The road is a funny thing. It can be as straightforward as a line going from one place to the next. And when it’s full of bikers like me, there ain’t a damn soul who looks outside the lines. Everyone’s too focused on their destination, where they’re trying to get to, not where they actually are.
But the road’s a fickle bitch. One minute, it’s that line, pointing a path towards where you’re going. Next minute, it’s a vicious circle, repeating itself over and over again, and every time you feel like you’ve figured out your path, something on the road sends you back, the destination now gone, as if it was a mirage.
Here in the desert, the road is scorched, parched, dying from baking in the sun, but with its last gasps of dusty breath, it’ll send you twisting this way and that. In the midst of a sunny day, beaming down orange on the cracked pavement, it waves around, glitters, sparkles, darkens. It fakes you out, leaves you desiring more, leaves you wondering how you ended up where you are. Most of all, it lies. It lies right to your face, and it doesn’t give a damn who you are or what you might want. It lies to serve its own damn self.
When you ride this road as much as I do, you know that that pavement is that circle, just the same goddamn loop over and over and over again. There’s only one real destination, and that’s about six feet under. But in this game, there sure as hell ain’t no pit stops or places to get off and stretch your legs. It’s only black tar and red dirt that stretches as far as your mind lets it.
I’ve been on the road far too long lately. Granted, it’s for a good reason—leastways, I suppose it is. Now that I’ve been with the Bloody Pagans for nearly fifteen years, I’ve earned my patch logging in these miles day after day. Like the Boy Scout, the obedient soldier with his orders and routes, I don’t ask questions, I just ride, pick up, ride, drop off.
A normal person doesn’t have the blood or brains for a job like this. Truckers I’ve met call it “road brain,” where your mind goes mush seeing only the yellow and white lines of the highway for hours each day. But I love it. I love riding next to my brothers as we zigzag in and out of the same traffic coming to or from Los Angeles. I love staring down the same men as they hand me their satchels and packs. And I love smelling the burn of the gas as I fill up at the same station every morning.
Today, however, is different from the rest. Thad and I are firing up the concrete like bats out of hell. Behind me, about a quarter of a mile back, are two enforcers from the Midnight Kings. They’ve been trailing us for an hour now, ever since we managed to pull off one of the greatest heists in Bloody Pagan history.
I can just imagine the reports back at their headquarters. Wilson Kirkwood, the kingpin and President of the Midnight Kings, was someone we all thought couldn’t be got. But when Martin Barber gave the orders straight from his daddy that I was to pocket their runs before it got to their distributors, I didn’t tell them it couldn’t be done. I did it. I robbed that sumbitch of his stash.
Thad and I outfoxed the best goddamn fox in the world. And that big pile of cash they thought was going to their bank is burning a hole in my back pocket. The satchel full of pristine, white, Colombian-grade coke is sloshing around in my bucket. I just need to get it past Exit 43 and back to Garland before I can call us safe and in the clear.
No Senators cross Exit 43. It’s an unwritten law among bikers like us that says territory is sacred. If they pass that mark, we’ve got all the power—and the right, or the obligation, even—to shoot them dead. And the cops in Garland ain’t going to do a thing to stop us. They take a cut of the action themselves to keep us out of trouble. May not be pretty, but it keeps us on the good side of the law.
Of course, I violated the goddamn truce myself. I’m the one who just crossed enemy lines to get Kirkwood’s stash. But I’m the fastest rider in all of California. I know the routes, the side streets, the short cuts, and the alleyways as if I invented them. Even King land is fair game to me. The two enforcers on our tail don’t even give me second thought as I motion with my leather-gloved hand to Thad to dash a left at Exit 42, a frontage road. We’re going to lose them before they can even get on our tail.
I slow my Harley down just enough so that it allows me to swerve right in front of the face of a big rig. The trucker slams on his brakes, causing his whole bed to lift off the ground and send debris flying everywhere. The cars around him swerve outwards towards the steep ditches and landscaping. The sound of metal on metal fills the empty air.
Thad and I use the distraction to veer off onto the exit ramp, our pace still slow and low. Our engines hum and purr as they practically crawl down the loop towards the overpass. We walk our bikes off the road and under the dark and damp cover of the little bridge. Only our shadows—of two men and their bikes—give us away.
Moments pass as I try not to hold my breath. Thad takes out a cigarette and lights up as he checks his pack. Last thing you want is to lose that picking on the road while you ride. What a waste. But he gives me the thumbs up. All accounted for. I do the same, distracting myself by counting out the wad of hundreds. It’s nearly $10,000, minus a couple of bills probably still crumpled in that runner’s sweaty hands.
Martin gave me the job knowing that the cash reward would be high. A man much younger and dumber than me probably couldn’t resist the temptation. Ten grand could get you a whole new life in Mexico if you could manage to make it out without being caught by the Senators or one of the other Bloody Pagan chapters. A few have tried, but I’ve never heard them tell their tales. Punishment for stealing from the gang wasn’t exactly lenient.
So I know better. I know to leave the money alone and let the club distribute it. We’d all see a bonus in our envelopes later this month. A couple hundred towards food and some new riding boots was going to be my reward. That, and being named the new captain of the road crew.
It was a big honor, but I’ve been expecting it. Ever since Martin was promoted to chief enforcer, his daddy, Jonah Barber, has been calling me to take a bigger position in the club. I was training young guys, new runners, left and right. And I was picking up night shifts which I typically didn’t do. I even gave up my part-time job as a bartender to be the full-time drug runner they needed.
Tonight, it was going to be official—leastways that’s what I heard. The rumors had been circulating that the huge blowout party we were stopping at later was going to be in my honor. I’m not one for much of a fuss…I like to keep a low profile, blend in. Easier to breathe—and get away—that way. But this was one time—one damn time—I was going to soak in their praise. I deserved some fucking recognition for doing their dirty work after all this time. I’d been treated like a goddamn second-class citizen in the Pagans on account of me being a bastard with no daddy to claim me. So being treated like the king, even for one goddamn day, almost feels like retribution for all the times I was called a mistake.
Thad’s cigarette burns slowly as the little puffs drift my way. It brings me back to the present as I try to think of our next move. By now, the Senators’ riders have either peeled off at Exit 43, thinking we managed to get away—back over to our lines—or they’re still hunting us out on the highway among the wreckage.
I close my eyes and open my ears to the sounds around me. There are some shouts from a lady as she tries to explain to another driver that it was his fault she slammed into this bumper. Another big rig passes on by in a flash with his horns blaring. And among the chaos, I hear two chopper engines racing to my left and right. They’re smarter than I thought.
“We gotta get out of here. We’re sitting ducks.” I turn on my engine, this time not caring how loud it roars and echoes off of the brick. “You ride in the front. I’ll take the rear.”
Thad looks at me with his bug eyes bulging from his sunken face. He isn’t quite sure what I’m talking about. To him, we’ve been free for minutes now. He doesn’t speak “road” as I do. He probably can’t even tell that those engines are Japanese…bikes made for speed racing. But he still trusts my instincts. After riding as my partner for over five years now, he knows better than to question me.
As soon as he manages to start his, I see the flash of the black tire around the corner of the exit. It’s speeding at us at breakneck speeds. Two faceless riders are hitched on the back of two souped-up bikes. Both of us react by peeling away without any sense of direction or where we need to go. Dirt and gravel flies behind us, snapping at the sides of my legs and back.
Thad speeds ahead like a racehorse. He doesn’t look back; he just trusts me to cover him. He circles around the highway on-ramp, his massive Harley struggling to speed up the incline. Mine chugs along behind him, nearly matching his velocity. He pulls into the moving cars, past the truck we caused the accident with and the woman still screaming about her car’s busted backend. None of them even notice the chase that’s happening right before their eyes.
We plow through the cars, following the white center line. We never ride directly in view of civilians typically, but I don’t blame Thad. Riding in public gives us a bit of reassurance. No motorcycle gang member is dumb enough to pull out his weapon in mid-day traffic.
But the guys behind us aren’t as subtle. As I look behind me, spotting the two men riding up on the back of their bikes, pushing them to go even faster, I see the head rider pull out a gun from inside his jacket. He aims it carelessly at us and fiddles with the trigger. The wind whips at his arm, and he struggles to balance both himself and his bike with just one arm.
I hear the bang piercing through the roar of the wind against my helmet. The bullet hits at the side of my mirror and ricochets off in a high-pitched bang. I swerve, nearly bursting into Thad’s pipe and the side of a large, black SUV. The driver stares at me dumbstruck as he clues in on what’s going on. I push my hand against the man’s vehicle to straighten myself back up as another shot lands on the ground in front of me.
Now I can see the shooter’s game. He doesn’t want to kill me, at least not yet. He’s going for my tire. It’s a harder shot than getting at a body, one that I’ve made a few times in my career. And by the sound of the whirling police sirens coming up from behind us, he doesn’t have much time to get it right either. As I see the red and blue flashes, I direct my bike in front of the SUV and out towards my exit. My knee skims the side of the concrete barricade as I can practically feel the skin burn off of my leg.
The shooter manages to follow me. His shots go wide left, and I drive out even farther to the right. Another shot dings the side of my bike’s body, managing to just miss me by inches. And as I pull down towards the end of the road, he finally makes his target.
There’s a POW and a bang, as I feel the bike under me lose control. I try to steady it with all my strength, but it’s too much. It pulls out from under my thighs, as I go flying towards a clearing off of the road. There are flashes of yellow, red, brown, and green as my shoulder hits the ground first followed by the rest of my body in a somersault onto the brittle desert grass.
I don’t have a moment to think about what just happened to my bike or me. I can’t even consider where Thad is. I shake my head with dirt and dust falling off of my black leather jacket. I try to pick myself up, but the pain is too much. Something around my hip is busted…bad, and I can feel the cool trickle of blood soak into my jeans.
I stop moving altogether when I hear the heavy footsteps of a man approaching me. My eyes can’t make him out with the sun beaming down on me, but I see the outline of his broad shoulders and long neck. His hands are clenched to his side and his boots scuff at the pavement, as he walks with a man who knows what he is about to do.
“Well, well, well,” he snarls at me as he stands over my body, just feet above my chest. “The Bloody Pagans think they can rob the Senators? Think again, son. No one, and I mean no one, steals from Wilson or—especially—from me!” His voice grows cold and dark, and I hear the distinct metallic click of his safety as I suck in air…possibly my last breath ever.
And with all the reserves I have managed to save up, all the adrenaline coursing through my body, all the power I have—my arm spins around my chest and dives into the folds of my jacket pocket. I pull out my trusty gun and shoot, aiming wildly at the object above me.
Everything goes still with the pop of the gun firing. A small puff of smoke replaces where the man was hovering above me. Almost in slow motion, I hear the thud of a body and a shriek of someone wailing. And as I spin, I can make out the gun falling from his motionless hand. I reach around, grabbing it from his space just in case my shot wasn’t fatal. But he doesn’t move, doesn’t even shake or flinch. There is only the roar of the main road on the other side of us and the highway looming just ahead.
I roll myself over, moving my bruised and battered hip gingerly with my hands. I’m aching, but there’s nothing broken. The blood that stains my jeans is my only visible injury, a tear in my skin from when I fell onto the ground. My bike, however, is in worse shape. It’s going to need a trip to the bike doc before I can ride it again.
My phone vibrates urgently against my waist. I cough a few times, letting the pain fly out of me. “What’s goin’ on, boss?” I ask Jonah Barber on the other end.
“You get the job done, Gavin?” He’s not one for small talk, but I’m grateful of that. This isn’t exactly the time to chitchat about the weather.
“Yes, sir. Everything’s accounted for, including one corpse belonging to the Senators outside of Exit 43. I’m gonna need some backup on this one, along with the crash truck to come get my bike. It’s in worse shape.” Dead bodies in our business are like a missing spreadsheet at others. It happens. No sense getting too bent out of shape over it.
“I’ll send J.R. and Percy. You send me your coordinates. I’ll see you at headquarters later tonight.” He adds with a touch of humor in his voice, “It’s a big night for us, kid. Long time coming.”
I answer happily, “Yes, sir. It is.” I hear the sound of the phone click over as I try to contain my excitement. Even a broken bike and a casualty aren’t going to wreck my big night with the Bloody Pagans.