Greg Barks’s POV
South Pier Inn, Duluth, MN
I let her calm down, sitting at the table as we waited for our room service. She turned the television on, turning it to cable news. That wasn’t a great idea to calm her down, as the recent developments in the so-called ‘Biker Gang War’ were leading the broadcast. She froze as her picture came on the screen, with a reporter talking from the crime scene tape near the Ocala lake. A helicopter showed the searchers out looking for the bodies, while the “expert” talked about the difficulties in recovering the bodies. Big gators and swamps were not making things easy.
“I have to change my appearance,” she said as she looked at the television.
“I’ll go pick up the things you need later. What hair color do you want?”
“Black, like yours. Maybe with a hint of blue in it.” She pulled her long hair around. “Maybe I should get this cut.”
“That depends on how much you trust me,” I said. “Where I grew up in Canada, we were a long way from a barber shop. My Mom taught us all how to do hair. I’m no stylist, but I won’t mess it up either.” I could tell she wasn’t too excited about the idea, but she’d do it. “It’s not like I can bring someone here to do your hair, not after your picture is on national television.”
“I’ll think about it.” The food arrived, and we didn’t say much while we ate and watched the news. There was so much interest in the case, and multiple guests discussed what had occurred. They had law enforcement experts, legal experts, and even a panel with motorcycle club members discussing the apparent “war.” Much of the discussion focused on the arrest of Mongo, despite his iron-clad alibi at the temporary clubhouse. Juanita had been all over television, with stacks of sworn statements from people inside the Clubhouse and outside.
We stopped eating as her press conference came on. “It is abundantly clear that there has been a rush to judgment for my client. Intruders were seen in his house, and the police entered minutes later. The blood hadn’t even dried in his garage before they were arresting him, despite him being in the Clubhouse the entire day. We won’t even discuss the idiocy of not even conducting a rudimentary investigation or interview before the arrest!” She waved the pile of affidavits at the cameras. “He. Wasn’t. Home. If he’s not home, he didn’t kill them. Despite all this, the Prosecutor is slow-walking his hearings, thinking they can hold him for a month or two without probable cause. This is not America. This is not Justice. THIS IS NOT RIGHT.”
“Damn, she’s good,” I said.
“Why are they doing this,” she asked.
“Pressure on the Club, and it looks good for them to have an arrest already,” I said. “In a couple of weeks when they release him after the Prosecution declines to indict him, he’ll already be seen as guilty in the public eye. Plus, it keeps him from the funeral service.”
“The Chief and the politicians didn’t like the Club.”
“So they are happy, and this gives them an excuse not to attend the service that includes their three men. I bet they’re talking to the families right now, telling them to back out because the Brotherhood’s war with the Sons is why their husbands are dead.”
“Fucking bastards. The Club did nothing but protect me.” Tears started to form in her eyes, breaking my heart. She was innocent and was carrying such guilt. “All these people dead. If I’d died in my driveway, they would all be alive right now.”
I got off my chair and moved to her side as she sat back, the sobs coming harder. “NO,” I told her as I grabbed her arms and shook her gently. “Your guilt does you no good, and dishonors those who sacrificed so much.” She looked at me, mouth open in shock. “You did nothing except coming home from school and escaping with your life. You weren’t the cause of the bad blood, you didn’t shoot any of them, and you didn’t choose this. Things blew up beyond what anyone could have imagined, and many people died.”
“I… I didn’t…”
“You didn’t do a thing wrong. Bad things happen in wars. People die, but as you watch the service, remember what they died for. They didn’t die because of you. They died FOR you, they died FOR their Club, because they protect their own. That is what real men do, and these were men of honor and courage.”
“What about you? What if you die because of me?”
“Then I die, Heather. That is the man I am; I serve as a protector and a fighter. I would rather die than explain how I let you get hurt. These men we honor today, they were protectors as well. They fought and died to save their friends, their families, and the innocent. If they had not sacrificed what they did, there would be a lot more coffins lining the front of the stage.” I took her face in my hands and made her look in my eyes. “The sad reality is that true evil is out there, and good people will die fighting it. None of this is your responsibility.”
I kept her face looking at me as I watched for the reality to set it. Her eyes went from sorrow to anger to determination. “They must pay for what they have done,” she finally said.
“They will,” I promised.
“No, I will make them pay.”
I leaned forward, kissing her forehead. My senses picked up the slight moan and the rise in her heart rate as I came closer. I pulled her into my shoulder, taking in her scent. It didn’t do anything for my wolf, but I loved it. “You will rest and recover,” I finally said. “You will train and learn to fight because I will not let you risk taking your revenge until you are capable of taking them on and returning to me. Promise me you won’t do anything before I say you are ready.”
She just nodded as she cried. “If you teach me, I will wait.”
It was all I could ask of her.
She was tired after lunch, so I got her back in bed watching television while I went out to get supplies. At the local drugstore, I bought the hair coloring, shears, and other supplies I would need, as well as snacks and drinks for a few days. When I returned, she was asleep. I filled the fridge and put the rest of the stuff in the bathroom.
I woke her fifteen minutes before the service started, and I settled her in front of me as I leaned back into the pillows. The service was well-attended, and not just by the Brotherhood. Representatives of other Clubs were recognizable by their cuts, and there was a whole section from the DEA and local Police. The Chief’s edict hadn’t gone down well with the rank and file, and family members filled the front row. The three police would have another service, their bodies were not here, but they were being honored; that would not be ignored.
Tripod was running the event since Mongo was still in jail. He welcomed everyone and introduced Father Pasch, who ran the annual Blessing of the Motorcycles in Orlando for the Church. He gave the opening prayer, then the doors opened, and the sounds of Harleys filled the air. One after another, Brotherhood riders towing hearses drove in one of the open garage doors before stopping in front of the stage. Each of the trailers had a coffin on it, covered with the American or the Brotherhood flag, and large photographs on each side. The audience stood silently, hands over hearts, men in uniform saluting, as they passed. I wrapped my arms around Heather as she cried with each closeup and name as they drove past the camera.
They even had a coffin for her; the caption noting it was empty, as her body had not been recovered yet.
The place was silent as the last man arrived behind the Harley and it shut down.
Crankshaft, the National President of the Steel Brotherhood, came forward first. “Today is a sad day for the Brotherhood. Today we say goodbye to twelve of our Brothers, two of our Ladies, and three brave police officers. We honor their lives and their sacrifices today, but we will not call for vengeance.” There was a murmur among the crowd. “Our Club is just that; a Brotherhood of riders who love the road and each other. We fight when threatened, we defend what is ours, but we do so within the bounds of the laws we all live under. Anyone who was involved in these cowardly attacks and is still alive will be turned over to Law Enforcement to face justice.” He paused for a moment. “And now, we will learn more about each person who was lost to us. With so many to honor, we are going in order of when they died, and one person has been chosen to eulogize each. It is my honor to introduce the President of the Orlando Steel Ladies, Three Tequila.”
She didn’t look good; she’d been crying all day. She spoke of her sister’s love for her family and the Club. She told the story of her decision to become a lawyer to fight for Justice, ending up in California where she met a DEA undercover agent. “She lived her life without regrets and loved without limits. We will all miss her.”
Tripod introduced Director Frank Grimes. “You all knew him as Sean ‘Easy’ Ryder, but I first met him when he was a Marine Corps Captain I was trying to recruit. Sean spent years doing dangerous undercover work before meeting his wife and changing his name. He had a distinguished career in the Drug Enforcement Agency, served his Nation honorably, and had far too short a retirement. Our lives are diminished with him gone,” he said.
She could barely watch as Giggles, her best friend in the Club, talked about how much she missed her smile around the Clubhouse. The three police officers were each eulogized by their partners or family; then Chase got up to talk about Nate. “Nate volunteered to help keep the Clubhouse safe with his dog,” he said. “He was the first person to die in the attack, shot in the head without any warning. In the short time he spent with the Brotherhood, he saw what we were about and loved it. He goes to his grave a Brother.” He took out the Orlando Chapter Cut and walked down, draping it over his coffin.
The service took another forty minutes as the men who died trying to break out of the Clubhouse were eulogized. Tripod was just about to give his closing comments when there was a commotion from the side of the stage. The parabolic microphone on the camera caught the conversation. “You shouldn’t be here,” Crankshaft said as he and the other Presidents onstage encircled a lone Hispanic man.
“I wish to speak, and I come in peace,” he said. “I am Manilo Correria, and I am here because this needs to end now. I come with the blessing of our International President. Please, let me speak. There can be no more bloodshed.”
The cameras focused on the standoff, and the commentators were breathless as they described how a President of the Sons of Tezcatlipoca was crashing the ceremony. I saw Chase whisper in Crankshaft’s ear, and a few moments later, Crankshaft escorted Manilo to the microphone. “I apologize for the entrance. My name is Manilo Correria, President of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Sons of Tezcatlipoca. I am here to apologize to you on behalf of the Sons. The people you honor today should not have died. Their deaths were the result of a grudge carried from father to son, a grudge that spanned over twenty years. My nephew Jose lost his mother in a raid based on information Agent Ryder provided. Jose had men who were going to open a new Chapter, and he used my Club to seek his own vengeance. Jose and the men who attacked your Club are dead, and with them dies the grudge. Our club did not know of this plan, and we do not condone what he did. You have our deepest sympathies. May they rest in peace.”
Heather had been stiff, barely breathing as she watched this man. “He’s lying through his teeth,” she said.
“He’s covering his ass, knowing the Feds are after them all.”
Manilo walked offstage, escorted by several of the men, then sat down in the crowd. Crankshaft took to the microphone again. “This joint ceremony is not the end of our remembrances; several of these men will be escorted back to their home Clubs or homes following the internment. The funeral for the fallen officers is tomorrow at one in the afternoon; all Members are encouraged to line the route and honor them. For the closing prayer, Pastor Paris.”
With the final prayer, the motorcycles fired up and pulled out in a line. They stopped just outside, as all the Members mounted up for the four-mile drive to the graveyard. The funeral procession was almost a half-mile long, police on motorcycles in front and hundreds of riders surrounding them. When they arrived, the riders revved their engines three times on a signal from Crankshaft, then cut them off at the same time.
The helicopter showed the final goodbyes. Nate and his honor guard left for the airport where Chase and Rori had a plane waiting, while the men from other Chapters were escorted home for their services.
“What do you think,” I finally asked her. She hadn’t said a word in an hour.
“That man and his Club took everything from me, even my name.” Her head turned so she could see my eyes. “I’m going to take everything from them.”
I just nodded. “After a cut and color,” I said. “We can’t have anyone recognizing you.”