Hard Rider (Bad Boy Bikers Book 1)(9)

By: Lydia Pax



And then finally, Hugh “Howitzer” Maddox, Ram’s father and the President of the Wrecking Crew. He sat in the corner of the corner, presiding over the table like a lord at court. Thick forearms leathery from years of riding under the open sky sprouted from his body like the appendages of a gorilla. His hair was silver and thick, thick like Ram’s was thick, and he wore a heavy handlebar mustache.

Howitzer shared Rowdy's dislike of cops, though for a vastly different reason. He was a widower because of the cops; Ram had no mother because of the cops.

There had been a raid on Howitzer's home when Ram was less than five years old. Howitzer had been the President of the Wrecking Crew for ten years at that time, and was viewed as a high-danger target by the police. When they came in at the dead of night, they kicked in the door ready to shoot—and Ram's mother was caught in the crossfire.

The cops ended up finding nothing. Howitzer wasn't dumb enough to keep anything illegal in his own house, which the police probably would have known. It was a scare tactic, a form of hazing that they used to keep the criminal element under control.

It hadn't worked.

When Howitzer was angry—and he was angry often, like he was angry now, an easily stressed titan of a man managing a club in stressful times—it was like watching a painting move.

“You all right?” Rowdy asked as Ram sat down next to Mikhail, across from the other three.

“Sure.”

“No damage or nothing to you?” Rowdy pressed.

“No, nothing,” said Ram. “Look at me. I’m fine.”

“Is Ace all right?” asked Howitzer. “Heard his bike was stolen.”

Ram set his jaw and sighed. “How much do you know?”

“We know you’re in a pile of shit with everybody from us to the cops.” Howitzer cracked his knuckles. “Where’s Ace's ride?”

The waitress approached, hoping for Ram’s order. Mikhail gestured for her to fly away quick. The tension was like glass, transparent and heavy.

“It was gone when we tried to break out from the brawl. Maybe the Black Flags took it. We don't know for sure. He rode out with me.”

“He rode bitch on your bike?” Cattleprod snorted. “I expect we won’t hear the end of that.”

“What’s all this about?” asked Ram. “I got in a brawl with some Black Flags. Big deal. Motherfuckers deserve a beating. I’ll go in tomorrow and pay up to Manuel, he’ll forget all about it. It’s nothing.”

Even he knew he was stretching the truth, but he figured playing it down was the only card he had.

“Nothing?” Howitzer had a way of making himself seem like he was shouting even though his volume remained steady and low. “You call ruining a truce that’s been running for two generations just nothing? You call losing a man's bike nothing? You call sparking a fucking war with the Black Flags nothing? You call a dead cop nothing?”

Ram’s mouth twitched. He had been hoping he had seen that wrong, that cop getting shot in the head. A dead cop was bad for everyone’s business.

Beretta's fault, Ram silently insisted. It could all be traced back to that traitorous shit.

“That truce was going to end one way or another.” Ram began ticking off his fingers. “Ace can buy himself a new bike. He's wanted to for a little while now anyway. War was coming with the Black Flags one way or the other. And last I heard, a dead cop’s a good cop, or did I join some other fucking MC without knowing it?”

“Dead cops are fine, you ingrate,” said Howitzer, “but not when our colors are seen at the crime. Not when there’s witnesses.”

Mikhail leaned in to Ram. He had a way of making a conversation seem intimate even when there were three people watching right close by.

“You know that I’ve been talking a lot with the Black Flags lately. Sounding them out.”

Ram shrugged. “You said that you were trying to find out how much heat they were packing.”

“I was. And I did. But in doing that, I also found out they were willing to negotiate. We were close to striking a deal. Cutting the trade routes in half between us.”

“In half? Fuck that.” Ram shook his head. “That’s not—”

Mikhail continued. “They’ve got access to every cartel south of the border. That would mean a lot of money flowing through here. We’d be making more than twice what we make now, and have peace with them. But...” he spread his hands. “Not anymore.”

A slow spread of doubt and guilt entered into Ram’s belly. He didn’t care about starting a war, didn’t mind fighting. Deep down, he loved it.

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