To the dead, well it don’t matter much ‘bout who’s wrong or right
You asked me that question, I didn’t get it right
You slipped into your darkness, now all that remains
Is my love for you brother, life’s still unchanged
To him that threw you away, you ain’t nothing but gone
My gypsy biker’s coming home
– Bruce Springsteen, Gypsy Biker
“E’ll take you to the edge, that one. All black leather and chrome, all bright ‘n’ breezy, wi’ that cheeky smile he got. E’ll pull you on behind, put the wind in your heart, and a fire between your legs, and off you go into the sunset. Ain’t nothin’ like that. Then he’s off on some caper and you don’t see ‘im for days. Makes your heart bleed and your body ache. Next thing you know, you get the call. And ‘es gone. For good. Mark me words, lassie.”
Molly sighed. “Mam, I told you, he ain’t like that. I know it. I just know it!”
“Lass. Take my advice. No future wi’ a lad like ‘im. Just like your old man. I should know. You should know.”
It was true. When Molly was 6, her old man had gone under a lorry at over 100mph. His beloved Black Lightning was too fast for Sergeant Jackson’s Rover 2000 patrol car, but no match for the undercarriage of the brutal Scammel Crusader. He died instantly.
It was also true that her Sam had been mixed up in some trouble as a youth, big trouble in fact, lucky not go down. But he’d come good. He was a computer programmer now, salaried, respectable, honest. Didn’t need to rob banks, like her old man did, just to pay the rent.
After her Mam rang off, Molly googled and then clicked on the travel site banner image of the classic Monument Valley. A lonely, narrow highway, like some aisle in an empty cathedral, stretched out toward enormous eroded rock buttes, striated orange monoliths thrusting high out of arid, red land. She found the image sensual and somehow comforting.
The photo had been taken with a powerful telephoto lens, 13 miles north of the Utah-Arizona state boundary on route 163. She didn’t know the image was a lie, the perspective-crushing lens making the iconic rock formations in the background loom much larger and far closer than they stood in reality. So Molly’s dream, to ride into a ruby red sunset along that famous valley road, a purring Harley Davidson Fat Boy between her legs, her arms gripping Sam’s leather-clad waist, remained intact.
Molly entered her credit card details, and clicked the button. A hefty £6,000, give or take. She wasn’t worried. Sam’s recent promotion meant he could pay her back in months, and that meant their dream 28-day Route 66 Motorcycle trip across the US-of-A was now finally booked.
As expected, her Mam wasn’t very happy. Yet, being the good sort that she was, she still drove Molly and Sam to the airport for their outbound flight to Chicago.
“Take care, lass. Don’t forget to text me. Every day, mind” she said to Molly, and to Sam “Look after her, son”
Tearfully, Molly’s mam watched her daughter and boyfriend disappear through security, and clicked her tongue. She didn’t have a good feeling, but there was nothing she could do now except worry.
On landing in Chicago, Sam was immediately taken off and grilled for some time by plain clothes US immigration officials. Eventually, Sam seemed able to allay their concerns, and was reunited with an anxious Molly, the pair now free at last to enter the United States proper and begin their epic tour.
The Harley rental was the exact gleaming, purring beast that they wanted. After posing for a facebook update in front of their silver mount, they set off. For 9 days, Molly sent back long, glowing texts and posted gloating selfies each day, depicting a spectacular journey across the US, as they rode blissfully through states and soaked up the sights on the back of their Fat Boy. Time of her life.
And then one day, the texts and photos just dried up.
“This is it Sam. This is the exact spot.”
Molly and Sam stopped their Harley 13 miles north of the Utah-Arizona state boundary on route 163.
In front of them, timeless ancient monuments were pinned against a vivid sunset, every bit as graphic and intense as Molly had dreamt. Nothing fake about that. Sam turned his back on the huge buttes, held out his iPhone in front of his face, and pulled Molly in under his arm to frame the inevitable selfie.
Just as he was about to take the picture, a bearded and bedraggled figure with a small band of followers trailing behind him appeared in his iPhone screen.
“Well hey there, folks, how you doin’?” asked the figure.
Sam and Molly swung round.
“Oh hi there! Are you guys on a charity walk?” asked Molly, smilingly tentatively.
“Kinda. Er, yeah. You could say that…” replied the man. His followers, who by now were huddled around Molly and Sam, sniggered.
Sam noticed the strange man’s dusty baseball cap, long tangled hair, worn out trainers, and long rain cape around his shoulders.
“You look like the guy out of that film… er Forrest Gump wasn’t it?” asked Sam, with forced jocularity.
“Why, thanky-you, Mr Englishman. But no. Think of me more as the American Dream. If you will. Or nightmare. Your choice.”
Then Gump-man pulled out a shotgun from under his cape and aimed it from his waist directly at Sam.
“Hand ‘em over”
Molly’s mam was fraught. It was three days since she’d heard any news from America. Her best friend, Sally, said she thought Molly was probably having the time of her life and was just forgetting to text. Her sister, Edie, thought she might have run out of charge on her phone. Ahmed in the corner shop thought they might have gone somewhere where there was no signal. And so on. Everyone had a plausible explanation for Molly’s silence.
But Molly’s mam knew better. She had to act.
Sam froze. Then frowned. And frowned some more.
Finally, he pulled Molly closer, and turning slowly towards the Harley, removed the keys and offered them dangling to Gump-man.
As soon as Gump-man reached out to grab them, he snatched them back.
“Zak, you fucking total utter wanker!!!!” screamed Sam.
Zak put down his gun and gave Sam a massive back-slapping hug. “It’s good to see yow too, man!”
“Saaaaam? What the fuck… who the fuck is this?” said Molly
“Aaawrite love, yow must be Molly. I’m Zak, pleased to meet yow” replied Zak, whose fake American accent was now replaced by an iritating brummy whine. He ripped off his cape and held out his hand to Molly with incongruous formality.
Still shaking with anger from the Gump-man-shotgun stunt, Molly turned away and folded her arms.
Far off in the distance, just below the monuments, a plume of smoke rose from the scorched highway. A shimmering image was forming, solidifying momentarily, then dissolving again in hot plumes rising from the baking tarmac. After a while, the mirage stabilised into the unmistakable silhouette of an advancing solo rider.
The newly formed group of renegades stared and shuffled, held captive by mutual trepidation. The rider neared, and they could clearly make out ray-bans, a gold star badge pinned on a white short-sleeve shirt, and a blue and white Arizona highway patrol helmet. Trouble, in other words.
Not that any crime had been committed. As yet. But the shotgun, not to mention the 2 kilo consignment, would require explanation and frankly Zak did not have one. Without it, a lengthy stay in Utah State penitentiary seemed likely. Which is why he decided to let the shotgun do all the talking.
“— No!” screamed Molly “No!” and leapt to grab the gun Zak was aiming directly at the highway patrol rider.
Before they heard the gun’s echo from the sheer face of the monuments, Sam was on the ground. Molly ran to him and cradled her wounded lover in her arms.
As the highway patrol rider parked her bike and removed her replica helmet, Molly’s jaw dropped.
“Never tek my advice do yer lass?” said her Mam.
© Simon Atherley, September 2014