Clem and Turner sat in the 1972 green Chevy Impala that she had “borrowed” from a “friend.”
“I’m not even gonna ask where you stole this car from,” he said.
“Good!” she cheerily replied. “And I won’t ask if you’d rather get the fuck out and pedal your bike to this goddamned race.” The rain was lashing the windshield without mercy and the outside temp was just a notch above freezing.
Clem was excited, sexually. He knew this because her nipples were hard even though it was warm in the car and because her eyes gleamed and she was laughing at everything and she kept licking her lips, which were wet. She was about to see her conquering hero go out and conquer, collect some gory scalps trimmed off the bleeding skulls of his victims, hoist some heads on a pike, and string a leather thong with the ears of the dead. “I think that’s it,” Turner said, pointing to the squat concrete structure of Buda-Hays High School.
“Shitcakes,” said Clem. “Where are we gonna park?”
Turner had assured her that there would be a handful of fifteen to twenty idiots, at the very most, in his first ever Cat 4 road race, the season-opener “La Primavera.” Why had he told her that? Because it sounded better than “I have no idea,” and it sounded like a good number, three or four times the number of idiots whom he’d vanquished at the Bloor Road time trial two weeks earlier. In fact the high school parking lot was full and cars lined the roadway for several hundred yards on either side of the school. Bikes were everywhere and the roadside ditch was almost overflowing from the torrential downpour.
Turner signed in, paid his fee, and went back to the car. Clem started pinning on his number, stabbing him through the lycra with each safety pin. “Ouch! Can you be a little more careful?”
She laughed. “No,” and stabbed him again.
Five minutes before his race started, Turner scurried out to the starting line. The rain was pouring down in giant bursts of freezing vomitus. Everyone was soaked to the skin and frozen, and the race hadn’t even begun. An official pointed to Turner. “Hey, you in the blue jacket!”
“Me?” Turner said.
“Yeah, you! You can’t ride with that jacket on! It covers up your number!”
“No! Take it off or get out of the race!”
Turner took off his wool Santini jacket and handed it to Clem, who was standing near the starting line. He felt his body temperature plunge further. Now the only thing between him and the elements was a short-sleeved lycra jersey. He began shuddering uncontrollably.
The chief referee shouted at them from under an umbrella. “This is the Cat 4 race, gentlemen. 34 miles, two loops of 17 miles each. Centerline rule strictly enforced. Your field is full, 75 riders. The juniors will be leaving five minutes after you. If you get passed, don’t jump in.”
Turner snickered to himself. “Get passed by the juniors … right.”
The ref continued. “Ride safe, guys!” Then he blew his whistle and the injuries and accidents began.
Racers jammed their feet into the toe clips and reached down to tighten the straps, but since the Cat 4 racers were the lowest and least skilled, many wobbled and bumped into their neighbors, causing several mini-pileups. “You fucking fucker!” and “Fucking watch it motherfucker!” and other variants of “What the fuck are you doing you fucking fucker?” were bandied about liberally. Turner weaved through the mayhem as the galloping peloton got up to speed.
They swooped around the right hander that took them towards Driftwood, each frozen and soaked idiot only a few lousy inches away from the frozen and soaked idiot in front of him, going so hard and filled with so much adrenaline that their collective hearts were about to jump out of their chests. Just as Turner started to catch his breath and settle into the ragingly crazy speed, his face filled with spray and muck from the wheels in front of him, the inside of his mouth and his tongue coated with filth and mud, his spectacles covered with a gooey paste of road grime and water, his terror at crashing so intense that he thought he could taste the kidneys he was partially coughing up, just then an idiot from the San Antonio Bicycle Racing Club a few wheels ahead of him touched the rear wheel of another idiot from another team, and the SABRC idiot went sideways and down, heavily, on his side. The downed rider’s skull, cleverly protected by a few thin strips of soft leather, smacked with the thud of a giant cracking egg against the asphalt as riders behind swerved, ran into him, jumped over him, and spun out, crashing out even more riders.
The noise alone was epic enough to have caused migraines and nightmares for a lifetime, but accompanied as it was by the screams and moans and the grinding of steel and the smashing sounds of bodies and tarmac and exploding tires and the skidding and cursing all blended together to make a perfect little horror story just for Turner.
He was going full bore and he knew his wet brakes weren’t going to work and he wished he’d learned to bunny hop when he was in grade school but since he hadn’t he leaned back and sort of threw the bike forward just as the SABRC guy’s arm flopped out in front of him. Turner closed his eyes and gritted his teeth as his bike ran over the rider’s elbow, which made a grinding bone-snapping sound, but Turner miraculously stayed upright which was more than the guy behind him could say because his front tire hit the SABRC guy’s skull squarely in the back of the cranium, flipping him over the bars and onto his face, where his front six teeth danced across the asphalt in a multidirectional tango followed by a spurting fountain of blood and an opera of pain and other indicia of misery that Turner never knew about because he was pedaling for all he was worth to catch back up to the peloton.
Half the field was gone and they were less than five miles into the race and Turner had survived. Now the speed really ramped up and he hunkered down over his handlebars with a kind of grim satisfaction. It hurt like hell, but he’d made it. He would outlast all of these sorry fuckers and then, with a couple of miles to go he’d rage away from the remaining survivors so fast and so quick that they’d never even know what hit them. This wasn’t war, but there was danger and blood and violence and fear and anger and pain and injury and the risk of death and those who had made it this far were still going strong and those who hadn’t were being trundled back to Austin in a fucking ambulance.
It wasn’t war, but it was damn sure similar to love.