The rain fell softly but persistently in vertical broken lines onto the soaked sidewalk as it had done for the last three days. The volume wasn’t substantial enough to cause flooding or disruption, but was consistent enough to soak you through after ten minutes, and consistent enough to depress the hell out of Billy. As he stood in his kitchen apartment on the third floor he sipped a hot cup of afternoon tea, looking down onto mid rush hour traffic. It was already dark. The sun had failed to break through for even part of the day, and was now gone until the next dawn. Pedestrians hurried past each other, clashing umbrellas in their desire to hurry home after a tedious day at work, unable to avoid all the puddles in front of them, soaking through footwear more suited to the office than a wet autumn evening.
He should have gone for a walk earlier in the day but the weather had sapped what little enthusiasm he had for fresh air as soon as he had got out of bed and looked out the window. Inactivity made him restless and grumpy so it was just as well there was no one to take it out on. He walked around the small apartment, finishing his tea, killing time before he had to go out. It was another hour or so until he was due to meet Eddie, a potential buyer for his classic 1962 Harley motorcycle.
The radio was on as usual, providing back ground companion noise, otherwise the silence and loneliness could be ear shattering and nerve jangling, even in the middle of a busy town. Billy washed the single cup, putting it in the cupboard after wiping it with a tea towel. He ran his hand over his grey beard out of habit, scratching and playing with it as men with beards do. It didn’t really suit him, made him look even older he thought. Maybe he would shave it off later. He would go to the library first to check if he had any E-mails from Eddie, just in case he had cancelled. Billy put on his raincoat and flat cap, turned off the lights, checked that his front door was double locked behind him and walked steadily down the stairs out into the abrasive smoggy air. He had always liked the hustle and bustle of town life. Billy believed it suited his outgoing personality, enjoying the opportunity to always have somewhere to go or something to do, but lately the city seemed to have lost much of its appeal.
The library was only half a mile away, a seven minute walk for Billy. It was quiet inside as he had expected, both in atmosphere and occupancy - a few school children were playing on their cell phones, books open in front of them as props - an old lady loitered at the romance novels, and a couple of unkempt middle aged men sat reading the free newspapers, probably for the fourth or fifth time that day; and only one person, a twenty something, sat in the computer section, scrolling through dozens of job vacancies that appeared on his screen for only a few seconds before they vanished as his finger flicked the mouse. Billy had seen him before and acknowledged him with the briefest of nods as he went to sit at the desk behind. The job hunter mustn’t have been there long Billy thought. Previous experience had shown that his perusal of jobs only lasted ten minutes or so before the man would sigh, give up and search for something more interesting on the internet; maybe Facebook, The Daily News, or pictures of Kim Kardashian - anything seemed better than finding work.
Billy inserted his library card and logged onto his E-mail address. There was nothing new in his in-box, nothing from Eddie at any rate; a couple of spam e-mails advising him he had won the lottery, again, and also been left millions of dollars in inheritance from a distant uncle of someone or other in Nigeria. Clicking on delete was automatic. How some people got taken in with that type of rubbish he would never know. Billy logged off and stepped back into the night, crossing the road at the lights; another mile to go on foot. The rain had finally ceased so he undid the top button on his wet coat, noticing that the damp had started to creep up his trouser legs. “I should have put my boots on” Billy said aloud to himself, “no matter”. His lone conversation was overheard by a passing smartly dressed young secretary, but she didn’t take much notice. After only a few months walking up and down this street five days a week she had seen it all, or so she thought. Billy’s step was quick and light as he walked further from the town centre, the volume of traffic and pedestrians decreasing as he went further towards the suburbs.
His double garage was at the end of an alleyway, kept company by another two dozen similarly dilapidated units on either side. After opening the double doors, Billy checked the Harley in the back of the van. The bike looked superb, painstakingly and sensitively restored over the last year to its original state, a collector’s dream if you had that kind of money, and he believed that Eddie did. Billy was proud of what he had achieved because he had no real talent or knowledge of such bikes. It just shows what you can do when you put your mind and heart into it, and he had always looked forward to a challenge, the bigger the better. They were due to meet further out from the town in a quieter area. Eddie had wanted to try the bike out, and that meant try it at speed, so Billy had recommended doing so on a road that was barely used at this time of night, providing a desirable mixture of bends and straights for Eddie to weave around and open the throttle up fully. Good to go, Billy started his old van up and drove into the alleyway, stopping to secure his garage before proceeding on the five mile drive that he had done a few times before. The rain remained as drizzle as the night darkened further and within twelve minutes he had parked at the back of the disused gas station half way up the road as arranged.
Billy could appreciate the beauty of the bike as he rolled it down the ramp from the back of his van, even though he had only driven it twice himself, and with such care he couldn’t fully enjoy the sensation. He carefully placed it on its stand and put the crash helmet on the seat. He was glad the weather had improved; it would give Eddie more of a chance to unleash the powerful engine. Billy wiped the chrome one final time even though it wasn’t required, sparkling even in the dull moonlight, and he couldn’t resist kick starting the bike to hear the engine. Roar as it could do when put through its paces, it throbbed seductively and happily at idle, having no need to show off, knowing what it was capable of without boasting. His thoughts were interrupted by the dazzle of blinding headlights as a Porsche pulled up behind his van; the driver feeling the need to press the accelerator to the floor one final time before turning the engine off. A smiling Eddie alighted from his sports car, looking forward presumably to the acquisition of a new toy. He approached Billy and shook his hand warmly. “Pleased to meet you Billy, I hope I won’t be disappointed”, Eddie said brashly.
“I’ll be surprised if you are”, replied Billy quietly, successfully retrieving his hand, “although the bike isn’t for everyone –too much power in it for some….and you don’t exactly seem dressed to ride”, Billy continued, looking up and down Eddie’s handmade suit and whiter than white shirt.
“ Don’t you worry about that”, Eddie replied, running his hand over the bike as if he was already in love, or lust, touching what in essence was only metal and rubber, unable to resist twisting the throttle unnecessarily.
“Nothing has managed to get me yet, despite a few close calls. Where did you get her? I have been looking for a beauty like this for years.”
“That would be telling” replied Billy. “It’s my little secret. So are you going to try her out….or are you another time waster”?
Eddie could easily have taken offence, as he often did, but was sensible enough to realise that Billy had something he really desired. “I’m no time waster, trust me, and if she drives as good as she looks I’ll be taking this beast home”. He had the helmet on within seconds and roared off into the night as if he knew the bike inside out. Billy got back into his van and followed the bike slowly down the road. At a steady forty miles an hour he caught up with the bike within a couple of miles; now lying on its left side, the front crumpled as if it was just a tin can, still embedded in a large willow tree. Fuel, debris and the remainder of the crash helmet were strewn across the road, the rear light still flickering a dull red, its rear wheel spinning, with a crumpled inert Eddie intertwined with the bike. Billy pulled up nearby and walked slowly over to the motionless body; the right leg bent in a way it shouldn’t, bone separated from skin, and Eddie’s face almost unrecognizable, covered in thick dark blood, his skull smashed like an egg, no nose left intact and no visible neck, having been rammed back into his body after it smashed into the tree, replicating what had befallen his ride.
Billy surveyed the scene long enough to satisfy himself that there was no possibility of any life left in Eddie, then turned away and walked nonchalantly back to his van as the rain fell once more, heavily this time. An unfortunate accident. How could anyone think any differently? Speed kills, everyone knows that. A painful never ending fact that Billy had learnt ten years ago when his wife was unmercifully stolen from him after Eddie had crashed his top of the range SUV into her compact car at ninety miles an hour in in a fifty zone. An unfortunate accident the judge had surmised when he sentenced Eddie to a derisory three years in jail. Justice had apparently been served, but no one would ever convince Billy of that. His beautiful wife had been taken from him, had been taken from her happy life in a horrendous manner because of one man’s lack of consideration for others, and he didn’t seem to have learned his lesson. Billy had fixed the throttle on the bike to stick at ninety miles an hour – so Eddie had been given a sporting chance, far more than had been given to poor Margaret. Revenge, retribution, justice, whatever you care to call his actions, had finally been served. It wouldn’t bring Margaret back, but it did make Billy whistle along with the radio as he drove home.
Bio: Bio - Currently living in Essex, UK, but originally from Ireland, Fergus has had short stories and articles published in Ireland's Own and in an anthology by First Bus.