Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Friday, December 18, 1998
It was chilly in the garage, since the garage door was open and a brisk wind was blowing flakes of snow into the room. “All right,” Kevin said, taking a deep breath. “Here goes nothing.”
As Jason had warned, rebuilding the Harley Sportster had turned into a bigger project than they’d expected. It would have been even worse if it had been an honest restoration, but that wasn’t what they were trying to do. They were trying to come up with a good-looking, reliable bike, not one that was the equivalent of factory new, which certainly did not mean factory reliable as it pertained to that era anyway. On doing some investigating, Kevin had discovered the guy he’d bought the bike from had not been the one who’d done the engine work, and he knew and trusted the guy who had. On doing some asking, his friend told him there shouldn’t be anything wrong with the engine now; he’d been paid to do a first-rate job on it and that was what he’d done.
Still, there had been enough missing or doubtful pieces for Kevin to spend more than half again what he’d spent for the box of parts just to have the things he needed to put the bike together, at least the way he wanted it. The actual assembly hadn’t taken all that long – it had gotten under way two weekends before – but cleaning, prepping, painting, and chroming had taken up a lot of time. At that, not everything was new or exactly Harley-Davidson-original parts. There were some odd bits and pieces there, and to make everything work, Jason had had to fabricate a couple of parts on the anvil as an alternative to an expensive factory replacement – and that didn’t even include some of the decorative special pieces.
Kevin reached down and turned the key, then stood up and bounced down on the kick starter, hearing a whoosh. “You know damn well it’s not going to start up first kick,” Jason said encouragingly as Kevin cocked his leg for another try – and another and another as the engine turned over and over without a sign of life.
“Fuck,” Kevin snorted as his leg started to get tired without any progress. “Looks like we’ve got an AMF, people.”
“Not knowing much about motorcycles, I really hate to bring this up,” Vicky said, “But did you guys put any gas in it?”
Kevin looked at Jason, who peered back at Kevin with a blank look. “Oh, shit,” they sighed in unison.
“Got any gas?” Kevin asked sheepishly. “Emily’s working tonight; I really don’t want to have to show up at the station with a gas can.”
“Might have some,” Jason shrugged, heading out the back door. In a moment, he returned, carrying a red three-gallon plastic gas can. “Feels like there’s a little in here,” he said. “I suppose I ought to get some before the snow starts flying for real and I have to fire up the snow blower.”
A couple minutes later, they were ready to try again. A shot of starter fluid and a few kicks of the starter, and the V-twin rumbled to life. “It lives, sir,” Jason said loudly, as if either of the other two could hear him over the blurp-blurp, blurp-blurp idle.
Kevin gunned the engine a couple times, and it sounded good. “Shit, I’ve got to find out,” he yelled, pulling the bike off of the kickstand and backing it out of the garage on a pair of brand-new, shiny-black tires. It took him a couple minutes to get it outside and turned around. “I’ll just take it around the block,” he yelled, then twisted the throttle and was off into the snow-filled darkness.
Vicky and Jason stood wordlessly out on the concrete of the driveway. They could hear him wind it up a little heading down the street, slow for the stop sign at the corner, make the turn and head down the next block, then around the corner to pass Joe and Mignon’s house. In a minute he was back. “Not bad,” he reported as he pulled to a stop. He let go of the throttle and the engine died. “Carb isn’t quite on; it doesn’t idle unless you keep some throttle on it.”
“Might work its way out after you’ve loosened it up a little,” Jason opined.
“Yeah, but it’s a little too far off,” Kevin said. “The clutch is grabby, but that’ll work its way out, too. Brakes are soft, you have to come down a long way before you can start to feel them, but I think that’s just an adjustment, too. Needs a couple hours riding and a few tweaks, but I think it’s done. Jason, you want to take it around the block and see what you think? I don’t think you want to go much farther, there’s only a whiff of gas in it.”
“Yeah, sure,” he smiled. “Vicky, you want a ride?”
“Why not?” she grinned. She had hoped he would ask and didn’t want to be left out. “I’m not really dressed to go any distance, but around the block shouldn’t be too bad.”
It took her a minute to get perched on the back of the bike, with Jason in front of her. She’d never spent much time on a motorcycle, a half dozen times on the back of Kevin’s, and occasionally clear back to being a little girl on the back of Jason’s antique – and now, for the first time in a long time, in winter darkness. But still, it was exciting; she’d played a big part in bringing this box of parts back to life, and she knew it.
Since it was along in the evening, Jason didn’t push the throttle, but as he wound it out she could feel the power in the V-twin, the life it had; it was loud, primitive Harley-Davidson noise, elemental and empowering at the same time. “Ems is going to really have a ball with this,” she said into Jason’s ear as she held onto his back while they went past her house.
“Yeah,” she heard him reply. “No doubt about it.”
In a couple minutes more, they pulled back into the garage. It had been enough; it was cold out there, and they didn’t even have more than light jackets on, let alone leathers. “That ought to be enough of that until we get some gas,” Jason commented. “Tell you what. Let’s take the gas can and run out to the truck stop, top it off, and have a cup of coffee to celebrate.”
“Works for me,” Kevin agreed. “We probably shouldn’t run it around the neighborhood any more tonight. It is not your cheeseball Gold Wing with a big muffler. Maybe I can get bundled up real good and break it in a little tomorrow.”
“Don’t bank on it,” Jason shook his head. “It’s supposed to warm up and rain heavily.”
“Probably not Sunday,” Kevin sighed. “Maybe I can sneak off first of the week a little.”
“I could get an hour or two on it,” Jason offered. “I get off earlier than you do. It’s not supposed to be too bad toward the middle of the week.”
Jason threw the gas can and a second one into the back of the pickup, and the three piled in, with Vicky in the center.
“That is your essential motorcycle,” Jason smiled. “No electric starter, no stereo, no luxury Gold Wing shit, just you and the wind and the bike, no extras. You ride that, and you know you’re riding a motorcycle.”
“I hope she takes to it all right,” Kevin sighed. “I think she will. I was concerned it was going to be a little rough and scruffy for her, but after I thought about it, it struck me that she’s looking for excitement and adventure, not creature comforts.”
“Right,” Jason smiled. “I think you’re looking at a serious case of bugs in the teeth.”
“Bugs in the teeth?” Vicky frowned.
“That’s how you tell a happy biker,” Kevin grinned. “She was grousing about not having enough adventure, enough stories to tell. That’ll give her some, and not a cute little Honda rice-burner, but an honest-to-god, knuckle-dragging Harley.”
“You may have trouble keeping her off of it for a while,” Jason smiled. “At least it’s winter, that’ll help. By spring the new may have worn off a little.”
“Yeah,” Kevin said. “Oh well, a little breaking in, a little tuning, and then I think I’ll let her worry about the rest of the breaking in come spring. I’m glad we’ve got this project pretty well wrapped up. We’ve sort of let the knife work go to a minimum the last couple weeks to get this finished up. Now, we’re not going to have to mess with the bike, so maybe I can get down to really learning something.”
“You want to stay with it?” Jason asked, a little surprised at the statement. “I thought you were just looking for a cover story.”
“It kind of started out that way,” Kevin sighed. “But the little bit I’ve picked up has been enough to make me want to learn more. I know we’ve barely scratched the surface of the subject, and I haven’t even touched on the stuff Vicky does. I don’t think I could ever be as good at it as you two are, but it’s been fun to learn, and I’d like to learn more.”
“Shouldn’t be a problem,” Jason replied, a touch of satisfaction in his voice that Vicky could hear. He’d explained one evening that Kevin had gotten further than anyone else who’d ever expressed interest in the topic, and the last couple weeks there had been some times that it was clear he’d rather be working on knives than on the bike. “It’s been fun having you and Vicky hanging around the last couple months, I was sort of sorry to see it coming to an end.”
“It’s been fun hanging out,” Kevin agreed. “Maybe we’ll have to invite Emily to join us sometime, now that we won’t be hiding anything from her.”
“I’ve certainly had fun with it,” Vicky agreed. “I was sorry to see it coming to an end, too. I’ve learned a few things myself.”
“What have you learned?” Kevin smiled, still awash with the warm glow and excitement of the project being all but complete, and now assured of success.
“Oh, lots of things,” Vicky said. “I’ve learned that I really envy Emily for having a guy as nice and as caring as you are. She may think her life is dull, but it really isn’t. She’s going to have a ball riding that bike. She’s going to be able to get on it and go places and feel special, and every time she gets on it she’s going to think about you.” She let out a sigh and continued. “Kevin, I know a lot of us thought Emily was cutting herself short when she married you instead of going to college, but it worked out for her way better than any of us expected. She’s so lucky to have a guy like you it isn’t funny.”
Kevin was well aware of Vicky’s capability to put herself down and wallow in misery over her bad luck the past few years. “She’s really lucky to have good and loyal friends like you and Jason,” he replied, treading water hard to try and think of something positive to say about her. “I feel very lucky to have a friend like you. Vicky, don’t let yourself think you don’t have friends, because you do.”
“I know I sound jealous,” she sighed, looking down in her lap, a tear coming to her eye. “I’m really not. It’s just, well, I wish things had gone half as well for me as they have for her.”
As she felt Jason’s arm go around her shoulder, she didn’t notice the meaningful glance the two men exchanged. “Hey, Vicky,” he said. “I’ve told you before, your time is coming, you just have to be ready for it when it gets here.”
Friday, December 25, 1998
It’s difficult to wrap up a Christmas present the size of Emily’s and put it in a box. On top of that, there were some real scheduling difficulties to make everything work and still keep it a surprise. But with a little bit of coordination, they made it work.
The Varneys were at that comfortable age when there wasn’t the rush to get up and open Christmas presents first thing, since all the kids were well beyond that in years, and there weren’t any grandkids yet. It would be a few years before that became an issue, although Brittany was getting noticeably closer to her time. In years past, Jason would have taken Duane to his parents’ house, but now that they were wintering in Florida, those days were past, too. Besides, Duane had been known to say Christmas wasn’t the same without his mom around, so in recent years it had ceased to be a big deal around the MacRae household. Christmas had become a day for him to sleep in.
So that left both Vicky and Jason free to help Kevin pull off the deal with Emily, although it took a little bit of preparation, and they were going to have to be quiet about it. As luck had it, Kevin and Emily’s two kids slept in a little, and that made it perfect.
About seven o’clock on Christmas morning, Vicky showed up at Jason’s back door; she’d been expected. The two of them got in the truck and drove by Kevin and Emily’s house. Through the front window they could see that the lights were off on the Christmas tree – the signal that things weren’t ready yet. Since the Chicago wasn’t open on Christmas morning, they drove out to the truck stop and had a cup of coffee; around 7:30, they drove back past the Holst house, to find the Christmas tree lights on.
They drove back to Jason’s, where he rolled out Emily’s Harley. As Vicky followed in the pickup he rode it carefully over to the Holsts’, trying to not get it wet or dirty. He got it going pretty fast, then a block away reached down and cut the ignition, coasting silently up to the house with the clutch out, and braked to a stop in front of the garage door. As expected, Kevin had left the side door unlocked; so he headed inside, unlatched the garage door and quietly opened it. Kevin had slipped him a key to Emily’s minivan; he took it out of gear, then gave it a push to roll it out the garage door without starting the engine. Then, he pushed the Sportster inside, gave it a quick wipe-down, and got some items from the back of Kevin’s truck, right where he expected to find them. It was the work of only a couple minutes; then he walked out of the garage, and let the door down. It had all gone very quietly, and he could hear Christmas music playing in the living room, so it seemed logical that he’d gotten away with it.
Closing the garage door was the signal to Vicky to drive up in the pickup, where a large box had been left on the seat. Jason grabbed the box, and the two of them walked up to the front door, where she rang the bell. A few seconds later, the door opened; it was Emily, dressed in jeans and sweat shirt. “Well, gee zow, you guys,” she smiled. “This is a surprise! What brings you over?”
“Oh, we’ve got a present for you, but it wants to wait till last,” Vicky snickered. “Are the kids done with their stuff yet?”
“No, working on it, but not there yet,” Emily said with a broad grin. “They’ve got quite a haul, too. Come in and sit down, have some coffee.”
The scene reminded both Vicky and Jason of other days, perhaps happier, although their memories came at it from different directions. Kayla was nine, and Jason – also known as J.J., for Jason James, especially when the elder Jason was around – was eight, which is just about the right age to be thrilled with Christmas presents. Jason could remember the last happy family Christmas he and Duane had with Christine; he’d have had to have been about J.J.’s age. He could see without asking that Vicky was again considering might-have-beens but was keeping a smile on her face in anticipation of what was to come.
It still took a while for the kids to get down to the trunk of the tree; they, of course, had gotten some new clothes, plus a bunch of new toys; they hardly had any idea of what they wanted to play with first. “Mom,” Kayla said, remembering her manners, “What did Jason and Vicky bring for you?”
“Maybe you’d better find out,” Kevin said. “I’ll bet it’s a whole bunch of knitting supplies.”
“I don’t think so,” Emily replied, picking up the box. “It feels too light.”
“Well, open it and see,” Vicky replied smugly.
It was only the work of a minute to get the box open; inside, she found a slightly smaller Christmas-wrapped box, with a tag that said, To my good friend Emily, from Jason.
“This looks like a setup,” Emily grinned as she tore into the box. Not to her surprise, the box contained a yet smaller Christmas-wrapped package, this one with a tag reading, To my best friend, Emily, from Vicky.
“I was right,” she laughed. “It’s a setup! How many boxes are there here, anyway?”
“You’re just going to have to find out,” Vicky laughed as Emily tore into that one, adding to the mess on the floor.
In a minute, Emily was holding a relatively small box, which had a tag reading, To the best mom and wife in the world, from her loving husband.
“Now you’re really making me wonder,” Emily laughed. “I know you set me up! All three of you had to have been in on it.” She stared at the box for a moment. “God, I don’t know if I dare open it or not.”
“If you don’t, you won’t find out what’s inside,” Jason grinned.
It took her a few seconds; this box was wrapped a little more tightly than the others. Once she had it opened, she discovered a key with a tag attached. On the tag were the words, Go look in the garage.
“The garage?” she said, a look of confusion on her face. “I was just out there a few minutes . . . what have you been up to?”
“Maybe you’d better go find out,” Kevin grinned as he got to his feet. Emily headed for the kitchen and the garage, and Kevin tagged along behind, followed by Vicky and Jason, with the kids bringing up the rear. She walked through the door, flipped the light switch, and let out a scream: “Oh, my God!”
There, sitting on the floor where Jason had left it a few minutes earlier, was a beautiful Harley-Davidson XLCH Sportster, with royal blue tank and fenders, everything polished within an inch of its life, wrapped with a huge bright red ribbon and a bigger bow. There was a big tag reading, Merry Christmas, Emily! Painted on the tank was a detailed horse’s head, so white it was almost spectral. “Oh. My. God.” she said as she reached out to touch it, to make sure it was real. She looked closer; on the tank her name was lettered in script. “Oh . . . My . . . God.” she breathed again, walking around to look at the apparition on her garage floor. On the back there was a low sissy bar, the horse’s head worked into the framework; her name was worked into the intricate pattern, as well. “Oh my God, Oh, My God,” she shook her head. “My God, a Harley! If you knew . . . ” She looked up at her husband and her friends. “But you must have known! Kevin, how did . . . My God, it must have cost thousands.”
“Not that much,” he smiled. “It’s probably worth it now, though. Two months ago it was a box of parts.”
“So that’s what you’ve been doing over at Jason’s?” she shook her head. “I thought you were learning how to make knives!”
“We did that some,” Jason smiled. “But all three of us were involved in rebuilding it or it would never have been ready for Christmas. Vicky did a lot of the really dirty work, and did the painting and polishing.”
“Oh, My God!” she cried, bouncing up and down, excitement building as the reality of what sat on the garage floor began to hit her. “Thank you, Kevin! Thank you, Vicky! Thank you, Jason! Oh, God, I can barely believe it! This is unreal! My very own Harley Sportster!” She swung up onto the seat. “Oh, God! Thank you, thank you! I can hardly wait to try it out!”
“You can if you want,” Kevin said. “Jason rode it over here a few minutes ago.”
“You don’t want to ride too far; it’s pretty cold out there,” Jason said, and bent down to pick up a box on the floor that had still gone unnoticed. “But Emily, the bike is from Kevin. This is from Vicky and me.”
“Oh, my God, I don’t know what else you wonderful people could do for me,” she said excitedly, almost tripping over her words in her excitement as she took the box from him. Wildly excited, she ripped it open and pulled out a leather jacket and pants. On the breast of the jacket was an embroidered “HD” Harley-Davidson logo. “Oh, my God! Leathers too? Thank you, Jason, Thank you, Vicky!”
“If I can sound like a conservative old coot for a few seconds,” Jason said. “I’ve had to lay a bike down a few times over the years. I have all too often seen people out riding around in just shorts and a T-shirt and a helmet, not even that if they’re in Indiana, and if they get into trouble, they’re going to hurt. I’m not pointing my finger at anyone but there’s someone present who I’ve caught doing it, too. This is not an easy bike to ride, Emily, and it will be challenging. These may or may not fit, we weren’t sure about the sizes, but you owe it to your husband and kids to wear leathers, especially if you head out on the highway. You don’t have any excuse not to, now.” He turned to Kevin and said, “That goes for you, too.”
“Yes,” he said, more soberly. “I probably was a damn fool, but I guess I’ve been lucky.”
“You don’t want to trust luck too far, good or bad,” he replied. “Those are just off the rack, I sort of guessed about the size, but if they don’t fit you’ve got the receipt so you can go over to the leather shop in Pioneer and get something that fits right.”
“Mom, can we go for a ride?” J.J. asked, not noticeably less excited than his mother.
“We’d better not right now,” Kevin said. “Your mother needs to have a few minutes with it to get used to it first, and then maybe we can think about a short ride around the block.”
“That’s only if you’ve got your snowsuits and helmets on,” Emily warned. “Kevin, let’s go change. Jason, Vicky, can you watch Kayla and J.J. for a few minutes?”
“That’s part of why we’re here,” Vicky smiled. “Go change.”
Ten minutes later, Vicky came back into the living room, dressed in her leathers. “Jason, for just guessing, you did pretty good.”
“It was an educated guess,” he smiled. “The education coming from the fact that Kevin let Vicky paw through your closet while you were at council last week.”
“My God,” she shook her head. “And to think the three of you have been setting this up for months, and I never got an inkling of it! You had to put a lot of work into it.”
“I can tell you this,” Vicky smiled. “You don’t want to use a manicure set to get grease out from under your nails. One of Jason’s cast-off knives works a lot better.”
“Learned that years ago,” Jason snickered. “You two go have fun.”
Close to an hour later, Vicky and Kayla were sitting on the living room floor playing a board game, while Jason and J.J. were battling it out on a video game. Jason was losing, not to his surprise, it took being a kid to deal with that – when there was a pair of V-twin roars outside. “Guess they’re back,” Vicky smiled. “Frozen to popsicles, probably.”
“But grinning popsicles, I’ll bet,” Jason smiled. “I’ll bet the next time a class reunion rolls around Emily doesn’t feel quite as ordinary.”
“No bet,” Vicky snorted with a smile.
In a couple minutes, the two riders came inside. “What a bike!” Emily exulted. “Jason, you’re right, it’s going to take some getting used to, but I think it’s easier than Kevin’s.”
“We were hoping you’d think that,” he replied. “It’s a lot lighter; that was part of our thinking.”
“I think I’m up to taking the kids, if we keep it slow and around town,” she said. “Kayla, J.J., if you want to ride, go get your snowsuits on.”
“Tell you what,” Jason said. “Why don’t you take them over to Vicky’s place? Her folks were in on the deal some; they’d kind of like to see that grin you’re wearing. We’ll follow along in the truck.”
“Sure, sounds like a good idea,” the exuberant brunette said, while Kevin had a big grin of his own.
A few minutes later, they were headed to Vicky’s house; Kevin and Emily had decided to go the long way a little. “I have never seen her so pumped up,” Vicky told Jason as soon as they were alone in the truck cab. “I mean, I’m just happy as hell at the way it all worked out.” She let out a sigh. “But . . . ”
“I know, kid,” he said, reaching out to put his hand in hers. “Believe me: I went through a lot of down times before things turned up a little.”
“I know,” she sighed. “And damn it, I shouldn’t be jealous, but I think of her out on that bike being so happy, and hell, I’d like to feel that way myself once in a while.”
“Vicky, I keep telling you, hang in there, things will turn your way sometime,” he nodded. “See if you can’t keep the game face on for a few more minutes, anyway.”
“I’ll try,” she said. “But damn, right now I really want a drink, and I can’t even let myself have that.”
“Just hang in there, and when it’s over with you can cry on my shoulder,” he told her. “It won’t be the first time, after all.”
“I know,” she sighed. “But damn, I can’t help but wish things had turned out a little different.”
A few minutes later, they were at her house. Her parents had been expecting them, and came outside to check out the new bike – they’d seen it, but this was the first time outside in daylight, with a beaming Emily proud to show it off. Troy and Brittany were off at her parents, but now Casey and Alissa were there, both watching, too; so was Duane. Vicky was doing her best to keep a happy face on in spite of spirits that were dragging her down.
“Now that we’ve got everyone here,” Kevin said as the hubbub died down a little. “There’s one more Christmas present. Vicky, I know you put in a lot of work on this bike, more than you had any need to do, because you wanted to do something nice for Emily.” He reached into his jacket and pulled out a small box. “So we decided to do something nice for you. This is mostly from Jason. Emily and I chipped in on it, although she didn’t know about it until just a few minutes ago. Your folks chipped in on it too.”
He handed her the box; she had to take her gloves off to open it. It only took a few seconds.
Inside there was a key, with a tag: Go look in the garage. “What the hell?” she said, a confused look on her face.
“It might help if you went and looked in the garage,” her father smiled, handing her the door opener.
Increasingly shocked, she pushed the button, and the door rolled up. There in the morning sunlight sat a small red motorcycle, another big ribbon and bow wrapped around it, and a tag reading, Merry Christmas, Vicky!
“My . . . God!” she breathed. “I never dreamed . . . ” She walked toward it, half dazed at the unbelievable sight. She reached out and touched it. It was real. It was really, really real. “Oh, God,” she said in a small voice, tears rolling down her cheeks now. “Emily, I’m sorry I was so jealous of you! I should have known better.”
“Vicky,” Emily replied softly. “We know things are a little different for you, but that doesn’t mean we care for you any less.”
“Jason?” she said softly. “This is from you?”
“It’s from all of us,” he said. “We love you, Vicky. All of us. Like Emily said, we know things are a little different, and this bike is a little different, too. It’s a Honda 500 Street Hawk, and it’s used. It’s nowhere near as powerful or as difficult to handle as Emily’s, it’s more of a beginner’s bike. It’s got electric start, and it’s generally a more comfortable ride all around. We know you don’t have much experience with bikes, so this is going to be a lot easier to learn on. If by next fall you think you want something that breathes fire and shakes the earth, and you’re ready for it, next Christmas you might open that door and find a Harley sitting there.”