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Further Adventures of the Borderland Biker -Chapter 24

Our decision to return to the old saloon at sundown to confront the ‘new’ owners was risky

By Derrel Whitemyer
2/14/2017


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Our decision to return to the old saloon at sundown to confront the ‘new’ owners was risky but we’d likely never have the benefit of knowing when and where they’d be again. It was a tactical advantage we couldn’t pass. Hilts’ original plan to find out who they were then reason with them now seemed unreasonable. The new owners hadn’t hesitated to cut the shape changer’s umbilical cord at its source leaving him to turn to stone…to die a slow and painful death. They’d sadistically taken the shape changer’s life. The fact they’d do such a thing made them a danger to anyone coming in contact with them.

“Grab his feet;” said Larry the same time he lifted the little, once large, man’s shoulders off the couch, “he’s turned to stone yet lighter than he looks…maybe a type of pumice?”

Grabbing his feet I couldn’t help remembering him as a very large seven foot shape changing lawman. Larry had already opened the back door and was leading the way towards the alley in back of the law office.

“He’d understand,” said Larry at the same time we pitched the body up and into a dumpster where it immediately crumbled into dust when it hit the bottom. “We’ll need all the time available to find out all we can about the new owners. I know it’s not very dignified being buried, amend that to being dumped, in a dumpster but we’ve no other choice.”

Middleton was awakening; people were beginning to appear along the streets. Larry and I had just climbed back aboard our bikes and were in the process of riding away when we were greeted with a “…Good Morning…” from a man directly across the street. He’d suddenly appeared in front of a nearby shop. He waved, we waved but didn’t stop. Unless he changed directions and walked over to the law office and discovered the broken window in the office door we’d probably not be tied to its break-in.

“Keep riding,” said Larry. “For our payback to succeed it means we gotta learn all we can about the new owners before we confront them.”
 
“For our payback to succeed it means we gotta learn all we can about the new owners before we confront them.”
“For our payback to succeed it means we gotta learn all we can about the new owners before we confront them.”

 

Soon we were surrounded by more people; where they came from was a mystery. The areas on either side the town of Middleton a.k.a. Oakley was devoid of settlement. Most likely Middleton’s people began to appear soon after Middleton appeared; like when the people of the legendary Scottish town of Brigadoon began to appear soon after Brigadoon appeared.

For the better part of the day we rode around town. Shops that were closed when we first glanced at them would be open and filled with people upon second glance. The few people we’d questions either didn’t know who the leaders of the town were or were too afraid to tell. By late afternoon I began to believe the townspeople really didn’t know.

“They’re like movie extras. Their role is to awaken, rather appear, interact, not really knowing why…then sleep, rather disappear, then reawaken. It’s a cycle…a revolving door.”

“Then we need to go to a place where the directors might go. We need to go to a place where folks congregate,” said Larry at the same time we parked in front of a small, and from the looks of it, popular diner.

Small towns and villages are introverted by nature. Coal mining states have many towns built by the mining companies; just as California, Oregon and Washington have many towns built by the timber companies. These towns, especially their favorite restaurants, are normally weary of strangers, especially if they’re wearing Elvis fan club badges.

“First cup’s on the house;” said the familiar looking waitress that seated us at the end of the counter and poured us both a full cup of coffee, “oh, and you gotta phone call…take it in the kitchen.”

Larry turned to me, “Our waitress minus the red hair and heavy make-up looks a lot like Kate and she’s motioning for us to follow her into the kitchen.”

“You gonna take this call or not?”

Without looking like we were in too much of a hurry we followed her into the kitchen. She led us to an isolated table in the back.

“Scrambled or scrambled…all I know is scrambled,” laughed Hilts as he sat down at the table. “My mother always said breakfast was the most important meal of the day.”

“You had a mother and isn’t it too late for breakfast?”

Hilts ignored my question by pointing his fork at three plates of scrambled eggs in front of three extra chairs.

“Sit,” said Kate as she took off the red wig and sat in the chair to the right of Hilts.

The four of us devoured our meals as if they were (hopefully they wouldn’t be) our last. Surprisingly to the rest of the diner’s staff we might as well have been invisible. They flowed around our table as if they couldn’t see us. Hilts and Kate made no effort to communicate with them.

“Hilts, if you get tired,” said Larry at the same time he pushed his empty plate away, “of trouble-shooting Borderlands you’ll have a career as a cook.”

“Change of plans,” said Hilts, “We realized after you left that your assignment was too dangerous. We rode to this diner knowing you’d eventually stop here to eat.

“I don’t know how much longer I can make them ignore us,” continued Hilts nodding his head at the diner’s staff. “I created this town years ago and I still have some control over it but the control’s weak and growing weaker. It’s just a matter of time before they begin to take notice and start asking questions. Speaking of questions did you find out anything about the new owners?”

“We found out they’re sadistic,” I answered.

Larry interrupted, “The question’s academic. They’re returning to the saloon at sundown; we’ll be waiting for them.”

It was Kate’s turn to ask a question, “Why sadistic?”

Larry then told what had happened…from finding the dying shape changer on the couch; to the shape changer’s warning the new owners knew we’d all passed through town and how the new owners had cut his umbilical cord as punishment. When Larry repeated we were returning to the old saloon to avenge the shape changer’s death Hilts didn’t object.

“This is the part,” said Hilts, “where I’m supposed to say revenge is not a good reason to confront an enemy.”

“Are you saying,” said Larry, his face saying he was going to avenge the shape changer’s death anyway, “we shouldn’t?”

“On the contrary,” continued Hilts, “I’ll even help you. But revenge is served best when served cold.”

Kate was confused, “Cold?”

“Revenge,” said Hilts, “served with a hot temper leads to mistakes. Tempers give off steam; steam clouds your vision. Revenge served cold and with measured force and purpose is better. We need to control the confrontation. We need to return to the saloon before they arrive and prepare. Hopefully reason will prevail but if it doesn’t then we need a Plan B.”

“Plan B,” asked Kate, “what’s a Plan B?”

“Plan ‘B’ is we better ‘B’ ready to kick some butt.”

Hilts continued, “Leave the Raider; Kate and I have some things to do here that’ll hopefully calm down the new owners before they get to the saloon.”

“How do you plan,” I had to ask, “to calm them down?”

“If I’m right,” answered Hilts, “they’ll take the shortest route back to the saloon which means they’ll have to go by the fountain. Kate and I will booby-trap the fountain to spray some of her special coffee over them. The road by the fountain is narrow forcing people to walk through the mist. We’ll mix the coffee with the mist. The townspeople are innocents and won’t be affected. The new owners however are malevolent, evil; they’ll react to the coffee in the fountain’s mist. With any luck it’ll mellow them out enough so I can convince them it’s in their best interest to leave town. If they choose to fight it’ll hopefully have weakened them.

“We’ll meet you at the saloon as soon as we’re done booby-trapping the fountain. Oh, I almost forgot; to help you find the shortest route back to the saloon or out of town I conjured some special sunglasses. They’re on the front of your bikes and will act as an autopilot. They’ll give a gentle push or pull to the right or left when you must turn…don’t fight them.”

 

Hilts must’ve still had some of his old ‘mojo’ because the four of us were able to leave the diner unnoticed. Once we were outside he and I exchanged bikes. I was back with the Suzuki M109, now equipped with an autopilot a.k.a. a pair of directional finding sunglasses and Hilts now had my Yamaha Raider. The Raider’s back seat would be much more comfortable for Kate than riding on the bare fender of the M109. Hilts had also given Larry a pair of directional finding sunglasses. They were similarly attached to his Vegas 8-Ball. In the back of my mind was the faint growing fainter hope of still persuading the new owners to vacate Middleton. Unfortunately my instincts were telling me anyone willing to sadistically kill the shape changer was beyond reason.

“You two need to leave now,” said Hilts the same time he and Kate got on the Raider. “If you can, stop, ask questions. You may get lucky and learn something valuable. Anything we can learn about these new owners may give us an edge. We’ll ride to the fountain and set up Kate’s coffee to spray them when they pass by. Once we’ve set the trap we’ll meet up with you at the old saloon.”

“If my calculations are correct,” Kate added, “we should meet you just before sundown, just before the town of Middleton changes back into the old town of Oakley.”

“Don’t be late.” Larry shouted as we rode away. “I’ve a feeling we’ll need to be together when we confront the new owners…and where’s Ma n’ Pa when you need them?”

When Larry and I passed over the narrow bridge the fountain’s spray predictably bathed us with a light mist. Once across the bridge the direction to take on upcoming crossroads was, as Hilts had said, decided by the push or pull of our handlebars. Whatever magic Hilts had infused into the autopilot sunglasses attached to the front of our bikes was in control and working to guide us back by the best route. Turns initiated with a push/pull of the bars were completed by us.

“Once the bike starts its turn,” said Larry over the sound of our engines, “it allows us to complete it.”

Hilts had also given Larry a pair of directional finding sunglasses. They were likewise attached to his Vegas 8-Ball.
Hilts had also given Larry a pair of directional finding sunglasses. They were likewise attached to his Vegas 8-Ball.



It was here a harmless looking potbelly man dressed as a soldier standing outside the group became hostile.
It was here a harmless looking potbelly man dressed as a soldier standing outside the group became hostile.

 
Allowing the push and pull of the handlebars was something that took getting used to. It reminded me of how much faith the captain of an ocean going vessel must have in the harbor pilot to give over control of his ship.

We stopped once on our way back to the old saloon to ask questions of a small group of townspeople. The townspeople were polite and wanted to answer our questions but couldn’t. It was here a harmless looking potbelly man dressed as a soldier standing outside the group became hostile. It was our first encounter with any type of hostility in Middleton.

“You’ve asked enough questions;” shouted the potbelly soldier, “it’s time for you two to get on your motorcycles and leave. Best be outta town by sundown.”

“He’s not worth it;” said Larry as he stopped me from walking over to the man, “and besides we don’t have the time…it’s less than an hour until sundown.”

“Be outta town by sundown”…has been said so often in movies it’s become a cliché. Except in this movie it was the implied ultimatum for ‘Not’ leaving town we wanted to happen. Our plan to avenge the shape changer’s death counted on the new owners coming to deliver that ultimatum.

Arriving back at the law offices, soon to be an old saloon, minutes before sundown found the street covered in long shadows and the surrounding shops closed and locked. Middleton’s residents were gone.

“Back the bikes in and point them towards the road leading out of town,” said Larry as he stopped then parked across the street. “The sun’s already setting.”

As soon as the sun dropped below the horizon the law office building began to shimmer like a mirage then flickered back into being the old saloon. At same time the temperature dropped ten degrees and the streetlights became the dim gaslights of the late 1800s. Middleton was now Oakley.

Larry pointed across the street, “Something really big just moved inside the old saloon; in the back and far enough away from the front window that I can’t quite make it out.”
 
What made it different from any shark I’d ever seen was its color. It was colored, rather decorated or customized, with red and orange flames from its head to its midsection. I’d seem similar flames painted on the gas tanks of choppers.
What made it different from any shark I’d ever seen was its color. It was colored, rather decorated or customized, with red and orange flames from its head to its midsection. I’d seem similar flames painted on the gas tanks of choppers.

 

“What do you say we wait until Hilts and Kate get here then get a closer … Hey, are you crazy?”

Larry had already drawn his Glock 10mm and was walking across the street. When he got to the other side he stepped up to the saloon window and looked inside.

“You’ve got to see this,” yelled Larry at the same time he motioned for me to join him.

I was still thinking we should’ve waited for Hilts and Kate before doing anything when I joined Larry.

“What am I looking for…I can’t see…?”

“Look above the bar,” replied Larry, “near the ceiling. You wouldn’t have believed me so I had to get you over here to see for yourself.”

I remember as a kid watching the different floats at Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. Filled with helium they’d range in size from large to really large. They were most often in the shape of a storybook or cartoon character. What hovered above the saloon’s bar was a float in the shape of a huge shark…except it wasn’t a float…it moved…it swam to the window we were standing behind and stopped.

“Maybe,” I said backing into the street and drawing out my 44 Magnum and knowing even as I said it that it did see us, “he didn’t see us?”

“Hard to tell,” said Larry grabbing my arm and motioning for me to follow him. “If he follows us into the warehouse opposite the saloon we’ll know for sure.”

We just finished breaking through the street level door leading into the warehouse when the shark broke through the front window of the saloon.

“It’s following us…so much for the question about it being able to see.”

“It must be filled with helium or hydrogen,” said Larry as we both took cover behind a stack of wooden crates. “Because its fins are a bit larger than normal it’s able to swim through the air using the same motions as it would if it were swimming through water.”

Looking at the width of the warehouse door we’d just broken through, I said, “The good news is, it’s too big to get through the door.”

“The bad news is,” said Larry after we heard the crash of glass upstairs, it’s broken through the window above us.”

The shark smelled us…sensed us…whatever…there was no hiding from it…and it took its time swimming down to where we stood behind the crates. If it spoke to us I wouldn’t be surprised. I mean, I’d already had a conversation with a giant spider and a velociraptor. Both had turned out to be friendly. Maybe the shark would be friendly?

“I told you two,” said the shark in a not very friendly voice that sounded a lot like the voice of the potbellied soldier, “to leave town before sundown but you chose to stay.”

This was the first time I could see the shark close-up. Easily eighteen to twenty feet in length it swam back and forth in front of us. What made it different from any shark I’d ever seen was its color. It was colored, rather decorated or customized, with red and orange flames from its head to its midsection. I’d seem similar flames painted on the gas tanks of choppers.

“So are you,” I had to be the straight man and say it, “the meet and greet committee for the new owners?”

“If it was up to me,” laughed the shark painted with orange and red flames, “it would’ve been called the meet and eat committee. But I’ve been told first to hold you two until the new owners arrive.”

“First,” Larry said as he stood up and leveled his 10mm at the shark, “as in before they eat us?”

“You guessed it,” laughed the shark, “they get first bites.”

Larry fired two 10mm rounds into the shark. I fired one from my 44 magnum…we could’ve been firing blanks. The shark continued to swim from side to side in front of us.

“We’ve got to assume the shark’s filled with helium and has some type of sealant coating the inside its skin.”

“Sealant?”

“WWII aircraft,” answered Larry, “often had a coating of sealant inside their gas tanks to keep the fuel from leaking out from bullet punctures. This shark must have something comparable coating its insides.”

“And why do you think it’s filled with helium?"
“If it had been filled with hydrogen it would’ve likely exploded like the Hindenburg when we shot it.”

“So what if,” I said pointing to some oxygen and acetylene tanks stacked about thirty feet from where we were, “we wait for it to swim over something we can make explode? If we crawl under these crates we should be safe.”
I wasn’t surprised to find tanks of oxygen and acetylene stored in this warehouse; both had been used for welding as early as the 1870s. The bigger question was would we survive the explosion?

“His next swim around,” said Larry, "should have him passing directly over the tanks. Aim for the weakest points on the tanks, the valves on top. Our bullets bouncing off hopefully will cause a spark…get ready here he comes…FIRE!”

I remember as a kid being invited to a neighbor’s birthday party. They’d hired a clown that made balloon animals. Before he left he blew up a particularly large balloon then let it loose to chase us around the yard. I can still hear its flagellant sound as it whizzed by me.

Speaking of which, the tanks we’d wanted to explode became instead, with their valves shot off, missiles whizzing around the warehouse smashing everything in their path.

“One of the oxygen tanks,” yelled Larry, “just rammed a hole through the wall behind us big enough to slip through…GO…I’ll follow…”

Larry and I were through the wall in seconds and into an alley that led to the street where our bikes were parked. Riding away my only thoughts were could the shark get through the hole in the wall and if so how fast could the shark swim…and where were Hilrs and Kate, and Ma n’ Pa we need you?


CHAPTER 25 COMING SOON

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