Chapter 44

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To get my mind off things, I decide to go out and try and get in on a raid with one of the local crews the day before Saturday. Tomorrow won't come fast enough, and with my last meet with the Mafia in the morning, I really need to keep busy. As long as I can avoid prison – therefore avoiding Nick – I can maybe make some cash to give to Alice for the baby. It's the least I can do, and it will probably be the last raid before I'm arrested and sent to prison for life. Poetic.

I head out to the coast in the afternoon where I know the East crew meets on a Friday at twilight and bypass the playground I used to play on as a kid. Mom and Dad would always take us to the beach on the weekends because my siblings were obsessed with the water and it kept us entertained. Now I use it as a mark for the part of the coast that the East crew owns. Funny how I never noticed the hordes of bikers zoom past on my jolly little vay-cay to the seaside.

I throw my hood over my head and cross the road through the playground. It's barely inhabited, moms entertaining their kids after school and teenagers avoiding home as long as possible. Between the playground and the beach there's a jogging path. I take it to the left where the surf-lifesaving club is. Behind that is another grassed area and a carpark. I can see the bikers in their swelteringly hot leather, most of them trading it in for denim because of the shift in temperature. As I make my way toward them, I realize there's more than usual. Probably a gathering of two gangs. I can hear shouting and I look around. People are avoiding coming near the carpark.

I soon recognize some of the bikes and my heart sinks. Of course, the one crew I want to avoid is the one I run into. But I'm here and I'm desperate for a distraction, so I head straight for the East crew and the Southbend Bikers.

Connor is narking on some poor guy from the East crew about doubling a deal, thinking he can up the price when everyone knows once an amount is set there's no changing it. The power must've really gone to his head. I can't see the East crew boss anywhere so it must just be a casual meet-up. Sometimes the leader isn't needed for those sorts of things but it looks like Connor thought it worthwhile to bring the whole crew down. I'm so curious to know what's going on that I forget about the Mafia. It's just what I need.

Billy and Todd see me approaching and nod a greeting. It's been a while since I've been on the scene and the rumors have probably been churning. It'll be interesting to hear what they've been saying about me, especially since dating Nick. I hope to God no one but the Southbend bikers knows about the Mafia.

"Well," says Billy with his usual jolly grin splitting open his long, ruffled beard. "If it isn't Miss Jessica Knight, retiree cop-kisser."

I am a little offended by the label but I expect nothing more. The East crew are glaring at me, making me wonder if it's because of Nick or whether they know what I've been up to lately. The Southbend bikers of course know all about the assassination. I feel so torn between the both of them, but I gravitate towards the Southbenders because of my history with their crew.

"What are you doing here?" asks Aysha, an old friend of mine from the EC. She's mostly Latina and one hundred percent lesbian. I always enjoyed her company on those long nights waiting around for the rest of the crew to finish their swaps and make their rounds. "We all thought you hooked up with some rich cop and threw in your Bobber."

I cross my arms. "First of all, not all cops are rich. Who the fuck came up with that assumption?"

Aysha turns her nose up and flicks her long, brown hair over her shoulder. Beside her I see Crunch – second in command and a complete asshole. He looks like a lumberjack who can't put clothes on properly. In fact, most of the East crew are nut-jobs who don't take anything seriously. They like the show of being a biker and they always wimp out of the larger deals and go for the easy ones. Most of the time we used to just hang out or ride around town on what's called a 'run'. Bikers like to be seen and the East crew's favorite pastime is reminding their territory who the kings are. In fact, most crews in our city are like that now. I miss the old days when bikers were all class and their respect was earned not through show, but through real action.

"You still screwing him?" asks Crunch.

"I bet you do all kinds of role-play shit," says Aysha with a grin. "He'd have fun with those hand cuffs, am I right Jessie?"

I roll my eyes and pretend it doesn't hurt to think about Nick. "Whatever, I'm not here to talk about him."

"Then what are you here for?" asks Connor.

I turn to him and the Southbend crew. Everyone except for Connor is looking at me sympathetically. They all remember what it was like that night in the church, how heartbroken and messed up I was. I bet they all want to know when I'm going to go through with it and save them all from Garcia's twisted schemes. That's probably the very thing they're arguing about.

"I want in," I say.

"On what?"

"Whatever deal's going down tonight. I'm bored and I need the cash."

After a few seconds, half of the East crew and Connor burst out laughing. I stare at them incredulously, watching Billy shake his head and Todd pinch the bridge of his nose. At least they're mature about it.

"You're fucking serious?" Connor exclaims with a manic grin on his face. "What, so you drop off the face of the earth for three months and then you come back expecting us to let you in on a deal without giving us notice?"

My hands slump to my sides. "Uh, yeah. That's exactly what I expect. And since when has that changed?"

"Since you screwed a cop, Jess," says Crunch. "You've basically betrayed your crew."

"I don't belong to a crew," I sneer. "I haven't since–"

"Since you quit us," said Connor.

"Shut up, you weren't even there," I snap back.

Connor looks enraged. "I've had enough of your shit, all you ever do is cause trouble Knight."

I turn on him, suddenly angry, all of my emotions forming one big, red ball of rage. It's not at all wise to attack a gang leader – especially not a leader of the most feared crew this side of the state – even if I'm not a part of a club. The crew is bound by oath to protect their gang leader at any cost.

But I ignore all of that common sense and focus on Connor, pretending he is everything I hate right now.

I attack first with a powerful right hook that catches Connor off guard. There's loud ooes and swearing from the crews. Todd leaps off his bike and starts toward me, but not before Connor recovers and holds his hand up for them to stay back. He fires a punch at my face. I duck under it and deliver two quick jabs to his ribs.

Suddenly, Todd's strong hands curl around my arms. He yanks me back and throws me to the cement. When I turn over he is looking down at me, almost disappointedly. I can't move from his gaze.

"What happened to you?" he says.

I get to my feet and brush the gravel from my palms. "You tell me," I murmur. "Because I have no fucking idea."

"You're a psycho," Connor growls, wiping blood from his split lip. "And now you're losing cred for that."

Connor is talking about a loyalty system between all the crews in the state: If you break one of the rules you lose credibility with other gangs. So if you're a lone rider like I am and you want to join a crew for a one-off deal, they can reject you based on your record. Frankly after Saturday night, I won't be in on any raids for a very long time, so I don't exactly give a shit.

Doesn't mean I like the way the bikers are staring at me. Have I really gone that far off the rails?

"I think she's got guts," says someone from behind Mickey who is leaning on a parked car. Mickey jumps up in surprise and then, from behind the SUV, a man appears.

My heart instantly jumps into my throat. Every single crew member goes silent, their faces paling and their jaws dropping as Alistair 'Mercy' Baker emerges from the shadows.

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