Keeping Bad Company,
Copyright © 2014 by Lauren Gilley
“Come on, Preppy,” Mercy said, slipping off his apron. “I need a smoke.”
Johnny followed him, grateful for the sharp punch of night air in his lungs, the rush of it across his face. Crickets sang in the tall scrub grass and tree frogs answered them. Dew beaded along the top of the van. They put their backs to its hood and Mercy shook out two cigarettes, dangling one from his lip as he passed the other to Johnny.
He’d never been a habit smoker; he’d pilfered some from Lisa here and there when she’d been blowing through a pack a day, during the dark, post-disbarment days. A part of him had always thought guys like Sly, and the Dogs, smoked out of some deep-seated need to look James Dean-cool.
Now he understood different. He waited for the lighter and then breathed the tar down deep into the dark corners of his chest and let it counteract the poison of what he’d just witnessed. The white plume of his exhale chased Mercy’s up toward the stars.
“Preppy,” Mercy said on an inhale. His voice took up a mantle of detached benevolence. A storyteller’s voice. Just one word an invocation to forces higher than the two of them standing here at the van. “Do you know what a black dog is?”
Johnny glanced sideways at him and lifted his brows to say, You.
“Not a Black Dog,” Mercy corrected. “But the black dogs we’re named after. The old British legends. You know about them?”
“No,” Johnny said, and heard the soprano calling of the Muse, as she reached down and laid hands to Mercy, and turned the big Cajun biker into her conduit of ancient tales.
“The legends go all the way back to the Isles,” Mercy said. “Nobody knows exactly where they come from, but around those parts. Places like Dartmoor. Stories of big black ghost dogs with glowing eyes. Some said they were bad spirits, others said they were hellhounds. Even the devil himself, come up to pay visits to haunted men at crossroads. They meant death.” He took a long drag. “Guardians of the underworld.”
Cricket song filled the silence. The Muse hovered above them.
“Our founding father was British,” Mercy continued. “Back all those years ago after World War II. See, most people think all OMCs got started after ‘Nam, but that’s just when they started getting noticed. They were around before then. We were.” He flicked white ash into the night. “We came to life when the dark underbelly needed some…guidance.”
“Guardians of the underworld,” Johnny repeated.
Mercy nodded. His fathomless black eyes slid over. “Listen, kid, I know what some MCs do; I can’t speak for them. But I know that when a man gets to a crossroads, and a Black Dog comes to call, he’s brought that shit on himself. Do you understand me?”
Johnny forced a humorless chuckle. “There’s outlaws among outlaws?”
“And honor among thieves. But there are people who need sent to hell. That’s what Dogs do. And the dark side of the world knows that.” He leaned in closer. “And respects it.”
Beneath the slow-thump of revulsion was the pearlescent dawning of acceptance, of having been included and trusted with tradition. Johnny took a hard pull of his cigarette and tried to rectify it all in his mind.