"Is there no end to this goddam rain?" Sparks said to himself, and wiped his glasses with a soggy glove. It had already been a long day when he'd rolled into Twin Falls and turned south an hour and a half ago, sixteen hours out of Seattle. It had been warm after he'd crossed the Cascades at dawn, but just over the Nevada line it had started to rain. Now his leathers were soaked and he could feel the cold eating at his guts.

"Thirty-five is too old, and I'm too damned big to be beating my ass across the country on an old Sporty" he thought. "If I don't find a place to get a cup of coffee and some sleep I'm gonna die riding the little bastard."

Then he thought of his real scoot, and the reason for this trip. The beast he'd built had been ripped off nearly six months ago. He'd put a lot of money and time into it, then one day he walked out of work and it was gone, right out of the parking lot.

All he'd paid to have done when he built it was the paint job and the crank setup. Everything else, he'd put together. He'd even cut and welded the neck to give the custom springer a touch more rake. He recalled the pleasure of that job, and thought "Before that, it looked like it had run into a wall." There were a bunch of hot-rod Evos in Seattle, but his big-inch, cammed up shovelhead had surprised most of them one time or another. "And they will be again" he muttered aloud into the wind.

Since the theft, all he could afford was this ironhead Sporty. "A good little hotrod, but they just ain't made for somebody six foot someodd and 210 pounds on the long haul." Then he grinned, warm and friendly as a gun barrel. "If Kate's right, if it really is in Denver, it's mine again, and so is the ass of the sonofabitch who stole it." The last guy who'd seen that grin still walked with a limp and got a funny twitch whenever Sparks showed up. He had an easygoing manner about him, but his face showed marks reflecting steel within, that he wouldn't back down.

Finally, he saw a light glow through the drizzle. "That's gotta be Wells," he thought. "Some sweet thing there will let me crash for a while."

He'd always had good luck with the ladies. "Well mostly," he snorted to himself, "except for the one that really mattered." That had been five years ago, after he'd come back from a welding job on an offshore oil rig. He'd had a bundle, and could have opened his own shop, but he had to be free, free to go, to pick up stakes and move on just because he damned well felt like seeing what was on the far side of the hill. She wouldn't stay with a saddle tramp, and he couldn't stay at home. But they were still in touch, and that's why she'd called when she thought she saw his bike at a bar in Denver.

He swung into the first shop 'n rob he saw. He tanked up to give himself a chance to stop shivering before he tried to talk some trash to anybody, then walked inside straight to the coffee pot. He drew himself the biggest gulp they had and drank half of it down, hot as it was.

As he strode over to the counter he looked at the clerk and thought "Lordy, but I could carve a better-lookin' woman out of an engine block with a cuttin' torch - well, I ain't lookin' to take her to bed."

He pushed his long hair back from his face, turned on his thousand-watt smile, the one that always worked with the ladies, let his voice drop down into his chest a bit, and told her that she'd saved his life just by being there with the pot on. She asked how far he'd come, and he told her from Seattle.

"I don't believe it" she said.

"Well I don't either, but my butt does. Anywhere here I can throw down my bedroll for a couple hours?"

After a few minutes of "can't-do's" she'd allowed that her relief wouldn't be in till six a.m. and if he'd get up and out by five he could bed down in the storeroom in back.

"Guess she's a sweet thing after all" he said to himself as he ate a chilidog. Then he spread his bedroll on the tile between two stacks of beer cases and dropped off like he'd been rabbit-punched.

By dawn he'd been on the road for an hour. He was cold again, but the sun would feel good soon. He'd be in Denver by midnight, and Kate was expecting him. She had never let him near her bed again, after that last blowup that burned them out, but she'd always let him stay when he needed to. "Jesus what a redheaded Irish temper that woman's got - mean enough to hunt bears with a switch," But she was also a real man's woman, a stand-up lady you could trust behind your back, or to cover your back if it came to that.

"Funny she never found somebody else permanent - wonder if it means anything?" he asked himself as the empty miles rolled by. He knew she wasn't keeping it all to herself. A few times she'd brought someone home while he was crashing there. She'd explain to them that he was just a friend, but somehow they never seemed to want to stick around.

He worked his way through Salt Lake City while everybody was still in church, then picked up U.S. 40 eastbound at Heber. By midafternoon he was having lunch and a beer in Colorado. "Goddam, it's gonna be another cold night crossing Berthoud Pass in the dark" he muttered as he kicked the Sportster to life. He left with a roar, rear wheel spitting gravel as he crossed the parking lot. A few seconds later he was cruising at 70 again.

Kate had a meal waiting when he rolled in. She fed him well, spaghetti and a bottle of dago red wine. He fell asleep on the couch, trying to ask her about his bike.

"Eggs. Eggs godammit, and ham," he thought. He awoke and realized he wasn't dreaming; the smell was real. Then he remembered where he was, and that he wouldn't have to eat his usual breakfast of last night's pizza.

"How 'bout a cup of coffee?" she asked as she handed it to him. "I called in sick this morning. We didn't get your questions answered last night."

On the phone three days ago she'd told him that she'd seen the bike. She was sure it was his - after all, it had spent enough time in her garage, and she was a biker's woman to the core. It had been repainted, but the custom welding touches, the indented panels on the sides of the tank, and the jockey shift with the dogleg to let him reach the cue ball shift knob easier were still there.

After she'd told him that, he'd told the boss the next morning he wouldn't be back soon. He drew his pay, jumped on his Sporty, and headed out carrying a load of grief for somebody.

At dusk he rode down to 15th and Stout. He parked in an alley near the titty bar where she'd seen the bike, then found himself a spot where he could watch the street.

It was full dark when he saw the guy get out of a pickup with two others. "Swampy, you sorry son of a bitch," he breathed to himself. "I should have known."

Swampy was a rat. It was an insult to rats to say so, but he was a rat. He was big, but he'd never learned to live like a man, he'd always been a sneak. He'd been on the payroll at Boeing with Sparks until Sparks caught him breaking into his locker. They'd gone over the matter right there in the locker room, and it had taken three guys to pull Swampy out of the big trash can in the corner, where Sparks had shoved him clear to the bottom after folding him up like a jackknife. After that, Swampy was convinced he'd be happier somewhere else and had moved on.

They hadn't seen him again. It was a month later that Sparks' bike had disappeared, but he hadn't made the connection. He should have. "Swampy always said he wanted a bike like mine. I guess he got one for a while. Wonder where he has it stashed?"

He walked into the bar and stepped to the side of the door. There was a blonde dancing on the table for three guys over in the corner, and as his eyes adjusted, he could see that one of them was Swampy.

"Beat it, honey!" he said to the blonde as he walked up to the table. He handed her a ten as he laid his hand on Swampy's shoulder. Having seen trouble before, she was gone in a flash of legs and ass.

Swampy looked around, anger showing in his face. The look turned to pain, then fear as a hand like a vice closed on the nerve in this neck. He realized that nothing good was about to happen.

The guy across the table started to stand up. He managed to say "Who the fu... " before Sparks kicked the table into his chest, knocking him over. As he hauled Swampy to his feet he brought his leg back from the kick in a smooth swing, just in time to snap the heel of his boot into the side of the knee of the bozo trying to stand up from the chair alongside him. The knee popped like a broken stick and all that one could do was scream as he dropped.

Sparks, clutching Swampy by the scruff of the neck, backed up against the wall. "I got no quarrel with you guys, but you wanted some of it. Now I'm gonna save you some grief and break up your acquaintance with this asshole," he said as he edged toward the door.

Once out the door he jerked Swampy up on his toes. "Let's go where we can talk!" he said as he ran Swampy down the street, feet almost dangling. All his life he'd earned his living with his hands and arms, and when he got hold of something, it generally moved.

Swampy was trying to talk, and to keep breathing, toes reaching for the ground. "Jeez Sparks, what's this about?" he wheezed. "I'da been glad to see you. C'mon, lemme down."

"Shut up and run! I'll let you down you sorry fucker. I'll let you so far down you'll scream all the way. You're gonna tell me where my scooter is, then you're gonna take me there. After that maybe I'll be so glad to see it that I'll forget about you."

Around the corner and into an alley they ran, finally stopping by Sparks' Sporty, parked back of a dumpster.

"Now we're gonna talk."

"Honest to God, I don't know what'cher talking about" Swampy whined. "I didn't know your bike was gone. C'mon, don't fuck around. Let me go and I'll put out the word you're lookin' for it."

"Yeah, you'll put out the word. The only word you're gonna put out you're gonna beg to tell me in a minute."

Sparks kicked Swampy's feet out from under him, dropping him like a feed sack alongside the bike. His foot on Swampy's throat, he took a piece of rope out of his back pocket, then kneeling on Swampy's chest, he grabbed him by the hair and tied his head to the exhaust, cheek to the header.

"What d'ya think Swampy? Anything ya wanta tell me?" he asked as he gently kicked the bike through a prime stroke. "It's about to get loud and hot!"

Swampy blubbered "I don't know nothin' Sparks. Christ, you gotta know I'd tell you if I did."

With a strong kick, Sparks lit the fire. The pipes roared, and Swampy stiffened as though he'd grabbed a live wire. "Ahhhh - Sparks" he screamed as he wet his pants. "Ok, ok, I'll take you there, just shut it off. Oh God. . ." Sparks gunned it once to make his point, then killed it.

Two weeks and a new paint job later, Sparks stroked his old engine to life with a kick. He'd gone through it top to bottom, and it was as strong and clean as ever now. "Damn, but I do good work" he muttered as he settled into the saddle, bedroll on the handlebars, ready to hit the wind.

"Yeah honey, you surely do." Kate's presence was a surprise; he didn't know that she had come up behind him. "Now let's roll; they're waiting for us up at Sturgis." She slung her bedroll on the sissy bar and dropped onto the bitch pad.

Rolling up 1-25 into Cheyenne, leaned back on the soft on mounds behind him, feeling the wind in his face and the pounding of the big twin below him, he thought "Sometimes people change, but some things just never do."