an excerpt from Tamper,
a novel by Bill Ectric
Chapter Four, The 1960s
In the small town of Hansburg, Virginia, it is a tradition
and a rite of passage wreak semi-permanent damage on
the soft tissue of your body in a quest to conquer Danger
The name comes from two street signs, joined together
at the top of Third Street, where drivers tended to
scrape their oil pans and mufflers when they took the hill
without slowing down. The town put up a warning that
was intended to say, "Danger: Hill," and the street lived
up to it's name.
Poplar is a level street that runs in front of our house and
intersects Danger Hill, forming the corner of our yard.
Jeff and I rolled our Schwinn bicycles to the edge of
Poplar, facing down the slope.
Someone signaled, “Go!”
In a bicycle race, the launch is crucial. Standing up on the
pedals, you put all your weight into that first resistant
down stroke. The other pedal rotates up solidly
underfoot, where you push it down & around again
smoothly as sprocket pulls chain taut and you roll
forward, pumping faster until you are flying past blurred
houses and shrubs and the downhill momentum carries
you faster than you can pump your own legs.
I was ahead of Jeff until my front tire hit a piece of
gravel. My handlebars wobbled dangerously. I succeeded
in not wiping out, but it cost me some speed. Jeff bolted
past me, face gripped in G-Force, hair blowing wildly,
looking eagerly to the big finish.
Our friends were diligent enough in halting vehicles that
approached Danger Hill from the side roads, but none of
us thought about someone backing out of a driveway.
You would expect that anyone leaving their house in
broad daylight could see two shiny Schwinns glinting in
Nevertheless, from the next-to-the-last house on the
right, old half-blind retiree Mort Fincham backed his
black, whale-shaped 1948 Packard onto the road.
Jeff’s reaction reflected the lightning synapses in his
brain. For a split second, he instinctively hit the back-
pedal brake, but realized he was going too fast to stop in
time. He tried to swerve around the front of the big car,
but now the old man had stopped backing up, shifted
into DRIVE, and commenced his forward turn. Jeff
slammed on the brake, skidded sideways, and leaned
away from the Packard. A trail of sparks followed the bike
underneath the car as one pedal and both handlebar tips
rasped against the asphalt. Jeff, his bicycle, and his
shower of sparks slid under the car just behind the right
front tire. Still advancing, the Packard’s left rear tire
pinned one of the bicycle rims to the ground. The
trapped wheel became an axis, causing the rest of the
bike to swing out on the opposite side of the car like a
switchblade, carrying Jeff with it.
|The real Jeff, circa 1966
|Me (left), Jeff (right), circa 1958, tricycle
looming prophetically in the background
Mort Fincham finally noticed something wasn’t right. He stopped his car and slowly got out. His mouth hung
open. The glare on his eyeglasses gave him a vacant, lost expression.
“He came out of nowhere!” bawled the old man. “I looked both ways! He came out of nowhere!”
I rolled up beside Jeff, who was lying on his back, staring at the sky, but not moving.
A lady in a bathrobe, with wet hair, emerged from a cream-colored house on the left.
“I called Hans Everly from the Rescue Squad,” she announced.
We didn’t have 911 Emergency in Hansburg yet, but everybody in the neighborhood knew Hans Everly from
the Rescue Squad.
Soon, Hans and his crew were asking Jeff questions, like, “Can you move your toes? Do you know what day it
is?” and shining a light into his eyes.
“He seems okay, but we’ll take him to the hospital for a more thorough examination.”
They placed Jeff on a stretcher and loaded him into the back of the Rescue vehicle.
My parents arrived on the scene and scolded me bitterly.
“Your brother looks up to you! Don’t you know any better than to lead him into such a stupid shenanigan? Go
home! We’ll talk later!”
Dad picked up the mangled Schwinn and laid it in the back of his station wagon.
“Clean up this mess first,” he told me, indicating some wire spoke pieces and plastic reflector shards that
littered the skid area.
He and my mother got back in the station wagon and followed the Rescue vehicle to the hospital.
“I looked both ways!” said Mort Fincham in the background. I glanced back and saw him sitting in his front
yard, still shouting, “The boy came out of nowhere!”
I knelt down to pick up the bicycle pieces.
“I’ll help you with that,” said the lady in the bathrobe.
She wasn’t wearing a bra. When she squatted beside me in that loose robe, I saw naked tits. They were a bit
longish, like avocados or pawpaw fruit, but admirably uplifted and bouncy, with caramel colored nipples. She
calmly raised her eyes and gave me a warm smile, making no effort to pull the robe closed.
“You’re a handsome youngster,” she said. “I bet you could ride me on the handlebars of your bicycle.”
“I don’t know,” I laughed. “I’ve never tried it.”
“It’s easy with the right person on the handlebars. I know how to balance, and how to lean when to lean,
when to jump off, and how to land.”
Her perky breasts and playful attitude compensated for the lines on her face, or maybe the lines were normal
for a woman wearing no make-up, depending on her age, but I was not a good judge of these things. To me,
she could have been twenty-nine or thirty-nine. Her cool breath on my face carried a mild, fresh scent. Lime
juice and gin, on ice.
We picked up the pieces and dropped them in her garbage can next to her cream-colored house. I thanked her
for her help.
“Why don’t you come in and have something to drink?” she said, finally straightening the robe. “By the way,
my name’s Linda.”
“I guess I could come in for a few minutes,” I said.
“Oh, for God’s sake,” sighed Linda, looking past me.
I turned to see what she was looking at.
Mort Fincham lay on his back in the grass of his front yard. He had removed his eyeglasses, which he waved
around slowly in one hand, while shielding his eyes from the sun with his other hand, palm up. He kept
bending his legs, then straightening them out, one and then the other, crossing and uncrossing them, like he
couldn’t settle on a position.
“Is he having a heart attack or going nuts?” I asked.
“I’m sure I don’t know,” said Linda with a trace of calm exasperation.
“Should we check on him?” I asked, having no idea what checking on a possibly senile lawn contortionist might
“Hell, no,” she said. “I’m not walking over there. I’ll go in and call Hans Everly back out here, just in case.
Come on in with me.”
“I don’t know,” I said, thinking, what if the old man dies and they blame me? “Maybe I should go.”
She mussed my hair as if petting a dog, and said, “Drop by sometime.”
Linda went to her front porch but continued to watch me as I returned to my bicycle. Pedaling uphill was
rough, but with Linda watching, I had to be robust. I pumped the pedals standing up, leaning forward,
resisting the temptation to get off the bike and walk it.
Jeff's survives the bicycle adventure and goes on to break new ground in kick-the-can strategy.