Authors: Kathryn Thomas
“Don’t worry… I won’t let that happen.”
She pulled him to her and held him tight. “I hope you can.”
“Shhh… I can. Ron was just pissed off. He’ll cool down. And if he doesn’t… he can’t do anything without a vote from the board. It’ll be okay… and I won’t let anything happen to Will,” he added for good measure in case that is what she was worried about.
She stepped out his embrace. “I know. Let’s go before someone comes looking for us.”
Leo smiled. “Yeah… what will people think? I have my reputation of purity to uphold.”
Jamie grinned and slapped him playfully on the arm as she opened the door.
Leo bounded down the half dozen steps leading into the police station. He had paid an informal visit to Assistant-Chief Nodds to have a quick background check run on Will. It was an arrangement the club and the police had worked out so that Chief Council could maintain plausible deniability that Lima 6 was using police powers to aid them in their endeavors. He didn’t expect any problems, and none were found. No one that had wanted to join the club had ever been anything other than what they seemed, but considering what they do, checking to make sure a potential prospect wasn’t a plant never hurt.
He was reaching for the handle of his truck when his phone buzzed in his pocket while emanating its jaunty ditty. He pulled the phone out but didn’t recognize the number. “Leo Graves.”
“Leo. Charles Vanderford. I was just paid a visit by Ron Terrill. I don’t know who the hell you people think you are, but I don’t take kindly to being threatened.”
“Threatened? Ron threatened you?”
“You bet your sweet ass. Told me I needed to rethink pulling our support from Lima or bad things might start happening.”
Leo first went cold, then hot.
“I’m sorry about his Mr. Vanderford. I’m sure there has to be some misunderstanding. He must have meant that the mules might start slipping through again.”
“That’s not what he meant, Leo, and you damn well know it,” Vanderford sneered.
“Let me talk to him, Mr. Vanderford, and get this straightened out. Lima 6 appreciates all the support you have given us over the years and we would never do anything to jeopardize our working relationship. I’m sure Ron didn’t mean it to come across as a threat.”
“You do that, Leo. But that asshole is no longer welcome on my place.”
“Yes sir, Mr. Vanderford. Understood. I would appreciate a chance to straighten this out. I’ll talk to Ron and let you know what I find out, okay?”
Vanderford was quiet but Leo waited him out. “Alright, Leo. I hope your right and this is all just a big misunderstanding.”
“Thank you Mr. Vanderford,” Leo said with a sigh of relief. “I will talk to Ron right now and let you know something as soon as I can.”
“Okay. Thanks, Leo. I knew I could depend on you to get this straightened out.”
“Thank you for giving me the chance, sir.” Leo said before he hung up. The moment the call was terminated, he tossed the phone into the truck, crawled in and slammed the door hard. He started the truck, backed quickly out of his space and then trod hard the throttle, the truck’s rear tires howling in protest as he raced away.
“Where’s Ron?” Leo snarled as he bailed out of truck at
Terrill Diesel Engine Repair.
“He’s not here. I think he went out to the Vanderford Ranch. Why?” asked Carson, another member of the club, who worked for Ron.
“I need to talk to him. When he gets back…” Leo began but trailed off when he heard the roar of an approaching Harley. He turned and waited until Ron pulled into the parking lot and dismounted.
“Leo,” he said in greeting.
“I got a call from Charles Vanderford. You threatened him? What’s the matter with you Ron? Why would you do that… after all he has done for us?” Leo asked, working hard to keep his voice level and calm.
“I didn’t threaten him.”
“Horse shit! Did you tell him if he pulled funding from Lima 6 that bad things would start happening? That sounds like a threat to me!”
“He can take it however he likes,” Ron said as he moved to step past Leo.
Leo grabbed Ron’s arm and spun him around. “Are you fucking stupid? If you turn Vanderford against the club, he will turn the entire town against us!”
Ron yanked his arm from Leo’s grasp. “You forget your place. This is
fucking club. I don’t give a
what Vanderford thinks. If he pulls the funding, then what? How will the club survive? We need that money, Leo.”
“It’s going to hurt, I agree. But threatening him is the wrong way to go about this.”
“Well, maybe it’s time the town started paying for what we do for them.”
Leo stared at Ron like he had grown another head. “I can’t believe you just said that. Is that what we are, Ron? A bunch of thugs that run a protection racket?”
“Think what you want, Leo,” Ron sneered. “The fact is, times are changing, and you had better get with the program. Maybe the town needs to understand what we do for them. If that protection were to suddenly stop… ”
“This is bull shit, Ron!”
“You listen to me, Leo. This is
fucking club, and what I say, goes! Got it? And if I say the town is going to start having to pay their way, then that is what is going to fucking happen! In fact, I think I will pay a visit to that sweet little honey at HNH. Let her know she is going to have to start paying for our protection. But I’m sure I can work out something if she can’t come up with the cash—”
Ron never saw the blow coming. As he went to the ground on his ass, Leo was driving in, fully intending to beat Ron to a pulp. He got in another solid punch before Carson hauled him off. “That’s enough!” Carson bellowed.
Leo struggled a moment then stopped, but still seethed. “You are
doing this without a vote! I want a board meeting, tonight!”
Ron slowly got to his feet, wiping at his bleeding mouth and spitting blood. “You’ll get your fucking vote,” Ron said with deadly calm. “But this isn’t over between us. One day, Graves, you’ll get yours.”
“Anytime you want to go, old man,” Leo sneered. “Fucking let go of me!” he growled as he shook Carson off. The moment Carson let him go the stormed to his truck and started it, slammed it into gear, and threw rocks everywhere as he slung the truck around and headed for the street.
“Okay, here’s the deal,” Ron began after calling the board to order. They were standing in front of the charred remains of their clubhouse. “Old man Vanderford has pulled his funding for the club, and the other ranchers have followed suit. I talked to him today and I couldn’t convince him to restore the funding.”
“Let’s be clear,” Leo said, interrupting. “You threatened him. You told him that if he didn’t restore the funding, ‘bad things would start happening.’ Isn’t that what you said?”
“Because we need funding to operate, I think we are going to have to have the businesses of Vallecito de Grande pick up the slack,” Ron continued as if Leo hadn’t spoken.
“And if they won’t?” Leo asked again. He would be
if he would let Ron sugar coat what he was suggesting. “Then what?”
“What are you suggesting, Ron?” Fitz asked, picking up on what Leo was driving at.
“All I’m suggesting is that if they want our continued protection, they are going to have to pay for it,” Ron said reasonably, but he stared coldly at Leo as he spoke.
“And if they don’t pay?” Copper asked.
“Then we fucking
them pay!” Ron roared. “You guys seem to think this is some kind of fucking game! Well it’s not! We
to have that money! There is no other option!”
“Protection money,” Leo said, his voice dead and flat. “That’s what we are now? A bunch of two-bit thugs shaking down businesses?”
“That’s not what I’m suggesting!” Ron objected.
“Sounds like it to me,” Leo said.
You’re twisting my words!”
“Then tell us, Ron. How are you going to get the businesses to pay if they don’t want to? Explain it so we can understand.”
“I’ll make them understand that our protection has costs! They’ll see it my way!”
“And if they don’t?” Leo pressed. “If they say no, then you will back off and not pressure them?”
“We have to have the money, goddamnit!”
“I think we have heard enough,” Leo said. “Let’s vote it.”
“What are we voting on,” Copper asked reasonably, trying to defuse the situation.
“On whether we want Ron to talk to the businesses of Vallecito about funding our operation.”
“Yeah,” Ron said, his face red and his breathing hard.
“Nay,” Leo said almost instantly.
“Nay,” Copper added just as quickly.
“I’m sorry, Ron. But I didn’t sign on with you to run a protection scheme. Nay,” Fitz said.
“Ron’s right. If we don’t have the funding, we can’t protect the town. I trust him, and I believe the businesses will step up. Yeah,” Gigolo said.
“Gigolo is right. Yeah,” Lucas added.
“Nay. We cleaned up the town before with shaking anyone down. We can do it again if we have to,” Duck said looking at Ron.
Leo knew that was how the vote was going to go to this point. Now the two newest members were going to have their say, and they were the wildcards.
“Nay,” Allen said. “I’m not comfortable demanding that businesses pay for protection. That smacks of the mob… or the cartel.”
“Nay,” TC added without further comment.
“Motion is defeated,” Leo said as Ron turned and stalked back toward his bike. “Ron! I know you don’t like it, but the board has voted!”
Graves!” Ron snarled as he straddled his bike. “I’m still the President of this fucking club… and this isn’t over.”
“Shit…” Leo muttered as Ron started his bike and rode away. Lucas and Gigolo moved toward their bikes as soon as Ron started his, and followed him.
“This is some bad shit, brothers,” Fitz said to no one and everyone.
“What the fuck is Ron thinking? Did he really threaten Vanderford?” Copper asked Leo.
“How would you take what he said?” Leo asked.
“Shit. What are we going to do?” Copper asked. “If he goes through with this, the whole town will turn against us.”
“I know,” Leo said. “I don’t know why he can’t see that.”
“What if he doesn’t care?” Allen asked.
“Then we’re fucked,” Fitz said.
?” Will asked as Leo dropped into a stool at the bar.
“No. I need something with a little more kick. Jack, neat. Make it a double.”
“What happened?” Jamie asked as she greeted Leo.
“Ron. He’s gone off his fucking rocker. Honest to god, he was talking about extorting protection money from the businesses in Vallecito.”
“What?” Jamie asked in surprise as Will sat the drink in front of him.
“Yeah. We slapped him down hard. 6-3 against. He didn’t take it well. I know where he is coming from, but he is going about it the
way. Thanks,” he said as he picked up the drink and took a sip.
“Well, you did the right thing,” Will said.
“Yeah. That would piss off the entire town,” Jamie added. “Do you think he will abide by the vote?”
“He has to. It’s binding,” Leo explained. He looked around the nearly empty bar. “Slow tonight.”