This is a continuation of Rob's Saga by Just Plain Bob, so you should read his story first to understand what's going on. I'd like to thank Just Plain Bob for the tempting challenge and for leaving so many possibilities open.
It took quite a bit to tie up all the loose ends. Given the hero's lack of complaints in the counseling session, I was struck by his calm reaction to his wife's announcement and wondered why he was so calm if it really was out of the blue. This is my first submission here. It's been a log time since I've written fiction and the final draft turned out very differently from my first outline. Minor characters seemed to insist on a larger role and it's not always clear who's really in charge.
For most of my life I pretty much had a handle on things. Sure, sometimes things happen in life but I had always been able to roll with the punches up 'til now. I was overwhelmed; I felt like I was juggling bowling balls without a helmet, each one threatening to crash on my head and end the whole performance.
The first bowling ball, my whore of a wife Audrey, decided to clean me out and leave me for the second ball, a biker named DJ. Well this "wimp" got the better of him and I gave DJ a little limp to remember me by. Ball number three: a biker gang wasn't going to let me just stomp on one of their own, so they came after me. Luckily my cousin Lou is a police sergeant and the Diablos didn't get their revenge so much as deliver themselves right to the local PD on a platter. DJ wasn't in jail but I worked him over again pretty good and tried to sell him on the advantages of Anyplace But Here. I doubted he would stay away, though. Without DJ, Audrey was suddenly repentant and wanted me to forget her "lapse." Audrey was actively fighting the divorce, so I just let it stop. As long as I had my house and my money I didn't care if she had my name. DJ's absence also left me with three more problems: his old lady Kari, and her twin sixteen year old daughters, Beverly and Barbara, who were now homeless. I let the three women moved into my house. (Don't ask, I'm not sure how that got by the dumb idea filter.) Kari was an ok cook and give me my space but the twins were having a contest to see who could get me to go for the jailbait first. Flashing and accidentally dropped towels had become pretty commonplace. So I had taken the path of least resistance and just stayed away from home rather than be alone with the girls.
If any of that made sense to you, would you please draw me a big diagram and explain it to me? Using small words?
But life doesn't stop so you can catch your breath. I had to keep moving along as I waited for a ball to drop. I would hit the gym before breakfast (my new way of avoiding the twins after their mother left for work) and was pleased to find an old buddy, Chris, was also a member there. We ran into each other maybe once or twice a year but it always seemed like we just saw each other yesterday. He knew that Aud had run off with some biker. Hell the whole town knew. While he spotted me on the weights he made the mistake of asking how the divorce was going, so I told him. He did a good job of not laughing at me.
"When she left she didn't seem too tore up about it," Chris half-asked, half-stated.
"Yep," I exhaled as I finished my last rep.
"And now that asshole is gone she suddenly doesn't want a divorce," he confirmed.
"That's about it," I replied while toweling off.
"And with all those bikers itching to make an example out of you, you go and let his old girlfriend and two underage daughters move in rent-free?" Chris shook his head as we headed toward the juice bar. "In what way is that not galacticly stupid?"
"Well, it may not have been too smart," I hemmed a bit.
"It was stupid," he corrected. "It's like the Great Pyramid of bad ideas."
"It's not that bad..."
"Really? How do you know she isn't just setting you up? You screwed up her meal ticket."
The same thing had occurred to me almost daily but I didn't want to admit it. "I guess I don't. But I can't just throw them out on the street now."
"You can, but you won't." We had taken a seat at the counter and ordered a couple of fruit drinks. "Right now you're just reacting. You need a plan, man. Bet you wish your old man was here."
"Ain't that the truth." My father had passed away about five years before, but I still missed him, especially at times like this. Dad was a planner. He used to say that a trucker has an opinion on everything, since he had so much time on the road alone with his thoughts to work 'em out. Well dad had a plan for everything, including things that were unlikely to happen. When his buddy Mick came into some cash they opened their own business. My dad had had all the details worked out years before. He also had a backup plan in case the business never took off. He wasn't mad when I chose not to join the business; he'd had a contingency plan for that. I can't recall him ever caught unprepared.
Even so often, he would grab a couple of beers, hand me a can, and I'd follow him out to the porch. He'd ask me about what I wanted in life, and somehow get me to work out how to get it. "The worst time to make a big decision is in the middle of a shit storm," he'd told me. "So have the decision made before things start goin' south."
That's part of the reason I reacted so calmly when Audrey pulled her little stunt. I had already thought about life without her. After mom passed I'd considered what might happen if Aud died or got sick or, yes, even if she ran off with some asshole. People fear uncertainty. Since I knew the worst-case scenarios I hadn't been scared, I just took the course I'd decided long ago was the best under those circumstances. What had gotten me in trouble was reacting to things I hadn't anticipated. I could have let asshole go, but he wouldn't leave it alone so now I had the Diablo Riders to worry about. And I let my impulsive feelings for a damsel in distress make my other decisions for me. Let's face it, dad, I have no clue what I should do now.
"Hey, Rob," Susie, the club nutritionist, put down our drinks and then leaned on her crossed arms, enhancing the view. We'd known each other since elementary school and we'd reconnected when I joined the gym. "Not to butt in, but y'know who always reminded me of your dad? Joel. Always two steps ahead of everybody. I bet he could come up with something better'n our sorry brain trust." She smiled as she indicated the three of us.
"I think it might be easier to find dad," I joked. Joel Morgan was the brightest star our school had produced in memory. He graduated at fourteen, earned two college degrees by seventeen and had built a successful multinational from scratch. We didn't really run in the same circles, but we got along well enough when we were kids. My mom was friends with his late mom, a single mother, and mom asked me to look out for him since he was smaller. By the time he was big enough to look after himself it was just habit. Now he was a jet setter; who knew where he was nowadays.
"Guess again," Susie interrupted my thoughts. "He's in town for awhile visiting his aunt and uncle. Was in here a couple of days ago setting up a temp membership. You should go see him."
"You were always cool with each other," Chris seconded. "Couldn't hurt to ask."
"Robbie! How the hell are you?" Joel shook my hand with a firm grip and ushered me into his aunt's living room. He had filled out since his teens. He looked fit and happy, eyes bright and smile wide. His shirt and slacks fit perfectly and were so plain I'm sure they set him back a pretty penny. His Aunt Edna Mae fussed over me, and brought out some coffee.
After she left Joel said, "I guess you want some advice about your living situation." I'm sure I looked like a fish with my mouth hanging open. He waved if off, chuckling. "Relax," he said. "I just got off the phone with Sue. Tell me about it."
I did. Our coffee got cold as Joel listened intently, occasionally asking a pointed question. When I finished and let out a breath he sat back. I realized we had both been on the edge of our seats. Joel just sat and stared at the wall for a bit. I think to him it was a puzzle, a nice idea to turn over and play with. Eventually he smiled: he had a plan. As he laid it out we discussed and argued until we were satisfied it couldn't get any better. That's when I smiled. This plan could get me everything I wanted. I was back in control. That night I slept soundly for the first time in weeks.
My first step was to call cousin Lou. He set up a meeting with one of the guys from the Tri-County Task Force, a Lt. Connor. I'm not sure what it was, but he just looked like a cop, which I guess is why he was in the station instead of undercover. He stuck out a ham-like hand and shook mine with genuine warmth.
"I'm sure the captain already thanked you, but you really helped us a lot last month. Some of those guys might beat the charges but we got the big ones dead to rights. So what can I do for you?"
When I started explaining my idea he laughed, but he soon started listening more closely. By the time I was done, he sat back and looked at me in admiration. "Damn," he muttered. "Hey, Rico! Get over here." Another cop sat down and he had me go through it all again. By the time I finished Rico was visibly excited and had two pages of scribbled notes. They both thanked me and told me they would be in touch.
What Joel made me realize is that my problems were just that, mine. The cops already had their arrests and while they were grateful, they didn't really need me anymore. I could make my problem their problem but that would ruin the good will I had built up by handing them the Diablos. Better to convince them that I could be of more help. I would do all the work and let them jump in at the last moment and take credit. Who wouldn't like that?
I had Kari living in my house and even if she wasn't hanging with the bikers right now, she had been around them for a long time. She probably knew a lot of things that might help the police. Chances are she wouldn't share them with the cops (she still felt some loyalty to the club), but she might say something to her friends or the girls when I wasn't around. The police didn't have enough to get a warrant, but I could legally record anything in my own house. I just needed the (expensive) equipment, and Connor was able to find a third party to lend it to me, which kept the police out of it. Even if it was inadmissible, Joel figured I could always provide an anonymous tip if something important came up. Plus, it might provide some measure of protection if a frustrated Barb or Bev decided to cry wolf.
Now I hadn't slept with Kari. I was giving her space and frankly I wasn't planning on diving into anything more than a no-strings "what was your name again?" romp. That didn't keep the neighborhood from assuming we were fucking. Even Chris had assumed we were. When I assured him we weren't he said that made me even dumber than he thought, since at least that was a reason to take her and her family into my house. Still, I didn't try to change most people's minds. I figured it would eventually get back to DJ and eat him up that I had taken even that from him. It wouldn't hurt if it got back to Audrey either. Soon it had another benefit.
That night I got home just in time for dinner. Kari's cooking was growing on me, but the twins kept up their "full frontal" assault, flashing me when their mother's back was turned and slyly making clucking noises when she couldn't hear. The message was clear -- I was chicken for not acting on my obvious lust for them. Was I chicken? Hell yes! Messing with sixteen year olds is always a bad idea, even when they look twenty, and what I really didn't need right now was to spend time in the local lockup with so many Diablos there.
As the girls finished washing up, I approached Kari. "Y'know, we've both been working ourselves half to death. How 'bout we head down to the Bidwell for a couple of beers? My treat. No strings and I promise to have you back by nine." I raised my eyebrows in a question.
Kari stood akimbo and looked at me a moment. "What the hell," she said. "I've haven't seen anything but Patti Anne's or this house for more'n two weeks." She wiped her hands on the dish towel and smiled. "I'll get my purse."
I hadn't had many laughs over the last month, but seeing Barb's reaction when Kari told her we were going out was worth it. Was she confused? Worried I was leading her mom on? Jealous? It looked like everything at once. I couldn't wait to listen to the audio of her and Bev tomorrow.
The Bidwell was our neighborhood tavern, so I got a lot of nods and waves as we sat down. I smiled at Chris by the pool tables. Sue was at the end of the bar with a couple of her girlfriends and raised her beer to me and smiled knowingly. She thought all these wheels within wheels were very exciting. Personally, I couldn't wait to be done with it all and forget.
I was surprised at how much fun it was to just sit and talk with Kari. Joel had done some checking, so I knew her story was basically true and she really was trying to get by however she could. Didn't mean I could trust her, but it did make me listen with a more friendly ear. Her main concern seemed to be making sure her girls had a decent shot at life, which meant finishing school and not trusting men. She really had made some bad decisions, but the last month or so had gone a long way toward giving her some breathing space.
"Hey, baby. What's brought you out to play?" Sue put her beer down on our table and leaned over to give me a kiss. On second thought maybe I could get used to this spy stuff. I was still recovering when Susie just barreled on and stuck out her right hand. Her left hand was still on my shoulder.
"I'm Sue. You must be the biker chick." If I didn't know she was acting I would have bought it without question. Her smile was friendly but with that tone she might as well have taken out a sharpie and written "Property of Sue" on my forehead.
"Yeah. My name's Kari," she shook the hand and smiled a "who me?" back at her. "Rob was kind enough to take me out of the house for once. I've been working so much lately I haven't had time to get up to any trouble." She didn't quite put her hands up in surrender. Was there a bit of disappointment in her eyes?
Sue scooted me over and joined us without an invitation. After a few minutes everyone seemed to accept where they stood and we continued to have a good time. Sue was very good at drawing out information from my houseguest and I listened as much as I talked. Sue deserved an oscar. I knew what she was really up to and she still seemed genuine. I was floored by how many stories she remembered about my work, my house, and even my past with Audrey. Any onlookers might still wonder if I was doing Kari, but they would bet cash money I was doing Sue. Her hip touched mine the whole time and she even went to the extent of playing with my knees under the table, causing me to snarf on my beer before my glare caused her to stop. When we called it a night Sue curled my toes in front of God and everybody out in the parking lot.
When I dropped Kari off at the house she looked at me when I didn't turn off the engine. "Aren't you coming in?"
"Are you kidding? You were sittin' right there. If I don't go put that little blonde fire out she'll find someone else to do it, and you know I don't share." What a performance! I smiled. "I'll see you tomorrow for dinner." I waved as I turned my truck around.
Ten minutes later I walked into Sue's apartment with my overnight bag and she gave me a big hug. "That was soooo much fun! Did you see her face?" She dragged me to the couch, giggling. "You better watch yourself, boy. Kari may not be head over heels but she sure as hell has plans for you."
"What are you talking about? She thinks I'm attached now so to her I'm just a place to stay." Sue went into the kitchen and grabbed two cans of beer and handed me one.
"Riiight. For a smart man you can be so dumb." She smiled when she said it, so I couldn't get too upset. "If she stayed with asshole for the sake of her girls, don't you think she'd put up with you? She traded up big time, and now she's worried I'll make you kick them out on the street. She expects it, trust me." She got a little serious. "Expect a full court press next time you're home. At least now maybe the twins will back off, because I doubt that Kari will leave you alone long enough for them to get a tit in edgewise."
I still had my doubts. Sue and I made a list of things we had learned from our conversation with Kari. We had gotten a chart of the Diablos' organization from the task force and tried to fill in the gaps, specifically who was likely to step up with some of the big players awaiting trial. We talked a bit more about the plan, but we crashed early since Sue had to open the gym in the morning. And no, I slept on the couch. It was just part of the plan.
The next day I felt great. Sue's couch may not have been comfortable, but not worrying about being bushwhacked by jailbait and seeing my plan move forward was the best lullaby I ever had. I followed Sue to the gym and filled Chris in on the night before while we worked out. Work was great. I'd been spending so much extra time there avoiding the twins that I had time to work on our throughput. Productivity shot up enough that the higher ups had noticed and were thinking of having me help the other lines improve. In other words, things were going too well. A phone call in the middle of the afternoon fixed that.
"Mr. Johnson? This is George Nguyen at First National Bank."
"Hello, Mr. Nguyen, what can I do for you?" I remembered him from when I took Audrey's name off my accounts.
"Sir, I just wanted to confirm something with you. Have you applied for any new credit cards recently?"
My blood ran cold for a moment. "No I absolutely have not. Why are you asking?"
"Well, sir, it seems your wife Audrey Johnson has applied for five different credit cards in the past two days relying on your name, for a total of fifty thousand dollars credit. I've put a temporary hold on the applications until I could talk to you. It seems she has also applied for a home equity line of credit from Smallville Bank & Trust on your primary residence, but that was already on hold since she needs your signature as the deed holder. If you drop by this afternoon, sir, I can arrange a permanent hold on future applications without your express consent."
"I will certainly do that." Something bothered me. I'd already heard more "sirs" in five minutes than in the last five years. "I'm extremely grateful for this call but if you don't mind, why exactly did it catch your eye?"
"Oh," he replied. "I'm sorry if this is a surprise. I believe you know Mr. Joel Morgan of Universal Exports? Well, sir, a few days ago Mr. Morgan asked as a personal favor to you that I keep a close eye on your credit record for you. He seemed to anticipate something of this nature would occur. I assumed you knew. I want to assure you emphatically that at no time has Mr. Morgan had access to any of your financial information. In fact I didn't even report this to him. I proceeded on his word since the request seemed prudent and didn't violate your privacy and well, frankly we're always eager to assist Mr. Morgan's friends."
Goddamn. Always two steps ahead. "That's quite alright, Mr. Nguyen," I answered quickly. "As you say there was no privacy issue and you've obviously saved me a great deal of trouble. I'll be sure to tell Joel how helpful you were."
I heard a faint sigh of relief. "Thank you, sir. Please don't hesitate to call me directly if I can do anything else for you. Anything at all."
As a matter of fact I was able to think of something right away.
Audrey's sudden reappearance reminded me that I couldn't ignore any of my other bowling balls while concentrating on this one. I called Sue to check how things were going. Joel had suggested that after the initial meeting that I only talk to the police through Sue. That way anyone following me wouldn't easily see that I was feeding information to the cops. The Diablos already knew I was in tight with the police, but if they figured out that Kari was our source they would go after her, most likely through her girls and I couldn't have that on my conscience no matter what they were up to.
Lt. Connor had told her the groundwork was being laid. Members of the task force made it a point to hassle DJ. He had relocated two towns over, but the bikers had people all over the state and so did the Tri-County Task Force. On any given day a cop can find a reason to stop anyone. It becomes laughably easy when he has a record as long as DJ's. It would take some time for anyone to notice a pattern, but the cops would bring DJ into the station for "questioning" and coincidentally within an hour or two of his release some member of the Diablos would be arrested during the commission of a serious crime. Kari still talked to some of the Diablo girls and the mics picked up a lot of it. Every time another biker was picked up one of their women called Kari to gossip, and I would listen very carefully to the "who's next?" speculation. I passed it on to Lt. Connor through Sue. We wanted to make it look like DJ had rolled on his buddies in order to move up in the gang. It might be enough to get him to turn over for real, out of self preservation. Some well-placed rumors would help the Diablos to see what we wanted them to see. As a bonus, if DJ were busy looking over his shoulder he wouldn't have time to make trouble for me, and infighting would make it harder for the bikers to rebuild their organization. If they took it further, well let's just say I wouldn't lose much sleep.