After another few hours on the road, you have paused at least sixteen times to let other motorists pass you. It’s a courtesy, nothing more, since your vehicle is more than capable of maintaining the lawful minimum speed to traverse the ever-increasingly elevated terrain that is leading you through the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains.
It’s slow going, mainly because you’ve chosen obscure backroads for their scenic beauty. Your choice has nothing to do at all with a desire to avoid major highways: not at all. That would be a coward’s gambit. You have every right to the highway as much as anyone else.
Only a few miles ahead, according to Googlemaps, lies your evening destination: The Harley’s Nest Inn.
Just as the sun is setting, you cruise carefully up a seemingly endless dirt driveway until, reaching the top, you gasp in awe. Spread out before you is a sparkling vista of chrome pipes and outsize fairings set against the backdrop of a glorious sunset.
Above your head swings a sign verifying that you have, indeed, arrived at the Harley’s Nest Inn as promised. You can smell grilling meat and hear the raucous laughter of unseen jovial bearded fellow sojourners, and your heart swells with pride at your sense of belonging here, in this pristine place so steeped in the lore of two-wheeled travel.
A couple of happy tears might or might not be trickling down into your cheek pads at this time.
A gruff, surly woman at the front desk takes your cash and eyes you without much interest.
“You here for the gatherin’ too?” she grunts, pushing cash register keys with her giant square-tipped digits. Her leathery-brown bust, not that you want to see it, is roped into a nightmare assemblage of cut-up tee shirt material lashed with large silver buckles and mercilessly fringed on all sides. The printed image of a bald eagle, superimposed upon the whole pile, strains upward as if desperate to escape the trap in which it has become snared.
“Er, what?” you stammer, snapped back to reality when she shoves a pen and ledger in front of your face.
“Sign here. Most folks is here for a club meetin’. An’ you don’t look the type, if you know what I mean,” she adds, squinting hard at you. The image of Popeye dressed in leather swims, unbidden, into your mind.
“Well, m’lady, I am but a weary traveler passing through for the night on my way to Memphis.”
“Memphis!” she gasps, her mouth gaping open.
“Memphis!” shout a passel of bikers who had been shooting pool in the next room over. They stride up to you and look you up and down, slowly.
“What’re you doin’ here, anyway, huh?” glowers one of the older bikers, a grizzled old tough in a vest that has seen better days.
His companions all start whacking their pool cues menacingly into their palms, just like they do in the movies.
“Now hold on here, fellas,” you say casually, holding out a palm. “I’m just passing through on my way to Memphis for a rally. You know… going to see Graceland and all.” And you wink in what you hope to be a disarming manner.
“Oh, are you?” sneers the leader, whipping a chain out of his back jeans pocket and sliding it greasily through his hands.
“Uh, say boss, what if he’s with… you know? For the… you know!” one of the crew behind him suggests.
But the leader, shaking his head, signals to his compadres to circle in closer. You get a distinct feeling that they do not intend to play the Hokey-Pokey with you, and as he raises the chrome chain high overhead, you shut your eyes in panic.
Suddenly the snatches of conversation that you overheard earlier today return to you.
The paper, with the phone number! It’s still in your pocket!
Make your choice:
You blurt out, “I know Jacques!”