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Length:
398 pages
5 hours
Released:
Dec 8, 2021
ISBN:
9781622538294
Format:
Book

Description

This white-knuckle chase crosses three decades and as many continents, a wild ride rife with countless twists and surprises at every turn, all wrapped up in the sexy world of fast cars, smart women, and high-stakes capers.

"Power-packed! Glenn A. Bruce is the only writer I know that can make dirt track racing into a page-turner heist story reminiscent of The Sting!" ~ Ty Spencer Vossler, Author of "Deep Mud"

Johnny, a mysterious biracial man, and his Asian-American female friend visit a Virginia dirt track—as out of place as their fancy BMW out in the parking lot—but they aren't there for the "redneck racing." They've come to scout young driver Tony Trivette.

Johnny then spins a twisted tale of war, smuggling, and treachery around conman Danny duBois, who vanished decades ago with everyone's drug money. Johnny has a plan to recover it, but... add a racist Southern sheriff, a Black accomplice framed for murder, a Vietnamese bride left for dead, and the Drill Sergeant from Hell, and someone will likely die—if Johnny's crazy plan works at all.

By the end, no one trusts anyone—with good reason—and the entire mission may not even be as promised. What is the mystery waiting across the finish line? And what moral lines will they all have to cross just to play this game? Who will live? Who will die? Is anyone even who they say they are? This is the nature of a complex heist, executed under a veil of revenge, greed, and murder.

"Put on your seatbelt. This is a wild-ass ride!" ~ Jim Hamilton, Author of "The Last Entry"

EVOLVED PUBLISHING PRESENTS a Crime Thriller / Hard-Boiled Mystery sure to keep you frantically flipping the pages. [DRM-Free]

BOOKS BY GLENN A. BRUCE:

  • "Banana Republic: Richie's Run"
  • "Race!: A Colorful Hei$t Story"
  • "Rubric"
  • "The Man"
  • "Versions of the Truth"

MORE GREAT CRIME THRILLERS FROM EVOLVED PUBLISHING:

  • The "Denny McConnell PI" Series by Kent Swarts
  • The "Payden Beck Crime Thriller" Series by Michael Golvach
  • The "PI Kowalski" Series by Chris Krupa
  • "The Oz Files" Series by Barry Metcalf
  • "Forgive Me, Alex" by Lane Diamond

 

Released:
Dec 8, 2021
ISBN:
9781622538294
Format:
Book

About the author

Glenn A. Bruce wrote the hit movie Kickboxer, and wrote for Walker: Texas Ranger, Baywatch, the original G.L.O.W. Show, and Cinemax’s Assaulted Nuts. He holds an MFA from Lindenwood University and was an associate professor at Appalachian State University for over 12 years where he taught Screenwriting, Acting for the Camera, and Video Production, which resulted in several awards for writing and directing. Glenn has had over 50 short stories, essays, and poems published in the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia, and India. He currently judges a tri-annual short story contest, writes 1-2 screenplays per year, and recently finished his 17th novel.


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Book Preview

Race! - Glenn A. Bruce

PROLOGUE – The King of Sports

A few years ago....

Late July and the locals are out en masse. Millions, maybe billions, of gnats and other airborne nuisances swarm in the glow of large lights hung high above the clay track on recycled telephone poles—repurposed not being a word found in this neck of these woods.

The half-mile oval is red and wet after a storm passed through earlier, bringing out a call for fans to run their four-by-fours round and round to pack the mud. The track owner drives a cornfield-size John Deere with a thermos on back—six thousand gallons of non-potable water (it’s been in there a few decades)—which he deliberately slides through the banked turns, half-jackknifed, at roughly .02 mph. On the straightaways, the tractor roars flat-out at six mph. He never loses his groove. Skill as art.

A friend of his drives a delivery truck with so much mud on the sides that the name of the company is illegible, but it has to do with crackers. How he keeps the tall, narrow, top-heavy mass upright is impressive. His is more determination than art. He knows everyone is waiting for him to tip over, so he goes faster every lap.

A family in a rusting Jeep Cherokee wagon gets sideways and a kid in a Nissan pickup nearly T-bones them while his girlfriend yacks on her mobile phone, sending pics of the fun between screams and waves at her family in the stands.

A drunk in a K-car gets stuck in the middle of Turns One and Two after sliding into the bottom rail and has to be towed back out to the parking lot. Fans cheer.

The rain brought out ponchos and umbrellas from the hardcore regulars, early arrivals who thrive on any action. They eagerly eye the car-trailers rolling in to see who’s racing tonight, who made it back after last week’s misfortunes and who did not.

The retaining walls and the fence, the booth and the grandstands, the lights and the gnats, offer comfort—all part of a Saturday family night at the dirt track.

Earlier, the unprepared stood under a wooden awning at the snack stand during the downpour, ordering nachos no self-respecting Mexican would use for compost—greasy, nuclear-yellow chips slathered with orange store-brand liquid compare to Velveeta cheese food product. Fake Cheez Whiz as a staple.

The two heavy, sweating ladies inside also serve Fresh! pizza heated to soggy perfection in the microwave, funnel cakes straight out of last week’s grease, or a thirty-two-ounce diet Mountain Dew if you’re watching your weight. No Beer or Alcohol!

You have to slip out to the parking lot for that.

With over seven hundred tracks across the nation and fifty million spectators every year, dirt tracks are the most common form of racing in the U.S. But in the rural South, running on clay is king. Fans go home with red shoes and a matching layer of sanguine residue on their skin and cars, and no one leaves unhappy. The carwash down the road is only a few bucks and a good reason to have a clean truck for another week.

After the thermos tractor, bread truck, and mud-caked SUVs clear the track, the lesser classes run early heats to finish off the clay-packing. The Young Thunder class is just finishing Round Two—kids aged twelve to seventeen in eighties Toyotas, Datsuns, and Pintos alongside the occasional Golf, Fiesta, or Chevette. Small motors, rear-drive, family fun—a crowd pleaser and a good warm-up. The older kids usually win. The boys. But girls are generally favored by the fans. Just not by the boys until after the race.

Late Model modifieds hot-laps cuuuuuuuummin’ up! the announcer says over tinny speakers hung here and there. Hardly anyone can hear over the low, steady murmur of small, straining engines on the track, and the roar of the big crate engines warming up in the pits, with their brassy brapp-brapp-braaaaapp!

Some is for show, some is for go.

Drivers, stage your cars, the announcer says with all the authority invested in him. Men from eighteen to seventy amble to their pit stalls—unmarked parking slots in the center oval of grass and mud. Regulars get their preferred spaces based on class (engine size) and/or popularity (favorites are favorites). Otherwise, it’s first come, first serve. Visiting drivers and occasional contenders take what they can get.

There are rules—vehicle weight, engine size, number of after-market parts—a long list. It appears looser than it is to the untrained eye—even rule-free. But dirt racing is a highly competitive sport and, more important, an expensive hobby. Even at the low end of this food chain, fire suits can cost upwards of a thousand dollars; trailers, another grand or two. Race fuel is five bucks a gallon, and tires can run hundreds of dollars each. The cars are a relative bargain.

Except for cars that the top drivers race, Super Late Models, the best of the best—the costliest, most powerful, fastest, meanest cars on clay. With their hand-crafted flat sheet metal, pointy low snouts, and high, square-back ends, they look like demented Batmobiles and sound like Hell itself unleashed on every even-numbered turn. Noisy, dusty bedlam.

Cars seem to be going every direction at once, up and down, back and forth, sideways, and sometimes backwards. They bump, they bounce, they slide, they crash. Drivers jockey and pass, tap and slam, trade paint and metal, shout insults and accolades. Fights break out—mostly near-fights, shoving matches—and the police intervene. But they’re mostly here for show. It’s all mostly for the show.

There are ambulances with EMTs, track officials with radios, preachers with Bibles, young girls with piercings, old women with tattoos, farmers in fedoras, kids in camo, entire families in a single color, sporting the same car number. Race fans being loyal.

The engines are loud, the cars are fast, the drivers are brave, the crashes are many. To the newcomer, it is chaos; to the believer, it is pure. Racing! But as in life, there’s always more than meets the eye. You just have to know where to look.

PHASE ONE

Chapter 1

In the stands, a young biracial guy who looked to be in his late thirties, and his date, an Asian-American woman a few years younger, worked their way down the steep concrete steps past the open stares and barely suppressed mumbling of local regulars.

The young man, who went by Johnny, held a Xeroxed page of driver stats the nice ticket lady out front had given him. Johnny wore black Calvin Klein jeans, a satin-gray ExOfficio UV-resistant/insect-repellent shirt, and Tony Lama ostrich cowboy boots. The woman, Lyla, looked over his shoulder as if trying to understand what the numbers on the blotchy copy meant. She appeared shy and uncertain, though her chic-funky clothes belied another tale from another place—a big city.

They didn’t fit in.

Some fag shit, huh? the fat boys in the overalls with no shirts said under their barely concealed laughter—after they’d cracked wise about the chink chick.

Johnny smiled and said, Hey, how’s it goin’, guys?

They shut up and looked away.

Johnny asked them, Who’s the favorite tonight?

Without looking, one of them said, Blue oval.

Johnny said, I’m more of a Mopar guy, myself, and somehow they turned away even farther.

One of them muttered into the wind, just to make it clear, We ain’t run those here.

Just Chevys, huh? Johnny said. Too bad. Y’all need to represent.

Someone grunted as if giving birth to a big block.

Lyla grinned and said, This is going to be fun.

Johnny said Um-hmm,—confident she was correct—while thinking, Those are the worst self-inflicted tattoos he had ever seen. And wondering, Why do hillbillies get Samoan fertility symbols inked on their man-tits? Lyla opining likewise.

They’re a team.

Johnny chose a concrete step away from everyone else, down by Turn One—the steps being the seats—and sat, offering Lyla a swig from his flask. He leaned close and said, You’d hardly know we’re in Maryland.

Lyla chuckled, said, Barely, and took a swig. A few more exits off I-68 and they’d have been in West Virginia, the real South—without going that Deep.

The redneck boys’ fleshy mouths watered at the sight of the silver flask. If they’d known Johnny had white liquor in it, moonshine, they would have been asking for a taste in a New York second, whether his half-breed lips had been on it or not.

Lyla took another swig, shuddered, and passed it back. That’s good, she said.

Smooth, Johnny agreed—especially for homemade. Johnny knew his hooch. He had bought a quart of the rye whiskey from the local sheriff who knew how to control liquor consumption in his county. (Originally from the Dawsonville area in Georgia, the sheriff’s family had a history of racing and distilling. They moved to Winston-Salem, home of moonshiner cum NASCAR hero Junior Johnson, then to Whereverthefuck, MD, and prospered.)

Johnny has connections.

Down on the track, the Young Thunder kids’ heat was over, so they all headed for the infield pits—all but the last tiny pink Fiesta.

Little Jenny Scarborough! the track announcer called out. Let’s give her a hand, folks! Her first race and she made it to the end. Eight laps without an incident!

Some locals down the way stood up and yelled, "Wooooo! Probably her kin. Johnny and Lyla stood up and yelled Wooooo!" with them—for her, for Little Jenny. The family scowled and sat, muttering. They apparently didn’t need support from foreigners. Probably terrorists. Keep an eye on ’em, Wayne.

While Jenny and the winner, a lean, strong-looking boy of seventeen, Lucas something, posed for pictures in the winners’ circle—a plywood wall with the name of the track, Freedom Ride Raceway, surrounded by large black and white checks—the Late Model cars fired up and rumbled out onto the track for hot laps, to warm up the engines, test the suspension setup, and pack the last of the loose dirt.

There’s nothing like that sound.

The first driver out showed off for the crowd. The fans expected no less, so they whooped and whistled as he floored his 700-plus horsepower open motor, got sideways and almost crashed before he got to Turn Two—which, on a dirt track, is only about a hundred feet past Turn One. He barely saved it by letting off, and the crowd laughed, Lyla with them. This was going to be fun.

Johnny grinned, enjoying it all, and took another hit of hooch.

The fat boys considered reporting him, but they might have to admit to their own Busch Ice in the Hardee’s cups. They opted for honor among booze sneaks and contemplated a quick top-off in the grass lot behind the ticket booth.

Most of the rest of the field—eighteen of the twenty-five Late Models scheduled to race tonight—came out onto the track with spinning tires and blaring big V-8s, crate motors straight from Detroit. They raced around in no semblance of order, heating up the tires, testing the timing and fuel/air mix; but mainly getting a feel for the track conditions—showing the fans how careless they would be once the race started for real.

How big their balls are.

Johnny nodded at #27, nicknamed the Beaufaxx Stallion as painted on the front fender, a blue car with new sheet metal. That’s our guy, he said.

Lyla nodded and fixed her gaze. Nice car, she said. Good color.

Johnny laughed with her.

The name over the driver door read Tony Trivette in cursive. He was twenty-three, from the eastern part of the state, and popular. According to the Xeroxed cheat sheet, he hadn’t won a race all season. He had come in second several times, third a few more, and had a few scratches—withdrawals, probably wrecks.

Crashes are common on dirt—seldom fatal or even injury-inducing. Just to the cars.

Tony backed off the #27 throttle as he rumbled into Turn Three and twitched his steering wheel to the left, throwing the car into a controlled drift. Then he cocked the wheels right and gunned it around the turn at nearly ninety degrees to the inside rail, nose down, tail up. All the drivers did the same, drifting the turns, with minor differences.

Some drivers like to fly their left front tire in the air, mostly for show; some prefer all four on the dirt for control. Each driver develops a style his fan-base recognizes. And they don’t go for asphalt.

"Fuck those NASCAR pussies!" The country boys were in a racing mood.

Dirt, baby!

Tony Stewart!

Yeah, man. Ken Schrader, Bobby Labonte!

Kasey Kahne, Clint Bowyer!

They know them all.

Those fags Jeff Gordon and Evan Darling.

Yeah, what kind of a fag name is that? ‘Evan Darling,’ fat country boy number two said, his tatted man-titty now hanging out of his overalls.

The first one moaned about, Danica fuckin’ Patrick. Whoever let her in?

That left the third one to add, I’d fuck ’er, and his friend with the sunburned side-boob to throw in, Wouldn’t let ’er drive home, though.

Johnny and Lyla heard the uproarious laughter and looked over. They didn’t wonder what the hicks were laughing about, but they could imagine.

Lyla wagered, One of them must’ve gotten his first blowjob.

Yeah, Johnny agreed. I wonder which one gave it to him.

Now they laughed, looking over, and the fat boys went quiet.

Two of the boys had swastika tattoos. One had Hitler in a Panzer uniform covering the middle of his back. Above the pictorial representation, across his shoulders, written in faux-German, were the words White Power. Below Adolf, on the boy’s lower slab of flab, was the inscription USA Forever! rippling over a Rebel flag—his personal Alabama-Aryan tramp-stamp.

Looking like he designed it himself.

If ya don’t care, someone was saying—only it sounded more like "keer."

Johnny and Lyla looked up to find an old man in overalls and a short-sleeved plaid button-up—a stylish brown fedora and crusty work boots completing his ensemble—apparently saying Excuse me or Pardon me in the regional lexicon. His teeth looked good for dentures. He asked them, Y’uns new here?

He knew the answer already, so he wasn’t surprised when Johnny said, Yes, we are. Johnny displayed no caution in his voice, and the old man appreciated that.

He said, Well, y’uns might wanna move on down yonder a bit. ’Chere’s the mud zone. He pointed first to their left, toward Turn Four at the far end, then down to Turn One, just below them.

Johnny and Lyla looked around, only now noticing they were completely alone. No one had sat anywhere near them. They figured it was a race thing. Their races.

The old man explained, "Ain’t no mud now. Seats is clean, ya see. H’it rained and warshed most’ it off Thursday and today. But y’u’ns sit’chere and yer a’gonna git mudded up—covered in red glory!"

He laughed heartily, either crazy or kind. It was hard to tell. But being generous of spirit, Lyla picked up on the kindness. You’re saying we should maybe move down there more? She pointed toward the flag stand, below the middle of the grandstands.

I’d say ‘at’s’a lot safer, down yonder. Lessin’ you like gittin’ all covered in Virginny red. He laughed again.

Johnny said, Well thank you, sir. We’ll do that. Thank you kindly.

Mah pleasure. Now y’uns enjoy, an’ be sure to come back. We do like seein’ new faces out-chere! He grinned wide, tipped his fedora, and limped for his seat at the top, under the announcers’ booth—the seat with his name painted on it: Ficus Meriman.

When he passed the hick boys, they laughed cruelly and told him to, Go set’down, old man, yer blockin’ the damn view.

The old man said, Fuck y’all little shits, yer all goin’ t’hell, without missing a beat, and continued past.

The boys grimaced and flipped him off behind his slightly humped back. He didn’t notice or care, saying hello to all the people he knew from every week at the track, and some he didn’t know.

If they’re here for the racin’, he’s happy to see ’em.

While Lyla chose new concrete seats—more in the middle but below the crowd at the top of the stands—Johnny made a trip out to their rental BMW to refill his flask with the good stuff. He took time to pee on the redneck boys’ tire. He knew it was their truck because of the rear window decal—a kid pissing on the word Chevy (which provided his inspiration)—alongside a caricature of Charlie Daniels shouting angrily, We Done Did it Agin, Brothers! That and the White Pride bumper sticker with the bookend swastikas and backdrop American flag with a smaller Confederate flag where the stars should be. All of it was a dead giveaway.

Yeah, this is definitely going to be fun.

Chapter 2

Late Model drivers, return to the pits for a special presentation. All modified drivers to the pits, please, the announcer said—not that any drivers could hear from inside their cars. But their pit crews (moms, dads, kids, cousins, friends with no other friends and nothing else to do) waved their drivers in with gusto and gestures distinctive to each. Anything to get noticed. By their drivers, too.

At ninety-plus mph a few feet away, your crew is a blur; their signals must be unique.

One of the drivers, in car #63—red and dented with no sponsor decals—wasn’t ready to come in yet. He passed the other cars as they slowed for the pits and gunned it one more time around. He was a hothead and wanted everyone to know it—maxing the tac’ and the tires as he headed for Turn One, flicking the front end down and the rear end up, drifting the end of the track in a defiant gesture.

Look at me! I’m no one to mess with! Don’t tell me when Hot Laps are over, not if we’re not gonna race! I ain’t done yet! Fuck y’all!

Yeehaw.

Two track officials—they were wearing shirts—ran out onto the track at Turn Four and waved furiously for the asshole to get off the track now!

Lyla said, It’s amazing they don’t get run over out there.

Johnny said, Who says they don’t? and they waited to watch it happen.

Amazingly, it didn’t. The driver of the red car knew the officials would be waiting—the flashing red lights on Turn Three offered a good clue that he’d get a good talkin’ to—so he backed off, snapped back straight mid-turn, and dropped for the inside concrete barrier like a lead sinker.

Stopped on a dime.

Wow, Lyla said. Maybe the guy did know what he was doing.

Yeah, Johnny agreed. On slick, wet red mud. An impressive move—Johnny didn’t know if he could do that if he had to.

If that time ever comes.

Red #63 pulled into the pits at the inside corner of Turn Four, blipping the gas bwapp-bwapp-bwapp-bwaaaaapp! to demonstrate his anger, drowning out the guys in matching shirts with red mud packed on their sneakers who ran alongside, yelling.

This early in the evening, any cheap stunt is exciting to the fans. They want action, so he gives it to them. He understands.

Later, they won’t be this patient or needy.

A few girls in the stands laughed and shouted insults—their boyfriends, too—as a rail-thin guy in an official shirt (all one color, maybe yellow) scuttled for #63’s team spot on the far straightaway. His lecture would sound familiar. None of the other teams would watch; they’d heard it first-hand before at least once.

One large woman with a Fresh! funnel cake hurried to the back rail in case there might be a scuffle, looking like an undulating blue jean ocean in a hemispheric storm—the equator, her waist. In the stands, three people did The Wave.

Possibly inspired by her undulations.

Engines were still clapping and snapping, ignitions skipping and popping, crews hollering and hurrying to get ready for the coming heat, when the announcer said, All engines off please for the ceremony. All engines off.

Johnny and Lyla looked at each other and wondered, a ceremony? What kind of ceremony? They hadn’t planned on a ceremony. Cool!

When the engines went silent, several men, and a few women who never left their men—not at this track with these hussies—walked out under the flag stand. With no particular sense of need or speed, the men arranged a steel rack and an acetylene torch tank in the middle of the slick mud between the outside wall and the infield. A short man in a welder’s apron and mask manned his station at the torch setup as another track official in the same maybe-yellow shirt tapped the radio mic’.

Thump-thump-thump. It was on, so he said, Folks, as you know, we have a zero-tolerance policy here at Folley’s Freedom Ride Raceway.

The crowd cheered, for the most part. A few booed.

He continued. Three weeks ago, we had a challenge in the Limited Late Model class from Edwin Horton about Big Billy Baines’s motor. Edwin felt strongly enough to put up the thousand-dollar challenge money.

More cheers and a few extra boos.

As you know, two hundred of that goes to the track.

Lots of boos.

The rest goes to the challenger if he proves right.

Chatter and a smattering of unconvinced applause.

Some concepts have to be pondered in racing, the same as any other serious endeavor.

The announcer turned to another man in overalls and said, Okay, away from the mic’. The man in overalls held up a burlap sack and peeled it back to reveal a camshaft.

The announcer said, Since this was an inside-the-bolts issue—

Another racetrack official—the audience would later find out he was the flagman, very knowledgeable—nudged the MC and said something private in his ear.

The announcer nodded and corrected himself. I’m sorry, this was an ‘all the way through.’ We had the engine sent to the manufacturer for a full dismantlement.

Lyla took a slug of ’shine, winced, and said, Is that a word?

Johnny said, "Official word," and grinned. He took his blast but didn’t wince.

The announcer said, "Following their expert analysis up there in Dee-troit, it was determined that Billy Baines’ camshaft was not legal."

Loud booing overpowered every other sound—except for a young man who howled, grabbed his crotch and yelled, You go, Billy! Woooooooo!

People near him turned away. One person told him to, Siddown, stupid, and another said, You’re as big’a asshole as your brother. To which the shouter said, Don’t you talk about my brother that way, fucker!

Apparently, he didn’t mind being called an asshole himself.

The announcer ignored the ignominious Baines brother and went on. "As is our tradition here at Folley’s Freedom Ride Raceway—not to mention it’s the rules—we will now destroy the offending part for all to see."

All but Billy who was at home, drinking heavily.

As you know, Billy has been suspended for the rest of the season, the announcer said.

Cheers, boos, shouting, whooping. Crying. Another anonymous Wooooooo! and the announcer said, Let us pray.

Johnny looked at Lyla, whose eyebrows went up as heads went down. Johnny shrugged and they watched as some of the men, and fewer women, took off their caps, turned their faces toward Hell, and held their cigarettes off in respect for the Lord.

No one drank anything.

Kids down in the grass out of range of their parents continued to roughhouse and chase each other, falling down for no reason, collapsing and laughing. The redneck boy-men smoked recklessly, spat, and shoved each other to show that they weren’t old or practicing religionists.

Kindly old Ficus Meriman removed his fedora and hung his head with due respect for his Lord and Racing.

Dearest Father, said the announcer, who was a deacon in his Baptist church, "we thank Thee for our fine and honest men and women who come out here week after week to entertain us with their fine racing abilities. We thank Thee for their honesty and their dedication to this dangerous pursuit. We ask, gracious Father, that You look down on Billy Baines and judge him not as a bad man, but rather as a man—a brave man who made a bad decision, a terrible mistake at a bad time in his life—as we all do. None of us are without sin."

An Amen! came from the crowd.

The announcer-deacon said, Most forgiving of all Fathers, we ask that you forgive Billy even as we forgive in Your name, oh gracious Lord...

He took a breath. People raised their heads but there was more. Most glorious Father of us all, we ask in Thy name that this sacrifice of a finely made but unsavory racing product be viewed for the cleansing it intends. We ask that You show all who came tonight, these blessed sheep of Yours, the error of Billy’s ways—that they not duplicate such actions in their own lives and Racing.

He held his head low and went for his big finish, the final lap. We thank you, Heavenly Father, for this fine moment of reflection and forgiveness, to bask in the glory of Your power and grace, Your gracious judgment and most heavenly absolution. May we joyously destroy this abomination in Thy name. And may our beloved friend and colleague Billy Baines enter Thy kingdom head held high, his past evil deeds long behind him as he enters the Gates of Gold some far day in his future to joyfully praise Thy name and Thy eternal wisdom.

Johnny and Lyla shared a look of bemused bafflement. Then Johnny looked around and saw, up in the booth, the actual race announcer, a real preacher—Pastor J. Jackson Jackman (no surprise that he went by Jack)—shaking his head, equally baffled, as he closed his eyes and rubbed them as if feeling a headache coming on.

Johnny chuckled and turned back as out on the track the race deacon wrapped up. Thank you, Lord Highest, God Almighty, Our Father... Amen. His voice rang out through the tinny speakers around the track, echoing through the Halls of Heaven and the men’s and ladies’ cinder block restrooms.

Johnny looked at Lyla. She said, Praise the Lord, and he raised his silver flask to toast.

The on-track deacon/announcer turned to the official in the red shirt (nobody had told him tonight was a maybe-yellow night), who turned to the welder. The welder popped his torch, ready to cut. The man in the overalls put the illegal camshaft on the metal stand and the man with the mic’ said, Let everyone see what happens to cheaters and their unholy wares!

He nodded at the welder, who cut the thousand-dollar custom part in two in twelve seconds, each half falling away onto the red muck, sizzling and spitting angrily, like Satan spurned.

The crowd went wild.

Johnny took a hit of country nectar and handed it to Lyla, who sipped and asked, What was it?

Johnny shrugged. Camshaft, I think. Might’ve been a crankshaft. I don’t really know my shafts.

Lyla said, It’s a shaft. That’s the important part.

A few boys and men hurried out to the parking lot to fuel up as, before the crowd settled, Pastor Jack shouted from above, "Brothers and sisters... let’s race!"

Chapter 3

The roar of the engines was deafening. That would be Lyla’s main memory of her first super Late Model modified race. None of the cars had mufflers, all of them had a minimum of 600 horsepower, and every one of the first eight cars wanted to win. The last two were still learning, but their cars were just as loud.

Some unsponsored cars are louder because their engines aren’t as sophisticated or well tuned, due to austerity issues. A roller (no engine/transmission) can cost a driver a year’s rent. Add power and he’d have the down payment for a nice new doublewide.

The first ten laps consisted mostly of drivers idling around at low speeds, dropping back then speeding ahead, whipping their cars back and forth on the track to heat up their tires and motors—and

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