I squeezed the soapy rag between my hands then got to work wiping down the counter. The soft music coming from the speakers was the only accompaniment I had. That along with the bearded man in front of me.
Even though I had my head down, I could still feel his eyes on me. He was watching every move I made. If I wasn’t so used to being watched, I might’ve been annoyed.
“I’m guessing this isn’t the homecoming you imagined.”
His voice was low but it was so quiet I didn’t have trouble hearing him. I chuckled softly to myself and kept myself busy.
“Cleaning up the bar counter. Taking out the trash. You know what the worst part of cleaning up the bar is?”
“What’s that?” I replied.
“It doesn’t matter how much you clean it. You’ll have to clean it up again in about 24 hours.”
“I don’t mind doing a little cleaning. I’ve been cleaning my whole life… Wiping down the bar is easy for me. Besides… I have another 24 hours before I have to do it again.”
The bearded man shared a laugh with me before picking up his shot of bourbon and swirling it around in his glass. I didn’t question a man for having a drink in the middle of the afternoon. In a place like this, he probably needed it.
“You sure you’re up for this?” he asked.
“Up for what? Cleaning the bar? I told you it’s no problem.”
“You’ll do a lot more than just cleaning up the bar. You’ll be cleaning up the entire West Bay.”
I tossed the rag aside and leaned back with my arms crossed while the man before me kept slowly swirling around his glass.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Why do people ask if they can ask something? Why don’t they just ask it?”
“Right,” I said with a chuckle.
“What is it?”
“What’s it like? Has it changed?”
“When’s the last time you been here?”
“It’s been almost a decade now. Ever since I enlisted…”
“The West Bay has changed. All of Snow Falls has changed. But that doesn’t mean you can’t handle it.”
“What makes you say that?”
“After everything you’ve been through, I’m sure this wouldn’t be a problem for you.”
Despite his beard and the intensity in his eyes, Kellen spoke slowly with a soft kindness that told me I didn’t need to be worried about him. I wasn’t intimidated. If anything, I respected him just from the tone of his voice. It was no surprise why they called him Guru.
“You’re not having any doubts, are you?” he asked.
“No doubts. Do you have any doubts?”
“None. Cade wouldn’t have signed you up if I had any. It has to be a unanimous decision. It takes a special kind of man to be a Charger.”
He looked down his nose at me, a smile slowly forming on his lips from behind his beard.
“You look like you’ve got what it takes, Sparrow.”
“I think I do, too. Sometimes though… I look around the West Bay… It’s still as rough as I remember it. I thought I’d be used to it when I got older.”
“You should be used to it by now.”
“I am. It’s just… I thought it’d be a little less depressing by now.”
“When you put it like that, everything is depressing. Life isn’t worth living without a little bit of a struggle. The Chargers are gonna do what they need to do to clean this place up.”
He put his glass down and stared right at me like he was trying to look into my soul. It didn’t matter that he was an Omega. Kellen commanded respect from everybody.
“Lemme give you a piece of advice, kid.”
“Kid?” I scoffed. “We’re the same age.”
“Only in number. I’ve been in the West Bay longer than you have. That makes me older in experience.”
“I guess when you put it that way…”
“You want my advice or not?”
“Yeah,” I said, snickering softly to myself. “What is it?”
He leaned forward across the bar counter to make sure I heard him.
“You ever have any doubts about anything, just ask yourself one question: Why am I doing this?”
“Why am I doing this? I know why I’m doing it. That’s a good question…”
Why am I doing this?
“You don’t have to tell me your answer. You don’t have to tell anybody at all. That question and the answer are for you and you alone. For the doubts you might have.”
“Right… I don’t have any doubts.”
Kellen swallowed his bourbon down then smacked his lips in satisfaction. He was the only man in the entire bar who was having a drink. Then again, there wasn’t anybody else here except for some of the other Chargers.
I imagined the Brickstone Bar was like every other place in the West Bay. It was a little nicer because of how clean everything was. The place had just been refurbished. But it was still the middle of the afternoon, and nobody was drinking.
Another man walked up to the bar and snapped his fingers at me.
“Let’s go, Sparrow,” he said to me.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“A meeting? Now? But the bar is still open.”
“Then we’re closed for a few minutes.”
If Kellen commanded the respect of everybody he met, Cade was exactly the same. Understandable, considering he was the leader of the Chargers.
He walked toward the back of the bar with Kellen and the other members of the gang right behind him. I followed after them until I was sitting at the meeting table with the men all around me.
The ornate room where we had our meetings was something that only members of the club saw. It was decorated with photos of every member along with banners to remind everybody who the room belonged to.
Across from me, there was Cade. He was the leader of the gang. The guy was the perfect combination of reckless and composed. I’d seen what kind of temper he had but he was smart, too. You needed that kind of cunning if you were gonna make it in the West Bay.
Kellen, the man sitting next to him, was as deep and wise as I expected a man named Guru to be. The only Omega in the gang, he sat by Cade’s side with the kind of loyalty you would expect from a right-hand man.
Then there was Tristan. Everybody called him Mossy, even though it seemed to annoy him from time to time. The guy was as shrewd as any man you’d ever meet. Growing up hustling on the streets of Snow Falls, that’s expected. The man was always one step ahead.
The biggest man at the table was Zak. He was the size of a mountain but he was still just Zak to me. Every gang needed a little muscle and Zak was it. People knew better than to try and cross a man whose biceps were as big and hard as bowling balls.
Cade. Kellen. Zak. Tristan. These were the four men in the Chargers. I wouldn’t want to share the room with anybody else.
“What’s happening, Chief?” Tristan said. “This sounds serious.”
“It’s always serious,” Cade said.
“No, it isn’t. Everything is cool. The bar is making tons of money. There’s been no real drama in Brickstone for months.”
“He’s right,” Zak added. “I’ve had to toss a few drunks out but I can’t remember the last time I’ve actually had to smash a few heads in.”
“That might change pretty soon,” Cade said as he leaned back in his seat.
He crossed his arms and eyeballed each one of us.
“The accident last night,” he said. “You all heard about it.”
“Heard about it and heard it,” Kellen said. “That explosion was loud enough to make it all the way to the Northside.”
“It was. But it happened in the West Bay and that makes it our business.”
“What happened exactly?” Tristan said. “I was kinda sleeping last night.”
Everybody at the table rolled their eyes at him. I laughed softly and shook my head.
“What?” he said with a shrug. “I slept through an explosion. You guys act like shit like that doesn’t happen here—”
“Late last night, there was an explosion,” Kellen said. “Turns out it was an accident. A single bike rammed into a parked car. One person was killed.”
“Wow… Probably some idiot drinking and driving.”
“Maybe,” Cade said. “But Detective Kennedy doesn’t think so.”
“Detective Kennedy?” I said, an eyebrow raised. “How do you know—”
“I… I know him,” he responded without so many words. “Just know that Kennedy looked into it. He didn’t waste any time. They performed the autopsy already. The guy was clean.”
“Maybe he fell asleep,” Tristan said.
“Maybe. Or maybe something happened. The bike that crashed wasn’t just any bike. It was souped-up. The kind of bike you’d use if you were racing.”
Everybody at the table looked around at one another while Cade kept giving the details.
“A souped-up bike. One car accident. One fatality. Looks suspicious. And we all know this isn’t the first time it’s happened.”
“Third time in as many weeks,” Kellen said. “Same circumstances, too.”
“Something fishy going on…” Zak added.
“It sounds like it,” Tristan said. “But what are we gonna do about it? We can’t go out patrolling the streets like some traffic cops. Next thing you know, you’ll have me pulling people over and checking their IDs.”
“The West Bay is our neighborhood,” Cade said. “If shit’s going down here, we clean it up ourselves, not any cops.”
“We can start looking into it,” Kellen said. “We go to every garage, every mechanic. We start talking. We keep looking and we’ll find something eventually. If someone is responsible for these last three deaths, they can’t hide forever.”
People are dying in the West Bay and somebody is responsible…
I didn’t want to think that something like that was actually possible but I knew this city better than anybody. Everything was on the table. And from the looks on the faces of every man around me, they all seemed to be thinking the same thing.
“Sparrow,” Cade said to me. “You’ve been quiet this whole time. What do you think?”
“I don’t know what to think,” I sighed. “If these accidents were intentional, that means it might happen again.”
“We have to do something about it. I’m in.”
“That’s what I like to hear. Boys?”
“I’m in,” Zak said.
“I’ll start looking up all of the local mechanics in the area. We’ll spread out and hit ‘em up one by one. Mossy?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Tristan said. “We’ll get the asshole who’s responsible for this just for wasting my time. We get a reward for this?”
Cade scoffed then laughed at Tristan, even though Tristan wasn’t as amused.
“The reward is letting everybody know that West Bay is Chargers territory,” Cade said. “Nobody comes to our neighborhood and gets away with something like that.”
“You figured people would get the picture after dealing with Rivera…” Tristan muttered softly to himself.
“You’re wasting time,” Kellen said as he got up out of his seat. “Let’s move out.”
The men all got up from their seats and headed for the exit. Just before I got outside, I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Hey,” Cade said to me. “You all right?”
“I’m fine,” I replied. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“You know, I don’t just let anybody into the crew. If you’re a Charger, you’ve got serious responsibilities.”
Cade stared at me with the kind of pride the leader of a club would have. It only gave me more of the unwavering confidence I didn’t need.
“I’m a Charger,” I said. “This is what I signed up for. It’s just like Mossy said. If there’s some asshole out there responsible for this, we take care of ‘em. Though, there is one problem.”
“My shift isn’t over yet.”
He gave me a smirk and nodded.
“My brother is coming in soon. You can get to work on figuring this thing out after he’s here.”