The bartender at The Scorpion Pit was known as Zorro, and it was his job to decide who got served and who was kicked, sometimes quite literally, to the curb. That didn’t prevent his fellow Heathens, however, from getting involved in the screening process.
Aspen walked confidently to the bar and ignored the stares of the regulars. Tex followed, but didn’t do as good of a job of not noticing the dirty looks. He did manage to keep his mouth closed and his thoughts to himself, though.
“I’m looking for Raptor,” Aspen told Zorro with a charming smile when he finally decided she was worthy of his attention.
Before Zorro could reply, another Heathen intervened.
“You’re in the wrong bar,” he hissed. “The Yuppie pansy bars are on the other side of town.”
Aspen turned her attention from Zorro to the helpful man with the neck tattoo. “Didn’t I see you there last week on Karaoke night? You did a spot on Barry Manilow.”
All the Heathens within earshot laughed. Neck tattoo guy growled and took a step forward.
Zorro slammed a bottle of beer down on the bar before the man could get any closer to Aspen.
“Here’s a beer, Battle Axe,” Zorro slid the bottle towards the man. “Go take a lap and cool off and let me do my job.”
Battle Axe stared at Aspen, who to her credit, did not back down or even blink. Then he snatched the beer off the bar and vanished into the crowd.
“I apologize,” Zorro said with a smile. “The regulars are a bit mistrusting of new faces.”
“Well, if you’ve got to live up to a name like Battle Axe, you can’t exactly meet everyone at the door with a hug and a bouquet of roses,” Aspen quipped.
Zorro chuckled. Tex remained extremely tense and silent.
“You asked for Raptor. Does he know you?”
Aspen grinned. “Tell him Art Girl is here and needs a favor.”
Zorro shrugged. It wasn’t even close to the strangest message he’d ever been asked to relay, so he just nodded. “Wait here. I’ll see if he’s available.”
He made his way down the bar and Aspen turned to Tex. She squeezed his hand to make sure he was still alive.
“You okay?” she asked.
“I’ve played some seedy places in my day, but this would be the shittiest of all the shit holes,” Tex said grimly as he surveyed the bar.
The place was packed. Everyone wore the Heathens’ colors and appeared to have some combination of body ink, piercings, or visibly bruised/bandaged flesh.
“I’m sure your rendition of You Oughta Know would bring down the house,” she whispered in his ear and then giggled.
That finally brought the hint of a smile to Tex’s face.
“Let’s agree to go for tetanus shots tomorrow if we get out of here alive,” he whispered back.
The crowd parted and a familiar face stood in front of them.
“Do I know you?” Raptor asked.
He looked meaner and more homicidal than Aspen remembered.
“Give me a sec,” Aspen replied as she held up a finger. She then took her mask out of her bag and put it on her face. Then she pulled the hood of her sweatshirt over her head.
Raptor smiled. “It really is you.”
“I should hope there aren’t impostors wandering into dive bars and claiming to be me,” Aspen answered with a chuckle.
“Can I get you a drink?” he asked.
Aspen shook her head. “Thanks, but we need to talk business. Do you think we could go outside where it’s less…” her voice tailed off as she searched for the right word.
“Contagious,” Tex finished her thought.
Raptor gave him a dirty look, but then smiled.
“Sure. Just tell Art Boy to ease up on the insults.”
Tex opened his mouth to say something, but Aspen squeezed him hand to indicate that he really needed to shut the hell up.
Aspen was pleased, and a little surprised, that Raptor didn’t bring any backup outside with him. Then again, what kind of threat could Tex and she pose to someone like him?
“It’s been a while,” Raptor pointed out the obvious once they were on the sidewalk in front of the bar.
“It has,” Aspen replied as she took off her hood and put her mask back in her bag. “Let me start with introductions. Raptor, this is Tex, not Art Boy.”
Tex was surprised when Raptor extended his hand, but he recovered quickly to shake it.
“You an artist, too?” he asked.
“A musician,” Tex clarified.
“I suppose some thanks are in order,” Aspen continued once the men had felt out each other. “That little problem I had a while back miraculously vanished and I always had a sense that you were the one responsible.”
Tex looked confused. Raptor smiled slyly.
“Are we talking about the art critic with the power washer?” Raptor asked.
“Yes, we are,” Aspen answered with a roll of her eyes. “The man was a nuisance, and I couldn’t believe he had so much support in the community. Thank you for making him see the error of his ways. At least I’m hoping that’s what happened to him…”
Aspen looked to Raptor with a slight grimace on her face.
“Relax, Art Girl,” he assured her. “He received a visit from some passionate patrons of the arts who convinced him that this city wasn’t big enough for Art Girl and his problem with her. He simply chose to relocate.”
“You mean relocate to another city, and not to a shallow grave, right?” Tex needed clarification.
Raptor laughed. “This guy is a riot. I love your art, but not enough to commit murder. All it took was a pointed conversation and possibly a display of random items that could be considered pieces of art or as weapons that could inflict severe bodily harm.”
Tex nodded. He didn’t need the explanation to go any further.
“Thank you, Raptor, sincerely. That guy could have been the end of Art Girl. I’m here tonight to repay you for that favor, while also asking you for another one.”
Raptor raised an eyebrow. “I’m intrigued. What do you need?”
Tex looked over at Aspen and his heart rate suddenly slowed. She was clearly in total control of the situation and had this dangerous gang member eating out of the palm of her hand. Even though he was beyond stressed, he began to calm down because he could see Aspen had this.
“We’re in a bit of trouble with the police,” she began and then paused to see how Raptor would react to that. When nothing in his body language or facial expression changed, she continued.
“Did you hear about that wild car chase a few days ago?” she asked casually.
“The one with the shoot out that ended with the first car crashing and two people dead and the third one seriously injured?” he countered. “I think everyone saw that.”
Aspen smiled and looked over at Tex, who gave her a reassuring nod.
“He was one of the dead and I’m the one who’s seriously injured,” Aspen revealed. “At least that’s the cover story the cops and the Feds came up with because they think someone might actually want to kill us.”
Raptor’s face went blank. He looked from Aspen to Tex and then back to Aspen like he was expecting one of them to break and start laughing. But neither of them did.
“Are you serious?” he finally asked.
Aspen and Tex nodded in unison.
“We went for a joy ride that got a little out of hand,” Aspen joked.
“I’ve never been so scared in my life,” Tex confessed. “At the same time, though, it was this insane rush to be behind the wheel and trying to outrun death.”
Raptor’s jaw dropped. “Hold on! You were the driver? No way…”
Tex smiled slightly and nodded. Suddenly, he felt this weird rush knowing that this bad ass gang banger was possibly impressed by something he’d done.
“That’s right,” he finally clarified.
Raptor paced a few steps back and forth as he tried to process that information.
“You’ve got to be messing with me,” he insisted.
Aspen shook her head. “What could I possibly gain from doing that? The cops caught us because we were in no condition to run after we crashed. The goons chasing us got away, so we were left holding the bag when they found all the guns in the trunk.”
“We did mention the Feds were involved, right?” Tex asked with just a little bit of cockiness in his voice because he was suddenly feeling his oats.
“So you just randomly picked a car that just happened to be loaded with assault rifles, when you finally got this itch to break the law?” Raptor asked in confusion because nothing about this made any kind of sense.
Aspen smiled and nodded. She’d expected Raptor to have some doubts, but she really needed him to calm down and accept the truth if she was going to get what she needed out of him.
“You know I like to draw in quiet, out of the way places,” she said in her most soothing voice. “So I scoped out this great spot in the warehouse district that had an amazing view. I noticed the same guys driving into the same warehouse at the same middle of the night hour on multiple occasions. They’d go in with multiple cars and only leave with one. It made me curious to know what was going on inside.”
Raptor nodded like this made a little sense. It was enough to get him to stand still.
“Then I had this crazy get rich quick scheme about collecting the rewards on all the lost items you see posted throughout the city,” Tex picked up the narrative. “My theory was that these guys were thieves and storing all the missing stuff in that warehouse.”
Raptor shrugged. “The idea has merit.”
“I also got to thinking that an operation like that would be handled by the Heathens, but none of these guys were wearing your colors,” Aspen added. “So that made me even more curious.”
“She can be very convincing when she wants to be,” Tex confided to Raptor like they were old friends. “The next thing I knew, I was sneaking into a warehouse in the middle of the night to see what the scary guys were hiding.”
“We were snooping around, they caught us, we hopped into one of the stolen cars, and got the hell out of there,” Aspen explained. “We had no idea what was in the trunk, but it made sense later seeing as how they tried to kill us to get the car back.”
Raptor nodded and he pieced it all together in his head.
“You said you were doing me a favor here,” he pointed out. “How is getting me involved in this little bit of crazy a favor?”
He smiled, but there was still some definite attitude accompanying his question.
“First, I wanted you to know that there might be a new gang moving in on your area,” she answered without hesitation. “Aside from the obvious gun running going on, that warehouse was filled with stolen cars and all kinds of boxes.”
“Second, the Fed working the case assumed the Heathens were behind it because all his spreadsheets and pie charts told him that you guys are behind all the major crime in the area. I convinced him that I knew the Heathens always sported their colors, and none of these guys ever wore anything purple.”
“Maybe the biggest favor is that the cops are convinced at least one of the guys involved is a Heathen, and I want to give you a chance to help us ID them and prove none of them are members of your gang.”
She reached into her bag and pulled out the sketches. She handed them to Raptor, who handled them like they were precious works of art.
“These are Art Girl originals?” he asked as he admired her work.
Aspen smiled and nodded. “The first three guys are the ones who chased us. The last guy is the one I always saw around the place when I was doing my street art. He’s the one that two members of the Gang Unit swear is a Heathen. They said he goes by Voo Doo.”
Raptor put the fourth sketch on top of the pile and stared at it.
“I don’t know this guy,” he finally said. “I can’t swear I’ve met every Heathen , but I pretty much know all our members by sight and this guy isn’t familiar. Plus, Voo Doo doesn’t ring a bell as far as names go.”
“That’s what we figured,” Tex jumped in. “We’d really like to get the cops off our backs, though. Is there any way you can use your underworld contacts to find out who they are?”
Raptor gave him a look. “Underworld contacts?”
Aspen chuckled. “Here’s what I’m thinking, my friend. There’s definitely a new crew in town, and if they are looking to move that kind of weaponry, it means they are serious about making a move on your territory. If you can get us a name, we can pass it on to the cops, who can do your dirty work for you. They arrest them, thereby wiping out the competition, and the Heathens don’t even have to lift a finger or break a law in the process. It’s a big win all around, right?”
Raptor thought about it for a moment and then a huge smile lit up his scary face.
“I like the way you think, Art Girl. I can put my people on this, kick over a few rocks, and see what crawls out. I bet I can get you a couple of names pretty quick now that you’ve given me the motivation to track down their punk asses.”
“I knew you’d be able to help,” Aspen said excitedly. “Didn’t I tell you that, Tex?”
Tex knew she was laying it on a little thick, but he went along with it because Aspen was way smarter than he was and always at least three or four steps ahead of him.
“That you did,” Tex confirmed. “You totally said that Raptor would be able to help.”
“And If I can get you those names, are you going to be able to convince the heat that the Heathens had nothing to do with this?” Raptor needed to know.
Aspen shook her head emphatically. “All they care about it having someone to pin this on. Guns like that demand arrests. As long as heads roll, the cops and Feds will be happy.”
Raptor looked down at the sketches again and nodded.
“Give me a day to shake the bushes and I’ll get back to you,” he promised.
“But how will you reach us?” Tex asked with sudden panic. “You don’t know who we are or where we live, right?”
Raptor liked the uneasiness in Tex’s voice and it brought a devilish smile to his face.
“Meet me at midnight at the first place we ever talked,” Raptor instructed. “I should have something for you.”
Aspen nodded. Tex took a deep breath and tried to slow down his heart now that it seemed apparent that the Heathens did not know how to track him down.
“Can I ask a favor before you go?” Raptor requested.
“Anything,” Aspen replied immediately.
“Could you do us the honor of gracing us with an Art Girl original?” he asked with a sheepish smile. “This isn’t exactly the prettiest neighborhood and a little color would be nice.”
Aspen smiled and sat down on the sidewalk. “I’d love to. This is why I always carry my chalks and my alter ego.”
She spilled out her chalks onto the sidewalk, put on her mask, and raised her hood.
“I think rainbow scorpions and space monkeys would make the best friends,” she announced and quickly began her sketch as Tex and Raptor watched like adoring fans.
TO BE CONTINUED…