Crossover Preview

 

***MAJOR SPOILER ALERT***

***Do not proceed if you haven’t read Crossfire***

Chapter 1

 

I take a quick glance around and soak in the sights.  It’s a perfect spring day.  The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and the flowers are blooming.  You know, all that stereotypical crap.  Soft music emanating from the speakers of an old school, boom box style radio snaps me out of my own head.  I look up to see my neighbor’s four-year-old son wandering in my direction.  The boy’s name is Chad, but for some reason I just can’t bring myself to call him that, so I usually just refer to him as “the kid.”  He takes his sweet time, but it’s hard to be mad at an adorable child in a tuxedo.  Eventually, he ambles his way next to me and takes his rightful spot.

Once he’s set in place, the de facto DJ, who happens to be the kid’s mom, changes tracks and “Love Song” begins to play.  I don’t care what generation you’re from, Tesla knows how to compose a beautiful intro.  We kinda had to figure out something for the kid’s mom to do since it would’ve been weird to ask to borrow her child without inviting her, so DJ it was.

It doesn’t take long for Kayla to round the corner of the Grayson County Courthouse, and immediately, all eyes are on her, whether they’re partaking in the festivities of the day or just happen to be walking by.  Her beauty is natural and effortless.  Her long, brown hair curls and swirls past her shoulders and down to the middle of her back.  I can see the sunlight in her eyes from forty yards away.  Dressed in an all-white sundress, her baby bump rounds out just how perfect the day feels.  The backdrop of the light gray, limestone courthouse and carefully manicured lawn and gardens are the icing on the cake.  Plus there’s a freaking Civil War cannon on the corner of the property – how badass is that??  Tears form in my eyes, you know, from the dust and allergens in the air, so I take a deep breath and look up to the sky to try to keep them from falling.  You know, ‘cuz I’m a man and all.

As the acoustic portion of the song winds down, Kayla makes her way to stand directly in front of me.  We lock eyes and neither of us can control our smiles.  Eight months ago, neither one of us could have predicted this day.

As you may recall, Kayla’s brother Scott fell victim of a very intentional case of arson on the Kings of Chaos Motorcycle Club clubhouse.  Scott and I had been working on rebuilding the motorcycle club following my drug bust of the original Kings of Chaos, and he got caught in the crossfire.  The emotional duress of losing her only remaining family took more of a toll on Kayla than she could bear, so she attempted to join Scott in the afterlife.  Fortunately, I stumbled upon the scene in the nick of time and was able to save her life.  While she was in the hospital recovering, the doctors found some interesting results from her bloodwork – she was pregnant.  Yes, it would be safe for you to assume that the child is mine.

I probably don’t need to mention the solid parenting and mentoring I received when I was growing up, but let’s have a quick recap, just for giggles.  My mom split before I was old enough to have memories.  My dad was a degenerate biker who gravitated to the club life, and participated in nefarious club business involving guns and drugs.  That left my grandparents to raise me, which essentially just meant they made food for me when I was hungry.  Otherwise I was left to my own devices.  All that being said, I damn sure wasn’t going to perpetuate the lifestyle I was raised in.  I immediately knew the obligation I had to Kayla and this child.  There’s no way I was going to shy away from my responsibilities like my own parents had.  It didn’t take Kayla long to realize that I needed her and our kid in my life, and in reality, she needed me too.  No matter how hard she tried to fight it, we go together like food poisoning and barf, and at some point, she was forced to stop trying to deny it.

I reach out and take her hand.  Miller, my partner with the town’s police department, officiates the ceremony.  He’s a pain in the ass, but Kayla and I couldn’t think of a better person to spend a few dollars on to be anointed as a minister of the church of the internet.  I met him about seven years ago, when we were partnered up in the Air Force in our Security Forces unit.  Kayla met him last year when he decided to move to Rough River Falls and give me a hand with all the bullshit I had going on – the not-so-small matter of an interstate drug ring, and a turf war with the Bluegrass Bombers Motorcycle Club out of Owensboro.  It goes without saying, he’s been the most reliable, trustworthy person we could think of, and he has played a big part in both of our lives since becoming part of them.

Before I know it, the part comes where I’m supposed to effortlessly slide a ring onto her finger, say mushy, romantic things, then we make out and go home married.  I reach down to get the ring from the kid, then force the thing on Kayla’s finger.  It always looks so much easier in movies.  The reality of trying to jam a ring on a nearly full-term pregnant woman’s swollen finger isn’t the same in real life.  Stupid movies and their unrealistic expectations.  I get the band down to her second knuckle, then let her take over.  I don’t want to be responsible for grating the skin off of her finger like an overpriced Parmesan cheese grater.  I repeat the lines that Miller gives me about better or worse, richer or poorer, and so on and so forth.  Then Kayla proceeds with the same process.  Except my ring goes on like it should, maybe because Kayla’s so perfect – or maybe because my body isn’t swollen with a whole other human life.

We get to the part where I plant a big ol’ kiss right on her mouth and the few people that were invited to witness our union clap and whistle, making the whole scenario even more awkward.  We turn to the small group and Miller presents us as man and wife.  Before we can make our exit to the nearby getaway car, something catches the corner of my eye.

I turn my head to the left when this fairy tale of an afternoon abruptly turns into a nightmare.  I instantly recognize the person approaching us with ill intent painted across his face, but my brain doesn’t accept the reality – Riot Richards.  The president of the old Kings of Chaos.  At least he was, until I dismantled the club during my initial investigation into the drug ring that he and the club ran through this town.  I see his arm swing up from his waist, pointing a pistol in my direction.

“GUN!” yells Miller, sending the small audience scattering for safety.

Riot squeezes off a round before Kayla and I can react.  I don’t feel the impact or the pain from the bullet, so I turn to make a hasty exit before Riot can get off any more shots.  As I turn to my right and start to pull Kayla behind me, I feel more resistance coming from her than I would expect.  I look back, expecting to see her following my lead and running toward the car.  Or at worst, maybe just frozen in place from fear.  I never imagine the scene being what it is.  Kayla is on the ground, clutching her stomach.  Blood is oozing from between her fingers, covering her hands and staining her white dress.  I read the fear and panic in her eyes, and I suddenly don’t know what to do.  My stomach lurches from the realization of the scene and my heart crumbles.  Riot is still approaching, but I can’t get both of us out of here.

I reposition myself between Kayla and Riot, kneeling down to shield her as much as possible.  I plead with Riot to stop, begging for a pardon for my wife and child, tears openly streaming down my face.  I’m only hoping that they’re both going to make it at this point because I can’t acknowledge the thought if they don’t.  Riot doesn’t speak.  He doesn’t acknowledge my pleas at all, instead just taking aim again with his handgun, training the barrel directly toward my face, his finger tightening against the weight of the trigger.

BANG!

 

Chapter 2

 

My body jerks awake, covered in a cold sweat.  My mind is racing a thousand miles per hour, and my body is drenched, the sheets clinging to me like a tee shirt I wore swimming.  I crane my neck to the right and tightly clench my eyes, trying to hasten the adjustment of my vision to the darkness.  I roll my whole body to follow my head, gently patting the other side of the bed to ensure it’s not empty.  I breathe a sigh of relief when my hand finds the curve of Kayla’s hip.

I lean closer to her, running my hand around to her abdomen to make sure she’s okay.  I pull my hand up and inspect it thoroughly to ensure it’s not covered in blood.  My heart rate finally begins to slow as I convince myself it was just a dream.  I don’t know why, but I’ve been having this recurring nightmare for the past few weeks, if not longer.  I’m not sure what’s causing them, but it’d be great if they would stop.

Kayla and I did in fact have an outdoor ceremony, pretty much identical to my dream.  Well, other than the scary bit at the end.  The scariest thing that happened after we got hitched was the birth of our son, Scott.  You bet your ass we named our boy after Kayla’s late brother.  Why wouldn’t we?  He meant everything to Kayla, and he was a great friend to me as well.  From the second we found out we were having a boy, it was a done deal.  Scott was the only option for a name.

Satisfied that Kayla was unharmed, and my mind was just playing cruel games, I roll back over and try to coax myself back to sleep.  I’m about to doze back off after a few minutes when I hear the floor creak outside our bedroom door.  I lay perfectly still, halting my breathing and willing myself to enhance my senses.  I wait a beat, and of course I hear another creak followed by careless footsteps.

I sit upright and swing my legs off the side of the bed.  I reach over to my nightstand, pull the drawer open, and reach for my service weapon.  As an officer of the law, and with my history in this town, you can never be too safe.  I silently slide out of bed and pad over to the bedroom door, holding my sidearm close to my body for better control.  I reach for the doorknob, then pause, listening again for any detection of movement.  As soon as the sound of the next creak reaches my ears, I throw the door open and train my weapon on whatever intruder awaits on the other side.

“Don’t mov-” I start to say before reality slaps me in the face.  Standing before me is my six-year-old son, looking up at me confused and scared.  I instantly drop the pistol to my side and try to slide it behind my back, out of sight.  I crouch down and reach out with my free left hand, placing it on his shoulder.  “Scott, are you okay buddy?  You scared the crap out of me!” I whisper to my boy.

He subtly nods his head before responding.  “I have to go pee,” he says matter-of-factly.  With the events of the past several minutes, I do too now.  We each finish our business, and then I help him back to bed, doing my best to act like I didn’t just have a loaded weapon pointed directly at him.

There’s no chance I could possibly calm myself enough to go back to sleep at this point, so I head to the living room.  I grab a cup of water and the remote.  I settle into the couch and find my favorite channel.  It never fails to play live cop shows nonstop.  I’ve dealt with plenty of crazy shit in my career, but seeing some of the random messes that other people find themselves in is amusing to me, so this is my go-to viewing to zone out to.

A lot has happened since the last time I shared with you, as you can already tell.  Kayla and I did make amends, and we did get hitched – obviously.  I was determined to make an honest woman out of her, which is a really chauvinistic point of view now that I think about it.  With her pregnancy, we were both forced out of our one-bedroom apartments and ended up buying a nice three-bedroom ranch house in the heart of Rough River Falls.  I’m still the town marshal and my old Air Force partner, Cade Miller, is still my sidekick.  Kayla ended up quitting her job at the local bar, Rusty’s Tavern, when Scott was born because the cost of childcare was more than her meager hourly wage at the diner.  That still blows my mind; it was more affordable for Kayla to quit her job and not produce any income at all and stay at home with Scott, than it was for both of us to work and pay for childcare.  With Scott being enrolled in kindergarten this year, Kayla was able to convince the owner of Rusty’s to give some of her shifts back on a part-time basis.  Kayla’s modest apartment located above the tavern has remained empty since she moved out.  With the tiny population of Rough River Falls, there’s not really a booming housing market.  Everybody that lives here already has a place, and that’s pretty much the extent of it.  My apartment, on the other hand, was filled before I even officially moved out.

Miller had been crashing with me in that tiny apartment since he moved to town.  Before he was able to find his own place, Kayla and I found out about the baby and started making arrangements for the wedding and our new place.  Knowing that I would be moving out rather soon, Miller just waited me out then took over the lease once I relocated to the house.  I guess it made sense for Miller to fill the vacancy, but I really hated going to visit him.  I had a handful of not-so-great memories there, and Miller got an unsettling amount of satisfaction from goading me about it every opportunity he got.  He’s such a huge prick, err, pal.

Following my previous escapades, Rough River Falls has stabilized and is surprisingly not in constant turmoil.  The residents have even accepted me as part of the town now.  Finally!  The drug ring has been dismantled and we’ve managed to avoid anybody trying to rebuild that empire.  Of course, there’s still a fair share of moonshine coming from the area, but hell, I can live with that.  Especially since almost all of it comes from Jaws’ old man.  Miller and I have managed to supplement the town’s economy with speeding tickets and traffic fines from unsuspecting drivers trying to get through town.  It’s menial work, but it fills the financial void from the absence of cocaine.  Speaking of that absence, the reputation of the town has seen a spike and has drawn more attention to outsiders as a viable place to live.  We’ve seen a small bump in population, mostly in a small subdivision being built along the edge of town.  All in all, the town is doing pretty alright, and I’m good with that.

 

Chapter 3

 

I must’ve dozed off on the couch, because I wake up to Scott jumping on me and Kayla walking toward me with the phone in her hand.

“Here, it’s for you.”

“Thanks,” I reply, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. I check the screen to read the caller ID, but it’s an unknown caller. “Hello?”

The line is silent for a moment. I start to repeat myself, but before I speak I hear something on the other end of the line. It’s faint, but it’s unmistakable. “Will?” the caller asks.

“Yeah,” I answer. I don’t respond with a question to see who’s calling because the voice is undeniable. I already know exactly who I’m speaking with.

“Will, I’m coming home,” Jaws informs me. I start to get excited, but I can tell something’s off. We haven’t kept in regular contact since he left town, but I’ve kept tabs on him from a distance. I’ve checked in with his dad from time to time to see if there are any updates, where he’s at, what he’s up to, and all that basic information. “I’m coming home, and I don’t know what to do,” he says bluntly.

“What do you mean?”

“I’m not doing good, Will. I’m getting out soon and coming home. I just don’t know what to do,” he informs me.

About six years ago, right after Scott’s death, Jaws had a really hard time coping with the loss. He and his dad had a good business going, distilling and running moonshine. I was well aware of their activity, and honestly looked the other way. Illegal hooch really wasn’t much of a concern considering the other issues we had dealt with. Not to mention the fact that I participated in a couple runs myself. Unfortunately, Jaws got a little too heavy into his product, and was pulled over by a Kentucky State Trooper outside of Litchfield, about halfway between Rough River Falls and Owensboro. Not only was he shitfaced, but he was also running a load of ‘shine. He was up a creek and there was not a paddle to be found, you could say. That was just about six years ago.

Before his initial court hearing though, the local judge called for Jaws to be brought to his chambers for a private conversation. According to Jaws, he was given an ultimatum on the spot. “Military or prison,” the judge said. Judges usually refer to them as informal diversion programs. I guess that’s fairly accurate in the sense that it diverts criminal cases from being filed in a court of law, but not so much in the sense that it’s a legitimate, sanctioned, legal diversion program. Now those types of arrangements are frowned upon these days, and actually downright illegal, but let’s not act like it doesn’t still happen in small town courtrooms across the country. Besides, have you ever tried telling a judge what they can or can’t do? Of course not, nobody does. They’re a freaking judge, for crying out loud. So Jaws went the path of Miller and me, enlisted in the Air Force, and then made the bonehead mistake of going in for six years instead of four. Well, it sounds like his six years have been satisfied, and he’s already started the separation process.

“What can I do?” I immediately offer. With what we’ve been through, I will do anything I possibly can for this kid. He’s made some mistakes, sure, but he’s also learned from them and is one of the most loyal guys I’ve ever met. Hell, I can’t even really call him a “kid” I guess – he’s coming up on thirty at this point.

His response is distant. Not that speaking was ever a strong trait of his, but I can hear the despondence throughout our short conversation. The person on the other end of this call is a gutted cavity of the person he used to be. My heart sinks, instantly regretting not keeping up with him better and staying in contact the way I should have. “I don’t know, man.” He pauses and exhales deeply. “Sorry, I probably shouldn’t have called. I know you have things going on. I’ll figure it out. I’ll see you soon, huh?”

“Hey. Jaws. Listen. Don’t apologize for calling. Let me know what you need, and we’ll get it worked out. Do you need a place to stay? A job? Just let me know and we’ll make it happen.” I’m desperate to make sure he knows he’s not alone. I don’t know what he’s gone through since he joined the Air Force, but between Miller and me, we’ll make sure he’s taken care of.

“I don’t know. I’ll be okay. I’ll be home next month. Maybe we can grab a bite?”

“Sounds good, Jaws. Are you gonna stay with your old man when you get back, or do you need a place to crash?”

“Yeah, I’ll just go home. Dad’s ready for some help, so that should work out pretty well.”

There’s no conviction behind anything he says. The words are there, but they’re empty. Just hollow. I can’t describe it any better than that – it’s like he’s just going through the motions.

“Do you have an ETA on when you’ll be back in town or how you’re getting back? Me and Miller will pick you up at the airport.”

“Not yet. I’ll let you know. Thanks, Will. Sorry to bother you, man.”

He disconnects the call, and my spirit crashes to the floor. I can’t help but feel responsible for failing Jaws. There’s not much I could have done for him other than check in with him periodically to let him know that he wasn’t forgotten about. The thought didn’t seem like that big of a deal to me because of how I felt when I left Rough River Falls and joined the military. My mistake was comparing our situations. I was escaping a broken family when I left. Jaws was escaping prison. Those motivations are completely different and come with totally different baggage.

Kayla must sense the shift in my demeanor. “Everything okay?”

“Not really. I gotta head to Miller’s,” I say, standing up to get dressed. I pop my knuckles on the way to the bedroom to grab some clothes. I get changed with a quickness, grab my keys, and head for the attached garage. I swing the door open and immediately focus on my pride and joy. Well, the one that doesn’t share my DNA anyway.

When I agreed to become the town marshal several years ago, I was offered a police cruiser to assist in my official duties. However, I had recently totaled my dad’s old Harley and I needed a bike, so I negotiated. I footed the bill to convert my pickup into my patrol vehicle and had the town provide me with a new bike. The town manager took it upon himself to select my bike for me without consulting me first. That was a gutsy move, but luckily, he had impeccable taste and he showed up with a pristine Victory Kingpin Tour.

My helmet is sitting on the seat, so I strap it on, slide on a pair of leather gloves, then press the electric garage door opener. Luckily I’d grabbed my sunglasses from the mantle in the living room on my way out, because the sun is shining bright early this morning. My eyes adjust to the light after a couple blinks.

I turn the key in the ignition and hit the electric start to get the engine running. I finish fidgeting with my gloves, adjust my shades and helmet, then throw my leg over the saddle, straddling the beefy 100 cubic inch V-twin engine. I engage the clutch in my left hand, while raising my left foot to the gear shifter, kicking it down into first gear. I give the throttle a quick twist with my right hand before letting out on the clutch to give a not-so-subtle goodbye to Kayla and Scott inside. I slowly release the clutch lever as I roll on the throttle, and accelerate from the garage, beyond the driveway, and onto the street.

In no time, I’m riding down Main Street, mindlessly glancing around, making sure nothing jumps out in front of my path. When you’re only on two wheels, you gotta be really vigilant with that part. I roar past the Gas N’ Go and spot a beat-up bobber sitting at the gas pump. I look for the owner, but to no avail.

The term “bobber” comes from the process of lopping off unnecessary parts in order to cut weight and improve the machine’s top speed. As you chop, or bob, fenders, mirrors, and anything else that’s not crucial to the function of the engine, you usually end up with a very distinct profile for each bike. “Bobbers” and “choppers” are generally interchangeable terms depending on where you live. The rat bike movement is in the same vein, in the sense that each bike is custom to the rider and they generally don’t use a lot of frivolous accessories. Rat bikes typically have an intentional appearance of barely holding together, but it’s all relative to how extreme the owner wants to take it. The bikes are interesting, but definitely not my style.

Suddenly, I’m approaching my old apartment building. I turn into the parking lot and swing into the spot right next to Miller’s Harley-Davidson. I engage the clutch again and rev the throttle once more to announce my presence. His neighbors just love it when I do that. Doorbells be damned. I kill the engine and start walking toward my old apartment.

As I get closer, the door to the immediate right of Miller’s opens and my former neighbor lady greets me with a smile. The friendly greeting is a stark contrast to where our friendship started. I’ve seen her at her lowest, strung out, passed out in her living room while her toddler ran amok. She physically assaulted me after I broke up her long-term relationship with Stitch, one of the sleaze ball members of the Kings of Chaos, and then I was there when she was working to get her kid back from the Child Protective Services. She’s come a long way, and I’m truthfully happy for her. She seems to be grateful for the impact I’ve had in her life, opening her eyes to her mistakes and getting her on the right track. That’s never an easy situation and seeing the effect I’ve had has served as some big-time motivation for me personally.

“Hey Will,” she says.

“Jenny,” I respond cordially. “Doing okay? How’s the kid?” I still can’t bring myself to use his given name – even to his mother.

“I’m doing good, thanks for asking.” She pauses for a beat, and I sense her hesitation. “Chad isn’t doing so great,” she finally concedes. “He’s been getting into some trouble at school, and I’m just not sure what to do with him.”

“I see,” I acknowledge. “How old is he now, like nine or ten?”

“Yeah,” she says, not really clarifying which one it was. “He’s in fifth grade, which means he’s about to start middle school soon. I think he’s nervous about the change, so he’s been acting out more lately.”

Child psychology is certainly not my strong suit, but he’s probably looking to have a little control over something in his life. What do I know though? I barely made it out of my own childhood.

“Do you think you could try talking to him?” she asks. “We really appreciate everything you’ve done for us, but he ain’t really got anybody he can look up to for answers, ya know?”

“Umm. Uh, yeah. I can give it a shot, I guess.”

She gives me another smile and a hushed thank you before stepping back inside and closing her front door. Once we wrap up our conversation, I turn to Miller’s door, knocking three times.

“What’s up?” He nods as he opens the door and walks back inside, leaving me to follow him in. He plops down on the couch as I stand in the doorway. He’s already fully dressed and ready to start his day, as I expected he would be.

“Jaws needs our help,” I simply state. He nods his head again in an affirmative notion, acknowledging that he’s ready to step up.

 

Chapter 4

 

Miller and I discuss the Jaws situation ad nauseam, until we both end up with headaches. “Come on,” Miller says. “I could use a ride to clear my head.” He makes his way out of his apartment, and we mount up on our bikes. I’ve always trusted Miller’s gut, and I believe he was spot on with this call too, like normal. Anytime I’m stressed and need to center my mind, I hop on my bike and just ride. I usually don’t have a destination in mind, because on a motorcycle, the destination isn’t the point; it’s all about the journey. It’s a cheesy cliché, but dammit, it’s right.

We ride down Main Street and pass by the Gas N’ Go again. This time there are two bikes. Nothing flashy, but eye grabbers with their old school, bobber gas tanks and custom profiles. Not custom in an expensive kind of way, but rather quite the opposite – custom in a dirt cheap sort of way. From what I can tell as we ride past, the bikes have been built out of whatever parts the owners could find laying around. Those parts were then modified to fit together so that the bike would actually run. The work on these so called “rat bikes” is actually rather impressive if you can get past the crude appearance and appreciate the mechanics of the build. I’ve passed by these bikes a handful of times around town but have never been able to catch up with them when they’re parked. I assume they’re local bikers, but I haven’t been able to pin that down one hundred percent yet.

I quickly turn my head to check out the other side of the street as we ride past our makeshift police station. The police presence in Rough River Falls consists of two town marshals: Miller and myself. The department was the brain-child of Town Manager, Bill Williams. Yes, his name is actually William Williams, and yes, it still makes me giggle like an idiot every single time I think about it. We were gifted a building that used to be a bank. The interior had been redesigned and repurposed to become a police station, complete with a bank vault that had been retro-fitted with an old, prison-style bar door. You know, so the holding cell wouldn’t be air tight and suffocate all the inmates. Since our headquarters wasn’t the official Grayson County Detention Center, our building only housed suspects long enough for us to arrest them, write up the paperwork, and then transport them to the formal county jail to be processed.

Miller and I typically try to alternate our work schedule so we’re on duty during opposite shifts. It makes the hours long and lonely, but effectively doubles the police presence in town. It also maximizes our ability to set speed traps and ticket traffic violators on their way through town. It doesn’t hurt that it gives each of us a chance to see who we can catch and how many stops we can make. Solo stops aren’t the safest situations to be in, but the training that Miller and I have received isn’t your ordinary police training, either, thanks to the United States government. Now let’s be honest for a minute while we’re on this subject. Cops tend to have preferences over who they pull over, which also impacts the safety of the stops.

Some cops like to pull over truckers because they’re guaranteed to pay the ticket without fighting too much. A driver’s license is a truck driver’s number one possession, because without it, they lose their livelihood. With that in mind, they are normally quick to pay up and avoid any possibility of their license becoming suspended. Even easier targets are long-distance truckers. Usually, those guys don’t live in the area, and they aren’t going to take the time to fight the ticket and come back to the area for the subsequent court date. Local drivers are more difficult. Other cops will target older drivers. Elder generations tend to have a different outlook than younger offenders, and value their time more than trying to fight a traffic ticket. They usually pay up because they have better things to spend their precious time on. Miller and I don’t tend to discriminate much. With Rough River Falls being such a small community, we literally know everyone in town and also recognize the vehicles of the population. We tend to give more leeway to our own. Beyond that though, everyone is fair game. Grayson County is not a densely populated area, so people we don’t recognize are generally just passing through, and the same concepts apply for the long-haul truckers mentioned above. Man, I feel slimy admitting all that.

At this point, we’ve already reached the edge of town and I’m following Miller’s lead. He leans his bike to the right, and we roll through the Highway 54-110 split. It’s been several years, but I still struggle mentally to ride through this area without flashbacks. This is where I nearly lost my life about six years ago. After my investigation into the local outlaw motorcycle club, the Kings of Chaos, there was a pretty tense and physical showdown that I was lucky to have survived. Riding out of town following that, my mind and body gave out on me. I drifted into the guardrail at the split, totaling the old Harley that was passed down from my dad, barely avoiding the scrap heap myself. Luckily these days, I’m able to accelerate through the curve without incident.

A couple miles up the road, Miller flicks on his right turn signal, and we make our way up the steep entrance into Rough River State Park. It’s a small, isolated, wooded area that overlooks the Rough River. It’s mostly left empty, with its standing reputation as being a drug haven. Those days have come and gone, but the reputation is still intact so it serves as a nice area to drop our kickstands and get a break from our normal routine away from everybody else.

Miller’s line of thought shifts before we even get off our bikes. “We should probably have a chat with Jaws’ old man,” he suggests.

That sounds like a good idea to me, so I pull off and lead the way back down the hill that we had just climbed. Following the road for several more minutes, we approach the gravel drive for Jaws’ place.

Trying to find the best place to rest our kickstands without fear of our bikes sinking into the gravel beneath, we dismount and approach the modest dwelling. Miller stays back closer to the bikes, visually surveying the house. His eyes scan the front door and each window, ensuring that there’s nothing out of the ordinary while I approach. This isn’t the first time we’ve stopped by since Jaws enlisted, but we never receive much of a warm welcome. I reach out and knock three times somewhat forcefully to make sure I’m heard, then step back from the door so I have a better vantage point.

“What?” comes a shout from inside the shack. “Stop knocking like yer the damn po-lice.” The door flings open from the inside and Jaws’ dad stands just inside with his revolver at his side. “Oh,” he continues. “It is the damn po-lice.” He eyes me for a moment before shifting his gaze to Miller. “What do you two ass hats want?”

Now that’s my kind of down-home hospitality. “I got a call this morning,” I begin. His eyes narrow as he listens intently to see where this conversation is going. “Sounds like Jaws is coming home.” The comment comes out somewhere between a question and a statement. I’m not sure how much Jaws has been in touch with his dad or how much I have the liberty to share. I don’t pick up on any visual cues about whether my statement was a shock or expected, so we just stand there for a moment and stare at each other. Awkward.

“Yep,” he finally relents. “Prolly be home in a few weeks.”

“Do you know where his head’s at?” I ask.

“He don’t talk much. Just told me he’s coming home, and he needs something to keep busy with. I’m fine with that, because I sure could use him.”

I purse my lips and subtly nod my head. “We want to help.” I thumb toward Miller and myself, just in case there was any confusion who I was referring to.

My offer lights a fuse that I did not anticipate, and Jaws’ dad explodes like an overstuffed powder keg.

“Oh, NOW you want to help?! You couldn’t be bothered to look after him after your boy got himself killed, so he drowned himself in alcohol, and NOW you want to help?! Gee, some friends you guys are,” he trails off, stepping back inside his house and slamming the door in my face.

Damn. That didn’t go well.

 

Chapter 5

 

As the days pass and the time approaches for Jaws to make his return, Miller and I come up with a hair-brained idea that we convince ourselves is brilliant. We both want to keep a close eye on Jaws to make sure he doesn’t become another statistic of a veteran failing to adapt back to civilian life. We owe him that, as a brother both in the military and in the MC alike.

We arrange a Friday lunch meeting between the two of us and Bill Williams. Everybody always seems to be in a better mood on a Friday and also more agreeable when food is involved, right? That’s the premise we’re operating under, so let’s go with it.

Miller and I stroll into the tavern, the bell dinging above the door as we enter. I look around and spot Kayla bussing a table that’s been littered with dirty plates and glasses. She glances up and sends a smile my way. Man, if I wasn’t already married to this woman, I’d ask her out on a date. Hell, I still might. Sorry, I tend to get sidetracked when she’s around. She turns her head, casting her gaze to the far side of the room indicating that Mr. Williams already has a table for us. He stands as we approach.

“Mr. Williams,” Miller greets him.

“Cade, every time we meet you call me that, and every time you call me that, I tell you to call me Bill. I know it’s ingrained in you, son, but please remember that Rough River Falls ain’t the Air Force.”

“Yes, sir,” Miller acknowledges just as he does every time this conversation takes place.

“Bill, how are you?” I ask, interrupting the conversation I’ve witnessed a minimum of ten times per year over the past seven years. I reach my hand out and deliver a firm hand-shake. After all, it’s a business lunch and I need Mr. Williams to know that I mean business.

“What can I do for you today?” He dispenses with the pleasantries and cuts to the chase. “I went ahead and ordered, by the way. Hopefully you don’t mind.”

“Well, sir, I was hoping to run an idea by you and see what you think about it.” He holds eye contact, imploring me to continue. “You might remember, or maybe not, a handful of years ago one of our citizens found themselves in a predicament that ultimately led them to the Air Force.” He nods slowly in recognition of my reference. “Cade and I have been advised that that individual is on his way home, and we’d like to make sure he keeps on the right path.”

Kayla stops by our table with a tray of beverages along with plates of food. Kayla knows Miller and I well enough that she put our order in for us before we even sat down. Miller gets his usual pulled pork platter with a side of macaroni and cheese and potato chips, while Bill and I both end up with a Beef Manhattan. I take a pull from the straw protruding from my sweet tea before digging into the brown gravy smothered sandwich.

“I don’t think I like where this is heading, Will. The last time you pitched a proposal to me, I ended up approving funding to double your police force,” he reminds me while stuffing a forkful of mashed potatoes and green beans into his mouth.

“With all due respect, that literally only meant hiring one other person so that I would have some assistance. And I would say that Miller and I have made the best out of that deal. We brought some notoriety to Rough River Falls when we dismantled the Bluegrass Bombers, and we’ve helped sustain the town through our citations.”

“All fair points. I can’t argue with you there,” he affirms.

“So the good news for today then, is I’m not asking you to fund another full-time officer.”

“Go on…”

“Give me a reserve officer. Make it a volunteer position. There would be no salary. All we have to do is provide his uniforms, sidearm, and training.” I just put it all out there. “He would pair up with me or Miller on our shifts. He wouldn’t be on duty without one of us with him. He would essentially ride along with us in an official capacity, and we could make sure his readjustment to civilian life goes as smoothly as possible.”

“I can appreciate the sentiment, Will, but what kind of liability would I be taking on by putting a volunteer on the road with you two while he ‘readjusts to civilian life?’ Sounds like a nightmare to me,” he says. “Not to mention the cost of training alone. I know it’s been awhile, but I remember how much it pained me to sign the checks to send you two to the police academy. I popped Alka-Seltzer like they were candy for a week!””

I quickly interject. “But the good news here, is that he won’t be required to attend the full academy since he’s only going to be a reserve. There’s an abbreviated program that takes a lot less time, and honestly, a lot less money.”

“Sorry, Will. It’s just not in the budget.”

“What do you mean? Cade and I bring in some pretty good business in traffic violations and keep a steady cash flow coming into the town. Where does that money go, if it’s not being reinvested in our department? I haven’t asked for anything since Miller came aboard.”

“Will, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the funds just aren’t there.” He wads up his napkin and tosses it on the table as he stands. He pulls a few bills from his wallet and flings them on top of the napkin. “Thanks for the company boys, but I need to get going.”

Miller and I sat in silence for a moment. That’s not how either of us foresaw this conversation going. “What the hell does he mean, ‘the funds aren’t there?’” Miller finally asks. I just shake my head in uncertainty.

Our thoughts are interrupted as we hear a couple bikes pull up outside. We crane our heads around to get a glimpse through the front window. With our involvement in the motorcycle world, we pretty much know everybody in the area that rides, whether through the Kings of Chaos, charity rides, or poker runs that bring riders together from across the region.

Since I don’t immediately recognize the two bikers, I check Miller’s reaction to see if they’re familiar to him. I don’t catch any signs that he knows them. “Who the hell are these guys?” I mumbled. Miller shakes his head a couple times and gives a slight shrug of his shoulders.

Two young guys walk into the tavern. I’m not sure if they’d be old enough to be in here if not for the attached family room that counteracts the age requirement to enter the establishment. They’re both fairly fresh cut kids, each with the slightest hint of stubble on their lower mandibles, presumably to give a more rugged, mature appearance. I can’t really say it’s working. They walk in and approach an empty table in the middle of the dining room. The first of the two is wearing a blue jean jacket while the second is wearing a thin, leather, bomber style jacket. Hipster bikers. Great. Before they sit down, we all make eye contact.

Miller and I are both in uniform, thinking it would be a nice touch for our meeting that just adjourned. That takes away any anonymity we would otherwise have. We each nod our heads in their direction, biker to biker. Given our attire, I’m sure our intended message was a complete miss. Either way, the two guys completely ignore our gesture and sit at the table with their backs to us. Jerk move, fellas. There’s no further interaction, which I’m certain is fine by all of us.

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