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“Daddy,” I cried, stepping over the red river that started as a pool behind his head and grew thinner and thinner until it left the room my parents shared and seeped into the space between the wall and floor, spreading both left and right, lining the white baseboards in fresh red.

My entire family was dead, but I didn’t have time to think about it and I was grateful because the weight of what happened was threatening to crush me where I stood.

Something inside me, a final ray of hope, told me that if I could just get to Bear, then it would be okay. He couldn’t make all this go away.

But he could make it okay.

He made you a promise. He will help you. He can do the thinking for you. You just have to get there.

I couldn’t bring myself to look in my dad’s pockets. Touching him would just make it more real.

Without another option, I picked my bike out of the dirt and headed out.

Each rotation of my legs made the muscles in my thighs feel heavier and heavier. The only thing propelling me forward was the salvation I’d hoped to find when I reached the Beach Bastard’s clubhouse.

When I reached Bear.

CHAPTER FOUR

Thia

The rain hadn’t let up by the time I got to the gate. A skinny kid stood guard outside on a stool. Through his clear plastic poncho I could see the patch on his cut that read PROSPECT. He watched me as I laid down my bike and limped over to him, the muscles in my legs hadn’t yet gotten the message that I was done pedaling. “I need to see Bear,” I said. “Please. Can you tell him that Thia is here to see him? Thia from the gas station. I need to talk to him. It’s very important.”

“How important?” The prospect asked, moving the toothpick that hung from his lips from one side to the other with his tongue.

Pulling off my chain I held it up so he could see Bear’s skull ring dangling from it. “This important.”

The prospect eyed the ring skeptically before slithering off his seat. He took the chain from my hand and disappeared behind the screeching metal gate. When he came back ten minutes later it was like he was another person. “I’m Pecker,” he announced, stepping aside so I could enter. “What did you say your name was again?” A smile replaced his earlier scowl.

“Thia,” I said, stepping into The Beach Bastard clubhouse, although I would have called it more like a compound. It was an old motel or apartment complex. Three stories high with rooms open to the elements circled an open courtyard below where an empty pool sat in the center. Off to the side was a clear glass door that looked like it used to be an old bar or restaurant and it looked as if the Bastards still used it for its original purpose. The bar was fully stocked and several men, all wearing cuts, played pool at one of three pool tables.

“Where is Bear?” I asked again. Out of the rain and under the protection of a series of overhangs, my jaw began to shake and my teeth chattered. My wet tank top and shorts clung to my body. My hair lay flat and lifeless against my forehead and cheeks, dripping water into my eyes.

“Bear’s busy right now, but he told me you can wait for him in his room,” Pecker said as I followed him up a flight of stairs to the second floor, holding onto the jagged aluminum railing for support. I nicked my middle finger on an especially sharp point, sucking off the drop of blood that pooled on the surface. “Sorry, should have warned you about that.”

Rain streamed down into the courtyard with such ferocity that the Bastards wouldn’t need a hose to fill their empty pool. The small overhang was no protection from the sideways rain.

Pecker stopped in front of a dark green door and opened it, motioning for me to go inside. “He’ll meet you in here,” he said with a laugh. I stepped inside the dark room but spun around again when I heard the door slam behind me.

“Where did you get this?” a menacing voice asked. My throat squeezed tight and slowly I turned to face the owner of the voice. On the edge of the bed sat a man who looked very much like what I remembered Bear did, except this man had graying hair and a face filled with hard lines.

He held up Bear’s ring.

“Where is Bear? Are you his dad?” I asked, hugging my arms around my waist. The man stood up and laughed, closing the distance between us. I backed up to avoid contact, my head banged against the door.

“I’m not sure you heard me, Darlin’,” he said with mock sincerity, “But I asked you a fucking question and I don’t know who you think you are or where you think you are, but I’ll fill you in…” He leaned down to stare at me with familiar blazing blue eyes. “I’m Chop. Stands for Chop Chop because…” He chuckled and ran a calloused finger down my cheek, I pulled away and he grabbed my face so hard my mouth opened and he squeezed my cheeks until they touched in the middle. “Well, you don’t need to know that story, now do you? I run this shit. The patch on my cut says so. You’re in my house so you’ll tell me where the fuck you got this before I shove it down your fucking throat and choke you with it.” Chop held up the chain again, the light from the lamp glinted off the diamond in the eye of the skull.

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