“Can you help me with my bike?”
He was white, balding underneath his Cincinnati Reds cap. Tall, taller than me, and pretty big. Doughy, but under that muscular, strong, the build and mannerisms of someone who worked for a living. His smile, glasses, the bib overalls, his easy manner all made me think I could be shaking hands with someone who was asked to play Santa every year at a church party or the local volunteer fire department Christmas celebration.
“Sure. Give me a minute.”
After finishing the post-breakfast, camping rituals, I ambled over to his site. He was alone, sleeping in small, white-sided camper pulled by a half-ton, red Chevy truck. The Kawasaki was strapped down in the bed of the pickup. Everything was immaculate, no stains, no grease, no accumulated dust. With little trouble, we unloaded the cycle. He smiled again.
The smile doesn’t reach his eyes.
It’s like when you’re talking to someone, and there’s a … tic, a tell, something that exposes him as a liar. He’s not right.
Or not. Whatever.
Later in the day, I saw our neighbor leaving. I was digging through the car for a towel when he rode off on his motorcycle. The bib overalls had been replaced with a deep blue jumpsuit, like you might see on an industrial worker or the pest control guy. He also wore his helmet, big brown boots, a backpack and black motorcycle gloves.
He looks like a serial killer.
I laughed to myself and returned to the search. I didn’t think again about my little joke until evening when our neighbor returned, looking just as spotless as when he left. As he cut the engine and parked, he gave me a wave. I waved back.
Maybe he really is a serial killer.
I waited, knowing sanity would soon overtake me. Yet …
He’s got a trusting face. Not that all serial killers have that. I mean, Gacey, Bundy, they had personality, that trustworthy vibe.
He took off his helmet, hanging it from one of the grips. Then he disappeared into the camper.
Everything’s so clean. Too clean. It’s weird. It’s a dirtbike with no dirt on it. A camper that doesn’t look like it’s been camping. A truck that’s six, seven years old, and it looks like it’s showroom quality. No dirt, no tar, no grass stains … no DNA, no fingerprints, no evidence.
A light flashes on in the camper.
The jumpsuit pretty much covers him head to toe. I wonder what was in the backpack? Lunch? First aid kit? Ropes and duct tape? I guess it’s not unusual to wear gloves to drive, especially on a cycle. But he had them on when we unloaded …
A campground light glints off one of the Kawasaki’s mirrors.
My prints are the only ones on the bike! Oh my God! I’ll be the suspect once the police find the body …
Crickets. The campfire pops and crackles a few feet away.
Ridiculous. It’s just a dude camping. You’re drunk. Go to bed.
In the morning, he approached me again, asking for help to get the bike into the truck. I agreed, and walked together to the pickup.
He’s wearing gloves. Going to accuse him of being Ed Gein?
We pushed the bike quietly and gently up the homemade ramp into the bed of the truck. I held it still as he strapped it down. He carefully stepped off the bed on to the blacktop of the short driveway, and reached out a hand, smiling.
Really? This is the guy you’re obsessing over.
“Yeah. You’re welcome.”
I reached out and shook his hand. He gripped it firmly, matching my gaze. I saw something, something that really did scare me. The look of the triumphant predator, a deep, burning hunger sated, a clean getaway.
My next visit was to the bathroom, to wash my hands.
Because only because you can’t really scrub your soul.