Max screams the city down to its stubby edges, losing 5/0 and the ‘Riders just over the hometown side of the new bubble bridge. The deadfall is worth every minute and every streak of sweat that went into setting it up — he catches the trip pole easy peasy with the XB’s hard right fender, there won’t even be damage to the finish at the end of the day. There’s all the time in the world to spin out of the soft shoulder, fish to traction, and roar out of there before the crap starts raining down. A pallet of handtrucks and reject MOLLE gear it is, mollies and dollies in volleys, yeah, by golly, velly solly Cholly, you bite the big tamale. He’s laughing at that. He has to tell Ellie that at home, she loves it when he riffs.
This is urban renewal as far as Max is concerned, and if you rode a century in his leathers you’d feel the same. There’s always a 5/0 and there are always ‘Riders, lately it’s been 5/0 himself but soon enough, maybe starting tomorrow if the crash rig did enough damage, it’ll just be someone like 5/0 — cut from the same shitty cloth, no worth to trouble on in the first place but they can’t just let it alone, can they, they have to bring it right to you, get in your face, slime up the carpet, dank the sun out where you just got it to shine. They set up shop in the Rock and out by the Banks and that should have been the territory division, but that’s the thing about a parasite, isn’t it? They can’t suck on themselves. They have to come and suck on you and yours.
Don’t get him started, he’ll go on like this all night, and what a waste of a night it would be. He’s got things to show Ellie, things to tell her, some spaces for her to fill. He wants — you know what he wants? She’s been so wound lately, so wrenched, like a cloth twisted up, all ropy tension and no room for soft.
What he really wants is to stop her larking around, because she does that these days, pulling from one thing to the next in sharp jittery lines, what he really wants is to stroke her down, let his hands brush out the white hot and reel her in, land her; when he can close her eyes and touch behind her ear like she likes her breath goes slow and deep and that sigh spills out of her, deep and full of green, like it could breathe summer lush onto a budding tree. Do that and then put her head on his chest and press pause for a minute, or two, or five. Sometimes they stay that way, suspended in each other, eyes closed, and fall asleep like that. Max thinks it’s a chemical thing, their bodies soak up the moist human cloud like sponges, lap at one another, tasting, passing smells and tiny sounds and, what, molecules? hormones? gossip and chat? When they sleep like that Max feels like a part of her when he wakes up.
He stows the car in one of the camo sheds and takes a tunnel route home. The sky is heavy tonight, it’s no loss. He was pretty twisted up last week himself when he was uproad, Ellie taking off for Star City and not telling him, not quite lying about it but leaving stuff out. She was busy, she was this, she was that, and he knows she was down there but can’t pin it to her, and yes he sort of freaked, he can feel this stuff over the miles, doesn’t have to be there to know when she’s not home. The goal is the head on the chest, that’s all they need and he knows it, but they’ll have to do some dancing to get there.
They live up high because it’s safer that way, and Max is quiet on the way up. He opens one of the empty apts below theirs and goes for his surprise closet — how the Bergerac got in for barter he’ll never know, but he snagged a bottle and it’s been stashed for a special occasion, and that’s tonight — and he hops up the last steps feeling goofy and giddy and young. He loves this girl, winter’s over, it’s time to come to life again, and all the city is something that can just wait for tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow. By golly, velly solly Cholly, you bite the big tamale.
As soon as he opens the door he knows she’s gone; the place is still, just still. As if the rooms are hoping they won’t have to be there when he figures it out. For a second his heart dies, he’s thinking of Jessie his first wife and Sprog, run down in the road in another age, so long ago like a comic book, but this isn’t murder: she’s just gone. Out in the world, and he no part of it. The sky outside is a baleful red, waiting for him to make his move.
Sorry Max, the note says, in ink the color of a lie. I’ve gone to Star City. It’s not you, it’s me.