Chapter 45

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"Holy crack on a stick," mutters Mickey.

"Is that...?" whispers Aysha.

"Mercy?" says Connor. "Wh–"

When did Mercy come out of hiding? It's been years since anyone has seen or heard a wink from him. After he mysteriously left the Southbend Bikers – putting another member in charge who was then shot and Connor took over – he went off the grid.

Now I'm wondering why he's decided to show up here. It can't have anything to do with me, no one knew I was coming here.

The tension in the car park falls heavily over every man and his Harley. Mercy is wearing his old, faded leather jacket and jeans, his thick black hair slicked to one side and a cigarette in his mouth. It isn't Mercy's appearance that makes everyone fear him – even though he's a pretty big guy and could take on just about anyone in a fight – but the way he is able to control any and every situation handed to him with fair judgement and often harshly creative punishments. His reputation has been talked about over the last year since his absence, but the respect for him has never wavered.

"Boys," he grumbles out as he nods at the Southbend Bikers. "Connor. You well?"

Connor swallows and nods fervently.

Mercy flicks his cigarette on the ground and squishes it beneath his biker boots, surveying the silent crews. Then, his eyes fall on me.

"Jessie," he says and a smile breaks out across his dark, handsome face. "It's good to see you're still on the streets."

I always had a good relationship with Mercy, and it was all thanks to him that I was allowed to leave the Southbend Bikers after things went south and Rusty ran away. I have less fear for him than the others, but I'm still just as shocked to see him.

"What are you doing all the way out here?" I ask.

Mercy shrugs. "It's been a while since I've caught up with some of my old friends."

By this he means Todd, Billy and the older crew members. They smile and wave apprehensively.

"Anyone want to fill me in on what's going on? I could hear a little banter on my way in." He turns his attention to Connor. "Connor?"

Connor rubs the back of his neck, looking extremely uncomfortable. I almost want to laugh and stare at the concrete to distract myself.

"Well uh ... things have been a bit tense lately Merc," said Connor.

Mercy raises one eyebrow. "How so?"

"You might've heard a bit about the Mafia sweeping in, trying to clean up the streets a little?"

Mercy nods. "I have."

At this, a few of us are surprised. Maybe Mercy wasn't really gone all this time but just laying low. Has something happened to him that relates to the Mafia, or is he just very good at predicting when to bow out?

"Yeah well ... since then it's been a bit of a struggle to make good money around here. What with Garcia and his company taking most of the profit from the big busts, us lowly crews are struggling to keep ourselves afloat."

This surprises me. I had no idea it was that bad out here, cooped up in my suburban life with Nick and his family, small instalments and the promise of a bucket load from the Mafia once I seal the deal keeping me afloat. Suddenly it seems like the sooner I get rid of Garcia, the sooner my former friends can start eating again.

"Hmm," says Mercy. "Who's running the west these days?"

"A bunch of wankers," mutters Sam, letting his temper and loose mouth go again and receiving an angry look from his crew.

"The High Riders," says Connor with a shake of his head. "They rose up when 6th Street became domesticated and half of the Chings overdosed on the drugs they were selling."

Again Mercy nods, letting the information soak in. "Looks like shit's hit the fan lately, boys. So what are you gonna do about it?"

All of a sudden they look to me. Again.

Mercy follows their gaze. For the first time, he looks confused. "Jess? What's Jess gonna do?"

"Thanks for your vote of confidence," I snap.

"Jess is our secret weapon," says Connor, trying to appear as if he has some sort of plan.

"More like the Mafia's secret weapon," Sam blurts out.

"Sam!" Billy and Connor growl at the same time. Sam throws up his hand, no longer giving a fuck.

Mercy was always good at picking the quiet leaders, the smart thinkers of the group. He knows who to trust and who to keep the important details from. Right now, I guess that includes every one of them.

He nods to me and then says, "Jess. Wanna come for a ride?"

I suppose it's better than hanging around with these assholes. If I'm not getting in on any deals, it makes sense to go with Mercy.

I see him shoot a quick smirk at Todd before he walks back behind the SUV to the curb where his bike is parked. I swing my leg over the seat and slide in behind Mercy. I've only ever ridden with him once, and back then I thought I was top-shit taking a ride with the King of the Streets. Now it just seems ... strange.

But being on a bike again is amazing. Hot wind in my face, the sound of the roaring engine, the smell of the ocean and coast, my arms wrapped around Mercy's stomach ... it's all so nostalgic. And yet my thoughts keep going back to Nick.

"Do you have any idea what you're doing Jess?" Mercy calls back to me as he weaves through traffic.

"What do you mean?"

"This task you've been stamped with by the Mafia. Do you know what it's going to do to your life if you carry it out?"

"I didn't know you knew about it."

"I only pretended not to know back at the beach so that they wouldn't question why I'm not helping them out."

"Well then yeah," I reply. "I think I do."

"So what are you afraid of?"

I sigh heavily and suddenly feel the pressure not only of assassinating Garcia to save my own ass and Nick's but to help the other hundreds of bikers in the state. Awesome, Jess. Time to really get a move on with that mission thingy.

"Honestly ... I'm afraid of change. I don't want to go ahead with it because I like how things are, or how they were until I broke up with my boyfriend."

Mercy doesn't reply.

"If I do this ... things will go back to normal for the streets. But is that really the best thing? How many of them will end up going to prison for good, like Travis? Or overdosing like the Chings? Maybe–"

"Jess, it's not up to you to be responsible for all the other crews. You do what you need to do to get by and you move on."

I admire Mercy for speaking his mind but I'm suddenly re-thinking the words that just came out of my mouth. The assassination never seemed so big. There are too many reasons why I have to go through with it. For Nick. For Alice and Shane. For the crews. I glance up at the sunny sky. I'm sorry God. Send me to hell, I deserve it.

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