Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language and mature content.
This is Part Three of a three-part short story. It's been broken up for palatability but it's intended to read a single piece. Feel free to read all three parts and then leave a review for the entire story or review each part individually. As the label states, this is 18+ for the presence of explicit language and mature content (in this case, drugs and alcohol), so you may not want to read this if that's not your thing.
Clyde had apparently troubleshooted the Panigale on Saturday, so when Sam rode into the shop on Monday he was informed by his uncle that it was not the power commander after all but merely a bad spark plug and a loose air filter that were afflicting the bike, both of which were easy and relatively inexpensive fixes. Jose had already put an order in for the new parts.
“Damn Ducatis,” Clyde had muttered, perhaps to himself, as he returned to the workshop after conveying the information. “Vanity bikes. I should just work for the Ducati dealership — I’d make a hell of a lot more money doing warranty service for them rather than dealing with their hand-me-downs.”
The new parts came in on Friday, and by the following Tuesday the bike had been repaired and successfully test-ridden by Jose. Sam used a spare helmet from the shop to ride to and from work over that intervening week or so, a brown open-face garment that smelt of asphalt and had a spidering scratch that meandered from the base of the left chin strap up to the top of the shell. He hadn’t wanted to bother Zach about the helmet — it would either show up or it wouldn’t, he figured. The memory of that drunken night spent in Zach and Amy’s apartment, and the anticlimax of the following morning, had settled in Sam like a curdled amorphic sludge, too obscure and heavy and important for him to pick apart or discard.
That Tuesday morning, Sam dialed Zach’s number on the shop phone to let him know about his bike. After the dial there were three lingering rings, then Zach picked up.
“Hey there, man, this is Sam from the shop.”
“Sam. My man.” His voice, timbred not richly but firmly, lifted. “What’s up?”
“Well, we just finished your bike. It wasn’t the power commander after all, just a bad spark plug and an air filter that was loose.”
“Cool, cool. How much will everything end up costing?”
“Just about a hundred bucks.”
“Great, man. That’s good. I can come in this afternoon and pick it up, if that’s cool.”
“Alright, then. We close at six, so just come around anytime before then.” Sam paused, then added, as if as an afterthought, “Hey, man — did you happen to see my helmet anywhere in your apartment or your car?”
“Your helmet? Huh. No, I haven’t seen it around, buddy. I could check the car, though. Might be under the seat or some shit.”
“Alright, then. Thanks.” The words he wanted to say were invisible to him, were drifting deep in an impenetrable part of his mind — or, perhaps, were right there in shallows, but were unreachable nonetheless. He thought of the coyote pup, Roxy Ann, an unasked question.
“You bet. See you around.”
Zach arrived at the shop around four that afternoon, entering then in the same way that he had nearly two weeks prior: walking and moving as if guided and animated by that unparalleled self-determination, that self-possession, that consummate poise which had apotheosized men since before history, himself a delegate of that very apotheosis. He was wearing the same black armored jacket and boots, too, though this time there was no silver SUV parked outside that Sam could see.
“Hey man. I found this in the car,” Zach said, walking right up to the counter and setting a helmet down on it, Sam’s helmet. “It was squished up under the passenger seat.”
“Oh, alright, great. Thanks.” Sam put the helmet under the counter, then said, “You good with your job?”
“No, man. I got fired for that shit,” Zach said, though his composure did not quaver, and he spoke as if he were recalling the inconsequential folly of many years ago. “Already got a new bartending job somewhere else, though. Not quite as close, but it’s cool.”
“Good. I’m sorry ‘bout what happened.”
“Why would you be sorry, dude?”
“Well, I don’t know. I jus’ am.”
“It’s in the past,” Zach said. “And the past is the past. I don’t ever worry about it, much less apologize for it.”
Sam gave a compliant nod. “You wanna see your bike?” he asked.
“Come on back.” Sam walked with Zach back into the workshop, where they were met with the familiar sounds: power tools, blustering fans, rock music, throttles cranking and then dematerializing. And there was the heat, severe even for late June, well above a hundred degrees at least, which settled in those pockets and corners of the workshop that the fans couldn’t reach. The Panigale was at the back of the shop, past the occupied figures of Clyde and the other two mechanics, propped on its kickstand and glistening regally. Sam turned the ignition and jerked the throttle as his uncle did; the engine responded with a sonorous growl.
“Sounds great, man,” Zach said. He took the throttle himself and gave it a light, approving jerk. Then there was only the finalization of the exchange left, at that point, so Sam retrieved the shop’s handheld payment processor from a shelf and had Zach review the individual items then swipe a credit card for the final amount, and a receipt printed, and Sam handed this receipt to Zach, who in turn pocketed it.
“Pleasure doing business with you,” Sam said, and Zach nodded, and for a moment it seemed as if their eyes would meet again, as they had, but they didn’t, because instead Zach looked away and swept his leg back over the seat of the bike, bestriding it, nudging back the kickstand; and before he left, Sam found the words for the question: “Hey, man,” he said, loud over the pattering of the engine. “I was thinking about that coyote pup, Roxy Ann. You ever see her again?”
“I said did you ever see that Roxy Ann again?”
“No,” Zach said to him. “I think I told you that, man. Roxy Ann hasn’t needed me for a long time.” With that, he flipped the bike into first gear and sped away around the corner, past the storage units, and Sam listened to the engine as it dopplered and then grew fainter, fainter, fainter, soon so faint that it was indistinguishable from the afternoon traffic.
Sam spent the remainder of the day collating inventory. At six, he put on his old helmet and started off toward home even as sleep began its slow, creeping descent on the valley. To the west, the evening sun floated swollenly above the distant silhouetted arete of Red Rock; to the east, which seemed already to have darkened, there were the eminent peaks of Sunrise, and Frenchman, and, south of those, the sinuous River Mountains — an enormous geological cradle, Sam realized, his shadow lengthening on the road, which now seemed emptier, emptier even that it had been when he’d first arrived in the valley nearly a year ago. Sam breathed, deeply, and over the sound of his bike’s engine there was the trill of a bird, or perhaps several birds, perhaps a family of birds, revelling in the carefree heights of the palms overhead.