Billionaires in Blue Jeans
BONUS SCENE #1
“Ellie, old girl, you picked a hell of a time to break my heart.”
Elvira, Rudy’s 1937 370-D Cadillac, gave a jerk hard enough to clatter Rudy’s teeth, followed by a long groan.
Rudy sighed and eased her onto the side of the narrow country highway. She gave a cough, and a clang, and then another long sigh as he put her into park, as if to say thank you.
Rudy patted her dash. “I know you’re punishing me for getting off the main road,” he told her. “I know you’re dusty and hot, but this isn’t exactly a stopping point.”
He looked around. Well, he’d wanted wide open spaces. He’d definitely gotten them. He was somewhere in Kansas. That was all he knew for sure. On a whim, he’d turned south off of Interstate-70, wanting to see some of the surrounding countryside. And now he was stuck right in the middle of it.
Elvira was his only companion on this trip from New York City to L.A. “Ellie, I think we are most definitely still in Kansas.”
He chuckled to himself over the tweaked movie line. Then sighed again. He was in Kansas. Where he knew no one. In a broken down Caddy that was hard enough to keep running in New York. He didn’t think it was unfair to assume that finding a vintage car mechanic in the middle of Kansas would be difficult.
Rudy pushed his door open and got out to look around. It was May, so the weather was very pleasant. He knew that driving through the Midwest in the winter time would have been foolish, so he’d waited for spring on purpose. It was sunny and seventy, with bright blue skies dotted by cotton-ball clouds that tripped along on a slight breeze. That part was perfect.
But he couldn’t see a building, not to mention another vehicle or person, for miles. And he really could see for miles. The plains and fields stretched in every direction with barely a rise or a dip to break up the flatness. And everything was either gold or green. It was as different from New York City as he could imagine and he pulled in a big, deep breath.
“Well, this will be interesting at least.” He headed for the trunk where his suitcase was stowed. He popped it open and reached for his hat. But he hesitated for a moment. He hated to take his hat off. A car like Elvira deserved a driver in a dashing fedora. But after a moment, he tucked the hat away and pulled out the ball cap he had in the side pocket of the rolling suitcase he’d bought at Goodwill. His first and only trip to Goodwill. Ever. And he’d been…delighted. He’d had no idea that there was a place where he could go and see a collection that ranged from fashion to dishes to knickknacks that had come straight from other peoples’ homes and closets. It was a look at the “real world” that he’d never had before and now he was addicted. He’d never lived lower than the twentieth floor in a building. He’d never had a view outside of a bedroom window that didn’t involve cabs and streetlights and high-rise office buildings and parking structures. He’d never used dishes that had been in the family for generations. He’d never had a closet stuffed with old books and records and toys. Everything had always been new and polished and perfect.
Goodwill was his new addiction. There was something about touching a plate that had a chip on the edge that made him want to know the story of how that had happened. There was something about flipping through a book that had clearly been read hundreds of times that made him wonder how many bedside tables the book had rested on. There was something about zipping his clothes into a battered suitcase with one wobbly wheel that made him wonder about the other trunks it had been tucked into and the places it had seen.
The suitcase was full of blue jeans and t-shirts and basic button downs that he’d collected in the nirvana called Goodwill. He also had a pair of dress shoes that he liked to imagine had been worn to a few church services, a niece’s wedding, and a friend’s retirement party. But the tennis shoes he’d packed were a little disappointing. They hadn’t had anything in his size, so he’d ended up buying a new pair. Along with a pair of cowboy boots, which were on his feet now. He didn’t know if the people of Kansas would appreciate the assumption that cowboy boots were the footwear he should use to fit in, but he liked how they felt—they gave him a little John Wayne feel—and how they looked, so he was going with it.
He didn’t know a lot about blending in, but he wasn’t an idiot. His Armani suits weren’t going to do it. Driving across country from New York to L.A. meant a lot of different types of places and people, so he’d done some research and was, he hoped, prepared for anything. Elvira was going to stand out enough without his thousand dollar silk tie adding to the picture of an entitled, rich guy wandering around. Which he was. No doubt about it.
He spent his time in conference rooms and in penthouse suites and on private jets. He was always surrounded by people who wouldn’t flinch at the idea of spending two thousand dollars on shoes. But he knew that people in the middle of Kansas—or Ohio or Indiana or Missouri or hell, a lot of people in New York for that matter—were far more down-to-earth and practical than the people Rudy typically spent time with. People here could be big spenders—farming equipment wasn’t cheap—but they also didn’t blow hundreds of dollars on cuff links.
Which was precisely why he was here. Not broken down by the side of the road maybe, but driving, alone, through the middle of America without an agenda. He didn’t know what he was expecting or looking for exactly, but he’d been sitting in a conference room, listening to one of the most egocentric, idiotic, blowhards he’d ever met tell him that the best food he’d ever eaten was in France and something had just…snapped.
It wasn’t that Rudy didn’t like the food in France. But honestly, how did he, or Jack I’m-Successful-Only-Because-My-Grandfather-Was-A-Genius Wilson, know that the best food was in France? Because his mind tended to wander when Jack was talking–about pretty much anything–Rudy started thinking about how he had never eaten a steak in Texas or had barbecue in Kansas City or gumbo in New Orleans or tried alligator or deer meat. He didn’t venture outside of his regular likes and dislikes. He traveled only when he had to and those were typically to meetings in Europe and Asia. He left the domestic traveling to his employees. He ate at his same favorite restaurants, drank his same favorite Scotch, wore his same favorite suits, altered by the only tailor he’d ever used, and he never drove himself anywhere. Even though he owned one of the most gorgeous cars ever made. He just let it sit in a garage, covered with a drape.
Suddenly he’d blurted out, “You’re a dumbass, Wilson.”
Jack had stopped and blinked at him. Then, like a dumbass, he’d asked, “Huh?”
Rudy had sat forward in his leather chair, which cost as much as a decent tractor in Kansas, and said, “You’re a dumbass. We’re both dumbasses.”
Jack had scratched his chin and said, “How so?” It was clear Jack didn’t agree, but no one ever argued with Rudy Carmichael. He had enough money and connections to do serious damage to just about anyone in the corporate world.
“Because we both think we know so damned much.”
“And we don’t?”
Rudy had sat back, regarding the man he could barely stand, and realized that he was a lot like Jack. And that there were probably people who felt about him, the way he felt about Jack. And for some reason, that day that bothered him. He didn’t usually give a lot of thought to how other people thought of him. He knew he had some enemies. A guy at the head of a multi-billion-dollar company just did. He knew he had very few true friends. But typically that didn’t get more than a passing thought.
For some reason, that day, it had bugged him.
And he thought he knew why. Because that morning, he’d done something he rarely did. He’d looked up his daughters online.
He had triplets. Smart, confident, beautiful, identical triplet daughters. Ava, Brynn, and Cori. Ava, he saw all the time. She was one of the vice-presidents of corporate development for Carmichael Enterprises. He and Ava had always gotten along best. She had been interested in the family business from a young age, doing her first of many Take Your Daughter to Work Days with him when she was twelve. But Ava was focused and driven and they didn’t make small talk or chat about mundane topics. They talked business. And that was all. And Ava had never had barbecue in Kansas City or gumbo in New Orleans either, he was sure. She didn’t even have a Facebook page. Rudy didn’t either, but it seemed that a young, successful, beautiful twenty-four-year-old should have one. And it should be filled with photos of her with her friends, out having fun. There should probably even be a photo or two with a boyfriend. Or two. But the only photo he’d found had been a polished, professional headshot on the company’s website.
Brynn, his middle girl, also didn’t have a Facebook page. He knew it was possible that Brynn was only vaguely aware of Facebook. She made him nervous. She was brilliant. Genius-IQ-level brilliant. And she was a research scientist for the pharmaceutical branch of Carmichael Enterprises. He was incredibly proud of her, but he had no idea what to say to her. Ever. Where Ava had at least traveled to Europe for work, Brynn never left New York and, according to a few reports from the girls’ mother, ate a lot of salads and frozen dinners. So, she wasn’t venturing out into the great wild world and experiencing all it had to offer either. The only photo he’d found of her was on the company’s website as well.
Until he’d come to Cori’s page. There he had seen a side of Ava and Brynn he’d never seen anywhere else. There were photos of the three girls out together, hoisting glasses into the air, smiling with their arms around one another, even one of Ava dancing, barefoot, on someone’s coffee table. He’d been shocked to see it. But he liked it almost as much as the photo of Brynn sitting behind a gigantic ice cream sundae, spoon in hand, with a smear of whipped cream on her chin.
He knew all of that was thanks to Cori. The youngest. The rebel. Rudy sighed even thinking about her now. He had a hard time talking to Cori too, but not because there was nothing to say. More because when they talked it almost always involved raised voices and arguments. Cori traveled. Extensively. Exclusively. She was rarely in New York for more than a few days at a time. He did not spend a lot of time with her, but Rudy was certain she had eaten great food at multiple authentic places all over the US and the world. The only real way to keep up to date on his youngest’s escapades was checking in on Facebook and every time he did, she was somewhere new, taking candid photos with friends, doing all kinds of things like mountain climbing and skiing and yes, eating and drinking.
And all of that was why Jack was annoying Rudy even more than he usually did. Because Jack was like looking in a mirror. A privileged, gold-gilded, narrowly focused mirror. And realizing that Ava, the daughter who was most like him, was missing out. And that his expensive dinners with blow-hard idiots like Jack were still more of a social life than Brynn had. And that the daughter least like him, who, in fact, rejected his money and most chances to spend time with him, was the one who could honestly say where the best food in the world was.
She was the one who was always smiling.
It was that smile—the one she got when she was far away from home and the family business and the money he could have, would have, given her—that got to him. And the fact that he didn’t see Ava and Brynn smile much at all.
“You have kids, Jack?” Rudy had asked.
“You talk to them regularly?”
He shook his head. “Not much, really. They live with their mom.”
Yeah, Rudy’s girls had too.
“So you don’t give them advice or anything?” Rudy asked.
“Oh, I try. But they don’t listen.” Jack chuckled as if that was no big deal.
That had hit Rudy in the chest. He didn’t give his daughters advice either. Well, he and Ava talked business and he’d give her input about idea or projects when she asked, but she’d been following him around for so long, she almost always made the decision he would have made. She adhered to strict schedules and plans and routines. Brynn…well, he wouldn’t know what the hell to tell her about her work anyway. He might, however, tell her that she needed to take better care of herself and invest in a planner or an organizer. She was never on time for anything and she always had a dreamy, I’m-here-but-I’m-not-really-here look on her face. Like she was solving equations and reworking formulas in her mind. And Cori. What would he tell her? She was obviously enjoying life, experiencing new things, living outside the box that he’d put around his own life. But she didn’t have a real home, a place where she felt comfortable enough to stay for more than a few months at a time.
Interestingly, if he was going to give his girls advice it would be “be more like your sisters”. For each of them.
And who was he to give them advice? He was a workaholic without any long-term, committed relationships.
He’d never even eaten barbecue in Kansas City.
He’d pushed back from his desk, straightened his tie, told Jack that he could see himself out, and he’d headed for his assistant’s desk. He’d asked her to call and have Elvira brought to his building. Then he’d headed home, Googled the nearest Goodwill, drawn a route from New York to LA on his phone’s map app, and three hours later, he’d driven himself out of the city and headed west.
The crunch of wheels on the road pulled Rudy’s attention from his thoughts. He turned to see a pickup truck rolling to a stop next to Elvira. A minute later, a tall, good-looking guy of about twenty-five rounded the front bumper of the truck with a broad grin.
“Hello,” Rudy greeted.
“That’s a hell of a car,” the man said.
Rudy smiled and glanced at Elvira. “She sure is.”
“You just taking in the scenery or are you having some trouble?”
Rudy sighed. “A little of both. More the second.”
The man chuckled. “Well, I can take you into town and hook you up with the best mechanic in the county.”
Rudy nodded. “If you can throw in a cup of coffee, that would be perfect.”
“I can do that too,” the younger man agreed. He stepped forward with his hand outstretched. “I’m Evan Stone. I’m an attorney over in Bliss.”
“Rudy,” he said, taking Evan’s hand and leaving out his own professional background. “Bliss? That’s the name of the town?”
“Sounds like a place I’ve got to visit then, doesn’t it?”
Evan laughed and gestured toward the truck. “I’m glad you think so, because my buddy Noah’s the mechanic. Even I know that it’s going to take a couple of days to get parts for a car like that.”
Rudy leaned in, locked Elvira’s doors, and pocketed his keys. “Well, I’m thinking a town called Bliss must have everything I could possibly need for a few days.”
He climbed up into Evan’s pickup with a strange feeling of anticipation. He’d never heard of Bliss, Kansas. Hadn’t even expected to spend a night in the state. But he was suddenly fine with this change of plans.
“We can get you a room,” Evan agreed, shifting into park and starting down the highway. “We don’t have a motel, but Mary has a big, old house with extra rooms she sometimes rents out.”
“Like an old-fashioned boarding house?” Rudy asked, feeling a kick of excitement. He’d never stayed in a place that was rated less than five stars in his life. This would be like…camping or something.
“Yeah, kind of like that,” Evan said. “And we have a diner in town with some of the best burgers around.”
“And pie?” Rudy asked. “Tell me they’ve got great pie and coffee.”
“Um…” Evan sent him a glance. “They’ve got coffee.”
“Mediocre coffee,” Evan said with a chuckle. “And it’s totally on purpose. The owner is my best friend, Parker. And he feels that if the coffee’s too good, it just encourages people to linger.”
“He doesn’t want people lingering in his diner?”
“Nope. Come in, get your food, eat, get out. That’s how he prefers it.”
“That’s not great for business, is it?” Rudy asked, intrigued.
“It helps that he’s the only place in town that serves food,” Evan said with a grin.
Supply and demand was definitely something Rudy understood. “So what does he have for dessert?”
Rudy had a sweet tooth and had eaten desserts prepared by some of the best chefs in the world. But he was suddenly in the mood for something more…not made by a fancy chef. Something that would not be considered gourmet. And something that definitely came in bigger portion sizes than most expensive restaurants served. Something homemade. Like his grandmother used to make. Brownies. Or pie. Pie was really his favorite thing. He never ate it, because it was never as good as his grandmother’s had been, but a small town diner in a place called Bliss seemed like a good bet for getting something damned close.
Rudy looked over at Evan as the man uttered two of the saddest words Rudy knew when they were combined like that.
“No dessert? At all?”
Evan shook his head. “Sorry. Parker’s pretty…straightforward. Burgers, sandwiches, nearly anything that comes fried, mashed potatoes but only with meatloaf and chicken fried steak. And those are only on the dinner menu. But no dessert.”
“Let me guess. Dessert encourages people to linger.”
Evan laughed. “You got it.” He turned the truck off the highway and the next thing Rudy thought was “wow”.
They were driving down what had to be the main street in the little town. And it was…bright.
The buildings were all painted a different, bright, pastel color—blue, pink, yellow, orange, and lavender. The colors flooded his mind with thoughts of Easter eggs and jellybeans, bubblegum, sherbet, creamscicles, and grape soda. Sweet, colorful fun from his childhood.
And Rudy suddenly realized that he wasn’t going to make it to L.A.
Which was fine. He had a feeling he’d already found what he was looking for. In a little town named Bliss.
But they were definitely going to have to do something about the no pie situation.
Get to know Rudy’s triplets and the guys of Bliss in Diamonds and Dirt Roads