Authors: Susan Fanetti
FIRE & DARK
The Night Horde SoCal Series
THE FREAK CIRCLE PRESS
Fire & Dark © 2015 Susan Fanetti
All rights reserved
Susan Fanetti has asserted her right to be identified as the author of this book under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
ALSO BY SUSAN FANETTI
The Night Horde SoCal Series:
Strength & Courage
, Book 1
Shadow & Soul
, Book 2
Today & Tomorrow
, Book 2.5
The Pagano Family Series:
, Book 1
, Book 2
, Book 3
, Book 4
The Signal Bend Series:
(The first Night Horde series)
Move the Sun
, Book 1
Behold the Stars
, Book 2
Into the Storm
, Book 3
Alone on Earth
, Book 4
In Dark Woods
, Book 4.5
All the Sky
, Book 5
Show the Fire
, Book 6
Leave a Trail
, Book 7
Always to the Freaks, who are my love and support in life and in art.
Especially to C.D. Breadner, who helped me see
what Connor and Pilar’s story was missing.
And to Jim, with whom I’ve come through so much fire and dark.
I look at you
Across those fires and the dark.
~Weldon Kees, “Late Evening Song”
Two black Range Rovers crested a hill on the horizon, and Connor Elliott stood up. He’d been sitting sidesaddle on his parked bike, feeling both bored and wary. His brothers in the Night Horde MC had been similarly waiting—sitting on their bikes, walking around the dusty field they were parked on the edge of, all of them in that strange place of indolent readiness.
It had been the kind of atmosphere that just about demanded a smoke, if you were of that persuasion—as several of the Horde, including Connor, were. But it was July in Southern California. Smoking out in the wilds was about the most dangerous thing a man could do.
“Heads up. The Queen approaches.” He felt the weight of the gun holstered under his arm. They were meeting an ally—their boss, for all intents and purposes—but he’d ridden a long enough road to know better than to let his guard down around a drug cartel, friend or foe.
By the time the Rovers pulled up alongside their parked Harleys, all the Horde on this run—Connor; Hoosier, his father and the club President; Bart, the VP; Lakota, Trick, and Jesse—were standing in a row. As the doors opened, Hoosier stepped forward, and Connor, his Sergeant at Arms, went with him. Bart, too, took a step up.
Four men in suits stepped out of the lead Rover. Three men dressed likewise stepped out of the one behind it. The driver of the second then opened the last passenger door and reached in. A shapely female leg stretched down and set a high-heeled black pump on the scruffy desert floor. The driver stepped back, seeming to lead a small, beautiful woman out of the Rover.
He wasn’t leading her, though, as all the Horde were well aware. This was Isidora Vega, known as La Zorra, queen of the Águilas cartel and de facto ruler of the Mexican drug trade.
The Horde had been working with La Zorra for a year and a half. Their reactions to the idea of a female drug lord had ranged at first from skepticism to amusement. None of them was skeptical or amused now. In the time that they had known her, she had crushed one cartel into dust. She had forced a struggling but storied Colombian cartel into a subcontractor position, and she had wrangled a treaty with the entire Mexican trade that had stabilized and focused cartel power over the trade and the country itself.
For years, it had been known that Mexico was essentially run by its drug lords. Now that was factually true.
She had accomplished all that, bringing dozens of psychotically homicidal men to their knees at her feet, with the same will for violence that had always described the drug trade, but she had done it without the manic flair. She’d simply killed, with cold calculation, all the psychos until the men who were left were willing to think and act with logic.
A woman—a small, gorgeous woman under forty—had brought the drug trade to heel. She’d stabilized an entire fucking country. In short, she was a badass of the highest order.
So Connor always felt guarded when the Horde leaders sat down with her. Though these meetings ran like board meetings, despite their unconventional venues, Connor still expected another shoe to drop. She was a woman. Who, in not even two years, had reorganized a country. With apparently little but the force of her will. Even with the evidence of her stability, he found it hard to believe. And he had seen the evidence of her violence.
And she was guarded everywhere she went by seven men. It seemed to him that not even La Zorra herself fully trusted in the extent of her control.
But his father stepped out with his hand extended. “Dora. Good to see you.”
“Hoosier.” She smiled and shook his hand. Then she nodded to Hoosier’s right. “Bart.”
“Dora.” Bart gave her a nod that had something of the flavor of a courtly little bow.
She turned to Hoosier’s left. “And Connor.”
“Ma’am.” He thought she was about his age, but ‘ma’am’ felt appropriate. She had certainly earned respect.
Returning her gaze to Connor’s father, Dora said, “Thank you for meeting. I know this wasn’t in our schedule. But I have some new information and possibly an opportunity, and I’d like your input.”
She turned and gestured to two of her men who had moved to the back of one of the Rovers. When one of them opened the hatch, Connor changed his stance, and his hand automatically shifted subtly toward his holster.
But the men pulled out a large, flat gizmo that, after a minute or two of setup, turned out to be a portable picnic table. When it was up, La Zorra turned to Hoosier with a smile. “Shall we sit?”
On the way back into town, they took the freeway. Traffic on the 15 came to a complete halt about ten miles out. They lane-split for the rest of the ride, passing the last remnants of what had obviously been a serious, multi-car accident with injuries. Long, wide streaks of blood stained the asphalt, and the three cars and a parcel truck being loaded onto flatbeds seemed to have been wadded up by a large, angry hand.
Two fire engines were still on the road, the firefighters packing up. As the Horde approached the scene, an ambulance pulled onto the road with its flashers on but no siren, and one lane of the freeway was opened behind it. The Horde rode by what was left of the scene in single file, slowly, with respect for what was very likely at least one dead.
At the Mariposa Avenue exit, the group split off—Bart and Hoosier took the ramp, which would lead them to the clubhouse. Connor, Lakota, Trick, and Jesse went on by. They weren’t meeting on La Zorra’s new business until the next day, and the four of them were off to hold to their post-run ritual. They rode north, through Madrone and up toward San Bernardino. They were headed to The Flight Deck.
The Flight Deck was a bar laid out in an airplane hangar that had once been part of an Air Force Base. The base had closed about thirty years ago, and its structures had been almost entirely dismantled or repurposed, but Troy Crowley, the owner of The Deck, had bought early and preserved the space.
What he’d made in it was something that Connor was fairly sure was unique in its way. Six bars, a full kitchen, a huge dance floor, with live music three nights a week, a karaoke stage, massive television screens with viewing areas that were like little theaters with sofa seating, a billiards area, and two boxing rings.
Despite its vast size, the place had an almost intimate air. The lighting was low and golden, the sound was abated with excellent insulation, and the staff, barkeeps and cocktail cuties alike, knew all the regulars.
All that, though, maybe made the place unusual but not unique. What really made The Deck stand out was that it was a roughneck bar—that catered to people on both sides of the line. Cops, firefighters, bikers, farmers—you name it, they all made their way here, sometimes in droves. And the place still managed to pull in some of the club crowd, too—straight arrows taking a spin around the wild side.
Connor, who enjoyed himself a good rumble, had been in the ring often, and he’d fought more than a few Sheriff’s deputies. The club was on good terms in Madrone and with the San Bernardino County Sheriff, but he still got a kick out of putting a uniform on the mat.
They backed their bikes along the side of the building and walked in. It was too late for The Deck’s second happy hour—which was famous for its wide array of all-you-can-eat bar food—but not really late enough for the crowd to get wild. The rings were quiet. It wasn’t a live-band night, so the dance floor in the middle of the space was empty. But karaoke was happening. As the Horde walked toward the bar nearest the boxing rings, Jesse slapped Connor on the back.
“You see that?”
He had. A table full of girls, in full club regalia, all high heels and short skirts. Four of them. One of them, a bodacious bottle blonde, had a tall, glittery tiara on her head. In the center, bedazzled in bright purple sparkles, was the number ‘21.’ There were flashing lights across the top.
Lakota laughed as they sat at a table in clear sight of Birthday Barbie and her friends. “Gettin’ long in the tooth for you, brother.”
As Trick went to the bar to place their first order—always two pitchers of Shock Top Belgian White and a bottle of Jack—Connor turned to Lakota and grinned. “Twenty-one is still in the easy zone, brother. I’m telling you, you are missing out.”
Lakota shook his head. “Nothin’ easier than club pussy.”
“Yeah, man. But club girls are used
. They’re sweet and good at it, sure, but they’ve seen it all. They’ve done it all. Young pussy is just so…
. And teachable.”
“Teachable’s my problem with it,” Jesse interjected. “I don’t want to teach anybody sex ed. I just want to get my rocks off.”
Trick came back, and Connor poured out four glasses of beer. Handing one to Jesse, he said, “You, sir, are the perv. Not me. I’m doing a public service, showing sweet young things what sex oughta be.” He drank from his own glass and wiped foam from his beard. “And virgin pussy? Fuck, man, there is nothing tighter in the world. Rare enough to find a legal chick still holding her v-card, but if she’s where I am, it’s because she’s looking to turn it in. It’s not like I’m scoping out high schools.”
Trick tossed back a shot and poured another. “Yeah, you’re an asshole, Conman. Spin it any way you want, it all comes up asshole.”
Unoffended, Connor flipped him off. Yeah, he preferred girls in the eighteen-to-twenty-two range, for all the reasons he’d said. They were young and firm, they were eager, and they did what they were told. The ones he pushed up on were dazzled by his leather and ink and deliciously willing. Moreover, they were various. They were like a fancy restaurant where the chef prepared whatever was fresh that day. The roster of club girls was like a fast-food menu: quick, easy, and never changed.
Flipping him off right back, Trick grinned and took his second shot. “Are we going to talk about this new job La Zorra wants on our plate?”
“Absolutely not.” Connor’s answer was firm. With the exception of officer meetings, he didn’t like offshoots to talk club business. They were only four, and there were thirteen men who sat at the Horde table. Talking out of the Keep would only lead to fractured loyalties.
But Trick pushed the point. “Not to work out our opinions, Connor. But I have questions.”
He shook his head. As SAA, he had rank over the others, so nobody else chimed in. “Not outside the Keep.”
The new job was a hit. La Zorra wanted the Horde to take somebody out of her way. But that somebody was the Los Angeles County District Attorney—high profile and risky as shit. It was their distance from L.A. that had her convinced they were right for the job.
His father, Bart, and Sherlock were sitting down tonight and putting together the intel they could. La Zorra had ostensibly given them an option not to take the job, but if they were going to decline, then they’d better have a damn good reason and a viable alternative. They had a stable relationship with her, and she had been nothing but reasonable in all the time they’d been working together. But Connor had seen what she was capable of—what she was willing to do.
None of that needed to be said until it could be said at the table, so Connor knew that the best course was to let the geeks do their thing while everybody else rolled on as usual—hence, sitting here at The Deck.
Trick stared at him, and he stared back. Then the party girls squealed about something, and the little touch of tension broke as all the Horde looked their way.
Connor smirked. The girls were going through the karaoke book. That meant that they’d been celebrating a while and had their inhibitions down. He got up. “Time to send the lovelies a birthday round. I’ll send it from all of us—my gift to you, my brothers.”
Birthday Barbie’s name was Madison. They were always named Madison these days. Or Hailey. The early Aughts had obviously been big years to name a girl Madison or Hailey. Or Caitlyn. Connor figured he’d fucked a round dozen each of those names.
Tonight’s Madison was sitting on his lap, sharing shots with him, putting the glass to his mouth and then taking it away to finish it herself. Okay, this part about catching the young ones got a little annoying. The things they thought were cute really just were not.