Redwood Nine Ch. 07byRoyceConnors©
JT and Piney did their best to look presentable for Lester's homecoming. The flight was landing at Stockton, at two forty pm and they were sitting in Piney's parents living room just before noon. The bedroom door opened and Suzy came out looking the best she had in a week. Ann-Marie came out right after and the change was incredible. Till now, she had been wearing tight jeans and a jean vest, but taking them home to get clothes brought about a different side to them. Wally and Keith came in from the backyard, the remains of smoke still swirling about them, both of them, like JT and Piney, finding the best they had to put on.
The low rumble of bikes, had JT and Piney going to the window and seeing Jake on his bike, Lenny and Lorraine on his and Otto and Cindy on his, then Clay coming up at the rear. Keith and Piney both had the same thoughts in their heads, not seeing their partners show up. The guys went out to greet them and hugs were shared by everyone. Piney had to ask Cindy, when he greeted her, if Mary and Gloria were still coming.
"Oh yeah. They're coming. They had to wait for the cab to show up and they'll be here soon. They can't wait to see you guys, they really missed you."
Piney and Keith both had smiles that grew and didn't seem to want to stop, as they heard that the lonely days of the past week were over and some loving was in order. The guys caught Otto up on what was happening in the clubhouse, leaving out the five finger discount shopping they did to get it, as well as telling them about the incident on the 205 junction. Otto and Lenny said they heard about it, but to know Jake, JT and Piney were a mere hundred yards from the action at best, had them concerned things could have been worse.
JT said he wanted to call a meeting and discuss some of the issues that had come up and let all the guys hear it at once. They had to wait for Chico to get from TJ and see what both ends said about joining up, so it would be during the week and they would let them know. Once the need for talk was over, the bikes became the focus again and Otto looked both over, then at Clay's Triumph. Keith was interested in it as well, having ridden one back home. Keith and Clay then began discussing the merits of the bike, despite any of its shortcomings, while JT got Otto thinking about painting his bike. The basic frame and engine would be black, instead of olive drab. Otto gave JT some ideas on how to do those and then looked at the tank and fenders.
"Man, those are some ugly fenders. The tank looks like a tank, too. Has no lines to it. Know what? You need to find some new ones, from a different model and put them on, or else cut them off shorter, so they don't look so, you know, ugly."
"You know, you're right. That's exactly what's wrong with the look. It looks like something the Army would use and not something for the public. What kind of bike do you think would work? Another Harley, say newer?"
"Yeah, that would work. Might have to mess with it a bit to get it to fit right, but that's nothing. Might try some fenders like Jake's and I can bob them."
"Yeah. That's when you cut it shorter. See, like this."
Otto used Jake's fender as an example and showed with his hands where he would cut the fender off and trim the sides. JT liked the idea and said to check out where some wrecked bikes might be and he'd go have a look.
Lorelei called everyone in for cold drinks and cigarettes were put out, as they walked to the house. Piney held the door for everyone and noticed a car coming down the street and then a sign on top. He hesitated to smile, until it stopped in front of the house. He let it out and called to Keith to come to the door. Mary and Gloria got out and waved to him and Piney waved happily back. Keith came and saw it was the girls and his smile returned broadly, as he waved. Piney and Keith went out to them, ready to hug their long awaited partners. The guys became a bit confused, as Mary went to Piney and Gloria went to Keith.
"Guys, we need to talk to you about something and hope you understand."
The guys listened to Mary intently, Piney trying hard not to show his happiness at the turn of events, while Keith was trying to be as accepting of it as he could, as Gloria put her arm around his waist.
"The real reason we didn't want to stay, is because we were with you guys and we wanted to be with the other guy. I like you, Keith, you're a really sweet guy, but I really like Piney more. Gloria likes Piney too, but she likes you just as much. So we talked about it and figured this was the only way it could work, or just not be with either of you at all. So we hope you guys like how it works out."
Piney was quick to express how happy he was with it and looked to Keith, a pleading in his eyes to accept. Keith looked down at Gloria, feeling her breasts pressed into him and her hands holding him and couldn't find a reason it wasn't a fair exchange. With the agreement in place, they turned to their new partners with new feelings to express. Arms hugged and lips came together on the front lawn, the curtains wide open and everyone watching them. A dull cheer rose inside and several of the curtains across the street were opened and faces peered at the two couples embracing.
They came inside to share the news and even Stan and Lorelei were pleased.
"Isn't that funny. When you girls came by the other night and I was saying how Mary was like a daughter to me and all her friends were over, now here she's chosen my boy, how lovely."
The moment seemed to capture everyone, the foretelling seeming to be happening before them. One thing that everyone was aware of, was the pleasure of smiles and holding back the sombre feelings until it was necessary. The time seemed to steal away from the moment, as Stan noticed it was time for everyone to get into the cars and head to Stockton. The girls went with Stan and Wally in their cars, while the guys got on their bikes and started them up. Dogs began barking uncontrollably and people came out this time, as most wished Stan and Lorelei well on their trip. Some were just plainly annoyed by the noise, no matter what the occasion. Like an orchestra warming up, each bike an instrument being tuned, the disharmony continued, until they played in unison on the main street and the air became alive with their sound.
The bikes led the procession through town and on towards Lodi, then down 99 and on to Stockton Metropolitan Airport. The faces didn't hold smiles the same, as the ride down just days earlier, their destination causing an ever-increasing reality of their mortality and how life could be ended, no matter what age, no matter what cause.
They pulled off 99 onto Arch Airport Road and went around the landing fields, following the steady left bends, until they saw the Army transport parked in front of the first hanger, soldiers gathered around informally. They pulled into the parking lot and then the roar died and eyes were upon them. They stayed together and Stan went over to a captain, standing by another family and talking to them. Stan approached and introduced himself and the captain removed his lid and shook his hand, acknowledging the loss of his son. He said he was his commanding officer over there and his loss was tragic to his whole unit. The booby trap that killed him, was instant in his death. Captain Geoffrey had him on point and he had just said the way was clear and took several steps, when the trap sprung.
No one understood what made Stan cringe and feel agony, when the captain clapped his hands together tight, but it brought tears to Stan's eyes and a comforting hand on his shoulder from the officer. Lorelei went to him, her own tears flowing, just from seeing her husband in pain. Piney went over as well, while JT held back with the others. He held onto Suzy tighter and she tightened her hold on him in response, sensing his own pain at seeing Stan.
Piney came back with tears in his eyes and took JT aside and explained what had happened. JT immediately slumped, shaken by how he died and knew the agony he did feel, as he bled out. The dozens of bamboo spikes were lethal, but death took an agonizing minute to come, as the body went into shock and succumbed to blood loss. Thankfully, any chance of an open casket was never possible, but the damage would have prevented it anyway, his face shredded beyond recognition, or repair.
JT went over and consoled Stan and Lorelei, along with Piney, then one by one, they all came over and joined in, sharing in their grief. The sound of turbine engines coming in, had heads turning to the skies, to see the transport plane coming in. The Army colour was ever-present, as well as the white star and bars on the sides. The soldiers that were milling about, immediately formed lines and stood at attention, squaring off lids and jackets to look parade smart. These were the same young men that Lester was tasked in protecting. They had come to thank Lester and let him know his loss would not be forgotten by them
The jet touched down and taxied around the ramp way, following the uniformed soldier's directions. The wheels stopped and the engines screaming whine began dropping fast, as the pilot shut the turbines off. An instance of quiet proceeded and then the colour guard marched to the plane. A ramp was driven over and raised to the right height of the door. The back hatch of the cargo area was opened and swung back, then the ramp moved closer. Two hearses slowly pulled up and stopped, the drivers opening the back door to load the coffins in, then stood solemnly in wait.
Both families stood in wait, their children coming home again, forever ending who they once were and now having to live with them in memory. The first coffin came out and the soldiers snapped to attention and saluted, as it made its down and came to a stop at the end. The honour guard came forward and six soldiers took a handle and as one, lifted it to their shoulders. The captain gave the order to move and they moved in unison towards the hearse, then stopped, lowered the flag-draped coffin onto the hearse floor and slid it in, always keeping hands in contact with the coffin, until it was at rest. They saluted and did an about face and returned to their position by the plane, for the second coffin.
Both families wept, regardless of who's son was inside them, both losses tragically felt by each. The last coffin was loaded and the lone bugler began playing Taps for them. When he finished, the doors to the hearses were closed, finalizing the moment. Lester was home.
The hearses waited, as the families readied themselves in their vehicles, waiting to lead them back to their respective funeral homes. Lester's hearse pulled away and the procession made its way back to 99 and north to home again. The ride was slow and hard to do for Piney, riding behind the hearse, knowing his brother was yards ahead, laying in the back.
Slowly through town, they made their way, heading to Dubrowski's funeral home. People turned and watched, many bowing heads and paying tribute to them, as they finally pulled into the driveway and up to the service doors. Everyone parked and came over, as the staff opened the door and brought Lester's coffin out and carried it into the viewing room, where it was readied with Lester's picture and some of his favourite things. The coffin was gently laid on the stand, then the staff bowed and quietly left the family to be with him.
So little could be said, only feelings being felt, as Lorelei placed her son's picture on the coffin and laid herself over it, weeping with the comfort of knowing her son was there with her, with her family, with those that cared about him. Only Stan and Lorelei stayed in the room, while the others went out and lit up cigarettes. There was no way to lighten the mood that existed among them, only comfort and ease the pain of loss.
"I can't wait to get back and smoke a big joint after this, man. I mean, a big one."
Lenny used his hands to describe how big a joint he wanted and everyone nodded and agreed. To everyone's surprise, Jake piped up and agreed with them.
"I think I could do with some of that as well. If it calms you down like Wally says, that's just what I need about now. Lord knows I hate going to funerals."
JT remembered what Jake had said earlier about his friends being killed and then one shot, trying to imagine how hard it must be to go to that many funerals, for fallen friends and brothers. Watching his own father be buried, had left him emptier inside than he had ever known. There was always a piece of him missing, no matter how long he looked at his pictures, or remembered things they had done together. Memories could never replace the moments and Jake was living with a lot of memories.
Stan and Lorelei finally came out and Piney offered to do the driving. Mary got in beside Lorelei in the back and held her hand, while Stan sat beside her holding her other one. The girls all found room in both cars and the guys broke the humbled silence, as one by one, engines were kicked into life and the procession moved out of the parking lot and back along the main street, eyes watching them pass.
Unser sat in the barber chair at Floyd's Barber Shop, his thick hair getting shaggy around the ears and neck, getting a notice by the Chief and told to neaten it up. The large glass panes of the windows began vibrating and then the low rumble came through to him. Floyd stopped cutting and they both turned and watched the bikes and two cars pass by them, both knowing a son of Charming was home and being laid to rest.
After dropping off his parents and everyone saying goodbye, Wally dropped Piney off to pick up his bike at the funeral home and everyone headed to the motel. It was a relief to the soul for everyone, just to let it go and relax, while Jake headed up to the main office and went to see Marlene. Baggies were unrolled and papers were soon filled and rolled, bringing about Zippo lighters. The room was engulfed in smoke in no time, so they opened the window to let it out.
Two minutes after they began airing out, a knock came and Jake was standing there.
"You know, there's so much smoke coming out from down here, it looks like there's a fire. Marlene was going to call the fire department, but I said it was everyone having a cigarette after the funeral home. I told her I'd tell you guys to slow it down, or take it outside, just to make her happy."
They understood the warning and knew not to upset Marlene and began putting out cigarettes, as the joints were still going around. Jake reached in and intercepted one of them and took a few hits and blew the smoke out and then did it again.
"I sure hope this calms you down, like you say it does, Wally. I'm wound up tighter than a drum right now."
They all assured him he would feel much mellower soon, as he waved and walked back up again. They all seemed to sigh in relief, happy it wasn't more of a hassle than that. Piney got up and held his hand out to Mary.
"I think we should go for a walk and talk about some things. What do you say?"
Mary looked at Piney and smiled, then took his hand. Keith looked out of place with his feelings, as he saw her with him, then felt Gloria's hand touch his, reminding him he was still wanted. Piney and Mary went for a walk down the side of the road, holding hands, talking animatedly and intimately about the changes.
Keith wasn't as concerned about emotions and spiritual connections, as much as a physical one with Gloria. He offered his hand to Gloria, who smiled as she took it, then Keith excused them to go to his room and discuss the issues at hand. That little bit of love and enjoyment of life, brought the others back to the reality of life as they lived it and the heartbreak of loss was being eased in their souls.
When talk turned to the clubhouse, bikes and going on runs, the girls took their leave and went next door to better discuss issues more interesting to them. Amidst heartbreak and sorrow, love and happiness always found a way to grow, their young hearts demanding it.
The girls were getting down to the serious business of bras and deeply into a discussion about them, when a knock came at the door. Cindy reached over and opened the door to see Marlene standing there.
"Can I help you?"
"No, sorry. I'd like to see Suzy and Ann-Marie though."
Her tone entered the room and the girls looked at Suzy and Ann-Marie, as they got up and went outside, closing the door behind them. Marlene walked them away, so they were out of earshot, then turned to them. Suzy and Ann-Marie halted abruptly and looked at her.
"Tomorrow, I'm going to need one of you to dust and vacuum my room and one of you to come with me and do the shopping. I'll be getting my nails and hair done, so who would like to do what? Or do I have to choose?"
Suzy and Ann-Marie hesitated, looking at each other, then quickly decided on what they'd do.
"I'll stay and do the housework and Annie will do the shopping. What time do we start?"
Marlene seemed happy with the choice and looked away thinking animatedly.
"Let's start at ten, you come and start cleaning and I'll take the fairy princess with me and drop her off at the store. My appointment is at ten thirty, so that gives us lots of time."
"Why did you call me a fairy princess?"
Marlene could see that she was hurt by it and smiled.
"Sweetie, with your looks and that white, blonde hair, just put a pair of wings on you and you're perfect."
Ann-Marie smiled happily, enjoying the description of herself and Suzy noticed it, wondering why she cared so much about it in the first place. She saw the way she looked at Marlene and how she was looking back at her, that briefest of moments that spoke volumes of untold words of what they knew. Ann-Marie blushed slightly and her breathing gained in speed, showing some excitement at tomorrow's chores. Suzy couldn't put it all together yet, but something more was going on between Ann-Marie and Marlene, than met the eye.
The little pat on Ann-Marie's cheek before she left and the smile, left an indelible impression in her, as she looked at her friend, who was still watching Marlene walk back into the office. The tiny flickers up and down, let her know she was eyeing her boss from head to toe, a small smile still curling her lips.
"Alright, so what gives?"
Ann-Marie was startled from her thoughts, as Suzy turned her towards her. She looked at her friend and could tell instantly that she had been found out, or the suspicion was high enough to make her confront her this way. She looked into her eyes and saw that an answer had to come from her, or it would never stop, until it did.
"Nothing gives, what are you talking about?"
Suzy hoped her friend wouldn't take this route, so she forced her to deal with it.
"You know exactly what I'm talking about, Annie, don't bull shit me. I know there's something going on between you two, so what is it?"
Ann-Marie knew her avoidance of it would never satisfy Suzy and her reference to something going on, would never be put to rest, until she told all to her. Ann-Marie took Suzy's hand and walked her away from everyone and everything, not wanting anyone, but them, to know what she was going to say. The old bench at the far end of the lot afforded them a place to sit, as Ann-Marie looked about for anyone, then turned to Suzy.
"You remember that day that I got all fucked up over Marlene touching me?"
Suzy looked at her and saw the truth hiding behind her fear and did her best not to react, as she said she did.
"Later that day, when we came back after we had made out in the car, she told you to go and told me to put the laundry away."
Suzy remembered and knew something had happened that day, but nothing was said.