long road ghost - part 9 of 9 (conclusion)

“Gang warfare,” the Sheriff said. I didn’t have the heart to argue with him. Besides, with the hit my noggin’ took, who knows if I remembered what happened rightly. All I knew was that Alex was missin’, Brom had also disappeared, and a twisted piece of scrap was all that remained of the bikes, mine included. Mornin’ traffic, I learned, is what found us.

The next few weeks were really quiet, the days spent livin’ the old, much-loved routine of pourin’ drinks and fixin’ bikes – and the Bonneville needed a lot of extra lovin’. Then, against all expectations, Brom came in one night, lookin’ like he hadn’t slept in days and was bein’ chased by Old Nick himself. Bloodshot eyes, dirty; his good looks had gone the way of his sanity. But I gave him a beer on the house, feelin’ sorry for him as he yammered on wildly about the headless rider and the cops.

“I can’t be out at night,” he kept sayin’. “I can’t be out at night.”

I wasn’t sure I wanted to offer him a spot to sleep in some dusty corner of the bar; he was wanted by the police and I sure as hell didn’t want to cross Monk. Then again, the softie in me didn’t want to see Brom get killed or driven insane before gettin’ a chance to set his life on the right path. But before I could make a decision, Brom jumped off the bar stool and rushed out to a shiny bike – a Suzuki, of all things. I followed as quick as I can, only to see Brom ride off into the moonlit distance on a bike he probably stole. The sound of another motorcycle, like an angry dog, startled me. I turned to see a black and chrome Harley Road King. The rider wasn’t headless, but it seemed as if he burned with the blue-white flame I’d seen on the headless rider. I got in closer for a better look and almost jumped out of my skin when the rider turned to look at me. Within the flame, partially hidden by a black helmet, I thought I recognized Alex Crane, only his narrow face was twisted into the ugliness of a man possessed by anger. I didn’t have a chance to find out for sure; he sped off in the same direction as Brom. I’m not sure why I didn’t follow. Scared, I guess. None of it made any sense.

The doctors said I might suffer some lingerin’ effects from the concussion. Whatever, as the kids say these days. I still didn’t sleep well for many nights after that, and I still get a mighty big shiver whenever someone mentions the headless rider. And I never did see Brom or Alex again. I eventually did tell the Sheriff what I saw, not that it helped any.

A few months after the whole thing peaked in a TV news frenzy and went the way of the latest celebrity fuck-up scandal, Monk stopped by for a beer. Even out of uniform – he had on blue jeans, a clean-pressed white shirt, worn black cowboy boots – the man looked like he could stop a freight train in its tracks with only a stare. But he was in as good a mood as I’d ever seen him, despite the frustration that he’d had no leads in what was now bein’ called the Headless Rider murders. Monk hated the name and without saying a word he let me know what he thought about me blabbin’ my mouth off to the press and givin’ em ideas. I just blamed it on too much beer, though when I sobered up I regretted feeding’ the red meat to the newshounds.

“Ghost and ghouls and goblins, huh,” he said. Seein’ as everythin’ was quiet, I poured the Sheriff and me a pint of that Newcastle the customers kept ravin’ about and leaned on the bar across from him. The radio belted out a static-filled oldie.

“Ghosts and ghouls and goblins,” I said, and we clinked bottles. “Unless you still think its gang warfare.”

He laughed. It sounded like breakin’ glass. “Who the hell knows? Probably not. But who the hell knows?”

When I didn’t say anything, he added, “I ain’t gonna tell what you did or didn’t see. I wasn’t there. Whether it was some headless spectre you saw or it was something else, I can’t say.”

“Guess we’ll never know.”

“Guess not. The evidence ain’t speaking. But I’ll say this.”


“Thinking about Alex and Katrina…I’m probably too far gone to find myself a woman to get old and wrinkly with,” Monk said. “But if I do, I’d sure hope…”

I knew where he was goin’ with it. I had been thinkin’ the same. Here we were, two old men hangin’ on to the glory days, faced with not much more than more of the same, stuck with somethin’ we couldn’t explain, and one question that burned more than any other. Without an answer – who could say anythin’ about love’s rise and fall? – we drank our beers in silence.


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1 comment:

Nick said...

Very well done! Bravo!