a/n: this and chapter 2 are originally written as my Prologue. However, I realized how long-winded it was and decided, for ease of reading online, it would be best to split them up. Thank you for taking the time to read, feel free to review!
"Eight twenty-seven, please." I stood there for a moment, staring at the clerk, before finally looking at the little register screen. The neon green digits read back the total to me, taking the confusion away. Though I knew he was speaking English, I hadn't been able to understand a word through the Persian accent rolling out from under the equally thick black irritated me. Why, I had no idea. Maybe I was just in a bitchy mood because my ass was numb from the last 5 hour stint on the bike. Yeah. That was probably it.
I shoved my hand into my hip pocket, wiggling my fingers around to grab the rumpled ten stuffed in there. My fingers pinched the bill and I started to pull it out when the revving engine of a motorcycle erupted outside. I almost missed the sound of my change spilling and bouncing across the floor over the sound of my blood thumping in my ears. It wasn't like I had never heard an engine growl before, but I hadn't expected it and it certainly didn't help my mood.
I glanced over to the large wall of windows that were typical in gas stations and watched as the man on the bike threw his arms out in a gesture of his impatience. I replied with a gesture of my own before slamming the ten dollar bill on the counter. Okay, so it wasn't a mature response. So sue me. If I haven't established it already, I wasn't in the mood for this shit. Letting Frank stew in his irritation, I turned to look at the clerk who, of course, was taking his sweet time counting from the cash drawer. The slew of insults built up inside of me, ready to erupt out of my mouth like a volcano, but I managed to keep it semi-civil.
"Do you know how to count American money, or what? Give me my fucking change already." Lately, for me, that was civil. At least I hadn't called him a towel head, or spit out some random jumble of make-shift Arabian like some of the guys we ran with would do. I wasn't a racist I was just in a piss-poor mood most of the time.
The clerk handed me back my change with an insulted expression on his aged features. I didn't blame him, really. Just because I was in a bad mood did it excuse me from being a total ass to a stranger? It didn't, and I knew it, but it didn't stop me. My grandmother used to tell me a smile was contagious. Maybe I should try smiling more rather than spreading my bad attitude around to everyone I came in contact with. And maybe I could adopt poor suffering aborigine children and crochet blankets to give to animal shelters for the newborn kittens and puppies. The idea should've been ridiculous enough to make me laugh, but I still knew I had another three hours on the back of Frank's bike until we reached our destination. Puppies and rainbows could go to Hell.
When the clerk slid the packs of Pall Malls towards me, I grabbed them up and bolted towards the door, beckoned by another roar of the mechanical beast outside. The night greeted me with an assault of stale, hot air. Georgia in August. Gotta love it. Even the nights made you want to grab a cold glass of lemonade or a chilled beer in a nice frosty mug. I liked the heat and all- it was better than snow and ice- but there was a point where you could have too much of a good thing. Add in Frank's heater-like body temperature when we slept and the Georgia summer heat could kiss my lily-white ass.
"What the Hell took you so long?" Frank asked as I tossed him one of the little red boxes. Without even a glance away from me he caught the pack in the middle of his chest before opening it. I tucked mine down my shirt, behind the front of my bra, and threw a leg over the bike to hoist myself behind Frank.
"Don't blame me. If the clerk spoke a word of English I would've been out of there a long time ago." It was a slight embellishment on my part, but I didn't feel like arguing. When you don't want to argue with Frank you blame it on someone else. It made life with him a lot easier.
The duet of engines behind us turned my head and I watched a couple of the guys we were traveling with circle around the gas pumps. They were hollering and yelling as they passed one another, scaring various people trying to pump their gas, and just being all out reckless. I couldn't help but roll my eyes as I slid my arms around Frank's mid-section, leaning in over his shoulder to whisper in his ear.
"Can we call the dogs back, please? I really don't like to see kids cry," I said as I motioned towards his lackeys. A mother was ushering her screaming toddler into the store, obviously ready to complain or have the owner call the cops. Apparently, Frank noticed this too because, without hesitation, he whistled to the men. It was loud and sharp and it made my teeth hurt but, like dogs to their master, the pair stopped their terrorizing and turned their bikes around ready to follow Frank.
"Ride out, boys!" Frank shouted over the rumble of his bike and pushed off the pavement, heading out of the parking lot.
I didn't know where we were headed, and to be honest I didn't care. Aside from the pins and needles in my ass, riding on the back of Frank's motorcycle became my own personal getaway. Something about riding made me forget everything. I didn't have to think about where we were going to sleep, the cops catching up to us, or even the less-than-gentlemanly way Frank had been treating me lately. The past few months it had gotten pretty bad but, at that moment, all I cared about was the feel of the machine under me, Frank between my legs, and the wind whipping my strawberry-blond hair behind me.
The hum of the engine began to lull me into a state of complete meditation and, before I realized it, we were there. We waited for the other two bikes to fall in behind us before Frank cut the engine and we began to climb off the motorcycle. He stood first, years upon years of riding making it one fluidly practiced movement, and as I began my own dismount he was standing against me, greeting me as I got to my feet and keeping me from taking even a single step from the bike.
"Look, Harls," he began as he glanced over his shoulder at the back of the building. Before he continued, he moved to look me in the eye making sure he had my attention, "This is gonna be a quick in and out. Why don't you keep the seat warm for me?" His hands grasped my hips before he leaned in to give me a quick kiss, but I moved my head back from him.
"So, you're saying you want me to stay out here. In the dark. In a place I've never been…"
"Jesus, just do what I said!" the irritation was evident in the way he moved away from me, running a hand down the length of his face with a rough swipe. "Stay on the bike. Aint no boogeyman gonna come for you."
Without another word, or pause for argument, he walked off leaving me alone with the three empty bikes. On a normal day it would be about seven more bikes and a few more girls to keep me company while I waited for Frank to do whatever it was he did but, tonight, it was just me. Frank had gotten a call at the motel earlier this morning and he probably would have left me behind with the rest of their group but I have a tendency to nag him when it comes to tagging along.
Don't get me wrong, It's not like I can't bear to be away from my boyfriend or anything like that. Lord knows he's the one that has trouble letting go of our relationship, if you can even call it that anymore. I just didn't want to be left behind with the rest of his lackeys.
One thing about the specific collection of bikers we ran with was a lot of them saw their women as possessions. Even Frank has this habit. Problem is Frank doesn't share very well while the rest of them like to trade their girls like baseball cards. While the girls don't seem to mind for the most part, it's not really my cup of tea. So far, what was left of my virtue managed to stay intact thanks to Frank's jealous streak. It was legendary among our friends, thanks in large part to the massive pummeling he delivered to one friend of his who simply rested a hand on my shoulder. There's nothing quite like an insanely jealous boyfriend to deter the possible trade-in.
As I stood against the bike, alone, I pulled my cigarettes from their nest in my bra and lit one up. The night sky was clear tonight. First time in days. I took a deep drag off the cigarette in my hand and blew it upward to swirl around the twinkling jewels dotted across the sky. The recent storms that passed over the county had made me miss the new moon. It was my favorite of the lunar phases. During a new moon, the sky would be like black velvet adorned with small diamonds. Without the moon's silver glow to outshine them the stars were incredibly bright and crisp as if I could reach up and pluck them from the sky. Right now, they were less brilliant.
I flicked my half-finished cigarette out into the darkness and leaned back against the bike again, shoving my hands into the pockets of my leather jacket. They were taking far too long for my taste. I was ready to get out of there and go soak in the motel bathtub for a couple of hours. Calgon take me away and all that.
A snarling, vicious sound echoed through the air, bringing me out of my head and onto my feet. The trees and bushes surrounding the abandoned structure seemed still and harmless enough, but the hairs on my arms were standing on end. I looked around me, half expecting a wolf to jump out at me and tear me to bits, but there was nothing. Still, I started making a hasty retreat towards the building Frank and his crew had disappeared into. Forget this shit, I thought. That was my cue to get Frank and get the fuck out of there.
The building looked like something out of a Saw movie. There was very little light, and even that was flickering, and the wood looked to be splintered and weak. A good sneeze could knock this place down. I stepped past the broken door, swinging heavily from its bottom hinge, and heard a scuffling from the back of the building. Had Frank gotten into another scrap? Most likely. It would be just like him. He was constantly trying to get the drop on everyone he met even if it meant ambushing some thugs during a shady deal. Big, strong man he was to attack people while they weren't looking.
Sidestepping away from the dangerously angled door, I gave the interior a good look over. As I thought there was nothing but a single hanging light, flickering on and off as if it was straining to stay on. There were all sorts of benches, cluttered with various things ranging from paper to chunks of metal and rusted power tools. A large chain snaked through and under the various piles of junk and shot upward towards the center beam, hanging a large rusty hook down in the center of the room. It might have been previously used to pull engines out of cars, a sort of makeshift mechanic shop. Or at least that was what I decided I wanted to believe.
A sudden crash stopped my musing, making me nearly jump out of my skin. Keeping to the shadows, I made my way towards the source of the sound using the wall behind me as a guide. As I passed the line of benches that had been blocking my view, I saw the two men we had ridden up there with near the back wall laying into another unknown man.
Niko, a tall black man Frank had grown particular close to, had something long and thin gripped in his beefy hand. As he raised it over his head, ready to strike, the light caught the metal just enough so I could see that it was a tire-iron. I winced, pulling into myself, as he brought the piece of metal down on the shoulder of his opponent.
I knew how brutal the guys could be. Everywhere we went someone started a bar brawl or the like. It's one of the reasons we've traveled the United States like nomads. With law enforcement being called on us every other night for one act of stupidity or another, it was never safe to stay in one town for long. With what I was witnessing now, it looked like my bubble bath would have to be postponed again.
I caught a flash of something in the corner of my eye and it brought my attention back to the middle of the room. Another large man, with skin so dark I could only compare it to ebony, tackled Frank onto the ground. There was the uncomfortable sound of bodies hitting against each other solidly, but even the impact of a man twice Frank's size landing on top of him didn't stop Frank from fighting back.
For a moment they were locked against each other so close neither one of them could get a good punch in. Watching them go, I knew that if Frank lost the upper-hand even a little that this guy would crush him into dust. Frank could boast all he wanted but the man had a good 100 lbs on him. He needed a little bit of insurance and so I started to creep back towards the door before I was seen.
Frank kept a loaded gun in the side compartment of his bike. I could never actually bring myself to shoot someone, but it might distract them enough for Frank and the guys to slip out from the fight. If I could make it outside without being seen, then maybe I could stop the fight altogether. A little scare tactics.
By the time I reached the splintered door, I glanced back behind me to find Frank turning the tables on the other man. He rolled the two of them over until he was sitting on top of him, plowing one devastating blow after another to his face. My insides tightened painfully with each meaty sound of Frank's fists bouncing off his opponent's nose. The sound of bones and cartilage snapping rung in my ears and I watched as a spray of crimson splattered across both him and Frank, who continued to beat into the bloody pulp of flesh blow after blow, hit after hit, without so much as a pause for air.
The man's face glistened where the blood poured out, his skin color too dark to see the real red of the blood. Frank, however, was a mess of red, splattered in small droplets, all over his face and arms. I looked at Frank and watched his face as he continued to throw his weight into each punch, even as his opponent went limp beneath him. His eyes were wild. Their natural brown seemed to be alive with an amber fire that was all violence and madness. It frightened me down to the very core. I knew Frank was a violent man, but this; this was beyond even himself.
With one last rage-filled blow, Frank fell across the now still body and caught his breath. I could feel the skin around my eyes stretched painfully wide as they began to well up with unshed tears. I couldn't believe what I had just seen. Sure, Frank was brutal and cold and a lot of people ended up hurt by his hands, but never something like this.
I stared down at the man under Frank, my breath caught in my chest as I tried to hold back the burning tears, and tried to make out any sign of life. His chest never rose, never fell, his body never moved. From all I could tell, he was dead.
The sound of boots scuffing across dirt helped tear my eyes from the corpse in front of me to the man now starting to get to his feet. He brought his arm across his face to wipe the blood away, but his arm was so saturated in the other man's blood that all he managed to do was smear more crimson across his brow.
The air wouldn't leave my chest. It was snared in a net of fear and nausea and built into a scream that nearly ejected itself from my body. Somehow, I managed to keep it down, as well as the chunks that threatened to make a guest appearance. Survival first, throwing up later. If I could just make it back to the motel then I could throw up my last few days of on-the-road snacks and dive food to my heart's content. After what I saw him do, I wouldn't put it past him to tie up loose ends.
I took the chance to try and run out before he saw me, taking my eyes off of him for only a moment to try and navigate over the hanging door but all it took was a moment before I felt the painful grip of Frank's hand on the crook of my elbow. He spun me around so fast that it was all I could do to not throw up.
I glanced up at his towering frame as he stared down at me, all rage and crimson. His face was twisted in a mixture of anger and victory and it scared me down to the marrow. He looked wild, feral even. It reminded me of the animal shows on T.V. and the predators that would chew on their meals after a long battle with them. It made my throat tight, making it nearly impossible to swallow down the fear I held towards him at that moment.
"I told you to stay by the bike," his voice was raspier than normal, like he was trying to choke down some of that primal anger that seemed to be pouring out of him.
"I… there was…"
"You just never listen to me. Come on, let's get out of here," he commanded with a tightening of his iron-like grip for good measure forcing me to stifle a whimper of pain as he led me out of the building and out to the group of bikes. He screamed something at his crew, but I was too busy trying to wrap my mind around it all and keep from throwing up to even hear what he said.
With a rough shove towards his bike he finally released my arm, making me stumble slightly until I could reach out and steady myself using the seat of the motorcycle.
"You killed him, Frank!" I finally managed to shout while he circled around to the other side. Frank rolled his shoulders back, his eyes staying on the bike and his hands, anything he could do to not look at me. How could he care so little about this? This wasn't just another heist or another drug deal. This wasn't some con he did for kicks. This was murder. Cold, violent murder. This was not just real time in prison; it was also living with the fact that you snuffed the life from another human being. This was holding it in for the rest of your life.
"Get on the bike, Harley," was all he said as he kicked the Beast to life. The other men ran past me and jumped onto their own bikes, revving their engines and speeding off without another word. How could Frank expect me to go with him after that? Did he expect me to pretend it never happened?
I'll be the first to admit I had done some fucked up things in my life, but cold-blooded murder was not something I could just forget and move on from. Was it?
As I stood there sorting out my own conscience, I could feel the cold stare of his amber eyes on me. His patience was wearing thin, as it often did with me these days. When I finally looked him in the eye, I wished I hadn't. His face grew tight and his lips curled back as we stared at one another. A low, barely-audible growl rumbled in his throat and he jerked a thumb back behind him before snapping with a forceful, "GET ON!"
I didn't really have a choice. Or rather I didn't want to be left alone at a crime scene so , with much reluctance, I hopped onto the bike and settled in behind him. I tried to let my body relax into him as I normally would, but I just didn't know if I could bring myself to cuddle in against someone I had just seen beat in the skull of another person until it was red pulp. Nothing much cuddly about that. I could feel the reverb of my pulse as I awkwardly pressed myself against his back, snaking my arms around him to hold on more for safety of the ride than for affection.
I knew what had to be done. Once we got back to the motel I would plead to him. I would try to get him to listen to my voice of reason. He had to turn himself in to the police. Otherwise, we were all in danger.