I drove by our local library one night and saw a kid sitting against a wall in the shadows with his computer open on his lap. He was obviously availing himself of the library’s free WiFi signal. I got to thinking–suppose he was homeless, and he saw something sinister happen from his hidden spot?
This story was published in everydayfiction.com on May 16, 2012. It won story of the month at EDF for May.
To Catch a Wolf
When the woman didn’t come back to the chopper with that guy, I figured something bad had happened.
There was just a slice of moon, and all I saw when they pulled up was the outline of this humongous biker with a beer gut and sloped shoulders and a tall woman who was singing the chorus of some annoying country and western song over and over again. It was two fifty in the morning, and I was huddled against the wall of the county library where I could pick up a nice wi fi signal. I didn’t hang out at the library during the day because of all the why-aren’t- you-in-school looks.
I closed my computer—an ancient MacBook I’d bought cheap off a tweeker—and watched as they disappeared down the steep bank to the creek. The singing died out, and I’d pretty much forgotten about them until the man started up the motorcycle and pulled away maybe thirty minutes later. The bike was low slung with high curved handle bars and chrome forks that thrust forward. The chrome gleamed in the moonlight, and the engine made a deep loping sound that snaked a shiver down my back.
I sat there hoping the singing would start again but knew it wouldn’t. I finally put my computer in the case I’d found in a dumpster, hid it in the bushes and crossed the highway. The woman was face down in the water, lifeless. I pulled her out and stood over her, shaking like a little kid. I felt real sad, too, but no tears came. All I could think of was my sister, Amy. I looked down at my hand and realized I was holding a necklace that must have come loose from her neck. It shone like gold in the weak light. I put it in my pocket and washed my sticky hands in the creek before climbing back up the trail.
The woman was stretched across a jogging path and would be found in the morning, I told myself. No way I’m calling the cops. They’d start asking questions and pretty soon some judge would want to send me home. No, I wasn’t going back there, where my stepfather ruled like Jabba the fucking Hutt. I told mom what was going on with him and Amy, but she wouldn’t listen, and Amy denied it. That’s when I decided to take off.
I spent a restless morning back at my tent. I got the necklace out and looked it over, trying to figure out why I’d taken it. It was heavy like real gold, a collection of different shaped leaves strung on a chain. On the back of a maple leaf was inscribed To Tayla from Daddy. Xmas ’09. My eyes burned but stayed dry, and a mixture of guilt and anger flowed over me like hot tar. I ached to talk to my dad. If he was alive, he’d know what to do.
That afternoon, I put the necklace in my backpack and headed out for Dougherty’s, the only biker bar in the county. It was a good five mile walk, and I arrived just as night fell. I got a single slice of stale pizza at a little market across the street and strolled over to the parking lot behind the bar. I almost choked on a bite of pizza when I saw the big chopper with the high handle bars. I waited around, and when a couple of dudes came out and mounted their bikes, I pointed to the chopper and said, “That’s a cool bike. Know who owns it?”
The taller one scowled and said, “That’s Lobo’s bike.” The fat, ugly one laughed and added, “Better stay away from it, kid.”
I backed off and waited in the shadows, trying to figure out my next step. An hour later a man approached the chopper. My knees got weak when I saw the beer belly and the big, sloped shoulders. It was him for sure. As he got on his bike, I stepped forward, swallowed hard and said, “Hey Lobo. I’m Danny. Love your bike, man.”
He wrinkled his brow for a moment then flashed a surprisingly friendly smile. “Thanks, kid.”
I took a couple more steps and swallowed again. “Bet you did the work yourself.”
He held the smile and seemed to puff up a little. “Fuckin’ right, man. Every nut and bolt.”
“Bro, that’s genius,” I gushed as I moved behind him to stroke the fine leather of his saddle bags. “These bags are awesome, too. Say, my uncle’s working on a chopper like this, but he’s not much of a mechanic. Think he could talk to you about it?”
Lobo shrugged. “I guess so. Have him give me a call.” With that, he kicked started his machine and took off. I stood there listening to the deep, awful throb of his engine receding into the night while I committed the cell phone number he’d given me to memory and moved my fingers around in the pocket where the necklace had been.
I walked back to my tent against a cold wind, but didn’t feel it much. At the library that night I uploaded this in the jewelry section of Craig’s List—“Beautiful necklace of miniature tree leaves made of gold on an eighteen inch, twenty four carat chain. Cash only.” I signed it “Lobo” and gave his cell number.
There was nothing new about the murder in the paper the next two days, and I began to feel like a real idiot, but on the third day, the headlines screamed—Suspect Arrested in Johnson Creek Slaying.
The article went on to belittle the biker nicknamed Lobo, who’d been dumb enough to advertise his victim’s jewelry on the internet.
The next morning I packed up my stuff and headed for home. It was time to take on Jabba the fucking Hutt.