I reported for duty for my first Sunday brunch shift at the diner, slipping in ten minutes early and surveying the crowd. The place was filled with a few familiar faces while the influx of people mixed among them. I’d only been in town for two weeks and getting the chance to work the Sunday brunch crowd was a big deal.
Peggy, my boss, had warned me I would be thrown into the deep end when she practically begged me to cover for the recent Sunday brunch vacancy left when my co-worker decided to elope with her trucker boyfriend. I understood her caution as soon as I saw the size of the crowd.
The diner did decent business during the week during what had quickly become my regular shift, but the brunch crowd was double what I’d been introduced to. The patrons I’d become accustomed to serving flowed in steadily throughout the day. It was easy to figure out the pace of things even with the constant random faces that were clearly just passing through.
Brunch was a different level. I wasn’t intimidated by the crowd because I was too busy scanning faces, cataloguing behaviors and acquaintances, and counting the tips in my head. I could tell the lulls would be few and likely far between, but I didn’t mind it. I preferred to remain busy because it kept my mind occupied.
Even though every seat was filled, the atmosphere wasn’t hectic; no one was panicked. I felt like a bit of an outsider at a family reunion as patrons greeted the other waitresses and fellow customers. They asked about kids and referenced personal details that told me they were familiar. I smiled and made small talk with them, feeling a genuine smile on my face as I served them, and they included me in their fun-loving jokes.
I imagine, to an outsider, seeing me half-heartedly flirting with the table of grandpas and then turning around offering the young couple a reprieve from their toddler’s tantrum using the promise of pie, I looked like I fit right in. It was an odd sensation as I hadn’t felt like I was a part of a community in such a long time.
As I refilled the coffee of an older gentleman, I swept my eyes over the diner and realized the patrons had begun to thin. I began to breathe a sigh of relief as I made my way behind the counter knowing the slight reprieve would allow me time to tend to tasks that I’d been handling on the fly such as restocking silverware and cleaning menus.
An unmistakable rumble caused my diaphragm to immediately seize and my heart to stop momentarily. I noted how my co-workers didn’t even flinch. That told me that they weren’t the least bit surprised. As the sound grew closer I quickly prayed they would pass us by.
I should’ve known better; luck hadn’t been on my side in quite a while. And I was sure God, if he ever existed, had long since forsaken me.
I watched as four motorcycles pulled into the lot in perfect formation. Each one held a couple and they all donned leather vests with a motorcycle club insignia on them. One of the men held the door and stood aside as the women walked confidently into the diner before the other men followed. They headed straight for the section neighboring mine.
I swallowed my nerves and slipped on a look of indifference as I returned to work. I kept an eye on them, absorbing every detail I could see. The men weren’t wearing stereotypical baggy clothes nor were they covered in tattoos and piercings. And the women weren’t wearing overly tight leather outfits with their breast and asses on show and gaudy jewelry.
Instead, the men wore jeans and dark shirts, one even wearing a button-down shirt, under their leather vests. The women also wore jeans and boots like the men. They looked completely innocuous among the church-going patrons mixed in with the regulars and a few traveling souls. It was as if their obvious motorcycle club affiliation was an accepted part of the community.
No one batted an eye.
Several nearby patrons even greeted the group warmly as a few women gave the men longing looks. I noticed that the women kept possessive clutches on the hands or arms of their men while the men kept their eyes trained on the menus or each other as they spoke jovially. It was clear they were regulars and at home in the diner as they interacted with the staff and people around them.
Except one guy.
I watched as he scanned the restaurant before his eyes landed on me. I made use of my job and kept my hands busy, but I could feel his eyes on me. I deliberately moved at a steady pace to portray a sense of calm though I was feeling the opposite. It was unnerving feeling him watching me leaving me to wonder if he was deciphering something about me.
What was he seeing when he looked at me? My attire consisted of a plain pair of blue jeans, tennis shoes and the diner t-shirt. I kept an apron tied around my waist with my ordering pad and straws tucked in the pocket. My hair was pulled into a plain ponytail at the back of my head with a pen resting on my ear. I looked like any other waitress. Yet, I felt his eyes on me watching my every move, setting my nerves on edge.
I was still smiling at the customers in my section, responding to request for assistance from other staff members and even keeping up with the employee banter. By all measures, nothing about me or my behavior was peculiar. I tried to convince myself he was just curious because I was unfamiliar. After all, he wasn’t one of the regulars I saw during the week.
Then, when I’d made my way into the kitchen to retrieve an order, I watched as the woman he was with said something to him. From the stiff movement, I could tell she wasn’t whispering sweet nothings in his ear. It was a reprimand and he responded immediately.
He gave her a slight nod before pecking her on the temple to placate her. I felt the moment his eyes left me but I wasn’t finished watching him. She didn’t seem pleased with his small show of affection and the others at the table had the decency to ignore the brewing tension. I watched as he draped his arm around the back of her chair and pulled her closer to him.
With the movement I was able to read clearly what his vest said. One word made my blood run cold in my veins. I’d been completely careful and yet I’d managed to attract the exact type of attention I didn’t want. I scanned his vest once more to make sure I’d read it correctly.
Sons of Mayhem
The president of a motorcycle club was watching me. I wondered if he recognized me. I’d grown my hair out after chopping off the blond hombre style I’d worn for years. I wore glasses and didn’t even dress the same. I’d even lost a substantial amount of weight leaving me as toned as I’d been when I ran track in college.
But there was only so much I could afford to do to alter my appearance. Easy access to drastic plastic surgery from talented doctors was something written into the movies. My budget was very limited, so I changed what I could. My last two towns hadn’t seen me without a wig or some type of extensions. I hoped in Crescent Katie West would be able to at least wear her natural hair.
Feeling like I belonged was dangerous because, when faced with the possibility of having to run again, I knew it would be one more painful thing I’d have to overcome. I never missed the physical things once I started running. It was always the intangible things that brought me to my knees.
Feeling loved and a feeling of belonging always seemed to haunt me more than the other demons chasing me because I had to make the decision to rip myself away from those things.
Hope and happiness were luxuries I could not afford. Not yet.
I tried to stick to my own little routine, but I couldn’t help but worry about what he was seeing when he saw me. But, after the woman with him, her vest said her name was Queen, stole his attention, he hadn’t bothered staring me down. And I didn’t see him make a move to use his phone. None of them did. Even after they’d left, bidding a warm goodbye to Peggy, I contemplated my next move.
If I did anything outside of the routine I was attempting to establish it could tip him off that there was indeed something about me he needed to study. But, if he was already suspicious and I did nothing, I could get caught up before I ever gave myself a fighting chance. No matter how much I tried to play with my options in my head, I couldn’t find a conclusion.
It was then I found the problem with Crescent. Every town presented its own set of challenges but none of them had quite startled me like this problem. A motorcycle club. And every choice of how to respond seemed to be the wrong one.
Do something, tip them off. Do nothing, get caught unaware. Ask too many questions, attract attention.
My shift ended, and I was still just as confused. I carefully made my way back to the trailer. The rest of the day went without incident. When I went shopping for a few groceries and some jeans for work at the bar, I’d seen a few more bikers wearing the same patch as members of the same club. None of them batted an eye in my direction.
It made me wonder how I’d been able to go so long without seeing any of them or knowing they were a big presence in the town.
The closest interaction I had after the diner staring incident was when one of them, a guy I heard a cashier greet as Tank, held the door for me at the grocery store. He’d given me a polite nod and smile when I passed then proceeded to walk in the opposite direction once he was inside the store. I walked around unnecessarily just to see if he would follow but he seemed completely unbothered. Even still, I didn’t breathe a sigh of relief until I saw him at the self-checkout with a few bottles of condiments.
Eavesdropping on his brief conversation with the same worker that greeted him when he was holding the door for me, I learned that the club had just gotten back from some big ride. It explained why they seemed to appear out of nowhere. Then he was gone, and I was once again left to contemplate the issue.
The week progressed much the same. I saw more bikers, but they were all in passing. A few times I waited on them at the diner but, putting my paranoia to the side, my instincts didn’t alert me to impending danger when I was around them. My mind was playing tricks on me, but my gut never led me wrong.
But the nightmares didn’t help.
When I’d initially arrived in town, sleep had been peaceful. It felt like I was finally able to rest. But, after the president’s little staring contest at brunch, I’d only found my worst fears playing out on the backs of my eyelids. Every night was the same thing. I would go to sleep and get about four hours of rest before the nightmares crept up on me. I always seemed to wake a few hours shy of the sun and spend the rest of the time plotting.
It was much easier to occupy my mind with offensive plans than dwell on all the ghosts tormenting me from the backs of my own traitorous eyelids. I wasn’t ready to face them, and I doubted that I ever would. Time and distance hadn’t rendered them less powerful and I doubted trying to analyze them or even giving them a moment of my waking hours would help.
So, I found a silver lining instead.
The only benefit of the whole ordeal was that I used those quiet hours to do research. I wanted to know everything possible about the Sons of Mayhem. The more I learned about their history the more I became comfortable with the idea that I wasn’t in any immediate danger. The last thing I needed was the presence of some large crime syndicate motorcycle gang.
I had enough troubles.
They were prominent in the town, that much was made obvious by their sheer numbers and the way they were regarded with respect. But, reading archived news articles taught me that hadn’t always been the case. For the last four years they’d really cleaned up the club and the town. Before that they were the problem with the town.
I was enthralled reading about their past exploits. News articles and blog posts depicted tales of gun fights in the streets, grisly murders left unsolved, arrests for everything from gun running to drug dealing to extortion, kidnapping and murder for hire. They were a formidable source of evil. They were one percenters. But, after a bloody war with another motorcycle club everything changed.
Don’t get me wrong, it was completely terrifying. The “citizen journalists” that wrote those blogs about the bikers tearing their town apart would have anyone ready to piss their pants. And don’t get me started on the pictures of bodies covered by sheets laying among various states of chaos. You could practically see the smoke coming off the shell casings littering the crime scenes the photos were so fresh. One site even had a grid of headshots of alleged victims and an interactive gallery where you could click on mugshots of club members and see what they had been arrested for or read related posts.
They won the war, but their numbers were hit hard. And a lot of civilians were hurt; including a few kids. It was like the war was their wake-up call. After that, the only thing I could find were tales of them doing good in the community. They did everything from covering graffiti to repairing aging churches and even hosting charity events. Most notably, I saw from pictures that the 1% patch disappeared from their vests. I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant but I’d seen it before and knew it had to be a big deal for them to remove it.
Even those interactive galleries changed to show specific members getting involved in community projects. There were pictures of grisly looking bikers in boots, leather vests and tattoos smiling in tea parties with little girls in princess dresses. They looked nothing like the criminals their mugshots suggested and instead they appeared as misunderstood gentle giants.
I found a few articles on the man that stared at me, Hammer. He was their president and a few blog posts claimed that he was instrumental in helping change the direction of the club and keeping it that way. But I knew he wasn’t a saint. His name had been carefully mentioned in older articles as a “person of interest” in various crimes but I never read about an arrest. That told me he was smart and likely very dangerous. But I had to juxtapose that knowledge with the image of him at a charity event with his hair in pigtails getting his face painted by a little kid.
It made me feel a little better knowing they weren’t outlaws. But, at the end of the day, it wasn’t that long ago that they were wild men taking what they wanted and killing anyone that opposed them. So, even if they were handing out stuffed animals to kids in the hospital, they were the same men that most likely used stuffed animals as silencers when they killed whole families to prove a point.
They were still dangerous, and I wasn’t going to get in their way. The last thing I needed was to get caught in their tangled web. Not everyone had forgotten who they used to be. I had enough problems of my own with no real or immediate solutions. I didn’t have room on my plate for my own issues and couldn’t afford to add on some of their problems.
When the weekend finally came, I’d managed to calm my own mind. I wasn’t nearly as paranoid, and I was back to sleeping through the night. It was just in time because I was going to be working the night shift at the bar. I’d been trained on the midday shift, but the help was needed on the weekend night shift. The place closed at three on Fridays and Saturdays while they closed at one on Sunday. My shift was seven to close on Friday and Saturday. Then I’d work eight till two at the diner before working six till close at the bar on Sunday.
I was used to working the worst hours and at least I only had to stay an additional hour after close at the bar cleaning up and shutting everything down. These were the best hours I’d worked so far. It wasn’t going to be easy working both jobs on Sunday, but my boss assured me that the schedule would rotate, and I’d have opportunities to have one of the days on the weekend off every other rotation. Unfortunately, I would have to wait two more weeks before I had a free Sunday night. I wasn’t complaining.
Between my weekend shifts with heavy tipping during brunch and at the bar I knew I’d be able to save more than I had at previous jobs. Plus, I worked the breakfast/lunch hybrid shift at the diner, six till two, Monday through Thursday. The hours added up quickly. Thirty-two hours a week at the diner before I racked up 18 hours on Friday and Saturday before working a total of fourteen hours Sunday. Sixty-four hours plus tips and living minimally meant that I would be able to pocket the majority of my earnings.
I didn’t have normal bills. I paid rent and utilities and put gas in my car. I used a prepaid phone so there was no phone or cable bill, the car was paid for and I didn’t have insurance. I ate at work and didn’t splurge on anything unless it was absolutely necessary. And, because they were transient jobs, I was paid weekly. The checks deposited in a local account, but the money was bounced right to an account in the Caymans nearly as soon as it was deposited.
I didn’t have friends in high places; I had them in the right places. Specifically, with my financial background from a few lives ago, I knew how to hide money. And, with a friend that was used to living just a little left of right, I had the right help to move my money. A little money would be left in the account long enough for me to take it out and keep the cash stashed in a lock box, while the rest disappeared through so many shell companies, twists and turns it was impossible to track.
But I could find it. And that was the point. I walked away from every life I ever created. That was my reality. So, when the time came, I needed to be able to access my money without having anyone else know it even existed or use it to track me. Not even my friend could access it.
A few towns back I was living in a place named Lincoln. I was the attempted victim of identity theft. If I was anyone else, they would’ve gotten away with it. Sadly, for them, I was me and not some unsuspecting docile female. It didn’t take long before I knew someone was trying to steal my identity. I tracked the guy down and a few well-placed punches and a swift kick to the balls later, I had myself a new set of identities to use at my own discretion and he was being fitted with a pair of silver bracelets.
Unfortunately, that also marked the end of my time in Lincoln. I wasn’t sad to leave; the place wasn’t grand. But I hated having to start over again. I wasn’t looking for a grand place; I was looking for the one thing that Lincoln could offer, peace. I didn’t stumble across peace often and I wasn’t at perfect peace there, but it was as close as I could hope for.
Unlike the would-be thief, I didn’t abuse the identities I borrowed. If anything, I might have boosted their credit scores. A few times, when I had to bug out quickly, before I had mastered how to move my money, some of the funds I hadn’t been able to take with me transferred to their accounts when I closed mine on the fly.
I hated that, closing accounts for an old life while trying to build a new one. I couldn’t transfer the funds to my new life because it would create a link between the two. And I couldn’t walk into a branch in a new city to retrieve old funds for the same reason. When it happened I’d had to disappear at the drop of a dime and that didn’t allow me to empty the accounts before I became a faint passing memory that seemed too inconsequential to consider. Thankfully, I only had to deal with that twice.
But it pissed me off both times.
Sunday night should have been an easy shift at the bar. Sure, I’d worked brunch, but I’d secured a nap between jobs and Peggy, knowing that I was working the weekend shift at the bar, hadn’t let me leave the diner before I ate a hearty meal. She swore I needed to put on a few pounds to give my bones some cushion. With my constant moving and needing to save as much money as possible while working crap jobs with shit pay, eating hearty meals had been one of the first luxuries cut from my pattern of existence.
I wasn’t skin and bones, I knew better than to let myself become too physically compromised. But, my curves weren’t nearly as noticeable as they’d been in another life. I was back to my college toned track physique due to the constant walking. I trained more in martial arts and parkour. Nothing was too difficult when I boiled it down to an act of survival.
I couldn’t explain this to Peggy. It would open the door to too many questions. So, I ate the fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, greens and cornbread she placed in front of me. I washed it down with the lip-smacking lemonade and blushed deeply with sincere gratitude when she refused to allow me to pay. She’d sworn it was diner policy to feed it’s employees at least one full meal a week for free. I doubted it since we only paid half price for our meals, but I accepted her generosity anyway.
I was rested and well-fed when I stepped into the bar. I found that I was growing to like working with the other female bartender, Audrina, as she moved well behind the bar and seemed to know everyone’s name or at least had a nickname for them. She didn’t ask too many questions or treat me like she was better than me. If anything, she was helpful without making it seem like I even needed help.
Things didn’t get hairy until about an hour before close. I’d noticed a guy hustling pool all night. He was good, and he knew it. I watched him pretend to suck, lose and then offer the winners a double or nothing option. I knew it wouldn’t end well for him if anyone caught on and I was proven right. I just didn’t figure he’d be so insufferably cocky in the face of imminent danger.
The very obvious thing happened. He walked off from someone unhappy about being hustled with a smirk on his face as he counted his winnings. He was nearly at the bar when the guy shoved him. Captain Cocky turned, said a few choice words and a fight ensued.
Not a bouncer or bartender had an opportunity to intervene before a black bald guy, muscles bulging from the short sleeves of his black shirt under his leather motorcycle vest, stepped between the two men. His glare was cold enough to freeze hell and he didn’t flinch when the men looked as if they weren’t ready to fold to his will. The guy that lost his money backed off immediately, but not Captain Cocky.
“Nitro,” I heard Audrina whisper in awe as she stood next to me watching the scene unfold.
His chest puffed, and his lip flinched into a snarl before the look disappeared, reverting back to the bone chilling glare, after he blinked a glance in her direction as if he’d heard her. Another biker, a white guy wearing a similar outfit, waived off the bouncers and looked bored. I was surprised they listened to him. People took one look at him and immediately went back to minding their own business. He just stood back with an amused look on his face.
Captain Cocky produced a pistol and pointed it at Nitro but the other biker just waved everyone away once again. I thought he was crazy leaving his friend to handle the situation alone. Sure, he looked like he could probably punch a hole straight through the guy’s face, but he couldn’t punch a bullet out the air or something crazy like that.
Before I could even panic I watched as Nitro took hold of the gun in the guy’s hand and began bending it backwards. He moved so quickly I didn’t even see it until it was too late. And neither did Captain Cocky. Even when he was no longer holding the gun, Nitro kept bending his hand backwards, buckling him to his knees as he begged him to stop. Nitro looked unfazed.
Eventually his friend stepped in and draped an arm around his shoulder while laughing at the whole thing.
I looked at the guy’s face and saw that he was absolutely terrified. He was definitely going to piss himself. Thankfully, Nitro shrugged and let the guy go. He handed the gun to his friend and walked towards the bar. Finally, a pair of bouncers lifted him off the floor and took the gun as they helped him out. The other biker just laughed.
Audrina walked away to serve some customers, but she stopped and put her hand on Nitro’s forearm. I saw him give her a soft smile and she returned it before walking away. If I were planning to build a long-term life in Crescent, she would be one of the first people I’d befriend. And I’d definitely want to know the deal between her and Nitro.
My train of thought was derailed as soon as the other biker made his way over. There was something distinctly familiar about his face. I tried to remember where I’d seen him before, but I couldn’t place him. He was a type of handsome that spelled trouble in any scenario. A chiseled jaw, short dark brown hair just tousled enough and the ghost of a goatee around perfect lips turned up in a devilish smirk sat on his face as he turned his attention to me.
I stopped my eyes from roaming across his broad shoulders, toned arms and lean torso. With him so close, I was able to see that he looked like an athlete. His big hands that he rested on the bar looked like they were familiar with hard labor. The lights weren’t bright but I imagined his skin looked perfectly sun-kissed. But no matter how much he looked like sex on legs, I couldn’t ignore the vest.
Sons of Mayhem
SGT at Arms
Yet again I had managed to unwittingly attract the attention of a ranking member of the Sons.
“What can I get for you?”
“How about your name?”
“Sorry, we don’t have that on tap here,” I said as a rebuff to his flirting, but he wasn’t perturbed. If anything, it was as if I encouraged him.
“Hmm, you’re feisty and beautiful, an exciting combination. Now I really want to know your name. I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours,” he bargained.
“Is that so,” I challenged.
“It is. So, what do you say?”
“Devil, leave her alone. She’s new and you’re you,” Audrina warned as she returned to serve Nitro a beer he hadn’t even ordered.
“Well, now you know my name so it’s only fair that I know yours,” he smirked as if Audrina hadn’t said anything.
“Life isn’t fair. So, if you’re not going to order I’m going to move on,” I said and turned to walk away as he chuckled.
“I’ll take a whiskey neat please Feisty.”
“Do you have a brand preference,” I smirked my response at my victory.
“Surprise me,” he challenged.
There was something about the way his shirt hugged his body and the muscles on his forearms flexed ever so subtly as he leaned forward on the bar to speak that drew me in. I knew I shouldn’t play his game, but I couldn’t deny he was quite the charmer.
He fixed me with the sexiest smile I’d seen in a long time and that twinkle returned to his eye as he nodded to me. I didn’t mean to return the smile, but I felt my cheeks pulling before I could stop myself. I turned away quickly, praying a blush wasn’t stealing across my cheeks, and poured him a double shot of top shelf whiskey.
When I presented him his drink I could have sworn I saw a genuine smile on his face. He chuckled a bit before savoring his first sip. He closed his eyes and inhaled as if he was finally at peace.
I thought he couldn’t get more attractive then he did that. He was most definitely trouble and I needed to stay away from him even though my traitorous eyes wouldn’t peel themselves away from him as he savored his drink.
I had to force myself to turn away and return to work. There was no space in my world for a man like him. He was dangerously handsome and addictively charming. I couldn’t see a scenario where it was a good idea to put myself on anyone’s radar. Especially not one that was named Devil.