The double line of Harleys seemed to go on forever, the thunder of their exhausts thrumming the air, a V-twin operetta. Meek residents stood and gawked or scuttled inside as the first of the column passed by, the leader looking neither left nor right, sure in his power, unmindful of the cowering town folk who wished him gone. It was a scene reminiscent of the old west, when the outlaws rode into some dusty little cow town and women hurried their children off the board sidewalk and into the shelter of stores and homes. The lead bike was out of site on the flat, straight road when the last of the scoots passed, and it was quite a while before the lessening rumble finally faded and the air of Delta, Utah was still once more.
A few miles out of town, the column steered into the yard of an old farmhouse and one by one, the riders quieted their bikes. Their boss was on the top porch step and looked out over his pack. He was tall and lean and his skin from elbow to finger and hairline to shoulder was bronzed brown from hours spent riding in the sun. “Gentlemen, we have some business to attend to. I want to know what’s been going on while we were gone, and we have some collections that are past due. Spider, you take four or five men with you and ride around a bit. See what’s been going on, particularly anything concerning the Knights. If they’ve been in town, if anyone has heard anything. Understood?”
“Sure, Duke, got it.”
“Truck, who’s behind in payments?”
Pulling out a notebook, the big biker consulted it quickly. “Vargas Hardware, Kelly’s Inn, and Connors Café.”
“Good. Worm, you pick out three of our big fellows and go collecting. Everybody gets brought up current today. And while you’re at it, pay a visit to that new garage out on the east end, what’s his name, Peterson. He needs to be brought into the fold, too. Same terms as everyone else. Except I want a down payment from him. He’s been in town almost 2 months by now. Get 500 from him, and if he gives you grief, take extra measures to convince him.”
“They’ll pay one way or another, boss.”
“See to it they do. Wolf, you take Ajax and the truck and get supplies at Kennedy’s. Go.”
That evening, several of the Children were relaxing boots-up on the porch when Worm and his procession rolled up.
“How did you do?” Duke asked when they had walked up, “did anyone give you grief?”
“Nah. It’s all good. I even got next month’s from the Connors guy. Said he’s going on vacation and he didn’t want to miss a payment.”
“That’s what I love – thoughtful customers. Spider, what did you find out?”
“A bunch, boss, and none of it good.”
“I heard the Knights are planning a move. Kelly’s son even told me a couple Knights came in their place the other day, and were asking about us. The word around town is they’re going to make a play, and soon.”
“Not a huge surprise – anything else?”
“That’s about it.”
As Spider finished, Wolf and Ajax pulled into the yard in the pickup.
“Ah,” Duke said, “Mr. Wolf, returned from his mission. Did everything go all right?”
“Sure, Duke, and I paid our account up with Kennedy, too.”
“Excellent. Mr. Kennedy is a good man. Anything else I need to know?”
“Something really interesting, boss.”
“Really? So, the situation is as I thought?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
Slowly, Duke unfolded his lanky body from his rocker. His glasses were off, and his cool gray eyes swivelled to study Worm for a moment before he turned his head slightly and looked at Mountain, his third in command. Wordlessly, the huge man lumbered over and grabbed Worm by the lapels, lifting him off the ground and pinning him to the wall. Worm’s feet kicked at air, fruitlessly seeking purchase. When Duke started ambling over his way, the kicking ceased and wide-open eyes regarded the lead biker with open fear.
“You know, Worm, “ Duke began quietly, his serene voice doing nothing to assuage the levitating man’s discomfort, “it’s come to my attention that you haven’t exactly been up front with us lately. Some have even said they think you might be considering a move over to the Knights. Any truth to that?”
“Come on, Duke…you know me. I’ve ridden with you for 3 years. I’m one of the Children, and always will be. Lighten up, will ya? I was just talkin’…“
“You’re talking too much. Wolf?”
Wolf stepped forward. “Yeah, Duke.”
“Tell me again, for Mr. Worm’s edification.”
“I was in town picking up supplies, like you told me to do. Saw Worm here walk into Harmon’s Drug, so I slipped in behind him. He’s on the pay phone in there, and I get in behind the counter and hunker down. Old man Harmon is looking all pale, but I just grinned at him and gave him the finger up on my lips so he knows to hush. Anyway, I hear Worm talking and he’s actually listenin’ more than talkin’. Whoever was on the other end was being pretty demanding, ‘cause Worm is like ‘yeah’, ‘I understand’, and no ‘problem’. Last thing he said was ‘Saturday – eight o’clock. I’ll be there.’ So he gets off the phone and goes back outside. I slip out the back way and meet up with Ajax and we get outa town. That’s it.”
Nodding, Duke looked out over the land and thoughtfully spoke, “Worm? Care to enlighten me as to what’s happening Saturday night?”
“Nothin’, man, nothin’. That was just a friend of mine from Salt Lake. Said he was comin’ down to pay me a visit Saturday, and he was askin’ if we could ride awhile, that’s all.”
“What’s his name?”
“Luke…his name is Luke. Call him and ask him yourself.”
“Very well, that’s fair. What’s his number?”
“How did you call him, then?”
“I’ve got it written down in a book.”
Smiling just a little now, Duke sidled up next to him and looked up into his face. “Lower him down a bit, Mountain.” His eyes never leaving Worm’s, he withdrew a small notebook from his inside jacket pocket. “This book?”
“You lookin’ through my stuff, now? Is that all the trust I’ve earned fr – “
Duke’s hand shot out and his palm cracked across Worm’s cheek, snapping his head sideways and slamming his head against the wall.
“You fucking idiot. I know everything that goes on around here. The boys have been watching you for weeks, and reporting back to me. I know you’ve been at the Knight camp, I know you’ve met with Adrian, that shitbag that calls himself their leader, and I know you’re feeding them info about our business. Let him go.”
As Worm’s feet hit the floor, Duke gestured, and two of the gang came forward and held Worm’s arms. “Give me his jacket.” Tossing it to Mountain, he said, “Take back our property.” Mountain flipped the jacket over, got two fingers under the emblem on the back and with one great heave, ripped it from the back.
“Rocker, tie this piece of shit up and put him in your sidecar. You and Jethro take him out into the desert and get rid of him. Take a shovel, put two into his head, and put him where no one will ever find him. Comprende?”
“Yeah, Duke. We’ll handle it.”
“Please,” Worm begged, his legs scrabbling for a hold as he was lifted and carried, “Duke, man, you don’t need to do this. I’ve been to their camp, man. I can tell you all kinds of shit about what they’re doin’ over there. Please, man…I’ll do anything!”
“Who wants his bike? He won’t need it any more. Do I hear any bids?”
“I bid a dollar,” Stitch spoke up.
“Sold! Hear that, Worm?” as the leader dug in his captive’s jeans and retrieved his keys, “Your scoot is worth a dollar. Exactly one hundred cents more than you are. Take him.”
As the doomed man was dragged away kicking and screaming, Duke tossed the keys over to Stitch, who immediately walked over to Worm’s scoot, fired it up, and rode it over to an open space next to the barn. As the gang watched, he walked inside the barn, re-emerged with a gas can, and poured gas over the scoot, drenching it. Tossing the can aside, he thumbed a match to life and threw it on the seat. It was immediately engulfed in flame, much to the joy of the surrounding bikers, who greeted the fireball with whoops and laughter and then quickly scurried to a safe distance. Only a minute or so later the gas tank exploded, sending pieces of the custom ride flying, and filling the air with a gray cloud of hot smelly smoke.
“And that, boys,” Duke smiled as he looked about, “is how we treat those who have betrayed Lucifer’s Children. Anyone else care to join Mr. Worm?” When no one stepped forward, he nodded curtly. “Wolf? Well done. You’re now my number four. Now, everyone go grab some chow. I need to think.”