Trilogy, part one
“Yes,” I said, answering the knock on my door.
“I heard you were looking for a bike,” announced Mike, an airman newly assigned to our squadron of aircraft maintainers. We’d never met.
“Motorcycle,” I corrected.
“Motorcycle. Bike. The terms are interchangeable.”
“For some, I suppose. What do you have in mind? First, let me warn you, I’m pretty strapped for funds.”
“Aren’t we all,” he said, passing through my entryway and claiming a chair near the steel, Air Force issue table that came with my room. “Maybe you’re interested in a 1952 Harley K Model. It’s a fixer-upper,” he added, shaking out a Camel and lighting up while he awaited my response.
“How much?” I asked, cautious of his operative word: fixer-upper.
“Fifty bucks and you get a clear title,” Mike answered.
Finds were tight. They always were, but fifty dollars was doable. Of course, I’d need to take a peek before he got his money.
“Come on. I’ll show you? I have a car down the parking lot.”
We drove out the main gate of Charleston AFB. In less than a mile toward Greater Charleston, he swung off Kings Avenue and into a quiet neighborhood and then stopped in front of a stately home, white with a manicured front lawn. I followed him up the walk and waited while he rapped on the door.
“I’m showing a friend the motorcycle in the storage shed out back,” he explained to the elderly black lady answering the door.
“That’s fine, Mike. Just be sure to lock up when you’re finished.”
We crossed the side yard and then passed through a wide, entry gate to an unpainted shed setting against what was probably the rear property line. Fetching a key from beneath a clay pot that was home to a bright red flower, he pulled open the door and switched on an overhead light. I was not prepared for the large crate he pointed to. In fact, I wasn’t quite sure that the parts were, when correctly assembled, a motorcycle of any make.
“I don’t know about this,” I said cautiously, lifting a few parts. I spotted the spoke wheels, the engine, and even the forks and headlight. “How can I know it’s all here?” I asked, feeling a bit overwhelmed.
“It’s all there. I took it apart myself. You see, the swing arm bushing were shot. I though replacing them would be simple enough, but I’m not as mechanically inclined as I thought. I was in over my head from the get go. Then Aunt Ruby, that’s Aunt Ruby you met at the door, didn’t want the motorcycle in the shed unless I could fit in to a box.”
“Why would she make such a crazy demand?” I asked.
“Because she can, I suppose. To make a short story shorter, I had already over extended myself. There was no way I could ever get it back together and running. With no other place to store it, I did as she demanded. And now she’s bitching about the box.”
“Why didn’t you have the motorcycle mechanic in North Charleston put back together?” I suggested.
I tried. But this is the Deep South, you know. He told me he didn’t worked on colored folk’s bikes.”
His point was well taken. I sorted through the parts again and I found the saddle. “You said you have a clear title?” I asked.
“Absolutely. I’ll even pay a notary to certify it.”
I still had reservations about this whole mess. I didn’t have anyplace else to work on it, either. How was I going to deal with Aunt Ruby until I could get it together and out of her back yard? “Tell you what, Mike, I pay you thirty dollars and I’ll take care of the notary fee.”
He responded so quickly I wondered how large the mistake was that I’d just made. But I followed through with my offer. The notary seemed comfortable with the title. A few minutes later I owned a Harley K that I wasn’t sure I could get back together. And then there was Aunt Ruby.
As we drove back to the barracks, an old adage passed through my head, “a fool and his money are soon parted.”