29 PALMS

An excerpt written by Stephen Hess

Coming back into the town, Shane notices that the bike the Marine was riding is parked outside the Oasis Bar. This makes stopping at the Oasis even more important, as it could be interesting to talk with a fellow rider. Perhaps he knows some good rides in the area and frankly Shane was open to some conversation.  Having just completed a mission only a week ago he was ready to end his self-imposed seclusion. Plus, he really need to cool down for a bit.

He makes a right turn into the dirt lot that is next to the Oasis, parking his bike next to the black Ducati the Marine was riding. Turning off his bike and mounting it on the stand, he takes off his helmet as his beet red face enjoys the escape from the plastic shell it has been trapped in.  He looks around the town while wiping his brow with his gloved hand as he swings his leg over the bike, standing on his two booted feet. Sweat drips from his close cropped head with some markings of the padding that is inside the helmet. Taking a moment, he stretches his arms and legs, bending over to release some of the tension in his back. Now he is ready for that beer, so he proceeds forward, checking out the Ducati as he slowly makes his way to the bar door.

The bright sun from the open door fills the room as Shane enters the bar, unzipping his jacket and placing his gloves in his helmet, Shane steps into the bar.  As the door closes and the bright sunlight fades, Shane looks around the bar.

The bar looks just like one might picture a bar that has been around since the Marine base first opened out in the middle of the desert.  Since it is early in the day, there aren’t many in the bar, a couple of old timers sitting at the bar in their dusty jeans and cowboy hats nursing their bottle of beer they have had for an hour now.  There is a woman keeping bar, nearing 60, she has seen her share of Marine’s come through as well as the desert dwelling regulars. Wearing a black tank top, with a few detailed tattoos on her arms and a name of a former lover in script on her chest over her heart, she is putting some beer mugs away as she turns, acknowledging Shane as he enters. Old school country music with its tradition twang fills the bar as Shane stops his scan when he spots the Marine with the rank of Master Gunnery Sergeant on his sleeves, Kyle, in his desert CUU’s and hi-vis vest sitting at the end of the bar checking out his smartphone. Kyle lifts his hand to the bartender as his beer mug is empty, the bartender nods knowing that Kyle wants another. As Shane slowly makes his way into the bar, as the bartender brings Kyle’s cold beer in a mug, placing it before the Marine. Kyle acknowledges her sliding a dollar bill and some change towards her, as she scoops it up. The Marine’s motorcycle helmet and gloves sit on the bar as he holds his smartphone in one hand and lifts the beer, taking a swig with the other.

Shane casually makes his way across the tavern, taking a seat at the end of the bar leaving a stool between him and the Marine. As Shane places his helmet on the bar and sits, the Marine looks at him, smiles and returns to his smartphone. Shane nods back.

“Cold bottle, Coors, please.”, Shane makes his request to the barkeep. She nods her head in acknowledgement. Shane pauses, looking around, then checks out the Marine a bit closer.

“Nice ride you have out there.”, Shane notes to the Marine.

The Marine looks up at Shane, smiling, “Thanks.” The Marine returns to his device, pauses then thinks about riding into the bar. “Were you the dude riding north on Adobe?”

“If you mean towards the base, yea that was me.  I never been out this way before, didn’t know the road ended at the gate.”

Kyle takes another sip from his beer. “Yea, we’re about all that’s out here.  Jarheads and a few snakes.”

Shane chuckles as the barkeep brings his beer. Shane nods his thanks to her. Kyle checks out this biker as Shane looks towards the other side of the bar.  He then turns looking at Kyle’s helmet sitting on the counter.  Kyle notices this, takes a drink then looks directly at Shane.

“I’m Kyle Mathews.

Kyle extends his hand and Shane moves over to the next stool and shakes it. Shane lifts his beer in a toast, “Shane Hamill.  Thank you for your service, man.”

Kyle lifts his beer, “3 tours in Iraq, 2 in Afghanistan; tired of the desert but I’m glad to be here.”

“I can imagine!  I bet there aren’t many great rides over there.”

“Oh fuck no.  Too many damn potholes, if you know what I mean!”

They both smile at Kyle’s comment as Shane takes a drink from his beer.

“You military?”, Kyle asks as he has noticed Shane’s high and tight haircut.

Shaking his head to the negative, “No, I did serve a few years in the Corps, but that was a long time ago.”

 Understand that one doesn’t make it their life’s work, the jarhead slight nods with his approval knowing Shane is like him. Kyle turns his body so that he is looking towards Shane, “What brings you out on these roads?”

“I recently moved to the Palm Springs area and wanted to check out the desert roads. I saw the exit off the ten for Twentynine Palms and thought that sounded interesting. I didn’t realize there were so many people living up this way.”

“Traffic can be bad through the towns of Yucca Valley and Joshua Tree, but after that no problem.”

“Yea, I was able to open up the throttle, taking it past eighty!” Shane shows his enthusiasm talking about opening the throttle.

“You might have to pass a cowboy in their truck, but you can hit the redline on the straight away. If you go out of here to the north and east, there ain’t nothing to slow you down. Wide open desert.”

Shane likes what Kyle is stating about the open roads, “I will have to check them out.” Shane takes a drink of his beer, as Kyle eyes Shane in his leathers and boots. “Any other rides you can recommend?”

Kyle pauses, thinking of any rides that a guy like Shane would like on a high-performance bike like his. He sips his beer as Shane is checking out the Marine in his loose-fitting tan MARPAT combat uniform that he wears. His trousers are tucked into his tan suede boots, with a high vis vest over his torso that is required when riding on base. After the drink of his beer, Kyle replies, “I never really thought about where to ride, I just go.  But there is some open roads when you get into the park.”

“Park?” Shane turns towards Kyle with the question.

“You’re on the edge of Joshua Tree National Park, south of the town. There are some great open roads, amazing scenery with the great boulder mountains and Joshua Trees spread all over the place.  This time of year, when it is getting hot, you can turn the throttle wide open, no one around to get in your way.  Then, when you find the perfect spot, pull over and just enjoy the quiet of the desert.”

Shane takes in the description that Kyle shares, noticing that Kyle likes the action of riding but appreciates the beauty of the great outdoors.

They both take a sip from their beers as there is a pause in their conversation. They both turn their bodies back towards the bar, each not sure how to proceed. Kyle takes a moment to glance at Shane, liking that the guy appreciate riding by wearing high quality leathers and he was riding a bike that Kyle would enjoy owning someday. He also doesn’t seem turned off by Kyle being a Marine, which makes some people clam up around him. The jarhead stopped in the bar because he was feeling lonely after his shift on the base, so he’s happy to find someone that is willing to have a conversation with him. The old timers in the bar don’t have much to say and when they do it is about times that happened long before Kyle was born. Keeping his stare in front of him, Kyle decides to continue their dialogue, “I grew up in Ohio and man it seems so open around here without trees.”

Shane doesn’t respond right away, not realizing that Kyle was speaking to him. “Never spent much time in the Midwest but coming from the east coast I understand what you mean. Green everywhere. Here it is brown and tan.”

“Desolate and unforgiving, sort of like serving in the Marines!”, Kyle smiles and Shane appreciate the joke.

“I’ve been riding for years, but as I get out in the desert.

I truly enjoy getting out on my bike on these desert roads.” Shane glances forward as he speaks of the joy of speed.  “There are times I wish I could shed the leather and helmet and just feel the wind against my skin.”

Kyle is a bit surprised by this statement, glances at Shane. He then thinks of Shane naked, liking what he sees in his daydream. It looks as though he keeps himself fit, probably works out at one of the gay gyms down in Palm Springs. Did Shane say that to see what reaction he would get out of him, Kyle wonders. He decides to play along, “Anytime I can get out of these CUU’s and be just a regular guy, then I’m happy. Not to follow any rules or explain my actions to anyone.”

Now Shane wonders what direction this conversation with the Marine is headed. There is no doubt that Kyle is a hot fucker of a man, with a firm body hidden under his CUU’s. There are no rings on his fingers, so it seems that he available.

They pause their chat as Kyle finishes up this beer.  Shane looks over and notices the empty mug. “Let me buy you another.”

Kyle waves his hand around his bottle. “No, that’s ok, but thanks.”

“Hey, if you’re not busy, why don’t you join me and show me the best rides in the national park?”

Kyle likes that he has been asked but decides to decline. “Man, that is tempting but I just got off duty and needed a cold one! Now I need to get back on base and take care of a few things.”

Shane nods in understanding, looking away and then back as Kyle grabs his helmet, moving off his stool. “It’s been good speaking with you, man. Maybe we’ll run into each other again sometime!”

Kyle reaches out and shakes Shane’s hand, nodding, “Enjoy your ride and check out the park if you get a chance.”

As they shake hands, they hold the grip a little bit longer than normal.  They look in each other’s eyes and there is a spark, just a little thing that each of them feels.  Kyle smiles, then looks away like a shy kid.  They release their handshake.  As Kyle heads to the door, Shane turns back towards the bar to watch the television that is mounted in the corner. Reaching the door, just before he opens it, Kyle turns and looks back at Shane who holds his bottle up to the bartender to get another beer. Kyle gazes at Shane, intrigued by just their short dialog.

Shane didn’t open up to what he did, or who he was really, but seems to be able to relate to Kyle as a motorcyclist and a Marine. That felt good.

As he starts to head out the door, Kyle pauses again, looking back, wondering if he should just continue with his afternoon or take a leap of faith and find out more the biker in the leathers. Kyle pulls on the door handle, as the bright sunlight fills the bar and Kyle steps out into the heat. A silhouette of Kyle exits as the door closes.

Shane takes a drink from the fresh beer that the bartender brought him. He smiles as he recollects the brief conversation he had with the Marine. He couldn’t force the guy to join him on the ride, but he sure was interesting. Shane could relate to him as he served in the Marines before Cee recruited him into the Agency. Shane also has been in some of the hellholes of the world that Marines and other military have to enter to keep our way of life secure. Turning and looking at the entry of the bar, Shane hopes that the guy comes back in and wants to go on the ride. But he realizes that is his fantasy, so he turns back to his beer. His hand slides up and down the surface of the bottle before him, removing the sweat that has formed and pools at the base of the bottle. Thinking to himself, Shane never thought that the day would involve meeting someone in a little bar in Twentynine Palm. Funny how things happen when you are not making plans with your life.