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Thursday Edition


COURTHOUSE RUN--Part One

A story about all the wrong turns

By Karl Skanlan with images by Bob T.
8/3/2013


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Karl couldn’t seem to wake up.

He just had that slow, lazy, drowsy feeling that wouldn’t go away. It wasn’t because he’d been working too hard, since he was currently unemployed, which didn’t necessarily mean that he wasn’t working, it just meant that he was working on his own.

He was always working. When he was on his own schedule, he could work, eat, sleep, and play whenever he felt like it, so he rarely let himself get overworked. That was no way to live. And it wasn’t that he hadn’t gotten enough sleep, because in fact, he had slept longer than normal. He had fallen asleep on the couch the evening before during an episode of Seinfeld. He had a faint recollection of Kramer attempting to host a talk show from inside his apartment, and George, Jerry, and Elaine all sat in chairs on an old-style talk show set, with confused looks on their faces, while Kramer made the usual fool of himself.

He awoke, sometime after midnight, to the sounds of Frank Burns making a hell of a mess in Margaret’s tent. Margaret burst in and demanded an explanation. Frank had claimed that he was looking for a pencil. That Frank Burns…what a character. Karl stirred just long enough to click off the TV and wander off to bed. And yet he couldn’t clear his head this morning. Nothing like waking up in the morning, and feeling like it would be a good idea to lay right back down and take a nap.

He sat at the cheap, second-hand-store kitchen table with his fourth cup of coffee, staring blankly at the TV in the next room. The morning news droned on about the latest robbery, in a string of robberies, in the latest string of robberies, and so on. He stared in the general direction of the TV, but didn’t really see the picture, nor was he really listening to what the newscaster was saying. It was all bwah-bwah-bwah, like a teacher in a Peanuts cartoon.

Karl rubbed his eyes, and leaned back in the chair. He looked up at the ceiling and fixed his gaze upon an old water stain in one corner of the room. Guess I just don’t wanna face the day… He thought to himself. But that’s all right. Maybe the slower I spin up, the more together I’ll be later. Maybe, maybe not. Could be a crock of shit. But it sounded good at the time, because Karl knew that he needed a level head, and maybe even a little bit of luck, today. He decided that he’d better keep a slow, even burn on a day like this.

Karl rose from the chair and placed the coffee cup on the counter next to the sink. There was no room actually in the sink, since it had been a few days (or weeks?) since Karl found the ambition to wash up the few dishes that he owned. They usually ended up piled in the sink until he had no clean dishes left, and then he would find the time to wash them. He opened the side door in the kitchen, and walked into the familiar dusty darkness of the garage. He didn’t need to turn on the overhead light, since he knew every inch of the garage like the back of his hand. The slivers of light that came in around the roll-up door were enough to guide him through the room.

Karl bent down to pull open the garage door. His lower back did a little dance, and he made a mental note (for the thousandth time) to look into buying one of those electric door openers. Gotta get with the times, son. He mused. But he knew that he probably wouldn’t actually get the door opener. He believed in living a simple life, but simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy. He didn’t believe in buying every new electronic gadget that came along in order to make ones life easier. Most people had life so damned easy that they lost all perspective, and forgot how to appreciate the little things. Hell, he didn’t even own a cell phone. His ex-wife called him a dinosaur. His ex-wife called him a lot of things.

Jesus, I feel old, was his first clear thought of the morning. Fuck around and jack up my back again, and that’ll turn this day into a pile of shit in a hurry. He stood back up slowly and stretched his shoulders back while putting his hands into the small of his back.

For all his grumbling, Karl was not exactly out of shape. He stood 6’2” tall, and packed a solid 215 pounds on his frame. He worked out regularly in his make-shift “gym”, which consisted of a rusty set of iron weights, bars, and a weight lifting bench that appeared to be held together with duct tape, sprawled in one corner of the garage. He jogged 5 miles or so, several times a week. He dealt a regular beating to the heavy punching bag that hung from an overhead rafter by a chain. Most 40-something year old men wished that they were in the physical condition that Karl was. But he enjoyed the exercise, even if it made him stiff and sore half the time. Years ago, he would have barely noticed the after effects of a hard workout on the next day. Now, at 47, he would ache from a hard workout for days afterwards, but he did it anyways. Pain and age go together.

Karl bent again to open the door. This time, he carefully reached down for the garage door handle, locked his back, bent his legs, and pulled up. The door shot up and the springs groaned when the roll-up garage door linkage and wheels reached the travel limit. Harsh desert sunshine flooded the garage, and Karl felt like someone had pulled the shroud of sleepiness right off the top of his head. Sort of a sleepy-head scalping. He opened his eyes wide, then blinked and rubbed the backs of his hands.

Fuckin sleep-scalping little injuns running around this mother-fucker, he mumbled to himself. Lookit the little fuckers running and hiding in the corners… He jerked around quickly, as if trying to catch the “injuns” in the act. He chuckled at his non-sensical joke, and suddenly felt pretty good, almost giddy. Couple more cups of coffee and they’ll be putting my ass in the nuthouse. He thought to himself.

Karl took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. He spoke aloud, to no one in particular: “Good man. Keep that sense of humor alive and well, cause you might need it before this bullshit is over.”

And he was right.

The trusty Harley-Davidson FXR motorcycle sat waiting patiently, parked in its usual place in the center of the garage. It looked menacing in the sharp shadows, almost like a wolf, watching and studying it’s potential prey from a distance. The black paint and chrome glinted under a thin layer of dust.

As always, he felt a quick thrill of excitement rush through him just looking at the bike. Karl was a biker. Karl had always been a biker. He loved motorcycles. Karl had known from the very first time he rode a bike, at age 17, that a motorcycle would be his chosen form of transportation, for his whole life. He wasn’t your typical “R&B biker” (short for “Runs and Bars” biker) who had a motorcycle that usually sat in the garage, only for days when the weather was perfect for riding, or for riding down to the local bars or the occasional poker runs. And he certainly wasn’t the sort of biker who owned a bike just to stick it on a trailer to take to the Sturgis motorcycle rally or Daytona Bike week to show off. The motorcycle was his primary mode of transportation. It was ridden in all kinds of weather, year round, and the odometer showed that the bike had over 262,000 miles on it. Most people who saw the odometer reading could scarcely believe it, since the bike appeared to be in excellent condition. Karl knew that there were only a very few parts on the bike that actually had anywhere near that mileage. The bike was heavily customized and many of the components had been replaced with performance parts. Most of the stock parts had also been modified. It was an endless work in progress.

The only other vehicle he owned was a 1968 Chevy pick-up. The old truck was sun-rusted and looked pathetic, but it ran like a top, and he kept it as mechanically sound as the day it had rolled off the assembly line. The truck had far less mileage than the Harley, even though it was decades older. Karl rarely had occasion to drive it, only the rare times when he needed something that was too large to carry on the bike. But when he needed it, it was there, always willing to fire up immediately and settle into that smooth, and somewhat “clickity” idle that characterized the old inline six cylinder GM engines.

But today the old red pick-up would remain parked in its designated spot of dirt next to the driveway. Karl never parked the truck in the driveway, or in the garage, unless it needed some work or maintenance. Those areas were reserved for motorcycle traffic.

Karl did a quick once-over of the bike. He knew the bike so well that if anything were out of the ordinary, it would jump out at him immediately. He glanced at the concrete floor underneath for any oil spots. He knew that there would be none, but in the old days, when he had ridden older bikes, it had been a common occurrence. In fact, on some of his older bikes, if there wasn’t a small puddle of oil under the bike, it probably meant that there was no oil in the bike, which is never a good thing. He scanned the cases under the cylinders for oil film, which could indicate weeping cylinder base gaskets. He toed the tires, just to reassure himself of the pressure. He could tell just by looking at them that they were fine.

Occasionally he would put a gauge to them and make sure they were pumped up to maximum pressure. He knew that quality motorcycle tires would usually hold pressure very well, but it always made sense to make sure, because bike tires were not cheap. And he also knew from experience that motorcycles don’t handle for shit with flat tires. Noting that the rear tire was getting low on tread, Karl grunted a little under his breath, and made a note to start thinking about picking one up and having it in reserve on the tire shelf next to his toolbox. Karl changed all his own tires, since he didn’t trust any of the motorcycle shops in the area. In fact, he had always done all the work on his bikes, as he did on all of his vehicles. He figured that if he did it himself, he could rest assured that it was done right, even if it took him a bit longer than a professional mechanic would do it. Plus it saved a few bucks, which was a big plus, since Karl had never been a wealthy guy.

Karl was rarely broke, but he had never felt the need to amass wealth at the expense of living. And working at some shit job, with a bunch of shit heads, for an asshole boss, had never been his idea of living. Karl could usually make enough to get by without having to punch a time clock. He liked to think of himself as a small time entrepreneur. If he saw something for sale at a cheap price, he would buy it and re-sell it for more. He would buy beat-up or damaged motorcycles, fix them up and sell them. He did a little custom work on motorcycles in his garage. He took an occasional short-term construction job if it suited his fancy. His mind was always searching for ways to make money while maintaining his own standard of personal freedom. He made do however he could, and did pretty well, considering. He didn’t owe anyone a dime, and usually paid the bills on time, so that was good enough for him.

The biker deftly twisted the gas valve under the fuel tank to the “ON” position, and pulled the choke knob. He inserted and turned the ignition key, and then pressed the starter button. The bike came to life with a deep explosive roar, and settled into a “potato-potato” kind of loping idle. A trained ear could immediately pick up on the fact that this was definitely not a factory stock engine. The sharp, rapping exhaust note that emitted from the high performance pipes hinted that a high compression, bored and stroked engine with a radical camshaft, and many other high performance internal parts, resided in the frame. All the components inside the engine had been carefully matched to work perfectly together, and Karl had meticulously finely tuned the engine himself. The big Harley was a beast, no mistake about it.

Sometimes Karl missed the old days when he had ridden bikes that had to be mechanically kick-started. Karl used to love to start his bike with the foot-operated lever in the morning. There was something very satisfying about the feel of the bike coming to life under your boot heel. But kick-starters were for old bikes, with old electrical systems, and Karl needed a bike that he could depend on every day, all year round. He needed a bike that could run all day long at modern highway speeds, and not have to spend all his free time wrenching on it. Besides, despite what some of his buddies who owned older bikes claimed, Karl knew that it was no big feat of strength to kick-start a motorcycle. He had yet to come across a bike that he had any problem whatsoever starting with a kicker. If it would start for anyone, Karl could start it.

Karl donned a wicked looking pair of black, wrap-around sunglasses, and backed the bike out of the garage. He scanned the sleepy, deserted street as he dismounted the bike to close and lock the garage door. “Wake up fuckers, and get to work” he mumbled under his breath, as he looked at the shabby neighborhood homes. “We’re trying to have a society here, fer chrissakes”. He knew most of the neighborhood population was probably not going anywhere for the most part. The majority of them were on unemployment or welfare. Some were crack heads, others were crack dealers, some were both. An industrious few were already off to their hateful nine-to-five occupations on construction job sites, or in warehouses, mills, retail stores, and everywhere else that normal lower class sheep go to struggle to make ends meet, and live their version of the American dream.

Back on the bike, Karl gave a quick rap on the throttle just to piss off the neighbors, and shut down the choke. He rolled out of the driveway and headed for the city, where he was due to appear in family court in approximately 35 minutes, and he damn sure didn’t want to be late. The ex and her cock-sucking attorney would certainly love that one, for sure.

Today was the day when Karl would find out whether he could pick up the pieces of his life, and start over as a free man, or if he was going to spend the next god-only-knows how many years, working at some little slice of hell job, in order to support his bitch ex-wife. They called it “alimony”, or “spousal support”. Karl called it bad damn joke. His ex-wife was angry and bitter, and she was just trying to fuck up his life any way she could. In order to obtain spousal support, she would have to prove to the court that she had been totally financially dependant upon Karl during their marriage. That was bullshit, since she had held down several jobs while they were together, and often made more money than he did. They had no children, and she hadn’t accumulated any debt while they were married. But he knew that all it took was a lawyer and a blowjob, and he would be sunk. And she was damn good at blowjobs.

The big Harley belted out an even, powerful tune as it effortlessly glided onto the interstate. The spoked wheels glinted in the morning sunlight. Businessmen and women peered at him though the windows of their conservative cars and trucks and paused in their conversations on cell phones. Some had looks of disgust on their faces, and frowned at the spectacle of the rider clad in blue jeans and leather, on the noisy beast. Most felt an uncomfortable twinge of envy as they viewed the picture of freedom that the bike and rider illustrated. Redneck good-ol boys felt instant and uncontrollable irritation when the powerful bike passed. They would rev the engines on their pickup trucks, as if they thought that would somehow intimidate the biker and he would disappear from view and they could return to humming along with the country song on the radio, undistracted.

As he rode, Karl reflected on the events that had occurred over the past few months that led up to this day. Karl and Carla had not been a good match from the beginning. He had a blurry recollection of how they had met. It had been just another drunken night at a local bar. They had danced and talked and ended up at her apartment where they had fucked like bunnies, as if that was the natural end of the evening’s festivities.

Karl was immediately attracted to her because she loved to ride, and didn’t appear (at first) to have too much baggage in her life. She had a nineteen-year-old daughter who had gotten knocked up by, and subsequently married to, a local construction boy. She had a crappy job at a grocery store that she could take or leave any time. She seemed to have an adventurous spirit, and was right at home in the sometimes chaotic lifestyle that is often part of being a biker. They had a few great months of riding and partying, and Karl had proposed (after a couple of beers) in the same local bar where they had met. It’s safe to say that their relationship went down hill from there.

Carla had wanted more than a simple life. She had assumed that Karl would get regular employment once they were married, and that he would be able to provide her with a relative life of leisure. She wanted a home away from the gangs and drugs and noise, yet she didn’t want to contribute anything to that dream. She was demanding, and she would often throw completely unreasonable fits, for no apparent reason, at the drop of a hat. Once she got the wedding ring, she expected Karl to do exactly as she wanted. Karl became miserable and found that he could no longer be himself around her.

Disagreements turned into arguments, and arguments turned into full-blown screaming matches. Their love affair turned into a loath affair, and Badda-boom, the fun was over. Now a messy divorce, in which Karl knew his freedom, probably for a long time to come, hinged on the mood of some prick divorce court judge.

Ah well, no sense dwelling on it now. He thought. It was time to get it all sorted out. At least it was a nice day out for riding. Karl just wished he were going somewhere, anywhere, instead of the damn courthouse.

Karl could have, and probably should have, taken his damn sweet time. Turns out that the judge was going to be absent anyways.

Investigators later determined that a bag containing approximately 30 pounds of C4 high explosive had been strategically planted in the basement of 11073 Court St., the government building that housed the county courthouse, city hall, the DMV, the county hall of records, and numerous other state, county and local government agencies and offices. At precisely 0830, the bomb was remotely detonated, and over half the building was completely demolished in the blast. The other half of the building was consumed in flames, and it required every bit of fire equipment and personnel from 3 counties to bring the blaze under control.

All Family court proceedings were cancelled.









FRANK DEANGELO

Detective Frank Deangelo was really starting to wish he hadn’t had those last few doubles-on-the-rocks last night. And the healthy shot of hair-of-the-dog that he’d poured into his coffee this morning wasn’t doing him any good either, at this point. Frank could generally hold his liquor with the best of them, if “the best of them” is someone who goes through a liter and a half of bourbon every couple days or so. But fuck it, he was a cop, one of the good guys. He was a 23-year veteran of the force for Godsakes. He had walked the beat, and he had paid his dues. He had scrapped it out with the tweekers (methamphetamine addicts) in back alleys. He had been spit on by pregnant crackwhores while serving warrants on their husbands and sons for parole violations. He had taken care of business, and had kept his mouth shut when things needed to be kept quiet.
 
So fuckin what if he liked his liquor. His fellow cops and detectives knew it, the lieutenant knew it, his wife and family knew it, God knew it, and so that was everybody. Nobody seemed to have much of a problem with it, or if they did, they didn’t say shit, at least that he ever heard. (Or listened?) Besides, it was legal. It wasn’t like he was smoking crack like that mayor down in DC a few years back. It just helped keep him in a good frame of mind.

But today was one day he wished he had a clear head. A whole pot of shit had been dumped right into his lap, and suddenly the world was spinning out of control. He had to make some decisions pretty damn quick. And if they weren’t the right decisions, it was going to cost him.

When the lieutenant had asked him, 2 months ago, if he would be interested in taking on the assignment, Frank thought that it sounded right up his alley. The mayor’s office was demanding an aggressive investigation into the activities of the Two Skulls Motorcycle Club. The club had been quickly gaining notoriety throughout the region as one of the most feared and violent criminal organizations in recent years. Members of the club had been arrested and charged with everything from rape and assault, to extortion, drug possession with intent to distribute, grand theft, and possession of illegal explosives. There was no question that it was just the tip of the iceberg. The club had made it known that they intended to be the controlling criminal force in this territory, and had disbanded several smaller motorcycle clubs in the area.

Frank himself had had several run-ins with members of the club, but he had other reasons for wanting to bring the club to justice. Franks youngest daughter, 22-year-old Alyssa, had been riding with one of the most notorious members of the club for the last several months. Nobody hated the TSMC, and bikers in general, more than Frank Deangelo. So when the lieutenant had approached him about heading up the investigation, Frank accepted the assignment on the spot.

It was a slow moving investigation from the start. Arrests and plea bargains had to be made. Informants had to be found. A case that would bring down the TSMC has to be built up like a tree. There needs to be a strong base that branches into every part of the organization, with the individual members being the leaves that will fall off once the tree is cut down. You can’t just knock off a leaf here and there, and expect the organization to come tumbling down. You’ve got to chop it right down at the trunk, cut off the branches, and chop it into pieces, preferably all at the same time. It takes time, it takes manpower, and most of all, it takes money. And the club was run by a tight-knit group of experienced criminals, it was not a street gang made up of punk kids. The TSMC was a highly organized unit, and it functioned with militant precision.

But progress had been made. Two of the “patch holders” who had been facing long sentences, had talked, and had revealed some useful inside information. Frank had the names and criminal histories of most of the club members, along with enough evidence to raid any number of their private homes and hang outs. Thousands of hours of surveillance had been logged. More than a dozen arrests had been made. The club knew that the heat was on, and for the time being at least, the Two Skulls MC weren’t making the front page of the local newspaper every day, as they had been before the investigation began. The lieutenant was pleased enough with the progress, and soon Frank would organize a sting operation, and bring the club to its knees. Then, the Two Skulls MC would have to operate from prison, if at all, and Frank would be detective of the millennium.

But then this morning the government building exploded, and now the shit was hitting the fan in a BIG way. The TSMC had a reputation for being fond of explosives, so there was no question as to who the prime suspect/suspects were, and Frank knew that his little world was going to get pretty crazy, pretty quick. He was supposed to be on top of this shit, and a lot of fingers were going to be pointed at him, very soon.





LITTLE STEVE

Steve Poulson, alias “Little Steve”, was tripping out. Not on drugs, although he had been doing a blast every half hour or so out from the little baggie he had in his left front jeans pocket for the last 24 hours. But that was just “maintenance”. He needed a little pick-me-up on a regular basis, through out the day in order to keep his demeanor the way he liked it. Crank was his pick-me-up of choice. It just helped keep him in a good frame of mind.

Steve was the Sergeant at Arms of the Two Skulls MC. It was his responsibility to keep order within the club, and he was also the head skull crusher at functions that the club attended. He was the warlord. If the shit was coming down to a fight, Little Steve had the final word on who, what, and how it went down. And he was damn proud of it, prouder than he had been of his rank of Sergeant in the Marine Corps, before he was dishonorably discharged for drug use, among other things. Even prouder than he had been of his reputation in juvy, after he had beaten his father almost to death over a dispute at the dinner table when he was 16. He was somebody.

Citizens feared him, the police feared him, and his own club brothers chose their words carefully while in his presence. More than once he had been known to thump a few heads over relatively trivial disagreements with members. He was known to be somewhat unstable, but he could, would, and did, take care of business when it was needed. When you called him Little Steve, you said it with respect, and you’d better NOT have a smile on your face, because Little Steve was anything but small in stature. Standing 6’6”, and weighing well over 300 pounds, you had to wonder who’d had the balls to brand him with the nickname. But rumor had it that whoever it was, was probably no longer with us. And the name had stuck. Steve liked the name, because it had been a good excuse to thump someone up pretty good, many times over the years. And he loved that shit, he would rather fuck someone up, than eat.

He had gotten the call from the prez (president of the TSMC) that the slipping clutch on his bike was being fixed, and should be ready to go in a couple of days. That was code for; the mission had gone as planned, and that he would be cleared to return to the area very soon. He had ridden as far away as he could ride throughout the night, and had checked into a fleabag motel off the interstate to await further instructions. After he’d planted the bag containing the explosives in the basement of the government building, the club didn’t want him anywhere in the area, in case some had seen him, so he hauled ass out of town.

When Little Steve turned on the TV in his room, he was astonished to see the leading news story was that there had been a huge explosion at a government building some 250 miles away. It was national news. Watching the coverage, Steve’s heart swelled with pride to see the devastation that the explosion had caused. It was beyond his wildest expectations! He stood and clapped his huge hands together, then slapped his thighs and bent slightly forward with his arms supporting his weight.

“I am the fuckin MAN!” he said aloud. He stood up straight, and thumped his chest with his thumbs. “The fuckin MAN!” He repeated. He hadn’t been this excited since he was 5 years old on Christmas morning. He smiled so big that his face hurt. He suddenly realized that he was sporting a raging hard on, and reached down to unbuckle his jeans to let it free. He studied his throbbing penis, and wished that Alyssa were there to take care of the old boy for him. But women had no place in club business, and she certainly had no place in this latest piece of business. He would see her soon enough. She was smart enough to put the pieces together, and she would figure out that he was the fuckin MAN in this operation, and would be damn glad to have the baddest motherfucker on the planet as her old man.

Besides, his right hand had always been there for him at times like this, so he sprawled on the lumpy bed to take care of business, yet again.




ALYSSA DEANGELO

“Alyssa, please pick up line one. Alyssa, line one please”.

Alyssa Deangelo stood and walked to her desk. She picked up the receiver of the phone with the curly cord hanging from the end.

“This place can’t afford cordless phones like the rest of the modern world?” She complained, as she punched the lit button labeled ONE. She was in the middle doing her nails, and she couldn’t do them at her desk. Her desk was in plain view from the little window that was inset in the door to the room. So she did them over at the fax machine table, which was hidden from view unless someone actually entered the room, in which case she would have time to look like she wasn’t just doing her nails at the fax machine table. Not that she really gave a shit if she was caught. She wasn’t very fond of her job as a shipping clerk at Carson Chevrolet. She told herself that she was only here temporarily until she could save enough to get her modeling package together, and find the right agency, and then she’d be discovered. Besides, she knew that her employers were aware of her connection to the Two Skulls MC. And they’d probably hesitate to fire her as long as she showed up and made at least some attempt to do her job.

“Hello, this is Alyssa” she spoke into the phone.

“Alyssa, this is your father”. The voice sounded particularly dry, and Alyssa felt a familiar coldness flush her body. “I needed to know you were there.”

“Well, I’m here Daddy.” She said wryly. “And please feel free to call the truant officer and ask him as well.”

She wished she lived in another country. One where her drunken cop father wouldn’t be able to find her, or know where she worked, or know who she slept with. A place where she could party and live her life however and with whomever she pleased, and not have to worry about being alienated by her friends because they were afraid of being harassed by police, since she was a detectives daughter. But at least she didn’t have to worry about that much anymore. The TSMC didn’t care about her father, in fact, they seemed to find it pretty funny. They seemed to like the idea that they had the power of intimidation over at least a small part of the police force. They thought it might come in handy some day. Of course, Alyssa didn’t know about that last part. All she knew was that for the first time, she felt safe when she was with her friends, and shielded from her overbearing and abusive father.

“And now that you know I’m here, do you want me to tell you what I’m wearing, so you can decide if it meets your approval?” She smiled to herself as she spoke. She cradled the phone in between her head and shoulder, and dabbed at her right, middle fingernail with the brush. It felt so good to smart off to him and not have to worry about getting a slap from it.

“Yes, you are sooo grown up little lady” came the dry voice again from the other end. “We’re all very impressed with what a fine figure of a woman you have turned out to be.” Frank repressed the urge to go into a full blown rant. He wanted to reach through the phone and slap her goddamn smart-mouthed little face. But he gathered his wits and said what he needed to say.

“Listen little girl, I’m not checking up on you, and I don’t give two shits what you are wearing. I want you to listen to what I’m going to say, and I want you to try and understand that there is a reason for why I’m saying it. And you will know the reason soon enough.” He hoped he had her attention. “Do everyone a favor and stay the hell away from your boyfriend and all his punk buddies. I’ve asked you nicely, I’ve pleaded with you, and I’ve begged you. Now I’m telling you, not only as your father, but as a cop, don’t go near any of them, understand?”

Alyssa let her hand, still holding the nail polish brush, drop to her side. She replaced her hand on the receiver and spoke “And why this time? Did you get a hot tip that they are planning to ride naked through the streets to protest the slaughter of baby chickens? Or did one of them get caught smoking one of those crazy mary-gee-wanna cigarettes?”

“I don’t have time for this, smart-girl.” Frank knew that his patience was at its end. “Just remember what I’ve told you. And know this, that despite whatever you may want to believe, I’m telling you this because I love you, and I don’t want to see you get hurt any worse than you already are.” Frank flushed a little as he finished speaking.

“Well, yes, sir! And thank you for calling Carson Chevrolet. Have a nice day.” Alyssa clicked off the connection with her finger, and stood holding the receiver in her hand. She stared at the wall for a moment, then replaced the receiver in the cradle.

“Fuckin asshole.” She mumbled, and returned to the fax machine table to finish her nails.


***


Karl was getting irritated. He had given himself plenty of time to get to the courthouse, but had not wanted to get there so early that there would be a chance of bumping into his ex somewhere outside the courtroom. He was afraid of what he might say, and didn’t want to aggravate the situation. He just wanted to get through this shit and plan his next move. But as he sat unmoving at the traffic light while it turned to green for the third time, he started to wonder if he was going to make it on time. A uniformed police officer stood with his right hand up, blocking the traffic, and waved a steady stream of emergency vehicles through the intersection. It was pretty obvious that some serious shit had gone down, somewhere in the city.

Karl could see a plume of black smoke rising up into the air above the city. Something downtown was burning like a bastard. Hopefully, it’s the goddamn courthouse, he thought to himself. No way I could be so lucky though.

Careful what you wish
Careful what you say
Careful what you wish
You may regret it
Careful what you wish
You just might get it


Metallica. King Nothing.

Finally the cop stepped back and to the side. He waved for traffic to come through, almost impatiently, as if to say, “What the fuck are you people just sitting there for?” Karl glanced at him as he went by and noticed the cop studying him intently.

Jesus, this guy is a real piece of work… Karl thought.

If there was one job that Karl would never consider, it was a cop. It wasn’t because he didn’t know that there had to be cops in the world. Someone had to do it. Just as someone had to do the job of a judge, a lawyer, a prison guard, and all the other jobs in law enforcement. But every time Karl had any contact with anyone connected with law enforcement, he immediately knew that this was NOT someone he would want to be. He felt that you have to be a certain sort of person to want to hold those jobs, and the first qualification was that you had to be sort of an asshole, right off the bat.

Karl rode past the traffic cop, and didn’t notice as the officer bent slightly to speak into the microphone of the cop radio that was clipped above his right, breast pocket. Karl took a side street, hoping to skirt some of the chaos that seemed to be unfolding on the main arteries of the city. He was starting to realize that whatever was going on, was in fact, going to be pretty damn close to where he was headed. He could hear sirens everywhere, and he could smell smoke. He was interested, but not interested enough to let it keep him from getting to court on time. People stood in front of their houses, looking in the direction of the thick plume that was rising into the sky above the city, while others stood just inside screen doors yelling to the people outside what was being said on the TV. Mothers stood holding small children. Old men stood on the sidewalks, gazing up at the plume of smoke in the sky through thick glasses with huge, black frames. The fire escapes on the sides of apartment buildings were crowded with people.

What the fuck is going on around here? Karl wondered, as he pulled up to a stop sign.

He considered asking the group of three people standing at the corner if they knew what the deal was, but he glanced at his watch, shook his head and released the clutch on the bike. He was officially in a hurry now. He almost ran smack into the side of the cop car that appeared, seemingly from nowhere, from his right and screeched to a stop directly in his path. The driver side door was open before the cruiser came to a full stop, and a big damn shotgun with a little damn police officer attached to it, leapt from the vehicle.

STOP THE VEHICLE NOW” the shotgun ordered, while the cop’s mouth moved.

STOP THE VEHICLE NOW AND REMAIN IN THE VEHICLE WITH YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR. DO IT NOW!”

Evidently, he wanted it done NOW.

Karl stopped. His brain went into that odd blank state where there is no real thought. If you asked him what was on his mind at that moment, he would honestly have told you that there was nothing at all. His mind went blank because he needed all his instincts. He might need to act instinctively and immediately, and there could be no thought to slow his reaction. It was a state of survival, a primal state that one enters when events are unfolding far too quickly to allow for analysis, like when you’re looking down the barrel of a 12 gauge shotgun.

Cops are trained to capitalize on that state. That’s the reason for all the yelling, the bright flashing lights, the imposing uniforms, and the big guns. Cops are trained to keep the suspect in that scared-to-near-panic, blank state of confusion so that their natural reaction is to comply immediately. Karl, however, was not confused. Karl was not scared. Karl had simply gone cold. He clicked the transmission into neutral and raised his hands while the FXR continued to thump away contentedly beneath him.

A second cop appeared from the left side of the cruiser and approached Karl cautiously.

He might have been 22 or so, and had a few lingering pimples on his forehead. He also had an over-eager look in his eyes. He was trying to look taller than his 5’7” height, and he tucked a 9mm pistol into the holster at his belt as he approached. The shotgun, and the other cop that was attached to it, didn’t move. It stayed pointed at Karl. The approaching pimple face pulled a set of handcuffs from the other side of his police-issue Sam Brown belt.

“Put your hands behind your back” He said as he stepped behind Karl. He reached up and grasped Karls right forearm. Karl was getting the feeling that this was no ordinary traffic stop.

“Whoa down, son”. Karl spoke quietly to the pimple face. He tried to say it quietly enough so that the shotgun wouldn’t hear. “I need to set down the kickstand here, and shut this bike off. Otherwise it’ll fall over and we’ll both look silly.”

The pimple face tugged a little at Karls arm and repeated, a little louder, “HANDS BEHIND YOUR BACK, NOW”

Immediately the shotgun cop shouted, “DO WHAT THE OFFICER SAYS! DO IT NOW!”

These guys were big fans of the word NOW.

Fuck! Karl tried to remain calm.

Karl brain had started back up. He began to speak in a slow, calm, clear voice that was just loud enough to be heard by both cops over the sound of the idling Harley, but hopefully not so loud as to be misconstrued as argumentative.

“Listen boys, Set-tle. Down. I have to put the KICK... STAND...down, or the bike will FALL… OVER…. In order to do that, I have to put my hands on the handlebars for one moment, and use my left foot to kick the stand down. Once I’m cuffed, I won’t be able to do that. Do you understand what I’m saying to you?” He put heavy enunciation on the words KICK, STAND, FALL and OVER. He really couldn’t believe that he was going to have to explain the concept of a motorcycle kickstand to these cops .

The cops heard him fine, but they hadn’t been trained to analyze a situation such as this. They had been trained to control the situation, and in order to control the situation the suspect was supposed to comply with their demands immediately. If the suspect didn’t comply immediately, then the suspect was resisting, and they were to take definite and immediate steps to restrain. The concept of kickstands hadn’t been part of their training.

According to the officer’s official report, the suspect began to resist. They immediately called for backup, and attempted to restrain the individual.

According to the statement from the three witnesses on the sidewalk, the guy on the bike was saying something about his motorcycle, and the cops started fighting with him.

In actuality, Karl just said fuck it and tried to reach down to grasp the handlebars so that he could kick down the stand. He decided that he would have to try and explain to the cops in a moment why he had to take this little detour from their instructions. He figured that, if the shotgun fired, it was likely not only going to take out himself, but also the pimple face behind him. So he figured he had a good chance that the shotgun cop wouldn’t actually fire, and hopefully he would get away with it. There was no fucking way he was going to sit here and be cuffed by this goddamn Barney Fife wannabe and let his scooter fall to the ground. Not after all he’d been through with this motorcycle. He didn’t have a clue what this whole thing was about, but he was pretty sure that he was not the guy they were after, so it was NOT going to be cool when they figured that out and offered an apology for the damage done to the FXR when it fell over. Dented and cracked parts don’t give a damn about apologies.

The pimple face still had hold of Karl’s right arm, and he began to twist it. Karl instinctively tried to jerk it free.

This whole day is just going to shit. Karl thought. That whole “slow burn” theory was not working for him at all.

The shotgun cop approached in a half crouch, still holding the shotgun on them, yelling into his radio for backup. It had finally dawned on him that if he fired the shotgun at this point, it would take out his partner as well, and he was beginning to panic.

Karl gave another hard forward jerk with his right arm and when he did, the pimple face came with it. Off balance and stumbling, pimple slammed headlong into the approaching shotgun and the cop attached to it. The shotgun discharged and Karl felt the percussion of the blast as if someone had slapped his face, hard. He would find out later that several pellets of double aught buckshot had actually creased his left cheek.

Now, anyone who knew Karl, would tell you that Karl was not an easy guy to rile. Karl was not an impulsive kid. Karl had been around the block a few times, and Karl was generally rock solid. He thought before he acted, and he thought before he spoke. He didn’t speak very quickly, but not because he was a slow thinker. It was because he liked to say what he really meant, and not just the first thing that popped into his head. He didn’t get excited easily, and he didn’t act out in a rash manner.

But by God, when that shotgun went off…so did Karl.

HO-LEE-SSSHHI-Tah! These fuckers are shootin at me! Karl’s mind was racing now.

Time to exit stage left. Fuck ALL this shit… He thought as he instinctively began to act.

An experienced motorcycle rider can really exit stage left in a flash when the need arises. Karl’s hands dropped to the bars. His right hand rolled back on the throttle, left boot toe punched down on the shift lever, no clutch required. The motor immediately exploded into deafening roar, the rear wheel cut loose with a squeal. He deftly leaned the bike slightly to the left, and using the insides of his thighs, he pushed the rear of the bike and the spinning rear wheel off to the right. When the bike was no longer pointing at the cop car, he sat down heavily on the saddle and the rear wheel began to grab for purchase at the asphalt. Within 3 seconds of the shotgun blast, Karl was headed away from the scene, crouched over the bike like a jockey, the rear tire encased in white smoke, the front tire a foot off the ground. The floundering cops scrambled for their car.

Frank Deangelo turned on the police band radio in his office. Normally he hated the fucking thing. The last 20 minutes had been chaos. First came the calls that there had been an explosion at the courthouse. The resulting fire was still raging. There were dozens of wounded, and many feared dead. All off duty personnel were being called in. All units currently on duty were placed on high alert.

Frank had put out the word to all available units to apprehend any bikers sighted within 10 blocks of the courthouse. He got a tip from an informant two days before that the TSMC were planning something big. But the informant had proved unreliable in the past, and always seemed to think that something big was going to go down, so Frank had not taken it seriously. But now he knew, he just knew, that this was the work of those bastards. And the first one he got hold of, was going to tell him what he wanted to hear, or else.

He heard the call come over the radio that a traffic cop had seen a biker heading west towards the courthouse. He heard the call that Car 108 had stopped a biker about 6 blocks from the courthouse. He heard the same unit call for back up. And then he heard the calls that the suspect had resisted and had somehow fled the scene. Fled the scene?

Jesus, these kids nowadays… Frank slammed his hand down on the SEND button of the radio, “This is Frank Deangelo. The guy on the motorcycle is a suspect in the explosion at the courthouse. Apprehend him using any force necessary.”

Frank grabbed his coat and headed for the parking garage. He resisted the temptation to take a quick swig out of the small flask of bourbon in the top drawer of his desk. He wanted to talk to this biker guy before the dirt bag had a chance to dream up a story.

*** 

Karl hauled ass for all of 2 minutes or so. He had no idea where he was going, but he damn sure was going there fast. He made a right, then a left, shifting his weight off to the side of the bike like a superbike series racer. He fleetingly considered heading for the courthouse. If nothing else, he figured that if he got shot outside the court, then at least the judge couldn’t say that he hadn’t made every attempt to get there on time. In the pit of his stomach, he knew that he would never make it out of the city. He looked for an open garage door, or an alley, or any place he might be able to duck into. He knew that he wasn’t thinking clearly, and he knew that he was fucking up. But he couldn’t see letting a couple of pimple faced cops cut him in half with a 12 gauge either.

Then, what seemed like every cop car in the state appeared in front of him, behind him, and pretty much everywhere. He heard a helicopter hovering overhead. He actually felt something like relief. Well, here we go. He thought, as he stopped the bike, kicked down the stand, and turned off the key, all seemingly in one fluid motion. He dismounted with his hands in the air, and three cops tackled him all at once.

Some 15 minutes later, Karl sat in the back seat of a police cruiser, with his hands cuffed behind his back. He tried to bend his arms and shifted his hands as high up on his back as possible, so that he could lean back against the seat. It wasn’t the most comfortable he had ever been in his life.

He looked blankly at the frumpy looking cop with the red face. He had watched the suit-and- tie cop approach and ask a few questions to the uniformed officers who were standing just outside. The cop had opened the front door and sat on the passenger side, then half turned around in order to talk. Karl noted that the cop didn’t turn very well, almost like he was stiff, or just too fat. The faint smell of alcohol, mixed with the cover-up smell of Wrigleys Spearmint gum, filled the interior of the car. The detective gave Karl a quick glance, and then he pulled a small memorandum notebook and a pen that said U.S. Government on the side, out of his inner coat pocket.

“All righty. Why were you running?” Frank was trying to sound detached, as if he was not the lead detective in a major investigation, and happened to be under a lot of pressure at the moment. He didn’t want to come across as the big guy, he wanted to sound like he was just asking a few compulsory questions that he would pass on to someone else.

“What’s that? Could you speak up a little, I can’t hear too well at the moment.” Karl said. “Some dipshit rookie cop fired a shotgun in my face a few minutes ago. It was pretty loud, I can’t hear for shit.”

“OK. Why were you resisting?” Frank looked at the notebook with his pen at the ready, like he was just trying to get this over with so he could go get some coffee and a donut.

Karl gave a little sigh. “Look, I don’t actually think that I was resisting. The two....officers... were trying to cuff me while I was still on my bike and the kickstand…you know what a kickstand is, right?”

Frank glanced up at the biker and gave a small noncommittal nod of his head.

“I was trying to explain to your boys that I needed to put down the kickstand before they cuffed me, because the bike would fall over on top of us. Evidently they were having trouble understanding, and sorta overreacted, if you ask me. But it’s starting to seem like overreaction is just the order of the day, today.” Karl glowered at the cop.

Frank wrote kickstand? in the notebook, just so it would look like he was taking notes. He stared at the word for a moment, trying to figure this guy out. Immediately, he knew that this was all wrong. This guy sounded like he had no clue what the fuck was going on. But Frank could not believe that this was all just a coincidence. Here’s a hard-ass looking biker, a few blocks from the courthouse. He’s resisting, fleeing, and evading police, less than a half hour after the courthouse explodes. No, this guy had to know something. But after hundreds of interviews with suspects over the course of his career, he could usually tell right away if someone was handing him a bunch of bullshit. And this guy was either clueless, or very, very smart.

Then Frank considered the fact that even if this guy was just an unlucky dumb-ass who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, at least Frank had a temporary scapegoat on his hands. People were going to be screaming for answers pretty soon. He needed to have something, or someone, to give them in order to take the heat off him. Then he could get busy and try and take care of business HIS way.

“Uh-huh. Where were you headed to this morning?” Frank kept his eyes on the notebook.

“I was on my way to the courthouse. I’m due in court….ah, about 15 minutes ago.”

Bingo, Frank thought to himself. He finally looked up and gazed intently into the bikers eyes. He wanted to see the biker’s reaction to his next question.

“Well, that’s pretty convenient for you, isn’t it then?” Franks eyes squinted slightly as he spoke. “Since the courthouse is no longer there. You boys really took care of that, didn’t you?”

Karl did not comprehend at first. Too much had been happening too fast, and he was still not thinking very clearly.

What the fuck is this guy talking about? The courthouse is no longer there………us boys?

Then it dawned on him that it must indeed have been the courthouse that was burning. That was all the excitement. He almost chuckled at the fact that he had wistfully thought about that very possibility just a short time ago. But he didn’t think that a chuckle would go over too good right now.

Us boys…us boys…, what the fuck?

Karl frowned. He was still in the dark here and couldn’t come up with a scenario for what this guy was getting at. Why the hell would they think that he had anything to do with it? Was his ex-wife behind this somehow?

“Mister, I haven’t got a clue what the hell you’re rambling on about.” Karl shook his head slowly from side to side, frowning. “What…us boys….are you talking about?”

Frank silently studied the bikers face and didn’t say anything for a few moments. His gaze focused on one eye, then the other. Back and forth. The biker just stared at him with a questioning look. Frank slowly started to nod his head up and down.

“Ok. All right. We don’t need to do this here. We’ve got you on fleeing and evading, so we’ll have plenty of time to talk at the station. But believe me, the sooner you decide to start talking to me, the better, for you. But you go ahead and think about it for a while, first. That’s fine. Because what is most important is how much you tell me the FIRST time, understand? Don’t start giving me bits and pieces. Give it to me straight right off, and you and I can be friendly… and you’re gonna want me to be friendly, bro.”

Frank put the cap on the pen and stuck it, along with the notebook, back in his inner coat pocket. He got out of the car without another word, leaving the still frowning biker staring at the back of the front seat.

***

“This is Alyssa”

“Hey there, little girly. Hows tricks?” Little Steve lit up a smoke and spoke in his deepest macho-hoarse voice. It wasn’t hard to do considering he smoked 2 or 3 packs of Marlboro Reds, a day.

Little Steve was getting bored. He had checked in at the Breezy Acres Motel only 4 hours before, but he had already been to the local liquor store for a bottle of Cuervo Gold, had watched the news on TV, and had settled on an episode of Bonanza. He was on a terrific high, but had no one to party with.

“Hi Babe! Where ya been? I haven’t heard from you for a few days. You’re not mad at me, are ya?” Alyssa stood and nudged the door closed with the toe of her shoe.

“Of course I’m not mad at you darlin’. You’d know it if I was. Just been takin’ care of some business oughta town. What’s been going on?”

Steve pulled the stained curtains a little to one side and squinted through the smudged window at the blazing sun beating down on his Softail. He noted a small puddle of oil underneath it. He’d have to get the club wrench to have a look at it. Little Steve never worked on his own bike. He had better things to do. He didn’t really like the bike very much, in fact he didn’t really like motorcycles much in general. He only rode a bike so that he could be in the club. If he had his druthers, he’d be driving his Ford F350. Now, that was a ride befitting a man of his character.

“You’re not in town? Did you hear what happened this morning?”

Little Steve led her on. “No, did aliens land or somethin?”

“Holy shit babe. Someone set off a fuckin bomb in the government building! It’s like, fuckin gone! It’s been nothing but sirens and helicopters all day. Every channel on TV is having live coverage!” Alyssa spoke in an urgent whisper as if someone might be listening in on the line, and she only wanted to talk loud enough for Steve to hear.

“No shit huh? Now who would do something like that I wonder?” Little Steve could barely keep from laughing. This conversation was turning out better than he had hoped.

Alyssa sat back down in her chair. “I don’t know, but they think they have the guy. They caught some dude on a bike right down the road from where it happened, right afterwards. He must be an independent, or at least he dint have no colors on. He tried to run away from the cops, but they got him. TV says he is the prime suspect.”

Motorcycle clubs typically wear a 3 piece patch on the back of their vests. Usually it consists of a top patch, on which is lettered the club name. The center patch is the symbol of the club. The Two Skulls MC had a picture of a V-type, 2 cylinder motorcycle engine with a human skull perched on top of each cylinder. The lower patch, or rocker, is the territory that the club inhabits. Usually a city or state. The patches are known as “colors”. And they are fiercely protected by members of the club. Often, bikers that have no club affiliation are referred to as “Independents”.

Little Steve let the curtains hang back down. The room became dark again. He turned around with a frown. “This dude they got, you say he had no colors? How do you know? Did they show a picture of him on TV?”

Alyssa could sense the change in Steve’s mood. She hoped it wasn’t something that she had said. “Just a quick shot of him in cuffs being led into the police station. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him before.”

Little Steve didn’t like this new information at all. He wanted Alyssa to suspect that he, Little Steve, had been the man behind the bombing. He would not admit to it, of course, but she was supposed to figure it out, and fear him. But now here’s some jerk-off trying to steal his thunder? Trying to take the credit for the Two Skulls MC’s biggest operation ever? What the hell is this shit?

Steve lit another smoke off the one he was just finishing. He put the butt out by smacking it into the palm of his hand so that sparks flew all over the floor.

“Well, the fucker is gonna get what’s coming to him, you can bet your ass on that, sweetheart.”



***





There was a time when interrogation rooms were probably much more intimidating. The pictureless walls, the dim lighting, the small table, the hard chairs, one door, and of course, the two way mirror on the wall. Everything designed to make the detainee feel like this is his/her last chance. But nowadays, what with all of the cop shows on TV like NCIS and Law and Order, they aren’t as spooky. You almost feel like you should wave at your favorite actors, that you just know, are standing right on the other side of the mirror.

Or maybe not.

Karl sat in the wooden chair and looked around the room. He’d been sitting there for nearly 20 minutes, slowly working his gaze around the room, looking for anything even remotely interesting to fixate on. Finally, the door opened and a blond woman with a sharp nose entered the room. She looked at Karl with obvious distaste.

“Mr. Skanlan, do you know why you are here?” The female officer hitched up her slacks a little before she sat down. She was young, not more than 30, but already had a hard, detached look to her face. Her hair was pulled back so tightly into a weave that it made Karl wonder if she got a lot of headaches. She looked at Karl like he was an animal in a zoo.

Karl certainly felt like a zoo animal. He felt like an ape. He felt like an ape, and he wanted to start throwing his shit at the gawkers outside his cage.

“Well, not really. It would be nice if someone could explain the whole thing to me here.” He said.

“You have been made aware of your rights? Have you waived your right to have an attorney present?” She was evidently the person that was supposed to feel Karl out, so that the interrogators could see what kind of mood he was in before they came in.

Karl rolled his head in a little circle. He could feel the tension in his neck. “Tell you what. You tell me a story, and let me know why I’m here, and I’ll tell you if I want a lawyer present or not.”

“You have been arrested for resisting police officers, fleeing and evading. You are also being held for questioning concerning the bombing of the county government building.” Her face never changed, her tone didn’t waver. She looked at Karl with something almost resembling pity.

Karl sighed, sat back, and looked up at the ceiling. This was not the first time Karl had been in a police station, not by a long shot. When he was younger, Karl had run afoul of the law more times than he liked to remember. There was a long time when his life was an endless party. He collected handfuls of traffic tickets. He racked up a couple of DUIs on his record, he added a drug possession conviction, and there was an old assault charge. He had never been an angel, but that was then, and this is now. He was older now, and hopefully wiser.

Karl would be 48 years old in a couple of months. His license was clean. He learned to control his life. He drank often enough, but very rarely to excess. Usually it was just a few beers with the boys. And if he ever did tie one on, it was usually all by himself, just Karl and the FXR in the garage with a bottle of Jim Beam. Just so he could think outside the box a little, and then slip into that relaxed, dreamy state that only a really good whiskey buzz could give him.

He almost never used drugs anymore, either. If he scored a joint from a buddy, he’d smoke it while watching a movie on TV or something, but that was about it. In the old days he had loved his cocaine, and took an occasional hit of acid. But nowadays it just wasn’t as interesting. Been there, done that, don’t need to go there again. Karl found out, over time, that it’s not so much the doing drugs that gets old, but that it’s the having to hang around with other people who do drugs that gets really old.

Karl sensed that this visit to the police station was not going well. Everyone was damn excited over something, and he was still in the dark on what, exactly, was going on. He knew cops loved to play games. He also knew how corrupt the police department, and the whole justice system, could be. But he loathed lawyers most of all.

Who the hell was he gonna call? He didn’t retained an attorney to represent him for his divorce, since he was hoping that he wouldn’t need one. He just wanted to split the property down the middle, and get the hell out of the whole thing. In fact, as a last resort, he had planned on telling the court that she could have everything they both had owned, except the clothes on his back and his bike. She could have everything else, since they didn’t have much. She had no real grounds to ask for alimony, but if it came to that, then Karl would just ask for a postponement and retain an attorney. That was the plan. And now here he was, having to think about getting a lawyer for this bullshit. He just wished he knew what the hell was going on. The world had gone crazy.

“Listen, everything in me is telling me to be smart and not say another word until I speak to a lawyer. But I’m so completely clueless as to what is going on that I’m going to go ahead and answer your questions until I can figure out whether I need one. I do NOT waive my right to an attorney. I’m simply agreeing to speak to someone until I can figure out what’s going on here.” Karl interlocked his fingers and put his hands on the table with finality.

The officer stood, and gave Karl one last contemptuous look. “Someone will be right with you.” She left.

Karl watched her leave and instinctively checked out her ass as she whisked out the door.

I wonder if she is into bondage? He wondered. Cause I’d like to tie her up and smack the shit out of her for an hour or so.

Frank Deangelo entered the room a few minutes later.

“Hello Karl.” the detective said as if they’d known each other for years.

“Hey” Karl said flatly. He didn’t know the cops name. He decided to call him Officer Rudolph, for the red nose.

The detective sat, cocked his head slightly to the side, and jumped right in with both feet.

“Karl, are you a member of the Two Skulls motorcycle club?” He asked.

Karl was slightly taken aback. He knew of the club, everybody did. He knew several of the members, and several more by name, and had seen them around for years. He gave them a wide berth, but not because he was intimidated by them. He just didn’t like them. They seemed to be a real bunch of shit-starters, and Karl didn’t think much of shit-starters.

Karl didn’t like motorcycle clubs much in general, which was ironic since he had been a member of a club, years back. There had been some great times riding with the club, some of the best times of his life. There’s nothing like flying down the highway on custom bikes, with 50 other guys all wearing the same colors. It’s quite a spectacle. You feel like a rock star. Parties and brotherhood, it doesn’t get any better. The camaraderie is the best part. You’re part of something, it’s a family. A big crazy family that you get to pick, not like the family that was handed to you at birth. These are people that are just like you. Bikers. At least it seemed that way for awhile.

After a year or so in the club Karl had started to realize that most of the guys in the club weren’t much like him at all. He realized that most biker clubs were full of guys who he didn’t even consider to be bikers. Most of his club brothers only rode motorcycles when they were riding with the club, otherwise they drove their cars and trucks.

There was always political bullshit going on, constant squabbles within the club, petty garbage that had nothing to do with anything. A lot of the guys were into selling drugs, and some were into stealing bikes. Stealing bikes did not go over well with Karl at all. It irritated him when someone quoted the popular saying; “Ride it like you stole it!” In Karl’s opinion, a bike thief was the same as a horse thief, and they used to hang horse thieves in the old days.

Karl knew that he would have no problem at all hanging some motherfucker who stole HIS bike. Many of the guys liked to start fights a lot more than they liked to ride and party. Karl got tired of his club brothers starting fights everywhere they went. When the shit came down everyone was expected to jump in, whether the brother was right or wrong. That wasn’t Karl’s way, he believed that a man should fight his own battles.

Karl realized that he was an individual, and that club life was not the way he wanted to live. So he got out. There was a lot of grumbling and some threats when he announced that he was leaving, some motorcycle clubs would beat a member to death for trying to get out. But Karl was no one to fuck with, and they all knew it. In the end, they respected him enough to let him go unchallenged. He remained friends with a couple of the guys from the club who knew him best.

A couple of years ago his old club was disbanded by the Skulls. The way Karl heard it, the Skulls had showed up at one of the smaller clubs meetings, un-invited and armed to the teeth. They laid down an ultimatum. It was: either become prospective members of the Two Skulls MC, go your own way without your colors, or get killed right then and there. One way or the other, they made it known that the smaller club was to be no more after that day.

“Ah…no. Shit no. Hell no. I am not a member of the Two Skulls Motorcycle Club.” Karl grimaced a little. He should have figured that this had something to do with those pricks.

“But you know the club?” Frank continued.

“Do I know the club? I know OF the club. I don’t hang out with them, if that’s what you mean.” Karl didn’t like the way this was going. There were too many people who knew that he did, in fact, know several members of the TSMC. Several members of his old club were currently flying TSMC patches. But that didn’t mean that he had any actual connection with the club.

“Why did you detonate a bomb in the government building this morning?” Frank wanted something NOW, and this guy was giving him nothing. He wanted to rattle the biker. He wanted the guy to break down and tell him something in order to try and save his ass.

Karl blinked, but didn’t flinch. He looked at the detective blankly, and said nothing for a few moments. Then he spoke, “I think I’ll go ahead and exercise my right to have an attorney present now.”

Frank sighed and leaned back in his chair. He wished he had waited a little longer before asking that last question. He really didn’t have much on this guy, and an attorney would have him out of here in a second. The big problem was that he believed that this guy might actually be telling the truth. The sonuvabitch might just be an unlucky schmuck who had been on his way to divorce court this morning and happened to step into a world of shit. Still, even though his story sounded good, that still didn’t mean that he wasn’t involved in some way. Frank had done a brief search into Karls past. The man was no angel.

The detective played his last card. “Listen Karl, would you agree to call me if you have any contact with the Two Skulls MC?”

Karl still didn’t flinch, but his mind was racing. “You mean like an informant?”

Frank sat forward and leaned his forearms on the table. He thought that he had seen something flit behind the biker’s eyes. He hoped that the man was desperate.

“Here it is Karl, I happen to know that you’re not exactly a model citizen. But I checked out your divorce court story, and I think you’re telling me the truth…for the most part. I don’t think that you know much of anything about what happened this morning, and even if you do, I don’t think that you had shit to do with it. I also know that the two cops that almost killed you this morning are a couple of the most retarded fucking rookie punks that ever came out of the academy, so I think I have a good idea of what happened out there. I’m willing to let you walk out of here, if you agree to give me something in return. I know goddamned well, that the Skulls are behind the bombing. I want to know why, and I want the names of the motherfuckers who did it, along with any other information that you think I might want to know. If I let you walk out of here, and then find out that you’ve had any contact with the Skulls and didn’t call me, I’ll make it a personal life mission to make sure you go away for a long time. Call it what you want.”

Karl pondered a moment. “What if I never happen to bump into any of them?”

“Then we never had this conversation. Have a nice life. But know this Karl, I have eyes everywhere. Don’t try and fuck me, because I WILL know, and you will regret the day you were born.” The detective was not just being dramatic for effect on that point. He intended to increase surveillance on the club 20 fold. He planned to have every house, bar, and greasy spoon restaurant they frequented under a microscope until he could bring the club down. If the TSMC thought the heat was on before, they were going to think that the devil himself was holding a blowtorch on their asses now.

Karl weighed his options. The last thing he was going to do was agree to be a snitch. He would go to jail first. He’d kick his own ass first. And he didn’t want this prick detective to have anything over on him. He didn’t like making deals with scum like this guy.

But was he actually making a deal? He couldn’t see how. If he never saw another TSMC patch again, that would be fine with him. If he steered clear of the Skulls, which he normally did anyways, then he could blow off this asshole detective. Shit, he’d like to get the hell out of Dodge altogether. He was sick of this town. Maybe he could just haul ass out of here, head for greener pastures somewhere up north, away from the desert. Fuck the Skulls, and fuck this asshole sitting across from him too. And fuck his ex-wife………oh shit, his ex-wife! Where the hell was she during all this mess? She might have been at the courthouse when the bomb went off, for all he knew.

“So, I take it that it was a very bad scene at the courthouse huh? Did anyone get hurt?”
Karl tried to word the question so that the cop wouldn’t know what he was thinking.

Frank blinked. “They’ve recovered 11 bodies so far, and we expect to find more in the rubble. Twenty were wounded, some very severely. Some won’t make it. The building is demolished. What didn’t get destroyed in the blast was burned in the fire. They just got it under control a little while ago. Yeah, it’s bad.”

Karl felt a sudden, unexpected pang in his heart. For as much as he had thought that he wanted to kill Carla himself, he didn’t really want to believe that she could actually be dead. After all, there had been some good times, lots of them in fact. And he had been in love with her, once. He didn’t actually want her hurt, he just wanted to start a new life without her.

Karl made his decision. “You got a card?”

***

Six men lounged in the kitchen/dining area of a modest, “cookie cutter” house on the west side of town. It was known as a cookie cutter house because if you drove around the neighborhood, you would likely see several other houses exactly like it, built by the same contractor, with the same floor plan, same appliances, same color, everything, almost as if they were being produced with a big cookie cutter. There had been an urgent demand for housing a few years back when several aerospace facilities had sprung up in the desert near the city. That’s why there were so many cookie cutter houses around. They were easy to build, and could be knocked together fairly quickly.

The south western desert is an ideal testing ground for military aircraft, weapons, and associated systems, and wherever the big military aerospace contractors such as Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, and GE go, the people will follow. Government money is like a gold rush. Cities pop up seemingly overnight. Everything gets bigger. Grocery store chains move in, gas station/mini marts spring up on every corner, car dealerships expand, Mom and Pop restaurants turn into Taco Bells and Burger Kings, and of course the inevitable Super Walmart sprouts up and drives most small retail stores in the area out of business.

Nine months earlier a Russian owned aerospace company called FORTEC began negotiations with the city to obtain building permits for the construction of a research and development facility within city limits. The corporation, which develops and manufactures high technology parts for smart bomb and missile guidance systems, was currently competing with other aerospace companies for several multi-million dollar military contracts.

FORTEC had a dilemma. They needed the facility immediately, and obtaining the building permits had turned out to be more difficult than they had anticipated. They needed to have their proposed facility in close proximity to the other military contractors in the area, for logistical reasons. They would need to rent the use of some of the other test facilities and ranges in the surrounding desert in order to develop their systems and products. They needed to be close to the parts and supply lines that were already established in the area.

The city planners and county legislature didn’t like the idea. FORTEC representatives would not disclose enough information as to what type of testing was required for their systems. There were a lot of “black holes” in the site plan, such as several buildings and structures that FORTEC claimed they needed, but could not, or would not, explain the function of. Too many questions were being left unanswered. There were environmental and humanitarian concerns, to which the Russian corporation had no answers or solutions. The Russians were not used to dealing with so much red tape, and they failed to make any friends at city hall, as it were. At first, the proceedings were slow at best, and finally they came to a grinding halt. FORTEC had offered to pay the city an exorbitant amount of money in order to speed up the process, but there was a lot going on in the area, and only so many people at the local government level to do it.

For FORTEC, the clock was ticking. They needed the facility, and they needed it now. But it seemed that the only way that the Russian corporation would ever be able to begin construction, would be if there were a complete change of personnel at city hall. The daily meetings and negotiations between FORTEC executives and city planners were beginning to get heated. The city and county politicians viewed the Russian corporation as just another aerospace company, and the Russians viewed the local government as a bunch of small town rubes, standing in the way of progress.

FORTEC was getting desperate. They stood to lose many millions of dollars in military contracts if they couldn’t find a way to get their facility in place. Secretly, they began to examine alternative methods of convincing the city of the seriousness of the situation. In one particularly hush-hush, late afternoon meeting among the top executives of FORTEC, it was jokingly suggested that they hire someone in the underworld to blow up the government building. Then perhaps they could start fresh with more open-minded local government officials. No one laughed at the suggestion.

In front of the cookie cutter house was parked a beautiful custom corvette, along with a late model black Chevy pick-up, a mid-1990s Cadillac Seville, and two motorcycles. One of the bikes was a radical custom chopper, with 20 inch tall “apehanger” handlebars, dazzling chrome, and lots of sharp edges from custom parts with little pointy widgets machined into them. It had an incredible flamed paint scheme with a matching V-style motorcycle engine with skull heads emblem on both the left and right side of the fuel tank. The bike was not designed to be ridden any real distance. It was an uncomfortable ride, even for short hops around town. But it got a lot of attention wherever it went, and so did whoever was riding it. It was a “look at me” bike.

The other bike was a modest Harley-Davidson Dyna FXDL. It was mostly black, and had a sticker on the rear fender that read, “Property of Two Skulls MC”. The bike looked neglected. It had ugly scrapes on the exhaust pipes, and dents on both sides of the fuel tank where the bike had obviously tipped over several times. The bike had rolled off the assembly line 7 years before, and had only 8,000 miles on the odometer, but it looked much older. It was a club bike, to be ridden by any member who didn’t currently have his own machine. And there were a lot of TSMC members who didn’t own motorcycles. It was in the club by-laws that every member of the club had to own an American motorcycle, but that particular rule was often overlooked.

The six men in the room were the only club members who had been privy to the bombing operation, besides Little Steve. They were older, and had been in the club since the beginning. They knew that something of this scale had to be kept among themselves, as there were far too many members in the club that couldn’t be trusted. None of the men didn’t much care for each other in a friendly way, they were more like business associates than brothers. Each man had a bottle of beer in hand, and a marijuana joint was being passed around. A small TV sat on the edge of the kitchen counter. The news was dominated by the events that had taken place earlier that day. The mood in the room was tense.

Prez, the president of the TSMC, was speaking. “It ain’t like the russkies give a fuck about it, they’ll still pay. Them FORTEC fuckers, they ain’t the problem. They know who did it. Does anyone know the guy?”

The member who had arrived in the corvette spoke up. ”I’m sure I’ve seen the dude around. I think he used to ride with that fuckin’ little shit club from the south end way back. He’s nobody.”

“Well, “nobody” needs to go the fuck away.” Prez stood up and put his foot on the chair he had been sitting in. He crossed his heavily tattooed forearms on his knee and leaned forward. “We pulled this shit for the money, but we also pulled it to make a statement goddammit. I’m sick of being fucked with by the man in this goddamn town. These fuckers need to know that we mean business. You fuck with us, and we’ll fuck you up. And the news is coming off like this “nobody” here, is the boy who pulled this shit off.”

A compact, stocky man with a huge red beard sat at the kitchen table staring at his bottle of beer as if trying to read the meaning of life in the amber liquid. He looked as if he could have been a Norse barbarian in another life. When he spoke, his eyes didn’t waver from the bottle. “Everyone is going to think he’s one of us, that’s the way I see it. Or at least connected with us. Fuck him…….if he HAD done it, we’d be the ones getting blamed for it.”

Prez looked grimly at the TV as the scene with a biker being led into the police station was being played over and over as reporters picked apart every possible detail that was available. “Yeah, that’s true. I don’t know though. I just didn’t figure on this shit. I want to hear the words Two Skulls MC on this motherfucker. I’d like to know if he’s copping to it.”

There was a tall man who looked evil enough to be the devil himself, leaning against the refrigerator. He wore a long black leather coat that hung below his knees. Over it he wore a black leather vest with the club colors. A black leather top hat was perched firmly on his head, and a narrow pair of dark, black sunglasses covered his eyes. A 6-inch long waxed goatee hung from his chin. His features were sharp, almost birdlike. When he spoke, a heavy Hispanic accent accompanied his hoarse tone. “It’s bullshit, holmes. The pigs just grabbed the first vato that turned up. Fucking Deangelo is trying to keep the Skulls out of it. He’s a puta, but he’s a smart fucker. He doesn’t want us to get the credit if he can help it… But everyone will know, prez. Everyone will know that the Skulls are the only vatos that are loco enough for some shit like this.”

A few of the men murmured at that. “Fuckin’ A. Hell yeah.” Heads nodded up and down, and some of the tension in the room seemed to dissipate.

Prez still frowned, staring at the small TV. “Well, here’s the problem. This shit is national news, right now. Everyone in the whole fucking country is watching this same shit that we’re watching, right now. Everyone SHOULD be talking about the Two Skulls MC, right now. But I haven’t heard anyone mention the Skulls on this motherfucker, and this fucking “nobody” is on every five seconds. In a few days everyone will be back to crying over gas prices and shit and forget all about this whole thing, and we won’t get the credit we deserve. This fucker needs to be gone…right now. I don’t give a fuck how, but he needs to go, and we need to leave our calling card on his ass. We can’t be pulling this kind of shit every day, so we need to make this one count.”

Prez stood and pulled a tiny cellular phone from his vest pocket and flipped it open. He punched in a number as the other men gazed transfixed at the small TV. Everyone knew better than to talk while the prez was on the phone.

Little Steve grabbed for the ringing telephone on the stand next to the bed with one massive arm. He knocked the phone into a cheap reading light and almost sent both through the wall. Steve had been trying to get some rest, since he had been up for almost 40 hours, but sleep would not come to him. The tequila bottle was ¾ empty, and both ashtrays in the room were brimming with cigarette butts. He felt very tired and very spun at the same time. He wanted to rest, and yet he felt like he needed some action. He really wanted to pound someone, that always made him feel better. He needed some conflict to relax him, but he couldn’t even find an episode of Springer on the TV. The tremendous ups and downs of the last couple of days, coupled with the speed and the alcohol, had put him in an extremely unpredictable and dangerous mood. But he had been told to hole up and stay put, and he hadn’t gotten to where he was by disobeying orders.

Little Steve growled into the phone. “Hello.”

“Hey Bro, how’s it hangin’?” Prez glanced at the devil leaning against the fridge.

“Be hangin a lot better if I had your mother here with me.” Steve sat up and slung his legs off the side of the bed.

The Prez smiled. There weren’t many people in the world who could say something like that to him and live to tell about it. But Little Steve and the Prez went way back, way back before the club, all the way back to high school when they had first met while smoking pot in the boys room. Little Steve would never make a joke like that in front of the other club members, but in private they had a friendship that went beyond the club brotherhood.

“Yeah, yeah, you fat fuck. Listen, your scoot is fixed. You can pick it up any time. And work called and said they might need you to pull some overtime.”

Little Steve stood up and arched his back. He put his free hand in the small of his back and closed his eyes. “Fuckin A, fuckin A, fuckin A. I am on the fuckin way.”

Both men clicked off the connection without further conversation, there was none required. Little Steve reached into his pocket and pulled out his baggie. He carefully sprinkled a generous amount of the off-white crystalline powder on the nightstand and used his 7- inch buck knife to organize it into a neat line. Normally, for a “maintenance” blast, he would just dip the tip of the knife blade into the baggie and take a small hit right off the end. But he wanted to get back to where he once belonged for the trip home. He held a short length of drinking straw to the line and put the other end to his left nostril. He used his right index finger to close the nostril over the end of the straw, while using his thumb on the same hand to partly close his right nostril. He used the remaining fingers to hold the straw and deftly snorted the line of crank with one practiced motion. He dabbed at the small amount of crystal that remained on the stand with a finger and inhaled it into the other nostril. Steve’s eyes widened and he blinked as he wiped at the end of his nose to make sure he got it all. He grabbed his coat and headed for the door. He stopped briefly, looked around, picked up an ashtray and with a wave of his hand he sprayed the butts and ashes in a wide arc throughout the room. He smiled and felt re-energized.

It was nearly dusk outside. Little Steve hit the highway and wound the Softail up to 100 mph. He was in a hurry to get back and find out what the next order of business was.
 

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