NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Blue Smoke and Burnt Rubber: Chapter 11

Cook County Mile

Chris slammed the door to the silver pick-up normally towed behind Danny’s RV. He looked around the crowded parking lot and located a shopping cart pushed up on an island. Grabbing the red bar that read “Super D Mart”, he headed into the store mentally reviewing his list.

Danny always wanted to find a six-pack of energy drink, two big bags of chips, a small mountain of fruit, romaine lettuce, chicken nuggets, parmesan cheese and whole-wheat pita pockets in his cupboards. Chris did his best to meet expectations.

The doors slip open, the cold air blasting the perspiration from his skin. Madonna’s voice echoed through the vaulted ceilings, mingling with the squeak of sticky wheels and a child somewhere demanding to go home.

The one thing Chris had learned over the past year, all supermarkets were the same. It didn’t matter if you picked up ground beef in Alabama or Montana, the ketchup sat next to the mustard and the cat food near the household cleaning products. He cruised through the produce department, tossing in bananas, melons, oranges…

At the deli, he pulled a number and settled in to wait. Maybe O’Flynn avoided deli meat like the plague, but Chris was not such a saint. Roast beef, lean and rare, on soft white bread made the best sandwich on the planet.

“Oh! I’m sorry.”

He barely looked up before giving an absent smile at the girl who just ran into his cart. “Don’t worry about it.”

She stood there for a moment longer. Chris looked behind him. Was he blocking a display she wanted? No, the 50% off rack sat barren. When he looked back at her, raising an eyebrow hoping for further enlightenment, she smiled back.

In another place and time, the platinum blonde curls, tight yellow tank and pleasurably brief shorts may have grabbed his eye, but he was tired. Fifteen hours on the road and now chores… he really just wanted his roast beef.

“Can I help you?”

She looked around, frowned, and then pulled her sunglasses down. “I need your help. Meet me at the Speedway WireFree Services hauler.” Seconds later, she melted into the customers gathered around the deli and vanished.

Chris swallowed. How in the hell had Cody Dunhurst appeared in Illinois?

***

The beauty of Wednesdays at the track was the silence. The security guards were posted at all the gates, but they just waved as soon as they identified one of the team logos on your shirt. A few fans wandered through the chaos of the t-shirt haulers wedging themselves into their allotted spaces. Those people weren’t the rabid version that arrived on raceday.

Chris weaved his golf cart down the lane, keeping his eyes open for the red hauler with the giant scanner emblazoned on the side. Agent Silverton’s phone number was on speed-dial. His finger and conscience itched to push the button. First, Chris needed to understand the blonde hair, the unusual dress and covert contact in the deli department.

The Speedway WireFree Services hauler appeared from behind the purple No. 52 Beau Valentine tractor. Chris slowed down to observe before entering into a conversation he was not at all sure he really wanted. It had been six weeks since the party at the Double Malt Bar, since the fire and four weeks since the police found Randy Ellis’ body.

Cody appeared from the back carrying a box, her face hidden beneath a company hat and sunglasses. She spoke to Hal Brisbaum, the owner of the on-track radio supplier. He nodded. Chris didn’t notice any smiles or other indications the two were friends. Did Hal know who he had hired?

Chris gave a little more gas and the cart sped up to the trailer.

Hal, his round, red face creased by decades at the track, burst into a wide smile. “Young Weaver! What can I do for you? Does Brad need something?”

Hal’s question gave Chris the inspiration needed. “Uh, yeah.” He reached next to him and snagged his ever-present headset. “These are giving me static something fierce.” He stood and handed up the supposedly faulty set. “I wanted to get it fixed before the weekend.”

Hal leaned on the counter, waving the earphones up and down. “Not a problem. How’re your folks? When did you get home last?”

Cody finished unloading the box she was working on, gave Chris an obvious nod to the left and then sauntered into the back of the hauler.

“Uh, I’ll see them next week, when we have the off week. It’s been a month, but Mom says she has three charity events this week. I don’t think she has time to miss me…”

“Nonsense, son…” Hal’s voice receded to the back of Chris’ mind as he tried to see where Cody had disappeared.

“Chris? Chris!”

“Yes?”

“She’s out back unloading the cart.”

Chris grinned, frowned then took off, hoping Hal interpreted his flush as one of embarrassment, not fear.

She sat on the extra long cart used at the track to deliver goods to the various souvenir haulers, her ankles crossed and feet keeping rhythm with the music pouring from a nearby hauler.

“I didn’t recognize you.”

She kept her sunglasses on, sending careful glances in all directions. “That was the point. The only place I feel safe is on the road, with the circuit. I know where to hide.”

He walked a little closer, noticing her jagged fingernails and healing scrapes on her knuckles. “Are you alright? Are you hurt?”

Her mouth wavered. “I…I’m not real sure. I wanted somebody to know I’m alive… before… before they find me.”

“Who?” His cellphone felt heavier in his shorts pocket. Which speeddial was it? He thought #11.

She shook her head. “I can’t say.”

“Cody! I can get you help! I know an agent…”

“I’m dead, either way. Hell, Ellis is dead, isn’t he? I was there…

Chris sank onto a nearby box. “You were? Did you… you know.”

She stared at him, the time stretching between them. Her sunglasses reflected the red of the hauler behind him, the color of blood. “I was there.”

He couldn’t decide whether her voice wavered with guilt or sorrow. “Look, I’m gonna give you the number of Agent Silverton. I might even call him myself. You… you need to tell someone what you know.”

Cody leaned forward, her damaged hand landing on his knee. “Thanks, Chris. You’ve always been a nice guy, you know?”

“Will you talk to him?”

She waited a moment before looking away. “I’m not done being afraid that guy will find me and finish the job he started. I’m safe with Hal…”

“Is Hal safe with you?”

She didn’t answer. Instead she jumped off the cart and picked up a box before speaking. “Don’t tell Van Lytton, but I need you to talk to Fielding. Get Stan to tell you why he had to take the win from Valentine and then come find me.”

“He took the win because the engine was too big…”

Cody laughed. “No. Go back and remember the day. Hal said C.J. Parker saw the whole thing. They sealed the inspection bay five minutes after impounding the car for teardown? You knew then something was wrong. Ask Fielding and then you’ll begin to understand.”

Chris walked back to his cart, smiling at Hal before heading to the infield. He wondered if he would ever understand what happened to Cody.

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