Stoudenmires’ was dark and it was noisy. It was also the scene for the latest Rhoad/Steele victory extravaganza. Jake had never been too fond of these types of celebrations.
The moment of victory, you see, that was the climax, the peak. Then it was over and time to begin work on the next objective, the next mountain to climb. That is what its like, how it feels, for people like Jake, but others like to relish the victory, wallow in it, reliving each moment.
These victory parties were just the start and they were not Jake’s idea of fun, however Jake realized their importance to others, so he put up with it and tried to make the best of it.
This event had been put together, at huge expense, Dallas had made Jake aware of, and many of Dallas’s investors were present, as they had been at the track.
As Jake entered the restaurant, he was immediately pounced upon by Amelia, who gave him a big hug and kiss, then guided Jake over to a separate room, her breast crushed into Jake’s arm, stopping at every table to laugh or say some whimsical meaningless statement, Jake just smiling politely or nodding or waving with his free arm.
Finally the pair made it to their destination, huge crowds listening to Dallas tell a racing anecdote, “…So then what does he say?”
“He says what I’m telling you, is we are gonna kick some ass!”
The entire crowd begins laughing hysterically. Obviously some had been drinking a bit too much, one kicked over backwards sprawling on the floor, winding up flat on his back staring straight up Amelia’s dress, way too much!
“Here he is ladies and gentlemen,” Dallas’s words were slurred, “The man of the hour…Jake Rhoad!”
Jake felt a bow was in order, but the stiction from his arm to Amelia’s ample breast, firmly pressed into him, might have created a shocking scandal, that would have rivaled the super bowl wardrobe disaster, so he just nodded and waved again.
Everyone began crowding around congratulating Jake. Someone was pinching his ass…Jake felt claustrophobic and needed out. Pushing his way back through the group, Jake felt panic for a brief instance.
Bob was throwing up over by the bandstand. Eddie ran up and grabbed Jake’s tie with one hand and cut it off with the other one that held a small pocket knife…turning, running out of control he sprawled into a table, knocking it and eight people flying, in all directions.
Eddie was laying in salsa and guacamole, still holding the remnant of Jake’s tie. He must of thought it would be so funny to remove Jake’s tie by cutting it off.
“That was my favorite tie, Eddie,” Jake said in a very calm voice.
“What tie?” Eddie asked, still holding the tie, wearing a leering grin. Eddie throws up, trying to defy gravity with gravity winning as the vomit runs back over his face. Eddie passes out.
Chaos is erupting all around the place. The band is still playing…now an old Buck Owens tune…as Jake makes for the exit sign pulling off what’s left of his tie.
A group that Jake either didn’t know or just didn’t recognize was just arriving.
“Sounds like one hell of a party.”
Jake cast his tie down in the parking lot, “Yeah, and its just getting started.”
Jake laughs to himself as he drives home to the ‘Corkscrew’, “What kind of guy would even associate with a bunch like that?” Jake looks out into the dark, thick east Texas forest lining the road and inhales a deep breath of fresh cool air. “One crazy son of a bitch, that’s who Jake and you love every moment, don’t you!” Jake laughed out loud to himself as he drove into the night.
Later that night, while Jake was eating a steak, at his table, in the ‘Corkscrew’, Steele comes up and plops down, looking a little bit lost.
Steele ordered a steak with all the trimmings, and then kicked back enjoying the peaceful atmosphere.
“Well, partner you sure missed a party tonight.”
“Oh, I was there alright,” and he told about his short visit.
“My God, do you believe they were all still going at it when I left?”
“Those guys race hard and they play hard…just like back in the old days.” Steele’s mind turned back to some other era.
“Yeah, those were some good times all right, Steele, but not our best…we’re living our best days right now,” Jake repeated his philosophy on life to Steele.
Pete Miles came up to join them and began talking about the championship. The point’s structure being what it was, it was premature to consider it won, even with all six victories, Jake said as much, preferring to work on the one race at a time strategy.
Then Steele said, “Don’t count Ol’ Billy Wade out either…you know he is a hard driving son of a bitch!”
Steele’s watery green eye looked warm with admiration as he spoke of Billy Wade. Then Steele rose and excused himself as he wandered off in the direction of the men’s room.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met Mr. Wade…I’ll have to check my roster…I thought I knew all the drivers.” Pete was obviously confused.
“Oh, don’t worry about it…we’ll do the best we can at each race, then we’ll see what happens, Pete.” These words seemed to comfort this little worrier who was so good at his job that he, at times, was a little overbearing to some.
Pete also left, then later after Steele had eaten and went home, Jake sat in his office looking through his racing archives, old programs, Speed Sport News, Auto Weeks, and newspaper cut outs, until he found what he had been searching for, the yellowed headlines read: AUTO RACING DRIVER DIES IN FIERY CRASH! The article describes a racing accident and says, young crew chief, Marcellus Steele had no comment on his driver’s tragic death…the 1964 death of racing driver, Billy Wade.
Jake sat back in his chair; the desk light was the only illumination in his darkened office. Steele’s confused statement didn’t worry him, the faces and names from his own past were sometimes muddled, and it didn’t mean a thing. There was no need to bring it to Pete’s attention.
One thing had come from this…Jake now knew Steele’s first name…Marcellus…no wonder he kept it a secret.
Jake’s mind raced back over the years through all the countless events, the competitors, the dramas, the victories, and yes, those agonizing defeats…he couldn’t recall much about Billy Wade…but the name was synonymous with victory as were all of Steele’s efforts, not just because he was that much more talented or just because he was lucky, he was. Steele would not settle for anything less than victory and he would never quit. These qualities made Steele a force of nature and almost unbeatable.
Wouldn’t it be great if life came with an instruction manual? A book that just outlined all the right moves with no mistakes, in the back of the book could be an index where you could look up every problem and then just turn to the answer.
The problem is we’re all different, so no one book could work for any two people. What would work great for me could be a disaster for you.
I think God intends on each of us to make our own decisions and find a way that suits us.
Jake was contemplating this as he worked on a new suspension idea, something he did constantly, when the phone rang.
Answering the phone, a voice that he didn’t recognize spoke almost in a whisper, “Saturday, 1:00pm, be at ‘Shanghai Red’s’ in Houston and sit in the shadows on the side.”
“Who is this?” Jake asked.
“Shanghai Red’s…1:00pm,” then the phone clicked off.
Checking the caller I.D. just revealed a blocked call.
“Now what in the hell was that all about?” Jake asked himself as he stared out his window.
Shanghai Red’s was an old restaurant in Houston, right on the Houston Ship Channel that is actually Buffalo Bayou, a natural waterway. Once a popular spot, the area had become run down and wasn’t going to come back anytime soon, not with all the pollution dumped into the ship channel, under the supervision of our Environmental Protection Agency.
Jake scowled at the thought of that corrupt agency! What on earth would anyone want him to meet them down there for?
Thinking it over, Jake realized they never mentioned a meeting…no they even suggested sitting in the shadows, this told Jake that the caller was familiar with Shanghai Red’s and it also suggested Jake was supposed to see something.
What to do? Where’s my appointment book? Well, Jake thought, a trip to Houston just might be informative.
Jake drove his old Jeep southwest down the Old Spanish Road. Today this road is known as Highway 21, however it is the oldest road in Texas and was used as a trade route by the Spaniards to go from Mexico City all the way to Saint Louis, Missouri.
Cities were established along the way, including what is now the oldest town in Texas, Nacogdoches.
Jake liked this road for its history and the picturesque scenery; along the way he could see the oldest Pepper Tree in the United States and the Caddoan Indian Mounds, first mentioned in history by Zebulon Pike, who camped there while on his famous journey of exploration.
Along the way were hills, deep forest, and natural waterways. The highway crossed the Neches River, which continues its winding meandering trek onward generally in a southerly direction, ending its journey at the Gulf of Mexico.
“If this road could only talk,” Jake said to himself. Jake didn’t think talking to himself meant he was crazy, just a contemplative man that spent much of his time alone, but then again considering his chosen profession, who can say?
The day was hot, even for a Texas summer. As Jake would enter the thick-forested portions of the trip, he truly appreciated the coolness the massive trees provided.
Jake’s open Jeep had no air conditioning and the top was down, so the scorching sun could have its way, as did the searing wind. This is what Jake wanted…if comfort had been desired he could have used his Learjet. Jake grinned at that…Jake Rhoad owning a Learjet, not that Jake thought he was less than anyone else, not at all, no Jake just knew that he would never have spent that much on anything…for himself. As it was he now owned it and had increased his wealth tremendously since forming Rhoad/Steele…so from a standpoint of the standard society measures, it was a success, sometimes looking around him in a somewhat cynical outlook, Jake thought that most people in today’s world didn’t know a thing about real success.
Success to Jake was developing principals and sticking to them, loyalty to those you care for, being able to trust people…this one was difficult for Jake with good reason and success was being able to see things through, the tenacity to stick with it when faced with adversity.
These things meant success to Jake and the material things…those just came along with his kind of success…usually.
As the highway 21 entered the town of Crocket, Jake turned left off the Old Spanish Road and headed south towards Trinity, Texas. Now the countryside turned more into pastureland. Trinity is a small town named for its proximity to the Trinity River. High School sports, hunting, and fishing…that’s what’s big around Trinity, Jake reflected on this as he crossed the river… “Hell, they don’t even have a dirt track here,” Jake grinned reflecting on the world he lived in and how it forever changed one’s perspective on life.
Soon Jake entered the town of Huntsville, Texas. This place was the home of the Father of Texas, with all respect to Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston. Without the vision and leadership of General Sam, Texas as a nation and as a state would never have existed.
Huntsville is also famous for its prison. Jake thought back to when he was a young man and trips to Huntsville to visit his father…no he wasn’t an inmate, but he did spend a lot of time behind bars…as a guard.
Jake remembered his dad…tall, handsome with an outgoing personality that everyone instantly loved. Jake could see him in his mind wearing his gray and black uniform, telling Jake about his job for the people of Texas…pointing to men working in a huge pit in the earth, “Daddy’s job is to take this,” he indicated a rifle with telescopic sites, “and if any of those men try to run off, Daddy shoots them.”
Jake remembers looking back towards those men and hoping they wouldn’t try to run off and wondering what those men could have done that such a thing could be done to them.
Other memories of Huntsville were of the Prison Rodeo. Unlike other rodeos in Texas, the performers, the riders weren’t professionals, they were just prisoners trying to ride the wild horses and bulls as if they were cowboys…it was wild and it was exciting. When the cowboy for the moment failed and was tossed like a rag doll into the Texas dust, the commentator would say, “Don’t worry ‘bout him folks, ‘cause I’ve got it on good authority that while he ain’t that good a rider now…he has twenty years to work on his technique!”
Jake’s eyes took on a strange countenance as he recalled those events and the inevitable laughter of the crowd. The ease with which mankind accepted the pain that his fellow man was forced to endure.
Jake drove onto a left hand overpass turn, heading south onto Interstate Highway 45, the outskirts of Houston reaching out almost to this town of Huntsville.
To his left was the gigantic sculpture of Sam Houston looking south towards the city named for him…looking back towards San Jacinto, the place…the battleground…where Texas under Houston’s guidance became a nation.
The Interstate Highway wound before him as Jake fished a bottle of water from his ice chest. Why was he here?
Something in the voice on that mysterious phone call made Jake curious. Jake really didn’t have a clue, but he suspected it had to do with the team, his team. Everything had been going well despite the outright assault by forces wanting to control the outcome by means other than fair open competition.
The city now loomed ahead, Houston’s mega skyscrapers reaching upwards to the Heavens. The fact that Jake could see them was unusual…Gulf breezes must have blown out the dirty brown air generated by all the refineries lining the Houston Ship Channel all the way south to Texas City, almost fifty miles of filth…filth that provided products for the world and jobs for the people of this area. All their jobs one way or another depended on this dirty industry.
Jake continued on Interstate 45 past the 610 Loop and was soon sweeping around downtown on the elevated freeway with the skyscrapers lunging into the clouds on his left side. Continuing south the 45 was called the Gulf Freeway at this point. Leaving the rich downtown area Jake found a poverty-stricken section beginning within site of those multi-billion-dollar buildings. The feeder roads littered with cardboard boxes that just a few hours ago were the only habitat for some wayward soul who hadn’t made the best decisions in life and had found himself dependent on the charity of his fellow man.
With these thoughts in mind, Jake Rhoad, the new millionaire owner of a racing team, drove onward through the city.
Now with the beauty of the magnificent downtown area behind him, Jake saw filth and garish signs lining the Gulf Freeway. Car lots and Taquerias almost on top of one another only broken up every so often by an old carcass of a once thriving factory, now abandoned and desolate. A stark reminder of what once was a powerful manufacturing nation, now gone and almost forgotten except for these old hulking visual reminders.
Jake exited at Telephone Road and drove to an electronics supply house that he used to frequent all the time. A few minutes was all it took and he had everything he needed.
Jake looked around as he drove making his way over to Lawndale Drive. This was the area he had run around in as a kid…it hadn’t changed much.
The memories came flooding back…some good…others…well, Jake would move past those quickly…pretend these events never happened with only his eyes registering a change, a coldness at the momentary dropping of his protective wall, but after all this was a good day to reflect as it was his birthday. Not that anyone else knew…that…just wasn’t Jake’s style.
Shanghai Red’s was a legend in Houston and had once been the place to be for the in-crowd. Always one of Jake’s favorite places, Jake wondered why someone would have picked Shanghai Red’s for some secret meeting.
Jake could see all the evil forces in his life mustering up to do team Rhoad/Steele harm.
Jake brought himself out of it as a woman in an old Chevy blared her horn at him for missing a green light, he had been sitting through, the woman passed on his left…a string of Mexican curse words brought a grin to Jake’s face. Yes, this was where he grew up all right and it hadn’t changed one damn bit!
The parking lot was just as Jake remembered. A vast oyster shell covered area, lined in magnificent Palm Trees. A ship was passing towards the Gulf, this was one of the busiest ports in the world and it all passed right by Shanghai Red’s.
The restaurant looked as though someone had been renovating it somewhat…with parts of it looking brand new.
Jake ran his fingers through his short hair. He was wearing a cotton floral shirt with khaki shorts and sandals. His Ralph Lauren sun glasses and Tommy Bahamas watch completed his ensemble and he looked ready for a Jimmy Buffet concert, but this was Texas and casual was acceptable just about anywhere…anytime.
Jake stepped to the side as he entered the foyer; this gave his eyes time to adjust to the low lighting inside as compared to the harsh noonday sunlight he had just departed.
The walls of this entrance were literally covered with photographs of celebrities from over the decades. John Wayne, Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, and the list just could go on and on.
Jake entered the restaurant and the maitre d’ greeted him. Jake felt under-dressed, but no one seemed to notice or in anyway acted as though he didn’t belong.
“Could I sit off in the wings?” Jake motioned with his head towards the shadows on his right.
Jake ordered a gin and tonic and a shrimp cocktail to get started, then asked where the men’s room was.
On his way to wash up, Jake spotted a very large table marked reserved…could this be? On impulse Jake placed his bug on the floral arrangement near the head of the table, then moved off to the men’s room quickly.
On his third gin and tonic he saw his first familiar faces, Dallas and Amelia…Jake was now stunned. The Stoudenmires were not only Rhoad/Steele’s team’s biggest investors, but they were his friends. What goes on here?
Jake sat further back into the murky shadows. As Jake had suspected, the Stoudenmires were seated at the reserved table.
Jake soon had his receiver picking up everything that was said. Just small talk between a couple and placing drink orders.
A band was setting up at the end of the room…looked to be a big one by all the instruments. Jake’s thoughts were that of a club owners questioning a Saturday night set and the associated expense…Red’s must be doing well.
Jake looked back to the Stoudenmires to find some big guy wearing a beige sport coat and was seating Suzanne Clark, who had joined them!
Now both of team Rhoad/Steele’s major investors were represented at this…this gathering of the dark forces that were out to undermine their team! This made no sense!
The conversation sounded almost festive. People kept arriving that were all crucial to their team’s success. Yes this, but there were more people Jake knew, but hadn’t seen for years. A guy that had driven for Jake, an old sponsor that had given Jake a break way back when…friends…old crew men…suddenly Jake felt an overwhelming sense of being in a trap.
“Man will Jake be surprised!” Sandy’s voice said over Jake’s concealed mic. Jake looked over as a caterer placed what appeared to be a very large cake.
There was Sandy and Joe and Reese and Jessica…”You Idiot!” Jake spoke to himself quietly, but a voice answered from the shadows just behind.
“Yeah partner…I really had you going…didn’t I?”
That voice, that unmistakable old growl, Jake turned to eye his old friend, “I bet you expected this was some old Johanson threat…now didn’t you?”
Jake was embarrassed…relieved and embarrassed and thankful.
The band suddenly kicked in ‘Send Lawyers, Guns and Money’.
“Now we are about to have the biggest Texas birthday bash in the history of this state!”
Steele clasped his old bear arms around his best friend.
“Steele,” Jake’s eyes were glinting with the feeling of coming home to the family he had never had.
“Yeah?” Steele leaned back to see his friend.
“Oh…nothing!”“Let’s have us a time!” And a time they did have.