The jeep sputtered and died, uttering 'Glurrk' as it finally made its way over to the shoulder of the road.
"No, no, no, no,no, this can't be happening to me again. The mechanic said that he fixed this!" I screamed in revulsion as I pounded my fist into the steering wheel desperately.
In disgust I threw open the door and pulled the latch to the hood. The smell of anti-freeze being over heated hung heavy in the still air of west Texas. Steam escaped from under the hood with great pressure and I knew that there wasn't really anything that I could do to change my plight.
Here I was stuck less than one hundred miles from Lubbock on highway 114 and not a living human soul in sight. The early spring air was crisp at this slight altitude of the caprock in Texas. The chill kept most of the vermin and deadly critters from coming out to play this early in the day. I stood trying to get as close as I dared to the over heated jug on the old jeep Cherokee trying to get the lid off with out getting scalded.
That is when I heard them. They were a good two miles away stirring up dust in their wake. Clad completely in denim and leather as near as I could tell and riding hard. It seemed that the steam coming off of the jeep had signaled them to me. In a blink of an eye they were upon me.
They began to slow down and I started to wipe my hands off on a freshly improvised rag. Leaning out from under the hood of the broken down vehicle, I squinted into the sun still hanging close to the horizon in the east. There was a sudden breeze that had been kicked up and a slight chill ran down my spine as the leader swung his leg off of his machine and began walking over to me. Oddly he didn't lower his bandana or remove his shades. He walked directly up to me and stuck out his gloved hand. I grasped it and it was cool to the touch.
"Animal." Came the muffled introduction. He smelled of old motor oil, gasoline, and stale beer.
"Ed" I calmly stated as I withdrew my hand from him.
"Seems to be the problem?" he asked intrigued.
"Think she overheated on me." I answered.
"It seems to have. Hate this year model no real way to get the fresh water to the radiator. What is it an eighty-eight?" He half asked and half way knowing the answer as he leaned under the hood.
"Yeah," I replied as I was looking over the rest of his bunch. They all appeared clad in heavy leather or denim in one fashion or another. Most wearing bandannas much like their leader. One covering their hair and another covering their face like an old west bank robber. When I tried to look at their eyes I only saw my mirrored reflection off of their shades.
There were a select few that wore helmets. These varied in style from the novelty brand that wouldn't pass a Department of Transportation test to the high dollar, full-face, wrap-around shielded variety. I also began to notice that the group wasn't of just your hard core 'Biker' from the Easyrider movie. There were rat bikes, cruisers, choppers, and crotch rockets. All of varying age and all looking like they had just rolled off the show room floor. They had begun to mill about laughing and joking with each other. None exposed their faces or hands. I assume to be able to roll out at moments notice from their leader.
"Whatcha oughta do is change out this radiator for an eighty nine model to be able to put water into it without that silly 'burp' tank up there." He continued gesturing to the only place to put water into the Jeep.
"Uh huh," I answered unintelligently.
"Looks like you popped the top of the tank. It is pressurized and with out pressure your water isn't gonna make it to the radiator." He calmly stated as he wiped his gloved hands onto his chaps.
I nodded my understanding to him; realizing that I wasn't going to be able to get the jeep running without at a stop to an auto parts store all of which were miles away.
"Tell ya what, we are heading into Lubbock and know a parts store or two there. Where were ya heading?" He asked pulling the culprit of my plight off of the tank for me.
"To see my mom in Hale Center, her birthday is this weekend and I wanted to surprise her." I explained to him.
"Well, let's git ya into town and we can go from there on what happens next." He almost commanded in an overly cool manner.
"Sure thing just lemme grab a couple of things." I replied as I started to open the driver's side door. I quickly grab my shades, a hair rubber band, and my jacket. Cracked open the windows and didn't bother to lock the doors. This was west Texas after all.
One of the leaders in the pack of fifty or so bikes raised his hand and made a circling motion and folks began to head back to their own machines. Soon several had roared to life almost vibrating me out of my shoes. Animal pointed me to a rather slender looking figure on a bike with an empty spot. As I got closer the figure stood up and kicked violently down on the bike. It fired to life and the figure clad in leather settled back into place.
"Ed." Is all stated as I began to get in behind it.
"Babes," came her reply as she turned her mirrored gaze upon me.
"Ever ridden?" She asked as I had begun pulling my hair behind me into a ponytail.
"Yeah," I said settling into place. Sliding my shades into position having put my bandanna into place on my face.
"Need a do-rag?" She asked mildly barely being heard over the other bikes.
"Naw," I almost screamed back into her ear.
She shrugged, "Your knots, not mine." She then shifted into first and we were on our way.
The bandanna offered little in the way of protection from the chill in the air and I almost instantly wished that I had brought a heavier jacket and gloves. As I grabbed hold of the back of the sissy bar, the bar threatened to vibrate my fingers from my hand. The flame-drenched scooter slid into formation next to a deep purple with small black tribal skulls as its theme.
"You a leaner?" I heard Babes shout back to me as she shifted into third and I realized that I hadn't noticed her shift into second and that the only clue we were in third was the slight drop in engine noise.
"No," I replied almost shouting into her ear.
She nodded her understanding. "Good! Don't. I hate it when folks think I need their help with my bike."
Before I realized it we were up to cruising speed and thankfully my driver blocked my view of her gauges once she placed her feet onto her cruiser bars. She leaned back into me and I could tell that she was a rather petite woman to be handling this classic 1976 Generator Shovelhead. Her riding leathers hid quite well her frame, as she pushed back into me she smelled lightly of lilacs and used motor oil. It was a bit unsettling when she would from time to time bark out an order.
"Right!" she would exclaim. My left arm would immediately fly into the air at a ninety-degree angle.
"Left!" she would bark if I had drifted off into thought and not realized that we were changing position. My left arm would fly straight out from its perch and remain parallel to the ground until we had completed the maneuver.
I knew what she meant; I had issued hundreds of such commands during my riding days. It was her way of letting me know that she wanted me to signal those behind us to a lane change or turn coming up. I quickly realized that I was also expected to be an added brake light as well the few times I felt us suddenly decelerate.
The sun had begun its long ascent into the light blue sky as we turned slightly north and continued west. We rode towards the front of the pack of bikes and it felt as if we were in the middle of a stampede stirring up dust and the random tumbleweed. The cotton field rows flew past us as we blew through small town after small town. The fields stretched out into the horizon just as I recalled them from my youth. I still had a great disdain for them and the dust storms that they would bring.
In a remarkably short amount of time we arrived in Lubbock proper pulling onto 4th street and dropping down to the posted speed limit. It felt like we were crawling compared to the speeds we had reached on our trip. Animal pulled into a truck stop and motioned for Babes to pull up close to him.
She pulled up next to him and began fueling the bike up as I climbed off, making sure to not dislodge any of her gear in the process. I watched the other bikers as they filled up and some broke off to use the facilities. Not a one removing any covering and despite how much the temperature had risen left on their full leathers for those that had them. I stepped over to Animal who was finishing a conversation with another of the pack.
He turned to me. "There is a parts store down the street where we should be able to get the lid that you need. Babes and I will run you back out to your Jeep if you want or you can call someone it is up to you."
"That is awfully nice of yall but yall have too kind already. I don't want to put ya out or be a burden." I replied in an honest tone.
"Naw, ain't no trouble at all. 'Sides Babes likes ya." He said gazing at the elfin leather clad biker with his mirrored shades.
I wrinkled my brow trying to figure out the logic. "How do you mean?" I questioned politely.
"She didn't lose ya off the back of her bike. I've seen many a bigger man than you tumbling down the road behind her before. So she either likes ya or you know how to ride bitch." He said shrugging.
"What about the rest of your group?" I asked concerned.
"Aw, no worries there, we have a couple of places to crash here and some are getting pretty tired. We can catch up to them when we are done helping ya out." He replied as he started to head for the store-front pulling out his wallet.
Shortly he returned with a couple of jugs of water and a Dr Pepper for me. "I figured you might be getting a bit parched." He said tossing the soda to me.
He turned to the biker that had been on the purple and black skulled bike said a few things gesturing from time to time with his hands still holding the water jugs and then quickly returned to his sled and placed the water in his saddle bags.
Babes kicked her bike to life again and I knew that was my cue to climb back aboard her bike. The rest of the crew lingered and milled about at the station to the great distress of the manager. I saw the look on his face as we passed the plate glass windows on our way out of the parking lot. We continued west down 4th street until we found an auto parts store. We rumbled into the parking lot and parked.
Animal stuck out his hand as if wanting the part that we were in need of and stated in a hushed tone. "Lemme do all the talking."
I nodded as I handed him the cap and we headed for the entrance. I pulled my bandanna from my face glad to be able to breathe clean air again. Animal and Babes did not change their appearance at all. I wondered off to look for coolant while they were talking to the store manager in hushed tones. Animal played with the busted cap lightly with his gloved hands while nodding his head to the different questions that the manager seemed to continuously ask.
I made my selection and rounded the aisle to see Animal reach across the counter and lift the manager from his feet. Fear exploded into the manager's suddenly bulging eyes. Animal slowly leaned the manager's ear close to his bandanna and rapidly the manager was nodding. Animal slowly placed the man back on his own feet and the manager quickly disappeared and returned with a small box. He handed it to Animal who took it and briskly strode from the store.
Not knowing what had transpired and not sure what to do I placed a fifty on the counter and quickly followed Animal and Babes. Babes was standing beside her bike with the saddle bag lids open waiting for me. I could not read her body language for all the gear.
"Hey what happened back there?" I asked handing Babes the coolant containers.
"The man needed to be reminded that he owed me a favor." Animal growled back at me firing up his big V-Twin engine chopper.
I knew better than to question him any further on the matter. Babe's bike roared to life and I clambered aboard. I hastily pulled my bandanna back into place. We pointed the bikes back east on 4th street and roared out of town. The bright yellow orb in the sky had begun its descent into the west by now. Luckily we wouldn't be riding into the sun.
The miles clicked off even faster now that we were only a group of two bikes. The small towns were blurs as we roared through them. We rode in tandem unlike the staggered formation from earlier. By the time that we made it to the jeep the sun was deep into the western horizon casting long early spring shadows on the desert like landscape. We slowed and then circled back to the Jeep pulling up behind it before killing the bikes engines.
"Ya git inside and fire her up when I say." Animal said in a composed manner.
Not wanting to risk being the victim of his ire I did as I was told. He ripped the box open and took a jug of coolant from Babes and poured a small amount into the burp jug.
"NOW!" he barked as he placed the cap back on.
"CUT IT!" He shouted at me, which got the correct response from me. He suddenly seemed in a great deal of a hurry to get this over and done with.
I watched him through a small crack in the hood area. At first I thought that my eyes were playing tricks on me or that the wind had picked up. His bandanna had slowly begun to move as if the hair underneath were being stirred.
We repeated the same process countless number of times trying to get the radiator to take in the need fluids without over heating it again. I began to notice slight changes in my rescuers during that time. Babes seemed to be standing completely still now. Where Babe's hair had been a dingy blonde before, now had a deep golden luster color to it now. Despite the diminishing light they left their sunglasses on their faces. There was no breeze at all and yet they both looked as if they were about to be blown away from the way that their leathers and bandannas ruffled and folded back on themselves.
Finally Animal tossed the last of the water containers to the side and motioned for me to try it again. I finally got a good reading on the gauges and sighed heavily with relief. I began to lower the electric windows and was assaulted by the deep smell of something that had been dead for ages. I fought the urge to gag fiercely and quickly covered my nose and mouth with my hand. Struggling mentally with whether or not I should roll the windows back up. I gagged again and this time was forced to curl up in my seat to keep from losing what I had for breakfast all over the interior of the Jeep. I heard the hood slam into place and looked up to see Babes and Animal bent over picking up the containers from the fluids used. They were seemingly unaffected by the rancid smell that assaulted me.
Fighting back the urge to spill my stomach again I watched as they approached the jeep and placed the containers in the back window.
"How much do I owe you guys for ya help today?" I asked between gagging fits.
Babes chuckled heavily, causing the hairs on the back of my neck to stand on end.
"Nothing, just repay the favor to someone someday. I will know when you have made good on it. If you don't pay off I will come seeking a favor from you directly. Just like I did that store manager today." Animal said with just a trace of menace in his tone to carry the full meaning.
They had both moved up to the passenger window by now. I stuck my right hand out to shake his.
"Yes, sir. I understand and I will re-pay my debt in full." I stated again trying to fight back the need to gag.
"Ya see, we are good folks, but at night it ain't so pretty to be amongst us." Animal continued.
He pulled off the leather gauntlet and I almost recoiled in horror at what I saw. What should have been a hand was nothing more than rotting leather and maggots holding together the digits that once resembled a hand. Shock clearly registered on my face. I tore my gaze from his hand to look at the spot that once housed his eyes. I was meet with two black orbs that seemed to peer through me.
"Don't make us come for you Ed. We will be watching you!" Those were the last words I remembered Animal saying to me as I sped away west along the now utterly dark Highway 114, wanting only to get to my momma's house.