It was a warm summer night, but a cool breeze was blowing across the parking lot in front of the Shore Stop, one of the island’s only two convenience stores. The usual boys were standing around, talking, gazing out at the sparkling reflection of moonlight on the surface of the channel. They were locals, some in high school, some graduates, and some dropouts, all small town boys waiting for something interesting to happen and without enough imagination to start anything on their own.
It was almost ten o’clock when Kevin Birch pedaled his rusty old ten-speed into the parking lot. He was riding the bike because his license had been suspended for a DUI, an experience that nearly all of the guys had had or would have in the future. Despite this, it wasn’t very long after he pulled up and got off this bike that the others laid into him.
“So, what kind of mileage does that thing get?” Craig asked, grinning.
“Yeah,” Mossy asked, “has she been inspected recently? I don’t see a sticker.”
Kevin scratched at the shaggy blond hair that stuck out from the back of his gray baseball cap and smiled. “Hey, you know how much money I save on gas? More for beer, man.” He removed a deuce of Bud from a deep pocket in his baggy jeans, his eyes making a quick scan to make sure no police were cruising by and that the store’s attendant wasn’t paying them any mind before he popped the top and took a swig. If a cop did pull up to chase them off, he could re-pocket the bottle with surprising speed, like a movie gunslinger in rewind.
The boys wouldn’t give up on their fun, and kept on him as he drank. How fast could he go? Did he try to pick up girls on it?
Kevin finished the Bud, tossed it, and then removed a fresh bottle from his other pocket. He was hard to rile.
“So, how far do you think you can ride on that thing at once?” Matt asked him.
Kevin took a swig of beer and thought about it. “Well, I guess I could get to T’s Corner and back without a problem,” he said matter-of-factly. T’s Corner was a convenience store on the mainland; about twenty miles away across a causeway with four bridges, followed a long stretch of road that wound its way up to the intersection of route 13. The guys erupted in laughter. Ten miles, maybe — on a good day, and sober. But a forty mile round trip? While he was still fairly slim, Kevin had been drinking and smoking heavily for years. Any of that athletic ability he’d shown back when he played middle school basketball was long gone and nearly forgotten.
Craig spoke for everyone when he said, “Come on, you’d probably pass out before Queen’s Sound.” It was the third bridge on the causeway, and the second-steepest after the draw-bridge that spanned the channel.
A strange look came over Kevin’s face. He took another swig and asked, “How much you wanna bet?”
And so, after some discussion, a bet was made. They would give Kevin money and Craig’s backpack; he would cycle to T’s, buy some beer with his fake ID, and bring it back with a receipt. If he succeeded then they would chip and give him fifty bucks; if not, he’d get them a case with his own money.
“Now remember, you bring back the receipt too, or we don’t give you any money,” Craig reminded him as he mounted his bike. Kevin nodded, peddled out on to Main Street, and was gone.
The guys resumed their conversation and waited, figuring that Kevin would give up before he got to the mainland, and would probably be back to buy them beer before midnight. Ten-thirty passed as Mossy talked about putting new tires on his truck. Eleven o’clock came and Matt went home complaining about working early the next day. At eleven-thirty Craig and D.C. were in the middle of a story about a party they’d been to two weeks ago in Virginia Beach, where a complete stranger, drunk out of his mind, had started swinging at D.C. for no reason, and D.C. had, for the first and probably only time in his life, laid someone unconscious with a single punch. Midnight arrived and by state law the stores couldn’t sell any more alcohol, and still Kevin had not returned. The few who were left were a little worried, but not enough to do anything. By one-thirty the last had drifted home, sure that Kevin had failed.
Most of them were back the next night when Kevin rode up, backpack bulging, wincing as he pedaled.
“What happened to you last night?” Craig asked, not showing that he was a little relieved that Kevin hadn’t been hit by a car. “You pass out like I said you would?”
“Didn’t get pulled over for speeding, did you?” asked Mossy.
“No,” said Kevin, as he took off his backpack and set it down, “I made it there all right.”
Mossy and Matt looked at each other. “So, you’re saying you passed out on the way home?” Mossy asked, and everyone erupted in laughter.
While they were laughing Kevin removed a case of Natty from his backpack and handed it to Craig. He then fished around in his pocket and handed over a receipt.
Craig looked at it. “This ain’t from T’s,” he said.
Kevin nodded. “Look at the time.”
Craig did. “One-twenty-two in the morning? Where the hell can you buy beer then?”
“Maryland,” Kevin said.
“It was midnight by the time I got to T’s, so I had to ride across the state line.”
The boys stared at him — the state line was another twenty miles north of T’s. Then they began scrounging amongst themselves for fifty dollars, each making a mental note to never bet Kevin again.
John Keel was born and raised on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. His favorite animal is the cuttlefish.