From the narrow breakdown lane of the 150-foot high sweeping transition ramp of the Dallas “High Five” spaghetti bridge, the view to the south is absolutely breathtaking. An endless sea of lights, cut down the middle by a sodium orange lit river of expressway far below, runs clear to the horizon. There the Dallas skyline with its distinctive profile barely rises from the pool of lesser lights.
Just there! Green neon. The Mobil Pegasus. The tower. The flashing red and blue of emergency vehicles right at the edge of my vision. The brilliantly bright earth and the pitch-dark sky. Such is deep night in the city.
Cars and trucks blow by without noticing me. A black motorcycle, and a black-clad rider, parked against the wall on the inside corner of the mammoth bridge simply doesn’t register. They can’t see me. Likely can’t run over me either. The steep banking curve of this bridge and my location puts me “out of the flow”.
I’m effectively alone, in a city of millions.
She flagged me down right at the intersection. I really had little choice but to stop. The light was red, cages (motorcyclist’s slang for car or truck) filled the other lanes, and she stepped off the curb.
First impressions: Young, late 20’s perhaps. Curvy. Dark hair. She was dressed for clubbing. Black summer top leaving a bare left shoulder. Nicely rounded cleavage. Small area of bare midriff. Short skirt. Heels. Small tattoo (Stitch!) above her left breast near her collarbone. Not conservative…not excessive either. Rather, female…and obviously and pleasantly so.
First impressions over, stark details began to resolve under the harsh streetlights. Bruises on her face and arms. Hair out of place. Some maybe pulled out. No purse. Scraped elbows and feet. Torn skirt. She’d been crying but wasn’t now. Not drunk. Didn’t have the vacant look of a drug user.
“I need a ride.” It was a statement. Her voice indicated a relative calm. Her inflection revealed intelligence and reinforced my impression that she wasn’t using. She was in trouble though. Her face betrayed the edge of panic.
I looked her up and down again, trying to gather my thoughts and figure out the situation. Her torn skirt revealed that her panties were gone. She was beyond being self-conscious about it. The predator in me could smell sex.
“What you need is a cop.”
Perched high above the city, it’s a good time and place for me to be alone. I look at my hands. I need time to stop the shakes; time to lose the toxic mix of emotion and lust; time to wrestle my own demons back into safe keeping.
Turning toward the north, away from downtown, I gasp at the spectacle of a threatening storm skirting the city. The city lights clearly reach the horizon, but there they meet the end of the world…a distinct curve sharply defining the edge of the earth. Off the map. There be monsters there.
The storm towers above, near continuous lightning outlining its menacing swirling dark clouds. I can feel more than hear its growl…the sub-audible but powerful rumble easily crossing the miles between us and thrumming deep in my chest. Even the massive structure I’m standing on, millions of tons of concrete and steel, vibrates in tune with the storm.
North and south. The storm and the city. Each fascinating and intensely powerful in their own right. Each beautiful, each necessary, and each dangerous beyond measure.
Her eyes widened in alarm and she looked like she was about to bolt. “No. Please. I just need to get out of here.”
“Look, if you’ve been raped…”
“No!” she cut me off. “That’s not it at all. I’ve been living with him a while. That was going to be the last time. We were done. I told him…” she stopped a moment, rubbing her wrists. Then, “He just wasn’t going to let me leave.”
The light changed. The cars left. The one behind me went around. They didn’t even honk. I’m sure they thought I was negotiating with a hooker.
People see…what the city wants them to see…
The storm confounds the senses. Lulled by its benefits, mesmerized by its beauty, and pursued by its relentless indifference, its victims find themselves overwhelmed by the power, tossed about by forces they can scarcely understand, and devoured by its sheer size and swirling energies. The storm is an entity, by some measures alive…and it is hungry. By the time its prey are aware of the danger it is usually too late to flee. All you can do is try to hide…and hope the hunter chooses someone else.
This city…is the same. A predator of the highest order, with a cold, indifferent intelligence, immense power, and an insatiable appetite.
Observing either from this perch makes this easily apparent. The storm and the city. North and south. Beauty and danger. Pulsing life throbbing in both. The instinct begins to understand…and screams to run…or barring that, to hunt. Fight or flee. Kill or be killed. At the moment I’m just an observer, and still my heart pounds in my chest. It’s not a subtle feeling.
“Please? He smashed my phone.”
I held up mine. “We can call the cops…”
She cut me off again and turned to walk away, “Never mind!”
I could have let it go at that. Gone on my way and hoped…or pretended…that she found a safe place…a safe ride.
But I’ve been around too much to fool myself that way. I’ve played this role before. It hasn’t always worked out. Over a lifetime of experience I’ve already gathered enough nightmares. She’s one of the kind that disappears and nobody knows. And she was trying to escape. Many never even realize they need to.
Like moths to the flame they come. This city’s quadrupled in population in just a couple decades. The young come to make their way or find some human contact. The homeless come to find a meal or work or to blend into the fabric of the city. The rural, not realizing what they already have, come to find something more. The professionals come in search of the money to buy back their souls. The criminals…well, they come to prey on them all.
None of them are prepared for what they find. There’s an intoxicating dynamic in play. It will change them all.
So many come that few notice those that disappear. Some escape. Some just vanish. A few make the news…the spectacular…or the connected…but many are simply lost. The city is an efficient predator…and it attracts a lot of scavengers.
The pain piles up…and nobody knows a damn thing.
Most that survive here adapt to the rhythm and eventually just blend in and “go to ground”. They manage to ignore, for the most part, the dark side of the city. It’s much easier to accept its benefits…to rationalize its existence, if you don’t comprehend the cost.
Well and good…if you have time to get established…if you have a safe place to go…if you have people around you that care.
The city knows this.
She turned around.
“Why no cops?” I have no fear of the city or the night and frankly could give a shit less about the appearance of my dealings…but there are things here in this city I won’t have any part of.
She spoke quietly, “Because nobody watches the watchers.”
A police cruiser zooms by my place on the bridge. I warily watch him continue on without slowing. I wonder what he would think if he knew I was perched here, watching the city and the storm. I wonder what he would think about tonight’s earlier events. Doesn’t matter I suppose. I know even he, the trained observer, won’t notice me here. I just don’t fit.
I wasn’t even sure I heard her, but chills went down my spine. Her situation was not trivial. Who’s watching the watchers? A question that’s more common than you’d think, here. It’s one of those dark sides nobody wants to think about because it can snatch anybody, not just the vulnerable, not just the naïve. What do you do when you call for help…and the bad guys answer the phone?
I didn’t like to admit it, but yeah, she needed to run.
“Where do you need to go?”
“Atoka, Oklahoma.” Her voice was flat.
“Shit.” The expletive was involuntary and mostly just surprise. That was well over 100 miles away. The problem solver in me was wondering if, right now, that was even possible. I was dealing with my own issues. Passion and drive. Emotions. Money. Time. Loneliness. My very core in turmoil. Looking for answers…when I don’t even have the questions.
Trivial perhaps, up against other problems, but that in no way lessons the impact…or the pain.
With some effort I dismissed those thoughts and focused the immediate situation again. If I took her at her word we needed to move, now. How much fuel was left in the bike? Did I have any gas money? How many magazines was I carrying for the 45? Was Oklahoma a helmet state? It usually wasn’t an issue. I couldn’t remember. I have friends I can trust all over the place. Who was in that area? If I could just get her out of the city maybe we could arrange a place and a pickup.
As all this was percolating in my head I was staring intently at her. The predator. The dark side. Just happens that way…males are…focused.
I saw it coming before she did…and would have stopped it if I could, but my brain was busy crunching on problems while at the same time trying to reign in my own demons.
Her face changed. She’d reached that edge of panic and felt she was cornered. She was out of options and resources. She understood…perhaps for the first time ever, that her very life was at stake. I saw the decision. She had determined there was only one solution left.
She played her last card, one she clearly didn’t want to put down, but also one she was confident would not fail.
Standing on the bridge, my thoughts darkly male, I mentally count, for at least the tenth time, the days…hours…until the wife gets home.
Can you hear me? Can you hear me? In the dark night, far away…
The passion! The drive!
It’s still too many. Days yet. The lightning to the north intensifies as I watch, and punctuates the turmoil in my soul.
“If you take me there I’ll give you a blowjob.”
There it was. The last card.
Now, understand. I am 100%, hard-wired, full-on, red-blooded male. If I was asked how much I think about sex I would say, “All the time” and THAT would be understating. I am highly in favor of blowjobs, or any other kind of interaction between consenting adults. To me, life IS passion and it’s far too short to spend it NOT getting laid.
But I’m married. It’s a commitment and honor and respect thing. Even if I wasn’t, it’s a fine line. Sex IS often currency, in subtle and even socially acceptable ways, let’s not be naïve. Both sides play the game, and I really have no problem with that. Heck, as a younger (and unattached) man, “Gas, grass, or ass, nobody rides for free” was a pretty good motto, and I already had the gas and didn’t want/use the grass! It was a social game, it was about opportunity, it was about living, and we all came away with something we wanted.
But for me, desperation is not part of the deal. Desperation is not consent. We are not animals.
I looked her up and down again.
“No.” It was about all my brain could manage at the moment. Damn those bamboozling females anyway.
A car roars up the massive overpass, rapidly approaching my location, and I turn to watch it. It sounds different from the others…working…pushed…harder. Tires humming, it drifts wide, away from my place on the inside shoulder. I hear it brush the wall. Dangerous. 150 feet above the concrete and steel below is not a place to be careless. Most people have no clue how close to the edge they are at any given time or situation. Motorcyclists, true riders, have no such blinders. The shadow of death rides with us, always.
The tires squeal as the car bounces off the wall. Drunk. Or racing. Or both. I watch it barely make the corner, drift by me, and rocket down the steep grade. I chuckle and shake my head, wondering if he’ll survive long enough to encounter the police car that passed earlier.
She looked me over. I hadn’t responded quite as expected. The last card couldn’t fail. She thought she knew where she stood. To her, my “No” wasn’t an outright refusal. She’d made an offer no male would resist. The offer made, the line crossed, it was just down to the terms now. Everything’s a transaction. This is the city’s legacy.
She sighed, “Two then. One when we get out of town, another when we get to Atoka.”
Honor, desperation, or no, it’s still not easy. The wife’s been gone for days and one of the reasons I was out riding in the first place was to distract from that. We are hardwired for this. That dark side of the man can’t be excised without killing the rest of him…and I am very much alive.
A sweet young thing. Two ‘nobody knows, no consequences’ blowjobs. Laugh, or dismiss it if it makes you feel better…but realize that Presidents have been toppled for less. Empires rise and fall…just on the chance.
Again, all I could manage, “No.”
She looked away, spoke quietly, “Sex then.”
Erk. Grock. Reboot. Phizzle. Pop.
The light changed again. She was watching me expectantly.
“You have family or friends in Atoka? Somebody you trust?” Dammed if I was going to deliver her from the frying pan into the fire. I’ve been here before, played out nearly this very same scenario. I’d been injured that time. When you start piling scars on top of scars, you start to hope that it means something.
“Yes. Friends. Good ones.”
Then why’d they let you go? I didn’t say it. I knew the answer. She’s an adult. Friends, good ones, encourage you to fly. They have to let you go.
The hell with it. She was pretty, and it was a nice night for a ride anyway. The money, and the rest…I’d figure out somehow. I always do.
I tipped my head, motioning her my way.
I watch the big storm to the north visibly swirl and swell. It is either growing or approaching. Perhaps both. It’s difficult to tell from my perspective. I’d missed it on my southbound trek, slipping through before it had gained any strength.
Irrationally, I wonder if it knows I evaded it. I wonder if it’s hunting for me.
The big machine went lean north of McKinney. I reached down and flipped her to reserve. Some miles later at Anna, I hit the truck stop for some fuel.
The girl on the back might weigh 125 pounds. Compared to me and the bike…the thousand pounds of blood, bone, and steel that is The Dragon, she barely registers. It would be almost easy to forget she was there.
Except for those damn curves…and her scent. I don’t think the female of the species truly knows just how driven we males are…the forces and turmoil we (barely) keep in check…just how aware we become of what they are.
As I finished pumping the gas she motioned to the darkened side lot. “There?” Her tone said she wanted to get it over with.
I shook my head, grunted, “Let’s ride” and lit the engine on the big machine.
I tentatively decide the storm is approaching. Lightning is starting to track through the sky above me. Exposed, 150 feet in the air, is no place to take a stand against that power. I’ve no illusions about the forces I challenge. One day they will chew me up like I was never there. It’s time to flee or hunt. I’ve not decided which yet.
I look at the cages below and wonder if any of their occupants have even an inkling of the forces at play tonight.
I dropped her at a small place north of Atoka. No neighbors. Few lights.
As she climbed off the bike she said, “We can do it here or we can go inside. My friends won’t mind. I won’t tell them why.”
She could have just run for the house. A deal was a deal I guess.
I stayed on the bike. Left the engine running. “No. Thank you.”
She cocked her head. “Are you gay?”
At this I laughed. She truly had no clue of what I kept leashed. “Not even a little bit!”
“Men don’t say ‘no’.”
“Men will. You’ve been dealing with boys. Be safe. I know that city. Help might not come again.” That was the most words I’d managed to string together since she’d made the offer. I hoped she understood.
Scars on top of scars.
I hoped it mattered.
Not waiting for more, I gunned the throttle and feathered the clutch, heading for the road and scattering gravel. I had to get the hell out of there.
The Valkyrie’s lonely wail was all I had for company on the long ride back.
The storm rumbles audibly now, the threat clear and immediate, but the hidden nature of the city below me disturbs me just as much.
I’d done some good. One had escaped. Maybe.
But below are probably hundreds more caught in this gilded cage, this trap of intricate design, and drifting toward a fate they are not expecting and may not escape.
There’s 10 million people within 50 miles of where I’m standing. One-hundred-thousand more come every year.
For the most part, they are on their own. Like me, now, essentially alone while surrounded by humanity.
I wonder if I can escape the trap…when it’s my turn to cheat fate. Maybe it’s already too late.
A breeze suddenly washes over me, perched above it all. It carries the smell, the taste, and the tension of the storm.
Hunt or flee. The storm or the city.
I take a deep breath. Stretch. Exhale.
Screw it. Demons be dammed. I tighten my gloves and fire the engine.
Hunt or flee? It suddenly seems silly to me that it was even a question. If I want to keep my soul there’s only one choice. It’s time to ride. It’s time to hunt.
We have a date, this storm and I.
“You ready babe?”
The bike’s quiet grumble is an answer.
“Let’s fly then.”
My answers are out there…maybe one day I will even figure out the questions.
*note: the destination town name/distance/direction may have been changed to stymie a little boy that might think he’s up for the hunt. Harmful or fatal if swallowed. May contain peanuts. The wrong end of a 45 can be hazardous to your health. Contains sharp objects. Not for use on Tuesday. Contents under pressure. For adults only. Not good with any other offer. Only one coupon per customer.