A lone biker on the open road. A crew of murderous thugs in hot pursuit. The hunters become the hunted along a lonely stretch of desert asphalt.
The notorious Rattlers motorcycle club didn’t have an official exit policy. So Austin Conrad wrote his own when he decided to get the hell out. Now he’s the target of the MC’s ruthless president, who’s hell-bent to silence Austin to keep his own dark secrets buried. Set along the back roads of southern California’s Mojave Desert, the story comes to its thrilling climax among the abandoned ghost town of Amboy. When Austin is waylaid by a hit squad from a rogue faction of the club, they learn the hard way that there’s more to Austin than motorcycles and petty crime.
No Time To Bleed is the action-packed second installment in the highly acclaimed Austin Conrad series. Quick-paced story ramps up the action and tests the mettle of anti-hero Austin Conrad, while setting the stage for further adventure and mayhem.
Warning: contains violence, profanity and irreverence, in equal measure.
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“The fuck you lookin’ at, Gramps?”
Austin Conrad stifled a grin when he heard the voice from behind him, barely audible over the lazy twang of a slide steel guitar blaring from the jukebox. At 48 it might be fair to say he was getting up there a bit, but Gramps? Then again, with babies having babies these days, grandparents in their 40’s were becoming more commonplace. But still…he’d only stopped into the Old Dale Saloon for a quick thirst quencher before getting back on the road to Vegas. Who knew his cold beer would come with a side order of age-shaming?
It was a plain, square building on an otherwise empty lot in Twentynine Palms, in California’s Mojave Desert. Austin had an affinity for dive bars, and the Old Dale didn’t disappoint. It offered the perfect combination of cheap beer, outlaw country on the juke, and a long, beer-stained bar. And it was a convenient way-station whenever he took the back way up to Vegas from Riverside, especially in the summer. Even at night out here it might only “cool down” to the low 90’s, as it was tonight. He’d figured a cold beer would break up that long, hot ride nicely. Along with a peek at the local talent, if any was around.
But tonight he wouldn’t quite get the peaceful respite he’d stopped in here for. Austin winced as he swallowed the dregs of his Tecate—damn, this Mexican rotgut sure turns sour as it warms up—and turned away from the bar to see whose cage he had rattled this time.
The whining little bitch was standing a few feet away, glaring at Austin. He was kind of short but all puffed up like the Michelin Man, and looked barely old enough to vote. He was dressed in civvies but his look was unmistakable, especially here in Twentynine Palms: a United States Marine, newly minted by the looks of him. His skin was bronze and pulled tightly over bulging muscles; the stubble on his head bleached by the sun. His fists hung at his sides, clenching like they were busy with a pair of grip exercisers. His face looked like he had a mouthful of marbles. There were two more jarheads standing behind him, in sort of a V. Like they were in formation. How cute.
“Look son I’m just minding my own business. Having a beer then getting back on the road.” Well, that and checking out the view. Not that there was much to see in the Old Dale tonight. The only girl in the place was a scrawny thing that looked to be about 45, which works out to around 30 in meth-addict years. She had stringy yellow hair and a crater face, and no ass to speak of. But she had a world class rack straining against her stained white halter top. No doubt a gift from some long-departed sugar daddy, probably a major or light colonel. Austin had raised a silent toast to whoever had paid for them. It was hard not to look, but Marblemouth had caught him.
And apparently, looking at her was a no-no. She was now standing behind Marblemouth and his wingmen, sucking on her finger like it was made of candy.
“I ain’t your son, Gramps. And Candi didn’t get dolled up tonight just to get eye-fucked by some old creeper.” Candi? How perfect. You couldn’t make this shit up. She wasn’t wearing a name tag but Austin would have bet a c-note that it was Candi with an “i”. It had to be.
“Look, all I did was say hello as she walked by. Thought I was being neighborly. Is chivalry dead in Twentynine Palms?” Austin stood up from the barstool. As he straightened to his full 6’5” height, the three heads swiveled upward in unison. Austin towered over them, but they held their ground. Brave little fuckers.
Austin had spent a lifetime tangling with their kind. It wasn’t always easy growing up an Army brat in Southern California, which was teeming with Marines from Pendleton to Twentynine. And most seemed to have a chip on their shoulder, magnified by the delusions of grandeur that was part of their Marine Corps indoctrination. But these guys looked like the real deal, despite their tender age. A few months out here in the heat had hardened them like beaten metal. Austin could hold his own in a scrap, but three against one might be a bit tricky.
“I’ll tell you what. How about I just get on my bike and scoot. Nobody gets hurt. I’ll buy you guys a round and be on my way.” Austin peeled off a twenty, laid it on the bar, and turned toward the exit.
Marblemouth took a step forward. “Not so fast Gramps. We’re not done with you. And if anyone gets hurt it ain’t gonna be us.” His wingmen stayed in formation as Marblemouth moved toward him. This was a fairly common group dynamic, Austin thought as he looked them over. According to one of Austin’s theories, groups of three tended to settle into the same pattern. There was always the leader and two followers, who could usually be further divided into a smart one and a dumb one. Like in the group round on American Idol. And the other two were parroting the aggressive stance of their leader—balled-up fists and nervous fidgets.
“Yeah well I’m done with you,” Austin said as he turned away and headed toward the door. He didn’t know how this was going to end yet, but he had a pretty good idea what was coming next. These guys were looking for trouble, and he made a good target. Austin was tall and broad, but he had grown a bit pudgy over the years, his beer gut straining against an old Bocephus T-shirt. His arms were thick slabs covered with tattoos and scars. His leather vest was new; removing all the patches that morning had left his old one in shreds. A scarred up pair of size 13 Danner work boots, greasy jeans and a long wallet chain completed the ensemble. His wind-blown black beard was streaked with gray, and matched the shoulder-length hair that grew thin toward the top of his head. His eyes were the color of faded denim, wide-set between sun-beaten crow’s feet. Despite his formidable size, he looked washed up. Which he was counting on.
As he stepped out the back door into the gravel lot behind the bar, his eyes swept left (his bike, parked next to a 10-year old Ninja) and right (a couple of old rice burners and a jacked up Chevy step-side). He took two more steps as he heard the lead jarhead hustling out the door right behind him, his wingmen in tow. Slowing his pace slightly, Austin listened for the sound of their shoes crunching gravel as they stepped off the small concrete stoop behind him. They were right on his heels. Perfect.
Austin stopped abruptly, planted his left foot and spun his body around and back to the right. His elbow came up as he turned, his forearm following in its arc, a balled fist coming last, lending its inertia. Marblemouth’s eyes flung wide open in the split second before Austin’s elbow made contact. But his legs hadn’t yet received the message, and they carried his face right into that freight train of bone and muscle. There was an audible, almost wet, crunching sound as Austin’s elbow plowed through the flesh of his nose and cheek.
Marblemouth’s legs shot out ahead of him like a cartoon coyote hitting a clothesline. His body crumpled, backside-first, to the gravel. Austin half expected to see a bag of marbles exploding from the guy’s face on impact. But there was only blood and the mangled flesh of his nose and lips. And small, white shards of teeth.
Yeah, Austin had known what was coming next. These guys weren’t going to quit until they’d had their fun, fucked with the old man from out of town, and shown Miss Candi what badasses they were. Perhaps earning free handjobs in the process. He’d given them a chance, but there was no sense trying to talk it out further; they were young, dumb and drunk, looking for violence. So Austin obliged them. He’d just brought it on a little quicker than they had expected. He felt he had the right, being outnumbered as he was. Who could blame him?
As the dust settled around Marblemouth’s head where it had bounced on the gravel, his two bootlickers looked up at Austin. One seemed a little scared, eyes wide, his mouth quivering slightly. He must have been the smart one. The other one looked angry. Bingo—he was the dumb one. Austin winked at him.
“Oh you fucking cheater!” the dumb one whined. “That was a cheap shot!”
Austin shrugged. “It was three against one. Now the odds are even, since there are only two of you left.”
The dumb one moved first, but as he stepped forward, the heel of Austin’s Danner connected with his knee, bending his leg unnaturally backward. The crunch of the dumb one’s kneecap was almost drowned out by his scream as he fell to the ground next to Marblemouth.
Which left only the smart one standing. He looked even more scared now. “There’s a twenty in there on the bar,” Austin told him. “Go call a medic for your buddies, then have a drink on me while you wait. Unless you want to wade in next.”
The smart one looked down at his friends. Marblemouth was beginning to stir, blood still pouring from the ruin of his face. The dumb one was writhing on the ground beside him, holding his knee with both hands like he was fixing to punt a football, moaning in agony. Proving Austin’s theory on group dynamics, the smart one turned and hurried back toward the door.
“And thank you for your service!” Austin yelled as he disappeared back into the Old Dale Saloon.