Nights like this, when autumn’s stained-glass skies blow jagged kisses, death comes sweet as candy and cruel as coincidence.

A gun in hand is a promise, like a left hook or an engagement ring. I am that promise, sworn to maintain order, defend members, protect the club. This ‘sergeant-at-arms’ patch means I do the heavy lifting, don’t mind getting my hands dirty and my boots scuffed. 

Tonight, I’m risking my colors and my life by going rogue to keep the club from bleeding out. Charlie Knox and I came up through school together. Prospected together. Built bikes together. Buried skeletons together. Few months back, he got himself voted VP. Started changing things up. His crew, his confidantes, his contacts. He didn’t burn me out but he for damn sure stonewalled me.

Took some time but I got beyond the betrayal. Turned out the distance between us was a good thing. Meant I could keep a cool head when I figured out he was the one skimming from the club. I needed that cold detachment because revenge is impulsive and messy but retribution is controlled and precise, like ballet or surgery.

You got metastasizing cancer, you don’t turn a blind eye. You don’t lodge a complaint with the board of health. You don’t whine about it to a support group. You bump heads with the chief oncologist and fast-track a strategy for eradicating the disease.

Bottom line, the club is the body, Knox is the cancer, and I’m the best damn surgeon on the medical board.

I wait until it’s late and dark, until colors are slick with suds and eyeballs are rolling up like lucky sevens in slot machines. Slipping out of the roadhouse, I stop by my bike for a moment before hopping into the short-bed. That’s when I find myself in trouble.

I fire up the engine, and say, “Get out of the truck.”

She buckles up. “Not this time. And don’t bother saying you’re on club business because I know better.”

Way the ink wraps around her arm makes a man think about open roads and fresh tires.

I switch on the radio. “True, but you still got to get out.”

She turns down the volume. “Not until you tell me why you just put your colors in your saddlebag.”

Anyone else, I’d argue or throw the first punch. But sitting here in the dark with her, the truth about how blurry I’ve let the line become between revenge and retribution grabs me by the short hairs.

I want to put a club officer in the ground because he doesn’t deserve to wear the colors and I’m willing to do it behind the club’s back, against bylaws, because I’ve convinced myself that I’m protecting the club from public embarrassment.

But the truth is, I’m using a legitimate situation as an excuse to settle an unresolved grievance. And if I do it this way, dark and dirty, I’ll end up being the cancer, a man without honor, unfit to wear the colors myself.

I’ve never let a woman ride with me, not even this one. Still, here she is, sitting shotgun, knowing I’m about to do something sideways and settling in for the night anyway.

Up to this point, I had the proof that Knox was rotten and the balls to take him down. Now I have the motivation to do it right, with club sanction, because my future just bought long-legged real estate.

Knox thinks he’s too good for me, that I’m just a junkyard dog meting out midnight justice and digging unmarked graves. Guess he forgot I know more than one way to use a shovel.

Nights like this, when her scent coats my nostrils like fine white powder and her proximity stirs my body like a leviathan breaching the surface, I’m tempted to confess that every death on my ledger is a poem, a love letter, a long slow kiss.

This story was part of a creative collaboration between writers and musicians. It was written to accompany the release of the song ‘It’s Your Time‘ by local musician Ryan Russell.

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