Chris pushed through the gyrating mob that filled the dance floor of O’Flynn’s Double Malt Bar. He waved at a couple crew members from the No. 47 team and their wives. Was that a new girl on the arm of Tommy Burke?
This was always a special night during the All-Star week. With the pit crew challenge behind them and tomorrow night’s qualifying yet to be run, this left the crews an evening to enjoy their family and friends’ company. Chris took advantage, too. Being able to drive home to his own bed after the on-track activity was a luxury not to be scoffed at.
Of course, the wildly popular bar owned by Danny O’Flynn was always crammed with a variety of tourists, groupies, racetrack employees and other locals who just wanted to be seen in the hottest spot on the GSCA social calendar. Chris ducked when a girl in a tight tank top and low-cut jeans bumped and ground her way around the floor. He smiled in appreciation of the display before moving on thinking, “Danny just might invite her to his hauler Saturday night.”
Harry Garrison had issued a specific invitation to the Van Lytton employees this evening. Danny agreed to open up The Loft at the Double Malt for their use. Chris joined up with Sarah Eddings, Harry’s PR liaison, near the stairs. They paused in front of the trophy wall.
O’Flynn clearly lived for the fame. Every cup, certificate, victory lane photo and dinged fender he owned littered the rear wall of the club. His perfect smile and diamond-studded sunglasses appeared every two feet with other noted personalities from the sport.
“So, do you know what Harry has in store?” Chris asked.
Sarah, still in her track attire, smiled in greeting and sipped at a bottle of beer. “Na-ah. Maybe he just wants a party for us. It’s been rough…” She paused and turned, giving Chris a close look. “How’re you doing? All better?”
He studied her drink for a moment, wishing for one himself. “Yeah, I’m fine.” He gestured at the stairs. “After you…”
They reached the top of the flight and paused, taking in the crowded room. Like any standard function room, long banquet tables lined three walls, decorated with checkered table cloths and over bright fluorescent lighting left no shadows. Chris’ sneakers squeaked on the heavily scuffed parquet floor.
Colton Preston, Brad and Harry all stood at the back of the room, clearly reviewing last week’s on-track excitement. Preston’s hands arced through a corner, the one on the inside beating on the outside. Various other crew members mingled, each holding some kind of drink or appetizer. Chris took a deep breath and relaxed.
The music from downstairs thumped the floor and floated through the air from speakers mounted in the corners. It looked like a party.
“Hey, Chris!” Cody Dunhurst waved from a corner.
He nodded at Sarah, who grinned back. Was that a wink? Gritting his teeth, he stopped and picked up a blue bottle of Blue Peak Malt at the small bar in the corner. He didn’t know who was footing the bill, but the bartender waved away the fiver Chris held up. Now, Cody…
She had called five times since the transmission on Danny’s RV died on I95 last week. Each voice mail asked the same question, “Are you OK?” Yet, that day at the lake, she really didn’t sound interested in him…just the cars.
She tipped her bottle to his. “You gotta thank Brad for the invite. I needed a night out.”
“I thought Harry sent out the word. At least that’s who sent me the text.”
She flipped the usual lock of hair behind her ear. “Maybe Garrison doesn’t have my cell. Brad left word at my office. Although, I don’t see Stan here.”
“I’m pretty sure he wasn’t invited. Harry implied this was a Van Lytton gig.” He took a closer look around the room. The tire specialists, engine builders, shocks, chassis…each department at the shop was clearly represented. He passed the over-the-wall gang downstairs. Brad’s assistant sat with several wives sat at one of the tables, currently passing pictures of kids between them.
He smiled and leaned forward. “So, why are you here? Did you bribe Brad?”
She giggled and blushed. “Didn’t you know? I’m hunting you down, Weaver.”
Chris laughed and took another pull on his drink. Since when did Cody giggle?
Silence settled over the room, drawing his attention away from her. They both looked at the top of the stairs.
Angry murmurs swept through the gathering.
Chuck Farley and Randy Ellis stood side by side.
The older mechanic took only a moment before he snarled, “What is this shit?”
Ellis stepped backward, his hands reaching for the doorframe.
Chris stood frozen. His ribs gave a ghost thud of pain.
“Ah, I see our guests have arrived.” Brad’s cultured tones cut through the taut silence. He smiled in Chris’ direction. “Miss Dunhurst.” Then turned toward the two men trying to fight the flush of anger washing over their faces. “Ellis, Farley. Won’t you please take a seat? I think we have things to discuss.”
Chris realized Cody was shaking… in fear? Surprise? Anger? Of that, he couldn’t be sure. “Just sit down,” he whispered to her.
The two men sank down into the two closest chairs to the door. Tommy Burke appeared from the shadows of the stairwell and closed the double doors to the room. Four other hefty Van Lytton employees joined him, blocking any egress from the party.
Cody didn’t appear able to move, expect for the shaking of her knees. Chris snagged a nearby folding chair and placed it behind her.
At last, she lowered herself into the chair, folded her hands on her lap and bowed her head.
Van Lytton cleared his throat, which successfully drew Cody’s attention back to him. Ellis and Farley’s had never wavered. “I’ve tried going through private investigators, police departments, district attorneys and even the officials that run this sport and nobody has been forthcoming in details on who is sabotaging my teams. I’m going to get answers. Nobody is leaving this room until I have them.”
The two men appeared to agree on a mutual plan of action. They crossed their arms over their chests and settled deeper in their seats.
Brad’s black eyes dismissed their bravado before locking on to Cody. “Miss Dunhurst? Perhaps you would like to begin the Q&A session?”
Chris watched her face pale. Her chest rose in panicked breaths. However, her hands stayed perfectly still.
“Of course, Mr. Van Lytton. What is it you wish to know?”
The tall man crossed the room, his heels clicking against the floor. Man, Brad intimidated the shit out of Chris when he did that. Why wasn’t Cody shaking in her shoes? Then he noticed her knee bouncing. Maybe she was.
“I want to know what Fielding knows. Who’s calling him? Why isn’t he backing me with the East Brainerd D.A.? Why…” His long arm straightened, his finger pointing at Randy Ellis. “Why didn’t he begin an investigation into the issuance of hot-passes?”
“You receive the same rulebook as every team at the beginning of the season, Mr. Van Lytton. It is the responsibility of each team to provide security for their own equipment and personnel at each track. The GSCA cannot be held liable in any such circumstance. Surely you can…”
“I don’t see any such thing!” Van Lytton screamed.
How odd. Brad often yelled. He raised his voice. Chris simply had never heard the boss’ voice rise into that register.
Too quickly, it returned to its usual smooth tones. “Well, now that I have the three of you, I don’t have to let you go. Each of you are now going to be my personal spies into this little world of sabotage.”
Ellis and Farley surged to their feet, only to be stilled by the strong hands of the crew members. Cody shrank into her chair. “Your hostage?”
Chris stepped back. A certain amount of unreality had entered the room. Was Brad losing it? The man didn’t look nuts, but really…
“You can’t keep her…”
“No, I can’t. But I can watch her. And you will be watched, Miss Dunhurst. Somebody will be on your tail twenty-four hours a day.”
“No!” At last, the emotion playing across her features found its voice. “That’s criminal!”
“And messing with cars, haulers, RVs, fuel, engines… none of this is potentially deadly? Hmmm? Perhaps you’d like to take your protests to the D.A.? I’d happily escort you downtown to file the complaint and all its particulars.”
Nobody said a word.
Cody looked across the room at the two restrained men.
“Boss,” Chuck’s grizzled voice cracked the silence.
Van Lytton’s head snapped around.
“What I did…what’s been done… if you just let it ride this year, everything would be okay. You know I worked for you for years. I would never hurt any driver. You just… you gotta trust us.”
Brad waited for further information. “Why?”
A crackling noise edged its way into the room. Something changed. Chris sniffed. Smoke. Not cigarette smoke. Not a burnt burger. Deadly gray fingers began curling beneath the closed door.
Sarah Edding’s scream shocked them all. “Fire!”
Chris grabbed Cody’s hand and headed for the rear exit, throwing his shoulder into the door when it failed to open at first.
An explosion rocked the building. Something downstairs. Something in the club. In the kitchen?
People began pushing him. Pulling at Cody. Stepping on his feet. Coughing.
The sprinkler system opened up, sending icy cold water over everybody.
Chris stumbled onto the fire escape and began running down the steep stairs. He coughed and swiped at his watering eyes. Others continued to crowd around him.
Everybody… except Cody Dunhurst.