It was still coming down hard by the time Shades finally got off work.
Knowing that he was going to get soaked before he even got out of town anyway, he took a good look around the parking lot on his way out. After what happened this afternoon, he wasn’t taking any chances. Carlos was definitely serious this time; in spite of the progressively tougher opponents Master Al had him training with these days, Carlos had still presented the most serious challenge he had ever mustered against him. And both his instincts, and his years of experience dealing with Carlos, told him that was only Round One. Now he would have to be prepared for Round Two, wherever and whenever that turned out to be.
Here in the rain-soaked shadows of the parking lot, his own thoughts turned to darker possibilities as he rewound to an earlier part of their confrontation. …you and your new girlfriend… Which meant that Carlos knew about his meeting with Amy. Shades didn’t like that thought at all. After all, Carlos had dragged his friends into this mess before on a couple occasions…
“Don’t even think about it,” he muttered to the darkness, wondering what he would actually do if it came to such a thing. “This is between you and me. If you drag her into this, I will fuck—you—up.”
Much to his relief, though, there were no nasty surprises awaiting him at his bike, and he was able to leave unmolested. Despite getting to work on time in the face of his delays, his work shift hadn’t been so kind to him. He was waylaid by unexpected tasks near the end, ruining any chance of getting back to Lakeside until after midnight. All he looked forward to for now was a hot shower and dry clothes.
Near the southern outskirts of town, Shades pulled over in a parking lot. He took off his helmet and whipped out a pair of water-proof headphones; like the rest of his gear, he had paid a little extra for stuff that would hold up against the elements. Unfolded and adjusted them before putting his helmet back on and resuming his journey. Now that he was out of the traffic zones, not that there had been much of that to begin with on a night like this, it didn’t matter to him. Aside from not running afoul of the law, he was more concerned about the distraction. After all, it wasn’t as if he could hear much of anything else over the engine anyway.
He would ordinarily have just played a mix tape, but he wanted to hear the weather report. Shades had come to despise the pop-fruitopia wasteland of the commercial airwaves, scattered with only the occasional oasis, an escape from the incessant stream of ads laced with censorship, and the inane commentary that many mistook for the height of human wit. Becoming increasingly conglomerated into repeat-looping broken records, relayed by slave-rigged satellites, all trace of humanity paved over with chrome and neon. The only thing left he could stomach was the “Oldies” station, where at least some of the on-air “personalities” actually had some to speak of, and the music was made by people who had written their own songs, or at least played their own instruments.
While he waited for the weather update, he was rewarded for his patience with Born to be Wild. One of his favorites when he was a kid, he had rediscovered it after he got a steel steed of his own. At least it looked like they were going to play some good stuff while he waited.
It was a twenty-odd-mile drive to Lakeside, and Highway 93 was infamous for its road conditions. He would be lucky if he made it home in time for Dave’s Top Ten List. Then some shower and shut-eye, in just that order.
As he neared the edge of the small town of Somers, he passed the abandoned hulk of an old hotel, said to have recently been purchased by a new owner. Standing in front of the parking lot of the darkened complex was a figure in a trenchcoat and a wide-brim hat, shrouding his face in shadows. He held his thumb out in the customary hitchhiking position, and appeared to be calling out to him.
Though Shades felt bad for him, he decided to keep going. The thought had crossed his mind to give him a lift into town, but even without a full backpack, it was always iffy on whether or not they had any experience on the back of a motorcycle. That, and there was something about this particular hitchhiker he found unsettling.
In matters such as these, he let his instincts have the last word.
Even though hitchhikers weren’t an uncommon sight on any highway, he had to wonder what that guy was doing out there. His best guess was that perhaps the poor man mistakenly thought the hotel was open for business. Yet even that hypothesis offered little explanation for what he was doing out at this hour, in this storm.
Shades was surprised, and slightly disturbed, to find another hitchhiker on the road. This one stood in front of an old service station that flashed by on his left, a large rock face on his right. Again, standing out in the rain without an umbrella.
What he found disconcerting was that this hitchhiker looked exactly like the one he had seen earlier at the hotel.
Somehow being in the middle of Somers no longer made him feel very secure anymore. Even as he told himself that it was just the clothes making them look alike, the song changed to the Doors’ Riders On the Storm. Too much like a soundtrack for this ride home, but he didn’t want to stop and switch to his tape here. Still, he told himself that one coincidence wasn’t enough to get worked up about, but that weird feeling that had hounded him off-and-on all day was back with a vengeance.
If not for the rain coming down in sheets, he would be able to see Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi, now that he was past Somers.
As he rode past a beachfront parking lot, he knew he was totally spooking himself because he thought he saw someone coming out from behind a truck parked there, and he reminded himself not to let his imagination get the best of him and kept riding.