Calamity Jayne Turner isn’t taking a back seat to anyone and this little caravan is sure to have more potholes than the county roads after a hard winter. Hang on, folks. It’s likely to be bumpy ride…
Excerpt from TROUBLE IN TANDEMONIUM by Kathleen Bacus:
“You did bring your bike helmet,” Van Vleet asked.
“Of course.” Actually, I’d lifted Taylor’s helmet from the shelf in the folks’ garage. I figured. Why spend money I didn’t have for something she wouldn’t miss?
I wrinkled my nose and picked the black helmet up and set it on my head. Leave it to Taylor to pick a boring color. I could see it now: What’s black and white and red all over? Tressa Turner on a tandem. I fumbled with the straps, having difficulty getting the blasted thing fastened.
“Uh, Einstein. You have your helmet on backwards,” Van Vleet said.
I rotated the helmet, cinched the straps, and leveled an annoyed look at my pedaling partner.
“So, what makes you such an expert? You don’t seem like the bike type to me.”
Van Vleet fiddled with the bicycle. “I ride,” he said.
Was I imagining it--or had he lost a bit of his swagger?
He fastened his own bike helmet on his head—a shiny silver number—took hold of the bike’s handlebars and swung a leg over the bike, settling his bike shorts clad fanny on the front seat of the bike.
“Climb on, Calamity.” Van Vleet nodded towards the seat behind him. “Let’s see what you can do.”
I frowned. “Hold on. Who says you get the front seat?”
“My guardian angel says. That’s who. You haven’t ridden a bike since you were in grade school. No way am I going to trust the driver’s seat to someone who has the nickname you do—and with a history to justify it.”
“Oh. So you get the view of the wide, open road and I get what? The view of your wide, open posterior all the way across the state? No way.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake. Listen up, Blondie. As soon as I’m convinced that I won’t end up as someone’s hood ornament, we’ll talk about taking turns. Until then, get used to the back seat, backside view. Now would you get on the damned bike!”
I was about to protest more, but realized he was probably right. I wasn’t ready to take the helm yet. I’d need some time in the saddle. But once I was up to speed? Well, this little cowgirl wasn’t about to take a back seat to anyone.
Especially a twinkie like Van Vleet.
I grabbed the handlebars behind Van Vleet’s seat and started to swing a leg over the bicycle’s bar when the bike wobbled precariously to one side.
“Whoa! Hold your horses, Calamity! A little finesse, please! This is a bike, not a steed. You don’t gallop up and throw yourself on a tandem like some half-assed ramrod, or we’ll tip over!” Van Vleet scolded. He repositioned the bike and planted a foot on either side of the bicycle to balance it. “Position yourself thus,” he instructed.
“Thus?” I made a face. “Thus?”
“Just do it!” Van Vleet barked.
“Okay! Okay! I’ll position myself thus.” I shook my head. “Jeesch. Take a chill pill, would you?” I assumed the position. “There. You happy?” I said to the rigid back in front of me.
Van Vleet turned in his seat.
“Do I look happy?”
I shrugged. “How would I know? You always seem to have a smarmy smirk on your face.”
“Smarmy smirk, is it? Wow. The dumb blonde does alliteration.”
I frowned, trying to decide if that was a compliment, a diss, or maybe both.
“I can do stuff,” I said.
“We’ll see,” Van Vleet said. “Did you spend any time at all researching the technique of riding tandem?” he asked. “You know. In between covering the obits and dispensing candy sprinkles on soft serve?”
“I didn’t think it was compulsory to Google riding a bicycle,” I responded.
Van Vleet shook his head. “I thought as much. Okay. Lesson one. Definition of terms. Term One: Captain. The captain is the front seat rider and the bike boss. The rider in control, if you will. The captain controls breaking, steering, and shifting gears.” He jabs a thumb into his chest. “That’s me. I am the captain.”
I blinked. Was this guy for real?
I struck a salute pose.
“Aye, aye, Captain! Permission to speak, sir!”
Van Vleet did one of those eye roll numbers. “Do I have a choice?”
“Sir! No, sir!”
“Oh, for god’s sake. Get to the point.”
“Point One: Why do you get to be the bike boss?”
“Uh, firstly because I actually know what I’m doing and secondly because I don’t want to die. Now, may I please proceed?”
I sighed.“If you must.”
“Term Number Two: Stroker.”
“Stroker?” I frowned, already preparing to be insulted.
“Stroker?” I frowned, already preparing to be insulted.
Van Vleet nodded. “Stroker. Also known as the motor. You, Miss Motormouth, are the stroker.”
“I’m the motor. Me?”
“Technically, you’re the stroker.”
“And you are…an ass,” I said.
“Would you get serious?”
I stared at him. “I’ve just been assigned stroker duties and you want me to get serious. Dude. That’s whacked.”
“Well, do we have to use the term stroker? That just sounds…wrong.”
“Oh, for god’s sake, call yourself whatever the hell you want,” Van Vleet snapped.
“Xena, Biker Princess,” I proclaimed.
“Funny. The point is you provide the propulsion.”
I looked at him.
“You expect me to provide the pedal power for both of us?”
His glanced shifted to the area of my body that falls between the pelvis and the knees. “With those thighs? You don’t really want me to answer that question, do you?”
What can I say? I have cowgirl thighs.
“Listen. These thighs were sculpted from years of horse hugging, roping, riding, and rodeoing, buddy. That doesn’t mean they are pedal-power approved,” I said.
“You might be surprised,” Van Vleet suggested. “No matter. Those thunder thighs will have to do and you’ll have to get used to second seat spinning. Now for the correct mounting procedure.”
“Hey. You aren’t getting fresh, are you?” I snorted.
“In your dreams, TT.”
“TT? Oh. Tressa Turner.”
“No. Thunder thighs.”
I let the dig slide. Never fear. I’d have a week to come up with appropriate names for my pedaling partner. And my employer…
“Now,” Van Vleet went on. “I’ve got the brake engaged so the bike won’t roll. The stroker positions the pedal in the lowest position to use as a step. Go ahead and do it.”
“Now mount the bicycle. Try to center your balance as much as possible. Okay. Now, clip your feet and tie off the straps.”
I fumbled a bit, but managed to do as he instructed.
“Next you’re going to rotate the pedals to a good starting position for me,” Van Vleet said. “Okay. A little more. There. That should do. Right. We should be ready to go. Remember. We’ve got to get the bike going quickly so we don’t tip over. And it’s important that we match our cadence. You do know what that means, right?”
“Oh, shucks, Cap’n. All we strokers know what cadence is,” I guffawed.
“Since you’re the weakest link, you determine how fast or slow the cadence is,” Van Vleet went on. “So I’ll take my cue from you.”
“How do you know I’m the weakest link?” I objected. “I could turn out to be a tandem rock star.”
“Prove it, Witchiepoo,” Van Vleet said.
I pointed my fingers at my eyes and turned them around and back at him in an “I’m watching you” move.
“Let’s do it,” I said, with a more confidence than I felt.
“Okay. I’m going to push off. Ready. And go!”
The tandem shot forward.
“Pedal! Set the cadence!” Van Vleet yelled.
I bent over the handlebars, trying to remember to maintain a centered balance, stepping into the raised pedal with one foot, then the other.
“Faster! Faster!” Van Vleet yelled, and I kicked it up a notch.
“Too slow! Too slow!” Van Vleet’s hollered warning came as my right foot somehow managed to come loose from the tie that secured to the pedal. I tried to recover my foothold, and leaned slightly to my left.
“Pedal! Pedal!” Van Vleet yelled.
“I’m trying!” I yelled back. “I’m trying!”
Every time I thought I’d gained a foothold, the speed of the pedals changed and my foot flailed in mid-air.
“Try harder! I can’t do it alone! You’re like dead weight back there!”
I felt my balanced center begin to wobble. My sole remaining anchor flew off the pedal and both legs shot out in opposite directions.
Look Ma! No feet!
The bicycle began to tip.
“We’re going down, we’re going down, we’re going down!” I screamed and squeezed my eyes shut to block out the sight of the roadside ditch as it came closer and closer.
A prayer kept me company during that split-second descent: Dear Lord, protect the teeth.
Hope you enjoyed the sneak peek!