UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
M.P.POWERS

Killing the Eagle

          In back of The Red Lantern Pub was an alcove with swivel chairs and
empty kegs and an old mattress pad propped up under the eaves. And in the
middle was a blinking neon MILLER HIGH LIFE sign and the sawed-off oil drum
Sullivan and I were using for the bottles we drank during Big Barb’s shift.
It was only six, but already the sun was low over the railway, coloring the
pines in yellow light, and the pines threw deep shadows over the ravine. And
at the edge of the ravine was a ragged chain-link fence with a hole in it,
and that’s where Axel Bushing suddenly came through. He was wearing mirrored
sunglasses, and his shiny wet hair was slicked back around his ears, the
sunlight shooting up from the chrome of his footrests as he barreled down
the grade in his powerized wheelchair. He rode the thing like a jockey, and
he was just a little bigger than one, but you only thought about that when
he walked, as he sometimes did if his equilibrium was intact and he had
some sturdy walls to brace himself against.

          I quickly moved my swivel chair back, and he pulled up to the oil drum
and put his beer bottle on it. Then he looked down, fumbled with his Zippo
and fired up a cigar. He puffed on it a couple of times and shifted his
waist and legs about to get better bearings in his chair. When he found them,
he threw his head back and took another drag.

          “You guys are going to be proud of me today,” he said, rolling the
cigar over in his mouth. “Looks as though that old mooch is gone for good
now. This Diablo is celebration. Just the beginning.”

          Sullivan grinned, shook his head.

          “No, I’m serious this time,” said Axel, tapping his wristwatch. “He’s
been gone for no less than six hours now. I finally dropped the axe.”

          “How’d you do that?” I asked.

          “I just told him, I said you ain’t wanted around here no more. I can’t
deal your crack habit, and plus I ain't gotten shit for rent. I told him
that, and then I dropped him off at the Caring Kitchen. Sayonara! Let them
figure out what to do with him. He’s their problem now.”

          “Maybe now he is,” I said, “but what time do suppose he’ll be back at
your house tonight?”

          “I’m telling you, he’s 86’d. I’m not fucking around. You’ll see.”

          Sullivan was grinning still, but it wasn’t that he thought it was
funny, he just knew Axel’s track record with the strays he’d habitually
house, and how he could never get rid of them or mend their mooching ways.

***

          After the sun set, a cover band started playing under the canopies, and
the horseshoe pits were lit up by footlights and Christmas lights. And there
was a barefooted guy throwing in the pits and a crowd around him. And all
the bikers and biker chicks masqueraded about the makeshift dance floor.
They were tattooed and wore bandannas and leather vests, and some even wore
sunglasses in the dark or strutted about in cowhide chaps with fringes and
zippers running amok, but one thing they were all united on was a bad
haircut, one that made them feel like outcasts, though they hardly ever
were. They were just acting within the realm of a Harley Rider’s Canon,
tracing numbers on an old multiplication table to get to the most
well-trodden answer, and the less you thought about it the better off you
were because it didn’t require any mind-play. All it required was being
plopped down on the result with a windblown hero mullet and a blowhard Hog
that farted huge, of course. And they parked their Hogs like robots in a
tight, geometrically configured stratum along the fence line. Two, fours,
sixes, twos. But they were so close together Axel could barely get his
wheelchair through, so we eased one out into a muddy patch of weeds and just
left it there. We left it plumb in the weeds, and then Axel managed to get
through. I followed him inside, with Sullivan bringing up the rear, and when
we got to the bar everyone stared at us like we were the outcasts. Which we
were.

          I flagged Big Barb down, but she ignored me because Road Dog was
spinning a yarn, and when Road Dog spun yarns it meant a lot because it was
believed, at least among the bikers, that his finger was always on the pulse
of some worthy notion.

          “We were at Dunkelfield’s funeral,” he said in his gruff voice, “and
the priest went into his spiel about ‘Those of you who accept God into your
life will be accepted into the Kingdom of Heaven, but those of you who
don’t…’ And I was like, ‘just shut the fuck up you asshole…’ And the girls
were the only ones with the sense enough to walk out. I saw about six or
seven of them head for the doors before the thing was even over.”

          He gulped down the remainder of his drink for extra punctuation, and
then Axel rolled up right next to him and Sullivan went on the other side
and I came up in the middle, still flagging Big Barb down. Road Dog swung
his head around like a horse and leered at me hard.

          “Hey, you’re cramping my style,” he said. “Go somewhere else.”

          “No where else to go,” I said. “Bar’s full.”

          “Full, hell, there’s space enough over there,” he said, his angry
finger jabbing towards a small opening at the end of the hallway.

          “C’mon, Roadie,” said Axel. “You know I can’t fit my wheelchair all the
way down there.”

          “I’ve seen you walk before,” he snapped. “So walk!” And he turned back
around and motioned for his refill.

          Axel adjusted himself in his chair, but didn’t say anything, and the
rage quickly flared up in me, staring at the back of Road Dog’s dumb head
and his long swath of graying ponytail neatly fastened with rubber bands. I
wanted to grab all that neatness and yank the fucker down to the ground, but
I knew I had something better. And Sullivan and Axel knew too, but they
didn’t know I was going to use it now, with so many bikers around. I
wouldn’t have forgiven myself though if I didn’t. It was Road Dog’s bike
we’d plunked out in the weeds.

          Big Barb filled Road Dog’s drink, and then we ordered ours and waited.
Then I propped my foot up on his bar stool, on the side of his footrest and
crowded him in some more. He sensed the awkwardness in the air, but he
didn’t know me well enough to understand it, so he turned towards Axel.

          “Is Tom still living with you?” he asked.

          “No,” said Axel. “I don’t know where he is now.”

          “Why, did you throw him out onto the streets?”

          “He never paid the rent,” said Sullivan, waving his arm with this
effeminate flourish that was hard not to notice.

          “What’s that got to do with anything? He’s going through some shit,
that’s all. You know he’s good for it.”

          “The only thing he’s good for is being a rogue,” said Axel. “That and
the devil’s dick. He’s good for sucking on that.”

          Road Dog shook his head and brought his drink to his lips. He took a sip
and brought it back down slowly, coolly. “All I’m saying is I hope you did
the right thing. That’s all I’m saying, dude. That’s my boy, Tom is. It’s
bad enough. . .”

          He didn’t finish his sentence. We got our drinks and I moved my foot
off his bar stool. Then he turned back around and gave me another hard
glare.

          “Alright, you got your drinks,” he said. “Now clear out. Damn faggots.”
I lifted my drink and drained it.

          “We will,” I said. “But I’m getting another round first. What do you
want? I’m buying.” I flagged Big Barb down.

          “I don’t need your charity. I need you out of here. Now clear out.”

          “Nothing’s clear though until I congratulate you.”

          “For what?”

          “For your performance,” I said. “I liked your performance just now. You
were good.”

          “What are you talking about?”

          “I’m talking about all your hospitality tonight,” I said. “You were
even thinking of us when you parked your bike in the way.”

          Road Dog shook his head and waved me off with his hand. He either
didn’t hear me or didn’t understand or both. Big Barb then brought another
round of bourbon, and a mangy-looking biker with a doo-rag crammed over his
skull, sidled up from behind. He weaned his way through all of us.

          “I gotta get in here,” he said, forcing his way towards the bar.

          Axel backed his wheelchair up some, and Sullivan, who despised
confrontation and any kind of social discomfort, made ample room. Then
another biker came from the other side and just stood there looking
treacherous, his hands thrust deep in his pockets, his huge maw drooping
over short outspread legs.

          Road Dog said something to him, but I couldn’t hear what, and then they
both laughed and looked at me and I looked away.

          A few minutes later, Axel swung his wheelchair around and bee-lined
through the swing doors. Sullivan and I sat down at an empty round table
near the juke box. When Axel returned, he rolled his wheelchair up to the
edge of our table and fumbled with something in his pocket. A little wedge
of cellophane peered out and he poked it back down with his forefinger. Then
he looked up at Sullivan and me from under his arched eyebrow, the point of
a smile faintly sharpening one corner of his mouth.

          “I got some good stuff, fellas,” he said, and the pride spread through
all his features. “You see? Bikers don’t all treat me like Road Dog does.
James gave it to me, and you know the kind of shit he gets.”

          He straightened up some, but his hand suddenly slipped and his
wheelchair jolted back, and his head snapped back against the headrest. He
came forward then, dazed, still half-grinning, wholly rolling his neck
around in a small semi-arc, like a boxer before a fight. “And that’s just
from having it in my pocket,” he said. “It’s already seeping into the old
pores.” And then, after a pause, his voice lowering in octaves, his smile
again sharpening itself: “I’m talking about some good shit, fellas.” And he
spun his wheelchair around and we followed him out back, to our favorite
hideaway.

***

          Whatever Axel Bushing lost in legs and balance, he regained in the
dexterity of his fingers, which danced like butterfly’s wings whenever he
rolled his prodigious joints. And when we got outside his hands fluttered
softly and he rolled a tight fat one in a matter of seconds. He fired it up,
sucked it too fast, and gagged.

          “You alright, Axel?”

          He regrouped and peered around slowly, somberly, as if in reflection.
The Old Master wouldn’t be defeated, not now, not by something so puny as
weed, or as beloved. And with so much purpose. He used it to break bread
with other men, men who could walk and fight and fuck, men who were normal
and balanced and strong like he’d never again be. Only his lungs had
strength anymore, and what they took in helped him forget for a time that
his problems were physical. But you could never finally forget about
physical, and no one else could either, and he fought that truth everyday.
He drew on the joint again and his chest swelled out like a seagull’s. Then
he charged a huge plume of blue smoke into the heavens and watched as it
slowly dispersed. Victory, alas! He passed the thing on to me with an
aggressive shove of thumb and forefinger and I pinched it with mine. I drew
on it and passed it on, and around it went until it was just a fleck of
burnt paper that Sullivan sucked the life out of and flicked toward the
tracks.

          And then it was quiet for a while. The moonlight streamed in tiny beams
through the softly rustling trees, and there was a heavy feeling in the air.
A lone freight-train then passed and the ground shook beneath us for a while
and then it was quiet again. And all we could hear were the trees, the winds
mingling through the leaves and a few scattered voices from the bar. And the
band tinkering with their instruments which seemed to last forever.

          “What do you think Road Dog’s gonna say when he finds out we moved his
bike?” asked Sullivan.

          “What can he say?” I said.

          “It’s not what he can say,” said Axel. “It’s what’s he gonna do?”

          “He’s gonna move it back,” I said. I didn’t care though. I wanted to
ruffle Road Dog’s feathers. He was the worst of the bikers, the scum of his
genre, and he knew it, and was getting away with it, and that’s what
bothered me most - that he had everything down to a system which involved
him being the angry unoriginal blowhard, but no one ever said anything. They
never called his bluff. And worse, they lionized him. Having witnessed his
mean and shameless vulgarity, they thought he was fearless, all-knowing, and
the keeper of some grand and dignified wisdom. But I saw how it really was.
The horse’s ass was too much the thing, too contently plopped on his
multiplication table of commonness, what with his Hog and his Halloween
costume all windblown and him all windblown, rejoicing with eagles atop the
peaks of his ego-laden fantasy world. And playing this monstrous shell game
with his pawns, with nothing under the shells and getting away with it. It
sickened me. I knew I couldn’t be the only one. But it seemed like I was.

          A faint whistling sound came from somewhere, and then the shadow of a
man appeared on the other side of the railway. It stretched beyond the
hedges and then disappeared and then something snapped in the brambles and
it was Tom forging amongst them and clambering through the hole in the
chain-link fence.

          Axle said, “Aw Christ, would ya look what the cat drug in!”

          “I figured he’d be back,” said Sullivan.

          A look of shame crossed Tom’s bony face, but was quickly swept away by
desperation. He couldn’t hide it, not even grinning as he was when he came
through the fence. It wasn’t a happy grin though, but one of despair, a thin
smudge of painted-on mirth a hair’s breath away from the most grotesque
grimace his features could ever contort.

          “What’s up guys?” he said in a pinched little voice. He knew he’d been
shamed and humbled and was unwanted now, so he didn’t wait for a response.
He stayed along the fence line with his head hung low and plodded toward the
bar like a beaten dog. Some dogs never learn though, and that was Tom’s
m.o., and just before he got to the parking lot he turned around suddenly.

          “Oh,” he said. “Any of you fellas got a smoke. I’m fucking dying for a
smoke. Throat’s watering like hell. Left my damn 305’s over at the bus stop.
Full pack too.”

          “No smokes!” said Axel, his voice booming. And then he looked around
proud with a bit of arrogance and waved his arm as if to say, “Be gone!”

          “Alright,” said Tom. “I’ll just get one inside.” And when he came
through the weeds he noticed Road Dog’s cycle plunked there. He stared down
at it for a moment, then looked up at us blankly. Then he headed off toward
the bar and before we could say anything, Axel pivoted his wheelchair and
was off in the same direction.

          “What’s he doing?” said Sullivan.

          “Damage control, I guess,” I said.

          “I’m sure. You watch, they’ll be roomies again tonight. I’ve seen this
too many times with him.”

***

          “Alright then, how ‘bout the eagle? Would you kill an eagle?"

          “Yeah, what the fuck’s the difference? It’s a bird!"

          “No, it’s not. That’s the thing. It’s an American classic. It’s the
EAGLE! Do you understand all it symbolizes?”

          “Do you think I give a rat’s ass?”

          It was Road Dog and a short dumpy biker conversing at the urinals. I’d
bumped in behind them and was eavesdropping from the other side of the
crapper partition.

          Road Dog replied, “You should give a rat’s ass! It’s the United States
bird, man! It represents our country.”

          “No, this! This is the United States’ fuckin’ bird, ya know! And that’s
the real fuckin’ bald eagle there! And when that motherfucker flies...”

          I heard a quick slapping sound and then the urinal flushing. Then the
click of boots and water rushing from the sink.

          “So, there ya go,” the dumpy biker continued, in a suddenly composed
tone. “But would I actually kill one, per se? No, I don’t think I would, but
how do you symbolize the American bird? The CHICKEN’S the American bird! The
CROW is the American bird! The SPARROW. . ."

          “The eagle’s the national fuckin’ bird, dude. It’s a protected bird.
There’s a penalty to be paid if you get caught."

          “Well...there ya go. Now is it illegal, or is it wrong if you don’t get
caught?"

          The sink stopped running and the towel dispenser churned. Then, in Road
Dog’s gruff voice, “It’s fucked.” And their boot heels clicked and the door
opened, and the sounds of the bar swept in, but over that, barely audible:
“It’s fucked!” Again. But twice as gruff. The door closed.

          And then I knew the best answer in the Harley Canon for bringing things into
perspective. “It’s fucked!” The whole world was fucked. So why not this
other thing too? And that thing? Why not any ambivalent thing? What’s easier
than that? It went well with having an aversion to thought. Which was as
important to the Canon as the hero mullet and straddling your fat
forty-something a-hole about a Hog that misfired colossal farts in the
night. It was all the same thing.

          When I came out of the bathroom, Axel was talking to Tom in the corner
of the bar, and Sullivan was over there too. And Big Barb suddenly came
shuffling over with a tray full of whisky shots. She slid up to the table
with her mammoth jugs plumped over the tray, and lined the glasses along the
edge. Axel paid and she thanked him and called him “Honey,” like she did
every mound of flesh with a pulse. Once she left, Tom snatched a glass and
toasted Axel. “Here’s shampain for real friends, and realpain for sham
friends, and when this journey finally ends, uh, may we all make amends.”

          Axel said, “Ergo, bibamus.” And they slammed their shots, and a few
minutes later they were onto the next ones, and then two more after that.
Then Tom started singing, bonding with Axel, and Sullivan and I watched it
all from over by the jukebox.

          Sullivan said, “Axel just wants to keep hitting himself in the head
with the same brick.”

          “He’s terrified of loneliness,” I said. “That’s what it is.”

          “That and he thinks he’s actually helping Tom, when really the last
thing Tom needs is help.”

          “Tom and his needs,” I said. “That’s all I hear about. What he needs is
to quit thinking only of himself.”

          “Too bad Axel doesn’t see it that way.”

          “He does, but he’s too busy with his brick to worry about it.”

          A few minutes later, Road Dog sauntered past the jukebox with a gaggle
of biker buddies. They moved in staggered formation, ones, twos, ones,
looking like a pack of heavies from off the set of WALKER, TEXAS RANGER.

          Road Dog said, “Hey, it looks like the two lovebirds kissed and made
up. What gives?”

          “It was blown out of proportion,” said Axel. “We just had some
disagreements. Wasn’t nothing we couldn’t iron out.”

          “Yeah,” Tom slurred. “He got the iron out and beat me with it.”

          “The only iron I got now is some handcuffs.”

          “Oh yeah I forgot, sumbitch used to be a cop.”

          “Used to be,” said Axel.

          “That’s what I said. How you gonna be one now, in a damn wheelchair?”

          “There’s ways,” said Axel.

          “Anyway, Tommy,” said Road Dog, “you got me to thank, bro. Fuck-stick
here was ready to throw you to the lions before I set him straight.” He
jammed his boot in Axel’s wheel. “Ain’t that right, FUCK-STICK?”

          Axel smirked, and tilted his beer bottle back and pretended to be
guzzling. Then Road Dog and his crew of staggered heavies moseyed off
towards the pool tables. A minute later, Axel invited Tom outside for a
smoking session.

          “We’ll be right back, fellas,” said Axel. “I promised Tom this one. For
old time’s sake. Just take a minute.”

          Tom leered at us with bloodshot eyes and a loose, drunken smile. “I
heard about this stuff,” he said. “Yes I did.” And when he turned, he
stumbled on the table leg and crashed into Big Barb.

          “Easy, Honey!” she said. “Ya almost knocked my drinks off the tray!”

          He apologized and followed Axel out.

***

          The lights had dimmed outside, and horseshoe pits were dark and empty,
and the dance floor was empty too because the band packed up and left and
the last few stragglers had moved to the leather booths inside. Above the
booths was a reddish neon tint glowing over the wall of brassieres, and the
ceramic frog peeping out from the windowsill. The jukebox’s flickering bulbs
threw a diamond pattern around the frog with stars that spun in dizzy little
circles as the music thrummed. And Big Barb slowly moving to the music,
swaying her hips to the riffs and mouthing the words as she gathered tips
from the bar and washed glasses in the sink. And Johanna the Cook was
eternally framed in the kitchen doorway with a cigarette. And Lupe in his
apron, swabbing table tops with a dirty rag and mopping the sweat from his
brow every so often. And down the hallway, Road Dog and his crew were
finishing their final game of pool; they were down to just three or four
balls, but still shouting, cursing. And Sullivan and I hanging on, but the
ice in our bourbons had melted, and we weren’t saying much, just hanging on
silently until we remembered Tom and Axel. They never came back.

          “You don’t think they’re still out there, do you?” asked Sullivan.

          “For this long? I doubt it. How long’s it been, an hour?”

          “Maybe more.”

          We paid our bill, and when we got outside the sky was clear and the
moon was high, lighting the parking lot up in a bright pale glow. Just two
pick-up trucks were out there, and the motorcycle stratum had diminished to
three scattered bikes, plus Road Dog’s which was still buried deep in the
weeds.

          Out back it was dark; the moon was obscured by the trees, and the neon
MILLER HIGH LIFE sign was no longer blinking. It just hummed, and one of the
swivel chairs was on its side, and there was broken glass and bottles all over
the ground and tire tracks from Axel’s wheelchair coursing through a bed of
pine needles.

          “What the hell happened here?” said Sullivan.

          “Looks like a fight.”

          “I hope Axel’s wasn’t in it.”

          We followed the tracks into the weeds, towards Road Dog’s bike. First
his handlebars and the tassels on his grips showed, then the skull and
crossbones saddlebags, and the chrome wheels with handcuffs clasped around
the spokes and the bony hand through the other cuff was Tom’s. He was curled
up against the muffler, his mouth lightly snoring, the stalks of tall weeds
sprouting up around him, through his arms and between his legs.

          Sullivan tried to say something but couldn’t, so he grabbed a handful
of pine needles and flung them over Tom, and I keeled over laughing and then
suddenly a clamor of voices came from the bar. It was loud and gruff and the
voices were arguing. It was Road Dog and his crew of degenerates thrusting
their way outside. We could hear them all the way from the other side of the
horseshoe pits, and Road Dog was the loudest.

          “What? Are you kidding me?” he said. “Sure it’s a well-built mid-range
bike, but it ain’t got no ASS behind it! I need a bike with more ASS.”

          “If you want ASS, go to the Waffle House. There’s a three-hundred pound
waitress down there’ll give you the ride of your life.”

          “You talking about the one with the big clam?”

          “Big everything. Gotta bring your scuba gear so you don’t drown.”

          And that’s the last Sullivan and I heard about Marjorie. We went through
the weeds and out the way we came, trundling down the ravine, through the
brambles and the hole in the chain-link fence. And from the other side of the
fence, at the far end of the parking lot, we heard the crunch of boots on
gravel.

          “Fuck! Where’s my fucking bike? Who moved it?”

          The footsteps quickened and multiplied, and Sullivan and I quickened
our pace too. We went down the fence line for a good while, through the
covert where the acacias dipped over, and then crossed the tracks and went
through an alleyway between two warehouses. When we came out on the other
side, there was a rose garden and a short picket fence, so we crawled over
it and went between two houses. We came out into an open lot across the
street from our apartment complex, and there was a small fire burning in the
middle of the lot, and a few people surrounding it in lawn chairs, their
faces glowing in the yellow light of the flames. Behind them was a wiry old
man stepping out from the shadow of a pine tree. It was Don, my neighbor.

          “Where were you guys a couple hours ago?” he asked, waving a spatula.
“We had burgers and brats lined up on the grill. Keg’s floating now. But
you’re welcome to what’s left. There’s cups on the railroad tie.”

          Sullivan and I grabbed cups off the tie and filled them up.

          “I didn’t know you were doing this tonight Don,” I said.

          “Sure, it’s my niece Kathy’s birthday. She just turned thirty. Ain’t
that right, darling?”

          She smiled. She was at least forty-five, sprawled out on a chaise
lounge between a big fat guy and a buxom German woman who kept crossing
and uncrossing her long legs. We introduced ourselves and stayed for a few
minutes, sipping at our foamy beers and talking, laughing a lot. Then we
walked across the street, and from the lawn in front my apartment complex,
we could hear the growl of motorcycles starting up in the distance.

          Sullivan said, “You think they’re going to drag Tom over here?”

          “I wouldn’t doubt it.”

          We went to my building, and in the stairwell at the bottom, a small
yellow light threw a great looming shadow on the wall in the shape of a
wheelchair - a powerized wheelchair - Axel’s clumsy vessel cocked sideways
along the covey, but he wasn’t in it.

          We looked around for a minute, up and down the hallway, and near the
vending machines and fire escape. We headed back toward the wheelchair and a
voice suddenly came from over the balcony.

          “I told you you’d be proud of me.”

          Axel was slumped over the railing with a cigar in his mouth. He blew
out several quick puffs and grinned. “If it wasn’t gonna happen tonight, it
never was. Had to be done.”

          Sullivan and I met him upstairs and he draped his arms over our
shoulders for support. We led him into my apartment and plumped him down on
the sofa.

          “You need an elevator in this place,” he said, as he stretched his legs
out. “It’s not gimp-friendly.”

          We all laughed and then he told us about Tom, and how he passed out
cold and fell off his swivel chair and the awkward way Axel dragged him
through the weeds and finally unleashed the cuffs.

          A little while later the quietness of the night was interrupted by the
din of motorcycles passing on the street below. They came and went several
times, from both directions, crisscrossing and circling the parking lot and
finally disappearing. We didn’t know for sure that it was Road Dog and his
crew - if it wasn’t, it should’ve been. Because all I could picture was Road
Dog humped menacingly over one of those bikes, cursing himself and Tom and
all of us, with no other way to sum up his misfortunes than to say, “It’s
fucked! The whole world is fucked! Fuck! Fucking shit! It’s fucked!”

          The final slogan in a world of bikers.

M.P. Powers has been published in Nerve Cowboy, Identity Theory, Poems
Niederngasse, Ascent Aspirations, and The Dead Mule School of Southern
Literature.







© 2007 Underground Voices