It was a usual weekday night at BILLY’s. There were just the usual customers, which at BILLY’s can mean a very different group. There were even a couple of Sheriff Deputies sitting at one end. They’d come around 2 or 3 times a month to have a couple of beers after work. They’d all been there a little while when the newest deputy came in.
Everyone called him Skeeter ’cause he was kind of small and irritating.
Skeeter sat down and started talking, loudly, as usual.
“Man, you shoulda been down on Farmers road. Watched this old biker dude pick up one of the sweetest looking women I ever saw. Bike was really hot to, ya know? But there must have been something wrong with his pipes. I couldn’t hear anything wrong but you could hear every dog in the neighborhood howling when he drove by.”
Everybody got real quiet. One of the other deputies, Vince, asked
“Was it a blue bike? Lots of chrome?”
Skeeter looked over and smiled real big and answered,
“Oh Ya. Man you should have seen it. Chromed out to the max.”
Vince set his glass on the bar and without a word walked out.
Skeeter looked like a puppy someone had just kicked.
“What did I say?”
Everyone looked over at Billy.
“Skeeter, you’re a pretty good guy for a cop. But you ain’t got the sense God gave a grown mouse. You didn’t say anything wrong. You just don’t know when to shut up.”
“Since this is my bar”, Billy continued, “I guess I’ll have to tell you the story. But I’m only gonna tell it once. You got any questions, you find someone else to ask.”
The last wasn’t a question, but a flat out statement. Skeeter just nodded his head. Billy took a real deep breath.
“That girl’s name was Reba. Seems she went shopping every Thursday and he picked her up right there after work. She and the biker hung around here. Everybody called him Smoker. Happened about 2 years ago. Right Steve?”
Deputy Steve sat for a minute and answered,
“Be two years ago next week.”
“Like I said two years ago. It started out just a few blocks up Farmers road from where you saw her standing. There was a guy, a salesman of some sort. He’d been drinking all afternoon. Vince saw him weaving and turned on the blue lights to pull him over. The guy panicked and tried to run. He lost it on the curve right there by the shopping center. He went off the road, and hit her where you saw her standing earlier today. EMT’s said she was dead before she hit the ground. “
Skeeter blinked a couple of times then got that indignant look on his face. “Hey, I may be the new guy, but I’m not that new. You said she was dead before she hit the ground. If that’s true, who did I see?”
“Skeeter, shut up and listen,” probably more words out of Deputy Steve than anyone had heard for years.
“Everyone was there when Smoker pulled up. He got there a few minutes after it happened. Vince was standing there talking with the drunk and Smoker just stood there. Crying. Seems this guy we called Smoker was some kind of super spook in the desert, a professional bodyguard, an ex-cop and a whole bunch of other things. He just stood there crying because there was nothing he could do. That’s what he kept saying. He couldn’t protect her. He got on the bike and rode off. Went back to the house they shared, a couple months later he grabbed a few things and rode off. Her sister came and took the kids till they graduated from Morgan high last year.”
“We found out later he had lost his first wife to cancer while he was in the desert. They had a kid. He went to pieces then too. The kid was raised by her parents in Seattle. He dropped in here one night, then moved into town and stayed. He met Reba right here in this bar. She did something to him. Something good. They came here 3-4 times a week. Never saw a spot of trouble when she was with him. But you could tell, he could do plenty of damage if she didn’t control him. She could, because he loved her.”
Billy paused. This was the tough part of the story.
“Nobody saw him again. A couple of months later we heard he’d shot himself down by a lake outside Arlington Cemetery. That’s when we started hearing the bike, seeing both of them, and hearing the dogs. Seems like wherever that bike goes, you’ll hear the dogs howling.”
With that, Billy turned around and went back to polishing the clean glasses. It didn’t take long before everyone decided to call it an early night. Steve took Skeeter outside and they never came back, didn’t even finish their beers.
Pretty soon Billy was alone in his bar. He walked outside the back door to get some air and have a smoke. As he lighted his cigarette he could hear, far off in the distance, the sound of a motorcycle, and all the dogs in the world howling.
So ends my tale of Smoker, and his sad saga. But I was down at Billy’s Tavern the other night and there are other stories to be told and other characters to be found.