It’s 1972, and San Francisco is a global mecca for hippies and radicals. In Book Two of The Jessie Morgan Series, 21-year-old Jess can’t wait to join her friend Donna there. Driving her VW down the Pacific Coast, she’s beyond ready for the city’s Bohemian vibe, bongo-mad street life, perpetual protests, and cutting-edge counterculture.
Among the characters she meets are Cat, a tall, fun-loving Sicilian, and Carl, a Harley-riding enigma with bushy red hair. As Jessie spreads her wings in the City by the Bay, she leaves her stormy past behind.
Or does she?
This novel is recommended for mature readers due to 1970s-era sex, drugs, and profanity.
Targeted Age Group:: 18-plus
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Like my main character, Jessie Morgan, I lived in San Francisco during the early '70s. It was a great time to be there. People from all over the world were moving to the city, to be part of it. I was inspired to write this semi-autobiographical novel to honor 1970s San Francisco, and to record my own wacky stories from that unique time.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Some of my characters were in Book One of The Jessie Morgan Series, Bell-Bottom Gypsy, and continue to play roles in the story. Others were new characters Jessie meets in San Francisco. Almost all of my characters are composites of various real people I've known through the years.
“I rode from North Carolina,” Carl told her, shifting in his swing to face her.
North Carolina. Like Twisty. Weird. It seemed unlikely to meet someone from there, out here in California. Then again, stranger things had happened. At first, Carl had given her the creeps. Maybe it was the way he’d been hanging around in front of her place, taking photos with that long lens. Jess had told herself to stop being paranoid. God, she hated how paranoid she was. He was interesting, in an edgy way.
“You’re a biker?” Under those bristly eyebrows, one of his deep-set eyes was olive green and the other was sapphire. It was disconcerting. Jess didn’t know which eye to look at.
“No,” he said, “I just ride.”
“You mean you’re not in a club?”
“I mean, I just ride,” he said in a tone that made it clear he was finished with that topic.
Was he cranky? How strange. “What’s it like, traveling on a motorcycle?”
“It’s bitchin. I’ll take you riding, if you want.”
“I’d love that.” Jess needed something new, different. Something to look forward to. She stole a glance at Carl. A tall, hefty redhead, he had more freckles than she’d ever seen. His wild, citrus-orange bush of hair stuck out from under a ragged green bandana, and his long beard was auburn with a white patch in the middle. He wore jeans and a wrinkled T-shirt, and his beefy, freckled arms were blanketed with wiry, flame-colored hair. Sitting next to him, Jess felt small, feminine. It was a good feeling, especially after being such a blimp lately.
“I want to photograph you,” he said.
“OK.” Why the hell not? He put his telephoto away and attached a 50 mm lens to the Nikon. Jess was surprised how close he was as the shutter clicked away. Blushing, she began to swing again, arcing as high as she could.
A scruffy guy in olive camouflage pants and an army jacket came up and sat on a swing, mumbling to himself. He sounded angry, but Jess couldn’t understand what he was saying. Another crazy Vietnam vet, she figured. If she’d been alone, she’d have left.
“How’s it going?” Carl asked him.
The guy shrugged, ducking his tired-looking face down to stare at his army boots. His skinny fingers combed through a long, unkempt beard. Jess thought it was nice of Carl to talk to him. These guys were scary.
“May I take some photos of you?”
Jess couldn’t believe it. She wouldn’t have had the nerve to ask him.
The guy lit a wrinkled roll-your-own and stared at Carl’s Nikon.
She was sure he was going to grab it and smash it. Or grab it and run.
“OK,” he finally said, “but it’ll cost ya.”
“How much?” Carl was unflappable.
Jess was trying not to let her mouth hang open, she was so amazed.
Carl dug a ten-dollar bill out of his jeans pocket and handed it over. Then he sat on the dirt in front of the guy, clicking away.
“Name’s Chester,” the guy said, turning toward her.
“Hi,” she said, smiling as she swung, “I’m Jess.”
“I’m Carl.” He leaned to the right, going for a different angle. He engaged Chester, distracting him.
Jess watched Carl in action. He knew what he was doing.
“Yeah, we vets need help,” Chester was saying.
“What can we do?” Carl wanted to know.
“Help groups like Vietnam Vets against the War. That’s the one I’m in.”
“I’ve heard of it,” Jess said.
Chester turned to her again. “It’s a good one.”
“What do they do?” Carl asked, still clicking as Chester smoked his roll-your-own, his thin shoulders hunched.
“Now that the war is over, we’re working on amnesty for draft resisters and dissenters, plus helping veterans.”
“My brother Jack moved to Canada,” Jess said. “His lottery number was fifteen.”
“I don’t blame him,” Chester said.
“Neither do I,” Jess said. “I’m proud of him.”
“Right on.” Chester crushed his cigarette on the sole of his boot.
“Tell us more about that organization.” Carl got up.
“We have these ‘rap groups’ where guys talk about their problems, their experiences. Vietnam vets are fucked up.” He took out another roll-your-own. “Me most of all,” he added, chuckling.
Carl and Jess laughed quietly with him.
“We try to raise awareness and help vets who got less-than-honorable discharges.”
“Wow,” Jess said.
“What can someone like me do?” Carl asked.
“You could take photos of events, or the guys…”
“I’m going to volunteer,” Carl said, sounding determined.
“Far out,” Chester said.
Jess liked Carl’s way of diving into things. He was up for anything. What a trippy day. That crazy spiderweb, meeting Carl, and this. “Me too,” she said, knowing she’d enjoy photographing the vets’ events and whatever else.
“Fan-freaking-tastic,” Chester said, getting a scrap of paper and a short, chewed-up pencil from his pocket. He scribbled his phone number and handed the paper to Carl. “Call and I’ll hook you up with the group.”
“Thanks.” Carl tucked it into his jeans pocket, sat on his swing, and rewound the film in his camera.
Chester got up and stretched. “Good to meet you guys,” he said, turning and walking away.
“Talk to you soon,” Carl called after him.
They watched him saunter across the park, his open Army jacket swinging from side to side.
“That was good of you,” Jess said.
“Talking to that guy, taking his picture.”
“It’s what I do,” he said, his tone abrupt. Carl looked at her, his thick eyebrows knit in bewilderment.
“Want to check out the community darkroom?” she asked, eager to move on. He was mercurial, as prickly as a damned cactus. It kept Jess on her toes, and she sensed that there was more to him than he would ever reveal.
Jess developed her film while Carl poked around, asking questions. As she hung her negatives to dry, he signed up for a darkroom membership. They walked back to Pierce, and Carl led her onto Waller, where he’d parked the Harley.
“This is it,” he said.
“God, it’s huge.” Jess tried to imagine crossing the country on something like this.
Carl rummaged through a saddlebag. “Here it is,” he mumbled, opening a cylinder-shaped case and lifting out the lens. “Vivitar. Almost new. 135 millimeter. Fixed. Perfect for you, I think.”
She screwed the telephoto onto her Pentax and looked, focusing and snapping a few shots. He was right. The lens was just powerful enough. “How much?”
“Ten bucks,” he said, organizing the saddlebag.
“You sure?” That didn’t seem like enough. Jess didn’t like owing people, especially men she’d just met.
Jess made out the check. Was he generous or stupid? Carl was pretty much giving her the lens. She couldn’t believe it. Hell, maybe he’d gotten a screaming deal on it, and was passing that along. She had no idea. In fact, she couldn’t figure this guy out. He shifted from churlish to big-hearted in record speed. It was dizzying, but she had to admit she was fascinated. “My number’s on the check,” Jess told him.
The therapist’s advice about avoiding jumping into relationships flashed through her mind, but she shook it off. What could it hurt to go riding on a Harley with this guy? After all, he wasn’t even her type.
Carl grinned, winking his green eye at her.
“Don’t forget you’re taking me riding on this thing,” she said.
It was glorious, riding behind him. Even though he was taking it easy, which she appreciated, the bike’s acceleration was intense. Jess felt like they were flying. Leaning into the curves took getting used to. Now she realized it was OK for the bike to lean like that. She sensed Carl’s skill and it relaxed her. Jess knew she could trust him.
Inhaling the scent of wet earth and mushrooms, she looked up at the towering redwoods as they wound through the Santa Cruz Mountains. They’d cruised along the coast to Half Moon Bay, cut over into the hills, and gotten on Skyline. The Harley was smooth, rolling into the tight turns. Jessie’s spine tingled. It surprised her, how low she felt to the ground. And exposed, naked, as air rushed around her.
Carl handled the bike firmly as they went into another curve. With her arms around his brawny waist, she felt his take-charge attitude. Jess kept her nose as close to his broad back as she could, loving the smell of his faded brown leather vest. Carl wore brown leather riding chaps, too. The worst part was the damned helmet. Carl hated helmets, too, but said they had to wear them, period.
He slowed down as they came to an intersection where a cabin café was surrounded by decks and umbrella tables. The sign on the roof said “Alice’s Restaurant.” Carl pulled in and stopped alongside a row of parked motorcycles. Jess noticed a hot, sweet smell.
“I heard about this place from some guys,” he told her. “Hungry?”
“I could eat.” She eased herself off the bike. “What’s that smell?”
“Smell?” Carl sniffed the air.
“I think it’s coming from the bike. Kind of burning, but sweet.”
“Oh, that,” he said. “Harleys always smell like that.”
Jess wondered why, but didn’t say anything.
On the deck, over fat burgers and homemade potato chips, Carl explained that the La Honda Road from here to the ocean was famous among bikers, and that they’d ride it after lunch. “It comes out at San Gregorio,” he added. “Then we’ll take Highway One back to the city.”
“Far out,” Jess said. Man, this was something. Tripping around California on a freakin’ Harley.
“So what do you think?”
“Of what?” Her head was still buzzing from the wind.
“Of riding, ya nut!”
“Oh.” She laughed. “It’s off the hook. It’s so… out there!”
Carl nodded, his fierce blue eye sparkling at her. “You’re a natural.”
“Thanks!” Jess admired how sure he was of himself, and wished she could be more like that. Not only was Carl fun, he was all man, with no hesitation. He believed in himself and had nothing to prove. Jess appreciated sensitive, modern men, but sometimes it was a turn-off. Carl was a refreshing throwback. Compared to him, Forrest was wimpy. Even Reggie seemed like a jellyfish next to Carl.
“It’s good to share this,” he was saying.
Jess nodded. “Great day.”
“You’re my first passenger.”
“You’re kidding.” She’d assumed he did this all the time.
“Well, I’m honored.”
“You should be,” he said with a crooked grin.
Jess smiled back, sipped her pop, and looked at his wind-blown face. It was almost one big freckle. She liked how quick he was, and wasn’t sure whether they were flirting or not. What was this anyway?
“I’m glad to have a friend.” He sounded like he was forcing the words out through his teeth.
“Me too.” OK, they were friends. She noticed some scars on his right arm.
“I take after Pop. A loner.”
“Ah. Do you look like him?”
“My aunt says I do. They’re Scottish Highlanders. Been in Asheville, North Carolina since 1890.”
“Wow. My ex-boyfriend is from there.” What a small world it was sometimes.
“Maybe I know him.”
“Tommy Tisdale. Everyone called him Twisty.”
Carl shook his head. “Never heard of him.” He looked away, out toward the highway.
“Oh.” Maybe Asheville was bigger than she’d thought.
“Excuse me.” He got up and headed to the men’s room.
Jess finished her burger, letting the sun soak into her bones. She leaned back in her chair, closing her eyes. Her mind spun back to Carl. She was attracted to the sheer force of him. She shook her head at herself and sighed.
“Sleeping Beauty,” Carl said, startling her.
Her eyes flew open. “I was just thinking, this is a perfect California day.”
“It is. Tell me about your family.”
“I grew up in Detroit, but my folks are from Montana.” Jess suddenly missed Flathead Lake, her uncle, and her Montana friends. It seemed like ages since she’d seen them. “Do you have brothers and sisters?”
“One brother,” Carl replied in a gruff voice, averting his eyes.
Something had closed. His heavy brow ridge lowered ominously, like a storm cloud. Jess waited.
“We’re not close,” he said in a tone so final she didn’t dare ask questions. He folded his strapping arms across his chest.
She tried to think of something else to talk about.
“Uh…” He cleared his throat. “Our parents were killed in a wreck.”
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry.”
“I was six, and my brother was two.”
“Our aunt took us in…” Carl looked away again. “What about you? Brothers and sisters?”
“Four sisters and two brothers.”
“I know. Irish Catholic.” She yearned to ask him about his brother, but Carl had a huge, unspoken wall around himself. Jess could feel it coming off him in waves that pushed her away and said “stay back.”
Nothing hooked Jess like a mystery.
“I’ll have the Friday Night Special,” Cat told the waitress at Connie’s Soul Food Café. “And a red drink.”
“Same here,” said Donna.
“Me too.” It sounded good – deep-fried catfish with all the fixings, and sweet potato pie. Her appetite was back, she thought, looking around the funky place. It was next door to Minnie’s Can-Do Club, where they were going after they ate.
“I’m glad you feel like going out,” Cat said as the waitress brought Big Red sodas.
“Me too,” Jess replied. “I’m getting better, finally. What’s been going on with you, Cat?”
“Same-o, same-o. Working.”
“Working full time sucks,” Donna put in.
“I don’t know,” Jess said, “right now it sounds good. I need to make money, and soon!” She sipped her berry-flavored drink.
“Enjoy staying home while you can,” Cat told her.
“Either I have time or money,” Donna said. “When I have a paycheck coming in, I don’t have time for anything. When I have time, there’s no money. Wouldn’t it be great to have both?”
“Dreamer.” Cat turned back to Jess. “What have you been doing?”
“Sleeping!” Jess shrugged.
“Yesterday I printed my best photos ever.”
“Gonna show us?” Donna asked.
“Sure. I’m going to dance classes, too, and the health club.”
“Good,” Cat said. “The sauna isn’t the same without you, girl.”
The waitress brought their food. As she dug in, Jess wondered why she hadn’t told them about Carl. Today she’d had her second therapy session with Ruth, who was impressed with her progress. But she hadn’t told Ruth about him, either. Maybe she didn’t want to hear what they had to say about her hanging out with someone like him, especially after what she’d been through.
“How’s Forrest?” Cat asked.
“No idea.” Jess pierced black-eyed peas with her fork.
Donna and Cat looked at her.
“I haven’t felt like talking to him,” she said. Forrest reminded her of the sad stuff. “But I’ll call him, maybe today.”
“What about Reggie?” Cat grinned.
“Haven’t heard from him.” One of these days she’d ride his cable car, but she wasn’t ready. Not yet.
“Oh.” Cat lifted one eyebrow.
“I’ve been laying low,” Jess added.
“Makes sense,” Donna said.
Jess nodded, the memory of Carl’s leathery scent zooming into her mind. He’d felt solid as she’d ridden behind him, her arms around his thick waist. Maybe she had an old-fashioned crush on the guy.
“Penny for your thoughts,” Cat said, watching Jess.
“Oh, I was thinking about this guy I met. He’s into photography, and rides a Harley.”
“A biker, Jess?” Donna looked concerned.
“We’re just friends.”
“I don’t know,” Cat began. “I saw that look on your face.”
“You know, that dreamy look…” Cat winked at her.
“Naw, he’s not my type. He’s super quirky, but he gave me a great deal on a telephoto lens.”
“Cool. Is he my type?” Cat fluttered her eyelashes.
“Maybe, baby.” Jess smiled.
“Details!” Donna said.
“Yeah, why isn’t he your type?” Cat put a forkful of greens in her mouth.
“I don’t know, exactly. He’s a big, burly guy named Carl Webster.”
“Fat?” Cat asked.
“Stocky. Like a ferocious Scottish warrior or something. Bushy red hair, long beard. He’s a trip.” Jess didn’t mention their motorcycle trip and how she’d felt leaning with him into the road’s winding curves. She wasn’t sure why she didn’t level with them about the spark in her belly when she thought about Carl.
“I’d love to meet him,” Donna was saying.
“Me too,” Cat chimed in.
“We’ll do it,” Jess said, glad they were headed to Minnie’s. She wanted to end the conversation about Carl, plus she was overdue to blow off steam dancing to crazy piano blues.
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