Saturday morning…no race to run; time to relax…take it easy…sleep in.
Someone’s knocking at the screen door. Jake gets his robe and stumps his big toe into his bedpost. Jake yells out obscenities…the person knocks at the door again… “Wait a damn minute, would you?”
Jake finally gets to the door and yanks it open…it’s Dale, the transaxle specialist.
“You!” Jake blurts out his surprise in a very harsh tone.
“What in the hell do you want?” Jake can’t believe that he’s even here.
“Jake…uh…Mr. Rhoad, can I talk to you for a minute?” Dale looks like a whipped dog.
Jake pushes out on the screen so Dale has to step away; Jake surveys the farmyard back and forth, “Are you alone?” Jake is feeling a little mean this morning and not in the mood for any of Johanson’s crap.
“Yes sir, I’m alone,” Dale looks even more sheepish; his face is very sweaty with mottled coloring around his swollen cracked lips.
“Well, what is it?” Jake’s tone is more even…business like.
“I’m ashamed of what I did Mr. Rhoad and I’m here to turn myself in,” Dale stares down during this confession, not wanting to look into Jake’s eyes.
“I started looking at myself and I’m just not proud of what I’ve become…and well, I’m ready to pay the fiddler.” Dale now looks up with watery eyes and Jake believed him, he sincerely felt bad.
“It looks too me like you already paid some for it,” Jake moved back then and said, “C’mon in…I was just going to make some coffee…would you like some?”
“Yes…yes sir.” Dale followed Jake into the living room, then into the kitchen.
Jake filled a saucepan with some water and put it on the stove. “Have a seat, Dale it will be a while.” Jake studied the young man for a moment, then said, “I’m going to go put some clothes on…make yourself at home, Dale…then we’ll have some coffee and we can talk.” Jake went off down the hallway.
Dale sat for just a minute, then got up and was looking around. Some photos on the wall pulled him back into the living room. Racing pictures mostly, but they weren’t the usual pictures of cars…these were pictures of the people. There was one of Jake with a group, all in the same uniform, standing behind some prototype racecar chassis with a body on it…another of Jake with an off-road racer, Jake looked about twenty years old in this picture.
Dale turned around and noticed a huge trophy setting amongst piles of magazines and unopened mail…moving the piles, Dale could read the plaque, “Winner, 1st place overall, SCORE Tecate BAJA 500.” Dale couldn’t believe it, he didn’t know that Jake raced off-road…one of Dale’s favorite forms of auto racing.
Jake came back down the hall, now wearing jeans and a sport shirt.
”You won the Baja?” Dale asked in a tone that sounded awed.
“Yeah, I did, Dale,” Jake dismissed the conversation and went to check on his coffee.
Dale followed him into the kitchen. “I didn’t even know you raced off-road, why when I was a…”
Jake interrupted, “Dale you didn’t take much time to find out anything, you just went right to work sabotaging my cars…which I believe you were going to try and explain?”
Dale had been put at ease by Jake’s forgiving nature and had misjudged that as Jake being easy, he wasn’t.
“Yes, sir it’s like this…I worked for Johanson and was doing real good until our car dropped out with what they claim was problems that I caused with my assembly.”
“Maybe, it was, nobodies infallible.” Jake had fixed them both cups of coffee, putting cream in his, handing Dales to him, black.
“Yes, I don’t think so, but possible…anyway I was wanting to do good and then Johanson’s team manager said that they would hate to let it out that I wasn’t worth a shit. He said I would never work again…he said he would make sure of that and I believed him.” Dale had sat back down and Jake sat across from him.
“What does this have to do with you working for me?”
“Well, sir, Johanson says they’ll overlook my shortcomings if I fix a problem for him.” Dale sips his too hot coffee that was strong enough to strip paint. He unconsciously wrinkles his face at the bitterness.
“So then he says that your team is cheating to win and y’all had screwed him over and he needs help to fix y’all,” this sordid story is beginning to chafe on Jake.
“That’s when you came to work for Rhoad/Steele?”
“No, sir I was telling them that I wasn’t that way…you see I’m not too educated and the only thing I can do, the only thing I am…I’m an auto racing gearbox man. I know these things and I know mine didn’t mess up.” So I said, “No Way. Then they said they was going to ruin me and then if I did this job on y’all then they would give me a recommendation and twenty-thousand dollars severance pay.” Dale looked sick now, as he relived it. “I know I did wrong,” someone else was at the door.
“Who now…it’s like I’m having a convention here or something…” Jake liked his solitude.
Jake opened the door and there was Steele.
“Sorry to bother you Jake, but we’ve got problems…”
“Come on in Steele,” Jake turns and heads back to the kitchen, Steele follows.
“What in the world are you doing here?” Steele burst out in a very angry voice.
“Steele, Dale here was just explaining why he sabotaged our cars…” Jake looks down at the seated Dale, as does Steele.
“That’s just it I didn’t do nothing, I took the job and was going to do it, but you all were so good to me…the best team I’ve ever seen and I just decided…NO. I didn’t care what Johanson’s bunch did or said, I wasn’t doing nothing.”
Steele stared holes through Dale for a moment, “Then who did it?”
“I didn’t know anybody did anything,” Dale responded, questioningly.
“I saw you at the night club, you took that envelope,” Jake’s voice was firm and commanding.
“That’s right Ja…Mr. Rhoad, I did, those two guys come at me and they said that they were going to fuck me up real bad and then go after my family, then they shoved that envelope into my hands and left me with I had better do that job by in the morning.”
Jake looked at Steele, who was still staring Dale down.
“Joe come and gave me what for and then I figured I was fired, so I just come home,” Dale sounded truthful and worried.
“So, what did you want to turn yourself in for?” Jake always saw through these stories and thought he found a hole in this one.
“I admit, I considered messing those gearboxes up, but I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t ever do something like that. I only said I would because Johanson scared me…that’s what I’m most ashamed of…letting that asshole and his two thugs scare the shit out of me.”
“Have you heard from them again?” Steele was sounding a little sympathetic.
“No, not a word,” Dale looks them both in the eye.
“The gearboxes were perfect…in fact, Joe said they were the smoothest shifting that they had ever been.” Jake saw the satisfaction and relief.
“Then why did you think I had sabotaged them?” Dale asked.
“Someone sabotaged the cars, but we caught it…after we saw you with Johanson’s bunch…taking that envelope.” Jake just laid it all out in one easy sentence.
“I see, well, I didn’t do nothin’…but I felt bad and just wanted to turn myself in for considering it.”
“Right…which still leaves us with a traitor in our midst…” Steele turned from Jake, back to Dale. “If we are to believe you, that is.”
“Is that all, Dale?” Jake asked quietly.
“Yes, that and I’m sorry,” Dale got up to leave.
At the door, Steele glanced hard at Jake, then said, “Dale, meet me at the shop at 8’ o’clock Monday morning.”
Dale looked stunned.
Jake was beginning to anticipate Steele, but even he was surprised.
“That’s right…you see we have a little bit in common now, you, Jake and me. I know how evil that son of a bitch, Johanson is, and we all will get some retribution one day. We’re going to do it on the track…don’t get there early though as I want to talk to the guys…first.”
“Thank you…you won’t never regret it,” Dale looked on the verge of tears.
Jake was very proud of his partner. Looking at Steele with his tanned seamed face, his eye patch and his one shining eye, he saw a man to be respected, an example of what one should aspire to be like. Jake also saw a warm human being that knew what it was like to be afraid, but to face up to those fears and eventually conquer them.
“Dale, you…make sure that we don’t,” Steele added with finality.
Dale departed and they watched him drive away.
Steele turned to Jake with a steely look to his eye, “That Johanson is going to try and ruin the wrong life one day…”
Then Jake could almost see the page in Steele’s mind turn.
“Partner, we’ve got another problem, Suzanne is missing.”
Jake’s mind turned to the image of Suzanne with Irving.
“It seems her assistant was supposed to fly with her back to New York this morning, but she wasn’t in her hotel and it looks like she didn’t sleep there.”
“Has anyone called Sandy?”
“Oh, yes, uh…Sandy is the one that contacted me,” Steele had a funny look just then.
“What?” Jake asked, no need for an explanation, “Go ahead and tell me.”
“Well, Sandy asked if I thought that Suzanne was with you?”
“Why on earth would she think,” Jake trailed off with that thought and moved onto the problem of what had happened to Suzanne.
“Suzanne’s with Irving,” Jake just blurted it out, “That’s all I know. I saw them leave together…after…uh…kissing at the ‘Corkscrew’ last night.”
Steele looked shocked, “Irving?” Steele pulled out his cell phone and began searching for Irving’s number, “Are you sure? Irving?”
Jake nodded affirmative, watching Steele dial…no answer and no message machine.
“Jake, Irving’s good, don’t get me wrong, but…”
“I know, I know, I thought the same thing last night and she is kind of a tease…that scares me, actually.”
Jake had picked up his phone to call Sandy. Sandy answered immediately. “Sandy, this is Jake, I was calling about Suzanne…”
“She’s in the hospital, Jake…I’m here at the East Texas Medical Center in Nacogdoches…Jake, she’s been beaten up.” Sandy began crying.
“Steele and I are on our way.”
Steele took the news hard. Silence was his only response. The trip was quiet, neither man wanting to speculate on what both men thought had happened.
Sandy met them in the hallway and said no one could see Suzanne…she had no details, just that she had been assaulted.
Jake went to get some coffee from a vending machine. Looking around the cafeteria-style room. Jake does a double take, as setting there at a table was Jeffery Thomas, Sandy’s date at the fashion ball and gala in New York.
Jeffery looked away when he noticed Jake, “Hello…Jeffery isn’t it?”
“Yes, that’s right, Jake.”
“What brings you down here to Texas?”
“I’m with Sandy, as if it’s any of your business.” Jeffery was recovered enough to be his normal sweet self.
Jake just smiled at him and went back to the waiting room.
The hospital looked dingy. The acoustic ceiling panels had water stains and some were warped. The walls near the floor were scuffed and scarred.
Several very obese black women were laughing and cutting up in the hallway, seeming impervious to the pain and suffering of those all around them, at the very least indifferent. Jake’s first thought was to get Suzanne out of this dump.
Amelia and Dallas had arrived. Amelia was hugging Sandy, comforting her.
Steele kept trying to call someone Jake suspected it was Irving.
The police were there asking questions. Jake avoided them. He did not want to share any comments of seeing Irving with Suzanne to anyone else.
Jake went and asked to speak to her doctor. It just so happened that he was available.
“Thank you for seeing me, I just wanted to know about Suzanne’s condition,” Jake asked the doctor this as the doctor appeared too busy to focus or even pay attention.
“And you are?” The doctor didn’t even look up at Jake.
“My name is Jake Rhoad…I’m Suzanne’s associate and close friend.” Jake didn’t like the doctor.
“I’m sorry, I can’t give you any information whatsoever,” then he just turned and walked away.
Jake felt like grabbing him and shaking him.
Sandy and Amelia had walked up as the doctor left, “What’s her condition?”
“I’m afraid they won’t say…not to me, anyway,” Jake sounded disgusted.
Amelia walked off down the hall after the doctor.
Sandy looked up into Jake’s face, “Who would do such a thing?”
“I have no idea, exactly what’s been done, do you?” Jake was ready to leave and wasn’t about to start speculation.
“No, just that she was assaulted and left here,” Sandy looked about nervously.
“Who said she was assaulted?” Jake was puzzled about how these accusations were flying around when the doctors refused to speak.
“Uh…it was the nurse…” Sandy looked really upset now, about to start crying again.
Something wasn’t right here, Jake could feel it, “Sandy, which nurse? When?”
Sandy’s face turned kind of twisted, “Why are you so concerned anyway?”
This statement, Sandy’s face, all was adding up to something, that Jake did not like it at all. “Sandy, Steele said you asked him if I was with Suzanne…why?”
“Why…that’s a silly question, Suzanne’s beautiful and everyone knows how you are…”
Jake’s eye brows raised unconsciously on that one, “Just how am I, Sandy?”
“Well, you know you can have any woman you want and Suzanne’s very desirable and I know she thinks you are handsome, she told me how lucky I am to have you, so I just thought that she and you were…”
“Sandy, nothings ever happened between Suzanne and me…she’s your best friend…” Jake studied Sandy’s face now, she was switching to that little girl demeanor that she sometimes would get.
“Sandy, what happened to Suzanne?”
Sandy stared up at him and was about to answer when Steele and Dallas walked up, “What’s the latest?” Dallas blurts out.
“I’m sorry we don’t know anything…yet,” Jake put emphasis on the yet, which wasn’t lost on Sandy.
Jake had heard enough, “Excuse me…Steele?” Jake’s tone said the rest.
Steele and Jake walked off together.
“Whatever you do, don’t accuse Irving…or anybody of anything…ok?” Jake asked Steele.
Steele looked just as confused as Jake felt. “Sure Jake…whatever you say.”
“Let’s just let the police handle this, I have no idea what happened to Suzanne, but I feel I need to stay out of it and they can work it out…look I’m out of here, call me if you need me.”
Jake turned and left, leaving a somewhat perplexed Steele staring after him, rubbing his chin. Jake went straight to the race shop. It was noisy there; the fabricators were rebuilding the car destroyed by Sandy at Willow Springs.
The chop saw was cutting off some 4130 steel, sparks were flying through the air. The air filtration system was having a hard time keeping up with the welding fumes and carborundum dust filling the fab shop’s air.
Irving was there, working away. Seeing Jake, he waved and then after giving a few instructions walked over to talk.
“Hey, how are you doing?” Jake looked at his friend trying to see into his soul…could he have done this to Suzanne?
“I’m fine…just came from the hospital…Suzanne’s been hurt,” Jake watched Irving’s eyes closely…but he saw only surprise…actually shock.
“Suzanne? What happened to her?”
Jake relaxed a little…Irving wasn’t that good an actor. Jake now felt that Irving had nothing to do with her attack.
“She was attacked last night and beaten badly,” Jake could see this distressed Irving a great deal.
“Last night…why I was just with her last night,” Irving was staring off into oblivion, as he was prone to do when contemplating things.
“I’ve got to go see her,” he turned and walked off quickly to the crew locker room.
Jake thought, “How do you know where to go, Irving?” Jake went out to his office and had just sat down when Irving, now changed, poked his head in the doorway, “What hospital is she in, Jake?”
After Irving had left, Jake thought how fragile is human trust, how people can spend much of their lives together and then turn on each other so quickly.
Jake walked back out to the fab shop and was looking at the progress on their chassis.
This was his element, this and the track. Leave the lies and the games to others, just keep to your element…what you’re capable of coping with…what you’re good at. Just keep with that and let others play out their lives in the manner that they wish.
As Jake told himself that, he turned away, his eyes landing on a photograph of the team drivers…Jessica and Sandy’s beautiful faces, smiling back at him…he looked away…fast.