“How goes it?” I asked, walking up to him.
“Nonstop thrills and excitement,” he replied, his voice dry. “Got a new driver’s license yesterday. Had to wait forever and the bitch next to me wouldn’t shut up. Still the most exciting thing that’s happened to me since we got home, so maybe we need to explore our options.”
“Callup’s a great little town to settle down in,” I told him, smirking. “You’ll get used to hitting the sack at seven every night, I swear. Of course, you could just go back to Montana. Love havin’ you around and all that shit, but if you’re not happy there, why stay?”
He shrugged. “Feels like I have unfinished business.”
“Yeah, but that business is jailbait, so you might as well get over it. Unless it’s true love, of course,” I said, taunting him. “True love is worth any sacrifice, right? Up to and including your balls?”
“Fuck off,” he said, punching my shoulder. I punched him back, but it didn’t go any further. Much as I loved sparring with him, now wasn’t the time.
“Good to see you again,” said Boonie, the Silver Bastards’ president. “Puck’s been tellin’ us everything you did for him inside.”
“Went both ways,” I admitted. “Woulda been a lot worse in there without him. Just glad we both came through alive.”
“Well, we appreciated it.”
“He’s a good brother.”
I glanced over to see BB lumbering toward us. The big prospect should’ve been a full member by now, but he’d dropped out for a while when his mom was dying. Cancer.
“Prez says it’s time to go in,” he told us. “They’re ready to start. Up in the game room.”
We all shuffled inside, passing through the main room, which served as a lounge, bar, and general hangout space. It filled the front half of the bottom floor, with a kitchen in the rear on the left, offices in the center, and a workshop that mirrored the main room on the backside.
The place wasn’t in half-bad shape, considering how big the party had been. There were empties tucked here and there, and a bra that’d gotten caught on the light hanging over the pool table. I saw a few girls wandering around, cleaning shit up. Didn’t recognize any of them, which wasn’t a huge surprise. I still wasn’t fully integrated back into the life of the club, and none of them gave off old-lady vibes. Then I spotted the one who’d blown me last night. She offered a little wave. I gave her a nod but didn’t make eye contact—no reason to encourage her.
The game room was upstairs on the second level, off to the right. By the time we got upstairs, most of the brothers were already waiting. Puck and I found a spot toward the back, leaning against the wall to watch. He’d only had his full patch for three weeks now, and I knew he planned to keep a low profile. So did I.
Picnic surveyed the room, flanked by other chapter presidents who’d come for the weekend, including Deke, Hunter, and Boonie.
“Thanks to everyone who came. Over the past couple years we’ve had a lot of conflict. Shit’s gone down, brothers have served time”—he nodded respectfully toward me and Puck—“and we’ve lost some along the way. It’s good to have some time just for socializing. But we can’t waste this chance to talk business, either. Deke and Hunter are gonna update us on the cartel situation, and then we’ve got some new business. Deke?”
The president of the Portland Reapers’ chapter stepped forward, crossing his arms as he looked across the room.
“The Jacks have been holding strong in the south,” he said. “We’ve caught a few cartel runners in the Portland area, but so far as I know they aren’t making it up into Washington anymore. La Grande’s stood firm, covering the central corridor. Much as I hate to admit it, the Jacks have been solid. Not a hell of a lot to report. Hunter, you got anything to add?”
Em’s old man stepped forward. I studied him thoughtfully, trying to decide if I hated him any less these days. I’d gotten over Em a while ago—hadn’t thought about her much at all on the inside. You’d think that would smooth the way with me and Hunter, but it didn’t—I’d still happily cut his throat, just on general principle. Arrogant asshole.
He stared right at me, eyes hard.
“Gotta thank those who served time for us all,” he said, offering me a small, mocking salute. Cocksucker. “We all know the cartel will recover and come after us again at some point, but for now they’re mostly staying south of the Oregon state line. Northern Cali’s a little harder—we’re not in control, but they aren’t, either. At some point we’ll probably have to make a tough decision about whether we want to keep fighting for the territory. That’s for the club to decide, and right now we’re holding off making any solid plans. Our allies down south are being infiltrated. Not sure we can trust them long-term.”
Puck and I shared a look—we’d seen plenty of that in prison. Our “allies” were useless.
“Painter, you want to share what you told me about your time inside?” Pic asked, apparently reading my mind. I nodded, pausing to consider before I spoke.
“Well, you all know we had allied club brothers with us,” I said. “A few Longnecks, Bay Brotherhood, and one guy with the Nighthawk Raiders. Longnecks are shit, sorry to say. Couldn’t trust ’em inside, and now that I’ve visited one of their chapters I’d say that runs true for the whole fuckin’ club. The Brotherhood seemed solid but they’re having a rough time holding their own. The Nighthawks guy was interesting . . .”