To Begin With
|Source: Wikimedia Commons|
Finds like this are rare nowadays. Almost every barn, shed, and garage in the world has been mined for vintage motorcycles. Those who still have them have an idea of what they’re worth — gone are the days when they’d almost pay you to cart off that hunk of rust.
I didn’t get it for free, but a hundred bucks is close. “Yeah,” the old lady said, “I could probably get a lot more for it, but I’d have to put it up for sale. To be honest, I need the space in the shed more than I need the money. My husband brought that thing home… oh God, thirty years ago. He left it there all this time, then he passed away last year, just as he finally started tinkering with it.” I didn’t exactly argue with her about the price. Maybe I should have — if I’d offered her something close to what it was worth, she might have still let me have it for the hundred bucks, but… well, I’m getting ahead of myself.
She watched as I pushed it out of the shed and onto my trailer. It was a tough slog — the tires were flat and rotten, and the axles turned only under protest. The chain was caked with grease, which was good because it didn’t impede me even more. The clutch cable was frozen, but I managed to find neutral after a few attempts.
“I think I got the better end of this transaction,” said the old lady, with a sardonic smile, after I wrestled the bike onto the trailer and got a couple tie-downs on it. “Would you like something to drink?”
“Sure,” I said. “But seriously, you’re letting this go for —”
She waved off my protest. “Coffee or tea?”
“Water would be fine,” I said. She nodded and ducked into the house, bringing out an old green tumbler full of ice water as I finished securing my prize.
“Mitch wi— would be pleased,” she said as I drained the glass. “At least someone’s taking on his old project.” She paused a moment as I handed her the tumbler. “Well, I’m sure you’re anxious to get home and start fixing it up.”
The restoration went much smoother than expected. I had to tear it down, of course, but the insides were in much better shape than I could have hoped for — almost no wear on the bearings, and no scoring on the cylinder walls. The odometer’s 1300 miles could well have been honest. The frame was sound, and most of the rust was only on the surface. A few hundred bucks’ worth of parts, and a bunch of evenings spent the way I like spending them, and I had a vintage bike easily worth eight grand. Maybe ten.
It was Christmas Eve when I hooked up the battery. Cold outside, but warm enough in the garage. I thumbed the compression release, squeezed the clutch, and stood on the kickstarter. To my surprise and delight, it coughed to life on the third kick! “Merry Christmas! It lives!” I shouted. I let it warm up while donning my cold-weather gear.
“Where to?” I asked the bike. Friends were drifting off… but Jim had said something about a Christmas party at his place tonight. It was only ten miles away, and my gear was good for thirty in this weather. I backed out of the garage, flipped on the headlight, and was on my way.
The Harley was alive!
I’d gone maybe a mile when the rabbit dashed across the road. The bike surged on me, as if jumping at the rabbit, and we nailed it before I had a chance to brake or throttle back. I grimaced, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. Evolution in action, etc.
I was almost to Jim’s place when it started sputtering. I cursed and pulled to the side under a street light, working the spark advance to keep it running, and leaned over to look. Nothing leaking, but that didn’t mean anything. I could have missed a piece of crud in the fuel system — or worse, an oil line — and now I was paying the price. I took off a glove to twist the petcock, then cut a finger groping for it. A second later, the engine smoothed out. I wrapped a napkin from my pocket around my finger, then put the glove back on. Whatever crud it was, I thought, it must have passed through.
Jim’s party paused for a few minutes, because everyone heard my grand entrance and wanted to see the bike. Beer flowed freely, and I drank more than usual when on two wheels. Jim offered to let me stay over, but the Harley started right up again and I rolled out.
A rat scurried out in front of me on the way home. Again, the Harley surged and caught it. Too weird, I thought, but I had no idea anything was wrong until I got to the turn home… and kept going. I couldn’t get the bike to slow down, no matter how hard I throttled back or braked. Straight on we went, into the ugly part of town.
Close to midnight, I saw the drunk staggering along the sidewalk up ahead… and so did the bike. The headlight died, and I braced myself for what was coming. The drunk stumbled into the street and the Harley surged again. I wrestled the handlebars, but the bike was in control: it swerved at the last second, kicking the back end around and slapping the drunk back to the sidewalk. The reaction pushed us out of the skid. We kept going, and haven’t stopped yet.
So if you see me coming, get away from the road.
The Harley is undead. And it’s hungry.