I walked out of the office after staying late a half hour or so. In the grand scheme of things, this was almost the same as leaving early. I attempted to recite the ten disclosure points in my head, as I was up for a promotion the next day, and I assumed it would be a question my boss would ask during the interview. The sun had gone down and everything had cooled off, enough to make my bike ride home a pleasant one. Early October is the best time to ride. I made my way to the side of the building, where I kept it chained to the rack near all the benches where the smokers sat.
Let's see, I thought, we've got the AP, Reuters, Dow Jones, NY Times, Fitch, Moody's, UPI, Wall St. Journal, Bloomberg, and. . .what else? I could not remember the tenth and final disclosure point for financial media, which was the business I was in.
I sat down on one of the benches, beneath a tree covered in bird shit and proceeded to take off my work shirt and cuff up my pants for the ride home. With helmet-in-hand, I turned to the rack and found it vacant. My bike was not there. I had ridden it two hours prior on my lunch, when I went to Mall C as I usually did and looked out onto the lake for an hour. Now it was gone. I checked to see if any traces had been left behind, but the person or persons had taken everything -- bike, chain, lock, everything. I cursed myself for relying upon the cheap cable lock to secure it. A bike is only as good as the lock you have on it, I thought. I noticed a pair of thin tire tracks that cut through a patch of mulch around a tree; recognized instantly that the tracks were from my bike. Now, I would never be so careless as to ride my expensive tires and wheels through mulch and dirt -- such was not good for the rims. This told me something of the nature ofthieves: they do not care.
Boiling yet deflated, I went back into the building to report the theft to security. I approached the desk, marble and austere and containing a lanky kid with a badge.
"My bike got stolen," I said. The words hurt coming out.
"Oh man!" he said incredulously, "That's the fourth one today! That's crazy."
"Fourth?!" I said. "What the fuck are you guys doing here?"
"After the third we starting keeping an eye on it, but then Murray, he said that they wouldn't come back for another. That'd be too many bikes stolen in one day, so we left it alone."
"Wow. Now I wish we hadn't. Murray went home and we forgot about it, I guess. Sorry."
I had no idea who Murray was and how he could have such an adverse affect on my transportation. "So what should I do now?" I asked.
"Here, fill out a report." He reached underneath the desk and pulled out a clipboard and detached a piece of paper from it. He handed it to me. "Write out everything on the back there."
The page was a crossword puzzle, photocopied, with only vertical words completed. I wondered if the entire clipboard contained sheets like this. Leaning against the marble desk, I wrote:
Jon Reeves - Ste. 750 - BizMediaWire - Stolen road bike: all black, no brand, 1985 Calif. bike license, black Forte rims, black Gatorskin tires, black Forte racing saddle, black handle bar tape, Shimano 600 components, toe clips. Possibly late '70s make? Please help --> bike was my life. I don't have a car. :(
I handed it back to security. He looked it over.
"Man, that sucks. How are you getting home?" he asked me.
"I guess I'll take the bus," I said.
"Hey," he said, "you should call the cops. Report it stolen." He gave me the number, then said to himself, "Four in one day -- that's crazy!"
Back outside, I dialed the police, attempted to give them my address, but they said I had to go to the station which was on E. 22 and Payne. Completely out of my way. I would have made the trip, though, if I had a bike. Some cleaning ladies from the hotel next door had seated themselves at one of the benches near the bike rack. I asked if they had seen anyone messing around over there.
They said they had not; had only come out for a five minute smoke break. I explained to them my situation, that my bike was my life. And that someone had taken that from me.
"Aw man that's dirty," one of the women said. The other one just shook her head in disgust.
As I walked toward Terminal Tower to catch a bus, my phone rang. It was my good friend Rex. We rode together. Used to.
"What up Rex?" I said.
"What's the good word, Reeves?"
"Ah, my fucking bike got stolen."
"What? Aw man that's terrible. What're you doing now?"
"I'm about to catch a bus."
"Where at? By the BizWire?"
"Well, fuck, stay right there and I'll come pick you up. We're gonna find your bike and fucking kill the thug that stole it."
"If you say so."
"Wait right there, I'll be there in five."
Rex hung up. I didn't expect that he'd go through with the search process. Most likely it was a ruse to get me drunk. That did not seem a bad idea. Still, though, the conversation had gotten my blood up a bit, and I began to believe that Rex and I, given proper instigation, could raise some hell.
Some minutes later, Rex swung his station wagon up to the curb. I got in. He then pulled a U-turn and started going East.
"Where are we going?" I asked.
"I figure we start at The Fence, on E. 72," Rex said. He had an open beer in his hand. I assumed he was drinking it when I called.
"The Fence, nice," I said. It was one of the seedier venues in one of the seedier areas of town. It rested between a 24-hour kebab house and a currency exchange. A motel in the rear,MoFence , advertised 3-hour 'day traveler' specials. Rex and I had always joked about going there but never really had the gumption. Tonight provided motivation, however.
"I'm thinking in your case," Rex said, "that we need vigilante justice. You can't rely on the police or the courts for this sort of thing. We need to take the law into our own hands. Soon as you see that bike, you yell. We're taking that dude down."
I wondered if Rex had brought a firearm, though I knew he had not. We only had one friend with a gun, Stills, and he wasn't around tonight.
Rex continued: "I figure we go to The Fence, have a few drinks, ask some questions, maybe get a few leads."
"Maybe invite some babies back to MoFence, do some day traveling," I said.
"Fucking sick," Rex said. He tossed his empty beer out the window. "Maybe we'll turn up an underground bicycle theft ring."
"Maybe." This got me thinking about my bike again. I pictured it in the basement of an abandonded house with hundreds of other lifted bikes. Or even worse, at the bottom of the lake, having been ghostridden off a pier. I thought about how I myself had rescued it from a basement two years ago, how I brought it back to life and how well the two of us fit together. More than likely that would be lost forever.
Rex rolled his wagon up in front of The Fence. Usually, this spot was reserved for the high rollers with the shiny rims and the fancy clothes. We were a couple of bike punks. A bunch of thugs smoking blunts outside gave us a long look as we entered past them. Their expressions were mirrored by everyone else in the place but Rex and I acted like it did not bother us. We pushed our way to the bar. Rex yelled our orders over a couple of babies seated at the bar. They both wore black skirts and white satin tops with red suspenders.
"Two Jameson, neat," he said.
The babies both looked at us. They did not seem impressed. No matter, for we weren't there to impress; we were there for answers. Outside, a grand Caddy pulled alongside Rex's jitney. It sat there a very long time. Some folks surrounded his car, looking inside. I elbowed him, gestured out the front door.
"Shit," he said. "I wish Stills was here. He'd know how to handle this."
I wondered what we were doing there to begin with. I thought Rex would know how to handle this, as it was his idea. It appeared that all the hot air had escaped from the balloon and we were dangerously close to plummeting into power lines.
"That your car?" one of the babies asked us.
Rex said, "Yeah."
The other baby said, "That's a bad spot to park, sir."
"How's that?" I asked.
They said in unison, "That's ZiggyBigDee's parking spot."
"And that was just his car go rolling past," said one baby, solo.
The bartender handed us our drinks. They were much larger than the whiskeys we were used to getting at The Fairmount. And a dollar cheaper, each. Rex paid the lady for four, said, "You might as well bring us another round, we won't be here long."
The bartender said something back that was lost in noise. I think it was: "That's a good thing."
Rex and I turned back to the front doors. The men outside were gone, as was the fancy car. Crisis averted, we clinked our glasses and sent stuff down the hatch.
"Where y'all going?" one of the babies asked us.
"Nowhere sugar," Rex said. "No-where."
The babies both gave us an 'Is you for real?' look.
The Jameson burned a good burn on the way down and it possessed me with the desire to run my hand underneath those suspenders. "We're staying right here with you ladies," I said, reaching between them to place my empty glass on the bar. The barkeep arrived with round two. I took them, said to the woman, "Why don't you bring over another round for our friends here?" She scowled, though nodded, and went off to fetch our order.
Several rounds later, they began to warm up to us. I had angled myself into a lean behind the baby on the right. My forearm brushed against her lacy satin top and those suspenders. Rex had pulled up a barstool next to the baby on the left.
"So why y'all pants all cuffed up?" one of them asked Rex.
Rex explained that we rode bikes, and by cuffing our pants, we kept them clean of chain grease. They seemed marginally impressed that we were so into cycling, so I launched into the story of my bike being stolen. Near the end of the story, the part that explained why we had come to The Fence, the bartender arrived with another round of Jameson.
"Here," the baby next to me said, "let me get these." She took some cash out of her purse. "So what'd this bike look like that it was so nice?"
I described it to her as I had described on the report to building security. "It was completely unremarkable, not flashy in the least, and that is what made it so stellar. Just black and clean and simple. It was perfect."
"Why don't we toast to it? Your lost bike," said the baby next to Rex. We did just that and slid more down. Although we had drank many rounds, this was our first official toast and out of it came much camaraderie and giddy good cheer. My baby leaned into me and I slid my hand down to the small of her back and underneath her suspenders. She brought her mouth up to my ear, said breathy, "So what y'all doing for the rest of the night?" I whetted my lips.
I could see that Rex was making similar progress with his baby. Then Rex's baby snapped upright. She pointed out the front window. "Hey," she said, "Ain't that your bike?"
Sure enough, on the far side of the street, a derelict unsteadily pedaled my bike. "Shit," I said, burning, "we gotta go."
Rex and I split out the front doors and ran for his car. Some of the thugs from earlier were out there waiting for us, but we caught them off guard by how fast we were moving. I think they thought we'd be stumbling out after all the whiskey we drank. Normally, that would have been the case, but we were on a mission. Rex locked the doors and started the engine just as they reached the car. They pounded on the windows.
"You motherfuckers!" they yelled.
I gave them the bird. In a very short span of time, Rex and I had went from standing, to running, to, now, sitting. The rapid stop-go-stop motion had unsettled my stomach and I felt much drunker now than I had inside The Fence. Rex threw the car in reverse and backed into the car behind him, shattering his taillight and punching in their front grill. Then he threw the car in drive and scraped against the car in front of us, tearing off their rear bumper. He sped off down Carnegie. Luckily we were the only ones on the road. That is, except for the bike ahead.
"Look at that! Look at that!" I said. "He even has my fucking taillight on. That son of a bitch." Sure enough, the guy that had stolen my bike had turned on the blinking red light I had fastened to the seat post. It was a beacon guiding us to justice.
"What should we do?" Rex belched.
"Pull right fucking alongside him," I said, out of my mind. "I'm gonna fuck his shit up."
"Go easy dude!" Rex said. He wiped sweat from his forehead. I rolled down my window as Rex neared. We approached a railroad trestle, a spot where the road dipped down to go underneath.
"Closer! Closer!" I yelled. Rex did as I asked. I lurched my upper body out the window and grabbed for the thief. He was an old man, haggard, with some grey stubble and a ratty winter cap. I clamped onto his tattered overcoat and as we passed beneath the railroad bridge, I gave a shove, directing him into a concrete support. The front wheel of the bike completely buckled, bent in half, and the man vaulted over the handle bars, flying face-first into the wall.
"Jesus!" Rex screamed. He slowed the car to a halt.
Headlights reflected in the rearview mirror.
"Let's go back," I said. "Let me get my bike."
"You're bike's trashed, Reeves," Rex said. "It's fucked."
"I don't care, I'll fix it."
Rex shook his head. He threw the car into reverse and we backed up to the scene. Rex and I got out. Sure enough, the bike had been completely destroyed. Parts from it and parts from the man littered the space beneath the bridge. The man was heap of bloody rags. He breathed noisily, somehow still alive. He turned his face to us, streaming crimson, teeth stuck to his chin, eyes swollen shut. The blood glistened in the oncoming headlights.
"Uh, Reeves," said Rex.
"This isn't your bike."
I walked back to where Rex was standing, over the mangled frame. It was not mine. This was a mountain bike, not a road bike. And it had stickers all over it. I looked back at the man. His face now rested against the pavement, a pool spreading around his pulverized head.
"We need to get out of here," Rex said. The sound of car motor grew louder, as did the world become brighter.
We had just reached Rex's wagon when the car reached us. It was a shiny purple Caddy with a lift kit and sparkling rims. Over the rear fender was airbrushed: ZiggyBigDee. The car stopped and the front passenger window rolled down. A man with a thick beard and dreadlocks stuck his head out.
"Antoine? Antoine, is that you?" he yelled at the dying heap of man under the bridge. Then he looked at us, Rex and I. "What the hell did you do?"
That was just it. I didn't know. See, I was the victim, not Antoine. He did me wrong, not the other thing. Who was I convincing? It didn't matter, not just yet. For right then there were sirens, not far off, and Rex and I were in his car doing a hundred miles an hour down Carnegie, punching reds all the way. AndZiggyBigDee was around, around. Not right there, but around. If we could make it back to my neighborhood, the Heights, we could stash the wagon and sleep it off. Confront the world come daylight. On two legs but not two wheels.