Friday: Jasper, Colorado
Rodeo tightened his right hand and turned the accelerator, his foot pumping up and down to change gears. Behind him was mostly flat land with a few rolling hills bracketed every few miles by rows of trees. Ahead of him he saw what he’d been hoping to see for several hundred miles—the tree covered hills of home, black at the base from being covered in white spruce and then pale white at the top.
The road weaved in among these hills and Rodeo knew his way around all the other towns he didn’t want to visit to get to the one he wanted to see. It didn’t look like much at first as he approached. The road cut through two hills where they met at the base. On one side, peeking through the trees if he knew where to look were large pieces of granite of different colors and shapes, tombstones and sidewalks. The other hill had been left in peace covered in trees and any walking trails were dirt or covered in mulch and not visible. Rodeo didn’t have to see them to know they were there.
He didn’t need the large wooden sign that read ‘Welcome to Jasper,’ surrounded by smaller signs with symbols of the local churches and one that had a grinning crescent moon blowing out stardust with wings made of blades, to know he was back. The road told him. At the base of the hills, level with the sign, the road changed from plain white concrete to something more colorful and individual. It was like someone had taken different color concrete, white, red, black, green, and blue, and swirled it together like with a frosting knife before pressing a big stamp on it to make it look like cobblestones. The sign was still a welcome sight and the crescent moon’s grinning greeting made his chest thump once.
Rodeo grinned, shifted gears again, pulled the front of his bike up as he passed the sign and headed into home, Jasper.
Gideon leaned against the inside of the bar, his forearms pressing against the edge of it. The towel over his shoulder brushed up against his dark brown hair that looked like it was growing out from a buzz cut. A pair of steel military ID tags on a ball chain hung out of a white t-shirt that looked like it had seen better days as it was almost see through and clung to his chest as if it had been bought for a young man a size smaller.
He had the best view of the room and the outside windows. Which didn’t exactly make a whole lot of sense because he had been regulated to the inside of the bar and the role of bartender because he was a lowly prospect in the Heaven’s Heathens motorcycle club. His kutte, the leather vest that looked like a motorcycle jacket with the sleeves cut away, proclaimed his status. Instead of a patch that read, “Jasper,” he had one that read, “Prospect,” and the back of kutte was bare in comparison to the full members’ kuttes. He had a patch, what he’d come to learn was called a rocker, on the bottom that read Colorado and a small rectangular MC patch for motorcycle club off to the right side.
The state of his kutte was a reminder of his newbie status to the motorcycle club. A club that he had learned that proclaimed itself an outlaw club to the world, but once inside was more of a family club where the women had full votes and were members. The ruse was necessary for the members of the Heaven’s Heathens and outlaw motorcycle clubs shared one thing in common, the need for territory.
The Heaven’s Heathens weren’t only an MC, they were a pack, a werewolf pack. And werewolves like their four-footed brethren, canis lupus, were very territorial mammals. According to what Gideon had been learning, the motorcycle club provided structure, rules, and a smoke screen to hide behind for when outsiders didn’t think things were “quite right.” The rules seemed enough like the ones he lived under in his old life under the military that he was willing to forgive Brand, the club’s president, the trial by fire he’d put Gideon through a little more than a week before.
As Brand had drafted an unwitting Gideon onto a mission to save a doctor in an unknown African country through the security agency that was affiliated with the club and staffed by club members. Besides, it’d been fun and Gideon had gotten paid enough to actually purchase a motorcycle. Now he could relax a little bit about his status with these people and begin to settle in.
Despite being the early afternoon, the bar was relatively full. Which Gideon was learning seemed to be normal, in spite of the fact when he had come for an interview there had been a few men in the bar and no one behind it. However, it had been Thursday and Gideon had noticed a drop in attendance on Thursday. Thursday was potlatch day and people disappeared either to make food or to make room for those who were required to attend.
At the bar was Gideon’s sponsor, Savannah, five-foot-two, short black hair, green eyes, fair skinned, and bossy. She was also vice president of the club on top of being his sponsor. She, unlike him, had full patches on the front of her kutte, “V. President,” with one that read, “Fear No Evil” underneath it and on the other side was “Jasper,” and “Mother Club.” Her back, like all members’ backs, was covered with a top rocker that read, “Heaven’s Heathens,” and she also had the emblem of the club in the middle.
Now that Gideon knew more about the club, he saw she also had an extra star sewn onto the back of her kutte, it mostly silver but had an edge of magenta to it. He was still memorizing what all these patches meant and couldn’t remember what that one was for off the top of his head.
Next to her sat Eberron, six foot—which happened to be Gideon’s height, bald, brown eyes and somewhat sardonic when he wasn’t excited. Right now, he was excited.
Savannah listened to him with the put-upon air of someone who had heard it all before. She followed Eberron’s thoughts, her chin going up and down and occasionally dodging out of the way if one of his gestures got to big. Eventually, Savannah rolled her eyes.
“All right, Eb. I need that in simple speak. What does it do?”
Eberron grinned at her. “It blows shit up.”
Gideon snickered. Not that he’d been able to follow along Eberron’s technological filled jargon babble either.
“And how is this different than the one hundred and one other things you’ve invented that ‘blow shit up?’” Savannah asked making quotes with her fingers in the air.
Eberron scowled at her. “You’re looking at the result as the be all, end all of the process.”
She fluttered her eyelashes at him. “And it isn’t?”
Savannah wrinkled her nose at him.
Eberron turned to Gideon. “This is from the girl who has, combined, upwards of fifty guns, most of them she can only shoot one at a time.”
Savannah took a sip of her soda and smirked.
Movement outside caught Gideon’s eye and he shifted a little. A motorcycle drove in and parked. The motorcycle was a heavier style, large shields blocked the hover field from getting to the rider, large enough that without the cut outs on the non-essential parts of the shields that much of the lights that motorcyclists favored to show off would have been lost. And this motorcycle’s lightshow was flashy, blue and green flames with “sparks” where the light made “contact” with the road and the shields and streaming out behind it. The light show sputtered and died like real flames would as the rider turned them off.
Savannah saw his movement and spun on her seat. Her eyes widened and her face lit up. She jumped off her stool and ran towards the door at the back of the bar.
Gideon blinked and looked where she’d been and to where she was going. He glanced out the window again, the rider, clearly now a man, had retracted his helmet to his ear and pulled out of his storage units a black cowboy hat that he put on with one hand, tugging the brim down over his eyes. The rider wasn’t standing normally. He had one foot off to the side, his fingers hooked in his jeans. He was posing.
Savannah pushed the door open and shouted, “Uncle Rodeo!”
Gideon stared, unsure what to say as Savannah ran towards “Uncle Rodeo.” Because, behind Rodeo, the Moonbeams door shoved open and Spike skidded out of it. Across the lawn from the Heaven Has Mercy building ran Frankie and out of the depths of the hangar ran Skyler. They converged on Rodeo and wrapped their arms around him. Gideon looked at Eberron hoping for an explanation as to why all four of the so called “Fearsome Foursome,” that made up of Savannah and her three closest friends were enthusiastically pouncing upon this “Uncle Rodeo.”
Eberron turned at the waist and looked over his shoulder. He grunted, grinned, and turned back to Gideon.
Gideon raised an eyebrow.
“Rodeo’s back,” Eberron said like this was supposed to convey meaning to the prospect.
Gideon narrowed his eyes at him. “I see that.”
Eberron continued to grin.
Gideon decided it was time to wipe down the bar or else he’d throw the towel at Eberron.
Savannah reached Rodeo first and wrapped her arms about his shoulders. Rodeo grunted, but grabbed her about the waist and picked her up off the ground. Frankie smacked into them next, grabbing him around one side of his waist.
“Uncle Rodeo!” she squealed.
Skyler grabbed the top of his arm on the other side. “You’re home.”
Spike came up behind him, laid her hands on his back and pressed her body up against him.
He turned his head. His blonde hair almost fell into his eyes even with the hat. “I appreciate you not smacking into me,” he said.
She grinned at him. “I thought you would.”
“How was your trip?” Skyler asked.
Savannah pouted. “We missed you.”
Frankie frowned at him. “Is that pie?”
Savannah unwrapped her arms from around Rodeo’s neck and dropped down to the ground. She went up on tiptoe to look over his shoulder. “Pie?”
Rodeo’s deep set eyes widened. “My pie,” he said and tried to twist to grab at it. Skyler however didn’t let go of his arm.
Spike poked him in the back making him jump.
Frankie peered at it. “It is! Where did you get pie?”
“Is it homemade?” Spike asked.
Frankie tucked her hair behind her ear. “Looks it.”
“Leave my pie alone.” Rodeo shook Skyler off and put a hand on top of the plastic box strapped to the back seat of his motorcycle that held inside it one full eight-inch pie.
Skyler shook her arms out. “You’re being very territorial over this pie.”
Frankie bit her lip. “It must be special.” Her eyes narrowed and she grinned at Rodeo. “Is it special?”
“It’s special as it’s my pie,” Rodeo growled and unbuckled the straps on the box and put it under his arm. “Where’s Brand?”
Savannah sighed and pressed the back of her hand to her forehead. “Grandfather is brooding.”
Rodeo looked at her. “Uh huh.”
“He is! In the chapel, alone, the door closed, the lights off, he’s brooding.” Savannah dropped her hand and rolled her eyes. The chapel was what the club called the officer’s meeting room.
“Maybe he needs pie,” Frankie said in the tone of a person making a suggestion that was really a tease.
Rodeo snorted and kissed Frankie’s forehead.
“How long are you staying?” Skyler asked.
“As long as I have pie,” Rodeo said.
Skyler tossed her kinky curly hair behind her shoulder. “And then what?”
“Then I’ll have to go get more.” Rodeo thought this was obvious.
It was Skyler’s turn to pout. “We rank below pie.”
“Or whoever made the pie,” Spike said.
“Oohhhh.” Skyler’s eyes widened and she made an oh shape with her mouth.
Rodeo frowned at Spike. Spike twitched her shoulders and smiled at him. “I begin to appreciate you less,” he said, but kissed her forehead too.
Skyler brightened. “Houston’s here.”
Rodeo grinned. “Lucky Houston?”
“Quinn crashed the transport.”
Rodeo winced. “Poor Houston.” He leaned over and kissed Skyler’s forehead too. “Say hi for me.”
“Will do,” Skyler said and went back to the hangar.
Frankie tossed her hair. “Since we rank below pie.” She stuck her nose up in the air and stalked off.
“Don’t walk like that, you’ll trip!” Rodeo shouted after her.
Spike snorted as Savannah giggled.
Frankie made a face at him. “Now that you’ve said that I will!” she shouted back.
“Spike!” a child shouted from the door of Moonbeams.
Spike straightened her face. “I have to go back to the books,” she said.
“The books,” Savannah said, her face just as straight. “Right. Those.”
Rodeo coughed. “I better wait to visit.”
“Or else you’ll lose all your pie,” Spike said. She waved.
Rodeo looked at Savannah and held the arm not holding his pie away from his body. “He’s brooding?” he asked.
Savannah tucked herself against his side and laid her head on his shoulder. “Yep.”
“Can’t have that,” Rodeo said and kissed the top of her head. “I missed you girls too.”
“Notice you waited until the others left to say so.”
“You’ve mobbed me once already.” Rodeo rolled his eyes.
“But it is one of our favorite things to do.” Savannah grinned.
“Mob Unkie Ebbie,” Rodeo said as he opened the door.
“Hey!” Eberron shouted from the bar. Rodeo was not allowed to call him that name, especially within five minutes of parking his motorcycle.
“Unkie Ebbie is here all the time,” Savannah said. “We wouldn’t want him to get too used to it. Mobbing is for special occasions.”
Gideon stared at Eberron and coughed, making sure he looked very busy behind the bar.
Rodeo smirked at Eberron.
Eberron glowered at her and deliberately turned his back. For the Unkie Ebbie remark he was staying put. Rodeo squeezed Savannah’s shoulders and let her go. “I’ll see what I can do about the cranky old werewolf.”
“Oh, you tell him that to his face. You might be able to get away with it.” Savannah’s eyes widened. “I think I’ll stay out here at a comfortable out of knife throwing range distance.”
“I will,” Rodeo said. He went towards the meeting room and nodded to those sitting in the bar. Halfway across, he changed course, made a detour into the kitchen and then returned to the meeting room. He knocked once, opened the door and walked in. “The girls say you are brooding in here.”
Brand sat at the head of the table, his feet crossed at the ankles and his hands folded under his chin. “I’m not brooding,” he said. “I’m being mysterious.”
Rodeo used his foot to shut the door behind him. “I don’t share my pie with grumpy, cranky old werewolves,” he said and set the pie container and the dishes he’d picked up from the kitchen on the table.
Brand looked down his nose at him. Rodeo opened up the plastic container and Brand sniffed once, sugar, cinnamon and apples. It looked and smelled homemade. Brand growled, the part of him that wanted to think this through on his own warred with the part that wanted pie. Rodeo held the knife over the pie and glanced at Brand. Brand sighed. “My vice president and sergeant at arms don’t like each other.”
Rodeo rolled his eyes and started cutting two generous pieces of pie out of the tin plate. “I could have told you that.”
“I didn’t think it was this bad.”
Rodeo turned the pie tin and tried not to look exasperated. “Ashley has enough legalism in her blood to be a Pharisee. Savannah is professional enough to ignore it.”
“It doesn’t feel like the job.”
“Oh, after the fact you finally clue in on the fact that Ashley has personal issues with Savannah.” Rodeo managed to get both pieces out and onto plates without making too much of a mess of their presentation. He put a fork on one of the plates and pushed it towards Brand. He sat down in Savannah’s usual chair, a chair that once upon a time had been his.
Brand leaned forward and picked the plate up. “Savannah never said anything about it.”
Rodeo waved his fork over his pie. “Because they aren’t mutual.” He cut the tip off his pie and set it to the side, turned it around and started eating the piece from the wide side inwards. “I was at the meeting, Savannah raised good points about why she felt Ashley wasn’t suitable for the job.”
“The same points could have been said about Savannah when she became vice president.”
“Except you didn’t allow an officer’s meeting at that time,” Rodeo pointed out. He leaned back in the chair. “And you know and I know that Savannah didn’t follow us around like puppies because she loves us so much,” he said in a low voice. “Something I recall Randy encouraged without ever saying a word.” The same couldn’t be said of Poker and Ashley.
“Poker wanted Ashley.”
“And you’re giving her a chance,” Rodeo said.
“It hasn’t been a year yet.” Brand attacked the pie and took a bite, not wanting to talk anymore.
“Started already?” Rodeo asked and it was rhetorical. The Rebels must already be pushing in. Brand didn’t bother to nod. “Give her a full year, give her two if you want.” Rodeo figured they could slide two years with an incompetent sergeant if necessary.
“She’s not Poker.”
“She’ll never be Poker,” Rodeo said. “If she tries to be Poker, she’ll fail miserably.”
“I’ve set Grant and Cole on her.”
Rodeo snorted. “That’ll keep her out of trouble.”
“It doesn’t encourage her to learn either.”
“And Savannah is being her territorial enthusiastic self when it comes to Jasper, which Poker never discouraged because it amused the hell out of him.” Rodeo changed his demeanor to match the old, laid back, cowboy style previous sergeant at arms. He slouched into his chair and loosened his limbs, slowed his speech to a drawl. “She’s like this little yappy pup barking at a big mean ol’ coyote and not realizing the coyote has teeth, and the coyote backs down because the coyote don’t know what else to do.”
Rodeo shook himself back to normal. “I’m assuming you want to get Savannah out of town for a little bit to get Ashley’s head on straight.” Rodeo paused. “Good luck on that.”
Brand frowned at him but nodded.
“I tried that for three years!” Rodeo rubbed the back of his neck. He’d sponsored several of the pups into the pack and Ashley was by far the worst, most exasperating woman. He swore Brand was getting revenge for something, as Ashley should have gone to one of the older women, unless Poker had wanted her for the sergeant at arms job back then. Poker should have taken her on as a prospect then.
“She’s got the maturity and demeanor to handle it. She needs experience.”
“You keep telling yourself that,” Rodeo muttered. “New guy behind the bar, what’s his story?”
“Gideon, Savannah’s sponsoring him.”
Rodeo paused with a forkful of pie between his plate and his mouth. That didn’t really answer his question but jarred him enough not to pursue his original line of thought. Brand had given Savannah a young, handsome, male prospect. What was Brand thinking? He set the fork down and looked at Brand. “I know the informal unwritten rules as well as anyone else in the club, he should have gone to Eberron or Flint.” Hell, Marion could have taken a new boy on without a problem. Something inside him perked up and told him that those three weren’t the solution to the problem that was this new prospect. Rodeo squashed it. He needed more information first.
“I’m not sure about him.”
“You flung him at Savannah.”
“If he can survive her, he can survive anything,” Brand said. He took a few bites of his pie. He wasn’t sure if Gideon was going to survive the month. He didn’t want to say anything to anyone else and dampen enthusiasm about the boy. “He needs miles.”
So whatever plan Brand had in mind, Gideon would be going too. Rodeo picked up his bite of pie and chewed on it. “Sounds entertaining. I guess I chose a good time to visit.”
“Keep an eye on them for me,” Brand ordered. It was a mild order but an order nonetheless. He wanted Rodeo’s opinion.
“I just got here and you’re sending me away.”
Brand grinned. “In a few days.”
“Oh good, I have time for laundry.” Rodeo couldn’t keep the sarcasm from his voice.
“We’re meeting up with Denver for a barbeque tomorrow.”
“Is there a sign up sheet?” Rodeo teased.
“Bar.” Brand gestured with his fork.
Rodeo stood up and made a show of hitching up his pants. “Better go put my name on it before all the slots are filled.”
Brand growled. There wasn’t an upward limit on who could and couldn’t go. Anyone who wanted to come to the meeting was welcome. Signup sheets were superfluous in his opinion. “Ted can always print a new one.”
Rodeo picked up his plate and recovered his pie. “But will he?” he asked, winked and headed towards the door.
“Turn the lights on, would you?”
Rodeo grinned and flicked the switch on his way past.