My Life as Death: Chapter 14

This one should probably be broken into 2 chapters, but I decided to post as is for now. I hope you enjoy the extra length!

For those who haven’t already read them, you can find links to the previous chapters here:
Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9
Chapters 10 and 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13

Half an hour later I found myself out by the old quarry and somehow knew where I was heading but I still didn’t know why. It made no sense, but I just went with it anyways, pulling into Finkenbine’s gravel drive a few minutes later.

“Didn’t expect to see you again so soon,” he said, “…on a weekday, …during school hours.”

“Yeah, me neither.”

“So how’d you end up here?”

“It’s a long story.”

There was that weird feeling between us again and I really didn’t know what to make of it.

“Well, I’ve got all day,” he continued, “and I’m guessing you do too, at least until school officially lets out.”

“You’re probably right.”

He stood there for a minute, not really looking at me but not not looking at me either. 

“Let’s go this way,” he said, and for some reason I followed, past the gate and through the tunnel of junk to the salvage yard. From there he took me to the left, to a part of the salvage yard I hadn’t seen before. He led me past the appliances, past the dismantled cars and old industrial equipment all the way to the very back of the yard. And there, standing in the corner was one of the last things I would have expected to see; a sailboat.

It wasn’t one of those small ones that a couple people could fit on if they were small enough, it was huge, at least from where I was standing. It had to have been 40 feet long, and the thing was up on boat stands which meant the deck was at least 15 feet off the ground. It didn’t look the slightest bit ready for sailing, but I could clearly see where a lot of work had already been done, starting its restoration. It would have been a massive project for Finkenbine to take on by himself, and I was still trying to figure out why we were back there as he continued up a rope ladder. With no other option I could think of, I followed him.

Up on the deck I could see almost the entire salvage yard and it was even larger than I’d thought. From up there, though, I felt larger too. It was an incredible view I couldn’t have imagined existed so I just kind of scanned the whole yard, trying to take it all in. There were more cars, and more junk, than I could have thought possible, all intricately organized into stacks and piles only Finkenbine understood.

As I was distracted by what I was seeing, Finkenbine disappeared below deck but quickly returned with a couple beers, handing me one. It was ice cold, so obviously the boat had electricity or a really good cooler. I had to wonder what other surprises it held. 

“I usually don’t bring anyone up here,” he said, settling himself down on a lemon and lime colored folding lawn chair that looked like it was older than me.

That had to be his way of apologizing for not having another chair, so I just made myself comfortable on a wooden crate.

“I grew up with boats,” he said, taking a drink of his beer as he looked over his salvage yard. It was  9:00 AM and I wasn’t accustomed to day-drinking but a beer did sound good, so I popped the top and took a swig too.

“But I never really understood them, or even really liked them,” he continued. “They’re slow and difficult to control. And they’re a lot of work. Bikes and cars can be a lot of work but at least they’re fast. I like to go fast.”

He took another drink but continued to just stare out across his kingdom.

“I started this project quite a few years ago as a favor for a friend, Buck. He’d won it in a poker game but knew nothing about boats. I offered to help him restore it in return for Mort.”

“Mort? Your hearse?”

“That’s the one. Buck liked to gamble, loved to gamble, really. He’d won Mort in a different poker game. It was in worse shape than the boat and Buck was thinking about just crushing it for scrap value but I couldn’t let that happen. So I ended up with two projects. Buck came over a few times to work on the boat, and in between visits I worked on Mort, got him up and running just in time too, but he was still in rough shape the first time I had to put him to use.”

Finkenbine continued to sit there for a moment, his face like stone, but I saw something in his eyes that told me not to push. Instead I just took another drink. Finkenbine did the same, finishing his beer before I finished mine. Without saying a word, he went back below deck, returning with two more beers and a newspaper clipping which he handed to me. It was the obituary for John “Buck” Buckman.

“Buck loved bikes too. We rode together for years, with a group of guys who’d do anything for you. Even though he liked bikes, Buck liked gambling more and got himself into trouble. And instead of asking his friends for help, he got himself in over his head.”

The obituary said Buck missed a turn on his motorcycle and went over a cliff, suffering extensive trauma which caused his death. The look on Finkenbine’s face told a different story.

“His was the first funeral I drove Mort for, and after that it just kind of became a tradition.”

I didn’t know how to respond to that, but I didn’t think he was really looking for a response.

“Years passed before I could bring myself to work on this thing again,” he said, tapping his foot on the deck. “And by then I started to understand. People change; we change. The people and things we value early in life aren’t necessarily what we find important later on.”

I understood the general message but there seemed to be more he just wasn’t flat out saying and I wasn’t getting it. I wanted to ask questions, but I didn’t know what to ask so we just sat there in silence until we both finished our second beer.

“So are you going to tell me how you ended up here today?”

“I’ve just got a lot going on, things I have to do that I’d rather not do. And people I’ve upset that I wished I hadn’t. It’s all kind of overwhelming. I just needed a break.”

“I get that. Everyone needs a break at times, as long as it doesn’t turn into an excuse to run away, either from people or responsibilities. At the end of the day, we sometimes have to do the very last thing we want to.”

He was right, and I knew it. I had to face what I’d done, to mom and to Shawna. And I had to live up to my end of the deal with Lucifer.

“Yeah, you’re right; and I guess it’s about time for me to get back to those responsibilities,” I said standing up from the crate.

“Are you sure you’re fine to get on your bike?” He asked.

“Yeah, I’m good,” I replied as I moved to the ladder. “Thanks though, you know, for what you said…and for the beer.”

“Thanks for the visit. Sometimes it’s nice to have someone to drink with, though let’s not make this a habit. And next time you find yourself needing a break from everything, feel free to bring a paint brush with you, this thing could use a nice coat of paint.”

“Deal,” I said, waving to him as I climbed back down the ladder.

I was able to find my way back through the junkyard without too much trouble and by the time I reached my bike I was already feeling much better. But unfortunately feeling better didn’t make what I had to do any easier, though the beers did help a little. Thinking of them, I pulled a pack of gum from my bookbag and popped a piece in my mouth before slipping on my helmet, firing up the bike, and heading back to school.

“Nice of you to re-join us”, vice-principal Miller said as I walked through the front door. I’m sure the sound of the bike let him know I’d returned, and that gave him plenty of opportunity to get to the door to greet me.

“Yeah, must have been something I ate for breakfast that didn’t agree with me. I feel much better now.”

“I’m sure you do,” he said, “but not for much longer. The handbook says I can only give you in-school suspension for what you did or else you’d be out of here right now, but I’m going to personally make sure the next three school days are the worst of your high school career”

“I appreciate the personal attention, but it’s really not necessary,” I said, grabbing the suspension slip from his hands. “I’m sure you have some innocent kids’ locker to search or some lunch lady to harass.”

The look on Mr. Miller’s face was priceless as I headed to the in-school suspension room, a barely renovated old steam room on the bottom floor of the school, affectionately referred to as “The Dungeon”. Various teachers took turns watching over the juvenile delinquents throughout the day so no one teacher was stuck with them the whole time. Mr. Whitesock, the freshman basketball coach, was there when I opened the door. 

“I thought you had left us for the day,” he said, reviewing the attendance sheet as I took my seat. 

“I’m feeling much better now.”

“I bet you are,” a kid two seats away said, reaching his hand to high five me. “We all would feel better doing that to a teacher.”

“That’s enough,” Mr. Whitesock said. “There’s to be no talking of any kind. Anyone who wants an extra day added to their punishment can try me on that.”

The leader of my fan club settled back into his seat with a smile on his face. I hadn’t really thought about what I’d done, and I sure as hell didn’t do it to score any points with other students like that, though I did kind of like the feeling of infamy. But if I had my choice, I would have preferred to have no attention from anyone. Unfortunately, as I was heading out to my bike after that first excessively long day of sitting in one seat, it became quite obvious that I wasn’t going to be able to disappear into the background as quickly as I’d hoped.

It started off with just a couple people glancing my way with a smile, or giving me a thumbs up, and that was bad enough, but then came the whistles from across the parking lot. There were even several people just hanging out near my bike and Weed’s chevette. The unimpressed look on Weed’s face said it all.

“Hey is it true…?” one of them started to ask.

“Don’t believe everything you hear,” I replied, putting on my helmet.

“Hey man, I’m telling you, I was there I saw you…”

I kick started the bike before he could finish. Whatever I did or didn’t do wasn’t so I could become some upper class hero to the likes of them. But even the sound of my engine drowning them out didn’t seem to stop them. They just grinned even more and started yelling even louder. Weed pulled out of his spot, having to honk his horn to get one of the dumbasses to move out of his way. I followed right behind.

As we pulled out of the parking lot a couple of the guys jumped into a pickup truck and started to tail us with one of them standing in the bed waving. Weed obviously saw, and headed down a couple side roads to see if they’d stick with us. They did, so he did the next logical thing, he took the first street out of town and gunned it.

It was a back country road that really didn’t lead to anywhere for at least ten miles so as soon as we passed the city limit sign I gunned it too. I was able to stick pretty close to Weed for the first quarter mile but the pickup never had a chance. Like a replay of the last time we raced, though, Weed continued to pull away even though I had the throttle pinned wide open. A quick glance behind me confirmed that we’d left the pickup far behind us but Weed just kept going. A mile further I started to feel a little sketchy at 120 mph so backed off the throttle and settled back down to a comfortable double digit speed and quickly lost sight of him. Another mile later I saw the sign for Milford road so I slowed even more to take it. Milford was the quickest way back to Weed’s house so I assumed that was the way he went. I was wrong.

Back at Weed’s place I pulled the KZ next to the garage even though his car was nowhere to be seen. Pamela was sitting in the garage just as we’d left her the night before so I went inside to give her the once over. The progress was a little slower than I would have liked but she was definitely looking better. I’d even let Weed finally convince me to replace the old radio with a new one he’d picked up at a swap meet at the beginning of summer but that would be one of the last things we replaced so it was still sitting in the box on the workbench at the back of the garage. 

Popping the driver’s side door and sliding behind the wheel I could almost picture how she was going to look and feel once we were finished but as soon as I did, the red glow from the in-dash radio interrupted my daydream.

“Decided to take the day off?” His voice asked before I had a chance to slide back out.

“It wasn’t exactly something I planned.”

“Like I said, it doesn’t make a difference to me. You choose when and how, I just thought you’d be in more of a hurry to finish.”

“I can’t wait to be done, to be rid of you, but It’s not like I had a good opportunity to meet up with Mrs. Reader.”

“Get rid of me? I’m hurt.; I’ve done nothing but try to help you. And maybe I can prove it to you.”

I really didn’t like the sound of that.

“That’s really not necessary.”

“I know you want to live up to your end of our deal, and you’re going to have a hard time doing that while you’re stuck in in-school suspension, so I’ll help you out.”

“You really don’t need to do that,” I said, trying to figure out why just the thought of him “helping” me made me so uneasy.

“It’s my pleasure,” he replied. 

I just continued to sit there as his voice and the red light faded away. 

“I really didn’t expect you to be here.”

I jumped at the sound of Weed’s voice. The Chevette was loud enough that I should have heard it, but I must have been so lost in my own thoughts, or fears, that I completely missed it.

“Where else would I be?”

“I don’t know, with your new fan club or something.”

“Look, I’m no happier about them, or about all of this shit, than you are.”

“Then why’d you do it? You know the teachers leave us alone because we leave them alone. Now all of that’s going to change.”

“I know. I just, you know, had enough. I had a bad night, didn’t sleep again and I wasn’t thinking…”

“Don’t tell me this is about Shawna again.”

“Look, it’s not just her, it’s everything.”

“Everything, including her?”

Yeah, I guess.”

“If you couldn’t sleep you should have come to me; I’ve got something to fix that. I just don’t have anything to fix your hangup on her.”

“I didn’t want to drag you into any of this more than I already have.”

“I’ll always be there for you man. Don’t shut me out for any reason.”

“It’s not that simple. I mean, I’m responsible for, you know, killing people and stuff. I can’t make that go away and I can’t make you have to deal with that stuff.”

“I told you, I’ve got your back, no matter what.”

The look on his face told me he was serious; that there was no way I was going to be able to get rid of him. That made me feel a little better and a little more apprehensive at the same time.

“So are you going to sit there pretending to drive or are we going to get a little work done on her?” Weed asked, grabbing a couple pairs of gloves from the shelf beside the boombox and tossing one to me.

“You really do know just what I need.”

“I sure do,” he said, cranking the music.

Metallica kicked off “50 minutes of music every hour” as we got to work. We pulled off the old headers and exhaust, replacing them with a more free-flowing system. Once again it was nasty work on rusty metal, and I loved every minute of it. The entire time we were underneath that car I was focussed on the task at hand, or on whatever goofy topic came to Weed’s mind; did Han shoot first? Was Indiana Jones really inconsequential to the outcome of Raiders? Which of us would make the better Keyser Soze? The topic really didn’t matter; what mattered was that I never once thought about Shawna, or Mrs. Reader, or any of the shit I’d done. For a little while I felt like me again and it felt good.

I got back home a little later than I wanted, and still needed a shower, thankfully this time my room remained dark when I was done. But even though Lucifer’s voice wasn’t coming from the television, I heard it in my head. Our whole conversation from that afternoon kept replaying in my mind. Thankfully Weed had sent home a little something to help with that. Cracking the window, I lit it up and with the first hit I started to feel better. I didn’t even need to finish the whole thing before I was ready to sleep, and for once, I did.

The next morning I woke feeling much better than I had for some time, until I got down stairs.

“What are you doing up?” I asked mom.

It was nine am on a Saturday morning. She should have gotten off work at seven, home by 7:15 and in bed by 7:30, 8:00 at the latest. Instead she was drinking a cup of coffee and folding laundry while waiting for me to get up.

“We need to talk,” she said, her face a combination of anger, exhaustion and disappointment. 

“So they called you about yesterday, huh?”

“Of course,” she replied, “you’re not 18 yet. If you were, Vice-principal Miller probably would have had you kicked out of there by now.”

“I think there has to be some sort of board meeting before they can completely get rid of me.”

“It really bothers me that you know that.”

“I hear things.”

“But I don’t want you getting any ideas. I just want you to graduate.”

“I will, you don’t have to worry about that.”

“So what do I have to worry about?”

“Nothing,” I said, and I meant it. “I just had a bad day and reacted badly. It won’t happen again.”

“The whole thing with Shawna?” She asked, looking up from her coffee.

“That didn’t help things.”

“Did you have a good reason for skipping out on dinner?”

“No, I just got to working on Pamela and forgot. But I’m sure she read more into it. Or not. Maybe she was just looking for a reason to get mad at me. I really don’t know.”

“I’m sure things will return to normal if you just give her a little time.”

“I don’t even know what normal is anymore. Everything seems to be changing.”

“That’s called life,” she said. “No matter how much we’d like to stop it, life keeps on moving and keeps on changing. And we’ve just got to learn to keep up with it and roll with the punches.”

“I know, and I’m trying. And really, I don’t think I’m doing too bad with it, I just made a stupid mistake.”

“I get that,” she said, “But if you going to do something stupid, at least be smart about it.”

And that was my mother in a nutshell. Part disciplinarian, part friend, and part philosopher. She could make you feel awful about what you’d done, forgive you and offer sage advice all in one sentence.

“I will,” I replied. “I promise.”

“Good”, she said, picking up another shirt to fold. “But you realize I still have to punish you, right?”

“Yeah, I guess I knew that was coming.”

“Since you’ve got in-school suspension for three days, I think your grounding should be the same.”

“I guess that’s fair, but can I at least go to Weed’s to work on my car?”

She hesitated, looking like she was deep in thought. And for a moment I thought Pamela was going to have to wait.

“Tomorrow only, straight there and straight back, just to work on it. Sunday you’ll be here.”

“Thanks, mom.”

“And be home before dinner.”

We spent the morning working on Pamela, only stopping at noon when we needed more parts. 

“The radiator’s cracked,” Weed said. “But I’m sure Finkenbine’s got one.”

“That’s great, and all, but I’m a little short on funds.”

I hated being so close to finishing her but too broke to get her roadworthy again. At least I had the KZ to get me around.

“I’m sure I can pick up a few hours stocking shelves at the hardware store, or maybe get hired in at the Burger Palace a couple nights…”

“Friends don’t let friends flip burgers.”

“It’ll only be for a little while…”

“Not on my watch.”

Weed made his way over to a metal shelving unit towards the rear of the garage and pulled a cardboard box from the top shelf.

“I’m sure this will be more than enough to cover the radiator, and probably anything else we might need from Finkenbine.”

I was a little confused. We’d been friends forever, and I’d spent countless hours in that garage, but I had no idea what was in the box or why it could possibly be so valuable.

I felt the anticipation grow as he slowly pulled his treasure from the box.

“That?” I asked, stifling a laugh. “That piece of junk will pay for a radiator?”

The gas tank was in worse condition than the KZ’s had been. 

“Junk? Do you have any idea what this is?”

“A motorcycle gas tank pulled from the wreckage of the titanic?”

“Close, but not quite,” Weed said. “Finkenbine’s been after this for a long time, but I wasn’t ready to part with it. I figured one day I might have the rest of the bike to go with it.”

“And exactly what bike would that be?”

“A ‘54 Aniversary Yellow Harley Hydra-Glide.”

“A ‘54 Harley would be cool, but I still don’t see how that would be worth a whole lot to him.”

“Well, it’s not just the tank,” he said, before reaching back into the box. “He needs this too.”

Weed tossed a small medallion to me but I still didn’t understand.

“The 1954 Harley’s came with a special anniversary medallion on the front fender, but very few of them have survived so originals are worth a lot. I just wish that I’d found one attached to an original fender.”

I could tell how much those couple of pieces meant to him.

“Look, man, I can’t let you trade that just to get me a radiator. I mean I want to get Pamela back on the road, but…”

“Nah, don’t even worry about it. That stuff has just been sitting up there collecting dust.”

“But…”

“But nothing,” he replied. “You know you’d do the same for me”

“Really I appreciate it, but I’m supposed to be grounded so I really shouldn’t…”

“Did you forget who you’re talking to? I’m the guy who’s helped you sneak out every time you’ve been grounded, so shut up and get in the car so we can get the radiator.”

Ten minutes later we pulled into the junkyard’s parking lot without having said another word.

“I didn’t expect to see you two here today,” Finkenbine said as he emerged from the garage beside the trailer.

“We need a radiator for Pamela” Weed replied before I had a chance.

“That shouldn’t be a problem.”

Finkenbine disappeared through the salvage yard gate so quickly we didn’t even have a chance to follow so instead we waited in awkward silence. Thankfully he returned almost as quickly as he’d left.

The radiator in his hands looked practically brand new, but there was still no way it was worth as much as the Harley parts.

“She’s a good one,” Finkenbine said, handing it to me. “What if we say an even $50.”

“Actually,” Weed chimed in, “I was hoping we could work out a trade.”

Finkenbine’s eyes lit up and a small grin stretched across his face.

“What kind of goodies have you brought for me?”

“Let’s take the radiator to the Weedmobile and we can show you.”

Finkenbine’s steps were even faster than usual, or maybe it just seemed that way because I was left carrying the radiator. Weed opened the rear door and for a moment Finkenbine just stared.

“Um…Can I put this in there?” I asked.

“Yeah, of course,” Finkenbine said, sliding over the box holding the Harley tank to make a little room.

“You know I’ve wanted this for quite a while,” he said.

“Yep,” Weed replied.

“But it’s not just the tank I need.”

“The medallion’s in there too.”

Finkenbine’s grin turned to a full blown smile.

“As much as I want these,” he said, with a fading smile, “you know it’s not a fair trade. And I don’t mind getting the better end of a deal, but this isn’t even close.”

“It’ll be a more even deal when you throw in the new windshield and another headlight.”

Finkenbine’s grin returned.

“Deal.”

They shook on it without even looking my way.

“Now that the deal’s done,” FInkenbine said, “Let me show you what these parts will be going on.”

Weed and I followed him to the garage next to his trailer. He had shelf after shelf filled with parts, but the main area was taken up by two bikes. The first was a black trike completely decked out in chrome.

“Four speaker stereo, AC and even heated handgrips and seat,” Finkenbine said with pride. “I can almost ride it year-round, though it does start to get a little squirrely once the snow starts accumulating.”

I wanted to check out the trike a little more but FInkenbine moved on to the second bike, still underneath a cover.

“This is it?” Weed asked, his smile bigger than I’d ever seen.

“In all its glory,” Finkenbine replied, pulling back the cover.

The yellow bike stood in stark contrast to the black trike but it still seemed to suit Finkenbine, who stood next to it like a proud papa. It was missing a gas tank, but otherwise it was in pristine condition.

“She’s beautiful,” Weed and I said in unison.

“1954, Anniversary edition. I traded my first car for her when I was 18, and I rode her ever since. Well, at least until the accident.”

“So this is the bike you were on when…”

“Yeah.”

“I’d never know it,” I replied.

“After the accident she and I both needed a lot of work, but with this leg, I haven’t been able to ride her so I’ve had plenty of time to fix her up. And I’ve been able to find all the parts I needed, except for these two.”

He set the gas tank on the frame, and even though it was in rough shape compared to the rest of the bike, it was nice seeing the whole thing together.

“I’m glad we could help each other out,” Weed said, “but we really should get back to Pamela so we can get her radiator installed while there’s still daylight.”

“Sure, sure,” FInkenbine replied, his eyes not leaving the bike.

 Weed and I looked at each other, then started towards the garage door.

“I’ll let you know when the windshield is in,” FInkenbine said with a wave, but he still didn’t take his eyes from the bike.

Weed smiled then looked at me and nodded towards the mail truck, so I just followed his lead.

He still didn’t say much on the way back to his place, but there was a different air about him as we pulled into the driveway.

“Now we’re really going to get somewhere with her,” Weed said, popping Pamela’s hood. And judging by the look on his face, he was as excited about it as I was.

I spent the afternoon being Weed’s little helper as he worked underneath my car. The original radiator, with rusted bolts and corroded hose clamps, fought us the whole way, but by the time dinner rolled around we’d managed to replace it with one that would actually hold coolant instead of leaking it all over his garage floor. 

“I’ve really got to go,” I said, wiping my hands on a shop rag. “I promised mom I’d be home for dinner.”

“You going to sneak back over later?”

“No, she’s not working so she’ll probably be up most of the night.

“Sucks to be you.”

“Sucks to be you too,” I replied. “It’s not like you’ve got anyone else to hang out with.”

“Ouch.”

“The truth hurts.”

“Yes it does.”

“Tomorrow then?” I asked. “Get a little more work done on her?”

“Tomorrow’s no good. I promised mom I’d go with her to the outlet malls and that usually takes all day.”

“Wow, your life really does suck doesn’t it.”

“Yeah, but at least I can still leave my house tonight so right now my life doesn’t suck quite as much as yours.”

“Ouch.”

“Yeah, the truth hurts.”

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