3 Chapter Sneak Peak of Book 2 “The Miracle”
“The Outlaw Preacher-The Miracle”
It took a few rings before James realized it was his phone ringing. He had recently upgraded phones and the ringtone was only one of a multitude of confusing aspects of this new device. He loved technology but he had the attention span of a hyper five- year- old so it was always a challenge to learn a new phone. “Hello,” he answered. “Nine Ball?” the voice asked. “Yeah,” he said, acknowledging his street name as the former Road Captain of the notorious Doomsayers Motorcycle Club, known as the DMC by law enforcement and the outlaw biker world. “Its Spaniard bro, Snake went down late last night, it’s pretty bad, thought you should know.”
In a world of high speed violence he was quite accustomed to these phone calls. Guys were constantly getting stabbed or shot or mangled in motorcycle accidents but hearing “Snake’s” name brought him out of the ether. “No way bro, what happened, where is he?” He asked, still shaking the fog from his early morning wakeup call. “Loma Linda, he had emergency surgery, we don’t know anything except he got hurt bad, there’s swelling in his brain and they’re not giving us much hope right now,” Spaniard said.
Spaniard succeeded Snake as the DMC Mother Chapter President or “P” in biker lexicon. Snake on the other hand was the DMC’s National “P” and one of the charter members of the club and an outlaw legend on the West Coast. It was Snake who buffered what could have been a real crap storm when James or “Nine Ball” abruptly retired from the DMC after the club had thrown an epic party welcoming him back from a three year prison term and a one year parole which allowed for no affiliation with the club.
Unbeknownst to the DMC ‘s 416 patch holders, Snake had offered” Nine Ball” a prominent position as the club’s National Rep to handle all negotiations as the club expanded into uncharted waters. It was a “to die for” spot filled with all the power money, drugs, booze and women any outlaw biker could want but God had other plans for him, and Snake, being an eye witness to some crazy God stuff earlier that night had allowed him to walk from the club in an unprecedented display of grace that night just six short months ago.
It was a private matter and only Snake’s stature had prevented James from recrimination then and in the following months as a member of the Prophet’s MC.
“I’ll pray for him,” was all he could think to say.
“I figured you would bro,” Spaniard said.
“Yeah,” he answered.
“Me and you are cool, I know what went down that night, Snake filled me in but some of the brothers still ain’t ok with you leaving and going with the Prophets, no disrespect to your club, we hold the Prophets up, I”m just sayin.”
A silent pause and then, “If Snake… well if he don’t pull through, I just….well just be careful brother, I’ll do what I can but,”
“Hey, I know the drill bro, I appreciate you saying it, but I will trust God and see what happens, those other brothers have a short memory or none at all, I know what I did for the club, you and I both know what time it is,” he shot back, feeling that old rage coming for him again. “I’m trying to move on from that place bro, I’m trying to forget what won’t forget me.”
“Hey, I’m just callin to let you know, I don’t need to get into old business with you, I’ll see you around.”
Cell phones don’t “click” like the old phones. You can’t really get a good “screw you,” hang up anymore. Are you supposed to throw your four hundred dollar phone against the wall every time you want to hang up on someone? I think not. He sat for a minute staring at the “call ended” display before terminating his side of the conversation. “Snake went down,” he whispered out loud and in the same breath, “something ain’t right.”
Snake, like James, was a rider of riders, a man born to ride a Harley. Some guys go through months and years of riding before reaching a level of expertise which allows relatively safe high speed pack riding, if that’s even possible. These two were naturals from the cradle.
Nine Ball and Snake rode like the wind. They rode as one. James was Snake’s Road Captain, the most trusted position on two wheels. The Sgt. at Arms took care of the “P” while kickstands were down but it was the Road Captain who ran the show when they were “up” and rolling. He took a few minutes to think about the years of side by side adventures and then reached for his bible for his morning reading. He prayed long and hard for his friend, ending his prayer as always with “your will Lord, that’s all I want.”
It didn’t take long for word to travel. Email made the biker world smaller but news had always moved quickly in this subculture, especially when it was bad. He started to get text messages from everywhere. The DMC under Snake’s leadership had gone from a rowdy bunch of beer drinking motorcycle riders to a top ten ranked outlaw motorcycle club. A dubious honor, but one the DMC coveted and worked to advance.
Without Snake, this group could degenerate into a fractured bunch of hoodlums trying to establish control. Snake was no cult leader but his 6’7″ frame and sharp mind commanded a presence and not just anyone would be able to assume his position. It would be impossible. James would have been the likely successor in a power struggle except for the fact that he walked away from all of it a half a year earlier. Now there were a bunch of Lieutenants and no General. Not good for the general population and not at all good for ‘ol Nine Ball.
Snake was his unofficial covering and it was gone now. They would circle the wagons in a show of respect but half a dozen power mad lunatics would be planning the overthrow. It was like a third world dictatorship and the “P” was in a coma.
He collected his thoughts and made a call to his new “P” Kit. “Hey bro, it’s Preacher, don’t know if you heard but Snake went down this morning, I don’t have any details except that he’s at Loma Linda, I want to see him but need your counsel on how to proceed.” “No way, “Kit exclaimed. “That sucks bro, Snake’s a good brother, we’ve been having some fun over there since he started showing up at church. Don’t go to the hospital just yet, I’ll call some of the guys and call you back. Keep praying!” Kit ordered, and then hung up.
“What is it with guys hanging up on me today,” he thought. The phone kept ringing for the next couple of hours and he sent all calls to voicemail. That’s what it was for. He was screening calls waiting for Kit to call him back. He was unaccustomed to waiting for permission to move. He had been a “shot caller” for years and the humbling he was enduring as a new member of a club which is light years away from the old life was excruciating at times. He was learning patience and humility and it sucked! He loved the guys, the ministry, the newness, but having to start from below bottom was the hardest thing he’d ever done.
Six months had passed since the night of the Badland’s party which honored him as a conquering hero with the “world” at his feet. He’d had everything an outlaw biker could ask for and he laid it all down to Prospect with a Christian motorcycle club one 20th the size of The Doomsayers MC. He humbled himself as a prospect and earned his patch in three months. He was more at peace than ever before. The outlaw world laughed at him and that’s a big world. He had a hundred enemies he never made but they were enemies nonetheless. The devil is a patient dude and he’s relentless in his pursuit of a target. James had a target tattooed to his soul. He was now standing on the rock that is Jesus the risen Christ. The bible calls it a peace which passes all understanding. It would have to be.
As nice as Loma Linda University Medical Center was it was still a hospital and nobody hated these places more than James did. He’d lost too many loved ones in them, none more painful than his wife Michelle a dozen years ago. It felt like last month. Nobody wakes up and says, “Gee I’d love to end up in the hospital today.” He placed his cell phone in the front pocket of his Prophets MC cut but not before rendering it soundless by employing vibration mode. He was still waiting to hear from Kit but knew the “P” was a busy guy and maybe he just forgot to call.
Snake’s real name was Richard Vandermere and he was currently in ICU-Recovery on the fifth floor. Only immediate family would be allowed. “Immediate family and the family pastor,” James thought to himself. The elevator opened at the fifth floor and he followed the arrows on the wall toward the Post Op recovery wing, his bible at his side. It was strangely quiet up here today. Every other time he’d been here it was bustling with all manner of medical personnel and visitors, aimless, awed and terrified as they pretended otherwise.
He passed some windowed double doors and saw two Sheriff Deputies drinking coffee at the foot of a portable bed. “Figures,” he thought. Another twenty feet and another double door but this one was controlled by the faceless ICU nurses behind the intercom. He pushed the button and waited.
“Can I help you?” came the voice.
“Vandermere, I’m his pastor,” James said. It wasn’t really a lie, Snake had been attending his church on a sporadically regular basis lately. The doors opened inwardly which was a blessing as James’ face was within striking distance had they been engineered differently. He made his way to the desk where he was met with several suspicious glares.
“You’re his pastor?” the most courageous nurse asked him.
“Yes, James Walters,” he responded in a dignified tone.
“521, last door on the right, he has visitors, he’s only been out of surgery for a couple of hours, he’s not conscious.” she said.
“Thanks,” and he walked toward the room.
James recognized one of the patch holders as “Bones” but didn’t recognize the bigger guy. He nodded to Bones but before he could say anything the big guy spoke up,
“What are you doing here?” he asked as he stood from the chair.
“Preacher, Prophets MC Mother Chapter,” James announced as he extended his hand toward the biker.
“I know who you are jerkoff, I said what are you doing here,” he growled. James glanced quickly at Bones who was making no effort to mitigate this situation and then said,
“I come in peace bro, I just wanted to see Snake and pray for him,” James said calmly although he could taste the bile rising in his throat.
“If he ever comes around, I’ll be sure to tell him, now take your little bible and get out of here before you need a room yourself.”
“What’s up Bones, your memory fading, you getting old, you forget his leash?” James asked. The big man lunged for James,
“You stinking punk, ahh my knee,” the big guy screamed as James crushed his knee with one side kick and then drove his heel up into the big biker’s nose dropping him to all fours. Bones took a step toward James and was met with a roundhouse kick square in the jaw which deposited him on his back next to his buddy.
The third Doomsayer casually rounded the corner drying his hands on some paper towel and stood behind his two fallen comrades.
“Whassup Nine? there a problem?” the massive bearded Sgt at Arms asked.
“’Sup Magic, we had a misunderstanding about visiting hours is all,” James replied.
“I see that,” he smiled and shook his head slowly. I see you’ve met “Cedar,” Magic said. “We hadn’t been formally introduced, but he seemed to know me,” James answered. “Well he knows you now,” Magic said laughing.
“This ain’t over Preacher,” Cedar said somewhat muffled.
“Shut up idiot, you just let a guy with a bible kick your butt,” Magic said and continued, “Damn bro, you’re serious about all of this huh? I’m gonna have to come to your church more often, I know Snake was diggin it.”
“You are always welcome bro, all the brothers are encouraged to attend, It’s an honor to have you,” James answered.
“You never know,” said Magic. “You should split now though, I’ll get word to you when we know something.”
Once the alarm was sounded it only took the Deputies about twenty seconds to find the trouble spot, draw their weapons and order everyone on the floor. Cedar had a tough time of it, his left knee wouldn’t cooperate.
“What happened here?” a Deputy asked Cedar who was wiping the blood from his face. “I smashed my nose opening the door,” he answered.
“I see,” said the Deputy. “And you?” he looked at Bones with an “I can’t wait to hear this,” look on his face.
“Ah, well when he hit his nose, his hand kinda came up and caught me in the jaw,” he answered.
“Darndest thing,” nodded James.
“I got here after it happened so I guess that’s the story,” Magic offered.
“Well if that’s it, I’ll be leaving, please call me when he’s conscious,” James said to Magic. “Get some ice for that, keep pressure,” James said to Cedar as he turned and walked toward the exit.
As temporarily satisfied as he felt, James knew two things, three actually. One, this wasn’t over and two, he had straight up disobeyed his President’s orders to stay put and it was the second thing that was bothering James the most. The third thing was he had strained his left hamstring on the roundhouse kick. Age was rearing its ugly head. He pulled the cell phone from his cut as he cleared the massive automatic glass doors which led to the circular drive bordered by flowers of stunning yellows and purple. The warm breeze was coaxing the giant palm trees back and forth against the royal blue sky. Kit answered after two rings. Voicemail was like cops, never around when you needed them.
“Yeah hey bro, it’s Preacher,” James said while gathering his courage.
“Yeah, how’s Snake, you hear anything?” he asked.
“Yeah no I didn’t hear anything more regarding his condition just yet, that’s why I called bro, I screwed up I know that now but I didn’t wait for your call I went to the hospital, I don’t know why I did, I apologize,” James stammered. He was about to enter a bad place.
“I see, well not much we can do about that now is there, I guess it doesn’t matter what I FREAKING say not to do, is that how it is Preacher, or is it still Nine Ball?, you still think you’re the shot caller? This ain’t the FREAKING DMC, this is the Prophets, maybe I took it too easy on you ‘cause I thought you understood but you don’t understand anything!” Kit ripped into him some more, “You want to run your own program, fine with me but you ain’t doin it wearing our patch! You got that? You came to us, we didn’t come to you so you make up your mind, I don’t want to hear anything right now, go read First Samuel chapter 13 starting at verse 8 and call me when you’re done.”
The phone went dead. “Jeez, another hang up, nobody says goodbye anymore,” he thought. James felt like a little kid who had been scolded by his big brother. It hurt his pride but mostly it hurt because he had made the tactical error of using his friendship with Kit against the hierarchy of the club. Sure they were friends, great friends, but Kit was the “P” and with that title came the responsibility to judge rightly and no soldier had the right to question the order of a superior officer. Kit was a great guy, funny and warm at times but he knew his responsibilities before the Lord as the leader of his men. James knew that he had betrayed the trust he’d built over the months and the first thought that went through his thick skull was, “forget this, I don’t need this crap, I don’t need this stupid little Christian club,” but he had the remnant of sense bouncing around in his head which told him the sooner he located First Samuel, the better things would be.
James limped over to a large tree and slid to a seated position and opened his bible to the suggested passage. “This is great, how the heck did he know to direct me to this?” He thought. “I’m the pastor here and this guy tells me what time it is? I’ve obviously underestimated my Prez,” he continued.
Turns out the Prophet Samuel had told Saul to wait seven days for Samuel to show up so that he could offer the burnt offering to the Lord. Well stuff started to fall apart for old Saul, seven days rolled by and no Sam so Saul panicked and lit the offering himself.
Sam showed up and asked what happened and Saul started trippin all over saying, “you didn’t show up when you said you would, the people were scattering, the Philistines were assembling and I thought they were bringin some war my way and I hadn’t sought the favor of the Lord so I lit it up myself,” or something close to that. Samuel like Kit, had ripped into his guy saying, “You did foolishly, you have not kept the command of the Lord your God.”
Dig this part, “For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever! But now your kingdom will not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people because you have not kept what the Lord has commanded.”
Now that was heavy. James was reeling from the direct hit on his pride. He wanted action he’d always been a man who got things done, he’d always been a leader and now he was forced, voluntarily, but forced to wait on the Lord instead of jumping off full steam in some direction, any direction just to do something! He had much to learn. He wasn’t sure he could ever reach the level of humility required to be a great man of God, but deep in his spirit he knew he was called.
He picked up his cell phone and pushed redial. As Kit answered, James panicked slightly as he remembered that Kit didn’t tell him where to stop reading. “Oh this is ridiculous,” he thought.
“Hey, it’s me Saul,” James said. Relief washed over him hearing Kit’s laugh.
“Very good bro, that was good, we ok now?” Kit asked.
“I am if you are brother, I get the message, I’m not good at this but I’ll keep trying,” he said.
“None of us are, I never told you this but I prospected for a whole year about twenty years ago, I always thought I knew what was right but I learned that the strongest thing you can do is wait on the Lord. It doesn’t seem like it, the world will make you second and third guess yourself all the time but the Lord is the only sure thing so wait for Him, He will never leave you nor forsake you bro, we are all in this together.
Now you see why we don’t have four hundred guys.”
“No kidding, I’ll tell you what bro, the DMC is deep in numbers but they are shallow in leadership. If Snake doesn’t pull through, God forbid, I’m praying hard for him but if he shoots through, that club will explode, it’ll be like Iraq over there. Nobody can trust anyone it’ll be an epic power struggle. I hate to think what will happen,” James said.
“There’s something that’s really trippin me up bro,” he continued.
“What’s that?” Kit asked.
“I was five minutes from being the National Rep for the DMC, I would have had a legitimate shot at National “P” in light of this thing with Snake. I don’t regret what I chose to do, but it is kinda weird.” There was silence on the other end of the phone line. “You there?” James asked.
“Yeah, just thinking about what you said, very heavy stuff for sure. You will have to remain strong Preacher, your church is growing, the Lord has huge things for you, the warfare will be intense so just watch out. It might not be so easy next time, there might be more than two.”
James was stunned, how the heck did Kit know what happened upstairs thirty minutes ago? “How did you”–
“Never mind how, just know that I know,” Kit replied. “I’ll see you at church tomorrow night brother. As far as Snake is concerned, you’ll know when you’re needed, wait to be called, don’t just volunteer.” Kit said as he hung up.
The early summer in Southern California provides some of the best motorcycle weather in the world. Saturday mornings were his personal favorite rides. Years of random insanity had given way to at least one reliable as clockwork activity, the Saturday morning ride. His method of operation was to rise early and don his leathers and run the hill to Big Bear City and enjoy a long breakfast on a wood deck overlooking the main drag in town. There he could write a sermon which thus far had rocked his now two hundred person congregation every Saturday night. He had a way of taking the truth of scripture and weaving it into street level daily life and his growing following was soaking it up every week.
He was pulling the strap on a brand new full faced helmet which was a recent gift from Linda. He had to try it at least once before he tossed it into the corner of the shop in favor of his reliable piece of crap novelty helmet, the fit of which he had become accustomed. Linda would never come between James and his bike. She feared the outcome of that tactical move. If she couldn’t slow her man down, she could at least mitigate the risk. James was always a careful rider with her aboard but she’d heard far too many stories of his high speed antics to hope he was that cautious when alone. He’d wear the full face today.
The beauty of the Harley Davidson Street Glide, besides the excellent power band and comfortable ride, was the stylish hard saddle bags which could hold chaps, gloves, an extra helmet, leather jackets, and a laptop computer on Saturday mornings. He easily slid the device in the left side bag as most of the other items were employed on this brisk early morning. The chaps would go into the bags first, then the jacket and finally the gloves as temperatures were projected to rise from the forty’s to seventy five in Big Bear City later today. For now, he was wrapped like a Chipotle Burrito.
He pushed the start button and smiled as the big bike roared to life. There were almost fifty thousand miles on her now but she ran like a Swiss watch. There was no better sound anywhere. A close second to his ears was a twin engine ocean racer hitting every third wave as it shot across the sea at a hundred miles an hour. The bike would have to do for now.
For the uninitiated, the smell of acres of orange blossoms is intoxicating to the point of distraction. Many mountain road trips were delayed by unplanned stops in the middle of this nearly two mile sensory immersion. James slowed his roll through the aromatic highway and lifted his face shield to welcome the smell. He thought that heaven must smell like this. He hoped so. He took the opportunity to thank God for allowing him to enjoy this quiet euphoric ride and asked that he be given wisdom and insight necessary to communicate His word to the crowd tonight.
The orange blossoms gave way to a pleasant cool moist air which tasted great and served as a wakeup blast which filled James with vigor and clarity. As he rode along the highway, he prayed for his friend Snake and offered him to the Lord. James believed a couple of things, one was that God had a bigger plan for Snake and two, God was in control and it was His will which this servant sought. His prayer ended with, “Thy will be done.”
A mid seventies model Chevy pickup pulled up next to James as he sat at the only stop light between him and a rollicking mountain ride. He was a sucker for old Detroit pickup trucks. “I like your truck,” He yelled through his half opened face shield. Two skinhead looking guys in their late twenties just nodded. The passenger said, “Nice day for a ride, be careful out there.” To which James just nodded and looked ahead. The light changed and as usual the bike got away first. James watched as the pickup truck faded into a dot in his mirror. He moved in his seat to find that perfect spot where he would navigate the familiar but no less exhilarating ride ahead. He pulled over with the intention of removing his leather chaps but as he sat idling, changed his mind. There would be some cold pockets on the way. He could just as easily take them off at the top of the hill. The older he got the less he enjoyed freezing on a ride.
The time spent in indecision allowed the Chevy to catch up to him and he allowed the truck to pass before he pulled onto the highway. He ran through four gears and figured he’d overtake the truck once and that would be the end of it. The last long straight section would give him ample opportunity and he was gaining fast. He noticed that the rear window of the pickup truck was slid open, probably to enjoy the breeze flowing through the cab.
As James downshifted and readied himself for the move to the left, he looked at his speedometer which was dead on fifty miles an hour. As he twisted his right hand, he looked ahead and saw nothing but straight deserted highway. This would be fun. The next thing he saw was in slow motion. The truck slowed and the passenger laid the barrel of a shotgun onto the back window ledge and James saw a flash. His mind played a tape of his drill sergeant telling his platoon that in battle, you never hear the shot that kills you. If he heard anything it was his front tire exploding and the forks and fairing of his bike folding into the asphalt at fifty miles an hour. “Oh God, save me!” was all he remembered until he was standing in the middle of the road with both arms raised like a referee presiding over a winning field goal.
James had slid and flown and tumbled several times before landing on his feet, arms raised, laughing as his demolished motorcycle lay a hundred feet behind him. He was laughing. Like a crazy man. Laughing and praising the God of the universe. In the seconds following the attempt on his life which had claimed his bike, the ritual of his morning armor assembly played in his head. There was the leather jacket, not the cotton hoodie, the gloves and the chaps were after thoughts ostensibly to fight the chill of the morning. Last but not least was the decision to wear the gift helmet instead of the toy which would have disintegrated upon impact and with it, his head.
God had orchestrated his choice of attire this morning, how cool is that? James would not be visiting Big Bear City today but he had his sermon. Ephesians chapter 6, “Put on the whole armor of God,” which dealt with spiritual warfare of course but the physical manifestations of spiritual attacks would strike a collective chord in the congregation. The shotgun would not be mentioned, at least not tonight. It was a front tire blowout. That was the story to which he would stick. It would drive his enemies crazy. He walked to the side of the road and called Kit. He would need a trailer.
The second phone call was to “Knucklehead Jim” at the local Harley dealer. Jim’s faithful attendance on Saturday nights was about to net him a sale. The order was placed for the floor model 2012 black Street Glide which James had spied a week earlier during a visit for parts and synthetic lubricant. The deal was struck over the phone with a promise of $4,000 cash down later in the day. Knucklehead assured him that the loan approval would only take thirty minutes and he could pick up the bike later in the day, absolutely before church that evening.
The makeshift plan was to throw whatever settlement the insurance company paid directly at the loan which would leave him about eight to ten months worth of payments to pay it off. He hadn’t planned on buying a new bike but circumstances dictate alternative action on occasion. His trained eye determined that his bike would be a total loss so he quickly determined there was no reason to wait.
He had an alternative motive as well, get back up as fast as possible and be seen riding around town within twenty four hours of the assassination attempt. He thought it was a good witness to the power of God. Plus it would drive whoever was behind this to insanity.
He called a Prophet brother to ask about the next biker swap meet in Long Beach. It was tomorrow. He laughed once again at God’s timing and provision. There were several leather items which were in need of replacement after surfing the asphalt. He would be better than new by tomorrow afternoon, betrayed only by the small cuts on his face where the twelve gauge shot managed to fill the void left by the half opened facemask. These could easily be explained away by flying gravel during one of his several summersaults.
The Prophets loved to be the first guys at the swap meet gate at 6am. This was problematic for James as his propensity to stay up late and play pool after church made the early morning a foe. The only problem with a small club is the scarcity of “prospects” which could be ordered to go shopping for a patch holder. He resigned to set the alarm and quit whining. He would have to call Bud to borrow the truck he sold him a few months back just after his release from prison. He shook his head and smiled. He really shouldn’t have sold that truck.
Thank God for cell phones, his was ringing again. Kit had called Bud and he was now calling James. “What happened out there, you okay?” Bud asked.
“Yeah, I’m okay, a bit scratched up but praise God, it could have been much worse,” he answered.
“I’m on my way out, I’m gonna stop and grab the trailer but I’ll be there as soon as I can, I’m glad you’re not hurt James, that could have really screwed up tonight’s service,” Bud said laughing.
“Appreciate your concern buddy, see you when you get here.”
One thing for sure, he was blessed with a group of quality friends. The one phone call he dreaded was next on his list. Linda would overreact and push every button he had, all in the name of love. James gathered his wits and determined that he would act like he appreciated the concern and accept that she only freaked out because she loved him. Why that was he still couldn’t figure but she was crazy about him and he really did enjoy that part. He was, as his friend Brian had noted, “over-chicked.” A drop dead gorgeous professional woman in love with a scruffy old biker, go figure. He smiled and pushed her number. He wasn’t that old.
“I knew something was wrong! I knew it,” She spoke loudly, almost yelling but James let it slide.
“Look baby, I’m fine, it was a freak thing but hey, I was wearing that full face you bought me and it saved me,” He answered in a feeble attempt to avert the wrath by spotlighting the positive.
“Dang it James, I’m sorry I just get so scared that I’m going to lose you on that thing,” she said.
“I hear you baby but God’s got it all under control, I’m seeing that more today than ever,” he said. “I’ll be back at the shop in a couple hours, I’ll call you then, I love you babe.” “Okay, I love you too, just quit scaring me!” She said.
“Hey, look on the bright side, I get a brand new bike out of the deal, that’s pretty cool huh?”…”Babe?” She hung up. “Guess she’s speechless, must excited about the new ‘Glide,” he laughed. He was a bit of a jerk, but a lovable one.