Published by: Troy Pendleton
All rights reserved
Copyright © 2016 by Troy Pendleton
Cover Art © 2017 by Troy Pendleton
This book is a work of fiction. Names character, places, and incidents either are of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locations or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Chapter 1: Ray Mattax
My name is Ray Mattax and today is the day that I die. I know that you are thinking this is a very morbid and gloomy way to start telling you my story but hear me out. I promise it will all make sense in the end. The events that ultimately led to my death started a little over 20 years ago when I was a young man. You see, I was 18 years old when I first joined the Sons of Diablo motorcycle club and I remember it like it was yesterday. There I stood in the middle of a group of monstrous and leather-clad men who were mostly covered with tattoos and beards. I have to say I was more than a little bit intimidated.
Standing by my side to welcome me into the brotherhood was the man who had sponsored me. His name was John Roberts but everyone called him Tiny. Despite his nickname, Tiny was a mountain of a man, every bit of six foot five inches tall and weighing a solid 290 pounds. That gave him about five inches and almost a full 100 pounds on me, so he was a giant in my eyes. Tiny always wore the leather and had a great beard that was dark as the night sky and came halfway down his chest. He rode a Harley chopper of course. In fact, I don’t think he ever owned a car.
He was just 17 years older than I was but had pretty much raised me ever since my old man, who was also a member of the Sons of Diablo, had passed away several years before. I thought of Tiny as a good man though I’m probably the only person on this Earth who did. To everyone else, he was a mean SOB but he always treated me well. Anyway, there I stood with Tiny in front of me. In his hands was my very own club vest. It was black leather and had a large demon head patch on the back with the words “Sons of Diablo” and “Memphis Chapter” stitched into it. Tiny slid the vest up my arms and the guys standing close around me helped get it in place. After it was adjusted they all took turns man hugging me and slapping me on the back. I couldn’t have been happier to be joining this wild group of brawling drunken potheads. They were rough, to say the least, but these men were all I had ever known. They were family. Tiny had a big influence on me back then, but he also went off and did his own thing a lot as well.
I spent the next few years running with the Son’s and let me tell you they were some hard years. I was a bit aimless during that period of my life and before long began to feel the first early stages of depression. As I look back on it now, that may have been brought on more by the constant violence, drinking, and drugs rather than any kind of emotional detachment. The Sons of Diablo would ride for days on end taking what they wanted and beating down or killing anyone who got in their way.
I remember one occasion when we came across another branch of the Diablo’s from Cali and thought they were a little too soft to carry the name. That didn’t sit well with us so we decided to invite their entire group to join us for a bonfire and encouraged them to camp overnight. After they were all drunk and passed out, we sliced their throats and disposed of the bodies in the river.
I have to admit, the brutality of it all was a bit too much for me at first. I didn’t see the need for being so ruthless all the time, especially to folks who really didn’t deserve it. I had always thought there must be smarter and safer ways to scare people into doing what you wanted, but I wasn’t the chapter president. We all knew that when you were a member of the Son’s you had to do what the Pres said if you wanted to remain a member. I wanted to stay with the club for two reasons. The lifestyle was all I had ever known, and I didn’t have anyone else to turn to.
Not long after the incident involving the California Diablos went down a certain cop latched on to us like a dog does his favorite bone and he just would not let us be. If memory serves me right, his name was Detective Becker. It didn’t take long before his presence was wearing everyone’s patience dangerously thin. I was afraid Becker was going to find himself on the wrong end of someone’s knife or gun if he didn’t let up. I mean, yeah, he was annoying the crap out of us but at the end of the day, he was just doing his job. I’m sure any of us would have done the same thing if we were in his shoes.
Before anything unfortunate happened to the guy, I went to the fellas in charge of the club and told them I could take care of Detective Becker without killing him. I reminded them that killing a police officer was a lot different from taking out a bunch of bikers and that it wouldn’t be long before someone noticed he was missing and came sniffing around. It would be in our best interest to find a less violent way to get him off our tail in order to avoid any extra heat that we didn’t especially want or need.
As you might expect, they all laughed at the rookie who thought he was something but Hicks, the chapter president at the time, decided to let me give it a shot. He did warn me though that if I was caught or the whole thing went south, it would be my head on the pike along with the cop. I figured that was fair enough so I began to follow Becker for several days. I remember something that my old man had told me years before. It didn’t matter who you were, everyone had secrets and they would do almost anything to keep them that way. All an enterprising person had to do was find out what those secrets were and they would be granted a surprising amount of leverage.
Anyway, I took notes and several pictures of Becker’s every move. It didn’t take me very long to find out that he really had a thing for blondes even though his wife was a brunette. I counted three of them in as many days and had done a very nice job of documenting his carryings on. I was reasonably sure that I had enough dirt on him to get him to drop the Sons trail but I wanted a little more just in case.
Then it hit me…his kids. Detective Becker had two young daughters. I followed them everywhere they went for an entire week taking detailed notes and pictures. After that, I figured I had all that I needed to get him to leave the Sons alone. I then put my notes and pictures together into a nice little package and sent it to his office with the note “Courtesy of the Sons of Diablo, Memphis Chapter.” The next day Becker walked into the clubhouse fuming mad. He told Hicks that he was disgusted by the depths the Sons would go to in order to shake him off, especially getting his kids involved.
Hicks laughed at him and said that he didn’t know what in the world he was complaining about. Detective Becker then threw up his hands and said he was done. He wouldn’t be looking into us any more on the condition that we would just stay away from his kids. After that, I was known as a fixer and nobody treated me like a rookie anymore. You would think that would have made me happier but in reality, nothing much was different. I still felt like there had to be more to life than just riding around bullying people but I was afraid to change because I didn’t know how to do anything else.
Then a man named Piper came along and took me under his wing. He was only ten years older than I was so I looked up to him but also considered him more of a friend than an “old” guy. After we had gotten to know each other very well I found out that Piper was a hitman and called himself “The Reaper”. As far as I know, nobody but me had any idea about the hitman stuff or the identity of the Reaper, though it did make a lot of sense considering the vibe he always put off. You did NOT want to mess with him. No sir. Everyone who was anyone knew that.
Piper was a plain looking man of average height and had reddish blond hair. Unlike everyone else around the club, he was always clean-shaven and had no tats that couldn’t be covered by clothing. He said to be a good hitman you need to be able to blend in anywhere and face tats tend to make you stand out in a crowd. It wasn’t long before Piper started showing me the ropes, we began to do hits together and it seemed to be a great job. I know you must be thinking, “That’s not a job” but to me, it’s exactly what it was and nothing more. At first, I had reservations about doing it but after knocking off a few marks, it didn't bother me so much anymore. These weren’t just random everyday people. You didn’t wind up on the hit list for no reason. In most cases, you had to cross someone the wrong way, which was your own fault, or you were a seriously bad person.
I followed Piper’s lead to a T and soon we were an unstoppable team. I learned so much about how to disable alarm systems, different computer hacking techniques, what gun to use for any given range or shooting condition and most importantly never to turn down a job. If you did, you then became a liability and the clients would soon be putting out a hit on you. Speaking of jobs they came pouring in one right after the other. It didn’t take long before everyone in the underworld knew that if you needed someone offed effectively and efficiently you called in “The Reaper”.
I could hardly believe how easy it was. People would wire us the money to our offshore account and then someone would die. You know there are many ways to kill a person and everyone has their favorites. I personally just liked to put two in them and get it over with. Piper, on the other hand, liked it up close and personal. Some customers wanted the job to look like an accident and some wanted to send a message and didn’t care what it looked like as long as it got their point across.
We didn’t care either as long as we got paid and man did we ever get paid! Thousands and thousands of dollars kept pouring in. We even took overseas jobs because they brought a much higher premium. The Reaper was an internationally known killing superstar and our identities always remained secret. We used the cash to buy houses, businesses, bikes, drugs, booze, girls and even cars. We were literally rolling in the dough though 95 percent of it was dirty as can be. Back then we owned three strip clubs and four bars just to launder all of the money we collected.
Tiny was the only person other than me and Piper who knew the identity of the Reaper. He didn’t mind me doing the jobs but killing for fun was more his thing so he never got involved with us. I’m pretty sure Piper would have let him in on it if he had wanted to. Tiny did like the perks of being my friend though. I took care of him just like he had always taken care of me when I needed it. Whatever he desired he got.
After about ten years of a solid partnership, Piper said he was ready to call it quits. He was pushing 40 and just wanted to relax and enjoy the money. I wasn’t quite 30 yet and still felt that I had a lot of time left to play the role of the Reaper. I was honestly having too much fun to even think about stopping. There was still plenty of things for Piper to do to keep himself busy. Everything we had bought to launder the money turned a profit on top of what we already had. It was more than enough to last a person two or three lifetimes.
Piper knew that the life we led wasn’t something you normally were able to walk away from but since there were two of us it gave him an easy out. He could leave while I kept on working and no one would be the wiser. He turned the business of the Reaper over to me with the agreement that I could still launder the profits through our other ventures and I officially became a one-man show. Piper ran our other companies and eventually with Tiny’s help became the president of the Memphis chapter of the Son’s of Diablo.
I did very well for myself as the demand for high stakes contract killing hadn’t slowed down a bit. As a matter of fact, it was increasing at a pretty steady rate. I would get a message on my dark email with information regarding my target and a deposit in the offshore account. Once the money was in place I’d execute the perfect plan and then take out the person I was being paid to eliminate. Everything had been going great for about three and a half years until I received a message one night that contained Piper’s picture.
Rule number one was never to turn down a job, and this was a job. I knew what I had to do. It was now up to me to take Piper out. Nothing personal, you can’t ever bring personal feelings with you while working as a hitman. You had to turn all that stuff in your brain off. This was just business pure and simple. I know that might sound cliché but it’s the truth.
I really wanted to talk to Tiny about the whole situation so I could get his input but no one had seen him in weeks and he wasn’t returning any of my calls or texts either. I was a little worried about him but as I said before he had a habit of going off and doing his own thing, sometimes getting all wound up and just riding around aimlessly for weeks at a time. I had bigger fish to fry though, and neither had the time nor the energy to go tracking Tiny down just so we could discuss what I should do about this job, especially since I already had a feeling I knew what his answer would be. Tiny would turn up eventually. He always did.
Besides, Piper and I had gone over the possibility of a situation like this coming up more than once over the years, especially in the days just before I took over the role of the Reaper on my own. He said there would be a time when someone I knew would have a hit put out on them. It was simply the law of averages. I knew a lot of people. Piper's answer was always that work comes first, friends and family second.
I was finding out the hard way that talking about something and actually going through it are two completely different things. I couldn’t believe that I was actually debating with myself about whether or not I was going to kill one of my only true friends. For the first time since I was 18, I began to entertain the idea that it might be best if I left the Sons of Diablo altogether and stopped being the Reaper. I was tired and couldn’t help thinking that there had to be something better out there than killing people for money, whether or not they had it coming was beside the point.
This existence had to have some kind of meaning, didn’t it? I knew there were folks out there that lived normal nine to five lives. Why couldn’t I be one of them? Was it because I was born into this life or did I just keep choosing it? Could I really kill my friend simply because someone told me to? I wasn’t afraid of anyone, so what if I just turned the job down and walked away? The fear of crossing the Reaper would surely be enough to keep them from chasing me down, wouldn’t it? According to all that Piper had ever told me they would come for me alright. I didn’t know if that was actually true or just something they said to keep the Reaper in line.
I then wondered why they would even want Piper taken out in the first place. It didn’t make any sense. Nobody knew that he used to be the Reaper and the club always handled its own business, so why was the hit put out? I wrestled with this and the other questions for days until I finally came to the conclusion that fate or whatever entity was out there calling the shots had put me where I was for a reason. Since that was the case I really didn’t see any sense in trying to change my life now. It was a little late for that at this point. Piper would have done the same if he were in my shoes, I’m sure of it.
Besides, I was being paid to take out the person in the pic. That was my job and I got a LOT of money to do it. I also remembered that one of Tiny’s favorite lines, when faced with a jam, was to “Keep it simple, stupid.” I had to keep this as simple as possible. To fail would definitely categorize me as stupid. Once I had committed to carry through with the job I spent weeks planning every detail. I knew this had to be done right. No one could know that it was me that took Piper out.
I picked a night when I was certain that he would be alone then made double sure that everyone thought I was out of town. I parked my bike two blocks away from the clubhouse just in case I needed to make a speedy get away, and walked the rest of the way on foot. I really didn’t think I would have any trouble making my way back under cover of darkness, but if for some reason things went sideways I would at least have a fighting chance of getting back to the safety of my bike. It was mid-August and the air was so hot and heavy that it was nearly impossible to breathe. I wiped the sweat out of my eyes as I neared my destination.
When I reached the back of the building I checked my watch. It was just past 2:30 a.m. The club would have closed about a half hour ago. It was now or never. With that in mind, I picked the lock on the back door and made my way undetected up to Piper’s office on the second floor. I knew tonight was the night he always set aside for keeping the books and that he would be coming in shortly to count all the money from our businesses. Just as I had expected Piper came into the office at his normal time, sat in his chair behind the desk facing the wall and reached over to turn on his lamp. As the light came on I quickly stuck my pistol to the back of his skull.
I should have pulled the trigger as soon as the end of the silencer brushed against his hair but I hesitated. I tried to erase all the thoughts swirling through my head. Let me tell you it wasn’t working. Not a bit. All I could think about was how he had been such a great friend over the years. I really did not want to kill him. I tried to squeeze the trigger anyway, making a huge effort to override my emotions but just couldn’t do it. Piper then raised his hands in the air, unaware that I was the one standing behind him, and said, “If it’s money you want, there is plenty here, take it all”.
I did my best to get ahold of myself then whispered, “It’s not money I’m after, old friend. Your name came up on the Reaper’s list.”
“Ray?” he said as he turned around in his chair, shocked to see me standing there. “Why?”
I looked down at him, still holding my gun in both hands though pointing it more at the floor between us than directly at him. “The hit was ordered. There was nothing I could do but…”
Before I could get the rest of my sentence out I heard the sound of several sets of heavy footsteps running down the hall toward the office. Piper had hit the silent alarm. I knew I did not have long to get out of there before those goons came storming in. I didn’t have any illusions that they would be gentle with me once they burst through the doorway. The men would not only shoot first and ask questions later but likely shoot first and look at what they were shooting at later. I glanced over at Piper and told him that I was sorry. As I did, I noticed that he had reached under his desk while I was distracted. That’s all the prodding I needed. In the next second, I shot two rounds through the window and jumped out while the glass was still flying.
No sooner than both of my feet had left the floor I felt a sharp pain in my left shoulder. Piper had managed to get a round in me as my body passed through the window. I can’t say that I blamed him. He was protecting his turf. I was the one that showed up and stuck my 9mm to the back of his head while he was minding his own business. As that thought went through my mind I realized I was falling fast and the ground below did not look forgiving. I remember seeing a guy on TV once who said that all you had to do when jumping from the height of a second story building was to tuck and roll and you’d be ok. I figured I might as well give it a try. TUCK AND ROLL, TUCK AND ROLL, TUCK AND ROLL…
As I hit the ground I did my best to tuck my head under and roll over. My right side took the brunt of the fall but the energy was dispersed as I did a crude summersault. I lay there for a second half dazed then realized that my neck wasn’t broken. Wow! It had worked! Finally, something had gone right on this awful night. I took a minute to check on my left shoulder to see how bad Piper’s bullet had gotten me. It didn’t appear to be life threatening but I could already tell it was going to hurt. I didn’t waste any more time sitting there but got up and looked around trying to figure out my next move. “How am I supposed to get out of here alive?” I whispered to myself half under my breath.
I then noticed something that might prove helpful. Lucky for me, I liked bullets that would go through pretty much anything so my weapons were usually loaded with armor-piercing rounds. That combined with the fact that bikers have a bad habit of lining all their hogs in a row gave me an idea. I took one well-placed shot at the dozen or so motorcycles parked next to the wall and soon their tanks were draining gas. That left me the option of possibly getting enough distance between me and my soon to be pursuers to disappear into the night on foot, especially if they tried their bikes first.
I ran as fast as I could but after a few minutes still heard them closing in. As I breathed harder and harder the gunshot wound began twitching like a nervous tick. By the sheer force of my will, I managed to pick up speed and break into a full sprint. That did the trick. I made it to my bike but man they were getting close. I hopped on and turned the key. Nothing. Are you kidding me? I’m sure a look of panic must have been on my face but I quickly flipped out the kick start and began to crank it. On the first try, it sputtered but didn’t start. Then another and another and another until finally on the fourth kick the engine roared to life as it fired up.
I came riding out of the alley and there blocking the exit stood more of the men I had called brothers for so many years. They sure didn’t look very brotherly right now. As I turned to ride in the opposite direction I could hear the sound of gunshots going off. I knew most of those dudes couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn let alone a man on a bike speeding away from them. One or more of them must have managed to squeeze off a couple of lucky shots though because I felt two more sharp pains, one in my right arm just above the elbow and the other on my left side near the waist. Fortunately, it felt like both of those shots just grazed me but man did they hurt! I sucked it up and kept hauling tail out of there.
I headed north and rode for hours, trying to put as much distance between my sorry self and Memphis as I could because I knew these guys were relentless when it came to chasing somebody down, especially since I had gone after Piper. I wouldn’t put it past them to follow me to Timbuktu if it came to it. I stopped only long enough to eat, get gas, and tend to my wounds. Speaking of which I was fairly confident that I had done a good enough job cleaning and treating my injuries to the point that they wouldn’t prove to be life threatening. What I couldn’t do much about, though, was the pain. With each hour that passed, the dull ache in my left shoulder and right arm was making it increasingly harder to control my bike.
At some point, I turned west thinking that it would throw them off. I didn’t know if they were still following me or not but wasn’t about to take any chances. I had been riding for almost 23 hours straight. The scorching sun baked me during the day and the cool air sent chills over my skin after the sun went down. I was surprised that no one had caught up with me yet. It was getting harder and harder to keep the bike up and going in the direction I wanted and the pain was so intense it was almost unbearable. I was also having some serious trouble keeping my eyes open and focused on the road. I had gotten up early the day before so I had been awake for about 43 hours straight.
I didn’t want to stop yet. I had to find some place far away to lay low. But I needed some fuel and my stomach was rumbling for food so I got off the interstate for a pit stop in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. There was a sign for a gas station so I figured this place would be as good as any other I was likely to find without riding another hour or more. Everything after that is somewhat of a blur. It was about three a.m. and I vaguely remember that I gassed up, grabbed a bite to eat, and thought I was headed back toward the highway though instead had managed to make a wrong turn and ended up riding into a small town. I saw a sign that read “Welcome to Canaan” sitting in front of a big old-fashioned fountain. The fountain was the kind you normally find in parks or in the center of a big city. I was a little surprised to see it there.
Just as I was about to turn around and head back the way I came a large black dog jumped out from behind the fountain and ran toward me barking its brains out. The freaking thing popped out of nowhere and caught me completely off guard. I tried to dodge it but that was a lot harder than it should’ve been because of the wounds to my shoulder and arm. I ended up losing control and knew I was about to come off the bike.My last clear memory was of being thrown over the handlebars and flying through the air on a collision course with the fountain.