Las Vegas, Nevada 2010
Daryl woke from his alcohol induced slumber to the sound of what he was sure must be the bawling of a injured animal. Did he shoot something and only wound it, not kill it? Whatever happened he had to put it out of its misery and fast. He instinctively reached over his shoulder to grab a bolt from his quiver and finish the job. There was no bolt, all he got was a handful of pillow.
The bawling sound continued.
His brain kicked in just a little as he remembered, damn he'd gotten so drunk.
When he finally managed to pry his eyes open they burned like fire and his throat felt like he'd been snacking on broken glass. "Fuckin' Merle," he mumbled. This had to be his doing. Everything that went wrong always turned out to be Merle's fault.
His head was pounding like a bass drum and dammit, whatever that sound was just wouldn't stop. He finally forced his head off the pillow far enough to take in his surroundings.
This sure as hell wasn't the motel room him and his brother had rented. Whatever this place was it was extra fancy, one of those thousand dollar a night hotel suites. The fuck? Was he having some weird ass dream? He rubbed the heels of his palms over his eyes trying to clear his fuzzy vision, while also managing to pull himself up to a seated position.
He hung his head, waiting for the resulting wave of nausea to pass and then looked up in search of where the bawling noise was coming from.
He recognized her immediately, it was the pretty blonde in the tight red dress. She'd been there drinking too, but what was she doing here? And why was she sitting on the end of the bed bawling like a baby? Shit, was this her room? Damn, it must be.
He quickly looked down at himself to check and yeah, he was still dressed. He also spotted an unopened box of rubbers on the night stand next to him. They must have had something in mind a lot more fun than passing out.
So why was she crying? If no drunken mistakes had been made then what could possibly be getting her so upset? Maybe she just felt shitty, hungover and embarrassed about having a strange man in her bed and the thought of what almost happened. He managed to grumble out his question,"S'wrong girl?"
When she turned he remembered those beautiful blue eyes, but they'd been much happier blue eyes last night. This morning they were red-rimmed and full of tears. She didn't speak, she just looked real sad as she handed him the piece of paper.
When he reached for it he noticed he had new ink. The tattoo was a band of arrows on his left ring finger. Fuck, he really had been crazy drunk. Then it hit him and suddenly he was scared shitless to look at the paper.
It was just as he feared. A State of Nevada Marriage License.
"Fuck!" He snarled, and his new bride started crying harder.
The economy tanked in 2008 and the impact of the crash didn't miss the Dixon Brothers. Their motorcycle sales and repair business, Road Ragin', took a devastating hit.
That's when everything changed, and not for the better. Guys weren't borrowing money to buy big boy toys, not the way they did when everything was coming up roses. Loans had gone from being as easy to come by as signing a piece of paper, to as hard to get as a free ride on a rocket ship. With new bike sales way, way down their business was suffering.
December was starting out okay with Christmas coming and all. Not in Bike sales, they were still slow. It was accessories like helmets, jackets, gloves, boots, all the things a woman might think to put under the tree for her old man. But the brothers knew that come January business would be at a practical standstill.
They'd begun taking action to save their business a few months earlier and a lot of what they had to do hurt. They simply had no choice. They were determined to keep Road Ragin' in business while they hoped against hope the economy would pick up.
They'd made the hardest decision and laid off two of their mechanics and their only salesman. They kept just two critical employees. The lead mechanic Caesar, and their secretary / bookkeeper and Jill of all trades, Caesar's wife Amy.
It wasn't just their employees that felt the pain of the economic bust, the brothers sacrificed too. They'd taken big pay cuts and trimmed their personal expenses to the bare bone. It all helped but they still had to find other ways of cutting back.
The plan was that as of January Daryl would move in with Merle. He'd be renting out his own house for enough money to cover the monthly mortgage payment. Merle was giving up something big too, he was going to sell his beloved 1963 Corvette. He'd restored the classic car from the chassis up and the vehicle was his pride and joy. It had to be done though, the money they saved and the cash from the sale of the car would mean the brothers could go without drawing a salary for a few months.
It wasn't what either of them wanted, they were downright sour over it all, but they were counting on things getting better. Eventually the economy had to turn around, sales and custom work would pick back up. Daryl could move back in his own home and the shop would be running a full crew.
That day couldn't come soon enough to suit the brothers.
Merle and his old army buddy, Abe Ford, kept in touch from time to time and when Abe called the second week of December all those other plans got put on hold. At least for the next month or so.
Abe lived just north of Los Angeles in Ventura County, California, where he rented a little place right on the coast. He'd been trying for years to talk Merle into coming out that way so they could take their bikes on a run up Pacific Coast Highway to the Oregon border. "Shit Dixon, it'll be the trip of a lifetime. Don't be a dipshit and blow this off, get your ass over to the left coast and let's do some ridin'."
Merle always just laughed out a "fuck you" and said, "Yeah man, someday, someday."
This time when Abe called there was a lot more urgency involved, "It's now or never Dixon. Thanks to this fucked-up economy the place where I work is going out of business at the end of the year. The good news is I's able to get hired on up in Boise. I start my new job February 1st. If you and your brother wanna take that ride we're gonna have to do it fast or forget it. Whaddya say?"
Merle didn't stop to think, he went for it, "Yeah, fuck yeah." Why the hell not? Business in January would be slow as molasses. What little there was Caesar and Amy could handle, no problem.
He slapped Daryl on the back and told him the plan, "Guess what little brother? We're goin' road trippin'!" By then Merle was so fully into his "what the fuck" frame of mind he took the last of his savings out of the bank. Why the hell not? They deserved to have some fun.
Still the brothers agreed to do the thing on the fast and cheap. They'd trailer the bikes behind the pickup, pack their sleeping bags and a couple of coolers of food and drinks. As they traveled I-40 west the 2,234 miles to Ventura they'd take turns driving, sleeping, and eat what they'd brought.
The goal was to make it to Abe's place in just over two days.
The Christmas season was not starting off well for Beth Greene, not well at all. First came the foreclosure notice on her Daddy's farm. Back when the economy was booming Hershel Greene borrowed $200,000 from the savings and loan. He bought a real nice used tractor and also made some much-needed repairs to the barn, the irrigation system, and the aging farmhouse, like the very expensive new roof. There was also a new well and updated electrical.
Who knew the economy was about to die an unexpected and ugly death?
Anyway, the bank was calling in the loan which meant Daddy had just 90 days to come up with the $180,000 he still owed. The savings and loan might as well ask for a billion dollars. No one in the Greene family had that kind of money.
Beth's brother Shawn even tried to take out a loan on his own house to help out, but the banks just weren't lending. She couldn't believe it was true, but it was. Sometime in early March the farm would be gone and her Daddy's heart would be broken forever.
The bad economy hit her in the wallet as well. She worked for a manufacturing company in the accounting department and when everything fell apart she agreed to take a pay cut to save her job. It hurt but mostly in ways she knew she shouldn't complain about, no more nail salons, no more eating lunches out, no more new clothes. She realized she was luckier than most though, she still had an income.
All of it was awful and painful and just when she thought it couldn't get any worse, bam, it did.
Her friend Amber was crushing on the bartender at the new wine bar in town and she begged Beth to go to Happy Hour after work, "We'll just sip on one and it's my treat, please Beth." It had been one of those weeks and Beth agreed, she could use a glass of wine.
They walked in the cute little wine bar called Charlie's Place and there he was, Beth's boyfriend with some tall slim redhead, his hand halfway up her thigh.
That dirty bastard.
Life was most definitely not going well for Beth Greene. Not well at all.
She tried hard to look at the bright side. Shawn and his wife promised to take Daddy into their home if the farm was lost. She still had her job and a little apartment of her own, and Maggie, man Maggie was doing great. Her sister had a wonderful guy who was so well grounded and such a sweetheart. When her sister finally decided to settle down she'd done it right.
Maggie's fiancé, Glenn Rhee, had gone from being a pizza delivery driver to owning a small chain of pizza restaurants in Georgia and Tennessee. It didn't seem to matter how bad the economy got, folks still went out for pizza. His business had barely taken a hit.
That Saturday morning Maggie was banging on Beth's apartment door at 8:00 am. "Geez Maggie what the heck's going on? Everything's okay isn't it? I'm barely on my second cup of coffee."
"This news couldn't wait Bethie! There's finally some fun and excitement coming your way!"
Beth handed her sister a cup of coffee, gave her a skeptical look and asked, "Oh yeah, did I win the lottery?"
"Let's not be ridiculous Beth, besides, you have to buy a ticket. No. But what is going on is I'm taking you on an all-expense paid mini vacation!"
"What? What are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about Vegas Baby for my bachelorette party! Glenn is paying our airfare and paying for the room. He booked our tickets last night! With the economy so sucky he got the room and the airfare cheap. We can share the room so that won't cost you beans, and he said not to worry about the airfare. It's his treat because he knew I wanted you with me."
"All you need is a little money to spend on partying and you won't even need much for that. I've heard pretty girls get all the free drinks they want in Vegas. Oh, and I forgot to mention, we're staying at Caesar's Palace! Can you even believe it?! I'm so excited. Isn't Glenn just the best?"
When her sister finally came up for air Beth asked, "When is this big weekend and who's going?" She didn't want to go; the idea didn't appeal at all. She wasn't the party girl type and Vegas sounded like such a big crazy party town. She just couldn't imagine any of it was going to be her idea of a good time. Besides, she was way too busy sitting around feeling sorry for herself to be bothered with having fun.
Still she'd go. It meant too much to Maggie, she couldn't let her sister down.
"We're going the third week in January, I'll get you all the info. Anyway, it's my usual crew, Andrea, oh and Rick's going to let Lori go, they haven't been getting along anyway, and Karen and Rosita are going. They're all sharing rooms too. It's going to get wild and crazy Bethie! You know what they say - what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!"
Beth wanted to crawl under a rock and hide until it was over but she tried to sound cheery when she said, "Oh it's going to be so fun Maggie! Glenn is such a terrific guy. I can't wait!"
She didn't care for Andrea Harrison, she also had zero desire to go to Vegas for some big drunken party weekend. But when Maggie left Beth scolded herself for thinking such negative thoughts. It was a practically free vacation. Her sister wanted her to help her celebrate and it wasn't like she had to hang out with Andrea. She could hang with Karen and Rosita. Besides, maybe a change of scenery was just what she needed.
The brothers left midweek stopping only to gas up. They were eager to get to their destination, chill in Ventura overnight and then head up Pacific Coast Highway for the ride of their lives.
Two and a half days of hard driving had them arriving at Abe's place, a small rental house just a block from the beach. The three men each grabbed a can of beer and headed to the sand. Abe smiled, "Ain't allowed to drink on the beach here in Cali so keep em hid boys." Then he raised his own can up, took a big swallow and hollered, "Y'all can suck my nuts!"
Merle slapped his brother on the back and laughed, "See there kid? I told ya he's our kinda guy."
After checking out the surf they made their way back to Abe's place and planted their asses and a cooler full of beers by the firepit in the backyard. Merle and his old army buddy got caught up, exchanging stories and just shooting the shit while Daryl sat back with a cold one and took it all in. He didn't mind listening to their stories, he was just glad to be out of the damn pickup and breathing in the fresh salt air. After a while Abe threw some burgers on the grill and the guys got down to making their plans for the next few days.
They hit the sack at a decent hour and early the next morning they rolled up their sleeping bags and loaded their saddlebags with what little they were taking. They were ready and anxious. They scarfed down ham and eggs at a diner not far from Abe's place then got on those bikes and they were gone.
For their trip up the coast Daryl would be riding what for him was his dream bike, his 2006 black on chrome Indian. Merle was a Harley man through and through and he was glad he'd decided not to chop his 2005. It would make for a more stable ride now that he was going on a road trip.
It was Abe's bike that blew Daryl's mind. It was a huge customized Harley trike and the big man looked even bigger riding it.
It was hard to keep eyes on the road when there was so much to see. The waves were crashing and the coastline seemed to change its look every half mile or so. Daryl was in awe as he took it all in, from rugged and rocky to flat and sandy and everything in between.
Abe led the way as they traveled up the coast to a town called Pismo Beach. They hadn't gone too far but Abe had a buddy there he wanted to drop in on. It turned out to be a real good idea. The guy's wife was out of town visiting her Mama and the dude suggested, "You guys can crash here tonight if ya want. There's plenty of room on the living room floor. Right now we oughta head over and rent us some dune buggies. I'll show ya what a real ride is all about." The trio was game.
The rest of the afternoon was spent riding the buggies and laughing and yelling their asses off. They cooked polish dogs on the guy's grill that evening and drank a few beers. The next morning they thanked him for his hospitality and they were on their way.
That's how the trip went as they continued north from Pismo Beach up through Morro Bay and San Simeon, Santa Cruz and San Jose, through the craziness and congestion of San Francisco and the Bay Area, then Santa Rosa and up through Mendocino and Eureka. It was all fun and casual and they did everything along the way from digging clams to hitting local bike shops and biker hangouts.
It took a few days and those days were all fun and good times, and eventually they made it all the way to the last town on the coastal California side of the California / Oregon border, Crescent City.
They took the evening to party hard and celebrate the outstanding ride they'd had, and they took a little time to check out the California redwoods the next day.
As they headed back south to Abe's place Daryl realized, he'd finally shaken the blues he'd been feeling since the business began to struggle. He was almost starting to think life could be awesome.
When they got back down to Abe's they stayed one more night, washed up their clothes and all agreed, the next time they met up would be for a ride through the Rocky Mountains.
The brothers were on the road at 4:30am to avoid the heavy commuter traffic Abe had warned about. It was when they got on the I-15 that the real story begins.
Merle saw the signs and he was tempted. At Barstow, California there was a choice to be made. He could merge onto the 40 and head right back toward Georgia, or he could take a little detour, stay on the 15 and they'd hit Vegas.
Daryl could see that old familiar glimmer in his brother's eye, the one he got when a good time was about to be had. Sure enough Merle asked, "Whaddya say brother? We still got a little cash. Ya wanna try our luck in Vegas? This'll probably be the only chance we'll ever get."
For once in his life Daryl was feeling mellow and happy, he was coming off one of the best bike trips he could ever hope for, "Why the fuck not? Maybe I'll win my million."
She made the effort, she honestly did want to be there for her sister. And Maggie had gotten her the cutest and the tightest red dress to wear. She wiggled herself into it, did her hair and her makeup in "party" fashion, and smiled like this was going to be the best night of her life.
It was what Maggie and her friends decided on, the big male review at a joint just down the strip. Great. She had no interest in watching men take their clothes off. She was so over anything "male." Still she managed to keep a smile plastered firmly on her face. At least for a while. It only lasted until the first guy came on stage. He was wearing a cowboy hat, a pair of tight and tiny bikini pants, fake chaps, fake pistols hung on his gyrating hips, and fake cowboy boots on his feet. His body was covered in oil and the women were screaming and going half-crazy tucking money in his tiny pants.
Her sister and her friends were caught up in the show and Beth figured she could slip away for a while. Just go somewhere quiet for a quick drink and away from the gross guys and the crazed women. She'd be back in a couple of hours and they'd never even know she'd been gone.
She told them she was going to the rest room, none of them even looked her way. She walked out the door and just two blocks down there it was, a little western bar. It was pretty darn glitzy for a country joint called Cactus Dan's, but then this was Vegas. When she heard the Patsy Cline song playing she knew it was just the kind of place to drown her sorrows.
She was only going to have that one drink.
They hadn't stayed in a motel since they left Georgia but tonight was different. Merle pulled into an old joint on the outskirts of town that looked like it had been there since 1940. It had one thing and one thing only going for it. It was cheap.
Rundown didn't bother the Dixons. They weren't there for the room and they knew all about run down. The whole look of the place kind of reminded Daryl of the trailer they lived in for a while when he was a kid.
Merle showered up first and while he waited for his brother he flipped on the ancient box TV. He was just reaching to change the channel when the commercial about the contest came on. Shit, he wished he knew someone around these parts, they could take a chance on winning. Fuck his luck.
The brothers weren't looking to get popped for drunk driving and they'd heard parking was impossible on the strip, they wisely chose to get a cab. They asked the driver if he knew a place where they could listen to a little country music, drink some beers and play a game of pool. Somewhere near a big casino. Their idea was to get primed up first then maybe try their luck at little blackjack. The driver dropped them off at a place called Cactus Dan's.
They were enjoying the music and sucking on some suds when the swinging doors opened. Merle turned that way and saw her walk in. He wasn't alone. Daryl was trying to be sly as he checked out the pretty blonde in the tight red dress, but Merle caught the look in his brother's eye. He also didn't miss the way that blonde was trying to act nonchalant as she got herself an eyeful of little brother.
Merle's wheels started spinning.
He didn't mean to make her cry harder, he felt bad for her but he was in the same spot she was. And her crying wasn't helping the pounding in his head. He jumped up off the bed way too fast considering his hungover condition. Still dizzy from the sudden move he sat down beside her and tried to reason, "Hey c'mon now girl, stop your cryin', please. I'm not some asshole and I'm just as shook by all of this as you are."
Her crying continued and he tried again, "I didn't count on wakin' up married either. We can fix it though. They got annulments for shit like this."
That got her attention, "Really? Can we do that?" Then she sobbed and said, "And look at THIS!" And there it was, third finger left hand. A tattoo. A small string of flowers formed a band around her delicate finger. Fuck.
"Damn girl, I'm sorry. I don't know how the hell this happened either and look, I got one too."
"Oh my gawd, oh my gawd. What are we going to do?"
"We can do the annulment thing and docs got a way ta take this ink off. We'll go our separate ways and try'n forget this ever happened. I ain't fightin' it and you ain't fightin' it, it oughta be fast and easy in a place like Vegas. Ya know this kinda shit must happen here all the time."
That's when there was a pounding on the door. Were people ever going to stop with the loud noises? He hurried to open it before they pounded again, "Merle. Fuck man, whaddya know bout this weddin' shit?"
Merle entered the room and had just opened his mouth to answer when there was another knock. It was a waiter who rolled in a table laden with champagne, orange juice, a pot of coffee, croissant and other pastries, a fruit bowl and assorted meats, cheeses and soft cooked eggs in pretty little egg cups. The guy moved two chairs over to the table and asked, "Can I be of further service?"
What the fuck was going on?
"We gotta pay for this?" Daryl worried.
"No sir, it's courtesy of the management." Daryl handed him a ten and said, "Nuthin' else, but thanks man." He had to be stuck in some kind of dream. That was the only explanation.
Merle pointed at the spread, "Both of ya sit down, calm down, get ya some coffee and lemme just explain sumthin' to ya."
Daryl grabbed the bottle of champagne. "Screw the coffee. Um, girl, Beth, how bout a hair a the dog? Might help us both feel a little better."
"It sounds disgusting, but yes please." He almost smiled then, remembering just how damn cute this woman was, and how the night before he couldn't take his eyes off her sweet smile. Fuck, and then what happened? He decided what the hell? Why not just marry her?