As usual, Joe had been in the back of the second bay of the garage, looking over the latest repo the boys had brought in. He couldn’t believe the shit some people left in their cars, and what was that smell? Over the years with the other mechanics, and from hearing bits and pieces of conversation from the Sons, one of the first things he knew to check was the trunk.
No bodies, but there was a large, dark stain in the thin carpeting, and the jack handle was bent to hell. Finding a few bullet holes or shell casings was nothing new anymore. He’d just gather them up and toss them in the scrap metal bin. Copper and brass brought in a few bucks. The disturbing thing was it was happening more and more. Some mornings he’d show up at work and find them strewn across the floor, or the low angle of the light would glint off some little thing out in the lot. Not a good idea to have any broken glass or other sharp things out there. Wouldn’t want any of the bikes or anyone’s car picking up a screw or something, and puncturing the tires.
More often lately, the shiny bits were spent brass. All different sizes, too.
What the hell was going on in Charming? He didn’t really want to know. He kept his head down.
That day started out like any other. Joe had shown up a half hour early, just like always, although a lot of the Sons were already there. He returned the nod he got from Jax and went to work.
A decent day. Quiet. A little breeze. There were a few birds flitting around the swing set that had magically appeared overnight not so long ago. One of the other mechanics had mentioned the new Prospects for the motorcycle club had been up all night putting it together. It was nice to hear Jax’s babies or Opie’s and Lyla’s kids playing and laughing. They always dropped cookie crumbs or something over in the fenced-in area. The little birds did a good job cleaning it up, and it was even nice to hear them singing.
Over the last few years, it had gotten a little tense around Teller-Morrow and the MC. Giggling kids and chirping birds helped to lighten it up.
Joe had learned a long time ago to just take care of business—test the vehicles, fix the problems, replace the parts, get ‘em back out, and never listen too hard when the men in the cuts were talking. On a good day, he could change the oil and lube ten cars easy.
He had an idea what some people thought about the Sons of Anarchy—some weren’t real happy about them being around—but they all benefitted from their presence. The drugs and crime that plagued the surrounding towns and cities managed to skip over Charming. Unlike those other places, it was safe, life was quiet, and it was pretty good. He didn’t know much, but he knew the Sons had been keeping it that way.
Something had changed.
It was a damn good thing he was bent over the repossessed car’s center console to look in the glove box for the owner’s manual. He had just dumped old receipts and packages of condoms out onto the floorboards when he heard an engine revving and the front gate to the lot crash open.
All he saw was a red step-side pick-up barrel into the yard and then there was gun fire. Lots of it. Automatic weapons. Reminded him of that time he and his unit were ambushed in that God-forsaken jungle and the Cong had them pinned down. Until the choppers showed up and saved their asses. And just like in Viet Nam, he pulled his legs up, dropped as low as he could in the car’s cab, covered his damn head, and prepared to kiss his ass goodbye. Keeping his head down had kept him alive.
Tires squealing, men shouting, and glass breaking. Return fire. More gun shots. Ricocheting bullets. The back window of the car was blown in and it rained down on top of him and everything else. It was a goddamn nightmare and it was barely eight o’clock in the morning.
And all he could think at the time was there would be a shit-ton of brass all over the lot, and he’d have to replace that glass before the car could be auctioned off.
It was a good thing he’d ducked. He hadn’t seen much, and the new sheriff in town, and his deputies, hadn’t kept him long. He brushed the shattered glass off while he gave his statement. As soon as he was done and was released, he got the hell out and headed home.
He must have still been in shock because he’d found himself parked in front of the new flower shop. He’d heard it was owned by the sheriff’s wife. Good looking woman and real nice, too. She’d fixed up a pretty bouquet for him. He handed her some money, thanked her, and left.
When Joe put the old Chevette in park in front of his house, he sat in the car and just stared into space, thinking about things. A knocking at the window startled him out of his chaotic thoughts, and he finally shut the rattley engine down.
“Joe, are you okay? What are you doing sitting out here?”
Marjorie, his wife of over forty years, was standing there in the driveway, peeking in at him and wringing her hands. She looked worried. He couldn’t blame her. He never came home so early.
He grabbed the neatly wrapped bunch of purple and red flowers off the seat beside him and slowly opened the door.
Her face lit up with such surprise when she saw his gift, he realized he’d never brought her flowers often enough. Maybe he’d kept his head down too much and in too many places over the years. Time to change that. Maybe it was time to change a few things.
“Thank you, honey. I love them! They’re beautiful!” She inhaled the sweet scent and sighed happily. But then the shadow of worry clouded her features again. “You’re home awfully early. Did something happen at work?”
“Yeah.” He pushed the car door shut, shoved his keys in his pocket, and turned to the woman who’d been in his life for so long. It struck him like a bolt of lightning that the coffee they’d shared that morning could have been the last one.
He put his arm around her and started for the house. “How ‘bout we pack a few things and go visit our grandbabies? Haven’t seen ‘em in a while.”
“They’re not such babies anymore, Joe. They’re nearly all grown up,” she laughed. She jolted to a stop, the laughter died away, and she looked up at him. “What happened, Joe? It’s serious, isn’t it?”
He studied her concerned eyes and came to a decision. They’d lived their whole lives in Charming. It had been a good, safe place to raise their family, but Joe had gotten a nasty wake-up call. He’d had a secure job at Teller-Morrow. Been to some of the family parties, always had a nice Christmas bonus. He’d even managed to put away a few dollars. He had felt they had one of those unwritten agreements between them. Even though the club house was right there on the same property, they’d always kept their MC activities separate from the automotive repair part, and that’s how Joe liked it. He did his job and kept his nose out of the Sons’ business, and the Sons supplied him steady work and a safe place to live.
They hadn’t kept up their end of the bargain.
He’d been able to ignore a lot of it because it hadn’t touched him or his family, but little by little, it had been bleeding over. That morning, it had hemorrhaged. Joe had spent too much time with his head buried so deep in the sand, blind to what was going on; he hadn’t seen the shit storm brewing around them all until it had nearly swept him and everyone else away.
It was past time to get his head out of his ass. That promise of safety and security just blew up in their faces, and he was damn lucky he was still able to bring his wife some flowers. Charming wasn’t living up to its name any longer. “Yeah, it wasn’t so good. We’ll talk about it on the way out of town.”