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  1. Chapter 3X: Stirrup to Stirrup, Side by Side
  2. The Mojave Desert, 202X
  3. Even after the liters of black cowboy coffee and Red Monsta energy drinks, the sound of Charles’s high-power dual-sport bike and the rumbling of Torako’s ZumaHeader exhaust was the only thing keeping the microsleep out of his eyes.  Thanks to VSD setting up blockades and checkpoints all along US-95, they barely got out of Death Valley without a scratch, dodging bullets the whole time as they took the long route through Shoshone through the park into the Red Rock Canyon section of Vegas. Charles still had chunks of red sandstone and a 9mm splinter stuck in his face visor as a stray shot barely ricocheted into him at the mouth of Red Rock Canyon. The ride out of Vegas was no better, as they had to detour through Lake Mead, nearly getting rammed off the road by SUVs trying to head onto I-15. Even after the scenic detour past the Hoover Dam, there was no more Lake Mead backroad left off I-15. Even with the ballistic armor in their bikes and riding gear, the hail of buckshot and lead waiting for them on the dreaded long 15 took a toll on their energy. Seven hours straight with barely a single refuel in the mix and even Torako’s endless energy was fading. Charles could feel his legs swelling into his riding gear, after getting sideswiped and bumped several times through the day and grazed by bullets the whole day.
  4.  
  5. Home base was close though. It paid off to set up so far from the VSD strongholds in Death Valley. All their beefy engines and SUVs didn’t have the gas for a long ride full of turns and misdirections. Their pursuers had started missing their shots more after the passed Moapa, and by Fredonia, they were crashing and rolling over, falling asleep at the wheel. Thankfully, it was just narco grunts chasing them through three states. The Death Valley splinter of VSD lacked a lot of the money and resources of the others, relying more on coyotes and smuggling Miracle over the border. As annoying as being chased by wannabe sicarios in Mescalades past state lines, it sure as hell beat the Blackhawks and Apaches VSD was sending in Europe, piloted courtest of the finest Hessian/German mercenaries. All he could feel was relief. Driving through the Grand Canyon was scary enough as it was, it would’ve been way worse with choppers again.
  6. “Oi, Loverboy! Not falling asleep there?!” piped Torako ahead, speaking into her helmet two-way
  7. “Hey! You guys are just outside of Zion! The sun’s setting on the river! You guys are just in time!” chimed in another voice. Chun-Ri could hardly be heard over the sound of the others in the background. “We just cracked the keg and rolled a few!”
  8. “What, we’re like four hours late and that’s the reaction!?” asked Charles, shocked.
  9. “Enrique said you’ve survived more than a few coyotes and some bandits in SUVs no problem. Plus, you’re riding with a tiger, right?”
  10. “We aren’t bulletproof!” yelled Torako, as she began cursing and waving her arms in disbelief as she rode.
  11. “I’ve had you on satcam! You guys took the scenic route! You should be happy! My folks spent all their time talking about going to the Grand Canyon and Vegas for retirement, you two just did that and more in a whole day!” said Chun-Ri. “Torako, if you scream at the road like that, you’ll swerve and lose your balance.”
  12. A road sign flew past the two of them, as they picked up the speed. The sun was beginning to set over the streets, as Torako and Charles finally lost the last of their pursuers, weaving and zipping through the streets of Kanab. As they blazed through the streets, a fusillade of blue and red lights began to flash, as Arizona Rangers began to chase after the VSD cars on the duo’s trail. A spotlit chopper and a Ranger hanging out the side began to pop tires off the SUVs, as Torako weaved and ducked her head as bullets whizzed over.
  13. “You say that like we were some Asian couple strolling with our casino visors on our face! I didn’t get an early bird special, here!” said Charles, his almond-shaped eyes squinting the sunlight from his eyes. “We weren’t buying Hoover Dam souvenirs and renewing our vows dressed as Elvis!”
  14. “Oh relax! We got you set! Meet us near the Great White Throne! We’re gonna start setting up a little camp for you guys before we party in the Narrows! Rangers have it on lockdown for all of us!” said Chun-Ri, before music began to cut in over their radios. “Here, no more me talking. Listen to my halmeoni’s favorite Western tracks! They play this in their Texas Korean BBQ Place on loop, let me torture with it too.”
  15.  
  16. “I've wrangled, and I've rambled, and I've rodeoed around
  17. I've never once thought of settling down”
  18.  
  19. “This song! Oh my god!” yelled Charles.
  20. “Charles destroyed his vocal chords on this trying to yodel, I remember. I was deaf for a week!”
  21. “Shut up, Torako!”
  22. Charles and Torako went silent, simply giggling both as the song started. One of Charles’s drunken karaoke favorites when him and Torako were first dating. He pulled up beside her, holding her hand as they blasted up the 89.  
  23.  
  24. “Let's ride into the sunset together
  25. Stirrup to stirrup, side by side”
  26.  
  27. Before long, the town buildings zooming past their vision slowly became golden-sunlit red rock, as they finally began the descent into the Zion valley, the orange Western sun meeting them right in the eyes. The Rangers had peeled back and went back to Kanab, after Charles and Torako rode past the checkpoint past Mt Carmel. As they rode into the Valley, the Virgin River glowed like a rippling blanket of shimmering golden silk, welcoming them back home. The rest of the PAYDAY! Gang was waiting just out of sight, with food, drink, and tobacco both wacky and non-wacky in constant supply.
  28. But most importantly, him and the love of his life had just ducked bullets from vaqueros and narcos alike today. No matter how close their bullets got, or how many near misses he had, so long as he had her, they made it through. Charles couldn’t help but feel he wasn’t doing too bad for an Alberta cowboy on the wrong side of the border.
  29.  
  30. “When the day is through, I'll be here with you
  31. Into the sunset we will ride”
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