Flat tire patched, Brad Stein returned the bicycle pump to the friendly but cagey guys upstairs. They said they were working their way through college by rejuvenating derelict bicycles. All Brad ever saw were bright new racing and mountain bikes they casually carried one handed up the outside stairs to their living room, which was more like a retail bicycle shop, but wasn’t. Customers in hoodies came and went in the night but so what? That shouldn’t concern Brad, a young man of average height, slim build, and even temperament. He would acknowledge their neighborly greetings, borrow their tire pump, and ask no questions.

His free hand bouncing along the unsound wooden railing, Brad descended the rickety stairs. At the bottom, he noticed the shepherd-sized dog from the house next door. Dragging a long chain, he was running loose—again. Brad didn’t believe the animal would wander far. He never did. More a mutt than a mixed breed, he would approach you, his body curving as if the hind legs wanted to be ahead of the front pair.

Brad entered the musty downstairs apartment, his two roommates still in their rooms, quite asleep after a late night of non-studying. Brad’s bedroom shared a wall with “Sandy’s Sandwiches,” a wholesaler that took up the front half of the wooden building. Sandy, whom he never saw, was also his landlord. Weekdays, four a.m. sharp, mass sandwich-making machines switched on with muffled sounds of meat slicing and chattering employees invading Brad’s sleep. Annoyed when he’d moved in, he rarely heard the noises anymore. Importantly, the shared wall equated to cheap rent in a worn part of town far from the legitimate student apartments closer to campus.

Brad rolled his bicycle, a nondescript three-speed unpopular with bicycle renovators, from the dark hallway into the inviting spring morning. The front tire he had spent two hours fixing seemed to be holding up, its inner tubing approaching more patch than original rubber. Glancing at the building’s second story he wondered how those guys could be so gutsy, so brazen. Were they even students?

His green army surplus pack snugly strapped to his back, Brad mounted his bike for the twenty-minute trip to campus and his poli-sci class, Political Theory: Social and Political Order. The mangy dog stood looking at him from an untended field near two empty huts. Brad didn’t know the dog’s owner, just some guy who seemed to have a girlfriend. He’d said less than ten words to them in the six months of living on the other side of the sandwich shop.

The dog spotted a black cat trying to cross the field. With a heavy bound, the animal took off as the cat also began its own sprint. “Here, fella,” Brad called to the dog who had pursued the cat into a weedy plot, once a garden, fenced in with sagging chicken wire. Brad stopped at the fence. The cat now gone, the dog was running in small circles, its chain stuck on an underpart of the fence. He watched to see if the dog would solve its own problem. Bikes are important to college students, thought Brad. How would it feel to have yours stolen? You walk out of class, go to the bike rack, and don’t see your ten-speed. You experience mounting confusion as you search the row of bikes, but yours is not there.

The dog halted, its large brown eyes staring at the bike rider; “All right. Hold on.” Brad eased his bike into the weeds and pushed down a section of the fence. The dog immediately began to wiggle, “Easy, just a sec. Sit.” Brad pulled the dog’s chain out from under the fence and examined it. Ripped apart, probably that morning, by brute animal strength. Back on his bike, the dog trotting beside him and play-snapping at his foot pedal, Brad rode toward his neighbor’s house, more a shack in need of a paint job, replumbed windows, and new roof shingles.

He knocked on the windowless door and after a good thirty seconds, a young dark-haired man answered, his eyes heavy-lidded and unfocused. Not a morning person, “Do you let your dog run around loose with a broken chain dragging behind him?” Brad didn’t know why he had said that except he did.

“Lucy,” said the dog’s owner, “Did you try and get away again?” The dog wagged her whole body as she came forward.

“Oh, he’s a she,” said Brad; “Didn’t seem like she wanted to run off. But she does like to chase cats.”

“Right. Hey, thanks a lot.” The guy was looking at Brad as if it were the first time he’d seen him; “You live around here?”

“Next door.”


“No,” said Brad, “Downstairs. Why?”

“No reason. Thanks again.” The reunited pair disappeared into the house.

A headwind slowing his progress, a remounted Brad crossed the train tracks, biked as close to the dirt side of the country road as he could, and headed toward campus. His trajectory took him past forgotten houses, treeless lots, layers of dust—all gradually superseded by actual homes, apartment complexes, and tended grass strips parallel to unbroken sidewalks.

At the edge of the campus commons, he stopped as if encountering an invisible barrier. It was time. Time to have an overdue conversation with his roommates, who were as aware of the criminal ring upstairs as he was. Of course, an argument could be made the bike thieves were just striking out against the capitalist system. Redressing a societal wrong. No, that explanation didn’t hold up. This was not a case of Robin Hood robbing from the rich, etc. Those bike thieves lacked idealism.

Still, what if his roommates didn’t agree with Brad and took more of a live and let live approach? It’s not as if he resided in a law-and-order household. Brad felt a tension spreading outward from his stomach. He should pay attention to his gut and at least acknowledge its insistence on some kind of action. Maybe there was an app to obtain a list of bikes stolen around the city. That could be a start. Continue to gather evidence. Surreptitiously take photos of the deeds in progress. Seek advice from a law school student.

Crossing the manicured campus, Brad wondered wryly if the local police had any kind of witness protection program. In the coming days, he might qualify as a candidate. Or not.


Martin Perlman lives and writes in Seattle. Previous work has been included in Rosebud Magazine, Catamaran Literary Reader, Sortes Magazine, Red Noise Collective Anthology, Men Matters Journal and 34th Parallel Magazine among others. He wrote a whimsical novel, Thinks Out Loud, A Blog at First (Marrow Press).