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By´╝ÜCandace Blevins

“Sheriff’s department put surveillance up at the known houses a few times, just to try to dispel the rumors. The group walks into the woods, disappears, and doesn’t return until after daylight. They have no shovels or bodies, no camping gear.”

“Yeah,” said the vice cop. “But we only caught that action once. The other times, the cameras malfunctioned as dark hit and we couldn’t get them back online until well after sunup the next day.”

Chapter Two

Duke was waiting outside the bike shop as Aaron Drake pulled into the parking lot with a car full of law enforcement brass. He’d let Aaron know their options — the lounge area of the bike shop, next door in the bar, or across the street in the clubhouse. He’d left the decision to Aaron.

After introductions, Aaron said, “As much as I’d like a beer and some wings next door, I think our conversation might be better suited to the clubhouse.”

Duke nodded. “Most of the guys we wanna talk to are already there, so that works. Let me tell the Sprite to text the others real quick, and we’ll walk across.”

Duke saw Aaron’s mouth twitch. Violet happened to be an actual Sprite, so the nickname fit. She’d had a tough start in life and the men were very protective of her. If the move to Chattanooga looked like it’d go smooth, she’d be making the change with them because it would do her good to get away from bad memories in Atlanta.

Duke looked around the clubhouse as he led the group in, once again seeing it as a stranger might. It took a few minutes for his eyes to adjust after the bright sunlight, but when they did, the paneled walls, hardwood floor, and multiple sofas came into focus. They’d bought a nice old wooden bar from a downtown restaurant before it was demolished, and it looked great. However, he walked them to one of the larger tables, where some Chattanooga maps were already spread out. The men sitting at the bar joined them, and Duke made introductions.

“This is Bud, our president. Next to him are Tiny, Dozer, and Bash. Dawg and Brain are headed in. I wanted to keep our numbers low out of respect, but the six of us, not counting Bud, will be your main contacts and I felt it important you meet us all. For the purposes of the meeting, it’ll be mostly me, Bash, and Brain talking.”

The door opened and two waitresses walked in, their arms loaded down with food. Duke explained, “I asked Sprite to send over some wings and other munchies. We have beer on draft at the bar, as well as sodas.”

The waitresses asked everyone what they wanted to drink, and brought it to them as Duke got everyone seated around the table and spread the maps so the men from Chattanooga could see.

He lifted the overlay from another table and settled it over the largest map as he said, “We’ve already been in some negotiations and talks, and the blackened out areas are where we’ve agreed to stay away. That’s all your tourist areas except a portion of MLK, and most of the UTC and Erlanger property.”

He took a drink and ate a wing as he gave the men a chance to take in the dark areas. “The red hashed areas are your highest crime sections, the purple hashes are where most of your murders have happened. A lot of intersection there.”

Sheriff Beauregard pointed to one of the green sections. “I take it green represents property you’re considering?”

“Got it in one.”

Chief Keller asked, “We here as consultants, or are you asking permission?”

Aaron opened his mouth but Duke held his hand up as he considered the question. “A little of both, but this is mostly about respect. We intend to come to Chattanooga, and we’ve done our homework, but it’s your city and if any of you have an opinion, we’d be happy to hear your reasons.”

“The business you run here, you going to repeat that in our town?”

“Right now we’re lookin’ at the bike shop and a bar across from wherever our compound ends up. Possibly another bar on the outskirts of the Hamilton Place area, but we’ve agreed to stay away from The Billiard Club, so that’s still up in the air.”

“Not talkin’ bout your legal ventures,” said Sheriff Beauregard, his already rough voice even more of a growl.

Duke had been standing, leaning over the table, and at this, he pulled out a chair and sat. “Whatever neighborhood we move into, we’ll take care of it. We don’t ask for protection money, but we do ask for respect. There are three pawn shops on our street here in Atlanta, and the owners of all three are careful to turn down hot merchandise. Some things occasionally filter in, but they make an honest effort to steer clear of it. None of them have been broken into since a few months after we moved in. Unlike a lot of MC’s, we don’t care what color you are. This means the automatic hatred between the MC’s and the gangs doesn’t have to happen. Does in some cities, not in others. We’ll do our best to make friends as we move in, but we’re gonna make some people unhappy when we claim territory, no doubt about it, and it might get worse afore it gets better. Won’t lie.”