Authors: Max Henry
Tags: #Romantic Suspense
I beat his arm away from her and push him in the chest to make him stumble back. “The coffin might be yours,” I snarl, “but what’s inside isn’t.”
His eyes crinkle at the corners, his jaw slack as he laughs heartily at me. “Really?” he manages to whoop out between breaths. “You think so?”
mama!” I screech, unleashing the frustration of months under his oppression via my flailing fists.
Sully restrains my arms, gentle yet controlled. It’s as though he tries to hug and comfort me as much as pin me down. “It won’t help,” he murmurs close to my ear. “You won’t stop him.” His soft reminder does nothing to quell my resolve to stop this madness.
“Leave her alone,” I plead with Carlos. “Don’t. Just don’t.”
“Don’t what?” he taunts as he saunters to where he was beside Mama’s coffin.
“Whatever you’re about to do.” It could be anything, but the one thing I’m certain of is that it’ll be bad. “Don’t’.”
He shakes his head, snickering as he pries the edge of the lid from the base. “My house, Elena. My rules. My game.”
Sully holds me as I collapse in his arms, sobbing as Carlos opens Mama’s coffin and slides the lid over the back. I want away from here. I want to be anywhere, in any
but now. I long for the innocence of childhood, of the lost memories of Mama and me, of safer, surer times. I want my mama back. I want her to hold me and tell me that this is only a nightmare.
I want what I can’t have.
A scream tears from my throat as Carlos produces a box cutter and reaches into the coffin. Sully’s strength is no match for my adrenalin-fueled force as I wrench from his hold. Carlos leans over the side of the wooden box, unperturbed by my hands that tug at his sleeves, and my nails that bite into his flesh. Tears blur my vision, but I can see enough to know without a shadow of a doubt it’s Mama’s stomach he cuts into.
“What are you doing?” My words are barely comprehensible as my vocal cords crack under the strain. “Stop it. Stop!”
Maria cries. Sully shouts. And still my husband hacks into my mother without a singular care in the world. Or perhaps he does care? For himself, for what he’s doing to me. For the permanent scars that will invisibly brand me for life after this.
One by one, he drops plastic-wrapped parcels to the floor with what I can only guess is cocaine inside.
I vomit on the tiles at our feet, too taken by the moment to move away. Even so, I scream at him, begging and pleading for him to show mercy and stop.
Package after package hits the tile with a dull slap. Blood stains the grout. The drugs pile up.
Dizziness envelops me, but I do what I can to stave off the darkness. I refuse to black out and give up the fight. Flesh under my nails, fresh wounds to Carlos’s face . . . none of it matters.
By the time the last wrapped parcel hits the floor, I’ve lost strength. My voice is hoarse as I repeat my whispered pleas over and over, crouched on the unrelenting tiles at Sully’s feet as he does his best to contain a situation he has no control over.
Everything up until this point has been a walk in the park in comparison. No pain or torture Carlos could have inflicted before now—physical or emotional—would have prepared me for this.
For the moment my mother became a drug mule, even in death.
There was a time when I would have followed that guy anywhere. As I watch Apex plant both boots on the garage floor and walk his bike backwards into the parking space, I rack my brain for when exactly it changed. When he made the phone call to Carlos? At the run with the dead kids? Or when Twig—rest his God damned soul—told me the fucker planned to turn the officers against me?
Loyalty comes at a price, and it’s not that I never understood that until now, but I thought naively that the sacrifice would be worth the reward. A club is supposed to stand as a brotherhood. We’re supposed to be one force against the world. When did that change? When did infighting and backstabbing become an acceptable part of the grind? Who the fuck decided that it was totally and morally upright to use the backs of your brothers as stepping stools to the riches that hung out of reach in the hands of the corrupt?
“Good to see you finally followed fuckin’ orders,” Apex snaps as he shakes a smoke out of his pack. He places it between his lips and inclines his head to light it as I answer.
“Always fuckin’ done what you told me to. That’s the problem.” I step toward him with my arms folded over my chest.
He pockets the cigarettes and holds out his left hand.
“What?” With my thumbs hooked in the front pockets of my jeans, I widen my stance and lift my chin.
“Hand it over then.” The fucker smirks. “You don’t want to do what I tell you to anymore, gimme your colors.”
Harsh knuckles dig into my spine in a silent warning as Fingers comes to stand behind me. I relax the fist that now hangs at my side and release a hefty breath through my nose. Abbey backs into the shadows from where she’d been beside Fingers at the hoist.
“What’s the plan then,
“Talk about it later.” He dismisses me with a grimace as he rubs a hand over his left shoulder. “First, something to fuckin’ eat.”
. More time spent fucking around when I could be organizing how to get to Elena.
“Ease off,” Fingers mutters as Apex crosses into the clubhouse with a slam of the internal door. “Kind of want to kill the asshole myself some days, but you need to suck it up. You want his help with your woman, you need to have him at least halfway on side.”
I give him a curious glance.
He chuckles, shaking his head. “You fuckers forget I’m in here half the time, walking through, talking your heads off like there ain’t nobody listenin’.”
“He’ll never help me.” I jam my hands in my pockets, my shoulders hunched as we talk.
“Never know. Stranger shit has happened.”
“It’s about all that happens at the moment,” I grumble. “Strange fuckin’ shit.”
Abbey slinks out of her hidey-hole and startles the fuck out of Fingers and I when she opens her mouth to speak the first words I think I’ve ever heard from the girl. “I got told about Twig.” Her voice is soft, yet husky—barely a whisper. “He was nice to me. I’ll miss him.”
“Yeah,” I say. “He was one of the best.” I frown and push the images of him as he slumped over the side of his bike to the back of my mind. “Who told you?”
She turns away and melts back into the shadows beside the storage cabinets. He inclines his head, indicating we should walk out of earshot.
“She opened up a little, while you were talkin’ with Beefy in there.” He nods toward the clubhouse as we round the front of the garage into the yard. “Said our guest got a little too handsy, takin’ things from her he thought was there to ’ave.”
Abbey’s not a whore—never has been. The kid was given a roof over her head in exchange for somebody to do the “womanly duties,” as Apex put it. She cleans, she cooks at times, and she runs errands for the guys. She’s never been on the cards for sex.
“Why the fuck was Corinne tryin’ to cover it up, then?”
“Kid reckons the property wants to make her one of them. Rumor has it some of the girls are jealous of her ‘special privileges,’ so to speak.” He utters the last few words as though it’s some government conspiracy, his eyes darting in all directions.
“What the fuck they mean by that? The kid’s just that—a kid. What the hell do they expect?”
“She’s been on her rag for a few years now—makes her more than qualified in some of their eyes.”
“Sick bitches,” I mumble, pacing back to the open roller door to check Abbey’s still out of earshot.
She sits on the workbench and cleans the grease out of a bearing case with a rag. Her dark, ratty hair falls over her face, covering her bony collarbones, and falls about her small chest. She’s stunted from too many years without proper food and looks more like a small child than the budding teenager she is.
“I’ll keep an eye on her,” Fingers says. “She’s handy with those small hands; she can get the fiddly bits my fat digits struggle with. Plus, she still got all ten of hers.” He holds up his right hand with the ring and little finger missing. Hazard of a previous job.
I chuckle and clap a hand to his shoulder. “You’re a good man, Fingers. Let me know if that Corinne bitch decides to harass Abbey again, yeah?”
Abbey places new bearings into the cleaned out case when we re-enter the garage. She wipes the back of her hand under her nose and regards the two of us before she gets back at it. I leave Fingers to sort out the new grease for her and head indoors to find what sort of fucking mess the place is in now Apex’s back from his trip out.
Pres stands at the bar with our guest—obvious from not only his nomad patch, but the fact he’s the only face I don’t recognize. The redhead’s as wide as he is tall, but he isn’t fat. Quite the opposite. Wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark alley . . .
“Private conversation,” Apex hisses at me as I lean on the counter, ready for a stiff drink.
I stare straight ahead at the short fridges filled with chilled bottles and answer, “Public bar.”
“What don’t you get?” Apex snarls. “You’re not welcome. Fuck off.”
I take the Jack and Coke handed over by the prospect doing the drinks and turn side-on to face the two men. “You got an office.” I tip my bottle toward the open door. “If the conversation’s private, why don’t you use it?”
Being sober still has its advantages; I dodge the right hook Apex swings before the old bastard has time to think through what he’s doing. Rule number four on the charter: A brother may not fight another brother without the SAA bearing witness to ensure an even and fair fight.
His face is red with rage as he advances on me, forcing me to retreat into a barstool. It clatters to the floor as our prospect behind the bar lets out an ear-piercing whistle. Beefy arrives from outside as Apex pulls his arm back for another swing.
“What the fuck is goin’ on here?”
“Little shit thinks he can fuckin’ talk back to his senior,” Apex spits, his fist still raised. “Needs to be taught his place.”
“And you need to act the fuckin’ role model you are,” Beefy growls as he wraps his fist over Apex’s. He turns his attention on our guest. “And you, Grime. What the fuck were you doin’? Standin’ around with your fuckin’ thumb up your ass?”
“Not my business,” the guy grumbles as he turns back to the bar and takes a healthy swig of his beer.
“Like fuck it ain’t.”
Apex still fumes, the heat damn near visible as it pours off him. He begrudgingly allows Beefy to push him back and onto a bar stool. I do as instructed when our sergeant at arms points a thick finger to the discarded stool I tripped over, and pick it up to sit on it. The prospect hands Beefy a drink, and he takes the last available stool between us, leaving Grime to mumble his complaints as he wanders over to the pool table, out of earshot.
“You two,” Beefy starts. “You can both sort this shit out with damn words. We’re grown men here. We’re fuckin’ civilized. Aren’t we?”
Neither Apex nor I speak. We stare each other down with a mix of hatred and frustration.
“Aren’t we?” Beefy booms.
“Yeah,” the two of us mumble.
“Pres, it’s your right as the senior member to go first. What’s the
issue?” Beefy crosses his arms over his massive chest, challenging Apex with his stare.
“Fucker is tryin’ to rip the club apart. This little cunt wants my job, and it ain’t happenin’.”
No disputes there.
Although I’m not intent on pulling the Aces apart; if anything, I want to knit it closer together.
“Rebuttal?” Beefy asks.
“I’m not tryin’ to tear the club apart. I just think the leadership doesn’t have the members’ best interests at heart.”
“That so?” Apex flares up. “See these gray hairs?” He jabs an angry finger to his temple. “Don’t get those from relaxing on my fuckin’ easy-boy and chuggin’ beers every day.”
“No,” I bite back. “You get them from the stress double-crossin’ your brothers gives.”
“You fuckin’ heard me.”
Beefy slams a hand to each of our chests. “Quit it.” He hangs his head briefly and sighs. “We’ve already been through this, King.”
“Yeah, and I don’t think it’s resolved.”
Beefy eyes Apex. “You got anythin’ to share?” He narrows his gaze on our leader. “Now’s the time to confess if you do. We go to vote, and you’re found to have secrets that
benefit the club, you’re tying your own noose.”
“Don’t you fuckin’ worry about me,” Apex growls as he pushes off his stool to point an accusatory finger my way. “Just you watch this fuckin’ snake. He’ll bloody strike when you least expect it, and then you bitches will be whinin’ at me that I was right.”
If only he knew.
Nobody’s going to be whining at him; they’ll all cheer him out the door. “A guilty conscience never goes away,” I mutter as I turn to grab my neglected drink.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Apex strains against the hand Beefy has pressed in the center of his chest.
“It means”—I take a swig and swallow the bitter drink down—“that it doesn’t matter what you do to try and clear your name. If you’ve done this club wrong, nobody will
let you forget it.”
He rips Beefy’s hand away from his chest and stands close enough that I can feel the heat radiate off his body. “That goes both ways, you disrespectful little fuck.”
“It would, if I’d actually done the club wrong.”
Apex’s fist connects with the bottle in my grasp. It smashes on the floor to my left.
I heave a sigh and stand. This shit’s not getting anybody anywhere. I can argue with our president all I like under the pretenses of a “fair debate,” but truth is nothing I say will change his stance. He thinks all of this is some elaborate plot to overthrow him. Yeah, that’s happening too, but it’s not why I’m here.
“I’ll be at home if anyone needs me.” I look directly at Beefy and shrug. “Pushin’ shit uphill here, brother.”
He nods his assent and tips his head toward the garage, indicting I’m free to go. Apex eyes with me with utter disgust as I turn away from the mess—literally and figuratively—and take my leave.