MONDAY MORNING THEY were back from the run and Dave let himself think maybe it was all a bad dream, that guy just stoned or drunk and seeing things.
Then, at 7:30 a.m., a text came through from Joker:
Having a sit down with the Riders Friday. Gonna straighten this shit out.
Dave stared at the words, reading them over and over as if they would magically disappear.
Beside him, Trish turned over with a sleepy moan and the sheet slipped down to her waist. Even the sight of her pink-nippled tits in the June morning sun’s glow didn’t distract him.
Panic, cold and shocking filled him like ice water poured into his soul.
From the floor, Trish’s dog, Curly, looked up at him with lifted ears, watching him, as if he, too, sensed danger. Dave nodded to the dog, thinking:
But by mid morning he had a plan. He called in sick and told Trish he needed to head up to Redding for a day or two to check on the hospital’s air conditioning unit.
And then, being the marriage-worthy woman she was, she hiked up her skirt and bent over the end of the couch, because she knew he liked it that way—it was her sendoff present to him. Even as he pumped himself into her he couldn’t keep the thought at bay that he’d better clean up this mess, or Trish would end up with some other guy.
Because if he didn’t nip this in the bud, the Riders wouldn’t say It’s okay. You were just a young guy back then. You didn’t know any better. And his own brothers wouldn’t say, We know you lied to us, Dave, but we figure you didn’t mean it. Just don’t do it again.
Neither of those things would happen. But what would?
Trish took the boys outside to play, and as he packed a small bag, Dave considered the scenarios.
1: If the guy from that clusterfuck in Bend eight years ago really was a Dark Rider now, then he’d want a formal, public apology—from both him and the chapter, maybe the entire MC.
He’d also want proof that he’d been reprimanded, that there were consequences for lying: including loss of patch, suspension, demotion to prospect status—any and/or all of the above.
They’d need to have a dialogue between the Riders and the Ghosts, between the officers, to smooth relations, including damage control with the power clubs in the area, because word spreads like lighter fluid when it comes to cop business.
That scenario was the best case.
More likely it was 2: He’d be kicked out of the MC. A dishonorable discharge as they say in the military. No other motorcycle club would touch him.
That kind of bad blood never dries.
The thought surrounded his heart in an icy sheet. He pressed his face to the bedroom window and watched Trish and the boys below.
She loved the club, the other women, loved wearing her ladies vest and patches. She loved the rallies and the runs: for her it was both work and play. She also was proud of the charity they did, and got off on the hard, fast rides down I-80, fifteen strong in formation while cars moved over to let them pass.
She loved the life as much as he did.
Would she stay with him if he was just a heating and cooling tech? An average Joe going back and forth to work every day like a ping pong ball? Disgraced by the MC world and destined to ride alone? He could name two dozen guys from different chapters who’d love to be her old man. She could have anyone.
He was slick with cold sweat now, listening to the boys’ laughter as they chased Curly around the lawn.
He could lose it all, yes.
But then there was the third scenario, wasn’t there?
3: The Rider would want his own revenge. Personal. Physical. If the rumors were true—and Dave believed they were—the Riders were very talented with their knives.
He called his old friend Lenny up in Portland, Oregon, and told him to drop everything and meet him at their old hangout, HardTails Saloon in Sisters, outside of Bend.
He’d meet him there by sundown.
JOKER SAT WITH Sharky, the chapter president, and Sniper, the sergeant of arms, at Sadie’s Saloon. They ate sandwiches and drank iced tea, and then got down to the business of Dave.
“Dave denies it straight up, right?” asked Sniper.
“Yep,” said Joker. “Says he used to live there, but worked for his buddy or cousin or something selling weed, but that he never worked for the P.D. up there.”
Joker had been Dave’s sponsor when he prospected, and felt the weight of this problem now. He’d spent the most time with Dave. He’d treated him like a little brother, like a brother, for three years, and had intended to forever.
No one mentioned it, but they didn’t have to. If this shit were true about Dave’s past, it would fall hard on his shoulders. His reputation meant everything to him. One day, Joker wanted to be sergeant of arms when Sniper moved on—but if Dave turned out to be a liar, it would reflect badly on him. He’d never promote.
The thought made him angry, an emotion Joker didn’t like to feel. Which made him angrier.
Sniper said , “From what Cobra told you at Redwood, his brother’s got a blood vendetta against anyone who’d been involved, right?”
“Right,” Joker said.
Sniper blew out a worried sigh. “Someone’s gotta go to Bend. Now. Find out the truth. The Riders are coming here in four days.”
The other two nodded, thoughtful in the silence.
This kind of thing had to be done in person. The Riders—or any MC—would expect nothing less. Phone calls and emails and wouldn’t reassure them of shit.
“I’m thinking Bob and 8-ball, from Roseburg,” said Sharky. He lit a cigarette. It wasn’t legal in California establishments but he didn’t care.
“Right,” said Sniper. “Good choice. I’ll make the call.”
“You want me to roll up and meet them?” Joker asked. He wanted to go, to see for himself about Dave’s past. He wanted to crush those seeds of doubt that had burrowed in like thorns since the Redwood Run. They now implicated him, too. He wasn’t just headed up to clear Dave’s name, but his own as well.
“They’ve only met Dave a few times,” Joker added, thinking of the guys from Roseburg—good guys, but they needed someone from the Sacramento chapter. “It would be good to have someone there who knows him like I do. Or like I think I do.”
Sniper sighed again and smoothed his long beard. “Yeah, okay,” he said and Sharky nodded his agreement. “It’ll take you about seven or eight hours.”
“Which is why I gotta go now.” Joker pulled out a twenty for his meal and set it on the table. “I’m not even gonna go home first.”
THE SUN CLIMBED and burned like a giant coal in the sky. Dave didn’t know jack about global warming, but this was hot for June, even in the California Central Valley. Hopefully Oregon would be cooler.
He headed north into the wind on I-5, hating the feeling of riding alone. Usually Trish was on the back and he’d feel her body against his, as if they were one. And of course he was almost always with his brothers ahead and behind, like a constellation of stars cruising down the highway, forming and reforming…
He now wore a plain black leather vest. His cut was in the saddlebag because he didn’t want to be noticed or identified. He hadn’t ridden without it in three years, and felt naked without his gold and white colors.
He thought of his father, always riding alone, or out in the garage tinkering on his bike. Dave would join him but his father wasn’t a talking man, and after a while the silence would grow until it almost seemed a sound itself.
Dave didn’t want to end up like that—solitary, married to a woman whose passion had faded. In fact it terrified him. His father had grown older and older until Dave sometimes wondered if his dad died of loneliness rather than a heart attack.
The memories seemed a bad omen, so he shoved them away and focused on the road and the feel of his dad’s knucklehead rumbling beneath him. He’d re-geared the sockets so it made top speed. He let its power seep in and give him strength.
He had a mission: save himself.
TWO HOURS BEHIND, Joker hauled ass, too, in a tank top and his cut, his arms straight up on his 18-inch apes with his sleeved-out tattoos, his long blond beard braided in two strands that whipped back from his chin like flying reins. When he was flying solo into the wind like this, he always felt like a Viking at the helm of a warrior ship.
He was long used to the looks he got from the people he passed. And he passed everyone. The speed limit on I-5 was 70, but he kept it at 90. A few people, always men, didn’t look at him. Some didn’t want to give him the satisfaction; others assumed he wasn’t the kind of guy you stared at too long. Even at 90 mph.
Joker thought about when he’d first met Dave, just a fresh-faced kid, really, not even thirty. He had that white blond hair that made him look younger and a babysoft goatee. Dave had been the most enthusiastic prospect he’d ever seen. He’d also been the most polite, laughing at his jokes and listening with real interest to the old timers. Joker had also liked the way he’d waited a year into his patch before looking for a woman. He’d had his priorities straight.
He recalled the reply text from Dave that morning.
Ok brother, I’ll be there. It’ll get settled because there’s nothing to worry about. Love ya man.
John had sent back a thumbs up icon because what was there to say? All there was, for now, was feeling: suspicion, worry, frustration—and fear. If it was true, that this guy had a vendetta for anyone connected to some past incident, it could get very ugly.
As far as their own MC, having a liar as a member was its own shit storm, and lying about L.E.? He’d once had to explain the no law enforcement rule to his wife—and even then she didn’t get it (because some women never do). He told her the three-patch clubs often had guys who’d done time—small time, big time. Some had “side businesses.” Having a member with ties to cops, no matter how old, made them nervous. Understandably.
And then the power clubs they supported didn’t want any cops or former cops around. With them, if you’d even applied for a job in L.E. two decades ago, you were shit out of luck.
It made for bad blood.
It was best to avoid it: zero tolerance.
Joker twisted the throttle and shot forward, only the sound of his thunderheader pipes blotting out the images.
He smiled grimly. He had a mission, too.
DAVE STOPPED FOR gas, a piss and a Red Bull in Weed, at the junction of I-5 and 97, which would take him northeast to Oregon. It hadn’t cooled down; heat floated off the asphalt in dizzying waves. At the Chevron he’d dumped water from the sink into his helmet, which helped. The wind, Sahara-hot—made the skin crack on his face, or at least it felt that way.
When he reached Hard Tails Saloon in Sisters, just outside Bend, the air had finally started to cool as the sun headed toward the ocean.
He pulled up and saw Lenny’s red Virago and felt the first good feeling in five hours, since Trish’s smooth lips had kissed him goodbye.
He felt hope.
Inside Lenny got up from the bar stool and they embraced and clapped each other on the back.