Authors: Christa Wick
Every war is fought between brothers
Knowing outlaw biker Callan Tilley is about to be murdered by another member of the Thunder Gypsies MC, Avery Watkins calls the police. But not all cops in Thunder Valley operate on the right side of the law, and saving Callan could cost Avery her life.
Callan has had a soft spot for the shy waitress from the first time he set eyes on her back in high school and is certain she was the one who called 911. That means she's as good as dead once the gang traces the call back to the bar where Avery works.
His plan to save them both? Steal a secret stash of the club's money, grab Avery and get the hell out of town. It might work, too, if the ATF, FBI, DEA and every other alphabet-soup agency in law enforcement were not on the hunt for a Gypsy willing to turn on the MC.
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Maybe making the 911 call was stupid, but that’s just me -- stupid Avery Watkins. My dad will tell you it’s true, only he’s more likely to say I’m a dumb cunt, followed by “just like your mother.” Only she’s a dead dumb cunt and has been for ten years. My high school teachers and the guidance counselor, Miss Rawley, will back up his opinion, only they prefer to sugarcoat it with nicer wording like “inattentive” and “doesn’t apply herself.”
I doubt any of those ladies at Thunder Valley High could have applied themselves any better at school if they had grown up with a drunk dad making them fetch beers and light cigarettes until two in the morning, and then find it impossible to fall asleep because there was no telling if the old man would wake up and light his own smoke before promptly passing out with a burning cigarette hanging from his lips. I’m doubly sure none of them ever applied themselves after emptying puke buckets for the last three months of their mother’s life as the alcohol abuse finally finished her slow suicide of the last two decades.
But that’s all water under the bridge, more or less. I finished high school on time a good five years ago and I work two jobs in a town were a lot of people can’t even find one. I’m a server three mornings a week at the truck stop by the interstate and I fetch beers and light cigarettes for drunks who aren’t my dad four nights a week at a bar called Freya’s.
Not a lot to lose, is it? Maybe that’s why I thought nothing about making the call when I overheard that the Thunder Gypsies, the local motorcycle gang, were about to kill one of their own members. It didn’t hurt that the soon-to-be dead Gypsy was Callan Tilley, someone always one grade up from me since I first noticed him when I was in fifth grade.
I was bringing four beers and a whisky to the back room at Freya’s when I heard the low-voiced execution order.
“We have to take Callan out. He’s turning into his dad and brothers.”
I almost dropped my tray of drinks but somehow managed to round the table like I hadn’t heard a word of what they were saying. The speaker was “Little Red,” the club’s vice-president. His father, not one of the four men at the table, was Big Red and had been the Gypsies’ president since Callan’s father was sent to prison for thirty years on some kind of racketeering charge.
Placing the drinks on the table, I did the mental math. Six years had passed since the cops slapped the cuffs on the elder Tilley. Callan had been a senior in high school and less than three years would pass before he was the last Tilley in Thunder Valley, one brother dead and the other in federal prison for the murder.
Manslaughter, not murder.
A waitress, not a lawyer, I didn’t understand the difference or how the prosecutor had made a case against Lincoln Tilley without a body. But everyone in town seemed to agree that Lincoln had killed his older brother Boone. Everyone but Callan -- and maybe me.
Placing the whisky and beer Little Red had ordered in front of him, I felt the brush of his knuckle against my knee. My stomach lurched to the opposite side of my body. I was damn near invisible to everyone at Freya’s and the rest of Thunder Valley, but Little Red always made a point of touching me. He did it out of sight or in a manner his Gypsy brothers wouldn’t notice, but then he made a point of catching my gaze to let me know the contact had been intentional.
Little Red downed the whisky then slammed the shot glass against the table. He wrapped one hand around the beer bottle and pointed it at Weaver, so named because everyone thought he was a basket case. Really, he was a crank monkey, the circuits in his brain fried by years of drug abuse. He was the only other Gypsy Callan’s age, but the two men were worlds apart. Callan, like the rest of the Tilley men, treated his body like a temple. Good food, plenty of activity, no drugs, no hard alcohol, and only the occasional beer as best as I could tell.
“You down with it happening?” Little Red asked Weaver as he continued pointing his bottle at the man.
I couldn’t believe the Gypsies were continuing the conversation while I was at the table serving their drinks. But if they thought I hadn’t heard the beginning, then they likely figured I wouldn’t put two and two together when Callan wound up dead.
Weaver offered Little Red a dopey smile, whatever drugs he’d taken earlier and the two rounds of alcohol I’d already delivered to the table clearly having an effect on the muscles of Weaver’s face.
“Whatever the club needs, brother.” He tried to tap his bottle against Little Red’s and missed.
Little Red looked at the two other Gypsies at the table. Both men nodded, their gazes more serious than Weaver could manage.
“Good.” Little Red reached out and snagged my elbow before I could leave. He looked at the men. “Because Bolo is back from Atlanta tonight.”
My lungs seized in my chest and I had to force myself not to gasp to restart them. Had Red just said Bolo would kill Callan tonight? I wanted to run from the table, find a quiet corner and whip out my cell phone. Only I didn’t have Callan’s number and Red still gripped my arm.
He brushed his thumb softly against my inner elbow. “Bring us all a round of whiskeys, baby. We’re celebrating.”
Tears threatened to well in my eyes, but I forced them down. Not only did I have to figure out some way to get a message to Callan before Bolo found him, but I also had to figure out this “baby” shit with Red and the way he had openly caressed me. And I had to do both without Red knowing or feeling insulted. I’d seen more than once what happened to women who crossed him or his dad.
Skin crawling from the sustained contact with the biker, I nodded and extracted my arm from his grasp. “Four whiskeys coming up.”
With the Gypsies at one of the backroom’s three tables, the other two tables were empty. I practically ran from the room and ignored my four stations on the south wall of Freya’s main room. I blew past the pool tables, deaf to the slurred “honey, bring me another,” from one of my regulars. Every patron in the bar could have been yelling drink orders at me and I wouldn’t have heard a single word. My heart beat too heavily, the blood it pushed through my veins pulsing too loudly for other sounds to penetrate.
Down the narrow hall I went to the only refuge a woman could find inside Freya’s -- the restroom. After making sure the door latched properly, I pulled my cheap pre-paid cell phone from my waitressing apron. With no Internet on the phone, I went old school and dialed information.
A recorded voice asked me for city and name.
“Thunder Valley, Callan Tilley,” I whispered, my gaze on the sliver of space between the bottom of the bathroom door and the floor to make sure no one had followed me down the hall.
“I’m sorry,” the mechanical voice prompted. “I didn’t get that. Please try again.”
“Thunder Valley, Callan Tilley, ” I said just a little louder.
I waited, eyes closed, blood continuing to rush past my ears in a thick roar, for the machine to tell me whether I wasn’t loud enough or that Callan had an unlisted number.
“There’s no listing for that number,” the voice finished. “Would you like to try another listing?”
I hung up. My stomach see-sawed from too many emotions rolling through me and the permanent stink of vomit and piss that no amount of bleach or other disinfectants could wash out of the floor and walls of Freya’s bathrooms. Moving toward the sink, I reached up and pushed at the bottom of the rectangle of glass that served as a window. Like those in any other bar, the bathroom window was built high and was too small to crawl out of unless you were a toddler. But if I stood on my tiptoes, I could just catch a whiff of slightly fresher air.
The window faced the back of Freya’s but on the opposite side of where the dumpster and recycling bins were placed. There were a few parking spots for the employees who actually had a car. Patrons were supposed to park out front, but the rules didn’t apply to the Gypsies.
Little Red could have sat bare-assed on Freya’s face and she wouldn’t have whispered a single complaint. Mostly they parked out front like everyone else, kind of like marking their territory. But sometimes one or more of them parked behind the joint. That usually meant they were lying low, either from the cops, another club or their woman.
So hearing the throttle of a motorcycle behind Freya’s as I stuck my nose to the open window didn’t surprise me. The sputtering cough of that throttle, however, hit me like a knife sinking into my already troubled gut. Only one bike in the Gypsies cavalcade sounded that bad -- Bolo’s. I knew it by heart, just like I knew the sound of Little Red’s and Callan’s bikes. I knew Bolo’s because, as the club’s sergeant-at-arms and thus its enforcer, he scared the living daylights out of me. I knew Red’s because he made my skin crawl in other ways and I knew Callan’s because--
Well, because I’m stupid for him and have been since my freshman year of high school. Stupid Avery Watkins who can’t keep enough of her tips and wages from her drunken father so that she can move the hell away from Thunder Valley. Stupid Avery Watkins who has one foot on the toilet in Freya’s bathroom so she can peek out at a killer to see if he’s already wiping blood from his hands.
Arms shaking as I hoisted myself just a little higher, I saw Bolo shut down his bike and climb off. It was too dark where he stood to see the state of his clothes, whether there were any dark spots that weren’t grease from the bike or his last meal.
I dropped to the floor, my brain running circles inside my skull. I couldn’t call Callan to warn him. I had to find him and do it in person -- but I didn’t have a car. And my dad, if he was sober enough to remember, wouldn’t be at Freya’s to pick me up until midnight. Even then, he wouldn’t hand over the keys to his truck when he’d never taught me to drive.
If I wanted to find Callan and warn him, it would be on foot. And I couldn’t start with Little Red at Freya’s, especially not now that he seemed ready to ramp up the attention he threw my way.
Trying to figure out how I was going to make it through the next three hours of my shift, I reached for the door handle. My hand froze as I heard another bike pull in behind the bar. My eyes drifted shut, a tear escaping each as I recognized the smooth running engine of Callan’s bike.
Flipping the bathroom light off, I grabbed hold of the window ledge once more, put a foot on the toilet and pushed up so that I could see both men. My heart froze when I did.
Callan was backing his bike into a spot. Bolo appeared to be waiting for him in a good natured way, one buddy standing by so the two could walk into their favorite bar side by side. But I knew that wasn’t the case -- not just because of what I had overheard but by the way Bolo’s hand kept drifting to his back waistband.
The bottom hem of his black leather vest with its Gypsies patch lifted, showing me the dull silver flash of metal. A knife maybe, or more likely a gun. Bolo wasn’t stupid or crazy enough to go after the taller, stronger Callan with a knife. Bolo would be eating his own steel if he tried.