The first time a coworker called him Burnman, it stuck. He rode a motorcycle, followed football as a religion, drank fast, and had short relationships with a parade of women who seemed to have nothing in common with each other, or himself.

The name was memorialized by a waitress who witnessed him inadvertently burn himself on the grill. He was preparing more orders at once than anyone she had ever observed. Only after completing the current work did he visit the first-aid kit to tend his arm and return to the kitchen as if nothing had happened.

His favorite part of the late shift was heading home at two in the morning. With no vehicles visible as far as the eye could see in any direction, who would care if he rode through red lights that would only change for heavier vehicles? What did it matter if he surpassed 100 mph on a straight section of four-lane desolation? If he were not to satiate certain primitive appetites that were mostly suppressed during civilized hours, who knows how such urges might otherwise manifest?

But it mattered this night to a hidden police car.

Burnman never saw it until the flashing blue and red lights in his rearview mirrors became an unwelcome encroachment to the afterglow of his ballistic release. Even before the lights caught his attention he had already slowed considerably, nearing the range of the posted speed limit, as he approached the evening’s last traffic light.

Fortunately, there were two points of good news:

  • Home was only a few miles away.
  • The teasing lights weren’t close enough to read his license plate.

It must have been a young cop who would activate his lightbar before closing enough distance to diminish the propensity of a race through the cover of a summer night.

Burnman flicked his turn signal at the intersection and made an undramatic right turn, as if he hadn’t noticed the pursuit vehicle and had all the time in the world.

Immediately, the warning lights were out of view and all pretense of civility was ejected. He slammed open the throttle, speed-shifted through the gears, and let the engine announce to any light sleepers that he was about to be somewhere else. Instantly.

Motorcycle acceleration, in the hands of any able to wield it without getting killed, is the closest most mortals can come to time travel.

Although well aware he wasn’t so fast he could outrun radio waves, it was unlikely another peace officer was near his destination, as the screaming two-wheeled missile periodically skipped airborne over surface imperfections.

By the time his mirrors revealed the strobe lights making the turn, the driver’s urgent recognition of how far the bike had gotten in front of him was reflected by its jumping headlights as its accelerator was floored.

Now the game was simple. Make it home without any human notice. Once he disappeared from view after the next turn, the pursuer would need to guess directions at each neighborhood intersection. Fortunately, there wouldn’t be anyone up and about to help.

Burnman nudged the brakes, curtailing maximum velocity for a hard right, leaning low over the racing pavement. He then hurled his torso and bike over to the other side for a quick left. Executing a well-practiced sequence, he straightened the trajectory, gassed it one last time and cut the power. In addition to launching a quiet, pitch-black, final approach, his brake lights could no longer betray his location at the worst possible instant.

The bike coasted fast down the nocturnal home stretch, leaving undisturbed any insomniacs with open windows. He slowed at the driveway, arriving with a purposeful surplus of kinetic energy to glide swiftly around the garage and into the back. There he carefully laid the bike onto the grass and slid the picnic-table cover over it, out of view from any prying searchlights.

The police engine raced angrily down the next street, with red and blue reflecting a kaleidoscope of wrath off the maze of suburban white siding.

Fortunately, the siren was silent. Otherwise, it would attract undue attention and potentially prompt an inquiring neighbor to step outside. Were certain locals to engage any police conversation, they might point out where the few bikers live. Especially the one with late-night predilections and a burn scar on his left forearm.

by George Alger


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