Excerpt from Chapter Six, Risk of Ruin
©2012 Arnold Snyder
The day Bart first met Jimmy at Clance’s place—which was the day after Bart got to Reno—Jimmy never sat down, just paced the floor in his leathers. He had a long stringy blond beard that would compete with the best of ZZ Top. Both of his arms were sleeved in ink. Some of the work was nice, but a lot of it was pretty crude.
“I want you to shave tonight,” Clance said to him after making introductions. “Tomorrow we’ll take you shopping for clothes. You’re gonna have to wear long sleeves.”
“Everybody’s got tats now,” Jimmy protested. “Tats don’t mean nothin’. My banker’s got more ink on him than me!”
Clance reached across the table and tapped Jimmy on the forearm just above the wrist. “Does he have one like that?” he asked, indicating one of the better designs—a baroque script lettering in royal red and gold with light blue highlight work. It said, “Eat Shit.”
Jimmy just shrugged and didn’t argue it further.
Johnny the Jap wasn’t Japanese; he was Korean—a huge Korean, about six-foot-six and well over three hundred pounds. He rode a Japanese bike, a chopped Honda VTX 1800. There aren’t many bikers who ride Hondas and hold their own with the outlaw factions of the biker community, most of whom tend to be rabid Harley-Davidson freaks. But Johnny was such a mountain of a man, he stood tall in tough crowds.
That didn’t stop Jersey Jimmy from breaking his balls over beer at Clance’s kitchen table shortly after Johnny arrived. It was the first time Bart had ever met either of them, as he and Stacy had just arrived in Reno the night before.
“Is that your rice burner out there?” Jimmy said.
“Point of fact,” Johnny said, “the Honda VTX burns high-octane gasoline, not rice.”
“You’re livin’ in the U.S. of A. now.”
“I was born in Los Angeles. Never lived anywhere but the U.S.A.”
“So why don’t you get yourself an American bike?” Jimmy said. “Harleys are made in Milwaukee, not Tokyo.”
“I’ve got nothing against Milwaukee,” Johnny said. “They make great beer. But a Harley-Davidson is just a heavy slow-ass beast. I prefer to go fast. My bike was manufactured at the Honda factory in Marysville, Ohio.”
“I’m talkin’ about gettin’ an all-American bike—not a bunch of Jap parts slapped together on some assembly line here to save on shipping costs.”
“Next time you pull your fender off, I’ll show you where it says ‘Showa Japan’ on your authentic all-American Harley front end.”
“I’ve got a set of wrenches if you want to go outside right now. You want to put a couple hundred bucks on it?”
“You’re full o’ shit, man. Maybe my bike has some imported parts, but a Harley’s an all-American bike. Hondas are strictly for tourists, man. Tourists and frat boys.”
“Hey, any time you want to hit the highway and see who leaves whom in the dust, let’s do it. I’ll be pulling a lot more weight, but I’m still willing to bet my bike’s faster than yours. You know why Harleys go so slow, don’t you?”
Jimmy narrowed his eyes.
Johnny said, “If you go any faster than sixty on a Harley, you can’t see where all the parts fall off.”
“Fuck you, man. That joke’s older’n you are.”
“There’s a reason why it’s an old joke. Just put your money where your mouth is.”
That’s when Bart decided to butt in. “You take that bet, Jimmy, and you lose your money.”
“Shit, Bart, you’re a Harley man. Ain’t that your flathead out there? That greasy ol’ rat bike?”
Bart turned to Johnny. “You’re bike’s faster, Johnny, but that’s not the issue. It’s a matter of aesthetics. I don’t give a fuck how fast your bike is, how many trophies it’s won, or whatever the fuck Consumer Reports has to say about it. Your bike doesn’t look like a Harley. It looks like a bike that wishes it was a Harley.” He turned to Jimmy. “And you’re a fuckin’ moron,” he went on. “I shoulda let you take the bet. You don’t even know your front-end’s made in Japan? Maybe forgivable. You can’t tell a flathead from a knucklehead? Unfuckingforgivable.”
Jimmy listened to this with a sour expression on his face, then leaned back on his chair and clasped his hands behind his head. He narrowed his eyes at Bart and said, “I’d kick your fuckin’ ass if you weren’t one of the seven dwarfs.”
Bart stood up so quickly his chair tipped over behind him with a loud bang. “You wanna run that by me again?” he said as he stepped in front of Jimmy.
Jimmy just sat there, the picture of sneering relaxation. He looked mildly amused, but he made no response.
“I asked you if you’d care to repeat your last remark,” Bart said, moving as close to Jimmy as he could without touching him. “Didn’t you say something about kickin’ my ass?”
Jimmy snorted a nervous laugh. “Are you jokin’?” he said, flexing his enormous biceps without removing his hands from behind his head.
Stacy looked worried. Bart weighed in at somewhere around 130 pounds, while Jimmy was closer to 230, much of it muscle. But Bart saw her catch the calm smile on Clance’s face as he shook his head. Clance had seen Bart do this a hundred times and didn’t take it seriously.
“Let’s get something straight,” Bart said, his face not more than six inches in front of Jimmy’s. “I’m not joking and I fight dirty, so watch your nuts. And don’t ever let me get my face this close to yours again, because I bite. I’ll take your fuckin’ nose off. Unless you want to look like the ugliest motherfucker that ever kicked my ass, you better keep your fuckin’ distance.”
The look on Jimmy’s face had gone from amused to alarmed. “Hey, Bart, we’re just havin’ a friendly discussion here about aesthetics. That’s all. No need to get physical. We’re on the same team, man.”
Bart backed off a step, but continued to stare Jimmy down.
“Speakin’ of aesthetics,” Clance interrupted. “I got a hat for you, Bart.”
Bart took another step back, then slowly turned to look at Clance. “I don’t wear hats,” he said. He turned to Debbie, Clance’s wife, who was sitting at the far end of the kitchen table drinking a cup of coffee. “You got another cup of that mud?” he asked her.
Bart had attended their wedding in Berkeley a year earlier, an outdoor affair. She was a big, buxom woman in her forties, with long, wild, curly blond hair that splayed over her shoulders. She wore tight clothes and looked like what she was, a tough biker chick.
“There’s coffee in the pot,” she said, without looking up from her smart phone. “You can rinse out that mug in the sink … And thanks for leaving Jimmy with his nose. I wasn’t looking forward to cleaning up the blood.”
“Here’s the deal, man,” Clance said to Bart. “We’re not counting cards any more. We’re playin’ the dealer’s hole card. It’s a lot stronger. How are your eyes?”
“They’re not what they used to be,” Bart said, rinsing the ceramic mug under the faucet.
“Are you wearing contacts?” Clance asked.
“I’m not required to wear corrective lenses. I read the DMV eye chart a month ago. That’s all that matters to me. But I can tell you for a fact my eyes are not what they used to be.”
“Can you still read the shop manuals without a magnifying glass?” Clance had always kept a magnifying glass with his shop manuals and was always amazed that Bart never needed it.
“I haven’t looked at a shop manual lately. I know my bike blindfolded and I haven’t had much repair business lately.” Bart sat down next to Debbie and spooned some sugar from a bowl on the table into his black coffee—two, three, four spoonfuls. Then he picked up Debbie’s pack of cigarettes from the table in front of her, shook a few up from the pack and looked at her questioningly.
“Same old Bart,” she said. “Go ahead.”
He took a cigarette and tore the filter off, tossing it into the ashtray. “I owe you one,” he said.
“You owe me a couple cartons,” she said.