Hell on Wheels
“We have to shut Hades down.”
Axel gaped at his brother, Voodoo, as though he’d lost his damn mind.
They were seated in Hades at the moment, having coffee in one of the vinyl booths. The hotel and the attached diner were becoming a lucrative business for their club, the Four Horsemen. People were even coming in from nearby towns to eat there mostly due to Voo’s mad skills in the kitchen. He’d trained to be a chef in New Orleans and he was the proprietor at Hades.
“And why the fuck would we do that?”
Voo looked left and then right before he spoke, which was odd since they were alone. The diner hadn’t even opened for the day. “We have a ghost.”
Every one of the brothers had a quirk. Shep was irritatingly intuitive, Steele loved the ladies, Cap had a thing for punk rock. And Voo, well, he had a strong belief in the supernatural probably from being born and bred in New Orleans. It was in the air down there.
Axel personally thought it was a bunch of horseshit, but he wouldn’t knock a brother for his own belief system. If it was real for Voo, than he’d have to handle it that way. But that didn’t mean he’d allow one of club-owned properties to be shut down either.
He decided to play along, because why the hell not? He slowly perused the room. Nope, nothin’ creepy here. In fact, everything was the same – black and white checkered floors, Texas memorabilia on the walls, and the 1956 Wurlitzer jukebox which currently blasted Superstition by Stevie Wonder.
“And do you see it now?” he asked, raising a brow.
With a sigh, Voodoo folded his arms over his chest and leaned back in the booth.
Oh, fuck. Voodoo only brought out the accent when he was pissed. Or when he was tryin’ to make time with a woman. Ladies love the accent.
Didn’t hurt that Voo was easy on the eyes. He had skin the color of creamed coffee, short dreadlocks, and eyes that appeared almost silver. He also had a penchant for duds that just screamed rock star. Like today, he wore a pair of jeans, his cut, and a leather muscle shirt. Axel had no idea where the fuck you’d buy a leather shirt. Maybe at some kind of sex shop?
And on that creepy note, back to the problem at hand.
“Sorry, brother, I just—”
“It’s in the hotel. I’ve not sensed its presence here. Yet,” he finished ominously.
“You’ve seen it then?” Maybe what Voo needed was a trip to the nut house instead.
He shook his head. “Non, but I’ve sensed it.”
“Okay.” What the fuck did that mean?
Voo sighed. “Items have gone missing.”
Axel blinked. “I didn’t know poltergeists get hungry and thirsty.”
“Perhaps it is a hungry ghost,” Voo explained. “Besides my grandmere said it is important to offer food and drink to the loas and they are mystical beings.”
Axel just knew he’d regret asking this. “And what’s a loa?”
Voo sighed, clearly irked. “We don’t have time for this. If you want, I can school you in the ways voodoo. But right now, I can take you to the room it haunts.”
Axel checked his cell. Not even six in the morning and he was already going on a ghost hunt. He gulped down the rest of his coffee. This felt like a job for Ghostbusters, not him. But since when had things ever been simple or easy at the MC? “Lead the way, brother.”
Minutes later, Axel ambled down the sidewalk with Voodoo at his side feeling like he’d somehow stumbled into a leading role in a bad episode of Scooby Doo. Even the weather was atmospheric. The wind was howling blowing prairie dust and a couple of tumbleweeds through the parking lot.
It was mid-November in Hell, Texas, and the nights had gotten cool. Well, cool for Texas. It went down into the fifties at night and there was still a chill in the air. Axel had thrown a gray hoodie under his cut this morning. The motel was one floor surrounded on all sides by a large parking lot so guests could pull up right outside their rooms. They were currently on the backside of the hotel headed down to the very last room.
They stopped in front of the last door. The glossy black plaque read Room 13.
Axel just shook his head. Of course it was Room 13. Voo handed him a little burlap sack tied with twine that fit into the palm of his hand. It had a pungent aroma…sage? Maybe a hit of Sulphur.
Voo believed strongly in juju, or magic and that it had the power to protect you or seriously fuck you up. Axel had been on the receiving end of little bags like this and some seriously creepy Blair Witch wind chimes as well. He usually shrugged it off, but apparently he’d be performing a real life exorcism at the moment.
Axel hoped there wouldn’t be pea soup. He hated that green shit.
Voo pulled the master key from his cut and unlocked the door, waving his hand with a flourish indicating Axel should go first. So, he stepped into the room and took a real good look around.
A big, fat nothin’.
It was a normal Hades room. Queen sized-bed, Formica table and chairs. Was he supposed to be looking for cold spots? Axel sighed. Well it was better than finding Carol Anne sittin’ in front of the television set saying, “They’re here!” in an ominous little kid tone.
Axel glanced at Voo. “I don’t see anything. What about you, brother?”
Voo’s was staring at the bed, eyes narrowed. “Listen!” he said, turning his head to the side.
Oh, fuck. Voo was really cracking up. Like he didn’t have enough on his plate already. Since Axel had become the club’s president, he had a lot of shit in bad need of doing and he really didn’t need to add another worry to the list. Their former president, Captain, had been voted out of his position and his brothers had nominated Axel and voted him in. It all happened so fast and he was still reeling from the job responsibilities.
It wasn’t like he didn’t know what it was like to be an officer. Axel had been the club’s road captain for years. But he had no idea that the presidency could be such a time suck. He barely had time to run his mechanic’s shop, Seventh Circle Motors.
Just as he was about to suggest a CAT scan to Voo, he heard a noise under the bed. It was a little sigh.
Axel stared at the bed. Oh fuck. Now I’m losin’ my shit, too. Fantasic.
Then, he heard it again. He stared at Voo and mouthed what the fuck?
Voo pressed a finger to his lips, indicating they should both shut their traps and Axel nodded. They walked to either side of the bed. Voo counted down silently on his fingers: one, two three.
And then they gripped the bedframe, intending to lift it up, when somebody darted out from under the bed and made a run for the door. Somebody real. Not a Casper.
Axel ran for the door, slamming into the figure and pinning it against the door. Whoever it was wore a pair of baggy jeans and black hoodie. He ripped the hood back…to reveal a tumble of honey-colored curls.
The Phantom of the Hotel Room was a woman. A real live one.
She whirled in his arms and looked up at him with enormous blue eyes. “Please don’t hurt me!” Axel put her age around mid to late twenties. She was short, a little over five feet, with a heart-shaped face, olive-toned skin, and a full mouth. But she wasn’t beautiful. No, that wasn’t the word. She was pretty, cute, a girl next door type. Not a stick figure either. She had hips and breasts, and while she might be short, she was all woman.
Where the fuck had that come from?
Axel mentally shook himself. Maybe he’d gone far too long without getting laid. He shouldn’t be standing there pondering her breasts and thighs for fuck’s sake.
His chivalrous instincts kicked in a bit late and he automatically backed off, putting a good foot between them and held his hands up. “No one’s going to hurt you, I promise. Tell me your name.”
Voo walked up beside him and Axel flinched. He’d forgotten Voo was even in the room for a moment.
She chewed her lower lip for a second looking up at him with a furrowed brow and then nodded, as though deciding something. “Charlie Nash.”
“Charlie? You don’t look like a Charlie.” Axel couldn’t help but look her up and down again. She was unmistakably female.
“Charlene,” she said, a flash of annoyance in her bright eyes. “But everyone calls me Charlie.”
“Well, Charlie, my name is Axel and that’s my friend over there is Voodoo. He owns the hotel. Why don’t we have a chat?” he asked, heading to the table, “why are you squatting in our hotel?” He pulled out a chair for her and she hesitated before sitting down in it. Voo sat down in the other one, while Axel perched on the bed.
She stared at her lap, her hands were neatly folded on her thighs and then she glanced up at him, eyes impossibly wide and glittering with unshed tears. “I’m sorry. I needed someplace to hide.”
“Hide from who?” Voo asked, brow furrowed.
Axel glanced at him and his brother watched her with a frown. Like their VP, Voo had an uncanny ability to read people. It was almost supernatural. Though, Voo didn’t do it for the good of the club the way Shepherd did. Shep vetted potential old ladies and guided each new crop of prospects, so his sixth sense came in handy. But Voo used his instincts for his own amusement.
“My ex-boyfriend. He’s violent,” she said smoothly. “I’ve been running from him.”
Hmm. He didn’t know whether to believe her or not. “What’s his name?” Axel asked.
Charlie started to tear up again and she swiped at her eyes with a knuckle. “Please, I can’t talk about it. I’m sorry.”
He swallowed the lump in his throat. Axel had been raised by a single mother, because his father had gotten tossed in jail when he was a kid. And he loathed seeing a woman crying. Couldn’t stand it. He handed her the handkerchief he kept tucked in his back pocket. Because he hadn’t been to work yet today, it wasn’t stained with motor oil yet.
“We can help you,” Axel said.
The Four Horsemen specialized in Asshole Be Good cases. They’d taken on child molesters, rapists, child support dodgers, and the occasional murderer. They had a way of making bastards see the error of their ways and collected a hefty fee from the dicks in the process, which the Horsemen shared with the people they helped.
And while they’d recently gotten mixed up with Byron Beauregard, a bootlegger and Dixie Mafia associate, they were determined to hold on to their wrong-righting roots.
Voo drew his brows together as he glanced at Axel. He hadn’t been moved by the tears. “If you really need help.”
She blotted her eyes with the hankie and then hiccuped. Charlie placed a hand over her mouth. “Excuse me,” she muttered.
No one could fake a physical response like that. This woman had to be in some sort of trouble.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to cause any trouble. “I’ll just get my stuff and go.” Charlie crossed to the bed and grabbed a large gym bag from beneath it. She hefted it over her shoulder and headed for the door.
Voo grasped her elbow and hauled her backwards. “We didn’t say you could go. You’ve been stealing from me, from the MC, for weeks.”
“I know. I’m so sorry. I was afraid if I registered with the front desk, there’d be a record. My ex…he’s been stalking me. And he’s gotten good at it. I’ve been forced to use cash, not plastic. I try not leave a trail, but he still finds me.”
“Yet, you’ve been here for weeks. If you were scared, you’d be running,” Voo insisted.
Tears came to her eyes again and she pulled her arm from his brother’s grasp. “I know, I just needed to rest. I’m so tired of running, hiding.” Charlie started to dig in her bag.
Voo went for his gun. “Slowly!”
"She isn't a threat. Lower your weapon,” Axel ordered.
Voo did, but he never took his eyes off Charlie. “I don’t trust her.”
She pulled out a battered leather wallet, holding it close to her as though she thought they’d steal it. “Easy there, big fella. I’m just going to pay you. How much do I owe?”
It was a billfold, the kind a man tucked in their back pocket, slim and no frills. In fact, it looked a lot like the one he owned. Women tended to go for larger jobs with attached change purses and pockets for credit cards, photos, and sundries.
Axel glared at Voo for making her pony up the cash, but said nothing. After all, Voo ran Hades and he didn’t want to interfere in his business. But they’d have some words later. The talk would be centered on how to treat a lady.
Voo ignored him and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Oh, yes, we will. Let’s see. We’ve had missing food and wine, and you’ve been here about three weeks. We’ll call it even at a thousand dollars.”
Strange. He’d had a stack of fifties, too.
Charlie grimaced, but she slipped a little stack of fifty dollar bills from the wallet and slapped them into his palm. “There. That’s five hundred and fifty. I’ll get the rest from my…other wallet.”
She started to sort through the bag again and that’s when he saw the ATM logo on the front pocket of the billfold in her hand. It was unmistakable. The A and M were smaller than the T between them and stamped into the leather. He’d gotten the Texas Texas A & M wallet just like that from his mom when he’d been in high school, back when he had delusions of leaving this outlaw life behind him.
Holy fuck. Had she just stolen the wallet? Axel groped his own ass and sure enough his back pocket was empty.
Meanwhile, she’d handed Voodoo the rest of the cash and was waltzing out the door, free and clear. Axel raced over and slammed a palm against the door, before she could thrust it open.
“Hey!” she said, glowering up at him.
Axel towered over her. He probably had a good foot and half on her and he shifted a bit closer to make her uncomfortable. “Aren’t you forgettin’ something?” he asked.
She shook her head. “Like what?”
“Like Voo’s wallet. I figured you’d want a matching set, since you already lifted mine.”
Her eyes widened. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You’re a really bad liar,” he drawled, even though he’d bought her innocent act. He glanced at Voo who wore a smug sort of told you so expression.
Charlie, if that was her real name, stared up at him and he could practically see the calculations in her eyes, wondering if she could get away with it, no doubt.
Finally, her façade cracked and she smirked. “Actually, I’m a great liar and you bought nearly everything I said. I shouldn’t have used your wallet. It was too cocky.” She sighed. “So what happens next? You gonna call the po po on me?”
“Afraid not, darlin’. You done pissed off the wrong kind of men. Tie her to the chair,” he ordered Voo and then turned to her. “You’re about to tell me every damn thing I want to know.”