The Coyote Smile and the Red Horse Cry

When I awoke, after the first time Dixon Halbauer shot me, Ann’s was the first face I saw. I had passed out from the pain and when I came to, there was a pale face floating above me. Though she wore a pinched, worried expression, her eyes struck me as brown storm clouds, cosmic in their depth and beauty. Immediately next to her face was her brother’s. Aiden was also very concentrated on the task at hand, which happened to be saving my life, but I noticed his eyes too, similarly stormy, but darker, the swirling deep brown of stained wood. I felt myself floating in and out of that moment. I kept seeing a staticky TV, and I thought I heard a gravelly, molasses, country voice calling out “hoedown”, and somewhere far off, a coyote was howling. If I floated too far, Ann would press down on my shoulder, near where I was bleeding, and the pain would snap me back to a more appropriate place and time. This is how I came to know Ann and Aiden Armstrong, the two best friends I ever had.

They helped get me from the floor of a public bathroom in a rest stop on the side of a Montana highway to a small hospital outside Billings, where I would have a bullet removed from the area just beneath my collarbone. Dixon Halbauer, the Hell’s Angel who revealed himself to me in an expectant, would-be sexual offering, and who shot me after my failure to fulfill my role in that rendezvous, was gone. Aiden had hit him in the back of the head with an antique torque wrench, but he had hurled Aiden into the sinks, shattering one and leaving water spraying everywhere. The angry grizzly of a man had left, bloody and dazed, on his Harley. Aiden was thin, but possessed of a visible fierceness and was also, despite being odd, terribly likable – so when he explained the circumstances to the local police, they were not only satisfied, but grateful for his intervention. I was deeply grateful to Aiden for handling most of the police business as local law enforcement aren’t always inclined toward hospitality when it comes to lone motorcyclists. He told me the locals had immediately identified Dixon Halbauer, a Captain in a Hell’s Angels gang, as the man responsible. Apparently, the Billings’ P.D. had seen incidents like mine three separate times in the county that year. Aiden said the police suspected that Dixon had split town, but they were damn sure it was him, and would let me know if they got their hands on him. I said I never wanted to see his giant ugly ass again.

I stayed overnight at the hospital, but was discharged the next afternoon. I sported a heavy bandage, a heap of gauze that wrapped and held me beneath the white tee that Aiden had leant me, along with my worn bloody jeans and my beat-up leather jacket. I looked like I’d been run over by a truck, whereas I had only been shot by a man the size of one. The police had asked that I stay in town for at least a day or two, although they admitted they couldn’t insist. Aiden and Ann were god sent during that cloudy medicated time, but as soon as we were well and truly alone, I resisted their continued care and told them they that they had already been far too kind. They ignored me and rented a room at a Motel 6 at the edge of town for the three of us.

“Shut up, idiot, the stars brought us together. Would you defy the universe itself, boy?” That’s what Ann said to me when I tried to really argue the point. After that, there wasn’t much else to say.

My bike was a Honda CB77 Super Hawk that I’d bought used from a Teacher’s Assistant in a Literary Grad Program at Boston College. He had been disgraced by his participation in an affair with a famed professor’s wife and, after a thorough bender – and an even more thorough hangover – he had found himself wallowing and broke and finished on the East Coast. So, Holloway Lovett, brilliant and unclaimed literary mind of his generation of scholars, sold his Super Hawk (for a third of what it was worth) to a lonely kid who worked in the cafeteria at the student center. I left on the bike two days later. During our brief collision, Holloway told me he was going to either buy a Greyhound ticket and head back to his family ranch in Texas, or kill himself. I told him Texas was quite a sight.

We walked into the Motel 6 room one at a time, tentative, and saddled with the weight of strangers forced into intimacy. I had promised the nurses I wouldn’t get back onto my bike right away and had then done so immediately upon discharge. I touched my hands to the leather like one might love on an old dog that had run away, but skirted dangers and found its way back home. I cherished every bolt of nasty that spiked through my left arm as we rode the short distance from the hospital to the hotel. It’s not that you’re more alive on a bike, it’s that you’re more aware that you’re alive. On that short ride, I gave Mother Earth glory for the awareness, the life, and even the pain of the resplendent landscape. I was, as Aiden had pointed out when they burst into the bathroom and saw me bloody and wet and shot, one lucky son of a bitch.

“We’ll have to eat something at some point,” Aiden said. He tossed the keys onto the nightstand. “How you feel? I could just take a ride see what our options are, pick up something.”

I shrugged, “You two have been more than kind. Whatever you want, it’s on me.”

“Yeah, okay,” Aiden said. “So maybe I’ll just go look then…”

“I’m starving,” Ann said.

“Well, maybe they got a burger spot or something,” Aiden said. “You eat burgers, kid?”

“Whatever it is, it’ll be perfect,” Ann said. “Just, trust your gut.”

Aiden nodded and grabbed the keys he had just tossed down.

He walked back to the door and left.

“It makes me feel really strange, you doing all this,”

I said. “I don’t know how to thank you.”

“No, I get it,” Ann said, and she walked to the window and pulled the curtain back, seeming to watch her brother go. “He’s happy to have another guy around. He misses our little brother.”

“It’s the least I can do, literally.”

She looked back at me. “What’s that?”

“Be a guy,” I said.

She smiled at me, like she got a kick out of that, and we stood there, about ten feet apart, as she bathed in the late afternoon orange-gold.

“Oh goddamn,” I said.

“What?”

“I didn’t give him any cash.”

She looked bored for a moment, and then, with a sincere lack of modesty, she took off her shirt, pulled it right over her head, while staring at me in my puddle of shock. She unclasped her bra, and her breasts fell slightly just before her bra hit the floor.

She unbuttoned her blue jeans. “You worry a lot, right?” She shimmied out of her jeans, hopping for a second on one foot. She stood looking at me, awaiting a response. She shrugged and pulled down her underwear to stand as naked as Eve.

“You were traveling alone, fell into trouble and we helped. That’s tough, right?” she asked.

“What’s tough?” I asked.

“Being alone.”

“Oh. Yes. I mean, right,” I said. “I guess so.”

*********

Fall deeper into Bobby Minelli’s weird world in SN10: The Green Issue, coming out June 5th!

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