“What the fuck, man? How did we go from being the most feared motherfuckers in the state to the guys people call when their fucking cat’s up a goddamn tree?”
Skinner rolled his eyes at Junior’s questions. The boy set way too much store on his reputation as a “bad guy”, he thought as he sipped his beer. It was nice not to have to nurse them anymore. Ever since the club had “helped” that dude down the road with his supply issues, brews were plentiful. They weren’t always cold, what with the power being somewhat spotty, but that’s just the way shit goes in the apocalypse. Skinner’s lack of response seemed to upset the younger man.
“How can you just sit there drinking beer when we’re a goddamn laughing stock, man?”
Skinner set his beer down and looked up. “Two reasons. One,” he said, holding up a finger. “One, I don’t give a fuck about being a ‘bad guy’ as long as I’m free to ride. And, two,” he said, holding up another digit, “we ain’t no laughing stock. If you don’t agree, ask that son of a bitch who tried to short Todd on his barley shipment.”He smiled. “He probably ain’t gonna answer, though. Kinda hard to talk when your fucking face is held together with wire.” He sat back and took another sip. “Plus, this is really good beer.”
“Fucking A right, it is,” said Joker. “Not only that, we ain’t had to buy gas since we stomped them fuckers that was shaking down Ginger over at the Quik Stop.” He pulled a beer out of the cooler. “If this is what being ‘good guys’ gets, I’m fucking down, man.”
The rest of the brothers murmured their approval and Junior knew he was beaten and gave up, saying, “All right, fuck it, then.”
That was out of character, Skinner thought, because Junior never gave up. Most times, the boy would fight a buzz saw. Maybe he was finally growing up a bit. Just then, he heard the crunch of car tires on gravel and looked around to see one of those little electric shitboxes that citizens loved driving so fucking much. It made no sense to him. But then, he didn’t care for cars in general. Fuck a damn cage. If there wasn’t 140 cubic inches of throbbing Milwaukee iron between his legs, he’d just as soon not go anywhere. The car pulled to a stop and the driver just sat for a moment. Then, the passenger—his old lady, it looked like—pushed at him and said something. Probably bitching at him for hesitating, Skinner thought. Fucking civilians put up with way too much shit. None of the brothers would take that shit from their old lady. If she tried, she’d find herself on her ass. After a moment, the guy got out and headed over to them very tentatively. He wasn’t much to look at, short, skinny, kind of mousy.
“E-excuse me,” he finally managed to squeak out. “Is this the clubhouse for the Gargoyles?”
Doc, the current president, stood up. “Depends,” he said. “Who’s fucking looking?”
“Um, my name’s Bryson Wickley,” the guy said. “Jaxon Kingsley sent me. He said you helped him out with a problem and might be able to do the same for me?”
Doc looked around, “Jaxon Kingsley? Anybody remember that one?”
Gunner spoke up. “Yeah, he was that rich dude that had trouble with his neighbors letting their dogs shit all over his yard.”
“Oh, right,” said Doc. He looked back at the citizen. “So, you got a similar problem?”
“Sort of, yeah,” the dude said.
“Well, pop a squat, and let’s talk.”
Skinner was happy to be back on the road again. Hell, he didn’t even care that Junior, that mouthy-ass little bitch, was with him. He was on his bike, with the wind in his face, and an open road before him. Doc had sent them to Wickley’s ‘hood to scope out the guy’s problem. It sounded like a weird one. Apparently, his neighborhood and another one had beef. According to Wickley, the other crowd was coming over into their hood and grabbing shit. And, not just “shit”, either. On their last excursion, he said they’d taken some people. Said they needed “servants” or some shit. Goddamn rich people, man. The whole thing sounded fucked up enough that he didn’t really want any part of it. But Doc was the prez and what he said went. Wickley did promise a sweet payday though. Said that one of the people in the other hood had a massive car/scooter collection. And, another was Randy Westwood, owner of Westwood Harley-Davidson before things went to shit. Word was, Westwood had a big-ass stockpile of parts, custom shit, and even some new/old stuff that dated back as far as the 00s. A couple of brothers had project bikes that could use some of that shit. All they had to do was fuck up the other crowd and take whatever they wanted. Now, he and Junior were on their way to scout things out and see if this nerdy little citizen was on the up and up.
As they approached the subdivision, Skinner began noticing some oddities. It was, of course, a gated community. Gotta keep out the riff-raff, he thought, although the irony of the situation wasn’t lost on him. He was pretty much the definition of riff-raff and he was about to be welcomed in with open arms, if only temporarily. There was the requisite brick wall enclosing the whole deal, which was normal for these places. And that was about it as far as security measures went. These dumbfucks didn’t even have someone guarding the gate, which was wide-ass open because they rolled right in. Very quickly, they pulled up in front of some fancy building with a sign that read “Danforth Village Country Club”. Wickley was standing out front to greet them along with some of his neighbors. After a few introductions, he led them all inside.
“I know you probably want to look around a bit, but there’s a really nice map in here that will give you an overview,” he said. “Afterwards, I thought we might have a bite to eat and you fellows could meet a few more of our residents.”
“All right,” Skinner said. “Lead on, man.”
A couple of hours later, he and Junior were on the way back to their clubhouse with a report for the brothers. The trip hadn’t been anything like he expected. He was thinking mostly defensive because the idea of throwing down with a bunch of soft-ass rich people covering his back didn’t seem like the best idea. It could never be said that Skinner was afraid of a fight, a fact their rivals, the Mongols, could vouch for. And yeah, they would be going up against other soft-ass rich fuckers, but there was a fuck ton of them. And, as the saying goes, quantity has a quality all its own. But, Wickley and his friends weren’t interested in defense, they wanted blood. He couldn’t blame them, he supposed. The opposing neighbors had burned several buildings (including one very large, very expensive house) and taken hostages, both rich and servant. And were apparently using them as laborers. That last bit seemed to piss them off more than the loss of the McMansion. They had a major bug up their collective ass over their peers being forced to scrub a toilet or pull a few weeds. But going to war with these fuckers by his side? He didn’t wasn’t so sure. But, it wasn’t his decision to make.
“And that’s pretty much it,” Skinner said, laying out his findings for the club’s executive council. “To be honest, I’m not sure this one’s worth the payoff.”
“Maybe,” said Gunner, “but man, it’s one hell of a payoff.”
Blue shook his head. “I don’t know, man. There’s a lot of variables here, and variables usually mean trouble. What good’s a fat payoff if we ain’t around to enjoy it?” Detail-oriented, risk-averse, and an obsessive planner, Blue always weighed the costs versus the benefits of a situation. And, if they didn’t weigh out to his liking, he didn’t back it. Those qualities made him a great road captain, but some in the club thought he held too much sway. That included Gunner.
“Oh goddamn, Blue,” he fumed. “Take a fucking chance now and then. Shit.”
“Hey now,” Doc said, stepping in before the disagreement blew up into a full-on fight. “Being cautious is why Blue’s here. Keeps us from doing stupid shit.” It wasn’t the first time he’d sat on these two and Skinner knew it wouldn’t be the last. Doc stroked his beard, thinking. “That said,” he continued, “Gunner may be right this time.” A self-satisfied smile played across Gunner’s face while Skinner got a sinking feeling. He knew what was coming. “I mean,” Doc said, “we’re talking about a bunch of citizens. Rich ones. Ones that might just cave if a bunch of bad-ass bikers rolled into their hood and said their neighbors are under our protection.” He looked over at Skinner. “What do you think?”
“Honest, Doc? I don’t know. Sure, it could go down like that,” he said. “But, if they’re anything like Wickley’s bunch, it could blow up in our face. Those fuckers want some payback.”
Gunner exhaled loudly and said, “Shit, man, how it could blow up? Those candy-asses will probably shit all over themselves if we roll in there in force.”
Skinner looked at Gunner, then over to Doc. He could tell from Doc’s eyes that the decision was made and any more argument could be counterproductive. He shrugged and said, “I guess we can give it a try. How bad could it be?”
The original plan had been pretty much what Doc had said: a bunch of bad-ass bikers rolling into enemy territory and putting the fear of God into those chicken-shit civilians. If nothing else, it would give them an opportunity to feel out their opponents, which would be good because, as Doc said, “We ain’t got any experience with fucking rich people.” A quick recon ruled that out, and Skinner laid it out for the executive council when he got back.
“Okay,’ he said, “here’s what I saw. Wickely and his people might not understand security but this bunch does. The neighborhood, Staunton Farms, is a gated community, same as Danforth, but these fuckers have taken advantage of that fact. There’s barbed wire running along the top of the wall and guards stationed at intervals along it. The gate’s blocked by a big ass box truck, probably from Westwood —”
“How do you know it’s from Westwood?” Gunner cut in.
“Because it says ‘Westwood Harley-Davidson’ on the side in big red letters,” Skinner said, irritated at being interrupted. “There are a couple of more guards there, controlling entry. Everybody we could see was armed, most with clubs or blades, but a few had long guns or pistols.” He looked at his fellow bikers. “So, just ‘rollin’ in’ there probably ain’t happening.”
“Damn,” Doc said. “That complicates things.” He thought over the new information for a moment. “You’re the one who’s seen it,” he said to Skinner, “you got any recommendations?”
“Yeah,” Skinner replied, “We walk away. I just can’t see how this is worth it.”
“Walk away?” snapped Gunner. “And, leave all that loot?” He was one of the members who needed parts for a bike he was working on and was heavily invested in this job.
“Yeah,” Skinner shot back, just as forcefully. “Two reasons: one, these ain’t your average, everyday citizens. Somebody in that compound knows what the fuck they’re doing. That means it ain’t gonna be no cakewalk. And, two, we don’t even know if there’s any ‘loot’ to be fucking had.” He paused before adding, “Even if there was, I ain’t sure it’d be worth it.”
Blue spoke up. “I’m with Skinner. I just don’t see this deal as being worth the risk.”
Gunner stood up and leaned across the table. “Easy for you two chickenshits to say, you ain’t got a bike in pieces, needing those goddamn parts!”
“Easy now,” Doc said, trying to rein everyone in. “Everybody’s got their points, but none of this matters. We can’t back away because I already told Wickely we were in.”
“What!?” Blue said. “We was supposed to make that decision as a group, Doc. What the hell you doing, making it on your own that way?” He pushed away from the table with a disgusted “Shit!”
“I was thinking that some of the brothers need parts, Blue,” Doc said. “I was thinking that we could pick some other nice shit from these rich assholes. And, I was thinking that having some other rich assholes owing us a favor would be a good thing,” he finished. “Did I have the authority to do that? Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. But it’s done, so calm your ass down and get back over here so we can come up with a plan.” Blue glared at him but returned to the table. Doc looked around and said, “Ideas?”
Gunner, the most aggressive of the council, said, “Fuck it, let’s stick with the old plan. Kick the goddamn door open and the fear of God into those fuckers. I mean, they’re civilians. How tough can they be?”
Blue couldn’t contain himself and shouted, “Goddamn it, Gunner, didn’t you hear what Skinner said? The way they’re forted up, we wouldn’t even make it to the wall much less past the fucking gate.”
“Oh, fuck you, Blue,” Gunner said, “Goddamn coward.”
Blue stood up so quickly his chair flew back across the room. Reaching for his knife, he snarled, “Coward? I’ll fuckin—”
“Enough!” shouted Doc, slamming his fist down. “We ain’t got time for this shit.” He looked at the two men, waiting for them to calm down. “Sit your asses down and let’s figure this out.” Both men sat back down. “I know I asked for ideas,” he said, “I didn’t realize I needed to specify ‘good’ ideas.”
Gunner visibly bristled at this and started to say something but Doc’s stare radiated levels of “Shut the fuck up” that Skinner could feel even on the periphery of the gaze. After a moment, he said, “What if we make them come to us?”
All heads turned to look at him as if he’d just appeared out of thin air, catching them all by surprise. A slight grin played at the corners of Doc’s mouth and he said, “What do you mean?”
“I mean we do something to draw them out,” Skinner said. “Like catch one of them outside the walls and put the boots to them.” He looked around the table. “If they got any balls at all, they won’t let that pass,” he said. “And, if they do let it pass? Well, we’ll have felt them out, won’t we?”
Doc nodded. “I like that,” he said. “Take some boys and make it happen.”
Skinner and two of the brothers were sitting on a side road that ran alongside Staunton Farms. He’d decided on this spot because, while there was more traffic in and out of the main gate up front, it was watched closely by the gate guards. For what he had planned, they needed some time. Time they wouldn’t get if anyone saw them grab a person. But a little scouting had found that there was another, smaller gate over here on the side. It wasn’t as heavily traveled as the big one but it also didn’t seem to be watched as closely. It was a pedestrian gate that led out to a greenway and every so often, someone would come out and head down the path only to return a little later carrying something bulky. He was waiting for the latest civilian to return, after which, he planned to see what was going on down there. One of the men with him wanted to grab the first person to come along but Skinner knew better. If he had learned nothing else during his time in the army, it was that intelligence was key to a successful operation. He figured it was just about time for the citizen to show back up when, lo and behold, there they were. One of his companions growled.
“There they are. Let’s grab them and be done with this shit. I’m bored as fuck just sitting and waiting.”
Skinner sighed. These younger guys had no patience. “I told you I want to see what’s down there before we move. There might be a better place to take them down there,” he said. “Or there might be something that could fuck up this whole operation.”
“Like what?” the other man said. ‘
“I don’t fucking know, Bobby. That’s the whole goddamn point.”
“This is just stupid,” Bobby said. “Spider, you ain’t said shit so far. What do you think?”
“I think you should shut the fuck up and listen to Skinner,” Spider replied. “He knows what the hell he’s doing.” Once again, Skinner was glad he’d included Spider on this job. He couldn’t say the same about Bobby. He hadn’t wanted to bring him but Gunner had insisted that his protégé come along after Skinner said “Hell no” to Gunner’s presence. The guy was just too flighty for something like this. Bobby wasn’t much better but Spider seemed to be a moderating influence on him. Skinner watched the man pass through the gate and waited a few extra minutes to make sure no one was around.
“Okay,” he said. “Let go.”
The wait had been very worthwhile. About a hundred feet down the trail, beside a creek that followed the path, they found a still being worked by two men and a woman taken from Wickely’s neighborhood. There was also a guard acting as an overseer and whenever he felt the prisoners weren’t giving it their all, he expressed his displeasure with a length of slender, green bamboo cut from the thicket on the other side of the path. Skinner guessed he was displeased a lot because both men’s shirts were tattered and bloody. The woman’s less so, but from the way she shied away from the guard every time he so much as looked at her, Skinner guessed the man had other means of disciplining her. Sure enough, after they’d been watching for about 20 minutes, the guard walked over and grabbed the woman’s arm, pulling her toward a small, shoddily constructed shack. Skinner saw that she didn’t even try to resist and just let him take her. Once they were inside, Skinner said, “Let’s move.”
They were waiting on either side of the door when the guard came out, adjusting his pants and completely oblivious to their presence. He never saw Bobby’s fist before it crashed into his temple, knocking him to the ground. He did see Skinner’s boot as thumped into his abdomen and all his breath escaped in a rush. They stood him up against the wall and began to methodically beat him as Spider ducked inside the hut to help the woman. A couple of minutes later, he brought her out. At first, she couldn’t meet anyone’s eyes, but the smacks of fists on meat caught her attention and she smiled at the sight of her tormentor all beaten and bloodied. The two male captives had also recovered from their initial shock at seeing three large, rough-looking characters come out of the woods and attack the guard. One of the men was the first to speak.
“Kill that motherfucker,” he said, his partner nodding in agreement.
“No,” the woman said. “Castrate him.” Bobby pulled out a folding knife and flicked it open.
Skinner waved him off, saying, “No. He might bleed out and we need this asshole to deliver a message.” He looked at the woman. “You can give him a few nut shots if you want. We were saving that for you.” A savage smile played over her face.
“Thanks,” she said, bringing a knee up into the man’s groin hard.
They were welcomed back into Danforth Acres as conquering heroes. Everyone wanted to hear the story of how Skinner and his boys had rescued their friends. Well, that’s what they kept saying, but what they really wanted was an in-detail account of the beating they’d administered to that Staunton fucker. Skinner was beginning to see a pattern with these folks and it centered around violence. Heavy-duty violence. And, the more violent it was, the better they liked it. Skinner wasn’t squeamish, he’d done his share of violence over the years, but he saw it as a tool. The right amount, applied in the right way, at the right time, could be extremely helpful. Hell, it could even save your life. But these people? They seemed to love it for its own sake. After the third retelling of the story, he brought it up with Doc.
“Is it just me,” he asked the club president, “or are these some blood-thirsty motherfuckers?”
Doc shook his head. “Naw, man, it ain’t you. They are eating this shit up.” He looked around at the crowd for a moment. “It’s kind of fucking creepy, you know? With any luck, we’ll be done with this shit soon and can the fuck away from these assholes.”
“A-fucking-men,” Skinner said. “The sooner we get away from these crazy-ass fuckers, the better.”
“Tell it, brother,” his friend said. “Now, let’s get started on our welcoming committee. We wouldn’t want those Staunton dickheads to think we ain’t hospitable, would we?”
They were putting the finishing touches on their defenses when a lookout signaled, indicating that their opponents were inbound. Skinner surveyed the scene in front of him. Most of what they’d done wasn’t readily visible, you had to be looking for it. But they’d set up a channel that would bring the Staunton Farms raiding party right to their position in front of the clubhouse. All the roads that split off the main entryway were blocked, any passages between houses were closed off, and, just to make it more enticing, about a third of the club was standing on the backside of the traffic circle where the main road terminated. The rest of the brothers were out of sight, waiting for Doc’s signal once the fun began. The residents of the neighborhood themselves were holed up behind the barricades blocking off the side roads and watching. A sizeable caravan of cars and trucks, each loaded with men and women, all carrying various weapons. A few with guns — rifles, pistols, and shotguns — but most with clubs and blades. There was even one person waving a length of chain over his head like some dystopian version of the Steelers Terrible Towel. They pulled to a stop on the other side of the circle and began piling out of the cars. A large bulky man took the lead as several of them advanced on Skinner and his brothers.
“Westwood,” Doc said in a low voice. Skinner nodded. Westwood had never been a 1%er like the Gargoyles, but he was known to be someone you didn’t fuck with. He stopped in front of them, an axe handle dangling loosely in his hand.
“Whose the boss of this sorry-ass outfit?” he demanded.
“I am,” Doc said, stepping forward. “I see you got my message.”
“You fucked our man up good and took our property,” Westwood snapped. “That’s one hell of ‘message’.”
Doc chuckled. “Yeah, well, it had the desired effect.”
“It was over the goddamn line,” Westwood said.
“I don’t think so,” Doc said, calmly. “For two reasons.”
“Well, I’m all fucking ears, man. Let’s have ’em.”
“One,” Doc said, “your man was doing some fucked up shit. And, two, we didn’t take any ‘property’, we ‘liberated’ some people.” He gave Westwood what Skinner knew was his “I’m about to fuck you up” face before continuing. “People who are now under our protection.”
Westwood stared at him for a moment before bursting out laughing. “What, all five of you are going to stop us?”
Doc stared levelly at the big man. “Yeah,” he said.
“All right then, motherfuck—”
That was as far as he got before being cut off by a scream. It must have been a signal because the residents of Danforth Acres poured over the barricades, their hands filled with anything that could be a weapon. A couple of the Staunton group members, those with guns, turned and tried to bring up their weapons but each one was picked off by snipers posted on the roofs of surrounding houses. The group on foot, led by Wickley who was carrying a machete, fell on the Stauntonites with an animal ferocity that Skinner had never seen in human beings. Wickley, skinny-ass, mousy Wickley, hacked his way through the crowd, working ever closer to Westwood who had his hands full with two of the Danforthers. He was outnumbered but holding his own due to having experienced a few brawls in his time, experience his attackers lacked. One swung a baseball bat at the big man, opening himself up to Westwood’s counter and the axe handle hit him in his side with a sickening smack. The man went down hard. The other assailant moved in, a little more warily than before having seen what Westwood could do. He looked for an opening, hoping to avenge his friend. Westwood, all his attention on the man in front of him, never knew Wickely was behind him until the machete came down, sinking deep into the spot where his neck met his shoulder. He screamed and fell to his knees as Wickley wrenched the blade free to take another swing. Before that could happen, the other man, having picked up his fallen comrade’s bat, brought it around into Westwood’s head with an awful crunch and a spray of blood. The big man went down and Wickley fell on him, hacking away until he had Westwood’s head. He held it up with a feral yell, displaying his prize for all to see. The spectacle erased what little will to fight the few Stauntonites still standing had left after the brutal ambush and they tried to surrender. But it was not to be, as it had the opposite effect on their enemies. The Danforthers cheered wildly and fell on the Stauntonites more ferociously than before. Even after an opponent went down, they continued to hack/beat/kick/stomp them until every member of the ambush squad was covered in blood and gore. The whole thing was over in a matter of minutes. Then, they stood among their fallen foes, screaming wildly in triumph as the bikers looked on in shock. After celebrating their victory, the Danforthers picked through the remains of the enemies, looking for weapons or anything else that might prove useful. Then they loaded in the Stauntonites vehicles and headed out to, in Wickely’s words, “give those motherfuckers a taste of their own medicine.”
As the caravan tore out of Danforth Acres, Junior, who was standing on Skinner’s right, said, “Remember what I said about us not being feared anymore?”
“Uh huh,” Skinner said.
Junior watched as the last of the convoy disappeared around the corner “Yeah, forget I asked that. I get it now.”