A Long, Hard Ride

By: Alison Kent

1




Thursday a.m.

“WHIP! I GOTTA HAVE THAT torque wrench or I ain’t never gonna get this done.”

“Take a look in the far chest, Sunshine. The second drawer. I got it out of there earlier.”

“Well, it ain’t in there now. It ain’t in any of ’em. Drawers or chests. I done looked.”

Hunkered down outside the Corley Motors rig, the tractor-trailer used to haul “Bad Dog” Butch Corley’s dragster to National Hot Rod Association events, Trey “Whip” Davis straightened from where he’d been securing an extension cord against the movable race pit flooring, and mentally retraced the day’s steps.

He’d had the torque wrench with him when he’d grabbed for his BlackBerry to call Butch—the driver had been enjoying a late breakfast with his wife and son—only to realize he’d left the PDA on a shelf in the hauler’s workshop. He’d obviously set down the tool when he’d picked up the phone, but—crap on a cracker.

What was wrong with his head?

This wasn’t like him, being off kilter, disorganized, careless. He was making stupid mistakes. It had to stop. And it had to stop now. He headed for the racing trailer’s open door. “Take a break, guy. Grab a corndog. Get a cup of coffee. I’ll rustle it up.”

Sunshine got to his feet, twisted and stretched his stocky five-foot-seven frame, and gave Trey his trademark sunny smile—one that reddened his already ruddy complexion, which in turn made his blond eyebrows appear to have been bleached within an inch of their life. “Can’t turn down that million-dollar offer. See ya in a bit, Boss.”

Trey watched his assistant crew chief make his way toward the concession stands, zigzagging through the haulers, pop-ups and motor homes turning the Dahlia Speedway pits into a virtual campground.

The late morning sun shone off the reds and greens, and the blues and yellows of hundreds of logos decorating everything from trucks and T-shirts to ball caps and tattoos. Behind him, Trey knew, the snarling Corley bulldog, with its spiked silver collar, would be gleaming bright white against the backdrop of the team’s black trailer.

The vibrant colors, the beehive activity, the smells of exhaust and fuel as mechanics test-fired engines, the din of the fans whooping and hollering along with the jetlike roar—he would never tire of witnessing a dragstrip coming to life and was, in fact, going to miss it like hell while away.

When Corley Motors pulled out early Monday morning following this weekend’s Farron Fuel Spring Nationals, Sunshine would be taking over Trey’s crew chief duties—working with Butch on developing racing strategies and supervising the crew of mechanics who precision-tuned the engine for optimum performance.

It was a temporary arrangement only; Trey had made sure his crew and his driver understood he would be back. For now, however, he was staying in Dahlia—the town where he’d lived the first twenty years of his life. It was long past time to go through the paperwork and personal belongings he hadn’t touched in the six months since his father’s death from heart failure.

And since he rarely visited, he’d decided there was no reason to keep the house or the property he owned here. It held memories, sure, but he wasn’t the sentimental type that attached them to a place. He could think back to his childhood anytime he wanted to remember the past.

Unfortunately, getting the place fit for a buyer was going to require a hell of a lot of manual labor, and most of it would have to be his. He was the only one who would know what to keep, what to toss, what to store until he could make arrangements to sell or give away.

All that weight pressing down had everything to do with his mind being on the fritz. But clearing away those obligations was only one part of it. Solving the puzzle of why the hell, shortly before his death, his father had taken a swing at a pillar of the Dahlia community and nearly killed the older man’s son when he’d come to his defense was another.

Both had to be done if he intended to remain in the top fuel game. He did—leaving him no choice but to take this sabbatical.

It was either do so, or find himself canned as Butch Corley’s tuning boss, and he’d worked too hard to let that come to pass. No mechanic with a lick of sense wanted to work for a screwup. No driver worth his salt would let one near his car.

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