Authors: Tamara Knowles
This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons--living or dead--is entirely coincidental.
Hard Ride Home copyright @ 2014 by Tamara Knowles. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embedded in critical articles or reviews.
HARD RIDE HOME
Pilua glanced at the speedometer on his Honda ST1300 and throttled it back to the 35 mph speed limit. At that rate, with the factory mufflers in place, the bike’s powerful motor was nearly silent. He grinned at the shocked expressions from some of the people on the sidewalks as he passed by. The bike looked like a cop bike, and basically it was—even down to the black and white color. But the clean look and crisp lines of the ST contrasted greatly with Ron’s ragged jeans and thick, slightly dirty, white T-shirt. Even those, however, looked new compared to the ratty black denim vest which covered the shirt.
On the front of the vest were two columns of year dates, beginning with the year Ron graduated from high school. There were five in the first column and four in the second. The last year was eight years ago—the same year that Ron sped out of town on the very same highway. That day he wasn’t riding a cop bike, he wasn’t doing the speed limit, and the back of his vest wasn’t blank.
Back then, he was on a fully-chopped Harley with high handlebars and no mufflers. The back of his vest had sported a coiled snake with a tiger’s head. Above it, the rocker patch read “Tiger Snakes.” Below it, another patch read Melbourne, Nevada. Now all that remained on his back were the outlines of the patches and a small white square with the letters, “MC.”
Eight years ago, the front of the vest also displayed a Vice-President’s patch. That, too, was now gone. Several other areas on the front showed evidence of patches that had once proclaimed Ron’s position in, and allegiance to, the Tiger Snakes Motorcycle Club.
The Tiger Snakes were an unlikely combination of young men from the wrong side of the tracks. The original club banded together while Ron was in high school because no one else in the small, rural town of Melbourne would have them… and because they shared a love of motorcycles and the MC lifestyle. Because the town’s name was Melbourne, they chose a Tiger Snake from Australia as their emblem. The original emblem was a true tiger snake, but the members soon got tired of explaining to people that it wasn’t a badly drawn rattler and put a tiger’s head on it.
When you are on the wrong end of society’s stick, it’s easy to be consumed with a bitterness against those who are more affluent or more accepted or more… whatever. It was not surprising, therefore, that the Snakes were outlaw from the very beginning. One of the first patches on the front of Ron’s vest was the “1%,” which he wore over his heart. True or not, the legend was that almost 70 years ago, the American Motorcycle Association disavowed what it called “outlaw motorcycle clubs” by saying that 99% of motorcyclists were law-abiding members of society. The Snakes proudly claimed being a part of that remaining 1%.
In the beginning, the 1% was the only patch that bothered Ron. His mother, Mary Johanson, was a local, born and raised in Melbourne. Her family had turned against her when she fell in love with Ramanan Pilua, a young man from India, whose family had come to town to run the local 7-Eleven. Ram and Mary gave their son the anglicized version of his name, and Ronald Pilua grew up living behind the store and working behind the counter.
As soon as he graduated from high school Ron got a job as a construction worker and almost immediately moved out into his own apartment. It was shortly thereafter when the Snakes began moving further and further into that 1% of motorcycle clubs who were beyond the law.
Ron was one of the few in the club who actually held an outside job. Perhaps that was because his mother’s family had helped him get in on a friend’s construction company. In a rural area, who you are related to is often more important than your overall qualifications when it comes to finding employment.
Ron had a knack for building that was phenomenal, but that alone wouldn’t have landed him a job in Melbourne. What was more important was that he was Harvey Johanson’s grandson. The Johansons only ever grudgingly associated with their daughter and her husband, but Ronald was blood, and blood rules in a small town so they vouched for him and helped him get started.
Maybe it was that outside job which held Ron get closer to the 99% than the other Snakes. Or maybe it was that he got to individually know so many people in town as he built their homes and businesses. He grew even closer some of them as he did scab jobs on the side—small repair or remodeling jobs which he could complete in a weekend or late at night.
Or maybe it was that Ram, his immigrant father, had instilled an intense sense of honor in him. “Just because people look down on you,” his father would often tell him, “does not mean that you have to consider yourself low. You are only as low as you act. Act like a king and people will treat you as a king. And if they do not, it does not matter. You are still royal in your own eyes.”
It was that attitude which enabled Ram to greet people cheerfully in the store whom he knew called him a “mud-nigger” behind his back. His parents had been called worse back home in India, but knew that their son would rise above that. It nearly broke his heart when Ron refused to abandon the Tigers as they became more and more outlaw. He stopped speaking with Ron when he became Vice-President of the club and its primary recruiter.
Building things was not Ron’s only talent. Ron also had a gift for sales. He could sell anyone anything, and membership in a motorcycle club was just one more thing that Ron could make people want. Soon it wasn’t just young men and women from the wrong side of the tracks who were joining the Snakes. Young men were “throwing away promising careers” to become Snake heads. Young women were “abandoning promising lives” to debase themselves as a 1% momma.
Why the 1% clubs tend to treat women as sex objects is something that sociologists have tried to understand for decades. Why women willingly join such clubs and allow themselves to be treated as not much more than meat has baffled everyone for even longer.
When it came to women, the Tigers lived down to the expectations of an outlaw club. The initiation of a new momma was a debasing public spectacle that most people in town openly decried, but privately looked forward to. When they heard that one of the little princesses from a leading family in town had fallen under the club’s influence, they would gather in the shadows to watch or even record these humiliating and blatantly pornographic events.
Ron did not attend those initiations. At least, he did not participate in them. Instead, he always volunteered for security duty. He and a few other members kept the townies and the law at a safe distance from the actual initiations. If someone from town was taking pictures, he normally would not interfere, but if it was a stranger
—especially a stranger with a cop look—he would politely ask them to lower their cameras. He was always smile-and-say-please when he confronted someone, but “please” sounds a little hollow when there are four fully-garbed Tiger Snakes standing behind you who are definitely not smiling.
Since one of the primary duties of the Vice-President was security, it was logical for Ron to move into that position. You would assume that becoming an integral part of the leadership would have more deeply involved Ron in the club’s nefarious actions, but in reality, it helped to isolate him.
As Vice-President in charge of security, he did not make the runs into Mexico for drugs because he was monitoring police radios and internet activities and directing the pack away from roadblocks and checkpoints. He was not at illegal arms sales because he was providing diversions that would keep the police guessing where the buy was actually going down. And he was not a part of the direct management of the illegal houses of prostitution which the club ran because he had to keep his sheet clean so that he could come to the station house and bail out the girls on a regular basis.
At least, that’s what he told himself and the other members of the club. The truth was that he was not involved with the drugs and guns and girls because he was not, at heart, a one-percenter. And he was not hellbent on pulling society down to his level. Instead, he somehow held himself to the personal code of honor instilled in him by his father.
Sooner or later that insolation from the heart of the club would have created problems for him, but before that could happen came the raids and the arrests. Someone within the club had turned informer, or was perhaps an undercover cop from the beginning. Australian tiger snakes are very dangerous when cornered. Their counterparts in Melbourne, Nevada were no less dangerous.
The raids did not go well. Ron was not at the clubhouse when feds in full body armor kicked in the doors and came in behind SWAT shields. Almost all of the Snakes there were armed and there was heavy-duty weaponry available at the clubhouse. By the time the “clear” was given over the tactical radios, twenty-seven people were down. Nine Snakes and two officers were dead. One of the officers was ATF. The other was a local boy who had recently joined the sheriff’s department.
The town might have forgiven the federal agent. He was, after all, an outsider. But Billy Spears was a local football hero. They had even given him a parade after he had thrown a game-winning touchdown at the Sugar Bowl for his college team. His death was very personal to every resident of the town. And his death marked the beginning of the end for the Tiger Snakes in Melbourne.
Ron was arrested without incident at his apartment. To the officers’ surprise, the only weapons there were two legal hunting rifles and a registered and licensed Glock automatic. To their even greater surprise, the only drug in the apartment was alcohol. Unless they used the RICO act, there was nothing with which they could charge him. The tedious groundwork had not been laid for such a charge because no one had considered that they might have to resort to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act in order to get convictions in such an obviously outside-the-law motorcycle club.
Two days later, Ron was released. Those members who had not yet been rounded up, or were out on bail, made the obvious but incorrect assumption that Ron had been the informer. They cornered him at the clubhouse and were going to kill him, but in the greatest sales pitch of his life, he convinced them that he had not been the rat. His primary selling point was that even the feds were not so stupid as to not charge their own informant. He explained that he was out of jail only because he had lucked out and they had nothing to charge him with.
That argument saved his life, but not his membership in the club. Carlos Rodriguez, a second Vice-President, sneered at him, “So basically, the reason you ain’t in jail is that you were never really one of us! They ain’t got nothin’ to charge you with ‘cause you never did nothin’! You weren’t at the clubhouse ‘cause you never were a true Snake.”
Ron couldn’t answer that accusation because it was true. They told him to leave town and never return. Had more of the club been present, the patches would have been cut from the back of his jacket and he would have been beaten within an inch of his life. But the more violent members of the club were dead and the stronger members were still in jail. Although he was outnumbered over twenty to one, Ron’s physical presence and his intense glare kept the others from acting as he pushed through the crowd to his Harley. As he roared out of town that afternoon, he swore to himself that he would never, ever return to Melbourne.
He kept that promise to himself for eight years. Then his mother called. They had spoken once in a while over the years, but this call was different. She was crying and barely coherent. “Ram is dying,” she sobbed. “They have him in hospice, but they say it will only be days or even hours. He wants to see his son one last time before he dies. If you won’t come home for him, would you please come home for me?”
And so eight years after leaving Melbourne forever, Ronald Pilua was coming back to the town of his birth. He may or may not have been willing to come home because his father asked for him, but it was impossible for him to refuse such a desperate plea from his mother.
His father was too weak to speak when he got to the hospice room, but he smiled at Ron and held out a hand for his son to grasp. Ram squeezed Ron’s hand lightly and then relaxed. It was his last conscious act. Four days later, Ron stood beside his mother as the coffin was lowered into the ground. As they returned to the car she stopped him and asked, “Could you stay for just a little while? Until I can get a buyer for the store? I can’t run it by myself. I’m a woman… and I’m getting too old.”
Ron took a deep breath before answering. He really wanted to say, “No, I can’t stay. I have to go back to Reno.” But the truth was that he was between construction jobs and had no real reason to leave immediately. So instead he said, “Sure, mom, I’ll stay. But just until the store is sold.”
Selling the store, unfortunately, required settling the estate, and Ram’s will was decades out of date. It was going to be months before the store could even be put on the market. Ron desperately wanted to leave, but he had promised his mother he would stay, and so he stayed.