Tuesday, April 2nd
Adam ‘Streak’ Gansett set his phone down and gazed blankly at the battered oak surface beneath it.
The wood was polished smooth with years of use and scrubbing. Faded initials and curse words, and a few crude pictures were cut into it. That happened to most older bars, but especially to one in the main room of a motorcycle clubhouse like this one, belonging to the Devil’s Flyers, Eastern Washington state chapter.
As a prospect, Streak had spent his share of hours scrubbing and waxing this bar. Now the work was done by a team of cleaners who came in once a week.
There was still plenty for the prospects to do, though. Motorcycles needed detailed, lawns needed mowed, riding leathers needed cleaned, and errands had to be run.
His focus still on the bar, he traced with his forefinger the crude carving of an open mouth with protruding tongue. That one was from the 1970’s, if he remembered right. Used to be on stickers, auto decals, shit like that.
“Streak? Streak.” A big, tattooed and beringed hand knocked on the bar before him.
He jerked his gaze up to find a big, rangy man with short, dirty-blond hair frowning at him. Rav Harkness, another new member of the chapter.
Rav wore a black polo with a ‘Rock Solid Security’ logo, jeans and boots, and a look of concern on his square face.
“What’s up, brother?” he asked in a southern drawl. “Look like you seen a ghost, or somethin’. Know you ain’t drunk, ‘cause it’s only four pm on a weekday, and these days you only tip back on the weekends.”
Streak stared at him for a long moment, struggling to make sense of what the man had said.
“Uh… a ghost? Yeah, kind of,” he managed, his voice rough. “My, uh… my—” His throat closed, choking off the words.
He lifted a hand to his face as heat pressed behind his eyes. Jesus, felt there was a hundred-pound rock on his chest too.
“Brother, what is it?” Rav leaned over the bar, his hand clasping Streak’s shoulder. “Is it your boy? Is Javier okay?”
Streak nodded. He held up a hand in a gesture to give him a moment. He took a breath and blew it out hard, forcing that hot, jagged stone of emotion back down.
“Javier’s fine. But his, uh… his mama. She—she’s dead.”
Heavy footsteps crossed the floor. “Who’s dead? Streak, what the hell happened?”
Rocker Hayes, the club veep, peered at Streak. He was the tallest of the three of them, with long black hair tied back in a man bun, his mustache and goatee tinged with silver, skin tanned. “You said she—who’s she?”
“His baby mama,” Rav said. He gave Streak’s shoulder a final squeeze and let go. “Sorry, brother. That’s rough.”
Rocker stepped closer, reaching one long arm around to give Streak a hard hug. “Catalina’s dead? Aw, I’m sorry, kid. What happened?”
“I don’t know yet,” Streak said. He shook his head. “Her youngest brother called me. But I think if it was a car crash or something like that, Julio would’ve said. Which means it was something else.”
“Likely bad,” Rocker added, grimacing. “Especially if it has to do with those boys.”
Streak nodded. “But you can bet your life that I’ll find out. Even if it means dealing with those pendejos.”
“The Orestes,” Rocker explained to Rav. “Three brothers, Ramon, Esteban and Julio. Catalina was the only girl. The boys are heavy into Los Locos—a street gang with ties to Cali and Mexico.”
“Yeah, I heard of them.” Rav scowled. “They peddle cheap drugs cut with shit that kills people.”
Rocker nodded. “Bad news. Streak, you want me to nose around, see what I can find out about Catalina? Still got friends in the shop. If it happened in Spokane, they may be able to get me the report. If it’s county, maybe Deputy Dunbar can help us out.”
Streak nodded. “Appreciate it.”
An ex-Spokane cop, Rocker now owned Rock Solid Security, and his systems were on many businesses in the area. Rav and Della both worked for him.
Rocker had left the force under a cloud, but he still had serious connections in the area.
Streak would rather have the club vice-president at his back than any uniformed officer. Rocker had the skills, the moral code, but none of the restrictions. And he sure as hell didn’t have to wear a bodycam.
“We can all ask around,” Rav added. “Between all of us, we know guys into just about everything around here, right?”
“Just about,” Rocker agreed. He looked to Streak. “If the family knows she’s gone, they’ll have already identified her, uh, remains. You need to make arrangements of any kind?”
Streak shook his head. “No. Her mama will have taken that over. All I got in common with Cat is Javier. Be lucky if I even get notice of her funeral mass.”
Rav nodded. “Catholic, right? You in that church?”
“No,” Streak said. “I’ve been to mass a few times with her and Javi, but that’s it. And I think Cat’s mama gave up trying to drag the boys to mass, but she took Cat and Javi as often as she could.”
Rav winced in sympathy at the mention of Javier’s name. “Shit, bro. What you gonna tell Javier?”
“Damned if I know,” Streak said, his chest tightening again.
He pushed away from the bar. “Speaking of him—I gotta go. He’s over at Stick’s, playing with the twins.”
He stopped short, realization slugging him in the gut.
He’d been scheduled to pick Javier up from the Vanko’s and take him back to his Grandma Orestes’ place. Cat lived there, and Javier when he was with her.
Isabella Orestes owned an older home in north-central Spokane. Her two youngest sons lived in a converted garage on the property, but Cat and Javier shared the house with her. Cat had a job, but it didn’t pay much, and her mother doted on her, liked having her and Javi close.
Streak had been there many times, and never once felt welcome, either by the family matriarch or her sons.
Or Cat, for that matter. She’d tolerated him because he busted his ass to help support their son, but other than their drunken hookup at a New Year’s Eve party downtown five years ago, the only intimacy they’d shared was their mutual love for their son.
“I…I’ve got Javi,” Streak said now. “I mean…he’s mine now—full time. Don’t have to take him back there.”
Not that he’d minded sharing Javier with his mama. His kid was fortunate enough to have both parents, so Streak made sure Javi got his fill of both.
They had shared custody equally. To keep Javi’s life as stable as possible, he’d spent Wednesday afternoon through Sunday night with Cat, and Monday through Wednesday mornings with Streak.
Since Streak worked most weekends at The Hangar, this schedule had been okay with him
But he’d worried every single time Javier was with Cat that her brothers would cause some kind of trouble and endanger his son.
Now, it was just him. He was all Javi had left.
Rocker nodded. “Believe you’re right. He’s all yours.”
“So, you and, uh, Cat didn’t get along?” Rav asked. “Or was it just her family you don’t like?”
“Mostly her family,” Streak said. “Although she could be hard-headed. Doesn’t mean she deserved to…to die.”
But she had died, somehow, and that meant Javi would have only Streak to share the milestones of childhood. To hold his hand on the way to kindergarten…and the other things parents did.
Or so Streak had witnessed as a child, growing up in foster care in the Tri-Cities. He’d bounced around from home to home, not landing in a stable one until he was nearly ten years old.
But that was the past. Javier was the future. And his son’s future was all on Streak’s shoulders now. The weight pressed down on his chest again, and he had to brace his legs not to let it take him to the floor. Jesus, his little boy was gonna have to spend the rest of his life without his mama.
Which was when his phone burred again. This time with the theme song from Jaws.
Rav snickered and then winced. “Sorry, no time to be laughin’. But whose ringtone is that?”
“Cat’s mama,” Streak said. He stared at the phone. The woman must be going through hell. Cat had been her precious daughter, her hija preciosa.
“You gonna answer it?” Rav asked as the ominous tune stopped playing and started up again, and again. “No pressure, bro, just curious.”
“No,” Streak said, grabbing the phone to silence it. “No, I am not. I will, but I can’t do anything for her right now. What I am gonna do is, go pick up my boy and take him home.”
And if home was only a cramped efficiency apartment in the basement of one of the Flyers’ homes, well, it was what Streak could afford with every bit of his money going either to support Javier and his mama, and to pay off his law school loans. The place was warm and dry, and it was good enough for now.
Someday, though…someday he’d give Javier an awesome house with his own big bedroom, a playroom and basketball hoop in the driveway where he and his friends could hang out, and a shop where Streak and Javi could tinker on motorcycles and shit together.
He’d been busting his ass to give his son what he needed since the day he was born, and he’d never stop.
Rocker gave his shoulder a squeeze. “All right, brother, you go on and get your boy. But if there’s anything you need—anything—you let us know, right?” The big man leaned in, his dark gaze stern. “You don’t go it alone, tryin’ to be strong and shit. That’s bogus. We’re here for you—all of us.”
“Absolutely,” Rav put in, his tough face earnest. “Anything, bro.”
Streak nodded, not trusting himself to get words out of his tight throat, as gratitude swamped him.
“All right.” Rocker let him go. “Get to your boy. And drive careful.”
Already on his way out the front doors, Streak merely lifted a hand in answer.
Outside, Streak climbed into the beat-up ‘72 Impala he drove on the days he had Javier with him.
The car was built like a tank with the steel-frame construction Chevy had used in those days, but the pale-yellow paint was scarred, the body rusted through in a couple of places where winter road salt had done its work, and the tan vinyl seat covers were cracked and stained.
He had plans to have the entire car re-done, when he had the money. For now, the big motor purred, thanks to T-Bear and Moke, who owned and ran the local autobody shop. It was a reliable ride for him and his boy, if not a good-looking one.
Now, he clutched the steering wheel as the realization hit him—Javier was one step closer to being the orphan he’d been himself.
He was all his son had now.
So yeah, he’d drive carefully. And he’d keep his shit together for Javi, even if he wanted to grab his little boy, hold him tight, and never turn him loose.
When Streak rolled up to Stick Vanko’s country home, he saw three little boys running around the big, fenced yard in the March wind, jackets over their jeans and tees. Tow-headed twins were followed by a smaller boy with dark curls flying.
That was his Javi, with his mother’s hair and eyes, and his papa’s grin and hopefully his height. Cat had been petite, and her brothers weren’t much bigger.
Love and relief surged through Streak. Javier was where he was supposed to be, and in just about the safest place in Spokane County.
As president of the local Devil’s Flyers chapter, and all round badass, Stick Vanko was respected by most in this community, and feared by the rest.
Also, his wife Sara might look cool and elegant, but she was a badass mama in her own right. She’d not only used a leather-working knife to fend off an attacker the summer before, she’d helped thwart an attempt to kidnap the twins that winter.
Streak knew she’d fight just as fiercely to protect his son as she would her own stepsons.
When he climbed out of the Impala, the driver’s side door protesting with a squawk of its hinges, Sara Vanko was already coming down the steps of the farmhouse to meet him. The statuesque blonde held out her arms and came straight to envelop him in a sweet-smelling hug.
“Oh, sweetheart,” she said. “Rocker just called and told us. I’m so, so sorry about Cat.”
He hugged her back, sucking in a shaky breath full of her perfume and the smell of cookies. “Thanks, Sara. It’s… Jesus. I can’t… I didn’t know it would hit me this hard.”
He shook his head, because that sounded callous as hell. But it was true. He and Cat were co-parents, but they had never been romantically involved.
Sara let him go and stood back to survey him with a soft gaze. “I’m sure. Even though you two weren’t together, she’s still Javier’s mama.”
He nodded. “Yeah. She, uh, she helped make him. Now… it’s like we’re both missing a chunk of our lives, you know?”
“That’s true. And you’ll have to explain her death to him. If you want any help with that…”
He blew out a breath, his gaze going beyond her as the three boys pelted around the corner of the house. “I don’t have a single, fuckin’ idea, so…I’ll let you know.”
“Papa!” his son called, his round face lighting up with glee.
He pelted toward Streak, his little sneakers slapping on the pavement of the drive, lights twinkling on the shoes as he ran. Cat had found the goofy shoes at Walmart, and Javier loved them.
Streak bent, arms out, and scooped his son up. The sturdy little body hit his with utter confidence, Javier’s legs parting to hold on, one arm going around his father’s neck. The toy truck in his other hand hit Streak on the shoulder with a thump.
Streak held him tight, giving Javier a kiss on his smooth cheek, drawing in the smell of baby shampoo and sweaty little boy. “Hey, amigo. What you got here?”
“A truck! Dash and Kick gived it to me!” Dark eyes shining, Javier held up the shiny red-and-black truck by one wheel. It sagged in his grasp, and Streak swiftly reached his free hand underneath to help support it.
He gave a whistle of admiration. “Wow, a remote-control rig? That’s pretty nice.” He shot a questioning look at Sara, making sure it was indeed a gift, and not just something the twins were letting him play with.
She nodded. “We were going to give it to him for his birthday next month, but I thought it’d be a nice distraction… in the days to come.”
“Thanks,” he said. She was not wrong. The next days and weeks were going to be tough.
He twisted to smile down at the twins, two sturdy blond boys with their father’s ice-blue gaze and mischievous grins. “Hey, Kick, Hey, Dash. Javi, did you say thank you for the gift?”
“Thank you!” Javier called. “Gracias.”
Sara smiled at him. “You’re welcome, sweetie. All right, you guys want to come in for a little bit? I made chocolate chip cookies.”
The twins raced up the steps to the door, and Javier wriggled to be let down. “Cookies!”
Streak set him down, and he raced inside after the other boys.
“Come on in,” Sara told Streak. “Have a cup of coffee, or a beer. Stick’s here.”
He hesitated, but what the hell else did he have to do right now? Also, he could use the Flyer president’s counsel, and a dose of the man’s unshakable calm.
He nodded. “Thanks, I will.”
He followed her up the steps, and into the house.
Stick Vanko was waiting for them in the spacious country kitchen. The big, tough biker president walked to Streak and held out his hand, giving Streak’s hand a solid squeeze, his pale gaze full of compassion. “Sorry to hear, brother. Anything you need—anything.”
“Thanks,” Streak said, his throat tight. Warmth swelled in his chest. “Means a lot, Stick.”
Cat was gone, but he and Javier still had these people, and all the rest of the Flyers and their families. That meant everything.
“Sit down,” Sara said, indicating the oak dining table by the windows. “Boys, go wash your hands, and help Javier wash his. I’ll bring the cookies and milk to the table. You men want coffee, or a beer?”
“Beer for me, please,” Streak said. He pulled out one of the oak chairs and sat.
When the boys came back down, he held out his arms for his son. He wanted him close, where he could feel his warmth.
Javier, never one to turn down time on his father’s lap, ran to him and Streak hoisted him onto one knee, arm around him.
“I’ll get the beers, milaya,” Stick said, moving to the kegerator on the counter by the frig. “You take care of the boys.”
Soon they were all settled around the big table, the boys with milk and a cookie each, the men with a glass of beer and Sara with a steaming mug of tea.
“Your belly is still upset?” Stick asked his wife.
She wrinkled her nose. “Yes. But Dena Dunbar swears by this ginger-herb tea, says it worked like a charm when she was pregnant.”
“Drink it up, then,” Stick ordered. “I don’t like to see you looking pale.”
She made a face at him, but she drank her tea.
“We’re done,” Dash soon announced. “Can we go watch cartoons? The clock is on four-three-zero, that means Super Duper Biker is on.”
“Are you done, Alexey?” Stick asked.
Kick, stuffing the rest of his cookie in his mouth so he looked like a chipmunk, nodded earnestly.
Stick chuckled. “All right then.”
“C’mon, Javi,” Dash called, already on the move. “You can watch with us.”
Javier twisted to give Streak a look of inquiry, his cookie only half-eaten.
Streak wiped a smear of chocolate from his son’s rosebud mouth with his thumb. “You want to save the rest of your cookie?” he asked. “Or d’you want Papa to eat it?” He leaned in and snapped his teeth menacingly at the cookie.
With a giggle, his son offered him the cookie. “You eat it. I wanna watch tartoons.”
Streak widened his eyes in exaggerated shock. “You sure? You don’t want to save it?”
Javier looked uncertain, and Sara laughed. “We’ll send home some cookies with you and your papa, okay, Javi?”
He nodded happily. Streak took the cookie, and the little boy wriggled down.
The adults watched him trot off after the twins, through the archway that separated the sitting room from the kitchen.
“Wish life could always be that simple,” Stick said. “Takes so little to make them happy, da?”
Streak nodded, and Sara sighed. “Hard to believe they grow so fast.”
Her husband leaned over to pat her slightly rounded belly. “And soon we will add another to our family. Or maybe two.”
Sara shook her head at him, but she did it smiling. “You and your twins.”
He winked at her. “Twins are good. Double the fun.”
Sara crossed herself. “God forbid we get two more for Dash and Kick to lead into trouble. I’ll start hiding out at the clubhouse, smoking weed with Bouncer.”
Stick just chuckled.
Streak saw Sara’s point, because what mischief one of the Vanko twins didn’t think up, the other one did. But they were good kids, and they treated Javier like a favored little brother.
“So,” Stick said, sobering. “Streak, you will have to think of next steps for you and Javier. You have work, you have school, now you have him all the time.”
“You’ll need more day care,” Sara agreed gently.
Streak ran a hand over his face, He hadn’t even thought of that yet. “Cat’s mama can help out more, I suppose,” he said, although even as he said the words, they were sour on his tongue.
“Do you trust her?” Stick asked.
“What do you mean?” Cat’s mama might hate him, but she doted on Javier.
Stick shrugged. “Just that, with her sons living there, and Cat gone… Javier’s safety could be a concern.”
Streak nodded grimly. “Yeah, I…thought of that. Guess she’s not really an option.”
But before, he hadn’t had a choice, since he and Cat had shared custody.
Now, things were different.
As if on cue, his phone vibrated in his shirt pocket, and the theme from Jaws played again, muffled by his cut.
Streak grimaced. “That will be her. Isabella Orestes.”
Sara watched as he ignored his phone. “Aren’t you going to answer it, sweetie?”
“Just not sure I’m up to talking to her right now.”
Stick lifted his chin. “Answer it. Better to know what your opponent is up to.”
Streak wouldn’t have put it quite like that, but as always, the Flyer president had a point.
Streak pulled out his phone and hit the speaker button. Stick and Sara might as well know just how strained things were between him and Cat’s family.
“So, finally you will speak to me,” Cat’s mother hissed through the phone, her voice thick with tears. “About time, hombre inutil, useless man. My daughter is lying in her coffin, and you ignore me?”
Sara stared at the phone in horror. “I’ll go turn up the volume on the cartoons,” she said, and hurried away into the living room.
The volume on the TV show went up, just in time, as harsh sobbing sounded from Streak’s phone.
“My heart is breaking,” Senora Orestes sobbed. “I need mi nieto, my grandson.”
Streak answered as evenly as he could. “Isabella, I can’t. Right now…not a good time, I’m sorry.”
He wasn’t taking Javier into the middle of an emotional shit storm.
“Listen,” he added. “I want you to know I’m sorry for your loss. I’m gonna miss her too. And Javi—”
“You!” the older woman shrieked. “You don’t talk to me about my Catalina. You ruined her life, making her una puta, a whore, with your child out of marriage.” She broke into a stream of Spanish invective that made Streak’s gut churn, and anger burn in his chest.
He pressed the volume, quieting her voice until she ran out of steam somewhat.
“Bring me my daughter’s son,” she ordered again. “He needs to be here, with his real family. We need him here. You—you we do not need around.”
Streak and Stick exchanged a look.
“Sorry,” Streak repeated. “But I’m not sure being there is best for Javier right now. Get some rest, and we’ll talk again tomorrow.”
With that, he flicked the screen to end the call, and turned his phone off for good measure. Because she was gonna keep calling, at least for a while.
There was a short silence in the kitchen, the sound of revving engines and little boys laughing from the other room.
“Well, that explains why you never wanted to spend time around Cat’s mama,” Stick said dryly. “The senora don’t like you much, does she?”
Streak snorted. “Safe to say she does not, and never has. You heard her, I soiled her daughter.”
Stick shook his head. “Like Cat wasn’t ready and willing. Don’t think mamas ever know their daughters, do they?”
“Mine sure didn’t at that age,” Sara said, returning to slip back into her chair. She reached across the table to put a warm hand on Streak’s. “Streak, I’m so sorry you have to put up with that kind of verbal abuse. You want my advice, let her come visit him, not the other way around.”
“Might be best,” Stick agreed. “She’s grieving and unbalanced right now. In circumstances like that…” He shook his head again.
“I know what you mean,” Streak said grimly.
Headed for family law as he was, he’d read and heard all kinds of shit. When they were angry or grieving, or both, families did stupid things, like take a child somewhere and hide them away.
And with Cat’s brothers and what they were into…the situation was even darker.
He drained his beer and set the bottle down, turning it in his hand. “I think,” he said reluctantly. “I better get Javier and me a lawyer.”
“But, you’re almost one yourself,” Sara said. “You just have to pass the bar, right?”
“Bar exam’s coming up in a few weeks, yeah. But I’m not one yet,” he told her. “And there’s an old saying, ‘A lawyer who defends himself has a fool for a client’.”
“Yeah, ‘cause emotions can get in the way,” Stick agreed. “Call Dare or Jace Leupold. Good lawyers, and good friends of the club, being bikers themselves.”
Streak nodded slowly. “Their youngest brother Tom is in my class. I’ll give him a call, see if he can help me set something up with them.”
“Good. And you’ll let me know how we can support you,” Stick said. It was not a request.
Streak nodded, because a brother did not say no to Stick Vanko, not without a damn good reason and the will to argue for it. Right now, Streak had neither of those. Also, he could use his brothers at his back. This was a big part of why he’d joined, after all.
“You’re not getting it,” Streak said, dipping his head to give Streak a patient look. “Streak, we will support you. That means, you need a loan, you need money coming in every month for a while, we’ve got you. Till you get your license, anyway.”
Streak stared at his club pres. His mouth was hanging open, but it took him a moment to remember to close it. Warmth hit him solidly in the chest and spread. Hit the back of his eyes too, damn it. He blinked, hard, and sniffed. Then nodded. “Thanks. Just…thanks.”
He’d been busting his ass working and studying for so long, carrying the financial load himself, it was hard to wrap his mind around outside help like that.
Satisfied, the other man nodded once, then went back to sipping his beer.
“And please say you’ll stay for supper?” Sara asked. “The boys are having such a good time together, and I put chicken potpie in the oven after the cookies came out. It’ll be ready in half an hour or so.”
Streak thought about going back to his little apartment and microwaving leftover spaghetti versus staying here and eating Sara’s fine cooking, with them and the twins for company. It was no contest.
“Thanks,” he said. “If it’s no trouble.”
“Of course, you and Javier are never trouble.”
“Use my office to call your friend if you want,” Stick offered. “Quiet in there. Then we’ll have another beer, and we’ll eat. No rush.”
As Streak strode to Stick’s home office, urgency crowded behind him, prodding him with the sharp stick of ‘hurry, hurry, hurry’.
He had to find a way, fast, to keep Javier away from Cat’s hateful mother, and from her gang-banger brothers.
Keep him safe, no matter what the cost. And by any means, legal… or otherwise.