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Chapter 2

Across the field Jake could see the lights of the ‘Corkscrew’. It looked like a busy night, as he watched many sets of headlights pulling into the parking lot. The band music reverberated off the dense forest of majestic old pine trees. Those pines, hundreds of years old, stood strong, reaching up high towards the moon and the star filled east Texas sky. Jake thought how those trees must be amused at the arrogance of man, how we live out our lives as though our problems, our existence is all encompassing, and important to the universe. When, in reality, a man’s lifetime leaves no more impression than a pebble tossed into an ocean.

Well, Jake thinks, I should be getting over there; the crew will need my help. Jake continued to sit on his big porch, watching the lightning bugs, dreading going to his own creation. The ‘Corkscrew’ had been conceived far from east Texas. Jake was racing the Can-Am circuit years ago, at Laguna Seca, in the hills of the California Monterrey Peninsula. This road-racing track should be reserved only for the brave, best known for its infamous ‘corkscrew’, a section of the course that features a twisting left hand turn, dropping steeply into a curling right hander, where the banking change of the track can catch even the best drivers off guard with disastrous results.

On that day Jake’s driver, at the wheel of the best car in the field (Jake’s assessment), negotiated the ‘corkscrew’ without a problem, but on the final turn of the course, the final turn of the race, victory had been snatched from Jake’s team because the driver never turned! The son of a bitch just drove straight into the wall! Right at that exact moment Jake decided that he would stop putting himself through this torture that people call auto racing and open a bar. A nightclub where he could relax and never go through this disappointment, this heartache, this shit again! All he had to do was turn that fucking car! Jake re-lives that moment as he has several times a week since it happened many years ago. The glorious victories fade, they are just trophies and photos hanging on the wall of the ‘Corkscrew’, but the failures, the coming up short, those hang with him, locked away in the recesses of his mind, awaiting the right moment to pop up and drag Jake’s heart back to those times. A person can’t run from failure, he knew that now, but that’s when the ‘Corkscrew’ was conceived. Jake would have named it turn eleven, but there was nothing worth mentioning about that turn, any idiot could drive that turn.

Jake liked sitting on his porch in the night, but it was time to go to work. He scratched his big cat, ‘Charlie’ on the head, and said, “Boy, I’ve got to go to work.” Charlie answered with a questioning scrawl, never a meow, just a scrawl.

Jake ambled out into his yard and climbed into his old Jeep, started it up and began the quarter of a mile trek around the field to the country nightclub known as the hottest dance hall and best restaurant in East Texas. The ‘Corkscrew’ may have been conceived in a time of failure; however, the club had become a success story beyond Jake’s wildest dreams.

This sprawling establishment built into a steep hillside employed thirty-two people and featured dining, dancing, and entertainment. Jake had risked his life savings of close to a hundred thousand dollars creating the ‘Corkscrew’, with many friends and family members predicting doom, only to find that in just a few years he not only made his stake money back, but had earned hundreds of thousands very quickly, enabling an expansion and insuring Jake a secure financial future.

The ‘Corkscrew’ was three tiered. At the top of the hill was a very large stage enclosed on three sides, open to the dance floor, about eight feet below the stage. On the sides of the stage there were doors leading into hallways that led fore and aft alongside the club. Out back were dressing rooms and lounges for the entertainers and access to parking for buses or motor homes. These hallways had stairwells descending down forward to the kitchen where meals could be carried up to the entertainers.

The dance floor was one hundred foot square and had a hardwood floor. All epoxied over with a hard, thick, seamless finish that allowed dancers to glide over its smooth finish. On both sides of the stage and towards the front of the club were tables, where people could watch the show and enjoy their drinks. Near the walls on both sides were bars reminiscent of old west saloons. The dance floor was separated from the seating area with polished wooden counters that were wide enough to serve as tables, with high bar stools both at the bar and the dividing counters.

Ten feet below the entertainment area was the restaurant seating area. Standing in the entrance, looking into the club to the right was a large grilling station with a fabricated hood that extracted all the cooking smoke. At this point Chefs would prepare steaks & seafood over open fires, behind them; further to the right were two sets of double swinging doors leading to the large modern kitchen where the rest of the meals were prepared.

To the left leading down and curving was a paved walk path, scale modeled exactly after the ‘corkscrew’ at Laguna Seca. Although sized for humans to walk, rather than cars to race, it did capture the look of that formidable section of road racing track. At the bottom of the ‘corkscrew’ sat an authentic road racing competition automobile, separating the club from the restrooms that led off to the far left. The walls were lined with racing photographs, artwork, awards, and mementos of an action packed racing lifestyle that was Jake’s prior life. In a geographical area where diners were use to frozen breaded steak patties and instant mashed potatoes, all covered in greasy gravy, the ‘Corkscrew’ enjoyed a reputation for fine dining with Chef Herbert Kirkindal overseeing the preparation of cuisine that combined the southwest prominence of central and west Texas food with the Cajun flavors and French influence of Louisiana cooking. Any and all competition had quickly fallen by the wayside, crushed by Jake’s desire to make, his place, the ‘Corkscrew’, the best.

The parking lot was over half full, Jake noticed as he parked his Jeep out back in his space. Jake sauntered on through his office without even turning on the light, to the right, down the stairs, the walls lined with old racing photographs, to a doorway on his left that led in behind the port side bar. The employees had begun using the nautical terms port and starboard to avoid the confusion that had developed after the massive expansion.

Reese was manning the port bar alone. Reese was a short, very muscular, young black man, mid twenties; with a great personality that Jake took to immediately when he had interviewed Reese for a job. Reese had played football in high school, but had been injured, so no athletic scholarship. Reese had applied for academic scholarships and his grades were there, but no scholarship was granted, and his family couldn’t afford to pay for college, so Reese had just taken jobs wherever, working for months, sometimes for weeks at disconnected places, just for a check. Now Reese had a home, a place he belonged and a job that he enjoyed, with people he liked. Reese poured two tall glasses of iced tea and handed one to Jake.

“Well, Jake, it’s shaping up like another busy night,” Reese said, watching Jake’s face for a sign of what kind of mood he was in tonight.

Jake was swigging his tea down in big gulps, “Man was I thirsty!” Jake said, and then adding, “You sure do make some good tasting tea, Reese.” Reese thought about that new twelve hundred dollar brewing machine Jake had just bought and how he had worked tea brewing down to a science by following the instructions in the book that came with the machine then said, “Yeah, you’re sure lucky to have me here.” They both chuckled, and then Reese said, “Ol Fernandez said there is some fella looking for you.”

“Oh, Yeah?” Looking surprised, Jake said more to himself, than to Reese, “I wonder who that could be?”

“Fernandez said that it was some old racing buddy of yours.”

Well now Jake’s interest was really peaked. Jake didn’t have many friends and all of his old racing pals lived far away. They seldom saw each other and made contact very rarely, usually just to announce another death. The conversations would go something like this. “Hey Jake, this is Fast Freddy!”

“Hey you old bastard, how the hell are you doing?” Jake would reply.

“Man I’ve never been better,” was Fred’s come back, with an added, “I thought I would let you know that Old Speedy Morgan passed away.”

This would cause a pause in the conversation, as memories of Speedy’s racing prowess would come rushing into Jake’s consciousness. “Aw, I can’t believe he’s gone! Man, that son of a bitch could drive!” Reducing a man’s entire life into one descriptive phrase.

“Yeah, he could drive,” responded Fast Freddy, adding, “You know I think he was younger than both of us.” Now thinking of his own mortality, then winding up the conversation with burial details passed along the old racers gossip line, no one wanting to attend, no one wanting to see one of their own, lying there, dead in a box.

“Jake,” Reese brought Jake back to the present, “I can call Ol’ Fernandez up, if you want.”

“No, that’s alright, I’ll head on down there and see what’s happening.” Then Jake added, “Thanks for the tea, I’ll see you later.”

Jake headed off down the ‘corkscrew’ wondering what or whom he would find. Jake came down behind his Trans-Am display car, stopping in the shadows, just outside the display lighting, scanning the dining area, checking each table for something familiar. The band started up with a bang, after their break, playing ‘Lawyers, Guns and Money’.

The dining room was crowded; they were making the money tonight. The aroma from steaks, cooking on the grill, really had Jake’s mouth watering, as he hadn’t eaten since this morning. “I’m an innocent by stander,” Jake sings along to the band, “Somehow I got stuck between a rock and a hard place and I’m down on my luck!” Not seeing anyone, Jake was about to give up and go look for Fernandez when he spotted him, but it wasn’t an old friend. No, this wasn’t a friend at all, but the worst enemy Jake had ever had in auto racing, his nemesis that had snatched victory from him so many times, usually by cheating. The person,who had put Jake out of racing, ruined what should have been Jake’s greatest win. Jake had never forgiven him. The man he had battled across the nation and across the decades that he thought he would never lay eyes upon again… was sitting in Jake’s restaurant, STEELE! The meanest, toughest, most fighting son of a bitch in motorsports, and who, until recently Jake had put out of his thoughts altogether. Now Jake felt like kicking his ass!

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