“Tired of what?” Picnic asked, his eyes narrowing.
“Tired of putting time and energy into fighting Reapers when we should be focused on more important things.”
“Funny, you weren’t feeling all peaceful last December,” Horse put in. “My woman was in danger. I don’t appreciate ass**les like yourselves threatening my property.”
Hunter sighed and leaned back in his chair, rubbing the bridge of his nose between his fingers.
“Times change,” he said finally. “We all know that. Some of our guys, they’re a little slow, clinging to the past. That was their play, and it was a f**kin’ stupid one. But most of my brothers and me, we’re looking to the future. Fighting you is a waste of time and energy. Used to be we were in the minority on that one. Now we’re not, so I’m opening the door. This wasn’t an easy meeting to arrange, but we all put down our guns and came here today. That’s a start.”
“I didn’t put down my gun,” Deke rumbled.
Hunter smiled, shaking his head.
“Jesus, you’re a hardass,” he told Deke. “Respect. But seein’ as I’m still alive right now, I think my point stands. We’re talking, not shooting. Gotta be a record.”
“That’s your play?” Picnic asked, openly skeptical. “You had some kind of revolution back home, so now you’re here tryin’ to make peace? Lemme guess, you think we should all just hug and make up, maybe swap some recipes, organize a potluck?”
Hunter laughed, his body language so relaxed it was almost insulting. Didn’t he realize they could take him in a heartbeat?
Yeah, Ruger decided. He knew it.
He just didn’t care, and a man who’d stopped caring was dangerous as f**k.
“Cut the shit,” Ruger said suddenly. “What do you want?”
Hunter leaned forward and met his eyes, voice serious.
“I’m here because we’ve been losing territory and influence for years, and it’s getting worse. We got boys coming up from the south, out of L.A., and they’re looking to expand. We need to be fighting them, but we’re fighting you instead. So far as I can tell, we’re doing it out of habit like a bunch of damned monkeys who can’t figure out something better to do,” he added.
“Swattin’ flies isn’t habit, it’s housekeeping,” Deke rumbled. “Same with killin’ Jacks.”
Hunter shook his head.
“Tell me this,” he said. “Your niece, that was some bad shit. But before her, Reapers killed three of our guys in Redding. Two of those guys had kids. You remember that?”
“Assuming it happened—which for the record, I don’t acknowledge—it’s probably because they attacked our guys the night before,” Picnic said. “Preemptive self-defense.”
“Your guys were down there to steal one of our shipments,” Hunter said flatly. “And they burned down our clubhouse while they were at it. Why’d they do that?”
“Dunno. I wasn’t in on that decision,” Picnic admitted. “That was all Roseburg.”
“Yet we’re prepared to fight and kill each other over it,” Hunter said. “And each time we strike back, it gets worse. Sooner or later we’re gonna kill each other off completely, which is exactly what the gangs down south want. Our clubs, we got history between us, and it’s not good. But we’re the same kind—we know what it means to be brothers. Men like us, we live to ride, and ride to live. Fuck the world.”
Ruger nodded, acknowledging the point.
“Now we’re seeing boys movin’ north, boys who aren’t part of a brotherhood … and I mean boys—they got kids workin’ the streets can’t be more than ten years old,” Hunter continued. “These children are takin’ orders from generals who don’t get their hands dirty, let alone throw down for them. They don’t get to vote, they don’t get to think, and they don’t even know why they’re fighting. They’re a threat to our way of life, yours and mine. I’m tired of putting time and energy into worrying about Reapers when every time I turn around some high school dropout’s takin’ potshots at me. I just want to ride my f**kin’ bike and get laid.”
Ruger glanced at Picnic. His face was thoughtful, although his expression didn’t give away a thing. Horse grunted, polishing off his drink.
“I’m not the only one who feels that way,” Hunter said. “Lot of my brothers, we’re tired of this war. Those same brothers are moving up in their chapters, thinking maybe it’s time for us to be on the same side in this little game. It’s about values and what we stand for. We’re brothers and we ride, all the rest is details. These f**kers, though … Deep down inside, there’s nothing there. We gotta stop them before it’s too late. I can’t do that if I’m fighting a war on two fronts.”
“Enough,” Deke growled. “You’re a little f**kwad and you don’t know jack. What’s gone down between us, that shit doesn’t go away just because you and your boyfriends decide you’re scared of someone new moving in on your territory. You wanted a war with the Reapers and now you’ve got it. We’re going to kill you. All of you. Might take a while. I’m patient.”
“Deke—” Picnic said, his voice low and full of unmistakable command. “What they did to Gracie can’t be fixed, brother. But the bastards paid and now they’re gone. The more we fight, the more likely some other girl’s gonna get hurt. I got two daughters. Peace between clubs isn’t always a bad thing. Especially when the cartel’s movin’ in. I hear stories …”
“We know you got two daughters,” Hunter told Picnic, eyes narrowing. “In fact, we know a hell of a lot more than you’d like. We know because there’s guys in my club who think we should strike, think we can use the cartel to throw you off balance. They called the shots last December, but they aren’t in control right now and I’d like to keep it that way. You got two choices here … First one is nut up and work with me to control this new threat. We pull that off, everyone goes home happily ever after, shittin’ rainbows and dancin’ with unicorns. Second choice is keep fighting with each other until they take us all out. You want that? Fine. I’m not scared to bring it. But consider this … You got daughters you care about. One’s up in Bellingham, other’s in Coeur d’Alene. Pretty girls, which I know ’cause I’ve seen ’em for myself. Recently.”