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This all happened. It was 1980, I was 21 years old, without a motorcycle, putting in my last few months in Sylvan Lake, Alberta after four long years working the oil patch and as a construction labourer. My friends and peers were all becoming ever-bigger idiots, and I was working a plan: Save up a few grand and escape to Vancouver to start a new life in photography (another story for another winter day).
Dave was banging his fist on the door of my hundred-dollar-a-month rented farmhouse where I lived alone, my girlfriend of 1.5 years having recently moved in with my next-door neighbour. 'Wake up,' he was shouting. 'We've got serious shit to do.'
I did not want to see Dave. He owed me $500 and was being evasive about paying it back, so no favours from me. This was for a ticket I'd gotten after he was in a big accident while using license plates registered to me from a VW Bug I'd parted with some months before. I'd sold him the plates for $50. He'd run a red while daydreaming, writing off his brand-new work van, and the car he hit. He was convicted of dangerous driving and lost his driver's license. But wanting to keep working as a duct installer, he'd bought an old Ford pickup and needed plates for it. I had several dead vehicles in my farmyard, and therefore was his go-to guy for this. I had not yet paid the $500 fine, and it was due soon. I did not have the money. Also, I knew Dave had no intention or ability to repay me it, and was trying to minimize my time with him.
Now he was kicking my door, talking in a loud whisper. 'I need your truck, man. I gotta move a bike.'
I put on my jeans and went to see what he was up to. The sun was low and fierce, and though there were two feet of snow on the ground and it was early morning, it was warm out. Probably a chinook had rolled in overnight.
'Jesus,' whined Dave, barging past me. 'What's your problem? Listen, I just bought a wicked Kawasaki. It's a Z1 900. But it's hot, and I need to borrow your truck to move it out to my place. It's at Kerry's. It's a seventy-five!'
'You mean stolen-hot? No thank you,' I said. 'Not interested.'
'The fuck do you mean, not interested? I need your truck, man. My truck's broken down and Kerry's is all full of work shit, and he wants the bike off his property by ten this morning. I'll pay you fifty bucks.'
'All your problem, Dave,' I said. 'I don't move stolen motorcycles. Especially for you.'
'Oh, don't worry. You don't have to drive anywhere. Just give me the keys, I'll have it back in an hour.'
'No hope of that. And anyway, what the fuck are you doing? You're in a shitload of trouble as is. Go back to bed so that I can, too.'
'Look,' he started, all annoyed, like I wasn't seeing the amazingness of his idea, 'I paid fifty bucks for a classic machine. Now I just need your truck to move it out to the fucking farm. I'll even throw in ten bucks worth of gas. I promise.'
'No,' I said. 'Get outta here. I'm going to sleep.'
An Aglo-Quebecer from Hull, Dave was one-part charisma, one-part smalltime fraudster and one part fair-weather friend. Not to be trusted. Just like everyone else I knew in the trouble-filled town of Sylvan Lake. Except he was the most interesting, least rednecky guy there. He always had lots of girls around him, because he was dashing and funny and honest about his many flaws in a charming way. He even read books. Annoyingly, I needed him as a friend, just to feel less hopelessly adrift within Alberta's universe of alcoholic rig pigs, truckers, pub sluts and other scumbags. I was well on my way to becoming one or more of these myself, hence the escape to Vancouver idea.
There was no saying no to Dave. He never quit till he won.
We pulled up in my rusted-out gold '68 Chevy pickup in front of Kerry's. He was already outside at the garage, where I assumed the Kawi awaited. Fast was there, too.
'Back it in here,' shouted Kerry. He was the only one with any sense among us. Had the job/house/marriage thing going with Louise, a Quebecoise chick who was pregnant. She'd had cleft palate surgery as a kid and still had a speech impediment, but was sexy in a number of ways. Everyone knew Dave had slept with her, including Kerry. This likely had something to do with Dave no longer living at Kerry's. We boys all referred to Louise's bump as Dave Jr.
I couldn't believe Dave had managed to con Kerry into stashing the hot 900 there, but that was Dave. And there it was. Green and gold paintjob, matte- black four-into-ones. Otherwise stock, it looked in good shape. 'Does it run?' I asked. No one knew. Soon the four of us were swearing and yelling it sideways into my pickup. It just squeezed through under the fiberglass topper. The windows were dirty, so you couldn't see much inside.
Dave, Fast and I got in the truck. Kerry came to my driver's window. 'You guys are gonna fuck this up,' he said, grinning. 'Don't call me from jail.'
'Thanks,' I said. 'That makes me feel so much better.'
As we drove, Dave suggested we stop at the beer store. I was against it, but he insisted. 'I'm buying,' he said, adding 'I'll give you some of this later.' I looked over. He was holding a baggy with white powder in it.
'What the hell is that?' I shouted.
'Heroin, man.' Dave smiled his goofy let's-get-into-trouble smile.
'You are such a fucking loser,' I said.
Fast chuckled, then said, 'Don't knock it till ya try it.'
'I am not trying any heroin, thanks. Are you guys smack-heads already? Is that why I have a stolen 900 in the back? You're stealing shit now to feed that? Fuck me gently.'
They both laughed. 'Fenn, you are so new,' Fast said. 'You don't just get hooked.'
'Yeah, you have to work at it, man,' said Dave.
We pulled up at the beer store. I waited with Fast. Dave came out with a dozen Pil. 'Let's go,' he said, piling in, ripping open the box, handing us each one. It was just past 11:00 am.
I started driving us to a shortcut through an alleyway, back to the main street, intending to head up the big hill to Dave's, about two miles out of town. He lived in a rented house on a pig farm.
As I began easing rightward into the alleyway entrance, which was obscured by a tall cedar hedgerow on my side, I caught the blue RCMP car heading dead for us. I hit the brakes. I could see his front tires locked up and sliding on the packed snow.
The cop car smacked straight into my grill, doing maybe 10 mph. It was totally his fault. I hadn't even entered the alley yet. He was driving like an idiot.
'Fuck, fuck, fuck.' I said. 'Hide the beers.'
The silence before the gathering shitstorm wailed in my ears like a hundred smoke detectors. The rest of my decomposing life was writing itself out for me, clear as the morning's weather.
There were two cops. I got out of the truck, trying to look relaxed, and walked around to check out the damage. There was a small dent in the forepeak of my hood, with Mounty-blue paint on it.
'You guys all right?' It was Disco Dan, a well-known town cop with fancy hair who knew me and was not a fan.
'Yeah, we're fine,' I said. 'You?'
'License, registration and insurance please, sir,' said the other cop. I didn't know him.
I walked to the passenger side and opened the door. A beer bottle rolled out and landed on the packed snow with a soft plink. Dave and Fast and I locked eyes. I bent down and picked up the foaming bottle, handing it to Fast, while reaching for the glovebox button. As it popped open, the baggie of heroin fell onto the truck floor. I looked up. The cops were between our vehicles, chatting.
'Here,' I whispered, 'stash this in your crotch or something. Jesus Christ, where's my insurance? Thank fuck.'
I was legal, vehicularly speaking, so wasn't worried about any badness beginning there. The unknown cop took my papers and both returned to their car. After five minutes of hell, Disco Dan's door opened. I got out.
'Gonna hafta cite ya for driving left of centre, sir. It's only thirty-five dollars. Be more careful next time.'
'Sure thing,' I said. 'I will. You guys have a great day.' We all knew it was their fault and they probably knew I was up to no good. Who wasn't in that town? But with everyone in the wrong, it was just a matter of a little face saving and we could all get back to enjoying this beautiful day.
'That was the fucking closest, ever,' I sighed, starting my truck.
'Jesus, Fenn,' Dave said. 'Nice one. It's your lucky day.'
'Yeah, I am so glad I answered my door this morning. You owe me thirty-five additional dollars, by the way.'
We drove on. Through the strip, up the hill past the cop shop, the school, over the tracks and the UFA gas station.
'Shit, I need gas.' I slowed down.
'Fuck it,' Dave said. 'Just drive on. It's just over the hill.'
'No man. I'm dry! Look.' The gauge was below empty. I had maybe an ounce of gas left.
'We have a big gas-tank at the farm, I'll fill you up, no charge. I promise.'
'We won't make it, asshole,' I said, continuing on in that vein awhile, Dave eventually winning.
At the crest of the hill, the engine died.
'Fuckers,' I said to the truck and to Dave.
There was a tree-lined lovers lane to our right, and I coasted into it with enough momentum to get the truck maybe 100 feet off the road.
I turned to Dave. 'I will kill you one day soon.'
We got out. Dave's place was about a mile as the crow flew, across a huge field of snow, or two miles if we hoofed it by road. Our options limited, Dave decided we'd cross the field, grab a jerry can and walk across back with it. The first step off the lane, we all sunk into snow well past our knees. Hard snow that took your weight and then collapsed once you'd straightened your legs. Fast and I cursed at Dave the entire 40 minutes it took to reach the farm. We were sweating and exhausted from the slog, boots full of snow.
As Dave organized the fuel, the pig farmer came by on a snowmobile and stopped to talk. When he heard our predicament, he offered us a lift back to my truck. Dave and I hopped on. The truck took a while to start, but we got it out and drove around to Dave's.
We all then wrestled the big hot 9 out, again with mutual annoyance and shouting, put it on its centre stand and set to ogling it.
The bike being stolen, Dave had no key. So while Fast and I watched and drank our beers, Dave went to work hotwiring it. It was running two hours later, rough as hell like it had full cams, or because it was well out of tune, I couldn't say.
Dave rode it around in the barnyard snow a bit for a while and then more idiots arrived with more beer. I fell asleep in in the yard, in front of a big bonfire that night.
I awoke shivering in the morning, with Dave's big ginger cat, shaved to look like a male lion, curled up in my lap. The fire, chinook and everyone else were long gone.
I never saw the bike again, never got my $50 transport fee, the $35 fine or the $500 back from Dave. But I did move to Vancouver a couple of months later, where I did not become a photographer.
Dave, if you're reading this, first: Fuck you. Second: I still wonder about you from time to time. Hope you figured things out, didn't spend your life in jail or die of heroin.