Paco fumbled with the orange package of ramen noodles. These boogers were tough to open sober, never mind drunk. Besides, he felt like shit. Wobbling under the dim overhead kitchen light he braced himself against the sink and worked open the pack with the point of the butcher knife. Something inside was fucked up. Maybe it was biker’s kidneys. Two months ago when things had worsened, he’d quit speed, he’d quit tequila, in fact he’d quit all hard liquor and was trying to mend himself. Nothin’ but weed and beer and good food might get him feelin’ better. Beer flushes the kidneys. And he was dropping a few pounds too, stayin’ away from the fast food.
The next morning his back ached so badly, getting out of bed was a chore. His urine was the color of strong tea, his sweat had a peculiar odor, and he was short-winded. At least it was Saturday and he had the weekend to rest up. “Fuck this,” he thought.
At 49 Paco was one of the seniors. Hogs, leather, beards, tattoos, and rap sheets bound the brotherhood of bikers together, and within each was that deeper thing, the spiritual code seldom articulated, that of the tough, uncomplaining, self-reliant Outlaw Warrior, survivors who believed they’d lasted because they were tough enough to do what the fuck they pleased. Take, don’t ask. Never back down. Their only loyalties: independence and Harleys. Many had fallen: road kill, OD’d on junk or in limbo doing time in stir. But the survivors were tough hombres, standouts in a world of wage-slave drones.
A red Camero pulled up beside the trailer. Lilly, an OR nurse who bought weed from him, got out and walked up the hammock where Paco lay.
“How’s it hangin’, Paco.”
“Hey Lilly, how you been, baby? Ain’t seen you for a while. Go in there and grab us a couple cold ones, you can pull up that blue chair, honey.”
“Man it’s a hot one. Watcha been up to? You still workin’ at the body shop?”
“Yeah, bustin’ my ass too. Manny got a contract to repaint county trucks. Fuckin’ county almost broke runnin’ outta money decides it don’t want white trucks no more; they all gotta be this shitty grey color. You still on mornin’ shift?”
“Yeah. You doin’ okay? You’re lookin’ kinda wrung out. Them paint fumes getting’ to ya?”
Well to tell the truth, Lilly I feel like shit here lately. I don’t know what it is, here I cleaned up my act a little but nothin’s gettin’ any better.”
“Lemme look. Open your mouth, say ahhhh for me. Hold on a minute.” From the car Lilly fetched her stethoscope and cuff. Taking his blood pressure, she lit up a cigarette. “Sit up, Paco, give mama a listen to that ticker.” Front, back, high, low – inhaling, holding, exhaling, she listened then repeated the sequence a second then a third time.
“Paco, I don’ wanna scare you, honey, but you oughtta get checked out by the doctor.”
“Somethin’ wrong? Whaddya hear?”
“Well, I can’t tell for sure, and it’s hard to ‘splain, but it sounds like you might have you a leaky valve. Somethin’ aint right.”
His face dropped its color to the same grey he was painting the county trucks. “So,ehh,ehh , so what?”
“Could be bad. You’ll feel like shit all the time, short of breath, maybe dizzy. These leaks don’t fix themselves, sugar, and they get progressively worse. You got to take care of yourself. “
“So can they fix it, like put in a new gasket?”
“Well, sorta. They put in a nylon doomajiggy or else a valve from a pig’s heart…”
“A pig’s heart! You gotta be shittin’…”
“No it’s just the valve not the whole damned heart. We probably do two a month on old geezers. Costs an arm and a leg, but it works. They carry ‘em in half-dead and in two weeks, these old farts are pole vaultin’ out the door on their hardons.”
“A pig’s heart. Ha, a pig’s heart’d suit me fine, man. Excuse me, a pig’s heart valve. Now aint’ that some shit!
The next day, Sunday, Paco did what he did every Sunday, he rode to Wracks. He felt so shitty he just sat at the bar slow cruising a pitcher of draft, watching a game of eight ball between Mike Potts and Heavy Sterns. Heavy, fresh outta stir, had just served four years of a seven year jury-tampering rap in medium security at the Atlanta Federal pen. Paco remembered how fat he’d been before he went in. Now he was trim. The game ended, Paco called Heavy over to finish the pitcher that he couldn’t.”
“Man, didn’t they feed you up there? I remember you having’ some meat on your bones; you musta weighed close to 300 when you went in?”
“Yeah, well I’m a lean, mean 190 now, partner. Wasn’t there a week and my pump jist give out on me, fuckin’ near croaked while I still in classification. Oxygen tubes up the nose, am’blance, and next thing I know they’re wheeling me outta open heart surgery.” Heavy lifted his tank top to expose a 9” scar which bisected a blue tattoo of a weeping Christ.” I’ll be go to hell, damned if that scar don’t part J C’s hair.”
“Yep, right down the middle. Yep, Skate Board Jesus now ; see there’s his board down by his feet..Think about it, Paco, Uncle Sam bought me a brand shiny-new pacemaker. Even installed the sumbitch for free. Ha. Then I get put on light duty detention with a special fuckin’ diet and no heavy liftin’. While the rest of them assholes were bush-hoggin’ and pickin’ butter beans under the sun, I’m foldin’ towels and washcloths in an air-conditioned issue room. Easiest stir I ever did. But lemme tell ya somethin’ Paco. I’d gone to Tucker or some other state lockup them fuckers’d let me croak. Skate Board Jesus was lookin’ out for Heavy when the feds got me instead of the state. You dig?”
At 1:30 PM a Springfield, Mo. city policeman pulled him over. Because he’d just run his Hog with Arkansas plates through a red light, because he was another out of state asshole biker, because he was mouthy, but mostly because of the $400 Kenwood car stereo/CD changer with scratch marks wrapped in a towel setting between Paco’s legs on the gas tank – the officer arrested him and took him directly to jail. Soon it was discovered that a Boone County Arkansas Circuit Court judge’s Lexus had been broken into in Harrison, Arkansas the day before. The driver’s window had been smashed with a brick and his honor’s Kenwood car stereo removed by force. As the burglary Paco was charged with had victimized a judge, he received his right to a speedy trial pronto before Judge Harry Lambert, golfing partner of Judge Byron Lakes, victim. Paco waived his right to trail by jury, pleaded no contest, and received, as expected, the maximum sentence for burglary and interstate transportation of stolen goods—seven years at the federal pen in Leavenworth. Later Judge Lambert commented to Paco’s public defender, Brantley Carmichael, how stupid the defendant had seemed.
Paco was astonished at how much better he’d felt immediately after the valve replacement operation. Recovery, though moderately painful, was nothing like dealing with the effects of the bad valve. He felt better than he had in years as the turnkey pushed his wheelchair to the visitor’s center. He picked up the telephone handset and spoke with Brantley Carmichael, Esq.
“You go down to Arkansas, to Harrison, to Wrack’s, it’s a private club, and talk to Jimmy. He’ll give you an envelope he’s got in his safe. It’s in a sealed, dated registered envelope, dated the morning before my arrest. Inside is my receipt from Circuit City in Branson. It’s got my name on it; it’s signed by the salesman; everything on the up and up. That salesman will remember me on accounta I told him, I’d kick his ass if the stereo didn’t work. Model number, serial number, everything. I bought and paid for that fucking stereo.”
“Paco, they will scream why this wasn’t presented at trial?
“Hey you seen yourself, I was a death’s door. Christ Almighty I was only two weeks away from the big one. I was so sick I din’ know what the fuck was happenin.’ Remember how I din’t say nothin’ and how I nodded off just before sentencing. Do your job, counselor and remind those black robed sons-a-bitches there’s a innocent man up here in Leavenworth.”
Standing beside the pool table at Wrack’s, he plucked the $10 bill from Heavy’s fingers, Paco’s forearm brandishing the fresh Skate Board Jesus tattoo.
“Rack ‘em up Heavy, let’s do it again. “