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Thursday Edition


BikerNet Fiction: You Can't Go Home Again by Jon Juniman

1/1/2000


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Nobody knew Buzzard's real name. There was a reason for this; if you had a name like Horace Hieronymous Toozfetz, you probably wouldn't go around advertising it either. Some people might say that it's a bit of an overreaction to become an outlaw biker just because your parents gave you a name you didn't like. Of course, the people who might say that hadn't been condemned to a youth of getting beaten up by the high school jocks every day, year after year, with no hope whatsoever of ever getting laid. No, it was too late for should haves or could haves; Buzzard was irrevocably shaped by his upbringing, for good or ill.

Despite this, he was actually quite a good-natured fellow; a hard-ass brawler and a multiple felon, true, but nevertheless a quiet, dependable sort (as outlaws go), holding fewer grudges against the world at large than does, say, the average postal worker.

At the moment, Buzzard was cruising up Route 842 in rural Pennsylvania, feeling the sunshine on his shoulders and easing his '53 Panhead chopper carefully around the hairpin turns. The telegram was a tiny, crumpled ball in his pocket. Buzzard had no idea how they had located him, and the telegram offered no explanation. It said, simply, come home, stop, father dying, stop, Uncle Roy, stop.

The Reverend Wolfgang Amadeus Toozfetz was a hard and uncompromising man. He didn't like many things, but he knew what he hated, and he had no doubt whatsoever that God hated the same things. He was The Man in Charge of Straightening Out The Universe (trumpets, please), and he bore his God-given burden upon his broad shoulders with unflagging tenacity.

How and why Horace's mother had chosen the reverend for a husband had always been a mystery to Horace. She was a small, pretty, delicate woman, patient and quiet, honest and uncomplicated. The reverend's bulldog act overwhelmed her completely; he forbade her everything he could think of and berated her mercilessly for the smallest infractions, such as going to the market without her luxurious, blond hair tied in the mandatory sexless bun. He would inexplicably relent at random intervals, suddenly becoming pleasant and kind, but no sooner would she let down her guard than the reverend would revert to his former self, berating her in his most terrible fire-and-brimstone voice about how God hated disobedient wives. Horace had always reviled himself for not protecting his mother, but he was only a small boy, and his courage wilted instantly before the reverend's 6-foot, 4-inch frame.

The farmhouses and lush, green fields rolled lazily by. Cows and horses meandered around, occasionally pausing to munch on a green tuft of grass. Buzzard eased the long, lean bike to a halt at the stop sign, then turned left onto 82 north. Route 82 was a much straighter road, so he eased the throttle open and accelerated to a leisurely 45 mph.

Horace's mother had always shielded him from the reverend's wrath by taking the heat upon herself. Horace mostly stayed out of his father's way, performing his chores to the reverend's exacting specifications and thereby avoiding attention. This continued until Horace was 16, when his mother took ill.

From the corner of his eye, Buzzard saw a German shepherd launch itself from the porch of a small, white house and bound across the lawn toward him. He slowed down a bit and whacked the shifter down into third. When the dog was about 10 feet away, he let out the clutch and rolled the throttle, throwing off the dog's planned point of interception and rattling the window panes with a blast from his upswept fishtail drag pipes.

The doctors had been unable to find anything specifically wrong with Mrs. Toozfetz, but her condition continued to worsen daily. On a bitter fall day, under a steely gray sky, Horace's mother finally died. The county coroner had explained the cause of her death with the ambiguous phrase "natural causes," but Horace knew that there was nothing natural about it; she had died of a broken heart. And he knew without a doubt who the reverend's next target would be, now that he had been deprived of his favorite victim.

After the funeral, Horace had snuck out to his Uncle Roy's barn, where Roy's son, Johnny, had secretly helped him restore an ancient 45 ci Flathead, which Horace had bought from an old widow for $150. (Uncle Roy knew about the Flathead, but kept Horace's secret. Being the reverend's younger brother, Roy was aware of Horace's harassed and abusive home life and took pity on him.) Horace had snuck out to work on the bike at every opportunity, using the money that he?d earned by working at the hardware store after school. This had been a risky endeavor. Motorcycles were the work of the devil, and if the reverend had discovered it, he would have beaten Horace to within an inch of his life.

Now that Horace's mother was dead, there was nothing to keep him in South Carolina any longer. He hastily packed all of his belongings onto the bike -- a duffel bag full of clothes, some extra ignition points and spark plugs, a worn and dirty tool roll and $122.47 in small bills. He straddled the bike, kicked it to life, then eased it out of the barn and onto the main road. He never looked back. The road ahead beckoned with promises of adventure and infinite possibilities; his new life as a scooter gypsy had begun.

By the time Buzzard reached Coatesville, he decided to respect Uncle Roy's request and go back home. This would not be a happy run; the reverend, being the town preacher, had been a revered and respected figure in the community. In small towns, everybody knows everybody else's business, and people have long memories. Not being privy to all of the facts, everybody would assume that Buzzard was guilty of the foulest betrayal -- deserting his loving father in his hour of need, an outlaw biker who deserved nothing less than 12 hours on the rack. Nevertheless, Buzzard decided to go. He had lived for 34 years with the strange burden of his unresolved relationship with his father, and he was determined to seize this last opportunity for closure.

 

* * *

Early the next morning, Buzzard was in his garage, strapping a large Army surplus duffel bag to the chopper's tall, dagger-shaped sissy bar, crisscrossing the bungee cords back and forth. Having decided to go, he was eager to get started as early as possible. He made a last-minute mechanical check of the bike, then began stuffing tools into the weather beaten leather fork bag.

In high school, Horace's chief tormentor had been Bobby Plachette, star quarterback and captain of the football team. Horace had never been taught how to fight, nor would it have mattered if he had been. Plachette was three years older than he was, and was significantly taller, stronger and faster. No matter how discreetly Horace had tried to sneak home from school, at least twice per week he would hear, "Hey whore-ass, you can run, but you can't hide!" coming from behind him. Then the inevitable ass-whipping would begin. Horace lived in constant fear of it. It had utterly destroyed his self-esteem, making it impossible for him to have friends or date girls. It ruined his performance in school and made him yet more miserable at home. Horace dared not tell his father, though, because the reverend had a strict policy of non-violence (which he paradoxically enforced with a leather strap), and to let the reverend find out that he had been fighting would only have compounded Horace's miseries.

Plachette had graduated just as Horace finished his freshman year. Although a star quarterback in his small-town high school, Plachette had not been quite good enough to win a college athletic scholarship. Because the teachers had breezed him through the system, Plachette's poor academic performance made it impossible for him to get into college on his own merit. At the ripe old age of 18, the erstwhile pampered star, beloved by all, had become just another penniless nobody, a washed-up has been with no marketable skills and no future. He seemed poised to become either the town bully or the town drunk, (both positions for which he was eminently qualified), when something happened to change his life. He became a cop.

Buzzard straddled the chopper and jumped hard on the starter pedal. The perfectly tuned Panhead rumbled to life on the first kick. He backed the choke off slightly and waited for a few minutes while the engine warmed up.

Horace was glad to have left town before having any serious run-ins with Deputy Plachette. A long series of lateral drifts had eventually led him to a small apartment in New Jersey and a reasonably steady job as a longshoreman at the port. He put plenty of miles on the Flathead, it being his only means of transportation, and the antique scoot soon began to attract the attention of the local motorcycle aficionados. Within a year, he was riding with the Jersey Renegades and had earned the name Buzzard, since by this time he was over 6 feet tall and lanky, with a prominent beak of a nose protruding from underneath his long, ragged hair. It was through his association with the Renegades that he eventually hooked up with his first real friend, an infamous young outlaw by the name of Ace Calhoun. Buzzard would soon sell the Flathead to a local Harley dealership that wanted to display it out on the floor. He got enough money from the sale to buy an old Panhead, still a classic scoot, but a bike whose larger engine had more possibilities than the already overworked 45.

When the engine's cooling fins were warm to the touch, Buzzard eased the bike out of the driveway and onto the road. Interstate 95 was the straightest shot down to South Carolina. Although it was a crowded and unpleasant highway, this was a Monday and most of the lemmings were at work. He decided that it would be OK as long as he stayed off of the road during rush hour. And with that, he sped away.

 

* * *

Buzzard roared down the mostly empty interstate. The traffic petered out once he got past the airport, and he screwed it on through Maryland and into Virginia.

In Virginia, an ugly storm was massing. From the east, a crescent line slashed the sky, a telltale parabolic border delimiting the boundary between cool and warm air, clear sky in front and dark clouds behind. A cold front was moving in. Buzzard twisted the wick, hoping to outrun the storm, but to no avail. Soon the sky was bible-black, and threatened to regurgitate itself upon man and beast. A cold wind picked up and small bits of highway trash danced across the road, caught in tiny, invisible whirlwinds. The thunder began to rumble, drowning out even the blast of the chrome drag pipes. By the time Buzzard got to Richmond, the rain was pouring down. A million tiny needles pelted his soaking leathers and stung his face and neck. It was all his poor headlight could do to penetrate the gray murk and feebly illuminate a few square feet of rain-drenched pavement. Buzzard grimly pressed on, left hand wiping the rain from his wraparound glasses, determined to make North Carolina by nightfall. But cold fronts pass quickly; within a half hour the wind died down and the storm dissipated as suddenly as it had appeared. The sun came out, for which Buzzard was eternally grateful, warming his cold and clammy flesh.

Buzzard crossed the border into North Carolina by dusk. He checked into a small motel, hungrily devoured a burger and fries at the hamburger stand across the street, then retired to his room. It was a cheesy little motel. The paint job was piss yellow and the Art Deco furniture was straight out of the ?50s, but it was comfortable and dry, and that was all he wanted. He hung his leathers from a coat hanger in front of the window to dry, then slept the exhausted sleep that awaits every rider at the end of a long, hard road.

The next day he awoke full of enthusiasm. The sun was out and the birds were singing. It was the kind of day made by God especially for riding. The cold front had brought with it a mass of cool, dry air, lowering the temperature to a comfortable 70 degrees. The leathers were stiff and hard but dry, and Buzzard pulled them on quickly, eager to get started. He checked out at the front desk, ate an omelet at a local diner and blasted off onto the highway, heading south once again.

 

* * *

Markham, South Carolina, remained a one-horse town, for the most part untouched by time. Old people sat on rocking chairs on porches, looking as though they had sat there since the beginning of time and would continue to sit there until the sun grew cold. Main Street consisted of a general store, a gas station, a tiny bar and grill and a small church where, until recently, the Reverend Wolfgang A. Toozfetz had preached every Sunday. The town was small enough that everyone knew everyone else, and since Markham didn't connect anywhere with anywhere, the appearance of any strange face (let alone Buzzard's) was enough to cause a stir.

Buzzard rumbled over the horizon like a ragged and bearded messiah, a mad prophet from the mountains covered in leather and tattoos, riding upon a terrible chrome steed that drank gasoline and belched flames from the blackened depths of its fiery asshole, a grim harbinger come to deliver The Word. His appearance on the scene was as disruptive as Attila the Hun riding his horse into the middle of the New York Stock Exchange. Housewives stopped and stared, children pointed excitedly, old people scowled in disapproval from their rockers. Buzzard ignored all of this, casually blasting down Main Street toward Uncle Roy's house (assuming, of course, that Uncle Roy still lived there), rattling windows on either side of the street and setting off car alarms.

Buzzard hadn't been sure that he would be able to remember the way, but now that he was there, everything came back to him in a rush. Within minutes, he was cruising down Uncle Roy's tree-lined street, and damn if that wasn't old Roy himself out in the front yard! The little brick house with the green shutters was just as Buzzard remembered. Uncle Roy was older, of course, and grayer, and he looked much smaller than Buzzard remembered, but he was definitely Uncle Roy. Roy heard the chopper roaring up the street and stiffened apprehensively as he turned around, then took two full steps backward when he saw the grim figure bearing down upon him. Buzzard waved, and Roy stared, nonplussed. Buzzard pulled into the driveway, flicked the kickstand down and killed the engine. He felt a lump rise suddenly in his throat; here before him was the only man who had ever shown him any affection or kindness. All Buzzard managed to say, somewhat lamely, was, "Uncle Roy... I got your telegram... I came right away."

Roy was stunned. That cute little boy, so fresh in his memory, had turned into this big hairy monster, some half-human werewolf in greasy leathers and muddy boots. But he was that boy, home at last. After a long pause, Roy gasped, "Horace! Horace, my boy! I... I didn't think you would come..." Buzzard dismounted and stepped squarely into a bear hug. "Horace, it's been so long, we have so much to catch up on. Come on in, your cousin John's inside."

 

* * *

That evening, Buzzard was sitting at a small, round table near the back of the Markham Road House Pub, drinking a beer and talking excitedly with his cousin about all that had transpired in the past 18 years. John was married with two kids and had settled down to a quiet life as a country mechanic, the only one in Markham. The reverend had stoically borne his public humiliation after Buzzard ran away, and neither Roy nor John had ever mentioned the Flathead. There didn't seem to be any point. The reverend had continued preaching at the church until he was diagnosed with bone cancer at the age of 64. He had managed to live a fairly normal life for 18 months after that, but the treatments soon stopped working and his increasingly ill health forced him into early retirement. They had sent him home from the hospital once it became apparent that there was nothing more they could do, and the reverend, at present, was in his own home, under the care of a nurse, slipping in and out of consciousness and awaiting the inevitable end. Roy had hired a private investigator to find Buzzard's address and had then sent the telegram that was still crumpled up in Buzzard's pocket.

"Well," said Buzzard, "I came this far, so I guess the only right thing ta do is stick around a while and hope I get at least one chance ta set things straight before he goes."

John nodded in silent agreement and took a sip from his beer. "Of course, you can stay with me or my dad as long as you want."

"Thanks cuz," Buzzard replied, "that means a lot to me."

Then, from over his left shoulder, Buzzard heard something that he thought he?d never hear again. "Hey whore-ass! You can run, but you can't hide!"

Buzzard whirled around and stood up in one fluid motion, fists clenched and teeth bared. Standing before him was a pudgy, middle-aged man in a uniform, armed, swaggering and arrogant. He was older and out of shape, but he was definitely Bobby Plachette. And he had a gold, star-shaped badge pinned to the breast pocket of his uniform...

Holy creeping shit. Sheriff Plachette.

Buzzard stood a half-head taller than Plachette, and his hard, knotted muscles were wrapped like bundles of steel cable around his lanky frame from years of working at the docks. Plachette, by contrast, had obviously spent those years sitting in his cruiser eating donuts. Buzzard could easily break him in half now.

And here was the final absurdity: In spite of all this, Buzzard could still feel that old fear knotting his stomach and rising in his throat. It was as if Plachette's very voice had the power to yank him backward in time and turn him into Horace Toozfetz again, a scared little boy being stomped into the dirt.

The sheriff stuck his thumbs into his gun belt and swaggered around. "Yes siree," he said, "when one of my men saw that motor-sickle parked outside Roy Toozfetz' house, I went in there an' I sez, 'Roy, we don't cotton to outlaws an' drifters 'round these parts. Whoever owns this hunka junk, I'm gonna lock 'im up fer vagrancy.' Then ol' Roy sez, 'You ain't gotta do that, sheriff. It belongs to my nephew Horace.' That's how I knowed you wuz back in town, an' I figgered I'd find you here."

All eyes were upon Buzzard and the sheriff. Buzzard looked around, then back at the sheriff and said, loud enough for everyone to hear, "I'm here to see my father, so why don't you just fuck off?"

"Don't get smart with me, boy, I'll whip yer ass good. If ya wanted ta see yer father, ya coulda seed him long before now. Like I sez, we don't like drifters around these parts. If you're not outta here before the sun comes up tomorra morning, I'll lock ya up fer vagrancy."

Buzzard's face twisted into a lethal snarl. The fact was, Plachette was armed and Buzzard wasn't. "I ain't goin' noplace until I get ta talk to my father," Buzzard spat.

"Just remember, whore-ass," Plachette replied, "sunrise tomorra." Then he turned around and, chuckling to himself, swaggered out.

Buzzard deflated back into his seat and the other patrons went back to their business. "How the hell did that asshole become sheriff?" Buzzard asked.

"Well," said John, "you remember when he became a deputy?" Buzzard nodded.

Once in uniform, Plachette had discovered that he had a great affinity for that line of work. All those years he'd been bullying people for free, and now that he had a gun and a badge, he was getting paid to do it.

Not many years later, a small-time drug ring had moved its operation to Markham to escape the heat that the new police chief of Charlotte was bringing down in the city. The theory was this: Since drug problems were more or less unheard of in small towns, the gangsters would have more leeway to operate, free of the threat of a large, well-funded police force. This theory proved to be correct. Then-Sheriff Ed Channing was getting on into his 60s and had little stomach for getting shot right before he was due to retire.

Deputy Plachette and another deputy with the ironic name of Fred Manley had taken matters into their own hands, initiating a two-man crusade against the gang. They ticketed the gangsters' cars from one end of the county to the other, obtained search warrants on any pretense, and even sent the county building inspector to cite them for numerous trumped-up building code violations. Within a year the gangsters decided that there was even more heat in Markham than there had been in Charlotte. Their goal, after all, was to make money, not to lock horns with redneck cops, so they folded up shop one day and left Markham for good.

Plachette had once again become a town hero. Even those who disapproved of his methods had to admit that they were pleased with his results. Plachette was elected sheriff by a landslide the following year, and Ed Channing quietly retired. Plachette, of course, was still a bully, and there were those in town who called him a thug and worse, but in the end the people of Markham chose to cast their chips with a man who knew how to get things done. He had been the sheriff ever since.

Buzzard had no respect for the badge as a symbol. Long years on the outlaw circuit had instilled in him that a cop's authority, like that of any other thug, is measured solely by his power to enforce it. Fortunately for Buzzard, Markham's entire police force at present consisted of only two deputies, plus the sheriff. Still not good odds, though, especially with all three of them armed. What Buzzard needed now was an equalizer, and there was only one equalizer currently available...Ace Calhoun.

Buzzard was absolutely certain that Ace would come, that wasn't what worried him. He was in a quandary because it would be easier to call Ace than it would be to restrain him, and there was no way to predict what sort of savage hell might break loose once the genie was out of the bottle. Ace was a force of nature, inexorable and swift, and Buzzard was like a shaman who knows that he can summon a storm but is not at all confident of his ability to control it once it arrives. Finally, however, desperation won out over prudence. Buzzard excused himself and went to the pay phone at the back of the bar, dropped in several quarters and dialed a number.

"Hey, Ace? Buzzard... Yeah, I'm in Markham. Listen, I'm in a bind here. I can't stay on too long, but I'll give you the story real quick..."

 

* * *

Potato, potato, potato.

It seemed to Buzzard that he had hardly closed his eyes when he was suddenly awakened by that sound he knew so well. It was Ace, rumbling slowly up the street. Buzzard could tell that Ace was going easy on the throttle to keep his fiberglass-baffled pipes from barking and waking up the neighborhood. He?d probably eaten a fistful of cartwheels and then ridden like a maniac all night to get to Markham before the citizens (and cops) woke up. Buzzard swung his legs over the side of Roy's couch and levered himself upright. He banged one shin against the wooden coffee table in the dark and whispered a stream of obscenities under his breath. Pausing momentarily to rub his injured leg, he stumbled hastily through the front door. Outside it was cool and dark, with the first red rays of dawn just beginning to streak the eastern sky. Buzzard waved to flag Ace down, and Ace coasted the last 20 feet, tires crunching softly on the gravel-covered driveway. He killed the engine and dismounted, staggering a little. Even in the dark, he looked stiff and exhausted. Buzzard clasped his friend's shoulder warmly. "You OK, bro?"

"Yeah," replied Ace. "I just need some sleep."

"OK, let's get yer bike outta sight and then you can crash inside."

Buzzard swung open the door of the little red barn. He got behind Ace's bike and together they pushed it inside next to Buzzard's on the hay-strewn dirt floor. Ace clicked a padlock into place on the bike's triple tree, then followed Buzzard inside the house. Buzzard decided to take the floor and let Ace have the couch, and Ace collapsed like a marionette whose strings have been cut. He would sleep like a dead man until at least noon.

Buzzard went back to sleep himself and was awakened again by the phone. It stopped after two rings, meaning that Uncle Roy had probably answered it in the bedroom. The clock on the wall said 10. Buzzard looked over at Ace, who was still sound asleep. Good, Buzzard thought, he was glad that the phone hadn't disturbed Ace. He would need the rest.

A few minutes later, Roy came creaking down the old wooden steps. He was about to say something to Buzzard when he stopped, mouth open, surprised to see that his living room now contained not one but two outlaws, as though new ones had sprouted from the floor like mushrooms during the night. Buzzard put his finger to his lips, then motioned Roy into the kitchen where they could talk without waking Ace.

In a whisper, Buzzard hastily described his run-in with the sheriff and explained that Ace was a friend who had come to help him get out of Markham in one piece.

"You boys aren't gonna do anything foolish, are you?" Roy asked worriedly.

"No, of course not. I didn't come here lookin' for trouble, you know that. But I'm a grown man now, and badge or no badge, I ain't about ta take no crap from the likes of Bobby Plachette."

"OK," said Roy, "just be careful. Anyway, that was the nurse on the phone. She says your father's awake and feels good enough to take visitors."

This was the moment that Buzzard had simultaneously hoped for and dreaded much of his adult life. He took a deep breath and said, "Alright, let's go."

"What about your friend?"

"He's had a long night. Let him sleep it off."

Buzzard followed Roy to his battered old pickup truck and slipped into the passenger seat. He hoped they wouldn't have the ill fortune to get pulled over by one of the sheriff's men during the short ride to the reverend's house. The sun was, after all, up, and Buzzard had missed his deadline. Roy didn't look at all worried, which probably meant that the thought had not even occurred to him. Being a respectable tax-paying citizen, Roy was not accustomed to worrying about things like being stalked by cops, and Buzzard decided not to disturb his peace of mind by mentioning it. Roy threw the old rattletrap in gear and eased it gently onto the road.

Within minutes they were at the reverend's house. Buzzard knew the way well; as a boy he had walked the short distance countless times to meet Johnny in the barn and work on the old Flathead. Roy parked the truck in front of the gray stone house, then walked up the short flagstone path to the front door, with Buzzard following two steps behind. Roy pulled the storm door open and knocked on the weathered oak door behind it. Buzzard was vaguely surprised that everything looked so much smaller than he remembered. The door was eventually opened by a stocky, middle-aged woman in a nurse's uniform. She seemed momentarily taken aback by Buzzard's uncivilized appearance, but she knew Roy, and so said nothing. The nurse led Roy and Buzzard down a short hallway that looked exactly the same as it had when Buzzard was a boy. The faded floral wallpaper had not been changed in 18 years, and pictures of all-but-forgotten relatives lined the walls. She led them up the stairs to the reverend's bedroom and said through the door, "Reverend, your brother is here to see you."

A raspy voice croaked, "Send him in, send him in." The nurse stepped aside, and Roy led Buzzard into the room.

Buzzard couldn't believe his eyes. The father he remembered had been a huge, terrifying mountain of a man -- tall, broad and built like a bull. The man before him was an emaciated scarecrow, wrinkled and gray, old and sick. But that was nothing compared to the shock the reverend received when Roy put his hand on the huge, hairy outlaw's grimy shoulder and said, "Wolf, Horace is here to see you...your son. I'll leave you two alone." Then he turned and left the room.

The bedroom was as unchanged as the rest of the house. The bed with its wooden headboard was positioned between two antique wooden night tables, under a window that had been opened to admit the warm sun and a pleasant breeze. Both night tables were strewn with all sorts of pills, and the room had the vaguely antiseptic odor of a hospital. "Horace?" the old man croaked. He sounded as if there were loose nuts and bolts rattling around inside his shrunken chest. "How can you be Horace? Horace was a good Christian boy."

"No, it's me, dad."

"It's really you?" The reverend paused, then scowled. "I suppose you've got a motor-sickle or some such damned contraption to go with those rags you're wearing."

"It's parked at Uncle Roy's house," Buzzard replied.

"Well, I don't know if you're really Horace or not," said the reverend, "but it doesn't matter anyhow. You may be the son of the devil, but you're no son of mine."

"Nothing's changed, then, in all this time?"

"I raised my son to be faithful and obedient. He would never have abandoned me to join some...some heathen homosexual leather cult." The reverend looked at Buzzard with the most profound loathing that Buzzard had ever seen. "Go back to whatever hell hole you crawled out of...back to your dope-smoking, fornicating friends. That's where you belong, not here, worrying God-fearing folk. Don't come back to darken my doorway any more. God hates disobedient sons most of all."

Buzzard cursed silently at a life that he had long ago left behind. He growled, "My mother was sweet and beautiful and kind. You killed her, you bastard, just as surely as if you'd stabbed her in the heart. You would have done the same to me too, and we both know it. So now you're going to die an old man, lonely and bitter, and no one will mourn you. Was it worth it? Is this the way you want to end your life? No, don't bother answering. I hope whatever God you believe in has mercy on your soul." Without waiting for a reply, Buzzard turned his back on the reverend and walked out.

 

* * *

By mid-afternoon, Ace had revived. He ate a ravenous meal (which Roy graciously supplied), then went out to the barn to talk strategy with Buzzard. A confrontation with the sheriff seemed inevitable, since there was only one road in and out of town. It was possible that they could sneak out under cover of darkness, but that would be difficult with Buzzard's open pipes, and would also expose them to the possibility of an ambush on some back country road. Ace had packed a small arsenal, but it would still be three against two. Besides, Buzzard was not eager to get into a shoot out with the cops; it was just too risky. In addition, beating up a cop is one thing, but shooting a cop is quite another. Even if Buzzard and Ace won the shoot out, they would still lose in the long run. They would become cop killers, America's most wanted, with their faces plastered on the walls of every post office in the country.

No, it would be better to keep the guns out of it. The outlaws at least had the advantage of being able to stage the confrontation on their own terms, to choose the time and terrain. The best place would be somewhere with plenty of innocent bystanders. Then the cops wouldn't be able to use their guns, either. The odds would still be three to two against, but the outlaws had the element of surprise. The cops were looking for Buzzard, and they had never seen Ace.

So now Buzzard and Ace were back in the Road House, nervously sipping beer and waiting for the show to begin. Buzzard had parked his chopper out front as bait. Ace had parked his out back, hidden between two large delivery trucks. Initially the bartender had protested, but he saw the light when Ace offered to rearrange his dental work for him. He decided to let the law handle it, which was what was going to happen anyway as soon as the sheriff saw the chopper parked out front. Buzzard sat at the bar while Ace hid in the shadows at a table in the corner. It was shortly after 5 and the after work crowd was starting to fill the small pub; store managers in starched shirts and ties, working men in jeans and boots. Soon the bar was bustling with activity. People were talking, smoking, laughing and eating, ordering mugs and pitchers of beer.

Buzzard suddenly saw the bartender crane his neck to look out the window at something, and he could see the red and blue lights reflecting off the mirror behind the bar. Show time. The sheriff burst in, flanked by two young-looking deputies, and shouted at Buzzard, "I thought I told you ta git outta town!" The room was suddenly deathly quiet.

"I don't want no trouble sheriff," Buzzard said. "I got what I came for. I'll hit the road just as soon as I finish my beer, and you'll never see me here again."

The sheriff smiled a shark-toothed smile. "Too late, whore-ass," he said. "I told ya ta hit the road last night. Now yer gonna get what's comin' to ya."

Buzzard smiled. "OK, don't say I didn't give ya no chance."

They never even saw Ace coming. He moved like lightning, melting out of the shadows like a lizard and swinging a small, shot-filled sap. He struck each deputy a precise blow on the base of the skull; just enough force to cause unconsciousness but not enough to do any permanent damage. They crumpled to the floor like paper dolls. This threw the room into confusion. Some wanted to help the sheriff, others wanted to flee and a few just wanted to watch the show like gawkers at a traffic accident. Between them, there was too much chaos for anyone to do anything. The sheriff looked over his shoulder, then back again, and fumbled for his gun. But the bar was packed with patrons and there was no way to get a clear shot. Before he knew what was happening, he was hit simultaneously from the front and the rear, and his gun and nightstick had both been wrestled away from him.

Ace took the weapons and stepped away, leaving Buzzard alone with the sheriff. Plachette realized with horror that he was not facing a frightened boy named Horace. He was facing a huge, savage outlaw named Buzzard, and his knees felt suddenly weak. Buzzard's hairy lips parted, exposing sharp, white teeth, and he said, very quietly, "You can run but you can't hide."

There is a strange thing that sometimes happens to even the most savage of men when they see their nemesis brought low, and realize that he is pathetic and small. They are suddenly filled not with anger but with an awful, towering pity, and they realize that to sink to the level of their adversary would be wrong, that the right thing to do is to be the bigger man. Unfortunately for the sheriff, none of these things happened to Buzzard.

Buzzard kicked his ass all the way out the door, then grabbed him by the hair and dragged him back inside. He kicked his ass up the bar, then kicked it back down the bar. He beat Plachette until he was exhausted from swinging his arms. Then he let his adversary fall face down into the spilled beer, spit and cigarette butts that covered the sticky floor.

When he finally looked up from his work, he saw that Ace had been busy handcuffing the deputies to the shiny brass bar rail and stuffing their service revolvers into the various pockets of his riding jacket, keeping one handy just to make sure that none of the patrons would decide to try to be a hero. Buzzard handcuffed the unconscious sheriff to the bar rail beside his men, and Ace went to work severing the telephone line. This was probably unnecessary since all the law there was to summon was at present lying unconscious on the floor, but better safe than sorry. The outlaws then ran for the door and the crowd parted to make way. Once outside, Buzzard tapped Ace on the shoulder and said, "We better take the scenic route. Bastards'll be lookin' for us."

Ace nodded in agreement. Then he smiled and said, "Lead the way, Horace."

Buzzard smiled back and replied, "You better not break my balls about that, Francis."

Ace ran around the back of the building while Buzzard ran out front. The gawkers in the bar were crowding around the windows to watch Buzzard straddle his bike and kick it to life. Seconds later, he heard the sound of Ace's Evo starting up. Buzzard pulled out of the parking lot, rear tire screeching, and Ace blasted out right behind him. Together they roared away into the reddening dusk, under the cloudless sky, in the wind and glad to be free.


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