The early morning sun blasted through the shade of my window like a World War II searchlight mounted on the neighbor’s roof. I tried to avoid it by turning over, but it burned through my blanket.
I’d had a nasty dream of trekking cross Death Valley, hauling a ton of Borax in a backpack, with nothing to eat but kitty litter. The weight of the Borax made it hard to sit up, so I had to steady myself on the night table as I tried to rise. I must have lost my balance at Dante’s View just before falling off the cliff. I couldn’t remember it but the body aches were a constant reminder. My skull felt cracked like the dried sand at Badwater. I sat on the edge of the bed for a long time pondering my aches.
When that got old, I pulled the window shade, revealing a second-story overlook of Chip’s corrugated steel garage. Right, I’m at Chip’s place in Minneapolis. All the Harleys were gone from the alley. My bike was not where I’d parked it the night before, so I assumed it was inside the garage. My luggage was in my room, though I didn’t remember carrying it upstairs.
At the bathroom down the hall, I unloaded the Borax, drank a gallon of water straight from the tap, and stood under the shower till it turned cold. Then I stood there some more till I was fully braced. As Death Valley lost its grip, I donned some fresh clothes and made my entrance into the dining room. Chip and Candy were having breakfast with Spider.
“Hey Montana, how ‘bout some coffee?” Candy’s voice sounded as sweet as a canary, and I nodded.
“You’re moving a little slow man, you all right?” Spider asked.
“What happened?” I asked.
“The beers kind of snuck up on you last night,” Chip said, “It didn’t help that you were drinking KP’s 12 percent Belgian ale like Budweiser for most of the evening.”
Candy brought a cup of steaming coffee and I smiled.
“Oh yes, KP; how’s he doing?”
“He went to an urgent care facility early this morning where they re-bandaged his thumb with a proper splint and gave him some pain killers. Nothing broken but he won’t be riding for a couple of weeks.” Spider responded.
“Oh wow, I feel bad for him.”
“Don’t feel too bad, Montana,” Chip commented; “He was into those Belgian ales well before he started working on his bike.”
“Probably not a good idea. And it wasn’t a good idea for me to join him, but I didn’t know the beers he was handing me were 12 percent.”
“I tried to tell you man, but it was probably too late because you didn’t seem to care,” Spider added.
Candy brought a large plate of eggs, ham, toast, and a cut-up avocado.
“You’re an angel Candy; there’ll be a special place for you in heaven.” She melted my heart with the smile which followed.
At breakfast, we discussed the night before, Red’s mom, KP’s thumb, and Gimp’s rum. That was the first I’d heard of it. I wondered if I’d drank that too.
I thanked Candy for the perfect breakfast and went out to the garage to check my oil level and a few other things on my bike. I found some fasteners that needed tightening, adjusted the clutch cable, and added a little motor oil.
Somebody slowly rolled by the open garage door in a black Mercedes 500 sedan and stopped. He rolled down the passenger power window and asked, “do you know if Candy’s home?”
When I indicated that she was, he parked the car and introduced himself as Candy’s brother, Jake.
“Nice car; I thought you were the President or something.”
He laughed. “I’m the president of my company,” he responded, “Which is not bad for a grade 10 dropout.”
When I started to tell him who I was, he interrupted – “right, Candy told me you helped Red in the Bighorn mountains. Dammed decent of you. You didn’t even know the guy. I’m not sure I would have stopped for someone that looked like him. Come on, he looked like Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy. No way of knowing who he is or what his intentions were. He could have shot or knifed you. They’d have found your body and no one would have known. I’ll tell you what man, you are a hero. That’s what Candy said. You know what, next time you need a set of tires, you look me up, here’s my card. I’ll treat you right brother, I feel I owe you.”
With that, he walked into the house.
This was the second time this trip I’d been called hero; must be a Midwestern colloquialism, I thought to myself.
I grabbed a Coors Light and a lawn chair to commence the third stage of my post-hangover treatment after the shower and breakfast.
A half-ton truck pulled up and KP poured out. The driver was a hefty woman wearing a big smile. “You must be Montana,” she said as she got out of the truck and shook my hand. “I’m Lula Mae, KP’s wife. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“You can’t believe all that,” I responded; “where could anyone hide that many bodies? Besides, I was acquitted in court.”
She laughed heartily. “You’re a hoot, you know that Montana, you’re a hoot!”
“And I’ll bet you’re a Southern girl – my favorite kind.” I flattered.
As she walked back towards the truck, she yelled, “I’ve got to go; you and KP can nurse your wounds together.
KP was already at his bike looking things over. He started it up, semi-engaged and disengaged the clutch a few times, and listened to the motor. “I think those guys might have got it right,” he commented, referring to the primary chain replacement.
“Looks like you’re ready to ride.”
“Ready enough to ride it home. I don’t sleep well if my bike’s not where it belongs.” He grabbed a beer from the fridge and pulled up a chair next to mine.
“How’s the thumb?”
“They injected it with some pain killer, and it feels a hell of a lot better than it did earlier. It’s pretty swollen and it’ll take a while to heal.”
“I just met Candy’s brother, Jake. He’s in the Mercedes over there. I didn’t know she had a brother.”
“Half-brother,” he responded. “Two different fathers and neither of them know who they were. I went to school with Jake. He hated it. He failed grade four and had to do it over again. That was a big disgrace at the time. He didn’t get much respect.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Looks like he’s doing OK now.”
“Well, let me finish the story; it’s pretty interesting. He quit school the day he turned 16 and took a job mounting tires at Firestone. He learned everything he could about tires. When they found out he was pretty good at selling them, they moved him to the sales floor. He did so well there, they offered him a manager’s position.”
“Good for him.”
“No, it was bad for him, that’s where things went to hell. He just wasn’t management material. He made some big mistakes so they fired him.”
“Oh god, that’s terrible, especially for a guy who sees himself as a failure.”
“No that was the best thing that ever happened to him. It inspired him to start his own tire shop. Much of the Firestone clientele remained loyal to him and he soon had to hire staff to mount tires so he could focus on selling. Before long, he moved into larger premises, and then he did the smartest thing he ever did; he hired a shop manager with experience. This guy looked after all the executive details while the guys in the back did the mounting and he did all the selling.
He sponsored some kids’ sports teams, made large donations to the Big Brothers organization, and adopted the responsibility for a little brother himself. He used to be a little brother you know. Anyway, he ended up being featured on a local news special about the Big Brothers organization. He was interviewed and was shown on TV playing baseball with his little brother. This became a public service commercial for the Big Brothers organization and was re-played regularly. His manager decided to run some tire commercials featuring his face, and that brought even more business.”
“Probably more than he could handle.”
“Right, so he bought – not rented – a much larger location which includes motorcycle tires. He gives us great deals so everyone buys their bike tires from him. We can often be found at his shop on Friday evenings raiding his beer fridge at the back of the shop. He keeps it filled and when he has time, he joins us at one of the three picnic tables he’s set there.”
“What a great story man, I love it. It’s so nice to hear about a grade-school failure doing really well.”
“Well, there’s more. He hired Candy to work in the office, and she was attracted to all the bikers in the back on Friday evenings. That’s how she met Chip.”
“Oh wow, does Jake ride?”
“Riding is a lot like dancing, Montana, you’ve got to have a sense of rhythm. Jake doesn’t have any. He tries to ride a bike like he drives his car. He’s an accident waiting to happen, so Chip talked him out of riding for his own good.
A man’s got to know his limitations.”
Editor’s Note: we are aware that “gimp” can have a derogatory meaning and mean no insult to anyone disabled. In the story, the person with that nickname doesn’t consider it as such, and we present the story in that context.
Header image courtesy of Pexels.com/Andrea Piacquadio.