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BikerNet Fiction: The Set-Up by Jon Juniman

1/1/2000


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The Set Up by Jon Juniman
The Set Up
Part I

Francis "Ace" Calhoun awoke with the fear, accompanied by guilt, which was a bit odd. It wasn't that Ace didn't have plenty to feel guilty about. In his 32 years, he had been involved in as much debauchery as any 10 pimps or con men. He had slept with his best friend's wife and his wife's best friend. He'd gotten the clap from his boss' daughter and given it to his daughter's boss. Then, of course, there had been that notorious, drug-addled day back in '87 when he'd stolen 23 cars.

But none of this had ever bothered Ace before because he viewed morals in much the same way he viewed underwear -- he knew they existed, but he?d never understood why others considered them necessary. It's not that Ace was immoral in the traditional sense. It's just that morals had simply never occurred to him, and he lived in a world where consequences were like getting caught in the rain -- it just happened sometimes, and not necessarily as a result of anything you did. To Ace, the world contained two kinds of people, Ace and not-Ace, and he had no doubt about who existed to serve whom.

Nonetheless, there it was, that itching sensation, accompanied by a premonition that retribution was at hand and that the hammer was about to come down.

Fortunately, however, there was the ever-present hip flask of JD to stupefy that one rebellious nerve ending that refused to vibrate in synch with the larger picture of Ace's persona. He took a mighty swig, pulled on a crusty pair of jeans and shambled stiffly out to the garage of the dingy apartment in which he stayed (under a phony name, of course). The garage was where The Beast lived...

Ace's bike was a dozen bad ideas all rolled into one. From the "Easy Rider" front-end to the worked 96 ci Evo engine, it cornered like shit and tried to power-wheelie every chance it got. It looked like a collision between a chopper and a medieval weapons locker; hand-made parts (including the hardtail frame) had been hack sawed and flame-cut with the jagged edges and sharp points left on. But once you got it up around 80, it was 520 pounds of pure, smooth hell, and there weren't many vehicles on the road that could catch it in a straight line. Ace straddled the monstrosity, wrestled it upright and thumbed the huge engine to life.

Minutes later, he was out on the open road, rolling down the pre-dawn highway, thoughts of divine retribution far behind him. With a little luck, he would cross the bridge from Pennsylvania into New Jersey before the yuppies were even out of bed, then cut across to Wildwood and the HOG rally. Aaah, the HOG rally, where beer flowed like a river and the women (not coincidentally) looked mighty fine. Ace had his knees in the wind, the rumble in his ears, and was feeling like the king of the world.

Glancing in the rear view mirror, he suddenly noticed that he had picked up one of those inevitable tailgaters who won't give you any space and refuse to pass. Annoyed, Ace eased the throttle open. Seventy and the tailgater still hung in there. At 80 mph he began to fall away. Slowly, Ace's irritability faded and the peaceful feeling of the open road returned.

Then he saw the flashing red and blue lights.

Shit! The goddamn cop didn't even see the tailgater. (Or else he did, but hell, why hassle a taxpaying citizen when you can bust a big bad biker instead?) In any case, there was nothing to do but wrap the throttle around and hope for the best. Ace was wanted in at least a half-dozen states, and the bike had so many stolen parts in it that it was practically a rolling felony.

At 120 mph, the cop was still hanging on. Ace was practically blind in spite of his shoplifted wraparound Ray-Bans. The wind-scream was deafening and the tears that streamed from his eyes evaporated even before they reached his ears. The pavement sped by in a blur and hard-shelled bugs impacted against his face and jacket like shots from a BB gun. At this speed, there was no margin for error. Everything, from a discarded beer bottle to a patch of oil, represented a life-threatening hazard. Then the engine began to cough and sputter, and Ace knew that he was really fucked...

The high-speed chase came to an inglorious end as Ace coasted unceremoniously to the side of the road. In his rear view mirror, he could see the cop getting out of his cruiser with his revolver drawn, but the cop seemed to have understood at once what had happened, and Ace thought that he could see him laughing. The cop strolled over to Ace with no real sense of urgency, but nevertheless pointing the gun at Ace's back. There was no point in even getting off the bike. Ace kept both hands on the ape-hanger handlebars where the cop could see them. No sense compounding his miseries by getting shot.

"Keep your hands where I can see 'em!" the cop shouted. "Do you understand that it is a crime to run from an officer of the- "

"Yeah, yeah," Ace replied, cutting him off. "You got me. Shit, I'm guilty as sin, why argue?" The cop smiled. For the first time, Ace noticed that he was dealing with a mean, pig-eyed fellow with a missing tooth, who was obviously enjoying the opportunity to humiliate a biker. The cop relaxed and stopped pointing the gun directly at Ace, although he didn't put it back in the holster either. He eyed Ace up and down for what seemed like a very long time, as though carefully weighing some kind of decision. Finally, he said, "This can go down two ways. First way is I bust you for leading police on a high-speed chase, reckless endangerment, resisting arrest and anything else I can find when I check for outstanding warrants."

Ace inhaled deeply. Far away in the foggy extreme of his memory he remembered his grandmother saying that if you're going to eat with the devil, you need a very long spoon. "What's the other way?" he asked.

"The other way," replied the cop, "is I do somethin' for you, and you do somethin' for me." He scrawled something on a scrap of paper and handed it to Ace. It said, ?Holiday Inn, 2831 Roosevelt Blvd., Rm. 254, 8:30 p.m.? "And just to make sure you're a man of your word," said the cop, "I'm impounding your bike." * * * Ace stood on the pavement outside the gray monolith that was the Holiday Inn and looked at it for a long time. There seemed to be no doubt that whatever was about to go down would be something he would later regret. The only alternative, though, was to let the pig have his precious bike that he?d built, piece by piece, with his very own hands, and there wasn't a snowball's chance in hell of that happening. Steeling himself, he took one last drag from his cigarette, flicked the butt into the gutter and walked inside.

Once in the lobby, Ace was aware that his long hair, beard and tattoos were drawing stares from the people behind the desk. Trying to look nonchalant, he strode over to the elevator, punched the "up" button and stepped inside. Getting off at the second floor, he walked down the hall toward room 254. He paused a moment, wondering what sort of heinous trouble was almost certainly waiting for him inside. Then he knocked.

The door opened just a crack, but nobody beckoned him in. Whoever was on the other side of the door obviously didn't want to be seen or identified. Ace pushed the door open and walked in.

He was instantly struck in the face by a powerful halogen light that reduced the rest of the unlit room to jagged shadows. Some unseen figure clicked the door shut behind him and there were two silhouettes standing on the other side of the light. "You're late," rasped one of the figures. The voice belonged to Officer Pig.

"Yeah, well, I had to take the goddamn bus to get here,? Ace replied. "Would you mind turning that fuckin' thing off?"

"Apologies for the inconvenience, Mr. Calhoun," said another voice, which carried a hint of Spanish accent. "But it would be to our mutual benefit for you to remain ignorant of our identities." The voice was low, resonant and smooth as aged brandy.

"OK, enough of this X-Files crap," said Ace. "You wanted me here. I'm here. What the hell do you want?"

"A proposition, Mr. Calhoun," said Mr. Smooth. "We have a job to offer you. We want you to drive a tractor-trailer from Mexico City to California. Of course, we would not expect you to accept our proposal merely to recover your motorcycle. The job pays $50,000 upon your arrival in the United States."

"If I refuse, I suppose you're gonna put me in jail?"

"Oh no, Mr. Calhoun. It's much too late for that. Should you refuse us, by the time they find you, your own mother won't recognize your remains."

Ace thought about this. He had considerable experience with posers and wannabe tough guys who tried to bluff their way through confrontations. Whoever Mr. Smooth was, he didn't sound like one of them. "What's in the truck?" asked Ace, as if he didn't know.

"That information is only available on a need-to-know basis," replied Mr. Smooth. "However, I will tell you that there will be 10 drivers. Of the 10, nine will be decoys carrying crates of coffee. Only one will be carrying the actual merchandise, and none of the drivers will know whether he himself is a decoy. So you see, the risk is minimal, and the rate of payment is quite good."

Ace thought about the potential mess he was getting himself into, but the lure of the 50 grand was too great. "I'll do it," he said, "but I want half up front. And I want my bike back."

From the shadows, Mr. Smooth chuckled. * * * The following day, Ace cruised down a deserted country road, which is where he liked to go to think. Right now the hamster wheel in his head was turning even higher rpm?s than his engine, pondering this incredible turn of events. Mr. Smooth had, of course, refused to give Ace the 25 grand up front. He had, at least, returned the bike, which Ace had had to tow back to his garage to fix the traitorous son of a bitch. At any rate, Mr. Smooth was clearly not a man to be trusted, and just as clearly not a man to be crossed. It was not all that hard to believe that even a medium-sized drug kingpin would be willing to pay half a million dollars to his drivers; an 18-wheeler full of coke would surely make the half mil look like chump change.

The question was, what was the real chance of Ace ending up with the hot truck? On the one hand, Ace was a fairly conspicuous person, so it would probably make more sense for him to be a decoy. On the other hand, since he was the new guy, he was expendable. Hell, they might just reward him by riddling him with bullets when he got to California, if he got to California. Although it was likely that the other drivers had been recruited in much the same way, and Mr. Smooth couldn't damn well kill them all...

Round and round he went, like a dog chained to a $50,000 stake, knowing that it was a bad idea but nevertheless unable to let go of the thought of all that green. One thing was certain, though: Mr. Smooth had Ace at a definite disadvantage, and Officer Pig was probably the key to figuring out the identity of Mr. Smooth. Ace slowed the bike to a halt, walked it around a Mack-truck-sized U-turn, then twisted the throttle and roared back home. * * * An hour later, Ace impatiently paced his apartment like a caged animal, a ringing telephone clamped tightly to his ear. After what seemed like an eternity, a voice answered on the other end.

"Hello?"

"Hey Buzzard, it's Ace."

"What's up, bro?"

"You're not gonna believe this..." Ace briefly recounted the incredible tale of the last 24 hours.

"So whatcha gonna do?"

"Well," Ace replied, "for starters I want to figure out who the pig is. Can Scratch still hack his way into the cops' personnel records?"

"Sure. They ain't changed their password in five years."

"Good,? Ace replied. "We're looking for a fat cop, about 50, with small eyes set close together."

"Hate ta tell ya this, bro, but that don't narrow it down much."

"Our man's also missing a front tooth on the left side."

"OK," replied Buzzard. "I'll getta holda Scratch. We probably shouldn't talk about this over the phone. Meet me at Gino's tonight at 9 and I'll tell ya what we dug up."

"Thanks, bro. I owe you one." * * * Ace pulled up to Gino's Bar and Grill, a run-down dive in a dilapidated section of town. He could see Buzzard's '53 Panhead chopper parked out front and he eased his own bike up next to it. He sat there, letting the big beast rumble between his legs for just a moment before hitting the kill switch and flicking the kickstand down with the well-worn heel of his left boot. The honky-tonk blare of the jukebox, the clacking of balls on the pool table and the raucous laughter of barroom banter wafted through the closed door and out into the moonlit night. Ace dismounted, clicked the fork lock into place and clumped up the short flight of rickety wooden stairs that led to the front door.

Ace pushed the door open and scanned the dark, smoky room for Buzzard?s lanky form. Sure enough, there he was, drinking a beer and smoking a fat cigar in a booth near the back door, and right on the dot of 9. Old Buzzard was as reliable as ever. Ace felt somehow comforted by this.

Big Dave nodded a silent greeting to Ace from behind the bar and, without waiting to be asked, poured a tall, frosty mug of Guinness Stout. Ace slid into the booth with Buzzard, and Big Dave sent the beer over with the new waitress, a tender little blonde with pouty lips and lobotomy eyes. Ace could tell at once that the news was bad by the grave look on Buzzard's bearded, leathery face. He waited for the waitress to get out of earshot and said, "That bad?"

"Worse," Buzzard replied. "The pig's name is Scanlan. Tom Scanlan. See, Scratch figured he'd talk to Snoop 'cause Snoop knows everybody. Turns out Snoop knew a guy that was once recruited by Scanlan, an' he barely escaped with his ass in one piece. Anyway, the guy says that Scanlan's on the payroll of an outfit that smuggles coke fer a Colombian cartel. Whenever they make a run from Mexico to California, they divide the real goods between 10 or 20 trucks, not ta put all their eggs in one basket. Those trucks are driven by clean-cut sorta guys who can usually make it past customs. Then they recruit another 20 or so decoys ta draw the heat, mostly high-profile types like ex-cons with swastika tattoos and grunge kids with long hair an' nose rings."

"And outlaw bikers," added Ace. "What happens to the decoys when they get to the States?"

"Most a' them don't get to the States," Buzzard replied. "The bosses plant just enough dope in the trucks to get the drivers busted. They get picked up at the border fer possession of contraband or some bullshit like that, an' then they rot forever in some Mexican hell-hole of a jail. The few that do make it back are paid with a bullet in the back a' the head, an' then dumped in the river. That's why they use outlaws an' derelicts fer the job; nobody misses 'em when they disappear. Best thing you could do is disappear right now; go ta Canada or someplace an' lay low fer a while."

"That would be the safe and smart thing to do," Ace agreed.

"But it ain't what you're gonna do," said Buzzard, reading the malicious smile that spread slowly across Ace's lips.

"Hell," said Ace, "I was riding along, minding my own business. I just wanted to get that tailgater off my ass, and next thing I know some asshole with a badge drags me down into this goddamn tar pit. If I have to go to Canada and lay low, it'll damn well be for a good reason. Maybe I can't get to The Big Man, but I can get that son of a bitch cop!"

"Whatcha got in mind?" Buzzard asked. Ace thought for a minute, then an evil grin spread across his face.

"You still got that camera with the telephoto lens?" Buzzard nodded. "Good," said Ace. Ignoring Buzzard's puzzlement, Ace slid out of the booth and walked over to the pay phone near the bathrooms at the back of the bar. He fished around in his pocket, came up with a quarter and jammed it into the slot. He punched in a phone number and, holding the tip of his left finger in his left ear to block out the bar noise, waited impatiently while the phone rang. Presently, he heard the telltale click of the phone on the other end being lifted out of its cradle, followed by a sexy, female voice, which said, "Hello?"

"Yeah, Nina? It's Ace. Not too bad... Listen, remember that time I bailed your brother out of jail? Well, I'm in a bind here, and this time I need your help..." * * * It was 5:25 a.m. and Ace was hidden in the bushes by the side of the road, not far from the spot where he had originally been stopped. He looked impatiently at his watch, which he had carefully synchronized with Nina's and Buzzard's. He slowly flexed and relaxed his leg muscles to relieve the cramps; he had been hidden in the bushes since before Scanlan had come on duty. I'm gonna owe Scratch and Buzzard for this big time, he thought. Ace looked down at his watch again to see the seconds roll dutifully by: 5:29:58, 5:29:59, 5:30:00. Mark.

Nina's red Mustang came over the ridge right on schedule, 20 mph over the speed limit. She passed the spot where Ace knew Scanlan's cop cruiser was hidden, and within seconds the red and blue lights flared to life. The cruiser eased out onto the road, ran up behind the red Mustang and blared its siren a few times. The Mustang coasted to a halt by the side of the road, right near where Ace was hidden.

Scanlan grunted as he heaved his ponderous bulk out of the cruiser. He waddled over to the Mustang and motioned for the driver to roll down the window. Ace could see Scanlan's eyes get wide as the window rolled down and he came face-to-face with Nina's perfect, round, braless 38 D?s, hard nipples poking through a thin, low-cut Spandex top. He smiled as he imagined the sultry, seductive look that he knew Scanlan was getting from Nina's gorgeous blue eyes; Ace had been on the receiving end of that look himself, and he knew from painful experience what it could make a man do. Nina leaned forward slightly, pushing her ample cleavage into full view.

"License and registration please," said Scanlan, trying his damnedest to sound professional and nonchalant.

Nina began to whimper softly. "Please, officer," she begged, "I can't afford to get another ticket. I'll lose my license! I'll do anything. Please!" Her gaze slid downward toward Scanlan's crotch. Scanlan stood there, dumbstruck. Without waiting for an answer, Nina eased the door open and slid down onto her knees in front of the cop in one fluid, catlike motion. She ran her finger up and down over the growing bulge in his pants, then started to pull his zipper down. This brought him to life again, and he began to furiously undo his pants. By the time he heard the repetitive click-click-click of the camera shutter, it was too late. Scanlan was standing on the road with his uniform pants down around his knees and a gorgeous blonde kneeling in front of him, his tiny dingus sticking out from underneath his massive belly.

On a little dirt road on an abutment overlooking the highway, Buzzard stood up. Scanlan saw the camera with the telephoto lens hanging around the lanky biker's neck, and his little stick wilted instantly. Buzzard moved quickly out of view, and Scanlan heard the roar of a Harley coming to life. Before he could react, he heard a rustle in the bushes from the other side of the road. Nearly tripping over his own pants, he whirled around just in time to see Ace climbing out of the bushes and moving quickly around the parked cars.

"That's a shameful display, that is!" said Ace, grinning ear to ear. In the distance, Scanlan could hear the sound of Buzzard's bike fading away. "Positively disgusting! Why, when I stop to think of a pervert like you taking advantage of that poor, helpless girl... Why, what would the chief think? Hell, what would Mrs. Scanlan think if she saw that picture in the morning paper? It's more than any taxpaying citizen should have to bear, I tell you!"

Scanlan's face turned bright red. His nostrils flared with rage and hate, and his eyes bulged out of their sockets. His mind was a congealing mass of lead, paralyzed between conflicting impulses to pull his gun and to shove his dingus back into his drawers. Fortunately, he chose the latter. This was good; it meant that Ace's Walther PPK could stay tucked away in the back of his waistband.

"Goddamn son of a bitch!" Scanlan raged. "You set me up! Fuckin asshole!"

Ace grinned triumphantly. "This can go down two ways," he said. Scanlan winced as his own words came back to mock him. "First way is I send copies of that photo to the chief of police, the DA's office and every newspaper in the city." Ace waited, but Scanlan said nothing. "Second way is you fuck off and never get in my face again."

Scanlan looked down at his shoes. His shoulders slumped and he knew he'd been defeated. After a very long pause, he said quietly, "OK."

"Good," said Ace. "Now get yer fat ass outta here." As Scanlan turned to go, Ace said, "Hey Scanlan, one more thing." Scanlan turned just in time to catch Ace's rock hard knuckles in the side of his jaw. His head lashed backward from the impact and he fell into the dirt like a sack of potatoes.

Ace winced and briefly rubbed his fist. Both he and Scanlan would feel that tomorrow. He looked up to see Nina's baby blue eyes gazing into his own. Smiling with satisfaction, he slipped his arm around her waist and said, "Come on, beautiful, I'll take you out someplace nice tonight." She smiled in return. Ace took one last look back at Scanlan, moaning in the dirt, then he slipped into the Mustang beside Nina. She threw it in gear and stomped on the gas, and within seconds they sped away.


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