Chapter 1 - Oso

The following Year—Summer, 1984
Greenwich Hospital
Greenwich, Connecticut

Billy held the official report but couldn’t get his eyes to focus on the words. His heart was pounding and the pulse in his temples pounded with the same beat. Oddly, he felt light-headed in spite of the high pressure drum roll that his heart was supplying for his brain. His eyes finally focused. “The chain struck the headlight and rode up the quarter fairing, cleared the top of the tinted Plexiglas with a snap, and connected under Roberto, aka Oso, Acevedo’s chin strap, fatally separating the rider from his motorcycle,” was as far as Billy got before dropping the report. Lindy sat next to Oso’s parents in a metal folding chair with her face in her hands. Tears slipped through her fingers and ran down her arms.

Billy kept thinking, “What if I didn’t have to work the extra shifts, or decided to blow them off? I should have told Derek to find somebody else to work because I already has weekend plans, damn it! If only I had kept my promise and driven Oso in my Jeep. If only Oso had gone straight to the lake instead of coming to visit me. Or, what if he had just stuck to the road? Damn, I taught him how to shortcut over curbs and through parking lots. Why did I do that? All those times we raced—fuck, fuck, fuck!”

‘What ifs’ weren’t helping his pounding head but his mind was wrapped around them like a python on prey. He kept chewing on the seemingly normal decisions made over the course of a normal day—the smallest chain of events that had such punishing ramifications at that parking lot chain. Oso’s last day played like a broken record in Billy’s subconscious. Oso was gone and Billy lived on—a new life changing detail that would last forever. Billy was getting his first taste of survivor’s guilt. It was a taste that would become a full meal.

Earlier that same day: Osos’s last
Payphone inside The Fallout Shelter
Port Chester, NY

Billy begrudgingly dropped a dime in the payphone slot. He wasn’t looking forward to letting his buddy Oso down by canceling their weekend plans so last minute. From this phone he could see most of the Fallout Shelter’s interior and keep an eye on things while he made his personal call. It irritated him that it was a toll call even though Greenwich was just across the measly Byram River. Soon the automated operator asked him to insert what felt like a fistful of change for the first three minutes.

The Fallout Shelter was a nightclub rehabbed from a long abandoned warehouse squeezed between the paved-over spur of a seldom used freight railroad line and a highway access road. It was the perfect out of the way location for a bar with loud, live music and was close enough to the New York/Connecticut border to attract the Fairfield County crowd in addition to students from several local New York colleges. What started as a part time job to meet girls and drink legally had slowly become as full time as he could handle. New York’s drinking age was slower to rise from 18 to 21 than its Connecticut neighbor. When it did, it included a Grandfather Clause: a magnet for Southern Connecticut young adults living in their own state’s newly inflicted pre-21 prohibition. Billy knew he’d be spending the bulk of his free time at bars so he ‘wisely’ chose to work in one, hoping to earn more and drink less.

Billy should have been getting off his shift by now and on his way to enjoy a rare weekend away from work. Instead, the needs of the service overruled; his boss Derek had fired the assistant manager and ‘asked’ Billy to stay and work a double shift. Hired as an ID checker, Billy had learned to stock the bar and was eventually given easy day shifts as a bartender. More coveted night shifts followed. Now he did most of the work around ‘The Shelter’. There wasn’t an aspect of the bar he didn’t consider his job and this wasn’t lost on his boss. Work at the bar was the token part of his life that he handled responsibly.

“Dipping in the till is the quickest way to get canned anywhere,” explained Billy on the payphone when the connection was finally made.
“Bonehead move for Gordo, bro. He should have known better, but it works out for you. What kind of raise comes from this battlefield promo, amigo?” inquired Oso.
Roberto Acevedo had carried his nickname ‘Oso’—meaning ‘Bear’ in Spanish—since he was born in Costa Rica at more than 10 pounds to his 5 feet 5 inch mother. At age twenty, he now stood over six feet tall and carried a stocky 235 pounds. His ears stuck out. His mom joked that it was a birth defect that could have been avoided if he came out into the world before his head grew so large. He wore his dark, straight hair long to try and minimize the effect of his protruding ears. This only added to his fuzzy bear appearance.
Billy didn’t answer right away, then, “Time-and-a-half this weekend for picking up the extra shifts. Not sure after that. I may become the new assistant manager or stay just the highly qualified, indispensable assistant I’ve always been, but Derek had to throw in the extra bucks to string me along until Monday. He made the money too good to say no and still go to the cabin this weekend.”
Oso rubbed his eyes, slightly puffy from mild allergies, while he replied, “The Shelter is screwed without you.” Between his irritated lids, his eyes were brown and his tan skin was prematurely wrinkled around them. Slightly near-sighted, Oso often squinted. He didn’t own a pair of corrective glasses or contacts.
“Tell me about it.”
“You have two minutes remaining,” the auto operator chimed in.
Oso continued pragmatically, “We can do the cabin next weekend, maybe add some hiking along the Appalachian Trail. The thru-hikers should be coming through soon.”
“Oso, you’re way too understanding. I’d be pissed off if you cancelled on me at the last min…”
Oso interrupted, “You’d get over it. Besides, I’ll catch more fish without your yakking and making me fish your beer cans out of the lake.”
Billy hummed a bar of the James Bond suspense music then added encouragingly, “Maybe you can talk Barbara Bach into taking my place, or Lois Chiles, or both. You can have more fun without me I’m sure.”
“You’re the ‘Bond Girl’ fanatic, Billy. Besides, Lindy would get jealous and there’s no room on the bike. I’ll have to carry my own gear, since now we won’t be riding up in your Jeep.” Then Oso added sarcastically, “You can have them choppered in if it makes you feel less guilty.”
Billy laughed then added, “I think the chopper is busy this weekend. Have a good time, sorry again for bailing out. I’ll make it up to you, I swear. We’ll head up to the lake together soon.”
Oso’s last words to Billy were, “Pura Vida,” which Billy knew literally meant, “Pure Life,” in Costa Rica and was a motto of Oso’s Tico heritage.
Billy hung up and before he could let go of the receiver the payphone rang. He picked it up and said, “Oso, you still there?”
The automatic operator requested, “Please insert ten cents more for overtime.”
Billy muttered, “Bite me,” and slammed down the handset.

Oso loved to ride, and with Billy staying to work, he looked forward to straightening out a few backcountry curves along the Hudson River on his way to the lake cabin in Putnam Valley. There’s no way he could have afforded his BMW R80G/S new, but like Billy’s promotion, Oso’s good fortune had come at someone else’s misfortune. Oso got a box of parts and pieces along with his motorcycle when he bought it from a middle-aged man with graying hair and major roadrash. Scrapes on the bike, broken mirrors, bent pedals, and cut cables indicated that the man had gotten off easy with all his parts still attached. In the wake of his contact with the road and a few choice words from his wife, the man was willing to part with the bike at a rate that Oso, barely nineteen at the time, could almost afford. Billy kicked in the balance with his tips from the bar. Oso had even borrowed Lindy’s black Dodge Ram pick-up truck to get the bike, strapped down in the truck bed, back into town. He spent all last summer pounding and grinding ‘Phoenix’ back into shape. He smiled while he worked and thought, “You shall rise and ride again.” Repainted to be unique in high-visibility mustard yellow, Oso took pride in his ride. And, like any true artist, he even signed his hard work on the gas tank when it was ready for the road.

All of this streamed through Oso’s mind while he rode: The middle-aged man with road-rash, extensive body and fender work, and even the less than enthusiastic reaction of his folks when he first brought his bike home. It was a surprise to everyone except Oso that he had taken a motorcycle safety course before obtaining his license, albeit as much to lower his insurance as to keep the rubber on the road. Oso was always the gentle giant, introspective, and quietly doing his own thing. Phoenix was just a perfect extension of his aura. He adapted quickly to change and was now looking forward to the ride as much as the fishing and hiking. He could really think while riding. Important issues could be worked out or he would just let his mind wander, like the time when he first met Billy, who he really would miss this weekend at the lake regardless of what he had said on the phone.

Billy was Oso’s biggest fan and his best friend since the seventh grade, when Oso kept him from getting stuffed into a locker. Having spent kindergarten through sixth grade in private schools out of town, Billy arrived in the public school system aggressive and eager to earn a tough reputation. Anxious to shed the ‘newbie’ tag and claw his way into a few social groups, he joined the hockey team when they needed a goalie. Settling in to his new position, Billy allowed nine goals in the season opener against their cross-town rival. Oso had hardly noticed the new owner of the locker next to his until the morning after his school’s opening-game loss, when the hockey team decided to play ‘stuff the goalie’. In the frenzy of their small riot, they tried shoving Oso out of their way. Oso knew how to break up a fight. He was slow to anger, but once provoked, he was a force to be reckoned with. He didn’t much like the arrogance of the hockey players in general, and as a group this character flaw was magnified by their predatory pack mentality. He took the leading scorer, a scrawny right wing named Joey, and gave him a short flying lesson across the hall. Joey’s sudden, loud stop against the far row of lockers momentarily froze everyone in their tracks. Next, he grabbed a larger defenseman wearing a practice jersey by the back of the hair, yanked him backwards off his feet, smiled and said, “Five for fighting number seven. In fact, take all the time on the floor that you need.”
The bell rang.
Julian, the team Captain, said, “Lucky for you we have to get to class,” in a less than convincing attempt at saving-face before this new, oversized challenge.
In the rapidly clearing hallway, Billy looked at Oso and said, “I was just about to show them my Bruce Lee Kung Fu moves.”
Oso laughed. They were instant friends.

Oso decided, “Time to stop for one beer with Billy at the Shelter on the way.” He finished topping off the tank, stowing a six-pack for the lake, and buckling his saddlebags closed. “It’ll be getting dark soon. Got to watch out for deer at dusk. By the time I finish nursing a beer, they’ll be done feeding and slip into the woods for the night. Seeing the oncoming vehicle headlights gets better after it gets fully dark too. That’ll make riding up the Taconic Parkway and along the winding, hilly streets of the Hudson Valley, if not safer then at least more enjoyable.” He smiled and continued thinking, “A three-quarter moon already up in the still-blue sky—tonight is going to be a good night for riding, and for fishing.”
The familiar streets around Cos Cob, his section of the Town of Greenwich, started sliding by the view through his visor as he worked through the first few gears. He found the play button through his leather jacket and began humming his favorite song that Lindy wrote especially for him: One Down and Four Up. He loved her and he loved taking her for rides on the back of Phoenix. Tonight it was just him and the road, though. Only her beautiful voice was with him, coming into his helmet from the yellow Sony Walkman in his jacket pocket.

Performed by Kim Smith in St. Albans, England

Kick start
Spread my legs apart
I need
The open road today

Give me
An easy ride
Take me
Anywhere, take me away

One down and four up
Feeling through turns we’re leaning from side to side
One down and four up
There are no seatbelts on this E-ticket ride

I try
To read your mind
There’s no
Telling what I’ll find

Miles fly
By in a blur
Knees squeeze
I feel the engine purr

One down and four up
Feeling through turns we’re leaning from side to side
One down and four up
There are no seatbelts on this E-ticket ride

Wrap my
Arms around you
And I lace my fingers across your heart

If you
Only knew
That I have loved you from the start

I feel
Wind rushing through my hair
Our Hearts
Are racing the engine
Like two
Bats out of hell straight to heaven

Hold tight
It’s just you and me
Saddled up
We’re always rolling free
You are
My love my guy
And we
Will never say goodbye

One down and four up
Feeling through turns we’re leaning from side to side
One down and four up
There are no seatbelts on this E-ticket ride
One down and four up
Feeling through turns we’re leaning from side to side
One down and four up
There are no seatbelts on this E-ticket ride
One down and four up
Feeling through turns we’re leaning from side to side
One down and four up
There are no seatbelts on this E-ticket ride

Oso had been on two wheels for as long as he could remember. While he hummed, he remembered that he had cried when his dad had the bike shop put training wheels on his first bicycle—a Schwinn Stingray. After a quick lesson from his parents on balance and brakes, they let him practice on his own when he promised to stay on his block. He rode straight to his friend Javier’s house the moment he was alone and had his pal’s older brother take the training wheels off. It was three or four days later before Oso’s parents noticed they were missing and he was riding without them. Oso eventually traded in that Stingray for a ten-speed. Later, he bought a 50cc mini-bike that he could only ride legally on private property. He smiled at the recollection, squeezed the grips on his BMW, and knew that he was on the machine that he always wanted when he grew up.

The traffic light at the top of the hill changed through yellow to red. Oso slowed. The church parking lot to his right was empty and the low curb wouldn’t be hard to hop. Oso considered, “Take a right at the light up ahead or shortcut with an immediate right through the church lot.” The ‘R80G/S’ was marketed by BMW as a ‘street legal off-road bike’, in fact, ‘G/S’ stands for ‘Gelände/Strasse’ or ‘cross-country/street’ in English. “Hopping a curb isn’t exactly ‘cross-country’,” Oso thought, “but using Germany’s best two-wheel ingenuity might have it’s time-saving advantages. Through the lot and skip the light,” Oso decided, lifting slightly out of his seat to take the double bump of the curb below his wheels. He leaned-in as he rounded the back of the church and checked for traffic coming from the light he skipped, now on his left, before turning right onto the crossroad. He rolled level and then right to exit the lot since traffic was clear. There’s no way of knowing if Oso ever saw the chain in the twilight that marked the parking lot as closed from this side street. “The chain struck the headlight and rode up the quarter fairing, cleared the top of the tinted Plexiglas with a snap, and connected under Roberto, aka Oso, Acevedo’s chin strap, fatally separating the rider from his motorcycle,” the official report would read.

On to Chapter 2