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Bill the Butcher (subversify.com) - Oct 7th
Time for fiction from Bill the Butcher-"Grim Rippers MC, says the sign on the red brick wall, in large black letters on pale grey. The letters are stylised Gothic, set below the club logo of a hooded skull and crossed scythes. It’s evening, just after dusk, and the skull glows faintly luminous...

Grim Rippers MC, says the sign on the red brick wall, in large black letters on pale grey. The letters are stylised Gothic, set below the club logo of a hooded skull and crossed scythes. It’s evening, just after dusk, and the skull glows faintly luminous with phosphorescence.

“It might look cheesy,” I’d been warned, “but do not be tempted to laugh. Not even to yourself. There is nothing funny about these people.” As though I’d needed to be told that.

It’s a strange place to have an outlaw biker clubhouse, in this fairly upscale residential district with its tree-lined streets and neat houses with well-tended little gardens out front. It’s an especially strange place to find this particular kind of biker clubhouse. These streets were built with family cars in mind, modestly fashionable vehicles hushing by unobtrusively to work or shopping at the malls downtown. Nobody probably ever imagined they’d echo to the pulsating beat of V-twin cruiser engines. But then there’s nothing usual about the people inside those walls. Nothing at all.

There are motorcycles parked in a double line on the small concrete court by the gate, along with a couple of pickup trucks. I glance at them, counting quickly; there are about fourteen or fifteen. Not a full house then, because some of these will be associates’ and prospects’ bikes, but still a fair number of the full-patch members will be here tonight. I can imagine them on the other side of the wall, and I’m sure a couple of sets of eyes are watching me at this moment, sizing me up, and more likely than not checking to make sure I’m the one they expect.

Despite my training, I feel my tension rising, and pause a moment to get myself under control; but not too much, not all the way to base-level calmness. They’ll detect my nervousness, of course, and to some extent they’ll be expecting nervousness. Nervousness is normal under these circumstances. But they’d react as suspiciously to outright anxiety as they would to a dead – if you’ll forgive the pun – calm. They’re as sensitive to atmosphere as hunted wild animals, and they can be as dangerous as one of those wild animals when brought to bay.

 I’m ready for my role, I tell myself, once again. I won’t screw up by making some stupid mistake. I repeat it quickly, so that I know it’s true, and walk up to the gate.

The owner of one of the sets of eyes I’d known were watching me steps out of a small wooden cubicle next to the gate. He’s a big man with a round hairless head, shining in the light pouring down on us from the floodlight on the gatepost. He crosses his beefy arms on his white T shirt and stares at me silently.

“I’m expected,” I say after it becomes obvious he’s not going to make the first move. “I’m…” for the briefest instant I have a shaft of panic when I can’t remember my code name, but then it comes to me. “Bill,” I tell him. “Bill Butcher. Roggy one-percenter invited me.”

For a moment he doesn’t react, his stony expressionless eyes gazing into mine. Then he holds out a hand. I fumble my ID through the wire mesh to him; he takes it without a word and disappears into the cubicle. After a couple of minutes, there’s a faint hum of an electric motor and the gate begins to slide open.

The big man reappears, and speaks for the first time. His voice is harsh and low, as if it is an effort for him to talk. Perhaps it is. “Roggy will be here later,” he says. “You’re to go in and wait.”

“All right. What about my licence?”

He stares at me. “You’ll get it back when you leave. Rules of the house.”

I’d been coached to look out for any attempt to intimidate or dominate me, and to resist from the outset, but it seems counterproductive to raise a ruckus before even getting into the clubhouse. So I shrug, turn away and walk up the steps to the door, which looks very heavy, as though it’s sheathed in metal under the wood. More likely than not it is.

It’s already opening, and another man appears. This one’s surprisingly small, barely up to my shoulder, and thin, almost spindly, which makes me instantly wary. His short stature means he must make up in other attributes what he lacks in centimetres. The club can pick and choose its members – it isn’t hurting for candidates – and it recruits only the best. He grins up at me, a feral smile with a lot of tooth and little else.

“I’m Rat,” he says in a flat monotone. “And you’re Bill Butcher.”

“Rat?”

“Rat one-percenter, of course,” he says with some disgust, as though I’ve failed some kind of test. “Roggy said you’d be along.” He throws an arm round my back, as he ushers me though the door; a surprisingly friendly gesture, but I can feel the subtle pressure of his fingers as he checks me out for a shoulder holster. That’s just the beginning.

As soon as we’re through the door it slams behind us and Rat produces a gun, which he holds to my head, and pats me down expertly. “Drop your pants,” he says when he’s done.

“Huh?” This I had not expected. “What the fuck is this?”

“Drop the pants,” he repeats in the same monotone. “Or I’ll blow your head off.”

I undo my belt and let my trousers collapse round my ankles. Rat quickly feels around my legs with his free hand. “All right,” he says, stepping back. “Now the jacket.”

“Did you think I was carrying a bug?” I ask when he motions for me to get dressed again.

“No,” he says. “If you were, it would be disguised anyway. But I needed to be sure you weren’t carrying something illegal to plant on us. It happens.”

“Yeah?” I ask, pulling up my zipper.“Roggy specifically told me not to carry any kind of contraband, so I’m not.”

He shrugs, putting away the gun. “Sorry about that,” he says insincerely. “But you can’t be too careful. Well, come on.”

I follow him down a short, brightly-lit corridor to a large room. It’s got a bar counter down one side, and a small stage opposite. The wall behind the stage is covered by a huge grey cloth bearing the hooded death’s head with the crossed scythes, with Grim Rippers above it, MC to the side and the charter name, in the same Gothic script, below. The rest of the room is scattered with chairs and tables. It looks like a cross between a community hall and a pub, except that there are no drinks behind the bar. Of course, for these people, there wouldn’t be.

There are several of them sitting in the room, and glance up at me with feigned casualness. The casualness is obviously feigned because their eyes all have the same glittering, watchful look, and once again I’m reminded of dangerous wild animals.

“Roggy will be here in a bit,” Rat tells me. “Make yourself at home. Hey, Tiny,” he calls, “we have a guest.” Clapping me lightly on the back, he disappears through the door by which we’d entered.

“Hi.” Tiny, of course, is so huge I have to tilt my head back slightly to look him in the eyes. He gives me a benign grin through a faceful of curling beard. “Welcome to the Ripper Nation.”

“Yeah, hi. Thanks.” Tiny’s hand is so large it envelopes mine. “I don’t want to trouble you,” I tell him. “I’ll just wait for Roggy. He’s to meet me here.”

“It’s no trouble, no trouble at all.” Tiny’s teeth are small and even, his cheeks ruddy above the beard. He looks friendly, happy, and so vital that apart from the slightest waxy sheen on his skin one can hardly tell he’s dead. “It’s nice to see a guest here. We seldom have any.”

“What about them?” I nod towards a couple of women in the far corner.

“Oh, them. They aren’t guests. Hey, Bonny,” he calls. “You a guest?”

One of the women grins back and waves. She’s tall, muscular, chocolate-complexioned, and her hair’s worked into short dreadlocks – as I already know, these biker gangs don’t discriminate on the basis of ethnicity. I watch the muscles slide and bunch under her skin – I wouldn’t fancy my chances against her in hand-to-hand combat. “Guest?” she shouts back. “How I wish.” It seems to be some kind of inside joke, because everyone laughs except me.

We sit at a table and Tiny leans back, his hands locked behind his head. The insides of his arms crawl with tattoos. “Can I offer you a drink?” he asks casually.

“A drink?” I wonder if this is a trick question of some kind. “But you don’t drink alcohol, do you?”

“I meant whether you want one,” he replied. “We do have a few bottles for guests somewhere. Wine, gin, whiskey, you name it, we have it.”

“Oh, all right. Thanks for the offer.” I glance around the room, aware everyone else’s attention is on me to a greater or lesser extent. “But I don’t want it. You see, I don’t drink either.”

“Why not?” Tiny looks a bit surprised. “Don’t tell me you’re a teetotaller.”

“No,” I tell him, and raise my voice slightly to make sure I’m clearly heard. “It’s not that I’m not a teetotaller.” I wait, pausing a moment for effect.

“I’m Undead too,” I say.

************************

“Let me explain clearly,” my controller, whom I know only by the code name of Teri, had told me. She’d stood at the window of her office, back turned to the view, and stared me up and down with her markswoman’s eyes. “These are criminals here we’re dealing with. I know you’re Undead too, but you are nothing like them. You have to keep that in mind at all times.”

“I know,” I’d said. “I’m perfectly aware of that.”

“Uh-huh.” She’d shaken her head emphatically. “You don’t understand, not really. These people – if we’re to call them that – are the scum of the earth. But they can be very persuasive, very convincing. It’s easy to be taken in. And because you’re Undead, you’d feel a natural kinship with them anyway, so it’s doubly dangerous for you.”

“But you need someone Undead to infiltrate them,” I’d said sourly. “So anyone you send would be in the same boat.”

“That doesn’t mean you can afford to relax a moment. Look, Bill…” Teri had switched to what I call her ‘reasonable’ persona, smiling reassuringly and leaning earnestly forward. She doesn’t do it very well, because her eyes remain the same, those sniper’s eyes. “You need to keep in mind what you’re dealing with here. They seem pretty much jokes, don’t they? A few Undead with attitudes, motorcycles, and stickers on their backs? But they could overturn our entire economic and social system. They’re that big a threat.”

“How?” I’d asked reasonably enough. “What do you think they’re planning, an armed insurrection against the government or something?”

“I wish they would,” Teri had said almost wistfully. “Then we could take care of them.” I’d seen the gleam in her eyes, as if she was taking aim through a rifle’s telescopic sights, and I’d known what she’d meant by that. “But it’s nothing so easily countered.” She’d sat down opposite me and rubbed her face, and for the first time I realised how tired she looked. “They’re pushing Juice,” she’d said.

“Juice?” To say I was surprised would have been the understatement of the year. “How can they push Juice? How can anyone even get their hands on it?”

“Nevertheless,” she’d replied, “that’s what they’re doing, and they’re distributing it on a large scale amongst the Undead. You don’t need me to tell you what that means, do you?”

“No.” I had shaken my head in bewilderment. “Are you sure the Undead biker gangs are behind this?”

“Quite sure. They don’t deal out of the clubhouses, of course. They’re far too smart for that. But they are distributing it. We need to know where they’re getting hold of it first, and then we’re going to strike hard as we can.”

“I thought there was only one source.” We’d both looked instinctively at the company’s red-white-green logo, easily visible on the building across the way from her office. That wasn’t significant – you can’t go two kilometres without seeing the logo five times. “Government-protected monopoly, isn’t it?”

“They claim there’s none missing from their stocks.” Teri had shuffled a couple of files on her desk, her long slim fingers riffling the pages. “That’s what they say.”

“But you don’t believe them.”

“The stuff has to be coming from somewhere, hasn’t it?”

“Maybe it’s being smuggled in from abroad? The Chinese and Russians make it on a large scale.”

“The samples we’ve found don’t have the chemical markers of the Chinese version, and the Russian stuff’s just a copy of the Chinese Juice. Besides they’ve a bigger demand than they can supply, so there’s nothing left over for smuggling.” She’d stared at me, making sure I’d understood what she meant. “But you know as well as I do that we can’t do a thing without cast-iron evidence.” I’d nodded, knowing the tremendous political power of that particular company, and how it virtually owns half the government, leaving the lesser corporations to fight for control of the other half. “You’re to get the evidence.”

“And the only way you can think of is by infiltrating one of the clubs? Isn’t there another way?”

“If there was, don’t you think we’d have used it by now? Frankly, these biker clubs are almost impenetrable. We don’t know a thing about what goes on there. We need an inside informant.”

“Well,” I’d asked then, “why me? You must have other operatives, more experienced ones.”

“But we don’t have another Undead agent.” Teri had slapped her hand on the table. “Look, Bill, I’ll be frank with you. I don’t like the Undead. They give me the creeps – even you, and you’re lifelike enough to pass. Say what you like, but you Undead aren’tnatural.” She’d paused to give me a chance to respond. I’d kept my peace, because she’d not said anything I hadn’t sensed already about her attitude. When you’re Undead you grow sensitive to atmosphere, if only as a self-protective mechanism. “But,” she’d continued eventually, “even so, I’ve been lobbying for some time for the Department to recruit amongst the Undead. I fought hard for that, almost alone, and finally I got clearance to hire one operative. And that was you.”

“I see,” I’d said slowly. “I did not know that.”

“What would have been the point of telling you? I’m letting you know now so you realise just how important you are to this project. Without you, there wouldn’t be any chance of putting a stop to this. None.”

We’d talked some more about the logistics of the infiltration, and the training I’d undergone in bike riding. “The sooner you get on it, the better,” she’d said. “It’s going to take time, as we both know. At least we don’t have to set up too elaborate a back story for you, seeing as you aren’t alive.”

Then we’d talked about the club we’d decided to infiltrate. The biggest Undead biker gang in the state was the Death Dealers, but they had no local chapter in the city, and besides they weren’t a club with a national presence. There was only one chance we’d get to infiltrate, so it had to be good. After a lot of discussion, we’d picked the Grim Rippers as the target. They were large, they had a nationwide presence, and there was one more thing about them which clinched the issue.

“They’re the worst,” Teri had told me, shuffling her files. “They push more Juice than all the other clubs put together, and there’s a suspicion that they’re the source for the other gangs as well. The whole supply is going through them.”

I listened, thinking about what she’d said. “Suppose I have to do something illegal if…when…I’ve infiltrated them. Then what?”

“Then you do what you have to,” she’d replied promptly. “The Department will cover for you, don’t worry. We look after our own.” We’d talked for a while more, setting up codes. “Are you ready?” she’d asked at last.

“As much as I’ll ever be.” I’d risen to my feet. “Well, yeah, I’ll be in touch.”

She’d waited until I was at the door. “Bill.”

I turned my head. She was leaning over her desk, her eyes burning into mine. “Do not fail me. You don’t need reminding what’s at stake for you, do you?”

“I do not,” I’d acknowledged, and closed the door deliberately slowly. She’d probably expected me to slam it shut. It wasn’t much of a rebellion. But it was all I was capable of.

We Undead have our limitations, and are all too well aware of them.


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