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Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008 06:55 pm
Inches and Miles
Title: Inches and Miles
Author: Lovesrain44
Genre/Rating: Gen/PG-17
Verse: Fleet Verse
Word Count: 7,801
Summary: Buzz, the cool beatnik and one-time boyfriend of Carolyn Stoddard on Dark Shadows, was not fazed by the big money of the Collins clan. In this story he is about to embark upon a journey to the west coast. As he prepares, he meets up with Willie, and invites him for a ride on his bike and a drink on the beach. 
A/N: There is no canon evidence that Buzz and Willie ever met, but if they did, what would they have to say to each other?  I always imagined that they would talk about seing the world and about what it means to be free. This story is Part 1 of the Fleet verse, and the sequel is called Fleet of Stars.

Buzz shifted the gears into third and let the bike gain speed as he headed down yet another hill. The road between Bangor and Collinwood was a continual, though mild, roller coaster. But he liked it. It gave him the chance to put her in and out of full throttle, feeling the rush that her roar always gave him as he sped down the tree-lined road.
Summer was starting to come down warm, and now that his decision to head out to the west coast had been made, his memories of Carolyn Stoddard were as safe as yesterday. It wasn't going to matter that he'd never again touch her shining hair or look into blue eyes that always held a hint of sadness alongside the steel. Or it wouldn't matter, once he had the open road beneath his wheels.
Topping the next to the last hill before the turnoff to the village, his mind jumped ahead to the brass ball party planned by his buddies in the local biker gang, the Black Cats. It meant a lot of booze, a bonfire on the beach, and who knows what all with the chicks that would show up. They were throwing it for him, they'd said, though he privately thought that any excuse would do for them. Full moon? Party! High tide? Let's have a brass ball! As if the thought of heading west wasn't celebration enough.
Just as the rise in the hill gave way to the other side, he saw a truck stalled alongside the road at the bottom of the slope. Whoever it was had pulled the truck over far enough so that it was in the shade of the late afternoon trees that lined the road for miles on either side. The emergency blinkers were on. Buzz guided the bike to the middle of the road, to give the fellow enough room, when he realized that he recognized the truck. It was that white one the guy up at Collinwood used. The guy who waited on that dusty eccentric, Barnabas Collins. The one Carolyn had plenty to say about, even though when they ran into him in town she had nothing to say to him. Which wasn’t saying a lot, seeing as a great number of Carolyn's acerbic comments had been used up on Jason McGuire. The man whose absence was the reason he was heading west soon.
It was all tied together, man.
He shot past the truck just as Loomis was straightening up from looking under the hood, wiping his hands on his jeans. Somewhere the karma was going to come back to him tenfold if he didn't stop and try to help. Whatever else he was, and hints in town about Loomis were all dark and dire, the man had been connected with McGuire, and thus the circle had to continue. A good deed became another good deed. Not that any in the Black Cat crowd would ever understand any of that. Nor would Loomis, probably.
Downshifting, he gripped the break as he pulled back on the throttle. The bike responded like a well-schooled steed and came to a halt without a single buck. He turned off the engine and swung off the seat, snapping down the kickstand in the same motion. Listening to the motor purr into coolness, he walked toward the truck. Toward Loomis who stood frozen, the oil-black rag clenched in both hands.
"Hey, Loomis," he said, giving a small waist-high wave of his hand. "You havin' trouble, man?"
Loomis jerked back with a start. Giving him the wary stance of someone turning toward an outsider in an alley fight that he is sure to lose. And though it might have been the sprinkle of shadow across his face, or the movement of air that carried darkened light, it seemed as if he was afraid of Buzz. The last time Buzz had gotten a reaction like that was when he'd driven through the rich part of Collinsport to pick up Carolyn from her friend's house. He'd rung the bell and the maid who'd answered the door had nearly fainted away. She'd fluttered for a good five minutes while he'd waited in the lobby; later he'd told Carolyn that there’d be no more picking her up there. If she wanted a ride, she could meet him at the corner or walk home. Carolyn had balked and pouted and in the end, had only needed one more lift, as McGuire had left town soon after. Leaving Carolyn without a reason to throw her newest beau into her family and friends' faces.
And now Loomis. Not close to fluttering, not by a long shot. But white. Muscles tight beneath his rolled up shirtsleeves, legs in a stance that spoke of either running or fighting, whatever was required.
"What do you want?" asked Loomis, in a voice that was firm and low.
"I wanna help, man. That's all." Buzz held up both of his hands as if to show he held no weapons.
Now disbelief shaded Loomis' features, darkening his eyes and narrowing his mouth. "Help? Why would you do that?"
"Yeah, man. What's the matter with your truck?"
Best not to discuss the whys of it, even if Loomis could understand, besides, it went against karma to explain.
A small gust of wind kicked up some dust in the road as the coolness of the fading afternoon whooshed through the trees. Buzz thought he saw a twinge of alarm on the other man's face, then he looked at the truck.
"Looks like you got a load of stuff, there, Loomis."
"It's outta gas," said Loomis, barely moving his mouth. His eyes never left Buzz. "And Mr. Collins, he—"
Then Loomis stopped, mouth clamped shut on whatever he was going to say. As if saying it would make it so. And that what might be so was definitely not good.
Now Buzz made the connection. Truckload of stuff and a time limit to get it there. Loomis wasn't afraid of ole Buzz, not by a long shot. Buzz could have run him over with the bike, should he have been inclined to do such a thing and ruin good tires, and Loomis would have been on his feet in the instant after, unflinching. His body, tense, was instead geared toward pleasing a man who had more money than he knew what to do with. A rich cat in a big house, he had Loomis jumping when he snapped his fingers. Buzz had seen it before, in the men in the Black Cat who had jobs with bosses who snapped and strutted. The resentment that kind of life fostered went a long way to stripping the men of restraint and the brass balls on the beach got out of hand on half the beer it would have otherwise taken.
But Loomis. Now there was anther kind of creature. Buzz had seen him on any number of occasions at the Blue Whale, when he'd gone there with and without Carolyn. Loomis came in late afternoons, usually, and so very seldom after dark. Ordered one beer, sometimes two. Drank alone. And then went home.
Whatever resentment he harbored, there was none of it visible now. Only white-faced grimness and that stiff stance which now translated into a paralyzing fear of what would result from his failure to deliver the goods on time.
"Got a gas can?" Buzz asked now, shifting his weight on one leg and shoving his hands in his pockets. Any man worth his salt would recognize the message in the stance.
"Y-yeah," Willie said, relaxing his chin, understanding it instantly. "One gallon."
"I'll take you and bring you back."
"Like I said, man, I'll carry ya."
"B-but why?"
Convince me, Loomis was saying, not saying it. His body said it, and his eyes, now not so narrow, said it. Convince me you mean to help, not hold me up. I got a boss to please and he's so easy to displease.
Anything negative that Buzz had heard about Collins in town would not burden a handkerchief, and Carolyn's words about him had been equally as glowing. Charming, she'd said, gentlemanly, refined. Which flew in the face of the terror that Loomis obviously felt at the idea of crossing the man.
What does he read? Buzz had once asked her.
This had confused Carolyn, he could tell, as reading was far down on her list of interesting things to do. Why Buzz might want to know was beyond her, though she did manage to tell him that Cousin Barnabas read old books.
Ones with leather covers and pages as thick as cloth napkins, she'd said.
Old books meant old ideas like the inherent power of wealth and rank, and bloodlines that ran back thick as a tree trunk all the way to the beginning of Christendom. That had decided Buzz, even before he met Collins, that he wouldn't like him.
"Because I want to," he said to Willie now. "An' I like to show off my bike."
Buzz turned to wave a generous hand over the sparkle of slanted sunlight on the chrome and steel parked by the roadside. He looked back at Loomis before Loomis had taken his eyes off the bike, before the wanderlust had had a chance to fade back into the pewter-blue wall of his eyes. It disappeared once Loomis had zeroed in on Buzz again, but it had been there.
"O-okay," said Loomis, and Buzz decided his stuttered response was based more on surprise than hesitation.
Loomis went to the back of his truck to dig out the gas can, and Buzz walked to his bike, took the handles and kicked off the stand. Straddling the black leather seat, he started her up, his heart jumping with pleasure as she roared to life. Behind him he heard the footsteps in the gravel and planted his feet firmly on either side of the bike.
"Just put the can in the saddlebag for now," he said, not turning his head. "We'll figure out what to do when it's full later."
He felt the motion of the saddlebag cover being lifted and lowered, and then Loomis got on behind him. He got on like he had done it before, but not often enough to be smooth. There was an awkward moment as Loomis, unbalanced, almost fell off as he looked down for where to put his feet.
"Pegs’re flat up against the frame, you gotta kick 'em out."
"Got it," said Loomis, and Buzz felt the man's weight settle in the middle of the seat behind him.
"All set?"
"Yeah," came the reply.
Guiding a bike with two-up instead of just one was easy enough, provided the passenger knew how to shift with the turns. As Buzz drove up the last hill and into town, he could feel the twitch of Loomis' thighs against his hips as the other man got used to the sensation of being double up on a bike. Didn't take him long either. By the time they'd reached the gas station, Buzz could hardly feel that Loomis was back there. Which spoke again of some experience. That or extreme adaptability. When he'd taken Carolyn for her first ride, she'd clung to his leather jacket like a blond-haired monkey, looking frantically over his shoulder every time he'd had to take a turn, throwing them both off balance. She'd jerked so hard at one corner that she'd almost tipped the bike, and while he wasn't worried about the paint job, per se, a nervous passenger was a danger to both. He'd pulled to the side then and there and told her what she needed to be doing, riding pillion. And what she needed not to be doing. Instead of getting off the bike in a huff, as he'd half expected her to do, Carolyn had listened intently. She wanted to ride, she assured him, the bike was the most fun she'd ever had.
The bike, of course, was crucial in her little end game to stop her mother's marriage to, one, Jason McGuire. Buzz’s was one of the loudest, blackest bikes in town and only the best would do for Miss Stoddard.
Pulling into the gas station, Buzz gave a short press on the horn and gunned the engine for good measure. From inside the station, he saw the wave that gave him the go ahead to pump it self-service. Mac loved motorbikes, especially Harleys, and always encouraged Buzz to bring it on in when it needed work. So Buzz did, and in return, Mac gave him a discount on the gas.
"Okay, Loomis, we can get it here," he said, cutting off the engine and planting his feet.
Without a word, Loomis got off, almost gently enough not to rock the bike, and started pumping the gas into the gas can. Fumes rose up in the warm, spring air that was quickly turning to cool as the sun went down. Within minutes, Loomis had finished filling the gas tank, paid for the gas, and was back again, gas tank in one hand, eyeing the motorbike.
"Just put it in the saddlebag," Buzz said.
"No, it'll ruin it," said Loomis, shaking his head. "The gas'll eat through the leather, or tear it, or—"
"Hey, man," said Buzz, stopping him. "These bags have a steel frame in them. Tough as nails. If you're worried, wrap it in your shirt, but it'll be easier to balance with it in there than it would if you were holding it."
Buzz watched as Loomis' eyes flicker as he thought this through. Then Loomis took off his shirt and wrapped it around the gas can. His t-shirt was probably not much protection against the growing chill air, but Loomis didn't seem to notice it much. "Right or left?" he asked.
"Left," said Buzz. It was easier to shift to the right to carry the extra weight on the left, and he waited while Loomis secured the gas can.
"Hop on, Loomis, we're burning daylight."
As Loomis swung up behind him, Buzz started the engine, and the roar of it almost, but not quite, covered the other man's reply.
"You got that right."
When he dropped Loomis off at his truck, Buzz fended off the offer of a few bucks for his trouble, telling Loomis instead to pass the favor on to the next fellow who needed it. Loomis had nodded, seeming a little lost as if this were an unexpected notion, and Buzz had gunned his way back into Collinsport.
Play it forward, man.
He picked up some cases of beer, packing it in his saddlebags. When he arrived at the Blue Whale, it was almost full dark, and Bangor Jones and his leather-clad Molly were there, waiting to give him the news on the brass ball.
"Stone Cove, man," said Bangor Jones, "and the guys from Clearwater are going to be there too, an' they're bringing a keg."
Bangor Jones was worked up enough to let go of his bike, and Buzz caught the rise of beer fumes, already thick enough to float a house. Molly nodded from her perch on the parked bike, not saying anything, but looking at him with glimmering eyes. She'd been swilling her share too, looked like.
The brass balls had been good at first, a fun-spirited way to blow off steam, to talk about bikes, and of the open road. However, he'd discovered after some months of this, that not only was the talk just talk, but also at a certain point in the festivities the party turned to drinking and brawling and screwing. And usually that was okay, too. Tonight, though, with his imminent departure to places beyond the horizon, he realized that the thought of spending an evening watching his biker pals tip back enough beer only to yark it all over the beach was not a pleasant one. But what could he do? It was bad karma not to have a sendoff.
"Hey, man," he said, not getting off his bike, or turning off the engine. Even to a biker as drunk as Bangor Jones, it was a clear symbol that he was still on the road. Still headed for somewhere. "Sounds like that would suit a man headed out for the coast in the morning."
"Yeah," said Bangor Jones, now having got a grip on the seat of his bike, "and chicks, you know, new chicks. All from Clearwater." Chicks to Bangor Jones meant either getting screwed or watching his best pals get screwed. For free. Over and over. It was his favorite activity.
Stone Cove with the Black Cats and the lads and chicks from Clearwater would suit someone, he knew, but it wasn't him. Not tonight. He should have realized this when he'd confronted their initial confusion when he told them he was leaving. Why, they'd asked in the plaintive tones of a storybook heroine, whither wilt thou go? And why would you? Man.
"Gotcha, man," Buzz said now, gunning the engine a little. "But I gotta go meet a friend, and I'll come by later."
"Hey, great!"
Yeah, Bangor Jones couldn't care less if Buzz came by or not. Long as the beer held up and the chicks put out before he toppled face down on the beach. He was well on his way to it; Buzz hoped he scored before then so the evening wouldn't be totally lost for him.
"Catch you later," he said again, and shifted the bike softly into first. Bangor Jones stood back, and Molly nodded at him, and Buzz sailed out of the parking lot, with only a vague idea of where he was going. It was only when he hit the outskirts of the village and was on the road to the Great House on the Hill that he knew.
Getting to Collinwood was something he could have done with his eyes closed. Sloping up the road with a 1,000 ccs of Harley without being noticed was another matter altogether. And not something he'd tried before. Carolyn would not understand why he was coming up to her neck of the woods to pick up someone else. Not that she would want to come with him, not at this point, not when his usefulness was totally in the past. But she certainly would feel hard done by if she knew he was coming up for Loomis.
Loomis' unassuming company would be the perfect karma to celebrate what was coming Buzz's way. Of course when a guy shifted location as drastically as he planned to do, there would be changes. Big ones, wide as the open sky. Sharing a beer with a man like Loomis was the way to do it.
He made it up the track to the ancient structure that Carolyn had referred to as the Old House, where, according to both her and village rumor, Barnabas Collins ruled the roost, and one, Willie Loomis, did all his fetching and carrying for him. On a very tight leash.
At the top of the gravel drive, he idled the bike into neutral and then shut it off. The wind kicked up a brace of salt air from the sea. The silence of a place so far from the village was not as he had thought; beyond the echo of the engine, there was the rustle of leaves as they scurried against each other and the faraway boom of waves against black rock. And behind that, the whisk of wind around the corners of the house that loomed above him.
The feeling that eked at him from the house was not pleasant as he walked toward it. Probably from years of ruin and disuse, and he was heartily glad not to be living there. But Loomis did. And Collins did. And many before him, living and dying and leaving traces of themselves behind.
With these dark thoughts dancing in his head, he knocked on the kitchen door. And waited.
The darkness within was scattered aside by a single flame that wavered behind the warped glass in the doorframe as it came closer. Someone held it aloft and then the door was opened.
It was Loomis. Shirt sleeves rolled up, worn, striped apron tied loosely on, hair hanging in his eyes, caught mid-chore.
"Hey, man," said Buzz.
"Hey," said Willie, in return.
"Wanna come out for a ride on my bike?"
In the doorway of the kitchen door, Loomis froze. Buzz could not see his expression, but caught the furtive movement of his head as he started to look over his shoulder. Then he stopped himself, tipping his head down a bit as if nodding.
"No, I mean, I can't. Look, thanks, but I have things to do and all?"
His eyes were on Buzz, two gleaming circles in the candlelight, but he seemed to be watching still, too. Sideways, over his shoulder. Into the darkness.
Buzz nodded. Waited a moment, thinking about how to say it. The truth would be the best, after all.
"I've got beer, and I'm leaving town tomorrow. I'm gonna have a little celebration and I want you to come with me."
"Me? Why me?"
This was a harder question to answer, because he didn't quite know why himself. Part of it was the look he'd seen in Loomis' eyes when he'd first laid eyes on the bike and the slow way he'd gotten off it when Buzz had returned him to his truck. He hadn't wanted to get off, that much was obvious. Some people hopped off, as if they couldn't wait to be on solid ground again. Others, like Loomis, lingered over dismounting, sliding off slowly, keeping contact with the bike for as long as possible. Loomis' hand had even stayed on the seat of the bike while he'd unloaded the gas can. Stroked it with his fingertips until at last he'd had to walk away.
The other part of it came from the almost nothing that Carolyn had said about Loomis, and what he'd seen of him. A man like that wasn't likely to talk his head off when drinking beer. Or yark all over the sand after. He might even understand why it was so critical that karma be maintained before a trip as important as this one.
Part of the truth then.
"Thought you might enjoy it. Thought you might be good company."
"Wh-what about your—" began Loomis, and then he stopped suddenly, waving his hand in the direction of the bike, and Buzz turned to see it there, vague bits of starlight sparking off the chrome of the front fender.
"The Black Cats like to get wasted," said Buzz, turning back around to look directly at Loomis. "Tonight's not the night for getting wasted."
"Just for an hour, man, that's all."
"An hour?"
"Yeah, an hour. Ride the bike, go to the beach, drink some beer, and I bring you back."
Loomis looked at him steadily, all the while holding the candle to the left side of his face like a banner. "You doing this to get back at Carolyn?" he asked. There was concern in his voice, and of course there would be. Loomis was just a working Joe, and, in the Collins' lineup, that didn't amount to much. He couldn't afford to get in the middle of something that might be detrimental to the shining star of the Collins' gene pool.
"No, man, that's all over between us. I don't ride with her anymore." 
Loomis was almost scowling at him now, as if the invite were for something bad instead of something good.
"I still don't see why—"
"Look," said Buzz now, interrupting him, "I did you a favor picking you up today, right?"
"Right," came the slow reply.
"And now I want you to do me a favor. It's as simple as that."
"A favor to you?"
Buzz nodded. The tone in Loomis' voice told him that he'd hit the right note, and it was interesting that he wouldn't come out on the bike for his own sake, but instead would do it because Buzz wanted it. "Yeah, a favor. Can you help me out or what, here?"
There was a pause, and Loomis tipped his head to the side, almost smiling. "Well, if it'll help you."

Part 2