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You ever play with dominoes? Not for real—lying them flat and matching up the numbers—but the fun way. The kid way. Standing them precariously on their thin edge inches away from one another, making a continuous pattern around the floor. Then, the pay-off. A quick flick on the end domino. The satisfactory clack, clack, clack of one hitting the next until the entire snaking design lies flat on the floor.
Amazing right? With dominoes, perhaps. Not so much with other more expensive things. I found this out the hard way one lovely Saturday afternoon.
Parked along Main Street in tidy rows were over one hundred motorcycles, each boasting a colorful stuffed animal strapped to the seat. Alongside, the riders of these vehicles stood chatting and eating, on a break from their coastal ride for charity. A group of tattooed and bandanaed women laughed together while sipping large fountain sodas. A very bearded, very leather-clad man ate wispy, pink cotton candy as he sat astride a Harley Davidson Road King. A group of kids, freed for a moment from their side cars, ran around in front of the library.
Thanks to my mother’s knack for volunteering me for things, I was the official event photographer snap, snap, snapping away at these vignettes and more. I could have been sunning myself at the beach with my boyfriend, Rick, but I’d opted to use my rare week off to visit my parents in teeny-tiny Piney Ridge, Maryland. Not surprisingly, Rick decided to go to the beach anyway instead of accompanying me here. I can’t say I blame him.
Okay—I blamed him a little. The beach was only a few hours away; he could have come here first.
But po ptakach, as my Polish grandmother would say. It’s all over and done. No use getting my kielbasa in a tangle.
When I arrived a few days ago, weary from traveling as a photojournalist and looking forward to a few days of relaxing away from the hustle and bustle of New York, I could tell immediately my mother was holding something back. Usually a colorful whirlwind of motion, Constance Lightwood was on overdrive. I could barely make out the watermelon pattern on her housedress, she was moving so fast. She never quite held my gaze long enough; always changed the subject when I asked about her clubs. Yes, clubs plural. My mother was a professional joiner.
“What aren’t you telling me, Mom?” I asked on day two when I couldn’t stand the tension any longer.
My father snorted behind his newspaper.
“What do you mean, Alex?” Mom asked. She scrubbed furiously at an imaginary spot on the table with her apron, avoiding my eyes once again.
I reached across the table to still her hand. When she finally looked up at me, I said, “Spill it. You’re making me nervous.”
“Oh, it’s nothing really. Only”—she paused to pick up and put down my father’s coffee mug a few times—“I have this event this weekend.”
“I think I can entertain myself. Don’t worry about it.” Leave it to my mom to be worried about not entertaining a guest every second of the day—even if that guest is her adult daughter.
“Well, I was hoping you’d help me,” she said, avoiding my eyes again.
“With what?” I asked with more than a little trepidation. This better not be for Sew What, her sewing club. The last time I tried to help I ended up stitching my fingers together.
“Well, the Coastbusters are having a charity ride for the children’s hospital—”
I cut her off, “I’m sorry. Did you say the Coastbusters?”
She nodded. My father’s snort turned into a laugh.
I asked, “Aren’t they a motorcycle club?”
“So?” she said defensively.
“Why are you in motorcycle club?” I asked, incredulous. “You don’t even know how to drive a motorcycle, let alone own one.”
“Well, I sort of didn’t know it was a motorcycle club when I joined. I thought it was a bicycle club. I even bought a brand-new bike—bright yellow with a basket and everything,” she explained.
“Why didn’t you just politely excuse yourself when you realized the mistake?”
“I had already committed. Plus, they are really lovely people. The president, Evan, is a big teddy bear. And his wife had the best recipe for a cold broccoli and bacon salad. In fact, I used that recipe when I—”
“Okay, okay,” I said, waving off the rest of her story.
“’The problem with that one is the noise,’” my father said, quoting Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. My mother, who usually ignores his obsession with the movie franchise, threw a dish towel at him playfully. We were used to him communicating in movie quotes. How could I not be with a name like Alexandretta?
“What do you need help with?” I asked.
“Well, I bragged that my daughter was a famous photojournalist,” she started.
I rolled my eyes—both at the “famous” comment and because I knew where this was going.
“Tell me you didn’t volunteer me to shoot the event,” I said, already knowing the answer.
“I may have volunteered you as the official photographer. But,” she quickly qualified seeing the look of astonishment on my face, “only for the Piney Ridge stop on the ride. You don’t have to follow them as they make their way down the coast.”
“This is supposed to be my vacation from work,” I reminded her.
“This isn’t for work. It’s for charity,” she said. “For sick children at Johns Hopkins.”
And how could I say no to that without seeming like a heartless monster?
So, there I was, working on my one Saturday off all month, my five foot three and half—the half was important—frame swallowed up by black leather, big bikes, and burly bodies. Luckily, my mother was right: everyone I’d met so far was kind and helpful and willing to have their picture taken. Thank goodness.
I turned in a slow circle, camera at the ready, in case a moment presented itself. And boy did it. Just not in the way I expected.
A shock of white spiky hair with electric blue tips stood out in the sea of black. A petite woman straddled a huge bike and hugged the back of the younger rider in front of her. I did a double take.
“Nana K?” I exclaimed, darting through spectators to reach the pair.
“Hey, Peanut,” my octogenarian grandmother, Regina Klafkeniewski—known to everyone who can’t pronounce her very Polish surname as Nana K—replied.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m going for a ride.” She pulled a helmet onto her tiny head, leaned into her driver, and said, “Let’s go, Davey. I’m not getting any younger.”
I watched in astonishment as Davey revved the engine and took off down the street with Nana K hooting in delight. I managed to pull myself together enough to capture a few shots before they disappeared down a side street.
I turned my attention back to the crowds around me. A little scene—an older gentleman showing a younger guy how to fix his refurbished ride—played out in front of me. The older of the pair’s worn leather jacket boasted patches from Vietnam and various other organizations. In contrast, the younger guy’s vest was pristine. Always a sucker for contrast, I backed up to get more in the frame.
And promptly bumped into a motorcycle behind me. Off balance, I felt the weight of the bike shift as I clumsily pushed against it. I managed to right myself before falling completely on top of the bike, but I turned to see it wobbling on the edge of its wheels.
“Oh no!” I cried, reaching out with one hand to grab the handlebars. Man, bikes were freaking heavy! And with my camera in my other hand, the bike threatened to pull me over with it.
Instinctively, I let go. And watched in horror as the heavy metal contraption tipped into the bike beside it. And in a more expensive, more metallic version of dominoes, one motorcycle tipped into another which tipped into another.
The crunch, crunch, crunching of metal against metal caught the attention of the crowd. With an eruption of panicked movement, the destructive game of motorcycle dominoes came to an end as several bikers helped to lift the bikes back onto their kickstands.
You know that moment in romantic comedy movies where the couple locks eyes and the background noise stops and everything fades away? It’s just the two lovers aware of nothing but each other. That was how this moment felt. Except instead of Chris Hemsworth staring at me from the across the room with longing in his eyes, it was dozens of bikers.
And they didn’t look happy.
“I am so sorry,” I started. “I’ll pay for any damage.” My bank account whined in protest.
The older gentleman from the tableau that caused my mishap crouched down beside his bike to inspect the damage. I held my breath as he ran his hands over the shiny metal.
“Actually,” he said, standing and smiling, “I think my bike’s okay. The stuffed animal cushioned the impact.”
He walked around to the next bike in the row and nodded his head. “Maybe a little scratch here. A quick buff will take that right out.”
“Oh, thank goodness!” I cried. I handed him a business card. “Please let me know if you find any…internal damage or whatever.”
“Sure.” He looked at the card; read my name. “Alex Lightwood. You’re Connie’s girl, right?”
“Do we look that much alike?” I asked. Then, remembering my manners, held out my hand. “Sorry to have met under these circumstances.”
He shook my hand. “I’m Evan Craven, president of the Coastbusters. Nice to finally meet you. Your mother talks about you all the time.”
“Only believe half of what you hear. The good half.”
He laughed again. “Promise. We really appreciate you photographing the event for us.”
“No problem. And please pass my information along to the other owners.”
“Evan!” a gruff voice called from somewhere in the crowd. A large belly propelled people out of the way as it rumbled toward us.
“Chief Duncan,” Evan said pleasantly. He put my card in one of his many vest pockets. “What can I do for you?”
“I heard the commotion. Everything okay?”
“Everything’s fine,” Evan said. “Small accident. Taken care of.”
The chief gave me a once over—didn’t take long given my elfin stature—then turned his attention back to Evan. The two men couldn’t have been more different even though they were about the same age. Chief Duncan, who had been chief since I attended Piney Ridge High School, had grown more rotund in his years as head of the small-town police department. His hair had receded at the same rate that his belly had grown. I got the impression he was always a day late and a dollar short, as they say. Kind of like right now when he was trying to throw his authority around after the excitement was over.
Evan Craven, on the other hand, reminded me of my Uncle Anton on my dad’s side. He’s an accountant.
I tried to discreetly take a picture of them together, but the chief heard the click of the shutter.
“Who’re you?” he asked.
I held up my camera. “The official photographer. Alex Lightwood.”
His eyes widened a touch as he recognized the name. Everyone knew our family because of my brother, Harrison, who disappeared at nine-years-old. I was seven. The case was still open.
“Connie and George’s girl,” he said.
“Yup. Can I get a picture of the Chief and the Coastbusters’ President?”
“Oh, yes. Of course.” The chief pulled his shoulders back and posed beside Evan. I snapped a quick picture, knowing I wouldn’t use it. Posed photos weren’t really my style. I waited for them to lapse back into conversation before capturing the more real moment.
Having taken plenty of crowd shots, I decided to focus on the details that made this day on Main Street special. Close ups of the motorcycles, gear and tools laying around, gas cans and oil rags mixed in with spare parts, bandanas and flags adorning the bikes, helmets in all shapes and colors.
I was in the zone, lining up a particularly inspired shot of the crowd framed through two helmets when a screech and a crash—even louder than the bike dominos—made me jump. Chief Duncan ran by me, bouncing people off of his bulbous belly as he careened through the crowd.
Of course I followed. He cleared a nice path.
I heard someone call for a medic as we came upon the scene. A man lay supine on the road, his bike trapping one leg, helmet askew, unmoving.
“I know CPR,” another biker said, moving forward.
He leaned over the injured rider and checked for breathing and a pulse. Two more bikers moved forward to help lift the motorcycle off the injured rider, but CPR guy waved them away.
“He could bleed out,” he said, his face grim. “Leave the bike for now.”
“Oh my word. It’s Billy Joe,” a woman beside me said, pulling my attention away from the injured man.
“Billy Joe, as in William Josephson, the president of the Mapleton Wheels of Fortune?” I asked. My mother had provided me a list of main players so I could guarantee pictures of them.
She nodded. “He was gonna run back to Mapleton real quick to grab some more donations. I wonder if his bike malfunctioned.”
I had a brief, but very real, moment of panic when I envisioned his bike was among those I knocked over. But a quick glance behind me assuaged that fear. All those bikes still stood in a neat row.
I turned back around to see the Piney Ridge Fire Department EMTs arrive on the scene. They assessed the leg and removed the bike. Then bundled Billy Joe onto a gurney while they took over chest compressions. A good sign, I thought, that Billy Joe had not yet departed for the endless ride in the afterlife.
Chief Duncan stood around and tried to look stern. I took some pictures of the scene in case the police needed to recreate the accident later.
“What happened?” I asked the woman who was wringing her hands beside me. She wore a vest with the Wheels of Fortune emblem.
“I hardly know. Billy Joe revved up the engine, as he always does to show off a little, and rolled off down the street. When he braked for the crosswalk, he flew over the handlebars. Almost like the brakes locked up or something.”
“Does that happen often?” I asked. All I knew about motorcycles was what the rental guy told Rick the last time we needed one on location: no diesel fuel and don’t drop it. Other than that, I simply held on for the ride.
The woman beside me shook her head. “Not usual at all. We’d all recently had our bikes serviced too. On account of the ride.”
As the EMTs prepared to load Billy Joe into the back of an ambulance, a wail sounded from across the crowd. A middle-aged woman flung herself on the gurney in hysterics before they could lift it.
“Is that his wife?” I asked.
“Nope. His girlfriend. One of them anyway.” A parting in the crowd produced another wailing female. “There’s the other one.”
Fascinated, I watched as the two women cried and pushed and wailed and clawed. I took pictures of this scene as well—for the police record, of course.
A group of Wheels of Fortune members congregated by the wrecked motorcycle. A young female police officer stood with them.
“Best guess, what happened?” the officer said.
One of men bent to get a better angle. “Looks like the brakes locked up. These calipers and pistons are all out of whack.”
“And you are?” the officer asked the man, holding a notepad and pen.
“Michael Decker. Vice-President of Wheels of Fortune. Everyone calls me Deck.”
The officer nodded, made a note. “Could this be caused by flooded brake lines?”
“Could be. But Billy Joe knows better than to overfill, especially in this heat. He’s been riding his whole life.”
“Foul play,” I said, louder than I intended. All eyes turned on me—again.
To Be Continued in
Lenses Leather and Lies
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