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Rode Alone

Bandit Meets His Fate in Baker, California

By K. Randall "Bandit" Ball with images from Sam Burns

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Bandit read her note again in a coffee shop at 1:00 in the morning. He hoped it wouldn’t happen, but he could feel it in her features and her comments. She was on the drift. Without her there was nothing except his favorite flannel and his leather saddlebags.

Maybe it had to do with motorcycles and how they made him feel. His chopper and a 4-inch barrel J.D. Crow engraved Colt Government Model pistol were all he needed, with his Ariat boots and his Buck pocket knife. When he got home from working the oil fields, he popped a Voodoo Ranger beer and met the icy envelope in the fridge. She could be cold.

He fired up his Knucklehead planted in an Irish Rich modified VL frame with an old rusting chrome XA springer front end and a 21-inch wheel guided him out of the city. He needed the desert, the solitary miles. His small Wassel peanut tank demanded visiting multiple truck stops for gas.

He cut the back way out of 29 Palms into Amboy. As he rode in the dark, he thought about their times together and he thought about the girl he gave up for her, his best friend. His mind swirled with thoughts of her misdeeds and his choices. His single headlight shined at the two broken lines on the narrow two-lane highway.

He wasn’t right all the time, but he made a decent life for her and her troubled daughter, but it was never enough. Wind whipped up the surrounding sand and he made his way into the gas stop. He slid to a stop and watched a couple of guys trying to jack a car from two old tourists.

His bike sang a loud song of violence, like pump shotguns rapid firing. He revved the engine and slammed on his rear disc brake and slide to an abrupt stop, the tire screaming against concrete. The thugs stood tall suddenly, and Bandit reached inside his vest, and they ran.

At 6’2” and wearing long-johns, Wranglers, tattered brown cowboy boots a sweatshirt, red and black plaid flannel and his stout leather vest showed all the roads he traveled for the last decade. Strong and padded, he didn’t look a fool and the druggies hit the road. He refueled and followed them into the night.

He could work and do anything from being a machinist to a plumber. He had to decide in the town of one gas station/hotel and a shoe box sized post office at 2:00 a.m. He could ride in the direction of Arizona, via Needles or west toward Barstow on the 15 and point toward Nevada.

His gas tank chose Barstow and off he went into the bleak night. He reached Barstow on reserve and was forced to refuel at the very fist opportunity. It was as if the old Harley-Davidson Knucklehead was happy with the cool night air and his high-bars loved the solitude. He refueled, checked his ride over and hit the road east toward Vegas. He knew folks there but didn’t want to have anything to do with the city, any city. He had the ride alone blues.

To the east the sky changed from jet black and started to glow crimson against the Mojave mountains. As soon as it crested the jagged hills the temps jolted upward, and it was already 90 degrees when he pulled into Baker a bleak desert town of 700 surrounded in every direction with desert.

As he slid to a stop beside the one of eight gas stations in town the blues crested in his soul. He wanted a drink bad. The town had four fast food joint, one Mad Greek Restaurant, one Chopper shop and just one Bar, the High Roller Tiki Bar and it was closed. Fortunately, all the gas stations sold Jack Daniels.

The one long-time breakfast joint with the tallest thermometer in the world struggled as long as it could and finally closed their doors.

As the sun blazed into the sky and bleached out all the paint on every building in Baker, Bandit sat on a cinderblock ledge, in a rare shady spot and drank Jack on the rocks while staring at his boots. In rode three club guys. Bandit didn’t recognize the patch. It looked Alien like the only jerky shop in the world right here in Baker. It wasn't a traditional outlaw patch, more political.

All three dismounted from their flashy, blacked-out, late-model Dynas and strode into the station. They came out laughing, refueled and the big one with lots of hair and a full beard said to the others, “He knows who runs this town.”

They fired up their bikes and sped into the interior of the dusty town that didn’t spread more than a mile into the desert.

Bandit walked into the station and found the short Hispanic clerk with crimson cheeks from being slapped. “I could lose my job.”

“Sorry to hear about that,” Bandit said. “How long have they been around?”

“About a year,” the clerk muttered. “They’re taking over and it ain’t good.”

“When does the Greek open? I need a breakfast burrito,” Bandit inquired lost in his own pain. He bought another half-pint of Jack Daniels and stuffed it into his vest.

“Greek no make burritos, but my sister does,” the kid said and perked up. “Just ride up that street about three blocks on the right a pink house with green shutters. She’ll be making them now.”

“You got it,” Bandit said. “Just what I need.”

“Be careful,” Julio said. “Drinking whiskey and this sun don’t mix.”

Bandit nodded slipping on his jockey’s helmet and brown deerskin gloves and fired up the Knucklehead. He could tell as he straddled the beast that his balance was impaired, but once he got rolling the bike had a mind of its own. He could tell it wanted out of the sun and he found a modicum of shade under a canopy in front of Maria’s Burritos.

He climbed off the bike and looked up as Maria approached. A lovely mystic from a faraway dream, she looked at peace with the universe. Something to do with the vibrant hues on her burrito palace, her colorful Mexican dress and Bandit was done. She caught his gloved hand and wrapped his flannelled arm around her shoulder, kicked out his kickstand and drug his drunken-self inside her Cantina where he collapsed. Whiskey, desert sun, and no sleep for 24 hours took its toll.

He passed out on her bright red velvet couch. Three weeks later he was still sleeping on that rickety couch. Maria’s eyes made him stay, plus her sumptuous burritos didn’t hurt. Their old man was the town’s welder, fabricator and he had suddenly disappeared five years ago. A heavy drinker, he got his ass kicked out of Vegas and he didn’t have the funds to take his kids any farther than Baker.

Folks came to them for Maria’s burritos, chile rellenos, and tacos. Julio worked in the station, but his dad’s welding gear sat idle in the one swaying light bulb garage. The torches, MIG welder, bender and tool box collected dust. He had a sizeable welding table, two vices and folks continued to stop by when they needed something welded or repaired.

Able Bandit set to fixing metal tables for the kitchen, bad doors and gates around the digs. He taught Julio how to weld, bend iron and cut with the plasma cutter after the hose was repaired. They started to make extra money and folks came with broken equipment and gates. “We should equip an old truck with welding gear.” Bandit said to Julio. “We could make good money traveling around the area taking on jobs. You could quit working at the station.”

“That would be very cool,” Julio said.

“Save your paycheck for a couple of months,” Bandit said. “We’re doing okay without it. Then we’ll buy a truck and outfit it.”

“Could we build me a chopper,” Julio asked.

“We can do anything,” Bandit said. “I need to go to the bike shop for something. Wanna go, you can ride on the back of the Knuck?”

“I don’t think so,” Julio said. “Remember those guys?”

“Yeah,” Bandit said, remembering the day they met at the gas station. “I need something for my bike. I’ll go check it out.”

Bandit fired up his trusted friend and rode a couple of blocks toward the highway and around the dusty corner. Everything in Baker was worn. He could weld for the rest of his life and never repair all the rusty fences and gates in town. The shop, located in a galvanized tin building was near collapse. Two Dynas were parked out front sporting club decals. Bandit looked at the decal on the blacked out hot rod with foot-tall risers. He could tell serious funds went into this performance bike with high-dollar mag wheels, exhaust, billet air cleaner and lots of accessories.

He walked into the shop sporting a sand floor and a counter, with teetering wooden and glass tops that hadn’t been painted, varnished or even dusted in years. One parts catalog rested on the counter and a new copy of Cycle Source magazine. A rusting counter bell collected dust on the scratched glass top. Bandit hit it with the palm of his hand, “Service, goddammit,” he shouted, and dust scattered around the unused bell.

Suddenly the sounds in the back stopped and boots stomped against the hot asphalt floor toward the front. Three men burst through the door opening in the wall separating the front from the service area in the back. Bandit could see stacks of tires, old exhaust systems, air filters and bent fenders stacked against the wall.

“Who the fuck are you?” one skinny lanky rider reaching into his leather club vest.

“I’ll handle it,” a short white guy said stepping forward. “I’m Jake, can I help you?”

The last outlaw stood in the doorway with a long fixed-blade in one hand, picking his nails with the point of it and leaning against the doorway. “You don’t handle anything, anymore,” he grunted. “We run this shop.” It was the big guy from the gas station.

“I don’t give a fuck who does what,” Bandit said. I need a quart of 60 weight oil and a couple of Champion spark plugs. Think one of you badasses can handle that.”

“I’ll take care of it,” Jake said.

The two outlaws snarled at Bandit like a pair of over-amped pitbulls. The guy with the pig sticker played with it and said, “I don’t know who you are, but we run Baker. Don’t get in our way, muthafucker.”

Jake tried to remain calm, but the situation was written all over his face. He wasn’t happy, but he grabbed a quart of oil from the opened box behind the counter, a couple of Champion spark plugs from under the counter and ran it up on an old manual cash register.

“What are you riding,” Jake asked, handing Bandit his change.

“A ’44 Knucklehead,” Bandit said. “Thanks. I’ll be around,” he said and looked directly and the bad ass with the knife.

Just that statement reflected hope in Jake’s features. “Thanks,” he said.

Bandit walked out and fired up his Knuck and let it idle out front for long minutes while popping the quart of oil open and pouring it into his hand-built oil tank. He tossed the plugs in a saddlebag and rode around around the block in the opposite direction or toward the highway where he let the motorcycle feel some speed, as if he was headed out of town, but he wasn’t.

“That’s twice,” he thought to himself and weaved, idling his way back to Maria’s Mexican food joint. He could sense some chemistry there, but his blues hung on like an albatross around a sailor’s neck and she knew it. When Julio returned from work they went to the shop in back of the restaurant and tinkered with some projects and welding jobs. Bandit replaced the single bulb with a couple of brighter fluorescent units. The shop was beginning to take on a professional air.

“What’s with this club,” Bandit asked.

“No one stays around here long,” Julio said, “But these guys started showing up and taking over businesses. Doesn’t make any sense. Except for the fast-food joints and gas stations, nothing survives. If Maria and I could get out of here we would.”

?“Is there a boss?” Bandit asked. “And what’s with that patch?

“His name is Armand,” Julio said, “a little guy who shows up in a Mercedes limo with lots of big guys, but Rico is the boss of the club guys, the one with the beard. I don’t know where Armand comes from, and he doesn’t seem to care what happens in Baker.”

“There’s an answer,” Bandit said. “There always is.” They continued to grind on a neighbor’s gate and within a half hour repaired it. Julio returned it to its owner with an invoice for work completed. Bandit made a call to Vegas and the next day a short Italian guy showed up on a modified, super-fast FXR with a large duffel-bag over his shoulder. Maria watched as Bandit shook his hands and took the bag to the corner of the shop.

A week passed and Bandit was beginning to warm to Maria’s advances. She wanted a man to stay and make their lives complete. Bandit and Julio’s welding business took off and they were busy 8-hours a day with more fabricating and repairing gates, garage doors and automotive parts.

Friday morning came around and Maria toiled in the kitchen since 4:00 a.m. to meet the morning orders. A new shiny black pickup pulled up out front and a member of the Arat Brothers got out. Maria met him at the door with a large bag of burritos and containers of her special sauce.

“Thanks Maria, these are the best,” the young member said and gave her a sizeable tip.

“Thank you, senor,” Maria said and handed the young white guy wearing all black the hefty bag and bowed slightly.

“We heard Julio is fixing stuff and welding?” The young member asked.

“Yes, can we help you,” Maria said.

“Come out to the truck,” the member said and pointed in the bed. “We need these posts fixed for the airport.”

Maria stood on tip toes to look into the bed and Julio followed. He studied the damaged 6-inch galvanized post, which were old. “Sure, we can fix them,” he said. “When do you need them.?”

“How about 4:00 this afternoon?” This kid looked new to the gang. His patch was slick and flashy. Other than a long mustache he was clean shaven with short, cropped hair, as if recently out of the military.

“We can do it,” Julio said.

“They must be done by 4:00 or…” The kid said unloading two large crates of running lights from the back of the bed.

“No sweat, we will get it done,” Julio tried to assure the edgy kid.

“We will take care of you financially, if you can get them finished,” The kid said and crawled into the cab with supple leather interior.

Bandit and Julio hauled the crates into the back of the shop and went to work straightening, welding and in some cases rewiring each unit. The kid made a point to bring along a box of new LED bulbs.

At 3:45 the shiny black pickup screeched to a stop in front of Maria’s and this time two members jumped out of the cab, Rico and the kid. They stormed inside where Maria scurried around cleaning la cocina preparing for the following day.

The kid worked with Julio to load the truck. He paid Julio handsomely, but just as they climbed into the truck, Rico grabbed Maria. “I need a date for tonight,” he said pushing her into the cab.

Bandit stayed out of the picture, but when Julio hollered Maria’s name he darted out of the shop through the kitchen and into the yard. “Maria,” Julio hollered and ran into the street as pickup sped away.

“That’s three,” Bandit said.

“What do you mean,” Julio asked.

You’ll see,” Bandit said. “We’ve got work to do.”

Bandit fired up his Knucklehead and rode it around to the shop.

They took off his top motor-mount and welded extensions to stick out each side to just clear the sides of the engine. Bandit pull over the duffle-bag and removed two weapons with holsters. They made brackets so one holster for the 30-round AR-15 rested safely on the left and a Vietnam era M79 slipped into its holster on the right.

“Listen kid, I’m going after your sister,” Bandit said. “I won’t come back without her.”

“What can I do,” Julio said as the sun slipped to the west and the air cooled slightly.

“I need you to go to the Mad Greek restaurant. I have a hunch,” Bandit said, “and let me know when shit starts to happen.”

Julio jogged down the dusty lane as Bandit splashed water his face and suited up. He strapped 30-round clips in his vest and two extra grenades. He pulled on his riding boots and started to reach for a half-pint of Jack Daniels but tossed it against the wall. As the air cooled and Bandit paced, wondering what happened to Maria. He was beginning to itch. He wanted to do something, anything, even if it was wrong. He no longer gave a shit about anything except Maria. He needed to move and headed for the Knucklehead.

Firing it to life he backed it out of the shop, loaded for bear and as he aimed it toward the highway Julio came into view.

“There’s a dozen bikes, a Mercedes limo and a black van at the Mad Greek,” Julio said anxiously, stammering and pacing.

As Julio told the story, the Arat Brothers stormed the Mad Greek Restaurant under Rico’s leadership. He stood just inside the door and his soldiers surrounded him. The room went silent.

Bandit grabbed Julio’s shoulders. “We will handle this. Go back to the restaurant. Sneak in the back door and get the staff to leave and prop the back door open and then I’ll meet you at the airport.”

“Grab your shit and hit the road,” Rico announced to the patrons and snatched a guy out of his chair and pushed him toward the door. The brothers smacked him a few times before he bounced out the door. His wife screamed.

One armed citizen stood up and reached for his weapon. He was dead in a heatwave heartbeat and collapsed to the floor. Another big angry patron jumped to his feet. “This is bullshit,” he snapped. A waitress tried to bring them to-go containers, but one of the outlaws smacked her down.

Two brothers attacked the dissenter with ballpeen hammers. Soon the dining room emptied of all patrons. The brothers arranged the tables and the outlaws sat gleefully around the table and a short man in a black suit entered and sat at the head of the table. Rico stood at the other end.

“What the fuck?” Armand said. “I thought you had control of this town.”

“I do,” Rico snarled. He brought Maria in and sat her next to him, his trophy girl.

“Who the fuck is that?” Armand said. “This night is all about business.”

Rico’s hot-shit status waned, and Maria’s bruised arm didn’t help. “Let’s eat,” Rico announced as if the staff would jump to his demands. One waiter approached the table. He took drink orders and rapidly brought a large platter of beer bottles and cocktails.

Armand wasn’t happy about this situation at all. This wasn’t intended to be a party, nor did he like sitting with his back to the kitchen door. He motioned to his driver and got to his feet.

Rico looked across the table as the brothers collectively started to party and a lone Knucklehead chopper screamed into the kitchen and through the swinging doors into the dining room. Bandit slid to a stop and snatched the 30-round AR 15 from its cradle and let loose. Rico’s team scattered like rats on fire. Bandit dove behind the counter taking fire from several locations.

The counter splintered like dried out chopsticks and handgun fire took its toll, but Bandit held his ground and watched as Armand, dashed out the door with his driver and Rico drug Maria out the front door and into the van followed.

The boss in his slick black Armani suit barreled into the slick black Mercedes and Rico shoved Maria into the van as he jumped in and sped after the Mercedes.

The club soldiers were dead, wounded or running for their lives. Bandit scrambled to his feet and straddled the Knucklehead. He rode across the dining room and out into the street after the vehicles.

They barreled just a block and turned left or north through the town heading for the small rundown community airport only a couple of miles away.

Halfway there the Mercedes driver hit the brakes hard and drifted the long limo into a 45-degree angle and an abrupt stop, kicking up sand and dust in the open desert. The front limo-driver door burst open and so did the rear passenger door. As the van screeched to a sliding stop only a few feet behind the Mercedes the two men opened fire on the driver, shattering the windshield and killing Rico.

Armand, ran to the van’s passenger door, yanked it open and drug Maria out and shoved her into the Mercedes.

As the limo pulled away Bandit saw the lights and slowed, then slid to a stop. He dismounted and ran to the van’s passenger door dreading the worst. He yanked it open and discovered the blood splattered interior and the dead outlaw, but no Maria.

He ground his teeth and ran back to his chopper, idling as if waiting for its master to return. He mounted it and rode around the van and in the direction of the airport and the long limo. He didn’t know what his next move would or could possibly be. The M79 was loaded with a high explosive round, the AR-15 slung over his shoulder and his .45 automatic was in his belt, but he couldn’t end this without Maria.

As he approached the airport, he could see a plane approaching, but there were no runway lights. In desperation the limo driver drove to the end of the runway and began to flash his lights. Bandit slid off the road, stashed his motorcycle behind a semi, pulled the AR and took out the headlights.

The driver jumped out of the limo and opened up on Bandit in the ditch, but light waned, and airports lights were minimal. Out of ammo Bandit tossed the AR in the gulley and pulled the .45. With one round he knocked down the big burly driver, but the plane was fast approaching.

Bandit ran along the dusty gulley beside the runway in the dark, waiting for Armand to make a move. Bandit signaled to Julio to flash on the runway lights. They blinked and went out.

Armand scrambled out of the Mercedes with Maria, pointing his 9mm at her head. “Lights or die,” he screamed in the night.

“Set the girl free or no lights,” Bandit hollered and with the .45 fired, and clipped roof of the Mercedes next to Armand’s shoulder. Armand ducked and let the girl go. Maria ran for the rickety wooden control tower and Julio turned on the lights. Armand dropped his weapon in the sand and by the time he reached it Maria was out of harm’s way running with her brother to safety behind a hanger in the distance.

The Cessna approached and Armand didn’t know whether to shit or go blind. He fired his pistol wildly in the air to warn off the plane, but it touched down and he ran for the driver’s seat in the Mercedes. Bandit returned to his idling Knucklehead and drew the grenade launcher firing a single round aimed at the spot where the plane would turn to taxi off the runway. It blew out a sizeable pothole in the tarmac and destroyed the front right tire as it dropped in the pothole and flashing authorities and sirens screamed onto the air field.

Bandit turn off his lights and rumbled out of the area, picking up Maria and Julio, who sat on his gas tank while Maria held tight to his back. They idled quietly around the outskirts of town and back to Maria’s kitchen.

As they rolled to a stop in the shop behind the kitchen, Maria didn’t want to let go. “How about one of your special burrito’s tonight,” Bandit said and kissed her deeply. “I think we all deserve a margarita tonight.”

Julio moved to the makeshift bar and started to make the drinks. “Maybe we should call this Bandit’s Cantina.”

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