The three of them walked behind the Holland house and to the big red barn at the back of the property. In a gravel-covered parking lot adjacent to the alley were thirty Harleys, some fully dressed, others chopped and sporting ape-hanger handlebars. The door of the barn was closed as church for the Den was in session. Lucas pounded on the door with one small fist.
The door of the barn opened and the warlord of the Elder’s Den stepped outside. Tall and slender with shoulder-length raven hair, due to his Romani blood-line, Gypsy was Cingane with a family heritage that stretched back to Wallachia when Gypsies roamed that country-side in painted wagons. Lucas had heard tales of Cingane rebellions and of Vlad the Impaler so many times from Gypsy that he knew them by heart. The dark-skinned man had been his dad’s right hand man for twenty years and there was no one that Stone trusted more.
Gypsy’s black shiny eyes flickered over to Johnny, who simply stood there, locking gazes with him while Mace made his case to be allowed into the Den’s council meeting. “Yes,” Gypsy said, “I grant you permission to attend church, Mace. It would be disrespectful not to hear you out. And you, Writer, we were just talking about your story that is causing a real shit storm out there amongst the biker vets on the Internet. Ordinarily, you would not be allowed to our council, but I’m going to make an exception. If you’ll tell us about this plot to kill service dogs.”
Gypsy then reached out and ruffled Lucas’s tangles of golden hair. “Sorry, Little Luke, church is not for you.”
Lucas said, “President of the Outlaws comes to speak to the Den about me, and I am not allowed? I got a right to hear this. Besides, Johnny’s dogs were stolen by Uncle Nate. I came to get them back!”
Despite Gypsy’s objections, Johnny, Lucas, and Mace followed the Den’s warlord into the barn, and then stood before the large, oak council table, and due to protocol, waited in silence.
At the sight of Mace standing in Den territory, Nate lurched to his feet, clutching a wooden gavel in his fist. “What the hell, Gypsy?”
Taking a seat at the table amidst twenty other Den members, Gyp-sy said, “Didn’t Stone make a ruling about your bait dog business?”
Nate stood there, gripping the gavel. “What the hell does that have to do with allowing trespassers into church, Gypsy?”
“We’re about to find out,” Gypsy responded, flatly.
Upon seeing that the rest of the club members were intrigued by the Outlaw president invading their space, Nate yielded the floor to him. He sat back down, glaring at Mace.
Mace said, “Stone called me from jail. He was worried about his son. Seems he got himself in the cross-hairs of Crow Harper, Apache from the Big O. I’m here to put the Elder’s Den on full alert.”
Nate said, “Message received. Little Luke can stay with me until Stone gets released. The Den will place him on a 24/7 watch.”
Lucas opened his mouth to protest, but Mace said, “Stone doesn’t want Lucas staying with you. Instead, he wants you to confront Crow, and get things settled with this cartel. This deal you made with this Apache, set things in motion to go very wrong for your nephew.”
Nate let out a string of curses. “What is Stone accusing me of?”
From his place at the end of the council table, Lucas said, “You broke Dad’s rule, Uncle Nate. You stole more dogs!”
Mace snapped, “This dog fighting is a cruel sport. Only heartless men throw two dogs together to have them tear each other to pieces! Stone told me you stole Beef Tory’s award-winning sniffer, and also my pup. But Lucas stole them back before the fight scheduled for this coming weekend. And now you have the Juarez cartel pissed at you for spoiling a dog fight that they had investments in.”
He planted both fists knuckle down on the table. “I’m here to claim what’s mine, Nathan. Go and get me my pup.”
Lucas scanned the faces of the Den members, expecting to see them all glaring at the Outlaw in rage, yet finding instead, that they were all staring at Nate, unreadable expressions on their faces.
Mace said, “Gypsy, if you don’t arbitrate this matter there will be war between the Outlaws and the Den.”
Mace glanced over at Nate. “You dug a hole, Brother. The Angels have their own problem with this particular cartel at the moment. We don’t need any sparks flying between the Outlaws and the Den. If the Angels go to war they’re gonna need all of us on board. Any petty squabbles right now is unacceptable. You understand?”
Giving Mace an ugly sneer, Nate slowly nodded.
“Good,” Mace said. “Do you have my dog?”
Nate replied, “Do I look like I have a dog on me?”
Gypsy said, “Lucas? Go out to the kennel. Bring in the pit puppy.”
“Goddamned you, Gypsy!” snapped Nate.
“No,” Mace said, “goddamned you for what you do to these dogs!”
Lucas exited the barn through the back door and immediately spotted Goblin and Johnny’s three dogs. He opened the kennel gate, receiving a good dose of attention from the Dobie, Chow, Husky, and pit bull pup. All four dogs trailed him out to the street to Johnny’s van. Lucas opened the side door, ushering Bummer, Talon, and Ghost inside. Closing the door, he scooped Goblin up and returned to the barn. The moment he stepped inside, Goblin saw Mace and began to squirm excitedly. Struggling to keep the rambunctious pup from wriggling out of his arms, Lucas handed Goblin over to Mace.
Nate said, “Take your pup, Outlaw. Leave our clubhouse.”
Suddenly remembering the reward that Beef had given him for returning Lobo, Lucas said, “Uncle Nate, Dom is fighting this week-end, right? Would two-hundred dollars buy him a pardon?”
Nate snorted. “Hell, no! I’ve got five-hundred placed on Dom to win against some killer cross-bred hyaena dog! You got five-hundred squirreled away in those pockets of yours, Little Luke?”
Lucas dug into his pocket and withdrew the hundred dollar bills. He slapped them down on the table, “There, I’ll owe you three!”
Nate picked up the money. Slowly, he unfolded it, his eyes widen-ing in surprise. “Where in the hell did you get this, Little Luke?”
Holding Goblin in his arms, Mace said, “You’re talking about Dom, right? It’s a shame what has become of such a noble dog.”
Handing the pup to Johnny, he removed his billfold from a back pocket of his jeans. He opened it, pulled out a one-hundred dollar bill, and placed it on top of the other two on the council table.
Nate snorted, “Three-hundred? Don’t quite cut it, Little Luke.”
There was a stir amongst the Den club members, and seconds later, Gypsy, Toker, Big Charlie, and Ratchett had placed their own money on the table directly in front of Lucas. The gesture brought tears to his eyes, and he quickly wiped at his cheeks before they ran down his face, making him look like a baby before his father’s club.
Gypsy slid the pile of bills over in front of Nate. Nate picked them up and counted them. He said, “Seven-hundred dollars? What I am supposed to do about the fight?”
Mace said, “Scrap this particular fight. Besides, if you and the kid were playing Chess, he put you in Check. I admire his spunk.”
“Deal?” Lucas said. “Say it, Uncle Nate. Say it, to seal the deal.”
With all eyes on him, Nate nodded slowly and quietly said, “Deal.”
Mace looked at Lucas. “Keep that same attitude, your dad will make you a prospect by the time you’re fourteen. Look me up one day. I’ll tell you Dom’s story. Ironically, Goblin is of the same blood-line, same mom and pop, just different litters.”
Gypsy looked at Johnny. “Writer,” he said. “Some members of the Den read your books while serving time at county. A few read your books at treatment. Two of them read them serving Federal up at Yankton. Among the Den, at least, you’ve had a captive audience.”
Johnny looked around the table and was relieved to see curious looks rather than hostile glares directed at him. Lucas was slightly impressed to think that so many members of his dad’s club had read Johnny’s books. “Tell us, Writer,” Gypsy said, “about this terrorist threat to destroy service dogs.”