Harley Davidson

Jay Clifton

(for Serge Gainsbourg)

photograph: Sam Collins

Harley Davidson was born in nineteen-eighty-eight to Myra Davidson, and so called because Myra was attracted to bikers and motorcycles, ever since she had seen the film "The Wild One" on TV at a girlfriend's house at the impressionable age of fourteen.

Her father may have been a biker called Pete Sartre; he may also have been Pete's buddy Ryland Rizanski, whom Myra, at the time of Harley's conception, had been seeing on the sly.

As far as Myra was aware, Pete had no idea of this second relationship. It's possible that had he known, Pete might have become jealous, beat her up or had it out with Ryland. It was equally possible, given the San Francisco biker fraternity's generally cavalier attitude to the sharing of women, that Pete and Ry would have simply laughed about the disclosure over a glass of beer at one of their favoured highway bars.

Certainly she saw less of them both from the moment her pregnancy become visible, and the issue of paternity was neatly avoided in the following way:

Pete and Ryland were leaving the house of a wealthy couple in the Pacific Heights district of San Francisco at about ten o'clock at night. They had left the couple, along with two house staff, tied up and gagged but otherwise unharmed inside the house, and were leaving with jewellery with a black market value of about fifty-thousand dollars.

Things were going very well for Pete and Ryland until both were coolly iced as they mounted their Harleys by a third man on the other side of the street with a laser-sighted assault rifle. The man, his face boot-blacked marine fashion, appeared from behind a bush of hyacinths, crossed the street and lifted the jewellery from his fallen comrades, and then rode off on his own Harley at high speed in a northerly direction.

Myra named her newborn baby girl "Harley", so that her birth record read "Harley Davidson". The maternity ward nurses raised their eyebrows at one another but made no comment to Myra, who, even after childbirth, had the look of a woman you did not tangle with, unless you were ready for one hell of an argument.

Harley grew up with her mother in a run-down house in Oakland. Myra had always been beautiful, in a sullen kind of way: pale white skin, a strong jawline, and a long sensuous mouth. Feline grey-blue eyes with long black lashes, and long dark hair that waved a little on the way down and put one in mind of the actress Gene Tierney - though her style of dress was more reminiscent of Gene Vincent.

With those looks, and the glamour of being the mother of the daughter of either Pete Sartre or Ry Rizanski, who by dying violently in the commission of a serious felony had posthumously risen in reputation amongst the San Francisco biker fraternity -- Myra didn't lack for suitors. However the impoverishment and callousness she suffered, along with the duties of motherhood, began to take their toll on her spirit.

One night, whilst the five-year-old Harley was sleeping in her room, Myra dealt with the residual pain of a mid-morning tooth extraction by downing the painkillers she had been given with large measures of Kentucky bourbon. At some point she called her latest boyfriend, a biker called Vic "Picasso" Van Helgin, so nicknamed for his skill in custom-painting motorcycle fuel tanks. And, less openly, for the uneven set of his battered and scarred face.

She asked him to bring over a shot of heroin for the pain. Picasso told her he had some business to conduct, some people to see, but that he would be over later.

Picasso never did come by that night and when Myra got tired of waiting, she put a thirty-eight special to her head and blew her brains all over the kitchen table, cabinets, wall and floor.

"First and last time the bitch ever decorated the place", said a particularly hard-boiled homicide detective called Runyon as he studied the room. "Did you get anything of use from the poor girl?" he asked his partner, Detective Westlake.

"Not much, as you might imagine", said Westlake, "She said Myra had a tooth extracted this morning and it was causing her a lot of pain."

"Is that your deduction here?" asked Runyon, "She was driven to suicide because she had sore gums?"

"I'd say a number of problems drove here there", said Runyon, "But maybe this one got out and showed her to the door."

Westlake was developing a reputation as the second-most hardboiled detective in the homicide division, after Runyon. He was developing it with lines like this, which his colleagues thought sounded good, even if they didn't always make sense.

The newspapers had a picnic with the heartrending story of little five-year-old Harley Davidson, orphaned by a degenerate mother's kiss-off with a shot to the head. Within a fortnight of Myra's suicide, Harley was adopted by a wealthy couple -- the same couple who had been robbed and trussed up by the late Rizanksi and Sartre, Myra's old boyfriends.

The newspapers had another picnic with that. This time they gorged themselves and their readership on the virtues of this saintly couple, in the same way they had devoured to the last crumb the recordable vices of Myra Davidson.

Part 2:

The wealthy couple that adopted Harley gently persuaded her to accept a slight but significant change of name: Harley Davidson became "Hadley Marion". She went to a liberal and well-funded school in a good neighbourhood in the hills of San Francisco. She took piano lessons. She swam like a dolphin. Her adoptive parents were loving and indulgent. As a teenager Hadley rarely sulked and usually had the carefree and untroubled demeanour of the pretty and privileged. She never seriously went against her adoptive parents' plans for her until, at the age of nineteen, instead of returning for the first semester of her second year at a New Hampshire music conservatory, she bought a Harley Davidson with her yearly allowance and took off in a northerly direction.

Henry Coleman, a private detective of impeccable reputation as a man of resourcefulness and discretion, was given the task of finding her by her worried parents. Four weeks later, he did.

"You're nineteen and therefore not obligated to do anything your parents tell you", he told her in a clean and quiet diner in Vancouver, "But they're worried about you. They'd like to know what it is you're looking for."

"If I told them," Hadley replied, "They'd have kittens."

"You could tell me," said Henry Coleman, "I'm not easily startled, and perhaps I can help you. Unless it's a spiritual journey you're on. My speciality is finding people, not epiphanies".

Hadley stopped moving the sugar shaker around in small circles on the table and looked up at Henry with serious grey-blue eyes.

"I'm looking for my father's killer," she said, "The act of which -- my father's murder I mean -- resulted indirectly in my mother's death."

"When I say 'indirectly'," she added, "I mean in the same way that poisoning someone's drink is more indirect than shooting them to death."

Henry looked at her the way he might have looked at something coming down fast and unexpectedly from a tree in a rainforest.

"His name is -- or was -- Jim McDeer. And I intend to hunt him down like a deer."

"And kill him I suppose?" said Henry.

"No," said Hadley, "Not unless he makes me. I just want to know what happened."

After a moment Henry spoke: "Who was your father anyway?"

"He was either Pete Sartre or Ryland Rizanski. Either way, they were both gunned down by this man McDeer. The police knew he was most likely responsible, but weren't interested in pursuing him further than the city limits. You see, they didn't like Pete Sartre or Ryland Rizanski anymore than they were fond of McDeer. They were all crooks, after all."

Henry stroked a corner of his long moustache and said nothing. He picked up his cup slowly and took a sip of his coffee and Hadley did the same. When they put their cups back on their saucers Hadley said, "Might you be hired to assist me in this, Mr. Coleman? I could use your expertise in such matters."

"I daresay you do," said Henry Coleman, who had already predicted the question and decided his answer. "And I daresay I might."

Hadley Marion smiled then, with a long sensuous mouth she had inherited from Myra, and the dark blue in her grey-blue eyes got darker.

"Follow me to my hotel, will you?" she instructed Henry politely. Then she got up and slowly walked out of the diner towards her motorcycle.

Henry cursed himself for his foolishness and followed her, momentarily hypnotised by the steady, languid movement of her leather-clad hips... he told himself: "Get a grip, man, you're a professional, for Christ's sake." And then another thought crossed his mind: "If she really brought a gun with her -- where the hell is she keeping it?"...