Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Don't Be Next by Morgan Boyd




Don't Be Next

Abel gunned his Harley around the sharp curves as he ascended through the Santa Cruz Mountains.  At the summit he spied a green cross next to an eatery with a sign that read ‘Coffee, Soda, Pizza, Beer,’ so he turned left against oncoming traffic, and rumbled into the parking lot.  After a hotdog and two beers, Abel sauntered next door to the pot dispensary, and used his medical marijuana card to buy several pre-rolled joints.  Outside, two motorcycles were parked near his hog.  He felt the knife on his hip as he scanned the area.  Two clean-cut old guys carried their helmets into the restaurant.  Abel removed his hand from the blade, and started his Harley.  The exhaust pipes roared, turning heads in the parking lot.  Popping a toothpick into the side of his mouth, Able burped and thundered down the mountain.

He was early for his rendezvous at The Crow’s Nest, so he cruised to the lighthouse on the Westside, parking near the bathrooms at the edge of a field.  Abel crossed the street, and joined a crowd of spectators at the railing above the sea cliffs.  A small pack of surfers bobbed just outside the break, taking turns paddling into massive waves.  Only a handful of skilled watermen dared challenge these rolling seas—with one exception.  Dangerously near the crags, a man in a red wetsuit on a long blue foam board attempted to make it passed the breakers.  He struggled against the strong current as continuous walls of whitewater dragged him towards the rocks.

Spectators and lifeguards along the cliff yelled at the floundering man, instructing him to get out of the water, but he continued his losing endeavor against the massive swells.  During a lull, he paddled beyond the rocky point into a hazardous stretch of surf.  A lifeguard on a Jet Ski approached, but enormous set waves kept him from rescuing the man in the red wetsuit.

Caught in the impact zone, the man in the red wetsuit was plunged under the torrent.  Upon resurfacing, his foam board was in pieces, and he had been dragged into an inlet, surrounded by large jagged rocks and tumultuous foam, swirling into a submerged cave. 

A sign posted above on the cliff next to the railing read:


Don’t Be Next
Since 1965, 103 people have drowned
along our coastal cliffs and beaches. 
Many of these deaths were preventable.
STAY BEHIND FENCES
STAY AWAY FROM CLIFF EDGES

The onlookers watched the battering of the man in the red wetsuit against the ragged seawall.  A silence fell over the crowd at the sight of another human’s impending demise.  During a momentary break in the surf, a lifeguard rescue swimmer reached the man in the red wetsuit, and paddled him to a floatation device hanging from the back of the nearby Jet Ski as a giant foam beast moved in for the kill.  The crowd cheered as the small watercraft barley cleared the monstrous water wall.  A moment later a thunderous clap of angry white rapids erupted into the cove amid plumes of hissing mist.

The spectators’ opinions turned from concern to disapproval.  Words like ‘kook’ and ‘idiot’ were used to describe the inexperienced surfer.  Putting his hand in his pocket, Abel felt the joints he bought on the summit.  He still had time to kill, so he crossed the street, and entered the field. 

He wandered along a path to a row of cypress trees while contemplating the near drowning.  Despite witnessing the miraculous rescue, Abel was disappointed the man had cheated his watery grave.  It would have made a great story to tell The Fighting Bastards.

The incident brought back a memory from Abel’s childhood.  His mother took him to the beach in Santa Cruz for the day when he was ten.  She rented a surfboard, and he paddled into the water in front of the boardwalk, and climbed to his feet on the first wave.  He remembered how proud his mother was, and he knew someday he’d be a surfer.  Several months later, his mother died in a car accident in San Jose, and many years passed before Abel returned to the beach.

He found a knotty cypress tree growing low and sideways that functioned as a bench.  Empty beer cans and fast food wrappers littered the ground.  He lit a joint, thinking about the importance of tonight.  Gaining hangout status with the North Valley Fighting Bastards had taken Able longer than expected, but persistency, and a penchant for scoring coke had gotten him noticed by the gang’s leaders.   

For months Abel had been the grunt, cleaning bikes, and spending his own money on beer runs.  Now he was a prospect, and Loco Dave was his sponsor.  Hopefully, after tonight, he’d earn his patch and become a full-fledged member.  When the joint ended, he returned to his bike, and headed for The Crow’s Nest.

At a red light, Abel saw people drinking beer on an outdoor patio near the railroad tracks.  The smell of hamburger meat permeated the air, arousing Abel’s appetite.  The light turned green, and he crossed the harbor bridge, and found an open spot in The Crow’s Nest’s parking lot.  Although it was early, the restaurant was crowded.  Senior citizens clogged the lobby, waiting for tables.   

“Can I help you?” A beautiful young hostess asked Abel. 

“Nah,” He replied, and ascended a set of stairs.   

Loco Dave and several other members of the Fighting Bastards leaned against the bar on the second floor.  Abel sat on a stool by Loco Dave and ordered a Bud.

“Make that a round,” Loco Dave said without acknowledging Abel.

The bartender glanced at Abel.   Abel nodded in the affirmative, and gazed out the windows at the harbor.  A large sailboat was returning from a day on the turgid sea just before sunset.  Abel’s stomach grumbled.  He wanted a cheeseburger, but thought better of it.  Ordering food meant ordering the gang food.

After finishing his beer, Able went downstairs to use the bathroom.  On the floor by the urinal, he noticed a little baggy containing blue pills.  He didn’t know what they were, but he pocketed the find before unzipping to take a leak.

As he reentered the bar, the sun’s sinking rays colored the skyline gold, pink and purple above the tumultuous expanse.  Everybody quietly observed the pleasing sunset except The Fighting Bastards.  Dirty Dog thought a guy wearing an O’Neal hat was staring.

“You got a problem bitch?” Dirty Dog asked.

“Huh?”  The man in the O’Neal hat said. 

Dirty Dog stood up, knocking over his stool.  The man in the O’Neil hat puffed out his chest, stepping forward, but before the situation escalated any further, the Crow’s Nest’s bouncers intervened, forcibly ushering The Fighting Bastards down the stairs, and out the front door.

Dirty Dog was livid.  He wanted to stab every last one of those motherfuckers inside.  Abel felt it was a good time to show the boys the pills.  He figured it might break the tension.

“Look what I found on the floor in the pisser,” Able said to Loco Dave, handing him the little baggy.

“You know what these are?”  Loco Dave asked, examining the pharmaceuticals.

“No.”

“Hell.  You’re in luck,” Loco Dave said.  “You just found some speedballs.”

Abel figured he’d have to share the uppers, so he was surprised when Loco Dave handed him back the baggy.

“Anybody else?”  Abel asked.

“No, man.  Your find.  Go ahead and pop a few.  You’ll be climbing the walls in no time.”

Abel swallowed a few of the pills without the aid of beer.  He took it as a sign he was moving into the ranks of The Fighting Bastards, but as soon as the pills went down, Loco Dave chuckled.

“Numb nuts here thinks it was speed,” Loco Dave said.

“What was it?”

“Boner meds,” Loco Dave said, and everybody, even Dirty Dog laughed.  “You just took a shit load of Viagra.”

“If your dick don’t go down in four hours, you gotta seek medical attention,” Dirty Dog said.

“Hey Road Kill, what’s the boat’s name again?”  Loco Dave asked.

“The Lucky Lady,” Road Kill said.

“I’ll say.”

As they walked along the harbor, doubts about burning The Grim Reapers brewed in Abel’s mind.  The Grim Reapers were The Fighting Bastards rivals.  The Grim Reapers held a monopoly on the heroin trade in North Valley, which was a huge thorn in The Fighting Bastards’ side.  The Fighting Bastards couldn’t find a San Jose supplier, nor could they figure out where The Grim Reapers scored their smack—that is until they met Eddie Sanchez.

Eddie Sanchez was a low level soldier for The Grim Reapers, but when he discovered his wife was boning down with his biker buddies, Eddie went straight to The Hole.  The Hole was a North Valley dive bar, and The Fighting Bastards’ hangout.  Road Kill recognized Eddie, and was about to whip his ass when Eddie convinced him otherwise.  He bought Road Kill a beer, and explained how The Grim Reapers’ connection worked.  The heroin came in through the Santa Cruz harbor on a sailboat named The Lucky Lady.  Eddie told Road Kill when the next shipment arrived.  He also mentioned that the Grim Reapers didn’t pick up the shit until the next day, so if the Fighting Bastards wanted, they could retrieve the heroin first.

Abel jumped at the chance to participate in the raid as soon as Loco Dave told him about the plan.  This was Able’s chance to prove his loyalty and worth, and to finally earn his patch, and become a member of The Fighting Bastards.

They stopped at a small fenced off pier with a locked gate.

“Dirty Dog,” Loco Dave said.  “Work your magic.”

Dirty Dog took a chisel and a hammer out of his bag.  After three powerful knocks on the lock, the gate swung open.  The Fighting Bastards drew their pistols along the dock and approached the Lucky Lady.

“What the fuck?” A man in a gray hoodie with a goatee said, sticking his head out of the large sailboat’s hatch.   

Loco Dave pistol-whipped Gray Hoodie, and knocked him back into the boat’s cabin.  The Fighting Bastards piled in, holding Gray Hoodie and another man sitting at a small table hostage.

“Where’s the shit?”  Loco Dave asked.

Neither man responded, so Loco Dave took out his knife, and sliced off a piece of Gray Hoodie’s left ear.

“Come on Evander Holyfield, where’s the fucking horse?”  Loco Dave asked.  “I’ll murder you and your butt buddy here, if you don’t hand it over.  Think I’m joking?  Abel, slit this motherfucker’s throat.”

Abel removed his knife, and loomed over Gray Hoodie, staring into the man’s piercing blue eyes before placing the knife to his throat, and cutting a deep bloody line across the neck.  Gray Hoodie remained silent, except for a gurgling noise as his eyes rolled into the back of his head.

“You’re next,” Loco Dave said to the other man.

“Wait,” he pleaded.  “Give me a second.” 

With trembling hands, the man unscrewed a hidden cubby in the wall, removed two large bags, and handed them to Loco Dave.  Loco Dave cut one of them open, and snorted a dab of the whitish powder.   

“Jackpot,” he said.  “Abel, kill this motherfucker too.” 

This time Abel didn’t make the mistake of looking into his victim’s eyes.  He went straight for the throat with his blade.  When the job was finished, Abel was alone.  His compatriots’ boots thudded outside on the wooden dock.   Abel wiped his blade clean on a curtain, and fled The Lucky Lady, wishing he’d parked his bike closer as the rumbling of The Fighting Bastards’ fleeing motorcycles faded into the distance.
  
The Crow’s Nest’s parking lot was well lit and full of automobiles.  Abel slipped between two rows of cars, and noticed a crowd gathered around his bike.  He pushed through the throng, and found his Harley under the rear bumper of a large white luxury sedan.  A trembling old man with snow-white hair hunched over the automobile’s steering wheel.  Abel cursed, punching the automobile several times, leaving smears of blood on the side of the car.  The crowd stepped back as the biker dragged his Harley out from under the sedan.

He leaned his hog upright, but the handlebars were askew.  He tried the kick-start several times, but the engine would not catch.  Abel threw his bike down amid a torrent of effigies.  The old man exited his vehicle, and approached, but Abel shoved him to the ground, and fled onto a nearby beach scattered with bonfires.

Abel crossed the street, ducking into a residential area.  He wandered through the neighborhood with an erection in his pants.  At the railroad tracks, he made his way back over the harbor bridge.  Looking behind, he saw a dark figure in the distance.  Abel quickened his pace until he came to an underpass just before a trestle.  He peered over his shoulder again, but didn’t see anybody.

As he crossed the trestle, the bright lights of the boardwalk emphasized the bloodstains on his clothes.  Tourists parted like the Red Sea as Abel passed the casino.  Just before the wharf, he ducked into a public bathroom, and looked in the mirror.  Blood speckled his beard and leather jacket.  He washed his face and hands in the sink as a homeless man entered.

“Spare a dollar?”

“Twenty bucks for your shirt,” Abel said.

Abel discarded his leather jacket—something he never would have imagined an hour ago—and put on the homeless man’s putrid garment.  It was grimy and damp, tattered and stained yellow with perspiration.  The smell made Abel gag.

“Where do I catch the bus to San Jose?”  He asked.

“Take a right at the roundabout,” the homeless man said, eyeing the blood stained leather jacket.

As Abel exited the bathroom, he had the sensation of being followed, but it was impossible to know for sure in such a crowded area.  He crossed the roundabout, making his way to the metro station.  The bus to San Jose was just about to leave as he arrived.  He paid the seven-dollar fare, and took the last available seat in the front.  An old woman stood up and walked to the back after he sat down beside her.

The bus pulled out of the station, and Abel closed his eyes.  He opened them again when his thoughts returned to The Lucky Lady.  Abel trembled at the blue eyes and the gurgling sound.  He cussed, and the passengers around him shifted uneasily in their seats.  The bus driver turned his head back for a moment, and asked if everything was okay?  Abel looked out the window.   At the summit, he saw the eatery he had stopped at on his way into town.  It was dark and closed. 

He thought about his wife.  How foolish he was to make her play second fiddle to an outlaw motorcycle gang.  He couldn’t wait for her to pick him up at the station.  He would start treating her better.  He would start tonight by working off this Viagra.  She always liked hitting the sack, but for some reason he rarely gave it to her anymore.  He was always too busy trying to bang the biker babes at The Hole.

His mind shifted back to the blue eyes and the gurgling sound.

“If you don’t quiet down,” the bus driver said.  “And stop disturbing the other passengers, I’ll kick you off this bus in the middle of nowhere.”

Abel’s mind switched to his job.  He was a plumber.  He had hated his work for the past several years, but now it didn’t seem so bad.  It paid well, and kept him busy.  He had dreamed of quitting when he joined The Fighting Bastards, but now that he had tasted the life, working on those shit pipes didn’t seem so terrible anymore.

As the bus pulled into San Jose, Abel stood up.  The cool night air splashed across his face as the bus door opened.  He entered the station in search of a payphone.  At the far end of the depot, he called his wife from a booth.

“Hello?”  She answered.

“Hey babe.”

“Where you been?”  

“I’ll tell you all about it when you get me.  I’m stranded at the San Jose train station.”

“Be right there.”

“Thanks babe.  Love you,” he said, and hung up the phone.

He would make it up to her.  All those times he wasn’t there, or had been shitty to her—he would make amends for his behavior.  The feeling of atonement afforded him a moment’s relief from the evening’s chaos, but then a thought crept into his head that turned him pale with fear.  Soon the police would discover the bodies on The Lucky Lady.  He’d left his Harley near the crime scene, and it was smeared with the victims’ blood.  It wouldn’t be long before they rubbed two brain cells together, and came looking for him.

He walked outside, and sat on a bench near the curb.  Abel stood up each time a set of headlights went by in anticipation of his wife’s car.  It would take her a while to drive from North Valley, but Abel wasn’t thinking clearly.   

He stood as a set of headlights approached.  A vehicle stopped at the curb, but it was a van, so he sat down cussing to himself.  The side door slid open, and several men in hoodies piled out, grabbed Abel and forced him into the vehicle.  The door slid shut.  Something metallic cracked against his head, and he went unconscious. 

When he woke, it was dark.  He lay on his back on the floorboard as the van rounded a series of sharp curves.  Every inch of his body hurt, yet he still had an erection.

Eventually the van came to a stop, and the driver cut the motor.  The hooded men sat in silence for several minutes, smoking cigarettes, and looking into the darkness.

“Coast is clear,” Loco Dave said.

The van’s side door slid open, and The Fighting Bastards dragged Able from the automobile, towards the railing as a thunderous clap reverberated through the salty air amid plumes of hissing mist.

 -End-

Bio Morgan Boyd lives in Santa Cruz, California with his wife, daughter, cat, and carnivorous plant collection. He has been published online at Flash Fiction Offensive, Shotgun Honey, Near To The Knuckle, and Fried Chicken and Coffee.  He also has stories forthcoming at Tough, Yellow Mama, and Switchblade Magazine.

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