Coming In Hot
I locked my Freshman Chemistry textbook into the saddlebag of my light blue Harley-Davidson Street Glide and grabbed my leather jacket. It was in the mid-70’s, perfect December weather in Orlando. “Harleigh, you going to the party at Julie’s Saturday night,” Sarah asked.
Julie was the senior shortstop on my University of Central Florida softball team, Sarah was a sophomore pitcher and I was the favorite to be the starting third baseman come spring. “I can’t, I’ve got a judo tournament.” I had been competing since I was nine, and last year I was the Under-18 Women’s Champion in the 63 kg (139 pound) weight class in Florida. Judo was my first love, but it didn’t get me any scholarships. Home runs and a cannon of an arm did.
“Good luck! See you at practice Monday.” I waved to her as she walked to her car. I pulled leather chaps on over my jeans and zipped up my Steel Ladies motorcycle jacket before putting my helmet on. I caught the looks from the guys coming out of the Health and Public Affairs building as I threw my leg over my bike. At just under six feet tall with curves, I was used to guys looking at me. When they saw me on my ride, their jaws would drop. I fired up my motorcycle and put it in gear, pulling out of the lot and towards home.
Mom and Dad owned a home with a good-sized yard and detached garage south of Winter Park. The drive was mostly suburban roads and two-lane highway, nothing that would give me a chance to open the throttle. I thought about my classes as I drove, putting the outline of the paper I needed to write in my head. By the time I got to my neighborhood, I had it worked out.
I pulled into the driveway, wondering who the four bikes belonged to. Nobody I knew in the Steel Brotherhood had ape-hangar handlebars like these. I started to back my bike under the carport when the front door slammed open and I saw men rushing out. They were wearing cuts, but not ours; I saw the distinctive Jaguar head on the breast. It was the Sons of Tezcatlipoca, a violent Mexican biker gang that was strong on the West Coast. The lead guy was a big Hispanic dude with a bigger pistol. He spotted me and raised it up.
“FUCK,” I said to myself as I put my Harley in gear and twisted the throttle. He started shooting as I tore out of the driveway, and one of them hit me just above the right hip as I turned left. Blood spattered onto my jacket and handlebar as I accelerated away. “Double FUCK,” I cursed as I turned onto the road and headed for help.
I focused on my driving, passing cars wildly and driving between lanes where I had to. I could hear their motorcycles behind me. I pressed the button on my handlebar. “Siri, call clubhouse,” I said over the Bluetooth headset in my helmet. The phone dialed and a familiar voice answered. “Steel Brotherhood Orlando, Speedbump speaking,” he said.
“SPEEDBUMP! It’s Harleigh. Four guys from Sons of Tezcatlipoca were at my parent’s house. I’ve been shot, and I’m five minutes out with them on my ass. Get everyone to the gate, I’m coming in hot.”
“We’ll have the welcome wagon out,” he said. “Drive fast.” He hung up and I focused on staying ahead of the four. I did everything I could; I ran stop lights, swerved into oncoming traffic, and hit seventy in a thirty zone. I heard an accident behind me as they fought to keep up.
I glanced down and saw the blood that had covered the chaps and was soaking into my jeans. I was feeling tired and cold despite the heat of the afternoon. I was losing blood, and I couldn’t apply pressure and ride at the same time. “Siri, call Speedbump.” He picked up on the first ring. “I’m six blocks out, I can’t shake them,” I said.
“Drive straight through and into the garage, we’re ready.”
“We’ll get to them as soon as you are safe.”
“Have you called them?” I was afraid to.
He didn’t say anything, and that meant something. “Just get here. Doc is waiting for you.”
I made the final turn, accelerating the quarter mile towards the gates. I was losing energy fast. I went through the gates at speed, braking hard as I veered right. Pushing down on the rear brake made my side flare up in pain, and I didn’t even feel it as I bounced off the pavement into the side of the clubhouse.
I fought to clear my mind of the fog as something squeezed my right arm like a vise. I heard a machine beeping, and the squeezing started to ease then went away. The pain was bad, the right side of my stomach felt like it was on fire. I tried to move my head and it got worse, so I just focused on opening my eyes instead.
Everything was fuzzy, but I could see I was in a hospital. There was a machine next to the rail of the bed, and it was the source of the noise. Blinking rapidly, I got my eyes to clear enough to make out the person sitting in the nearby chair. She looked up from her phone, her eyes getting wide as they met mine. “Harleigh, you’re awake!” It was Aunt Three Tequila, Mongo’s wife, and the two of them ran the Orlando chapter of the Steel Brotherhood and the Ladies Auxiliary, the Steel Ladies. My Mom was her older sister.
I tried to say something, but the pain was too much. She must have seen it on my face. “You’re in the hospital, let me call for your nurse,” she said. She pressed a button as I tried to talk, but my mouth was dry. “I’m so happy you are with us again,” she said. “You gave us quite the scare, you know. You’ve been out for two days.”
I tried to form the words to ask about my parents, but the nurse arrived first. She smiled at me as she stepped into view, taking my vitals and letting me take a sip of water through a straw. I was lying on my left side in the bed, the thin sheet covering my body. “Mom… Dad….”
Three Tequila’s face told me the answer even if her lips didn’t. I started to cry, the pain of my loss adding to the pain from my injuries. Three T came over and sat next to me, holding my good hand in hers. My right hand was in a cast from just below the elbow down. I don’t know how long I just cried my eyes out before the doctor came in. “Hello Harleigh. I’m sorry for your loss,” he said.
“Thank you,” I whispered. “What happened?”
“You were shot in the lower back; the bullet nicked your liver and intestines before exiting in the front. You lost a lot of blood, but we were able to repair the damage in surgery. I’m told you crashed your motorcycle, and that resulted in a broken right wrist, two broken ribs and assorted other injuries. If you hadn’t been wearing your helmet and your leathers, it would have been a lot worse. It saved you from a concussion when you crashed.”
“How long will I be here?”
“At least a week,” he said. “Your body underwent a severe trauma, and it will take time to recover. Even after you leave, it will be six to eight weeks before you can resume normal activities. I’ll give you something to help with the pain and rest more comfortably.”
“I’ve been asleep for two days, I don’t know if I need to nap again,” I replied.
He left some instructions for the nurse, and then I was alone with Three Tequila again. “The police will want to speak to you now that you’re awake,” she said. “Are you ready for that?”
“What happened to the men who were chasing me?”
She paused for a minute. “I don’t have the details, but I know two were killed and one was injured. The last guy escaped.”
“Did the Club talk to the one who was injured?”
“Not for long before the police arrive. If you have a shootout, it attracts attention. You’ll have to talk to Mongo.”
I was hoping they had him in a warehouse somewhere getting answers beaten out of him, but no. “What happens now?”
“My sister, your parents, we will find out why this was done and make sure they pay the price for what they did,” she said. “I always looked at you like you were my daughter, and Mongo and I will look out for you now.”
“Thank you,” I said. “Do we know why?”
“Not yet. We don’t know if this is a new beef, or if it’s retaliation from decades ago.” Dad had spent twenty years in the Drug Enforcement Agency, his first four undercover with outlaw biker gangs in Southern California. It was during the preparation for the trials based on his testimony and evidence that he met Mom, who was an Assistant US Attorney in Los Angeles. They were married a few months later, and I was born seven months after that.
Once his undercover identity was blown, he worked from a desk and then was a supervisor before retiring five years ago. We had moved to Orlando and Mom was hired by the District Attorney for Orange County. Dad joined the Steel Brotherhood, Mom the Steel Ladies, and I was riding with them as soon as I got my license. When I turned eighteen, I was able to join the Ladies. My road name was Crash, after Crash Davis in Bull Durham, thanks to my softball playing. It was better than my real name; my biker Dad insisted on naming his only daughter Harleigh Ryder. “Should I tell the cops anything about his undercover work?”
“It was before your time. If they have talked to the Feds, his record will come up.”
“Could they have been after Mom?”
She shook her head no. “I doubt it, the Sons of Tezcatlipoca aren’t active in Florida yet. Mongo has been calling other Chapters, but our Club doesn’t have an active beef with them. They are a 1% club, we’re a law-abiding club. They run drugs, protection rackets, guns, kidnappings, anything they can make money on.”
“And we don’t abuse, deal or steal,” I said. Our Charter kept us on the right side of the law, and we had a lot of military veterans and law enforcement that were part of our Club. It was a club, not a gang.
There was a knock on the door and the nurse poked her head in. “The detectives are here, if you are able to talk to them.”
I nodded to her, and two men in cheap suits came in. I asked my Dad once why agents didn’t wear nice suits; our family was doing well, and he could afford decent clothing. “You can’t dry clean bloodstains out of a suit,” he said. “Add in any other wear and tear, and it’s not worth spending money to look good.”
My clothes and jacket were trashed, I bet.
“Miss Ryder, I’m Detective Rosenberg and this is Detective Jackson. We’d like to ask you a few questions.” I nodded. “When did you last talk to your parents?”
“Mom left for work at seven thirty, Dad at eight. I went to school at nine.”
“Where is school?”
“University of Central Florida, I’m a freshman there.”
“Any other contact, text messages perhaps?”
“What time did you leave?”
“Class got out at three, and it took me about forty minutes to get home.” I told them about seeing the four unfamiliar motorcycles, then the men coming out of the house and shooting at me. I gave them descriptions, but they weren’t much help. Once I saw the cuts and the gun, I wasn’t paying attention to much else. Fleeing for my life didn’t give me any chances to look back, either. “Can you tell me what happened to my parents?”
They looked at each other. “That wouldn’t be helpful at this time, it is an active investigation. We will be in touch,” he said.
The two walked out, and I was losing energy rapidly with the drugs. “What aren’t they telling me,” I asked Three T.
“Just rest, Harleigh. I’ll tell Mongo you need to know.” She held my hand as I drifted off to sleep again.