Authors: Ginger Voight
A Wyndryder Novel
Published by True North Publishing
An Imprint of Motivational Press, Inc.
7777 N Wickham Rd, # 12-247
Melbourne, FL 32940
Copyright 2015 © Ginger Voight
All Rights Reserved
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Table of Contents
Welcome to the Jungle
Los Angeles, November 2003
he lost and scattered children of Hollywood had learned many different tricks to survive, but one lesson was universal. They kept their ears trained to the crowded streets, listening for one familiar sound to rise above all others. It was the sound of a roaring lion, the dramatic rumble of an approaching storm. It was the sound of hope. The thunderous growl came from a 1973 Panhead, proudly emblazoned with the Stars and Stripes and operated by a massive hulk of a man named Joe Bennett.
His salt-and-pepper mane was partially concealed by a matching American flag bandana, his ponytail securely tied down his back in a thick braid. His beard, mostly white, dipped low in the front, making him look like a rock-and-roll Santa Claus. He wore black, but there was nothing dark about Joe Bennett. His soul was alive and his aura electric as he cruised the infamous mean streets of Hollywood.
It was a place designed to lure the weak and consume the faint of heart. When playing its game, there was a price to be paid. This enticing devil notoriously took its payment in flesh and spirit from those who dared to barter their souls. Yet more continued to come, though the putrid stench of lost dreams and shattered innocence of those who’d come before them filled the air like yesterday’s garbage.
It was dangerous. It was exciting. And for far too many, it was the end of the line.
Despite the loud, rumbling motor of his bike, Joe blended in seamlessly with all the tourists and regulars that populated streets with legendary names like Sunset, Vine, and Melrose. No one looked twice at some aging hippie biker when characters like Jesus and Superman mingled with the commoners for photo ops.
The only ones who noticed him were the ones who needed him. There was a select group of people in Hollywood who knew his name and his reputation, who listened for that roar of thunder to herald the approach of the only savior they had ever known. This group was as invisible to the midwestern tourists in double-decker buses as Joe was. No one saw them, no one cared. They were able to slink along in the shadows like discarded human debris, at the mercy of predators that lurked the city streets, seeking those whom they might devour.
For these lost souls, the sound of a bike was not only the sound of hope, it was their last chance at salvation: a strong hand to clasp theirs, to lift them up from the edge of the abyss and set them right once again on a brand-new course.
Joe had lost count of the number of kids he had saved. It had started with a scared underage hooker in 1978 who had propositioned him on Sunset and Western, even though she was still black and blue from her last trick. He had begun to look through girls like this one just like everyone else, but something in her eyes made him look twice. He realized that her hope hadn’t died yet, despite what this shithole of a town had already taken from her. She was still young, she was still pretty; she was still
. Most importantly, she was still a child, one in desperate need of someone to notice.
He ended up taking her to a diner that night, where he bought her a huge sandwich and a piece of pie that she scarfed down in ten minutes flat. He didn’t say much as he listened to her story, which she was still innocent and childlike enough to share. When she got on the back of his bike, he drove her to the nearest bus station, where he paid for her ticket and handed her some pocket money to hold her over until she got back home to Kentucky.
It was all the money he’d had in his wallet at the time, but it had been worth every red cent when she threw her arms around his neck with a grateful sob. He closed his arms around her in a classic Joe Bennett bear hug, lifting her right off her feet. Tears stung the back of his eyes when he realized how fragile she felt in his arms. Another night or week or month might have broken this young girl. Now she was free to start over somewhere safer, somewhere else, and all it had really taken was for someone to finally give a damn and take notice.
After that, Hollywood had beckoned him like a lonely lover. He found himself purposefully seeking out girls like the first one. It didn’t take a whole lot of effort. Once he opened his eyes to the grim reality of life on the streets, he could see nothing else. It was an ugly place with overwhelming need. Joe knew he couldn’t save them all.
But for those he could, he knew he had to try.
For many girls, and for almost as many guys, Joe Bennett was the last customer they had. He met their need by giving them a way out, and he asked for nothing in return. They got a free meal, a free ride, and a one-way ticket back home, where they wouldn’t have to blow some middle-aged pervert in a back alley just to survive.
It had started as his mission. It soon became his calling.
The only thing that mattered more to Joe was his own family. They were the reason that the risks he took were minimal. There had been a few skirmishes here and there, but he managed to keep a low profile with those who would do his street kids harm. He was needed at home, and he couldn’t risk getting gunned down, yet another casualty to the war most had no clue he was waging.
He led a double life.
He had to. Susan and Molly were depending on him, and he would never let them down.
That was why he cut short his tour of Hollywood that afternoon in November. He still had to stop by the shop before he headed home for a very special birthday. One doesn’t turn sweet sixteen every day.
He arrived at Wyndryder Custom Cycles just as the sun sank into the Pacific. The parking lot was mostly vacant. Jim’s truck was there, of course, and Joe’s Jeep. There were a few customers lingering at the bike shop. Located off of California’s Pacific Coast Highway, it was just steps away from the sand. The setting sun cast a warm orange glow against the building, sparkling off all the bikes parked just inside the glass windows that surrounded the showroom.
One very special bike—all black, just like she wanted—sat right inside the door, waiting for her new owner. Joe’s face lit up like a Christmas tree when he spied Jim putting a finishing polish on the surprise gift.
Not everyone would buy a sixteen-year-old a Heritage Softail, but if ever there was a soul meant to ride one, it was his little Mojo. She loved bikes as much as he did and had always been a receptive student to anything he had to teach her, whether it was riding a bike or throwing a punch.
By 1991, when Mojo came to live with him, he had been a street warrior for more than a decade. He knew too well that the world around them could chew up little girls and spit them back out again. He also knew that the tragic events that had landed her in his lap had equal opportunity to define her or destroy her. The only way he could protect her was to teach her how to protect herself. He had begun training her in self-defense from the wee age of four. She had grown tough as nails in the twelve years that followed. She was as fiery as her mane of copper-red hair, and just as formidable as her grandfather had hoped she would be.
Just like every Bennett who had come before her.
The deck had been stacked against her almost from birth. She had to be unbreakable. And he made damn sure she had all the tools she needed to wage her own war when the time came. So this wasn’t just some average teenager who listened to pop music and overdosed on reality TV. She was smart. She was strong. And even at sixteen, she was ready.
“Looking good, Jim.” Joe followed up his compliment with a robust slap on his friend’s back. “She’s going to love it.”
“She’s going to break her fool neck,” Jim retorted.
Joe laughed. “Bullshit. She’s a more careful rider than you are, Jimbo.” They shared a knowing glance. Of course she was careful. She had already lived through one accident. “Besides. You won’t agree to be my lieutenant, so I had to grow my own.”
Jim shook his head with a humorless chuckle. “I still think you’re crazy, Joe. She’s only sixteen. She’s not ready.”
“You’re not ready,” Joe corrected gently. He knew that Jim had a soft spot in his heart for Mojo. She was practically the mascot of Wyndryder and all it represented, and had been for more than a decade.
Jim shrugged off the sentimentality. “Yeah. Well. You know.”
Joe laughed. He knew all too well. It wasn’t easy for him to let his little bird fly, either. But for her own good, he knew he had to give her room to stretch her wings.