The small cluster of modest houses looked well kept. Situated on one side of the small state highway, all of them backed up to heavily wooded Forest Service property. The other side of the road fell off into a gently sloped meadow. In the dawn light the forest was dark and inviting, the meadow white and glistening with the snow. I took a deep breath of the crisp, clean air. Life on the mountain. Wow!
I glanced at the sheaf of papers the lawyer had given me, verifying the house I wanted. There could be no mistake. The lawyer was coolly competent. He rather reminded me of Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s butler as we see him in the movies. Completely prepared, intrinsically aware of the “right” thing, and mysteriously appearing exactly when, and only when he was needed.
The instructions for the delivery comprised a full color set of laminated maps, each in the series very detailed and a closer zoom on the area. They were bound by a single ring in the corner and arranged in order. They were almost the perfect size for the map pocket in my tank bag. The first in the series had been countrywide in scale; the last was the exact block I now stood on. The very last page was a color photograph of the house. Underneath the photo was the actual address and phone numbers and a smaller photo of the woman I was to make the delivery to.
Thorough, complete, intuitive, and flawless. I chuckled to myself. It was all rather fundamentally unlike my usual methods of navigation (point ‘er west and gun the throttle). One similarity though…I still didn’t know why I was coming here. I mean, I had a delivery to make, and I would carry that out, I even had a very solid idea what I was carrying, but I still had no clue as to why. Why her? Why here?
I had reservations about showing up in my condition. Most folks would be a bit nervous to find a 300-pound biker-guy clad in a heavy, black-leather jacket (covered in embroidered red dragons no less) at their door. Add torn jeans, a bit of blood and some bruises, as well as the minor detail of the complete lack of a motorcycle, and things just wouldn’t add up. Calling would have been the smart thing, but Jack’s instructions had been clear on that point. She was not to know I was coming.
There was no point in putting it off. I limped straight up the walk and reached up to knock on the door. Almost before my knuckles touched, the door opened to reveal the woman in the picture. Forty-ish and healthily plump, the blue-eyed brunette was tall enough to look me straight in the eyes despite my six-foot frame. Her broad shoulders matched her height and gave the impression that she was a bit of a tomboy. A terrycloth bathrobe mostly covered her, except it was way too short. Ample breasts, a pronounced curve to her hips, and shapely, muscular legs left no doubt that she was all woman. There was no mistaking the face. This was my target.
Apparently my brain hadn’t managed to navigate any further ahead than this. I stared. My mouth worked. I couldn’t think of what to say. What do you say? “Pardon me, but some dead guy from the other side of the country sent me here to deliver something, but I’m not sure exactly what or why?” or how about, “Beyond the Grave Delivery Service, sign here please.”
She took her cue from my appearance, silence, and bewildered expression.
“Oh dear. You’ve been in an accident.” She grabbed me by the hand and pulled me inside. “Come in! Sit!”
Folks that live in the small towns are usually friendly and helpful.
Before I knew it I was warming myself by the fire and nursing a cup of hot chocolate. Her rapid-fire questions showed that she had a cool head on her shoulders. “Was there anybody else with you? Are you breathing ok? Anything broken? What day is it?”
“No, yes, no, um…uh…”
I actually had a bit of trouble with that last one. What day? Hell I didn’t know. I’d been awake for at least 3 days, and most of that had been spent riding hard. No sleep, extreme riding, and excessive caffeine can combine to interesting effect. I was pretty wired already and figured with about five more soft-drinks or a couple cups of coffee I ought to be able to just teleport myself to my next destination…provided I could actually manage to remember just where that was.
“The phones are out. Happens every time we have a storm. We’ll have to get the jeep out of the garage and get you to the clinic. They can radio for an ambulance if you need one.”
I held up my hand. “I’m fine. I just need to warm up a bit. Besides, I really didn’t have an accident…well…okay I sort-of had an accident…I did drop my bike…but I…well…three times…the last was the worst…it’s okay though, I just…” I abruptly stopped talking. Swallowed.
Jheeze I was a mess. My hands were shaking. I took a deep breath, blinked, shuddered, “Let me start over. Give me a minute.” My head hurt. Now was not the time to let all this catch up with me.
I looked around the living room a moment. Even as small as it was, hardwood floors, comfortable heavy leather furniture, and the stone fireplace made it a very welcoming place.
Finally I felt up to talking. That didn’t mean that I had any idea what to say though. I looked at her, “It’s parked at the gas station at the turn off into town.”
She stared. “What?”
“My bike. I couldn’t ride anymore. The snowplows didn’t turn up this way. I fell three times trying in about a block. I was moving pretty good on the last one.” I grinned and indicated my torn jeans. “I left the bike at the gas station and walked here.”
I blinked. She hadn’t been holding the stainless revolver a split-second ago. It wasn’t pointed at me…not quite.
Folks that live in small towns can take care of themselves.
“Explain yourself.” She was quick; I’ll give her that. That little bit of information had told her I wasn’t here by accident. I had come to her.
I still didn’t know how to say it. I eyed the gun, thought a moment. Decided. She would know, or she wouldn’t. Simple would probably be best.
“I’ve a delivery for you, from Jack.”
Her eyes betrayed her. Recognition, regret, hope, a little fear. All played out in those deep blue eyes. The color drained out of her face.
“Jack?” the words came out in a rush, “He’s not coming here is he? I haven’t told her. I didn’t even know he knew where we were.”
“No. He’s not coming. He’s dead. I’m sorry. He asked me to deliver something to you.”
“Dead?” She seemed to go limp.
“Yes. A motorcycle accident.” I stood up and took the gun from her unresisting fingers. It was cocked; I carefully released it and set it on the fireplace mantle.
She watched me as I sat back down, and then she slowly sank into the chair across from me. “Strange, him going out that way. He loved motorcycles. How tragic!”
Strange? I’d thought so too. Tragic? I wasn’t so sure. A man will fight to the bitter end, but when it does come, at least for me, I’d hope I’d find my end quickly and doing something I love. Tragic? I think not. Especially after what Jack had been through. I was one of only a few that could understand that. Relief might be a better word. At least there could be no more nightmares. This was not the place to air my musings though. I just nodded.
The front door banged open and a young lady came bounding in. “Hey Mom!” She saw us sitting in the living room, approached. “Oh, hi!” she actually curtsied to me. She turned to her mom. “I forgot my books. I’ve got to study some tonight. Dad’s going to help me with my paper. He says he’ll have me back home by eight o’clock Sunday night.” She seemed totally unconcerned about me sitting there and bounced down the hallway and out of sight.
I had caught sight of her face and had instantly known why I was here. She was perhaps seventeen or so. She had her mother’s hair and build, but Jacks eyes and jaw were clearly prevalent. This was unmistakably his daughter. Since “Dad” didn’t live here and was waiting in the driveway, I knew there was more going on than met the eye. Complicated. Yep. That’s life.
Shortly she trotted back into the room carrying a backpack. “Got ‘em. Love you Mom!” On her way out the door she hollered, “Oh yeah, phones are out again!”
Slam. Just like that, she was gone. Her interruption had been timely. The enthusiasm and energy of her youth, as well as her light voice and loving message broke the tension in the room. I couldn’t help but chuckle and her mother was smiling and wiping a few tears from her face.
I nursed my hot chocolate till it was gone, giving her some time.
Shortly, she was ready. She looked up at me, “You knew Jack?”
“Yes. We went through…a lot…together.” I had started to say “hell” but stopped myself. Here was not the time or place.
“Then you know she’s his.” She looked away.
“Yes,” I set my empty cup down on the table. “I didn’t before just now. It’s in her eyes.” I shrugged and smiled. “Life can be messy sometimes.”
“I wasn’t married yet. Jack came through here every five weeks. My boyfriend was also an over-the-road driver.” She got up quickly and picked up my empty cup. “More hot chocolate?”
“Sure.” She needed the break.
From the kitchen she spoke, her clear and slightly husky voice carrying, “She was six before I realized. That’s when her face showed it. My husband and I were already divorced by then. She looked up at me one day…and I swear…that’s the first time I knew.”
She came back into the room. “By then it was too late. Jack was already married.”
“Yes.” A vision of the nude redhead lying across my couch flashed before my eyes and I forced them closed. “Yes.”
“He and I were the only ones that knew. My daughter doesn’t, and neither does my ex. They love each other, and he’s a supporting father. I just can’t tell her now. It’s not right.” She was crying again.
“Complicated.” I’d spoken quietly.
I looked up at her. “Life.” I shrugged. “It’s seldom clean and neat. Complicated.” I grinned at her. “It’s what makes it worth living.”
“Yes.” She sighed, ready to deal with it. I found I admired her a lot. She was recovering from a series of surprises that would have left many hysterical. “Jack had said he’d put her through college…help out…if he left her in the will, she’ll have to know about it, right?”
I took a deep breath. That’s why I was here.
I knew what I was carrying. I just hadn’t been sure why. I recalled the way the lawyer had presented me with the items for this delivery. He had handed me an empty duffel bag, and then, one at a time, had handed me 25 rectangular packages. He made sure each was out of my hands and in the duffel before he picked up the next and handed it to me.
“Did you know,” he had said to me, “that large cash transactions are effectively illegal in this country?”
I had said nothing.
He handed me the next package. “Any cash changing hands, even between individuals, has to be reported to the IRS and banking authorities if the actual transaction is an amount over $9,999.”
“Records have to be kept. The cash has to be tracked. The intent is to make it difficult for drug dealers and tax evaders.”
I shrugged. “Intent, even if it was honorable to start with, is usually the first principle sacrificed when a law is enforced. Usually it simply makes much of the things good men do…illegal…more difficult.”
He handed me another. “Large amounts of cash have to be declared when boarding planes, trains, or busses too. Get caught without doing that, and it’s forfeit, even if from a legitimate transaction.”
He had looked up at me, “I am a very expensive lawyer. Jack has paid me a lot of cash over the years so I would carry out his wishes.”
I hefted the inch thick package a moment, put it in the duffel. No one would have ever known if it had disappeared. I recalled his earlier words and repeated them to him, “You sir, are an honorable man.”
He’d looked at me sharply. “The law presumes there are no honorable men.”
“The law presumes too much.”
He had smiled as he handed me the last package. “I see that we understand each other.”
“That, we do.” I zipped the duffel and stuck out my hand. “Goodbye.”
He gripped it warmly. “Safe journey.”
Yes, I knew why Jack had sent me here.
I accepted the cup she was handing me, sipped the sweet warm beverage. My chill was gone. It was time to get on the road. I set the cup on the table. “Your daughter’s not in the will. Neither are you. Nobody has to know who Jack was until you feel it’s right.”
I’d draped my jacket on the back of the heavy chair. I reached in it and pulled out the sheaf of maps that had led me here. I held it up, looked a moment, and then flipped it into the fire. Brightly colored flames engulfed it rapidly. “Me? Hell, I don’t even know where you live.”
She watched it burn. “I don’t understand why you’re here. What is it you have for me?”
I unzipped the duffel, selected a single package, and passed it to her. “Did you know that large cash transactions are effectively illegal in this country?”
“Is that so?”
I pulled out another. “It’s an IRS thing. Records have to be kept. The cash has to be tracked….”
Warm, empty handed, and recharged on chocolate, I’d made good time hiking back down the hill. The gas station was open now, and they had duct tape! Cool! Instant jean repair. I would need them more or less intact. It was bloody cold up here and the scrapes had stung terribly in the cold air. I still had a long way to go.
I had laughed out loud, almost hysterically as I was gassing the bike. One by one they passed. Three snowplows came back and started up the hill into town. Timing. Sheesh.
The Dragon idling beneath me, I sat lightly in the saddle and pondered. I was trying to prepare myself for the next leg of my journey, but shortly, decided there was no way I could. The heavy duffel with my next delivery was tied on my back seat. I had no directions for this one. I knew exactly where I was going. After all, I’d spent the last two decades routing my trips to avoid the area. I snorted. That was very unlike me, and I hadn’t noticed it before.
Carefully I worked the big bike out of the slick parking lot. It wouldn’t do to injure my ride or myself any further. As I entered the bigger highway and ran the machine through its gears I also made a snap decision. The next large town I passed through would be serving me a very large breakfast. I held a hand up in front of my face, found it was shaking. I might even catch a motel room and get some sleep. I was pretty wracked out, and some rest would help.
I needed to be at my best where I was going.
I wasn't sure what all I'd find...it'd been over 20 years...
But I knew one thing for sure...
There was at least one gate to Hell at that place.
Index Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6