“Another one, Del? Don’t get me in trouble for over-serving you.”
Kel winks his crusty old eye at me as he shoots the small cocktail glass my way down the long wooden bar. Somehow, it doesn’t manage to spill a drop of the golden-brown liquid along the way. Thirty years of working at the Pipeline Bar must make you an expert on drink swilling.
“Are you seriously complaining about me spending my money?” I reply, a hint of sauce in my voice. It’s been a long fucking day dealing with my mother’s shit and work dragging me down, and I certainly didn’t need to hear it from an old bastard like Kel. Serve me my drink and leave me the hell alone to sulk.
My mom’s been a heinous fucking bitch for my whole life – and longer, according to most people. I’ve heard more than a couple people say her bitchiness started the day she was born, and I don’t have any doubts about that whatsoever. She’s hotheaded and stubborn as hell, and she’s not afraid to tell you when you don’t meet her strict expectations. Today, her beef was that my new work skirt was too short even though hers was at least an inch shorter than mine.
“You’ll be a club slut if you go out looking like that!” she cried out after me, but I was already tuning her out by that point. There’s only so much you can tolerate of a person like my mom.
It’s not all her fault, really. She’s had a hard life in her forty-five years. She grew up in a trailer park, raised by a monster that was my grandfather. He did things to her that I can’t really imagine myself. And when he managed to break her jaw over not buying the right kind of beer, she took it as a clue that it was time to get the fuck out of there fast.
But it didn’t get better from there. She met up with this guy, Preacher, who was a rider with the local motorcycle club. From what I’ve managed to get from the bits and pieces she occasionally tells me, he didn’t treat her much better than her daddy did. He was in and out of her life, constantly keeping her on edge, until he knocked her up.
When he found out she was pregnant, he gave her some money to get it – me – taken care of. Despite being a meek little priss around men, she managed to find some courage and stand up to him. She crossed over the town and settled in new territory where he couldn’t get to her or me when I was born.
When I look across the Pipeline bartop, I see a younger her in the mirror’s reflection – red hair, hazel eyes, pink lips painted an almost purple red. We could be twins or at least sisters. The resemblance is even more uncanny due to the white buttoned up waitressing top I’m wearing.
I told myself I wouldn’t be like her. I wouldn’t be some waitress in a prissy bar on the Hollywood side of town. I wouldn’t be living off of the tips hot-handed C-list celebrities paid me for letting them pat my ass as I walked by. I wouldn’t be scrubbing dishes for extra pay at the end of the night and then doing it all over again for the lunch rush.
I take another swig of my drink. It’s nothing great. I can’t afford the top shelf drinks or else I’d be upgrading. Tonight’s tips were dismal enough. The warm weather in Los Angeles has meant that most people would rather avoid a velvet, dark bar for some outdoor terrace.
The thought crosses my mind as I hold tight to my drink and move from inside the wood panel drunkard tank I call my home bar and out to the open air patio to watch the bikers roll in from their shifts. The night’s dusty – dry air hits me as soon as I step outside the air conditioning, but it feels good to sweat a bit and hear the crinkling sound of melting ice against the rim of my glass.
“Delilah!” a friendly voice shouts to me.
I turn my head to see my girl, Ariel, lounging in a rusty rocking chair. She tags a drag off her cigarette before standing to usher me over. She pushes her boyfriend Seb out of the chair next to hers to make way for me. Her smile beams through her thin, pink lips. The tattoos up and down her neck stretch as she goes in for an awkward hug. She knows I hate it, but I let her do it anyways. The girl’s been my friend for all my twenty-five years of life. I’m not going to correct her now.
“Where the hell have you been, sweetie? You haven’t been around the bar much. Bartender Kel there has been asking the boys about you all week. I’m sure he fixed you up something real strong and convincing…” She winks at me with her dark blue painted eyes. She’s like a goth angel out of an 80s music video: blonde hair with black tips hanging limp behind her, sapphire blue eyes painted with heavy black eyeliner, and a white dress torn just enough so that it’s arty, not slutty. It’s hard not to smile back at her, even when it’s been a shit day.
“Oh stop.” I shoo her hints away. “I’d never go for a tweaker like Kel if he was the last man on Earth. The guy is so strung out – I saw him give a beer to a guy who asked for a bourbon. Why the club puts up with him, I’ll never know.”
The club being the Bad Devils. They basically own this part of town. It’s impossible to do anything without getting involved with them. Lord knows I’ve tried to get away from it – to be more than just some biker bitch chick who fawns over old croaks like Kel who is on the lucrative Bad Devils’ payroll.
Ariel must sense my reluctance. She changes from teasing to something a bit more forceful as she continues, “Come on, Del. He’s not so bad. I know you don’t want to screw around with BB boys, but he’s not half as bad as the rest of them. And plus, you haven’t heard about the new management coming in, have you?”
“New management? What the hell does that mean?” My eyebrows shoot up.
The last president of the Bad Devils died of mysterious circumstances a few months back. From what I gathered from hanging around this bar after my late-night shifts, it sounds like some newer club had targeted him and picked him off while he was on vacation in Vegas.
The club’s been without a president or vice president ever since then, and you can tell it is starting to get to them. All the men in this bar look as if they are one incident away from doing themselves in. Their eyes dart to any person they don’t automatically register as their own. And I’ve seen more than one boy with their hands plastered to their pockets, ready to spring into action if called upon.
“Yeah!” Ariel claps her hands together in excitement. “Seb told me all about it. They brought in two guys from the Denver Chapter to be vice and president. The president, Nico, he started here in L.A., so a lot of the older riders know him and respect him. The vice though, they’re not too…” Her voice fades away as she stands to her feet towards the patio’s banister. She leans over, craning her neck to the far side where I hear the familiar roar of a group of motorcycles coming.
She reaches for my hand to pull me up, and with a finger outstretched, she points at something in the distance. “I guess I won’t have to tell you much about him. He’s coming now. Seb said they were gonna celebrate tonight. There was some big pickup or something down at the warehouse district. The vice, Race – that’s his name – was the one in charge of it all. Did it all within the few days he’s been in action.”
“Ugh. The last thing I want to do tonight is sit around with a bunch of rowdy, stoned, drunk riders. I’m getting out of here. You wanna go to a different bar and grab something to eat?” I try to pull her away, but I know curiosity's got this cat firmly by her tail. Her impossibly wide smile has already grown another few centimeters as she fixes her hair and rocks back and forth on her toes in an attempt to contain herself.
“No. Come on! I know you’re not into bikers or the Bad Devils, but at least try to have fun with this.” She looks me over coolly, focusing in on the half-finished drink I’m nursing in my hand. “Think of all the free drinks you’ll get if you just unbutton that top collar and roll up that skirt a bit. Show some skin.”
Behind her, Seb catches the end of the conversation. He gestures over to me approvingly, a dumbass thumb sticking high into the air as if to give his approval for me to stay. He watches with glowing eyes as Ariel leans in tight and proceeds to do just as she suggests. Her quick fingers undo the first four buttons of my white top before I can stop her. And she has no problem expertly rolling up the black pencil skirt so that it shows the top line of my black, fishnet stockings.
“There you go, Del. Now you’re looking like you’re ready for some action!” She cries out, an armed raised.
I reluctantly stand beside her, avoiding the glare from the rest of the growing group. The boys have streamed out of the bar to wait for their new, fearless leader to park his damn bike already. Between him and my hiked up mini-skirt, I’m not sure who they’re really focused on.
Action. I can’t honestly remember the last time I had some of that. My last boyfriend was a complete wet fish. He couldn’t keep up with me if he had earnestly tried. He was always too tired to try new positions, and too nervous to do it somewhere exciting. It was all vanilla, routine, get-it-done type work, but it took me four months to leave his ass.
I only stayed around because he had money. He was a white-collar type. Like most of the girls at my work in a serious relationship, I met him at the bar I waitressed at. He tipped me well enough for me to stay around and make small talk with. Then he treated me well enough that I could ignore his lack of appetite and his inability to get excited over anything but investment portfolios and fishing at his parent’s lake house.
Before him was Mitch. My mom hated him. His daddy was friends with mine back in the day when he was still around. We grew up together, and he ran with the Bad Devils for a long while until he was kicked out for mysterious reasons. I never caught on why. Secrets in the club remained secrets in the club unless you were a claimed woman.
Even then, you were only allowed to know so much before you became a liability. Either way, once Mitch was excommunicated from the Bad Devils, he was sent off to another territory. I sometimes think of him at night when I’m lonely and desperate for something real, but he’s become more of a figment than a real person at this point.
My attention instantly turns back to Ariel, who is practically drooling all over the floor. She leans in close to me, enough that I can feel the small beads of sweat on her bare shoulders.
“Do you see that guy? Holy fucking smokes.” Her chin gestures toward a group of men, all of them looking like another version of Seb with different levels of beard growth.
Nothing impressive there. They all look a little road-worn and haggard, but they’re smiling, tossing their jackets off to the side of their bikes so that the Bad Devils’ colors of red and black are proudly displayed.
It’s not till the tallest one moves away that I see who Ariel is swooning over. He towers over most of them, all muscles from his boots to his tattooed shoulders he shows off as he removes his fresh leather jacket from his long arms. He runs his fingers through his mess of brown, almost black curled hair and then uses his palm to wipe the sweat off his slightly stubbled chin. He scowls up at the crowd with eyes that glow golden-brown.
He’s not a fan of the crowd. I can tell.
Seb nearly pushes Ariel and me over to get to him. He calls out, “Race! Race! Damn, man, it’s good to see you! Are you ready to get this party started or what?”
A long, loud cheer goes up among the men, the groupies, that wait on the stranger’s reply. It’s like their lives depend on getting his approval, but the man’s face doesn’t change. He takes a few heavy steps up the stairs, his long and lean legs stretching the right out as he goes. He avoids answering them, but he gestures for something – a drink.
Desperate for his approval, Seb reaches over to me and takes the drink right out of my hand. I manage to squeak out a protest, but Ariel’s arm around my waist smothers me back into submission.
She whispers into my ear, “Come on, play along. I’ll buy you another one. Seb needs this.”
Yeah, but I needed that drink if I’m going to get through this night! I think as I sulk.
The rest of the boys watch Race eagerly sink back the remains of my drink. A small drop drips down along the edges of his angular face. It travels from the corner of his pinkish, full lips to the round crevasse between his chin and right cheek till it slides down the outline of the artwork on his neck.
As he finishes, he opens one eye and seems to focus in on me. I notice the upward crawl of his lips as he finishes the last drop and then examines the empty glass. I’m not ready for him reaching over Seb to hand the glass back to me with a sly, devilish grin.
Returning back to Seb, he pats Ariel’s man on the back with a strong, pounding palm as he says, “Thanks, man. I needed that.”
Seb’s entire demeanor changes in an instant. I always thought of him as some kind of lackey brownnoser in the club, but he stands taller with Race’s approval. His head held high, he ignores his lady and the woman he stole a drink from altogether and heads straight into the bar with the rest of the cheering, noisy group of leather-clad drunks and stoners. The door opens and music booms back into the patio over the speakers. The Bad Devils’ party has just begun.
With the guys gone, and just a few of the club girls mulling around the porch, I turn my attention back to Ariel. She’s sucking down her prissy vodka cranberry with an innocent look on her face.
Annoyed, I ask her, “Now what the hell am I supposed to do? Your man stole my drink to give to that… ugh… beast! The bar’s gonna be crowded for a good hour because they’re fawning over that pretty mountain boy and his entourage!”
“I’m sorry, Del. You know how important it is for Seb to move up. He wants a paid position, and this guy can get him there if he gets in good. He’s been gunning for an organization role for years now, and the old president wouldn’t give him the time of day. I’ll make him get you a new drink. I’ll text him now.”
“Don’t bother.” I push her off, still annoyed as hell. “Let him do what he has to do to impress that asshole. I’m sure he’s the kind of guy that needs men like Seb catering to his every need. They’re all like that. They think they’re tough shit, but the guys at the top know nothing. They’re just whiny, arrogant, pieces of—”
“Shit?” A booming voice stops me in the middle of my rant. From behind me, an arm stretches past my shoulder with a drink in hand. Without even seeing him, I know exactly who is behind me, offering me a fresh whiskey for my troubles. I stare straight at Ariel who is frozen in her place. Her eyes widen with fear as she attempts some kind of half-smile, half-apologetic look.
I take a deep breath, reminding myself of who I am. I’m Del. I’m not anyone’s girl. I’m not claimed. I’m not property. I’m not fixated on MCs or the Bad Devils. I don’t owe this guy anything, including my time or attention.
With my self-pep talk over, I spin on my heels to face him, but my feet fail me, and I’m nearly swept right into his arms by my deceptively dangerous heels on the wood planks. He catches me, wrapping his free arm around my back so that I’m forced upright. He bows down slightly to take a long, lingering examination of my face.
His pierced eyebrow flicks up a little. The large nostrils of his nose pulse and I see a vein pop slightly out as his jaw swishes back and forth. The pursed lips move into something almost like a smile, but he’s not giving it away – at least not for me.
He pulls back and then hands me my drink. “For a girl talking crap about me, you could at least stand on your own damn feet. I could have you thrown out of here for saying that shit about me.”
Before I can stop myself, I push him. “Then do it, buddy. Kick me out. Show everyone here what kind of a badass you are.”
I know he doesn’t like it as soon as I say it. The sort-of-smile disappears, and he glowers at me. Each step forward he takes forces me back one until my heels are right at the edge of the stairs. I hold on tight to the banister, thinking he may push me over himself as some kind of show of force.
I hold my breath and glance to where Ariel was once standing. I’m alone. Damnit. My heart races as I get a whiff of his musky cologne and the slight tinge of whiskey on his breath. His head cocks to the side as a hand moves to my waist.
In one swift move, he pulls me back onto the patio as he asks, “Now who the hell are you?”
“Delilah,” I answer, but I’m not sure if the word even escaped my quivering lips.