“You’re what?” the bearded man asked with a crumpled forehead.
“A plutonium physicist,” I answered gasping.
A battle had just ended between twenty-four greasy bikers with wiffleball bats in a penis-shaped ring called the “Coctagon.” I was out of shape but won and after being handed five hundred dollars had slipped away amid the chaos. I was standing alone catching my breath under a scraggly Creosote bush when the bearded man had ambled over.
“How the heck did you become a biker?”
“I’m not a biker,” I answered, breathing heavily. “Just love to build and ride motorcycles. Started when…I was fifteen. Long before—” I took a deep breath then spoke through the exhale, “—I started collecting obscure science degrees.”
“And what possessed you to get in there?” The bearded man pointed over his shoulder at the scattered remains of the chalk lines in the dirt.
“I wrestled in college,” I said then took a deep breath. “And I’ve been drinking.”
“So you build motorcycles, have highfalutin papers, and wrestle. That’s quite a combination,” the bearded man said, rubbing his graying chin. “Never heard that one before.”
I stood up, breath returning. “It’s led to crazy stuff.”
“Like what?” the man asked.
“Grab us beers and I’ll tell you over there,” I said gesturing to a picnic table turned pale from years in the Southern California desert.
The man ambled off.
I sat at the picnic bench and felt the evening breeze wash over my skin. Sweat evaporated, leaving a chill on my skin that balanced the burning in my lungs.
The bearded man returned with beer. “Name’s Frank,” he said and shook my hand.
I returned the greeting then took a long pull of beer. Waves of relaxation passed through my chest and into my arms. “Are you sure you want to hear this?” I asked. “It’s about a run-in I had with a KGB agent in Russia. Not motorcycles.”
“There’s enough of them things around here,” Frank said, looking at the sea of bikes around us. “I wanna hear something else.” He took a seat at the picnic bench and waited.
“OK, then,” I said. “It started with a trip to a secret city in Russian called Sarov where they made nuclear weapons.”