Rudolph, the red-nosed ’69 Super Bee Six Pack ate up the tarmac after Barstow. If Steve hadn’t been driving like a bat out of hell, he might have enjoyed it more. He missed lazing around when the weather cooled down in the winter, when the sporadic yet drenching California rain made it harder to get jobs. When the wind blew from the north and the light slanted in through his kitchen window at its lowest angle, it was time to drag out the furry suit and play Santa.
Something in the crisp air gave him the holiday urge—a combination of energy, enthusiasm and lack of self-control peculiar to the men of his family. His father and brothers already had the light wars going. Even his sister, who could usually be counted on to keep a level head all the way through Valentine’s Day, had baked so much that delicious smells emanated from her house and surrounded it like scented magic.
It was a lousy time to be feeling sorry for himself but he was, damn it.
He missed smoking.
It wasn’t as if he ever smoked in his little red honey car, but he missed having the pack in his pocket, missed the sure and certain knowledge that it was there, waiting for him to hit the rest stop before Zzyzx and Baker. He still held his Zippo in his right hand and drove with his left while he flipped the lighter’s lid open and closed, rhythmically, to the music on the car’s scratchy original AM radio. The Mad Greek would be another big hurdle. Usually he chowed down on a gyro or two, fat with greasy mystery meat and dripping with that creamy white sauce he couldn’t pronounce.
Not happening anymore, ’cause he was newly trim, down to a lean 190 pounds on his six-foot-four-inch frame. He was now defined by good habits and clean living and muscles he hadn’t known were there before they put the stent—and the fear of God—into his heart the previous January.
So this year, Monrovia’s best-loved Santa was heading out of town.
’Cause if anything in the world could soothe a man who’d lost his holiday cheer, it was the garish excesses of the one place on Earth that could afford to blow a billion bucks on a seasonal display that sucked the joy right out of the season itself.
Merry. Fucking. Christmas.
Vegas wasn’t the worst place for a dysfunctional man to go for the holidays. He could watch a couple of the shows and wallow in the absurdity of being an out-of-character Santa at Christmastime. And if he was in Vegas he wouldn’t have to think about all the people he was letting down this year.
Especially, he wouldn’t have to think about them.
Hell, he might be able to find some company for an evening or two. A like-minded holiday escapee maybe. A man who didn’t mind a slightly scrawny bear. Or possibly he’d even score himself a fuzzy little bear cub with a glint in his eye for the weekend. Someone who hadn’t had his twinkle surgically removed by a cardiologist.
That could rev up Rudolph’s specially rebuilt six-pack engine.