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Chapter 15

The community had put up with enough, if Ol’ Chalmers couldn’t work, as good hearted as they were, they just could not go on feeding and taking care of him. So, now they had loaded him up in a wagon and were hauling him out to the cemetery to bury him.

On their way out they were flagged down by a concerned citizen, “Where y’all taking Ol’ Chalmers?” He asked with a worried tone.

“Well, Ol’ Chalmers won’t work, won’t take care of himself and we’re all tired of feeding him, so we’re hauling him off and burying him!” Was the chilling response from one of the disgusted citizens.

A charitable man that had worked hard all his life and a man that God had blessed with abundance, the concerned citizen responded, “No need for that boys, I’ve got a bushel of corn right here and I’ll just give it to Ol’ Chalmers for free and he can live on that and when that’s gone, I’ll…”

Ol’ Chalmers had set up in the back of the wagon looking out, “Is that there corn already shelled?” He asked with concern in his voice.

Caught off guard the citizen paused for a long moment, then said, “Uh, no you would…have to shell it…”

Chalmers interrupted the concerned citizen, “Not shelled…drive on boys!”

The ‘Corkscrew’ was filled to capacity and cars were still streaming in off the highway. Jake checked his entertainment schedule and it was just his house band playing tonight and they were good, but usually didn’t bring the people out like a big name did.

Jake took his table in the corner of the restaurant. Fernandez came over and set down. “I can see my absence lately has really hurt business.” Jake made the joking remark to compliment Fernandez.

“It’s the combination of good food, friendly service, lovely atmosphere, and you guys making headlines winning races everywhere.” Fernandez loved his job and his boss. He felt that this was his place too. Jake made them all feel that way. “What is it boss that drives you this way?”

Jake looked down thinking it over; even he didn’t have an answer. “I don’t know, Fernandez, what do you think?” Jake watched his old friends expression, thinking to himself, that there is no answer.

“Well, it’s not greed that’s for sure, as you are a very generous man. However, you are obsessed with being the best, refusing to settle for less. I am inspired by that and try to be more like that, as do others here with us and I can truthfully say even if you closed down today, when we went from here, we would be better people for knowing you and we all respect and admire you very much.”

Fernandez pulled at his moustache, his dark eyes shifting side to side. He was suddenly embarrassed so he added, “Look at me, whiling away the time, I have a job to do,” then he walked off quickly.

Jake thought back to a too skinny young man that had nothing, was given nothing. He had nothing that is except for that glint in his eyes, a love for speed, a burning desire to make something of himself and a lust for life, not greedy? Fernandez just didn’t know.

“Yeah,” Jake said to himself. “I am greedy, I’m greedy for life, that’s what’s driven me, a desire to live life to the fullest and when I put it all on the line taking it to the edge that my friend is living and that is when I feel most alive.” People like me are easy to spot…they show speed and lust in every look. Jake reflected for a moment on that familiar look and his mind was filled with Sandy.

“No, Suzanne, Jake is not too quiet, he’s just a man of few words.”

Suzanne looked at Sandy over the top of her glasses, and then said, “What’s the difference?”

“The difference is Jake’s a man that speaks when he has something to say, a quiet man yes, but not too quiet. Those guys are milk toast, you know the type you like, and you can push them around.” Sandy smirked at her partner and friend.

“I just don’t want you to get hurt, Sandy.” Suzanne walked across the room and put her hand on Sandy’s. “He just seems like…oh, I don’t know what I mean, he’s handsome, rich, intelligent, but there is something there that’s different.”

Sandy looked into her friends face and smiled a devilish look, “Yes, you’re right and that …that is what gets me so excited…and that look he gets sometimes…ooooh!”

Steele came into Jake’s office. “Jake, if you need to go anywhere from now on, just use our team Learjet.”

Jake looked at his old friend, other than the patch he didn’t seem to have been affected by that brutal day. He was the same. “Learjet?”

Just this morning my attorney called and since my civil case against Johanson was settled for over one hundred million dollars, he has been seizing all of Johanson’s property, that’s where the Learjet came from…I’ve already had the graphics changed to our team colors…” Steele’s sentence just kind of wandered off as he went into some deep thought.

“That’s great…I guess, I mean, we would rather, none of that had happened, but Johanson won’t be needing it where he’s going,” Jake struggled with the conversation unsure of what to say. “Hey I would like to borrow it for one little trip.”

Steele turned his twinkling eye on the partner he had grown so fond of, “Don’t you listen, it’s team property now, that means you own fifty percent, and so you don’t have to borrow it. We even have a pilot working for us now.”

The Gala was one of the biggest on the New York social calendar; famous celebrities from around the world had descended upon the ballroom of the New York Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Limousines were lined up bringing together the rich and famous. Photographers were giving regular folks a glimpse of a lifestyle that they really couldn’t believe even existed.

Into all this came Jake Rhoad. It wasn’t the first tuxedo Jake had ever worn, but it was the first one he had ever owned and it was the best. An antagonist had once told Jake that not everyone could wear an eight hundred dollar suit, trying to put Jake in his place. Well you couldn’t buy this tux for eight hundred and judging by the response of the ladies who had cast their eyes upon Jake in it, the results were almost breath taking and it did belong on Jake.

Steele had hatched this plan and had somehow wrangled Jake an invitation. The flight, the limousine and the tuxedo had all been arranged by Steele, taking Jake’s idea for a visit and turning it into a night Jake would never forget. Jake protesting all the while thinking this was not him, but now curiously Jake felt that he belonged with it all.

As Jake pulled up to the magnificent entrance and the doorman opened his limo door, Jake felt more at ease than he ever would have imagined. He even waved a brief gesture to the crowd as the paparazzi snapped away. At the end of the red carpet stood a man and Jake handed him his card. Steele had known all of the proper procedures, which led Jake to the question of just who Steele was and how did he know so much about everything?

As the man in the coat with tails took Jake’s card he said, “Thank you sir,” then turned and walked to the top of the steps looking out over an elaborate gala, then announced on a microphone. “Mr. Jake Rhoad.” He then bowed and swept his arm around in a semi-circle as to lead Jake into the room. Another similarly dressed man now approached Jake and asked for his invitation, which he looked at and then said, “This way please,” leading off to a table along the ballroom floor.

The orchestra was playing a lively tune that Jake had heard many times, but had no idea what it was or from whom it had originated.

The waiter that showed Jake to his table left and another appeared with a silver bucket with iced champagne. He proceeded to open it with much flair and poured Jake a glass, then asked, “Would you like caviar?”

Jake really didn’t know, but answered, “Yes, please.”

Soon a tray with buttered toast and caviar in a silver bowl were set before Jake, who after thanking the waiter smeared a piece of toast with a liberal amount of caviar and bit down on it. The combination staggered his taste buds and Jake loved it. The champagne served to cleanse the palate, preparing it for another startling sensation. Jake thought about all those years at racetracks eating hot dogs and how had it led him to this. Jake grimaced at the thought of a hot dog and then laughed to himself.

Jake looked all about him as the place was rapidly filling up, the moment felt almost surreal to him, yet as odd as these surroundings were to Jake, he still felt that he belonged. Jake was a natural gentleman that had always appreciated the finer things in life even when, due to circumstance, at times he had been denied them. While many here probably would have looked down on those that had participated in the hard manual labor that had been so much a part of Jake’s life, others, Jake believed, would appreciate the winding road that was Jake’s life and because of or rather in spite of Jake’s humble beginnings, Jake had made it and had done so with pure energy and ability.

As people arrived their names were announced, many of them Jake recognized as leaders in commercial enterprises and endeavors. Others were film stars, musicians or entertainers. It was all very glamorous. The ambiance was set by lighting, which was enough to see by, but still darkened in many areas and also set by the music and festive mood everyone seemed to be in. The men were mostly wearing tuxedos predominately black, while the women were a myriad of colors with many different styles and types of outfits, although most did wear dresses.

“Ms. Sandra Jones and Mr. Jeffery Thomas.” Jake had just poured another glass of champagne, brimful when this announcement made its way into his consciousness. He stood up abruptly and turned toward the entrance. Suddenly his hand holding the glass as he hurled around, ran right into an approaching woman’s breasts. Drenching both breasts and the fabric that covered about a third of them. The woman let out a shrill shriek from either the cold champagne or anger.

“You idiot!” She shouted.

Jake immediately grabbed his napkin and began to sop off her breasts. “I am so sorry,” Jake stammered out.

“What are you doing?” The woman asked, now suddenly in a calm voice. Her head angled down looking at Jake’s hands on her bust.

Jake froze, his hands still resting on her breasts, “Why, uh…I was trying to dry them off…I suppose…” Jake now feels every part of her through the sheer fabric as he stares nervously into her eyes.

“Jake Rhoad what are you doing here?”

At the familiar voice, Jake turns his head to look right into Sandy’s eyes; she had walked up right into this scene.

“Why, uh, Sandy what a surprise…”

Sandy looks from Jake’s face to his hands, still resting on the woman’s breasts and back to Jake’s face, “Yes, I can see…”

The woman now is smiling, over the shock.

Jake yanks his hands away suddenly when he realizes where they were.

“Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend Jake?” Sandy asked.

Jake now totally out of sync, pauses, but before he can speak the woman with the wet breasts says, “Hello darling…Sandy isn’t it? Jake dear has told me, oh so much about you, Jake darling that was fun, but I really must be going and get them dried off properly.” She then walked off into the dark.

Jake’s mouth was hanging open watching her walk away, laughing. When he heard, “Is this a friend of yours, Sandra?”

Jake turned to find a dark complexioned, rather polished looking fellow staring at him.

“Yes, it is Jeffery, Mr. Jeffery Thomas, Mr. Jake Rhoad.” Sandy made the introductions.

“Hello,” Jake says shaking his hand with his sticky champagne covered hand.

“Nice to meet you, Jake is it?”

“Yes, Jake is the owner of the auto racing team we sponsor.” Sandy staring now into Jake’s face with an inquisitive look.

Jeffery was wiping his hand on his handkerchief, “Well, it was my pleasure Jake, but we can see that you have your hands full and we should be getting to our table, darling.”

“I’ll be along in a moment dear,” Sandy smiles at Jeffery, whom now gives a cocked head glance at Jake and turns to walk away, Sandy watching after him. When he had left, Sandy looks in the direction the women had taken and says, “Jake, who is that woman?” Sandy looks at Jake and she looks concerned.

“Sandy, I don’t know her…she…”

“You don’t know her! You were massaging her boobs for Christ sakes…” Sandy cut off Jake’s explanation and sounded very jealous.

“Look, Sandy I’m here to see you, I wanted to…” Jake now looked off towards Jeffery, “Who is that guy?” Jake’s tone changed from pleading to outrage, as his jealousy manifested itself.

“How dare you ask me who I’m out with…you, you…” Sandy is mad now.

“Me? You just asked me about her.” Jake responds as he points with his thumb in the direction the woman with the wet breasts had gone.

“Her is it? I thought you didn’t even know her!” Sandy turned and stormed off, leaving Jake speechless and stunned.

Jake sat down flabbergasted. How could everything have gone so wrong? All his plans and schemes shot to hell in a blink of an eye. Later, Jake went to wash his sticky hands in the gentlemen's room and as he was finishing up, in walked Sandy’s date, Jeffery, smirking at Jake in the mirror.

“Jake, isn’t it? Maybe you grease monkey types should stay in your own element, Ol’ Boy.” Jeffery sounded arrogant.

Jake looked up, now staring him down.

“And really, Ol’ Boy, some people just shouldn’t wear an Armani, that tux is wearing you, I’d say…”

Jake said not a word…people had been trying to put him in his place for years.

The old black man, that was the gentlemen’s room attendant, rose from his chair and walked over to Jake with his brush and began dusting Jake’s coat, “Well, if you was to ask me, I find the gentleman’s attire to be perfectly suited to both the occasion and the gentleman…a handsome combination I would say.” He smiled a big smile to Jake, “and I must add that a gentleman would never behave the way that you have sir.” He looked right into Jeffery’s eyes.

“Why you old nigger, I ought too…” The sentence was never finished as Jake grabbed Jeffery with both hands, slamming his back against the wall.

“Now you apologize for that…” Jake hurled Jeffery into the nearest stall from which he came, in a moment, a gurgling sound, then an, “I’m sorry,” followed by more gurgling and a flushing sound.

Jake straightened his tie in the mirror. He could see Jeffery emerge with a wet upper torso and a bloody nose. Jeffery exited the room with only one hostile look.

The attendant handed, a smiling Jake, a towel, “It seems the gentleman has few words, but is extremely communicative.” They both laughed and Jake tossed a hundred into the old man’s tip container, as he went out into the now packed ballroom.

Jake now decided to forget all those problems. His mood had turned, like flipping a switch. He was going to have a good time tonight and dancing, which he could do well and enjoyed, was going to be a big part of his evening. Back at his table he ordered more champagne and picked the pheasant for his dinner. Waiters were hustling in and out of all the tables, serving each course, one at a time. Jake hadn’t intended on dining alone, but he didn’t mind, in fact, he was used to it. About this time the woman that Jake had drenched with champagne approached his table.

“Are you back, madam to seek more retribution?” Jake smiled as he asked.

“No, I feel terrible, I can see the harm I’ve caused…” She sounded sincere.

Jake, always the gentleman responded, “No, not at all…it is I that should feel bad, you’ve done nothing…please sit down.” Jake stood and held her chair for her, as she sat, “Have you ordered? I would love it if you do me the honor of dining with me.”

She looked at Jake and said, “Yes, I would like that, as I find myself alone also, as my husband was unable to attend, Mr.?”

Jake was now embarrassed, “Oh, excuse me, my name is Jake Rhoad and you are?”

She smiled, a genuinely beautiful smile, and then responded, “Mrs. Amelia Stoudenmire, from Texas,” she held out her hand, which Jake didn’t know whether to shake it or kiss it, so he mentally said what the hell and lightly kissed her hand.

Amelia said, “Its so rare to find a gentleman these days, Mr. Rhoad.”

Jake knew he had done the right thing and was feeling very good about himself. Jake motioned the waiter, who came and Jake told him that Mrs. Stoudenmire would like to order.

“Mr. Rhoad, would you do me the honor of ordering for me?”

Jake ordered the same pheasant dinner, which made Mrs. Stoudenmire very happy. After the waiter had left, Jake looked his guest over and realized that she was a very attractive woman. Mrs. Stoudenmire had rather dark complexion skin with auburn hair and dark eyes, she wore a black full evening gown, which ended completely about her bosom area and served to display her very curvaceous figure, of which Jake already had some intimate knowledge of. She wore minimal jewelry, just some dangling golden earrings and a gold watch.

Jake asked, “Mrs. Stoudenmire, you said you were from Texas. That is my home also, what part are you from?”

“Please, Jake, call me Amelia. I am from Houston originally, however, we now live in East Texas on Lake San Rayburn, about an hour drive north of Houston and you Jake where are you from? What are you doing in New York?”

Jake liked Amelia’s frank manner and was enjoying the company, “I also live in East Texas on an old farm, not too far from you, out in the country west of Nacogdoches in Cherokee County.” Jake poured her some more champagne, “I’m here, in this place, Amelia pursuing the woman…I believe I’m in love with…” Jake stared off to where people were dancing, working off the before dinner drinks.

“Was that the woman who came up while…you were…uh…drying me off?” Thinking of the moment brought a chuckle to them both, as they relived that moment. Jake nodded affirmative. Suddenly there was Sandy, dancing by, glaring at Jake’s guest; her partner was looking in any direction, but towards Jake. Jake looked back towards Amelia, who had also seen Sandy’s glare.

She smiled a very warm smile and said, “She means a lot to you, I can see that Jake, I am so sorry, it was all just a misunderstanding…”

Jake looked at his new friend and smiled back saying, “Well, I’m not going to let it ruin my evening, not when I’m dining with one of the nicest and most beautiful women in the place. Would you think your husband would mind you dancing, one displaced Texan consoling another?”

“I thought you would never ask!” Amelia responded, as they both got up to dance and they danced wonderfully together. The moment was festive and soon Jake forgot all his problems.

Their dinner was served in courses and everything was excellent. It began with yellow tail snapper, crayfish and shrimp sausages. These were served with roasted orzo and buckwheat with a black bean sauce. This sauce was outstanding and had Jake analyzing it in hopes of using the recipe in his restaurant.

During the course of dinner, Amelia asked Jake, “Jake, what does a man such as yourself do?”

Jake thought about this often…what do I say is my occupation, his mother once referred to him as a welder! Well, he did know how to do most forms of welding, but he knew how to do a lot of things. No, he most assuredly wouldn’t be described as a welder, so he answered, “Amelia, I design, construct, and race competition automobiles.”

Amelia digested that, then said, “Wow, I bet that’s interesting, my husband is very interested in auto racing so I know you two will hit it off. He was supposed to be here, but his business required him in Mexico at the last minute and I wasn’t going to let that spoil my time. I come to this every year.”

The next course was beef consommé with port wine and gold leaf. This was a tasty soup that had meat dumplings and was wonderful.

Amelia noticed Jake assessing each course and asked about that, “Jake are you a food connoisseur?”

Jake looked up from his tasting session and grinned, “Well, no…you know Amelia all those years I spent following my dream in auto racing, I didn’t really have the time or quite frankly, the money to really eat well…I mean, I never went hungry…it’s just food at the race tracks or the shops wasn’t really quality food. Just things like hot dogs, burgers, or cold cuts, those kinds of foods, so when I finally left racing, I started a restaurant and dance hall and the emphasis is on quality, so I’m always looking for interesting, good food ideas…I just like eating quality food now, exclusively.”

Amelia now understood and said, “Jake, I swear you are an interesting fellow and do you know that I also am a fellow restaurateur?”

Jake now is surprised, “Don’t tell me, Stoudenmires in Nacogdoches?”

“That’s my place, so you heard of it?”

“Heard of it! I’ve had the pleasure of eating there. My restaurant is named ‘The Corkscrew’ and it’s not too far from yours, is this a small world or what?” They were both excited at finding they had similar business interests.

The next course was the pheasant. This dish was sautéed pheasant breasts in an apple and tomatillo sauce. It was creamy and delicious. As they ate, Jake enjoying his new friend and this event immensely, he took a moment to savor this time. So many years of struggle behind him and now he had time to actually reflect on the battle that was his life. Every success had been hard won and now everything was going his way.

With each course came a change in wine. With the appetizers, those wonderful seafood sausages, they had Inglenook Sauvignon Blanc. Along with the soup came Saintsbury Pinot Noir Carneros, now with the pheasant main course they were provided a Rutherford Hill Merlot, each course and the wine selection was designed to provide, not just sustenance, but a tremendous taste sensation to suit any gourmet’s palate.

The next course was confit of duck. This was a dish of highly seasoned meat cooked and served cold suspended in fat. As objectionable as this sounds, Amelia and Jake both inhaled it and each wanted to learn how to make it themselves. A Gorgonzola Polenta, then a spinach mousse, followed the confit. A Conn Creek Cabernet Sauvignon accompanied these three. Now came the finale, a dessert called Actuelle Fruit Cobbler, this scrumptious delight was very rich and very good, served with Champagne, a Maison Deutz Brut, which is very dry and worked excellently with the dessert dish. Following this elaborate meal that each described as one of the best they had experienced, the two connoisseurs set back in their seats enjoying each others conversation, the atmosphere, and their coffee. They danced away the night, each now forgetting everything, but the moment and their new friendship that turned out to last the rest of their lives.

As the evening faded, they each hating it to end, Amelia asked Jake, “Where are you staying while in New York?”

Jake was brought back to his reality by the questions, “Well, Amelia I’m not, I’m flying back to Texas after this event.” Jake thought about the ring in his pocket and the woman he loved that, now, wouldn’t give him the time of day, setting just over a few tables away. He looked in that direction and saw Sandy, her partner Suzanne, and a lot of men, all having a good time.

“Can you get a flight out this late?” Amelia asked, now reengaging Jake’s attention.

“Oh…well, yes you see I have my own plane now…a recent acquisition by my racing team…it’s ready and the crew should be there by now,” Jake looks at his watch.

“I would like to head home also but…” Amelia was politely hinting now.

“Well that settles it then…I’m taking you home tonight!” They both laughed, “but first Amelia, one last dance to top off a glorious evening!” And they danced. As they departed two dark eyes were burning fiercely at them from across the room.

On the tarmac at LaGuardia Airport, Jake exited the limo and turned his collar up against the chill wind, the driver was unloading Amelia’s luggage they had picked up while checking her out of the hotel. Amelia had gone up the stairs into the plane with the flight crew and hostess that were now team Road/Steele employees. One of the crew was storing Amelia’s luggage.

Jake stared up into the Heavens; the stars were beautiful in the clear, cool, indigo night sky. The running lights from the jet, setting there, gave Jake a feeling of mystery or a rather adventurous feeling of traveling, far away through the night to a future that always was a question mark. Others had a future that at least in the short term was very predictable, but not Jake, no for him life would always be an adventure and he wouldn’t have it any other way. Tonight had been just that and now he was hopping on his plane and winging off into the night with a strange woman, a new beautiful friend, but this was not how he had planned it, so much for plans. Jake was leaving behind the woman, he knew now, that he loved…the only woman for him and he had never told her so, he hadn’t been given the chance. Jake stared off down the runway back towards the city and thought about what he would have said, but Jake realized he had never been a great communicator when it came to women he was interested in…her date now…Jake grinned into the night, his green eyes flashing, the humor…reliving that moment…now her date had gotten Jake’s message, loud and clear. Then the moment was passed as Jake remembered the hurt and anger manifested in Sandy’s eyes…was it over, before it had ever really started? Jake felt the fool for rushing into this and with one last look in the direction of that cold, cold city, Jake turned and went to his plane and flew off into the night.

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