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Chapter 36

“Oh Yeah?” Steele was talking on his phone to Irving, who had just informed him of an all-new team being formed for an assault on the Grand-Am championship for next season.

This new team had just offered Irving the team manager position at a very lucrative salary with a three-year contract. A lawyer had contacted Irving with the offer. The lawyer told Irving he was the top name on a very short list.

Irving had hung up and then called Steele immediately to tell him of the offer.

“That deal sounds pretty good…who owns this new team?” Steele wasn’t surprised, that’s how all the good teams get broken up.

“He wouldn’t say,” Irving loved his job and the thought of leaving for another team had never crossed his mind.

“I’m heading over to the ‘Corkscrew’ why don’t you come over and I’ll buy you supper…unless you already have plans?” Steele wanted to keep his team together, but more than that Irving and the rest were his friends and that was one thing he had been without for much of his life, so if losing them from his team meant keeping a friend, so be it, and he wanted to make that perfectly clear to them all.

“Sure I’ll be there, I’ve got an errand I’m doing and then I’ve got to run home and get a shower. I’ll be there in about an hour,” Irving went through his checklist of things to do, more for his benefit than Steele’s.

“Fine, we’ll see you then,” Steele pushed off.

The ‘Corkscrew’ was very busy. The sign out on the highway proclaimed, ‘Ace in the Hole’ performing tonight. People were filling up the place quickly. The country bands always brought them out. Good food, good sounds, dancing, all in a wonderful warm atmosphere. The ‘Corkscrew’ was a success beyond Jake’s wildest dream.

Jake stood out in the dark beside a huge old pine tree. “This tree, almost five feet in diameter, must have seen a lot in its life,” Jake thought. “Too bad you can’t talk, I for one, would love to hear your advice.”

It was late in the year, however it was still warm in East, Texas. The leaves on the trees were just beginning to change colors, as were the pine needles, now turning orange.

Jake felt a longing for something far away, something intangible, perhaps something from long ago.

The night breeze rustled the trees, whispering softly. The Jukebox came on inside the ‘Corkscrew’, the band hadn’t started yet, someone was playing the ‘Talking Heads’, singing ‘This Must Be the Place’. The music drifted across the parking lot to the forest, just a few hundred feet away to ground that still was as God created it. What did the creatures of the forest think of the ‘Talking Heads’? Jake smiled to himself at the thought. “I bet they like it,” he said out loud.

Jake owned this section of the forest and had been told more than once how he had a small fortune in timber here. Looking up at the majestic pine standing dark against the Indigo sky. “Don’t worry old boy, no one will ever cut you down, not while I’m alive!”

Jake realized that he was standing in the dark, talking to trees and thought, “Some would say, that’s a crazy man right there…if they only knew.”

Later Steele, Irving, Jake, and Reese all had supper, then sat around talking about the season, that first race seemed a lifetime ago, my how time slips away. Irving’s offer never came up in the conversation.

Jake looked about, into the faces of his companions as they laughed and told their stories. As they reminisced about the events, their faces changed constantly. This had been a character-building run. Jake could see that in their faces, and he could feel a bond, a bond more powerful than on any team he had known before, a bond that could never be broken…certainly not with money.

“Suzanne and Sandy faxed over official notice that they were withdrawing from our multi year contract,” Steele’s voice had a tinge of anger to it.

Jake just sat there emotionless, listening. Steele had asked him into his office first thing. The fax had been waiting on Steele when he arrived.

“Stoudenmire will be next,” Steele, continued, “I’m sure of that and from what I’ve heard they are forming their own team…they tried to hire Irving.”

Jake nodded a small affirmative, his face now looked like a pugilist bracing for the next blow.

“They are paid up through to the end, except for the bonus for winning the championship, which, of course, is still in question,” Steele was expecting something from Jake. Anger, contempt, something, but Jake’s face never changed and he didn’t say a word.

“Did you ever see such behavior? I mean this is bad…they just use us and then just toss us away,” Steele was getting angrier as he spoke.

“Have I ever seen such behavior? Yes, Steele I have seen this, bad and much worse…” Jake finally broke his silence, “I’ve seen good men lie, cheat, and steal…all in a quest for glory. All so they could be proclaimed the winner.”

“I’ve seen men beaten, my own partner almost killed. I’ve seen wrecks created intentionally. I watched my own driver burn up,” Jake’s eyes had a far away haunted look, “There’s just not much that I haven’t seen from the bad side of man…all in a lust for victory…a speedlust.”

Steele felt the impact of his partner’s words. Was Jake finished, had he had enough?

“I’ll tell you something I saw last night, Steele. I saw a bond between individuals like I’ve never seen. I’ve heard a paddock full of revving engines, screaming out support for one of their own. I’ve seen broken men mend and rise up to be the best.”

“What’s all that mean? Why I’m just not sure, but I’ll tell you one thing I wouldn’t have missed it for the world…and we’re damn sure not finished. Not now, not ever…certainly not because some business types see a way to have a better bottom line.”

“Think about it, just imagine having your own team…thirty years ago, when we still didn’t know shit! Now imagine trying to win…at this level! Think about that.” Jake began to chuckle, and then Steel joined him in what became uproarious laughter.

A knock on the door brought this to an end. It was Pete Miles. “Steele I’ve got those two fellows here…their waiting in the conference room.”

“Ok, Pete, I’ll be right there.”

“C’mon Jake…let’s go meet our new sponsors.”

This caught Jake by surprise, but why he didn’t know. He should of known by now…Steel always lands on his feet.

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