I hadn’t left the clubhouse all week but Em had been my lifeline. She even bought me a black dress to wear, and that morning I rode to the funeral home with her. The men followed us on their bikes, which had to be incredibly uncomfortable in the bitter cold. Nobody complained.
Driving motorcycles in a winter funeral procession didn’t seem that sensible to me, but apparently that’s the way things were done at a biker’s funeral. Maggs had warned me, but I was still stunned to see hundreds of motorcycles parked outside the funeral home. Not only Reapers, but the Silver Bastards and a bunch of other clubs I’d never heard of. There were men who weren’t part of any club too, and vets flying MIA/POW flags off the backs of their Harleys. Even more of the riders had American flags. There was no way this many people could fit inside the funeral home for the viewing but nobody seemed to mind. Maggs took me inside and I watched as more people arrived, waiting patiently in the cold, talking to each other quietly in small clumps. Some of them stuck what looked like bumper stickers on the casket, which freaked me out at first. Then I realized they were Reapers support badges and nobody seemed to have a problem with it. I saw Cookie and managed to go up to her to offer my respects. She smiled at me but I don’t think she even recognized me. Silvie did, though, and I picked her up and carried her around. She loved it and I lavished attention on her.
Then it was time to pile into the cars for the procession. I walked Silvie over to Cookie, who seemed completely disconnected from reality. Couldn’t blame her for that. When her mother-in-law tried to take her granddaughter from me, the little girl started crying and clung to me, kicking.
“Come with us,” Cookie said suddenly, as if she’d been startled awake. “Whatever makes her happy. Please take care of her for me, I need your help.”
That’s how I wound up riding in the limo with the family, right behind the hearse. It felt so wrong, so presumptuous, but it made Silvie happy and Cookie certainly wasn’t up to handling her. We drove slowly through town and I was astounded at the show of support and respect. I guess I’d been cut off from events out at the armory, but I honestly hadn’t realized just how big Bagger’s funeral procession would be. This wasn’t just the club, or even a group of clubs. The whole town was stepping up to honor Bagger for his sacrifice.
It started with six police cars, driving two abreast with their lights flashing. The Reapers weren’t big cop fans, but Bagger’s dad had wanted to accept their offer of an escort so no one complained. Then came the hearse and the family in three limos, followed by the indescribable roar of hundreds of bikes. We drove right down Sherman Avenue and instead of having us avoid the main roads like a typical funeral procession, they closed off the streets in his honor. People lined the curbs to pay their respects, standing at attention as we drove by. Many held American flags and handmade signs saying things like “Thank You” and “We Will Not Forget”.
Cookie watched them with dead eyes while Silvie pressed her little face to the glass, fascinated. When we finally arrived at the cemetery, the limo stopped and we got out. The Reapers came behind us, more of them than I’d ever seen. It seemed like hundreds, although I learned later there were about a hundred and twenty-five. Behind them rode other clubs and veterans’ groups, followed by an endless line of cars. There were also active-duty servicemen in dress uniforms and even the local high school marching band, wearing poorly fitted black suits instead of their usual flamboyant regalia. It took nearly an hour before everyone could park, so we made Cookie get back into the car to wait. I climbed into another limo with Silvie and let her play on my phone.
Finally everyone had arrived and we congregated around the gravesite. Once again, I felt like I was far too close to the front for a woman who’d never met Bagger. So many people had known and loved him. But Silvie wanted me so I stood to one side of Cookie’s chair, bouncing her in my arms. The service was a strange mix of military formality and biker tradition. Instead of the Marine honor guard serving as pallbearers, Cookie had requested Horse, Ruger, Picnic, Duck and Bam Bam. They carefully carried the flag-draped coffin from the hearse to the grave. There were three on one side and only two on the other, something I’d never seen at a funeral before.
“Cookie wanted them to leave a spot open for Bolt,” Maggs whispered next to me, choking up a little. I felt my own eyes tear up, amazed that even in the depths of her grief, Bagger’s wife would remember Bolt and honor his friendship with her husband. Once the coffin was settled, the preacher spoke and so did some of the guys from the club. The band played the Star Spangled Banner.
Then the military honors began.
A group of ten young Marines in full dress uniform had been standing patiently off to the side during the service. Their commander called them to attention and gave out a series of orders. Then seven of them raised rifles and shot three perfectly timed volleys in unison. The sound split the air like thunder, so loud it rattled off the hills. Cookie shuddered at every shot like they were firing right through her. Silvie squealed as I covered her little ears.
One of the remaining Marines raised a bugle to his lips and played Taps, the haunting song echoing through the eerie silence of the cemetery. Silvie squirmed in my arms and started to fuss. The commander and remaining man walked carefully over to the coffin and lifted the flag, stepping to the side and away from the casket, folding it carefully into a star-spangled, blue triangle.
Finally, when it was perfect, the commander walked forward to Cookie and leaned forward to present her with the flag, voice carrying in the cold, still air.
“On behalf of the president of the United States, the commandant of the Marine Corps and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s service to country and corps.”
Cookie took the flag and cradled it against her chest, utterly silent, as Bagger’s mother sobbed loudly. Silvie crumpled up her face and started crying too, and I decided she’d had enough. I made my way to the back of the crowd and walked across the frosted grass quickly, which seemed to distract the little girl. I put her in the car seat now permanently installed in my vehicle and sat down to turn on the engine and get the heater going. A knock on the window startled me and I gave a little scream, which made Silvie burst into tears again.
Max stood outside.
I wanted to hit the gas and run him over. Instead I lowered the window a crack and glared at him.