The Cane                                                                                 6452 Words

A Texas Biker Tale

Copyright Jan 2022

Howard R Music

 

With his left hand gripping the door-jam Frank "The Cane" Anderson reached up slowly with his right hand and pulled a rectangular box off the top shelf of the closet in his bedroom.  It was fabricated of cheap, lightweight wood, and covered in vinyl made to resemble alligator skin.  The vinyl was dusty and cracked with age.  A plastic suitcase handle was mounted in the center with rusted steel that retained just a hint of chrome as were the two hinges and latch that held the unit together.

Clutching the box Frank hobbled towards an antique rolltop desk using the bedposts on the hundred-year-old walnut bed to steady himself.  His wife of more than 40-years had loved old furniture and virtually every piece in their home except for the stove and fridge could have been taken from a museum.  After she'd passed-on he saw no reason to change things and left the house the way it was when they were together.

 He laid the box on the desk and eased into the wooden office chair as pain shot through his bad left leg.  You'd think after fifty-years he'd be used to the jolting current when he moved around that could suck the air out of his lungs and leave him with aching jaws from clenched teeth.  Pain pills helped but he seldom took them.  He found the dosage had to be increased virtually on a daily basis and assumed that eventually he'd have to eat an entire bottle at once.  From there it would be only a matter of time before he'd be knocking-off liquor stores to support a heroin habit.  Since serving time for armed robbery wasn't in his game plan, Frank toughed-it-out, and only took the pills sometimes at night when his leg kept him awake.

Frank wiped dust off the box with his hand and then worked the latch which was a little stubborn in letting go.  The inside was covered in red velvet and contained a double-row of 8-track music tapes.  The tapes themselves, were old, even for a genre out of manufacture for decades.  There was the first Steppenwolf album, Born To Be Wild, released in 1968 with the long version of the Pusher, and Black Sabbath's debut album.  The macabre Bloodrock 2 put out by a Ft. Worth band with a tune about a plane crash called D.O.A.  Frank laughed when he saw Iron Butterfly and recalled their song In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida which took up the whole side of an album.  He doubted a football stadium would hold all the Orange Sunshine and reefer burned by stoners listening to the 17-minute song.  A copy of Frigid Pink, a band that Frank believed did by far the best cover of the House of the Rising Sun, caught his eye.

Memories rolled through Frank's head like an old newsreel as he peered over his collection.  He had a lot more, but these had been his favorites, and though it had been years, he intended to enjoy them one more time.

He shut the box and reached over for his wooden cane that was leaning against the desk.  It was hand-made, worn and stained from use.  Instead of a handle there was a baseball-sized knob on the top end.  The VA had issued an aluminum cane that he carried for some time until a friend had fashioned one from a Bois D'Arc tree.  It was a hardwood that Texas Indians had used for bows and arrows and war clubs.   Frank had walked with a cane most of his life ... since just before his 20th birthday.  It didn't stop the pain, but it helped lessen it to a small degree. 

The pain was caused from souvenirs he'd picked up in Southeast Asia; shrapnel from a booby-trap that was set-off by a member of his platoon when they were led down a night-trail by an inexperienced officer who was eager for action and medals that would look good to promotion boards.  Frank had been lucky.  The man who triggered the device had been almost cut in half by the jury-rigged grenade that was spring-loaded in a hole and would detonate in the air.  The "Bouncing Betty" had filled Frank's left leg with hot steel, and he was sent home after only six-months in-country back to his native Texas with a limp and a thirty-percent disability check from Uncle Sam.

He'd made the trip to Viet-Nam after a low birthday number came up in the draft lottery; the only thing he'd ever won in his life.  He wasn't a draft-dodger or afraid of the army and was as patriotic as most Americans.  But he'd only been out of high school a year and was making a good life for himself.  He'd gotten a job in a mechanic shop he really liked and bought a used 64 Chevy hardtop that was the color of butter with a black interior.  And he'd met a girl with a set of knockers that would make a Catholic Priest burn his collar, all of which he traded for leeches, malaria, and a steaming hot jungle full of little men who wanted to kill him. 

It was the car he missed the most as he humped the boonies or lay awake in the rain on night ambush.  The 327 cubic-inch motor with dual glass-pack mufflers sounded awesome while idling through town or in a foot-glued-to-the-floor high-speed run down the highway.  He'd spotted it right before senior graduation with a for sale sign at the Shamrock gas station, one of only two service stations, the other a Fina, located on each end of the small town he lived in.  The Shamrock was a fixture in his life as long as he could remember.  Frank had ridden his bicycle to it numerous times to air up his tires or to buy nickel candy bars and ten-cent cokes with money made from picking up discarded glass bottles and selling them for two-cents a-piece.  He'd worked all through high school helping local farmers or in the oil field as a roughneck or roustabout and had enough saved to buy the Chevy.

When he limped home, the girl was married, fat, and pregnant with her second child.  The mechanic shop had been sold and the new owners wouldn't hire him.  The only thing he'd managed to hang on to was the 64 Chevy. 

Eventually Frank got a job pumping gas and busting flats at the Shamrock.  The owner had remembered Frank and being a WW 2 vet, himself, felt obligated to help.  It didn't pay much, but with his disability check he was able to make rent, and since he owned title to his car, he got by.  Though considered a dead-end job that tested the endurance of his injured leg, it brought him into contact with people who would make significant changes in his life.

Car-buffs and local motorcyclists stopped there for fuel.  When there was time, he often had conversations with them about their cars, the engines and transmissions and modifications that were made.  His own Chevy with its glistening paint job and wire rimmed spinner hubcaps elicited queries and admiration from gear-head customers as well.

The most interesting, though, were the riders, especially the Harley owners.  There weren't many of them, but the majority rode models that had been stripped down or put together from parts.  Frank was intrigued by the machines; the unmistakable sound of the exhaust, and the sleek beauty of even the most ragged and oil soaked of the lot.  The fact they could be repaired by an owner with American wrenches, and that parts could be scavenged or interchanged, added immensely to his attraction for them. 

One day a man asked the Shamrock's owner if he could leave his used Harley on the property with a for sale sign.  The owner agreed figuring it would be good for business.  It wasn't lost on him that his newest employee was attracting customers with his good-natured gab and skill as a mechanic and willingness to work late hours if need be.  He didn't mention that to Frank, of course, lest he ask for a raise. 

Frank fell in love with the bike, a 66 FLH that was stock but bare bones without saddlebags or a windshield.  It was the first year for the Shovelhead top end, but still retained the generator drive lower.  It was low mileage and except for a few dings and pings was in great shape.  The price seemed fair, but a pump-jockey's pay didn't leave much.  He'd managed to save a little, however, he was still 100-dollars shy.

He lay awake half the night trying to figure out how to get the cash.  His car was too old for bank collateral and selling it was out of the question.  The Chevy was literally the only thing of value he owned. 

The next day when the owner came around to check on his motorcycle Frank offered him every penny of his savings, but the man was adamant about the price.  It turned out, though, the owner had a small farm and some equipment that needed repair, and if Frank could do the work, perhaps they could make a deal.

Frank spent every weekend for a month at the owner's place and worked well into the night most days after getting off from the station.  He got an old flatbed truck used to haul hay running as well as a John Deere tractor.  Frank even managed to get an ancient hay baler into working order.  The farmer was impressed and, when he handed Frank the keys, he offered him a job anytime he needed it.

He walked around the machine staring at it for a long time.  Frank had never ridden before, except on a neighbor's minibike when he was a kid and was a bit nervous about how he'd do and not wanting to crack-up the first time out.  Having watched the riders who stopped for fuel, he figured he could handle it, and least he hoped so.

As he'd seen veteran riders do so many times, Frank turned the fuel petcock, set the choke, turned on the key, and then came down with all his weight on the kick-starter.  The pain was forgotten when the engine fired on the second kick.  Tentatively, he pulled in the clutch and was a bit alarmed at how loud the transmission clunked when he put it in gear, as though something was wrong.  But, when he eased out the clutch the bike lurched forward, surprising him with power that threatened to pull the handlebars out of his hands though he barely cracked the throttle.  The Harley backfired and almost stalled as the rookie clumsily worked the controls before reaching the highway that led out of town.  But he held on, totally enamored with the rumbling engine, the vibration, the wind tearing at his body, and the adrenalin that coursed through his veins like ... a drug.

Frank was hooked.

Soon, he was riding more than driving, commuting to work, the store, or just down a country road for fun.  A natural mechanic, he found the Harley easy to maintain and keep tuned up, so it was easy to start, an incentive for a man with a bum-leg.  It opened up a new world as other bikers invited him out for rides.  Often just a cruise around the lake or a back-road, sometimes a part's run, others to buy beer.  Since the county was dry, they had to go to the border of the adjoining county where several businesses were set up to sell liquor and beer.  A popular stop was Bo's Place, a combo bar and restaurant.

The local riders were a cast of characters that weren't easily categorized.  There was Fang who looked like a vampire with his two missing front teeth.  He'd had words with a redneck who hit him in the mouth with a longneck beer bottle.  After he spit out the teeth in his hand, Fang whipped the man's ass and made him swallow the teeth.  "You wanted them," he'd said.  "So, they're yours."  Fang had a sense of humor.

Goldy was a strikingly handsome clean-shaven man with long blond hair.  Three goat-ropers took him down one night and cut his hair.  Within two-weeks every one of them had their new pickups mysteriously catch fire and burn to the ground.  Goldy was sensitive about his looks.

Treetop wasn't very tall, but he was quite good at woodcarving, and had made the cane that Frank used in exchange for some mechanic work.  "That aluminum toy is for pussies," Treetop told him.  It came in handy, in more ways than one.

They were at a biker gathering in a bar one weekend.  Frank was having a conversation with a lithe, young woman when a large man who resembled Goliath in leather shoved in between them, glared and then slammed a huge hand on the bar; a paw that had heavy metal rings on every finger and rattled the beer bottles and glasses.  For reasons he never could explain, even to himself, Frank swung his wooden cane like a sledge-hammer down on the meaty hand with the hard ball knob on the end.  The giant's face turned ashen with the sound of snapping bones.  Though his mouth was open, he didn't make a sound as he backed away holding the appendage with the misshapen fingers with his good left hand.

"Why'd you smash his hand?" Fang had asked. 

"I didn't want to break my cane on his head," he'd answered, still not sure why he'd done it.  He wasn't trying to be a toughguy, he was flat-out scared, it just seemed like the thing to do.  After busting Sasquatch's hand his buddies started calling him "The Cane" ... it stuck.

The senseless rumbles were the downside of being a Texas biker.  But they didn't happen often, especially after word got out that you could be force-fed body parts, wind up with a toasted truck, or in a cast after a wooden-club-massage.

The biggest hassle, by far, were some of the small-town cops, who believed that riding in their jurisdiction was a crime in itself.  He was arrested several times over the years; mostly minor traffic offenses.  Once he was arrested for being drunk in public after he stopped to talk to some girls who waved at him, and a cop pulled up and spotted a six-pack strapped to his rear fender that he'd yet to open.  He was always out the next morning, but it was a pain-in-the-ass, not to mention costly.

But the joys of riding the big v-twin outweighed the troubles that occasionally crossed his path.  If he got off work early enough, he'd cruise around taking the long way home, visiting his buddies, or just enjoying the scenery.  If he worked late, riders would often drop by the Shamrock with beer, and they would swap lies and jokes and listen to the radio while he wrenched.  On the weekends, there was often a band at Bo's place or a party at the lake, or some gathering of locals where you could meet new girls.  Whenever Treetop met a new girl, he'd scratch their phone number on his gas tank with a knife.  Sometimes he and his friends would ride to festivals or swap meets looking for motorcycle parts.  One year they putted down to the coast and rode over the Rainbow Bridge, the tallest bridge in Texas, built to allow ships to pass under between Port Arthur and Bridge City.  Another time he, Fang, Treetop, and Goldy started out for Sturgis, but Goldy's old Knucklehead Harley broke down in Colorado and it took several days to scrounge up the parts.  While waiting they met some local bikers and were invited to a party on the bank of a wild, running river that was right out of a movie set.  Though they never made it to Sturgis, they had a blast on the river, making new friends and meeting some stray leg.

As usual, The Cane did the repair on Goldy's bike.  While he was working his buddies had ridden into town for beer.  They made it back just as he finished up and was adjusting the clutch.

"Hey, look at this," said Fang, tossing a can of Coors to Frank, and then showing a chain and pendant around his neck.  "It's a shamrock.  We all got one."

"They'll bring us luck, so we'll make it to the Black Hills next time," Treetop added.

"I picked up an extra for you, too," said Goldy, handing it to Cane.

Frank looked at the tiny silver chain and the gold-plated clover.  "I guess it wouldn't hurt," he said, slipping it over his head.  "As long as it doesn't mean we're going steady."

"I think we ought to make a pact," said Treetop, pulling the tab on his beer can.  "The first one of us who dies, the others throw their shamrocks into his coffin."

"That's weird," said Goldy.  "Why would you do that?"

"Who wants to wear something that got you killed?  Besides, it won't be you, you're too purty to die."

"You got that right," said Goldy, shaking his beer and spraying Treetop.

Two-weeks after they arrived home, a woman named Vicki, who had taken a shine to Fang in Colorado, showed up.  Apparently, he had invited her to visit Texas, and she accepted.  Within a month they were married.

This started a chain reaction.  In less than two-years they had all taken the plunge.  Treetop had been second; hitched to a woman he met at Bo's one night.  She made him repaint his gas tank. 

Goldy always said he was too handsome to settle down with one girl and that it would be cruel to deny all the others his affection.  He married a dark-haired, cat-eyed beauty he met at a concert, and she always rode with him as cruelty insurance.

Frank "The Cane's" day came one afternoon when a Ford Galaxie pulled into the Shamrock station sputtering and backfiring as if on its death bed.  The driver was a slender blonde with waist-length hair.  Frank couldn't keep his eyes off her.  She said the car was running fine but all at once started making funny noises.  He popped the hood while she stood by the fender as he bent down to check out the engine and promptly burned his hand on the hot manifold then bumped his head against the hood latch because his eyes were on her navel peering at him over her low-cut bell-bottom jeans.  It was a beautiful navel.  The prettiest he'd ever seen.  It was just below a button blouse that had been tied at the bottom with a knot.  He wanted to loosen it with his teeth.

"Are you okay?" she asked, as he rubbed his burned fingers and sore head in unison.

"Oh, yeah, it happens all the time," he answered, feeling like a twerp.

Examining the engine, he found the ignition points had slipped, a five-minute fix with no parts needed, but Frank couldn't bare for her to leave so soon and told her the coil was burned out and it might be tomorrow morning before he could find a replacement, but that he got off work in thirty-minutes and could give her a ride home.  He felt ashamed of the lies he was spouting and was sure the girl would see through his ploy, but he was desperate.

To his surprise, and delight, she said that would be fine.  He couldn't believe his luck.  Things like that didn't happen to The Cane.  If she'd been missing a few teeth and was fifty-pounds heavier, maybe. 

She only lived a few miles out of town and the ride was over almost before it began to Frank's chagrin.

"I'll have your car ready first thing in the morning," he told her as she hopped off the back of his Harley.

"I'll be there," she smiled.

He watched her walk all the way to her door until she looked back to check if he was watching.  She smiled and went inside.

It wasn't until he was half-a-mile away that he realized he hadn't asked her name.

 Or told her his.

                                                                         *     *     *

Despite the fact she drove a Ford, they tied the knot six-weeks later.  Her parents, who had just started a real estate business, weren't overly thrilled at their daughter marrying a pump-jockey, but knew the girl was head-strong and it was useless to protest.

Her name was Regina and The Cane never tired of saying it.   Or hearing her voice.  Or seeing her step out of the bathtub with only a towel on her head.

Six-months after they were married the owner of the Shamrock announced his retirement and intention to sell the station.  Frank talked it over with Regina.  He knew the business and was certain he could make a go of it.  She agreed, the local banker floated a note, and The Cane was working for himself.

The first two-years it went well.  But times were changing.  The Arab oil fiasco sent prices rising.  It cost more to operate though the profit margin was flat.  Self-service stations were popping up as convenience-stores that sold gas.  One had opened up just north of the Fina station that had closed down.  The EPA was fazing in unleaded gas, and cars were required to have smog-emission systems, which meant costly diagnostic equipment was needed to repair or inspect them.  Full-service stations were dinosaurs. 

With Regina pregnant with their first child, it was clear what Frank had to do; he got what he could for the Shamrock and wrangled a job at the Ford dealership working on farm tractors.  Wrenching on Fords bugged him, but Chevy didn't make tractors, and there was no John Deere dealership.  The pay was decent, though, and he enjoyed being a mechanic, but the company had a strict policy about non-employees in the shop, which meant his friends could no longer drop by, and he missed that.

Their first child was a boy.  When a second was on the way they had no choice but to find a bigger place than his tiny apartment.  His father-in-law helped them locate and buy an older home on the outskirts of town.  There was an old, unused barn in the back that Frank eventually remodeled into a shop building to house his car and motorcycle.

With a son, and now a daughter, Frank had little spare time.  He still rode to work when he could and occasionally managed to take in a week-end ride with his old friends, but they had families, themselves, and their visits became shorter and farther apart.

Too often, they only saw one another during tragedies; funerals when a mutual friend or family member died.

Despite being purty, Goldy was the first to go.  He missed a curve on his Knucklehead.  No one ever knew if it was due to his inattention or if he'd been run off the road.  Remembering the pact they'd made in Colorado, Cane, Treetop, and Fang left their shamrocks in Goldy's coffin.

Though he spent as much time as he could with his kids neither expressed any interest in motorcycling or the biker lifestyle or his 64 Chevy that, like his Harley, now had the status of a classic antique.

This was a head-scratcher for The Cane who couldn't remember not liking old cars, trucks and motorcycles.  But, though often a pain in the ass, they were basically good kids who didn't really give him much trouble growing up, and he thought it best to give them free reign to choose their own paths. 

The boy distained getting his hands dirty and, after college, worked for a financial asset management company in California.  The girl also went to school and worked as an occupational therapist.  She was more attached to her parents, though, and lived in Dallas, only a few hours away.

With the kids gone, and Frank approaching retirement, he and Regina planned on buying a small RV and touring the country.  He wanted to trailer his motorcycle with them so they could ride wherever they stopped.

It wasn't to be.

Regina was diagnosed with cancer.  Worse, she had waited too long, thinking the symptoms were just a sign of age, and it spread to her lymph nodes.  Though she was insured through his pension, the medical deductibles were unbelievably high, and soon exhausted their savings. 

Through the years The Cane had collected numerous Harley parts and had restored his ride to stock specifications by adding saddlebags and a windshield.  He'd even found a stock Electra-Glide seat; a huge solo mounted on springs with a chrome handhold that wrapped around the back.  It was worth a lot more than he had in it.  Regina, though lying in a hospital bed, protested his putting it up for sale.

"Don't worry about it," he'd assured her.  "It's getting to be too much for my leg to handle.  I've been thinking about buying a lighter bike with an electric-start anyway."  Which was true.  It was all he could do lately to kick-start the engine, and his leg had been getting steadily weaker through the years; he'd almost dropped the heavy machine several times and wasn't sure he could pick it up if it did go down.

He almost cried when the new owner drove away with it in an enclosed trailer.

Regina died in her sleep a week later.

                                                                                  *     *     *

Two-years passed.  Frank couldn't bear to sell the house, but he also couldn't sleep in the bed they'd shared for so many years and spent most of his time snoozing on the couch.  The shrapnel mutilated leg was almost useless except as a pain generator. 

Worse, his old body was giving out on him.  Frank's custom was to leave the cane at the door when entering the house.  Now, it was kept within reach.  A year earlier he began experiencing upper-back pains, headaches, unexplained weakness, and had blacked-out a couple of times, once breaking a rib.  Doctors diagnosed it as heart disease and implanted a pacemaker.

Frank had written a will years before to guarantee that his kids received his property at his demise.  When he was young an unscrupulous preacher had his aunt sign over her property while on her death bed.  He turned his house and property over to his son and daughter so it wouldn't happen to them in case he became weak and medicated out of his head.

It was a mistake.  Both kids agreed he shouldn't be driving and sold Regina's old Taurus that he'd been using to get around (he'd never been able to break her love of Fords.)  They also petitioned a judge to revoke his license.  His daughter came by at least once a week to verify the housekeeper and other caretakers were doing their jobs.

His kids had been thorough, and Frank knew they acted out of love, so he wasn't angry.  But they had overlooked one thing.

His yellow 64 Chevy Impala.

Not long before Regina was stricken, Frank had repainted the car, added new upholstery, and rebuilt the engine.  After the restoration, he kept it in the old barn behind the house, out of the elements.  During her illness the car had been neglected; the battery was dead and the carburetor gunked-up.  It would normally be a leisurely afternoon job to get the car running, but in his debilitated state, it took more than a week.  An auto parts store had delivered a battery, and he would hobble out to the shop, work a bit, sit and rest, then work some more, and, it all had to be done when no one was around, which added countless hours

It was ready.

Eight-track box under his right arm, cane in his left hand, Frank headed out the back door and onto the porch, and then down the wooden steps to the yard.  Though the barn was only about 40-yards from the house it seemed like a mile.  He kept glancing over his shoulder, fearful that someone would drive up and spot him, ruining his plans.

Reaching the barn, he leaned heavily against the door, breathing hard.  He'd pushed himself and his heartbeat was too rapid.  Regaining his breath, and with hinges squeaking loudly, Frank managed to open the big double-doors.  A puff of wind caught the second door and almost knocked him down before he could get it latched in place.

A warm feeling engulfed Frank as the sunlight glistened off the waxed rose yellow paint.  It appeared to have the texture of warm butter though it felt cool to the touch as he rubbed his hand on the body when he walked up to it. 

With gritted teeth he opened the door and clumsily got in behind the steering wheel, and after placing the eight-tracks and cane on the passenger seat, Frank had to use his hands to lift his injured leg into the car.  After the pain subsided, he checked the shifter to make sure the transmission was in neutral.  Before he tried the engine, he reached down and felt of a bottle in a paper-bag, smiling to himself as he remembered the old saying, "four on the floor and a fifth under the seat."

He pumped the gas pedal one time then turned the key.  The engine roared, coughed and spit a couple of times, then settled down to a low rumble.  He let the engine idle for a few minutes, not only to let it warm up, but to savor the sound and vibration as well.

It was the moment of truth.  Would his leg be able to handle the clutch?  Groaning, he pushed in the third pedal, put the tranny in reverse, then let it out slowly, with jolts of pain shooting up into his thigh. 

The car rolled out into the sunlight for the first time in over two-years.  Frank quickly put it into first gear and headed for the highway.  He didn't relax until all four wheels were on the Farm to Market Road and he shifted into high gear.  No one could stop him now.

The road was clear and the engine running great.  Frank eased the accelerator down until the speedometer touched 100 MPH.  The old beast could still burn up the asphalt.  Though there was still some pedal left he eased off the gas.  He wasn't in a hurry.  Besides, in his haste to leave the house, he'd forgotten about his music.  When the car slowed to a sedate 55, he opened up the box of tapes, and took out the Steppenwolf eight-track.

The distinct guitar riffs and voice of John McKay blared through the speakers as the first song, Sookie Sookie, began after he shoved the tape into the slot.  It wasn't his favorite, but he intended to enjoy the whole tape. Though he was headed to town, Frank turned off on a side road just before entering the city limits, to listen to his music and cruise the back roads.

The Eagles' mega-hit song, Take It Easy, was caressing his ears when he saw it; the old Casa Linda drive-in.  Frank slowed then pulled over at the graveled entrance.  Weeds and grass poked up sparsely through the ancient parking lot and there was a locked gate slumping on its hinges just before the boarded-up ticket booth.  The paint on the metal and neon sign was faded and some of the glass broken or missing.  The huge screen was also there, but some of it, too, was missing, having fallen down.

The projection booth was sitting on top of the concession stand in the distance.  The speaker poles (minus the speakers) were still anchored in the ground standing at attention.  Frank had heard that drive-ins were making a comeback, and they should, he thought, remembering the times he'd spent at this one eating tons of popcorn while watching westerns and horror flicks as a kid, and later as a teenager, biker movies.  He'd missed Easy Rider because Uncle Sam sent him away.  But he remembered watching many predecessors such as Born Losers, Wild Angles, and the Mini Skirt Mob, while trying to get to second base with whatever sweet-thing he was with.  His well-endowed girlfriend had first shown him her talents at the Casa Linda.  She had the most beautiful breasts he'd ever seen round and full as cantaloupes with nipples the size of inverted Dixie cups.

At that memory Frank reached over and grabbed a half-full pint of Old Charter Bourbon off the passenger seat.  "Here's to all night drive-in movies and big-tittied girls," he mused, turning up the bottle, and then taking a long swig. 

Laying the bottle back on the seat he cranked the motor, put the tranny in gear, then slung gravel as he roared back onto the asphalt.  For two-hours he'd been driving in the country nipping at the bourbon and checking out the old places he used to go; the lake, the old river bridge where teenagers used to throw beer-busts, and Goat-man Hill, a great place for lovers to go parking.  He wondered how the young handled that now-a-days in tiny economy cars?

Frank took another shot from the bottle.  The law was strict these days, but what were they going to do, take his license?  Laughing at the irony, he gunned the engine, heading for town.

Main Street on the town square hadn't changed much in fifty-years.  Some of the businesses were new but were operated out of the same buildings constructed more than a 140-years ago when the area was still traversed by a few pissed-off Indians.

The old barber shop was still in business.  Regular haircuts were 75-cents when he was a kid and Flat-tops were 90-cents.  H.A. hair-oil was required for the regular and Butch Wax for the flat-top.  Both were greasy and nasty and would run down in your eyes when it was hot, and he hated it.  Frank considered it a God-send when long hair came into fashion and hadn't put anything on his hair since he was 12.

The general grocery store where he used to sell Coke bottles for 2-cents a piece was now a flower shop.  The hardware store had been converted into a church and the washateria sold donuts.

We used to "cut" donuts on the square, he thought, punching their big, torquey V-8 engines and spinning around in circles, leaving a round trail of rubber and smoke.  Frank wanted to cut one now, but people now-a-days were strange about a guy having fun and, getting arrested would spoil his plans.

He emptied the bourbon bottle then revved the motor and grinned at the throaty roar echoing off the buildings on each side as he drove to the old Shamrock station that had been a significant part of his life for years.

Frank expected to find the station in its usual dilapidated condition, with broken windows, peeling paint, cracked concrete, and rusted pumps.  To the contrary, it looked brand new, as if it had just opened for business.  The twin pumps sparkled green in the sunlight and the large milk-glass crowns with the Shamrock insignia had been replaced.  An oil rack with old fashion cans that required a metal piercing funnel to open and pour the thirty-weight into an engine was sitting between the pumps.  A black hose hung from a hook on the awning uprights with a sign that read No Smoking. 

There were also several 60s model cars parked there and one 50s era pickup.  An automotive restorer must have bought the place and was using it as a show place for his cars.  I've been away longer than I thought, he reasoned, not to have seen this or even heard about it.  Pulling in, he also noticed a couple of classic Harleys on their kickstands, which looked vaguely familiar. 

He killed the engine, and reached for his cane, but before he could open the door a man walked up.  It was Fang.

"Where you been, Cane?" he smiled, showing the wide gap between his front teeth.  "We've been waiting."

"For what?" Frank asked, totally confused.

"The ride.  We've planned it a long time." 

"I can't."

"Sure you can," Fang said.  "Look."  He pointed back to the station's shop where a man was rolling a Harley out the door.

Frank was dumbfounded.  It was Treetop and the motorcycle was his old 66 FLH.

"I sold it."

Fang gave him a quizzical look.  "Did you really think we'd let someone get off with your scooter?"  He put his big hand on The Cane's shoulder.  "I know you been through a real bummer and all, but we're 'gonna set everything right, you'll see."

He started to walk away but turned back and said, "oh, before I forget.  Goldy told me to give this to you."  Fang reached into the pocket of his denim cut-off and then dropped something shiny into Cane's hand.  "He'll be here any second.  In fact, I think I hear his Hawg now."

"Wait a minute!" Cane yelled at Fang, who walked back to the station as Norman Greenbaum's song "Spirit In The Sky" started playing from the 8-track. 

                                                                              *     *     *

As the ambulance drove silently away with its lights flashing, a small crowd of gawkers huddled loosely together while a young cop, standing beside the yellow Chevrolet, scribbled into a pad.  He'd only been on the force a few months and wanted to make sure he did everything by the book, especially on this case.  The patrolman looked back at the dreary building with windows that were either busted or so caked with dirt you couldn't see through them.  He never understood why the city didn't tear down the old gas station.  It was just an eyesore.

One in the crowd, a city fireman who knew the cop, walked over.  "They say what happened?"

The policeman shook his head.  "Not sure.  They speculated heart attack, but there was an empty whiskey bottle on the seat, and some prescription pills in his pocket."

"That's too bad," the fireman said.  "He's been driving that old car around here as long as I can remember."

 The cop retrieved something from his shirt pocket.  "This was in his hand.  I'll have to make sure his family gets it."

Hanging between his thumb and forefinger was a small neck-chain attached to a golden shamrock.


End

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