In the barn, they found a vintage Schwinn tandem bicycle: fire engine red with a single headlamp centered on the rusty handlebars, whitewall balloon tires with chrome fenders, a broken chain, red and white cushioned seats, and red, white and blue plastic streamers hanging from the handlebar grips.
Beyond their ability to repair, Shelly digitally photographed the bike she’d named Byclops, and she and Neolin took a Kodiak raft to South Bass Island, where they walked from bicycle shop to bicycle shop – of which there were many that catered to the day visitors, typically families and senior citizens, who found the daytime island quaint but rushed to the mainland bound ferries before sunset and the night’s debaucheries. They gathered all of the necessary replacement parts, paint, and lubes and even purchased two of those clown horns, one for each set of handlebars.
One late July afternoon, they rode Byclops to the airstrip, where, pointed south on the northernmost edge of the runway with their backs to the wind, they pedaled in perfect rhythm until Shelly’s pumping could no longer match the piston-like revolutions of Neolin’s powerful legs. By a quarter of the runway’s length, they reached top speed. Shelly placed her hands on Neolin’s shoulders, removed her feet from the pedals, and climbed so that she balanced precariously on the padded seat as she sat in a sort of baseball catcher’s squat. The breeze made a swirling maelstrom of her hair. With the methodical deliberateness of a circus acrobat, she rose, straightened her legs, leveled her back, and locked her knees so that her body formed a perfect right angle.
Once acclimated to the speed and her apparatus and with her nerve steeled by the successful completion of her first stunt, Shelly placed one foot at a time on the center support bar of the bike as if it were a tightrope. She inched herself forward until she stood upright, pressed against Neolin. Shelly then secured a foothold by wedging one at a time between his seat and the top of her handlebars. Chest out, she meticulously removed her hands from Neolin’s shoulders until each extended out and slightly rearward like the wings of a jet plane. With her head back, chin up, eyes to the heavens, for just a few seconds, she was flying, outracing the wind.
As they approached the final quarter of the runway, Neolin glided to a gradual stop where the cement met the surrounding field. Laughing, they climbed down from the bike, lay on their backs in the grass with their hands pillowing their heads, stared up into the summer sky, and basked in the glorious present.
It was also that summer that Gordon discovered the joy of “professionals”: no heartbreak, like with Annesley; no drama, like with Caroline; no punishment, like with Mrs. Guccioli.
Against her own better judgment and with Ms. Martin’s assurances, Gordon’s mother allowed him to fly to and to stay a weekend in New York City, un-chaperoned. After a day of appearances in Manhattan bookstores and a brainstorming session at the Martin Agency as to how to extend Manfred into a series (not an insignificant problem, considering Manfred unrepentantly took a stake to the heart at the end of the novel), Ms. Martin accompanied Gordon to his hotel where she had, per his mother’s demand, reserved the room next to his.
Around midnight, horny as hell, Gordon began an internet search of New York City escort services. He made at least a dozen calls before he found one with whom he could do business, meaning the rates weren’t even discussed. Just like the entrée he’d ordered at the five-star restaurant to which Ms. Martin had taken him, there were no prices listed on the menu.
Ms. Martin smugly told him, “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”
His meal had been outstanding. Gordon figured if that philosophy worked for seafood, it would also work for hookers.
When it reached nearly two in the morning, however, he concluded that the service on which he had settled and with whom he had negotiated a “date” hadn’t taken his call seriously. He was considering going to bed when he heard a gentle knock on the door. Through the aperture allowed by the chain lock, Gordon ogled the girl he had ordered but was taken aback when a man-mountain, obviously muscle, stepped into view behind her.
“Hey,” Gordon said.
“I’m Sunny,” the girl answered, as if she wasn’t completely confident in her own name.
“If this dude’s name is Maurice, the deal’s off,” Gordon said.
“What? No, this is Myles.”
“It’s a joke. You know, Holden Caulfield? The Catcher in the Rye?”
“Oh. I don’t know him. I don’t follow baseball. I partied once with that A-Rodman guy though.”
“Forget it,” Gordon said.
“Oh. Okay,” she said and turned to go.
“Where you going?”
“You said, ‘Forget it.”
“I meant the allusion, the joke.”
“Oh. Okay. Then, I’m Sunny and this is Myles. He’ll wait in the lobby until I call him on my cell. At which time, he will return and collect payment. If I or these terms are acceptable to you, we may proceed with our date,” she spoke robotically, like a rookie cop reciting the Miranda Rights for the first time.
If Gordon were to guess, he’d place Sunny as no more than twenty-years old and relatively new to the business.
By the middle of the “date,” it was unclear as to who was the professional and who was the client. Sunny abandoned her usual phony moans and groans. Like any addict’s, however, Gordon’s threshold for gratification was climbing and caused him nearly to surpass his one hour limit.
As Sunny cleaned-up and dressed, Gordon catnapped. He woke to find Myles standing above him asking for the grand he was owed.
“A thousand!” Gordon said.
“One hour at one grand an hour comes to one thousand dollars,” Myles proudly calculated on his finger.
“Just a minute,” Gordon said. “I’ll have to go next door.”
Myles furrowed his brows, sneered his lips, and pulled his hands from his suit pants pockets, suspecting some kind of bullshit set-up.
“Don’t worry. I just need to get the money next door. From my mom,” he added just for fun.
Gordon knocked heavily on Ms. Martin’s door.
She answered dressed in a mid-thigh length, cleavage-baring, pink, silk nightie and with one of those satin sleep blindfolds pushed on top of her head. Although in her early forties, she clearly worked out. Wearing only his athletic-cut, boxer briefs, Gordon couldn’t nor did he try to hide his enthusiasm.
“Gordon!” She said both in a mixture of surprise and appreciation, trying, with limited success, to keep her focus trained on his eyes.
“I need some money,” he said as casual as asking for an extra pillow while he crossed his feet at the ankles and leaned his right shoulder against the door jamb. He knew the only one more screwed in the hotel that night than Sunny was Ms. Martin. What could she do? Say, ‘no?’ Call the cops? Call his mother, whose trust she had so failed to measure up to? Risk pissing off the goose that laid the golden Manfred egg with only a one-book deal to which she herself had insisted on limiting their initial relationship?
“Money? What for? At . . . what is it . . .?” she turned to see the digital alarm clock on the nightstand. “Three in the morning!”
By the time she returned her attention to Gordon, Sunny and Myles had joined him.
“Gordon,” Ms. Martin said. “Tell me you didn’t hire a hooker.”
He didn’t respond but his smirk gave him away.
“All right,” Ms. Martin said exasperated. “What does he owe?”
“That would be a thousand, M’am,” Myles answered as if talking to his third grade teacher.
“That’s right, M’am. “Like I said to the boy, one hour at one grand an hour comes to one thousand dollars,” he smiled proudly for the teacherly lady.
“That’s what I said! Can you believe it?” Gordon interrupted.
With no good options, Ms. Martin slipped into a bathrobe in which to visit the ATM in the lobby for the difference between the money in her purse and the total bill. Before she closed the door, Ms. Martin stopped, looked to Gordon and said, “If you ever pull a stunt like this again, I swear I’ll pull that thing right off.”
“Yes, M’am,” he said, but his grin betrayed his lack of genuine remorse.