Authors: Lina Andersson
Mac and Mitch were in some weird borderland that sometimes confused Tommy. He sort of counted those as the brain trust of the club, but he wouldn’t just follow their orders without confirmation from one of the three Bs. They had been born into the club, since they were Brick’s kids, and Mac was also married to Bear’s youngest daughter. They had absolutely no respect for the chain of command, and Tommy wasn’t even sure they knew what it was. They had a unique standing in the group, but didn’t seem to be aware. There had been some talk about the two of them one day taking over the club after Brick and Bear, with the younger son, Mitch, as the president, and Mac as VP. It might sound weird to others that the youngest son would take over, but Mitch was probably the smartest guy Tommy’d ever met. He liked him a lot, and wouldn’t mind having him as President. He was actually the only one of the current members, besides Brick, that Tommy could imagine as his leader.
Once they were all inside, Brick slammed the gavel.
The meetings were the biggest difference compared to the Marines. In the club, everyone got information about everything, and not just what they needed to know. He missed being on a need-to-know basis.
“It won’t be a short one tonight, gentlemen.” Brick lit a smoke and leaned back. “We’re gonna talk expansion.”
There was a unison groan from the rest of them. They’d been talking about expansion and the Smiling Ghouls every fucking meeting for years. Literally
. To Tommy, it felt like they spent more time discussing the Ghouls than their own goddamn club. It also felt like they were talking in circles. He knew they weren’t, but it sure felt like it.
They, as in the Marauders, were expanding, and it was going well. They’d already patched over four other clubs, and they were looking at fifth, which Tommy assumed was the reason for Brick’s warning. Tommy never chimed in on those discussions, so he logged out a little during the meeting.
He picked up some of it, though. Russ, the Nomad President, had scoped out yet another club on Brick’s request, one the Marauders had worked with a couple of times before, and they were almost all of them veterans—which was what they were looking for. All the possible clubs were discussed at length, and that was where Tommy was completely useless. Besides the Marauders, the Smiling Ghouls were actually the only club he really knew anything about.
The guys they worked with, and did the expansion for, weren’t the Smiling Ghouls as such, but the Dutch part of the Ghouls, and he liked them. They were originally an American club, and even if he liked the Dutch, the American side of the club were idiots.
While the Marauders were in Holland, two years earlier, Brick and some of the other Marauder presidents had started to suspect that the Dutch side of the club was planning on breaking loose. As a part of their detachment, they had suggested it would be good if the Marauders expanded their club to go along a pipeline from the Mexican border up to Oregon and the Port of Portland.
Tommy hadn’t really had an opinion about whether that was good or bad, but he understood that expanding along the West Coast, or just east of the West Coast, as it were, would be easier while they still officially had the US Ghouls on their side.
He knew Brick and some of the others were a bit anxious about how it would eventually pan out, if there would be a full-out war where they had to do the fighting for the Dutch guys, since they’d be safe on the other side of the Atlantic.
Tommy wasn’t that worried, but as opposed to the other guys in the Greenville Marauders, he’d been in a war, and that was his main purpose in the club—fighting. Since he’d saved Mitch’s old lady, Anna, Brick had turned to him for some planning. Tommy could help when it came to tactics, actually engaging in battle, and possible some training, but long-term planning wasn’t his thing. He was a grunt, a footman, and he didn’t know much about overview long-term planning. If he had a blueprint of an area, knew how many men he had, and approximately how many enemies they were facing, he was more than capable of pulling together a good plan for how they could take over the place or defend it—but that was it. The way he figured it, long-term war planning was more about politics, and Tommy didn’t know shit about politics. He’d never even voted.
He’d trained the others on how to take over and defend a room, a house, or just an area. Taught them what to look for, how to look, and how to move. It had been pretty fun, and the others had been impressed. It was always strange training for those things. On one hand it was fun, on the other hand it was the kind of thing you trained for but hoped you’d never have much use for. Given what the club was up to and what was going on, Tommy had a feeling they might have use for it, though, so they needed that training. They might be decent shots, and even if they had some basic knowledge of battle, the others still pretty much sucked. He hadn’t said that, but they did. Maybe a little less than before, and he thought they at least had an understanding about their limitations and why they should pay attention to what he was saying by now. So they kept having exercises—well, some of them; Brick didn’t like the exercises much, probably because he wasn’t good at taking orders—and they were getting better.
Over two hours later, the meeting was done and they went out to the bar. Most of them were doing their best to get as drunk as possible while watching the sweetbutts dancing around the pole or just on a table. Brick and Bear were, as usual, sitting next to each other, and Tommy couldn’t help wondering if the two of them would ever run out of things to talk about, because they always fucking talked.
Mac had gone home to his pregnant wife and their son, Mitch and Mech were in the office, doing something on the computer, and Dawg had already passed out. Not that Dawg would take advantage of the naked girls anyway; he was also married.
When Mitch came out, he looked around the clubhouse with a smile, and walked over to Tommy when he noticed him.
“Missing it?” Tommy asked with a nod towards a sweetbutt.
“Fuck no. Have you seen my old lady?”
“I have,” Tommy confirmed. “She’s nice.”
“I bet.” Anna, Mitch’s old lady, had been a ballet dancer until she was in some kind of accident. They’d had their first baby, Alma, about a year and a half earlier. She was actually born on Mitch’s birthday, and on the same day as Tommy had saved Anna. “How’s your baby girl?”
“She’s fine,” Mitch smiled. “Hey, Anna’s said she wanted you to come over for dinner.”
“Sure,” he answered.
Since the saving, Anna seemed to feel some obligation to invite him to dinner now and then, and just generally be…
to him. Like she owed him something, and Tommy didn’t feel like she owed him anything. But he indulged her because Mitch got a little pissy when he didn’t. It hadn’t been that much of a fucking deal. Obviously it had been for Anna. She’d been kidnapped by Hump, a former member, and held hostage in an attempt to torment Mitch—hence it having happened on his birthday. But Tommy’s part hadn’t been a big deal. He’d scoped out the place where they were meeting Hump, an old house in the middle of nowhere, and had realized it was sniper heaven. He’d taken out Hump and his old lady fairly easily.
It had been the first time since the war that he’d killed someone. He’d waited for that fact to really hit him for weeks afterwards, since it was the first time outside a legitimate war that he’d killed someone—which he assumed technically made it a murder, not a kill—but it never did. It had felt perfectly justified, and it hadn’t bothered him more than any of the killing he’d done while in the service.
Being a sniper meant getting pretty fucking close to your victims, not physically close, but mentally. It wasn’t like dropping a bomb from an airplane, or being involved in a heavy firefight. You lay still, waited for your victim, and you
them—up close and personal—before pulling the trigger. Some people had a hard time dealing with it, and it could definitely mess with a man’s head. Tommy had felt it a few times, especially in the beginning. Those feelings got duller the more of his own platoon got killed or injured, though. He’d soon learned that not pulling the trigger might mean that one of his friends died instead. It was quite possible that he traded the person in the scope’s life against one of his friends, so he’d learned to be fine with it.
In a way, it had been the same with Hump and his old lady. He was trading their lives against Anna and Mitch’s, so he hadn’t lost much sleep.
That being said, Anna’s doting on him still felt a bit weird, and he didn’t have anything to talk to her about. She was a former ballet dancer, and these days she worked as a shoe person, or something like that, at the Phoenix ballet. She was nice and all, pretty funny, and really sweet, but they had absolutely fuck-all in common, and the dinners usually consisted of Mitch talking, since neither he nor Anna were talkers. The first few times they’d discussed physical therapy, but there was only so much you could say about that.
“I can invite a few other people,” Mitch said with a smile, as if he knew what Tommy had been thinking.
Mitch laughed and patted his shoulder. Tommy often forgot that he was six years older than Mitch. In some ways, Mitch appeared a lot older than he was. Before he met Anna, he’d sometimes felt a lot younger, like when he passed out drunk with his dick in a sweetbutt’s mouth, but that didn’t happen anymore. Tommy figured that having a kid forced you to mature. At least when you had the kid in your life the way Mitch did.
Because even if he had a kid, too, it wasn’t the same thing. The fact that he hadn’t known his kid for more than a couple of weeks probably had something to do with it, but also, it wasn’t the same when they weren’t
your life the way Alma was in Mitch’s, or Joshua in Mac’s.
There was no way of knowing how he’d have reacted if Billie’d told him immediately that she was pregnant. It was the 21
century, so it wasn’t likely it would’ve led to a shotgun wedding, not even Clyde was that conservative, but it would’ve been different to have been there from the very beginning.
He realized that if he’d known, it wasn’t likely that he’d have ended up in Arizona and with the Marauders, but he assumed that it wasn’t much to dwell on.
Shit happens, and Marines make due.
You and Uncle Zach
TOMMY HAD NOT FAILED to see the irony in the fact that ‘get some!’ was the unofficial Marine Corps cheer, and he’d left the Marines to join a biker club who had very similar cheers.
In the Marines it was used all the time, for different things; from something yelled at guys going out to battle, to stories about whorehouses in foreign countries. But mainly, it was just an expression of excitement, no matter the situation.
Even if ‘get some!’ wasn’t exactly used in the same way in the Marauders, it was sure as fuck something they said to each other, but there, it was exclusively about getting pussy. It was used in a variety of ways, like how someone should ‘just stop being a dick and
’ or asking if it had happened. Sometimes as a suggestion, like when they decided to put a meeting to a halt, have a beer, and ‘get some’ while they thought something over until the following day.
There were hundreds of those little things and expressions that made Tommy remember his time in the Marines, and if he thought about the Marines, he thought about Zach—every fucking time.
They’d been prepared for a lot of things before they left for their first deployment, Zach and him. Like how the most common combat-stress reaction when taking fire is to lose control of the bladder and bowel—one in four does that—so, naturally, taking a piss or a dump as soon as opportunity arises was a priority. No one wanted to be the guy who took a dump in his MOP suit. Especially since they didn’t take that suit off for weeks and tended to freeball in it. If possible, they’d used adult diapers, just to be on the safe side.
Besides the adult diapers, there were other details most soldiers never mentioned to their civilian families at home. Like how their gasmask bag contained a package with not only pills that are for battling things like Anthrax and skin-blistering agents, but also seven—pretty fucking big—autoinjectors. They’d been trained to use those, and six of them were, just like the pills, different antidotes to use on themselves. Always on themselves, and if they needed to help someone out, it was that guy’s package they took them from. If shit hit the fan, you didn’t want to be the guy who died just because you hadn’t taken the time to take out the other guy’s injectors before shooting him up and used your own.
The seventh syringe contained Valium, and that one actually was for a buddy in case he was too far gone. It wasn’t even mainly to help the dying buddy, but to stop him from flopping around and stressing the other soldiers.
It had become a thing between Tommy and Zach to, before heading out, pat the bag and inform the other that they had their ‘chill-needle’ with them. Eventually they stopped patting the bag, and in the end it was something they screamed at each other: ‘stop fucking spazzing out or I’ll stab you with the chill-needle.’
Tommy had been the driver of the first Humvee in the convoy, and Zach had been next to him as the team leader. They’d had each other’s backs, and had been chosen to lead since they were always calm. None of them panicked easily, which was pretty fucking important, since it could mean that they stopped in a kill zone and got their entire platoon wiped out. Short of a bullet in the head of the driver, there was no stopping in a kill zone.
Tommy had never had any illusions about what life would be like in the Marines, but he and Zach had been in the minority in their platoon as far as background went. Later, when he got out, he’d read somewhere that the men who were in the Marines in the twenty-first century were ‘America’s first generation of disposable children,’ and he had to agree. They weren’t upper middle class kids, or even middle class kids. Hell, even working class kids were sparse. Most of them would’ve been thrilled if they’d grown up in a household where someone had a fucking job that didn’t include selling drugs or pussy. Few of them gave a flying fuck about what the war was really about. None of them had even for a second in their life trusted their government, and they weren’t about to start just because they’d joined the Marines. Make no mistake, they were proud to be Americans (at least most of them were) and they were proud to be Marines, but they sort of expected authorities to lie to them. That had been the case most of their lives anyway. Fuck, these were kids who became aware of their government and their president’s humanity due to semen stains on an unwashed dress, and learned about petting because of their president’s wrongful use of a cigar.
The military had sort of a Peter Pan feeling about it. It was mostly young guys trying to learn how to be responsible men, but at the same time they had to maintain the youthful belief in their own invulnerability to keep sane. If they’d been constantly scared of dying, they would’ve gone insane. But to stay calm and cool while you’re being shot at, basically have people doing their very best to kill you, is pretty fucking insane, too. Most of the time, Tommy had tried to avoid thinking too much about exactly what they were doing, but that hadn’t always worked, since he’d had the overanalyzing Zach next to him.
Tommy remembered all those talks and moments while standing in the Jensens’ living room, looking at the framed pictures on the wall. Most of them were of Zach, Felix, or Billie, but he was in quite a few of them, too. Something that surprised him. Then he got the explanation.
“That’s you,” Felix said and pointed at a picture of him and Zach. They’d put them up so Felix would have pictures of his dad. As happy as that made him, it felt like a poor substitute.
“Yeah. We were… sixteen, I think. We were going out hunting with your grandpa.”
“You were fifteen,” Felix corrected him. When Tommy turned towards him, he smiled. “Mommy told me. She said you wouldn’t let her come with you.”
“No,” he admitted, because then he remembered that Felix was right about them being fifteen. The argument had been that since Billie was just twelve, she couldn’t come. That you had to be a teenager to be allowed to come with them. The next year they’d made up some other reason, and after that she probably didn’t care anymore. “So she’s told you about that?”
“She’s told me a lot about you and Uncle Zach.”
As much as he liked that she’d talked about him, it pissed him off that she’d been so fucking eager to tell Felix about him, but not the other way around. He didn’t get it, and he almost asked Felix what reason she’d given to him for why Tommy wasn’t around, but even he knew it wasn’t the kind of pressure you put on a five-year-old.
Felix climbed up on an armchair and, leaning against the backrest, to be able to see the pictures, he took his hand.
“She said she was better at shooting than you.”
As much as it still hurt his ego, he had to admit it. “Yeah, back then she was, but not anymore.”
Billie had been an awesome shot, and she’d wanted to become a sniper, too, but very few women, if any, got into the sniper regiments in the military. It had pissed her off to no end when he and Zach had decided to become snipers, and she’d refused to talk to them for weeks when she found out. By the time they got in, she’d actually been mature enough to congratulate them, though.
Felix pointed at another picture. “And this was when Grandpa took you all to Grand Canyon. It was your family, too. Your mom, your dad, and your brother Dwayne.”
“That’s right.” It had been both families for that trip.
“Can I meet your brother? He’s my uncle, isn’t he?”
“Yeah. He’d really like to meet you. He said he might come here to visit soon.”
He’d talked to Dwayne just a few days earlier. It had been the longest phone conversation he’d ever been in, and Dwayne had been furious on Tommy’s behalf, but he’d mentioned that he would come down south as soon as possible so he could meet Felix.
“I’d like that,” Felix said with a big smile. “Can we go look at your bike again?”
“Yeah,” Tommy laughed and picked him up. Felix loved his bike, and he asked hundreds of questions while they were looking at it. Last time he was there, Clyde had shown him where he kept his tools, so they could work on it a little instead of just staring at it. “That sounds great.”
“Grandma said she’d tell us when dinner was ready.”
He’d missed the Jensens.
WHEN I GOT BACK from work the night before, Mom had immediately told me about how Tommy and Felix had been looking at pictures together, and how nice Tommy had been about it. I hadn’t even bothered to answer her. I’d slept in Felix’s room on the couch we kept there just so we had somewhere to sleep when he had his bad nights.
“Hey, little guy,” I said when I woke him up the next morning. I handed him a glass of water. “Have your moment.”
We did that every morning. He drank a little and sort of scanned his own body. It was often pretty clear to him early on if he’d have a good or a bad day. It could change during the day, but we planned the day based on how he felt in the morning. He pulled up his sweater, and I sat down by the bed to start giving him his morning medication through the button on his stomach while he sipped his water.
“Average,” he said with a sigh after a few minutes. “Maybe bad.”
“Maybe bad? What’s not good?”
“I feel wobbly.”
Wobbly was his expression for feeling weak. It was that or ‘like I’m in water,’ which was something he said sometimes. Both meant the same thing to him.
“Wobbly. Want me to carry you to the bathroom?” I asked, and he nodded. “Okay, come here.”
I carried him to the bathroom and turned on the shower while he peed. Sometimes a shower got the wobbly out of him, or at least made him feel a little better.
“Mommy, it’s smelly.”
I turned around and leaned over the toilet once he’d moved away from it. He was right; it was smelly. The smelly pee along with his below-average morning assessment made me think he probably had a urinary tract infection again. After taking his temperature, I was sure he did.
“Sorry, little guy.”
“Maybe it’s just smelly morning pee,” he tried, but he knew it wasn’t, and his shoulders slumped when he resigned himself. “Do we have to go to the hospital?”
There were few things Felix hated more than the hospital. He’d already spent so much time there, and we tended to do our very best to avoid it.
“I’ll call Dr. Gardner and hear what he says.”
Tommy had asked me to keep him updated on Felix’s health. So far the only communication between us two after he’d met Felix the first time had been when I texted to tell him my working hours every week. He hadn’t even bothered to answer any of those texts. I had to let him know Felix wasn’t feeling well, and sending a text about it seemed a bit cold, so I assumed I had to hope he bothered with answering the phone when I called. If he didn’t, a text was the next option.
I called Dr. Gardner while Felix was having breakfast, and he agreed on a house call. It was things like that which made me so happy about the amount of money we had. In general, I was happy about it when it came to everything Felix, because cost was never a factor.
Then, it was time to call Tommy, and he picked up.
“Hi, it’s Billie.”
I decided to ignore the snarl from him and just get to the point. “Felix seems to have a urinary tract infection. The doctor is going to be here in an hour or so, but you told me to keep you updated if something happened to him.
“Can you put Felix on the phone?”
Awesome. He’d rather get a medical update from a five-year-old than talk to me. “Sure.” I turned to Felix. “He wants to talk to you.”
He took the phone and gave me a precocious look. “This is kinda private.”
“Okay,” I laughed. “I’ll wait in the hallway, but you have to promise me to eat your entire omelet.”
Mom came down the stairs and gave me a surprised eye where I sat on the stool.
“Why are you sitting there?”
“Felix is talking to Tommy, and it was
“Kinda private,” she repeated and shook her head with a laugh. “Sometimes it surprises me how what goes around really does come around.”
“He’s just like you,” she chuckled. “
“I think he’s got a urinary infection. Dr. Gardner is on his way.”
“Okay.” Mom didn’t seem fazed. We didn’t panic about those small things anymore. “I’ll go see if he’s done with his private conversation.”
“Let me know if he is.”
About an hour later, the three of us, along with Tommy and Dr. Gardner, where in Felix’s room.
“Any pain?” Dr. Gardner asked, and Felix shook his head.
“How do you know he’s telling the truth?” Tommy asked me in a low voice.
“He knows it can get a lot worse if he doesn’t.”
Thankfully, Dr. Gardner said we didn’t have to go to the hospital as long as his temperature didn’t rise and he didn’t complain about pain. The main risk was that the infection spread to the cysts in his kidneys, because it was hard to treat infections in cysts.