“Yeah, the police report,” he said and sank back into the pillow. He turned his head to look directly at her and took a pained breath. “There’s another reason I asked Gary to let you know my room number. He told me that you visit everyone at the job who gets in a wreck, but I had to be sure you’d come.”
“You torque off some girl’s boyfriend or something?”
“Think so? With the way that biker dude ran me down, I’d sure think so. But no, it’s weirder than that… Way weirder. When the motorcycle came up on me, I got this totally bad vibe.”
“Vibe? What are you, sixteen?”
“You’re actually into witchcraft and stuff, right? That’s not just for show to go with your whole Goth chick thing.” He was staring at the silver pentacle necklace hanging around her neck. “Your dad doesn’t like it when anyone brings it up, but everyone around the garage knows you’re into something. One of my exes was into Wicca, so, I recognize the signs…”
Vex put up her hand to stop him. “Jason. Pull your foot out of your mouth and just tell me what’s up.” He frowned; it actually looked like a frown even with the stitches on his lip. “Yes. I’m into ‘witchcraft.’ Now talk.”
It took him so long to choose his words, she wondered if he was actually going to tell her.
“He had no head,” he blurted. The bluntness of the statement caused Vex to sit back in her seat. Jason made a cutting motion with his hand across his neck. “The dude’s body only went up to his shoulders and stopped. No helmet. No head. Nada.”
“No head,” she repeated.
Jason ordinarily came across with a stoner cross surfer-dude attitude and nothing seemed to bend his sense of humor. When he’d started working with her, he even tried some playful attempts at flirtation—which she shot down with her usual casual disinterest. The fact that he got the hint after the second time but didn’t resent it definitely put him in a different class of human beings than most. A teller of tall tales, Jason Salter was not; that meant that there was a stray chance there really was a headless biker out there.
The bruises and stitches curling Jason’s mouth into a scowl added an edge of sober severity to the sternly serious expression on his face.
“I’d seen some batshit crazy stuff out in Honolulu,” he said, “but never a dude with no head. I sure couldn’t tell the police that—and I hope you don’t tell Gary or your dad I said that—but I just had to tell someone what I saw. This dude wasn’t wearing a costume.
“And that’s it. I kinda get the impression you help people out with this sort of stuff. Nothing fazes you and you take those weird calls that make Gary shake his head. I guess I just got nobody to talk to about this sort of thing. So, thanks for hearing me out.”
“I’ll do you one better: I’ll look into it.” At her words, his sneering grin returned with a vengeance, more terrible than ever. “Tell me everything you remember, starting when you first saw the motorcycle. And Jason, stop smiling. It’s scary.”
* * *
“Squawk. Dispatch, this is Victor-Echo,” Vex said into her radio after she returned to her car. “Just checking in. Over.”
“How’s Salter? Over.”
“Really banged up, Gary. He took that crash pretty hard. You should see his face. Came back with this crazy story…”
“Biker bashing out one of our chariot windows? Things don’t get much more ugly than that.” Gary paused a moment, still broadcasting. “It gets worse,” he said. “I just got some reports that Salter’s case isn’t as isolated as the P.D. wanted to say. Just yesterday night someone else got hit—another cabbie. You watch your ass out there. Over.”
“I always do. Thanks for the warning. Victor-Echo out.”
She tried not to think of the other reason her father didn’t want her visiting Salter in the hospital. He couldn’t know the actual depth of her crusade to discover what happened to her mother; instead he likely figured she had a morbid fascination with car crashes borne out of years-latent teenage anger at the accident—and its totally mysterious circumstances.
Moments after hearing from Salter that a headless biker attacked him it was impossible to suppress a flash of curiosity. But better angels of Vex’s reason reminded her that this guy seemed to only strike at night; her mother had died midday. In light of the fact that the taxi industry had just developed a strange predator almost overnight, though, added another dimension to the problem that just could not be ignored.
She needed to see someone who might know more about a phantom, headless biker. And Vex knew exactly where to find one.
During her father’s early years, before he met her mother, he rode with a gang of bikers who crossed most of the Western United States. He’d taken her to meet them a few times, she blurrily recalled, when she was five and six, and it was impossible not to find some of his old buddies parked along Mill Avenue from time to time. But, she knew, the best place to find them was a run-down, after-hours dive called the Kickstand.