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Bikes and Blues
Bikes and Blues
By K.A. Gross
Dammit! My first ride to Bikes, Blues, and BBQ and the storm of the century strikes on the first day. Just like the rest of my life. I’m getting sick of this.
Lucinda dropped down another gear on her Honda Valkyrie and futilely wiped at her goggles with a soggy glove. Raindrop needles stabbed at her face. Rivulets slithered down the back of her neck and under her heavy leather jacket, chilling her.
Time to make a choice soon: shelter at an underpass and hope the storm cleared; keep going and outrun it; or find a motel and call it quits for the day – though lord only knew where one would be, here in the backwoods of south Missouri.
Leaving home that morning, her goal was to make the four hundred miles to Fayetteville, Arkansas by nightfall. An ambitious – but doable – plan, if all went well. Six hours later and two hundred miles to go, nothing was going well and it was getting worse.
A blinding bolt of lightning hit five hundred feet ahead, and she clutched the handlebars for dear life. A thunderous clap followed on its heels. Sheets of driving water oozed through her leathers, soaking to her skin. Her teeth chattered. Hypothermia would set in shortly. She had only one choice – take cover.
Through the wall of water, she glimpsed an old sign just off the highway: “Cabool Motel. Clean Rooms.”
Looks like an engraved invitation.
Lucinda geared down and eased her machine toward the motel. Pulling in to the parking lot of the 1950s-era one-story building, a long sigh of relief escaped her. Riding in the rain was dangerous, painful, and draining.
The desk clerk started as Lucinda barreled through the front door, letting loose a string of weather-related curses, an intimidating vision in her dripping black leathers.
“Gimme a damn room. Please.”
The room was small and paneled in aging knotty pine. Lucinda toweled her long, auburn hair after a much-needed steaming-hot bath. Ravenous, she dressed quickly in dry clothes and made for the diner by the check-in desk.
Pancakes, eggs and three cups of hot coffee later, her exhaustion had abated. Bored, she watched through the booth’s window and sheeting rain as someone stepped out of a van and raced for the door.
Water had already soaked the close-cropped hair and face of the fortyish man. Lucinda watched as he paid for a room and walked toward a neighboring booth in the otherwise empty café. Placing a thick, bound notebook on the table, he glanced toward her and smiled as their gazes met. She forced a smile in return.
“Isn’t this rain amazing?” he asked.
“Mmph,” she grunted.
Amazing wasn’t quite the word she would have chosen. Horrifically crappy maybe. It looked like her well-wrought plan to party and drink herself into a stupor for the week with a bunch of strangers would be thwarted by this October monsoon. So much for forgetting about her pointless life.
Curiosity nagged at her. “You an artist or something?” She pointed to the notebook.
“Artist? Well no, not the drawing kind anyway. I’m a writer.”
“A writer.” She’d never met anyone claiming to be a writer before. “What do you write?”
“Different things. Short stories, articles, poetry. Maybe the ‘great American novel.’”
“Huh. So, do you get paid to write that stuff?”
Man, must be nice. Wish I could get a gig like that.
The waitress took the writer’s order and poured him coffee.
Looking out at the rain, Lucinda had a sudden urge to crack open a bottle of Early Times and crawl on in. Too bad she hadn’t packed one.
Maybe she could get this guy to take her mind off her troubles for the evening. She walked over to his table and slid into the seat across from him without asking. Most men these days were a pushover to a flirtatious, curvaceous woman in snug jeans.
“So, where’d you learn to write?”
He paused a moment. “I guess I’ve always written something. I never really got taught – I just picked things up here and there.”
She leaned forward and tried to read the words in his notebook upside down. “So, whaddya got, like, a gift?”
“Not anything everyone else doesn’t have. I’ve just practiced for a long time. I love it.”
“You think anybody can write?”
“I think we all have stories within us we can draw out and share with others.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet I have a romance story in me that I could share with you,” she said in her sultry voice. She grinned and leaned toward him.
A club sandwich arrived at the table. He ignored her provocative offer and changed the subject. “I’m Neil, and you are?”
“Lucinda. How come you like writing so much?”
Finishing his thoughtful chewing, he answered, “Partly because I can create any world I want: the scenery, the weather, the characters, their actions. And because I can show readers things they’ve never seen before. It’s a way of connecting with people.
“Oh, and I get to pick my own hours and locations to work in.”
While Neil ate his sandwich, Lucinda’s mind drifted back to seventh grade. She enjoyed writing and her English teacher encouraged her. But by high school, nobody noticed her or her writing and she got bored. Soon, she quit caring.
Neil interrupted her reverie. “You have a lot of questions about writing. Why not give it a try?” He tore a few sheets of paper from his notebook and handed her a pencil.
“Right. Like, what would I have to write about?”
“Is that your bike outside?”
“You bet. Nice, isn’t she?” She grinned.“Then write about her. How you feel when you ride.”
At least that’s something I know about. Close to forty thousand miles of wild fun so far.
“I guess. But you can’t read it. It’ll be bad.”
“Who told you your writing was bad?”
“Never mind.” She looked down at the paper. I should pick up the pencil. Her throat tightened. Tears gathered behind her eyes. What is this? I don’t cry at nothin’, much less a sheet of paper! But memories of worthlessness continued streaming into her mind.
“Quit daydreaming and do your homework. You don’t want to wind up in the welfare line.” Her mother’s constant nagging still remained with her. So she ended up on the production line instead. What a good girl.
Lucinda shook her head to clear out the voices. Write about Val and all the great times we’ve had together. I can do that.
An hour later, she raised her head to see Neil watching her. She had completely zoned out once she got started.
He smiled. “See, you’re a writer, too.”
“Wow. That was weird. I just got going and it all came out. Like I was channeling somebody else.”
“You were in the flow. It’s not always that easy, but when you’ve got something to say, all you need to do is get out of the way.”
Lucinda shook her head. “That’s pretty cool. There are lots of stories I could tell about places I’ve been with Val, and the fun and adventures we’ve survived. Not in mixed company, of course.”This time, Neil grinned. “Sounds like a best-seller to me!” They both laughed.
The rain had stopped and the moon peeked in and out of the clouds. Lucinda returned to her room feeling a little giddy. Letting all those words out had a liberating effect. The fog of negativity that usually cloaked her had lifted and she felt like a star, light and twinkly. Dropping off to sleep, she thought maybe this vacation wouldn’t be a total loss after all.
Pulling into Fayetteville at midday, she found a campground and set up her tent. Slipping on jeans and her favorite black tank top emblazoned with “Ride to Live, Live to Ride” in gold lettering, she got back on Val and headed for a carwash to remove yesterday’s road grime.
Thirty minutes later, she decided – enough work. Time to party.
Thousands of bikers lined Dickson Street. She joined the parade of cycles rolling down the main drag in Fayetteville. It was electrifying. The roar of hundreds of motors, blatting exhaust pipes, and cheering throngs made Lucinda feel like she was in another world – one where everyone appreciated the look and sound of engineered steel.
At the far end of the street, she found a parking spot and backed in to a sliver of space between two bikes. A thirst-quenching establishment was conveniently located only steps away and she strode in, feeling like she owned the town. Heads turned as she approached the bar. A young woman alone was not a frequent sight at parties like this. She ignored them and ordered a cold Fat Tire and a shot of whiskey.
“Seen ya parkin’. Nice machine.” The male voice was gravely and beer-sodden.
“You bet she is.” Lucinda turned toward the voice. The owner was three hundred pounds of solid tattoos from shoulder to wrist, topped off with steel studs on leather. She smiled.
Two of Tattoo’s friends gathered around her stool. “Hey, sweet-stuff, wanna play some pool?”
“Why not?” Truth was, her rear was a bit sore from the four hundred miles she’d ridden and standing up would be a nice break. These guys weren’t her type – too grungy – but, why not? At least until something better came along.
Soon Lucinda was feeling no pain.
Darkness slid down the street outside the bar. The four players drained a dozen pitchers of beer. One missing his front teeth lumbered over to her and said, “Whyncha come to our camp and we’ll have uth a li’l party, eh, hot thtuff?” Beer dripped off his long mustache onto his black leather vest.
“Nah, I think I’ll stay in town and check out some of the T-shirt and leather vendors.” Check out some of the better-looking guys, more like.
“Nope, I think you want to come to our camp. We’ll have thum real fun.”
“Thanks, but not now.”
The three surrounded her. “Aw, whatsa matter? You got somethin’ against your new friends?” asked the one she named Blackbeard.
“You guys are great and I ‘preciate the beers, but no thanks.”
“Awww, come on.” Tattoo took her arm and started to lead her out the back door. She pulled away. His grip tightened.
“Really, I gotta go now.”
“OK, then. Let’s go.” The big man bent down and folded her over his broad shoulder. He straightened and strode to the back door in four long steps.
“You sonofabitch, let me down right now!” she screamed. She struggled to pry herself from his grip.
Her captor rolled her through the side door of a waiting van. Toothless wrapped large arms around her from behind and clamped a hand over her mouth.
Blackbeard slipped a finger into her pants pocket and fished out the keys to Val. “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of yer bike.”
He slammed the door. She tried to scream and struggled harder against the arms but was losing strength fast. No air got past the huge hand over her mouth and nose. Blackness seeped into her head.
Flames. A camp fire. Lucinda lay on her side in the dirt. Still groggy from alcohol and unconsciousness, she rolled upright.
“What the hell!” she croaked through a raw throat, then coughed.
“Have a nice nap, darlin’?” said Blackbeard. Sitting across the camp fire, the other two snickered. “How about a cold one?” He rolled a bottle toward her.
It was pitch black outside the campfire’s light, and stone quiet. They must be in a secluded woods somewhere. She looked around. Yes! There was Val, gleaming blood red, by the van.
“We decided we’d have a little party here with ya. You look like a party girl,” he said with a leer.
She sipped the cool beer. How do I get on Val and get the hell outta here before their idea of fun begins? She remembered hearing on some survival show, “Make friends with your kidnappers. Don’t make them mad.”
Guess it’s worth a try. “You know, you could have brought me here a little nicer,” she said as sweetly as she could.
From a beat-up boom box, the Door’s Jim Morrison crooned, “Come on baby, light my fire.” Blackbeard pulled her up and into his arms. “Wanna dance, baby? Wanna light my fire?” They teetered around the campsite to the hoots of the other men. She played along, dancing half-heartedly. Maybe she could wear him out.“Yeah, momma, show us how you can danth,” called Toothless.
Her partner twirled her around and nearly fell backwards.
Tattoo took the opportunity to cut in. “Lemme,” he said. His mammoth arms lifted her high over his head and he licked and slobbered on her exposed stomach. “Mmmmm, tasty.”
This was getting way out of control. Maybe nice wasn’t the best way to freedom.
“I gotta take a pee!” she said. “I’ll be right back.”
“Don’t run off now, girl,” said Blackbeard, with a threatening growl.
She walked into the trees, far enough from the light to get some privacy, and slid her jeans down. There was no sign of life in any direction, so she couldn’t walk away. Not and leave Val with these jerks. She wouldn’t be able to fight them all off. Out-drink them? Too risky. She was already pretty high and they were twice her size. Maybe she could distract them long enough that they’d drink themselves into a stupor. But how?
Lucinda thought back to Neil and her story-writing session. That’s it! I’ll tell them stories and keep them drinking till they pass out. Her mom had read her a book about some Arabian woman who had saved her own life by telling stories to the king for a thousand nights. She wouldn’t be able to talk that long, but for an hour or two – she’d give it her best shot. Plan in mind, she strode back to the campsite.
“There’s our pretty mama,” said Blackbeard. He handed her a bottle of cheap whiskey, half gone. “Here ya go, let’s party!”
Taking the bottle, she tipped it, pretending to drink. She wiped her mouth, hoping they didn’t have anything 80-proof wouldn’t kill, and handed it on to Tattoo.
“Lemme get another beer for everybody.”
When the fresh bottles were passed around, she took a deep breath. “Whaddya say before we start the serious fun we get to know each other a little better?” Her moment of truth: was she a bona fide storyteller or not?
“‘Ride to Live, Live to Ride.’ You guys know it’s true. When I was five, I got my brother’s bicycle. Silver paint, banana seat and ape-hanger handlebars. Man, what a cruiser. I’d get goin’ down a hill with the wind filling my hair. . . I was in heaven. Got addicted. Rode as far as I could. For the first time in my life I felt free – you know, like escaped from the bummer that was home and family.
“In high school, I got a job at the Dairy Shack schlepping burgers. Saved every penny I made. The other girls there bought makeup and clothes, but I worked my butt off and got a little Honda dirt/street bike. That was the coolest thing ever. I went anywhere I wanted, on the road and off. True freedom. Bet you know what I mean.”
There were general mumbles of assent from her audience.
Whiskey, beer, and pot made the rounds. The fire grew dim as Lucinda wove tales of her many two-wheeled adventures. She dragged the stories out as long as she could, continuing to take fake swigs and puffs, and occasionally a real one to calm her nerves. As she spun her tales of riding, partying and hell-raising, her plan began to work. The guys kept guzzling and toking and slowly their heads started nodding down and up. Finally, the bobbing stopped and snores drowned out the buzz of the cicadas.
The last light of the fire died and only the moon lit the woods as she crept to Val and swung a leg over. Using all her strength, she urged the heavy machine down the access road. Bumps and dips made the going tough, but finally she got far enough away from the campsite to risk starting the motor. The headlight cut the night and she gave it all the throttle she dared, hoping the men were too stupefied to give chase.
Bursting from the woods onto a paved road, she turned left, not knowing what lay in either direction. The cool night air rushed into her hair, lungs, and pores and suddenly, all the stress of the last hours was gone. She was alive – victorious over her enemies – and she’d done it by her wits alone!
The sun hung high in a cloudy sky by the time Lucinda woke in her tent. But as she contemplated going down to the main drag, with the throngs, and the racket, and the booze, a small thought slipped into her mind. What if, instead, she took a blank notebook back to that motel in Cabool and spent a few days writing whatever came to mind, starting with last night’s adventure? Lord knew, she had plenty of stories. She’d just never thought of sharing them before.
The ride back to Cabool through the glorious fall Ozark colors awakened new creative sparks in Lucinda’s head.
The desk clerk at the motel recognized her, even un-drenched. “I have a note for you from the fellow you talked to last time you were here.”
Curious, she opened the envelope and read, “You have the gift of writing. Just let it loose and it will guide and gratify you. Keep up the good words. Neil.”
She slid the paper inside her virgin notebook and smiled.