Evel Knievel Days

Evel Knievel Days by Pauls Toutonghi Read Free Book Online

Book: Evel Knievel Days by Pauls Toutonghi Read Free Book Online
Authors: Pauls Toutonghi
as I could remember. I worked my fingers into the foamy interior of the cushion. There, where it had been for years, was a tiny silver locket. Inside, in my shaky cursive, I’d written:
The Life and Times of Khosi Saqr, starring Khosi Saqr as himself
. I’d folded the note and snapped shut the locket and stowed it inside the seat when Natasha wasn’t looking. It was my secret.
    Natasha reached over and took my hand, the one that had been resting on the gearshift. She took it and put it in her lap. She looked down at my fingers, seemed to consider each of them one by one, pressing each of my knuckles between her fingertips. She rubbed my palm, tracing the creases that made their way from one side of it to the other. “It’s your lifeline,” she said.
    “It is,” I said. “And if you don’t give it back, it will be drastically shortened by a nasty car accident.”
    We played an old Bill Monroe mix. It was good summer driving music, heavy on the bass and fiddle. Natasha said, “Do you ever think about what we’d be like as a couple?”
    “Awful,” I said quickly. “Just terrible.”
    “I disagree,” Natasha said.
    I conjured a few images of what I imagined would probably be a long and happy relationship.
    “We know each other too well,” I said. “There’d be no mystery.”
    “Every relationship’s a mystery,” Natasha said.
    “Now you’re sounding like my mother,” I said, and Natasha laughed.
    Ask anyone in the state to name Montana’s most famous resident, dead or alive. They probably won’t say William Andrews Clark, my copper magnate forefather, or Jeannette Rankin, the first woman to serve in the United States Congress. They won’t choose some governor or actor or successful businessman. They’ll invariably say one name: Robert Craig Knievel.
    Knievel was born in Butte, and he worked in the Anaconda mine as a teenager. Legend has it that he got fired trying to stunt-jump a bulldozer. He hit the main power line, and Butte was in a blackout for days. Despite this (or maybe because of it), Knievel was Butte’s favorite son, so when he got old and seemed to retire from jumping over canyons or rows of buses or through flaming hoops, the city decided to celebrate him with a festival.
    And what a festival it had become. It lasted for seventy-two hours on the final weekend in July. It was a circus of motorcycle daredevils and demolition derbies; the cops cordoned off most of downtown and routed the majority of traffic through the suburbs. I’m really not making this up. It seems exaggerated or unlikely or impossible. But nothing galvanized this corner of Montana like stunt jumping and the destruction of machines. Think: a county fair with motoroil and a Hells Angel tattoo. The sound of the festival carried up and into the hills. At a distance, it sounded like muffled thunder. And this was the first festival since Knievel passed away in November. So it was going to be the biggest, loudest, fastest Evel Knievel Days yet.
    We parked on Silver Street. Immediately, we saw that the city had been taken over by pirates. Or perhaps not pirates. But a cadre of bandanna-wearing fellows, many of whom had the sort of facial hair that you might associate with lengthy sea voyages. We walked along South Clark Street. There were motorcycles everywhere, an astonishing number of motorcycles. Row upon row of Harleys glistened on the edges of the sidewalks. There was a sense of danger in the air that was lessened somewhat by the massive billboard looming immediately in front of us as we came around the corner and entered Chester Steele Park:
    WALL OF DEATH!
    it read. Beneath that:
    AN AMERICAN ORIGINAL!
    The exclamation points only gave the “Wall of Death!” a friendly look, which I didn’t imagine was the intended visual goal. We purchased tickets to the next show, the midnight show, the last of the day.
    All around us, the detritus of a festival churned through the lamplit darkness. A wildly drunk man was standing

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