Part 4—Obstructing the Living
“What’ll you have?”
I blinked and tried to focus, but hard riding and cold winds had done me in. I couldn’t read the menu. That can be crippling in a big city or chain restaurant, a menu is required simply so you can say such clever things as, “The rutti-king-bunny-wuzzy-fuzzy breakfast platter, with a side of sunrise fresh orange substitute beverage.” Even in the less “cute” places you’ve got to be able to tell the waitress something like, “A number two,” or they end up hopelessly lost and unable to function.
Smaller towns are much simpler. Tell ‘em what you want…they’ll cook it for you. If you want to keep it simple, just order the special. They’ll bring you what they think you’re hungry for. A good waitress in a small town will nearly always get this right.
I needed to keep it simple. I didn’t feel up to stringing more than a sentence or two together. There’d be no telling what I’d say. Seventy-two hours on cookies, coffee, sodas, and hot chocolate can have that effect. Add hard riding and intense cold, as well as more than a little dread of completing the particular errand I was on, and I was feeling a might bit unpredictable.
I looked up at the matronly waitress. She was watching me with concern. “Frazzled” apparently shows through eventually, no matter how tough I pretend to be.
I dropped my eyes back down to the useless menu. “The ‘Special’ please.” I looked up at her again. She was blurry. “Lots of protein.”
She took the menu. It was apparently that transitional morning hour. “Breakfast or lunch?”
“Breakfast. Definitely breakfast.”
“You’ve got it hon. Coffee?”
“Yah. And iced tea. And orange juice. Lots of orange juice.”
The bright and sunny morning had been glorious for riding, even if the freezing temperatures weren’t to my liking. Blue skies, clear roads, and light traffic had allowed me to make really good time. I had intended to stop much earlier for a meal and some rest, but once again had lost myself in the riding. Even exhausted, the open road calls to me hard.
Flying, free, alive.
It is difficult for me not to listen.
Running low on gas, I pulled into town to fuel up. Four gallons later I reached for the receipt as it was printing out of the pump, and the next thing I knew, I was on the ground trying to push a half-ton of motorcycle off my left leg.
“What the hell?” I was furious.
I managed to get the bike upright just before the clerk ran out to help. One of the universe’s laws about motorcycles is that if you do something stupid, there are always people around to witness the result. Mumbling something about slipping on the ice, I mounted the big cruiser. The clerk glanced down at the pavement and my eyes followed. It was clean and dry. Crud. It was time for some rest.
I rounded on the clerk. “Breakfast! Where’s breakfast?” That was about as articulate as I could get at the moment.
He got my meaning. “Two blocks down. A diner. Best place around. You can’t miss it.”
I had a rather annoying vision of me crashing my Valkyrie right through the front door of the place. Can’t miss it? I shuddered. “Yah, I’m more than a little worried about that.”
The waitress had taken good care of me. Almost magically my coffee and tea never seemed to get low. The orange juice was freshly squeezed and cold and she brought it out in a quart mason jar (same as the iced tea “glass”). “The Special” when it arrived was a huge fluffy omelet, stuffed with cheddar cheese and an excellent crumbled sausage I couldn’t identify. Venison and pork maybe? I didn’t know. I didn’t care.
Sides had included two fluffy pancakes that would have made a meal in themselves for a normal appetite. Fresh strawberries and grapes accompanied them and were the perfect touch.
Believe me when I say, a good meal can save your life. This wasn’t a good meal…this was a great one.
“You are headed south, yes?” the waitress was back on one of her magical coffee filling runs. The mark of a professional waitress, if she hadn’t said anything I would have never known she had come by until I noticed the full cup. Good waitresses have some ninja in their background methinks.
I looked up from my meal, “Mmmumph?” Yah, those pancakes were good.
She waved at the television hanging in the corner. I hadn’t even noticed it before. The weather report was on, and despite the blue, sunny skies outside, it didn’t look good.
“Storm’s coming in. They’re calling for blizzard conditions in the mountains tonight. That’s no place for a motorcycle. You need to get south,” she look concerned. “You are going south…?”
I was non-committal and mumbled, “Not really.” In truth I was headed exactly to the spot they were pointing at on the screen. The spot with forecast snowfall of twelve inches. Not good, but somehow I wasn’t surprised. I did some rapid calculations. A couple hours up, a couple more back, whatever time I spent there, and then I’d still need to get further south. I glanced at the TV again. It would be tight. The motel and some rest would have to wait. I had to get moving to beat the storm.
I looked in frustration at the television and mumbled, “Crud.”
She got the meaning. “Well, you be careful. Those roads are treacherous enough when they’re clear.”
I looked her in the eye. “Thanks, I will.” She flitted off to magically refill other unsuspecting patron’s coffee cups.
Sated, I felt much better. Adding something besides stimulants to my diet had a remarkable effect. Even my hands were steady again. Ninja-waitress had dropped my bill off at some point. Nine bucks. Suddenly anxious to get underway, I didn’t feel like waiting for change. I wanted to tip her well anyway. I dropped a twenty on the table and called it cheap.
I glanced once more at the TV. The storm was coming. The clock was ticking. It was time to for me to fly.
Sitting on the battered machine, adjusting my gloves and other gear, I was a bit surprised to see the waitress come out of the diner and approach my bike. She handed me a stainless steel thermos. Solid, tall and skinny, it’s obvious quality was disguised by the “Freak’s Diner” splayed across the side in obnoxiously loud colored letters. I looked up at the sign above the door, raised an eyebrow. The name wasn’t even close.
She laughed at my expression. “A misprint. We’ve got a couple cases of ‘em in before they fixed it. Normally we sell thermoses full of coffee to the truckers and road workers.” She laughed again, “They even got the address wrong, we just give these away.”
“Thank you, what’s in it?” I turned and crammed it in my duffel on my back seat. My other delivery was in there. The thermos barely fit.
“Coffee, cream and sugar. Just how you made yours. Bring the thermos anytime you come…it’s good for a free refill when you buy a meal.” She patted me on the shoulder. “You be safe. Find shelter or get south before dark.” She turned and headed back inside.
“I’ll do my best.” I said to her retreating back. I hoped it would be that easy.
There is little to compare with mountain riding, even when it’s cold. Blue skies and bright sunlight helped to drive some of the chill away and insured the roads were clear of snow or ice…at least where there were no shadows.
Gently carving canyons, I pushed the big bike hard. I figured I had about five hours before the storm hit, and it was at least a couple hours to the target. I was a little fuzzy on exactly how much time it would take. I’ve never run these roads in the winter. I leaned hard into the corners and let the heavy machine ply her trade. I began to grin as I felt my heart keeping time with the throbbing of the engine, my blood pumping with the rhythm of the road. Aches and pains faded as I flew into the wind. Man I love to ride!
I could stand a few hours of this, but all too soon it had to end.
The first oncoming car in miles, and it had to be a state police car. That shouldn’t have been a problem. Even as hard as I was pushing, I wasn’t really speeding. Not on these roads. The corners tended to have shadows, and the shadows tended to have snow or ice. In my rear-view mirror I saw brake lights. Great, it was going to be a problem. Wonderful.
It would take him a while to come around. There was no sense in making him chase me down. That’d just piss him off, and he’d catch up to me anyway. The road only went two directions, and my stop was near the middle. I found a safe place to pull out and shut her down. I was waiting there with my helmet off when he came flying around the corner, the low-profile LED light bar flashing his intentions.
He missed the stop, his keen sense of cop-trained observation only spotting the half-ton of black and chrome machine with the 300-pound guy standing beside it waiting for him AS he passed me by. He hit his brakes hard and chirped the tires as the anti-locks kicked in. I watched in amusement as he squealed right by. He turned around in the middle of the road, blocking both lanes as he burned rubber backing up and then taking off forward again. We were between blind corners and my eyes widened in disbelief. I’d have hated to come around one of those corners about now. This boded ill for the next few minutes. Unprofessional behavior in one aspect of their work usually predicts the same in the rest of it. He was as dangerous as could be in the car…and the car was the least dangerous thing this bozo had been issued. I mumbled to myself, “Yeah, tell me again that it’s all about safety. Bloody amateur.”
Shortly I found myself locked in the back seat of the police cruiser. I wasn’t handcuffed or under arrest, but had been put there for “my safety” as the man searched my bike. He wasn’t following the rules, and since he’s supposed to swear by them, by my book that clears me to not follow them also (if I was going to in the first place, they’re not my rules). I had cooperated anyway. The formula was simple, he was armed and overly emotional and I wasn’t either one at the moment. At least the cop car was warm.
I noted with amusement that his cruiser was equipped with video and it had a lovely view of the man playing games with my bike. That would help in case he broke anything…they’d at least know the reason if I had to toss his pompous butt off the mountain.
At the moment he was trying to figure out how to release the seat. He was trying to get into my duffel bag on the back, and couldn’t figure out the straps holding it. I had looped the duffel's main strap through the sissy bar, back through both of it’s own handles, and then over the driver’s backrest. Simple, secure, and easy to get on or off. Apparently he figured the backrest came off with the seat and he would have to do that to get the duffle loose. Sad, since even if he couldn’t figure out that he needed to pull the one loop off the backrest, unclipping one of the ends of the long strap would also do the job. Any five-year old would have had it off in seconds.
Releasing the seat takes the key, which was still in my pocket. I shook my head and chuckled. I figured I’d be here awhile but wasn’t particularly worried about it. My only deadline was the oncoming storm, and I’d deal with it on my own terms. I lay back and closed my eyes. Some rest would do me good anyway.
The car rocking slightly started me awake. Alert and clear-eyed, I glanced around. Maybe 45 minutes had passed. Another police car had arrived, and with some relief I noted that the second officer was much older. Chances were that now they could write me a ticket for whatever the hell they thought I’d done wrong, or not, and we could all get on with our lives. Life’s too short to play these kinds of games. This particular mountain had taught me that, and it frustrated me a bit that they could live in the shadow of it and not know it.
Both men were leaning on the front of the car and discussing the contents of my duffle bag that were spread out on the hood. The younger cop was holding a small glass tube and gesturing, the older was examining the box he was pointing at.
I'd never seen the tube before, but I knew the box intimately. Anyone that had seen it would not soon forget it. Made of heavy oak, it measured a foot long by eight inches wide and four inches deep. The top was over an inch thick and ornately carved in very deep relief with two highly detailed dragons. The top was made from wood cut from just off the heartwood of a very old oak. The very dark center color of the grain masterfully combined with the carving to render dark surface colors that got steadily lighter as the carving got deeper. The artist had used it to advantage, giving the dragons a startling three-dimensional effect. They fairly leapt off the cover of the box. Surrounded by clouds and lightning, they flew purposefully through the storm.
The top slid into a lip of the box itself and fit so tightly the seam was barely visible. I was honestly surprised the younger man had been able to open it without smashing it. He’d been struggling with just a duffle bag earlier.
The older man opened the box, looked inside, poked once at the contents with his finger, and then carefully replaced the lid. He glanced sharply at me before taking the glass vial from the other officer and then ushering him over to the far side of the other police car.
Returning, he opened the door, identified himself, and asked me to please step out of the car. At least he was polite.
I got out, stood up, and stretched luxuriously. “You guys done playing games yet? I’ve had about enough and I expect you know why.”
He was watching me closely but didn’t seem overly irritable. “Why didn’t you tell him what was in the box?”
“He didn’t ask.”
“Fair enough. You could have told him when he asked to search the bike.”
I looked him in the eyes, “It's none of his business. Yours either. Besides, he didn’t ask. He also never identified himself or told me why he wanted to pull me over in the first place.”
The man actually winced. He handed me my license. “You can collect your things and get on about your business, and I apologize. I’m his supervisor and I’ll speak with him.”
I said nothing but turned and carefully put the oak box and the rest of the contents back in the duffle bag. Placing it on the back seat of the Valkyrie I looked in disgust at the main strap. The man had actually had to cut it to get it off the bike. I unclipped the two ends and snarled as I tossed the ruined pieces on the hood of the police car. From one of my open side bags I grabbed a bungee cord and tied the duffle down with it instead. In short order I had everything stowed and the big machine ready to travel.
I thumbed the starter button and the engine came smoothly to life. I let it idle while I put on my helmet and gloves. Finally ready to ride, I started to put the bike in gear, but paused as the older officer approached.
“Sir, I’m sorry, but here’s the rest.” He held out the glass vial I’d seen earlier.
I took it and held it up to the light to examine the contents. “Is that what I think it is?”
By way of an answer he held up the plastic wrapper it had come in, the label plainly visible. “Once again, I’m sorry sir. Anything I can do?”
I actually had some sympathy for the man. He seemed to be a professional that had been put in a difficult position by an incompetent subordinate. Still, a higher standard applies in this sort of case and if things really worked as they should, a subordinate with the attitude and lack of skills this one was exhibiting wouldn’t have been allowed to be in a position to cause the problem in the first place. Don’t give guns to kids and all that. The standards and oversight are falling every year. It’s a sad thing when it has again become time in this country for the ordinary citizen to fear the police.
I pointed at the video camera, “I’m formally requesting that the video be preserved.” Let them stew on that for a while. “Also,” I pointed at the other officer, “he owes me an apology, not you. He also owes me ten bucks for the strap.”
I popped the bike into gear and roared up the mountain, scattering gravel and dust as I left the pullout.
I’d had to leave in a hurry just to maintain my dignity. I really didn’t want to burst into laughter in front of them. The younger man needed a reprimand and the older one wouldn’t take the situation seriously if he knew how I was feeling at the moment. The older officer had recognized the contents of the box immediately, as should anybody older then about six years old, but the other officer had not. I was finding that extremely funny at the moment, but then, I’ve always had a rather odd sense of humor.
Jack would have found it hilarious.
I laughed long and loud and then aggressively twisted the throttle on my machine. Clouds were beginning to move in, and it was time for me to conclude this business. Pushing the bike to its limits, I grinned and leaned hard into the corners. I was speeding now. I doubted the cops would bother me again today, but I supposed they might. Either way, I was done making things easy for others for a while. They’d have to work at it if they tried.
Oh, the joke?
The vial was part of a field test kit and at the moment contained a clear liquid and a bit of the contents of the box. The box contained my next “delivery”, which was several pounds of grayish powder, rather fine, but courser than say…powdered sugar. The grayish powder was ash.
The grayish powder was Jack…as in, his cremated remains.
He’d just been field tested to see if he was cocaine.
I feel so much better with these guys on the job.
A bleak mood descended on me even as the clouds covered the sun and turned the world to grey. It happened very fast. I shivered, and not just from the cold. A familiar landmark here, a haunting shadow on a turn in the road there, a landscape behind the trees. This was a familiar and foreboding place.
Shuddering, I grimly concentrated on my task, piloting the big motorcycle and carefully watching the road. I had to fight the urge to run…to point the powerful machine down the mountain and see how fast I could get down it…to see how fast I could get home. Feelings of loneliness nearly overwhelmed me, with hopelessness falling close behind. Half-seen things in my peripheral vision vanished when I turned to look. I stopped and removed my helmet, stabbing it on my backrest before moving on. It was making me claustrophobic, and I could feel things approaching that I couldn’t see. The open and cold air didn’t help much.
“Dammit Jack, why would you want to come here?” I yelled at the shadows, “Why bring me?” It was not the first time I had asked those questions. There were no answers…at least none that I could hear.
Spirits and demons were wandering this place.
Close...I was getting very close.
Index Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6