It started on a mild winter day – an extra day – in a courtroom.
He is being arraigned for trespass at a casino, an avoidable misdemeanor if he had left when the security men told him to. But he was on his high horse, railing in a blackjack pit against wastefulness and greed. “Have me arrested,” he told the security men. So, they did.
The bailiff reads the charges. The defendant starts to lecture the judge on free speech, the corruptness of modern life. The judge peers over the tops of her glasses, cuts him off. Does he want to pay a fine and go free or spend a night in jail? The court, he realizes, thinks he’s a fool.
He surrenders, pays his $100 fine in humiliation. At the exit door, he realizes he has left his helmet at the cashier window and retreats to get it.
He stands on the steps of the courthouse. Half a block away, the Truckee River shuffles obediently through Reno in its trough. His blood is pounding to loud to hear it; he can’t smell it for his disgust.
Bits of sun fork through a splotchy sky. Social order holds trees in place, directs cars and people about their business. It’s not the first time he has turned his back on who he really is. You would think that in his twenty-some years on the planet, living among people, he would have figured out better coping mechanisms.
“I guess I really told them,” he says aloud, ridiculing himself. “I guess they will go home tonight and really think about things.” His bitterness swells, fairly shouting. He starts down the steps, brushes past someone climbing up from the street. “I can’t help it if I give a damn,” his volume knob dialed lower, but still talking out loud, like a lunatic.
He pulls the helmet over his head, leaving him even more alone with his thoughts, and crosses the street to his motorcycle. He straddles it, stomping the kickstart. It coughs up a phlegmy mechanical indifference. He impatiently resets the kickstart, heaves at it again. And again, frustration ratcheting tighter. He curses aloud and take a breath.
He tries again. The bike exhales the sigh of a slightly different failure, considering his point of view. The next stomp brings it to life. “Get out of here,” he says, revving the throttle. The bike spurts ahead recklessly toward the street. An old man with a dog crosses his path just yards away. To avoid disaster, he slams on the brakes and dumps himself and his bike.
Face and macadam meet, hips and ribs grind. His head bounces once, cushioned by the helmet, and thuds to ground. In slow motion, he skids to a stop safely away from the man, who does not to notice, and the dog, who does.
One person witnesses this. When they briefly brushed against one another on the courthouse steps, she wonders if the guy is drunk. Talking to himself, unaware of his surroundings. She watched him finally get his motorcycle going, bolt into traffic and then throw himself to the ground to avoid hitting the man. Or his dog.
This is heroism, she thinks, the guy – probably a jerk in many ways – has done the right thing. She crosses the street to check on him. He sits on the ground, taking inventory. She stands over him, hands on her hips. Dreamy eyes. “Are you alright?” she asks.
He thumps his helmet on the pavement. “Gotta smile at my incessant good fortune,” he says.
“Good you didn’t kill the dog,” she says, warming to the notion that she might like to know him better. He stands up, shows himself to be comfortably taller than she, warm blue eyes, wispy moustache, dark brown hair. He turns to hoist his motorcycle upright, lifts it onto its stand, then back to face her.
“Yeah. Got enough trouble as it is.” Nodding toward the courthouse.
“Oh, no.” She finds herself flirting with him. “Should I add your name to my protection order?” She lifts the handbag full with the documents requesting a restraining order against the asshole craps dealer where she works. Of course, the motorcycle hero doesn’t understand, so she explains that a guy she’s been dating has somehow come to mistake her for his property.
The dog-saver nods as though he understands something about her predicament, offers her his motorcycle helmet, for added protection. She likes humor that comes in under partly raised windows and soon they are introducing themselves. She’s a dancer in a casino-showroom review. He owns a small hotel up at Lake Tahoe. They learn they are David and Claudine and make plans to have dinner that night.
About 480 miles east, an old man dies, leaving behind seven wives and many children. And in Southern California, a young woman meets someone famous in a diner.
Claudine was not one to rush into affairs. She had a lousy track record. Her first serious boyfriend in high school turned out to be gay, which didn’t stop them from loving each other. At college, she fell for a manipulative professor who almost coaxed her into a three-way with a short, bald and sweaty sociology instructor. Then the stalker craps dealer.
So, Claudine waited until their fourth date before having sex with David. Although she had to initiate it, she was pleasantly surprised at its vigor and particularly impressed with his enthusiasm about orgasms – hers as well as his.
After a few weeks, she moved into the Walden Guest Hotel in South Lake Tahoe, the small, primitive lodging lacking pretension, television reception or the ability to take credit cards. He ran the establishment with his younger brother, Matthew, who was happy when he learned David’s new girlfriend was moving in.
First, he had an enormous crush on her: smoldering dark eyes, a dancer’s lithe figure, wit, and air of gracious inclusion for those she lets get close to her. Of course, Matthew will never actually be with her, but it didn’t make it any less enjoyable to be around her.
More importantly, Matthew thought that even David – his unmoored, wandering brother – would have the good sense to stay with this woman, do whatever it took to keep her with him, that they would settle down and take over the Walden Guest Hotel so he could finally get away from the place and get started on the many wonderful things in store for him.