Authors: CJ Lyons
“Not sure how long it will be,” Smith told her. “He’ll be coming through the inmate
entrance.” He pointed out the window to the secured glass doorway on the other side
of the large general visitation room. “If you need anything, here’s the intercom.”
His radio buzzed. He raised it to his lips, gave her a wave, and left, the door shutting
with a thud behind him.
Caitlyn took a seat and faced away from the door she’d come in through, out the glass
wall opposite. The second door and window led to the general visitation hall, a large
cafeteria-like room with chairs swiveling out from round tables. There was a play
corner for kids; the far wall was lined with vending machines. If not for the guard
sitting inside a glassed-in monitoring room one level above or the signs reminding
visitors and inmates of the rules, it could have been a low-priced family-style fast-food
The inmate entrance was below the monitoring room. Hale would be processed through
a metal detector just as she’d been and screened by a guard. Then he’d be allowed
access to the visitation area and through it the private interview room she waited
A lot of fuss to talk to a man she never wanted to see again. But she couldn’t stop
thinking about little Lena—she might be twenty-six, but in Caitlyn’s mind she was
still toddling around with a droopy diaper hanging from her hips. What kind of trouble
could she have gotten herself into?
The chaplain’s words had stuck with her as well. He’d said Hale told him her father
was right, that death was the only silence they’d accept. Who the hell were “they”?
The answers were the only reason she was here. Waiting for the man who’d destroyed
her family. And if there was one thing Caitlyn hated, it was waiting.
She spent the time counting ceiling tiles: fifty-four; eyeing the video camera in
the corner; practicing imitations of movie lawmen from Gary Cooper’s tight-lipped
expressionless anger to John Wayne’s eye-wrinkling scowl—a game she’d played with
her dad as a kid; and watching the guard at the monitor station above. From where
she sat only the top of his head was visible, but he sure seemed to bounce around
a lot for someone whose job was to sit and watch a bunch of video screens. Finally
he settled down into his chair and vanished from her sight.
Just in time for her attention to focus on the inmate entrance. The doors slid open
and Eli Hale entered.
It was as if twenty-six years had never happened. He didn’t shuffle or hunch like
many men she’d seen in prison. No, still the same head-high stride, gaze moving from
left to right and back again like a king surveying his domain. He saw her and a smile
began to crinkle his eyes, just for a heartbeat, before fading into a sorrow-filled
nod of appreciation.
He understood how hard this was for her. She dropped her professional facade, caught
between the nine-year-old girl’s desire to run to the man who’d been a second father
to her and the thirty-five-year-old weighed down by decades of pain. Standing at the
glass door, waiting, she watched him walk across the empty room, threading his way
through the maze of tables.
The doors behind him opened once more. He blocked her view of what was happening,
but a quick glance at the clock on the wall told her it wasn’t yet time for official
visitation. Maybe a guard?
She couldn’t hear anything beyond the glass, but something alerted Hale. He stopped,
not ten feet away from the door leading into the interview room, turned his head to
look back, his body still facing her.
That’s when they jumped him.
Two inmates, both Hispanic with shaved heads and Sureno gang tatts. What the hell
were West Coast gangbangers doing waltzing into the visitation area? Caitlyn hit the
panic button as one Sureno tackled Hale from behind, grabbing him in a bear hug so
tight Hale was lifted off his feet. The other danced forward, his fist grasping a
Caitlyn lunged for the door, but of course it was still locked. Trapping her on the
wrong side to watch helplessly.
“We need help in the visitation area,” she called into the intercom.
No one answered. She shouted, waved at the video camera, but there was no sign of
the guard in the monitoring station overhead. He was probably also the one on the
other end of the intercom and panic button. Shit.
No gun, no way to intervene, no one to call for help. All she could do was watch as
the Surenos stabbed Eli over and over, smiling and laughing at the overhead cameras,
wiping Eli’s blood across their faces like it was war paint.
Caitlyn’s fury reared up so hard and fast it brought tears to her eyes. She slammed
her hand into the thick glass, the pain barely registering as she stood witness to
The two Surenos finished their work. One blew her a kiss, the other grabbed his crotch
and gave her the finger, and they ran out the way they came in. Hale slumped against
the table next to the door, blood blossoming into tiny rosebuds across his shirt.
Not so much blood, but that wasn’t necessarily a good thing, Caitlyn knew. The real
damage would be internal.
She pounded on the door, more out of frustration and anger than an attempt to break
it down. Her eyes locked on Hale’s. He struggled across the length of the table to
get closer to her. His mouth opened and closed, but she could hear nothing through
His body shuddered as he hauled in a breath and pointed at her. Then he slowly mouthed
words impossible to deny:
Lena. Save Lena.
“No,” she called to the dying man, willing him to hang on. Childhood memories, her
and Vonnie, Eli and her dad, all of them laughing, so happy … she’d locked the good
times away along with the bad. Now to have to watch this … she choked down a sob.
It was like her own father dying all over again. “Eli. Hang on. Please.”
Her voice cracked and faded. Eli couldn’t hear her.
With a final gasp Eli Hale slumped facedown across the table, one arm snagged over
the back of a chair, the only thing keeping him from falling to the floor. Caitlyn
cursed as the alarm finally sounded and three guards wearing helmets and carrying
shields and riot batons ran into the visitation room.
She waved them to Hale. Although it was obvious to anyone that there was no longer
any threat, they still circled the room, ensuring it was empty. Then two of them stood
guard while a third checked for life signs. He shook his head.
Eli Hale was gone. Taking his answers with him.
* * *
Bernie loved being a prospect for the Reapers. Life would be even better once he was
patched in and became a full-fledged member of the motorcycle club. But until then,
it was his job to put up with their crap and do all the shit work no one else wanted.
Like coming in early on a Friday to clean up at the clubhouse and the trailer behind
it, making sure there was enough booze and beer and snacks to last the weekend of
partying. Pushing a broom. Pretty much what his dad had him doing before he left McSwain
Enterprises to join the Reapers. Jimmy McSwain had no regrets seeing his son leave
to become a biker full-time—in fact, when Bernie had told him about the Reapers’ invitation,
his dad had taken him out for a drink to celebrate. First time he’d ever done that.
Most of the time, he just pretended like Bernie didn’t exist.
Bernie loved everything about being a Reaper—until two days ago, when he overheard
their leaders planning to kidnap and kill a girl. Now it was as if his entire world
had been turned inside out. He couldn’t trust his brother Reapers—his only friends—but
he couldn’t leave them, either, they’d find him and then … He shuddered so hard he
almost dropped the broom.
What choice did he have but to stay? Try his best to figure a way out of this without
hurting the Reapers or Lena.
The Reapers’ clubhouse was in an old two-story A-frame log cabin that used to be a
bar called the Pit Stop. Now that the Reapers owned it, it served twice as much booze,
but since these were MC private parties, they didn’t have to worry about liquor licenses
or zoning laws. They held Church upstairs in a private room. On the main floor was
a commercial kitchen, offices behind the bar, as well as a dance floor, darts, and
two pool tables.
Bernie pried two steel-shafted darts out from the wide-planked pine floor. They were
nowhere near the dartboards, instead seemed to have been aimed at the sign near the
front door that read:
NO SQUIDS ALLOWED!
He stashed them behind the bar and went back to his sweeping.
The menial labor kept his hands busy and his mind free to roam. While he swept, he’d
see stories unfold inside his head like a movie, only starring him, Bernard McSwain,
as the hero. Used to be all sorts of foxy chicks starred opposite him, all with big
boobs and adoring glances. But lately the only woman he thought about was the girl.
Lena. Eli Hale’s little girl. Which made her off limits for so many reasons. Including
the fact that Poppy wanted her dead.
What Poppy wanted, the MC always made happen. Not only was he their leader, their
president, he was what held the club together, kept the money flowing and the bikes
rolling. Without Poppy and the shadowy figures he and Weasel, the club VP, worked
with behind the scenes, the Reapers would be nothing more than another bunch of losers
who couldn’t cut it in the real world.
Instead, they ran this town. Practically the whole county, for that matter. A fact
that used to make Bernie walk proud and tall—unlike when he was being shuffled around
from job to job at his dad’s company. Only place off limits to a Reaper was the VistaView,
the Indian casino on the other side of the reservation.
Bernie’s dad ran the VistaView but Bernie hated it. The casino was built in 1990 when
Bernie was just a kid. Even back then it felt old and as out of date as the furniture
his mother kept in the living room that was off limits to him and his friends. He
couldn’t understand why the casino was so popular. Who cared about a bunch of gray-hairs
hunched over slots or sweating at the live tables, fool enough to lose their money
even though everyone knew the house always won?
The MC was more of a family to Bernie than his dad or big sister or even his mom had
ever been. And he’d betrayed them.
Acid burned his throat and he popped another Tums and wiped the sweat from his forehead
and neck before taking his broom back up. He hated lying to his brother Reapers, hated
being caught in the middle like this. It made him feel sick, feverish with guilt.
But no way would he give them Lena. God had sent her to him, just like He’d sent the
animals. She was Bernie’s. He would take care of her, figure out a way to save her …
save them both.
“Watch where you’re going.”
Bernie jumped at the gruff voice. Sweat poured from him—last time he’d tripped someone
up while mopping it’d been Weasel. He still had the welts across his back from where
the VP had broken the mop handle and beat him with it. As a prospect, Bernie had no
choice but to take it. Another reason why he couldn’t wait to be patched in as a full
member. Real Reapers didn’t take shit from nobody.
Thank God the size-twelve engineer boots in front of him now didn’t belong to Weasel.
The man snorted, shifted his feet from the floor up to a chair, and tipped the chair
he sat in back onto two legs. The posture looked so damn cool. No wonder all the ladies
adored Goose, although his blond hair down to his collar and scruffy beard and all
those muscles helped. Every time Bernie tried to lift weights and get muscles like
those he just got a sore back. And he’d tried balancing on a chair’s rear legs and
about knocked himself out when he fell.
He sighed. No way he’d ever be like Goose. That was why, even though they’d both started
as prospects at the same time, Goose already not only was a full patch but had just
been elected to the coveted post of club enforcer.
Which sucked. Because unlike the other guys who treated Bernie like their own personal
slave or, worse, their own personal punching bag, Goose talked to him, treated him
like Bernie counted for something.
But it was Goose’s job to protect the club from outside threats. Like Lena.
So he was the last person Bernie could ever ask for advice.
“What’s wrong, kid?” Goose cracked one whiskey-wearied eye open to focus on Bernie.
The MC had had a pre-pre-weekend party last night that had gone on until four in the
Bernie shuffled away so Goose couldn’t see his face. He sucked at lying and knew it.
“Don’t sound like nothing.” Goose tilted the chair back onto all fours, sat up, and
grabbed the not-quite-empty bottle of Jim Beam from the table. He took a swig, shook
all over from head to toe like a shaggy dog coming in from the rain, and banged the
bottle back onto the table with a satisfied grunt. “Have one on me. Sit down, drink
up, tell me what’s going on in the world of Bernard McSwain.”
Bernie swallowed hard before turning to face Goose. Worst thing was, Goose acted like
he really was interested by Bernie’s pathetic life. Like he cared.
But Goose always did what was best for the club. Poppy would have asked him, as club
enforcer, to find Lena and kill her.
Bernie didn’t understand exactly why Lena was a threat to the club, but he was not
about to let anything happen to her.
Goose kicked a chair out. Bernie sagged his skinny butt into it, still holding the
broom by the handle, fighting a wave of nausea.
“What is it, kid? Girl troubles?”
That was close enough to the truth that Bernie didn’t have to worry about lying. “Yes,
“I keep telling you. Cut the ‘sir.’” Goose was thirty-six, making him only a few years
older than Bernie, but as a full-fledged member of the MC, he’d earned the “sir.”
Of course, Goose called Bernie “kid” or “prospect,” everyone in the MC did—and would
until Bernie earned his patch. Hell, maybe even after. At thirty-three he was still
getting carded. He was skinny like a kid, still had pimples—but only occasionally,
thank God—and he barely ever needed to shave. The club made its prospects keep their
hair cut real short in a buzz cut or shaved to display the Reaper tatt across their
scalp, but even that didn’t help Bernie any when it came to earning respect.