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3 yrs ago
Current I haven't updated this in over 7 years.
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9 yrs ago
I'm so happy, found two orphan newborn kittens and was able to put them in with a nursing momma cat and she adopted them right away!
9 yrs ago
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9 yrs ago
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Hell yeah, I'm in.
> Boston Mountains, Boone County
> Dave MacCready’s Cabin
> 0915..///

The fog had burned away by this time as they passed northbound over the Buffalo River and crossed the county line. The hills of the Ozarks were still thick and green, with only a few hints of gold showing in some early turning hickory trees. Beneath the lush foliage, shale mountains rose from the river and folded over, buckled and worn down with eons of time. It was a lovely country that never failed to inspire Mal Freeman, each time he saw it as something new, a balm from Fayetteville that he shared with his Dad.

He watched out the window as the trees rushed past, his mother flying the silver Mercedes S Class along the lazy winding roads. Kaliah had memories of these mountains as well, brief but powerful memories of a time when she thought love might conquer all. It might have ended but it resulted in the boy beside her who she and Dave both loved with a fierceness.

It was a small sign, “Welcome to Boone County. Keep Boone County Beautiful.” that caught her eye as they swept past it. She gripped the steering wheel a little harder, a brief flash of what that sign really meant in Boone County. Keep it Beautiful, keep it White, keep it Christian. Keep it that way by any means necessary. The MacCready clan, Dave’s estranged family, were a keeper of this promise. She knew all too well and even if it had been years ago, she never forgot the look in the eye of his father when he knew what she was to Dave.

The brief memory surfaced and she glanced at Mal who was staring out the window, his light brown skin and tight curls a blend but he would always be black in the eyes of these people. But he was Dave’s boy, he was protected by that, Kaliah always had to remind herself when she let Mal go to his father’s house. It was in the hills, away from the town where malice existed under a thin veneer that she could breath a little better.

Kaliah turned off the thin ribbon of highway and onto an unpaved road, gravel crunching under the sedan’s tires. Bella whined in the backseat, pushing her large square head between the window and Mal’s headrest. They were getting close and somewhere in her dog brain she might have recognized the landscape or more likely sensed the growing anticipation in her boy.

“Don’t forget to call me,” Kaliah said, making the curving turn as the gradient turned steep but the car handled it with ease, the road scanning technology adjusting for bumps. It was a different ride than banging along in Dave’s pickup.

“Aren’t you going to be busy?” Mal replied, unable to keep the hint of disapproval from his voice.

“I’m never too busy for you,” she replied, her brow furrowing slightly under the perfectly applied makeup. . “You know that, don’t act like that. I thought you liked Daniel.”

Mal shrugged, he liked Daniel as a person, but the idea that he and his mother were serious enough that he met the man and he had stayed over at their house gave him trepidation. Despite his father’s absence lately, Mal had hoped they might reconcile, especially after Dave had stayed over the last time. But it was always the same, the flame burned hot and died quick, then they would part and find someone to fill that empty space. Mal was fooling himself again, he was getting too old to keep thinking their little family might be under the same roof one day. It had been this way his whole life.

“Yeah, he’s cool, I guess,” he said, “But you really like him don’t you?”

Kaliah pressed her full lips together then nodded, “Yeah, I really do.”

“Do you love him?”

She paused then shook her head, “That’s a loaded word, boy. And I don’t know yet. But I do like him a lot and he likes you, Mal. He wants to be there for you.”

“I have a Dad,” Mal said, slouching into his seat. “At least I think I still do.”

Kaliah sighed, “Stop that feeling sorry for yourself, your dad loves you. He just has some things going on and can’t be there like he was, you know this.”

“I know.”

Silence fell between them and Mal shifted, his sullen expression lifting when he recognized the creek that flowed downhill, the black and gray stones glistening under the spray of water. They were almost there and the excitement at finally seeing Dave after so long overroad his stubborn anger at being abandoned when he needed him.

“Almost there,” he said, leaning forward and Bella wagged her whip tail, slapping at the tumbled blanket that covered the leather seats in a vain attempt to protect them from her claws.

They pulled towards the cabin, the old pick up with the camper in place parked out front but no sign of Dave. Kaliah had hardly put the car into park when Mal was out the door, his lanky frame taller than he was the last time he had been up here. When they found that body and whatever happened had sucked his Dad into some dark plot that he could not begin to guess at.

Mal rubbed his hand against his jeans, he could still feel the bone that he had picked up. The fact it was human still bothered him though he never let on, he wasn’t a pussy. He called Bella who clambered through the gap between the seat and door before he could bring the seat down and she ran in circles, sniffing the ground then pulled her head up, tongue lolling out.

Kaliah shook her head as she stepped out, “That dog.”

She opened the trunk and began to take out the food she packed and Mal’s bag as the boy ran to look for his dad.

Around the back of the house, Dave stared down the line of a carbon arrow. The recurve bow he held was a custom job, made years before in his grandfather's workshop, and while he owned a half-dozen others, two of which he'd made himself, this was the one he loved best. The draw was only 45 pounds, just enough to drop a whitetail at 30 yards, but it was the first one he'd made with his grampa, and the one he always went back to.

Dave took a breath and drew, eyeing the gap between arrow and target as he'd been taught. The target, a foam deer with an outline around the killzone, was weathered from years of use. While Dave's tactical skills lay solidly with the rifle, he'd always preferred hunting with a bow. There was more challenge, more technique, and over the years he'd become one hell of an archer.

Right now, though, only one arrow showed on the target, stuck firmly in the neck of the foam deer. Four more stuck nose-up in the grass around it.

Dave took another breath and then released, allowing the string to slip from his fingers. The arrow crossed the distance in a flash, striking high and glancing off the back of the target to disappear into the trees behind it. Dave swore and lowered the bow, his eyes hard.

He stared at the target, frustration building, and then dropped the bow. His hand flashed to his thigh, the Sig holstered there seeming to leap into his hand, the other finding the grip as the weapon rose. Three quick shots rang out and foam flew. After a moment he shoved the gun back into the holster. Two black holes showed in the ten-ring. The third had blown through the deer's painted-on eye. He sighed and closed the retention on his holster, looking over at Rufus, who watched from the shade of the back porch.

"What're you lookin' at," Dave grumbled. Rufus yawned, clearly unimpressed. Then he suddenly perked up. The big dog growled once, a low rumble, then leapt from the porch and vanished into the trees.

"Shit," Dave muttered. He left his bow where it lay, jogging to the corner of the house and slipping a fresh magazine into his Sig. He peeked around it, his blood thundering, and then sighed as he spotted Kaliah's car. When he saw the door open and Mal stepped out his heart twisted. Without a second thought he ran around the house, jogging towards his son.

The sudden staccato of gunshots made Kaliah look up sharply, her eyes snapping to her son but he was not alarmed or injured. Mal stood with Bella who was barking at the noise then bouncing around when the large mastiff appeared.

“Rufus!” Mal called and could not keep Bella from racing over, running circles around the beast of a dog and making puppy play bows, whipping her tail back and forth submissively. The pit bull mix was all energy and dumb happy but Rufus waited stoically, sniffing at her when she got close but made no move to engage her play.

Mal caught a glimpse of movement and saw Dave emerge, his beard and longer hair was still something he was not used to seeing. But it was his eyes, those eyes that he was so familiar with that struck him. Mal did not know how to articulate it, but the sensation he felt made him stand still rather than run to Dave. He waited, giving a small wave of recognition.

“Hey Dad,” he said, then looked back at his mother, almost instinctual reassurance that she was still there. The boy turned to face Dave again, the stranger that was a shadow behind his father’s eyes still lurked. He shifted his weight then said, “Mom brought sandwiches.”

Dave slowed, seeing the unexpected wariness in Mal’s eyes. He felt his gut clench at the sight of it, but he forced it aside, and the moment he heard Mal’s voice he broke into a grin. He pulled Mal into a fierce hug, squeezing him tightly.

“Sandwiches’ll wait,” he said, crushing Mal to his chest.

Mal returned the hug, the comfort of the familiar affectionate gesture brushed away his initial reaction. He had missed his Dad and the resentment and anger melted for now, he still had questions but it could wait.

Bella jumped around, pawing at Dave and Mal until Kaliah pulled her away and put a hand on Mal’s shoulder. The boy pulled back and his mother looked up at Dave, examining him for a moment before smiling. “It’s good to see you in one piece,” she said, “I’m going to need to be running soon, can we talk?”

She glanced at Mal who knew that look and he sighed, shuffling over to pet Rufus and scratch behind his floppy ears.

“Yeah, sure,” Dave said, reluctantly releasing Mal. He gave the boy’s shoulder a squeeze, then turned his attention to Kaliah. He motioned her aside with a jerk of his head, walking a few steps away to keep the conversation private. “What’s up?”

Kaliah walked with him, watching him from the side of her eye. “A few things, like I understand you’re doing some secret agent things but our son needs you. He got into a fight last month, put another boy in the hospital. Lucky for Mal his mother is a pitbull of an attorney. He was defending himself but I saw the other boy.”

She turned and faced Dave, “He beat that kid past anything self defense should have covered, being a minor and the instigating factor that the boy he fought had been using racial slurs and started it that kept Mal out of juvy.”

Dave looked over towards Mal, shock plain in his eyes. The idea of his son beating somebody that badly was...troubling. Particularly given the things that Dave had recently discovered he himself was capable of. He looked back at Kaliah.

“I’ll...Uh...I’ll talk to him,” Dave mumbled. “I don’t...You know I ain’t…” He glanced back at Mal. While he hadn’t told Mal to solve his problems with violence, he had been the one to teach the boy to fight. “I’ll talk to him.”

“Mhmm,” Kaliah hummed, the doubt still in the raise of her brow. “Another thing, I’ve been seeing someone. He’s a lawyer from DC and well, he’s over this weekend. He’s met Mal.”

She took a deep breath, running her hand over the thick curls, “You know I don’t just introduce any date to Mal. Daniel’s a good man and I think we might be seeing each other for sometime.”

Her dark eyes found Dave’s blue, even now the pull was there, distant under her affection for the new love but it would likely never leave her. “I thought I’d let you know.”

Dave nodded. While there was some distant spark of pain at the knowledge Kaliah was with someone, more than anything he felt relief. He sighed and smiled.

“I appreciate it,” he said. “I uh...I’ve actually met somebody, too. Someone on my team. You’d like her.” He grinned. “Another smart one, somehow fallin’ for the Arkansas backwoods charm.”

“Is that so?” Kaliah said, “I can’t imagine how she might have fallen for your charm.”

She smiled a little, she knew that backwoods charm all too well. “Is it serious?”

“Pretty serious,” he nodded. “It’s moved kinda fast, but uh...You know. Nature of what we’re doin’, I guess.” Dave shrugged. “Not sure when I’ll have her up here, things are kinda crazy with...Well, with what’s goin’ on.”

He shook his head, glaring at the ground. “I hate all these secrets, I do. That ain’t me, you know that.”

Kaliah crossed her arms under her breasts, “Yes, I know it’s not you. I also understand the nature of NDAs. I just hope it’s worth it.”

Her dark gaze held him before she softened, “And she better treat you right or she’ll have me to answer to.”

Dave laughed and reached up to tug at his beard, then ran a hand through his shaggy hair. “I’ll be sure an’ let her know,” he said. He pointed a finger at her. “An’ the same goes for this Daniel guy. He messes around, you lemme know.”

She reached up and patted his shoulder, “You’ll be the first to know. But Daniel’s good, he was teaching Mal to play lacrosse and we’ve worked together for the past year.”

Kaliah tilted her head, looking up at Dave, “But he’s never going to replace you.”

Dave nodded, looking back over at Mal.

“Yeah, I know,” he said. “Look, like I said, I’ll talk to Mal about...About the fight. See where his head was at.”

“Good, do that,” she said, “He needs to get that off his chest, it’s been a month and he’s been doing better but he needs you. I’ll be back Sunday evening to pick him up.”

She stepped away from him and went to Mal, hugging him and giving him a kiss on his cheek. He was already tall enough that she could no longer reach the top of his head. After murmuring a few words, she had him get his bag and the cooler before climbing into the Mercedes.

Mal waved and watched until the silver car vanished around the curve of the dirt road. He turned and Bella ran after him, barking as she spotted a squirrel and gave chase. The boy laughed, “You can’t give it a warning, you’ll never catch it.”

He smiled brightly at Dave, “So what are we going to do? I wanted to shoot guns but you know how Mom is. She wouldn’t let Dan take me to the range, he offered, which was pretty cool.”

Dave felt his throat catch again at the sight of his son's smile. He walked over and put a hand on the boy's shoulder, gave it a firm squeeze.

"We can do anything you wanna do, bubba," he said. "Just lemme go put my bow away, and then I'm all yours."

Mal tagged along behind Dave, not letting him out of sight even as the bow was put up. Bow hunting was something he still had not mastered and truth be told, had less interest in than guns. The twang was just not as fun as the bang.

“I thought maybe some target practice, can I use the AK?” he asked, “Can you teach me how to put a fuse in some C-4?”

Mal knew he was probably pushing it especially since he knew his mother told him about the fight. He tucked his hands in his jacket pockets and added, “Just for fun, you know. Maybe get some pumpkins and blow them up.”

Dave grinned, though he hesitated for a moment. "We can do the AK, get some pistol work in. We'll have to see about the explosives though, bubba."

He gave Mal's shoulder a squeeze. "I was thinkin', before it gets real cold, maybe we can do some wildman shit. Remember how we built that rough shelter that time? Maybe we can do that. Go live off the land for a few days."

It wasn't a firm no so Mal accepted it and then looked up at the trees, the leaves in the high reaches of the Boston mountains were turning gold and red among the still lush green. In a couple of weeks the woods would be ablaze in color and the nights would be chilly enough to bundle up.

“I remember,” he said, “Where will we go? Stick around here like last time or go off into the mountains?”

Mal reached down to pet Bella who was bumping against him and the memory of the bone clutched in his hand came back and he rubbed his palm vigorously against her smooth coat. All that was over, it was gone thanks to his dad. He trusted this was so and the worst they might see was some fat blackbear still gorging on berries.

“We’ll go up a ways,” Dave said, nodding deeper into the wilderness. He looked up at the mountain, seeming to be lost for a moment in thought. “Yeah. Up a ways, I think. And we’ll bring a couple rifles. I think you’re about old enough to carry your own.”

He looked over at Mal and smiled. “How’s that sound? I’ll let ya pack the Romanian.”

“Hell yeah,” the boy grinned, “When do we get started, we still have time.”

He checked his phone and glanced at Dave, studying his bearded face for a moment, “Yeah it’s only like ten.”

“Five hours too late,” Dave laughed. “Be past noon by the time we got up there, and then we’d still hafta get a shelter built.” He patted Mal on the back, coaxing him towards the house. “We’ll get our gear together, an’ leave at dawn, so we don’t wind up sleepin’ in the cold. Meantime, figure we’ll do a little shootin’ and fill our bellies before we spend a few days eatin’ rabbits and greens.”


Mal brushed his teeth, washing it down with the well water pumped up to the cabin. It was the last of the running water he would see for a few days and had taken a decently warm shower before changing to the flannel pajamas. He headed back into the narrow hall that cut between the bathroom and the doors to the two bedrooms. Rounding the corner he could see the back of Dave’s head where he sat on the sagging old sofa.

“Bathroom’s free,” he announced and plopped next to him. “Can we watch Predator?”

Dave stifled a yawn, but nodded, gesturing towards the TV. It was a comparatively modern one, something he’d gotten for Mal when the boy had expressed interest in movies during his visits. The TV and the DVD player gave them something to do when the mountain weather turned rough and not even Dave felt like being outside. Beneath the TV was a cabinet with a sizable DVD collection.

“It’s in there somewhere,” Dave said. His basement was organized; ammunition palletized by caliber, guns hung according to use, explosive components safely separated and stored in their inert forms. Any military armory NCO would be proud of the job Dave had done on his private and highly illegal armory. The movie cabinet met none of those expectations.

As Mal went for the movie Dave walked to his liquor cabinet, taking out a bottle of No. 7 and pouring a measure into a glass. After a moment he poured a second one, this one smaller.

“We gotta have us a talk though, son,” he said, walking back to the sofa. He set his whiskey on the side table, beside the same .357 he’d pointed at that government man so many months ago. The other he set on the coffee table.

Mal popped the DVD in the player and turned to grab the remote control from the coffee table. He saw the glass and lifted his gaze to Dave who sounded more serious than his usual light tone. The boy moved over and sat down, then picked up the glass of whiskey and looked into it.

“Uh, sure,” Mal said, turning the glass in his hand, “What about? The hike tomorrow? Building the shelter, I remember how to do the lean-to, digging it out and stuff.”

Dave snorted. “Nice try,” he said. He held his own glass, his blue eyes locked on Mal. He looked troubled, but not angry. “Who taught you how to fight?”

Mal's dark brown eyes wavered but stayed on his father's gaze. He swallowed hard, the subject of the fight was bound to come up, he knew it was just a matter of time. A shadow of the anger he felt after the fight, when Dave could not or would not come, raised a little in his chest before he sighed, his shoulders sagging only slightly, "You did."

Dave nodded. “I did,” he said. “You remember why? You remember what I told you?”

He answered for the boy, looking down into his glass. “I told you that we only fight when it means protectin’ ourselves, or somebody weaker’n us. Ain’t that right?”

Mal nodded slowly, rubbing his thumb against the rim of the glass. "Yeah, and I was defending myself. And my friend."

The boy turned to look at Dave, his youthful face showing the similar handsome features he inherited from the man beside him. "There was more of them than us, they started it."

“That’s what your mom said,” Dave nodded again. “She said you started out defendin’ yourself. What happened after that?”

Mal furrowed his brow, a darkness in his expression, "Do you just want to know what I did wrong? Because that asshole ended up in the hospital. Well, I had to keep him from getting back up, fuck him!"

His heart was racing and the images of blood and the sound of ribs breaking echoed through him. "We weren't doing anything wrong, just playing some one on one at the park. Stephan and me, you remember him? He's a big kid but he doesn't like fighting, he won't even go out for football."

Mal looked at the glass and he saw the amber liquid trembling from the shake in his hand. He took a drink, instantly shuddering and coughing from the liquid fire that coursed through his chest.

Dave let the outburst slide, though his jaw tightened. He waited for Mal to shake off the burn of the whiskey, his own mind chewing through the likely course of events.

“Tell me what happened,” he said. Dave reached up and pushed his hand beneath his hat, running a hand through his shaggy hair. “I...know I ain’t been around. Not like usual, and I got reasons for that. But talk to me.”

Mal put the glass down and sat back, not looking at Dave but at a spot on the wall. "I know you got reasons."

After a moment he began to explain, still looking at the wall. "We were playing basketball at the park and these dudes rolled up on us. Started talking shit, how it was their park and we should get the fuck out. Stephan wanted to leave but I just..."

Mal shrugged, looking down at the wood plank floors. "I got really pissed off and told them to fuck off. They didn't like that. They called us names... said we were fags and shit."

A flush crept up his face as he spoke about belittling them. "They called us niggers, Dad."

His dark eyes shifted to Dave, "So I said that his mom didn't seem to have a problem with us so why did he? Then he swung on me."

A hint of dimples appeared in his face as recalled how he got them to react. So predictable and so dumb.

"We fought, then his friends went over and tried to push Stephan but he just curled up and they started kicking him," Mal continued, his mouth dry as cotton. "This guy I was fighting, he'd brought his skateboard and swung it at me, caught me in the face. The wheel hit me just below my eye, gave me a fracture the doctor said. After that he swung again but I ducked and went under, tried to throw him with a grapple."

He rubbed his eyes, "I don't know Dad, I just saw red. And I grabbed his board and hit him back. And I kept hitting him til he stopped struggling and then I jumped up on his ribs, dropped on them with my knees. I heard them break. That's what got me to stop. I could hear his friends yelling about the cops coming."

He leaned back into the cushions and crossed his arms.

Dave listened as his son spoke, his teeth clenching at that word. That fucking word. In his younger days, Dave likely would’ve gone just as far as Mal had. Hell, these days he might have gone further. He had a brief mental flash bloody steel and shook the image away.

“I get it,” he said when Mal had finished speaking. “Really, bubba, I do. I know how hard it is.” He paused. “Well, no. I don’t know, an’ that’s the truth. I’ll never go through the same things you do. That’s...That’s somethin’ I can’t take from you, and I’m so goddamn sorry I can’t.”

He reached over and put his hand on Mal’s shoulder, squeezed it tight. “But you gotta keep control. No matter how much you wanna hurt ‘em worse, you can’t go too far. The same racist shit that makes ‘em treat you that way?” He looked over, found Mal’s gaze and held it. “That’ll haunt you later, too. Cops, courts, they don’t work in nobody’s favor, but especially yours. That’s why you gotta stay out of ‘em. An’ I know it’s hard, an’ I know that MacCready blood in you don’t take shit, and it don’t let you stand by when…” He shook his head.

“You gotta be careful. That’s all. Promise me,” he said. “You don’t want to go too far one day and wind up with blood on your hands. It’ll never come off. I know.”

Mal looked up at his dad and took a deep breath, then nodded. "That's pretty much what Mom said. I'll get the worse end of things with the cops and in the system because all they see is I got darker skin. I'm black. Don't matter if my Dad's white, my grandparents...I'll just be a black kid in their eyes."

He glanced away from Dave when he mentioned the blood. "Yeah...I mean, I didn't want to kill him of course but make him hurt. Make him feel scared. So he wouldn't mess with us or anyone else."

Mal sank back against the cushions of the sofa. "Mom was pretty upset."

“I’m sure,” Dave murmured. “Mothers don’t like seein’ their boys be violent. An’ your mama doesn’t have that MacCready fire you got from me. She’s a sweet one, always has been. Even if she does have steel in her spine.” He shot Mal a quick grin. His grin faded and he looked back down at his whiskey, and the calloused hands that held the glass.

“I just don’t want you to go too far,” he said. “You don’t keep that temper, then someday...Someday you might look at yourself, an’ wonder who you are. Now. Promise me.”

He looked back at his son, his steel-blue eyes searching Mal’s face. “Say the words.”

Mal turned to look back at Dave and the memory of the expression on the big white boy with the skateboard he had beaten down came back. First the sneer then the tears and the change from bully to victim had excited something in Mal. It felt like justice but once it was over, he only felt angry and sick inside.

The boy slowly nodded, giving into the trust he had in his father’s wisdom. “Yeah...I promise.”

>1046 Ocean Dr, Miami FL
>SEPT 2019

Sunlight gleamed off the ocean, white screeching slashes of seagulls hovering in the distance to catch the morning breeze. Billy Patrick leaned on the balcony, dressed in nothing more than a pair of boxers and a cigarette between his lips. His face was drawn and the blood shot eyes hidden behind the aviator sunglasses. Behind him the doors opened to a bedroom cluttered with detris of a transient life and a rumpled, unmade bed.

A figure lay still curled up and Billy tried to remember her name but it escaped him. She had liked his coke and his cock and that had been enough last night. He exhaled the smoke, watching the surf break on the flat expanse of beach. It was a Miami beachfront rental and in the early hours he could watch the sunrise before the early rising retirees arrived with lumpy asses crammed into swimsuits and skinny old men with metal detectors scanned for quarters.

The palm fronds rustled and the sound made him twitch. Billy looked over but it was just a bird, some little brown sparrow, nothing exotic. He waved his cigarette and it snatched one of the discarded butts and flew off. Watching it, he recalled reading somewhere that they lined their nests with cigarette filters, something in them keeping away parasites. A dry chuckle sounded in his throat, there was something ironic there but his brain was too numb to make the connection. He could hardly remember the night before.

“Got one of those for me?”

The voice was raspy with sleep, feminine and he turned, looking at the petite pretty girl and felt himself startle. She looked young, too young for him to have brought home, and panic seized him. Billy kept his composure and reached into the waistband of his boxers, drawing out a pack of Kools and lighter. He handed her one and offered a light as he studied her face. Billy tried to remember where they met and when she met his eyes, fragments started to click into place.

She had dark curls and big brown eyes, some sort of island blend with ripe curves. He watched her take the cigarette and he held the lighter for her. The girl smoked but how she held the cigarette and kept adjusting it told him she had not been smoking long. Billy felt sweat break out on his forehead and he ran a hand over his hair.

“Listen, uh,” he looked her over, she was wearing his old Flying Tigers jersey and he must have given it to her or she went through his closet. He shook his head, the hangover protesting the movement.

“Why don’t you just relax out here, I’ll make us some breakfast,” he said, snuffing out the menthol cigarette. “Think you could eat?”

The girl smiled, a dark curl falling over one eye in a coy manner, “Ok, I like pancakes, blueberry pancakes.”

Blueberry pancakes, Christ.

“I’ll see what I have, you eat meat?” he asked as he paused at the French doors on the balcony.

She giggled, flicking ash in an awkward movement, her full thighs exposed under the hem of the jersey as she sat down in the lawn chair. “I think you should know that after last night,” she said, her tongue flicking.

Billy smiled but his heart was thumping and he closed the door behind him, immediately bolting over to the bed. He tossed covers aside, sending a vibrator sailing over to smack against the floor, the blow turning it on. It began churning around, buzzing in a fury of a hundred angry bees. He grabbed it up and pushed at the buttons, finally turning off the power.

His barefoot skidded and he looked down, repulsed to find his own used condom. Billy grabbed it and stopped at the bathroom to toss it in the toilet. He continued the hunt for the girl’s purse, they always had a purse. He found her underwear and her skirt in the hallway. Then he spotted it, a sequined pocket book on the table and he grabbed it, digging through it until he found a wallet. His mouth felt dry as he opened it, spotting the school ID right away.

“Thank fuck,” he breathed out as he saw her picture on the University of Miami ID and then her driver’s license that listed her age at 20. Too young to be in a club but old enough to fuck. Her name was Camila Cortez. Billy dropped the wallet back in the purse and tossed it over on the bed along with her scattered clothes.

He stood in the middle of the suite, the tropical decor that did not belong to him nor did the furniture. It was a rented condo on the beach he picked up for two weeks at a good deal of a mixture of blackmail and premium coke to the owner as he expected to be called up by the Program soon.

Feeling more confident, he stepped out through the doors, “Frozen waffles do?”

Camila shrugged, “Fresh orange juice?”

“Sunny D.”

With a sigh, she said, “I guess.”

She was pouty and toyed with the waffles and pork links and despite her sitting with the jersey open for him to admire her firm brown flesh, he was quickly losing his taste for having her around as she complained about the plain coffee and lack of fruit. His thoughts for a morning quickie died and he shoved the last waffle in his mouth, scooping up the plate to drop it in the sink.

After breakfast, he got dressed and took his jersey back, despite her pouting. His head throbbed, the ecstasy and cocaine, god knows what else he’d taken at the club. Billy reached to grab the bottle of blue Gatorade, chugging it down as he waited on the red light. Partying was not the same without his team members, men he could trust. Even as he drove to work, it felt odd, this was supposed to be his day job but it felt more like an intrusion into his real career with the Program.

>Weston, FL

The Florida Division of the DEA’s office was nestled in the The division office was much the same, a clean and minimalist style decor, maps up on the wall, desks and monitors paired up and file cabinets jammed into the corners. Federal money kept the DEA office with the almost latest computers and functioning office chairs and a cleaning crew.

¡Acere, qué bolá! Look who’s home early,” a familiar voice called out as Queen entered the office of the undercover task force.

Queen turned and grinned, spotting the hulking Cuban American, his old partner and gave him a sheepish grin. “Yeah, well you know. Duty calls.”

Romero squinted at him, “You look like shit, chico.”

“Thanks, good to see you, too,” Queen said, setting his briefcase on the desk that had been his. It had a thin layer of dust on it and all his pens were stolen from the homemade pencil holder that had been a gift from his mother after she took a pottery class. “Figured y’all could use a taste of me.”

“Oh yeah...”

“Agent Patrick.”

Queen or rather Billy, turned to see the Senior Special Agent looking right at him. He was a short, slightly built man with a stubble of white beard and hard dark eyes. “Come see me.”

Agent Romero shook his head, making a tsking sound and a few others smirked at the fate of their oft missing fellow DEA agent. He left his desk and went to the office, SSA Tompkins perched on his desk as he stepped inside.

“Yes, sir?”

“You’re an hour late,” Tompkins said.

“But I’m a week early,’ Queen countered. “Sorry.”

“You look like shit, Patrick. Last time you looked like shit, too. Losing weight, too.”

Queen glanced away, crossing his arms over his chest, “You keeping tabs on my waistline?”

“No, I’m keeping tabs on the health of one of my agents. I know how y’all run in undercover, I let you get a little loose but you have to control it,” Tompkins said gruffly, “You don’t look like you’re controlling shit.”

“I’m fine, just been working a lot for...you know, the other thing,” Queen said, then cleared his throat. “Just a stressful job.”

“No, I don’t know the other thing. And I have to be fine with that, classified is classified. I get that. But you’re running ragged and whatever you’re snorting or popping, you need to slow the fuck down,” Tompkins said, pushing off the desk.

Queen glanced up, ready to deny it but it was useless, the senior agent knew what he was looking at. “It’s just...alright, I got it. No problem.”

“You need to visit a counselor, I got a couple names that will keep your privacy. I don’t want you busted or fired, you know that,” the senior agent rubbed a hand over his shaved head. “I know whatever it is they got you doing, it’s not easy. I wish you’d just quit and come back but I know it ain’t that easy. “

He reached back and took a folder, passing it over to Queen. “Billy, that’s your performance test, it’s two weeks past due. I entered it for you but you’ll need to do the fitness and shooting on your own. This is the last time. Make sure you make time for your day job, you’re still picking up a check and taking up a spot in this office.”

“Shit, thanks,” Queen took the folder and closed his eyes, he had completely forgotten about logging in and doing it online. “I’ll sign up for those tests today. Got anything we’re working on.”

Tompkins sniffed then narrowed his dark eyes, “Maybe. You recall your old friends, the Hell’s Highest?”

Queen held his breath, the name of the motorcycle club that still haunted his otherwise impeccable case record. He had fucked up on purpose but no one could prove it and he wondered if Tompkins suspected it or bought the local cops getting lucky.

“What about them?”

“We’re getting a lot more activity from central Florida. Increased narcotics going through from Louisiana via Texas rather than Miami. Among other things, but our concern is the meth. It’s not just cooking local, we suspect they’re moving coke and that rumor is being repeated down here among the Corporation and some other movers. They keep that shit up they’ll run into them, it’ll be bloody.”

“So, why are you telling me?”

“Might need you again, to go under. Put you on parole from Oregon State and show up, see what’s going on,” Tompkins said, watching him closely.

“I don’t know, boss. I might get recalled for...the thing,” Queen said though the idea of seeing the Hell’s Highest again sent a spark of excitement through him.

“Don’t they tell you when you can be off to actually work?”

“Sometimes, then sometimes shit comes up and we’re needed,” Queen shrugged. “I don’t know, maybe I can put out some feelers, make contact to see how they feel about me. Then I can let you know.”

“MMhmm,” the senior agent grunted, “You got a week. Unless you’re called away, of course. I swear they should be compensating this division. Whoever they are.”

Queen shrugged, unsure what to say to that. It was inconvenient for the DEA but since he was a fed working for feds, it never went anywhere other than complaints.

“Agent Patrick, look into that. Let me know,” he said, “You’re records will get updated.”

“Yes, sir,” Queen replied, “I’ll keep you posted.”

> I-98 Hwy,outside Perry,l FL
>SEPT 2019

The Greyhound station was just like a million others across America, a small building with a canopy set on the side of a nowhere road. On an average night the lot would be mostly empty, just a small fleet of busses making pick-ups and drop offs and a handful of cars waiting for passengers. Tonight was not an average night.

Molly Hatchet’s Flirtin’ With Disaster blared from a set of speakers that would have been at home at a rock concert, set into the back of a black van. A pack of miscreants in black-and-red had conquered the northwest corner of the lot, circling it with Harley Davidson motorcycles and beat up trucks. They loitered in packs, drinking beer and passing liquor and joints in the open, secure in the knowledge that barring a federal raid there weren’t enough cops in North Florida to ruin their party.

The passengers waiting for their busses, normally bustling about with luggage and phone calls, were subdued. The homeless were clustered in a tight knot, doing their best to avoid notice. Red-and-Black was in town. The Hell’s Highest. Their devilish patch was known across Florida, and between the bumping music and the flowing liquor nobody dared make a wrong move.

“You’re sure this is the station?” Goat was a short man, middle aged, with a graying goatee that reached to the middle of his chest wound into a tight tail. He was wiry, tattooed, with a hard glare and a scar that ran from temple to jaw on the left side of his face. If those weren’t enough to warn people away, then the PRESIDENT tab on his chest usually did the trick.

Kid, by contrast, was huge. Six-and-a-half feet tall, built like a linebacker. His SGT-AT-ARMS tab fit his build. His clean-shaven, babyish face didn’t.

“Yes, I’m sure,” Kid said. It was the fifth time Goat had asked. Kid was counting. “It’s the only fuckin’ station in the area, man, relax. Have a fuckin’ smoke or somethin’.”

The pickup crew had started as eight people, six patch-holders and two prospects, but as other members pulled into town and got sidetracked on their way to the party it had swelled to 20 people, a small army by Outlaw Biker standards. Three Deputy trucks were parked in the same lot, all of them watching the bikers and all of them powerless to stop the public intoxication and drug use that they were witnessing.

A number of women had made the group larger still, most of them filtering over from among the Greyhound passengers. A few were clearly intent on accompanying the bikers, judging by how they’d tossed their small travel bags into the Club van. Kid snagged one as she walked past, a skinny blonde of dubious legality who already looked like she’d been sampling the local marijuana strain. He threw his arm around her and she melded against him.

“You want me to call him again?” Kid asked. Goat shook his head.

“Give him another...Five, ten minutes, I guess. Then call him,” Goat said. “Wanna meet up with the rest of the guys in case the Locals decide to call in back-up. And before those other idiots drink all the beer.”

Billy sat on the bus, his duffel stowed under his seat as it rolled closer to the station somewhere near the Florida-Georgia line. Queen was left behind in Miami, as was Billy Patrick. Here he was biker, ex-con William Collins, nicknamed for his pretty good looks. It was a valid cover still as he had been deeply ingrained in the Hell’s Highest a few years back before the bust for meth production occurred. For now, he set in his mind the story he built up serving time at the Oregon State pen for old distribution charges. He reviewed the stories over and over, committing them to memory, pushing back anything else other than who William “Hollywood” Collins was.

As the bus approached, he leaned against the window, catching sight of the lines of bikes and big bastards in vests with the dapper smirking devil patch between the rockers. Despite the deception, Hollywood had made good friends among them and despite the guilt and risk, he looked forward to losing himself in the Hell’s Highest and being one of them again.

Air brakes squealed and the bus shuddered to a stop, the driver making no move to get out. “Y’all got luggage underneath?”

A few acknowledged and he grumbled, hefting himself out of the driver’s seat. Hollywood did not and grabbed his duffel, reaching up to touch the joint tucked behind his ear. Brazen for a man skipping parole but so was the Bersa Thunder9 pistol tucked in the small of his back under the denim jacket.

He was dressed in old dirty jeans, a wife beater and the jacket, his bag stuffed with weed and some coke wrapped in jeans and extra socks and t-shirts, a few other items but he traveled light for this. His hair had not been washed in a few days as Greyhound didn’t stop but for one fifteen minutes at a McDonalds certainly not to wash up. Hollywood slid off the seat and turned to the pretty light skinned black girl he had chatted up from where he had hopped the bus in New Orleans.

“Hey Jada, you oughta come party, these are those friends I told you about,” he said, leaning over her with his hand on the headrest, ignoring the people behind him trying to get off.

“Boy, I gotta get to Atlanta, I can’t be stopping. Besides...your friends look dangerous. I ain’t about to get trained and shit,” she replied, tossing the brown curls of her thick hair aside. “I know what you dirty white boys be doing.”

Hollywood grinned and leaned lower, making her shiver a little with the warm wash of breath down her neck. He could see her nipples get hard under the thin tank top over a generous bust. “C’mon, you’ll be alright. You’re with me and I’m the guest of honor. Have some beer and fun, get a story to tell your sister in Atlanta.”

Her dark eyes were a deep shade of hazel and she flashed them with effect, “I guess. But you better get a room somewhere, I want a shower.”

He winked at her, then offered his hand to help her out of the seat.

“Would you fucking move,” a voice shouted behind him.

“Hey, shut the fuck up,” Hollywood turned, his jacket riding up enough that the owner of the voice said no more.

Jada followed him off the bus parting ways to get her bag from the hold underneath while he walked forward in the parking lot bathed in yellow street lights and headlights of idling cars.

Slinging the duffel on his shoulder, he could hear Molly Hatchet blaring and he flung his arms out. “Goddamn look at all y’all beautiful scumbag motherfuckers,” he flashed the dimpled grin that lit his face. “Good to be home, brothers.”

As Hollywood left the bus the gathered bikers erupted, their cheer drawing nervous stares from surrounding civilians. Goat was the first to reach him, the others holding back as the local Pres stepped forward and wrapped his arms around Hollywood. The old man squeezed him tight, then pulled back and gave him a gold-toothed grin.

“Lookit you, boy, got skinny in the joint,” Goat laughed. He reached up and patted Hollywood’s cheek with a calloused hand, then pulled him into another hug. “Good to have you back, brother.”

The moment Goat released him Kid took over, the huge man wrapping Hollywood in a spine-cracking bearhug.

“God damn, been too long motherfucker!” He said, his grin broad.

Hollywood hugged the old man, there was more gray in that goatee than he remembered. Goat held that paternal affection that he had lacked so much in his real life and it was something Hollywood craved. He squeezed back and laughed, glancing down at his lean body and shrugged, “Man, fucking Oregon State servin’ fucking tofu and shit. Buncha vegans in the block.”

He grinned at his own joke, swerving past his stress and cocaine induced weight loss. “It’s good to be b-”

His words cut off as he was engulfed by Kid and he returned the embrace as well as he could, slapping the man’s beefy shoulders, “Been way too long, thought they’d never let me out on the leash. Gnawed through that motherfucker quick as I could to get back home.”

Hollywood pulled back after being released, “What they feeding you, goddamn. A whole side of beef?”

He laughed until he saw the Sergeant-at-Arms patch and he furrowed his brow, unspoken meaning there. “Hey, Kid. Congratulations on the promotion...uh, so Damage?”

The question would certainly have some heavy answer, the big man had been their sergeant at arms for years.

Kid grimaced and Goat reached out to give Hollywood’s shoulder a squeeze.

“Cro-Mags,” the old man said. “Outside Ft. Lauderdale, two years ago. We got ‘em back.”

He slapped Hollywood on the shoulder. “C’mon, brother. Heavy talks can wait. We’ll tell you the story tonight. Right now we’re celebratin’, right?”

Hollywood drew in a breath with a grimace, Damage had been a friend. A big, mean cuss but he had a heart, not like a certain other big mean cuss he worked with now. “Damn, sorry to hear that but I ain’t got a doubt you did right by him.”

Putting his hands on his narrow hips, he grinned, “Yeah we are, it’s been so long. I missed y’all, I missed Florida.”

He glanced over at the girl, Jada, who had grabbed her bag but now looked a little lost and worried as the bus was pulling out. Hollywood gave her a little flick of his hand, gesturing towards a knot of women drinking beer. Some wore property vests but most were unadorned and available.

“I sure as fuck missed pussy,” he said with a sly grin. “By the way, I brought some Oregon lawn clippings.”

Reaching up, he took the rolled cigarette from behind his ear and handed it to Goat, “Fucking hippies, man. But it’s good shit.”

Goat took the joint and produced a lighter from his pocket, striking it and inhaling deeply. He bit back a cough, then blew a cloud of smoke.

“Not bad,” he said. He was unwilling to give any Left Coast liberals the honor of declaring their weed good. “C’mon, we got somethin’ for ya.”

He grabbed Hollywood by the collar and dragged him towards the other Highest, Kid falling in beside him. They were clustered around the van, the music still blaring.

“You been gone a long time,” he said as they walked. “But we got somethin’ for ya. Prospect!”
He boomed the last, and a bearded man in his 40s sprinted to the van. He fired it up and pulled forward, and the gathered bikers broke into another cheer as the surprise was revealed.

Hollywood’s Sportster sat on its kickstand, freshly cleaned and polished. His Colors hung from the handlebars.

“Good to have you back, boy,” Goat said, releasing his collar.

Hollywood walked along with them, pleased that the gift was well received by the tribal chief. It felt good to be welcomed with such warmth and he pushed the guilt of it being built on lies down until it was distant and faint. The ability to compartmentalize had been honed over the last five years. His slight smile faded suddenly as the van pulled away and the sudden rush of emotion hit him. Genuine affection and even love, hit him and he grinned but his sea colored eyes glinted with unshed tears.

“Holy shit,” he said, his throat tightening. “Man...that’s her, it’s my girl.”

He turned to Goat and gave him another hug, “Thanks, man. This means a lot.”

Hollywood swiped his eyes, letting the Hell’s Highest leader go. He sniffed and went over to the bike, touching the long arched handlebars of the Harley Sportster with a sense of awe. They kept her in running condition, something that could have been easily sold off or shuffled over to some worthy biker. But it was held for him and Hollywood felt the swell in his chest threaten more tears.

He yanked his jacket off, tossing it over the seat and pulled his vest on. The black leather was soft and well kept, someone had oiled it and made sure it stayed safe from pests that might have chewed it up. He ran his hand down the front, the road name patch with ‘HOLLYWOOD’ in white thread against the red bordered black patch.

He held his arms out and gave a turn so they could see the Hell’s Highest Devil on the back and he grinned, his dimples deep creases. “Thank you, I don’t know what else to say. You’ve done the impossible and shut me up. Y’all are the best fucking brothers I could ever have.”

Rubbing the bridge of his nose, he felt the tears that had been threatening spill out and he let them. No shame but the one deep down that insisted on being present.

The bikers gathered around, all of them shaking Hollywood’s hand, hugging him, welcoming him back. New faces introduced themselves and old ones laughed as they congratulated him on surviving his sentence.

The rumble of engines drifted in on the wind and the group paused, men reaching subtly beneath vests and into waistbands and pockets. Ten bikes pulled into the lot, rolling to a stop near the group, and as the engines cut off Goat waved everyone down, grinning.
“Almost missed us!” He said as the lead figure stepped off his bike and pulled down a red and black bandanna. He walked up and gave the tall man a hug.

“Hollywood, you must be important or somethin’,” Goat said. “Some asshole decided to send the Nomads all the way out here to see you.”

The newcomer grinned as he walked up to Hollywood. They could have been brothers; both had the same dirty-blonde hair and short goatee, with tattoos running from fingertip to jawline. The man laughed as he grabbed Hollywood and pulled him into the tightest hug of the night.

“God damn I’ve missed you, man,” he said, finally pounding him on the back.

Hollywood perked up at the sight of the bikers, the deep rumble and shining headlights making cars change lanes and back away. As they pulled into the parking lot, all wearing the black and red, he smiled at Goat’s comment.

“I’ll be damned,” he laughed, recognizing the face as the bandana was lowered. The face he knew and loved like a brother, the only one that challenged Tex for the place in his heart. “Goddamn Easy, still ain’t settled down.”

He grabbed his shoulders and hugged him tight, his hand gripped the back of Easy’s neck in and the tears threatened again. “I missed you too, brother,” he said, “Sorry I couldn’t write more, you know how shit is inside. But I missed my road dog.”

Hollywood pulled back, still gripping Easy’s hand, looking him over at his bare chest. “Looking good, got a lot of new ink. A couple of love bites?”

He gestured at scars that had not been there before then let his hand go but through an arm around his shoulders, “Really glad you and the boys came up, wouldn’t be a reunion without you, bro. Feels like coming home.”

Jada stood awkwardly with a Bud Light in her hand and her backpack over her shoulder. The women mostly ignored her, the ones with vests that said property of so and so made her raise her brow. No one was going to call her property that’s for damn sure. A skinny blonde around her own age came up, tossing long hair over sunburned shoulders. The tube top clung to her small perky breasts, she seemed childlike compared to Jada’s lush figure.

“That new guy is super hot,” she said, “So is the dude Hollywood, he must be someone”.”

“I’m with him,” Jada said, smiling with a little pride.

The girl looked at her with a little awe until one of the women in a vest, a tall chainsmoking redhead with a soft of Camels stuck between her cleavage, “Honey, y’all ain’t with anyone less you’re someone’s property. You’re free real estate.”

The other women laughed and both girls stared for a moment then the blonde shrugged, “Fuck it, the big guy seems to like me but I wouldn’t mind banging those two and maybe that dude with the black beard.”

Jada raised her brows, “White girl be wildin’. You gonna fuck all them?”

“Sure...if they want,” she said, bouncing her hip out the jean cut offs almost as brief as underwear. “Why the fuck not? Who’s gonna know about it when we go home. They got good drugs and booze, I heard.”

Jada conceded the point, and watched the men embrace as they stood off to the side. She drank the beer even though it tasted like shit. “They are pretty hot though,” she agreed.

Goat allowed the two men a moment. Despite being a Nomad who traveled the breadth of the Highest’s territory, Easy had always seemed to linger when he came through. He and Hollywood had been a pair of hellions, constantly raising trouble at the bars, bringing random women back to the Clubhouse and getting into brawls. Goat and Kid stood back and let them reconnect.

After a few minutes the Pres raised his hand, waving it in a circle.

“Alright, motherfuckers, I’m sober an’ sick of it! Mount up, we’re headin’ to the party!” He walked towards his bike, pointing at the redhead who stood with the two randoms, the skinny blonde and the well-built half-breed that Hollywood had strung along. He snapped his fingers and pointed at the bike, then mounted up himself.

The redhead flicked the cigarette onto the parking lot and trotted towards Goat’s bike. As she passed the young women, she said, “This is where we separate the women from the girls, good luck.”

She mounted behind the Hell’s Highest president and gripped with her well toned thighs against his hips. With a quick movement she reached up and piled the long red hair up and put her helmet on. Cool points meant less when one had kids.

Jada glanced at the blonde, “So you gonna go?”

Hollywood nudged Easy, “I’m gonna collect my fun for the night, that one’s mine.”

He nodded towards Jada, admiring her shape in the halter top and shorts, her thick thighs smooth and bright against the white clothes. He grinned as he approached, taking in the sassy cant of her full hips as she planted a hand on one of them.

“Coming with or catching the next bus?” he asked, clearly pleased with himself after the greeting she witnessed.

“Hollywood?” she said, raising a brow as he plucked the near full beer from her hand.

“Yup, ‘cuz I’m so pretty,” he grinned and chugged the Bud Light, tossing the can into the metal trash barrel. “You can call me that.”

“Okay, William,” she said, then smiled, a blush rising in her caramel skin. “Yeah, I’ll go. Fuck it. But you remember I posted that selfie we took so if I disappear…”

He laughed and put an arm around her, “You’ll be fine, you’re gonna love it. This is my brother, Easy. Easy, this is Jada.”

She looked at him, her eyes bouncing from his tattooed chest to his handsome face and was not sure they weren’t really brothers.

“Easy,” he said, nodding at her. He glanced at the blonde and quirked a brow. “An’ what’s your name, sweetheart? You got a ride yet?”

The blonde tried to look as confident but her youthful features blushed immediately when Easy turned his attention to her. “St..uh...Summer,” she said, grinning back at him. “That’s what they call me.”

She pushed her little chest forward and held her hand out for him to shake. “No ride yet, I kinda don’t want to get stranded.”

Easy took her hand, then tugged her over to him and slipped his arm around her waist.

“Hollywood! When we pull out, you pull up to the front of the Nomads pack with me,” he said. “We ain’t rode together in too long.”

He gave Summer’s hip a squeeze and turned, leading her towards his bike. “Now you ever been on a Harley, Summer? You just sit back there and hold my waist, you’ll be just fine.”

Hollywood grinned at him raising his brow at the blonde now snugged up against him. “I ain’t rode in a long time, period. Time to get my sea legs back.”

Jada glanced at him, “Should I be concerned?”

“Nah, I got this, just do like he said, hold onto my waist and push them titties up on my back,” he laughed, giving her a little side embrace. He could see the pleasure in her face despite her sassy pout.

Summer just beamed a smile from her sun kissed face, the freckles across her nose giving her a more youthful air. “A couple times, my...old man had a motorcycle but it was a Honda.”
She began braiding her hair back to keep it from flying too much, the pale lines from her bikini ran from her shoulders downward to disappear under her tubetop. “I never rode with a real biker either.”

“Well I hope the experience is a good one,” Easy laughed as he led her to his bike. The Street Glide was a big, heavy machine, with saddlebags for hauling luggage, a fairing to keep the wind at bay, and seats designed for thousand-mile runs. His was black, pinstriped in red, with a red 1% diamond decal’ed onto the front of the fairing. The word Reign, part of the Hell’s Highest motto, was stenciled on either saddlebag in Old English lettering that matched the tattoo on the right side of Easy’s neck.

He climbed onto the bike and stood it up, then offered an arm to Summer as support.

Summer bit her plump lower lip and hurried to join him, her crocheted purse banging off her hip and the backpack slung over her shoulders. She wore Converse sneakers without socks, the only shoes she had other than a pair of flip flops in her bag. Climbing on, she eagerly put her arms around his waist, her hands feeling his flat hard stomach.

Hollywood walked over to his girl, the Harley Sportster gleaming in the parking lot lights. It was mostly black and chrome but the tank had red letters “HHF-FHH” and the same 1% diamond decals. It was not the heavier, more comfortable bike but it could carry another person. He straddled it and though he’d ridden with Donnelley several times since meeting him in the Program this was his bike, his war horse.

When he started it, the engine roared to life and the mufflers vibrated with the noise. Purring like a kitten, they had taken care of her and not let her rot in a garage. He caressed the bike then remembered Jada.

“Hop on, just get your bag secure,” he instructed, looking at her over his shoulder. “Watch your legs by the pipes and hold on.”

She did as she was told, wearing her bag like a backpack and managed to get on, squeezing between Hollywood and the backrest. He kicked the stand back with the heel of his boot, playing up the wobble with a laugh even as Jada cursed and squealed, clinging tighter.

“Might need training wheels, Hollywood!” one of the nomads called out, laughing.

“Nah, I just need to go faster,” he said, looking over at Easy. “Ready when you are.”

Easy grinned and gunned his throttle, making his bike roar, and the other Hell’s Highest responded with roaring engines of their own. Goat led, pulling out of the parking lot with Kid on his heels. The rest of the local chapter followed, and the Nomads pulled out after them, Easy leading their pack. His second, a black-bearded brute named Animal, fell back to allow Hollywood to pull his bike into place beside the Nomad leader.

Behind the Nomads came the members from other Chapters, falling in according to their own esoteric rules, until finally the Prospects pulled onto the road with the van bringing up the rear. There were over 30 bikes all told, and as they settled into formation each bike on the right pulled up to the one on the left, so that they rode side by side. It was the most difficult riding formation, and easily the most dangerous, but it was also by far the most visually impressive. As one the bikes accelerated until they were well past the speed limit, bombing down the road towards the nearby campground in a roar of mechanical noise.

He had forgotten, in all the years after leaving the assignment, he had forgotten what a pure joy and thrill it was to ride with his brothers. They were Hollywood’s brothers but his when he embodied that role. He let his mind only take in the roar of engines and dozens of headlights popping on as they pulled out of the parking lot.

Hollywood shot a grin and raised his fist at Animal as he allowed him into their pack and the position beside their leader. He pulled up next to Easy, keeping the pace after a few braking and throttling, keeping up appearances of rustiness on a bike. He had not ridden so close and he felt Jada grip him tight but if she said anything it was lost to the wind and roar of mufflers.

Summer felt a raw thrill when they took off and followed the leader, the rest of the pack surrounding and trailing them. She sat up as much as she dared, her excited whoop not much more than a high pitched yelp as she clung to Easy. Her long straight hair quickly slipped from the haphazard braid and fluttered like a pale banner behind her.

Hollywood thought about the cocaine but for once was content with the excitement of a rally ride. A rally for him and he let himself enjoy the moment, only wishing Donnelley was there to share in it.

The ride was less than 10 minutes on the highway before the open ground gave way to heavy woods on either side. Goat slowed and pulled off onto one of the winding side roads that cut through the trees and the formation thinned. Easy gave Hollywood a small salute and then pulled in front of him as the road narrowed.

“‘Bout another 20 minutes from here,” he called to Summer. He reached back and patted her bare thigh, then allowed his hand to sit there on the smooth skin. “It ain’t really far, but there’s a lotta turns an’ ya gotta go slow. Plus it’s dark, don’t wanna end up kissin’ a tree, do ya?”

Feeling his hand, Summer squeezed him a little tighter, she liked his commanding presence and he was the bad sexy that would have had her Dad chasing him with a shotgun. She spoke in his ear, “I like going fast but I’d rather kiss you than a tree.”

She grinned at her own boldness, curling her fingers against the top of his pants, gripping his belt.

Hollywood followed into the more narrow line, now guiding the bike with practiced ease and he called back to Jada, “Fun isn’t it?”

She considered her answer, it was strange rolling down the highway with a bunch of dirty white boys and the danger fueled the excitement she felt since she had met Hollywood. Jada had never bothered with white boys in Atlanta, but here she was. She laughed at the absurdity, “Yeah, it’s wild, alright. How much farther?”

Hollywood shrugged then said, “Long as it takes, just relax and enjoy it. I’ll take care of you, I promise.”

Jada hugged up on him, his body was leaner than Easy’s but still hard with a lithe strength. She could see the bikes before them and the long train behind, heading into the unknown rural Florida night. Her sister was going to kill her.


The convoy pushed on in the tight press of the trees, the riders leaning as the road wound here and there on its route to the lake. Suddenly their surroundings opened up, the trees giving way all at once to a broad, flat plain occupied by RV’s and campers. The prime spots, closest to the water, were a riot of noise and light.

A group twice the size of the welcoming committee had set up camp at the lake’s edge. Music blared from different campsites and fires blazed, and members of the Hell’s Highest wandered here and there with drink, drugs, and women. They cheered as the bikes pulled up, men coming over to greet them.

Goat waited for Red to dismount before he dropped his kickstand and climbed off the bike, stretch his back with a grunt. When she’d removed her helmet he leaned over and gave her a quick kiss on the forehead.

“Go on and make sure them other girls have the food goin’,” he said, then slapped her on the rump. “I’ma make sure Hollywood settles in.”

Hollywood had a huge grin as they rolled in, his face ached from smiling so much, it had been awhile since he had felt genuinely happy. Ever since his best friend left THUNDER, life had been a little less fun. Now this life, this was one that was fun and full of love and loyalty. His heart skipped a beat as the last word ran through his mind. His smile only faltered slightly but he covered by turning to call out to Easy, “Club’s grown, man. This looks great.”

As they pulled in, Jada watched with wide hazel eyes, scanning the mostly white crowd but found a couple of black dudes wearing the colors and even more women of various shades. She relaxed a little, she would not be the only one.

Red jumped off the motorcycle, still energetic and filling out the tank top and jeans with maternal curves. She smiled at the affection from Goat and set the helmet on the seat, “You got it boss, man.”

She left and sauntered over towards the pair of large grills going, the cooking RV as they called it. With her arms outstretched, Hollywood could hear her call out, “Where my bitches at?”

She was greeted with a chorus from women in black vests, most of them wearing red tops of some type or another. Jada tapped him and he turned back, “Home sweet home, come on.”

“I didn’t know you had brothas with your brothers,” she quipped as she slid off the bike, mindful of the hot pipes. “Yo, I’m from ATL. I still never seen so many white boys in one place.”

He laughed and dismounted, “We don’t discriminate if that’s what had you worried.”

Jada raised a brow then shrugged in away that made her generous chest bounce. “Glad to know it, you seem like a pretty chill dude so I figured it couldn’t be that bad.”

Hollywood looked at her, her innocent trust tugged at him in more than one way. There was always that part of himself he disliked but used, the one that made people trust him and he enjoyed earning it. It was how he had to operate and sometimes it felt good to bait someone into a trap. Other times, it ate away at his soul.

In this case, he meant her no harm and just enjoyed her appearance and sass. “Well, you’re right. Come on, there’s lots of liquor or whatever you want.”

He approached Easy, giving him a quick almost Predator handshake and grinned at the blonde still perched on his bike. The campgrounds were full of RVs and trucks with campers, even tents. Smoke from the grill and the smell of cooking food from the big RV rose above the stink of weed and the scent of lake water.

“It feels good to be free,” he said in a low tone for Easy to hear.


The party had mellowed after the initial hellos, the countless hugs and handshakes. Red’s girls had kept a steady stream of meat on the grills, and with the Prospects running drinks and drugs to anybody who called, many of the patch-holders were settling into a lazier brand of party, with the hard-charging holdouts separating off to ride donuts, pop wheelies, and do lines while the others smoked and drank.

Easy had done his turn stunting, hauling the front of his heavy touring bike up and riding a wheelie from one end of the campground to the other before letting it down. Summer had cheered him from the sidelines, and when he’d parked the bike he’d pulled her into a firm kiss, slapped her ass, and then led her laughing to one of the fires.

Now the two of them were kicked back at a fire across from Hollywood, sharing a joint and a bottle of Jack, Easy sprawled comfortably in a camp chair with Summer perched on his lap.

“So fuckin’ Oregon, man,” Easy said. “How was that?”

Hollywood had his own chair, he sat slouched and Jada had been invited onto his lap. She sat on his thigh, the firm cushion of her ass was pleasant and he left his hand against her hip as she leaned into his shoulder. He took a drag of the weed, it was good but not as good as his hippy weed. He passed it to Jada and lifted the red solo cup full of melting ice and straight bourbon.

“Oregon, it’s green,” he said then took a sip, raising his brows. “Outside the walls anyway. It ain’t the worst place. AB runs shit, including the guards.”

He snorted a little laugh then gave Jada a gentle squeeze. “Those idiots took my 88 tattoo the wrong way and we had to settle shit, wasn’t much trouble though. Stuck around with some boys from the Dead Men and the Forgotten. Mixed bunch, good dudes.”

Hollywood took the joint from Jada and hit it, “Had a few fights but nothing too bad, you know how it goes. Mostly the boredom was a killer, I should have written more but I was a little messed up about the whole thing. Not being able to stay in Florida with my brothers. Once I got out, they wanted me checking in, drug testing and working. Man, who the fuck would hire me?”

He laughed and let his hand slide between the plump thighs of the girl on his lap. “I worked two weeks at this shitty gas station in Portland. Some faggot with a Tesla got upset we didn’t have a charging station. Then told me the coffee tasted like shit. I made that fucking coffee.”

Gesturing with the joint, he broke into a wide grin. “Jumped the counter and chased him out, then just walked back to the halfway house and packed my shit. Gave you a call.”

He kept the stories vague, not only for his cover but for the girls. Hollywood could tell some gruesome true stories he knew but he wanted them impressed not disgusted. He could feel Jada stiffen slightly when he said he’d jumped his parole and he caressed her leg.

Easy chuckled, then sighed.

“You dumb motherfucker,” he said affectionately. “I knew you bein’ here was too good to be true. Gonna get your ass thrown right back in prison.” He smirked. “Guess we’d better party it up while we can, right?”

He gave Summer a squeeze. “That sound good to you, sweetheart? We’ll just have fun ‘til our boy here gets himself arrested again.”

Hollywood smiled sadly and tilted his head back to blow smoke up to the stars. “Yeah, they let me out 6 years into a 10 year sentence. Man, fucking...being out but not being free to do shit I want. It’s a tease. Like a dog chained up in the yard without a fence, just watching shit happening but stuck. It wasn't for me, so I’ll enjoy the time til they figure it out.”

Jada turned to look at him, “Ain’t you worried about it?”

“Not tonight,” he said, gliding his inked fingers along the smooth reddish brown skin. “I got other things to celebrate, not worry about shit.”

He smiled his dimpled smile and pulled her in a little closer, she was soft and warm, her body molding against his. His mind flashed to the last time he was intimate with anyone and how it had failed, not his drug addled body but his lover’s affection. With a little shake of his head, he leaned into her, “Let’s make tonight count.”

She gazed back at him, drunk and stoned, and smiled, “Let’s just party. Like Easy said.”

Summer giggled, pinching the end of the joint that was almost smoked down. “Hell yeah we do it til Hollywood’s gotta run. I hope it ain’t too soon.”

She was looking across the fire at him and Jada with a curious glint in her blue eyes then turned back to Easy, “How long do these parties last?”

“Kinda depends,” Easy said. “Some dudes might ride for home tomorrow, some might just hang around… Probably be guys here for at least a few days though. An’ my Nomads’ll be around for a bit, we don’t keep to no schedule.”

Summer grinned, leaning into him, “You know, I’m somewhat of a nomad myself. I go where I want, when I want. Fuck schedules.”

Jada was too stoned to care about the runaway’s story but felt a moment of gratitude as she had a home waiting for her return. Hollywood was touching her, the light teasing touches against the sensitive bare skin along with just enough booze to make her feel loose and good made her face warm and her body tingle.

She pressed the side of her breast against his chest, “What were you in for?”

Hollywood paused and turned to her, meeting her gaze, “Nothing big, just drug shit. This was before they legalized it up there. Bad timing.”

He smiled a bit and reached over with his free hand to brush a loose curl away from her face, letting his hand drop to brush the top of her chest.

She made a little noise, a soft sound that was encouraging, “Too bad.I bet you missed a lot of things. Like good food...girls.”

Hollywood’s expression shifted from a pleasant smile to a teasing smirk. “I especially missed eating good girls.”

Jada rolled her eyes but laughed, a pleasant throaty sound that made him grin again. He shot a look over at Easy with his blonde, “So, gotta place out here or we crashing with anyone?”

“Hell, I brought a lil’ tent on my bike,” Easy snorted. “Just big enough for two. But there’s RV’s with floor space all over, an’ nobody’s gonna stop us just sleepin’ by the fire.”

“If there’s an RV where they don’t mind a little rockin’ and rollin’, let’s hit it up,” Hollywood said, giving Jada a kiss in the cheek before pushing her gently from his lap. He paused, then said, “Hold that though, I gotta get our stuff from the bike. Hang tight here.”

He left the girl on the chair and made his way back towards the parking lot, his steps a little unsteady from the Jack but he felt in control. Unlike his time with THUNDER, when as Queen he could be much more lax with his facilities, now he had to be more careful. He reminded himself of this as he dug through his bag and found the small vial of coke and took a bump. The familiar tingling and rush brought his senses awake and he had to force himself not to do anymore and be too trashed to fuck.

Just enough to keep cravings from getting too strong, he promised himself then pocketed it before slinging the two bags over his shoulder to make his way back to their fire.

“Had to powder my nose,” he said, then reached into his pocket for the vial and tossed it to Easy. “Picked that up in Houston, pretty good shit. No fentanyl.”

Easy beamed as he caught the vial, holding it up in the firelight.

“There’s my brother,” he laughed. He gave the vial a shake and patted Summer’s flat stomach. “You ever done any of this? Keep you goin’ all night.”

Summer grinned at them, her eyes glassy already and then shook her head, “I never did, I tried some other stuff though.”

She giggled at his touch and sat up straighter, arching her back slightly, “Can I try it?”

Hollywood brought Jada’s bag and then went into his own, taking out a sack of weed. “Roll us a couple joints,” he told her, “It’s crazy, man. In Oregon they got dispensaries all over, so many custom strains and shit, like this is tropical. Hippies good for something other than just bruising.”

“Yeah, we’ll see about that,” Easy said as he uncorked the vial and tapped out a small amount onto the back of his hand. “But we gotta pick things up ‘fore we can start slowin’ ‘em down.”


“Thanks, Red,” Hollywood said, squinting from behind his sunglasses in the late morning light, handing her a couple of twenties. “Long night, you know.”

He grinned and she shook her head with a bemused laugh, both of them looked worse for wear. She reached up and smoothed his wild beard and said, “Only because it was your party. C’mon, girly. We’ll get you some breakfast and to the bus stop.”

Jada gave Hollywood a tired hug and he watched her walk away with extra sway with Goat’s old lady, heading to a minivan Red used to haul their kids around in. He lit a cigarette, standing bare chested in the warm sun. The previous night was a blur of debauchery fueled by booze and drugs and new pussy.

Hollywood wandered back to the trailer, bodies still sprawled across the beds and blankets on the floor. A puppy pile of degenerate bikers and their chicks. Summer was still naked, curled up beside Easy where Jada and he had slept. Hollywood crouched down and hunted for a bottle, finding one with a few sips of bourbon in it and helped himself.

He sat smoking, his foggy head throbbing and he swore softly under his breath, “Goddamn.”

The hangover was on the heels of the one from a few nights ago in Miami, Billy had just turned 32 and was starting to feel it, the recovery time now not so easy. TIme was not something he had a lot of despite the break given to THUNDER.

Finally he reached out and shook Easy, “We need coffee, food. And I need a fucking shower.”

Easy cracked a bloodshot eye and looked around, then carefully extricated his arm from Summer. The girl was out cold and he stood, happy to let her sleep off the night’s exertions. He cast about in the trailer for a moment, finally spotting his gun sitting on the arm of one of the trailer’s built-in sofas. He slipped the blocky CZ into his waistband and stretched.

“Just get in the lake,” he grunted. A soft snort drew his attention to the lithe body lying beside Summer, and he met Tigress’s lidded gaze. “You gettin’ up?”

In response the tattooed woman simply snorted again, closed her eyes, and twined her naked body around Summer’s, snuggling up to the girl.

“Guess not,” Easy grunted.

Hollywood chuckled and took a drag, looking down at them and then shrugged, “Lake it is, time for skinny dippin’.”

He shucked his jeans and kept his boxer briefs on and his boots, grinning around his cigarette as he dug through his bag. “I know I got some fucking Irish Spring in here.”

Hollywood grabbed a fresh shirt and his jeans, tucking them under his arm. “Coming with me? Gonna remind me of prison?”

He laughed at that and stepped out of the trailer, looking towards the line of trees where the lake stretched out. “Better not be full of gators looking for a bite.”

“Ain’t no gators out here,” Easy muttered. He grabbed the remains of a random beer and took a heavy swallow, fighting the pain mounting in his skull. He followed behind Hollywood, closing the trailer door carefully to avoid waking the others inside. “Where’d that dark piece you had last night go?”

Hollywood stretched, his back popping and the inked designs on his skip bright under the sun. “Red took her to the bus stop, she had to get on home,” he said, finding the well worn trail through the shady cypress and oaks. “Too bad, would have done with another round.”

He flashed a grin, his eyes tired but pleased, “She was walking funny, that’s for sure.”

Easy laughed. “Yeah, well, we tore that shit up,” he said. He made a half-hearted attempt at a pelvic thrust, then waved the gesture off. “Fuck, I feel like shit. Hey, what you think of Summer? Thinkin’ I might keep her around a bit.”

The lake appeared through the break in the trees, the water still and steel blue with the morning light glinting off of it. A spring fed lake was inviting and as he pondered Easy’s question he breathed deep. He smiled a bit, then shrugged, “Sure, why not? She’s cute and eager, seems keen on the whole experience. Kinda young but you know, they’re the adventurous ones.”

He huffed a laugh, “They haven’t got their priorities straight yet. But who knows, maybe she’ll turn out to be a bad bitch like Tigress or Red.”

Queen got closer to the water's edge and took off his boots and underwear, hanging the clothes over a fallen log. “She’s fun, that's for sure.”

Picking up the soap, he gave Easy a side eye, “You sure about the gators? Been a minute since I’ve been in a Florida lake.”

Easy kicked out of his boots. “I ain’t been eaten yet,” he said as he took his gun and stuck it in the inner pocket of his Colors. He shucked off his jeans and, vest still in place, waded into the water. “Don’t be a pussy.”

“Fuck you,” he laughed, “Goddamnit.”

Hollywood went into the water, feeling the flat stones under foot give way to soft mud as he reached mid thigh. He looked at him, still in his vest and chuckled, “Those colors don’t run, but they’ll swim.”

He got as deep into the lake as Easy was then took a step further, just to offset the pussy comment. Hollywood began washing up, the classic scent rising from the foam drifting in the water. The sun was warm and the water was still cool from the evening, and as he washed his chest, he looked over at his old friend, “I missed this, just being outside like this. Not to be a pussy about it.”

A dimpled grin formed on his face and he closed his eyes briefly as the hangover reminded him it was still there. “Hell of a party,” he said, trying not to look too hard at Easy. Luckily the headache and the massive amounts of cocaine and booze kept other parts of his body in check. He considered the man a friend and that was it, he wasn’t Donnelley.

“Hell of a reason,” Easy said. He dunked himself, then stretched, spreading his tattooed arms wide. “This is the life, man. The fuckin’ civilians, the cops, they’ll never get it. We just live how we want, no worryin’ about what other people think. Fuck their rules. We’re free.”

Hollywood followed suit, crouching so his head was immersed and he rose, blinking water out of his eyes, his beard dripping. As scrubbed it, he admired Easy and nodded, “Yeah, ain’t that true. I fucking miss it.”

Even without experiencing prison, he missed this carefree lifestyle. It reminded him sometimes of his childhood, always moving around on whatever whim his mother felt. The Program and his day job, they trapped him in their way, a heavy responsibility that weighed on him. He shrugged, rolling his shoulders as if to release the tension. “I’m looking forward to a ride today, get some food and see what trouble we can find.”

Reaching up to wash his hair, he ran his fingers through the shoulder length strands then dunked back down, staying under to rinse it clean. He popped up, wiping his eyes and slicking back his hair. “Might get another tattoo, marking the occasion.”

Once they had finished they made their way back to the camp, eating leftover barbeque for breakfast and cracking beers as they lounged around recovering from the hard partying the night before. Hollywood had listened mostly, hearing the talk about a cocaine shipment moving up from Texas via Mexico, a long way around to avoid dealing with the dozen or so Miami mafias and gangs. Meth had always been their bread and butter, and it still was but this was something new. As he listened to Goat, hearing his doubt and Kid who was in favor, his gaze fell on Easy who was more interested in his new squeeze, the pretty little blonde from the bus station. Easy was easy, he would go either way he felt was right, where the wind took him and where the money could be made.

He took a joint passed to him and enjoyed the attention of Tigress, her fingernails running against the back of his neck when he felt his phone vibrate. He paused, then reached into his pocket and checked.

“Shit,” he muttered, then plucked the joint from his lips and put it in hers. “Take care of that for me.”

Hollywood rose up and stepped away, answering the call from Donnelley, “What’s up? Right now?”

He glanced back at the bikers and thought about his boss waiting for what he would bring them. Fuck him he swore silently, he wouldn’t give them shit. He had already given enough warning about clasing with the south Florida gangs, that’s all he could do without drawing suspicion. Pinned between the two loyalties he sought the escape now offered by his best friend. The thought of doing some sneaky shit with Tex brought a grin to his face and he responded, “You know I’ll be there. Lexington, KY. Well, shit I’ll be there in the morning at some point. I’ll call you when I get closer.”




I'm listening to "Ghost Town"

The Specials? Nice.

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