You don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. That’s what my mom used to say. No idea where the hell it comes from, but I know what the hell it means, believe that. So when Flash Harry glides up alongside me in his two hundred thousand dollar ride, the right-hand side of his S-Class overstepping rudely into the bicycle lane, the gleaming black bodywork so close all I have to do is move my knee a bit to the left for it to touch me, I know what I gotta do: tumble to the ground screaming and crying like a soccer player in front of the opposing team’s goal. I tangle my legs up in the frame of the bike as I roll, for optics you understand, as I hear his brakes apply. The car stops on a dime, right the way you’d expect, and Mr. Mercedes climbs out, jogging up to me in his nice blue suit.
“You okay?” he says.
I don’t answer him for the moment, just wince and moan and stay down like I’ve been shot. Rubbernecking pedestrians stop to gawk on the sidewalk, and the traffic turns to gridlock, right on cue, as drivers, bored out of their tiny little minds and the prospect of another day in their cubicles of hell, see something that just might give them something interesting to talk about around the coffee machine later this pissing-it-down Tuesday morning.
“Where you hurt?” Harry asks.
I turn up the volume on the wincing and moaning and clutch my knee.
“I’mma call an ambulance,” a voice says from the sidewalk.
That’s my cue. “No, it’s- it’s okay,” I say, undoing myself from my bicycle, the front wheel of which has helpfully buckled itself into a convincing-looking Pringle shape.
I throw a glance at ambulance caller guy and he holsters his phone. Good boy.
“Your knee,” says Harry.
“Strange place to land off a bike,” he says. “The hip. The head. The wrist or the collarbone, now that’s what I’d expect to see from a fall off a bicycle. But the knee. Believe it or not, that’s rare.”
“What are you, a doctor?” I say. Shit. If the dude is, he might see right through me. Especially if he insists on examining me right here and now.
“No,” he says.
Thank fuck for that. Cancel those evasive maneuvers and get back to the scheduled programming of the extortion at hand.
Traffic resumes and rubberneckers disperse, due to a mixture of disappointment at not having borne witness to a gruesome fatality and having to be somewhere soon, I imagine. I crawl over to the curb and sit myself against a parking meter.
Harry crouches down next to me. “I’m not a doctor, no, but I do know a lot about pain.”
“You a pharmacist?” I say.
“Sometimes,” he says, “whenever the job calls for it.” Whatever the fuck that means.
“Look at my bike, man.”
He just looks at me, not once at the bike. “Why?”
“Cos it’s fucked, that’s why,” I say.
“And I should care because-“
“Because you hit me.”
“I didn’t hit you. If I hit you, I would have done it only because I meant to. And if that had have been the case, we would not be having this discussion. Do you follow?” This guy is nuts. “Maybe I was intruding into your lane. For that I give you my apologies. But that’s all you’ll be getting from me.”
The prick. Thinks he’s going to put the shits up me and one over me. “You know what?” I say, “I think maybe I do need to go to the hospital and get examined.”
He nods. “Okay then. Why don’t I take you?”
Now we’re getting somewhere. I struggle, painfully of course, to my feet, as he points his key fob at his car and the trunk lid glides up. “Let me grab this,” he says, picking up the bike.
I join him at the open trunk. He makes no attempt to put the bike in, just nods his head at the large shrink-wrapped parcel on the floor of the compartment. “Oh, forgot this was in here,” he says.
“What is it?”
“Take a guess.”
I’m pretty sure I know what it is, or what he wants me to say I think it is. But I can’t.
He smiles, or what passes for a smile in his world, and lowers his voice. “I admire your enterprising attitude,” he says, ”but you are barking up the wrong tree here, my friend. You saw the car, you thought payday. But I’m afraid this vehicle, a bit pretentious for my liking, is not mine. In fact it’s not anybody’s. It used to be this body’s, but right now its only purpose is to go to a wrecker’s yard where it, as well as its rotting cargo, will be disposed of.”
I take a couple of steps back.
“That knee is looking much better all of a sudden,” he says.
I become genuinely uneasy on my feet. He grabs my wrist in a way that both steadies me and lets me know I’m not going anywhere unless he decides otherwise.
“I don’t typically kill people for free,” he says, ”but in your case I am prepared to make an exception. Unless it suddenly comes to your realization that you do not require a visit to the emergency room and the only reason you ended up on the ground is because you wanted to lie down for a rest.”
It’s quite the pitch.
And it doesn’t take me long to decide.
Because as my mom used to say, you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.