Chase takes sabbaticals from the bicycle business only when he is flat broke and stealing again. Whenever he has sold through his project bikes and has prepped for ruin, his friend Brad always seems to turn up and pull Chase away. By now, Brad’s work rotations on trail building crews have synced with the drainage cycles of Chase’s checking account. Brad’ll ship out for a six-month erosion project on Mount Rainer and, by the time he returns, Chase will be two rent payments behind and subsisting on ninety-nine cent liters of Mountain Dew and Frito-Lays from the market near his studio apartment in the Upper Haight. Or he will have picked up part-time work painting trim on renovated Victorians in the Castro to stall the eviction notice. Still, the evening he pops the lid of the first paint can, the air warms, the drumbeats in Golden Gate Park surge, and he knows Brad has pointed his Pontiac Vibe toward the City.
Chase has wrenched at plenty of shitty shops, but City Velo is about the shittiest. C.P., the proprietor, is the sort of flashy second-generation Italian who dresses in all black like he’s ready to hit up the club. C.P. nurses cappuccino after cappuccino and between sips barks at his mechanics in what Chase doubts is actual Italian. “You are all lazy. Pigro, Pigro,” he says on his afternoon pass through the shop.
C.P. keeps the latest imported Pegoretti road bike frame in the shop’s window, the frame always hand-painted according to the inspiration of old Dario Pegoretti himself. He stocks a size run of Tour-level Pinarellos and Times and LaPierres, five figure bicycles none of his employees could ever afford, but at any given time owes his employees two grand in commission checks. All the mechanics at City Velo want out.
Already Chase has started the steady movement toward unemployment by pocketing small parts and swiping twenties from the register at close. Even though City Velo is a new shop and the only one on Stanyan he hasn’t quit or been fired from, he will be able to land another job down the road. All the euro and hipster owners hate each other. They place a premium on hiring mechanics away from one another’s shops. When the sales reps and district managers come around to check up on product movement, the owners lean back in their office chairs and boast about how they poached this employee or that. After five years, Chase and the other mechanics have all worked together in some combination, have learned to estimate a shop’s bank ledger, and know when they have to scoot.
City Velo has been hemorrhaging for some months. The Sidi shoeboxes of invoices in the small office have filmed with dust, collection agencies call more often than customers, so Chase isn’t surprised when Brad hobbles into the shop, aircast on ankle, beard thick and fierce and grizzly. Chase stops facing the bottom bracket shell on some venture capitalist’s Pinarello Prince.
“Grab your bag. Vacation time,” Brad says. He limps over to the LaPierre Chase worked off-the-clock to finish the night before and pulls the bike off of the display.
C.P. saunters out of the office, paper cafĂ© cup cradled in hand, and waves to Brad. “Ciao. Buon pemberiggio.” This is Chase’s first rotation at City Velo, so C.P. doesn’t know the routine with Brad.
In the shop’s work area, one of the junior mechanics curses at the snap of an over-tensioned spoke. Chase doesn’t want to work on euro-trash bikes anymore. He would like to tell C.P. to go fuck himself, take off with Brad and the new LaPierre, but he knows better than to mess with an owner so desperate as C.P. Last week, C.P. snapped and tackled a street kid who tried to shoplift a three-dollar patch kit. If presented with the opportunity, C.P. wouldn’t hesitate to take his financial misfortunes out on mechanic-scum like Chase.
Brad clutches the top tube of the LaPierre and gives C.P. the hard stare of prehistoric man. “How much does this guy owe you?” Chase says nothing. “Don’t answer that. I’m sure this bike will make it even.”
“Easy. Easy,” Chase says. He pushes the bike away from Brad and leaves it to roll against the tool display. He shoves Brad toward the shop’s Dutch door. Brad vaults the half-door and spills onto Stanyan’s grime-blackened sidewalk. When Chase slams the door, C.P.’s cowbells jingle before the thin rope gives way and the bells drop onto the sidewalk.
The truth is Chase has stolen more in product than his commission checks would have been worth. As a supplement to the pocketed twenties, he has maintained a Power Bar box full of Campagnolo derailleurs and shift levers and brakes. C.P. has left the ordering and inventory to Chase, which is perhaps the worst mistake an owner can make. In the three months he has worked at City Velo, he has made deposits almost weekly. If he could afford an internet hookup and digital camera, he would have dumped the product on eBay.
As Brad adjusts his aircast, Chase feels a tinge of envy for the obvious health insurance Brad has secured. Brad has gone corporate. The trail-building jobs have swelled with government subsidies and are structured with complex org charts and are now actually profitable. Every time Brad crawls out of the woods, he sports new gear—fresh boots and packs and custom Gore-Tex clothing embroidered with the conservation contractor’s logo. He has stories of heated affairs with beautiful land managers, the environmentalist equivalent of mermaids, apparently. In the time Chase has built his wardrobe around freebie T-shirts and made permanent his musk of bicycle tires and chain degreaser, Brad has gone from deranged lumberjack to hi-tech environmentalist, his beard and occasional injury the only giveaway that he isn’t a neo-hippie swinger from the Marina.
“Nice aircast,” Chase says.
“Thanks, man.” Brad pulls his Carhartts over the cast and shoves off down the walk.
“Tree branch?”
“Nope. Photographer. Sage Parrish. She moved back and I’m setting up shop in her backyard for while.”
Chase recalls Sage, a real pit bull of a woman, from a party in Glen Park that Brad tricked him into attending. She was dating a messenger, Dimebag Charles, who hung around the Wednesday night bike polo games. He had the whole messenger kit: oversized canvas bag with custom stitchwork, blue jeans rolled to Capri-length, beat-to-shit fixie with black electrical tape over the decals. Chase can’t recall Dimebag ever actually playing though.
They walk past the McDonald’s on Haight and cross Stanyan. They push past the group of Anarchist dope peddlers posted up against the walls of the tunnel underneath Kezar, past the cult members handing out bagged lunches in the redwood grove. Chase remembers the first time Brad convinced him to ditch their bullshit afternoon classes at Granada High and BART it across the bay to Golden Gate Park. They pooled their crumpled singles and Brad bought them a pot brownie that tasted like sand from a deadhead who had an ant crawling around her dreadlocks. Brad plucked the ant from her purple dread, and they listened to her story about Jerry and the time he transformed her into pure light energy and they believed her. Afterward, they split the stiff brownie and spent the afternoon on Hippie Hill, grooving to the drumbeats and didgeridoos. They possessed no ambition whatsoever. Now everything seems to Chase about money, survival.
 Brad has set up camp in the square of crab grass behind Sage’s postwar junior five in Glen Park. As Chase maneuvers around Brad’s clay-caked pickaxes and Skil chainsaws, the familiar dread of Brad’s plan settles. Sage has not taped an envelope of cash to the refrigerator, as Brad has promised. No brushes or paint buckets or supplies of any kind. Just the gear Brad has appropriated from his last contracted job and two dogs—Cajun, a surly red merle from his father’s vineyard and a blonde mutt that Chase assumes belongs to Sage. Cajun has herded Sage’s dog into the corner of the yard by Brad’s pitched half dome. The mutt paces along the fence as Cajun settles into a stalk-stance.
“Still have the damn dog?” Chase asks.
“Yep. Picked him up from my dad’s vineyard last night. Don’t pet him though. His hair is thick with fleas.”
Brad spills some of his father’s wine into a coffee mug and hands it to Chase. The declaration on the mug reads World’s Sexiest Lover. He tips the mug and lets the merlot fall against his lips. He would not mind drinking at this point in the day—in fact, he sometimes took his lunch hour at one of the seedy bars on Haight—but he knows better than to actually drink anything vinted by Brad’s father. Despite their lousy sales and local reputation, they pride themselves on high alcohol content and burn of the finish. Every time Chase takes a good pull from the mug, the wine unleashes a sting, as if someone has dragged hundreds of pins across his tongue.
Chase swirls the wine and pushes his nose into the mug. “Good year,” he lies. The swell of sneeze tickles his nose.
Brad swallows, frowns. “Tastes like the Aussies pissed on the vines all year.” He pours the wine into the lawn and rifles the mug over the fence. “Stuff’s schwag. I’ll have to buy us something decent later.” From his pocket Brad produces a cash roll bound in rubber bands. “Cashed my check.”
Before Chase can sneer, a mess of fur shoves against his leg and he is now concerned that he will be humped. But the mutt just stays leaned against him. He reaches down and combs his hand through the blonde feathers on the dog’s flank. It pants and eyes Cajun. Unlike Brad and his other woodsy friends, Chase doesn’t know much about breeds, but decides this one must be part retriever. He doesn’t care much for dogs because the ones in Golden Gate Park are always off-leash and after him, nipping his ankles and shitting on the narrow trails he uses to cut through the woods. He has coughed up two hundred bucks twice now for some Dr. Kevorkian-type at the city clinic to inject rabies meds into his arm.
“Does this one have a name?” Chase asks. He clears the cloud of hair from his fingers, and it floats back down to the retriever.
“No idea. She’s some rescue Sage picked up after Katrina. Just a rescued bitch.”
The retriever continues to pant, but eases herself onto Chase’s foot.
“So all this trim needs to be painted. I figure we can knock it out in a week. Sage’ll pay us a flat rate to take care of all this house shit. She’s shooting freelance for Gap now. The big time.”
“A week? Don’t bullshit me. I can’t lose my place. One of the guys I wrenched with just moved into a camper-trailer in the Park. I won’t do that. No way.” Chase tries to assess the trim, but the retriever has pinned his foot and he doesn’t want to spook it. The dog looks up at him, impossibly lonely. He can see the strips of paint-peel. The trim will need to be scraped and primed before real paint can go anywhere near it. “This is a raw deal. Just like that Berkeley gig. We worked on those floors for weeks and that Steve Jobs wannabe didn’t fucking pay.”
“Relax.” Brad unvelcroes the aircast and lobs it toward the gear, but it soars over the windbreakers and rain-soaked blue jeans. Cajun runs to herd the aircast back to the other gear.
Even if Chase sells the parts he pilfered from City Velo, he will not have enough to carry him through the month. Brad is cruising through the city with a bundle of cash in pocket, so Chase will have to tear through this job solo. He won’t prime. He won’t sand. He’ll send Brad to buy brushes and other supplies and then slop paint over the trim’s rot and neglect.
When Sage’s Volvo station wagon rolls into the driveway two days early, Chase drops the brush in the bucket and retreats through the house to the backyard. In the years they’ve worked together, Brad has never notified his employers of Chase’s presence and so Chase knows better than to greet any of them. Their responses have ranged from silent and pissed off to hostile and threatening. One man—a real chunker recently divorced and relocated to Albany from some godawful town in Indiana—went after Chase with a canister of pepper spray after he found Chase laying a pad of concrete in his backyard. Chase dodged the mist and committed to never taking on another Brad-managed job, but two weeks later, there he was, shovel in hand with an elderly woman slapping his arm with a rolled-up Chronicle. He has never been welcomed.
Brad has Sage’s beater Cannondale Super-V leaned against the shallow porch in the backyard. He tries to twist the cracked GripShift back into place. Cajun puts his paws on the porch railing and stretches to sniff the bike’s handlebars.
“Forget it, man. Once they’re cooked, they’re cooked.”
“I almost have it.” Brad snaps the grip into the shifter body, but the cable still sags below the Cannondale’s portly downtube. He twists the shifter back and forth, but it doesn’t click into place. He kicks the crankarm and steps back. “Cannonball piece of shit. Garbage.”
“Sram,” Chase says. “It took them a decade to make anything worth buying.” He separates the grip from the body and sees that Brad has lost the spring, the part essential to the shifter’s function. Brad has always thought himself a capable mechanic by virtue of association, and Chase is beginning to tire of pointing out the opposite. “You’re missing the most important part. And your girl is out front.”
“Hell.” Brad sighs and withdraws to the tarped interior of the junior five. Chase hears the rise of Sage’s ridicule. The shouting is muted at first, but becomes clear when she reaches the kitchen’s open windows. Brad neglected to tape off the crown molding before they painted, an attempt to save money from their bottom line, and there are broad brushstrokes of blue on the moldings.
“These moldings are beyond repair, Brad,” Sage says. She glances out the window, and Chase sees that she has ditched her asymmetrical punk haircut and let the purple grow out to her natural brown. She’s still thin, not heroin thin and malnourished like he remembers, but instead toned and well conditioned, the body of someone with a private gym membership.
“Worthless. That’s what you two are. Worthless men. Fucking worthless.” She kicks the screen door open and stands in the doorway. “What the hell is he doing here anyway?”
“Painting,” Brad says through the window.
“This is just what I need right now—two squatters who can’t paint worth a damn.” Sage gives Chase the finger, a rather juvenile gesture for a photographer employed by an international clothing giant, and turns back to the kitchen.
As Sage berates Brad, her retriever lumbers over to Chase and the idle Cannondale. She sits then rolls onto her back, offering Chase the muddy white of her belly. For a Katrina rescue, she seems overfed, as if Sage just leaves a mound of food on the back porch each time she jets off to Miami or Los Angeles or New York. Sage has banned the retriever from the junior five, which Brad emphasizes whenever Chase lets her inside. This strikes Chase as cruel and rather redneck. The retriever sleeps on the back porch every night, tucked as far under the floor boards as possible and wakes damp from the ocean fog of the Pacific. Chase has cashed all the towels in the linen closet to keep the retriever dry and warm. In his pathetic stab at revenge, he has shoved the soaked towels inside a plastic bin to mold and hopes that Sage will find them when she needs them most.
The back door slams and Brad limps across the porch, ankle still swollen from whatever injury Sage has caused. He grabs hold of the Cannondale’s seat post and wheels it toward the back fence’s gate. He passes Chase and says, “We’re out of here. She’s lost it. Bat-shit crazy. Apparently we’re behind schedule and she wants the back trim painted by tomorrow night.”
“Sure. Yeah, whatever,” Chase says. Inside, pans rattle as Sage prepares dinner for herself. She slams the back door and sets the deadbolt. Tonight Chase will fall asleep inside the crowded half dome on a sleeping bag damp with dew, hungry, tempted back to life in the bike shops of Stanyan.
He doesn’t want to leave the dog in the yard with Sage, but relents; they both can’t be saved from the tirade. “Take it easy, girl,” he says to her. “You’ll get out of here soon.” He goes to pat her belly again, but she turns over and retires to the fence-line in the back of the yard.
“Your ride,” Brad says. He slaps the seat on a spray-painted step-thru with a two-speed kickback hub. A few days ago Chase had spotted the wreck stashed in the narrow walk along the house’s side, but didn’t bother to look at it closely. In the few months he worked at City Bikes, C.P. had conditioned Chase to recoil at the sight of lugged production bikes that Mission hipsters rescued from thrift stores. The bikes were a complete waste of shop time, “time toilets,” as C.P. called them, but Chase sometimes longs for afternoons spent rebuilding the guts of two and three-speed hubs. When he is paid and freed from Brad and his shit plan, he may put in for a job at Haight Cycles, the small bicycle studio on Stanyan where he wrenched last summer.
They push the cripple bikes along the house and out onto the steep street in front of Sage’s junior five. A faded Saab cruises past, its brakes squealing on the descent into the central village of Glen Park. Chase tests the front brake, the only real brake on the two-speed, and discovers that the pads have worn smooth. He turns the barrel adjuster to tighten the brake cable, but knows it will do little to slow him as he bombs down the hill and through the busy intersection.
“Where are we going, anyway?” he asks.
“Market downtown. There’s no decent food and Sage’ll be furious. I’ll win her back with stir-fry.” Brad refuses to cook on anything but his camping stove and instead uses a series of miniature knives and pans to prepare meals, which means whatever he attempts to make is rendered inedible to anyone participating in modern life. He licks his teeth and sits on the Cannondale and the blown shocks bottom out under his weight. “Is there a way to adjust these?”
Chase doesn’t respond to the amateur question and instead starts down the hill. He pulls the brake lever flush with the handlebar grip and holds it there as he descends. The two-speed’s single pivot brake howls in unison with the Saab’s. He backpedals and the gear shifts, but the hub fails to slow the bicycle. Dogs bark. A man watering his hedge redirects the hose spray in the direction of Chase, but he tucks aero and rockets past and the spray catches Brad. He can’t let up at the flat of the intersections. He rushes through. The wheels of the two-speed lifts off the pavement. He lands and the bars flex, then relax. Cars honk. The two-speed chatters. Parts threaten to explode. Fork blades bow. But he rides. He rides like the twee kids he sees happy and pedaling cruisers around the Park. He even smiles as he maneuvers the two-speed around a FedEx truck. And as Chase and the bicycle go airborne together, he can’t resist thinking what a find the bike was after all.
In the seventy-five watt glow of Sage’s kitchen, Chase pours hydrogen peroxide over his road rash. Rash over rash, he can no longer tell which wounds are from which accident anymore. The peroxide fizzes on his skin, and he eats a forkful of the over seasoned mess Brad calls stir-fry. He has come to appreciate the slight sting of peroxide, wound care for the uninsured. The woman in the diesel Mercedes must have known he lacked insurance, or merely wanted to settle the accident without lawyers and arbitrators and judges, and instead cut him the single largest check he has ever received. Given the five and three zeros on the check, he wonders if he should swerve into cars pulling out of spaces more often.
He dabs his knees and hands dry, tapes squares of gauze on each, and heads for the front room where Brad and Sage are getting sauced on cheap pinot from the market. From the doorframe he sees Brad sprawled out on the leather cigar chair and Sage draped over him. She has Brad’s throat caught in the right angle of her thumb and index finger. Before Chase can bail for the backyard, she backhands Brad and says, “Don’t look like you care about me.”
Chase doesn’t wait for Brad’s response, barely catches the choked again, again. He withdraws to the back porch. He swipes his settlement check and a bottle of corked pinot on his way out. Outside, he leafs through his mental Rolodex of dominatrices he has encountered in the city. He counts five, but two have followed lucrative job offers in Portland and Seattle. Then he remembers Dimebag Charles, the poser polo player, Sage’s ex and rumored patron of budget-conscious BDSM lairs in the Tenderloin. He wonders if Brad knows what he is in for, if he has been in the woods so long that he has lost touch. Then again, if Sage ruins him, he probably deserves it.
After Chase veered into the woman’s diesel Mercedes to avoid the FedEx truck barreling down the street, and tumbled over the hood of the car, Brad just rode up to Chase and said, “Killer fall, fuckface.” Chase had plenty of time for considerations there on the sidewalk. For a good half hour, he figured he had cracked his helmetless head on the concrete and had a brain bleed and had already begun the slow process of passing into oblivion.
He tilts the bottle of pinot and wine streams down his throat until he coughs and spits some onto his Dickies shop shirt. He drops the bottle and slips the check into his back pocket. Cajun has retired to the patch of grass beside Brad’s tent, but the rescue is awake. She trots over to him, tail wagging.
“Hi, girl.” He rakes more feathers out of her coat and lets the faint ocean breeze lift them off his fingers. If he were her proper owner, he would brush her regularly. Yeah, if she were his dog, he would bring her to whatever shop employed him. She’d nap while he listened to NPR and would greet customers when she heard the doorbell. She’d be a top-shelf shop dog, a mascot.
“Hold on.” In the moonlight, he rummages through Brad’s gear until he finds a rappelling rope and then calls for the retriever. “Here, girl. Here,” he says. He loops the rope around her mane as a makeshift leash. The retriever wags her tail and nudges his shin. “We have a leash for you. We’ll figure out a name later.”
As he guides her through the yard toward the gate, he knows he’ll have to settle. He’ll have to go back to Haight Cycles and convince Johnny Z to take him on again. He’ll bring the retriever every day and make sure she’s fed and exercised.
Out on the sidewalk, Chase looks up and sees the light in the front window of Sage’s house has gone out. Inside, Sage lodges drunk, helpless Brad in her abuse. The retriever paces a circle, then starts toward the foggy low of the village. She pulls the slack out of the leash and tows him forward. He takes a few scattered steps, still shaky from the crash, but her steady line down the hill rights him. They clear a block of buckled sidewalk, and he hears his heels begin to strike in sequence, as if to drumbeats of the Haight.

Eric Neuenfeldt lives in California. His chapbook of short stories, Fall Ends Tomorrow, won the 2010 Iron Horse Literary Review Single-Author Competition. His recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Confrontation, Big Fiction, The Chariton Review, Southern Indiana Review, and elsewhere. He recently completed a novel.