“I don’t get why he doesn’t just come into the restaurant? Is there some kind of a problem?” I asked, following her toward the exit.
She smiled brightly. “Not at all. It’s a surprise.”
“A surprise?” I repeated, wondering what this was all about.
“Yes. What a beautiful day it’s turning out to be.”
It was the middle of June, and the sun was warm and bright as we stepped outside. I grabbed my sunglasses from my purse and slipped them on as I followed her.
“It’s nice,” I agreed. It was the kind of day where I wished we had our own pool. I used to love swimming and had spent a lot of time at the one at my old apartment complex. Back when I lived with my roommate, before the ‘incident’.
“They’re they are,” she said, grabbing my hand and pulling me toward the end of the parking lot, where Tank and Slammer were waiting.
“Hi,” I said, as we approached.
“Hey, Jessica,” said Tank, who was leaning against a bright, red Mustang, his tanned biceps folded under his chest. “How’ve you been?”
“Great,” I replied, admiring the car. I wondered if they’d picked it up in California. “Wow, nice ride.”
“That’s what I’ve been told, darlin’,” said Tank with a wicked grin.
I rolled my eyes. “The car, Loverboy.”
“He’s such a meat-head,” said Slammer. He stepped over and gave me an awkward hug. “Congratulations on passing your nursing exam, Jess.”
“Thanks,” I replied, as he patted my back.
“Yeah,” said Tank. “A nurse. That’s great. The only thing that I really know about nursing is…” He laughed. “Hell, who am I kidding? I know nothing. I don’t even nurse my beers.”
I smiled. “You goon.”
Slammer rolled his eyes. “And you wanted to be a comedian when you were a kid. Glad I talked you out of it.”
“I wouldn’t call what you did ‘talking me out of it’,” said Tank, smirking. “If I remember correctly, you said that the only thing funny about me were my farts.”
“No, what I said is that your jokes would clear a room faster than a fart,” said Slammer.
“Don’t listen to him. I think you’re funny,” said Mom, sliding her arm through Tank’s. “And you can be whatever you want. There’s still time.”
“What are you talking about? He’s already living the dream. Gold Viper V.P. is nothing to whine about,” said Slammer. “And as far as the future goes, one day he’ll inherit the bar and my status.”
“I’m definitely not whining,” said Tank.
“So, what’s going on?” I asked, worried that the waitress was going to think we’d stiffed her.
Smiling, Slammer pulled out a key from his leather vest and held it out. “Here. For you.”
I stared at him in confusion as my hand wrapped around the key fob. “What is this for?”
“It’s a graduation gift,” he said, turning to the Mustang. “What do you think?”
“Oh, Slammer!” squealed Mom, clapping her hands together. “How wonderful!”
My breath caught in my throat, as I stared at the gorgeous car, with its glossy red paint and shiny rims. “Hold on a second, are you saying that this car is for me?”
He took off his sunglasses. “It sure is. This baby is safe and reliable. Not like that piece of shit you’re driving now.”
As excited as I was, I knew I couldn’t accept such an expensive gift. “The car is gorgeous. It really is. But… I can’t let you give it to me,” I said, holding the key back out toward him. “It’s too much.”
“No, no, no... It’s yours, darlin’. Bought and paid for,” said Slammer, waving it away.
“Seriously, I love the thought, but I just can’t accept something like this.”
“You can accept it and you will,” he said firmly. “Now, go sit inside and enjoy it because it’s going to be your new best friend for a while.”
“He’s right and if you don’t accept the gift, he’ll take it as an insult,” said Tank, chewing on a toothpick.
“No buts. It’s a gift from your mother and me. To you. We want you to have a reliable set of wheels. This one is a beaut, and you deserve it,” said Slammer, a determined look on his face. “Now, you can say ‘no’ all you want, but this baby is yours and there’s nothing you can do about it. Hell, your name is already on the title.”
Seeing the way his jaw was set, I threw my arms around Slammer and this time, gave him a hug. “Thank you,” I said, my eyes filling with tears.
He patted my back. “You’re welcome. Now, why don’t you go and take it for a spin?”
“Wait,” said my mother. “We need to get back inside before the waitress calls the cops. We haven’t paid for our food.”
“Just what we’d need,” said Tank, smirking. “To get arrested for not paying a bar tab. That would be humiliating.”
“No shit,” said Slammer, looking toward the restaurant. “I’m fucking starved. You don’t mind if we join you, do you?”
“Of course we don’t mine,” said Frannie. “Afterward, Jessica can try out her new car.”
“Sounds like a plane,” said Slammer, slipping his arm around her waist. “Let’s go eat. Hope the food is better than what they’re serving at Griffin’s. That new cook I hired just can’t get his shit right. Hamburgers are over-cooked and the wings taste like road-kill. I tell you, I just can’t win.”
“I volunteered to help you out,” said Frannie. “You know I make the meanest burgers in town.”
“I know but I don’t want you down there. We already talked about this,” he said as we entered the building.
“I don’t mind strippers,” she said.
“It’s not the strippers I’m worried about,” mumbled Slammer. “It’s some of the dirt-bags that walk through the door. They see you and try getting down your pants.”
She laughed. “You’re so full of it.”
“No, I’m serious. You’re beautiful. Isn’t she, Tank?”
“Yep,” he said as we slid into the booth. “Hell, you and Jessica could pass for sisters.”
Blushing, she waved her hand. “Oh, you two…”
“Mom, they’re right. You look too young to be forty-five.”
“You’re forty-five?” said Tank, winking. “No. I thought you were in your thirties.”
“If I was I wouldn’t have a daughter as old as Jessica.”
“Sure you would,” said Tank. “Some of the girls who hang out at the clubhouses have moms in their thirties.”
“They legal?” asked Slammer, frowning.
“They’re all over eighteen,” said Tank. “Don’t worry about it, Old Man. I’m keeping track of shit.”
“I do worry about it. I don’t want any minors down there.” He turned to Frannie. “I’m not around at night, so sometimes things get out of hand.”
“Whatever. Nothing has been getting out of hand,” mumbled Tank, as the waitress walked up to us. Noticing that she was pretty, he gave her a flirtatious smile. “Hey there, darlin’. Can I get a menu and a cold beer?”
“Certainly. Bottled or tap?” she asked, staring at his arms.
“Wow, I love your tats,” she said, flipping her hair back. “I just got one myself.”
“You did? Where?” he asked, his eyes moving up and down her uniform.
She backed away and turned her sandal, giving us a glimpse of the rose on her ankle. “I’m starting off small.”
“Nothing wrong with that,” he replied. “When you want something bigger, you should call me.”
“Why, are you a tattoo artist?”
“Oh, were we still talking about tattoos?” he asked, with a wicked grin.
The waitress burst out laughing. “You’re a handful, aren’t you?”
He wiggled his eyebrows. “Call me and you’ll find out, sweetheart.”
“Jesus Christ. I can’t take you anywhere,” said Slammer, taking out a vapor cigarette from his pocket. “Sorry, Hon. I’ve been trying to train him, but he piddles out of his mouth everywhere he goes.”
Tank flipped him off.
“It’s okay,” she said. “I think it’s cute. Here,” she said, writing down her phone number on a napkin. “Call me sometime. If you want.”
“Oh, I want,” he said, taking it from her.
“Great. I look forward to hearing from you. I’ll give you a few minutes to decide what you want to eat,” she said, putting her pen into her apron.
“I’m thinking pie,” he said, rubbing his lower lip with his index finger. “Can I get a slice of you to go?”
“Tank, oh my God,” I gasped, laughing. I looked at the waitress. “Sorry. Slammer is right; we really can’t take him anywhere.”
“Um, I’ll be back,” she said, backing away, her cheeks red.
“Weren’t you just with Rhonda this morning?” asked Slammer, when she was out of earshot.
“Yeah. So?” he said, opening up the menu. “She’s just a sweet-butt anyway.”
“A what?” I asked, frowning.
“It’s a groupie,” said my mother dryly.
I raised my eyebrows. “You guys have groupies?”
“Yeah. Women love us,” said Tank.
My mom opened her mouth to say something, when Slammer put his arm around her shoulders. “They love the boys, which is good because the only groupie I want or need is you, Babe.”
“He’s right. Everyone knows you’re the new Queen, Frannie. In fact,” said Tank. “It wouldn’t be a bad idea to get together with some of the other Old Ladies. Get to know them a little bit more.”
“As a matter of fact, I am,” she said, smiling. “We’re having a poker party on Friday night. Most of the girlfriends and wives are showing up.”
“Really? Why didn’t hear about that,” I said, not exactly thrilled with the idea. Although I liked Adriana, some of the others seemed almost as intimidating as the men in their lives.
“I was going to bring it up, but then these guys showed up with the big surprise. You’ll join us, won’t you?” she asked me.
“Uh, sure,” I said, knowing I’d be home anyway. “Is Adriana going to be there?”
“Yes,” she replied. “Raptor is staying home with Sammy. It will be good for him.”
“Guess I’ll be hanging out with you, Friday night,” said Slammer to Tank.
“You know it’s Fight-night,” said Tank.
“Even better,” said Slammer.
I leaned my chin against my hand. “Okay. What’s that all about?”
Tank smirked. “Some friendly fisticuffs, partying, music, and babes.”
“What do you mean by ‘friendly fisticuffs’?” I asked, intrigued.
“Two guys get into a ring and some punches are thrown until one gets the better of the other. It’s all in good fun,” said Slammer.
“Is that legal?” asked Frannie, looking concerned.
“Nothing for you to concern yourself with, Hon,” said Slammer. “It’s just a bunch of guys having fun. What we do with our money is our own business, anyway.”
“Yeah,” said Tank. “The cops usually turn their cheeks on events like this, and some even show up to watch. It’s all in good fun.”
“Oh, okay,” she said, relaxing.
Something told me that it was much more than that, but as long as she wasn’t going to be involved in any way, I wasn’t about to ask any more questions either.
“When you leaving for Minnesota, Jess?” asked Tank.
“In two weeks,” I replied.
“You run into any problems out there, you call us,” said Slammer, reaching over to grab one of my fries.
“What do you mean?” I asked. “Is there something that I should be concerned about?”
He grinned. “Relax, Sweetheart. I’m talking about money or whatever else that might come up.”
I relaxed. For a second I was worried he was talking about club stuff. “Oh, okay.”
“But,” he said, pointing to me. “You’re still an attractive, single girl in a new city. If anyone rubs you the wrong way, don’t hesitate to call one of us. We’ll take care of anything that needs taking care of. You got it?”
I nodded. I was both flattered but hesitant to take him up on the offer. I knew what had happened to the man that had raped me. I’d heard the whispers and had watched the news. He was dead. Admittedly, I was relieved to know that he couldn’t harm me or anyone else again, but I was also worried about my mother. If Slammer was involved with anything else illegal, and was caught, it would destroy her. She’d be heart-broken if he ended up in prison.
“Yeah. We’re family,” said Tank. “We protect our own. That includes the women in our lives.”
I thought about how Tank’s girlfriend had been murdered and how Adriana had been kidnapped, and found his words ironic, considering their fates. It was their affiliation with the Gold Vipers that had put the girls in danger in the first place. Not to mention my own attack by a rivaling club member. None of that had been coincidental.
“I’ll be fine, but I appreciate the offer,” I said.
My mother cleared her throat. “We’re following you out there.”
“To Shoreview? Why?”
“Make sure that your move goes smoothly,” said Slammer.
“Why wouldn’t it?” I asked, feeling anxious again.
“Relax,” he said, smiling. “Your mother’s a little nervous about you moving out of state.”
Frannie smiled. “He’s right, but only because I’m going to miss you.”
“I’ll miss you, too, but there’s no need to chaperone me,” I said.
“It would be nice to see Cheryl again,” she replied.
“Cheryl was just out here two weeks ago,” I said, smirking. “Mom, I’ll be fine and, to be honest, I think I need to do this by myself.”
“I agree,” said Slammer. “And I told your mother that, too. Not that I don’t want to take a road trip. I love them, especially this time of year, but this will be good for you.”
“What about those Devil’s Rangers?” she asked.
“Babe, I told you before, Mud is gone and the rest of their chapter is no longer a threat,” said Slammer in a low voice.
“How do you know for certain?” she asked.
He was silent.
He sighed. “Because most of them are no longer above ground,” he said. “And from what I’ve heard from some of my sources, their Mother Chapter isn’t interested in revenge.”
“They’re just brushing it off?” asked Frannie. “That’s a little surprising, isn’t it?”
“Let’s just say that Mud and Breaker won’t exactly be missed by anyone in the Devil’s Rangers,” said Slammer. “They’d made a lot of enemies, even in their own club.”
“I guess that doesn’t surprise me,” I mumbled, wishing they’d change the subject. Just hearing the name ‘Breaker’ made my skin crawl. He was dead but for me, never forgotten.
“See, there’s nothing to worry about,” said Tank, looking at me with a smile.
“Of course that great news,” said Frannie, her shoulders relaxing. “But, I would still like us to follow you out there.”
I sighed. “Mom…”
“Just me and Slammer,” she answered. “It will be fun. We’ll grab a bite to eat on the way and check out some of the antique shops. Slammer, have you ever visited Stillwater, Minnesota?”
“Can’t say I have,” he replied.
“Oh, you’ll love it. Cheryl and her late husband once owned a slip in the St. Croix River, and we used to have so much fun on it. This was before you were born, Jessica.”
“Obviously,” I replied, having never been to Stillwater myself. “Is it near Shoreview?”
“Yes, it’s only about thirty miles away. We’re going to have so much fun,” she said, looking excited now. “Would you like to join us, Tank?”
“Antiquing?” he asked with a smirk.
“Yes and we could do some sightseeing. In fact, we should drive all the way up to the North Shore,” she said.
“Thanks for the invite, but I’m going to pass,” said Tank. “Someone needs to look after the bar while you’re gone.”
“Bullshit. Raptor can keep an eye on things while were gone. Or one of the others,” said Slammer. “I’m not going to be the only one suffering through antiquing.”
“Nonsense. You’re going to love it,” said Frannie, glowing with excitement now. “You just never know what kind of treasure you’ll find in an antique store. Cheryl once picked up a vase that was later valued at five-hundred dollars. She only paid twenty-five for it.”
“I’m sure that’s a rare occurrence. To be honest, thrift and antique stores aren’t my thing,” said Slammer. “But, I’ll take you wherever you want to go, Darlin’.”
“Thanks, Hon,” she replied, kissing him on the cheek. “And keep an open mind. You might just have a lot of fun. You too, Tank.”
“Speaking of fun, how are the women in Minnesota?” he asked.
“There won’t be time for that,” interrupted Slammer, as his cell phone went off. “We’re only staying one night.”
“Who’s that?” asked Frannie, as he began to scowl.
“A Prospect. What the fuck does he want?” he mumbled before answering. “This better be important, Dutch. What’s up?”
I couldn’t understand what Dutch was saying, on the other end of the phone, but Slammer suddenly looked angry as hell.
“Fuck,” he snarled, pounding his fist on the table, startling all of us. He got up and walked away from the booth, still listening to whatever the Prospect was saying.
“I wonder what that’s about?” asked Frannie, looking worried.
“Don’t know,” said Tank, standing up. “I’ll go and make sure everything’s okay, though.”
“Thanks,” said Frannie.
After he walked away I sighed. “Sounds like club business. Hope it’s nothing… illegal.”
“It shouldn’t be,” she said, although her own eyes were full of doubt.