“Hey, kid, do me a favor and find Jesus, okay?” Dax watched as a slow smile spread across the young man’s face. The burly property officer looked like he was suppressing a smile of his own. He finished putting the possessions in the little cardboard box out onto the counter and slid an invoice over for the kid to sign. He was signing for all his worldly possessions, and they all fit in that box. Cody Miller was twenty-four years old and he was walking out of prison six years older than he’d walked in. The first two years of his incarceration were spent in the Worcester juvenile center and on the day of his eighteenth birthday he was transferred to the medium security Men’s Correctional Institute in Concord. Dax had felt terrible the whole time the kid was in prison, since he knew he hadn’t had any visitors. He wrote to him often and sent him, or had one of the girls send him, a care package every month. He also kept money on his books. Dax and the club were all the kid had.
Cody’s mother took off for parts unknown not long after he was born. Cody’s father was…still classified as missing, and his older brother was dead. The girl that he’d been in love with since he was thirteen years old was now dating his then best friend. Dax hadn’t had the heart to tell him, but since neither of them had showed up to see him, he thought Cody probably figured it out himself. As he stood in the release center waiting for Cody to finish signing out, he was sure of two things: This wasn’t the same kid that went in, either physically or emotionally, and he was probably going to need as much help as he did at fourteen, or he’d be right back. Dax hoped that he was up to the challenge. So far he hadn’t had much luck with any of the young ones that were getting left behind because of their parents’ lifestyles. He’d been working on how to handle that problem, since it was getting out of hand. So far, he hadn’t come up with any solutions.
“Jesus ain’t gonna be waiting around for a guy like me to find him,” Cody told the officer. The old man gave him a serious look and said:
“Son, Jesus don’t wait around for no man. If you want to find him, you’re going to have to look way down deep.” Cody looked like he had a retort on his tongue, but he let it pass. Dax was happy to see that the boy at least had some self-control these days. When he’d gone in, he hadn’t had any, but that was because he hadn’t had anyone that cared enough about him to teach him what self-control was all about and how important it was for a man to have it. Dax thought he might like that property officer. He had never liked correctional officers, any more than he had cops. But after meeting Angel and her family, his opinion of cops was slowly beginning to evolve. Correctional officers like this one just might help change his opinions of them as well. The old man put his hand on Cody’s arm and Dax saw the kid flinch. It was understandable that he’d have a problem with touch, but he handled that well too. He stood stock still as the officer said, “You don’t have to find Jesus to stay on the right path, son, but you do have to find something you believe in.” Cody nodded. Dax had only recently found what he believed in. He hoped that it didn’t take Cody so long.
“I’ll look for something, Lopez.”
The officer smiled again and used the hand he’d been resting on Cody’s arm to pat the kid on the back. “I have faith that you’ll find it.” He looked at Dax then and said, “Take care of him. He’s one of the rare ones that I see potential in.”
Dax gave the officer a small smile and a nod. Then he looked at Cody, who looked at him for the first time. Dax could see the difference in the kid’s eyes. He was always a wild one, but before he went in, his eyes were full of life. Now they were cold and hard, and Dax wondered what Cody had seen in there. He knew from his own experience that whatever it was would probably haunt Cody for the rest of his days. And Dax also knew that the kid would probably never talk about any of it. He had a feeling that before things got better for Cody Miller, they were going to get worse, and that would mean trouble for the club. Despite knowing that, Dax couldn’t turn his back on him. The club had taken the kid in on the ranch at the age of fourteen. He was family and now they were the only family he had.
“You ready?” Dax asked him.
Cody picked up the pitiful little box of belongings and nodded. Dax gave Officer Lopez another nod, and he and Cody headed for the door in silence. They stepped out into the bright sunlight and Dax slipped his sunglasses down off his head and over his eyes. He pulled a leather case out of his wallet and held it out to Cody.
Cody looked surprised, but he took the case. He stopped and sat the box down and slid the glasses out into his hand. He looked at them for a long time. Dax suddenly wondered if he’d done a bad thing. When Cody looked up at him his hazel eyes glistened with the tears Dax knew he’d never let fall in front of him. “They’re Keller’s.”
Dax nodded. “He kept them in the saddlebags of his bike. I got the bike back from the P.D. It’s at the ranch. It hasn’t been ridden, but Tool starts it every so often and keeps the fluids in check. I figured you’d want it.”
He looked touched and like he didn’t know what to say. Finally, he slid on the Ray-Bans and said, “Thanks, Dax, for everything.”
Dax only nodded and the two men walked in silence to where Dax had parked Angel’s car. Cody was lost in his own thoughts and Dax was thinking about how much the kid looked like his father…the piece of shit.
Keller and Cody’s father, Brandt, had ridden with Doc, Dax’s father, for a lot of years. After Doc died and Dax took over the club, Brandt continued to ride with him. The boys had grown up in a trailer park not far from the ranch, but they’d spent a lot of time with the club. Cody wanted to be a Southside Skull since he was five years old. Keller wanted nothing to do with club life. He’d grown up around it like Dax had and it had the opposite effect on him. Keller was always the good kid. He had gotten good grades in school, followed all the rules, didn’t steal or cheat or lie or get into fights. He’d worked hard to become the exact opposite of the man his father was.
When Keller was sixteen and Cody thirteen, Dax found out that their old man had been beating them for years. Somehow the boys had hidden it from everyone, or the old fucker knew how to hit them where it wouldn’t show. Dax happened to show up at the rundown trailer they lived in one morning, looking for their father, and instead he found an unconscious, bruised, bloody and broken Keller. Dax found out later that when their father came home drunk the night before, Keller had run Cody off and taken the beating he knew their father was looking to give to someone. The kid was half-dead; after he loaded him on his bike and took him to the hospital, Dax came back to look for Brandt. He found him still passed out in the back bedroom. His knuckles and the t-shirt he was wearing were covered in his son’s blood. After Dax doused him in ice from the freezer and woke him up, the old drunk tried to tell him, tearfully, no less, that he didn’t remember beating Keller. Dax had drunk plenty in his life and although he’d been drunk enough to lose his inhibitions, he’d never lost his memory. He thought the asshole was full of shit, and he made an executive decision as president of the club that Brandt wasn’t the type of man they wanted. Then, strangely enough, the man had disappeared off the face of the earth—and even years later, no one had heard from him. Dax was one of only a handful of people on earth that knew Brandt Miller was dead.
Keller did his best, after the loss of their only parent, to take control of Cody. But the willful teen was too much for his brother to handle and when Cody turned fourteen, Dax took over. Things were going fairly well until Keller ended up dead. It turned out that he was an even better human being than Dax had thought he was. They found out that he’d been paying off some of their father’s old gambling debts…but not fast enough for the loan sharks’ taste. They beat him, probably accidentally, to death. That was when things went all bad for Cody, who found the body. He took off one night and by the time Dax and the guys found him, he was already in a set of cuffs and under arrest for murder.
Cody had killed one of the men who’d killed Keller and put the other one who was with him in the hospital. The kid stood there in cuffs, covered in their blood still, and right in front of the cops said he was on his way to kill the loan shark when they caught him. He was charged with second-degree murder and assault with intent to kill. The club’s attorney, Nathan, defended him and presented a case of a kid that had shit for a life, with no one to care about him other than his older brother; that day Cody had just stumbled upon the people who killed his brother and he’d lost it. No, he shouldn’t have had a gun on him, but if he hadn’t, he’d probably be dead too, right? That was the way Nathan had told the story to the jury, and they had looked at the skinny teenager with the big, innocent, hazel eyes and they’d bought it. He was sentenced to fifteen years instead of life and he’d been paroled after eight for good behavior. Dax looked at him now and thought there was no way a jury would take pity on him these days. He’d added over fifty pounds of muscle and shaved his head while he was in prison. Tattoos colored his neck and visible arms, and Dax had a feeling that most of the rest of his body was covered as well. Even in a suit and tie, the sight of Cody would cause the average juror to walk down the other side of the street now.
Dax led Cody over to Angel’s car. The prison was two hours from the ranch and Dax wasn’t sure Cody would be up to that ride on the back of his bike after all this time. When Dax slid the key into the door lock Cody said:
“Want me to drive?”
Cody never had a driver’s license before he was locked up. Some of the guys had been teaching him how to ride before he got locked up, but Dax wasn’t sure he’d ever done that on his own either. “Not ready to die today,” Dax told him with a laugh. “Get your felon ass in the car.”
Cody grinned and opened the door. After tossing his box over the seat he got in. “The old lady’s car?” he asked Dax when Dax got in the other side.
“Yeah. Her name is Angel.”
“Hard to imagine the woman that tied you down…especially if everything I heard about her was true.”
“You’ll like her,” was all Dax said. He wasn’t surprised Cody had heard about Angel. His father used to say that the prison grapevine was “faster than a bored housewife on speed.”
Once Dax got them out of the prison gates and onto the road, the two men drove in silence for miles. Cody broke the silence first, and Dax almost cringed as the kid asked:
“So, have you seen Macy?”
Dax knew this moment was coming. He’d let himself believe that Cody had put two and two together…but even if he suspected, he was obviously still in denial. When the kid asked about her in his letters to Dax, he had “conveniently” forgotten to answer that question. Now, there was no getting out of it.
“Yeah, she’s…around.” Macy was the daughter of Tank, one of the club members that had been around since Dax’s father’s days. He wasn’t that old—Dax figured maybe forty-five—but he had C.O.P.D. and thanks to all the trouble he had breathing, he didn’t ride much anymore. He still lived on the ranch and he was still an active member of the club. He did handyman and mechanic work around the ranch now, and up until about six months ago Macy had still lived with him. She worked in the bakery owned by one of the club girls in town and she was taking classes at the community college. As far as Dax knew, she was always a pretty good kid. He knew for a long time that she was hanging out with Jimmy Kearns, Cody’s lifelong best friend, but he’d assumed it was just to support each other…that is, until she moved in with him right after he became a prospect. Dax thought about kicking the kid out, but he hadn’t done anything other than fuck Cody’s girlfriend, and that went on in droves around the ranch. Instead, he just hoped that Cody would be over Macy by the time he came home. Obviously, that wasn’t the case.
Cody raised an eyebrow and said, “Well, I have to give her credit for standing by her promise that she was finished with me if I ever went back to jail. I only talked to her once in eight years. I called her the day they transferred me out of the youth authority…on my eighteenth birthday. I was surprised when she took the call. I guess she felt sorry for me or something. She didn’t say too much, just that she hoped I’d be okay. That was it. I’m glad she’s still around, not that she’d ever want to be with me now. I’m a convicted felon, and that will be with me always. She had big plans for her life. Did she go to college?”
“Maybe you can talk to her about all that when you see her,” Dax said. Cody raised another eyebrow. Dax could tell by the look in his eyes that the thought of seeing her both thrilled and terrified the kid. Dax hated the thought of how crushed he’d be when he found out about her and Jimmy. Especially when Cody surprised him by going on to say:
“You know, she was my first…my only…everything. When I first got locked up all I did was think about her and wonder how she was doing and if she was thinking of me. I drove myself crazy wondering what she was doing and who she was with. I’ve loved that girl since I was thirteen years old. I guess even if she never wants to see me again, I’ll probably keep right on loving her.”
It was in those words that Dax heard how truly young Cody still was. Not just physically; Dax had known many men who went inside as adolescents, came out as legal adults, but somewhere along the way, their development had gotten arrested. Cody was still sixteen years old emotionally, and Dax was afraid of what he’d do when his heart was ripped out of his chest. “How’s her dad?” Cody asked, desperately reaching for something about Macy to talk about, Dax thought.
“Tank’s good. He’s as ornery as ever. Pissed at the world that he can’t ride anymore. He stays busy fixing things on the ranch.”
Cody was quiet for a few minutes and then he said, “I met a guy from a club out in Cali while I was inside.”
“Yeah. They’re called Cen Cal Commies. You ever heard of them?”
It was Dax’s turn to raise an eyebrow. That club’s reputation stretched all the way back east. They were the kind of hard-core that old Hawk had been trying to make his club, the Sinners. The kind of hard-core that Dax had been trying to get the Skulls away from. They dealt in anything and everything that would turn a profit, and last Dax heard, they’d expanded their territory from the Central Valley all the way up north above Sacramento. “Yeah, I’ve heard of them. What’s the guy in for?”
“He was in for trafficking and weapons charges, and he assaulted a couple of police officers when they arrested him.”
“What was he doing in prison in Massachusetts?”
“He was picked up just outside of Boston. He was only seventeen at the time. He did eight years and got out a couple months before I did. He’s kept in touch. Cool guy.”
“He’s not the kind of guy I’d recommend you associate with if you’re planning on staying out of prison.”
Cody chuckled. “Thanks, Dad, I’ll remember that.” Dax shot him a sideways glance. This kid was definitely going to cause him some trouble. He’d been kind of enjoying the peace and quiet the past six months or so since the war with the Sinners ended and he’d been concentrating on legitimizing their businesses, and on Angel. He gave Cody another glance. The kid was staring out the window now and Dax couldn’t help but notice how young he looked. He was still young enough that this didn’t have to destroy his future. The problem was going to be convincing the kid he wanted one…outside of the club.