(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
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. Itís evening, just after dusk, and the skull glows faintly
luminous with phosphorescence.
"It might look cheesy," Iíd been warned, "but do not
be tempted to laugh. Not even to yourself. There is nothing funny about
these people." As though Iíd needed to be told that.
Itís 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. Itís 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 theyíd echo to the pulsating beat of V-twin cruiser engines. But then
thereís nothing usual about the people inside those walls. Nothing at
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 associatesí and prospectsí 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 Iím 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 Iím 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. Theyíll detect my nervousness, of course, and to some
extent theyíll be expecting nervousness. Nervousness is normal under these
circumstances. But theyíd react as suspiciously to outright anxiety as they
would to a dead Ė if youíll forgive the pun Ė calm. Theyíre as sensitive to
atmosphere as hunted wild animals, and they can be as dangerous as one of those
wild animals when brought to bay.
Iím ready for my role, I tell myself, once again. I wonít
screw up by making some stupid mistake. I repeat it quickly, so that I know
itís true, and walk up to the gate.
The owner of one of the sets of eyes Iíd known were watching
me steps out of a small wooden cubicle next to the gate. Heís 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.
"Iím expected," I say after it becomes obvious heís not
going to make the first move. "Iím..." for the briefest instant I have a shaft
of panic when I canít 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 doesnít 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, thereís 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. "Youíre to go in and wait."
"All right. What about my licence?"
He stares at me. "Youíll get it back when you leave. Rules
of the house."
Iíd 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 itís
sheathed in metal under the wood. More likely than not it is.
Itís already opening, and another man appears. This oneís
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 Ė it isnít hurting for candidates Ė and it recruits only the best. He
grins up at me, a feral smile with a lot of tooth and little else.
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