Are some men just born bad…or do circumstances conspire to make them that way?
Grant “Hawk” Benning will go down in history as one of the baddest, most hated men on the eastern seaboard…and then some. Hawk cut his teeth on leather and steel, growing up heavily influenced by a culture of violence, drugs and crime. He would navigate the pathways between adolescence and adulthood using only the tools he’d been given…realizing too late that the club that made him a man, would likely bring about his ultimate demise.
Hawk’s life, his destiny, was with the Southside Skulls. Prospect at seventeen, Vice President at twenty-one. Two and a half decades of riding alongside the prolific Doc Marshall. Hawk will have a full life…but one wrought with a loneliness built by his reluctance to allow any glimpse of the man who really lived behind the kutte.
During his life, Hawk will fall in love with three women. The first will become his closest friend and she’ll leave a legacy that will both brighten and darken Hawk’s days to come.
The second, a free spirit…the one in touch with her own soul…the one who may have taught him how to reach his, if only she’d had the time.
And the last…the woman who would ultimately give him something that no one else ever could…a chance to glimpse and explore the best parts of himself…the parts that even he didn’t know existed.
Ride along, read along, and make your own decision in the end. Was Grant “Hawk” Benning born to be bad…or was the deck just stacked against him from the get-go?
“You can’t bring that kid in here.” Grant stood next to Cal, his mom’s old man, outside of a “Go-Go” bar on Washington Street. Grant had been to the bar before, on more than one occasion. Cal usually made him stay in the back with the “girls.” Grant didn’t really have any complaints about hanging out with the girls. They were pretty, they smelled good, and most of them were nice to him. They gave him soda pop and chocolates and they let him watch The Twilight Zone and Bewitched on the television in their dressing room while he waited for Cal. Grant thought it was funny they called it a “dressing” room since they seemed to do more undressing than dressing in there, but that wasn’t his business, so he stayed out of it. Grant spent a lot of time with Cal since his mom worked so much, and Cal taught him a lot. One of the first things he taught him was that he should always mind his own business. One of Cal’s favorite sayings was, “Row your own boat and keep your fucking oars outta mine.”
“Do you know who the fuck you’re talking to?” Cal asked the big, bald bouncer. “Fuck” was Cal’s favorite word; he worked it into every conversation and nearly every other word. Grant’s mother asked Cal not to say it in front of Grant when they first got together, but it didn’t seem to Grant like Cal listened to much of what his mother said. After a while, his mother started saying it too…sometimes. Grant didn’t care about that, but what bothered him was that the first time that he tried saying it, she had washed his mouth out with soap. His fourth-grade teacher had talked to them just that day about double standards. Grant didn’t understand much of it, and he hadn’t even realized he’d been listening. He was almost proud of himself for pointing it out to his mother. Of course, when he did, he got the soap bar a second time. From then on, he kept his use of the word to times when his mother wasn’t around.
“I don’t care if you’re the fucking Governor of Massachusetts,” the bald guy said. “You’re not bringing that kid in here.”
Cal didn’t like the governor, or the mayor, or the police. He talked a lot about the system being “fucked” and the cops being “corrupt” and the “man” trying to keep him down. It confused Grant a little bit because despite Cal’s obvious dislike of the government, he was definitely proud to be an American. Cal rode a Harley with an American flag painted on the tank, and at his club there was a big American flag that hung right next to their black and white Skulls flag. Grant listened to Cal and his MC brothers complain all the time about “foreigners” taking everything over. Foreign cars and motorcycles pissed them off, and they had derogatory names for anyone with a different skin color or accent. But still, Cal didn’t like the governor and Grant thought that the bouncer might end up being sorry he brought him into it.
Cal sighed, and to any other bystander he looked like he was turning to leave. But at eleven years old, Grant had already witnessed three years of Cal’s craziness and he knew well what was coming next. Cal wasn’t all that big, but to hear him tell it, he’d been kicking asses in the Watertown neighborhood he grew up in since he was five years old. Grant hadn’t really believed that at first, but he did now, and he had a feeling the big guy was about to believe it too. Grant took a step backwards to get out of the way and he saw the bouncer smile, like he thought he had won. Then just like that, Cal’s fist came out of nowhere and slammed into the guy’s face. Cal had never used his fist on the boy, but Grant had seen him use it on plenty of people and he knew it had to hurt, especially because he heard the man’s nose crack. Grant had watched Cal knock out men twice his size, make them bleed, and even make them cry. Cal always told him that if you wanted respect in this world, you had to be willing to fight for it. Grant tried using that line on the school principal the last time he got in a fight on the playground. It had gotten him suspended.
Cal stepped on the now prone, incoherent bouncer and the guy let out a painful cry. Cal pointed to the small skull on the front of his leather vest that matched the big one on his back and he said, “The Southside Skulls own this bar.” The man must be stupid, Grant thought, because he opened his mouth to try to argue. Cal pressed down harder with his boot and the man howled in pain. Cal waited for him to shut up again and then he went on, “It don’t matter whose name is on a piece of paper. The Skulls own this fucking city and your pitiful little boss knows it. Now you know it and if you ever forget it again, I’ll make sure you forget how to breathe too. You under-fucking-stand me?”
The nod the man managed looked, to Grant, like it hurt down to his bones. Cal smiled and then looked at the boy and said, “You coming? Already wasted too much fucking time on you today.”
Cal stepped over the man and Grant had to step on part of the big guy’s arm to get to the door. He didn’t understand why Cal was suddenly mad at him, but he wasn’t surprised. Cal got mad at him a lot. He never argued with Grant’s mom about “watching” the boy, but it was obvious to Grant he didn’t want to. But Cal didn’t argue with Grant’s mom about anything. He always just smiled when she was mad, let her yell at him, or whatever, and then he usually went and did things his way anyway. Grant sometimes tried that too, but nine times out of ten he got his butt whooped for it.
Once they were inside the bar, Grant had to blink his eyes real fast to keep the thick smoke from making them water. His nose burned and the bright lights from the small stage blinded him. It was disorienting and he stood still for a minute just trying to get his bearings. He felt Cal’s palm tap the back of his head. “Go on in the back,” he barked at him, “and keep your oars in your own boat!”
Grant started toward the back and he had just passed the stage and was almost to the entrance for the dressing rooms when he heard the rhythmic pounding of a drum. He stopped dead in his tracks and when he didn’t think anyone was looking, he ducked into the shadows alongside the stage and waited. He knew what the drums meant. It had been almost a year since he’d seen her, but he hadn’t been able to forget her. He crouched low in the hopes that no one would spot him, and he watched the brilliant blue headdress appear from behind the shiny curtain. The vividly colored feathers framed the woman’s pretty face and fell down to the floor on both sides of her body.
Grant held his breath as he watched the woman begin to move her body slowly in time with the drums. Occasionally she turned slightly in his direction so the leering men on the far side of the room could see her. She held a big fan with yellow and lime green feathers in front of her body and she moved it up and down, just short of revealing the “things” Grant knew he wasn’t supposed to look at. With her other hand, she held one with pink and white feathers behind her back. Her long, brown legs were bare, and her feet were adorned with sparkly blue high-heeled shoes. She was beautiful, but Grant’s favorite part about her was her hair. He loved her long, straight black hair. It hung down her back, disappearing under the fan, and then reappearing and traveling down to her ankles. It shone under the lights, waved when she danced, and it looked like if you touched it, it would be as soft as silk.
The announcer, a fat guy with a bad comb-over and acne scars all over his face, introduced her as soon as the drumming stopped. “Put your hands together and then get them dollars out, boys. We got our own little squaw in the house tonight, Hialeah, the sexiest Cherokee woman this side of the reservation.” The men clapped and whistled and yelled things Grant didn’t understand. When they quieted down again, soft music started playing and Hialeah began to dance again. Grant didn’t know what it was but something about the way she danced made him happy inside.
The men were yelling at her to drop her fans as she swayed to the music and they were reaching up onto the stage, trying to touch her. Grant wanted to tell them to stop, but he knew better. If Cal caught him watching the dancers, or talking to the men, he might just know what that fist felt like firsthand. Instead, he crept as close as he could, staying on the side of the stage where it was dark, but positioning himself so that he could get a better look at her. The music sped up and she danced faster, turning her back to the howling men and finally dropping that fan. Grant watched the men stuff money into the strap on her undies and he tried not to look at her bare bottom. But her skin was so smooth…and such a pretty color that he could hardly help himself. Hialeah turned back to face the men and she began to sway and lower the fan in front when crashing sounds and dozens of men dressed in black jackets and vests and helmets were suddenly everywhere.
“Boston PD! Everyone down! Get down on the floor, now!”
Grant’s heart was racing as he searched the dark bar with his eyes, looking for Cal. The place was chaos and he couldn’t see him anywhere. Half-naked women were running around, some were screaming and some crying. Men were dropping down to the floor like flies that had been swatted, and panic began to well up inside of him. He looked toward the door, thinking about running, but the police had it blocked. He looked toward the dressing rooms, and they were standing guard there as well. Lastly, he looked back up on the stage and to his shock, a prone Hialeah was gesturing to him with her hand. “Come here little man.” He was terrified, but if he went up on the stage they would see him…everyone would. “I know it’s scary, but all we have to do is exactly what they tell us, okay?”
Finally, with nowhere else to go, Grant climbed up on the stage and got down on his belly, sliding himself over until he was close to Hialeah. He felt her soft hand reach out and cover his and she whispered, “Be brave, little guy. It’s going to be okay.”
Grant was about to nod again but the sound of a pair of boots landing on the stage and the vibrations it sent through him caused him to gasp and look up. When he did, there was a big, black gun in his face and the man behind it suddenly flipped up the goggles he was wearing and said, “Fuck, you’re just a kid.”
“He’s with me,” Hialeah said. “Please don’t hurt him.”
The cop looked them both up and down and then shaking his head he said, “Just be still, both of you.” He left them there and while Grant lay listening to the chaos around them for the next hour, she held his hand tightly and reassured him every so often that things were going to be okay. Grant was still scared but he was also confused. He knew he should want it to all be over so he could go home, and part of him did. But the other part of him was so comfortable with the gentle woman that he almost wanted it to last all night.
* * *
“Who are you?” Grant was at the police station. He had to pee and he was hungry. He’d missed lunch and now dinner. The cops had brought him a hamburger and French fries and a Coke, but he hadn’t touched them. They were trying to bring him over to their side, and he wasn’t about to go. Cal had warned him dozens of times about how tricky they could be. They’d been asking him the same questions for hours, and mainly who took him to the bar, but he wasn’t going to tell them. He wasn’t a snitch. He looked at the man in the suit who’d just come into the room, but he didn’t answer him. The cop in the uniform who had been with him since they got there answered for him:
“He says his name is Grant Benning. He gave me his home phone number, or so he says it is. I’ve been calling since we picked him up, but no one is answering. He won’t tell me who took him to the bar. That Indian chick, the stripper with all the feathers, she finally admitted he wasn’t with her.” Hialeah held his hand as long as she could during the raid, and she’d even talked the cop into letting her ride in the same police car as him on the way to the station. Once they were there, however, they told him he couldn’t go with her to booking. He still hadn’t seen Cal and the thought of being alone with the cops caused panic to consume him. Cal never said anything good about the cops. He always told Grant if he got “hassled” by them that he should keep his mouth shut and not tell them a thing.
Grant had been as stoic as possible up to that moment, but when they tried to take her away, he pulled his small hand out of the cop’s grasp and threw his body back at Hialeah. He gripped her around the waist and held on tight. It took three cops to peel him off her and when he looked up at her face a tear was running down the side of it. She smiled at him though and said, “It’s going to be okay, little man.” Grant had a feeling he’d never see her again, and that made him sad, but her kindness went far in chasing away the terror he was feeling inside. He watched them take her away and then he set his jaw, raised his chin, and walked with the cop to the interview room like a man.
The cop in the suit sat down and looked at the food that Grant had pushed off to the side. “Not hungry?” Grant shook his head. “It’s hot outside. That Coke looks good. You’re not thirsty either?” Again, Grant shook his head. “You talk?” He nodded. “How old are you, Grant?”
“Who do you live with?”
Grant sighed. He’d already answered all of these questions. He wanted to use the “F” word again, but he bit it back and said, “With my mother, Sarah Benning, and she’s not answering the phone because she’s at work. She works at Louie’s Seafood Restaurant in the Back Bay and when they get busy, they don’t answer their phone. I already told him,” he tossed his head at the uniformed officer, “all of this.”
“All except who took you to the bar. Was it your old man?”
“My old man took off before I was born.”
“Does your mom have a boyfriend?”
Grant shrugged. “You’ll have to ask her.”
“Grant, who do you stay with when your mom goes to work?” The cop was trying to trick him. He thought he was talking to an average eleven-year-old.
“I’m eleven. I don’t need a babysitter.”
“Well, Grant, I’m looking at your address and it seems impossible to me that you walked or rode your bike to that bar, so how did you get there?”
“Maybe I took the subway.”
“Maybe you did, or maybe you went in there with some guy we didn’t catch today and you’re afraid to tell us who that is. We can protect you, Grant, and your mom.”
“I don’t need protecting and neither does my mom.”
The police officer sighed. Changing tactics he said, “Grant, how is school?”
“It’s summer break.”
“Mm-hmm, but how do you do in school? You get good grades?”
“Yep. I’m a fucking genius.” Grant struggled in school, a lot. But he wasn’t going to tell this guy that. It was not his business.
The man cocked an eyebrow and said, “Your mom know you use those kinds of words?” Grant shrugged. When Grant didn’t answer him the cop said, “So Grant, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
A loud knock on the door drew the detective’s attention away. He got up and went to the door. He cracked it open and whispered to whoever was there. Grant couldn’t hear what they were saying but after a few seconds the detective pulled the door open and Grant could see a short, stocky woman with white hair standing in the doorway. She smiled at him, like she knew him. Grant didn’t smile back. “Grant, I’m Mrs. Haddock. I work with the police and help them when their cases involve children. Would you like to come with me? We can get you something to eat, and talk.” Grant was starving, but he was determined not to take anything the cops gave him. The lady had a badge on her waist, but no gun, and she looked like someone’s old grandma. He wasn’t going to tell her any more than he told the cops, but his stomach felt like it was eating into his backbone and maybe taking food from her would be okay. He stood up and went to the door. As the detective was about to close it behind him Grant turned and looked up at him and said:
The detective lifted his eyebrows again and said, “That’s ambitious. You’ll have to make sure you stay out of trouble and…”
“Of my own motorcycle club.”
“Well then,” the cop said, putting his hands in his pockets and looking down at the exhausted, hungry little boy. Grant kept his chin up and his dark eyes locked into the blue ones of the tall man looking down at him. Another thing Cal had taught him…no matter what you’re feeling, never let anyone see your fear. They held each other’s gaze for what seemed like a long time before the older woman put her hand on his shoulder and said:
“Come on, Grant. Let’s go get you something to eat and call your mom again.”
Grant was about three steps from the door when he heard the detective say, “I don’t think we’ve seen the last of that one.” It wouldn’t be until years later when that cop was over halfway to retirement that he would realize how right he was.