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Chapter 1

"on a long and lonesome highway

East of Omaha…"

The sun was setting out on the ocean at Virginia Beach. The beach was packed, with young and old. Military folk, from Dam Neck and NAS, collage students, beachcombers and their parents. Tourists, old and young, were there, as well as some surfers, old veterans. There were all kinds out there for the concert. Some music can do that. Montgomery Gentry was the main attraction, with some bluegrass band opening for them. They were good, but people were waiting.

There was a man who had driven for a day and most of a night to be at the concert. He was twenty-one, short, and packed full of farm muscle, mostly because he worked on a farm back home in Kansas. He had an open, honest face, with a few days worth of beard and bright blue eyes. He was dressed in boot, jeans, and a white t-shirt. On his head was a beat up, taped up, torn up black cowboy hat. His buckle was bright and big, and on his belt was a black case that held an old Buck Knife. His name was Jack Daniels, which had caused all kinds of jokes growing up, and he was having the time of his life.

He had come to Virginia from Kansas to see his buddy Jimmy Smith, who was in the Navy and stationed down here. He had also come so he could get a break from the farm. Although it was what he had grown up doing, Jack Daniels did not want to work on a farm all his life. He didn't know what he wanted to do, but knew what he didn't. All those thoughts were on the back burner now, as he stood waiting for the concert to begin.

As he waited, he looked at the crowd. One face seemed to be looking at him, which was odd. Jack did not think he was that much of a looker, but the girl across the way was proving him wrong by looking right at him and smiling. The girl had long red hair, and flashing green eyes that he could see from far away. She smiled more when she knew that he was looking at her, and then turned back to talk to a friend.

Jimmy, who was standing next to him, was oblivious, but that was nothing out of the ordinary. Jimmy was a little drunk, and expecting to get worse as the night went on. Jack had only a beer bottle, a Bud that had gone flat in his hand. He was too excited to be worrying about drinking right now. The red head kept drawing his gaze, and he started thinking that maybe it would be a good idea to go say hi. See what was going on over there.

But, as he thought about that, the bluegrass band ended, and the show began. Jack Daniels lost all thoughts of the red head as the music flowed out from the band, and he cheered and sang and yelled.

Later, he and Jimmy had decided to wander the strip. The strip down in Virginia Beach was full at night, hundreds of people wandering from bar to bar, shop to shop. Jack and Jimmy moseyed around, looking at this and that. Jack carried a six pack as he walked, emptying cans and tossing them in nearby trash cans. Jimmy talked a mile a minute, about the Navy, and women, and just about everything that popped into his mind. Jack nodded in all the right places.

Until he saw the redhead. She was sitting down at a table in one of the restaurants that was on the strip, in an outside section. She was talking to a friend, it seemed, a blonde woman with a black t-shirt that said something Jack couldn't make out. Jack finished off his beer and angled towards her, Jimmy following as he talked.

The redhead saw him coming and smiled, turning in her chair to face him. Jack stopped just on the other side of the low metal fence that separated the dining area from the street.

"Howdy."

"Hello there. Thought you looked familiar."

"Yeah, I saw you at the concert. My name's Jack Daniels."

"Really?"

"Yep, and I've heard all the jokes. This here is my good buddy Jimmy."

"My name is Sam. Nice to meet you Jack. Would you care to join us?"

"Sure!"

Jack set his six pack down and put one boot up over the fence, stepping over it. Jimmy followed suit, falling into one of the chairs at the ladies table. He was on his way to getting tore up, and had the innocent smile of one who has no idea what is going on.

"Nice to meet you, Sam."

"You too. I was hoping we would get the chance to meet. This is fortuitous. That means lucky."

"I know what it means."

"Sorry, my mistake."

"Whereabouts are you from, Sam?"

"I'm going to Iowa Western Community Collage, but I'm originally from California. San Diego, actually. You?"

"Lawrence Kansas, born and raised."

"Ah. Have you ever been to Iowa?"

"Try not too actually. We got a saying about folks from Iowa."

"And what would that be?"

"Well, the rumor is that Nebraska is going to get the world's largest petting zoo."

"Really?"

"Yup, they're going to fence in Iowa."

She laughed at that, which made Jack smile. He liked the sound of her laugh. Loud and vibrant. Jimmy laughed too, but he was more involved with talking to the blonde. Jack looked over at her, and was able to read her shirt. "The Bard will Never Die."

"So, what are you two fine gentlemen doing tonight?"

"Ain't got much clue, Sam. We're just wandering."

"Maybe we can wander with you?"

"That sounds just fine, actually."

"I thought it might."

The rest of the night, Jack could not remember that clearly. He remembered getting some drinks at the restaurant before they left, and ordering some of his namesake, with Coke. He remembered walking down by the beach, deep in conversation with Sam while Jimmy and the blonde, whose name Jack didn't catch, supported each other in the sand. He remembered thinking Sam smelled amazing, like blueberries, and he remembered kissing her on the beach, and thinking that she tasted like blueberries as well. And then he remembered falling into bed with her.

Jack woke up in his motel bed. He was staying at the Flagship Motel, on the strip. He had picked it because of the giant mural on the side of the building, and because it was cheap and cheerful. Jack was only wearing his jeans. His boots were half covered with his shirt on the floor off to the side of the bed. There was no one else in the room. Sam was gone.

Jack opened his door, only to find Jimmy asleep on the catwalk that led to his room. Jimmy was more naked then Jack, wearing only his skivvies. Jack stepped over him to lean on the rail, looking out at the town. He lit a cigarette from the battered pack in his pocket, and breathed deep, looking at the lights and the people. Sam. She was on his mind. He was wondering why she left so soon, and if he would ever see her again. The redhead had made an impression on him, that was for sure.

Finishing his smoke, Jack pitched the butt off the edge and turned around to go back into his room.

Something caught his eye. On the floor was an envelope. Jack bent down and picked it up, while nudging Jimmy with his foot.

"What? What do you want?"

"Wake up Jimmy; you gots work in the morning."

"Says who?"

"You did, ass. You told me yesterday."

"Oh, right. What you reading?"

"Hang on, I'll tell you."

Inside the envelope was a letter, and a picture. Jack read the letter out loud.

"Dear Jack. I have to leave, but wanted to thank you for the lovely time. I would leave you my number, but that seems too easy. Instead, I want you to pur...pursue me. If you think you can, I'll be waiting. Your friend, Sam. What's she talking about, pursue?"

"I dunno. You got a cigarette?"

Jack tossed his pack to Jimmy, and then looked at the picture.

It was a picture of Sam, the Polaroid kind that showed up a few minutes after taking. Jack kind of remembered her having a camera. Sort of. Then Jack stopped breathing.

In the picture, she was wearing his hat.

Jack moved into his room, and looked around frantically. Boots, shirt, Trojan wrapper, saddlebag, truck keys, knife, beer cans…

No hat.

"Damnation!"

"What is it, man?"

"That woman stole my hat!"

"So, buy a new one."

"You don't get it, Jimmy. That was my daddy's hat. It was what he left me when he died. That was my favorite hat. Damnation!"

Jack sat down on the bed, putting his boots on and his shirt. Jimmy tossed him the pack of smokes, and Jack lit another one. As he talked, Jack put his clothes in his saddlebag and looked around the room for anything else

"You got one of them cell phones, right?"

"Yeah. I left at the barracks. Why?"

"You still got my momma's number?"

"Yeah. Oh, Jack, don't tell me."

"Yup. Call her when you get the chance, and tell her I ain't gonna be coming home on time. I got to go take care of something."

"You're out of your mind."

"Mayhap. But I'm going to get my damn hat, you better believe that."

"You don't even know where she went, Jack."

"She said she went to school at Iowa. I know how to get there, and then I can find her, and get my hat back."

"You're crazy. What about work?"

"The farm will be fine, Jimmy. Don't you worry about them."

"You're serious? You're going to halfway across the country, to find a woman you met once, and only know her first name by the way, just to get your hat back?"

"Yup. I got a name, her picture, and her school. What more do I need?"

"A whole lot of luck, man. That's like trying to find a needle in a stack of needles."

"Yeah, I know. Should be fun, at least?"

"Yeah. All right, well, get going. You got a lot of ground to cover."

Jack stood up and gave his friend a hug, holding him tight for a second.

"You take care, man. Be careful around them boats, them things is dangerous."

"Yeah, you don't like boats. I know. Have fun on your chase, Jack."

They clapped each other's back, and Jack went downstairs to pay his bill. Jimmy went into the bathroom to throw up.

Downstairs, his bill paid, Jack walked into the parking lot to his truck. A maroon/rust colored Ford F-150, 1986. Old though she may be, she had never let him down before. Jack got in and fired her up. She grumbled to life, coughing a few times in the early morning light. It sounded as if she resented being woken up so early, but Jack coaxed her with a few kind words, and she roared to life. Turning on the radio and putting in a tape of AC/DC, Jack pulled out of the parking lot and got on the road to the highway.

As he drove, his head felt naked. At the first stop light, Jack dug around in the cab of the truck, looking for a hat. All he could find was an old denim hat that said Coors on it. It also had oil stains from the last time that he had worked on his truck. Jack shook his head as he settled the hat on. He drove into the rising sun, taking the pair of sunglasses down from the visor and slipping them on.

Drive to Iowa, find the girl, get his daddy's hat back. See what all the fuss was with this Sam girl.

Shouldn't be that hard.