by Myles Abroad
A motorcycle enthusiast steps into exciting company and experiences the ride of his life.
Word Count: 1999
Ride into the Night
A friggin' fool. That's me. Harvey 'Nerd' Beltenbird. If gifted hindsight, would I've played it different?
Nah. Probably not...
The evening's chill drew a shiver up my spine as the IRS underground parking door slammed closed behind me, echoing a metallic clang. Another long, mind-numbing day hacking code. Across the deserted lot, my Duck's red fairing gleamed in the gloom, and my thoughts drifted to the bike's sluggish ride into work. My sole love, the '94 Ducati 900SS, barged into my life two years ago when I rescued her from the crusher. Since then, I've sunk a ton of cash and time into her. Huh! Same tonight.
When I paused to don my leather jacket, I noticed the neighboring bike, and a whistle escaped my lips. Enshrouded in black, the Honda Blackbird lured me like a dog to a bitch in heat. Everything about her screamed speed. I shivered as I ran fingertips along her smooth cowls, imagining her 1100cc's between my thighs, singing as she hurtled me down a dark...
"Like what you see?"
I jolted, a woman's husky voice shattering my musings. Mortified, I faced her and a man. I knew them. Who didn't? Special agents. Like rock stars in our local headquarters, and you can bet I was beyond their notice. But she was new.
The woman grinned. My height, her lithe figure poured into leathers, she studied me while light danced in her brown eyes, shouting mischief. Dropping her helmet on the Blackbird's saddle, she shook her shoulder-length brown curls. "I didn't mean to startle ya."
Her swarthy partner, a head taller and built like a line-backer, sneered, rolling his eyes, and that sickening high-school-like panicked desperation weighed my spirits. I stammered a "Nah. Just lost in thought." Then, I couldn't help myself. "This yours?"
Stupid question. Course it was. She ignored it, though, with a heart-warming smile. "Yeah. Just got it."
The jock chortled, patting her arm. "Gotta split, Mac. See ya in the mornin'."
"See ya, Chavez," she replied, turning those gorgeous eyes on me with a nod towards my ride. "Nice Duck. You into classics?"
I gave my bike a guilty glance, my adulterous eye pricking my conscience. "Yeah. She was a mess when I got her. I broke her down and rebuilt her."
The biker chick raised an eyebrow, "Nice job. I did the same with a Bonnie. My Dad gave me it when I was a kid. He restored bikes."
With rounded eyes, I reappraised her. "He a rider?"
"A biker 'til Mom died. He put that life behind him to raise me." The light in her eyes dimmed, and I looked away, scrambling for words. Something I suck at.
Finally, I mumbled, "You still close?"
She blinked and held my eye. "He passed a while back."
Shit! My big mouth. "Oh--uh. Sorry..."
A kinship of loss passed between us until she looked away, shaking her head. She chuckled, the music returning. "That's in the past. I moved out here for a new start."
"And the Bonnie?"
"Sold it in college." She gave me a lopsided grin. "Had to pay the bills but swore I'd replace her." She stroked the Blackbird's tank. "This time, I bought speed."
"You did that." My eyes, again wandering her ride's smooth lines.
Her face crinkled into a grin. "Hey. You up to showing me some good stretches to ride around here?"
Terror constricted my throat.
With me? Alone?
What would I say? Or do?
My heart thumping, I squeaked, "When?"
She cocked her head. "Now?"
Relief washed through me. "Uh-can't. My Duck's sick. Gotta blow out the carb."
Her smile faded, and she reached for her helmet. Loss pricked my heart, overcoming my panic. "Tomorrow?" I stammered.
Light flooded her face. "Deal," she said, offering me her hand. "Helen Mackenzie. Mac."
Dust drifted across the rest stop's scorched grass in a stifling breeze. Stewing on a picnic table, I gave our discarded leathers a revulsive glare and held a sweating ice-cold Coke can to my cheek. Reduced to a melting puddle beside me, Mac upended her drink, burped, and three-pointered it into the recycle bin.
"Good shot," I said, attempting a grin.
The over-heated crank rolled her eyes and drew on a Marlborough, staring at a Lamborghini as it cruised by. "Another crook," she spat before passing me the butt. Ballooning her soaked T-shirt, she sidled over to the Blackbird and removed a hipflask from its pannie. Inhaling a lungful of smoke, I stubbed out the cigarette, keeping quiet. Six months hanging with Mac told me nothing I said could help.
My surly pal slugged her booze. "I bet he's not living in Roachville, struggling to pay off a college loan." She returned to her perch and leaned against me, offering me the bourbon. "You should see the people we deal with. Arrogant shits with their expensive lawyers and accountants. We only catch the idiots while the rest laugh. And they're right." I grunted when she elbowed me. "And we're the good guys, right? I bet you'd like to move out of that rattrap." I took a nip of Jack, the amber elixir biting deep as it trickled down my throat. She had a point.
Mac stood. Hands-on-hips, she paced, glaring at the sky. "We could..."
I narrowed my eyes. "Could what?"
She froze, staring at me. "We could make a killing."
"Just--listen. The ones we catch--they gotta pay up unpaid taxes and penalties. That can be millions. Plus--they face time behind bars. If they paid us instead, we could make their troubles disappear."
My jaw unhinged, watching a triumphant grin blossom on her face. Taking another slug of booze, I shook my head, snickering until she pinned me with a dancing-eyed stare. "You don't think it'll work."
"No." She cocked her head, and I knew I had to humor her. Sighing, I said, "Okay. Your partner?"
Mac rolled her eyes. "Chavez? You mean Captain America?" she hooted. "No. He wouldn't, but he's as dumb as a rock. He'd never know." She waggled her fingers with rounded eyes, beckoning my next reposte.
"The paperwork trail?"
She beamed. "My case, my files. I can get rid of them. Next?"
"But they're all backed up on the servers."
She snatched the flask. "And that's where you come in."
While she took a swig, the enormity of what she suggested weighed heavily even as my mind engaged the technical challenge...
"Can it be done?" Mac's voice cut through my thoughts, and I dumbly nodded. She punched my shoulder, whooping. "I knew it! C'mon. Let's get out to that lake."
Pulling on my jacket, I chuckled at Mac's tuneless humming while slipping into her leathers. Our rollercoaster rode high again.
Brown scrub slid by as we barrelled down County Road 93. A railroad warning sign flashed past when Mac pulled alongside, pointing towards an oncoming train. She popped a wheely, and the Blackbird launched ahead. I screamed, throttling the Duke. Only yards behind her, we tore through the junction mere feet from the train. As I turned to jelly, the distance between us gulfed. Like a religious mantra, I kept shrieking, "She's friggin' nuts!" trying to purge the train's horrifying yellow face from my memory.
Consumed with rage, I reached the swimming hole where the crazy loon paced, shaking her curls, and laughing. I ripped off my helmet, ready to blow, but she grabbed my hair and kissed me long and hard. When she pulled away, I gasped, shocked and trembling.
"How about a dip," she whispered, stripping her leathers.
Overhead, the beach tree's canopy rustled in the wind, making a play of dappled green sunlight. Shifting my back against its smooth trunk, I gazed at Mac, her head resting in my lap. I stroked her wets curls, listening to her rhythmic breaths. A chill climbed my spine as the sun's heat penetrated my bones, and my lids closed under their weary weight.
"Will you do it?" Mac mumbled.
"Do what?" I said without opening my eyes.
"Our get-rich-quick scheme."
My eyes snapped open, meeting her intent stare. "You're serious." She blinked, and I knew. A sigh escaped my lips. "We'll get caught."
"Not if we're careful."
I raked my hair. "It'd cause a shitstorm." I hesitated, tapping my lips. "Do it once and disappear?" Mac held up two fingers. "Twice?"
She sat up, hugging her knees. "There're two cases I'm investigating. They can be done a few days apart. Before anyone can pin it on us, we'll be gone. New identities, new country."
Heart thumping, I reached for a cigarette. "How much?"
Without batting an eye, she said, "13,000,000 bucks."
I dropped the pack of Marlborough, mouthing the amount. "When?" I croaked.
"About a month. You in?" My chest thumped so hard I reckoned she could hear. I fisted my hands to hide their shake. Mac gave me her lopsided grin and leaned forward, tracing my jawline, "You trust me?"
Did I trust myself?
Releasing a quivering breath, I nodded.
I paced the grungy, threadbare carpet, glancing at my watch. What the hell is taking so long. My stomach constricted. Did my nutsy partner get burned? Sitting before my laptop, I accessed the offshore account again. $6,000,000 flared on the screen. That was enough, but Mac wouldn't listen, always driven to play for the highest risk. One day we'll hit a wall.
Unease drove me to my feet. Hands-in-pockets, I retrieved the worn passport Mac had dropped on my overnight bag before leaving and studied my picture. Francis Michael Seymour. I raised an eyebrow. Francis? As good a name as any. Pocketing it, I looked at my watch.
Last time, Mac made the deal while I waited until the account showed the transfer. Then I did my magic. Presto. Our client received a heart-warming e-mail from the IRS. No hitches. So, stop worrying! Only ten minutes late.
I shivered, recalling the last few days. Outside investigators flooded in, sounding off the inquisition. Interviews. Endless questioning. Experts, combing the algorithms. All suspected. Uttering a groan, I checked the account balance and froze--$0.00.
I punched Mac's number.
Ahhh! Friggin' voice mail!
I choked slow, shuddering breaths while I shut down the laptop, pulled its battery, slipped out the hard drive, and slotted home a clean mirror replacement. As it rebooted, a knock on the door shattered my resolve.
About to puke, I palmed the dirty drive and sprinted into the bedroom where, leaning out the back window, I pushed it and the passport through a crack in the wall. A satisfying, muffled clunk said they found their hiding place.
After a deep gasp, I opened the door to Chavez's five-0'clock-shadowed smirk. I forced a smile. "Hey. What brings you here?"
The agent narrowed his eyes. "I wonder. Can I come in?"
I fought an urge to slam the door. "Sure," I said, leading him into my living room.
Chavez scanned my pad, hesitating over the laptop, then eyeing my bag. "Goin' somewhere?"
Hands-on-hips, Chavez towered over me. "Let's cut the crap. We both know why I'm here. Mac had you pegged all along. Tonight's sting was her brainchild."
My legs wobbled, and I struggled to keep panic from my face.
No! She wouldn't!
Forcing firmness into my voice, I retreated a step. "What the hell you talkin' about?"
Chavez rolled his eyes before removing a folded document from his back pocket. "Got a warrant." Red and blue lights flashed against the window, and Chavez hooked a thumb over his shoulder. "The backup's here. What say we take this downtown and see what's on your laptop."
Like she figured, I kept my mouth shut and lawyered up. They never found any evidence. And Mac--well--it was her testimony, but she disappeared. Last I heard, she rode into night.