“Buy me a beer and I’ll tell you a good story.”
Jack Pilgrim regarded the one-eyed, one-armed, huge man on the barstool beside his. The half of his face minus an eye was scarred almost beyond recognition as human, his deformed lip pulled down in a perpetual half scowl. After twelve hours on his hog high on meth, Pilgrim only wanted to focus on the shot and the beer before him, drunk to delay and lessen the inevitable bummer.
“Look at the patch on my cut.”
He turned his back to Pilgrim. On the faded black leather vest, a skull with a feathered headdress screamed. The top rocker read “Aztec Riders;” the bottom said “Tiny.”
“I’m the only one allowed to wear this patch, man. Nobody left but me. And I can tell you all about it, the whole freaked out story. But you gotta buy me that beer first, man. So what do you say?”
Intrigued and sympathetic to a biker so fucked up he’d never ride again, Pilgrim nodded to the bartender who poured a draught Bud in a pint glass and set it before Tiny. He knocked it back, set the glass on the bar, and wiped the foam from his scraggly beard with his hand.
“Like I said, I’m the only Aztec Rider left. You should’ve seen us back in the day, bombing a hundred strong in a tight vee formation at eighty per, total road Nazis, blowing through every traffic light. And no one, not no citizen, not no pig, dared fuck with us. We had Bullhead City under our thumb and most of Nevada and Arizona too, at least as far as pussy and meth went. And it was all because of our Prez, Pothunter. See, we called him Pothunter coz he was always poking around in caves on Federal parks and reserves, looking for Indian stuff, old shit, know what I mean? Even if it is a Federal beef. Like we cared about stuff like that. And then he showed up at the clubhouse with this idol, like a real idol, you know-“
The clubhouse was a long, one story cinderblock building with a corrugated iron roof in the middle of the desert, surrounded by an ten foot fence topped by concertina barb wire with signs posted that read KEEP OUT! and TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT! in huge, screaming red letters. Inside the dimly lit clubhouse, the Riders sheltered from the roasting heat to the dull roar of a sorely overtaxed wall unit air conditioner, ripped off from a hotel. In the background, John Kay rumbled Close your eyes, girl, Step inside, girl on the tape deck while Tiny snorted yet another line of meth. The room became infinitely extended in his tunnel vision. Blood pounded in his ears like hammers against anvils. He wondered if he was going to pass out.
The door burst open. The blast of light and heat sent the Riders scurrying to
darkness like rats to their holes. Pothunter walked in, a burlap bag held in both hands. A prospect hurried to shut the door.
“Hey, Prez. What you got? Beer or scotch, I hope,” Tiny said.
Pothunter set the dusty bag on the already filthy carpet.
“Lots better, Tiny. I went to Teuwanta State Park and dug some by the cliffs. You won’t believe what I found.”
He undid the rope and pulled down the bag to reveal a terra cotta figure about two feet high, ancient and worn, the paint faded, the features still distinct. The idol was a hideously grimacing, round-headed skeleton, dressed in a mask and garments made from flayed human skin. Internal organs, liver, heart, and kidneys, dangled from an open chest cavity.
“Whoa. What the fuck is that thing, Prez?” almost everyone said simultaneously.
“Our new mascot.”
Pothunter’s broad, red face beamed with pleasure. Tiny had never seen him happier, not even when he beat a Red Devil to death with a chain. He picked up the idol and set it with great ceremony on the card table that held the club’s shrine, composed of pictures of members who were either dead or in prison and some fake Indian relics Pothunter bought in Nogales one time.
“Listen up, everybody. This is the first real find I ever made. It’s some kind of god, some kind of bad, evil thing that just lives to make trouble. You know, like us. This is bringing us wicked good luck. So I declare a three day party in honor of our new mascot, the god of the Aztec Riders. Bad Bob, tell the mommas to haul ass over here. They got some trains to pull.”
“Bitching,” Tiny bellowed.
The others howled as well, more delighted by the prospect of days of sex, booze, and meth than the idea of an official mascot. Head bent, arms pumping, Pothunter shuffled back and forth before the idol in his own version of a ritual dance. Puzzled and somewhat disturbed by the grotesque figure, like the loyal members they were, others showed club spirit and followed the Prez’s lead. They danced behind him in strict order of precedence, Vice Prez Bad Bob, Secretary Tiny, Treasurer Vulture Ed, and Sergeant of Arms Bruiser Vito, followed by patch members in order of seniority. Prospects brought up the rear. The Indian Dance became a ritual, a ceremony that set the Riders apart and drew them together.
“Swear to God, if our luck didn’t change the day Pothunter found that idol. Like bam, like the biggest, best hit of meth you’d ever want in your life. In no time we had a steady stable of a dozen whores, each one turning over eighty percent of everything she made in tricks. She’d a fucking well better if she didn’t want her ass beat. Plus we had five meth labs going, no bucket shop shit either, man, each one with a real cook who knew his stuff cold. And no cop ever so much laid a finger on us, not one bust in the whole club for eight months, I shit you not.”
Tiny paused to give Pilgrim a significant look with his pale blue orb.
“Storytelling’s thirsty work, you know.”
Pilgrim nodded again. The bartender set another Bud before Tiny. He knocked it down like the first.
“Yeah, so like I said, we was rolling in serious bread after years of nickel and dime bullshit. We knew we was lucky and Pothunter was right. The idol brought us luck. Every weekend we threw a party with enough booze, drugs, and sluts to do up Vegas, and live bands too. And the big climax was always the Indian Dance in front of the idol. Man, you should have seen how we used to get into it. It was downright tribal, know what I mean?”
Tiny frowned with the good side of his face and shut his eye.
“And everything was cool, man, just completely cool, until this bitch came along one night and really started some shit, you know-“
The sun was a bloody red eye above the horizon. Clean, fine desert air was marred by the stink of tobacco and marijuana smoke, silence shattered by pounding drums and twanging guitars.
“And this bird you cannot change,” a three hundred pound man in a tiny black cowboy hat wailed from the stage as his band thrashed through primitive chords behind him.
Tiny took a drag off a giant reefer to take the edge off the speed tweaking through his veins and stared at bare breasts flaunted by drunken mommas as they gyrated to the music. He caught Bad Bob’s eye and stuck out his tongue. Bad Bob made a fist and pumped it up and down, the universal symbol for a gang bang.
The night wore on. A select few outsiders were allowed inside the clubhouse to party with the Riders, primarily hangers on and attractive women. Flush with cash, the Riders had refurbished the clubhouse, equipped with a new pool table, fully stocked wet bar, and an impressive new shrine, handcrafted from mahogany by a full patch member who also held down a righteous day job as a cabinet maker. The idol was in its own special niche, topped by a banner that depicted the Riders’ crowned, screaming skull.
Lines of meth were laid out on a table, straws alongside for anyone who cared to snort. The open bar was staffed by two succulent, young honeys, enormous fake breasts straining against ridiculously tiny t-shirts to the point of rupture. As always, Steppenwolf blared, only now from a state of the art MP4 player.
Last night I found Aladdin’s lamp
The scene was lively, the vibe as mellow as could be among a gang of violent felons high on hard drugs. Tiny tried to take it all in, perception fractured by alcohol and drugs until moments became difficult to link together. He took another drag off the joint, exhaled, and went into a coughing fit.
A loud, brassy, female voice cut through the party chatter and music like a semi-trailer’s klaxon in the desert night.
“So what the fuck is that supposed to be? Santa Muerte or something?”
A fortyish Latina woman drunkenly swayed in the middle of the room, attractive even though overweight, jet black hair flecked with a few silver threads, a loose grin on her face, eyes wide and full of devilry. Miller tall boy in one hand, she pointed at the idol. Wild, chaotic laughter burst from her.
“Where did you gringos find that? In Tijuana? I bet you paid way too much.”
“Listen, bitch, that’s our club mascot, so don’t disrespect it, you hear me,” Pothunter bellowed, his ordinarily red face a brighter shade of beet. “That’s a genuine pre-Columbian artifact I dug up myself out at Teuwanta State Park.”
“Are you kidding me? Where I come from in Guerrero, factories make stuff like that by the shit ton. Dios mio, que gringo tontería.”
“No, bitch, you’re wrong. This is the genuine, real thing that I dug up with my own hands. And I’m gonna prove what I mean right now. Members. It’s time for the Indian Dance.”
Pothunter dropped low and began the familiar windmilling shuffle. The other Riders fell in behind him with the precision of a well rehearsed dance team. Back and forth they danced before the idol in zigzag lines, each man caught up in the intricate dance steps, faces serious and grave.
“Oh, shit, I can’t believe this shit. This has got to be the funniest fucking thing I’ve ever seen. Ay, que broma.”
Her beer gut rhythmically shook with laughter, the whites of her eyes and teeth flashing in the black strobe light.
“Bitch, I’ve had fucking enough of you,” Pothunter screamed.
He ran over to the woman and with one vicious uppercut knocked her sprawling, out cold before she even hit the linoleum. Tiny put two fingers to his mouth and blew out a long, loud appreciative whistle.
“Down with one sock. That’s why Pothunter’s Prez. Yes, sir, Aztec Riders forever.”
The Indian Dance continued. The woman lay where she fell, ignored by everyone. The night wore on. Before Tiny knew it, sense of time destroyed by drugs, it was three in the morning and no one in the clubhouse but the few most hardened partiers and the unconscious woman.
“Tiny, chop up some more flake,”
“Sure thing, Prez.”
Tiny dumped a hefty pile of meth flake onto a mirror and chopped it fine with his buck knife. The woman on the floor moaned loudly. Pothunter looked over at her and grinned.
“Looks like she’s coming round. Good thing too. Now we can kick her ass out.”
She sat up and cradled her aching jaw in her hands.
“Oh, you motherfuckers. You cracked my tooth.”
She looked up and focused on Pothunter.
“You’re a real brave man, you are, punching a woman. Que hombre.”
“Yeah, well, you see what you get, bitch, when you disrespect the Aztec Riders.” Pothunter said.
She got to her feet, still good and drunk and plenty angry too.
“Disrespect a bunch of pussy, pinche cocksuckers like you, you fucking gringo. I got chulo buddies that eat little shits like you alive. Fuck you and fuck your stupid idol most of all. Pendejo joto cabron.”
She spat at Pothunter.
“Bitch, I’ve had just about enough of your fucking shit,” Pothunter said.
He ran over to the woman, knocked her flat again, and kicked her repeatedly with his steel toed Chippewa boots. Other Riders joined in, punched and kicked her as she writhed and screamed on the floor.
“Hold her down. Hold the fucking cunt down,” Pothunter ordered.
Riders pinned down her arms and legs. Bad Bob crooked a massive arm around her head and pinned her jaws shut. Pothunter took out his Bowie knife with the sixteen-inch blade. He slit the woman’s shirt open, bared her soft, unmuscled gut. Tiny’s eyes went wide with joy. He loved nothing better than a gangbang.
Pothunter raised the knife high over his head. The woman’s eyes went wide with fear. She tried to break free, but half a dozen bikers held her down hard.
“Now you’re going to pay for your fucking disrespect, cunt.”
“No, Prez, no,” Tiny bellowed. “Not in front of witnesses.”
Pothunter’s knife stabbed down, deep into the woman’s stomach, just below the sternum.
The scream that poured through her clenched teeth deafened everyone in the clubhouse, a horrible, mortal wail of pain. Pothunter nonetheless dug the cruel blade in deeper, rent her stomach open into a gaping wound.
“We’re gonna worship the idol the real way, the Aztec way.”
Deep into shock, her eyes rolled back into her head. Her body thrashed uncontrollably. Beer gutted bikers could barely hold her down. Pothunter jammed his right hand into the open wound. He fished around for a moment, grunted with satisfaction when he found what he wanted, and with one, awful, tearing wrench yanked her heart loose from its mainstrings.
The screams ended. The woman lay still, quite dead. Covered with gore, Pothunter stood tall and proud. In his bloodstained hand, to the Riders’ awe and terror, a still beating heart. Black blood oozed from ventricles.
“This is just like the Aztec priests did it, brothers. Good enough for them, good enough for us. This is going to change our luck forever.”
He took the heart and held it high before the idol.
“Accept our sacrifice.”
Pothunter smeared the idol with the heart. Blood stained the idol’s face. Pothunter smiled widely, drunkenly, well pleased with his handiwork.
There was an awful thunderclap, a crash of doom like the last trump. The lights went out.
“What the fuck happened?”
A grotesque figure appeared before them. A skeletal corpse clad in another man’s flayed hide crouched before them, the idol brought to life. Internal organs dangled from his open chest cavity, lungs, liver, and beating heart. The god’s unsmiling mouth protruded slightly from the splayed lips of the expertly skinned face that covered his own. Vertical stripes ran down the mask. The flayed man’s hands hung loose by his wrists. Long tassels hung down his back from his elaborate, green-feathered headdress. Beneath the flayed garments, yellow skin was painted red. Blood and pus seeped to the floor from the abscesses and open sores that covered his body. The smell of rotting flesh was unbearable. Blue flames burned in the flayed mask’s eyeholes, the only light in the otherwise black clubhouse.
Pothunter smiled broadly. He pointed to the bizarre apparition and gestured widely to his brothers.
“Do you see this shit? It fucking works. Everybody get down on your knees and bow.”
Addled with drugs and adrenaline, caught up in the moment, the Riders automatically did as their Prez bid. They got down on their knees and bowed low to their mascot made flesh. Pothunter even made so bold as to approach the idol and present the heart to the idol, thick blood caked on his hand.
The apparition’s face split wide in a soundless roar. So did the flayed skin of the victim’s face. The skin ripped into pieces to reveal the wearer’s broad-nosed, cat-mouthed face, only to have that split wide. With a great gush of blood and splintered bone, the face destroyed itself to show a new one. The tiny, fine-haired head of a squalling infant screamed for his mother’s dug only to also split wide with a violent wrench of flesh and bone to show a handsome, young man, red face smooth and unlined. The handsome face seamed down the middle and ripped in twain. There in its place stood the withered, drooling countenance of an incredibly old man, only to have the hoary face crack in turn to show the grinning skull that lurks under every human face.
Bits of bloody flesh and fragments of shattered bone spattered Pothunter’s face. Slack-jawed with fear, eyes fixed on the exploding head despite the endless spray of gore, Pothunter managed to scream at last, a long and low, pitiful wail like a small animal about to die.
The idol stuck his long nails like daggers into Pothunter, ripped him to literal shreds before the other Riders like an angry child with a newspaper.
“Shit. Run for it.”
Riders ran for the door, but it was padlocked shut and the lock wouldn’t turn. A few men had enough nerve to pull their pieces and fire at the monster. Bullets riddled the walking corpse, but it just kept on coming, a trail of gore and lymph behind it. Grim face indifferent to their misery behind his flayed mask, he inflicted the same fate on each man, tore them into bloody gobbets of meat, rent them asunder limb from limb. Brave men who’d sworn never to crumble or bend the knee, each begged for mercy in his turn, called out for his mother, only to be tortured to death, maimed and savaged until he died with a last, despairing cry.
Tiny found himself outside the compound with no idea how he got there. His right arm hung useless and shattered by his side. Blood streamed from the ruins of his left eye socket. In the distance, he could hear a siren’s wail, a police car or an ambulance. Tiny stumbled toward the approaching siren, his only hope for survival.
“And that’s the straight and narrow of it, swear to God on a stack of Bibles before my mother’s grave, every last word of it. Only thing I can’t figure out is why I was the only one to get out of it, even if it wasn’t it in one piece.”
“Because you told your Prez to stop before she killed the woman,” Pilgrim said.
Tiny considered this, then shrugged.
“Maybe so, but it’s still about the God damnedest thing I ever saw. Think you wanna stand me another beer, man? Just one bro helping another, you know?”
Pilgrim pulled out his trucker’s wallet and put three twenties down on the bar.
“Keep the change,” he told the bartender.
He headed toward the door only to have a painfully thin blonde woman intercept him. Once even more than passably pretty, her delicate features were ravaged and gaunted by hard living.
“You didn’t believe that line of bullshit he was handing out, did you?” she said with a conspiratorial grin, teeth blackened from meth abuse. “He just blew himself up cooking meth, that’s all. You ain’t headed to Kingman, are you? I’m not too proud to slut a ride, if you know what I mean. You got any meth on you?”
“Sorry. I ride alone.”
Pilgrim went through the batwing doors, outside into heat that smothered him like a funeral pall. He saddled his Indian, kick started the engine, and drove off into the night.