The gusting wind nearly blew the bike over as I wheeled it out of the garage and propped it on it’s side stand, before closing the garage door.
Turning back to the Bonneville I pushed it out onto the road and heaved it onto the main stand, once again cursing the shitty weather and the bloody knackered van as well. My waterproofs were already dripping wet and the fact that I’d promised to give an estimate tonight, when I could be snug and warm indoors with Alison, was a sore point. I’d only recently gone self-employed as a painter so even the hint of a job was worth following up.
I gave my helmet and wet gear a last check, then began the beast’s starting ritual.
Prime the carbs, feel for top dead centre of the piston’s travel with the kick starter, ignition on and a good solid kick….
Nothing. Not a whimper.
“Come on, you bitch!” I muttered under my breath. It’d always been an ill-tempered machine, but I couldn’t really blame it for not wanting to start on a night like this.
Another kick and still no joy got me cursing and threatening to sell it. A nice new Jap bike would do, perhaps one of them “cruisers” with an electric start.
I knew in my heart I’d never sell her as, after twenty odd years together, there were just too many memories shared between us, but if she heard my threats she showed no sign and I was just about to go in and phone to say I’d be late when I heard another bike, it’s loud exhausts clear even through the screaming wind.
“I’m not the only idiot out in this then” I thought, and kicked it over once again, although it was already flooded. The racing engine seemed to be getting nearer, it’s turbine-like whine bouncing off the houses, and I thought it sounded familiar but I couldn’t place it.
Then a glowing headlight appeared at the end of the street, along with a blipped throttle and a screech of hot disc brakes. ”They’ll wake up the street” I groaned “and I’ll get the blame”. I wasn’t too popular with some of the neighbours as it was. I stepped out into the road as the bike and rider appeared out of the torrential rain and recognised them at once, as they were as familiar to me as my own mother.
I stood dumbfounded in the road, my heart pounding as the big machine coasted towards me and it’s engine cut.
“Hello Jim” said the voice that I’d last heard nearly twelve years ago.
I couldn’t reply. My mouth had gone dry and my tongue felt like a hard swollen fur ball behind my lips.
“You don’t really want to go out in this, do you?” asked my friend.
“I-I have to Richie” I managed to say, after swallowing a couple of times.
“Nothing is important enough to risk your life for, is it mate?” came the reply.
I looked from him in his black leather bomber jacket and jeans, to the immaculate Kawasaki Z1000, and marvelled that neither bike nor rider was wet, while I already had a soaking crotch and what seemed like a small river running down my back.
What looked even sillier were the mirror shades and open face helmet so I had to laugh, and felt better for it.
“Don’t go to Mrs Smedley’s tonight Jim” I heard him say. “I didn’t listen to you and look what happened”.
I felt another lump in my throat and wanted to tell him everything I’d not been able to, but couldn’t begin to put my feelings into words. He seemed to know what I was thinking and, never one for sentiment, he thumbed the electric starter and, being Japanese, it fired first time.
Over the gentle tick over he said “Take the beast back in Jim. It won’t start anyway” and gave me that cheeky wink.
“The van as well?” I asked and he nodded again, then said “I can’t tell you any more, but just don’t go, alright?”
He leaned over and took my hand, his grip still the bone-crunching one I remembered.
“I have to go now, but don’t worry, everything will be all right if you just stay at home”.
He released my hand and put the bike into gear. With a last grin he pulled away and did a neat turn in the road. As if on command, a wide curtain of water appeared at the end of the road, it’s surface glistening and bright points of light shone behind it.
As Richie passed me he revved the engine and popped a wheelie down the rest of the length of the street, disappearing into the near-solid deluge. He was always a bit of a show-off and I was always telling him he’d go too far one day. Used to scare the crap out of me when we were out riding.
With a sigh I opened the garage door again and pushed the beast off her stand and back to the garage. Alison was surprised I was back, but said that Mrs Smedley had phoned and said to come tomorrow. She hadn’t expected me to show in this weather anyway.
“Oh and there’s been a bad smash on the bypass. It was on the news just now -good job you didn’t go, eh?”
As I cuddled up to Alison of the sofa I thought about asking if she’d heard the racket in the street, but then it would only scare her if I told her what had happened.
I opened a can of Newkie Brown and raised it in a silent toast to my best mate Richard.