They’d kept rooms side by side in the dorm. Fuck, for all Len knew, they’d fucked the girls together.
“Hey, Dom. How you doin’, kid?” It hurt to talk, but he was damn glad to see a brother. The thought that he’d been left alone had been pestering him since he’d woken in the Illinois ER.
He hadn’t been alone then, either. The Horde wouldn’t leave a downed man on his own. Why he was feeling all jittery about it was beyond him.
Dom laughed a little. “I should be asking you that question. You’re the one with your guts ripped out.”
“Actually, I should be asking that question.” One of the women in the happy scrubs stepped up from whatever she’d been doing at his IV stand. She was an angular, older woman, with severe, short hair and wire-rimmed glasses. The pink and purple flowers on her white top seemed excessively optimistic for her. Len read the plastic name tag hanging from the red lanyard around her neck. This was Mercy.
The other woman was much younger and filled out her scrubs nicely. She took his pulse and checked some machines and then stepped back. When Len caught her eye, he smiled. She smiled back. Oh, interesting.
Mercy’s sharp, nasal voice drew his attention from the treat in the corner. “On a scale of zero to ten, ten being unbearable, what would you rate your pain right now?”
Seven or eight, Len thought. “Four, I guess.”
She glanced down at him over her glasses and gave him a look that very clearly said, yeah, right. Then, with the faintest of gleams in her small blue eyes, she said. “Good! I’ll bring you some Tylenol, then.”
Fuck. Fuck. Len knew that he could revise his pain report and get the relief he actually needed, but that gleam in Nurse Ratched’s eyes made him stubborn. She didn’t like him. Well, okay. The game was afoot then. He nodded and resigned himself to misery for the duration of her shift. There was a clock directly above the whiteboard. It was nearly six in the evening. Shift change probably at eleven. He could stick it out for another five hours. Christ, he hoped she wasn’t working a double.
He also noted the date, written on the whiteboard. Two days had passed. What the fuck?
“Why was I out so long?”
Mercy stuck a thermometer into a plastic sleeve and then into his mouth. “I’ve called the attending. He’ll be here as soon as he can. He’ll answer all your questions then.”
When the thermometer beeped, she pulled it out and examined it. Then, with a crease in her brow, she gave him an appraising look, laying her hand on his brow. He closed his eyes at the relief he felt coming from her cool hand.
She shook her head and clucked her tongue. Now her expression was much softer. “101.7. You want me to ask you about your pain rating again? It’s not a contest. I’m sure you’re very, very tough. But being honest about your pain is about more than what you can handle. It tells us how things are going inside you.”
He sighed, then winced at the pain from taking the deeper breath. “Eight.”
With a nod, she patted his hand. Apparently, she had compassion for sick people, even if she had distaste for tattooed bikers. Good thing, her being a nurse and all. “There’s a note on your chart for morphine as needed. I’ll be right back. And I’ll see if I can get an ETA for the attending.”
Before he opened his eyes, he did a status check. The last long while—another two days, maybe?—had been fucking brutal. His fever had been on the rise from that 101.7, and he’d spent the night and the whole following day in a red haze of hot pain and weird thoughts. And then back in surgery. He thought. It was all very blurry. He seemed to remember more of the Horde around. Like a ring of leather ghosts around his bed.
He felt a little better. Clearer, anyway. And neither blazing hot nor ice cold. But weak as a runt kitten. Even the thought of lifting his head made him tired.
He turned his head at the sound of a familiar female voice, and he saw a gorgeous redhead sitting near the bed. Wearing her white coat. He always felt proud to see her in that coat. No reason he should, but he did. She was a club daughter, and she’d done amazing things in the world.
When he’d first gotten to know her, he was hanging around the club, just out of high school. She was, what, ten or eleven? Ten, he thought. Frank’s kid—Frank had been SAA back then. Tasha had run roughshod over all those salty men. Isaac had been maybe fifteen, just starting to step out from behind his old man. There’d been other club kids, but none who hung around as much as Tasha and Isaac. It had been clear to Len that Isaac was there partly as a kind of cover, some bodies between him and his father. It was just Isaac and Big Ike by then—his mom had hung herself when he was twelve, and his older sister had run off. Len had learned all that by listening carefully and paying attention. Just like he’d learned that Tasha’s mom had bailed on her and her dad when she was still in diapers.
She was a tough little thing, a total tomboy, all scraped knees and matted ponytails. Frank had been a sucker for her and let her have her head. Back in those days, she’d been almost feral.
And then she’d grown up. And oh, how she’d grown. Tall and willowy, her hair a flaming red. Isaac had snatched her up not long after he had a patch on his back. But after a couple of years, he’d gotten bored or something and had fucked her over, putting it all on display for the club to watch. Probably still to this day the shittiest thing Isaac had done, at least in Len’s memory. He still remembered that final scene in vivid detail.
And what came after it.
“You’re going to get me fired, if you croak. Just sayin’.” She grinned and stood. “How’re you feeling?”
Like a half-decomposed corpse. “Never better, doll. How’m I gonna get you fired?”
“Not important.” She laid her hand on his forehead. “Oh, that’s better. Looks like you’re through it. I’ll have the nurses call Dr. Ferland.”
She started to turn away, but Len grabbed her hand, ignoring the yank of pain through his gut. “Wait. Talk to me. What’s goin’ on?”
“Layman’s terms—they had to take your spleen. The bullet went through it, and at first they tried to save part of it—it’s an important organ to fight infections—but then what they left became infected, so they went back in and took it all. You’re going to spend the rest of your life like a pin cushion, Len, getting vaccines for all the things your spleen would have protected you against. But otherwise, you’re going to be okay.”
“Will I ride?”
“Yeah. Of course.”
Relief spiraled through his head. “Now tell me why I could’ve gotten you fired.”
She shook her head. “It’s nothing. I was trying to be funny. You’re what I’m worried about.” She pulled her hand from his grasp. “I need to let them know you’re awake and that your fever has broken. You need to rest. And I need to get back down to the ER. I’ll come up and see you later.” She bent over his bed and pressed her soft, full lips to his cheek. She let them linger for a second, and he closed his eyes.
“Don’t croak, circus freak.”
“No intention, Doc.”
She smiled down at him for a second, and then she turned and left his room.