Friday, May 11, 2012

Good Friday morning, Madtown Mob! Here's a story to start yer weekend!


By Buckshot

            The desert night dropped a velvet blanket over the Mojave, the outline of the surrounding mountains slowly surrendering to the inevitable darkness.
          Bart drew in a deep breath, tasting the scent of sage on the cool air that blew in through the open window of his pickup as he sped down the road. The beams of his headlights seemed to dance along the straight, black ribbon of asphalt, the seemingly endless expanse of the desert disappearing just past their reach.
          He glanced in his mirror, making sure the product of more than a year of his sweat, blood, and money still rode safely, strapped down tight in the battered bed of his old pickup.
          Bart smiled with satisfaction as the mirror reflected the light of a quarter moon on the chrome and billet, throwing errant sparks of light that reminded him of the tracer bullets from the M-60 machine gun he’d carried in ‘Nam.
          “Long damn drive,” he mumbled, his voice carried away by the force of the wind that swept through the cab.
He looked down at the speedometer. The needle jerked spastically between eighty and eighty-five miles per hour, the expanse of the desert making even this speed seem like he was crawling.
The Rat’s Hole show at Daytona. All the big names would be there, proudly showing off their newest creations. Machines that looked to Bart like they came from outer space. He admired the craftsmanship and care that went into their construction, but he always felt out of place among them, like a mutt at a dog show. This time, though, he knew his labor of love could be pitted against the best the big boys could throw at him.
The custom motorcycle had nearly come full circle now, with rigid frames, long front ends, and straight pipes drawing the young and the nostalgic back in time like a candle in the window.
This was Bart’s time. This was a homecoming; a return to the era that had spawned the chrome and candy goddess that rode just inches behind him.
Bart yawned, wiping a calloused hand over his face, the flesh feeling stiff and tight, his eyelids heavy. Damn, I’m tired, he thought, pushing himself straighter in the seat. Guess I should’ve waited ‘till tomorrow to head out.
Another yawn seized him, and he allowed his eyelids to flicker shut for just an instant…
The vibration in the steering wheel as the tires left the pavement woke Bart with a soundless scream, his hands whipping the wheel, his eyes searching for the edge of the road, but finding only stunted brush and gray bushes in the headlight beams. With a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach, Bart felt the front tires drop into a gully cut across the sand by eons of runoff from the torrential spring rains.
He felt the impact of the steering wheel in his chest as the breath left him in a rush; his last vision through the shattered windshield was his Goddess; his creation, cart wheeling across the sand, the remnants of red nylon straps trailing behind like obscene streamers, before the fingers of merciful blackness reached out to claim him.

Glare penetrated Bart’s eyelids, feeding the flames of excruciating pain that squirmed deeper into his skull.
“When I spoke to him a minute ago, I saw a flicker of recognition, Doctor.”
The soft feminine voice penetrated the fog that seemed to insulate Bart from the world around him. He lay still, for the slightest movement sent pain radiating to every point in his battered body.
“I think he’ll be coming around soon.”
Bart heard the squeak of the Doctor’s shoe soles on the floor as he walked toward the door. “Let me know when he wakes up, Nina.”
I AM awake, Bart thought, but the effort of speaking seemed overwhelming, and he slipped back into sleep without opening his eyes.

“How do ya’ get some food around here?” he croaked, the sound of his voice causing the white clad figure looking out the window to jump.
“OH! You’re awake!”
She smiled as she moved across the room toward him, the sunshine through the window behind her turning her auburn hair into a copper halo.
“My name’s Nina,” she said. “I guess it’s a silly question, but how do you feel?
Bart closed his eyes against the glare as she moved around his bed, the sunlight her body had blocked shining full into his eyes. “Been a hell of a lot better,” he rasped.
She laid a soft hand on his forehead. “You’re lucky to be alive at all. A trucker spotted the wreckage just after dawn, and stopped to investigate. He called 911, and they barely got you here in time. Do you remember the helicopter ride into Vegas?”
Bart slowly moved his head from side to side. “Last thing I remember was my bike tumblin’ across the damn desert… Hey… Where’s my bike?”
A feeling of panic seized Bart’s mind, and he tried to sit up, only to fall sideways, nearly toppling off the bed. “What the…”
He reached down, running his fingers tentatively down his left thigh until they dropped off onto the sheet.
“No!” He looked toward Nina, his eyes wide with fear. “My leg…”
She pressed her hand gently against his chest, forcing him down onto the pillow. “They had to take it off above the knee, Bart. It was crushed, and trapped in the wreckage without circulation for too long. They couldn’t save it.”
Bart lay back, gasping for breath, his chest heaving.
“Your Harley’s safe, though.”
She sat down in the chair beside the bed. “It’s beautiful, despite the damage.”
“You’ve seen it?” he rasped.
“Yes. I had Evan, the tow truck driver take it to my place. It’s safer in my garage than at the tow yard.”
Bart looked up into her angelic face, the green eyes seeming to penetrate his soul. “That was nice of you, Nina. I appreciate it.”
She smiled, but not the radiant smile he’d seen when he first opened his eyes. “It’s good to have a Harley in that garage again. We… My husband and I used to ride.”
“Quit ridin’, huh?” he asked. He felt somehow let down at the mention of her husband, although he had no logical reason to.
Her eyes started to glisten with a trace of moisture. “He… Was killed two years ago. An old woman turned left in front of him, and he couldn’t avoid her.”
“I’m sorry, Nina…” The words seemed inadequate somehow, but Bart couldn’t think of anything else to say.
She gave a half-hearted shrug and stood. “I’d better let Doctor Walters know you’re awake.”
Bart felt a bit guilty for bringing back her hurtful memories, but couldn’t stop himself from staring at her backside as she walked toward the door. What’s the use of lookin’?, he asked himself, running a hand down his left thigh. What would she want with a damn cripple?

The past week had seen Bart’s strength return in limited measure, and he stood in front of the window, the padded top of an aluminum crutch wedged under his left arm.
He watched a construction crew at work building an industrial complex in the next block. He didn’t turn when he heard Nina’s footsteps approaching.
She held out several photos, and he flipped through them as he leaned on the crutch. He shook his head. “Over a year of work gone because of one stupid mistake.”
“I… I had a biker friend look at it,” she told him, her jade eyes turned up to meet his. “I didn’t think you’d mind. He says the forks and handlebars are bent, and the carb’s knocked off… The wheels are probably bent too, but the frame’s okay, and so are the engine and transmission. It could’ve been worse.”
“Yeah,” he growled, holding out the stump of his leg. “Everything could’a been worse. How come I don’t feel so damn lucky, Huh?”
“Are you ready to start therapy yet?” She changed the subject, still standing beside him at the window.
“What’s the use?” he spat.
She turned to face him, hands on her hips. “They can fit you with a prosthetic leg. Even the knee and ankle work. Then you can get on with your life.”
“Yeah,” he snarled. “The life of a cripple!”
She poked a slender finger against his chest. “You’re no cripple unless you want to be!”
She turned and pointed out the window at the afternoon traffic. “You’re going to stop whining, get back on your feet, fix that beautiful damned motorcycle, and take me for a ride down that street out there!”
“What do you know about how I feel?” he muttered. “And who’d want ta ride with a cr…” He stopped in mid sentence as she reached down and pulled the hem of her skirt up, exposing creamy flesh and white lace. She bent and rapped on the plastic flesh of her right lower leg with her knuckles.
Bart stared, shocked speechless, not only by the sight of her knee protruding from the padded collar of the plastic calf, but the beauty of what had been hidden by the nurse’s uniform.
“That’s how I know, Bart. I was with my husband when he was killed.” She looked at him defiantly, a challenge in her eyes. “Am I a cripple, Bart..? Am I?”
“N… No! Lord, no!” he stammered. “I didn’t know…”
“Damn right, you didn’t, Buster!” She dropped her skirt and smoothed it with her hands. “Now let’s get to work on you.”
Bart hobbled closer to the window with the help of the unfamiliar crutch, and stared out silently at the city, and the half-finished industrial park below.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Nina asked, looking up at him.
He slipped his arm around her waist and pulled her closer. “Just thinkin’,” he said, “that a growin’ city like Vegas can use another custom motorcycle shop.”

The next few weeks passed slowly for Bart. Pain from where his stump was healing, and the rigors of therapy to build up damaged muscle tissue almost caused him to give up, but Nina always seemed to be there at the right time to keep him going.
When he was finally released from the hospital, Nina drove him straight to her house. The garage door swung up smoothly at the touch of a button, and the morning sunshine caressed the chrome below a canvas cover she’d thrown over Bart’s bike. The twisted metal still glistened like the jeweled tiara of a mythical goddess.
She parked her van in the driveway and stepped out, helping Bart from the passenger seat. He stood, leaning on his crutch as she entered the garage and swept the cover off the battered Harley.
Bart turned at the sound of an engine idling behind them; an old gray Ford pickup creeping slowly past. The truck stopped and the driver shouted “Hey… You know where 4783 is?”  Nina pointed down the street, and the driver waved, and drove on.
Using the crutch for balance, Bart walked slowly forward to stand above his creation.
“She’s hurt, alright,” he shook his head sadly. “But we’ll make her right, won’t we Lady?” he asked, his eyes on Nina.
She smiled, folding the tarp to lay it on the floor beside the Harley. “Bet your ass we will!” she said. “But first, we’d better get you inside. You need to rest, and I have to feed the dog, pull the van in here, then make dinner.”
She led him inside, and settled him in a recliner with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and a glass.

“Wha…” Bart was awakened by Nina’s dog barking under the bedroom window. He rolled over and awakened Nina. “Does the dog always carry on like that?” 
“No,” she answered. “Something’s wrong out there!”
Sitting up on the edge of the bed, she fumbled with her fiberglass prosthetic leg, while Bart grabbed his crutch from the floor and hobbled toward the door in his underwear. “You own a gun?” he asked over his shoulder.
“No, I never needed one.”
“You do now,” he said, his head out the open window. “Somebody’s in the garage!”
Bart stumbled outside. Nearly falling when the tip of his crutch caught on the flagstone walkway, he reached out, catching to corner of the garage wall to regain his balance.
Backed into the driveway was the old gray Ford pickup he’d seen earlier. Two men ran for the cab, and Bart could see his Harley… His Goddess, thrown carelessly into the bed of the old truck.
Stumbling forward, he swung his crutch at the windshield as the truck’s tires screamed on the flagstones. As the crutch completed its arc, Bart lost his balance and toppled forward into the path of the fleeing thieves, the pickup’s left front fender knocking him to the ground.
Bart lay on the cold stones of the driveway and watched the old truck disappear down the street, his Harley flopping wildly around in the bed.
From somewhere far away, he could hear Nina screaming. By the time his head quit spinning, she knelt at his side, his head cradled in her lap.
Tears flowed freely down her cheeks as her trained hands felt along his ribs and shoulders, checking for injuries.
“Ow… Easy, Lady!”  Bart struggled upright and sat with his head cradled in his hands. “I’m okay,” he rasped. “But they got The Goddess. They’ll have her stripped and sold within hours.”
Nina smiled through her tears, wiping the salty drops from her cheeks with the back of a shaking hand. “Maybe it was meant to be, Bart. Maybe it’s time to let go of our old lives, and start over.”
With Nina’s help, Bart struggled to stand, the bent crutch propped under his arm. “Maybe you’re right, Nina,” he said. “We’ll start on another bike as soon as I can get my shop equipment out here. Besides,” he chuckled, slapping Nina on her shapely backside, “There’s only room enough in my life for one Goddess at a time.”

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