Excerpt for Mariah Project by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

I couldn't believe that she showed up.

She has a boyfriend but judging from the two afternoons she spent with me, she is less then totally committed with that arraignment. But what did she see in me? I'm a fifty-year-old gear-head bachelor. I'm not rich, but my rather plain home is comfortable, even though it was bought for the detached garage more than anything else. My looks may have faded, but I occasionally still turn a few heads, I guess maybe because I still have my hair and I have managed to stay thin.

We spent hours that second afternoon as she let me tell her many of my wild-ass, ridicules, and face it, stupid stories as we sat in my kitchen. It was an afternoon which not surprisingly, left me smitten for her. That said, it is a pleasant surprise that she is here, sensibly dressed in comfortable and conservative attire with a large hand bag filled with snacks and other items, ready for an all-day adventure.

We met when she asked me for the time as I was working in my front yard one Saturday. I had seen her around, walking to the store, and even from a distance I could see what a hottie she was. And up close, she was even hotter than I had imagined. Long, fire-red hair, slim, tight body, but it was that face that I was lost in. Perfect lips, cute little nose with a slight upturn and those high cheek-bones that are usually reserved for fashion models and movie stars. I used every ounce of charm that I could muster to keep her chatting with me and the effort was rewarded with several minutes of pleasant (for me anyway) conversation. Her name is Mariah, and she looked young, somewhere between twenty and thirty, possible even younger.

Before she left, she offered me a formal handshake which I eagerly accepted. She took my big, dirty, working man paw in both of her dainty, pretty, soft hands and made a move that seemed to pull me closer as she gave my hand a gentle squeeze that was suitable for a kitten as she flashed me a welcoming look from her captivating, gold-green eyes. My heart nearly jumped from my chest!

Days later, I saw her at the corner store. There was no way I was going to let her pass without trying to strike up a conversation. As we talked, I fought the urge for my eyes to take a walk over that young, hot body and I kept my focus on that pretty, perfect face. She said she was walking to McDonalds to get something to eat. I persuaded her to join me for a meal at a real restaurant, and after that, we went for a drive and we ended up at a shady little park on the bay that I know of where we talked for hours.

We talked about life, love, God and other heavy subjects. She spoke very little about herself or her boyfriend, Martin, only that he worked construction and that he was a "character." But as the sun set beautifully over the bay that afternoon, the talked had lightened up and somehow, I had her laughing hysterically over some of the stupidest things. Later, as I dropped her off on her street some distance from her house, she said,

"I haven't laughed like that in so long, thank you."

I learned that she was twenty-seven, and I found that hard to believe. I didn't detect a single winkle around those clear, focused, incredible eyes. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that she said she found drugs "gross" and she did not drink. I told her of the drag race that I had entered for next weekend and extended an invitation for her to meet me there, “You know, if you want to check it out.” I guess I did mention that to get there on time, I had to be on the road by seven AM, and I didn't expect for a second that she would get up that early on a Sunday, but her she is!

In my imagination I was already dancing for joy, but I put that aside, and in all seriousness, I squared off in front of her said,

"Look, I realize that spending time with me must create some awkwardness for you at your home…," but she cut me off in mid-sentence with a hand to my arm and said as she rolled her eyes,

"I would be surprised if Martin gets up before noon." Then she climbed into the incredibly spartan and uncomfortable looking passenger seat of my quirky and ancient, (1973) converted work van that I haul my race car in. She settled right in as if the faded and somewhat rusted truck cab was the interior a grand saloon car, and after stowing her bag among my gear, she asked in a rather impatient tone,

"Are we leaving soon?"

"I was just about to start the engine."

Driving this vehicle with its lack of sound proofing and with the custom ramps and other equipment rattling around right behind the seats, is less than cozy and more than a little noisy but still, I tried to make conversation.

"Sorry about all the noise and stuff."

"It seems fine."

"Oh, it is, brakes, steering all that, like new, very safe!"

"Good to know!"

"Have you ever been to a drag race before?"


"It could last all day, you might be bored."

"But you said you might win it. That doesn't sound boring."

"But I always say that."

"Well, you had better win then!"

At this, I look over towards her and she is giving me a devilish smile and I realize she's messing with me. That was the last straw, and I progressed from smitten to being very close to head-over-heels in love.

That was the end of the talking (shouting really) for now. I thought briefly about bringing up something else that was on my mind, but I quickly thought better of it. I believe I 'met' Martin.

The day before, Saturday, I told my brother, Tom, about this super-hot, young girl I met named Mariah as we were driving to town for lunch and we happened to pull in behind an ex-police car. This is the kind of car a 'character' might own, and this one had a big bumper sticker plastered on the back that said MARIAH#1. Under that message was a whole row of stickers advertising “Toy's Topless,” a local joint in the seedier part of town near the Naval Base.

"That would explain a lot" said Tom, and although it wounded my pride somewhat, I had to agree.

I got up beside the ex-patrol car at one point and got a look at the driver. He wasn't a very big fella, kind of scrawny. He looked young, I would guess around twenty-two.

But now, as Mariah and I ride together to the racetrack in the noisy silence, I couldn't help but wonder just what is her deal? She sits there, as if in great comfort. She sees me glancing at her and she shoots me a calm smile. She seems genuinely excited about this. She had already told me that day in the park, that she couldn't care less about cell phones or computers, and now here she sits, just as calm and content as can be. I was really starting to wonder if I am still sleeping, and if this is just a pleasant dream.

During our second conversation over coffee one afternoon in my kitchen, after she knocked on my door out of the blue, (She said she was walking to the store and she had an urge to stop by, so she did.) I learned that she was born in Alaska, and later, she moved to a small town in Lewis County, Washington with her father when she was fourteen. She said her Father was a full-blooded Cherokee and her Mother was Irish-Catholic. I imagined her mother might certainly explain that flaming red hair, but those high cheek bones and her stoic, measured demeanor, that must be from the father.

That thought lead me to remember something I read long ago as we drove along, something written in a book that I read about the Lewis and Clark expedition. Something about their guide and translator Sacajawea. Meriwether Lewis had written that, "With food in her belly and a dry place for her sleeping mat, I believe she would be happy and content on even the door step of hell." I was starting to believe that Mariah shared that treasured behavior trait, and I wondered if Martin had ever even noticed.

We arrived at the track, and as we idled up to the gate and ticket booth, I reviewed what I had to do concerning the actual logistics of the morning, such as parking in my pit space, unloading the race car, the tech inspection where the safety equipment would be checked, the racecar’s warm-up procedure, I was basically saying that I was going to be busy for a while.

Already the stares and double-takes from my friends and colleagues were adding up. This fantastic looking young lady riding with me in my well-worn hauling truck might have been just too out of place for them to fathom. My pride was beaming, but I tried hard to contain it and just play it cool. Just another race day and all that.

We drove passed the ticket gate and through the crowds as heads continued to turn. We motored towards my pit space next to long time racer and recent National Event winner Troy Camren, and his fabulous, like new truck and trailer combo, where Mariah and I, and my old hauler take our assigned pit spot, the next space over.

While morning greetings from my fellow racers are always pleasant, with Mariah, I was suddenly swamped with friends and more than usual, their wives and girlfriends.

I introduced everyone to Mariah and explained that she had never been to a race before and in a flash of what I hoped was brilliance, I asked everyone,

"You all know that there will be a lot of times when I'll be busy with things so if you don't mind, I would appreciate if some of you could visit with Mariah, so she won't get bored."

The men all unanimously agreed.

"I was talking to the ladies!"

Laughter erupts and echoes between the racecars and the trailers.

A small crowd of my friends had followed me to the rear doors of my hauler and I realize that Mariah has not seen my race car and just like her, the car is a striking contrast to my old hauler truck.

"She's never seen my car." I say as I'm reaching for the door handle.

My friends beam at me and her, knowing this is going to be a treat for me. Even before the door opens, someone tells Mariah,

"Brian's car is bad ass!"

Then from her other side, big Bill bends down to her and says,

"When Brian brought this thing here, we were blown away! Didn't you spend like two years on the body work?"

But before I could answer, Troy is telling her,

"When we first saw this car, we knew Brian was serious."

I held the door closed for a moment so as not to interrupt all of this gracious praise, and they were laying it on thick because everyone could tell how fond of Mariah I am, and they were helping any way they could. I couldn't find better wing-men or better friends anywhere!

The tire screeching of the skidding car turned everyone's heads. The battered police car's engine dieseled and died as the loosely installed push-bumper wiggled strangely as if most of the mounting bolts were missing. The short haired, young man wearing aviator sunglasses jumped out and it’s obvious that he is pissed off. The lady from the ticket booth is heading in our direction and she also looks upset. The Sheriff Deputy who was milling about is now making his way over this way as well.

"Mariah! Get your ass over here!" Yells the young man.

The small group around me and my truck are speechless. These are hardworking, mostly Christian people who don't take kindly to this kind of behavior, especially from some punk-ass kid. My friend Elva, and another woman physically block Mariah and tell her that,

"You don't have to go anywhere sweetheart," just as someone else declared,

"This fool must have a death wish!"

"NOW!" Bellows the young hothead at the top of his lungs.

The angry sound echoes through the paddock among the trailers. This is unacceptable behavior and all operations stop as nearly everybody at the event turns their heads and start to move in our direction. The Deputy picks up his pace. I find myself moving towards this punk-bitch without the slightest hesitation and I will be on him in seconds. How dare he try to spoil my party! I grew up with five brothers and in my fury, his action is going to cost him!

"This old grandpa?!" The punk, Martin, yells to her and everyone else.

"This is your new Sugar Daddy?!"

He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a dollar bill and stuffs it into his belt and he is trusting his hips in an over-animated way saying,

"Is this the way he likes it?"

He quieted down quick as I grabbed him by the throat.

I could feel part of his wind pipe kind of pop in then out. I and could feel his pulse heavily on my fingertips as his face turned quickly white. He offered zero resistance and I could see the fear in his eyes. Also, I could see out of the corner of my eye that the Deputy is now at a full run, with his hand on his service revolver, but he was still far enough away that I had some time. I pulled Martin’s face close to mine and in sort of a shouting whisper I said,

"You're going to make a heartfelt apology to these people for your outburst and leave under your own power or you're going to leave in that ambulance over there." Then I let him go.

He coughed and gagged, then with a smirk, he spit in my direction, but with a quick move, his spittle missed me.

"Let's hear it!” I yelled as I lunged forward and boxed his ears with my open hands.

That is when I was jumped by the Deputy and seconds later, the cuffs were on.

The Officer actually kind of helped me to my feet as Martian struggles to get his voice back so he can finally shout,

"He assaulted me! You saw it!"

Elva shouts back,

"You started it!"

And she starts clawing her way through the crowd as if she's going finish the job or something as others hold her back.

Martin continues spouting off about how he's going to sue me, and the race track, and he is laughing at me, calling me an "Old Man" over and over, but the crowd has completely surrounded both of us and the ex-cruiser, and someone pulls its keys and they go flying off into the bushes.

"What's this?!" He yelled, and that flash of fear came back to his eyes for a second as the crowd tightens around him.

"What the hell is going on here!?" booms the big voice of Jordon Powell, the long-time track operator. When he sees its me in cuffs, he looks like he can't believe it and I see the disappointment on his face.

"That old man tried to kill me!"

Jordy swings his big head in the direction of that statement and young Martin gets a face full of, "Oh bullshit!" That seemed to quiet Martin for a moment as Jordy looks around and he sees Troy Camren,

"What the hell is this about?"

The whole crowd starts to find their voice and a chorus of "He started it" and finger pointing begin.

"All right-all right already, I want to hear what Troy saw," Jordy said this as he waived his hands above his head in an impromptu effort to restore order.

"What I saw?” Troy starts off slowly then with is voice building,

"From what I saw, that kids’ lucky Brian didn't mash him into a pulp right there on the pavement, and after what he said to this young lady, I'd say he would be lucky if he makes out of here in one piece."

The looks of the several large racers and other rather large men circled around Martin seemed to confirm Troy's assessment.

The crowd splits some, and Jordon gets a look at the “young lady.”

"You're a guest of Brian's?"

He looks like he can't believe it as he asked her that. (Thanks a lot Jordy!)

"And you were insulted here, at my racetrack?" His voice is building with rage as he speaks.

Mariah did not answer but the crowd did for her in an eruption of support including a soda with ice being pitched from the crowd and exploding on Martian's chest.

A back-up police car whips in, and the deputy holding my arm takes control.

"Ok, everybody clear-out, it's all over," he says.


The crowd and even the police hush as Mariah has found her voice and she moves up through the center of the crowd. She stops in front of Martin; her red hair is being tossed gently from the breeze. Her face is solid, yet not especially angry.

"Martin, I don't love you. I don't think I ever really did…. I won't see you again."

Then she turned to me and said,

"I'll wait for you."

She started back to the truck and without the slightest sound everyone watched her move with a certain grace and dignity back to the passenger side of my hauler where she sat down in a display that implied strongly that she was going to wait right there, probably until I was out of jail, I guess.

Eyes were tearing up and many ladies were busting out the tissues.

"Ok then, that’s it." Jordy said as the crowd started to break up, but no one is happy.

"That's bullshit" was the common theme but then,


It is the ticket lady.

"He ran my gate!" She said as she pointed at Martin.

The crowd is back in a heartbeat, hungry for satisfaction.

"What about that!?!" they demanded.

The Deputy and the back-up Officers had a quick, private conference. They motioned for Jordy to join them. I don't know what was said but after a few moments, Jordy had a big smile on his face. They broke up their meeting and the deputy went over to me and removed the handcuffs.

"Seems all this was a big mix-up, sorry about that, enjoy your race."

Meanwhile, the other officers cuffed, patted down and read Martian his rights.

"What? This is bullshit! He assaulted me! You saw it!" Protested Martin, yelling at the first deputy.

"I'm not sure I had a clear view. Did anyone have a clear view?" He asked the crowd.

"No, I guess not," and other such nonsense rose from the crowd in a comical way.

"Alright then, but running the ticket gate at a permitted, public event falls under homeland security, and that requires at minimum, an arrest, and an appearance in front of a federal judge."

Frazzled as I was, I went through the motions of unloading and preparing my car while Elva, the racing club Pastor, and Mrs. Powell comforted Mariah. Jordon cornered me to find out if I was in a proper mental state to race.

"I'm a little rattled, but I'll be safe out there" I said.

Surprisingly, I snapped out of any confusion quickly and started winning rounds. I made it to the quarter finals and won a hundred and forty dollars! Later, I showed off my check to Mariah and added,

"It's kind of a tradition that the winnings go to the wives or girlfriends of the racers, for putting up with all the trouble."

She looked me square in the eye and she snatched the check from my hand and put it in her purse, and then she kissed me. In my mind, I could hear everyone cheering, even though no one said a thing. (I made up that ‘tradition’ thing on the spot, just to see where it might lead. I must say, I do have my flashes of brilliance sometimes.)

I took the next week off from work. There is a lot to do when getting settled-in with a young lady after being single for so long. With Martin in jail, Mariah was able to get her things without drama. (One box of clothes only, and personal effects filling just a large handbag.) We spent nearly every other moment of that week in bed. I was reborn into some kind of wild beast and she was my willing prey. We went through a box of condoms in the first few days and we were just too busy to get more. I think she might want a baby, and though at my age, that is probably a ridicules notion for so many reasons, but I certainly came through on my end. Should I be worried about losing my race car or my collector cars or the equity in my home because of this, this, whatever this is? Who cares! This young woman could bore me an heir! It could happen! And all the stuff and crap and knowledge that I've built up in my lifetime doesn't mean shit without one. Actually, I never really thought that much about things like that before, but when we we’re out of condoms and she's purring away, logic like that seems so right. But the funny part was that this thinking stayed with me later, and with more time it even became stronger.

I didn't even know her last name, I didn't care, because I became determined to give her mine! That's how happy I was. It was the best week of my life. Like I was being rewarded for every good thing I had ever done.

Of course, I did have my concerns. I thought about the suspected 'erotic dancing,' and what trouble that might bring, but I couldn't think of anyone in my life who would really care. She said absolutely nothing about any of that, perhaps operating as if I didn't know. (I didn't know, really.) In between everything, during some pillow-talk, I asked her about any 'lose ends' and she said clearly,

"I owe nobody anything," and that was good enough for me.

That next Saturday afternoon, during a break while we were in the kitchen, Mariah looked at the race schedule that I had posted on the fridge and with her finger marking a spot, she turned and asked,

"This says tomorrow is a points race, you said you were racing the series?"

“I don't have to do that Laybe, (that was a strange pet name that seemed to make her smile, that started during a, let's say, 'strenuous moment' when I tried to say lady and baby at the same time) what do you want to do?" I asked.

She looked at me as if that answer was unacceptable.

"You would do this, if you and I had not met?"

"Yes, of course," I answered.

"And you still want to go?"

"Yes, but only if...,” she interrupted me,

"That is the way I want it" she said, and she continued in that stoic, efficient monotone of hers’:

"I don't want separate things, you will be my man and if you race, we race. Besides I met some nice people there, I look forward to it."

Her words hit me like the first warm sunshine after a long, cold wet spell and I was stunned by the simple beauty of that thought and the lips that spoke it. I was on those lips like, well I don't know, some kind of super kissing machine? Anyway, it was like forty minutes before we got up off the kitchen floor.

We were up early the next morning and we packed the hauler, working together as a team. I explained our mission (win the race) and the steps needed to achieve that goal. My job was to do my normal routine, preparing and warming up the car, her job would be to charm and captivate anyone who came along and to present a positive image of our team, (she giggled at that thought) but also to keep them away from me so I can focus on my driving. Not every second, but when it is important.

"How will I know when that is?" she asked.

"When I put on my fire-proof jacket."

She beamed a knowing look as if to say she understood. She kept on beaming and I noticed what a healthy glow she has today. It reminded me of something, but what? My sister looked something like that once…, when she was pregnant! My heart kind of skipped a beat and suddenly I needed a sip of the water that I had in my hand. My face felt as if it might be going flush, I looked over at Mariah, trying to be super cool as she was still beaming,

"I like you Brian," she said.

That was something she had not said before. In fact, through everything that we had done together in the past several days, we had not told each other that we loved each other. Not that we didn't or that we needed to say it, but for some reason as you gain life experience, you’re careful how you throw that statement around. Of course, no one wants to be first to say it, but it was more than that. I was going to say it soon, at the perfect time, not wanting to waste any of the probable impact. Holding up the trophy after the win while we kiss for the cameras would be good time. So that will be my plan.

I was just about to start the engine of the hauler truck when I realized I hadn't really been outside all week and I noticed that the mail box was stuffed. I ran out and took the arm load of mail out of the box and I was just about to turn when I saw an unmarked police car parked in a way that provided a good view of my house.

Martins’ out of jail, I said to myself. I kept quiet about that for Mariah, and I even zipped out of the driveway a little fast while pointing at a squirrel, all in an effort to keep her from noticing the police car. I wasn't going to let anything spoil this promising day. Still, I kept an eye on the mirrors to see if it follows us, it did not.

As we pass the corner store, I notice a nearly new Mustang 5-O pull out behind us. He's not going to like being behind us when we climb the grade that is coming up, I thought to myself and sure enough, it blasts past us as we slow up the hill. But it was strange because as it started to go around, it slowed slightly, and I saw the passenger really twist his head around to get a good look at my passenger. I'll have to get used to Mariah turning heads for many years to come but this was different, he turned to see her, not because he saw her, and it was disturbing because they both looked like a total low-lifes. Were they former 'customers' of hers? The thought seemed to make my blood feel like ice in my veins for a second.

Later, as we inched-up in line at the entrance gate and to the ticket booth, and after all that had happened last week, all the strange looks of the last race were replaced by hardy waves and so many, "We’re so glad to see you back" comments directed at Mariah that they couldn't all be counted. In fact, when we got to my pit space, Jordon and his wife Barbara, were waiting for us in their golf cart. We step out of the hauler and they meet us there. Jordon starts out by saying,

"We are so glad you came back young lady, we just want you to know how sorry we are for what happened."

Mariah tries to stop him by saying "No, please sir," but Jordon will have none of it.

"No, I mean it! His big voice is rising,

"I've been running this show for almost three decades and I'll be dammed if someone like you can't feel welcome. We help people, we care about people, we love people.”

That did it. Mariah looked like she was in shock as Jordon was talking, but at those last words, she lost it, and out came the tears.

"Oh, for heaven sakes Jordon you made her cry!" Said Barbara, and she continued,

"Come with me child and you can freshen up at our motor home."

But Mariah pulls herself together quickly and as she holds up her hand like she is going to make a cub scout pledge or something, she says,

"Brian and I are here as part of a team effort, and it is my job to charm and captivate everyone who comes by and to present a positive image of our team."

There is a pause from the people gathered around as if this is some sort of serious game plan that must be considered and analyzed, when she suddenly blasts out the biggest and prettiest smile that I had seen from her yet. Hoots and howls erupt with laughter from the Powell’s and from the others, but Mariah stops laughing as she looks across the tarmac, it is the two from the Mustang, and from the look on her face, something is wrong.

Drag racing is a sport were micro-seconds determine winners and losers and when Mariah saw those two, a look of fright and fear lasted just a bit too long and it was noticed. Jordy spins around and sees them. They are trying pathetically to look like car guys, with generic, car themed tee shirts, probably just purchased from the local Walmart. They stand out like sore thumbs here, regardless of the tee shirts, in their slacks and Italian shoes and with big, diamond rings on their fat fingers and gold chains around their thick necks, and you didn't have to be very close to them to smell the overdose of cologne.

Jordon spins back around to Mariah. He hunches down and grabs her gently by the shoulders and says impatiently;

"Who are those guys…, tell me."

He says it as he might say it to his own daughter. Mariah stalls and Jordy gives her a little shake.

"Please," he says.

"Well, I don't know for sure, but I am pretty sure that they don't give a damn about car racing.”

With that said, the men crowded around the Powell’s golf cart turn towards the two pseudo ‘race fans’ and with determined, grim faces, and they might as well have started growling like mad dogs. Mrs. Powell thoughtfully asks Mariah if she would consider visiting with her in their motor home. Mariah looks up at me as if to ask for my opinion of the request.

“It would be an honor to have you entertain my sweetie while I get my car ready,” I said and off they went.

Just as they leave earshot, Jordy and the other men pull in close.

"OK, Brian, just what the hell is going on?"

I was drawing a blank, I didn't know quite what to say, but these words started pouring out.

"Well, she has been staying with me since the last race and I guess we haven't spent much time talking."

This brought a quick laugh and a pat on the back.

"All I know is she says she ‘doesn’t owe nobody anything,’ and I believe her."

Jordy furls his brow, as if deep in thought as the two 'race fans' split up and try to disappear into the crowd. (HA!) We stand there for some moments following the two with our eyes as long as we can while I wonder if we are getting worked-up over nothing. The men standing around me now, who were here last race and who had seen the altercation involving the character ‘Martin,’ and who had seen what the bumper stickers on his car were advertising, they could guess what the two cologne junkies may have been about, but out of politeness, they certainly wouldn’t say anything, and it also went without saying that they would keep an eye out for any trouble. That would not be a problem. In fact, they would enjoy that challenge. We’re not talking about meek men here.

The crowd around Jordy’s cart hadn’t dispersed two steps when Elva came zipping up in her cart. (Nearly all the racers have golf carts as part of their racing programs.)

"Some slime ball is over there asking about Brian's car!"

"What?" Snaps Gordon.

"Ya, he's all…," and she does her impression of a New York city gangster,

"I hear Brian's car is the best, and I'm a big fan…,” and he is trying to get us to point him out." (That last part was in her regular voice.)

Something in Jordon's mind pops into gear and he drives his cart over to the on-duty police Deputy and they have a little chat while the other racers and I go about getting our cars ready and before long there is an announcement over the loudspeakers that the owners of a black Mustang, license number bla-bla-bla need to move their car.

I didn't see those two slim-balls again, but later I heard that Jordy and the Deputy had them kicked out, on some trumped-up parking infraction. Much later, I asked Jordy about that and he told me quite frankly:

“This is my operation and what I say goes! If I don’t like the way they look and if I don’t like the way they smell, their outta here!”

I heard they protested bitterly but finally did comply and then they were immediately pulled over just outside the track entrance where nearly the entire local police force assembled and stripped-searched their car after placing them in handcuffs in what appeared to be a show of small-town solidarity that lasted for almost four hours and it was a blatant public display in front of everyone. It was an obvious message from our town to those two and their bosses (whatever their ‘businesses’ was) that whatever this is about, we’re not going to make it easy, which turned the question back to them, is it worth it? (Again, whatever ‘it’ was.)

Out on the track, I won my first round, while Mariah stayed with Mrs. Powell, which today was fine with me. While I hoped for a pleasant race day with Mariah, it was obvious that those men had rattled her, and our pleasant day together was put on hold. Maybe we would have a better day next time. I lost my second round, but that was OK. It was a good race, you couldn't tell who the winner was at the stripe. Our run tickets showed that I was closer to my dial, but he had a better light. (He was quicker off the line as the green light came on.) There was nothing else I could have done. It is better to lose like that than to give it away with a foul start or for doing something stupid during the run.

But it was just as well because something in my gut told me that there is more to the story concerning those two guys in the Mustang. I had to get to the bottom of it. I felt like she knows something, something bigger than anything Martin was spouting-off about, he's just a dumb punk kid. I have no real reason to think these thoughts, but here they are. Being brilliant may be a liability sometimes.

After I loaded the car and stowed the gear, I went and knocked on the door of the Powell's motor home. To my surprise, Jordy and Barb were having tea and cookies with Mariah and they had half a dozen photo albums lying about. They were laughing and having a great old time.

"Look Brian, here's a picture of you when you first came here." Said Barbara as she hands over an album while pointing out a picture. It was me standing with my old ‘55 Chevy in the back ground. I must say that it was a flattering photo as I happened to be striking a handsome pose. It must have been taken almost thirty years ago. Man, how time flies!

"I can't believe you would have a picture like that." I said humbly.

"Oh, I got pictures of all you guys, you should know you're all like family to us," she said proudly.

"Look at this one Brian." Mariah says as Jordon groans slightly. It's Jordon and Barbara when they were young, at a beach somewhere. Barbara was a busty beauty back then and Jordy had a fro!

"Look at that hair!" I said laughing.

"Well, that was the style back then, when I had hair," explained Jordy.

"So, losing your hair was a good thing?" Which is an example of the kind of banter we have shared for many years, so it was not necessarily rude, just slightly insulting and I’m sure he will eventually return with his own hurtful but playful comment in the near future.

We chatted some more and before we left, they made us promise to have dinner with them tomorrow night. I sensed something strange in the way Jordy asked us, the way he looked me in the eye when he said “tomorrow,” not “sometime” or “soon” but "tomorrow."

We could see the lights of the police cars even before we made the turn down our street. I wasn't even surprised when it was clear that they were at my place. The ex-police car was in the street and all my neighbors were outside gawking. The heavy stench of burnt plastic and gasoline was in the air. On my lawn was the handcuffed young Martin, on his knees. Mariah stayed put in the hauler's passenger seat, taking in the scene and saying nothing. I am out and heading to the carport where my Grand National is parked and its car cover is mostly a pile of ashes lying on the ground just behind the car. Uniformed officers and a detective in a suit are moving towards me but I have enough time to look over the car. Some melted and burnt ruminates of the car cover are stuck here and there in the rear and on the side but it looks like that will all buff off. My neighbor's boyfriend Si, a man I barely know, spoke up;

"That kid threw a fire bomb at your car right in front of that cop that has been there all week."

All week? I think to myself as Si continues,

"I ran out here and pulled off your car cover quick as I could."

"Thank you, thank you very much, it looks like I can fix it," I said.

Sherrie, Si's girlfriend asks me;

"Is this about your new lady friend Brian?"

I didn't answer immediately, and she continues,

"That must be the ex-boyfriend, look if there is anything we can do, don't be afraid to ask."

I thank them again, but now Martin is starting to make a scene.

"Just let me talk to her, I just want to talk to her for just one minute," he pleads in a lame manor.

Mariah turns her head away from the scene and she stares straight ahead, not really looking at anything, like she is a statue. Two cops are trying to muscle him into their cruiser, but he is resisting so he can say his piece.

"I love you baby, I love you!" He stammers out on the verge of tears in a pathetic display that reveals plainly that he is but a boy. He repeats his admission of his longings over and over until everyone present is sick of hearing about it as they drag him to the back of the police car.

Mariah bolts out of the hauler and stomps to the side door of the house and goes in (I, ordinarily, never lock it) and she slams the door behind her. I follow, and she has plopped down on the couch still looking straight ahead and out into space.

"Are you going to be alright?" I ask, trying my best to show my concern.

"In sorry about your car, I'll pay you back," she declares.

This kind of pissed me off.

"The car? Who gives a shit about the car? Cars come and go. It's you I care about! Besides the car is fine." She turns her pretty head slowly and I finish my speech saying;

"I love you."

We sat and stared at each other for several long moments. I was beginning to wonder if she had even heard me, when there was a knock on the door, followed by it opening slowly. The man who is wearing the suit, carefully sticks his head in.

"I'm detective Pierce, I would like to give you some more time, but both of you could be in ‘some’ trouble." The man said that as he held out his open wallet with his badge and I.D. showing. Long story short, we were soon being hauled in for questioning.

They allowed us the dignity of walking to the car if we cooperated, without handcuffs, which we accepted. They asked if they could search my home and I consented. (They had warrants anyway.) I provided keys for everything before we left.

As Mariah and I rode in the back of their cruiser, I had the feeling we might not see each other again for some time. I was under the impression that she was wanted for a crime or at least involved in one (or more). As we rode in the back of that cruiser, I turned to her and asked sweetly,

"Can you tell me something, anything, about what this is all about?"

She turned to me and in a week, little girl voice she sobbingly said only "no."

"There must be something, I need to know," I pleaded.

There was a flash in those sad eyes, as if she remembered something, and for a split second she looked happy and she said,

"I love you," and we kissed.

Would it be our last kiss?

I had been locked in the windowless, clockless room of the Police Station for what seemed like hours. Somewhere nearby in another, similar room, I assumed they were questioning Mariah. I was sure she told them I knew nothing about anything (because I honestly didn’t) and so far, they must have believed her, because if not, the detectives would have been back in here with me.

I thought I knew something about Mariah that they must have been finding out just then, and that was that she wasn't talking. Whatever this was about, this 'great secret,’ I had a feeling, for some reason, that all of Dick Cheney's water boarding wasn’t going to bring it out. Soon they will be back in here with me and start all over again. They'll have me go over everything again and again and again. They'll try and trip me up. They'll tell wild stories of Mariah's past. They'll degrade and insult her, in an effort to spark me into some kind of unguarded outcry, to make me say something new and useful. They'll threaten me with charges and act like they can make them stick, real or not. It will go on and on until I'm even more sleep depraved, and after all that, they won't have any new information because I have nothing to add. Maybe then they will tell me what the hell this is all about.

That is what happened, almost exactly, except for the telling me what this is all about part. After all of that, they put Mariah and I alone together in a locked room and left us.

"How are you holding up sweetheart." I said as I put my arm around her middle. She gave me a little smile and said;

"Fine. I’m sorry about all this, Brian."

"Oh, don't be sorry Laybe, they got nothing! They'll let us go soon," I said, hoping that was really true.

She gave me a little smile for using her pet name and said,

"You should know that they want us to talk, their watching and listening to us right now."

I suspected that of course, and said slyly,

"Well, if we can't talk, what should we do?"

The question hung in the air just long enough, and in the next few seconds, pens, paper, water cups, all went flying off the table and with my tongue down her throat and our hands pulling off clothing we nearly did it right there and then, but we stopped, we didn't want to give 'the man' the satisfaction. But for some reason I found the fact that she didn't seem to want to stop, super hot.

But we found we could talk, and we swapped stories mostly about our childhoods. She told me about some of her father's native ways, about how he would go into the woods and not eat or drink for days until he met his “spirit guide,” which would allow him to talk with his ancestors. And also, she told me of his custom of not mentioning the name of the recently deceased until after a proper time period of respect had passed. All I seemed to have were stories about getting loaded with my friends. (I was, after all, getting tired.)

After we were all talked out, we curled up on the floor and got some sleep. The cops were trying to figure out what to do with us, so for now, they just let us be. Finally, hours later, Detective Pierce came in, and he sat down at the table.

He told us (finally!) what was going on. Young Martin, before he tried to torch my car, (and probable also my home if he hadn’t been stopped) had been all over town bragging about how big he is in the local world of drugs and prostitution. As stupid and juvenile as that may have been, the thing that caught the wrong ears was a story he was spreading about an affair Mariah had had with a big leader, an important man that the detectives and the department wanted badly. Someone that was suspected of being a ring leader but who was well entrenched in legitimate activities and wouldn’t stand to be falsely accused and would go to great lengths to prevent just that. Martin threw the man's name about stupidly, but his second-hand testimony wasn't worth squat and that only put his own life (and those around him, including us) in danger.

But that name wasn't news to the cops, because they have a man on the inside, and they believe they are very close to taking down his operation.

Mariah might be able to help finger Mr. Big on some lewd and embarrassing charges but that was small potatoes. The problem now was that the word was out, and the big man might take steps to make sure Martin and Mariah (and by association, me) never tell any tales. So, unless Mariah had something tangible that they could move on immediately, the cops couldn't guarantee our safety.

"It will be a long, drawn-out process but as we comb through your testimony, we might find what we need and then we can offer protection," Pierce said.

They can “guarantee” our safety, what bullshit! When the big man got word through his moles that Mariah was spilling her guts, she was as good as dead! Our only chance was to hope those same moles would report that she hadn't squealed. That might buy us some time, but sooner or later they would want to tie-up their loose ends. Already the ultimate solution was taking shape in my brain, and it horrified me to my very soul.

The cops gave us a ride home. After that, we were on our own.

But soon, it was plain to see that we were not on our own! My neighbors, and everyone up and down my street were in my yard. Si, probably the oldest of the group, said his piece.

"The word on the street is that you and your lady friend could be in some kind of trouble. (How he knew this, I have no idea.) We just want you to know were keeping an eye out and more."

With that said, nearly all of them, young and old, man and woman, lifted their shirts revealing an impressive amount of fire arms tucked in their beltlines.

I do love America!

There was still time to make it to the Powell's for dinner. I even had time to buff-out out the fire-damage on the Buick and we took that car. I found my pump-action shot gun fit nicely under the rear seat. My Glock would stay with me in my coat pocket.

Some of the neighbor ladies had offered to loan Mariah some clothes after she hinted that we were invited to a diner party and that she had nothing really to wear. After some minor alterations, she stepped out of my neighbor’s house in a simple blue dress and a sweater that she wore wrapped around her shoulders as a shawl, and she was stunning. So much so that I had go back in the house and change into a pair of Dockers and the new dress shirt that I had been saving for a special occasion.

We drove mostly in silence and I was doing some heavy thinking. So, this is what my life is going to be, looking over my shoulder, wondering when we were going to get whacked. How many around us will get hurt? All for a woman I've known for only a few weeks. She might even be pregnant, and it might or might not even be mine.

I was not blaming her for anything. If anything is to blame for this ‘situation,’ it was the crime, the drugs, the mob, the lack of morals, the greed, the age-old competing between the haves and the have-nots, all of that is trying to rain on my parade and I hate it. I would do anything to change it.

I would kill.

My thoughts may be as old as man itself.

I keep an eye on the mirror and I drive a convoluted route until I am sure we weren’t being tailed. Then, out of the blue, Mariah announces:

"I've figured out how to fix this."

I shot back with,

"What…, kill Mr. Big?"

And from her look, I realize that likely is what she meant.

I slam on the brakes and we skid to a stop, and I am furious. I wag my finger screaming,

"Don't you dare do anything! Promise me! PROMISE ME!" She looks sorry but doesn't say anything. I grab her pretty shoulders and shake her as I shout,

"I mean it Laybe! This must be done just right! You can't do anything on your own! It all has to be thought through! PROMISE ME! We do this as a team."

She looks shocked at what we are considering, but with the suggestion that we act together, as a team, she seems satisfied.

"I promise."

What have I got myself into?

We have a wonderful dinner with the Powell’s but, as I suspected, there was more to it than just a social evening and as the ladies did the dishes, Jordon hustles me out to his garage/mancave where he shares some information that he had heard about those two ‘race fans’ that were driving the Mustang and some other stuff that he had also heard on the street. (It’s a small world.) Those two definitely weren’t race fans, and the words goons, thugs and even hit-men was thrown about, and Martin, well he just plain has a big mouth. His shit-talking was all over town.

I shared the story of what had just happened to Mariah and I with the police, and everything else I knew as we brain-stormed what might be the next step.

Jordon had done two terms in Nam and he is no fool. I believe he came up with the same answer Mariah and I did, but he dared not say it. Instead there was a lot of support and caution. He started in on a big tirade about how this situation is not the America he knew and how much the whole thing is "bullshit" when he suddenly stops short his tirade and declares,

"What is up with that damn dog."

Their family dog had been barking down by the road for some time now. Then suddenly there were three, pop-pop-pops, gunshots, and the unmistakable yelp of canine pain, it was horrible.

A neighbor ran up and reported that he had seen a black Mustang leaving the scene. (No surprise.) I assured Jordy that I was not followed, and no one knew that we would be here.

"No Brian, this was payback for kicking those slim-balls off my race track" he said sadly as he held his dying pet.

"Well old buddy, it least it was quick" he added as we fought back tears with building anger.

Over the next few weeks, things have returned to a new normal. Security cameras record everyone who goes passed my house now, as Mariah has went from whatever she was, to the roll of a normal, ordinary domestic partner. She has cleaned and decorated my (our) place into an inviting abode where she has been entertaining an endless stream of visiting neighbors. I have had hardly any contact with any of them in the fifteen years that I have lived here but with the trouble, and the fact that Mariah is an engaging and social person, this new and improved life all seems very natural. All I know is that she is almost never alone and that gives me peace. But the ‘trouble’ is not far from my thoughts, but I do manage some small joys between my worries and this afternoon at my job is one of those times.

Sophie is my bosses' youngest daughter at ten years old and probable because she was raised in a home with mostly adults, she has an incredibly developed adult manner of speaking and behaving. We play a game while I work, where she asks me technical questions about my job (I repair trucks and industrial machinery for her Dad) and I answer as if she were my student, without dumbing anything down. She pretends that she understands everything perfectly (at least I think she is pretending) and then she uses that information against me to try and catch me screwing something up. (I set her up for many of these ‘mistakes,’ but increasingly, she also catches real mistakes.) Then, she pulls rank and reminds me of how my job is on the line, and as my punishment, I must give her candy out of my ‘stash,’ so she won't tell her Dad and get me fired. I treasure these moments, but I fear that someday when she is the boss, look out!

Sophie kept me company as I repaired a broken brake interlock on our receptionist’s late model Mustang.

"See here Sophie, this makes it so you can't shift the gears unless you apply the brakes." I said as I show her the parts involved, and what they do before I assemble everything. She seems especially interested to see the parts that are normally out of sight in a car. I believe it makes her feel superior to others and I think it helps with her self-esteem which is something that I am happy to help her build.

With that work done, all that is left is to replace a burned-out tail light bulb and the repairs are complete. I pop the trunk and nearly the first thing I do is drop my screw driver bit and it falls in a place my big hands just won't fit.

"I'll get it!" Sophie says as she jumps like a gymnast into the open trunk and jambs her hand in the tight space and pulls out the tiny bit and holds it up like a prize.

"Careful Sophie, there are sharp edges in there, you could get cut" I say as I point out the sheet metal bracing and supports and have her test the sharp edges with her finger.

"But more than that Sophie, if you hop right in there like that you can break something." I said that as I point out the flimsy plastic catches and latches of the folding rear seat.

This kind of interaction is making me feel better. Maybe the mob will let this entire episode slide. Personal scandals involving mistresses don't really have much impact these days, plus the show of support showed that our town may not buckle-under to pressure as easy as they might imagine, and there is the fact that they killed Jordy's dog, perhaps with that they are satisfied. God, I hope so!

I had high hopes that the next race day would be one that Mariah and I could share together without drama.

That didn't happen!

Oh, we had as great a day together as was possible, Mariah soldiered on strongly by my side under the over whelming pressure. I, on the other hand, got a crystal-clear look at things for really the first time. But why? That was the question. Why would he show himself here? I hoped it was that maybe he had some real feelings for Mariah after all. Maybe it was to see this guy she is with now (me) and size him up. But mostly I'm sure it was to decide if this liability (Mariah, and by extension, me) was going to be a threat. All I knew is that with one look at Mariah when she saw him, and by the look on his face when he saw her, I knew, I just KNEW!

"So, that is Mr. Big" I said to Mariah and her silent fright confirmed my suspicions.

State Senator, Jack Nason!

Jordon was with the Senator as he was set up at the track entrance, shaking the racer’s and race fan’s hands, kissing babies and making promises with big smiles as he greeted everyone and asked them for their votes. A row of giant, head-shot posters were plastered on the fences by the gate, all bearing the slogan "Experience and Stability."

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