Never Love a Bandido

Big Jim’s motorcycle gang was the toughest in Texas, but that wasn’t stopping someone from picking them off one by one. Big Jim’s woman begged him to leave the gang. She said he was bound to get hurt. She was right. 

Big Jim sits astride his Harley, waiting for a red light to change. It’s long after midnight and there’s not a car in sight, but Jim doesn’t think about running the light. A cop car could be sitting in the darkness around the corner, its cruising lights turned off. And now is no time for a Bandido to be getting into even minor trouble in Fort Worth. Ever since that fight at Trader’s Village and the arrests that followed, the cops have been chasing down Bandidos on any charge at all, even for minor traffic in­fractions. Now not only the cops, but someone else—nobody knows who—has joined the game. At midnight three weeks ago, chapter president Johnny Ray Lightsey was blasted with a .38, and he fell dead in the street. Jim blinks a little, remembering that Johnny Ray was gunned down while waiting at a lonely intersection for a red light to change. He knows it could happen again.

Part of the trouble with police is a Bandido tradition. Ever since the club’s first chapter was formed fifteen years ago in Houston, police and Bandidos have been instinctive enemies. The Texas Organized Crime Prevention Council has called the Bandidos a little Mafia, and with encouragement like that, Jim tells himself, it’s no wonder that every two-bit police recruit in the state thinks that he has to earn his uniform by harassing Bandits. The club’s founding president, Don Chambers, is locked up in Huntsville for a life term on a murder charge, and Jim believes Chambers is not the only Bandit wrongly in prison. “Free Don Chambers,” say white letters on the front of Jim’s black T-shirt. “Sup­port Your Local Bandidos—Or Else,” they say on the back.

Run-ins with the police have not limited the growth of the Bandidos; if anything, their legal troubles have made them more attractive to their potential members. Leaders won’t divulge the group’s size, but today there are Bandido chapters in seven states, and probably 1500 members or more—enough to warrant the claim that the Bandidos are the nation’s second-largest outlaw biker clan, after California’s Hell’s Angels. Before join­ing up, most would-be Bandidos tell themselves, as Jim did, that being a Bandido means risking arrest and im­prisonment every day. Rather than pale before that prospect, those Bandidos who stay in learn to welcome it, because if there are any qualities the macho motorcyclists respect, fearless­ness tops the list, way ahead of honesty, intelligence, dexterity with a pistol, or even brotherliness.

Jim joined the Bandidos four months ago, just when a new wave of police harassment was unfolding in the wake of arrests at the Trader’s Village chili cookoff in Grand Prairie. As both the police and the Bandidos reconstruct it, a young Dallas woman took leave of her boyfriend to beg a ride on a Bandido motorcycle. Half an hour later, when she and the Bandido rode back to the cookoff, the young lady leaped from the bike and screamed to her boyfriend that she had been raped. A free-for-all between bikers and onlookers ensued. The Bandidos joined forces and “all came together like a kind of magnet” one witness ob­served. At the end of the brawl, seven cookoff patrons were hospitalized, some for stab wounds. The Bandidos got off physically unscathed, but eight of them were jailed on charges ranging from rape to misdemeanor assault. As the Bandidos tell it, there had been no rape, and the member who gave the young lady a ride was Herbert Brown, not Ronald Kim Tobin, whom police charged with the crime.

The incident was a classic case of confrontation between outlaw bikers and the citizenry, and the highly publicized charges that came out of it gave the police a reason to come down on the Bandidos, whenever and wherever they could. It became almost impossible for a Bandido to cross town without being stopped for a flickering taillight or having to show title to his Harley. Club members in Fort Worth pooled their resources—and even took jobs—to bail members out of jail or to pay off bondsmen who held Bandido bikes as collateral. Jim, who had been in and out of outlaw biker groups for most of his adult life, had never seen teamwork and defiance like the Ban­didos showed after the Trader’s Village bust. So he joined up with them, damn the police.

“Damn the cops, anyway,” Jim thinks to himself, chuckling a little. He’d had trouble with them virtually all his life. His mother, lacking anyone else to call for help, telephoned the police when her labor pains began. A patrol car came for her, but before it reached the hospital, Jim was born, right there in the back seat. The first event in his life had not been the caress of his mother, but a butt-beating by a cop, and life had followed that pattern pretty closely ever since. If there was anything Jim aspired to in his good-natured moments, it was get­ting a chance to give some cop a good butt-beating, just to even the score. As a Bandit, he might sooner or later get the chance.

The front wheel and the headlight of Jim’s Harley flutter up and down, vibrating unnaturally. The vibration comes from underneath him, from the motorcycle’s frame, which is broken in three places—two of the breaks are at the back, where the engine joins the transmission. When the light changes, Jim eases out, hoping to keep the vibration down. He can hear his motor squirming around as he gains speed. If he doesn’t weld those breaks in the frame, it won’t be long before the engine twists loose from its mounts. He promises himself to do something about it soon.

Every night at this hour for the past ten days, Jim has ridden this road over to the Nevada Club,* a topless bar on the East Side, to pick up Doe at clos­ing time. (*This name and the names of a few other places and people occurring later have been changed.) He never asked

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