CODE OF THE RAVEN

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Michael has made his bed by following his own humanitarian beliefs. Now he must lay in it.

Submitted: November 21, 2015

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Submitted: November 21, 2015

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CODE OF THE RAVEN

 

Ferocious thunder roars through the valley like Godzilla making a demonic descent upon a city of Japanese prey, its rumble bouncing off the thick trunks of giant red oak.  Gray squirrels nervously scurry up into the trees and white tailed buck trot off in fear and Michael instantly recognizes the disturbance of peace.  He can clearly see the image of that steel beast as he stares into the red eyes of the raven spread before him on the surface of his late grandmother's kitchen table.

  A lovely machine she is.  The mighty Heritage Softtail, 1986 FLST.  A powerful 1338 V-twin packed into a six hundred and fifty pound horse of pristine and patented teal and cream with dual Screaming Eagle pipes, straight and without muffles, and wide white walled shoes.  She's the uncrowned queen, Aphrodite of all motorcycles, more than enough to widen the eyes of any observer and seduce arousal from all enthusiasts.

  When the storm approaches, Michael does not fidget, he does not panic and he does not relinquish composure.  Instead, he feels relief and relaxation for the first time in what seems an eternity.  He delicately brushes the backs of his fingers across the raven's surface, a caress between mutual lovers as they end their affair, and he allows adequate time for the cackle outside to kick down into a steady idle, like the purr of a saber toothed tigress, and then she goes to sleep.

  The rider, bandana, flowing beard and squinted eyes, black clad in chaps, dismounts and steps heavily toward the front of the wooded A-frame cabin.  Michael remains at ease, almost eagerly awaiting the knock from his visitor.  Then it comes, not the loud crack of rude intrusion, but rather the polite tap of a respectful friend, and he pulls the door open in welcoming fashion, and there he discovers himself confronted by the raven, face to face with the exact clone to that which perches upon the table.

  Now the visitor turns to the direction of his host and the two men observe one another for a moment, each a sight for the sore eyes of the other, two separate patterns clipped from the same cloth.  It is without any ease that they resist the urge to embrace.  It has been too long and the ties that bind them together have not gone frail with time.

  "Hello, Michael."

  "Sam, I am glad it's you."  The relief in Michael's voice is evident and genuine.  "Come in."

  Michael retreats from the archway, stepping backward without ever taking his eyes off of his friend, and Sam enters the cabin.  He looks through the raven to the cherry wood table beneath.

  "I was sorry to hear about Grandma Jean."

  Michael nods in grief stricken acceptance of the condolences offered.  "She put up a good fight.  She was a strong old bird."

  "That damn cancer.  It always takes the best ones."

  "Seems that way.  She beat it twice, but by the third round I believe she was just ready to go."

  Sam rests the palm of his hand to the table's surface, "I'll never forget how even when it was just her, she would slave at the stove for hours making gigantic feasts for dinner."

  "Only because she knew that any one of us may randomly stop by to eat.  Sometimes all of us."

  "And she'd never allow us to get up for our own food.  She'd stand there and serve everybody at the table until we were full before she'd even take a single bite."

  The two men smile, reveling in those memories.

  "You remember that time we broke out the windows at the old IGA store?" Sam asks.

  "Fat officer Santelli chased us around town for almost two hours," Michael laughs.

  "We finally got away and snuck into Grandma Jean's attic while she was doing laundry."

  Man, I though we were busted for sure when we heard Santelli's voice downstairs."

  "Boy, Grandma Jean sure tore him a new one!"

  "Yeah, 'They haven't been here all day.  Why don't you just leave them good boys alone and do something worthwhile for once!'"

  "Then she kicked him out."

  They share a good long and hearty laugh.

  "Remember how we hid in that hot attic, trying not to move for hours, just waiting for Grandma Jean to leave?"  Sam recalls.

  "We knew she always went shopping Saturday afternoon."

  "Then when we finally heard her leave and climbed downstairs there was two Cokes and two bologna sandwiches waiting for us on the table," he pats the table and laughs again as he finishes the story.

  "Have a seat Sam."

  The large man's knees crack and he groans a bit as he settles into one of the familiar chairs.

  "Whiskey?"

  "Jack?"

  "Gentleman."

  "Absolutely."

  For the first time Michael turns his back to Sam and strolls over to the counter.  He pulls two glasses from the plastic dish rack and pours into them generously from a bottle that he always keeps next to the microwave and then he waits a half expecting minute before turning back around.  Upon returning to the table, he places one of the glasses in front of Sam and then helps himself to the seat directly across from his dear friend.  They raise the glasses in salute to each other.

  "May Odin give us knowledge of our path."

  "May Thor give us courage along the way."

  "And may Loki give us laughter as we go."

  "They each enjoy a long drought of the smooth liquor, cherishing the smoky flavor and warmth of their stomachs.  They lick their lips and remain silent for some time, allowing the whiskey to settle, staring at the raven.

  "How's work on the old Indian coming along?"  Sam inquires.

  "It's finally finished.  It's out in the workshop, fully restored and ready to roll."

  "Really?  Did you go with an S&S?"

  "Didn't have to.  I located an old timer in Springfield, Massachusetts who had an original 1950.  Frame and tranny were shot, but he thought the engine could be salvaged.  Took it off his hands for two hundred, rebuilt it myself, runs like a top."

  "A 1300?"

  "Yep, forty horse, side valve."

  Sam is thoroughly impressed, he believed the Chief of the fifties to be entirely extinct.  He had seen frankensteins about the Black Hills, but never a true original, through and through.  Knowing full well the extent of Michael's precision and talent, it must be the gem that collectors' dreams are made of.  The missing link.

"How's Mikey?"  Michael changes the subject, a bit reluctantly.

"Mikey's safe," Sam assures him.  "He's doing everything he should be doing, without any downfalls or disappointments.  He carries himself well and respectable, he understands the concepts and he recognizes the chain.  He's loyal, Michael.  Prez has some high expectations for him and there's been talk of fast tracking his prospect status.  Soon he will be patched.  He will make a solid brother."

All of this is very much relieving news to Michael's ears.  He always knew that the boy would surely excel in whichever endeavor he should choose to follow.  However, he had only wanted to retrace the steps of his father.  Michael is proud of him.

  "Does he know much about what happened to me?"

"Not in dept."

"That's good."

"I protect him, to a certain extent.  I watch his back and I make sure he doesn't get into anything that's too deep for him to handle.  I always will.  You have my word on that, Michael."

His mind does not even for an instant begin to question the man's vow.  He knows absolutely that Sam's word carries a more profound certainty than any other creed of iron.  In this, there is no question of honor, it will be a promise outlasting all revelations.  Mikey is safe.

"Things have sure changed since you and I prospected together."

"Right."  Sam confirms.  "Back in our days all we got was the dirty shit.  "You remember when Leo laid that little Knucklehead down in the ditch off old highway thirty five?"

Michael chuckles, "And we were elected to go dig it out."

"In the pouring down rain.  Drunk."

"In December."

"Talk about cold.  You know, to this day my fingers and toes have never fully gotten over the frostbite," says Sam as he taps the tips of his fingers across the table.  "That cop had to think we were nuts."

"You believe he bought that we were simply walking home from the bar and happened to come across an abandoned motorcycle on the side of the road?"

"Remember how he thanked us over and over again for recovering the stolen Harley?  Us of all people, a couple of good samaritans."

"And he drove us back to the bar so we could warm up."

"And Leo was so pissed because we didn't get the Knucklehead."

They spend some time in laughter.  The incident was but one of many times that they found themselves reaping the positive benefits of luck's irony.  That they had never done any serious time for their rebellious actions was a difficult concept for either one of them, or their comrades to fathom.  Indeed, it had not a thing to do with them excelling in skillful criminality.  In that particular respect they have never been anything but average at best, and mere simpletons more often than not, even occasionally just clumsy oafs.

"Those were the good days, though," says Michael.  "Back when it was all about boozing and broads and bikes.  When it was about brotherhood."

"The brotherhood's still there."

"Yeah, as long as it benefits somebody's wallet."

Sam bows his head, not disputing the validity of Michael's statement.

"I'm just saying, the bond and the respect has never been the same since the drugs came into the picture.  What used to be a tight knit band of free and proud rebels with a collective system of beliefs and a code of honor amongst thieves has become an unorganized group of peddlers, each with his own best interests in mind and all worshipping one gad- drugs."

"Money," Sam corrects.

"Drug money, and no matter what there will never be enough of it."

  "Probably not, but we've made a lot of it."

  They take time to finish their drink, thus allowing the mild argument a chance to dissipate.

  "Look Michael, when we decided to put this raven on our backs we made a conscious agreement to go along with whatever direction our hierarchy may lead us in, without questioning and without compromise, for better or for worse."

  "I know, man.  I feel like I have held true to that."

  Now arises the first and only awkward silence of this transaction as each man mentally evaluates this strange difference of opinion, a situation foreign between two who have shared so much and nearly become one over the years.  They will not argue over right and wrong on this matter, they will not debate.  They will allow it to slide by like a cold Winter's day and move on to much more detrimental specifics relevant to this visit.

  "You heard about Chopper?"  Sam breaks the thin ice.

  "I heard they're trying to give him life."

  "He'll probably get it too.  It's too bad," Sam shakes his head in disapproval.  "He was a good brother."

  "Chopper was a dirt bag," Michael declares.  "You remember what he did to that girl over in Milwaukee?"

  "Hey now, that girl agreed to every bit of it, Michael."

  "She was sixteen, Sam."

  After considering the truth and replaying the things that he witnessed on the night in question, Sam retracts his stance and agrees.  "You're right, Chopper was a dirt bag.  But a brother all the same."

  "There's always that."

  "Why'd you do it, Michael?  We have regulations.  There are laws."

  "I have always believed in those laws."

  "What about silence and secrecy?"  Sam asks.

  "Does it over ride nobility and integrity?"  Michael snaps back with a question of his own.

  For the sake of avoiding any disagreement between himself and his equal, Sam does not offer any answer.  In his personal opinion, silence and secrecy does indeed over ride all moral sentiments, a viewpoint of which he knows that Michael would not concur and he does not have the heart to reiterate to him that righteousness holds no substantial position in this thing of theirs.

  "We were all on the verge of facing investigation," says Michael.  "Federal indictment, Sam.  I'm talking a hundred years for each of us.  The raven would fly no more.  We'd become ghosts.  Somebody had to take the fall.  Better it be one, rather than all."

  "We had a fall guy in place.  The gun was even planted."

  "Yeah, Robert Gordon.  A married, hard working father of five children.  He volunteers at the orphanage, donates to the troops, visits the nursing homes to play cards with elderly who have no families, and rings the damn bells outside of Walgreens in subzero temperatures at Christmas time.  He coaches little league.  He's never even had a speeding ticket for Christ's sake!  The guy's a saint."

  "He is responsible for having Chopper's kids sent to foster care."

  "Only because his old lady was cooking crystal meth in their home!"  Michael's voice rose in agitation.  "Chopper's grudge with Robert Gordon was a personal vendetta, not a club issue."

  "Prez felt that the reason for setting Gordon up was justified."

  "Prez was wrong," Michael insists.

  "Well, it is what it is, then," Sam says, a clear declaration of closure.

  The men sit in silence for a long while, each at an utter lack of words, realizing simultaneously that the dead horse cannot withstand another beating.  Finally, Michael points to Sam's empty glass.

  "Another?"

  "I don't think so, brother.  You should have another."

  They looked at each other for a moment, a look of love and sympathy and understanding, silently sharing their loyalty to each other, acknowledging the circumstances and opposite positions to which they are now committed to, neither judging or disregarding that of the other.  It is a simple, quiet acceptance, solidified when Michael pushes his black vest adorned with his beloved raven patch across the table toward his childhood partner.  They seal the conversation with a nod and then Michael rises, walking back to the counter, glass in hand.  He opens the whiskey bottle and slowly raises it to his nose, taking a deep sniff at the content's fragrance, and then he pours himself a hefty shot.  He reseals the bottle and returns it to its place beside the microwave.  He speaks without turning around.

  "Hey Sam?"

  "Yeah?"

  "Can you make sure that Mikey gets the Indian?  He always loved that bike."

  "Sure."

  Michael empties the glass into his mouth, holding the drink there for longer than usual, savoring the taste on the tip of his tongue, reflecting upon those simple pleasures which he regards as the finest things in life.  After he swallows, he hears that familiar click behind him, the unique sound of a single shell entering the chamber of a Baretta.  He smiles, closes his eyes and raises his chin, and then he takes his final breath. 

 

Copyrighted 2015 Jason Crager

All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


© Copyright 2020 Jason Crager. All rights reserved.

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