“Jax can’t go Nomad!”
The doors rattled on their hinges as Gemma burst into the room, her declaration breaking the silence.
“It’s that goddamn McQueen,” she said from the doorway, pausing with her hands on her hips. “He’s a bad influence.”
Clay sighed and slowly turned to face his wife. He had shut himself in chapel, hoping quiet contemplation in his seat at the table might bring some clarity to what was best for the MC and his stepson. The clubhouse was largely deserted at this time of the afternoon, and those who were around would respect his privacy.
“He’s Nomad. That’s probably why Jax thinks it’s a good idea.” Gemma continued with a toss of her head. “Can’t you get rid of him? Besides, I don’t need a constant in-my-face reminder of the bit of gash JT pined after.”
His brow lifting, Clay considered her accusation. He, JT and Piney had been celebrating their return from ‘Nam at some dive bar near the beach in Santa Barbara. It was months before JT met Gemma, but it was a weekend that lived in infamy through stories they told and retold about the excess of drink, sexual exploits, and beautiful women. There had never been any particular attachment to any one woman, however – that was purely in Gemma’s mind.
JT only found out by chance he had a son, when he and several members of SAMCRO happened to stop in Sapphire on a run to Vegas. Andie, married and with a successful business by that time, never asked for anything from JT, but she didn’t object to him getting to know his now seven year old son. She hadn’t known how to find the former soldiers from that weekend, or she would have shared the news. After that, and despite Gemma’s objections, JT started to visit a few times a year.
“Goddamn it, Clay. Say something.”
“Jax wants retaliation,” Clay replied, shaken out of his reverie. He sat forward, leaning on his elbows on the table. “I pushed him off that because you didn’t want him going after the League.”
“I still don’t,” she demanded, striding into the room. “I thought you were going to find some Mayan or some other shit to pin this on. Give him that retaliation he wants like we did for Ope.“
“I did. He ain’t buying it.” The SAMCRO President shrugged, running a hand through his hair.
“Then you ain’t doing a good enough job selling it.”
“My own goddamn table is calling me for not voting retaliation right now,” Clay countered irritably, sitting back once again in his chair and watching his wife as she paced back along one side of the table. “There’s more than enough to say this is Weston, the League.”
“Like what?” Gemma stopped and looked at him.
“Weston threw it in his face.”
“I know that,” she replied dismissively. “But he was probably saying that to provoke a fight, get Jax arrested. Which he did.”
“He left the same mask at the hospital, then showed up again there today. Bragged about it to Jax, with Juice and Ope in earshot,” the SAMCRO President added resolutely. That piece of new information was partly what led him to seek time alone to think. When word got around to everyone else in the MC, they would all support Jax and want retaliation. “And Zobelle has a history of stirring up shit with the MC in whatever town he sets up shop.”
“That’s just my point!” she declared adamantly. “And exactly why you can’t let Jax around this shit.”
“Whether you like it or not, they’re behind this. And you’re not going to keep Jax off it. He’s already arranged a meet with Weston, tomorrow night.” His tone was resigned.
Gemma whirled around, alarmed. “Shit.”
She paced along the table, stopping and putting her hands on the back of the chair where Piney normally sat. “This is just like the Donna mess, she would have pulled Ope out of the club if I hadn’t taken care it.”
Clay considered, not for the first time, that his wife could be heartless when it came to people getting in the way of what she wanted. She was also shrewd and manipulative, but he didn’t like to consider those aspects of her personality, or how they had led to the dilemma he now faced.
“With Donna out of the way, we got Opie back. We get Tara out of the way, we get Jax back. None of this would be happening if it weren’t for her.”
“You can’t kill Tara,” he declared unequivocally, shaking his head. He was certain, even if she wasn’t, that such an action would cause her son to become completely unhinged. And if this was Zobelle messing with the MC the way he had with other clubs, Tara was just an means to an end. Getting rid of her would provoke his hotheaded stepson to do something rash and impulsive, which was probably what they had been counting on all along.
“I’d like to,” she murmured fervently.
“Gem… that would push Jax right over the edge,” Clay warned, well aware she would have few, if any, reservations on following through with her threat. “He’d run right into the League by himself, and you’d be wishing he was Nomad rather than dead.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” she snapped haughtily, bracing her hands on her hips. She sighed heavily. “I know my own goddamn son.”
She turned and paced restlessly for several steps before swinging back around to face him.
“I told Tara if she cared about Jax, she’d leave Charming. Now. Today. Go back to Chicago or somewhere else. I don’t give a shit where. If she doesn’t listen to me… bitch hasn’t before… then I will do something, Clay. I have to. I can’t let this bitch pull my son away from me.”
Clay rubbed his eyes. If Tara took Gemma’s advice and left… Jax was more likely than not to follow. Which only ensured he’d go Nomad, or worse, leave the MC entirely.
“Bitch stops pulling my son away from me, things will calm down,” she repeated, seizing on that as the answer to the problem, her mind was racing with possibilities. “She leaves, there’s no need for him to meet Weston, or for retaliation, or any of this shit. You convince him to back off with her gone, and he stays SAMCRO. No more Nomad bullshit.”
“And if she doesn’t leave?” Clay asked with a resigned sigh, aware his old lady was already knee deep in some new scheme.
“I’ll make damn sure she does,” Gemma replied with an emphatic lift of her brows.
Clay wasn’t sure she knew her son as well as she thought she did. Certainly he was more headstrong and independent than she would ever concede, and his feelings for the doctor were stronger than she would ever acknowledge. Her interfering between them was only going to end badly. He was going to have to figure a way to end this, and fast.
Opie hadn’t meant to eavesdrop, but the door to chapel was open. When he heard the voices were Gemma and Clay’s, he started to walk away. But then he heard Donna’s name, and his feet seemed rooted to the spot. Why would they be talking about his dead wife?
He thought about interrupting, or at least suggesting they close the door. He even hoped they might see him standing just outside the doorway, and stop their conversation. But they hadn’t. And he hadn’t found the words to interrupt. Very quickly he heard more than he wanted, more than he could ever forget, and more than he could, at this point, let go.
Scratching at this beard with the back of his hand, he cleared his throat loudly and knocked.
Tara parked in a dark alley across the street and a few blocks down from the cigar shop. Most of the businesses were closed, which was expected given the late hour, but there was a light on in two or three of them, including Impeccable Smokes.
She didn’t have a plan, exactly, when she took the succinylcholine from the surgical dispensary. Or when she ditched McQueen and snuck out of the hospital. Or when she drove to the cigar shop. Or even by the time she parked in the alley. But after McQueen told her Jax was planning a meet with Weston… something inside her rallied. She loved Jax, beyond everything, beyond explanation, and she didn’t want him to take any more risks for her… and she didn’t need a man to handle her shit.
She had to do something… something to protect Jax, something protect herself, and something to stop this mess from getting, well, messier. And that something wasn’t leaving Charming, as Gemma had suggested. She’d done that once; she wouldn’t do it again, not willingly. Jax was hers now, and she planned to keep it that way.
She saw the owner, Ethan Zobelle, through the window. There were several boxes stacked on the counter, and he appeared to be restocking the open cabinet.
She passed a silver Mercedes in the alley, working her way around to the back of the shop. Still uncertain about what she was doing, but compelled forward just the same, she twisted the door handle for the back entry to the shop. Tara sucked in a surprised breath when it opened, then held the same breath, praying for no sound to give her away as she pulled the door just wide enough to squeeze inside.
She found herself in a small office, a Banker’s lamp on the table the only light. Clutching the SIG Sauer 9mm pistol Jax had given her tightly in one hand, she cocked her head and listened carefully for any sound.
Zobelle was whistling along with some classical music in the other room, seemingly unaware he now had company.
Crossing quietly over to the desk, she glanced at the various papers stacked neatly on the top. She had no idea what she was looking for, but perhaps she could find a clue why the League was so interested in sending a message to SAMCRO.
She paused again, listening for sounds to confirm that Zobelle was still in the other room.
Opening a drawer, she pulled out the manilla envelope on top. When she peeked at the photos inside, the easily recognizable SAMCRO reaper caught her attention, and her pulse lurched anxiously. She shook the photos out and flipped through them. She recognized Cameron Hayes immediately, remembering the Irishman she had patched up the day after she and Jax had… reconnected.
The bell ringing to announce a visitor to the shop brought her head up. She slid the photos back in the envelope, and put it back in its original place, closing the drawer softly. Hiding behind the door, she tried to still her racing heart.
“Do you care to explain to me, what it is that you’re doing?” Ethan Zobelle asked, clearly angry. “The plan was for Teller and his club to show up at the rally tomorrow night so they would be arrested. It was not for you to arrange to meet him in some… old west showdown.”
“It was a necessary alteration,” Weston countered, repeating the words Zobelle had once used to him.
“And what, exactly, is your plan now?” the cigar shop owner asked, crossing his arms over his chest and staring at the man who had essentially been his enforcer for years. Well, he of all people knew that all things must come to an end; Weston was too limited in his thinking to be of use beyond muscle and even that was now questionable.
“I meet him. I kill him.”
Zobelle sighed heavily. “Which does not achieve our objectives here.”
“Which objectives would that be? To secure the existence of our race and the future for white children? Or become some sort of drug kingpin?” Weston countered sharply.
“What are you talking about?” Zobelle asked warily.
“Ule told me about your visit with Alvarez, your guns for drugs deal. You’re dealing heroin with the Mayans.”
“Ah,” Ethan murmured, reaching up to press his temples. He had a shotgun behind the counter, which he might very well need in the new few minutes given Weston’s militant stance. He took one step sideways, moving slowly as one might in front of a wild animal.
“I had Ule check it out. Then I reached out to the AB, to Tully. Verified it with contacts inside.”
“I see,” Zobelle replied quietly, taking another step toward the gap in the counter.
“You’ve been lining your pockets while you’ve been betraying the cause, you race traitor,” Weston asserted, pulling a gun out of his pocket. “Your support of the League, of the Brotherhood, was complete bullshit.”
The cigar shop owner took a deep breath. Would Weston really shoot him?
“Yes, well, there are some compromises that we have to make time to time for the greater good. We need money to advance the cause, and so my… connection to the Mayan MC was intended only as a means to use them to our advantage.”
“You’re a piece of shit,” Weston retorted with disbelief. “None of that money you earned was going to go to the cause, now or later. Tully found proof that you’ve been fattening your bank account for years.”
“Now, let’s just talk about this… there is money, we can just make some transfers….”
“We’ll be making those transfers, but you’re done. Tully is going to clean up the mess you made inside. I’m cleaning up the mess outside.”
Tara exhaled, her breath coming out unevenly. She wanted to look up from her hiding place in the back seat, but she didn’t dare. She wiped her sweaty palms on her jeans, and repositioned the SIG in her hand.
When Weston pulled out his weapon and threatened Zobelle, she slipped out the backdoor. She was just nearing the front of the shop when she heard the first gunshot. On the second shot, she made a quick decision and sprinted for the green Ford Bronco parked in front of Impecceble Smokes.
It was only seconds later before Weston slid into the driver’s seat and slammed the door shut. When he started the SUV, Tara sat up in the back seat. He had only just registered the sight of her in the rear review mirror when Tara slid the needle into the side of Weston’s neck and pushed the plunger down.
He snarled and took at swing at her, but she jerked back, just out of range. The empty syringe fell onto the seat. He turn and reached for her but found his movements limited as a cold rush washed through him, the fast acting anesthetic already paralyzing his muscles.
Tara pressed back against the seat, pointing the SIG at him as a precaution.
“Let me tell you how this works… your muscles are already starting to feel relaxed. In fact, you can’t move. Your heart rate is starting to slow.”
Weston tried again to lift his arms, but they seemed unbearably heavy and wouldn’t obey his command. Acutely aware of his body’s lack of responsiveness to his commands, his eyes flitted anxiously around the vehicle.
“You’ll spend the next few minutes in a state of waking terror, your mind fully aware of your body slowly shutting down. Soon you won’t be able to breathe. And then you’ll die.”
Weston’s breathing was slowing to a harsh gasp.
She sat forward, lowering the gun slightly so she could whisper close to his ear. “If I had the stomach for it, I’d cut your dick off for what you did to me, but this will have to do.”
His eyes widened almost imperceptibly, one of the few signs of life left in his body.
“You fucked with the wrong old lady,” Tara explained as she climbed over the seat. She exited the passenger side of the SUV and walked around the front of the vehicle. By the time she reached the driver’s door, Weston was completely still.
She could hear sirens in the distance. No doubt someone had alerted the police to the gunshots moments earlier.
It wasn’t easy given how much he outweighed her, but she managed to shove Weston’s limp body into the passenger seat. Climbing into the vehicle, she started it and drove in the opposite direction that would bring the Charming police to the area.
“Clay needs a minute,” Ope said as the SAMCRO VP walked into the clubhouse.
Still unable to reach Tara, Jax had left her another message from home. He did catch McQueen, who explained that something had gone wrong, or had happened – he wasn’t sure, Tara had been vague as she raced away, back into surgery.
Regardless, the combination of confirming Tara’s whereabouts and spending time with his son had done wonders to ease his mind.
“Now?” Jax asked, lighting his cigarette. “We got Church in an hour.”
“Yeah, you’re gonna want to hear this,” Opie stated plainly, tossing back a shot of whiskey. After a tense discussion with Clay and Gemma, Opie agreed not to tell the entire club what he had heard. But he wouldn’t relent on one point, which was that he and Clay would tell Jax, all of it, then they would decide together what would be done.
Gemma initially tried denial, suggesting he had likely misunderstood what he thought he heard. When that failed to move him, she had tried to appeal to Opie’s sympathy as surrogate mother, pleading that what she had done was only because she loved him, that it was all for his best interest. When that didn’t work either, she tried to appeal to his loyalty to the MC, but he again remained unmoved. Instead, he suggested she go home, that some distance would be best right now for everyone.
As they took their seats around the table, Jax looked curiously at Ope, then at Clay, then back again. Sliding the ashtray on the table closer, he flicked the ashes from his cigarette.
“Look, I know me arranging to meet with Weston was out of line,“ Jax said finally, breaking the awkward silence that had begun to fill the air.
“This ain’t about that,” Clay said with a heavy sigh. He sat forward, looking Jax in the eye. “Son, you know that things can get complicated when it comes to-“
There was a hard insistent knock on the door just before it swung open.
“Sorry, Clay, guys,” Tig offered apologetically. He pointed over his shoulder to one of the prospects. “Miles here has an urgent message for Jax.”
Stepping past Tig into the doorway, Miles cleared his throat nervously. He held out a phone. “Uh, yeah guys, sorry for the interrupt, but McQueen said he’d cut out my liver, chop it into little pieces, sauté it in butter, and serve it to his wife’s dog, if I didn’t get Jax on the phone right away.” He smiled nervously, his brows lifting. “I’m pretty sure he meant it.”
“Shit.” Jax exclaimed as he pushed away from the table and came to his feet. He grabbed the phone out of the prospects hand. “Yeah?”
“Jesus Christ. I’m on my way.”
He glanced back at Clay and Ope, and said somewhat apologetically, “I gotta go.”
Without waiting for a response, Jax walked to his bike and methodically pulled on his helmet and gloves. He sped through Charming at a frightening pace, ignoring traffic lights and street signs.
McQueen was waiting for him in his driveway.
“Anything?” Jax shouted over the roar of the Dyna’s engine, turning the bike and coming to a hard stop. He stripped off his helmet as he came off his bike.
“Nothing,” McQueen answered with the shake of his head.
Behind them, Ope pulled up and parked.
“Abel, Neeta, the prospect watching the house, all fine. Tara hasn’t been here.”
“What happened?” Jax asked impatiently with a lift of his chin.
“I told her we were going to pick up Abel and meet you at the clubhouse. We were in her office picking up her shit when she said she forgot something, something about the surgery she just finished. Told me to wait in her office, she’d be right back and we’d leave. Nurse came by a few minutes later, said Tara sent her to tell me that she had to go back into surgery, something urgent.”
“Shit. I believed her, man,” McQueen exclaimed remorsefully. “About thirty minutes later I decided to ask a different nurse why the waiting room was so fucking empty. There was no surgery. I should have fucking known she was pulling one over on me when she took her purse with her, and there wasn’t a damn person waiting. I had them page her, no answer. I checked the lot, saw that the Cutlass was gone, called you. Headed here.”
Even though he’d been there just over an hour ago, Jax was compelled to check again. He moved quickly through the house, going into the baby’s room, the bathroom, his bedroom. Nothing had been moved since his visit, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary – her things were still in the bathroom, her clothes still in the closet.
Abel was sleeping, Neeta reading her bible in the rocking chair next to his crib.
He returned to the kitchen and flipped on the light, his eyes scanning the surfaces for a note, something, anything to explain her absence.
Pacing back to the living room, Jax stared at a recent, framed picture of the two of them on the mantle. He flipped open his cell, hoping for a message. When there wasn’t one, he dialed Tara’s number again and listened to the repeated ring until it finally went to voicemail. He snapped the phone closed, shutting off the irritating voice.
Behind him, McQueen and Opie exchanged nervous glances.
As he stood there, a sickening feeling washed over him. Had his mother been right, had Tara left, had she returned to Chicago? His every nerve was screaming no, it wasn’t possible. But what other reason would she have to ditch McQueen?
His spine tense, his nerves taut, he drew in a deep breath. When the nausea and blackness that threatened to overwhelm him passed, he slammed his fist into the blue painted wall.