As Samuel parked his bike outside The Priest’s clubhouse, he was reminded of the day twenty years ago when he’d returned home from his previous, and so far last, stint in prison. He wasn’t sure what it was that had triggered the memory of that crowd of people waiting outside for him. It might have been the weather. The anniversary, when he thought about it, was more than a month away. Maybe it was the spring freshness to the air beginning to reclaim ground from the humidity of the day as evening closed in. He’d never forgotten the taste of freedom on the air that day.
The clubhouse had changed some since that day. The limestone gravel spread over the drive in front of the clubhouse building that had been relatively new on that day was showing its age now. The window on the gable end that faced the road had been bricked up after an unfortunate incident involving some semi-automatic fire some years previously. It had been Dean’s suggestion to replace the small club sign at the apex with a mural that covered the entire wall as a statement that they were unbowed. The result was a mix of styles something between graffiti and realism in white silver and black. It was very modern by Samuel’s tastes, but it worked, and it certainly made an impression as you pulled up through the avenue of wood and scrub.
The garage building had been extended further. Originally it had been a convenient place for the members to build and repair their own bikes, and then it had attracted some interest from townsfolk which had turned it into a viable business. Now they were surfing the wave of MC hype. In the wake of televisions shows about bikers, both ‘real’ and scripted, they were now taking on a lot more work producing customized motorcycles of all origins rather than concentrating on Harleys.
From the neat line of bikes resting on their kickstands outside the building, and the Dodge Ram parked at an odd angle on the opposite side of the open end of the driveway, Samuel guessed that he was the last to arrive for Friday Church. His wife was going to be the death of him. He wasn’t quite late, not yet, but Moira grabbing him on his way out of the door had seriously tested his time-keeping ability. Her reasoning was that he’d get drunk later and end up sleeping at the clubhouse so she was getting hers while she could.
His later than usual entrance raised a few eyebrows in the main room. Samuel was mildly irritated that he didn’t have time for a drink beforehand, but he intended to make up for it later, so he walked straight through the room without stopping until he reached the double doors at the end that led to the Chapel, their private meeting room. He paused to drop both his personal mobile phone and the unregistered club phone into the wooden box that had been hung on the wall next to the doors solely for such a purpose, before proceeding through the doors and taking his seat at the head of the table.
The plain slab of golden pine shone with polish despite the scars of hundreds of cigarette burns and bottle rings. Gouges from be-ringed fists emphasizing opinions and scratches from many, many other actions throughout the decades mingled with the grain and knots of the wood. There was a lot of history in this table, fifty years worth. Samuel felt the reassuring weight of that history every time he ran his hands over the smooth wood. Even as President, at thirty-five Samuel had been considered among the club’s new blood. With Kong and Fletch still remaining from the original band of his father’s friends that had formed the club, he wasn’t an old-timer yet by any stretch of the imagination, but he certainly wasn’t a young blood anymore.
He could see a small portion of the main room beyond the open double doors. They had refurbished the clubhouse after the incident that had resulted in the bricking up of the gable window. Now the club room at least didn’t look like a throwback to a ‘70s dive bar, which ironically enough was when it had last been decorated in any shape or form before it had been torn up by bullets. The bar had been refitted; the original wooden flooring had been re-sanded and re-varnished. New tables, chairs and couches had been bought in.
It was nothing fancy. Given the good-natured fights, and sometimes ill-natured ones, that broke out occasionally and all the physical activities that took place here as well as the heavy drinking and smoking, it wouldn’t do to have surfaces or fabrics that were high maintenance or that anyone was fussy about cleaning. Samuel had become so used to the smell of the place that he barely even noticed it anymore, but Moira regularly assured him that even starting from fresh plaster hadn’t eradicated the ingrained aroma of years of alcohol, smoke, men and sex. Two stripper poles rising from a small stage had been installed in one corner of the room. There was a pool table to one side that Samuel could not see but he noticed the snick of pool balls ceased as the game was abandoned. One of the garage bays had been given over as a gym when that part of the building had been expanded and now contained an array of weight lifting equipment in addition to a boxing ring.
Samuel observed his brothers as they filed in. Yes, the deal with the Rojas was profitable, but it had not been without its expenses. They’d lost ten brothers in the last twenty years. Double that number had spent long stints in the ICU at St Raphael’s Hospital. Gerry Palmer was serving a serious sentence in the state penitentiary for manslaughter. It was testament to Samuel’s planning, bribery and cautiousness that so few of the club members had served any time at all considering the drugs, guns and people they were muling across state lines.
Terry Adams took his seat first. He’d been the Vice President since Samuel had been voted as keeper of the gavel when his father had died prematurely from cancer at the age of forty one. Louis ‘Snaps’ Pinet had been his father’s original Vice President. Samuel didn’t have anything against the man and he knew he’d served his father well, but he’d been keen to make his own appointment in such a supportive role. Snaps had died in the shootout that had torn up the clubhouse. Terry had been a natural choice for Samuel; his shrewd green eyes missed nothing. His brain never seemed to stop working, evaluating angles and options, but his demeanor was deceptively calm. Most people didn’t notice him noticing them until it was too late.
When he’d taken the helm, Samuel had retained two of the roles his father had appointed, Russell ‘Fletch’ Fletcher and Derek ‘Kong’ Monk. Fletch had been the club’s Sergeant at Arms, and Kong still held the role of Treasurer. Fletch had stepped down just over a decade after Samuel had taken the gavel, and Samuel had replaced him with the then thirty-year-old Steve ‘Dizzy’ Disraeli. Dizzy had not earned his nickname due to his manner or way of thinking. He was steady, and his louche frame and gait belied a cold brutality that could be employed readily when it was needed. Dizzy, one of two Texas natives at the table, permanently had a Stetson jammed over his scruffy blonde hair when he wasn’t wearing a helmet. There had been jokes about whether he ever took it off to fuck and sleep for as long as he’d been in the club. The sweetbutts, seeing the humor in that since the first day that Dizzy’d set foot in the clubhouse, steadfastly refused to be drawn on the subject and kept up an impressively united silence.
The older members were usually first through the doors, and true to form they were in their seats before Dean, Tag and Crash had passed the doors. The last person to enter the room was Charlie ‘Chiz’ Davis, the second Texan, club enforcer and Dizzy’s right hand. Chiz was also about to be the main topic of their regular weekly meeting. Chiz was a sturdier, stockier, altogether more beaten up version of Dizzy and he didn’t wear a Stetson, instead preferring to keep his scalp shaved smooth, but there was an equal amount of debate as to whether it was an image thing or whether he was hiding a bald spot. He was a few inches shorter than the SAA, but that didn’t mean he was a dwarf. At six foot five Dizzy had a height advantage over every man at the table. He was rivaled only by Fletch, but age had stooped the old man’s shoulders some.
Once everyone was seated and had mostly finished fidgeting as they got comfortable and lit cigarettes, or a cigar in Kong’s case, Samuel banged the gavel three times and called the meeting to order.
“Right boys. Let’s get the boring stuff outta the way first ‘fore y’all nod off. Kong, what ya got for us?”
There were as many twitters of laughter as there were groans as Kong began to read through the treasury notes that outlined the dues paid and outstanding and the state of the club’s legitimate and illegitimate earnings. Everything was still steady so far. He handed over to Dean, who outlined the state of play regarding the town itself. Dean was a charmer, cocky and flirty with the ladies and amiable and assertive with the men. Samuel had given him the task of being the everyday point of contact for the townsfolk, particularly when collecting the protection fees. It was a role that Dean excelled in. Samuel swore the boy could sell ice to Eskimos.
Samuel had to bang the gavel to restore order to the table when joking about the rack belonging to a new waitress at the diner got rowdy. “Now for the serious stuff. Pay attention. Terry, floor’s yours.”
Terry leant forward, elbows on the table, hands clasped, and looked at each of his brothers before speaking. “We’ve got a date to make a pickup in two weeks. The pipeline’s been moved again a few miles up the border, but that don’t change anythin’ for our arrangement. It’s just a pre-emptive strike ‘fore the authorities found the old crossing. The Rabids’ll catch the package, nothin’ breathin’ in this one. They’ll meet us at the usual place. Since this one can be contained without a truck, we’re going under the cover of a toy drive. Our friends will have a van full of stuffed animals destined for a hospice in Florida.”
Terry turned to Dizzy, who continued. “We’re travelin’ light on this one, keep our profile down. We’ll pick up a couple of other charters on the way as cover. The line up is Samuel, me, Dean and Tag since Chiz is out of commission.”
Samuel took up from Dizzy’s pause. “And that, boys, brings us to our next item on the agenda.” Samuel looked pointedly at Chiz who shuffled in his chair and then grimaced in pain. His right leg was currently stuck out at an awkward angle, encased in plaster from his foot to his thigh. His jeans had been shredded to accommodate the cast.
Dean chipped in next with a good-natured grin. “Call yourself a fuckin’ outlaw. Everythin’ we’ve been through, all the people you have personally pissed off; and you’re laid up because you fell off a fuckin’ ladder hangin’ fuckin’ curtains!”
Everyone had known the circumstances of his injury, but Chiz still had to wait for the laughter and ribbing to die down before he could get a word in. “Yeah, yeah, I was helpin’ Dolly out and there were two flights of stairs involved.”
“Hey! Leave my old lady out of this.” Terry called across the table with mock offence.
“Bet that’ll be the next biker show, ‘Extreme Makeover Outlaw Edition’. Bet I could sell that shit to the networks.” Dean’s comment had the table in uproar again and had Chiz struggling to grab his crutches and push himself out of his seat.
Samuel banged the gavel, once, hard. “Now, now boys. You can sort it out in the ring… when you’re able.” He added with a wink in Chiz’s direction, receiving a silent scowl in return. “We need a full strength crew and I’m not just talkin’ ‘bout coverin’ the runs. I’m sure you’ve all seen in the news about that nice set of heads that got left in Reynosa. We can expect shit to get hot again soon, I think. The Rojas will be protectin’ their pipeline from the Mexicans; that could well mean blowback on those of us on this side of the border. There’re too many empty seats at this table, we need to add to our number. The Prospects are extra hands, but we need experience.”
“You thinkin’ we need to patch over a charter, boss?” Tag asked. Despite being a member of an outlaw motorcycle club, Kelvin ‘Tag’ Blanchard had a naiveté that would not be educated, and a talent for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Samuel considered him to be a liability and so kept him away from the serious side of club business as much as he could, since there was no valid reason to take the boy’s patch.
“Not my style, brother.” Samuel replied patiently. “I want people at this table who want to be here. I’m askin’ you all to keep your ears open for anyone lookin’ to make a move. Put the word out that there’s a home here for anyone who likes a bit of excitement with their cereal.”
“I got someone in mind I’d like to speak to, boss.” Chiz offered.
Samuel raised an eyebrow, giving permission to continue.
“The Rabids have a full table at the moment, too full. They got no room to bring Prospects through and it’s causin’ them some issues. One of their guys, Shark Reardon, I know him from back when we were kids. He’s solid, just what we’re lookin’ for.”
Samuel nodded. “Okay, you think he’s it, you speak to him. If he’s open to a jump or a loan I’ll talk with Jimmy, see if we can set some wheels in motion.” Samuel also suspected that Fletch and Kong didn’t have too many outlaw years left in them, either. It was time to bring the Prospects on and time to recruit.
“Right, that’s all boys.” Samuel gaveled the meeting to a close. “Go on, get outta here. Don’t keep the girls waitin’.”
It was normally Chiz who was first to the door after Church, but he was still struggling with his crutches as Dean flung both doors open, admitting the noise and smells of the beginnings of the post-Church party. As soon as the doors opened someone turned the sound system up until it drowned out the chattering of the sweetbutts and hangarounds. The scent of cigarettes and weed floated into the already hazy room.
Samuel waited until the room emptied before leaving his seat and joining Terry at the bar where a bottle of beer and a shot of whiskey were waiting patiently for him. He and Terry were currently the only members at the table who weren’t single. Fletch had never married and Kong’s Old Lady had grown tired of his dick wandering too close to home and had left him more than twenty years ago. The others all seemed happy enough sticking to the free pussy that was readily available any hour of the day that they could take or leave as they pleased. Samuel was hopeful that he might get some grandchildren out of his kids, but they were still young with plenty of time ahead of them.
The Prospects, Morse, Sinatra and Geoff were alternately behind the bar serving drinks, making sure that bottles and glasses were cleared from the tables or generally just being available for whatever chore one of the patched members chose to award them. Morse had been named for his incredibly annoying habit of constantly tapping his fingertips, despite Chiz threatening to break his hands several times. Sinatra’s bright blue eyes and constant tuneful humming had inspired his name. Geoff hadn’t been granted a nickname simply because he’d been so desperate for one. If he wanted to be known by anything other than his given name, he was going to have to do something fairly spectacular to earn a fresh moniker.
Samuel was satisfied with all three, although right that minute he was thinking of following Chiz’s example and threatening to do something about Morse’s habit since he was tapping away right by Samuel’s elbow. But when it came down to it they were steady, reliable and smart. It relaxed Samuel to be able to see a future for his club. Casting an eye in the direction of Dean, who was guiding two of the sweetbutts back to his dorm room, Samuel sighed. The future of his club might appear settled, but he still had some work to do regarding his family.
Fletch settled himself onto a stool at Samuel’s side: “How’s our girl doin?”
Fletch and Kong were both due to hit seventy that year and both fully considered themselves surrogate grandfathers to Samuel’s children. Since he’d prospected at eighteen they hadn’t had much chance to exercise their whims on Dean, so they’d doubled their focus on Ashleigh.
Samuel took a moment to consider his answer. “She’s okay. Seems to be. Now the divorce is all finalized she says she can move on. She went out with a couple of the girls from the office last Saturday to celebrate.”
“Don’t see why that piece of shit should still be wastin’ oxygen; breakin’ our girl’s heart like that.” Kong interjected from his seat deep in one of the sofas despite being mostly buried under two giggling women who were young enough to giggle in a way that was cute rather than affected.
Fletch and Kong were almost polar opposites. Where Fletch’s drawl was soft, almost hard to hear; Kong’s tone was loud and rambunctious and probably audible in Canada. Fletch was well over six foot, long and lean. His hair had started to turn grey in his late thirties and it, along with the astounding handlebar moustache he took great pride in, were now bright silver. Kong was the shortest member at the table and of equal girth to height ratio. He defined the term ‘barrel chested’. His wildly curly hair and equally riotously curly beard had stubbornly retained its muddy brown color, much to Fletch’s disgust.
Samuel drained his beer. Morse replaced it immediately. “I know, I know. Believe me I have thought over and over what I would like to do to that boy. Throws five years of marriage away on gash not even old enough to buy herself a beer.”
“And tells her on her fuckin’ birthday no less.” Tag added from over by the pool table where he had obviously been listening while attempting to play against Crash.
“Yeah thanks, we needed remindin’ about that.” Dizzy admonished quietly from his seat by Terry.
“She told me outright right after it happened she didn’t want to be seein’ it on the news that he’d turned up in a ditch or disappeared.” Samuel shrugged.
Chiz had some difficulty unwrapping himself from the girl half seated in his lap before he could speak. “Do it right and it wouldn’t be on the news. Me and Crash could make that happen.” Crash had come about his patch by a circuitous route. He’d joined the Marine Corps out of school and had seemed to be happy there. Samuel was certain that Crash would have remained enlisted if he hadn’t been injured. He’d caught part of a mortar round across his skull during a dire fight in the Gulf. The lingering effects of the brain damage made him unsteady on his bike sometimes and had landed him with his nickname. What he now lacked in riding skills he made up for with his ability to make any computer with an internet connection give him just about any information he wanted.
“Awww, baby that is so sweet!” The girl in Chiz’s lap simpered.
“That’s me, sugar. I’m all about the chivalry. Perfect southern gentleman.”
Fletch and Dizzy both snorted beer out of their noses at Chiz’s response, having been involved more than once on clean up duty when he hadn’t been quite so gentlemanly.
“Thanks for the offer, Chiz, but it won’t be necessary. She was very adamant that we not get involved.” Samuel let his disagreement with that decision color his tone.
The conversation was dropped and everyone kept their minds on getting drunk or stoned or both until the sound of laughter had heads turning to see Dean re-emerging from the dorms, propelling the two girls in front of him with his hand at the small of their backs. He gave them both a kiss on the cheek and a wink and slapped their asses as he sent them on their way. They left him and headed over to the stripper poles to try and attract some more attention. Dean joined Tag and Crash at the pool table. He and Jason ‘Crash’ Palmer, Gerry Palmer’s boy, were the only two legacy patches since Samuel.
Watching the boys laughing and drinking, Samuel asked Fletch idly, “You ever think about grandbabies?”
“Sometimes. But grandbabies mean a wife, an Old Lady, someone who’s gonna stay knocked up and stick around after. I ain’t never met someone I could find that sort of trust with.”
“Who’d want to?” Kong boomed from the couch. “It’s bad enough you’ve got to do it all the first time around. Then your kids have kids and you’re doin’ it all over again.”
“And what would you know about it? You haven’t got any kids… that you know of.” Chiz asked, with an eyebrow raised meaningfully at the girls now arranged either side of Kong who were currently working on pulling his dick out of his jeans.
“Good thing too,” Terry muttered under his breath, only just loud enough for Samuel to hear over the music and competing conversations.
The girl wrapped around Chiz was on a similar mission to the girls at Kong’s side. It wasn’t prudishness that had Samuel turning to the bar; he’d seen it all before and he didn’t need to see it all again. He signaled to Morse for another beer and more whiskey and decided that he might as well live up to Moira’s prediction.