“How do you suppose they got that up there?” Suzy whispered into Jessie’s ear. The ladies had been ushered into the clubhouse and instantly the loud chatter stopped, and dozens of curious eyes bored into them. Jessie was trying to absorb her surroundings. The Bay Area Bombers clubhouse was set up like a bar more or less, but this one was different. For one thing, there was no bar in sight. It looked more like a rec room to Jessie with a bunch of couches and recliners, a big screen television and a bunch of pool tables, and in one corner there was a sound system with floor to ceiling speakers. The floor was concrete with throw rugs tossed here and there and the walls were covered with motorcycle parts and metal signs. Outside of the clubhouse there had been a huge flagpole with an American flag, a Louisiana state flag, and a Chaos flag flying from it, and inside all three were represented again in a mural painted against the wall behind the pool tables. But what had caught Suzy’s attention was the far back wall. The wall was made of solid concrete like the floor, and the only decoration on…or in…it was a Harley Davidson that looked like it was trying to drive out of it. Jessie didn’t know a lot about bikes, but this one was obviously an antique and it sported a lot of chrome. Care Bear saw them staring at it and she said:
“That was Gator Claw’s bike.”
“Yeah, he was the founder of this club, and Fatty’s Grandpa. He bought that bike when he came home from the war…WWII, I think, and he started this club. It used to be on display behind glass, and then some assholes broke in and stole it. Fat Boy got it back and to make sure nobody else got any bright ideas, he had it encased in cement that time, and spread the word that the next person who stole anything from this club would be displayed the same way as the bike.” She winked at them, but just from their brief meeting with Fat Boy the night before, Jessie would have bet he hadn’t been kidding. A loud squeal drew all of their attention away from the bike and toward Ivy, who all but ran toward them from a long hallway behind them.
“Jessie! Suzy! I’m so glad you came! I didn’t think you would. I’ve been telling everyone that a famous author was coming to our party and none of them believed me.”
Jessie felt her face go hot at the “famous author” comment. She tried not to stiffen as the overly friendly little woman grabbed her up in a hug. She hugged Suzy too and then put her arm around Jessie’s shoulders, spun her around to face the seating area where everyone was still staring at them, and said:
“Y’all! This is her! This is Jessie Cooke!”
A few of the men in the crowd stood up and gave them a polite nod and others introduced themselves by names that Jessie was likely to forget before the day was over. Some of the bikers and their old ladies eyed them suspiciously, but for the most part, they seemed like a friendly bunch at that first meeting. There were a lot of Cajun and Southern accents that were so strong Jessie had a hard time understanding what they were saying, but the tone was friendly, and she liked the musical sound of their voices.
“Okay, break it up and let the ladies breathe!” Opie bellowed. The people began to disperse back to their former positions, but before the room settled, Fat Boy walked in, also from the back hallway where Ivy had come from.
“What the hell is everyone doing sitting around?” he asked in a rough tone. “Who’s out there cooking and setting up? If y’all can’t find something to do, I can find something for you.” Seconds later, it was as if someone had called out “fire.” The room was left virtually empty, and Fat Boy looked at Jessie and Suzy at last and said, “We don’t get visitors out here often.” He gave his small lady a side-eye and added, “At least not invited ones. So, forgive us if our manners aren’t the best. Ivy, show the ladies where the kitchen is and let them grab a drink.” He looked at a watch on his wrist, an Apple one, and said, “The combat de luxe be startin’ in a few.” Then he turned and left, out through the back door that the rest of his club had disappeared out of.
“Come on, ladies, let’s fix you a drink.”
The girls followed Ivy through another door and into a large kitchen area. There were a few women and a handful of kids in the kitchen and Ivy introduced them, but most of Jessie’s attention focused on the amazing smells that wafted around them and assaulted every one of her senses. Suzy must have been experiencing the same because she commented on it.
“Wow, it smells so good in here.”
“Donna’s a chef at the Ocean’s Grill,” Ivy said of one of the ladies who stood stirring something up on the stove. “Wait ’til you taste her étouffée. Don’t tell my Maw Maw, but it even beats hers.”
Donna, a middle-aged woman with huge breasts and a tiny waist, dressed in cut-off jean shorts, a Black Sabbath t-shirt, and long blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, smiled at them. Ivy had gone over to a large, double-sided refrigerator and pulled it open. To Jessie and Suzy, she said, “Beer, or wine cooler?”
Both girls asked for a wine cooler and Ivy handed them each a bottle before taking a beer out for herself and then leading them through the big kitchen and out through a different door than they came in through. Jessie was almost disappointed when the door swung closed behind them and blocked out the smells that had brought her taste buds and appetite both to life.
“You ladies want to see the rest of the place before we go out back? It might help you get a visual when you start writing your New Orleans story,” she told Jessie with a wink.
“Absolutely,” Jessie said, with a little laugh. She wondered if Ivy realized she wrote fiction, and if she decided to do a New Orleans MC story, which she was suddenly considering, it might only loosely be based on the club. It would be a conversation the women would need to have, but it wasn’t urgent.
“Great! Let’s start in the room where all the big decisions are made around here,” Ivy said. “My bedroom!” Ivy let that hang between them for several seconds before bursting into laughter and adding, “Just kidding,” and then with a wink, “We don’t actually live here.” She laughed again at her own joke and the ladies laughed too. Ivy took them down the long hallway and Jessie admired the photos of motorcycles and men that started in black and white and made their way into color as the motorcycles and clothing and hairstyles became more modern as well. They had almost reached the far end of the hallway when Ivy stopped in front of a door marked “Private” and used a key to open it. As soon as she pushed open the door, Jessie knew they were standing in a place where even the Bombers had never allowed her to go, the inner sanctum, where as Ivy had said, “All the important decisions were made.”
The room was filled almost entirely up by a long, scarred table that was surrounded by black vinyl chairs. There was a huge Chaos banner that took up the entirety of one wall, and Jessie was looking at that when she noticed that Suzy’s jaw had dropped. Turning in the direction that Suzy was looking, Jessie gasped before she caught herself. Ivy giggled and said, “Don’t worry, girl, Old Paw has that effect on most of us the first time. He’s been around since Fat Boy’s grandpa was running this club.” “Old Paw” was mounted into the cement wall the same as the antique motorcycle had been and Jessie couldn’t take her eyes off him. She wondered what he had tried to steal from the club.
“Old Paw” was an alligator, long dead of course, but fully intact. He’d obviously been preserved by a taxidermist, but the glass black eyes that stared at her looked so real that it sent a chill down her spine. Jessie, even less of an expert on gators than she was motorcycles, couldn’t be sure, but thought that Old Paw was bigger than your average alligator. From the tip of his nose to the end of his tail, she would guess he measured close to eight feet long. His greenish/gray skin was nicked and scarred from what Jessie could only imagine were years of hard living and the claws on the tips of his toes looked as sharp as knives.
“Wow,” she said. “He’s something.”
Ivy laughed. “Yep. He sure is. Fat Boy has spent his life trying to catch a gator bigger than that one, but he ain’t found him yet.”
“How does one ‘catch’ an alligator?” Suzy asked.
Ivy giggled again and said, “Well, there’s a few different ways. We use hooks and lines. It’s the cleanest, most humane way to go. It’s also legal to use bow and arrows and guns…but then you lose a lot of the gator flesh and run the risk of shooting something you weren’t aiming at.”
“It would take a hell of a line to catch a guy this big,” Suzy said, still not taking her eyes off Old Paw.
“Yeah, it ain’t like throwing in a line that’s attached to a pole and hoping to catch a fish,” Ivy said. “I’ll show ya when we get out back, but we build these iron and cement structures, and we use 300-plus-pound lines. One end of the line is secured to the structure and the other is baited and suspended two or three feet out of the water.”
“Interesting,” Suzy said. “So, they’re alive when they’re cut off the lines?”
“Most of the time,” Ivy said, “’Course the average one is four to five feet long and not half as heavy as Old Paw here so it’s not as dangerous as you think. Hell, Fatty would much rather they be alive and kicking. Gator wrestling is one of his favorite things to do.”
“That doesn’t terrify you?” Suzy asked her.
Ivy smiled. “Nah., I grew up watching my daddy and brothers wrestling gators, it was always a part of our family get-togethers and what not, so I guess it’s just normal to me. ’Course Fatty don’t do nothing like everyone else. He’s not happy unless he’s taking a risk. But you’ll see what I’m talking about soon enough.”
“How’s that?” Jessie asked.
“Fatty’s got one just about ready to go.”
“A gator,” she said, with a smile. “Y’all ready to finish this tour?”
Jessie and Suzy nodded, but it was hard for Jessie to think about anything other than watching a man wrestle an alligator as Ivy showed them through the rest of the large building. Most of the downstairs rooms were offices or storage and upstairs there were seven bedrooms and two bathrooms. Ivy said that none of the brothers lived at the club, but the rooms were always available if anyone needed a place to stay and were often used by nomads from other clubs that were just passing through. Jessie knew from spending time with the Bombers that those rooms were often used for “liaisons” as well. For some reason, the image of Mack in one of those rooms with Angela was suddenly on her mind. She shook it off quickly but was bothered by it since she didn’t often spend time thinking about Mack being intimate with women, even Angela.
Ivy was just about to lead them back down the stairs when a woman called up at her, “Hey, Ivy, Fat Boy says y’all better come on. The wrassling’s about to start.”
Jessie felt a tickle of something in her stomach; excitement, or anxiety, she wasn’t sure which. Either way, it would be an experience for sure. They followed Ivy down the stairs and out through the door that Fat Boy had gone out earlier. As soon as the door was pushed open another cacophony of amazing aromas surrounded them.
The back of the club faced a swamp, but between the banks of the swamp and the back door of the club was a large, grassy, park-like setting complete with picnic tables and a jungle gym for the kids. Folding tables filled with desserts and fruits and vegetables were also set up along the back wall of the club and in the center of it all was a large fire pit where a healthy fire glowed and the huge black pot that hung above it bubbled and boiled and, in Jessie’s opinion, smelled like heaven.
She looked toward where a crowd had gathered near the edge of the water and even over the heads of the crowd, she could see the tattooed broad shoulders and muscular back of a shirtless man. As they got closer Jessie could see that one of the tattoos on the back of a huge arm said “Fat Boy” in black script and on the other arm it said “Ivy.” He had on a pair of army green shorts, but nothing else, and when Ivy took them up through the crowd so that their view was unobstructed, she could see the intensity in his dark eyes…just before a line was pulled by three other bikers and an alligator appeared out of the water. Jessie heard herself gasp as the big man reached out and grabbed the gator in a hug and Suzy screamed when they both fell to the ground and began to tussle in the mud. The crowd around them came alive and cheers went up all the way around for Fat Boy…but after a few seconds Jessie couldn’t watch. Her vivid imagination kept picturing the thick claws of the thrashing, writhing animal, penetrating the big man’s throat. She brought her hands up and covered her eyes and that was when she was suddenly struck by another feeling. Her stomach was suddenly filled with anxiety and a chill ran down her spine. She didn’t even notice when the sounds of the crowd changed until she felt Suzy’s hand on her arm and heard her friend whisper:
“Jess, are you okay?” Jessie moved her hands and opened her eyes. She saw that Fat Boy was atop the gator and had wrapped some kind of cord around the animal’s mouth to keep him from snapping. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the big man was sweating profusely, but she didn’t see any blood. “He’s fine,” Suzy said.
Jessie nodded. “I’m good,” she said just as a shudder ripped through her and again, she thought of Mack.
“You sure?” Suzy asked with a cocked eyebrow and a concerned look on her face.
“This is going to sound silly,” Jessie said, “but I think I need to call Mack. You know how I get feelings sometimes, like something’s wrong?” Suzy nodded and Jessie went on, “It’s silly, I know…I just need to make sure he’s okay.” The crowd was still focused on Fat Boy. He was untying the gator’s mouth now to set the animal free, so Jessie and Suzy walked a few feet away and Jessie took out her phone. She sighed when she saw she didn’t have any service. Suzy took hers out and made a face when she looked down at it; she didn’t have any service either. With a smile to hide the anxiety that had gathered in the pit of her stomach Jessie said, “Oh well, I was probably just saved from looking silly…or pissing Angela off.” Suzy chuckled, but Jessie could see worry in her friend’s eyes. Jessie did her best to reassure her friend and they rejoined Ivy and the rest of the club now around the big pot of crabs and crawdads boiling in the center of the yard. She laughed at their jokes and listened to their stories and ultimately gorged herself on all that wonderful food. She made mental notes about things she might want to use if she did decide to write a book about a New Orleans MC, and she knew that she’d love to visit the club again if she did and do some interviews with the people who had lived in the bayou most or all of their lives. She was more than a little bit intrigued by their beliefs in things like ghosts and werewolves, psychics and old legends passed down from one generation to the other. Most interesting of all though was when a pretty middle-aged woman showed up. She was laden down with bowls and pots of food and several of the big men helped her haul it all through the club and out to where the party was. Once she had set things up how she liked them, people who had already been eating for an hour lined up to get at what she’d brought. That was when Ivy brought the woman over to Jessie and Suzy and almost simultaneously, the two friends saw the resemblance, even before Ivy said:
“This is my Maw, Bernice. Maw, this is Jessie Cooke and her friend Suzy Wilson.”
Bernice smiled and took Suzy’s hand first…and then she turned to Jessie and the smile fell from her face. She surprised Jessie by wrapping both of her small hands around one of Jessie’s and staring into her eyes for several seconds. It was Ivy who spoke first:
“Maw? What’s wrong?”
Acting as if she hadn’t heard her daughter, Bernice kept her light blue eyes locked into Jessie’s and Jessie felt a shudder rip violently through her body as the woman began to speak. “Don’t second guess yourself,” Bernice said. “Follow your gut…it’s time to go home.”