THE NEWLYWED CLUB.
CONTENT WARNING: This story contains a healthy dose of swearing. Some real whoppers too, so I hope you're into that kind of stuff! Also contains: (SPOILER!) An allusion to grisly death. Enjoy!
“We have plenty of time.” Connie looked out the passenger's window, as a white whale of a cloud floated lazily across the sunny sky. “It’s our honeymoon, try to relax.”
“Sure we do sugarbride, I know that. We’ve got the rest of our lives!” Bobby tapped his phone screen awake and saw 3:44 P.M. “All I’m saying is if we get in there before 4:00, we can pay lunch price for the buffet, but they’ll bring out all the dinner food!”
Connie stretched her bare feet into the sunny spot on the dashboard. “Do you really want bargain-hunting sirloin steak to be what I remember about our first full day of marriage?”
“Of course not Mrs. Fletcher! But this is Prime Rib we’re talking about. Did you even SEE the sign?” Bobby rolled his eyes in an exaggerated display of offense. “Besides, if the meat you remember about our honeymoon comes from ‘The Blue Barn Buffet’, I’m doing something wrong!” He scrunched his face and grabbed his junk with both hands, jerking his hips.
Connie straightened up and slid her sandals back on. “Sweep me off my feet, loverboy.”
The Blue Barn sat in the corner of a nearly abandoned strip mall, about a mile from the Ohio Turnpike in a long-forgotten steel town. In front of the restaurant, Route 13 spilled north to south, perforated by a burned-out traffic light bouncing on saggy wiring. Sharing the traffic light with 13, and bordering the plaza was Billet Parkway. A shaggy fence of arborvitae separated the lot from traffic. Billet wound westbound, picking up steam as it unfolded into busier neighborhoods mixed with residential and industrial properties. Behind the restaurant sat a big walk-in cooler the size of a handyman’s storage shed, next to a pair of rented garbage dumpsters.
The parking lot was close to empty, besides what were probably employee cars lined up in a row at the front corner of the property. The Fletchers’ honeymoon carriage (more specifically, Bobby’s minivan) was backed into a corner spot, way in the back. There were plenty of spaces right by the front door but after driving all day they welcomed the chance to stretch their legs. Besides, it was their honeymoon! Bobby thought after dinner he might try to suggest they see just how Grand this Caravan really is before they drive the last leg of highway up to Niagara Falls.
Bobby pressed the keyless push-button once, revealing ACCY. on the dash panel. The speakers exploded with sound as the radio caught Allen Collins midway through his ‘Freebird’ guitar solo. Chords screamed through the static of a radio station a few miles too far away.
Bobby played air guitar with his right hand as he ran all the windows closed with the other. Connie sprang forward and gave the radio knob an annoyed smack. The radio’s display screen went blank immediately, but the noise didn’t stop- not all the way. They exchanged a puzzled look for an instant before realizing the noise wasn’t coming from the radio. It was sirens. Not too close, maybe 4 or 5 miles away, but it sounded like there were a lot of them.
“Really, Bob? Why couldn’t we have waited till Pittsburgh to stop? Maybe an Applebee’s? Or a B-Dubs? I’d be happy with a drive-thru sandwich if we got it from someplace that isn’t in an abandoned ghost town.”
Bobby could feel her irritation swelling. “You’re just hungry, honey. We’re perfectly safe. Once our bellies are full of steak and we’re back on the road, you’ll feel better.”
“Are you seriously mansplaining hunger to me?”
“Aw hell, Con, please don’t start that shit.”
“It’s not shit, BOB.”
The sirens droned on. Bobby’s eyes softened for a moment when he saw the hurt in her face. “Aw baby, I’m sorry. I know your feeli-“
He stopped mid-sentence, his attention pulled away. There was something shiny off in the far corner of the shopping plaza’s pock-marked tarmac. Flashcubes of reflected sunlight burst like a golden disco ball from the top of- of what exactly?
Connie squinted “Is that a… bike?” They both stared for a second allowing their eyes (and their minds) time to focus on what they saw.
Bobby’s turn, “Is he- is he naked?”
The sight grew stranger the closer it got. It was a bike. An oldie too, one of those 10-speed jobs with the skinny tires that were popular for racing back in the ’80s. There were a few rose-colored spots of paint left unconsumed by rust, and a “V” shaped notch in the frame between the handlebars and seat. The rider was a pale white glob of a man. Greasy mats of hair were the only thing between his skin and a filth that would probably never wash off. And as for being naked…
“I guess not,” Connie half asked, “if you count the backpack and… helmet?”
A faux gold hard hat, the kind you might see the mayor of a city wearing for some groundbreaking ceremony, bounced and wobbled atop the rider's brain bucket. Each ham of a shoulder wrapped with the camouflage armbands of a weathered backpack.
The couple saw no sign of where the bike seat might actually be underneath all that mess, but, to be fair, they didn’t look for it much.
The gap between them had been halved already, “How is he going so fast?” Bobby wondered. As if on cue they watched as the bike’s front tire slammed into a wide crack in the concrete, nearly sending the whole rig ass over elbows. The cycle rocked side to side violently. The fat man doubled down, standing up to smash the pedals forward beneath his lumbering hocks. He ripped up on the handlebars like an airline pilot staring into the Atlantic, shooting the bike out of the ravine and onto flat pavement. The Grime King regained his balance, though it did cost him his crown. The hard hat tumbled off of his head unnoticed and landed in a dusty pothole.
Picking up even more speed, Ole Grimey looked like he might have one more trick to pull off. He settled messily back onto the seat and let the pedals coast. Sitting bolt upright he let go of the handlebars and wormed his right arm free of the backpack strap. With a thrust of his torso, he flung the sack around his body and caught the left strap as it fell from his shoulder and down his arm. He launched the backpack as gracefully as an Olympic athlete, right through the dead nuts center of the open sliding door on the side of the trash dumpster.
The hollow THWACK! of the bag hitting the back of the steel box was like a starting pistol, sending the wacky racer into a frenzy. He reared his head back like a horse and put his whole body into those pedals.
The Fletchers were frozen in their seats as the rider passed by close enough for them to see clean lines of sweat streaming in rivers down his filthy mass. Grimes flew past the van without giving them a glance. The bike crashed up and over a curb and between two trees onto Billet Parkway, (another landing physics would never be able to explain), and disappeared from sight.
The couple sat still for a moment, Bobby offering a puzzled stare in the direction the Grime King vanished. It was Connie that broke the silence. “Who?... I mean what,... Bobby, what the hell!”
Bobby's eyes met his mate’s briefly and then narrowed, dulling as he turned his gaze towards the dumpster.
“Bobby, what the hell was that?”
Bobby answered with his own question. “What do you think is in that backpack?”
“What? No… Please, honey. What if it’s drugs?” Connie’s voice broke. “What if it’s a bomb?”
Bobby cracked his door open to the soft dinging alert of the van reminding him the ignition was still part way on. He pushed his door full open and slid one foot out to rest on the blacktop. Connie was on the brink of full-blown panic, but she chose anger instead.
“GODDAMMIT BOB STOP!” She wiped her lips with the back of her hand and looked at her husband. “We need to leave. We need to call the police and tell them we saw a friggin’ shaved bear doing some shady shit on a bicycle. OK? Please drive me away from here, Bobby.” She was sobbing. Bobby took a deep breath and let a little of his weight back onto the seat. He opened the storage compartment between them, fished out a travel package of tissues, and pulled one free. Bobby took his time tenderly wiping his young wife’s tears, and then stepped out onto the pavement and closed the door behind him.
Joseph coughed hot smoke from a joint that should have been roached three hits ago, out the window of his dusty old ford. He turned the volume down on some ancient rock screaming guitar shit his old man would’ve enjoyed as the radio screen read 2:44 pm.
“Well…” he sighed “if this piece of crap makes it till November, at least the clock will be right again.”
16 minutes until he had to punch in and start scrubbing pots and pans. What a fucking life! Why should he have to drive this crap car to this crap job? He gets crap hours, crap pay, and after all that does he get any appreciation? Nope. More crap. He should probably consider himself lucky he was able to take the day off yesterday to marry Kourtney, but all he could give her was a crap wedding at the county seat and a crap dinner at The Cracker Barrel.
Kourtney deserved more, so much more! So did Joseph for that matter. He’s smart, hard-working… If he’d been born somewhere normal instead of this empty shit town, he’d probably be on top! Even now he felt like all he needed was one lucky break to make everything better. One little boost could get him and his new bride out of the trailer park and living like other people, real people. “Those people,” he breathed, as he looked at the couple parked in that minivan with 'Just Married!' scrawled across the side window in shoe polish.
If Joseph and Kourtney had it made like those folks, they sure as hell wouldn’t be stopping at the ‘Blue BARF Buffet’. Vegas baby! That’s where they’d go. The place where cash equals class! Now those Vegas buffets are worth a honeymoon trip. Kourtney deserves Vegas! They both do!
Joseph was snapped out of his daydream by a hollow metallic bang. He looked up just in time to see a naked dopesick gargantuan on an ancient rusty bike fly out from behind the dumpster and across the lot. “This fuckin’ town” Joe chuckled. “Bet them hoity-toity honeymooners weren’t expecting a show! Wooo! Shake it for ‘em Jelly-George!”
He watched with mild amusement as the rider passed close enough in front of the van for the couple to smell him and then blasted through the bushes, disappearing onto Billet Parkway.
Joe’s amusement turned to curiosity as he spied on the unsuspecting pair in the van. Obviously, they didn’t see the same humor he did in the makeshift burlesque performance. They appeared to be in a pretty heated argument. The man seemed like he wanted to get out but wouldn’t fully commit. Just as it seemed like The Mrs. had won and they were going to stay put, the driver got out onto the pavement and closed his door. This must have really pissed his old lady off because the next thing Joe knew she was screaming out the window like she was demon-possessed.
“GET BACK HERE!… I’M YOUR WIFE YOU MOTHER FUCKING COCKSUCKER! COME BACK TO ME RIGHT NOW!”
The man seemed not to hear her, and finally, she got out too. Now Joseph was interested enough for a closer look. He creaked out of the rusty old door as quietly as possible and left it hanging a few inches from closed. He slipped between the arborvitae at the edge of the lot, and down Billet Parkway, where he re-emerged next to the minivan in the back corner.
Joe could see the woman closing in on the trash dumpster, but now he didn’t know where the man went. She was shaking and crying when she made it to the front of the can and stopped.
Joseph crept around the back of the van to the driver's side, where the front door stood open. When he looked back toward the restaurant he could see the lady standing outside the open door of the trash bin as the man popped his head out from inside. She was yelling something Joe couldn’t make out, but she stopped out of nowhere and took a surprised step backward. The Mister leaned a little farther out of the dumpster now and he was holding something.
Joe rubbed his face as the man unzipped the object, (a backpack!) and held it open between them. The lady forgot all about being sad when she reached both hands into the bag and pulled them out clenched full…
“Who gives a shit WHY, Connie? Just take it and let me get outta this fuckin’ thing!”
Bobby shoved the backpack into Connie’s midsection, pushing her back out of the way. He clambered out of the steel cube head first and somersaulted to the asphalt.
He quickly rose, ignoring the cold slop that ran down his leg. Connie let out a small yelp as her groom wrapped his fingers around her bicep and squeezed, pulling her around the back of the hopper, out of the sight line of the building.
“It’s all hundreds! Holy shit! there’s gotta be 50K in there… Probably more!”
Connie gauged the wild look in her husband's eye. “We can’t just keep it, Bobby. We have to call someone. What about those sirens? What about that …man… who threw it here? What if he comes back?”
“Connie, look at me. I need you to listen to me closely. Honey, this is meant to be! We’re one day into starting our life together. We’re 1000 miles from home. We’re standing behind an empty restaurant in an empty town with a bag full of cash, and our van is right there. They both allowed their gaze to follow Bobby’s pointer finger to their vehicle parked not 30 yards away.
For a quick instant, neither one could put a finger on what was out of place, until it suddenly clicked.
“Bob! Someone’s in our van!”
“What the fuck? HEY, YOU SON OF A BITCH! HEY GET THE FUCK OUT OF THERE!”
Connie held the backpack shakily against her chest as she pulled herself into her husband’s embrace.
“I’m calling the cops ass-hole! You can’t just steal our fucking car, WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?”
Wide-eyed, Bobby pulled Connie to his side even harder. The tires lurched forward with a chirp and a puff of smoke as the tread bit into the dusty blacktop.
By the time they realized the stranger had no interest in stealing their car it was too late. They stood frozen like petrified trees while their terrified voices joined together, much the same as their young lives had joined just yesterday.
Sunlight poured through the open window and bounced playfully off of a wet plate before dancing around the single-wide’s meager kitchen. Kourtney’s face, far too tired for her young age, shone with a threadbare beauty that was only earned through a lifetime of indigence.
She blew her bangs out of her eyes and dried the plate on a faded dish towel. She had made peace long ago with her lot in life, but she couldn’t help feeling that twang of wanting for more. What kind of honeymoon was this?
Kourtney pulled out a kitchen chair and a cigarette and sat down for a rest. She unlocked her phone (3:54 pm) and was about to check her Facebook when the device lit up, and a moment later her face.
“Joseph! Hey baby! Everything ok? You should be starting work.”
“Hey, Kourt! Everything’s great honey!” She heard a confidence (maybe even a smile?) in his voice that had been missing for too long.
“I owe you a proper honeymoon sweet-tea and it’s time for me to pay up!”
Kourtney giggled “that sounds great but you’re at work and we’ve got rent to pay. Now, quit being silly and tell me what’s going on!”
“What’s going on is Vegas baby… that’s all you need to know! Just grab what you can’t live without and meet me out front in ten… It’s finally our turn to win.”