Continuing my motorcycle novel…
A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.
I’ve never really taken a trip like this before where I didn’t know exactly where I was going. I tell a lie, as they say in Ireland. I did do it once before, it was the first time I quit the police force. Back then, after the death of the social worker, nothing I tried would help me feel better; not counseling, not medication, not confession. I decided to leave Savannah and leave my destination up to fate. I packed my bag, went to the airport, up to the Delta desk and asked for a plane ticket to their furthest destination. I ended up in Ireland, where I met my first wife, who later died, and my second wife.
Since then though on my travels, I’ve always liked to plan ahead, book a room somewhere, make a beeline for it and hightail it there. The problem with that method is that you don’t leave much room for chance, fate. Getting to the destination starts to take priority and influence all your decisions. You go past things that maybe you should have stopped for. Much of life is just going past things because we didn’t think they had any value, we weren’t looking anyway. But how can God, Fate, or the Universe reach us if we always try to control things? Sometimes the only way to find out where you need to go is to let yourself get lost. And trust that things will work out. That’s what I’m going to do: not plan things; get lost; trust the road and enjoy the ride.
This trip is going to be different.
A few nights before I left I was sitting on the screened porch at my house on Tybee beach. The breeze was crackling the palm fronds. I was drinking a Mexican beer, smoking my pipe and trying and failing to make those grey-blue smoke rings. I jotted down ideas to help me on the road. Here’s the list I came up with:
Reminders for the road
Look upon everything with reverence.
Check the bike each morning and see if everything’s tight and nothing’s leaking.
Check the same on myself.
Call or text the kids every evening to let them know where I am.
Before I call, find out where I am.
Never mention any dangerous incidents to the kids.
Stay in the present.
The only past I want to look at is the one in my rear view mirror.
Don’t plan ahead.
Trust that the people I meet have something to give me or I have something to give them.
To remember that I am a sovereign wayfarer.
At every moment I have everything I need to be happy.
I am a spiritual being in a physical body.
But don’t let that physical body get hurt.
Trust my soul.
Stop when I feel like it.
Go when I feel like it.
Say “hello” to everyone.
Talk with anyone who wants to talk
Bless them in my mind.
If someone asks for help, help them.
Don’t ride past anyone in need.
Show lovingkindness to everyone I meet, unless they’re stealing my stuff.
Always head away from bad weather, unless some omen tells me otherwise.
When I don’t know which way to go, go left and then right the next time and then left…
Remember which way I went the last time.
If I have to choose between two things and I can’t, choose the one that starts with the earliest letter in the alphabet.
When it comes to sizes, if I don’t have any better reason, pick the smallest.
Give money to every street musician I see.
Trust the journey
The important thing is not to think much, but to love much, and so do that which best stirs to love.
Teresa de Avila
I pass a biker and we flash the salute to each other. Ordinarily, it’s the left arm outstretched and down and the hand extended. It’s a way of saying “hello”, “ride safe” and on another level, “I honor your spirit”. Kinda like the Hindu greeting Namaste, but for bikers. Another biker passes me a few minutes later and starts patting the very top of his helmet. That means that a cop is up ahead somewhere. Sure enough, when I go around the curve there are blue lights flashing and two cars on the left side of the road. A police cruiser and an old 1970’s Delta 88 Oldsmobile with a white guy in it. The cop caught him heading towards Savannah and he’s writing out what I’d guess is one of those fast driving awards. I give a salute to the state trooper who’s busy talking to the lucky motorist. Then I hear a loud bang, a backfire, or gunshot and look in the mirror and see the trooper’s been shot. He’s down but returning fire. I slam on both brakes and the tires squeal, the rubber burns spewing grey-black smoke as I spin the bike around. I give it full throttle and the rear end swings into line and I scurry the bike up behind the police car, park it, reach in my saddlebag and pull out my Taurus and an extra clip of ammo. I run to his side. He’s been hit in the thigh. It’s a through and through.
“Have you called it in?”
He nods. The man in the car is still firing. I don’t know why he hasn’t driven away. I pull off my leather jacket, take my shirt off and wrap it around his thigh to stop the bleeding.
I wish to hell the guy would just drive off. But the way he’s heading is a one-way road to Savannah. The police would block it off and he’d be caught easily, which may be what he’s thinking. His only chance of escape is to turn around and pass us and get lost in the low country backroads.
The driver’s door is flung open. He jumps out and runs around behind it. He fires. A shot hits the outside mirror of the police cruiser smashing it and shattering the glass. The cop starts to return fire, somehow not realizing he’s in the direct path of it now. I grab the back of his flak jacket and drag him around to the back of the car. He’s waving his gun erratically and fires an errant shot which cuts across the road to the opposite side and hits a palm tree. A chunk of the husk goes flying. The trooper’s safe behind the patrol car but he’s still losing blood. I take his gun from him and he doesn’t notice. I tighten up my shirt on him but there’s so much blood everywhere that I can’t tell if I’ve stopped it.
I grab his face and stare at him. “When you called dispatch about this they rogered you, didn’t they?”
His eyes are beginning to float. “They 10-4’d you didn’t they?” He can’t seem to understand. His face alternates from an eerie pleasant smile to an expression of surprise and sudden agony. I don’t hear any sirens. I pull up his communicator and relay the message to dispatch and our location.
“10-4, we’re on the way.” The crackly response cuts through the air like verbal lightning. I want the perp to leave. I’ve seen enough killing in my life, done enough. I hate it.
I peek over the trunk and shout: “He’s down. Leave!” The driver fires back. He’s flanked me, crossed across the road and is hiding behind that same palm tree. Maybe the officer was trying to hit him with his shot. I’m thinking of my options. I can shoot out a tire or into the gas tank but that would only make the driver stuck. I want him to think he has options, but of course, by now he has none. He’s shot an officer and even if he tries to surrender to them I fear he’ll just be shot in retaliation. I just want to keep the officer and me alive, and him.
“Lay down your gun. You know they’ll kill you as sure as you’re standing there.”
“What?” He shouts.
Now I can hear the Doppler wailing of sirens coming from both directions.
“Look,” I shout. “Give your gun to me. I’ll protect you.”
I see his head spinning left and right as if imagining he really had anywhere to run. I put my gun next to the officer who’s looking more remote second by second, like a small oarless boat heading for some distant island.
I stand, put my hands up and shout “Look, no gun.” I wave my hands and start to walk toward him. “Give me your gun and you can stand behind me. I’ll be your shield when they come. It’s your only chance.” He looks like he’s thinking about it. Maybe he’s on meth, but at the very least he’s on adrenaline and testosterone. I inch closer as the police cars start to appear and begin flanking the road.
“Look, I’m going to run over to you and get your gun or it’ll be too late.”
He nods and drops the gun by his side. I run up to him, take a pencil from my pocket, stick it in the barrel of his gun and hold it high. I stand in front of him and shout: “I’ve got his gun! There’s an officer down behind the car.” I look at the man behind me and mentally, I can see he’s somewhere else. He has a smug look on his face and he’s turning his head left and right and nodding like he’s waiting for a job interview he’s confident he’ll get. The cops are out of their cars behind their flung open doors. I spot a few police issue assault AR 15’s and shotguns. I watch as one trooper while holding his hat on, scrambles over to the downed officer and checks on him. He stands and shakes his head somberly. “He’s dead.” He shouts.
I look at the man behind me. His head is turned away and moving slowly like he’s calculating sums that don’t add up, his eyes are unfocused, lost in the haunts of inwardness. A smile is trying to fight its way onto his face. He stutters, spit comes out of his mouth. “You do love me, Jesus.” He mutters. A shot rings out and I hit the ground. I turn and look at the man. He has a bullet hole in his forehead, is still nodding confidently, and then slowly crumbles to the ground.
So much for trying to get out of town, to get some peace and quiet, away from the violence that has always dogged my life. My throat was tight, my eyes wet and my mind flashed through the wretched deaths I had witnessed over the years. Those last words the man had uttered. They kept tugging at some vague memory of mine. Then it came to me, the words from a Flannery O’Connor story: he would have been a good man if there had been somebody there to shoot him every minute of his life. I let out a deep sigh and shook my head. Wouldn’t we all?
I was questioned for about two hours and the officers were not happy with my report. I testified that the man was not holding a gun, was, in fact, surrendering, when he was shot. My statement was recorded on camera before I was finally allowed to leave the station. On my way out I ran into an old friend.
“Hey Monk, is that you?”
I looked at the guy. Old like me, skinny as a rail, wearing a uniform. “Yeah, it’s me. Who are you again?”
“Monk, it’s me, Smitty. We worked out of Liberty Street station together.”
I smiled. “I do remember you, Smitty. Hot damn. It’s been a few years.”
“Sure has.” He said shaking his head in an expression of marvel.
“So you’re working here now?”
“Yep, after the shooting, I couldn’t go back out on the street. I got retrained in computers and digital recording systems. That’s all I do now.” He pointed down the hall. “That was me behind the one-way glass recording your statement.”
I glanced down the hall and looked back at him. “You were recording it?”
“Don’t suppose I could ask a favor of you?”
“Are you kidding? After you pulled me out of that drug house?”
I had a flashback of walking hunched over in a dark, dilapidated building, with debris all over the floor. There was the stench of ammonia and cat urine, a smell like a burnt shower curtain – all signs of a place where people were making and using meth. I saw sudden flashes of orange/white light and heard the sharp, deafening, cracking booms of a 38. Then there was a low voice saying “Monk, I’m dying.” I remember squatting, feeling scared to death, crying and then somehow managing to get over to Smitty, lifting him and throwing him over my shoulder. His blood was running all over me. I scrambled through the building with him and then felt the sharp sting of a slug being sucked into my right leg. I fell through the front door to the outside, dropped Smitty and hit the ground face first in the dirt.
I nodded to Smitty. “I remember.” I could feel the tears damming up, ready to fall.
His face was red and his eyes were moist. He looked away briefly and gained some composure and a smile from somewhere. “What do you need?”
“I want a copy of my recorded interview?”
His eyes scanned left and right and he let out a slow deep breath. “I can do that.” He nodded.
“May take an hour or so. Have to find that right time to do it when no one’s around the machines.”
I put my hand on his shoulder. “Thanks, Smitty. I’m in no hurry. I’ll be out front by my bike.” I started walking down the hall and passed officers who smiled and nodded as they went by. Then I saw one in the distance heading my way who was averting his eyes. He looked like one of the officers from the scene of the shooting who had been pointing an AR 15 at us.
As he approached, before I could stop myself I said to him: “Nice shot.”
Without thinking he smiled and replied, “Thanks.” Then I saw the blood drain from the face of Officer Falcone.
I smiled and walked out.
Two hours later Smitty appeared carrying a small shopping bag.
He scanned the place and didn’t see anyone watching. “Here”. He handed me the bag. I peeked inside and saw a DVD in a sealed case. It had an official evidence tag with a label on it, with my name, the date, and Smitty’s signature.
“Keep it closed.” He added. “Only open the case if you need to and make sure your attorney’s there when you do.”
I nodded. “Thanks, buddy.”
“God bless you, Monk. Be safe.”
“You too Smitty.”
I hopped back on the Road King, put my kickstand up and headed out. I tried to recover that peaceful Zen feeling that usually comes to me almost automatically as soon as I start to ride, but my heart wasn’t in it. Maeve, my first wife, always told me I was good under stress. Now, I felt sick to my stomach. I pulled over to the side of the road, threw up, put my head down on the motorcycle and started crying.